It was December 5th in 1989 and the sixteen-day countdown to Winter Solstice had begun. Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a small German-dominated city, was getting ready to celebrate the annual Festival of Trees at the infamous Bookworm Gardens. This year more than previous years this Christmas event was intended to boost the city’s spirits due to the recent closing of Wisconsin Steel. The Fischer Family felt personally the massive job-loss, as Gunter Fischer was a former employee who had to uproot his family and move in with his mother, Greta Fischer.

With two daughters and one on the way, the thirty-five year old had prided himself in being able to provide for his growing family. Greta, a widow living in the stylish Lakeshore neighborhood at 15 North Point Ave., was delighted that her son’s family moved in. She needed an extra hand to help her growing pottery making business. It was a wonderful opportunity for her to stay close with her two granddaughters: Mila, ten, and Melina, eight.

The house was all a buzz after dinner as Mila and Melina were saying goodbye to Greta and Gunter in the pottery workshop, located in the add-on Greta’s husband had finished two years before his death in 1977. Greta gave each girl a hearty hug and said, “Girls, be sure to do everything your mother asks of you. There will be thousands milling around the garden paths, so stay real close to her.”

Mila, a wide-eyed, petite older daughter, shouted out to her dad. Gunter was putting the final glazing on bowls and lamp bases for a large order. “Dad, I wish you could go with us.”

“I know, my brown-eyed beauty.” He turned around to see Melina’s sad face. “Now, Melina, don’t look so angry. You and Mila’s gift drive this year will surely keep your shoes from getting any coal in them. I will miss you both; I have to be in Milwaukee to get this order there safely.”

Melina, blue-eyed and taller than her older sister, huffed at Mila, “Why did Momma have to insist I give up my keyboard?”

Mila rolled her eyes and responded, “Remember what Oma Greta taught us. What we most love—giving to someone in need—can bring us favor with St. Nicholas,” she nudged Melina on her shoulder, “and keep him away, the bad scary one.”

In thousands of homes in Sheboygan, children would put shoes outside of the front door on the night of December 5th. Those children who were known to be good would find small presents in their shoes in the morning. Those who were bad woke up to find a lump of coal in one of their shoes. Those children who were so bad, giving their parents grief, were taken away by the antithesis of St. Nicholas. Gunter had created two shoes fashioned like the wooden Dutch shoes in ceramic terra cotta, fired three times and glazed to withstand the Wisconsin winters.

Lilly Fischer, a redheaded beauty who carried her third baby well, walked a number of paths around the Bookworm Gardens with her two daughters. Hundreds of tall, full evergreens were decorated in multicolored lights and ornaments catered to the centuries of Christmases past in the Northern European tradition.

Mila tugged on her mother’s winter coat, “Mommy, can we go to the Crystal Greenhouse? I want to get Oma Greta an edelweiss pot for the Winter Solstice dinner.”

“You bet, sweetie. I need some holly, anyway,” Lilly said, smiling and smoothing Mila’s thick, unruly, curly chestnut brown hair.

Mila’s eyes widened in delight as she studied the pot of edelweiss. This white flower with dense tiny hairs on every petal was known to be Greta’s favorite plant. Greta’s family had come from Switzerland, where the flower was originally from, high in the Alps. Mila stood outside the Crystal Greenhouse front door as a group of her fifth-grade classmates came over. In the middle of the group was Lena Shrinker, a mean-spirited girl with red-orange hair, extremely tall and highly overweight.

“What do we have here: poor little match girl holding a tiny pot and wearing the same tattered coat from last year.” Lena taunted Mila, getting closer with each word spitted out. “Your father is such a loser, poor girl. Your family forced to live with that crazy widow Fischer who tells tales of some bad goat-man dressed in Christmas red and white.”

Lena got so close to Mila, Mila almost gagged from the lingering odor of sauerkraut. Lena yanked the pot out of Mila’s hand and pushed it onto the cold snowy pavement. “Mila, thank you for this gift. I will take it home among all my other hundreds of Solstice gifts.”

