KANSAS CITY — No doubt, the security guards at Children's Mercy Hospital have seen a lot of strange things.
But never had they witnessed a Christmas Eve visitors' list like this.
Some might call it the not-so-silent night of Holy Superheroes, Batman! all for one special little boy. That would be Josiah Lara, who turned 5 last week. A boy who was about to experience a gift from the Elves of Christmas Present, an anonymous group of people who try to make Christmas extra special for families who have had a difficult year.
At this age, Josiah knows a lot, especially about what he loves and what he hates. He loves all things superheroes and Star Wars, good versus evil, and all that. And he hates leukemia. He's had it since he was a baby. He beat it once, but it came slithering back into his life last year like Jabba the Hutt.
Released from the hospital Sunday, he'd been able to go home with his parents and sister. And he tried as hard as he could not to be sick on Christmas Eve, but his body just didn't listen. Hours later, Josiah was back in a hospital bed, worrying that on the big night the big guy might not be updated on where he was.
It was almost 10 p.m. when a nurse entered his fourth-floor room. Josiah and his parents were watching a Christmas cartoon. She asked if he'd like to go for a lap or two in his wheelchair around the nursing station and maybe wish them all a Merry Christmas.
He nodded. He likes his nurses, who can be pretty silly. His father scooped him up and gently placed him into the wheelchair. His mother worried that maybe he should have the seatbelt on. Josiah said no, he wasn't going to fall out, he was 5. A nurse slowly wheeled him into the hallway.
"That was my room a few times," he said, pointing to another hospital door nearby. "And that one over there was my home for a long time. But now there's another little child sick in there."
Josiah's parents, Julio and Joselina Lara, know these hallways well.
"Yes, you are right. It was your room," said his daddy.
But Julio's eyes were on the several nurses huddled at the nursing station, co-conspirators on what was about to happen.
Just as Josiah and his family passed the darkened Infusion Room, a noise came from inside. Not just any noise. A very loud jingling of bells. On Christmas Eve, that could only mean one thing.
In the family went, flicking the lights on. There he was, beneath a Christmas tree. A 360-pound, six-foot tall man in a red and white suit, sprawled on the floor and surrounded by presents. And with a very startled expression.
Santa was caught! Something he never, ever wants a child to do.
"Josiah! I thought you were asleep? What are you doing up? I was just leaving you and your sister presents."
He pushed himself up and rested on a chair nearby, letting out a big sigh.
Josiah's eyes were large. Here? Santa? He checked out his rosy cheeks, his wire glasses and that sprig of mistletoe nestled in the brim of his cap.
Ho-ho-ho! "Josiah, you have been such a good boy this year. I know it's been extra hard being sick."
Stunned, Josiah could only stare. His parents smiled so hard their cheeks hurt.
Then from outside a new noise: a recording of brawny trombones and trumpets — the Imperial March. It could only mean one thing.
A Star Wars storm trooper in white armor ran in, followed close behind by a tall guy with swirling cape and shiny black helmet. The metallic breathing and resonant voice were unmistakable.
"So Santa, we meet again," he snarled, then sucked in air like a scuba diver on steroids. "I have come for the toys!"
Santa rose to his feet and declared:
"The toys are for good girls and boys, not you." (Vader has not been a good boy for years.) "I can't stop you, but I have friends who can."
Yeah, it was corny, but not to the Numero Uno fan, still slack-jawed.
And Santa called out the names: "Batman! Wonder Woman! Chewbacca! Hulk!"
The superheroes materialized from a closet and stood defiantly with hands on hips, tall and ripped. Except Chewbacca, who could probably use a good brushing. They ran at Vader and the storm trooper.
The dark side of the Force was outmatched in the face of good guys — who included one small hero who could not join the pursuit. The villains scurried away down one of the hallways, never to be seen again. When the heroes returned, they crowded around Santa and Josiah, laughing and boisterous and the Wookiee speaking whatever Wookiees speak.
"Darth make Hulk angry! Josiah make Hulk happy!" uttered the Incredible Hulk. Chewbacca spoke to Wonder Woman, who translated, and asked Josiah if he might help them one more time. In her hands was a Christmas tree star.
Santa hoisted the little boy up to the top of the tree. Wonder Woman helped him place the spirally metal on the tippy top.
Too soon, the superheroes had to leave, their work never done. Santa, with his tight schedule, also hastened out. But not before telling Josiah:
"Remember you're a good guy and that Santa loves you no matter where you are. Thank you for all your help."
In the hallway, a group of elves, nurses and one hospital administrator tried hard not to cry.
Josiah watched the heroes leave, especially Santa, who jingled with every step. And before long he asked his dad to open the presents, some Star Wars Lego sets and pajamas. Before Christmas Eve turned into Christmas, he called his grandmother and his 7-year-old sister, Jarissa, to wish them a good night and to tell them the most amazing tale.
"Guess what, Jarissa? I saved Christmas! Me and Santa was there, along with Batman and Wonder Woman and Chewbacca."