by: Heather Fawn
Our first installment of a 12-piece series, brought to you in 12 days, taking you Across the Holidays with holiday-themed stories from our winter workshop…..
The knock at the door was heavy and scratchy. It had been preceded by grunting and enormous clop-clopping of footsteps.
There was no way in hell I was answering that.
I was sitting –well, spacing, actually – in front of the automatic burning logs in my newly-installed fireplace. Predictable, lukewarm blue-orange flames made mediocre love to the fake wood, and I was lost in thought, paying little attention to the performance. My cat, Deadmouse, had been enthusiastically nose-deep in his nether regions, but jumped and quickly slinked away when the footsteps began to approach, visibly perturbed that his nightly nut-wash had been interrupted. I was equally irritated, as I had settled in for the night, and, being new to living in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t exactly happy about having to deal with the idea that I could still somehow be reached by the outside world.
I remained in my slouch, pulse elevated, breathing in the sickly-sweet smell of the mug of Swiss Miss I now had frozen in place between my lips. I heard the dragging rattle of what I could only assume to be a chain on the porch. Then a snort. I silently slid a cork coaster across the coffee table and, in slow-motion, set the mug onto it. I made a mental calculation of the odds of successfully running upstairs in my Snuggie, but decided against it. Best to play dead on the couch. Don’t move. You’re floating. Bubbles. Ocean water. Sandy beaches. Floating. Bubbles. Ocean water. Beaches. There is no juggernaut on your front porch. Maybe Santa ran out of gas. Stay calm…
Then I realized that Christmas was still nearly 3 weeks away. It was only December 6th. No Santa lookalike could be on my porch. Was it Mary and Joseph nativity wankers complete with a donkey? Was it a 6-point buck trying to scratch an itch on the uneven grain of the wood on my door? Whatever it was, I decided wasn’t going to be the butt of a knock-knock joke. Fuck that.
There was some kind of movement outside. A faint, tiny tinkle of a cow bell. There was a farm about a half-mile down the street. Maybe it was one of Borris’ cows?
I wondered if cows even wore bells anymore.
After about 15 minutes of weighted silence, it started to rain. I was losing interest in my guessing game, and perhaps my visitor was, too. If they had to stand outside in the rain, I thought, perhaps they’d decide it wasn’t worth it and wander off. I became comfortable with the noise generated by the sound of falling water, and decided to get up. I had to walk past the door to get to the kitchen. This also meant passing the large window overlooking my front porch. My blinds were down, but I could see, on my way into the kitchen, the silhouette of the visitor. I regretted leaving the porch light on, but I had to see what my midnight caller looked like.
The only shadows I saw, however, were of the rain dribbling over the edges of the roof.
I relaxed. It must have left. It had to have been an animal, as ominous as those strange noises had been. Just to be sure, I crammed my face toward the peephole of the front door.
What confronted me there was something monstrous in size, with long, skewer-like teeth crammed shark-style into a wet-looking mouth. It was covered in luxurious fur the color of coal, with speckles of calico browns. As if in a horror movie, I screamed just as the first clap of thunder shook the house and rattled the windowpanes.
In an instant, I remembered everything. Running at dusk on the trails last year. Going off the path to take a leak. Seeing the sky turn a burning coral and red as the sun set. Looking overhead as I trotted back to the trail to see dozens of gigantic ravens camped out on the power lines threaded above the trees.
After that moment, I had looked down in front of me to see the same grotesque creature that now waited for me on my porch. It had blocked my re-entry to the path. It was probably close to 8 feet tall, but it hunched over, as if the weight of its Satan-horns prevented good posture. The width of its mouth stretched alarmingly close to each ear. It seemed to smile at me through the density of its black, furry face. Those same long teeth, each a weapon in its own right. If I hadn’t already emptied my bladder, it would have done so involuntarily at that moment. And I wouldn’t have noticed.
“Liam,” it half-bleated, in a voice with such a low register that it sounded like a guttural grown. “Liam. I found you.”
It lurched toward me on impossibly lengthy legs. The same kind of legs one would find on a mountain goat, only much sturdier. I was frozen in place, mouth dry, voice gone, heart ticking away like a bomb about to detonate. I breathed in thin, sob-like contractions.
