Tim is celebrating Christmas Eve with his family, but isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. Then he meets someone rather unexpected…
Genre: A children’s fantasy story for all ages.
For the audio version, click here.
A Friendly Neighborhood Christmas
Uncle Tony grabbed his big knife from the kitchen counter and stood hovering over the large piece of cooked meat in front of him. The rest of the family stared at him, some with hungry eyes, others bored, Tim with utter disinterest.
Uncle Tony winked at his little nephew before swinging the knife down in an overly theatrical fashion and Tim could almost hear his mother’s eyes roll in their eye sockets.
‘Tony, don’t be an idiot, you’re gonna poke someone’s eye out with that thing. Just cut the pork already, will ya?’ Tim’s grandmother urged her second oldest son. Tim could see the Christmas tree’s twinkly reflection in her glasses.
‘All right, all right,’ Uncle Tony replied, winking at Tim again, who wished his uncle would stop. It wasn’t as if it was invisible to the rest of the table, and that’s exactly what Tim wanted to be this evening: invisible.
Uncle Tony sliced off a big piece of meat and studied it from all angles before looking up at his family members around him while humming along to a choir version of Jingle Bells playing in the background. His gaze stopped at Tim’s father and then proceeded to nod at him.
‘The biggest piece for our biggest man.’ The table laughed along with Uncle Tony as Tim’s father hungrily brought his plate up to receive the piece of meat. A whiff of pork passed by Tim’s nose as his father put down his plate. Tim could almost feel his stomach protest out loud at the lack of food, so he was glad Uncle Tony did not waste more time in dividing up the grand prize.
Lastly, after Uncle Tony sliced himself a piece – which was bigger than the one he had given Tim’s father, but Tim thought it better not to mention it – it was Tim’s turn.
‘Now for our smallest member…’
Tim already wanted to leave the table there and then, had it not been Christmas Eve.
‘…the biggest piece,’ his grandmother interjected. ‘So he will grow to be as a big a man as his father.’
Uncle Tony snorted. ‘That’ll be the day. No, to our youngest member, our Timothy, goes the smallest piece. Here you go, boy.’
Tim looked at the plate in front of him. With a quick splash his tiny piece of meat disappeared underneath a big pile of mashed potatoes.
Tim hated bits.
He stared at his plate while around him his family picked up their forks and knives and dug in. His grandmother’s cozy kitchen filled with the noise of laughter and cutlery clanging on plates and a lot of talking with food in people’s mouths while the choir kept singing in the background.
Tim ate his Christmas dinner quietly. He didn’t laugh at jokes, because he didn’t think any of them were particularly funny and he didn’t smile at the cute anecdotes, because they didn’t feel cute to him.
‘Are you enjoying your dinner, sweetheart?’ his mother had asked halfway through the evening.
Tim had nodded while sticking two string beans onto his fork and putting them into his mouth.
The night dragged on from there with more stories and so-called jokes from Uncle Tony. The others – two aunts and five uncles; all of his cousins were much older than him and away, somewhere, Tim didn’t know exactly where, college, vacation, a sabbatical, who really knew, or remembered – tried to outdo each other laughing in response and the volume went up and up and up to the point where Tim could no longer hear himself think. He had an inkling the wine that kept being poured into glasses around the decorated table was to blame.
At last it was time for dessert and for Tim to dig into his favorite meal.
He was first to finish his banana toffee pudding and mentally sent signals to his mother to hurry up so they could go home. His mum seemed to get the message, but after his father finished his dessert, he invited his brothers, sisters and in-laws into the living room for a last nightcap.
And so Tim helped his mother and grandmother clean off the table. As they put away the left overs, Tim sat back down at the kitchen table and fondled the piece of holly in the middle of it.
His grandmother put a chocolate cookie in the shape of a star in front of him. Tim studied the multi-colored sprinkles on top of it, before breaking off each leg and eating it.
It was the most delicious thing he had ever eaten and that included his grandmother’s banana toffee pudding, so that said something.
‘You like that, huh?’ his grandmother said from the other side of the table where she stood leaning on the back of a chair, looking at her grandson with a beaming smile.
Tim nodded and was sad to put the last of it into his mouth.
‘You know what?’ she said, walking around the table. She opened a cabinet as Tim watched and chewed until the very last crumb had been savored.
A big, round tin stood on the top shelf and his grandma had to stand on tiptoes to reach it and get it down. She set it on the counter and closed the cabinet door. She turned to Tim and her eyes twinkled behind her big bright blue frames. ‘These are for you. A Christmas present from me.’
