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Merry Krampus

May 26, 2013

Before I started work on my novel, I wrote this fun and short story involving the main character.  Even though it’s set around Christmas, it was written in the Summer… and I’m posting it in the Spring.

Greenwood Lane was quiet as the sun went down, and the street lights hummed to life.

It was a long street, gently curving as it cut its way through the suburban expanse. The sort of street where people lived their calm quiet lives in neatly painted houses. Each house perfectly plotted on the land so the decorative fences that flanked them created a continuous and simple pattern.

Fence. Fence. House.

With the snow falling in big lazy flakes it looked like something out of a movie.

The snow had been plowed into large white banks on the sides of the street, children turning them into sledding ramps and snow forts over the course of the day. Stacks of snowballs, and reappropriated garbage can lids still littered about the rolling white hills that flanked the frozen blacktop. On one lawn a snow man stood. His stick arms seemed to wave at the few people who had braved the roads that day.

The snow swirled about in miniature tornadoes, lifted by the surprisingly soft wind. A wind that was far from the harsh bitter cold of deep winter. Instead it was only a light chill, that seemed playful and beckoning. It was the kind of wind that would rosy up a child’s cheeks, or force the shy girl next door to bundle her face behind an adorable scarf.

It was a street of picturesque wonder. If anyone walked by, they would assume that kids were inside bundled against the night, drinking cocoa. For some reason, their fathers would be wearing sweater vests and smoking from a pipe.

A shrill shriek seemed to break this perfect world.

It rose with amazing strength, carried by the gentle wind beside the oversized snowflakes that swirled lazily into precocious eddies.

The people in their homes didn’t hear the call of pure fear though. Too occupied by baking their cookies and sipping the first eggnog of the season while trying to introduce their young children to Nat King Cole. The few that did hear it; teenagers squirreled away in their rooms, parents who were relaxing after tucking the little ones to bed, a spinster that was passing away the time by reading. They dismissed it as kids playing in the frozen wonderland. Just an older brother playing a prank, they’d reason, maybe one of those McHale boys.

It wasn’t one of the McHale boys though.

It was that cruel sausage of a boy, Joey Finch.

Joey Finch was the meanest boy in the fifth grade, and everyone on the long barely curving street knew it. He was big, plump, and ugly. His fat cheeks made his beady little brown eyes even darker, almost black, and his stubby little nose made him look like a pig.

Joey Finch was no pig though, he was an angry wild boar. Joey’s fat fingers were more often than not giving out wet willies and Indian burns rather than punching at the controls of a video game or gripping a pigskin while he played with the other neighborhood kids.

No, Joey’s fat fingers had spent the day packing ice into the center of snowballs. His pudgy arms had flexed as he pegged all manner of passersby with the iceball concoction he considered worthy of some sort of Nobel Prize for Bullying. All day he had chased small children out of their snow forts, making them cry uncle as he gave them Indian burns through their thick fleece jackets, and pegging any older siblings that sought to protect them with his balls of ice that exploded like frag grenades on impact.

Joey Finch was the baddest kid you could find for three towns over.

And Joey Finch was running for his life.

His stumpy fat legs had been tired from chasing six and seven year olds all day, but now they were pumping with a new found speed. His oversized cheeks huffed and puffed as the playful wind turned them a bright beaten red. His whole body seemed to be in a rush, a rush to get away from whatever that… thing was behind him.

A whip cracked across the darkness of the night, snapping at the air, and causing little Joey Finch to let out another terrified whoop.

He had busied himself after dinner by making another stack of iceballs, and carefully stashing them throughout the neighborhood. That’s when it had found him.

Joey Finch had been burying the last of his iceballs beneath the big oak tree on Old Mrs. Bianchi’s front lawn, just two doors down from the Gibson twins, who didn’t come out to play till later in the day. That’s when Joey would strike! Right after they left their house as the sun hung high in the sky. He had been congratulating himself on the genius of his plan while he patted the snow to appear nice and even.

That’s when he heard it.

