Seven-year-old Annie couldn’t stand it anymore. She’d awakened at 4 a.m. thinking she’d heard Santa coming down the chimney into the living room of their farmhouse there in Southampton, Long Island. Now at 5 a.m., in her pajamas, she tiptoed into the living room.
“Annie, is that you?” her father shouted down from upstairs.
“We’ll be right down,” her mother said. “Don’t open anything.”
Soon, in their nightclothes, they were opening presents under the Christmas tree. And that’s when this very extraordinary gift box got handed to Annie. When she opened it, all that was inside was an apple.
Annie looked at her dad.
“Take it into your bedroom and open your window,” he said.
Annie did as she was told, and soon in the dark and cold of that pre-dawn night, she heard the sound of hoofbeats. And there he was, on a long lead, at her window, a beautiful light brown pony with dark flashing eyes.
He quickly went for Annie’s apple. Crunch, crunch. She couldn’t believe it.
“For me?” she asked.
“For you,” her dad, behind her, said.
Annie reached out to pet the pony’s nose. He snuggled his head in her hand.
Later that morning, workmen came to create a new fenced pasture. The farmhouse, and Annie’s window, were on the south. The barn was on the north. The workmen installed a split-rail fence east and west. Also, they built a stall inside the barn for Magic, which, as it turned out, was her pony’s name.
Late in the morning, after the farmhand fed the chickens and ducks, he saddled up Magic so Annie could ride. She took to it right away. Soon she was galloping off on Magic down paths and into the woods that surrounded the farm, her shiny black hair flowing in the breeze.
After a few days, she thought, amazingly, that she and Magic were silently talking to one another. Take the left fork. I can leap that brook. Stop in that open field.
Late in the evening, Magic would see her in her nightclothes, holding an apple out her window. He’d trot over.
Delicious. Thank you.
You’re welcome. I love you.
Winter turned to springtime. One warm night in April, Magic made an extraordinary suggestion.
Come on out. I’ll take you for a night ride. “I can’t.” Yes, you can.
She climbed out her window. She was barefoot. “There’s no saddle,” she said. Just grab my mane and pull yourself up and over. When she was settled, he galloped off and leaped the split rail, not even bothering with the closed gate. You can leave, she said. Yes, but I stay.
They galloped into the woods. I’ll get you back before Joe arrives to feed the chickens. Good idea.
They went off twice every day in April. Saddled up during the day, and bareback into the night.
One night under a full moon in May, they were galloping through the night toward a clearing when Magic made an amazing suggestion.
Let’s see what this looks like from above, he said. Hang on tight. What? With that, Magic took a huge lunge and leaped into the sky. They were flying. Annie was speechless. She hung on for dear life.
There’s the pond, I’ll circle low. “I’m scared.” No you’re not. I’ve got you. “This is wonderful.”
They flew over the nearby village of Southampton, they circled around over Lake Agawam, just above the steeples of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. At 3 a.m., Magic landed Annie back in the pasture.
In the nights that followed, they flew around over Sag Harbor and East Hampton. Over Montauk they circled the lighthouse out at the Point. Can we land here? Don’t want to be seen, Magic said. But for a few minutes we can set down on the lawn. Okay. But quietly.
From the lawn, they could hear the seagulls squawking and the waves crashing onto the rocks below. Crickets chirped. Lightning bugs circled. “It’s beautiful,” Annie said. Seen enough? Yup. Off we go.
Back at 3 a.m., Annie jumped off and went in through the window, and Magic went back to his stall. And nobody ever knew.
In the summer, Annie continued riding Magic, nearby during the day and farther and farther away at night. They flew over the skyscrapers of New York City. They flew upstate over the mists of Niagara Falls. They flew over the dark waters of the Mississippi near St. Louis, then swooped low down into the depths of the Grand Canyon, scaring off hawks that, curious, had flown alongside.
In September, Magic and Annie flew to Paris, landing briefly at the very top of the Eiffel Tower. They flew over the Great Wall of China to gaze down on the fields that stretched out to the hills beyond. They flew over Victoria Falls in Africa, over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. They came down on the rim of the volcano at Mt. Fuji in Japan and stayed a while.
Annie loved Magic and Magic loved Annie and that was that.
A blinding fog settled over eastern Long Island on that next Christmas Eve. At midnight, Magic trotted over to the window. I need you to do something for me, Magic said. “What’s that?” Do you have two flashlights? “Yes, I do.” Come out with them. And take with you two washcloths, some Scotch tape and two metal coat hangers from your closet. We’re going back to the barn.
This was strange, Annie thought. But she did what he asked. At the barn, Magic explained. Santa called. Rudolph with the red nose is not available. They want me to lead the reindeer through the fog. Otherwise there will be no presents delivered to the Hamptons.
“You could save Christmas,” Annie said. Yup. They’re meeting us over Connecticut. “Can I come?” Yup.
Magic asked Annie to put the bit and bridle on him, something she’d not done before. “Why do we need this?” Tape the flashlights facing forward onto the bridle, one on each side. She did this. Now bend the coat hangers into antlers, wrap them with the wash cloths and tape them atop my head. And turn on the flashlights.
With that done, she climbed aboard, grabbed the mane and off they went out of the barn and into the sky.
Over Connecticut, Magic hooked himself to the front of the eight reindeer. Santa cheered. “On, EVERYBODY!” he shouted joyfully, and so off they flew, south across Long Island Sound and into this dense fog.
Delivering presents down every chimney in the Hamptons was about the most amazing experience Annie had ever had. She and Magic, with the help of the flashlights, flew the reindeer from roof to roof, where they waited while Santa took bags of toys down chimney after chimney from Montauk to Westhampton. She shouted with joy when the presents went down the chimney at her house.
Finally, with a delivery to Shelter Island, the work was done and Santa, Magic and the reindeer quietly set the sleigh down on the pasture next to Annie’s window at 3 a.m.
Annie hopped off. And there, Magic spoke to her. The antlers and lights were still in place.
I have to go back to the Pole, Magic said. “What?” Santa needs me. I grew up there, and got assigned to come to you. I thought it would be forever, but now Santa wants me at the North Pole in case this happens again. I don’t want to do this, but I have to. “I love you.” I love you too. Goodbye, Annie. He nuzzled her and then urged her through the window. And with that, Magic, Santa and the reindeer flew off into the night.
Annie got into bed and she cried and cried. Soon, her mom and dad in their nightclothes came into the room.
“What’s wrong?” her mother said.
Magic’s gone, she wailed.
“No, he’s not,” mother said. “He’s in the barn.”
“He’s not there, I just know it.”
Annie ran out the front door, across the pasture and into the barn, her mom and dad following her. No Magic.
“We’ll get a search party looking for him. He can’t be far.”
“He’s gone,” Annie wailed.
Even though it was Christmas morning, her dad got on the phone and called the fire department and the police department to form a search party. It disrupted Christmas that morning—Annie could see she’d gotten a bicycle but she didn’t care—and the search went on all night and for the next two days and nights. But Magic was gone.
On the fourth day, Annie, in her room, overheard her father talking to her mother by the fireplace.
“Well, Annie is finally getting over this,” he said. “We both know, the search was just for show. And the search party knew it too. It was all for Annie. She couldn’t know.”
“Shall we get a full-grown horse from the North Pole for her?” mom asked.
“She’s ready,” dad said. “But they just have ponies there. I think we could get a sweet but fast mare for her at the Amarillis Farm in Bridgehampton, though.”
Annie had dried her tears by this fourth day. Yes, she’d like a horse. But nothing would ever, not ever, replace the time she spent with Magic.