The Little Match Boy
Dylan shivered in the frigid wind, snow blowing all around him. He felt lucky that he still had his coat and shoes. The man who robbed him last night attempted to take those as well. Dylan woke up in time to run away, but he lost his backpack and everything in it. Three nights on his own and now he owned only the clothes on his back, three dollars and thirty-seven cents, a stick of gum, and a matchbook with three remaining matches. Pathetic. The wind and snow drove him to get up and get moving again. The cops moved him along if he stayed in one place too long anyway. He got up, brushed the snow off his clothes and walked off into the night, destination unknown.
Dylan considered the last three days of his life, while he searched for a place to crash for the night. He turned fourteen three days ago. The day began awesomely. His fourteenth birthday, a week before Christmas, everything seemed perfect to him. He thought that telling his parent would make things even better. He thought they would understand. He thought they loved him no matter what. So, with a broad grin on his face, Dylan walked into the family room and told his parents that he was gay. Their reaction shocked him. His mother burst into tears and ran out of the room. His father demanded that he stop lying and admit that he was straight. Dylan almost did just that, but he decided that he had come this far, he had to be honest with them and with himself.
Dylan’s mother returned to the room and dropped his backpack on the floor at his feet. This confused him at first, and he looked from his mother to his backpack and back again. She didn’t even look him in the eye, she just told him to leave. She didn’t want him and his sinful ways infecting his little brother. Dylan burst into tears, picked up the backpack and left the only home he had ever known.
A cry for help brought Dylan out of his memories and back into the cold reality of his new life. The sound came from an alley of to his right. He ran to the opening and looked towards the sounds. A man stood over a young boy. The boy, sprawled on the wet pavement, noticed Dylan and yelled louder. “Help! He’s stealing all my stuff! Help!”
That’s when Dylan noticed his own backpack slung over the man’s shoulder. “Hey!” Dylan yelled, running towards the man. “Give that stuff back!” The man glanced back at Dylan and then took off running. “Crap,” Dylan said. “that guy has my stuff, too.” Dylan extended his hand to the other boy to help him up. “I’m Dylan. What’s your name?”
The other boy stood up and brushed as much of the snow and dirt off himself as he could. “Thanks a lot, bro. My name is Jason, but please call me Jay.” Jay looked down at his feet. “I can’t believe he stole my shoes and my socks. I hate to think of what else may have happened if you hadn’t come. Thanks again, Dylan.” Jay wrapped his arms around himself, shaking with cold.
“Jay? Where do you live? Can I walk you back there?” Dylan asked with trepidation. Afraid that this boy, like him, may not have a home to go back to.
Jay frowned. “I ran away. My parents died in a car crash last year. I’ve been living with my aunt, but things haven’t been great. My uncle gets drunk and then mean almost every night.” Jay scowled and didn’t meet Dylan’s eyes.
“Hey, I understand. No sweat, bro. No judgments from me. Do you have any other clothes, or did he get everything?” Dylan asked.
“He stole everything I had. Even my shoes and socks. I might have to try a shelter tonight, even though most are almost as dangerous as the streets.” Jay’s eyes glistened with tears, but he held firm and did not cry. “Don’t worry about me, Dylan. You look like you have as many problems as I do.”
Dylan sighed. “I guess. My parents kicked me out because I’m gay. My perfect little life blew up three days ago, on my fourteenth birthday no less. I totally misjudged my parents. My mom told me she didn’t want my sinful, disgusting ways to infect my little brother. Being gay isn’t a disease!” Dylan kicked a rock across the alley and clenched his fists. “I just don’t understand how they could do that to me. I’m their son. Aren’t they supposed to love and support me no matter what?”
“Gee, bro, I’m sorry. Yeah, that really sucks. People get so stupid about that stuff. Who you love shouldn’t matter to anyone but you. I’m only twelve, and I understand that. What’s the matter with parents?” Jay put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder to try and comfort him.
Dylan shrugged his shoulders. “Thanks, Jay. I appreciate it. I have some things I want to give you. I can’t just leave you like this. That idiot took your shoes and socks for crying out loud. And it’s snowing!” Dylan sat on a nearby fire escape and took off his shoes and socks. He handed the socks to Jay and put his shoes back on. Before the boy had a chance to thank him, Dylan took off his jacket and his hoodie. He tossed the hoodie to Jay and put his coat back on. Next, he emptied his pockets and looked at his remaining belongings. He handed Jay the stick of bubblegum and one matchstick, leaving himself with three dollars and thirty-seven cents and two matches. “I hope that helps. Jay. It’s the best I can do. Kids like us got to stick together. Take care of yourself, bro.”
