The Weather

Improbable Claus: A “Night Before Christmas” Redux

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through our home
my family lay still as corpses in loam
We’d hung all the stockings, and tinsel, and lights
We’d sung carols and installed a tree of good height

The children had dutifully offered a tithe
of cookies and milk and a cheerily blithe
note to Santa, chock full of yuletide salutations
and advance thanks for vapid wish-list supplications

Others performed these rituals merrily;
we did so grimly, soberly, warily
My seasonal wish was modest but true:
Give me “white Christmas,” fine—but bloodless will do

We’d heard tell of the cult of the red demon elf
Who uses black magic to ferry himself
from rooftop to rooftop by sleigh each December,
appraising the virtue of even non-members

Subjecting roof tiles to vehicular wrath
and sowing material want in his path
“Saint Nicholas,” ha! False prophet, indeed
A picture of excess, bad grooming, and greed

To welcome intruders to us seemed alarming,
and nothing of Santa struck us as disarming…

But we went through our paces and hung decorations
and baked fancy breads and said incantations
and hoped it enough to appease the old wraith
so he’d leave us alone as a sign of good faith

No such luck—on the roof there arose such a ruckus
as though a mid-sized kamikaze had struck us
“Santa…” I whispered, and flew like a flash
down the hall to the family artillery cache

By this time my two children, Oscar and Byron,
roused by the screaming of our air-raid siren,
were already poised at the armory door—
one with a crossbow; the other, a sword

‘Twas then that we heard a cacophonous yell,
a billowing bellow, an echo from hell:
“Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!”

He’d perhaps meant to nip our resolve via terror
But Santa Claus here made a tactical error
He’d tipped his location—hubris, classic case!
“Chimney!” I rasped to my boys, “Fireplace!”

We dashed to the parlor, approaching by rank—
I from the front, they from the flank
Then a clatter erupted inside of the wall
where Santa lost friction and started to fall

Out from the hearth he emerged with a crash
His vestments all tattered and covered in ash
I sprang to his side with my nightstick raised high
And looked the demented old elf in the eye

“Fool Claus!” I exclaimed, “Was the tree not enough?
Nor the snowman-shaped cookies all frosted with fluff?
Nor the reindeer-themed songs that we deigned to intone?
Were you not satisfied to just leave us alone?

“What do you want, you hobgoblin, you scourge?
What gives you the right, what gives you the urge
to invade people’s homes? Well, you’ve had your last prowl!
This ends tonight!” I exclaimed with a growl

Only then did I notice some minor details
incongruous with the Saint Nicholas tales
His face: gaunt and pallid, distinctly un-merry
No rosy dimples, no nose like a cherry

And now further aspects dawned on me gradual:
no red suit, this, but beige business-casual!
A beard not of white, but of malnourished gray
And the wide, frightened eyes of a man gone astray

“I’m sorry,” he sputtered, “I got turned around,
I’m Jerry McQuaid, I live four doors down—
used to live, rather; I couldn’t make rent
Evicted last month, now I live in a tent

“I couldn’t afford to fly home to my folks
And lately my life feels like one big hoax
You try to look after what’s yours if you can
But the world finds a way to make you less than a man

“So I climbed to your rooftop to howl at the moon.
I know that sounds odd, and you think I’m a loon
But sometimes that’s all it feels like you can do,”
he sighed, “Anyway, Merry Christmas to you.”

His speech was slurred; it seemed he’d been drinking
Which explained his howl-at-the-moon kind of thinking
And that “Vixen” and “Blitzen” gibberish too,
which I’d taken as names of his pet caribou

Here lay our quarry: Jerry, that’s all
utterly human, complete with the fall…

Yet he’d howled as a wolf, and I’d thought him an elf!
I laughed at this insight, in spite of myself
then knelt down and helped the poor guy to his feet
and showed him a chair, saying: “Here, have a seat”

Oscar and Byron wore quizzical frowns
With hands on their shoulders I said, “Boys, stand down
Go and fetch Jerry the cookies and milk
we’d set out to appease Santa Claus and his ilk

“Jerry,” I told him, “You gave us a fright
I wish you’d not trespassed on our roof tonight
But you wouldn’t have either if you’d had your druthers
And we all have our demons—some realer than others”

No one should have to spend Christmas alone
So Jerry spent his as a guest in our home
He took charge of the cooking—hardly upsetting
since my own skill set’s biased toward booby trap-setting

When it came time to leave, I bid him, “Be well.”
“Next year will be better, I can already tell,”
he replied, then exclaimed as he walked down the block,
“Happy Christmas to all, and next time, I’ll just knock!”

Steve Kolowich is a willing but deeply confused citizen of the internet. His work has appeared in various publications and will probably never disappear. You can follow him on Twitter @stevekolowich, and you can also follow him in real life—if you can figure out where he lives, which wouldn't be that hard.