“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” — William Shakespeare

Setting: Renaissance Germany

The fugitive, desperately eluding the pursuit of horsemen, nearly collided with a standing stone appearing through the veil of mist. Like an apparitional shroud, the mist spilt out across the vale like an overturned cauldron covering her path protectively as horns blared.

She was a practitioner of the old faith, outlawed when the new faith was spread by the sword and flame.

She pressed her back to a monolith and slid to the ground disoriented, looking up in wonder at the enigmatic ring of stones like a coven of ancient sentinels in the mist.

The world spun kaleidoscopically as her gasping breaths slowed…heart racing…

She whispered a prayer to the old gods…

“Freya. Help me, Great Mother.”

She heard muffled voices approaching.

“Shield me! Great Ones.”

But where is this place?

She rose to her knees and looked up at the indecipherable runes and cryptic petroglyphs adorning the stones.

A great horned figure and bowing figures making offerings…making sacrifices…no! Not this place!

This was the site that the ancient tribes came to only in their darkest hour…they ventured here in the winter when their people suffered from the afflictions of famine and malady.

Sacrifices were offered to the gods.

And one demigod, especially: the Yule Lord Krampus, son of Hel, goddess of the underworld, and Loki, the eternal trickster.

Sacrifices of children were made here to placate the gods of the harvest…she had to go.

Suddenly, she gasped as she was grazed by a cast spear.

Blood sprayed on the stones and was absorbed, it seemed, with a contented sigh. Had they not indulged so heavily in their lord’s feasting hall, their aim may have been true.

The ground beneath their feet seemed to shudder as if a warrior awakened from nightmares under his covers…

“Arise, then,” she whispered emotionlessly.

As if the branches of a carnivorous plant or petrified tree burst from the earth in fast-forward, two great curved horns broke through, followed by enormous clawed hands pulling a hulking figure forth from ancient dormancy. The horses reared in its misshapen shadow, throwing their riders and bolting. It rose unsteadily, swaying…disoriented, lethargic as a beast that had awoken from its hibernancy. It yawned and snorted, exposing great tusk-like fangs.

The place was familiar, and yet…where were the trees?

Why was this sacred place now appearing neglected?

The warriors before him bore strange symbols to his eyes, and why did they not throw themselves to their bellies before him?

His hunger gnawed at him anew. He turned to the woman.

His sacrifice?

He reached for her.

She threw herself to her knees and, lowering her eyes, raised the talisman hanging from her neck.

The hammer of Thor…

His hand fell dutifully to his side.

He then touched her in benediction, his face illuminated in an interval of radiance, and he was shown to bear the strikingly handsome features worthy of a demigod of Asgard.

His smile and eyes were sad but intelligent and bright.

She had the fleeting impression of an aquiline face and refined features akin to the Elvishkind, before reverting to the malevolent façade of a demonic beast that he was condemned in cruel mockery by the old gods to bear in the mortal world.

“Save me, Great One!” she pleaded.

“From what, mortal child?”

The first crossbow bolt hit his torso. His great clawed hand swatted it away dismissively, like a marsh fly. Then another. Annoying tickle. Naught more. He turned to the men at arms, cocking his head curiously. One stepped in with sword brandished, only to be lifted like a plaything from a Christmas tree. He lifted him up curiously as if examining a specimen, looking at the unfamiliar helmet and robes before casting him dismissively aside. The armour shattered like the exoskeleton of a beetle broken against a stone by a thrush.

She grasped one of his legs as he shielded her from their swords.

As his enemy’s last breaths exploded in the air, Krampus loomed like a beast over its kill. The woman rose and stood in silent veneration…then caressed the falling snow from his pelt.

The Krampus’ eyes looked restlessly beyond the array of stones.

The new world beckoning irresistibly…

But a true lord does not walk and no horse could bear his girth.

He raised a clawed hand like a necromancer in the act of conjuring.

