I discovered earlier this month, after writing Cushing Horror stories for the last two Christmas seasons, that there is a long tradition of telling Christmas “ghost stories” of which Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is merely the most famous example. I’m proud of any part that my stories may play in reviving this near-forgotten cold-winter’s-night tradition…
Krampus vs. the Werewolf
A Cushing Horrors Christmastime Story
Between the Two Great Wars – December
Paul Shaw Longmire clung to the bars of the dingy cell in the deserted constabulary high in the Austrian Alps, grateful for this small bit of “salvation.”
“Thank God…” he whispered to no one in particular. “Thank God!”
It wasn’t the meager warmth of the cell and the safety from the building snowstorm outside that Paul appreciated. Nor was it the near-providential appearance of this tiny Alpine hamlet right in the path of his journey, just before the blizzard began in earnest. Nor did his thankfulness stem from the sparse ration of crusty bread and the cup of cloudy water that his jailer had left for him before leaving to make his alleged rounds (or perhaps to actually participate in whatever Christmastime celebrations a lonely place like this might offer).
Rather, the gratitude that filled Paul’s heart was for the cell itself. Because tonight would be the second night of the full moon, and these corroded steel bars were the only thing that could keep him from killing—again—after the moon rose.
Paul gripped the cold metal rods and pulled with all his might. The bars, which looked like something out of a Western motion-picture serial, didn’t even groan.
“Good,” he muttered to himself. “That’s good.”
He’d been slogging his way across the middle of Europe for most of the last two months (or was it longer now?) doing odd jobs when he could and trying to stay out of people’s way the rest of the time, especially when the days of the full moon approached.
Unfortunately, the curse that turned him from man into beast every month made it difficult for Paul to keep track of time. The wolf wanted to be set free; it wanted to kill—and clouding his mind, so that he couldn’t don chains or find a “safe” place to transform during the nights of the full moon, was how the monster got what it desired.
Last evening, the first night of the current dreadful cycle, Paul had slept in the rolling woodlands of the Austrian Alps. The beast had certainly killed then, but its only available prey had been deer and other wildlife. The wolf preferred human victims, of course, but if no people were handy, any slaughter would satiate its savage bloodlust.
So tonight, even with the storm approaching and the temperature dropping, Paul had been reluctant to seek shelter in this tiny village perched on the side of the mountain.
But the dangerously escalating cold had made up his mind for him—that and the fact that some legends insisted that a werewolf who dies as a man becomes a werewolf forever.
Unless maybe I was frozen in a block of ice, Paul had thought as he approached the dark gray buildings huddled for shelter beneath the mountains’ tall peaks.
Seeing no one in the streets, nor tracks in the now-falling snow, at first, he’d thought the hamlet a ghost town. As he passed the first house, though, he’d noticed that the windows were shuttered, not broken, and slivers of warm light leaked from beneath many of the homes’ doors.
“Hello?!” he’d called loudly. “Hello? Is there anybody here? I… I need a place to stay… for the night. A room.” Then he added in the best German he could muster: “Ein zimmer… Bitte.”
That got a few doors to crack open, and shaggy furtive faces peered out into the evening gloom.
“I can work for my keep,” Paul added, wishing he knew more than just a few words of the local language. “And I’d be happy to sleep anywhere—even in a cellar.”
A cellar might actually be best, he’d thought. How long until the moon rises?
Several sturdy-looking men, standing in doorways, wrapped themselves in winter furs and began to step outside, when a tall man strode out of a nearby building, glowering.
“What do you want?” the Stern Man asked in thickly accented English. He wore the uniform of some kind of official—perhaps a government agent or a policeman. (Paul was no expert in Austrian politics.) “This town is under supervision by the Austrian government. We want no strangers here.”
“I need a place to stay,” Paul explained, “because of the storm.” He gestured at the snow all around, which was still intensifying.
The Stern Man pursed his lips, and his gray eyes narrowed.