At first Joey thought it was the low growl of a big dog. Maybe the Johnson’s St. Bernard. But the Johnson’s were on the other end of Greenwood Lane and Mrs. Bianchi didn’t have a dog.

Whatever made the noise was definitely big. It was a growl from deep in something’s throat, a throat that was certainly thick. Then, then came the slurping and the slobbering noise. Like someone trying to suck up their tongue like it was a piece of spaghetti. The tongue was just too big though, it couldn’t be sucked in.

The great beast crept out of the night and into the hazy orange light of the street lamp. It was tall, taller than any of the neighborhood dads, and it looked even taller with the horns that curled off the top of its head. It was covered in a thick coat of shaggy black fur, that seemed to flow off its body and into the shadows where it came from. Its feet were hooves, like a goat’s Joey had once seen at a petting zoo. The beast was just like a great big goat that stood on its hind legs.

Except for its face.

A pointed, shriveled, almost human face gazed out of its shaggy mane. The horns curved right where the eyebrows were on a person, just above its bright red eyes. A hooked and pointed nose seemed to almost run right into the beast’s puckered mouth. The puckered mouth that was too small for the tongue that came draping out, flapping like a scarf in the wind.

In one of his great big hands there hung a long black whip, and Joey’s eyes couldn’t move away from it. Joey had never seen a whip before, except in those Indiana Jones movies, and Indy’s wasn’t so thick, or wicked looking.

Slung across the great beast’s shoulder was a large sack, overstuffed like Santa’s would be but Joey knew instinctively that there were no toys in this sack. The contents of it started to writhe and move. Muffled screams came from the sack as something tried to force its way through the top. Only as he watched the fabric tighten as something pushed against its side did Joey finally feel the warmth and wetness in his snow pants.

The great beast cracked the whip, and let loose a slobbering roar, and Joey let out that shrill scream as his fat stumps of legs finally wheeled him about and away from whatever that beast was.

He couldn’t hear it, but he knew, knew that those hooves were racing across the ground’s fresh snow.

Its whip cracked at the air, and it let out a horrible noise, like a man trying to scream while he drowned.

Joey Finch just kept running, not wanting to turn his head, not wanting to see the great beast that was bearing down on him with frightening speed.

The beast moved at a terrifying pace, its cloven hooves sure footed over the concealed ice of the road. Not once did it stumble or slow like little Joey Finch did, almost skidding to the ground time and time again. Joey Finch kept screaming for help, but he was drowned out by the sound of Charlie Brown’s yearly grief.

Another roar joined the chorus of Joey’s screams and the Beast’s slobberings. A car engine came to life and Joey was nearly blinded as the white swords of its headlights cut through the hazy orange fog of the street lamps. Joey fumbled to a stop as the car came rushing forward. It came so close he could almost touch it as it raced toward the great beast.

It was an old car, big and black and boxy. A car that was forged of steel, not the smooth plastic of today. It belched smoke from its exhaust, and the engine let out a scream like a barbaric king as it charged. The car spun out, its back end suddenly moving to the right while the front turned left. Joey swore it was going to crash, but then the brakes squealed and a great dusting of snow was kicked up. There was an enormous crash and the beast came tumbling over the roof of the machine before crashing to a heap on the ice covered ground with a thud.

The door to the car opened, and out stepped a petite blond girl. She was casually dressed in jeans and sneakers. Over her torso she wore an over sized army jacket and a thick black scarf covered the lower half of her face. Joey couldn’t tell how old she was, but he wouldn’t have been surprised if she was still babysitting for people.

Her thin pale fingers yanked down the scarf, and she yelled, her voice full of strength and control, “Run, kid! Go home, and lock the fucking door!”

Joey didn’t need to be told twice, he stood and ran, trying to forget about the great beast that was already rising to stand on its cloven hooves.

#

Crystal frowned as she watched the little fat kid run down the street. Normally kids that were as heavy as him were the victims of the bully’s the Krampus sought to punish, not the ones running away from it. What was wrong with kids these days? She wondered.

The Krampus was already rising back to its feet, the hooves finding an easy purchase on the ice and asphalt. Its bright red eyes closed in on her with a horrible fire, and its tongue wavered in the wind like the whip that twitched at its side.