Jay couldn’t believe it. “Dylan, this is too much. I can’t take all this.” He lost his battle to not cry as tears streamed down his face. “This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me since my parents died. What am I supposed to do with the match, though?” Through his tears, Jay smiled as he asked about the match.
Dylan just smiled. “Keep it. All of it. I don’t need it. Maybe you can start a fire somewhere with the match and warm yourself up. Take care of yourself, Jay. See you around.” Dylan turned and left the alley, taking one last look back and waving to Jay as he turned the corner.
Dylan fought his way through the wind and snow as he made his way through town. The snow pelted his face, coming down harder than ever. He walked closer to the buildings, trying to avoid the worst of the wind. He bent his head forward and attempted to walk faster. He needed to find a safe place to sleep soon, exhaustion was overtaking his body. He heard a noise and stopped. He looked all around and then noticed someone huddled in the doorway of the building he just walked past. Dylan turned and walked back to the doorway and peered in. An old man shivered, wrapping his arms around his knees, trying to stay warm. The man wore no coat, no hat, no gloves. Dylan bent down next to the man.
“Sir, are you ok? Is there somewhere you can go? It’s snowing pretty hard.” Dylan shook the man’s shoulder.
The man slowly looked up. “The shelters filled up before I got there. I’ll shelter here tonight. I’ve survived worse.” The old man tried to smile reassuringly. “What about you, son. Why are you out on such a snowy night?”
“My parents kicked me out. Then a man robbed me, so I left that place, too. I’m looking for a new place to crash. Right now, I’m more worried about you, sir.” Dylan said.
“Don’t worry about an old man like me. I’ve survived two wars and three divorces; a little snow won’t kill me.” He tried to laugh but ended up coughing.
Dylan frowned and stood up. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around the man’s shoulders, then he handed the old man his gloves. “Take these. Don’t even try to say no. You need them more than I do.” He reached into his pocket and took out the matchbook. He ripped one of the two remaining matches out of the book and handed it to the old man. “Here, sir. Take this, too. Maybe when it stops snowing, you can light a fire.” Dylan shrugged and gave the man a half-smile.
“Thank you, son.” The man said with tears forming at the corners of his eyes. “You don’t even know how many people walked right past me tonight and none stopped except you. You may be just a boy, but you have a bigger heart than any grown man I have ever known. Take care of yourself. I will never forget you.” Holding back tears of his own, Dylan said goodnight to the old man, turned and continued with his search for a place to sleep.
Dylan barely walked two blocks before he heard another noise that stopped him in his tracks. He heard loud banging and what sounded like a baby crying from behind the supermarket. Curious and concerned, he, once again, abandoned his own quest and investigated possible trouble. Dylan turned the corner and couldn’t believe his eyes. A baby sat in a beat-up stroller, alone, beside a big green dumpster. Dylan ran up to check the condition of the baby. He barely had any clothes of his own left, he had no idea how he would keep a baby warm if no one came back for it. Just before he reached the stroller, a girl’s head appeared from inside the dumpster and shouted at him.
“Hey! You! Help! I’m stuck in here. I reached in to see if I could find any food for Olivia and me, but I slipped and fell, and now I can’t get out.” The girl said while waving over at Dylan. “Please!”
Dylan walked over to the dumpster. He stepped up on a wooden crate and reached his arm over the side of the dumpster. When he felt the girl grab on, he pulled her out. They both fell off the crate, the girl landing on top of him. She smiled down at him. “Thanks a million, doll.” She kissed his forehead and got up.
Dylan blushed and looked more closely at her. She didn’t look much older than him. Sixteen, maybe seventeen, if he had to guess. “You’re welcome. I’m Dylan. Glad I could help. Why are you out here with your baby? I’m frozen. Your baby must be even colder.”
The girl turned towards Dylan. “I’m Natalie, and this is my son, Alexander. There’s nowhere for us to go. My mom kicked me out when I got pregnant, and Alex’s father won’t even admit he’s his son. The ignorant bastard.” Natalie’s voice held a mixture and anger, sadness and despair.
“I’m so sorry, Natalie. I’ve only been out here on the streets for three days, and I’ve already heard such horrible stories of what people do to each other. It’s overwhelming.” Dylan said.
“What’s your own sad story, Dylan? Why are you out here?” Natalie asked, placing her hand on Dylan’s arm.
“My parents kicked me out because I’m gay. They kicked me out on my fourteenth birthday no less! I… I thought my parents would love me no matter what.” He gave her a sympathetic look. “I thought they’d be cool with it, but they kicked me out with just a backpack full of stuff. And the backpack was stolen just two days later!” He shrugged. “Other people have it worse than me. I can see that already. It’s rougher out here than you can ever imagine when you’re safe at home. I never thought about the people, the kids, out here on the streets. It really sucks.”