Tim stood up and smiled broadly at his grandmother. He wanted to hug her, but he wasn’t sure if that was too much. Thankfully, his grandmother opened her arms and he gladly stepped into them. She hugged him tightly and he realized he had grown a lot since the last time she had hugged him.
When she let go, Tim could still feel himself smiling. She handed him the tin as if it was the most important item in the world. ‘I received this tin from my grandmother.’
Tim looked down at the cookie tin in his hands. It was silver and had shiny white snowflakes painted on it. In the middle, it had an image of a snowman. The snowman wore a bright red top hat and a bright yellow scarf and bright orange buttons matching his bright orange nose. Tim looked up at his grandmother in her bright blue rims.
‘Thank you,’ Tim said softly.
His grandmother ruffled his hair. ‘You’re very welcome, Tim. Maybe one day you can bake me some cookies.’
Tim smiled and nodded. He liked that idea. Very much. But he already knew they would never be as good as the ones in this tin.
When his father finally had enough of his family, they said their goodbyes and set out for their walk home.
It was around freezing temperature when they left the building and turned the corner. It was going to be a chilly fifteen minute walk home and Tim dove further into his moss green scarf, burying his hands as deep into his coat pockets as he could. Mittens could only keep out so much cold in this weather. Meanwhile his ears started to prick from the chill.
A snowflake landed on his nose and he scrunched it up to wave off its mild tickles. He gazed at the streetlight and saw handfuls of snowflakes fall down effortlessly and silently onto the street and pavement.
Queens was quiet on Christmas Eve. An occasional car drove by, slowly and steadily through the quickly forming slush. Only a handful of other pedestrians braved the cold this evening.
‘Tim, come on,’ his mother said. Tim looked ahead and saw his mother and father on the other side of the corner. Tim hurried on as fast as the snow and slippery concrete beneath his feet let him.
‘Did you have a good time, buddy?’ his father asked. His mother had her arm wrapped inside his father’s, but Tim wondered if it wasn’t to keep him steady instead of herself.
‘Yeah,’ Tim said truthfully. The chocolate cookies in his grandmother’s cookie tin, now safely in a grocery tote bag dangling over his shoulder, had made it great. He did admit to himself that until then he had felt lonely and the odd one out – which he realized being the only non-adult there he probably was – but he thought it better not to tell his mother that.
‘Good, I’m glad,’ his mother replied, ushering her husband carefully across the road, Tim in tow. However, it didn’t last long or Tim was a long way behind them again. He had heard his father asking his mother about his son’s birthday party – it was Tim’s birthday on New Year’s Day – and he didn’t want to hear his mother explaining to his father that nobody had replied to his birthday invitation.
Suddenly a stone had seemed to drop into Tim’s abdomen and he had loitered behind, not keen in the slightest to catch up with his parents. He had already forgotten all about the cookies over his shoulder that had put him in such a great mood not long before.
He kicked a pebble that rattled across the street until it came to a halt against the snow cooped up against a fire hydrant. From behind he heard another car drive past. It made a ‘swoosh’ sound as it moved through the snow.
‘Swoosh,’ Tim mimicked it. ‘Swoosh’.
Another swoosh made Tim look behind him, expecting another car, but bar a loved up couple on the other side of the road too enthralled with each other to notice anything or anyone else, the street was empty. Then he heard it again: swoosh.
Tim realized the sound wasn’t coming from street level, but from above. He halted and looked up. First to the other side of the street where he could better see the top of the building, then to his own side.
He didn’t see anything.
Disappointed, he shrugged and started walking again, hands in his pockets. His mum and dad had disappeared around the corner, but Tim knew the way.
But then there it was again.
Tim swiveled around and nearly fell on the slippery pavement as his foot slid away from under him. He was sure he had seen something this time: a figure swaying over the roof of the adjacent building.
There it was again! And was it… red?
Tim squinted to the building’s roof on the other side of the road, waiting, with only street lights to help him as the houses on this side of the road were all dark inside.
The figure was definitely wearing red.
Tim made for the other side of the road, skidding as he did and ran the other way he had come, following the sound.
One moment he was near the noise and he thought he had caught up with it, but the next moment it sounded further away again.
Tim ran around corners and through streets he didn’t know, but he kept following the noise, passing by pedestrians and crossing in front of slow going cars.
Until he could not go on any further.
