As cheery, holiday bells ring in the background, I welcome you into our story for today, dear reader! Happy winter solstice and the merriest of holidays to you, and I hope this sweet little tale will provide you with delight.
It was one holiday season not too long ago, when snow was gently tumbling in large, fluffy flakes upon the mountains that loomed above Spinesville, a winter flutter bestowed upon the densely forested pine trees which grew like fur from the rolling mountains—and upon one of those mountains, in his cabin, whose chimney steadily smoked, the smoke mingling with the snowfall, Ned Theodore Ed was rummaging around in his basement as the fireplace upstairs smoldered. The early evening sky was saturating into a deeper and deeper shade of blue, and N.T.’s dinner baked in the oven while he was moving armloads of cardboard boxes around.
N.T., who is an exceptionally quiet yet kind skeleton, was making more space around his paper-making machine. For years, he had been using this paper-making machine to produce his own paper out of the trees in the woods that surrounded his home, all the while re-planting just as many trees as he used. Because he did not speak, N.T. relied on paper and pencil to communicate with the people around him, and so he used paper often, which is what spurred him to create this machine. However, N.T. was also a nature preservationist, and had become quite skilled at making a single tree’s worth of paper go quite a long way, both out of sheer resources, and from how much usage he procured from each sheet of paper. He treated paper-making like an art, and over the years he had perfected the gentle craft of making fine, quality paper, taking pride in the luxurious final product.
Because he loved his artisanal homemade paper so much, and because he had been searching for a new passion project ever since he had completed his fairy garden over the summer, N.T. had decided to make a small business out of selling his paper. But before starting any of that, he needed a more efficient work place surrounding his paper-making machine. This would involve creating more room around the contraption, because currently towers of cardboard boxes, unused furniture, and random tools had accumulated around it, crowding the machine. N.T.’s basement wasn’t exactly a “finished” basement—he lived in a cabin, so it was more like a cellar with ceilings that were only a few feet higher than N.T.’s height, cement floors, and supporting beams posted intermittently—the kind of poles that kids love to swing around. His basement had a main, large room, and then a smaller room somewhat separate but without a door, so N.T. began moving his extraneous belongings into the currently unused side room, and some other smaller things into the closet underneath the basement stairs.
Stooping a little as he carried a heavier box, N.T. sneezed due to the light coating of dust that had settled upon the boxes like the indoor version of snow, although far less magical and much less fun to play in. As he dropped it in its place with a few rattles and clangs, he went to pick up the next box before noticing it had “XMAS STUFF” written on the side. He slid this box aside with his foot (and a little might) and grabbed the one behind it to move with the rest of the boxes.
His kitchen timer then began beeping, and he grabbed the box of Christmas items and brought it with him on his way upstairs. Setting it down in the living room, N.T. scurried back to the kitchen to silence his timer. Now it was time for a break, and he finished preparing dinner—he removed his baking dish with ricotta and spinach-stuffed manicotti and took his skillet of asparagus off the heat. Then he served himself up a plate and took a seat at his table, gently waving his fork in circles to cool his steaming food. Across from N.T. at his circular, wooden table landed Talia, nibbling on something too microscopic to be seen on her tiny feelers. He smiled, then took a bite.
After dinner, and rinsing his plate and pots, he returned to the musty box, sitting on the floor of his living room and pulling some contents from it. Inside, he found some red bows, their felt fabric matted with a coating of lint. There were some stringed lights, with a few burnt bulbs, and also a pokey pine wreath, bare with no ornaments or ribbon.
Within this box, he also unearthed an old framed picture of him from his youth, a black and white photograph in a cheap, thin frame with a gritty layer of dust, that used to be on his bookshelf in his old high school bedroom. N.T. smiled as soon as he saw it, and held it for a moment, studying his younger self. It was a picture of him from his childhood, in which N.T. had snow molded around him like he was a snowman!
This brought back some memories for N.T. As a child, he had loved making himself into a snowman in the snow. With his little, twiggy bones, and some good, wet, packable snow, he and the neighborhood kids could pack the snow around him, or even roll him in it, to transform him into a snowman! It wasn’t always successful, and sometimes as a child, N.T. had gotten fed up with the other kids pestering him to be “Frosty” and he would get moody with them, hiding underneath his neighbor’s porch or behind a pine tree, but now N.T. laughed at the whole spectacle. The downside of this childhood winter transformation was that he would often become incredibly sick afterwards from being so cold, packed inside the snow, and once his foster parents caught onto this shenanigan, he was made to wear a snowcoat and snow pants when he played outside.
N.T. shook his head at this memory and set the picture frame up on his coffee table. Once he began wearing snow clothes to play outside, he discovered that when he made snow angels, his looked the same as every other kid’s snow angels—not uneven and jagged like his snow angels used to look when he was just in his bones in the snow. He liked how he felt like a normal kid when he was bundled up in winter wear, like a little snow kid.
