I found it when I was doing my yearly “let’s look through all my stuff and see what I still care about and what I can let go.” Such a mundane activity. So, fathomable. I stopped to reminisce about a few of the photos, journals, letters and the like. There were some precious items that were worn from over three decades of existence and yet were keepers. And some items that I couldn’t remember why I’d kept and that I gladly put in the donate-or-recycle pile. But then, tucked away in a black briefcase bag I was clearing out for donation, I found a dried out stick. My lucky stick.
The stick was about a half inch wide and seven inches long, a tan color with knots and streaks of a darker tan-brown. It had three nodes where smaller branches had once grown in and then broken off. One end was mostly flat. The other had been broken off at a slant, so it looked like the top of new lipstick.
I smiled as I pulled it out. I don’t remember all of the things that meant something to me in my childhood, but I remembered that stick. My sister and I along with a couple of friends had walked to the park near our friends’ new apartment one day. It was not much different from the park we usually went to, but it was new and we were excited to be there, to have walked there alone. Our overprotective mothers had found and befriended each other and took turns hosting our various playdates. So we were always driven to the park or chaperoned to the store, and we were always watched carefully.
I felt proud that I had figured out how to get to the park without the help of a grown-up, and that I’d led the others there. We played at all the apparatuses in the playground. And then someone had the idea to go looking for lucky sticks among the fallen twigs that lay all around. We were in the habit of doing that in those days. Maybe we’d gotten the idea from a show or cartoon. To get a lucky stick instead of a lucky pair of socks or a rabbit’s foot. I don’t think we ever pretended the sticks were wands or anything. We never attributed any more magic to them than the magic of luck.
I suddenly spotted the perfect stick lying on the ground. It wasn’t spindly or dry or two thick and heavy. I usually didn’t have the best luck finding lucky sticks. I picked it up and delightedly exclaimed that I had found my lucky stick. I can’t remember if anyone else found theirs. When we returned to my friends’ new apartment, we found two frightened and furious moms waiting for us. We hadn’t gotten permission to go to the park alone. I was the eldest, and I’d had a feeling that if we had asked, they would have said “no.” So we didn’t ask. We just disappeared from the back yard.
I hid my stick, afraid it would be taken from me so soon after I’d found it. We weren’t scolded too badly (to my relief, and the reason had to do with more pressing adult matters that I wouldn’t learn about till I was grown). That night I told myself it had been worth having my mom yell at us for a bit to acquire my lucky stick. Back then, it was still somewhat pliable. I tucked it away somewhere. I was still worried that my mom, concerned about germs and disease (and disobedience), would make me throw it away. So I kept it hidden. I tucked it away somewhere and that’s where it would stay until the next time I found it.
I’m not a collector. Over the coming decades after I found my lucky stick, dozens of items would come into and pass out of my possession. Bought and gifted. Only the most precious, adored, revered remained. And among those was my lucky stick.
I don’t care much for luck or chance. Something else must have drawn me to that stick. Maybe I wanted to connect with nature. Maybe I wanted a token of the rebellion and independence (and foolishness) I displayed by deciding to wander off without telling an adult. Maybe I just thought it was a cool-looking stick.
So many things from childhood look smaller through the eyes of adulthood. But my stick seemed the same size. It hadn’t gotten smaller. Just dryer. More petrified. This time, I didn’t want to tuck it away. I wanted to display it, like a museum piece. So I bought a glass-topped box and a bed of black velvet for my lucky stick to lie on. I placed the box on the top shelf of a bookcase next to the ammonite fossil I’d gotten from a friend working a dig site in the Far East.
I went back to my work of looking through my things. I didn’t give my lucky stick much more thought until the next day when I passed by the bookcase. I smiled at it and then frowned at it, because I noticed the tiniest glint of dark green at one tip of the stick.
Glitter, I thought.
Someone was always crafting, building, or tinkering in our household. Sawdust on the floor, ink on the fingers, tarps and clothes soiled with oil and paint were all typical. I took the lid off the box and lifted out my lucky stick. I gently blew on what I thought was a speck of glitter, but it didn’t budge. I tried brushing it away with my finger, but that didn’t work either. I shrugged and put my lucky stick back in the box. It took a while to position the stick so it would lay and fit properly. I shook my head, thinking about how typical it was that putting something back into its original, nicely arranged place was more difficult than removing that something from its nicely arranged place.