“He can stay with us,” offered a burly bearded man. “We have a root cellar, if der fremder… the stranger truly wants such accommodation.”
“That would be great,” Paul replied. “I don’t have much money… but I can work. I’ll even shovel snow tomorrow morning. If you’re concerned, you can lock the cellar door tonight.” Paul actually hoped that would happen.
It’s the only way these people will be safe.
“Thank you, Citizen Keller,” the Stern Man had told the Burly Man. “But I believe I have a better place for this vagabond.”
Thus, the town jail.
For which Paul felt profoundly thankful.
It’s much safer for everyone if I’m in here, he thought.
Though he’d been grateful when the constable, or whatever the Stern Man’s official title was, had excused himself for the night.
“I must make my rounds,” he’d explained. “In a way, you are lucky to be staying here tonight. In the past, this village’s Yuletide celebrations have gotten a little… how do you English say it, ‘Out of hand?’ Which is why I have been sent here to supervise, as I explained. Sleep well, mein mendicant freund.”
And, with a little chuckle, he’d left.
Paul felt profoundly glad no one would see his transformation.
I still have a chance to find a cure, he thought.
He’d tried every so-called occult expert, witch, and gypsy camp from Nepal to Innsbruck, but so far… nothing—just charlatans with vague warnings and sham offers to “dispel the evil spirits” …for the right price, of course.
Maybe in Germany… or even England… Somewhere, there must be a cure!
Satisfied with the bars’ sturdiness, Paul settled onto the cell’s flea-bitten cot. How long…? he wondered. How long until the moon rises?
With the storm raging outside, and the Winter Solstice rapidly approaching, there was no way for him to tell. Days were fleetingly short, now.
Paul knew from tragic experience that the weather had no effect on his transformation. Once that leering pale face cleared the mountainous horizon, even hidden behind the deepest cloud cover, he was doomed.
“Get up!” said a gruff voice, shattering Paul’s reverie.
The bearded man, Keller, stood outside his cell with a shotgun in one hand and a set of keys in the other. As Paul watched, momentarily dumbfounded, Keller began to work the keys in the cell’s lock.
“No,” Paul told him. “It’s okay. I’m quite comfortable here. It’s better than a root cellar, actually.”
“I’m not doing this for you, Amerikanischer. I’m doing this for our town. The government doesn’t understand. They will ruin things. Tonight is his night, and all of us will pay the price if his reward is denied him.” He finished with the lock and swung open the cell door.
A shiver ran down Paul’s spine. “Look, I don’t need rescuing,” he insisted, still sitting on the cot. “And like I said when I arrived, I don’t have any money to ‘reward’ you, that government official, or anyone else.”
“Fool!” Keller hissed. “That is not the price I’m speaking of! And do you think any of us are afraid of such a blowhard as Gruber? Now… Out!” He waved his shotgun in a manner that suggested he might shoot if Paul didn’t move.
Paul raised his hands and reluctantly edged out of the cell. “Look, I don’t think you understand…”
“It is you who do not understand, Amerikanischer. That idiot Gruber has come to prevent our rituals—our celebrations. They are centuries old… They keep us safe! That officious bastard will get us all killed!”
“I really think I’d be safer in that cell,” Paul said as Keller herded him toward the door. “And everyone else would be, too.”
Keller laughed. “You, certainly, but the rest of us…? Nein. Without the ancient rituals, Krampus might not just take just one or two tonight; he might slaughter us all and burn the entire village to the ground.”
They’d nearly reached the jail’s front door now, but Paul remained more confused than scared. Keller wasn’t making any sense. “What?” Paul asked. “Who is this ‘Krampus?’ Some kind of bandit, or…?”
Again, the laugh. “He’s a monster! He comes to punish the wicked during the Yuletide. Our yearly sacrifice keeps us safe, but Gruber will stop us this year—if he can.”
