Gunther smiled at the pretty she-elf and offered her his ginger snap cookie.
Her clear blue eyes grew round as ping pong balls, the silver bells on her pointed red hat
tinkled as she trembled, and her pouty rosebud lips quivered. At last, she let out a scream so
high pitched and supersonic, it caused a small avalanche a mile away.
Her breath was peppermint and vanilla cake. She swatted the cookie into the snow and
ran towards her friends that had stopped their birdlike chattering to stare at Gunther in horror.
He looked sadly down at the broken cookie. “Thanks a lot,” he mumbled under his breath.
His silvery-grey horns felt as if they weighed a thousand pounds. They did not, they
were small, and only just starting to corkscrew, like the impressive one-and-a-half foot horns of
his father, the Krampus. His goat shaped face was dark with a soft coating of grey fur. Someday
it would be black, shaggy, bearded and warm. Gunther’s hair was only shoulder length and not
thick enough to keep him warm in the below freezing atmosphere, so he wore a long wool
cap, with holes for his growing horns. He had asked his mother for a red cap, but she had made
it black. Just like all his other clothes. The only thing he had in common with the elves were his
long-pointed ears…except, his were covered in black fur.
He sighed. When he opened his mouth, his long red tongue uncurled to his navel. He
bent and licked the sugar-coated cookie bits like a devilish anteater. The group of four pretty
elves laughed and pointed, and soon all the elves in the playground joined in.
The bell rang, Gunther waited until all the elves were inside the school.
He plodded through the snow on woolly black goat legs, his black hooves dragging.
He was lonely.
He slunk into his seat in the back of the classroom. The teacher was an elderly elf in a
long red wool dress with white hair cut into a bob. She came to him, peering over silver wire-
framed pince-nez, with hands on her narrow hips, “Gunther! Did you smile at Penelope?”
“Look at me when I’m speaking to you, young demon.”
Gunther looked up. His strange black eyes had red irises. Miz Poppinsmith involuntarily
took a step back. She said, “Oh Gunther, you are truly scary to behold. When you smile, birds
fall dead from the trees of heart attacks, and black bears turn white. Please refrain from
frightening the other children.”
After school, Gunther walked home alone as usual. At least Christmas vacation started
the next day.
His mother, a good witch of exceptional beauty, detected immediately the sadness in her
son. She bent to hug him, her long, honey-colored hair brushed his face, it smelled of pine and
lemons. She kissed his cheek and offered him a warm sausage popover, fresh from the oven.
Her pale oval face was flushed at her high cheekbones, her full red lips smiled. The only
inhuman thing about her were her eyes. They were as big as doe eyes, but solid black as onyx.
She had given up her Nordic blue ones as a dowry to Gunther’s Grandpa Mephisto.
Gunther didn’t want to talk about school because there was nothing he could do about his
growing frustration. Besides, his parents loved that he was scary. The longer his pointy white
teeth grew, the broader his spine-chilling grin.
“Is Uncle Santa coming for supper?” He asked before Yursa could enquire about his
abnormally long face. Sausage popovers were Santa’s favorite.
“Yes, my sweet. Uncle Santa is bringing your father the naughty list. “
Santa Klaus and Gunther’s dad, the Krampus, had been childhood friends who grew up
and into their stations in life, each one helping the other. Uncle Santa rewarded good children
with gifts and treats, Krampus beat the naughty with sticks. It was only a rumor that he sent
them to Hell, Grandpa Mephisto would prefer the little monsters grow up in the world to be big
monsters. The rumor that his dad sometimes ate the bad children was unfortunately true. But
only the ones Yursa divined would grow to become psychotic, depraved killers or torturers of
innocent, kind animals.
“He’s early.” Said Gunther.
“Apparently there is a sweet creature in danger at the hands of very bad children up
north, between Sweden and Iceland.”
“The Vikings again?”
“Dad will be pleased.”
Gunther heard stories of the Viking children. They were encouraged to torture and
slaughter and steal from the Europeans that had worked hard for their farms and lands and
Santa and Krampus sat by the fire, smoking after dinner pipes that smelled of sweet
cloves and burnt leather. They sipped amber cognac from cut crystal glasses. Yursa reverently
placed her crystal ball on the polished cedar table in their center.
Gunther sat at the kitchen table, pretending to read a storybook. He peaked
surreptitiously through his shaggy, black bangs, at the adults staring into the glass sphere. From
where he sat, he could see whisps of swirling milkiness and the spangles of city lights or stars.
Krampus called over to his son, “Gunther, you’re old enough to help your old man this year.”
Gunther looked up, startled. “Really Dad?” He smiled broadly. His mother beamed
at him, so proud. His furry ears perked straight up and vibrated like tuning forks.
“Yes, while I am punishing the wickeds, you will have a job, an important one, for
Yursa said, “Come Gunther, look into the ball.”
Gunther gracefully pranced over, his hooves tappity-tapped on the wood floor and
thumped softly over the wool rug.
Yursa pointed into the ball and before his eyes, the celestial scene parted, the shimmering
mist swirled away, and he looked upon a terrible scene. A group of four leather clad children, in
tall boots and vests and hooded jackets, screamed and waved spears in the air. Some held dully
glinting knives, and spears tipped with iron points. Their eyes were cruel shards of pale glass.
