Hopefully you’re enjoying our return to the world of Magic Tree House, even though we skipped the forty-five books in between this one and the last one we read. If only we could have done that for Crossfire.
Chapter 4: Willie!
To bring you up to speed, Jack has found himself roped into hiding under a bed by a young boy he just met, who just began attacking the President of the United States, which is certainly one of the more uniquely dire situations I’ve ever had to bring you guys up to speed on.
Jack was horrified. Would the Secret Service arrest him along with Tad? Jack had to stop him!
Suddenly the president burst out laughing. He wrapped his hands around Tad’s fists. “You little tadpole,” he said. “You didn’t scare me one bit!” Then he started to tickle Tad.
“Pa, don’t! Don’t, Pa, don’t!” Tad screamed and giggled and kicked.
Jack connects the dots that Tad is Abraham Lincoln’s son, which makes a strong case for why this kid should maybe read the books that let him travel through time before he just does it.
“Pa, me and Willie found a tree house,” said Tad. “Did you know there was a tree house here? Two kids were in it. Jack and Annie.”
I feel like even in the 19th century, suddenly finding a fully-constructed building of unknown origin in the White House lawn is probably a considerable national security issue. But that’s not the weird part – Abraham Fucking Lincoln totally flips out when he hears the names Jack and Annie.
“Wait— what did you say their names were?” the president asked, sounding serious. “Jack and Annie? […] They came out of nowhere? […] And their names are Jack and Annie? Are you sure?”
I really like how we’ve clearly got an Abraham Lincoln completely down to get wrapped up in whatever bullshit two kids have got going on. It’s like Bill and Ted in here.
Before the apparently deadly-serious matter of Jack and Annie can be resolved, Abraham Lincoln is summoned for his first meeting of the day. Meanwhile, Tad has not had a single line of dialogue that isn’t asking his dad to clarify whether the tree house belongs to him or not. Jesus, pull your shit together, Tad Lincoln.
After they leave, Jack tries to leave (which I would be incredibly remiss to not tell you is outlined with “Then he realized he’d better get out of the president’s bedroom”, which is probably the most quietly hysterical sentence I’m going to read for months), but two more figures enter the room.
“Dust first?” Jack heard a girl say.
“Aye, then shake out the pillows and change the linens,” said another.
Jack figures out that one of the girls is Annie, because she’s been a woman in the 1800s for about ten minutes and has thus already been conscripted into doing housework. Annie brings Jack up to speed, and we learn that she already figured out that Tad and Willie were Lincoln’s kids (come on, Jack – 47 books in and Annie is still trying to get you to chill the fuck out? What are you? Ten?) and also that it’s only their first week in the White House. Jack fills Annie in on what he learned, which she seems completely nonplussed about:
“‘Jack and Annie? Jack and Annie? Are you sure their names are Jack and Annie?’”
“That’s weird,” said Annie. “But I’m glad he wants to meet us. Come on.”
I get that this is a children’s book (drinking game for how many times Ariel or I write that during these two weeks), but shouldn’t she be a bit more interested in, you know, the progress of their mission? This would be like “That’s weird. You’re sure his name is Nemo? I’m glad his name is Nemo.”
Chapter 5: Leave Now!
Despite Abraham Lincoln somehow being completely on guard for the arrival of a Jack and Annie, they find that it’s kind of difficult to just see the President, and are stopped by his secretary, Mr. Nicolay.
Annie presses Nicolay for when they might get a chance to talk to the President, bugging him about the President’s itinerary, and also possibly causes a national incident.
“Got it,” said Annie. She took a deep breath. “Well, maybe you can just answer one question for us. Do you know if the president collects feathers?”
Mr. Nicolay threw up his hands. “This is no time for silly questions,” he said. “Our country is divided, young lady. We are on the brink of war.”
“What do you mean, sir?” one of the men in the crowd shouted. “What’s the news from Fort Sumter?”
“Yes! What do you know that we don’t know?” a lady called.
Everyone started shouting at once.
Oh shit, you guys. I think Annie just leaked the Civil War.
Jack wants to go back to the tree house (Which we all know totally won’t be there, right? Like 80% of Tad’s dialogue is a subtle variation on “I am going to take the tree house”) because he wants to read the Lincoln book (which seems like a great thing to have done before you time traveled, man) but Annie instead suggests skipping right ahead to the “hey, uh, we have a magic potion that will let us make a wish for basically whatever” portion of the evening. Annie don’t fuck around.
“Isn’t it too soon to use our only magic?” said Jack.
Come on, Jack, you’re not saving your magic for the final boss or anything. Annie quickly convinces him, and they drink the potion and make the wish. And apparently summon a dark pit hellscape of endless despair.
“We wish to have a meeting with Abraham Lincoln!” he said. “Alone!” There was a deafening WHOOSH and a ROAR. The earth shook, like a speeding train passing by. The ground opened, and Jack felt as if he were falling through space, through a tunnel, down through blackness, into a world of daylight.
Just in case the sudden but oddly muted shift to bleak, nightmare imagery didn’t quite draw you in, here’s the accompanying illustration:
Chapter 6: Trust the Magic
Jack and Annie come to in the countryside. Fortunately, Annie immediately solves the riddle that is their lives.
“Wait, wait,” said Annie. “Mr. Nicolay said if the president had a free moment, he’d take a ride in the country. I’ll bet we’ve come to a spot where we can catch Abraham Lincoln on his ride! Alone!”
At that exact moment, someone who is not Abraham Lincoln approaches them on a horse. Annie reminds a dismayed Jack about Teddy’s note telling them to “trust the magic”. You know, the magic from the guy who accidentally magicked a penguin into a statue and just made this happen:
The person on the horse turns out to be a sad-looking boy, Sam, about their age. They ask him if he’s seen the president anywhere nearby (it was a different time) and he says he is in the area, but he has some corn to grind at the mill before he can take them there (it was a different time). We got some subtle hints that they might have also traveled forward in time. Or as subtle as Jack ever makes anything.
Something felt wrong. This weather was different from the weather at the White House.
Sam takes them to the grinder and grinds twenty pounds of corn, which I’m sure you could already guess is driving Jack’s neuroses off the charts.
Jack and Annie stood to the side and watched Sam walk his horse around in a circle. After a while, Jack grew impatient.
Suddenly, tragedy strikes.
a gust of wind came up and the horse reared. […]
“These nice folks are waitin’ on us!” said Sam. He pushed the horse from behind. The wind picked up, tossing dead leaves into the air. The horse neighed again, then kicked out with her hind foot. Her hoof hit Sam in the head! […]
A trickle of blood ran down the side of his head. His eyes were closed. […]
“Is he dead?” whispered Annie.
And that’s our incredibly dark cliffhanger! Come back next week when we inevitably learn that Sam is not dead, despite being a ten-year-old boy who was just kicked in the head by a goddamn horse.