Keller pushed the barrel of his gun into Paul’s back as they stopped at the jail’s closed door.
Paul shuddered. Sacrifice…?!
“Look, you’re making a mistake…”
“Nein. It is the only way. My little niece Hannah was chosen by lot this year, but I think you will do just as well. Sorry, Amerikanischer. Open the door.”
Paul did. “So, you’re going to kill me.” He couldn’t tell if he felt afraid… or relieved.
Outside the storm had mounted into a full-tilt blizzard. Buildings only a few yards away were nothing more than shadows amid the white fury.
Maybe if I make a run for it…
Again, Keller’s laugh, almost maniacal this time. “Nein, Amerikanischer. Not me… The monster! Out! Out into the snow where he can find you.”
Paul stepped out of the jail and broke into a sprint, heading away from the gunman and out of town as fast as possible.
Keller’s laugh followed him. “Run, Amerikanischer! Run as fast as you can! No matter where you go, Krampus will find you—and once he drags you to Hell, he will spare our town for another year!”
The lunatic villager might have said more, but the howl of the frigid wind smothered his words.
The storm whipped around Paul, tearing at his meager clothing. He wasn’t dressed for this kind of weather, and his coat and rucksack containing extra clothing were still in the jail, confiscated.
Where can I go? he wondered. All the doors and windows in the hamlet remained closed and presumably barred—though whether against Paul himself or this imaginary monster, he couldn’t be certain.
He’d seen some copses of trees on the mountainside on his way up here, but would they provide enough shelter from the storm?
Maybe it would be better if I just froze to death.
Could a werewolf freeze to death, though—even in human form? And if he did, would that break the curse, or just doom him forever?
A clank of metal behind him made Paul turn. Had someone taken pity on his plight? Was someone opening a door to admit him? Or was that clank the sound of a gun cocking? Had the madman Keller chased him out into the storm, intending to finish Paul off?
No. Neither an open door nor the shotgun-wielding psychopath lay behind him.
Instead, a hulking shape broke away from the dark shadows of a precarious hovel and stepped into the snow-covered street.
Paul couldn’t quite make out the newcomer through the mounting blizzard, but he was tall, at least a foot taller than Paul. The stranger was wide, too, like a football player or a weightlifter. The wind whipped the tattered fur clothing around his huge frame. Improbably, he seemed to be carrying a long chain and wearing a hat decorated with immense horns.
The stranger’s eyes shone bright red through the snowy gloom, glaring at Paul.
This wasn’t a towering man; Paul’s wolf-keen eyes could see that now. This was some kind of monster—a creature with goat legs, sharp claws, and a frightful, inhuman face. That wasn’t a hat the thing was wearing; those were real horns growing from atop its demonic countenance!
But… That’s nuts!
“Any crazier than a werewolf?” asked a dark part of Paul’s beleaguered mind.
Without further thought, Paul turned and ran.
He sprinted out of town into the countryside, into the blizzard—directly away from the satanic creature that he now felt sure had come to hunt him.
An awful, bone-chilling scream split the frigid night
Krampus’ hunting cry mingled with the wail of the bitter wind, building into a baleful howl that seemed to come from everywhere, surrounding its pitiful human victim.
Paul lost his bearings and stumbled blindly in the snow-filled darkness.
He spotted a copse of trees further upslope and decided to head for them.
Maybe I can find a weapon—or make one.
Paul had years of experience hunting big game—it was his reputation as a hunter that had led to him being cursed—but even fashioning a simple spear would take time. Would he have that time before this Krampus, whatever it was, caught him?
Before Paul even finished the thought, something cold and hard whipped into his leg, wrapping around his right ankle.
The chain! he realized as the monster gave a sharp yank on the heavy links.
Paul sprawled face-first into the snow, and Krampus began to reel him in, like a fisherman claiming a prize catch.
Paul clawed at the ground, but the powder was soft and new; his desperate fingers found no icy patches to cling to.