He leant against the wall of a closed Greek restaurant to catch his breath. He looked up. There suddenly was the red shadow again.
‘Santa!’ Tim yelled as loudly as he could.
No response came.
Until a shadow appeared over the edge of the roof.
‘Hello,’ the figure said.
It didn’t sound like Santa. The voice sounded much younger.
‘Hello,’ said Tim. ‘Are you Santa?’
The figure rose and Tim saw all of his red costume.
‘I’m sorry, but no. I am not Santa.’
Tim looked up in awe.
‘Are you lost?’ With a quick swoop and swoosh the figure in red swayed from the roof to the pavement below where Tim was standing. He landed with an almost inaudible thud.
‘You’re…,’ Tim started, unable to utter more at this time. Because who stood before him right now was so much more exciting than Santa Claus. Who stood before him was an actual superhero, an Avenger. It was Spider-Man. Talking to him, Tim!
‘Are you lost?’ he asked again.
‘No,’ Tim answered decidedly.
But then he looked around.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Well, Tim, where do you live?’ Spider-Man said, looking down at Tim.
Tim couldn’t believe his luck and stared a little longer before he was able to open his mouth and tell him which street he lived in.
‘That’s a bit away, kid. Come on. I’ll walk you home. How come you’re so far off from home, huh?’
‘I was walking home from my grandma with my mum and dad and then… I heard you,’ Tim said quietly.
‘You heard me?’ Spider-Man said, leading the way.
‘Yeah. I heard a…,’ Tim imitated the noise, ‘swoosh. I think it was your web shooters.’ Tim looked at Spider-Man’s wrists.
Seeing the boy’s gaze, he held his arms up and shot two strings of web across the pavement towards a lamp post. The superhero ran towards it and launched himself from it like a catapult.
‘Wow!’ said Tim. It was really Spider-man! He quickly ran toward where Spider-Man had landed.
‘I’m sorry that I’m not Santa,’ he said when Tim approached.
‘I’m not!’ Tim replied instantly with a beaming smile. ‘You’re way better than Santa.’
‘But I don’t bring presents. Or ride a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Or live on the North Pole with Elves,’ he continued, as they continued walking down the chilly street together, the superhero in his red and blue super suit, Tim warmly wrapped up in his winter attire.
‘But you’re a superhero,’ explained Tim. ‘You saved the world. You have saved us all.’
‘I had help from my friends,’ said Spider-Man.
‘You didn’t when you helped Mr Zabalos when he got robbed on the street where he lives one evening last Spring, Mr Spider-Man,’ said Tim.
It sounded as if the superhero giggled.
‘You can call me Spidey, Tim.’
‘Okay. Spidey.’ Tim felt so happy in this moment, walking with his hero next to him. He hugged his shoulder bag with his grandmother’s cookies. That gave him an idea. ‘Would you like a cookie, Mr… Spidey?’
‘Oh, I would love a cookie, Tim.’
Tim halted and dug inside his shoulder bag to grab the snowman tin. He tried to open it with his mittens on, but couldn’t. So Spider-Man helped slide the lid off the tin.
‘Oh my,’ he said. ‘They look amazing.’
‘They are,’ said Tim. ‘My grandmother made them.’
Spider-Man took one out and broke off a piece. As he chewed, he made noises that made it clear to Tim his hero was enjoying his grandmother’s cookie as much as he had earlier.
‘This is absolutely delicious, Tim. Your grandmother is an amazing baker. This way, Tim.’
Tim liked Spider-Man calling him by his name.
The two of them walked on side by side for another couple minutes as Spider-Man led the way. Tim gave him another cookie, which he seemed to enjoy as much as he had the first one.
‘Will you hand out these cookies to your friends, Tim?’
Tim’s gaze went from the car passing them at a snail’s pace to the pavement and his shoes. ‘No. I don’t really have any friends.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, Tim. That’s not right.’
Tim went quiet for a moment before replying.
‘Everyone in my class thinks I’m weird. My family thinks I’m weird too.’ He kicked a small pile of snow, which wafted onto the road.
‘They do huh.’
‘Can I tell you a secret, Tim?’
Tim’s stomach fluttered. Spider-Man wanted to share a secret with him.
‘People think I’m weird too.’
‘They do?’ Tim could not believe what he was hearing and he instantly stopped walking and stared up at Spider-Man. Then he had to hurry to catch up with his favorite superhero and hear his reply.
‘Oh yeah. In school, just as me. But also in this suit.’