The skeletal remains of stags that had been ritualistically offered as sacrifices by the old tribes rose, as if excavated in fast-forward. And an ancient war chariot was unearthed. At a growled incantation, the stag skeletons were reanimated to draw the chariot-like marionettes.

From the distant primeval wood afar, wolves choired eerily, as if a lordly heraldry hailing him, properly announcing the dread Yule Lord had returned.

Hours later, a rival band of bounty hunters seeking the “witch” found themselves riding through intervals of mist and snow.


The horsemen reigned in. They heard a silvery jingle.

Their leader dismounted with sword drawn following the sound.

He gasped and dropped his weapon at the grisly sight.

Slain bounty hunters were hanging in their armour from the skeletal branches like ornaments. Their spurs chimed as they swayed in the rising wind.

Ten Days Later

The baronial castle overlooking a once-prosperous burgh loomed in brooding majesty as the snow fell as if hailing it in frozen tears. It was lit in spectral pallor by the full December moon.

The night’s watch made its rounds as a child wailed from one of the stately high-gabled houses.

“Hush now, babe, or the Krampus shall come for thee.”

Restless shadows cast in a danse macabre by the moonbeams were granted form and face.

“Halt. Who goes there!” the watchman challenged.

The darkness laughed.

He pursued the elusive intruder, only to corner the mysterious figure.

The watchman raised his torch to illuminate the stranger, only to gasp in horror. Crimson eyes blazed in the firelight as a towering horned figure reached for him.

In the deserted town square, an ominous shadow was cast on the festively-lit Christmas tree. Like a nocturnal predator drawn to radiance, the Krampus approached. How the new faith had usurped the symbols sacred to the old gods. He caressed the Yule tree, only to spill candles from the branches. The candles ignited the old conifer. The Krampus pivoted and his great lumbering form was silhouetted against the burning tree, his eyes smoldering crimson. He lumbered soundlessly away seeking his quarry.

“Herr Bürgermeister!”

The Bürgermeister emerged from the writhing throes of nightmare-tortured sleep’s red visions. No longer was it the red visions of a warrior’s nightmares that afflicted him, but of the seemingly unstoppable demon that ruled his nightmares and the night itself as if from a dark throne, preying insatiably on their children.

Framed in the doorway, like a sad harlequin in his outlandish garb, was a burly Landsknecht hetman. The infamous mercenary was a grizzled veteran of terrible battles and merciless sieges, who bloodied his sword as he waded into the howling carnage of battle recklessly, and who made merry in the nightmarish aftermath of sieges and battles…and yet he looked…scared…?

He swept his plumed hat in a courtly bow.

“The beast, it has been cornered. Your lordly right for the coup de grace has been honoured.”

“Any lost?”

“Alas, several, my Lord. A dozen of my company slain. One so grievously wounded he will probably not last the night.”

“My sword and armour.”

A portly man now, far-removed from his fighting days, he squeezed his stomach into the armour and fitted on his helmet almost comically.

Kissing the crossguard of his sword, he strode into the snow, where old warrior’s wounds pulsed.

He was escorted to the site of the most recent attack.

Torches illuminated the shattered, mullioned window. Great red clawed pawprints trailed down up and from the window, as if it had scaled the sheer wall.

Fragments of glass that had scattered after the beast launched explosively into the room and out showering glass like shrapnel.

The Landsknechts stood in wavering ranks in the snow. Gone was their characteristic swagger. More like awkward mimes than harlequins they seemed, casting anxious glances to the shadows.

The steeple and garrison alarm bell pealed incessantly.

The Bürgermeister had been tacitly skeptical of the swirling hysterical rumours of a demon huntsman. Some exotic beast had escaped from a lordly menagerie he speculated and now ran amok.

And yet…

An infamous huntsman had been called to bring its head at a lordly bounty. He rode confidently into the forest to great acclaim, only for his headless body to have been found in the red snow and his head found mounted among those of boars and prize stags in his lordly trophy hall. Red tracks of a beast led away from the grisly scenes.

“No beast of the wood would do this.”