He looked back and saw the monster’s demonic face grinning at him. An open sack lay on the snow in front of the creature—at least, it looked like a sack, but the inside of it glowed red and yellow, like the inside of a furnace.
Laughter rumbled in the Yuletide demon’s throat, and the smell of sulfur assaulted Paul’s nostrils as Krampus inexorably dragged him toward the hellish glow.
Paul’s heart pounded in his chest; sweat poured from his skin, despite the cold, and every hair on his body stood on end.
He knew that he was doomed.
And then, through a fleeting break in the storm, Paul spotted the full moon peeking over a distant mountain ridge…
Second Night of the Full Moon
The beast awoke confused—a feeling not unfamiliar for a creature that only existed for three nights every month—but it felt something else as well:
This was an emotion the wolf was not used to, an emotion it despised. This feeling was for its victims, for weakling humans, not for the wolf! The werewolf was the hunter, not the prey!
It took barely an instant for the beast to realize that it had been snared in the same type of metal that the human enemy often used to try and control it…
The wolf hated chains almost as much as it hated its human foe, whom it could never quite seem to catch. It often smelled him when it awoke, but search as it might, it could never locate this elusive quarry—the one who chained it and locked it in cells, the one who kept it from the hunt.
However, the master of this chain was not that hidden foe.
This creature smelled inhuman, foul, like a burning pine forest mingled with a strong masculine scent and the pong of rotting meat. The thing’s very presence made the werewolf’s fur bristle.
And this newcomer was dragging the beast toward some kind of fire, a blaze nestled within a hunter’s sack. The wolf’s fur bristled at the sizzling heat, barely more than an arm’s span away.
The creature laughed as he drew the beast closer.
The word, almost a growl, rasped through the wolf’s mind like the bitter hiss of the blowing snow.
This was its enemy! This man-thing was the hunter who sought to kill the beast tonight!
The chains clattered as Krampus kept dragging the werewolf through the fresh-fallen snow.
The fiery maw… just moments away now…
Krampus laughed, low and wicked, like the rumble of an avalanche.
But just before the triumphant monster dragged his prey into the burning sack, the werewolf sprang.
Krampus looked surprised as the beast’s sharp claws raked toward his grinning face. The demon dropped his chain and the infernal sack.
The werewolf’s bestial talons bit into cold, leathery skin, and the wolf surged forward, its teeth seeking its tormentor’s throat.
Before the beast’s powerful fangs could clamp down on weak flesh, Krampus seized his attacker by the scruff of the neck and threw the wolf across the mountainside.
The werewolf bounced twice, sending explosions of powdery snow up into the wailing wind, and then crashed hard into a sturdy pine at the edge of the tiny uphill forest.
The impact snapped something inside the werewolf’s back, but by the time its body crashed into the snowbank at the tree’s base, the beast was already healing.
Krampus’ eyes blazed with anger as he touched his face and found his palm covered with demonic blood.
The prey bleeds! the wolf thought gleefully. I will slay it!
With a howl of rage, Krampus picked up his chain and whipped it at the beast.
But the werewolf had recovered—the spinal wound that might have killed a man knitting almost instantly—and as the heavy links snaked toward its neck, it caught the diabolical weapon.
The beast heaved, yanking Krampus off his feet. As the Yuletide Demon hit a snowdrift, the werewolf hurled itself at him.
Krampus rose and met the hurtling monster as it came.
Krampus grabbed the beast’s claws, intercepting the deadly talons inches from the inhuman fiend’s bloodied face, but the force of the impact sent them both tumbling into the snow once more.
The beast snapped with its wicked jaws… but found only snowflake-filled air.
Krampus lashed out with his barbed tongue. The appendage missed the wolf’s eyes… but stabbed into the beast’s cheek.
The werewolf howled in pain and surprise as Krampus licked up the spilled blood.