Lena’s jeering entourage followed her as she made her way down the Alpine Footbridge while laughing. Mila got up, brushing the snow off her leggings and coat. She yelled out, “Give that back! It’s for Oma Greta!” Mila ran as fast as she could, even though it was somewhat slippery.

She made it to the beginning of the footbridge and then stopped, remembering her mother had told her to stay at the front entrance. Suddenly, she saw a tall person dressed in the Santa Claus costume of red and white, with tall black boots. He had grabbed Lena, forcing her to drop the pot of edelweiss onto the bridge. Mila had to blink several times. She could not believe what she had seen from the lighted street lamp on the other side of the footbridge.

The man had large, curved white horns like a goat. His face was white like his horns, distorted and horrible to look upon. At first, Mila thought her eyes were playing tricks because of her tears and the freezing wind. What she witnessed next confirmed the eerie tale Oma Greta had told her and Melina the night before the Festival of Trees. This man stuffed Lena into a large round basket and then heaved it onto his broad back. He disappeared into the dark woods ahead with muffled screams inside the basket.

Mila stood there frozen, not able to cry out with intense fear paralyzing her all over. Her heart beat like a scared rabbit’s racing from a predator. Suddenly, she felt a tug on the back of her coat. Hearing her mother’s hysterical voice, Mila calmed down a bit.

“Mila, I told you to stay in front of the greenhouse. My heart sank when I didn’t see you, calling and calling your name.” Lena said.

“Mommie, Lena Shrinker took my present to Oma Greta, she ran off…and dropped it on the other side of the bridge.” With tears rolling down her chaffed cheeks, Mila continued on with her pleadings, “Don’t be mad. I saw someone who looked like a goat-man take Lena away!”

“Oh, Christ on the cross! Greta’s scary myth again! I’m so sick of this. Now she has you believing in some outlandish myth. Honey, it was probably Old Man Shrinker. He looks like a goat. I swear, I need to get you girls home. No more about this, I mean it!” Lilly shouted, taking both of the girls’ hands.


Mila’s night was restless, sometimes sleeping, then jolted by frightening images: flashes of white and yellow lines of light ushering in nightmarish images, revealing Lena being beaten with a tied bundle of sticks. The frightening, horrible face of her captor, his teeth decayed and sharp, was somewhat in the shape of a smile, delighting in his captive’s pain.

Mila jerked up from her bundle of pillows, screaming out, “What is going to happen to Lena! She’s being beaten, and he’s going to eat her!”

Greta’s bedroom was closer to the girls’ room than the master bedroom Gunter and Lilly occupied. Greta shot up out of bed and opened the door to the girls’ room. She saw Melina on Mila’s bed, comforting her sister.

In a soft voice but alarmed, Greta asked, “Girls, what on Earth is going on?”

Melina turned around, and attempted to answer, “Mila had a bad dream.”

Mila pulled Melina away, cried out, “No, Oma Greta, it’s real! I saw him take Lena and put her in his large round basket. Is he going to eat her?”

Greta made sure the bedroom door was shut, then she pulled up a chair very close to the girls. “Oh, my sweet Jesus! It is Krampus!”

Mila nodded and began to cry, “Mommy didn’t want to hear anymore. She was mad at you for telling us the story.”

Melina said something rather insightful. “If Lena was taken, there’s probably more missing. Maybe we can talk to Uncle Kurt.”

“You know, Melina, that is a great idea. He was always the one who believed me more. We can’t go to the police station until the weekend. It will be hard, but you girls go to school as if nothing is wrong.” Greta instructed.

Mila cried out again, “He might have eaten them all by then!”

Greta bent over closer to Mila. She stroked Mila’s shoulders and said, “My sweet girl, we have time. Krampus doesn’t do the unthinkable until the night of the Winter Solstice.”