Lord-sponsored hunts soon became a matter of mercenaries and soldiers seeking the beast through the snow-covered forests. It struck at night in the depth of snowstorms that thwarted pursuit. Neither crib of commoner nor nobility was spared its claw.

Mastiffs strained and reared from spiked collars as the towering beast roared and bared its fangs. A child wriggled in a sack slung over its shoulder as Landsknechts prodded and lunged with their halberds and zweihänder swords.

“Make way!”

A Landsknecht awkwardly cradled the crying baby.

“Schnell! Schnell!”

The beast’s eyes smoldered emberously in the wild torchlight, casting its gigantic shadow. It caught a desperate swing of a two-handed sword and pulled it from a Landsknecht’s grasp. It struck great sharp icicles from the balcony that fell like javelins on the mob.

The Krampus laughed at the agonised screams.

“Hold! Make way! The Bürgermeister approaches!”

“No! I want that bounty on its head!” an impetuous landsknecht declared.

He lunged forward. His halberd was caught and snapped.

He was raised effortlessly in a clawed fist. The Landsknecht’s limbs flailed and his face ashen. The Krampus opened its cavernous jaws, closing them on his neck, claiming his head instead. But he had dropped the sack and another of the mercenaries lunged in to pull it away. Krampus leaned in to retrieve it, but drew back at the array of pikes and halberds and bared fangs of hounds. Its back was to the cathedral’s consecrated walls. No escape but through their closing array of blades and torches.

He reared, drawing himself to his full height, roaring like a lion confronted by insolent hyenas, his rage a terrible force of nature.

Krampus, son of Hel. A living demigod.

A novice monk brandished a crucifix in a trembling hand as Landsknechts nudged each other forward to confront the beast. In his other cloak-draped hand, he gripped a sword whose consecrated steel seemed to shimmer eerily in reply to an unhallowed presence.

It reared, silhouetted against a newly constructed stained glass window. Standing out strikingly as a great reopened wound against the pallor of snow.

“Thou art banished…”

Imprisoned in the dark oubliette, the immortal beast’s hunger grew, as did his power like a seed germinating in the dark soil.

The bell tolled…as it did so, his features stiffened and his fur and skin began to grey and seemingly calcify. His clawed seemed rose as if in act of conjuring…growling an incantation…drawing on an older rival magic….

“Father Loki…save me from this rabble.”

The winter seemed to howl like a choir of disembodied spirits growing colder and colder. Torches were extinguished. The Landsknechts reeled back.


They were thrown into disarray, yet the monk remained as the Krampus tried to lumber through.


The snow roared in colder and colder.

“Back, I say!” The eyes of the Krampus shimmered glacial blue in malediction.

The snow fell softly, then hailing him as if in frozen tears.

In the grey light of morning, as the bells rang for mass, the Landsknechts ventured out to the cathedral.

The monk stood with their back to him. He did not answer their calls.

He was frozen like a pale blue statue, eyes eternally defiant.

The Landsknechts doffed their feathered hats. And above him, a strange and terrible gargoyle seemed to bare its fangs in an eternal roar of defiance against him.

“The Krampus is slain!”

“The Krampus is slain!”

But while the town mourned the young monk, at night when the snows fell softly, a lonely figure approached the gargoyle. She knelt in the snow.

“My Lord Krampus, son of Hel…”

She placed a frozen rose at his clawed feet, whispered a counterspell’s incantation, and left quietly…a crack that would widen over centuries appeared on the gargoyle like a fossilized beast.

“Fools. Do you not know that you cannot slay a god? He is an immortal as the songs of skalds.”

He will return.

Setting: Munich, Germany, December 5, 1938 (Krampusnacht)

“It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.” — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Alrik walked swayingly through the cobbled street, heady from toasts to Der Führer and with the intoxication of rousing speeches.

“Ja, he is a great visionary. Deutschland will be great again.”

His hearing was numb from the roaring cheers that punctuated the speech denouncing subversives, intellectuals, the disabled, foreigners, and other “enemies of the Reich.”

