Authors: Matt Manochio
Tags: #horror;Christmas;Krampus;witch;Jay Bonansinga
Dark servants clash!
Medieval maiden Beate, who's grieving over the mysterious evisceration of her best friend, Gisela, must escape a Bavarian castle under siege by sadistic creatures.
Standing in her wayâbeyond towering walls and crossbow-toting guardsâare Saint Nicholas's demonic helper, Krampus, and Frau Perchta, a belly-slitting hag who prowls the countryside during First Night festivities to punish naughty teens. Beate wants out. Krampus and Frau Perchta want in, determined to breach the castle to snag their prey. Beate has no idea why these monsters want her, but she must use her wits to save herself from horrors both human and inhumanâlest she wind up like Gisela.
Twelfth Krampus Night
This book is dedicated to my son, Nathan, who has yet to warrant a Krampus visit. Let me stress:
Tears streaked down Gisela Walborg's cheeks as she stumbled up the dirt road leading to Vettelberg Castle, named after the Bavarian mountain on which it stood.
Uncommon for peasants, Gisela wrapped a thick fox-fur cloak around her white double-apron dress to shield herself from the winter chill. She tucked her long flaxen hair under a circular white wimpleâmaking her look more like a nun than a distraught seamstress.
The rest of the villagers living at the mountain's foot theorizedâsometimes sordidlyâhow her family could afford a fur worn by upper society.
Stole it off a dead noble
Whored herself to
But the villagers accepted the comely seventeen-year-old girl's good fortune while envying it all the same.
Gisela couldn't control her crying and slouched against a tall fir tree, resting her head against her forearm to protect it from the cold bark.
“I can't live this way,” she mewled between sputtered breaths. “How can I possibly explain it without crushing everyone I love?” She pounded the tree and continued bawling.
“Don't tell anyone!” came a voice too cheerful for the occasion. “If nobody needs to know, then why bother saying anything at all?”
Gisela turned to see a smiling old woman standing in the road.
“People spend entire lives with bottled-up secrets and live quite happily. The sooner you realize that and cease feeling sorry for yourself, the happier you'll be.”
Gisela knew not what to make of the unwelcome interference. The old woman's faceâfrom its long hook nose to pointy chinâcreased with leathery wrinkles as she smiled. She carried in her left hand a simple wooden bucket, and had slung over her back a large sackâfull of what, Gisela couldn't say, but the old woman carried it with ease.
“I'm not the type to keep things pent up inside of me,” Gisela said. “And this is something I will not be able to hide forever.”
“Tell me then, my dear. It will make you feel better.”
“I don't know you.”
“Nor I you, but you are clearly distressed and, honestly, a mark for marauders who prowl these woods.” The old woman stepped closer to comfort Gisela, who saw a gummy grin with teeth she could count on one hand.
“I can get to the castle on my ownâthank you for your worry.” Gisela straightened herself and tried marching past the woman, who, despite her small stature and hunched back, darted to block her path.
“You're in no condition to walk by yourself,” she said. “Allow me to join you at least part of the way until I'm sure you're close enough to the castle where thieves dare not tread.”
Gisela controlled her breathing and assessed the womanâstill smiling, her hazel eyes twinkling with anticipation.
“Your bucket's empty,” Gisela said. “Are you out for water? And do you need help carrying your sack?”
“Perceptive, my dear. I live not far from here and could use a diversion before heading to the stream. And my sack is light, thank you all the same. Now, your predicament. Let me guessâman troubles?”
“That's really none of your concern.”
The old woman nodded. “
. I thought so. Tell me his name, what did he do to you?”
She looked harmless enough to Gisela, who took a few steps up the fir-tree-lined path to the castle, waiting for the woman to catch up. Gisela puzzled over the lady's leather bootsâor more precisely, what they covered. The right boot appeared normalâdirty and worn, but normal. The other looked flattened and stretched, as if a duck paddle filled it. But the old woman's fluid movement indicated it posed no impediment.
