Today, celebrate St. Nicholas Day by reading my story “Hoofbeats on the Rooftop,” originally published in CHRISTMAS ANGELS from Whortleberry Press.
I believe, Virginia. I most certainly do, but not in the way most grown-ups do. You know how they twist things around so that anything can be true, depending on your point-of-view? Not this guy.
I wanted to watch Gremlins on TV, but my folks said it was too scary for Josh. We could both have another cup of cocoa, and then it was off to bed before Santa skipped our house. That really got Josh. He gulped down his cocoa and told me that the peppermint whipped cream tasted like Santa’s beard. It made me want to barf.
“There is no Santa Claus!” I said coolly.
Mom’s face went white. “Peter! What if he hears you?” She looked at Josh, who was still staring at me.
“Aw, mom,” I said. “Simon’s brother told us that’s just made up.”
“Go to your room!” she said icily. “I’ll send your father in there in a minute to say goodnight. I don’t suppose you’ll want him to read you ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ will you?”
The corners of Josh’s trembling mouth went down, making my brother look vaguely trapezoidal. His eyelids filled up and a fat, salty tear rolled down his face. He started vocalizing like a deaf person. “G-g-g-guh-rummm-puh-s-s-s!”
Mom muffled Josh’s sobs in her Rudolph sweater, and he seemed to cry even louder to make up for it. “I hope you’re proud. And on Christmas Eve, of all times! Something tells me you won’t be getting the visit you expected tonight.”
So I laid there in bed, listening to Josh cry. A small, nearly silent part of me wanted to take it all back and let Josh have his Christmas the way a little boy should, but I was enjoying the power I was feeling a little too much to care. Right then, everyone else got in line behind me.
I don’t know how much later it was, but it was dead quiet in the house. When I heard it, Josh was asleep, and mom and dad were long gone into their bedroom after an argument about what was going to happen to me. Brass bells over the house. I thought it was my imagination, but then I heard hoofbeats. Honest-to-goodness hoofbeats, and there was no mistaking it. I skipped down the stairs three at a time, all alone. He would be coming down the chimney, filling up the stockings, and propping up the low-hanging branches of the Christmas tree with Star Wars toys after all. Simon’s brother was wrong … but not in the way I expected.
The lights from the Christmas tree bathed everything in a dim red light, and even then, I remember thinking how weird it was, that all those different colors on the tree added up to red in the room. There weren’t any presents covering the tree skirt like I had expected, but there was a rustle behind the branches, like someone trying to scoot between them and the wall, so I held my breath tight, like a fist, and waited for that right jolly old elf to show himself—and his giant bag of goodies, just waiting to be played with. I could feel the smirk on my face. It was huge.
“Peter,” said a voice, as dry as winter branches on a window pane. “Peter, come here for your Christmas present.” That voice didn’t sound anything like Santa Claus, and I stayed where I was, mostly hidden behind the corner of the door. “Who’s there?”
And then I saw him, a flesh and blood rendering of all my Bavarian grandmother’s most frightening fairy tales. He was covered in soot from the chimney, but he didn’t have a sack of presents, and if he was smiling, it was the evilest smile I’ve ever seen—more like a grimace of the most painful sort. He had a goat’s face, hairy and twisted, with two horns sprouting out of his forehead. With a chain in one hand and birch rod in the other, he came at me, and as terrified as I was, I couldn’t move. He pinned me down with those horizontal, slit-shaped pupils, and when he got to me, he delivered to me the worst beating of my life.
A Victorian representation of Krampus punishing a child.
I bawled, I howled, and I carried on, but I could still hear my parents talking in their room—arguing, it sounded like—about whether to come and save me. My mom wanted to, but my dad wouldn’t let her. He said the name ‘Krampus’ and something about how he’d be done in a minute if they just let him, but he’d beat silly anyone who tried to stop him. I never heard my dad sound so scared in all my life, and I can tell you now, with the scars to prove it, that I really don’t blame him. Not even then, when the pain was so bad I wet my pants.
When I finally woke up—or came to—the next morning, Josh had piles and piles of brand-new toys, and I had bruises, welts, scrapes and cuts all the way up one side and down the other. So you can try and tell me there’s no Santa Claus, I suppose. I never saw him myself. But, please, for your own sake, don’t try to tell me that there’s no Krampus. Because I know. I believe, Virginia. I certainly do.
“Hoofbeats on the Rooftop.” Originally published in Christmas Angels: A Holiday Anthology. Gainesville, FL: Whortleberry Press, 2011.