Kurt Fischer was Greta’s second son, only fifteen months younger than Gunter. Gunter was a blond and possessed more fair looks like his mother, as Kurt was brown-eyed, brown-haired, and taller than Gunter, like Greta’s husband Wilhelm Fischer. Kurt had gone for law enforcement while Gunter followed his father’s footsteps to the once prosperous steel industry. The Fischer family, like most steelworkers’ families, was blindsided by the downturn of business in Wisconsin Steel. In 1977, the plant was sold to Environdyne, a California company with no steelmaking experience. The end came in 1988 due to broken promises, foreign competition, and low-cost domestic mini-mills.

Early to rise, the girls got dressed and brushed their teeth, too nervous to eat breakfast. They told Lilly that Oma Greta was taking them to her gentleman friend’s diner for breakfast. Lilly sighed in relief, in she had the house to herself from a few hours. Gunter was not due back in from Milwaukee until evening.

During the drive from their Lakeshore addition to Kurt’s workplace, Mila and Melina fussed at each other about their gemstone rings they had received in their ceramic shoes on the morning of Dec. 6th. Greta barked at them, “Now, that’s enough. I did not get those rings for you two to tear into each other. We have more important things to think about!”

Greta and the girls walked into the Sheboygan Police Station, stopping at the long, high counter. There was a paunchy, dark, curly-haired officer busy writing in a large ledger book. Greta told the girls to stand across the way by the large-framed bulletin board.

“Excuse me, officer. Forgive the interruption: I need to speak to Officer Kurt Fischer from the Emergency Response Team.” Greta said, using every bit of her poise and charm.

The officer stopped writing, glaring at her with an annoyed look, then pointed at her. “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about you. Have you seen Krampus lately?” he said, then laughed uproariously, showing his teeth and holding on to his protruding belly. Greta stood there saying nothing, staring him down with noticeable contempt.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Guess it’s too cold outside to have a sense of humor today. I’ll go get him.”

While Greta was waiting at the front desk, Mila and Melina read the five printed notices of the recent missing children. They both recognized the photos attached and each name of the child: Hermann Deckard, eleven, Jonathon, nine, Liza Mueller, eight, and Lena Shrinker, ten. These notices confirmed why they had to be in the police station at that precise time: only ten days left until Krampus would have his Winter Solstice dinner.

Everyone heard the booming voice of Kurt Fischer approaching. To the girls, their uncle looked so tall and handsome in his uniform. He lifted both of them up with his bulky arms and strong, youthful back. “How did you beauties get here?”

Melina pointed to Greta, making her way to them. “We have a problem you can help us with.”

He crinkled up his nose and carefully put the girls down. Greta gave him that certain expression of urgency that he knew so well. “Momma, not Krampus again! You’ve dragged the girls into this?”

“Mila, tell your uncle,” Greta instructed her granddaughter.

“Uncle Kurt, I saw him! Red and white suit, black shiny boots. He is so horrible, really tall with horns like a goat!” Mila entreated her uncle to believe her.

Kurt stood there thinking, Melina was the one with the vivid imagination, always telling tales. Mila was the sensible sister. He crouched down to meet Mila’s large round brown eyes. He asked her, “Where did you see him?”

“I saw him on the other side of the Alpine Footbridge, down from the Crystal Greenhouse. He stuffed Lena Shrinker into his round basket and walked into the dark woods beyond the gardens.” She spoke very clearly with a determined stare.

“Funny, there deep in those woods is Timber Road, not too far from the old abandoned cannery. That is one place the Patrol Division has not looked,” Kurt said.

“Kurt, would you take us there tonight? He would be busy rounding up another youngster.” Greta pleaded, holding onto her son’s left arm.

“Momma, you can’t mean taking the girls! Gunter and Lilly would never forgive me.” Kurt bellowed in opposition.