The creature deftly reached for a large clump of long, thin sticks in an open red pack on its back. As it approached I realized that the sticks were large saplings. I braced for the impact of them as they sliced the air to my right and hit me squarely in the ribcage. I sort of barked as all the air left my lungs. I was thrown sideways, and rolled into a cluster of high brush. A startlingly big spider scurried over my face as I fought my way out of its hairball of a web for a gasp of air. The next thing I knew, I was being twisted upright, then upside-down by my left ankle, on a thick chain. The creature, who now had me at eye-level, produced what can only be described as a giraffe’s tongue from behind its dagger-fangs, and began bathing my head in saliva. I bellowed in disgust.
“Liam. Don’t you know why I’m here?” It purred, leering, once it retracted its tongue with a smack of its lips.
“No,” I choked. I was still upside-down, blood ringing in my ears, ankle popping as the circulation decreased from the pressure of the chain.
“It’s Krampusnacht. I came to collect.”
I thought back to my holidays in the foothills of Austria. My grandparents’ tiny cottage, and my grandmother’s terrifying tale of Krampus, when I was in 5th grade. My sister, Lilly, and I had given my Gran and Gramps hell one year, fighting and bickering over nothing for days. Although the idea of a monster sidekick to Saint Nick who scared little children and occasionally ate them was pretty frightening at the time, I thought it was just Gran’s way of getting Lilly and I to stop acting like assholes.
“You were a real asshole that year,” declared the Krampus.
My mind slammed around, working to find logic. How did this thing find me in the hills of South Carolina?
“I was 10 years old,” I squeaked. “Please…what do you want?”
“To have you for dinner,” it snapped.
“I don’t want to die,” I mumbled numbly.
“And I don’t want to go hungry. This has been a long journey, little one. I’m famished,” it was all teeth when it spoke. Reminded me of the kids who try to talk around fake vampire fangs on Halloween.
“Look –what can I do? I’m only 27. I don’t have my shit together enough for this. I don’t even have a will,” I was shaking convulsively, sweat dripping steadily, my body steaming in the frigid air.
“Are you trying to bargain with me?” It leaned so close to me that I could hear the beat of its enlarged heart thundering away. Its breathing was raspy and ancient, like 10 old smokers in a nursing home.
I gulped. “Yes,” I was nauseous.
Without warning, the chain came loose and I fell 7 feet to the ground.
That was the last thing I remembered before awakening to a bitter cold sunrise and stumbling, limp-limbed and frostbitten, to the local Urgent Care. They asked me whether or not I wanted to file a police report, suspecting that I had been mugged. I icily declined, and they sent me home without much further dialogue. Seventeen stitches, a sprained ankle, bruising and deep lacerations on my ribs, shoulders dislocated on both sides. I had also been unconscious and lying on my right arm all night, so they had to drain the fluid that had built up. It wasn’t until 3 weeks later that I regained feeling. And even recently I still hadn’t regained full use.
So this motherfucker was back.
Maybe it had come to check and see if my affairs were in order. For the record, I hadn’t really changed a whole lot in the year. Other than obtaining a gun permit, visiting the shooting range every other weekend, and taking some kick-boxing lessons, I was the same. Albeit, jumpier. Prone to night terrors. With more ammunition in the upstairs closet than the local police department had in their entire building.
Well, maybe I had made some minor changes.
What would it do if I didn’t answer the door? Did mythical creatures know when you were home?
I was halfway up the stairs, stumbling and flailing through my Snuggie when I heard the door-knocker being utilized so forcefully that the third pound on the device tore it free from the door. It slammed to the floorboards with a sturdy, metallic thud.
“LIAM!” It brayed hoarsely, ear-piercingly, as I shoved bullets into my glock. It pounded and scratched at the door. I could hear its chain clank against the siding of the house.
“LIAM, I’ve come to collect. I’ve been thinking of you all year. It’s time for us to have that chat,” it spat.
I rounded the corner of the banister and took the stairs down two at a time as I shoved the gun into the back of my pants. Then I shrugged off the Snuggie and steeled myself as I unlocked the 5 deadbolts and twisted the last lock on the doorknob. When Krampus came tearing in, I lunged and it got a face-full of neon-orange leopard print Snuggie. Temporarily disorienting it with my favorite Walgreens purchase, I grabbed the rope I kept to the left of the door and slipped it over the Snuggie on top of the Krampus’ head. The entire time, Krampus hissed foamy-sounding German slander through the thick fleece, arms flailing, scratching deep, jagged chunks out of the wallpaper near the door. Once the noose was secured, I twisted the rope around and managed to tie the Krampus’ hands behind its back. It bounced me off the wall several times, knocking down framed photos and littering the hardwood floor of the walkway with shards of glass. I was bleeding all over from its sharp claws, and I hadn’t managed to get the beast to stay put, but the Snuggie and noose combination seemed to be putting a dent in its game plan. It stood hunched over, sucking in enormous breaths that pushed and pulled at the fabric of the body blanket.