The blaring music of the marching bands as they passed the Führer’s podium in procession insulated him from doubts and pangs of the conscience and submerged his identity in the mass of the chanting crowd.

Yet on the solitary walk home, the nagging doubts of the dictator and his followers haunted him across the dreamscape of snow-haunted road. Nonetheless, he was euphoric in his triumph when his division of the Hitler Youth were awarded medals. How he had basked in the acclaim; but beyond the lavish spectacles of the rallies and the pomp of marching bands, there was an unspoken darker side to the movement.

Best to ignore it, he reasoned. Who was he to question? Best not to remember the faces of women and children as they were herded onto trains in the night and “disappeared.”

And to where?

Rumours…foolish rumours, and yet…

The oppressive haunting silence of the night street intruded like the growing cold. Only the crunching of his boots on the snow escorted him home.

He looked up from his brooding and gasped as he beheld the solemn majesty of the great Gothic cathedral that towered over the houses and markets, like a great enshrined crown in sombre majesty. He hastened past but stopped mid-stride, being confronted by an ominous, leering figure perched in eternal vigil, silhouetted against an ornate crimson stained-glass window, like a sanguined spider web. A trick of the moonbeams, surely, but it seemed the gargoyle’s eyes smoldered emberously like a nocturnal predator’s.

The gargoyles were intended by medieval architects to terrify sinners into repentance, he remembered. The sculptor of the great Gothic cathedral knew his art well…too well. It must have been renovated since he saw it last. He had remembered the eroded and misshapen gargoyle. Now it seemed like a demonic bird of prey holding restless vigil. More like an exquisitely taxidermied lion, preserved in its final pounce against a hunter.

He would take another way home, avoiding the unsightly gargoyle. But the sudden harsh beam of a searchlight blinded him.

“Go back!” a stern voice commanded.

The street had been cordoned off to prevent the beast from escaping. He felt like a penned animal in an abattoir.

He looked at the gargoyle again, accusingly. Its eyes seemed…no…just some trick of the light surely…his boots crunched on fragments of stone littered like a shed cocoon…as if something hatched from a chrysalis…he cried out as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“What is it, Alrik?”

It was another member of the Hitler Youth.

“Why is the road blocked?”

“I heard something about an animal loose from the zoo.”

It killed one of the Gestapo officers.”

“Curfew!” the night guard had barked, nudging the man with a boot. He rolled over to reveal a high-ranking officer, his features contorted in a paroxysm of terror and agony. The mauled figure was splayed like a red snow angel, leaving an imprint like the mark a raptor leaves when it descends on a hare in the snow.

“The gargoyle? I thought it moved.”

“What gargoyle? Have you been drinking absinthe again with your old friends? You shouldn’t keep their company,” Beric said casually.

“No, of course not. I don’t associate with their kind anymore.”

“Good. Because you will probably have to kill them one day.”

“I think they will see the light. I will have a word.”

“You shouldn’t be seen talking to them. There’s to be a purge tonight in the Jewish quarter.”

“The Gestapo…”

“No. They’ve assigned the youth to the mission. We expect you. Don’t be late.”

Beric seemed to dematerialise into the falling snow.

From the cathedral he heard the choir in graceful, haunting echo.

But shouldn’t he have been home by now? It seemed he was merely marching in place as if he were on the parade ground, or the path was somehow extending before him as if thwarting his return. But shouldn’t he have been home by now?

The carols that graced the night, escorting him like an angelic presence home, seemed to change eerily to a mocking tone, like rude children mimicking it.

Once silvery voices seemed to sneer the verses then growl them.

He suddenly heard a howl like a ghostly battle cry, chorused by others. Was he near the zoo? He felt suddenly disoriented.

The cries seemed to draw closer…he started towards the cathedral’s threshold, but it seemed so far away…why wasn’t he getting any closer…an illusion of fear?

He pivoted suddenly and saw an array of crimson eyes, like wounds reopening. He cried out and fled towards the beckoning cathedrals massive doors ajar and seeping, welcoming light. He could hear the carols beckoning…he was almost there…

He threw himself towards the door, but it slammed before him suddenly.