The pair scudded through the fresh snow, snapping at each other, both trying to gain enough room to use their terrible claws.
They crashed into one tree and then another, and then into a half-buried boulder. Each bone-shattering collision would have slain the strongest of men…
But Krampus and the werewolf shrugged off the near-fatal injuries and kept wrestling, their unholy recuperative powers quickly mending their battered bodies. With every collision, they merely howled and snarled at each other more fiercely.
Only the bleeding facial wounds that they’d inflicted on each other refused to heal.
The werewolf neither knew nor cared why this might be. All that mattered to it was that this enemy had injured it; therefore this enemy must die!
Krampus stabbed out with his rasp-like tongue once more, but this time the beast was ready.
The wolf bit down hard, drawing black blood and nearly severing the fleshy appendage.
Krampus screamed and retracted his tongue.
The werewolf licked the unsavory ichor from its teeth and lips.
With a roar that shook the snowbound mountainside, Krampus bucked his head from side to side. The wolf tried to dodge… but not in time.
The fiend’s massive horns crashed into the werewolf’s skull, and flashes of bright green light exploded behind the wolf-man’s eyes.
Krampus shook free, and the beast rolled away as well.
The two stood amid the drifts on the steep slope, glaring at each other, only the wind and the snow and the bitter cold separating them. Both panted for breath.
Then they charged, each slashing with deadly supernatural claws.
Both sets of talons bit deep into hairy bodies, and for a moment, the two grappled again, tumbling downslope nearly to the edge of a deep crevasse.
They separated, each bleeding from a half-dozen wounds gouged from furry flesh by preternatural fingernails.
Again, they regarded each other, wary, gasping. Their hot breath lingered only moments in the storm, before the wind whipped the tiny white clouds away.
The werewolf’s foe seemed astonished at his injuries, and the beast felt a similar surprise.
What manner of foe was this?!
The wolf’s wariness quickly turned to anger. Heedless of the nearby crevasse, the monster that had been Paul Longmire lunged, hurtling with all its might into Krampus.
The demon and the werewolf howled as they crashed into each other.
The two wrestled on the precipice for a moment, the scream of the blizzard nearly drowning out their own furious cries.
Then both foes overbalanced and toppled off the edge of the cliff.
How long they fell or when the fall might end meant nothing to the werewolf. All it cared about was killing its enemy.
Monster and Yule-demon tore at each other as they plummeted.
More than once the pair of furry bodies dashed against the rocky side of the cliff only to bounce off and continue falling.
They kept slashing and biting until the ground far below brought their bitter conflict to a sudden, bone-breaking halt.
Paul’s head pounded as it seldom had before, and his mouth tasted foul, as though he’d been drinking sewer water.
He spat and tasted his own blood as well. Only then did he realize how much his body ached. He was lying on his back on something cold and soft.
Where am I?
He forced his eyes open, but the whole world remained a soft, gray-white blur.
From somewhere nearby came a deep chuckle, like rock grating against ancient stone.
Recognition shot through Paul like a white-hot poker thrust into his spine. He tried to sit up, tried to defend himself, but his body refused to obey and quickly slumped back down. He felt pummeled, as though he’d gone fifteen rounds with a bull elephant.
Again, the laughter… and a terrible face loomed into view.
Krampus’ twisted countenance—a horrible mix of human and devil—leered down at Paul. The creature’s face was bloodied, but it grinned, showing its pointed teeth. Its red eyes gleamed with triumph.
It reached for Paul with one huge, clawed hand…
Then the fiend stopped, and its glowing eyes darted to the left…
Paul couldn’t focus, couldn’t tell what had made his foe pause.
Then, peeking through from somewhere high up in the mountains, the first light of dawn fell across Krampus, and the demon faded into nothingness.
At least, that’s what Paul thought happened. With his head in the state it was in, he couldn’t be sure how much of what he remembered from last night—or even what he’d seen just now—might actually be real.