As a child, winter used to be N.T.’s favorite season, because when he was bundled up in warm clothes, he looked like every other kid at school, if he pulled his scarf up so that just his eyes were visible. At recess, he felt more like he belonged when everyone was running around in a puffy jacket and a hat, compared to the summer when his bones were more obvious in just shorts and a shirt. During Christmastime as a child, he felt hopeful that when the tales told of Santa’s love and blessings for all children, that included him, even though he was fundamentally different from all his peers. The holiday cheer gave him something to hope for, something bigger than himself.
While N.T. continued to weed through his holiday box, pulling out a few of his favorite childhood ornaments that he had saved despite the fact that he had never owned a Christmas tree, he thought about the day that photo was taken. He figured he was about seven years old in the picture, and he remembered it being a glorious snow day. The morning of the picture, Spinesville had received two feet of snow within only a few hours, and so the roads had been impossible to safely navigate, especially for school buses; but, by noon, the snow had stopped and the sun had broken the clouds, and the snow plows had cleared and salted the roads so that they were merely wet lanes of highway that cut between tall mounds of piled-up snow. The neighborhood kids were ecstatic, as the weather had played keenly in their favor.
N.T.’s foster parents still went to work that day, though, so they enlisted their neighbor’s teenage daughter to keep an eye on N.T. and their other children. As the younglings tossed snowballs and build forts in their backyards, Megan sat on her family’s swing set, squinting in the sunlight and gently rocking back and forth on the swing she had cleared off, which would no doubt leave her pants at least a little wet. A camera hung around her neck—she had been taking photography of the snow, the trees, and the houses in this winter wonderland, and now watched the kids as they began packing snow to N.T., giggling and shouting.
Megan wasn’t necessarily a mean, popular girl, but she also existed in the same hierarchy as most high school students, and so while she was nice at heart, she still heard her classmates’ voices in her head and cared about what others thought of her. So therefore, Megan had never allowed herself to truly get to know her peculiar neighbor N.T., but she also didn’t feel the blind animosity that many others felt towards him for being, well, a skeleton. She watched him that day, giggling and falling down in the snow the same as all the other kids, and as she humanized him in her mind, she got up and wandered over to the children, wanting to get closer to their fun, and maybe partake in it a little bit.
Because N.T. was young, he really only remembered Megan vaguely. Of course as a young boy, he held a secret desire to impress her the way young boys always want to impress teenage girls, especially since she never jeered anything cruel to him the way the other high schoolers would. And as the children finished packing the snow around his bones, she wandered over, pulled the hat off her head and set it on his, and said, “Look! Now you’re a true snow kid.” Megan smiled and held up her camera, and N.T. held out his arms as she snapped the photo.
Then a game of freeze tag broke out, and another boy proclaimed N.T. would be “it,” so as they took off running, N.T. hobbled after them, sinking into the snow as he took each step, the snow slowly cracking and falling away from his bones. He became faster as his load lightened, and N.T. was actually quite spry since he wasn’t wearing any of the same bulky winter gear that all the other children were wearing, except the hat that Megan set on his head, which he continued to wear until his parents came home and all the kids had to march inside to warm up for dinner, as the sun sank away.
For the next few weeks, both N.T. and Megan had forgotten about the picture—I mean, what does a little boy care about a picture before the era of social media? It wasn’t until one day in January when Megan was sifting through the gallery on her camera that she came across that picture again, and decided to print it out for him. She handed it to him one day before school when they were getting on the bus, and N.T. was ecstatic to receive a thoughtful gift from anyone, so when he got home from school, he found an old framed picture from his foster parents’ college years, popped out their photo and shoved it in a family room end table drawer, and replaced it with the picture of himself, that he put up next to his bed.
Now, in his cabin, he wondered what became of Megan. He remembered her having a graduation party in her backyard and going off to college, but he swam in his memories, waiting for any pieces of the past to reform in his mind. He had always been the kind of person to appreciate small tokens of generosity, since he had been ridiculed for so much of his childhood, and he remembered liking Megan very much.
The fire in his fireplace now smoldered dimly, and he got up to add another few logs to it, the warmth in his living room flaring as he did so. He felt a little nostalgic, having spent that much time revisiting his youthful experiences—his childhood was something he deliberately didn’t think about often, but he was fond of this snow kid memory. He wondered what memories other kids—now adults—had of him, and if their matured mindsets gave new light to the actions of their past. N.T. hoped that the people who had mistreated him no longer mistreated people who were different, and he hoped that the people who had showed him kindness continued spreading kindness with others.
N.T. didn’t typically decorate for the holidays, but after going through his Christmas box, he figured he might as well distribute his few decorations throughout his house. He hung some of the ornaments he found off his fireplace mantle, and he put the wreath up above his couch. One of the red bows he put up on his front door, and the picture of him as a snow kid he left on the coffee table—he’d want to show his friends Margaret and Reid next time they came over, and tell them about the story.
He continued to tidy and decorate, humming in his head and smiling to Talia—who awoke from her post-meal nap and began fluttering around in the heat of the living room—and as N.T. was finding himself quite delighted with the holiday spirit, we now pan out, leaving N.T. in his warm cabin, as we zoom out back into the peaceful, snowing evening, and gaze upon those majestic, rolling mountains atop Spinesville.
To read more about N.T. Ed, visit the Tales of N.T. Ed page on Slanted Spines!