Strange voices cheered from the shadows. He shrieked as the wolves were upon him. He cringed in anticipation of fangs and claws rending him. Yet they had bypassed him strangely…almost as if they were hounds herding quarry for a dark huntsman.

A horn could be heard from afar, as if a hunter had called off his pack to finish the kill. It was a harsh-toned horn sounding more like a human scream than a proper horn…it seemed to herald the arrival of someone or something.

Disoriented in the cold, urban labyrinth, his breath exploded into a scream…

He smiled, at last relieved, for he saw a procession of torch-bearing figures marching towards him like a relief army besieging the cathedral.

The Hitler Youth, surely…who else could it be?

He cried out and ran to them, almost colliding with them.

His smile erupted into a cry of horror as he looked into the leering grotesque face of what seemed a demonic satyr. Others like him closed in, prodding him with pitchforks. He recoiled, but hands grasped him from below.

Impish cackles mocked him as smaller figures swarmed him before he could escape. He remembered them from the denizens of Grimm’s Tales. Suddenly, he beheld a cackling figure on a sleigh drawn by skeletal stags. They threw him unceremoniously onto the snow like a zookeeper would cast meat in front of a lion. A forked, reptilian tongue flicked out, tasting his fear savouringly like an ice-cream cone. They bowed before him like retainers before a dark prince.

“Hail, o’ Yule Lord. Hail. An offering, great one.”

The dark elves danced around a tree that was brought forth like the banner of a dark army. The tree was skeletal-branched and screaming people were hanged in gibbet-like cages as ornaments. The elves reveled around the tree in a frenzied danse macabre, prodding the prisoners with sticks.

He saw the stone angels that had been arrayed on the cathedrals’ buttresses, shattered on the cobbles. He looked up to see the frozen bodies of captured Hitler Youth propped up in a profane mockery. The way a panther of exotic lands would save its kill to devour later, or like a huntsman’s trophy.

The troll-like figure consulted a scroll of crossed-out names written in blood before nodding and dismounting the sleigh. He snorted like a wild boar about to gorge on its prey.

Krampus lumbered towards Alrik and pressed him down onto the snow crushingly. He saw himself reflected in soulless, crimson eyes, as if forecasting a vision of his soul imprisoned in Hell. He bared his multiple sets of fangs extending down its throat.

He seemed to inhale his soul….his eyes rolling like an opium addict in the ecstasy of the drug.

Suddenly, as if by an illusionist’s art, their perspectives reversed.

He looked into what seemed his own terrified eyes.

The cowering, disheveled boy he straddled whimpered in terror as his family screamed out for him. His newly-sharpened senses were tortured by the sounds of broken glass and screams in the night as shops and homes were vandalised around him.

He heard Beric behind him.

“Finish him off, Alrik! Finish him…Alrik?”

He lifted himself off the boy and pushed him aside.

His body felt cumbersome and awkward…as if he were inhabiting another body.

“Go…” he growled.

He turned slowly as the boy scrambled to his feet and ran to his parents’ arms as they fled the wanton destruction.


He rose like a lion disturbed from feeding on his kill by an insolent hyena.

“Take off that mask, Alrik!” Beric demanded.

He growled lycanthropically…lumbering forward…feeling it more natural to amble primate-like.

“Alrik! No…Alrik!”

He lifted the youth up effortlessly by the throat…

“No, it’s Krampus!”

He shoved him into a sack and slung it over his shoulder before lumbering into the shadows….by the dancing firelight, the crimson eyes of the dark elves beamed like excited children on Christmas Day rushing to see their new presents. They hopped up and down excitedly.

“A gift,” Krampus grunted as he reached a clawed hand into the sack.

He cried out to the youth for help as taloned hands reached for their new plaything.

“Just one?” they cried out after their voracity left scattered bones into the snow.

“There is more where he came from.” Krampus gestured to the vandals. They squealed with delight as they swarmed to get more presents.