“Thank you, my dear. Hearing the problems of the young takes me back many decades. You think you have problems now? Just wait. So, how did he harm you?”
“It's not what he did to meâit's what I did to
.” Gisela soldiered on, slowing down to allow the old woman, wearing a thick black fur cloak over a gray cloth dress, to keep pace.
“Oh, dear, you hurt him? I'm sorry. That's never easy.” The woman tucked a grimy length of dislodged black hair underneath a red headscarf as they walked. “Did you spurn his advances and he not handle it well?”
“If only.” Gisela felt oddly at ease around the woman, who seemed concerned with her plight. The lady's cheerful voice wrapped around Gisela, soothing her forward both in steps and conversation. “He's one of the most handsome men in these parts, and I never thought he'd take the slightest interest in me. But I had a chance encounter with him. I sew, mend garmentsâit's what I'm good at. It's how I help my family eat. So it was just me and him. I was sizing up his chest to prepare a new outfit that his family ordered for him.”
“Is this man young like you?”
“A year's difference, if that. I placed my hands on his chest, felt how strong he was under his shirt and looked at him, stared at himâand he at me. I ran my hands up and down his armsâhis muscles bulged. I couldn't contain myself. Our lips moved toward one another's at the same moment. We kissed. Long and deeply.”
The old woman's eyes widened, enjoying the story. “I would imagine. I mean,
at you. Such beauty.”
The two women ambled along the inclined road, seeing the castle's towers and gray stone walls rising over the treetopsâbut the massive structure still stood a distance away, and the old lady slowed to catch her breath.
“I've kissed a few men in my dayânot recently, as I'm sure you've surmised.” The old woman cackled to herself, a shrill, echoing laugh that spooked nearby birds.
Gisela nervously chuckled. “We didn't just kiss.” She paused and waited for her companion's laughter to die.
The woman stiffened. “I see. This is serious business then. What is this young man's name?”
“To tell you would be to begin spreading word of my own death. It would bring shame to my family. It can never get outâat least not now.” Gisela halted the old woman, who had begun to wheeze the higher they climbed. “We ravaged each other in the fitting room. We were like animals. Feral beasts tearing off each other's clothing, licking each other's flesh. Tasting each other's juices. I can't believe I'm telling you this!”
Gisela blushed, and her good-hearted laugh was the first time she had expressed anything close to happiness before the old woman.
“I told you talking would make you feel better,” she needled the girl. “So what happened for you to have hurt him so?”
“I took all of him inside me.”
The old woman shot Gisela a queer glance. “I doubt he felt hurt by that.”
“No. But it was more than a month agoâand now I carry his child.”
An animal growled, a perverse drumroll, deep from within the forest. Both Gisela and the woman looked to their left off the path, seeing nothing but bare-limbed trees interspersed with spruces.
“He knows, and the only other person I've told is my best friend,” Gisela nervously continued, looking in the direction of the grumbling. “And I cannot bring myself to tell her everything, like the father's nameâeven though I swore her to secrecy and trust her. It's that terrible. So many lives would be ruined.”
A big, brown animal zoomed across a distant glade, still within the women's view, followed by more growls.
“We should go.” The old woman swung the sack and held it in the same hand as the bucket and then seized Gisela's forearmâthe grip's strength surprised the girlâand led her off the path, away from the growl and into the woods.
“Where are you taking me?”
“My hovel is not far from here. We
Gisela tried wrenching her arm free, but the old lady's grasp wouldn't give. They bounded over dead leaves, wove around trees, and soon realized the grumbling had stopped. The women kept their guard up, though, upon seeing, one hundred feet deeper into the woods, a brown hairy mass running through the trees, obscured by brush and branches, until it took refuge behind one.
“I must get to the castle.” Gisela pulled the old woman back toward the path. “I'll run if I have to. I have a knife if I encounter an animal.” She pointed to her belt, displaying a small hunting blade she'd swiped when her father wasn't looking.
“My dear, you have no idea what is out there.”
“What does that mean? Let me go.”