Paul blinked as the warm rays of the sun hit his bruised and bloodied face, and when his vision finally cleared enough to be trustworthy, no sign of the Yuletide monster remained.
If Krampus had ever existed at all.
Paul saw now that he was lying at the edge of a babbling brook at the bottom of a deep ravine. Sheltered by the steep stone walls of the cliffs, little snow had reached here. Moss and lichens clung to the smooth stones by the waterside, and brown grass poked up through the cold, muddy ground.
A nearby clanging shocked Paul into wariness once more, and despite the pain, he forced himself to sit up.
The world swam around him, and a bestial face came into focus… Fur… inhuman eyes… horns…!
The thing laughed:
Paul lacked the strength to even scream.
Then he realized…
It’s a goat…!
And beyond it, more goats—a whole herd—each with a clanking bell around its neck.
“Not chains,” Paul muttered. “Not a monster. Only goats… just… goats!”
He felt so relieved that he almost passed out once more.
Then a pleasant voice with a thick German accent said, “Are you all right?”
Paul started to say “yes,” but then shook his head. “No. Not really.”
“What happened?” asked a girl dressed in a traditional goat-herder outfit. She was no more than twenty and had braided blonde hair and inquisitive brown eyes.
“I… I got lost in the storm,” Paul lied. “I guess I must have fallen off the mountainside.”
“Gott im Himmel!” the goat girl said. “You’re lucky to be alive!”
“Yes. I suppose I am.”
“Let me help you,” she said, offering Paul an arm up. “Come with me to the house of mein vater. We will do what we can for your injuries.”
“All right,” Paul agreed reluctantly. But though his skin (and clothes) seemed torn to ribbons, he knew he couldn’t stay with the girl and her family for long.
The moon will be full again tonight. And then…!
As the goat girl led him out of the narrow defile and into the sheltered valley beyond, Paul glanced back to where he’d fallen.
Goat tracks covered the muddy ground by the stream, but—unnoticed by the girl—several of those tracks were far too large for any normal goat.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to All!
ABOUT THE STORY
Images… I’ve written about images inspiring my tales before. It’s something that happens fairly often for me, maybe because of my training as an artist—or maybe because I’m very visually oriented and love movies so much.
In the case of this story, as I was casting around for ideas for my Cushing Horrors Christmastime story—a tradition I started three Christmases ago, in 2016—I suddenly got the vision of Paul, in werewolf form, battling the demonic Krampus on the side of a mountain in a snowstorm.
Of such imaginings are monster stories made.
After that, a bit of late-night brainstorming uncovered the notion of a town that sacrifices to the Yule Demon not being able to because of a government crackdown. (Austria was going through some… issues back at the end of the Roaring Twenties.)
And naturally, our hard-luck hero, Paul, would stumble right into the situation on his way across Europe (and eventually to England) looking for a cure for his wolfish condition.
Betrayal and an epic monster battle ensue.
Having arrived at that plot, it was only a matter of finding the time to write the story—though doing so was made tricky by not only the impending Christmas season, but also by a number of circumstances that have made it difficult for me to find time to work more than a few hours a day, at best, in recent months.
Still despite all that, the story got done and was (naturally) even longer than the 2000 or so words I’d hoped it would be. By the time I finished revising, the tale proved to be closer to twice that length.
But that’s just more for y’all to enjoy… Right?
Let me know what you think.
As always, you can reach me through my site — www.sdsullivan.com —as well as via Facebook and the usual non-electronic methods.
If you like this, be sure to read the other Cushing Horror tales, if you haven’t already.
And spread the word about my free Cushing Christmastime stories, would you?
Best holiday wishes to you all!
And beware Krampus! (Even you, Brom!)
Keep watching the snow!
— Steve Sullivan
December 19th, 2018
Read my other FREE Cushing Horrors Christmastime stories:
“A Shadow Over Christmastime” (2016), “Christmas Imps” (2017)