‘Really? In school too?’ Tim had never really thought about Spider-Man having gone to school. While it was an odd thought, it was also a reassuring one.
‘Oh, definitely. I’m a geek, Tim. I like school. I like math, science, physics. Some people think that’s weird. But you know what?’ Spider-Man turned to Tim and knelt down in front of him.
‘I think it’s not weird at all. I actually think that liking school and science is super cool.’
Tim smiled at Spider-Man. ‘I think so too.’
‘Do you think I’m weird, Tim?’
Tim was shocked to hear Spider-Man ask such a question.
‘What? Nooo! I think you’re super cool!’
‘Absolutely, Mr… Spidey!’
‘And I think you’re super cool, too.’
Tim beamed up at his hero before him.
‘Look at us,’ said Spidey as he got up and took Tim’s hand, ‘two cool dudes walking down a snowy street in Queens, New York City, on Christmas Eve.’
‘Yeah,’ said Tim, perfectly happy.
‘Here we are,’ said Spider-Man a minute or two later.
It was as if Tim woke up from a dream as he suddenly realized they were standing in front of his house. The lights were still out.
‘I reckon your mum and dad are out looking for you. I’ll stay with you until they get back.’
Tim nodded and together they sat down on the snowy stairs leading up to the front door.
‘Tim!’ a voice instantly yelled from the other side of the street. His mother and father had just turned the corner and came running towards them.
Tim stood up and stepped down onto the pavement. His mother enveloped him completely and hugged him tightly.
‘We didn’t know where you were, buddy,’ his father said when his mother let him go, ruffling his snow-filled hair. ‘We walked all the way back. But you met someone I see.’
‘Hello, sir. I’m Spider-Man’.
‘I know who you are,’ replied his father, shaking the extended hand. ‘This guy talks about you quite a lot.’
‘He does?’ Spider-Man said. It sounded humble and Tim could feel his cheeks getting warm. He was glad he was wearing a large scarf. ‘I should go now.’
‘Wait,’ said Tim’s mother, who rummaged around in her handbag and pulled out a Tupperware bowl. ‘Some leftover banana toffee pudding.’
‘That is very kind of you, madam,’ Spider-Man said, as he took the bowl carefully. ‘Thank you. It was really nice meeting you, Tim.’ Spider-Man extended his free hand.
‘It was really nice meeting you too,’ said Tim, taking off his mitten and shaking his hero’s hand. ‘Thank you for taking me home.’
‘Yes, thank you,’ repeated his mother.
‘No problem. In fact, it was my pleasure. Goodbye, Tim. I hope I get to see you again some time.’
‘I hope so too,’ said Tim and he did, with his whole being he hoped for it.
With a swoosh, two more strings of web shot from Spidey’s wrists.
‘Woah,’ Tim uttered under his breath, giving him a little wave with his mitten-free hand.
‘Bye,’ Spider-Man said one more time before jumping and shooting forward onto the adjacent building.
Tim stared as his hero climbed the wall opposite, jumped over the roof’s edge and disappeared out of sight. ‘Woah.’
‘Come on, Tim. Long night. Time for bed.’
But Tim knew he wasn’t going to be able to sleep at all tonight and not because of the presents awaiting him in the morning. But because he had just been given the greatest present of all time. With a smile he ascended the steps to his house. But instead of stepping over the threshold, he froze.
There had been a sound close by. A squeal. A squeal of an animal in danger.
Without thinking on it, Tim jumped down the steps in one, ignoring his mother’s call behind him and darted into the alley next to his house. There, he saw a small kitten surrounded by three angry looking and much bigger cats.
‘Hey!’ said Tim, rushing forward.
The three bigger cats jumped to the side and ran away past Tim and onto the main street. Tim barely registered the sound of a car skidding on the road behind him.
The small kitten was cowering in a corner besides a trash can.
‘Hey there,’ said Tim quietly to the frightened and wet animal. ‘It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.’
Although it was almost pitch black in the alley except for a light from the lamp post just outside his house, Tim could see the white cat with black stripes had many bald spots on his fur. As he came closer, he even saw some blood. ‘Oh no.’ He quickly put his other mitten back on.
‘Tim, come inside,’ his father called out from behind him.
‘There’s an injured cat here,’ said Tim.
‘Tim, come on. Now. I don’t want to say it again.’
‘No! He needs my help!’ Tim lunged forward and grabbed the kitten with both hands. It was trying to get away and scratched and bit Tim’s hands and fingers, but it being so small, Tim barely felt it through the fabric of his gloves. He held it to his chest and stroked it, making sure he didn’t come near the wounds.