“Right,” Crystal said aloud, knowing the Krampus didn’t understand her, “Because, you know, getting hit by a Ford isn’t very painful.”

The Krampus roared at her, spittle flying from its oversized tongue. Its muscular arm raised into the air, its fur seeming to drift in the breeze, and the whip cracked toward her.

Crystal could almost feel the whip coming at her, cutting through the wind toward her face. She ducked out of the way just in the nick of time, more thanks to the small bit of luck she had conjured to keep her car from crashing than her heightened senses. From her right sleeve she tugged out her athame, and her left hand dug into her pocket for her lighter.

With a car at her back and snow banks on her side, she knew that she had pretty much nowhere to go. The Krampus knew it too, his hoof scratching at the ground as he judged the situation. It brought its slavering head down low and charged.

Her lighter clicked and her athame flashed forward, catching the fire in a dazzling arc. The Krampus reared away as she ducked around the side of him, using the momentary distraction to get herself out of the kill zone her car had created on the street. The Krampus scratched at his eyes futilely, trying to rub away the shocking blindness brought on by the flash of flame.

It was a cheap trick, and not exactly a proper spell, but Crystal couldn’t feel bad for a creature that went around kidnapping the spirits of children; naughty or not. There was no time to wait though, as she needed to move fast.

She opened the flap on one of her breast pockets and pulled out the small packet of sage she had picked up at the grocery store. “Stupid winter,” she mumbled to herself as she tried to pry open the package, the Krampus’ eyesight quickly clearing. With a sigh, Crystal dug her athame into the plastic and tore a hole open. “I need to set up a freaking hydroponic garden one of these days,” she muttered to herself as she finally yanked the browning sage leaves from their plastic prison.

The Krampus had turned and snapped at her with its whip. Her luck had run out and Crystal caught a lashing against her shoulder. “Damn,” she reflexively whispered as she began to dance back away from the demon. The lash stung her shoulder, but worse she could feel the pain of some sort of magical poison at work already causing her arm muscles to tense and spasm.

Crystal bit hard on her lip, trying to keep her now trembling fingers from dropping the sage. With a flick of her right wrist she slammed the tip of her athame across the top of the lighter, and with an ounce of her will she was able to conjure flame across the tip of the blade and strike it against the sage. Instantly she could smell the herb burning, and as the wisps of blue smoke curled into the air she took a deep breath.

The smoke burned into her nostrils, spreading the scent of sage throughout her whole body. With that scent, she could feel the tendrils of magic that worked their way through the world at hand. The Krampus was a great swirling tornado of magic personified, energy coming off of him in waves only to be sucked back up once more. Crystal was a near stagnant pond by comparison, only the barest hint of magic flowing in and out, but much of it had settled within her. Power that waited for some purpose.

Crystal exhaled, and there was a thrum like the lowest string on a bass guitar with the volume cranked up to eleven. The smoke from the sage suddenly turned into a great plume, and swirled out into the street, moving along the swirling path of the demon’s hurricane-like presence. As it formed around him, it finally locked into a circle and the tornado of energy spun faster.

The Krampus roared, feeling the pressing force of the sage and Crystal’s will cutting him off from the magical energy that lent him his strength.

Without a second thought, Crystal threw the sage upon the ground, the leaves bursting into bright red flames while the smoke continued to pour up in a great blue cloud. Her thumb pressed into the point of her athame and she could feel the light pricking as she broke the skin. A drop of blood fell to the burning sage long before the fire could consume the herbs.

She could feel that small drop of her blood falling through the chill night air, and as it fell through the flames it felt like her whole body was suddenly on fire. Then it touched the burning embers of sage, and it was as if someone let the still pond that was her magical power flow into a quick stream.

Crystal carefully traced her own blood, her power, along the circle of smoke. The blue cloud grew thick with it, bright flashes bursting within like a miniature lightning storm. The Krampus screamed as she cut him off from the mortal realm. Her fingers moved in a quick deft pattern, motions she had been practicing for what was starting to seem like her whole life, and as her fingers moved she began to bind the demon with her will.