Natalie nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it does suck. We’ll find a way to make it, though. I’m sure you will, too. You seem very smart and strong. And the sweetest guy I’ve met in a long time.” She smirked and winked at him, causing him to blush. “Anyway, this dumpster was a bust. We’re going to look for another one. You want to join us?”
Dylan shook his head. “Nah, I’m going to keep looking for a new place to crash. Good luck with your search.” Dylan dug into his pants pocket and pulled out the contents. “Here, I know it’s just three dollars and thirty-seven cents, but I don’t know, maybe you can get baby food or something. I don’t even know how expensive that stuff is” He shrugged. “And take this match and my beanie. Find somewhere out of the snow and light a fire to get warm. Alex looks really cold.”
Natalie hugged him and kissed his cheek, eliciting yet another episode of blushing. “Thank you so much, Dylan. We’ll never forget you. Good luck with finding a place to sleep.”
Dylan turned and left. Now with empty pockets, no hat, no jacket, no hoodie, no socks, and no gloves, he walked off and continued his quest for a warm place to sleep.
Dylan’s could barely feel his face, his hands, or his feet by the time he heard the bells. The church! The church bells always sounded at midnight on Christmas Eve. Shivering uncontrollably, Dylan headed in the direction of the bells. He hoped the pastor left the church unlocked. A warm building, any warm building, filled his thoughts. Dylan saw the lights of the church at the end of the street. Just a few more yards. Then the world spun, and everything went black. Dylan collapsed into the snow.
Dylan heard a voice and felt warm hands rubbing his arms and face. “My dear boy, wake up. I need to get you into the church where it’s warm, but I’m not sure I can carry you there by myself.” The voice said. Dylan blinked his eyes, trying to open them. They felt frozen shut. Ice crusted on his eyelashes. He finally opened his eyes and stared up at the person trying to lift him out of the snow. It was a lady, maybe a little older than his mom. Her small frame struggled just to keep his upper body out of the snow while she tried to rub warmth into his arms and hands.
Dylan groaned. “Where am I? What’s happening?” Weak and disoriented, he tried to sit up. “Who are you?”
“I’ll answer all of your questions as soon as we’re inside, young man. Let’s get you out of this snow.” The lady helped him to his feet, and they walked into the church and sat in the back pew. “I am Amelia. I came here to pray, and when I left, I found you in the snow. I should be asking you the questions, but first let me get you a blanket or an old coat from the church’s donation bin.” Amelia left him sitting on the bench, lost in his thoughts. She returned a few minutes later with both a big puffy jacket and a blanket. Dylan quickly put on the coat and wrapped the blanket around himself as tightly as he could.
“Thank you so much, Amelia. I… I think you might have saved my life. My name is Dylan. I’ll tell you anything you want to know… as soon as my teeth stop chattering.” Dylan gave Amelia a half-smile and pulled the blanket even tighter around himself.
Amelia thought about taking Dylan to her house, but she didn’t want to chance taking him back out in the cold yet. She gave him the time he needed to warm up before asking him any more questions. When he felt a bit warmer, Dylan looked at Amelia and began his story. He told her everything. From his parents kicking him out to the man stealing his backpack and everything that happened to him tonight. When he finished, they both had tears streaming down their faces.
Dylan pulled back from her a little and spoke. “You seem like a church lady, just like my parents. If you want to kick me out of this church now that you know I’m gay I understand.” He sobbed. The tears now freely flowing down his cheeks.
Amelia started crying even harder. “Oh no, Dylan. Never. No one should kick anyone out of church. And you… you’re the sweetest angel I have ever met.” She reached over and wiped away his tears. “The bible I read teaches love not hate. Your parents were wrong to kick you out. You’re only fourteen! The things you’ve done amazing things tonight and I believe that God led me here to save your life as you may have saved three other lives tonight. I woke out of a sound sleep with a burning desire to come here to this church and pray. I can’t explain why. I’ll just call it a Christmas miracle. Right after the bells rang to signal Christmas, I left the church and found you face down in the snow! God doesn’t care that you’re gay. He cares that you have more love in your heart than any other person I’ve ever met. He brought me here to save you. I truly believe that. Dylan. I’m bringing you home with me tonight if that’s ok with you. We’ll talk about plans beyond that after I feed a nice big breakfast tomorrow morning. No one should ever make plans on an empty stomach.” She looked at him with questioning eyes.
“I think I’d like that, Amelia,” Dylan said, a genuine smile forming on his face for the first time in days. “Oh yeah, Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas, Dylan.” Amelia took his hand in hers, and they walked out of the church. The snow finally stopped falling, and the light of the full moon lit their way home.