‘It’s okay,’ he said softly to the little shivering and scared cat. ‘It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.’
Tim walked back to his father and mother who looked at the creature in their son’s arms with suspicion. Tim saw the other three cats sit on the other side of the road, looking on with their tails wagging against the snow piling up. He wasn’t going to take them in too, he decided. Not after how they treated this little guy or girl.
Tim closed the door behind him with his foot, carefully holding the kitten. His father helped him take his shoes and coat off, leaving snow everywhere on the doormat and floor of the hallway. In the living room, his mother switched on the heating and the lights of the decorations, basking it in a warm and cozy glow. Tim looked at the blanket folded up below the tree.
‘Can I put him down there?’
His mother walked to the blanket and unfolded it, making a little nest for the creature to lie comfortably in. Tim knelt down next to it and put the kitten down. It was shivering, but didn’t protest any longer. Tim smiled at the small creature. ‘There. You’re safe now.’
Tim’s mother ruffled her son’s hair before placing a kiss on top of his head. ‘My little superhero.’
Having made sure the cat was as comfortable as possible and had milk and left over chicken bits within reach, Tim felt it was okay for him to go to bed.
As his mother wished him a goodnight and switched off the bedroom light, Tim wondered what Spider-Man would be doing right now. Would he remember him at all come morning? Or would there be many other kids and people he saved and Tim was just one of the many? He hoped he would remember him. Tim would remember Spider-Man for sure. For the rest of his life.
When morning came, Tim could not wait to get out of bed. He raced to the living room and saw the little kitten fast asleep beneath the tree, still inside his little blanket nest, surrounded by presents wrapped in many colorful papers. The sight pleased Tim immensely.
He raced back to his room to put on his slippers. As he opened his curtains to see how much snow had fallen during the night, he noticed something on his window sill. He opened the window. A chilly gust of air blew into his face and some snowflakes fell onto his pajamas and onto the bedroom carpet. Carefully, he grabbed the package.
It was a present.
Inside a see-through bag to keep it dry, he could see red Christmas wrapping paper with snowmen and snowflakes on it. Tim stared at it. Then he decided he would open it in the living room. So he walked back in his Spider-Man slippers and quietly sat down next to the sleeping cat. For a moment he pondered whether to open it now or wait for his parents to wake up, but realizing it was set specifically on his window sill he reckoned it was okay to open it now.
So he did. Trying to make as little noise as possible so as not to wake the kitten, he tore off the plastic first and then the Christmas wrapping.
There a was a note stuck inside.
Tim pulled out the piece of paper and started reading the handwritten note.
‘For Tim, from your friend Spider-Man’.
Tim instantly felt his cheeks burn and his eyes prick.
Carefully, he put the note down on the floor next to him and opened the rest of the present. He could feel his hands were suddenly shaking a little.
Tim could not believe what was inside.
He grabbed the presents and studied them. At that moment, the kitten next to him woke and stretched its little paws and claws.
‘Look at this,’ Tim said to him. ‘Look at what our friend Spider-Man got us for Christmas!’ Slowly, Tim put the soft, furry mouse on top of the blanket. Then he got up and hurried to the kitchen where he retrieved a bowl. He poured the contents of the second present into it and returned to the living room to put the bowl of kibble down next to the saucer of milk.
Next, he tore off the newspaper wrapping of the third and final gift. He stared at the object he was holding.
He put it on his wrist and aimed his full arm at the couch opposite. He bent his middle and ring fingers towards his palm. Pushing his fingers down, a small string of web shot out across the room and landed on top of the couch.
Tim couldn’t believe it. Spider-Man had given him a web shooter for Christmas! A small one, of course, but it was perfect to Tim. He pushed his fingers down again and more web shot out.
He aimed again and with one big shot he covered the entire front of their Christmas tree in white webbing. Tim was giddy with laughter.
‘What’s going on here?’ a voice said from the living room entrance.
‘Look,’ said Tim, jumping up. ‘Look what I got!’
‘Oh my,’ said his father. ‘Did Santa get you that?’
‘No,’ said Tim, racing back to the couch where he had placed the note on the floor, while his kitten was purring and prodding the fake mouse.
Tim proudly handed his father the note. ‘It’s from my friend, Spider-Man.’
My friend Spider-Man, Tim thought while smiling down at his wrist, had made this the best Christmas ever.