“I hate to say it, you dick, but you’re going to go hungry again this year,” I panted as I slung sweat off my forehead with the sleeve of my sweater.
The Krampus replied with a low, throaty moan.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the thick chain lying in the doorway and edged my way towards the door, keeping my eye on the hunched Krampus. The moment it heard the chain rattle, however, it stood upright, slamming its antlers into the ceiling. A slab of stucco crumbled down from above and exploded onto the floor.
“Darling, you really think you can use my own devices against me?” Some of its teeth jutted through the Snuggie as it talked. A neon-orange leopard print sock puppet head. With antlers.
Suddenly, the chain wrenched itself from my hand into the beast’s, and before I could react, the Krampus ‘s tethered paws wrapped around my throat. It ogled me from the jagged hole where its antler had ripped through the Snuggie. The yellow light from the porch shined past my head into the hole of the fabric where I could see vast black irises with pupils that were square like a goat’s. One was orange and one was red flecked with blue and mossy green. The eyelids were rimmed with a deep, reddish purple.
In a jerky but quick movement, my gun found its way under the Krampus’ jaw. I pulled the trigger without hesitation, and abruptly, mossy green foam discharged through the Snuggie and covered my forearm. I was shoved backward out the door, the weight of the Krampus coming down on me, my right foot caught under my ass and a warm, seering-hot snap in my knee followed as the entire enormous body came to rest. Thick green fluid splashed enthusiastically over my face from the dark recesses of the Krampus’ throat. It shuddered and scuffed its gigantic hooves over the wood on the floorboards of the porch. I heard deep grooves being scratched by its claws.
“Liebling…” It gurgled.
The deepest, longest, most throaty sigh I had ever heard escaped from somewhere above my head, though it seemed to be emitting from the belly of the creature. Then all I could hear was the muffled sound of rain through the Krampus’ thick body and fur.
I wriggled slowly out from under the beast, grasping white-knuckled to the doorframe, grunting and panting, using all the strength in my left side to undulate my way from underneath the deceased Krampus.
“It was either you or me,” I puffed, hunching, hands on my knees, once I had freed myself. I kicked the Krampus hard in the side, but it remained inert.
I fastened its own chain around the waist of the monster, wrapping it under my arms at the shoulders, and drug it painstakingly from the front of the house, through the walkway, and out the backdoor. Its body snaked down the back steps with sickening cracks, its antlers clattered loudly over the wet landing. Then I swung the free portion of the chain over the thick branches of an ancient oak tree in the back yard, and used the simple pulley system to hoist the Krampus into an upside-down suspension. From the safety of my house, I watched the Krampus’ carcass droop drably in the rain, leaking body fluids, fur matted and soaked through. Its hands never did tear free from the rope. It had simply been able to hyperextend its arms from behind its back. They now hung limply, still tied tight at the wrists.
The whole thing was a sick joke. Here was the mythical creature that my dotty Austrian granny told me about 18 years ago tied up and hanging to be bled dry like an unfortunate buck during hunting season. In my backyard. Eventually, I realized I had been standing there for close to an hour. My reflection shook its head at me. I turned around to look at the mess in my house from the struggle.
I guess I still had work to do.
I cleaned, threw things away, found the number of a repair man. I patched myself up with my first-aid kit, self-suturing a couple of jagged wounds with super glue, and went ahead and popped my kneecap back in place. I turned on my electric clippers and gave myself a buzz cut to hide a couple spots on my head where hair had been ripped out. I showered, washing the hair from my shoulders and scalp. I brushed my teeth, flossed, trimmed my cracked fingernails, swabbed my ears.
Then, just to make sure, I returned to the living room, glancing out the window to look at the place I’d left the Krampus.
It was still there.
Just to be safe, I slept with one hand on my shotgun in bed next to me.
As if I were living a true fairy tale, the next morning, the Krampus had vanished. Its red bag slumped in the spot underneath where its body had hung.
The only thing inside was a note.
“Ok, Liam. You win. But I’ll be back for your children.”
That afternoon, I booked an appointment for a vasectomy with a doctor my friend Jim had said good things about.