A few days later, I was sitting in my comfortable chair, reading a novel about a man who had lost his memory but gained the ability to read minds. At a particularly tense and engaging scene, I heard a crack and then a tap from somewhere in the room. I looked up to see if something had fallen, or if something had hit the glass of the mostly closed living room window. I had cracked it open just a bit. I liked the way the gauzy inner curtains wafted in the spring breezes. I put my book down and glanced around the room, and that’s when I saw it.
The lid of the box with my lucky stick in it was askew. I lifted it and frowned at what I saw.
My lucky stick had grown.
I was hesitant to reach for it at first. And then, before any truly fantastical thoughts could cross my mind, I realized what had happened. The day I re-discovered my lucky stick, I had gone on and on about it at dinner, declaring it wouldn’t be secreted away in the dark anymore. I’d even told people at work about it. It was an amusingly sad testament to the exciting life I led that my anecdote of note was the story of my childhood quest to find a lucky stick.
Maybe they had conspired against me. My loved ones. To play a trick on me. To replace my lucky stick with a doppelganger adorned in a single fleck of green glitter. And now, to make me think my lucky stick was growing. Smug and confident for having figured it out, I hid away the imposter stick so I could have my “aha” moment at the next meal. Somewhat insulted that they thought I would fall for such amateur sorcery, I examined the stick more closely. I’d taken digital pictures when I first found my lucky stick. I hadn’t shared them with anyone, but perhaps they had found a way to get at them or the stick itself, because the stick before me appeared identical to the stick in my pictures, save that it was bigger. The stick I held in my hand was at least nine inches long. It still had that dark green at the tapered tip, only now it was clearly not a piece of glitter. It looked more like unpolished stone, like raw jade. And it seemed to be crusted along the tip.
I must have looked like a lunatic at dinner. My “aha” moment was met with puzzled looks, brows furrowed in confusion, and heads shaking in sincere denial of wrongdoing. There was agreement that it was a clever and hilarious prank, but no one took credit. No one admitted to taking my real lucky stick. They all insisted I examine the one I had and make measurements and take closer pictures.
That night as I lay awake in bed, I heard more cracking. Not loud cracking. More like subtle crackling, almost like rice cereal when milk is first poured on top of it. It was coming from the night stand, where I’d placed my lucky stick on its bed of black velvet, so I could keep track of it. I turned to the sleeping form in bed beside me wondering.
Don’t you hear it? I thought. I wanted to turn the light on and watch the stick, but I didn’t want to disturb anyone.
I slowly and quietly slipped out of bed, took my lucky stick from its black velvet bed and tiptoed over creaking floorboards and past bedroom doors downstairs to the kitchen. I pulled a ruler from a drawer and sat at the table with my lucky stick. I measured the stick. It was nine-and-a-half inches long. I stared at it for a minute or two, trying to catch it growing. I had a stand-alone video camera and a tabletop tripod. I set it up, plugged it in, and started recording, hoping the camera would catch what my naked eye could not.
I made myself some tea and decided I couldn’t sit at the table and stare at my lucky stick all night.
Lucky stick. Whose idea had it been? Where had we gotten that idea?
I fired up my laptop, started a silent timer for fifteen minutes (to check on my lucky stick), and began my preliminary research with an internet search. My tea got cold and the timer got reset a few times as I became engrossed in the lore I found. The fantastical had always been one of my favorite story topics, along with mystery. Here I had both.
I found many a myth in many cultures about enchanted plants and trees. There were spirits and deities who inhabited trees. Various peoples believed in World Trees or Trees of Life that connected the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. There were sacred trees and plants. It was overwhelming. But then I began to focus on the parts of plants and trees. Leaves used to brew sacred teas. Fruits that bestowed knowledge or powers. And then finally the wood. Wood crafted into tools and weapons both ordinary and extraordinary. Magical wands. Magical staffs. I began to feel I was on the right track when my timer blinked at me again. I shook my head as if throwing off a trance and went to check on my lucky stick. Over three hours had passed.
