I sat bolt upright in my darkened bed, straining to listen. A noise had awakened me...a noise that sounded like it was coming from inside our house. My imagination conjured images of a shadowy intruder skulking in my home, intent on dire crimes. As my heart pounded and a lump of fear swelled in my throat, I hissed to my husband "Did you hear that?" He mumbled unintelligibly and rolled over, slumbering blissfully.
I waited tensely for the noise to repeat itself, but several minutes passed and all was quiet. I resumed breathing and tentatively got up to tiptoe around the house. Nothing was amiss. Whew! Eventually I relaxed and fell back asleep.
This happened three weeks ago, and the scenario repeated itself a few times since then. What was causing the enigmatic nocturnal noises? The ghost of a homeowner past? That seemed unlikely; although it is true that we bought our house after the previous longtime owner passed away, from all accounts she was a kindly grandmother who enjoyed teaching Sunday school, hosting neighborhood potlucks, and going to musicals...not exactly the type of person who would go around haunting someone. Still, it seemed that we had a mystery on our hands.
The answer to the puzzle was revealed last Friday morning. It all came about because of the fondness that my husband and I harbor for wood-burning fireplaces. When we were house hunting several years ago and made a list of all the amenities that we wanted our future home to have, a wood-burning fireplace was near the top of the list. However, when we fell in love with the charm of our 1927 home and bought it, we overlooked many of its deficiencies, including the fact that the shallow living room fireplace appeared to be decorative only, despite the fact that a substantial chimney rose from it. We planned eventually to install gas logs in it, but felt some distaste at the prospect of the artificiality of a fire that "burns" fake wood and can be turned on and off with a remote control.
Recently my husband went to a fireplace showroom to peruse our options and excitedly came home to tell me about a wood-burning stove fireplace insert that he saw. It not only authentically burns wood, but also emits a lot of radiant heat into the home. I looked at the brochure and was pleased to see that the stove was not ugly; in fact, it looked rather nice and would blend well with our fireplace and the style of our house. We called the fireplace showroom and scheduled a workman to inspect our fireplace and chimney to determine whether it would be feasible to install the stove. (It is.)
(Interestingly, the last name of the owner of the fireplace showroom, which also offers chimney sweeping services, is Blackburn. Isn't that a perfect name for a chimney sweep?)
Friday morning rolled around and the workman clambered on our roof to inspect our chimney. As he shined his flashlight down it, he exclaimed, "Hey! Did you know that you have a live raccoon in here?"
Ummm, no, but that explains all the weird nightly noises that I had been hearing. It was the raccoon scratching around as it crawled in and out of our chimney!
We called a guy from a critter control company to oust the raccoon from her cozy nest, which was located right above the mantel in our living room. Thankfully, the opening from the fireplace to the chimney was too narrow for her to crawl through, or else we really would have had a masked intruder prowling around inside our house at night.
The critter control guy arrived with technologically advanced, intricate tools to remove the raccoon...tools that are reflective of the lofty modern times we live in. Well, no, that's not exactly true: his "high-tech" tools actually consisted of an empty coffee can on a string and a lasso.
He stood on the roof and lowered the coffee can down our chimney with the string, then banged it around on the chimney's interior walls to scare her. When he heard movement below, he quickly hoisted up the coffee can, and a very large and very scared critter barreled out right behind it, catapulting out of the chimney and onto the woefully unprepared guy. A scuffle ensued during which the guy almost fell off the roof during his attempts to lasso the furry fugitive. Finally he prevailed and deposited the raccoon safely in a cage.
The strange thing is that once it was in the cage, the raccoon calmed down and just sort of sat there. It knew the jig was up. The only way to describe the look that was on its face is resignation. "Yeah, I was in your chimney. You got me. Whatever."
The critter control guy told us that he owns a farm in a rural area and planned to release the raccoon out there rather than euthanizing it. I hope that is true and not just something he made us to placate us because he could tell that we are animal lovers.
In any event, the mystery was solved, and I am sleeping more soundly now.