The scene widened as if the viewer were pulled upwards like a kite, hovering over the yard. The
yard was fenced with tall, cuspated logs, the ground was begrimed with a slushy mix of snow
and mud as dirty as the young faces. On closer inspection, Gunther saw spatters and pools of red
in the composition.
It was not the blood of the children, however. They were not fighting each other. They
were torturing a great white bear. Gunther looked up at his mother with tears in his red and
Santa sniffed, then blew his nose into his handkerchief.
Yursa nodded and said, “Bear baiting. Cruel and inhumane. The children are
encouraged by their parents to participate in such so-called ‘sport’, they feel it readies them for
war. Gives them a taste for cruelty and blood.”
Gunther said, “But they are hurting those dogs too.”
Krampus said, “Yes son. They make the bear bleed. The dogs are trained to respond to
the sight and smell of blood, they encourage them to attack the bear, making wagers.”
“Don’t the children get hurt? Or Killed?”
Yursa said, “If they do, the adults say that it was the will of Odin, their king of gods.”
Krampus said, “Hmf! They’ll wish they were dead when they get a load of me.”
“When can we go, Dad?”
“I’ll take you there tomorrow.” Said Santa.
Under an overcast sky, high above icy white lands they flew. Four enormous, shaggy
white and pale tan reindeer galloped through the air, leading the green and gold sleigh- silent, but
for the ‘huaff, huaff, huaffing’ of their mighty lungs. Great white puffs from their snouts
dissipated rapidly into the frigid air of their wake.
Santa was bundled in a thick, soft woolen coat the color of dry moss. It was lined with
thick, warm beige fur that rippled in the fast wind. His hat was matching. Krampus wore no hat,
only a black woollen cloak, his thick ebony fur undulated and whipped briskly behind him. The
eastern sky was the color of a nasty bruise. The west would soon follow.
Gunther wore his warmest fur lined hat, pulled down tight against his head, he had belted
his coat as tightly as he could but shivered as frozen drafts crept into his sleeves and under his
muffler. His eyes watered, though the sleigh featured a framed glass windshield.
The bleached land below was spotted with deep green patches of forests as mysterious as
precious emeralds. Great slabs of sienna-grey rock edged fast moving rivers. On the horizon
faint ashy wisps rose against the pale, overcast sky. Smoke.
As they neared their destination, the smoke grew thicker and sootier. The sounds of
shouts and laughter and orders ululated up to them in the winds, like vampire bats.
Santa called over the roar of the wind in their ears, “Down there! In those woods by that
stream! We rest until just before dark, that’s when they close the gates for the night. The
settlement is just over that rise.!” Over the hill, smoke from multiple vents and cookfires
amassed and mingled with the dark grey clouds.
They set up camp and let the reindeer rest, Santa gave them each a bucket of oats.
The woods were dense and protected from the harsh wind, the three-sided lean-to was
relatively warm after a fire was built. They ate bread and cheese and dried herring.
At four o’clock the sun would set. So, at three, Gunther and his father took off at a fast
pace. Krampus carried his whipping sticks in a wicker basket slung over his back. Their long
goat legs gracefully leapt through the snow and Gunther realized that that was what they were
made for. They made the distance in only ten minutes.
Outside the gate, Gunther said, “How do we get inside without being seen?”
“Ah my son, with this,” His father pulled a shimmering black cloak from his basket. It
rippled in the air like silk.
Gunther frowned. Krampus unfolded it with a flick of his long fingered, black gloved
hand, and draped it over his head and around his shoulders.
He was gone.
Gunther gasped. His mother had told him about the spelled cloak when he was little. He
swelled with pride at her talents as his father enveloped them both. They walked through the
gates. The dirty, muddy yard was devoid of life.
“Suppertime.” Whispered Krampus.
Gunther nodded against his father’s wool covered belly.
They tip-toed along the yard, staying close to the fence, stepping onto frozen mud when
they could. When they stepped in snow, hoofprints appeared like magic. Any prints they made
would only look like the prints of the Vikings’ livestock.
Raucous laughter from the communal longhouse indicated a meal in session. Across the
yard behind them, the huge wooden gates scraped closed, A thick iron bar clanged and clanked
into metal brackets.
There were six other longhouses in the settlement, the boisterous, occupied one in the
Suddenly a dog barked. It sounded confused. The pair under the invisible cloak froze.
The men who had closed the gate shouted to it. The dog continued in a frantic manner. Then a
“Quit it!” in Old Norse. Then a ‘whump’ and a sharp yip. Then quiet. They continued surveying
Gunther nudged his father and whispered, “There.” He pointed between the next two
long wooden homes. In the yard between was the bear.
It looked dead. Gunther growled low in his throat. The bear’s ears twitched. It lifted its
great head and sniffed the air, staring straight at Krampus and Gunther. It whined sadly and lay
back down but kept its eyes on the cloaked pair.
“It sees us.” Whispered Gunther.