There was a change now. The nodes were definitely a bit longer. The antique faded coloring of petrification seemed to have sharpened and darkened some. I checked my camera and it was, to my surprise, still recording. It had an hour or so left before the memory would be full. I measured the stick. It was ten inches long. And its girth too had increased by a centimeter or so.
I placed my fingers on my lucky stick, wondering how it could be growing. I had given it no sunlight, no food. I wondered if what I was observing was indeed growth or some other phenomenon. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel life energy pulsing through my lucky stick, or vibrations, or tickling. I didn’t feel any particular benevolence or malevolence. But I smiled down at it anyway. It was my lucky stick. I had chosen it. I had kept it. I was responsible for it.
I went back to my reading, picking up where I had left off.
I had found one story among the tales of magical trees that sounded like what was happening to my lucky stick. A story about seven sisters, not enchanted, not highborn, just seven girls who were born, lived, and grew up, and became more and more beautiful in every way. Their faces, their limbs, their voices, their movements. So beautiful were they that they were fiercely envied and ravenously desired. Their lives soon became miserable and fearful until the fourth sister had an idea. The world as it was in their time was not yet ready for beauty. People wanted to worship or consume beauty. They did not know how to admire and respect it. So the sisters asked their patron goddess to turn them into trees, hoping they could live long and happy lives in peace, with only the creatures of the forest to trouble their branches and roots. The seven trees were magnificent and perhaps even more beautiful than the seven girls. Their branches, their leaves, their flowers, their roots. Even in the midst of a thick forest, people found the trees and came, some to leave offerings, others with wicked intentions to cut down the trees and steal them. Such wicked folk were stopped by the good. But the sisters were still in danger. So they asked their patron goddess to remove their beautiful crowns, so their branches would be bare and plain. And this the goddess did. But even bare-branched the seven trees were beautiful. And they were envied and desired.
One day a wicked elf came with an enchanted axe. He broke through the trees’ defenders, slaying many, and he raised his axe to strike the youngest tree. The spirit of the fourth sister called upon her patron goddess and asked that she and her sisters be turned into twigs. Without roots, they would surely die. But she could think of no other way. If she asked that they be turned into animals so to flee, they would surely be overcome and captured. In an instant, the seven trees vanished. The wicked elf’s axe struck the earth. The forest floor was littered with branches and twigs. The goddess came down and gathered up the twigs herself. No god could grant death. For that was the task of another being. So the goddess placed an enchantment on the twigs, and the twigs turned pale and ashen. They petrified. The spirits of the seven sisters within the twigs went into a deep sleep. The goddess granted that they should be awakened and grow back into the trees they were when next the heavens, the earth, and the underworld aligned.
I wondered if my lucky stick was one of those sisters. If the three worlds had aligned and if that had triggered the transformation back into a tree. It was just a fancy. Even if the story was real, it was far too great a coincidence that I unknowingly decided to do my yearly decluttering at the very time the heavens, the earth, and the underworld aligned.
And it was madness to think my lucky stick was an enchanted girl from a somewhat obscure myth. I should have been looking for some weird scientific explanation. Maybe there was some type of tree somewhere in the world whose branches and twigs could lie dormant for decades. And even if it’s desiccated, if it finds the right conditions, a twig from this tree could spring into life. It would start off by bursting out in a crackle of growth using some residual store of nutrients. Something like that sounded plausible.
But I kept getting distracted by the implausible. Like the other story I found that sounded like it could be what was happening to my lucky stick.
According to this story, the world long before what we know as the ancient world was full of magic. Before the magic was drained away from the world, there were many beings who were magical by nature and many who acquired and used magic in the same way that people acquired and used machines and technology in the modern world.
Those who used magic were known by many names: witches, wizards, warlocks, sorcerers, enchantresses, magicians, and so on. The names often signified the level of skill, the devotion to the practice, the type of magic practiced, the gender of the practitioner, and sometimes the moral nature of the magic practiced. “Warlock,” for example, was a name given mostly to those who practiced wicked and ill-natured magic, and mostly to those practitioners of such magic who were men. Witches were mostly women and in some lands were revered as holy and good and in other lands were feared and loathed as fiendish.