Her own magical power burst out of the sage cloud like the Krampus’ whip, each a small tendril that lashed at him, marking him with a thousand small ethereal cuts. As he tried to break free from the sage-fueled ward, Crystal began to grasp at him with stronger bindings. Shackles of crackling energy roared outward in a dazzling spectrum of blues, encircling his limbs with bolts of her power. Suddenly the Krampus was turning every which way, dumbfounded as the bindings began to constrict him.

The more he pulled though, the more he brought himself into her power. As he yanked at his magical chains he began to drag the circle in closer, and in his rage the cycle continued. The Krampus would roar as the circle grew smaller, and the distraction would gain him another shackle. Before he could process what was going on, the Krampus was ensnared in a complicated magic circle.

Only then did the Krampus’ bright red eyes turn to hers in understanding. In those once fierce eyes, Crystal could see the defeat, the humility, and most importantly the willingness to obey.

It was tempting, she realized as she looked upon the Krampus with its shaggy fur, lolling tongue, and great ram’s horns, to take its power for her own. It was hard to look into the sea of power that was a being of winter, a being of primordial fear, and turn away from it. She knew that she could easily siphon away the strength that had let him manifest in the mortal realm, and use it however she pleased.

Yet, Crystal didn’t want it.

She just wanted kids to be able to be kids, without having to worry about the moral judgments of demons that would kidnap them if they were “naughty.”

Crystal gathered all of her strength as she stared into the Krampus’ bright red eyes, the irises already gaining flecks of her own icy blue, and tried not to think of the power that thrashed just beneath the surface of her wards. No, she only thought of that fat little bully that was running terrified through the street. A little kid that didn’t know any better than bullying because his parents probably sucked at raising him. With all of the force she could muster within her petite lithe frame, Crystal called out, “Leave!

The Krampus looked like it had been punched in the gut when she spoke that single word bundled with so much of her magical power. Already the violent swirl of energy that it had once been was gone, and now the links that kept it within the mortal realm were slipping away. Slowly, the Krampus seemed to be disappearing, his shaggy black fur melting away into the darkness of the night. Soon all that was left of the demon were those bright red eyes and its long slobbering tongue, but they too were carried away by the gentle passing breeze. With a final barely perceptible slobbering whimper, the Krampus was gone, banished away from this world.

It’s great sack filled with the ethereal forms of children seemed to melt away like the snow it was surrounded by. Crystal watched as flickering forms, the spirits of the mean children he had snatched over this night and many others, flew into the shadows, off to find their owners if they could. Hopefully many of them would rejoin with their bodies, but she mourned for the ones that wouldn’t. The bodiless spirits of childhood bullies weren’t likely to be friendly things, yet Crystal pushed that thought away for another day.

She looked around, finding the suburban street just as quiet and picturesque as it had been twenty minutes ago. With the exception of the melted patches of ice, no one could have ever guessed that a witch had just bound and banished one of the season’s lesser demons.

Crystal shook her head as she made her way back to her old muscle car. It was still hard to believe that she had almost forgotten it was December 6th. She rubbed at her eyes and yawned, most people forgot St. Nicholas’ feast day, but the child-stealing Krampus didn’t and every so often he would manifest. Even in places where people had forgotten about him.

Of course, she blamed some frat boys for deciding to have a Krampus Night Kegger for giving the Krampus the ability to manifest with such strength here, but what was she going to do? Put out posters on the danger of partying in the name of ancient oft-forgotten spirits?

Still, it had taken four supermarkets to find any sage, and that was only because there was no chance in hell she was going to find a bundle of birch limbs. Crystal sighed as she got in behind the wheel of her car, sage always worked though. Sage always worked.

Her engine roared to life, and the radio immediately picked up with some modern pop reinterpretation of a song about sleigh rides, and Crystal carefully turned her car back down the long gently curving street. Her chained tires cut through the ice, snow, and slush, and her windshield wipers easily batted away the fat lazy snowflakes that fell across the frozen expanse of snowforts and sled hills that dotted Greenwood Lane.

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