“Kurt, listen, son. Take me and Mila only. She knows one of the missing: Lena Shrinker. Lena will answer back as Mila yells for her. Melina can stay at home with Lilly, so their mother would not suspect anything. Please, we have got to give this a try,” Greta said, making some sense.

He shook his head and said, “All right, I will bring along my rookie partner, Percy Anderson. He’s pretty squirrelly, but wants to look good to the Captain in the worst way. I will pick you girls up at seven tonight, saying I’m taking you to Mendelssohn’s.”

Lilly and Melina were on kitchen duty that night when Kurt came bounding in from the back door. Melina raced over to give her uncle a hug, wet hands and all. Lilly turned around to give him a cross, curious look.

“Hey, sister-in law, I’ve come to take Momma and Mila to Mendelssohn’s. I feel like treating all of you for tomorrow’s Sunday dinner with some baked goods.”

“Hey, as a matter of fact, I need some of those large buttery rolls. I can’t seem to make them like they do,” Lilly said, cracking a smile.

Greta and Mila showed up, all bundled up in warm coats and knee boots. Kurt let out a sigh and said, “Well, ladies, are you ready to go?”

As everyone approached Kurt’s squad car, Gunter was getting out of his van. He came up to his brother, “Hey, where are all of you going?”

“We have a sweet tooth. Mom suggested I treat all of you to Mendelssohn’s. How about your favorite: black forest pie?” Kurt answered, seeming to be nervous and jittery.

“Why are you taking Percy in the squad car?” Gunter asked with a puzzled look, one eyebrow raised, one eye squinting.

Kurt looked down on the tire-tracked snow-packed driveway, and coughed twice. “He heard me raving about that bakery. He insisted I take him along.”

Everybody scrambled into the front and back seat of the car as if they were going off to some emergency. Gunter stood there and watched them drive down the street. He jumped back into his van and opened the console to find his .357 Magnum there and fully loaded.

On the way past the Sheboygan Police Station to Erie Avenue, curving along South Taylor Drive, Percy shouted out the entrance not far to the Bookworm Gardens, from where Indiana Avenue intersected. Kurt blasted back at his partner, “Dude, wrong, going around and about to the other side of Interstate 43. What’s eating you? You look jumpy!”

“Kurt, I’m nervous. This is my first time pursuing some horrible opposite to Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, whatever he is!” Percy confessed, putting his hand over his shoulder holster where his revolver was safely placed.

Greta spoke out from the back seat behind the thick-barred seat-divider. “As long as everyone keeps their heads about them, we will find where Krampus is keeping those children.”

They came to the exit for Timber Road. Mila told Greta in a soft voice, “You know, I don’t even like Lena. She bullies me.”

Greta held Mila close and kissed her forehead. “That is pure sacrifice on your part, my schatz (treasure in English). You’ve won much favor with St. Nicholas. The Lord will protect all of us.”

Timber Road was very hilly, and parts of it were used in the daylight hours for winter fun like sledding and tobogganing. Kurt drove until the paved part disappeared. Percy brought out two large flashlights and gave one of them to his partner. Everyone made their way down a steep hill and then turned to what seemed like a snow-printed path a quarter of a mile to a dilapidated building with lots of windows.

They walked around the large ominous structure with Mila yelling for Lena. So far, no sign of life, and everyone kept looking over their shoulders for any sign of Krampus. In a dip in the snow-covered ground was a mound of dried sticks and a steep concrete staircase going down. Kurt took Mila with him, walking very carefully down the steps to a rusted steel door.

Mila yelled Lena’s name five times and pounded on the door. A boy’s voice shouted back from the other side of the door. “Who’s out there? We need help!”

Mila shouted, “It’s me, Mila Fischer, from James Madison School.”

“I’m Hermann Deckard.”

“Is Lena Shrinker with you?”

“Yes, but she’s in bad shape. He beat her in the face and on her legs. She is lying here with the rest of us, Jonathon and Liza.” Hermann said, his voice breaking up with emotion.

