Plunk! “What’s that noise? That’s what woke me up, I bet.” As he gazed through the winter- barren elm tree, a half-moon appeared and was quickly covered by cloud again. The wind howled, blowing through the branches of the big old tree. He looked for signs of flying reindeer. How can Santa land his sleigh? Maybe he came and went before the wind started to blow.
Plunk! “There it is again. Is that Santa? It sounds like bigfoot coming up the stairs. Or a reindeer. Hey, that’d be cool.”
Plunk! One thud at a time, a slow plod. Was it, whatever or whoever, coming after The Boy?
Plunk! “What is it?” He considered the possibilities. Everything he could imagine was frightening—except if it actually was Santa Claus. “Santa doesn’t make noise like that, does he?
“Dad and Mom will be mad if I wake them up in the middle of Christmas Eve night.” He tiptoed to the bedroom door and poked his nose into the hallway. No light shown under any door. “Nope, everyone else must be sleeping through the noise and Dad will grumble about how I always want to start Christmas too early.”
Plunk! The sound came louder at his open doorway.
Hours earlier the family had gathered beside the Christmas tree It was a big tree to fit the high ceiling. They’d cut it in the forest a few weeks before. Gift boxes were examined, tags read, and shaken. The Boy and The Sister Girls played a guessing game. The obvious book parcels called for a second level of guesswork. Yes, it’s a book, but what book?
Even though they’d all just come from the candlelight service at church, The Dad led the Family through one last Advent devotion with more candle lighting. Then The Mom opened a package given to her at church. She knew it was a sampler of chocolates. Everyone picked a piece. The Boy chose a dark one. It had coconut filling and he hated coconut. “Can I have another? I got stuck with coconut. Please, Mom?”
“Sorry. Luck of the draw. Now it’s time to get ready for bed.” She desperately wanted all children in bed so that Santa’s weary local helpers could complete their work.
The Boy dragged himself slowly up the stairs. The Mom tucked him in and turned out the light. He lay awake in the dark for a long time listening to his parents moving around downstairs.
Plunk! It didn’t seem as if he’d been asleep very long when that fearsome banging began. But it was very late. Lines from the poem his teacher had read at story time a few days earlier came to his mind. Not a creature was stirring…There arose such a clatter. “Is a clatter like that thudding noise? Is it almost morning? It sure is dark. The wee hours, Grandma calls it.” That made him think something else. He got up. To get to the bathroom he had to brave the hallway where the noise was louder. Awake at a wee hour, he really had to. Nothing attacked him on his way to or from the lavatory, so he tip-toed carefully to the top of the stairs. “Huh. No one there.” In the dim glow from the corner streetlight through the landing window he saw an empty stairway.
Plunk! The thudding noise came from downstairs. “It must be Santa Claus. But he’s taking an awful long time here, with gazillions of chimneys to crawl down.”
At that old house there was no worry that Santa would get stuck in the chimney. The fireplace was large; so was the chimney. One could worry that he might take the wrong flue and end up in the coal furnace, but Saint Nick is no fool. He’d certainly avoid the smoky duct. In the correct chimney there wasn’t even a damper to interfere with his descent. It was not known whether the chimney had been built without a damper, or if it had rusted away. Regardless, a damper did not exist, which meant that air heated by that coal furnace in the basement escaped by way of that chimney when the fireplace wasn’t in use. And that night it was not in use. The Boy reasoned that it was left cool to make it easier for Santa Claus.
Plunk! When will it stop? It can’t be Santa still, can it? No monster was on the stairs. “Maybe if I’m real quiet, I can peek through the bannister rails and see what’s up.”
Plunk! The noise came faster. The Boy looked up, through the tall window at the landing where the stairway turned. Small, leafless branches were blowing off the maple tree in the gale. Some hit against the house, but they didn’t make that thud noise. The Boy reached the landing and looked down into the living room. The lights on the Christmas tree had been left on, just this one night.
Plunk! “Aha! So that’s it!” The Boy said this out loud as he bounded the rest of the way downstairs. He pushed andirons against the plyboard cover so that it held the board tight against the bricks around the fireplace opening. The Dad had cut the board to fit over the curved opening to keep heat and the coal budget from going up the chimney. The wind had been alternately letting the board drop away a few inches against the andirons used to keep it in place, then sucking it back against the bricks with a thud, or PLUNK! The young Boy knew what to do because he got to help The Dad when they first put it up. “Maybe Santa couldn’t get the andirons back where they’re supposed to go from inside the fireplace. That’s probably why it was clunking in the wind.”
The Boy had a new worry as he tiptoed back to bed. “If I pretend I’m surprised when I see the sled in the morning, maybe Santa won’t know I saw it.” His head hit the pillow, kerplunk, and he dreamed of speeding down steep snowy hillsides on a flashy new Flexible Flyer sled.