Rob’s exciting new tale continues! Click here to read Part One!
There was a sudden, loud thud.
Kevin whirled to face the bedrooms, probably afraid it was Dad, though it hadn’t come from that direction at all. Will thought it had—
The thud came again. Louder. From the roof. The boys looked at each other.
“What the heck was tha—” Kevin began, but Will cut him off with a short, breathy scream, finger pointing toward the window. Pressed to the glass just past the trio of bulbs in the electric candles, was a hideous face. The brows were thick, dark in contrast to the white, white skin, and rising high above the wide eyes that stared in through the pane with a wild, brilliant blue gaze. The nose was wide, and flat, made flatter as the face pressed to the glass, spreading across one cheek like a weird stain above a wide grin filled with sharp, triangular teeth.
Kevin had apparently given up on sneaking around, because the yell that came out of him was so loud it snapped Will’s attention away from the thing at the window.
Without warning the door leading out to the back hall exploded inward, split down the middle, one half spinning away across the room as the other smashed against the edge of the counter and fell to the floor. The brothers screamed as, from the darkness that seemed to pool out in the hall, a huge, hairy leg ending in a cloven hoof stepped across the threshold, landing so hard Will felt it in his feet.
In the stunned silence that followed, Will, too terrified to make a sound, clearly heard a clank, then a jingle, like Christmas bells. He had time to think Santa’s sleigh? before the huge figure followed its hoof into the kitchen.
It seemed to unfold into the room, opening like some dark and terrible flower, until it was taller and wider than the doorway itself. It stood on two legs like a man, but it was not a man. The legs it stood upon were animal legs, covered with thick black fur and bending backward at the knees, like that Mr. Tumnus, the faun in the movie about the magical wardrobe, but these were huge. The shaggy hair covered the whole beast. Long, gorilla arms hung from shoulders humped and thick with so much muscle the head thrust forward and down, in front of those shoulders rather than sitting atop them. Even though the head rode low on the creature, its horns still swept up, above the head, above the bull-like mountain that was its back and shoulders to score deep furrows in the ceiling above.
Below the horns the face was the only bit of the thing not covered in hair. It was a big face, a long face, as if someone had taken the faces of a man, horse, and goat, and only kept the worst bits of each. Round, red eyes glared from beneath a heavy brow, shining in the dim kitchen with a light all their own. Huge, square nostrils flexed as the thing scented the air, and the narrow, elongated mouth hung open, the lower jaw dangling as a tongue, longer and redder than it had any right to be, lolled from between thick, sharp teeth.
One hand came up, pointing at the brothers, standing rooted to the spot, with what looked to Will like a whip, the long lash hanging down to coil on the floor at the thing’s cloven feet.
The voice sounded like Grandpa Willis’s cough, the one he always did right before Mom told him the smokes would kill him someday: deep and wet and like something down in his chest had come loose on one side and was flapping about in there. Rattling. Just hearing it made Will’s stomach lurch, and he might have thrown up right on the spot, if not for the blast of cold air that hit him as the kitchen window slid wide open.
The thing from the window landed lightly in front of the counter with a deep, menacing chuckle, bent legs absorbing all the shock. Will registered wide shoulders, arms and legs so burly and powerful the thing was bandy-legged, and the shocking fact that it was no taller than he—then the big one was moving, taking one long stride to the other side of the kitchen table, a strangely fluid movement for a thing so huge. One long arm moved across the table, then the thing backed up half a step.
There, on the plate that had once held snacks intended for Jolly Saint Nick, was a candle, flickering in the breeze from the open window. The candle was thick, and black, and stood in the center of a small severed human hand.
“Destroyer,” the thing repeated, that terrible rumble bringing Will’s gorge up again. The whip was leveled once more, like a teacher using a pointer in school, but now the thing stood close enough that they could see exactly what it was pointing at.
“I come for you.”
Even with the chill night air coming in through the open window, Will could smell the sharp, acrid stink as his older brother, king of the flinching game and master of the indian burn, emptied his bladder.
“What?” Kevin’s voice was a high, terrified shriek, but it was more than Will could have managed right then. “Who are you? Dad!”
That last was a scream, cast over his shoulder toward the bedrooms, his gaze never leaving that pointing whip.
“No aid will come, scream though you might. Answer to Krampus, you will on this night.”
“K-k-Krampus? Who’s Krampus?”
Wide nostrils flared as the thing leaned down, huge face looming over the boys, and Will detected the scent of smoke coming from the thick fur—not wood smoke, like from a fireplace, or when they went camping, but a bitter, nose-stinging smell, like burning plastic. With the thing this close he saw the source of the jingling: wrapped about the huge torso, crisscrossing the powerful chest like the bandoliers on the Frito Bandito, were chains, the links of which were hung with bells, tarnished nearly as black as the thick fur almost burying them.
The smaller creature began its evil chuckle once more.
“I am Krampus, punisher of children. For the crime of Destroying Belief, I, Krampus, the Stalker of Night, find you guilty.”
The hand now empty of the candle, reached to the chain wound about its waist and pulled loose a large, canvas sack. Krampus, ignoring Will, leaned still closer to Kevin, the breath from that great horsey mouth actually ruffling Kevin’s eyelashes.
“You’re coming with me.”
Will couldn’t see into the sack, held out as it was toward his brother, but Kev could. And did. And what he saw within the depths of the big bag in front of him caused his mouth to drop open nearly as wide as that of Krampus himself. Out of that wide open mouth shot a note of purest terror, and he wheeled about and fled toward the hall leading to the bedrooms.
With a casual, almost negligent movement, the hand not holding the sack went back, then came forward in a side-throwing motion. Rather than a ball, the business end of Krampus’s long whip went snaking through the air toward Kevin’s back. It was a narrowing space, however, and the lash struck the edge of the doorframe just as Kev turned into the hall, screaming for their father the whole way.
Roaring like a steam train with chest congestion, Krampus went after him, bells jingling as he slowed at the door, forcing his great bulk through the opening and into the close confines of the narrow hallway.
Will took a step or two after him, not knowing what he was going to do but that thing was after his brother, and his mom and dad were down there too. That was when the small one, the one with the white face, stepped in front of him, blocking his path.
“No, now, that’s nothing for good you to see.
You need to stay here in the kitchen, with me.”
Will backed away from the creature, and it watched him go, rubbing its oversized hands and grinning with delight, those shark-like teeth protruding out farther than its lips. A gust of wind blew through the kitchen, and the tear tracks down Will’s cheeks felt like ice.
“Who are you? What’s going on?”
Those blue eyes, so pale they were almost white, lit up, and the wide smile widened, that jagged grin letting out a high, sing-songy voice.
“Santa you know, for he brings about toys,
but Krampus, he comes for the bad girls and boys.
And just as Santa has a helper, an elf,
I come along to help Krampus myself.”
To his surprise the ugly little man did a happy little dance (Will noticed then that though the creature was dressed all in grey leather, his too-big feet were clad in white Nikes) and answered him.
“The Krampus has come to cause pain, to cause grief,
and all of it based on one small thing: Belief.
And before you start cursing the thing that we do,
you should know the Believer who called us was . . . you.”
Will gaped at the sneaker-clad horror. “Me? I didn’t call anybody! I don’t understand!”
“There is one thing left that a child can’t do
the thing that brought Krampus here, now, to you.
Believing in Santa must fade on its own:
for helping it die, helpers must atone.
Deep within you there once was a spark,
but your brother did smother it, leaving you dark.
From the South Pole we came, to take Kevin back
to the Krampus’s lair, in his kid-taking-sack.”
The white Nikes did another little happy dance as the thing clapped its hands in delight. In the background Will heard Kev yelling for help while Krampus bellowed wordless sounds of rage.
“My favorite part’s when the kids try to run!
They scream and they kick when I fetch—it’s great fun!”
Will listened to the capering little monster in growing horror, thinking he understood, but . . .
“You mean you’re going to take Kevin away?”
The white face nodded, black hair jouncing.
The hair continued its up-and-down bob, the odd eyes creasing almost shut with the width of the grin. Will tried to dart around the thing, to get to the hall, maybe wake his parents, though how they were sleeping through all this noise he had no idea. The nightmare in Nikes darted sideways, cat-quick, still blocking his path with those muscular arms. He tried a different tack.
“Dad! Mom! Help!”
“Shout all you wish, for no one will hear.
Not as long as the Krampuskandle stays near.”
One of the big hands gestured toward the table, and the candle in its horrible five-fingered holder. Will had all but forgotten it in his fright.
“What? What is that thing?”
“Children taken by Krampus all cry quite a lot,
and their tears we do catch and then keep in a pot.
When they wear out and can no longer work,
we take all their hair, pull it off in one jerk.
The hair is all woven into one wick-like string,
and then into the tearpot to steep goes the thing.
While the wick soaks up all of the tears they surrendered,
their flesh into a nice little tallow is rendered.
Tallow and wick make a candle quite black,
and then it comes hunting along with the sack.
So long as the Krampuskandle burns in that hand,
no one in this house may leave Sleepyland.”
The whole time he’d been talking, the little creature had shuffled forward with a slow, rolling gait, and Will had backed away, trying to keep his distance. The thing was looking Will up and down in a way he did not like, and when it finished that little speech it inhaled through its nose, leaning forward as if taking a big sniff.
“I don’t understand,” Will shouted as his back met the wall beside the splintered doorway.
“The best part I think, of the Krampuskandle so black,” said the thing, pausing to lick those triangular teeth with a tongue as black as candle itself. “Is that when it’s all done, I get the bones for my snack.”
It leaned forward again, nostrils flaring, and its bright eyes closed as it took the biggest sniff of all, then exhaled in a long sigh. The eyes opened, staring at Will with that expression again, and this time the boy recognized it.
The bandy-legged little nightmare with the shark’s teeth was hungry.
“’Twas the Night Before Krampus” was originally published in Deathlehem Revisited: An Anthology of Holiday Horrors for Charity. The proceeds from the entire Deathehem series, O Little Town of Deathlehem, Return to Deathlehem, Deathlehem Revisited, and the forthcoming Shadows Over Deathlehem all come out of Grinning Skull Press in support of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.