The old woman released Gisela, who stumbled backward toward the road.
“If you continue onward, you could be attacked, or worse. I want nothing to happen to you on that path.”
Gisela saw they were far enough from the road so no passersby would likely see them. Whatever the animal was, it hadn't moved from its spot behind the tree.
Perhaps it skulked away
, Gisela thought. She tugged the fox cloak around her, more out of nerves than to gain warmth.
The animal's grumblingâthe kind the women had first heard when walking the pathâresumed and grew louder, closer, as if the beast making it had followed them.
Gisela looked around, disoriented, uncertain of the way. She looked at the old woman and expected to see fright in her eyes, but instead saw annoyance.
“Whatever animal is out there, I'm sure we're not in danger,” Gisela said. “They usually run away at the sight of humans. Let's circle around to the path. It can't be far.”
The old woman stood a good foot shorter than Gisela and balefully looked at her. “Don't you know what day it is?”
Gisela hadn't expected the question. “Tuesday?”
. I mean, the significance of
very dateâJanuary fifth.” The old woman waited for Gisela to answer but got a vacant stare instead. “Don't you know what could happen to you on this day, the peril you could be in? Your parents must keep you sheltered.”
Gisela jogged her memory. “Yes, it's Twelfth Night, the night of the Epiphany. But it's the last thing on my mind.”
A bear cub scampered from behind a tree and appeared startled upon seeing two women, who instantly took notice of the little bruin.
Gisela exhaled, relieved. “The animal we saw back there. Nothing but a baby.”
The old woman turned pensive, then worried. “The growlingâit must be the cub'sâ” she said before a full-throated roar interrupted her, shocking both her and Gisela's attention away from the baby. They turned to see what they guessed to be the bear's mother charging them.
Gisela fumbled for the small knife in her belt. The old woman pushed Gisela behind her, dropped her bucket and sack and glowered at the bear. She flapped her cloak in back of her and spread her arms wide, as if opening them to embrace the mother, straightened herself and shrieked.
The old woman's howl frightened the mother bear enough so that it ceased running and began skidding on its paws over the leaves, trying to stop itself, clearly not wanting anything to do with the little old lady.
Gisela peeked behind to see the frightened cub running into the deep woods.
The old woman drew breath and roared again. Gisela swore the woman's voice pulsated from her mouth,
the bear to flee in the opposite direction.
The woods quieted. The old woman looked at the forest floor and grabbed her bucket.
“As I said, I didn't want anything happening to you on the path.”
“Thank you,” Gisela said. “Nor I you.”
“Now, while I didn't want to do this
, I suppose here is as good a place as any. We seem to be far enough away.”
“Far away enough from whom?”
The woman placed the bucket before Gisela's feet. “Could you please stand still, my dear?”
Gisela glanced at the bucket and up to the woman. “I can, but I don't understâ”
The old woman reached both hands behind her back and then swiped her arms forward and across Gisela's belly.
Gisela barely registered the unsheathing and slitting sounds. She looked down to her belly to see a waterfall of intestines splattering into the bucket.
Gisela didn't scream despite the pain. She gasped, shock overtaking her body.
The old woman licked blood off both sides of her blades, stowing one behind her back and keeping the other handy. She reached into the yawning gash and yanked the remaining guts into the bucket, cutting free the small intestine after she deemed enough had coiled in the pail. She pushed Giselaâstill alive but with her life draining fastâto land on her back, and knelt over the gushing wound.
The old woman sheathed the knife and retrieved the sack. She pulled out what Gisela could not identify by sight but by smellâstraw. The old woman stuffed every strand from the sack into Gisela's belly, which appeared to have exploded, the skin flaps resembling blossomed flower petals.
The last thing Gisela saw before closing her eyes was the old woman's shaky right hand trying to thread twine through the eye of a large sewing needle.
She felt the old woman bring her stomach flaps together, followed by inexplicable pinpricks.
“Harlot.” The old woman spit on the girl, who died thinking she'd delivered a baby in a way unintended by God.