This week’s prompt gives me a chance to bring back your friend and mine…jolly Mr. Krampus!
The sun had barely crept under the frosty horizon, stealing light and comfort from the mountain village. Above the thatched rooftops that leaked pleasant-smelling smoke and food smells, far up the mountain, the soft, insistent footsteps crunched…and stopped. A large, noble white horse brushed his nose against the back of the man who walked in front of him, leading him through the thick snow. It shifted its weight, dancing its feet up and down through the white crumbling substance, its dark eyes flicking anxiously, head tossing from side to side.
The tall man shuddered at the sudden chill the nighttime wind brought, even though he was used to much worse. His robes shielded him from most of the bitterness that came with the night, but it wasn’t just the weather that made him shiver. December fifth always brought mixed feelings, mixed emotions. Such a joyous time of celebration that will carry on until the sixth. A time to see the children again, to hear their little cries and see their shining faces. His wistful smile faded away at the reminder that there would be some faces—at least one—that he wouldn’t see after the night was over. The old man’s kind face showed only a moment of hesitation and distaste and he quietly busied himself with stroking the snow that fell out of jostled tree branches from his beard.
There’s no helping it. After all, what was to come is part of the way of things. There can be no kindness without its opposite, he reminded himself. No gifts without wanting. No behavior without consequence, be it good or ill. With those thoughts in mind, Sinterklaas raised his staff and looked past the thick barricade of pine branches, past the snow and rock that shielded the dark interior of the forest from all but the most skilled eyes. “It is time, my servant. Are you going to come with me down the mountain?”
The saint gripped the long staff for comfort and held it up at the low, rumbling grow that echoed through the pine boughs. Branches rustled and snapped at the heavy, dragging thing that lurched out from the woods’ protection. “So you’ve come for me again, old man,” the creature sneered. He was almost as tall as the saint, but wore no clothes. The thing didn’t need to; he was covered by thick, dark matted fur that reeked of musk and blood and the scents that came from living in the woods. His horns curled up from his nightmarish face, and yellow teeth glinted wetly when he came into reach of the lantern hung from the horse’s saddle.
The horse huffed and moved to turn away, but a hand from Saint Nicholas calmed the animal and kept it still. Krampus chortled, its voice rough and haggard, animalistic as it rippled out over the long red tongue that always sought more blood, more flesh, more misdeeds. “Has it been a year already? Has the man who is in charge of my curse missed me that badly?” the creature laughed as he plodded into full view. Rusted chains dangled from shackles at its wrists and dragged behind its ankles, occasionally whipping around over the feet that bore enormous, curving claws.
“It has indeed been a year, but I have yet to ever miss you,” Sinterklaas replied, careful not to convey too much emotion. The thing would only enjoy his displeasure.
The creature glared at the kindly saint, his eyes traveling over the ornate robes and pointed hat that crowned his head. For just a moment it seemed that the monstrosity might pounce, deciding to go after the flesh of its tormentor rather than wait until they arrived at the village. The old man raised the staff slightly and Krampus snorted, falling back on his feet, content to dig its claws into a nearby tree, releasing the sticky gum under the bark’s surface. With a hateful grin the demon licked his nails clean, lapping up the gum and dried blood, clearly enjoying how it unsettled his much more civilized captor. To add to the old man’s misery, the creature let loose a stream of steaming urine into the snow. “Embarrassed of me? Hating yourself for your handiwork? This is your doing, after all,” the awful, grotesque voice pointed out.
Sinterklaas paused, swallowing the lump that prevented him from answering. It was the thing that haunted him the entire rest of the year, even though the celebration and giving of gifts to the children was his favorite time of all. “I know. But it has to be done. It is our way,” he murmured.
Krampus laughed and approached the horse, who was clearly fighting the urge to bolt. The large animal shuddered and the saint put a hand up to steady it. “You have all you need?”
Of course he did. The book of names was strapped to the saddle, the large sack of gifts there as well. “Yes.”
“Good. I’ve been working on mine. Little else to do when you’re forced to wait in the cold wild,” the thing murmured and the saint realized the thing had been dragging a large sack of its own. Unlike the rustic pack of solid construction Sinterklaas favored, Krampus’s sack was ragged and nearly threadbare in places, and what was not woven was patched with dripping and moldy animal skins that crawled with insects. “See? Filled with pretty things for the naughty girls and boys,” he laughed and brought out a bundle of switches tied with a cord, just ready to be tested against the hide of one who wouldn’t listen to their parents or gave in to a moment of temptation. Sinterklaas wrinkled his nose and turned his head at the horrible package of sticks Krampus shoved right in his face. The switches were bad enough. What happened when the sack was empty, when there was someone who was so mischevious as to go against God…that was what the saint dreaded. Maybe there won’t be one this year, he hoped, even though he knew it was a fruitless dream. There was always one, at least one. The naughtiest girl or boy. The haughtiest young man. There is always one. There always has to be one.
“Please, Sinterklaas. Don’t force me up the mountain. Don’t let me look in the sack. I don’t want to see it! I’ll be better, I’ll be a man you can be proud of, I swear it!” The plea was so distraught, the anguished cry of a youth just on the cusp of adulthood but still considered a child. It was a wet, panicked cry of desperation. Startled, the saint jerked his head around and stared into wild, helpless blue eyes that were trapped deep, deep in a mask of fur and hide and horn.
“Johan?” Sinterklaas whispered and almost dropped the staff, almost reached out to touch the poor soul. The blue eyes dissolved into red fire and Krampus’s wild laughs shrieked hysterically at the rise he’d gotten from the old man, even as the saint dropped a rope around his neck and dragged him beside the horse.
“You’re the one who starts it, controls it, old fool! You’re so full of your own power, your mission, that you punish stupid fools to keep it going. You punish yourself most of all!” The creature’s cackles dissolved into gasps as Sinterklaas yanked the leash.
It is a creature. Nothing else. It isn’t…There’s no trace of anything but a thing anymore. Such is the power of the demon I must tame, Sinterklaas reminded himself as he mounted the horse, careful not to drop the rope. He felt a fool for nearly falling for the creature’s tricks, tricks that were part of its vile nature. It had plenty of them, and it was his job to keep control over him. If that meant letting it have its way within reason for one night, then that is what he’d do.
Forgive me, the old man pleaded as he turned towards the villages waiting with anticipation, and slight tinges of fear. Forgive me for what I bring with me, and may my humble gifts to the good souls make up for it. Such is my own duty and punishment. Light and dark walk hand in hand. Maybe a day would come when he would be rid of Krampus, when he wouldn’t need the demon’s aid, when he could fully destroy the thing without the ongoing side effects. Maybe there would be a wonderful day when he could deliver his gifts with no ill consequences, when there could be forgiveness and laughter with his trinkets and sweets, love without looking over his shoulder from the little children that flocked around him. It would be a wonderful, wonderful day…
…but it would not be tonight.
“Let us go. We’re expected and we have many places to go before the sixth,” Sinterklaas sighed.
Behind him, the horrible monster laughed and sang terrible mutilations of the songs the villagers sang at this time of year, gleefully dragging his awful bundle filled to the brim with packages of pain and torture beside him through the snow.
©2013 Selah Janel