But there was one group who studied, practiced, and codified the art and science of magic, and who stood apart from the others as having some authority from beyond the known authorities. They were called mages. Mages could be anyone. Magical creatures like fairies sometimes became mages. Human men, women, and sometimes even children, could become mages. There was even a rumor of a dragon becoming a mage once.
The highest of them were members of a respected and sacrosanct society known as the Union of Mages. The Union governed all mages and assured that whatever the other practitioners of magic were doing, all mages followed the rules. Rules made to keep order in the worlds. Rules made to assure that those with greater powers did not prey upon and subdue those were lesser powers. Rules made to appease those who envied and suspected the mages for their power. Rules made to bring to justice those who sought to harm any mage. Most other magical beings and practitioners of magic also agreed to abide by the rules and to let the Union of Mages be the arbiters and enforcers of those rules.
The Union established representation with every realm in the world. When new countries emerged, the Union sent an envoy. And that envoy might appear as anything from a tall human man to a seven-inch sprite who glowed with the light of a firefly.
But there was one thing all the mages had in common. From the one-day-old beginner to the eldest of the Union’s elders.
Every mage had a staff.
The staff might be made of anything, metal, stone, or wood. If made of wood, it could not be cut from a living tree. It must be made from fallen twigs and branches. The gathering and enchanting of dozens of dried and brittle twigs and branches into a solid and powerful staff was often a final lesson to a mage apprentice, so many mages, if not most, had a wooden staff. The staff could be adorned with gems, stones, and metal. But rarely was a mage’s staff made entirely of metal or stone, especially outside of the Union.
The staffs were meant to help the mages channel their powers, their spells, and thoughts. Each mage’s staff was so tuned to that mage that anyone else who found the staff would not be able to use it properly without shattering it, unless that person was another, more powerful mage. So when not in use, a mage would enchant the staff, usually making it invisible, or turning it into a trinket that could be worn and concealed. Elderly mages sometimes didn’t bother and used their staffs as walking staffs.
Throughout the ages, there were many opponents and many battles for the mages to fight. Sometimes an adversary refuted the Union’s right to govern magic. Sometimes an enemy coveted their power. The Union served to unite most mages and remained strong. But there finally came a time when the mages weakened. Their numbers began to dwindle. Their enemies, aided perhaps by turncoat mages, learned how to hunt and capture the mages. They sought the mage staffs and even managed to use some, breaking the staffs in their clumsy efforts. The mages needed to hide their staffs and protect their magical natures. As most staffs were made of wood, they would do this by turning their staffs into common twigs and branches and leaving them in the forest so they wouldn’t be found if the mages were to be captured.
Some were later able to recover their staffs. But many of the disguised staffs lay where they were, unrecognized by non-mages, often even ignored by other magical beings, be they fairy or wizard.
It was rumored that the descendants of the mages would be drawn to the staffs. Children would sometimes feel compelled to pick up a twig, become enamored of it, and keep it safe and hidden. This child would sometimes experience a run of good fortune. And that was how the superstition of the lucky stick came about, abiding even to the present day in some places.
So maybe I was a descendant of a mage, and maybe my lucky stick was a magical staff.
My eyes grew bleary and the edges of my lids felt seared. I could see past the living room curtains that the sky outside was lightening. Dawn was approaching. I had to stop, even though I had solved no mysteries.
I went to the kitchen table and looked at my lucky stick. It had started off being half an inch thick and seven inches long. Now it was an inch thick and eleven inches long. The green polished stone that seemed fused to the wood had grown as well, and it showed some marbling of lighter green within dark green.
The household will begin to wake soon. Lights will turn on, water will flow through pipes, beds will be made or left disheveled, and all will freshen from a night’s rest. I’ve decided I won’t tell them just yet.
I wonder if I should be concerned about who might know that I have the stick. It was dormant all these years, but it has sprung to life now. To life or to…some kind of being.
I’ll take a sick day. Just one. To take the rest I didn’t take last night. To try and find out what is happening and who can help me. And whom I can trust.
To keep watch over my lucky stick.
Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel.