“How did you get that?” my brother wanted to know.
I pulled free another long red string of licorice to nibble. “Money that I found.” I answered, a bit quietly.
Did you find it in Grandma’s purse? He persisted.
“No, and it’s none of your business.” My heart began beating a little faster. If he tattled, I would be in a lot of trouble. I really didn’t take money from my grandma’s purse. I took the change I saw laying on top of the crochet doily on her dresser and, yes, I knew it was wrong. In my defense, I had not merely wanted something sweet; I swear I needed it. It had been so long. To be fair, Saint Nicholas visited weeks earlier and left us mostly nuts and small oranges to fill our shoes. It was only a little bit of change, after all, not even a dollar. I tempered my speech while I offered him some. “You can have some if you want.”
“No way, that would make me your accomplice. I don’t want to be eaten by a Krampus.”
I squinted at him. “I’ve never heard of a Krampus. I think you just made that up.”
He laughed at me. “You wish! You know how Santa Claus keeps a list of who is naughty and who is nice, and the naughty ones get coal? Well, he only has the one night to deliver gifts and coal all over the world, which is not nearly enough time. In some of the busiest and hardest-to-reach areas, he accepts the help of the Krampus’ to weed-out the really rotten children…like ones who steal from their grandma.”
I just made a face at him, unconvinced. “Santa has elves–lots of them. That’s who helps him. Not some monster who eats children. And I’m not rotten. I found this money.” I had lost my taste for the licorice now. “Leave me alone,” I snapped.
“Okay, but the Krampus isn’t a monster, he’s a goat-man. He’s the one who, like the song says, knows when you are sleeping and when you are awake. We should be singing, “Krampus Claws” is coming to town.” My brother reached out and dragged his nails down my arm as he continued, “he has long, crooked horns that will scrape along your bedcovers while you sleep, until he reaches your shoulders, and then–”
“You’re stupid.” I interrupted him, shaking my arm as though he’d hurt me.
He shrugged. “Maybe you’ll get lucky. He doesn’t eat all the bad kids; some get by with a severe warning.” He ducked his head in my direction and whispered in his best Vincent Price voice, “but the ones who are really bad–the ones who won’t even confess when they’re caught, they will be stuffed in his sack–along with the rest of his Christmas dinner. Don’t you worry, you will meet a Krampus soon enough.” He rubbed his hands together and cackled like a witch.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head, feigning disbelief and disinterest. But I silently wondered how much“borrowed” money constituted a crime worthy of a Krampus buffet. I had never stolen anything before. I wasn’t a bad kid.
My brother’s words haunted me the remainder of Christmas Eve day. I found myself dreading the night as the hours wore on. I nervously inspected the tray of milk and cookies, making certain there would be enough–not just for Santa Claus, but also enough to charm any guest who may accompany him. For a moment, I even thought to tell my grandma about the money I took, just to get it off my chest. That moment passed.
Soon, it was time to bathe and put on pajamas. I never buttoned my jammies so slow in my whole life. I shuffled off to my room in the very back of the house like I was a doomed prisoner on death row. The only window had drapes thick enough to snuff out every ray of light, but they were not closed completely. A thin stream of the moon’s light illuminated a tiny sliver of the wall opposite my bed. It was just enough to bring the painting of Jesus-on-black-velvet to life. In fact, his eyes and the blood dripping from his thorny crown actually glowed. I got under my bedcovers and pulled them up to my chin. The thick drapes did nothing to quell the lonely drone and rattle of the passing trains, whose tracks lay just beyond the backyard fence. An icy tree branch too near the house was scraping now-and-then in the chill winter breeze; yes, that’s what that sound must be. I pulled the bedcovers over my head. Another train’s whistle sounding forlorn and hopeless, bleared in the distance. I tossed and turned the whole night through, jumping at every foreign sound. I could not wait for it to be daybreak, to find that I had survived the judgment of the Krampus.
It was just then that I heard someone–or something–in my room. I startled myself fully awake, wondering what sound had alerted me. Fabric. It was the sound of someone dragging their fingernails (or long, crooked horns?) up the comforter, stopping at about my shoulders… “No!” I screamed and pulled my covers down from my face. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the monster, so I cried and pleaded. “Don’t eat me, Krampus, please! I’m not bad. I’m sorry. I won’t take money from my grandma’s bedroom again, ever!
Nothing happened. The room remained quiet. So I opened one eye and spotted Grandma standing before me, the wooden spoon she had dragged along my bed to wake me up, still in her hand. She did not look happy.
“You are frightened of the Krampus that sometimes helps rid the world of the truly bad children? You needn’t be.” She said in her thick German accent. “He does not go out on Christmas Eve, child. Who told you that? He accompanies St. Nick on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas. That was December 5th, several weeks ago, but you are still here, safe and sound. Now, what about this money you took from me?”
I confessed everything and promised to do extra chores. “So, I didn’t need to leave all those cookies and milk?” I asked my grandma later.
“No, that was too much even for Santa, and the Krampus’ do not eat milk and cookies. I think you know what they eat, don’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I mumbled.
She pinched my cheek. “And next year, let’s make it Root Beer Schnapps instead of milk, shall we? I hear the Krampus’ are all lactose-intolerant.”
# # #
BONUS: Rumor has it if you are a “good kid” and you send a letter to Santa Claus at the North Pole, and use zip code: H0H0H0, you might get a reply!