“Bears are highly sensitive to magic.” His father whispered back. “Off you go.” He
whisked the cloak off his son and Gunther went cautiously yet eagerly to the bear.
Krampus leapt away towards the house where the children would be leaving from shortly.
He crouched in anticipation and soon heard children’s voices approaching. The youngest would
be headed to bed first.
Out the door came three little towheads, hair nearly white and tousled like baby chicken
feathers. They were very young- wobbly little toddlers, with a mother or maiden-slave in tow.
These three were still innocent, they’d not been in the cruel crowd of baiters. Krampus eased
back to let them pass.
Within seconds, another pair emerged. Older, and with those cold grey-blue eyes he’d
seen in the vision. He waited until they passed, then followed. He whisked off the cloak, letting
it drape off his back. He followed the boys with heavy feet. They heard and turned as one.
Krampus grinned. He was a terrifying black horned silhouette, with glistening white teeth from
ear to ear. Lightning fast he clamped iron collars around their pale throats before they could
scream. The collars rendered them paralyzed. Into the basket they went.
He re-cloaked and waited for the others like a trap-door spider. The next two were very
small girls. They were innocent, he let them pass. A taller, third girl strode out the door like a
Valkyrie in training, he recognized her from the vision. He swooped her up like a vampire and
disappeared like black smoke into the night.
Krampus waited as a wetnurse exited with a squallering wee babe in her arms.
Then came the boy he sought. He was with a stocky, scruffy young man who could only
be his father. He followed. The man stopped and turned, his eyes squinting into the shadows.
He shook his head.
The insolent boy at his side said in Old Norse, “There is nothing. You drank too much.”
The father swatted the boy’s head with a ham haunch fist and belched. They walked on.
At the closest longhouse, the father shoved the boy towards the door and said, “I need to make
water. Go on in.”
The boy went into the home, the man went to the sanitation ditch that ran behind the
homes. Krampus followed the boy. Once inside, he removed the cloak and loomed over the
boy. The second he turned around the collar silenced him. Into the basket he went.
As Krampus took the children into a barn, a lantern flared to life. The horses nickered
softly but were not alarmed. Animals were kindred spirits. Krampus and his kin in fact, smelled
of the pleasant musky, grassy scent of buffaloes.
One by one Krampus whipped the bad children with his switches. Each one he beat until
the switch broke. The children’s mouths stretched into ovals in their reddened faces. Their
eyes streamed; their jaws creaked. The horses’ eyes glowed red in the soft light, the four
children would forever be afraid of them.
When their backs and behinds were striped bloody red, Krampus said in their Norse
tongue, “Kill each other all you like, I care not. But lay a finger in cruelty upon any animal for
sport and you will pay. Scream now, and I’ll re-double the beating.” He removed the collars and
turned to sooty smoke, whisked out the door by a wind.
He found Gunther and the bear at the open gate. Krampus looked at his son with
Gunther said, “The bear, her name is Ingbrod, she did it. She’s very weak but is
desperate to help us.”
Santa called out from the other side, “Over here!”
Krampus, Gunther, and Ingbrod went to the sleigh, not bothering to close the gate. As
the reindeer flew up into the air, tiny yellow stars flickered from the sled blades. They looked
down at the receding Viking settlement. Men and women chaotically ran from the main lodge,
shouting frantically, as their horses, oxen, and other livestock galloped out the open gate.
Santa laughed, “Ho ho ho ho ho!”
Krampus laughed along with him.
Gunther sat in the back of the sled with his arms around Ingbrod. She’d lost a lot of
blood and her oozing, open wounds were festering. Her dirty coat was matted, and she smelled
of sickness and gang green. He said into her huge, soft ear, “Please don’t leave us. I need you.
You are special.”
They flew west, under stars, above the clouds. As they reached the Krampus home high
in the Alps, clouds parted before them like shimmering heavenly gates. Yursa ran out
immediately and helped her son and husband bring the bear inside while Santa took care of his
Gunther, for the tenth time started, “Mom, is she---”
“Hush child! We just must wait. I do not know. She was at death’s door. Her heart was
barely thumping. I cannot stop the reaper.”
Gunther went outside and howled at the moon. Wolves mournfully commiserated.
On the first day of school after the Christmas holidays, Miz Poppinsmith stood in front of
the class and asked them, “Has any one seen Gunther?” His desk was empty.
The elf children looked around guiltily.
Penny Weebottom said, “Well… we don’t really hang out with him.”
Bobby Farther said, “He’s kinda scary.”
Miz Poppinsmith said, “Class. I understand. But has he not always been kind to you all?
And hasn’t he tried to make friends despite his obvious scary differences?”
The wee elves nodded. Cheery Mayweather, who sat by the window, suddenly jumped
up and pointed out of it. She said, “Look!”
All the elves squeezed onto the windowsills.
There was Gunther, the strange, creepy kid in black, riding on the back of a ginormous,
shaggy, glistening white polar bear! He wore no cap, his long, shaggy black hair wafted behind
him. As he approached the school, the elves ran outside.
As the wee elf children stared in wonder at the mountain of a bear before them, Gunther
It was still pretty frightening, but, shuddering, the elves grinned back.