Kurt yelled for Percy. Percy didn’t hesitate to come to the front step. “Take Mila and my mother back to the car. Radio the station and get some backup. We’ll need an ambulance.”

Kurt spoke to the door, “Hermann, my partner from the Sheboygan Police is getting some help. Hang on, I’m Mila’s uncle, Officer Kurt Fischer.”

“You better hurry. He will be back with another victim for his dinner. This giant-horned man has a bad temper.”

Kurt looked around to see if he could find anything sharp to break the small glass window on the locked door. He was very close to the hill ahead when he heard fainted sounds of a child yelling. A deep voice, gravelly and making Kurt’s heart start racing fast, was coming closer, enough for him to hear the child screaming from inside something.

The frightening voice said, “I will beat you to tenderize you for the pot of boiling oil. No one will hear your screams.”

Something rose up in Kurt as the evil one who possessed that eerie voice got into eyeshot distance. “I heard his screams! Put the basket down, you’ve been seen.”

The tall being in a dingy, dirty red and white Santa Claus costume put the basket down and walked closer. Kurt had a closer view as he shined the flashlight into his face. “My God, Mom was right. You are one horrifying ugly bastard. I’m here to take you in!”

The half-goat, half-man rammed into Kurt, causing him to drop his handgun. They exchanged one punch after the other with not much harm to Krampus. They were still struggling in various chokeholds when they rolled down the steep, snowy hill. Rolled around, one of the sharp horns gored into Kurt’s jeans and deep into his flesh on his left thigh.

Kurt was so worked up, the pain did not stop him from trying to fight off Krampus. The being got up onto his hoofs, looking down on Kurt and laughing. He was going to use his horns again to gore into Kurt’s forehead between his eyes. A shot rang out behind Krampus. The blast hit him with such force, one of Krampus’s horns was shot clean off. His large body fell to the frozen white ground. He rolled around in severe pain, all strength gone.

Kurt got up halfway to his feet and felt for his handcuffs. He saw Gunter coming closer with a revolver in both hands. He held it to the fallen legend.

There wasn’t much blood coming from Kurt’s leg due to the falling temperature and the fact it was snowing again. Kurt had never more happy to see his big brother. As Kurt put the handcuffs on the prisoner, he shouted out, “Gunter, how the hell! You followed us, thank Christ!”

One brother took ahold of the boy who had escaped from the basket. The other brother took firm hold of Krampus on the way to the vehicles where Percy, Mila, and Greta were waiting. Percy and Kurt got Krampus into the back of the squad car while Gunter made sure the captive did not get away. The little boy went with Greta and Mila to Gunter’s van.

Kurt asked Gunter, “What tipped you off to follow us?”

“Well, when you did that nervous coughing you do and could not look at me, I knew you were lying.” Gunter said, patting his brother on the back.

In only five minutes, two squad cars arrived and an ambulance pulled up to Kurt’s squad car. There was so much going on, no one bothered to peer into the back seat to see the infamous myth bound up in handcuffs. Lena Shrinker was put into the ambulance while one of the paramedics tended to Kurt’s wounded upper leg. The other squad cars carefully got the other children safely to their respective homes.

Percy and Kurt arrived at the front of the Sheboygan Police Station. Kurt was curious why he didn’t hear a noise from the prisoner in the back. Both of them got out and looked into the backseat. They looked at each other in shock and amazement of what they saw or did not see. On the back seat was the red and white outfit, the black wet boots on the floorboard. No Krampus to be found. Every door was locked and the barred-divider was made of solid steel. They would have heard if someone had escaped from a moving vehicle.

Kurt and Percy looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders in unison. Kurt said, “Well, you and I know we put him in the back seat restrained. I saw my brother shoot one of his horns off. Hey, basically, it was you, Percy, who called it in on finding those missing children. Let’s go to Clyde’s Tap Room and celebrate with a couple of beers.”