[Last Christmas the following was related to Tychy by Ingrid Schottel, a friend of the website. It was originally published within a longer framing narrative, but some readers may prefer a standalone report. The original can be found in its entirety here. Ed.]
“The village where I grew up was in the east of the Tyrol. When I was a child, most of the people in my village were quite old. It was not the sort of place where a young man would stick around to raise a family. My father served as the village stationmaster when the railway operated in the summer. He also kept an inn which was considered to belong to the locals rather than being designated for the tourists. He had a finger in both pies.
“I was hardly spoiled for companions as a child, but there was an extremely nasty boy in our village and we were always careful to keep out of his way. I suppose that these days you would say that he had “special needs.” Back then, he was just seen as a boy who had not made the effort to fit in and be agreeable.
“Now I can see that he was much older than we thought he was. I don’t think they knew what to do with him, and so he was allowed to remain at our school indefinitely. When we were little girls, he sometimes frightened us by lurking around the edges of the village with no clothes on. I suppose he was the first boy that I had ever seen naked. At that age, it only made me feel nauseous. The schoolmaster always told us to run straight home after school and never to stop if the boy called to us. My father said that they should take that boy out into a field and shoot him. I still cannot tell whether he was joking.
“Once I was walking home from school by myself when the boy plunged out of the trees, only wearing just one grey sock. His willy was very red, as if he had been rubbing it for hours. I closed my eyes tightly and folded up inside myself, like a sheet of paper being scrunched into a ball. The boy was yelping loudly, but for some reason he did not dare to approach me. I stood there with my eyes closed for what seemed like forever, and when I opened them he was gone.
“When I told my father about this, he shook his head and said that I had to learn to fend for myself. I had to give as good as I got, otherwise boys would walk all over me. But my brother Tobias grew very grave. Tobias was not much older than me, but he would have been attending the bigger regional school by then. He left the house and shortly afterwards I saw him walking through the skirts of the forest with his friends Jurgen and Sigmund. Snow was falling steadily and the boys were as distant and soundless as deer. Sigmund’s girlfriend Ana was picking her way after them.
“It was not until years later that I heard how the mother had fought to protect her son. The boys had broken her jaw to put out of action. Sigmund had laughed that this would give her something to think about. Her son had been running about naked in the snow, as demented as a hare. They had held him down between them and in great swipes of my brother’s pocket knife they had gelded him. It would be nice to think that Ana had just watched, but I’m afraid that this would have been unlikely. Lying there gibbering to himself, the boy had bled to death, staining the snow. Within an hour, fresh snow had spread over his body as smooth as a blanket.
“Everybody knew what had happened but nobody was inclined to go and fish the boy’s body out of the snow. The mother had left the village, the mystery of her grief kept from us like a precious diamond.
“For days it snowed. I used to think that the great mountains in the sky were disintegrating into millions of tiny pieces. The angels were in a tremendous panic as everything they knew – their battlements and courtyards – were frittering away beneath their feet.
“Christmas was approaching and soon the school would break up for the holidays. Finally the father of Christmas could be discerned working by himself in the outskirts of the village. From our warm, snug schoolroom we watched him build a great fire over the course of the day, gathering the logs and chopping the wood. Soon the flames were dancing up to peck the sky. One by one, tradesman began to appear around the fire, vending hot mulled wine and spicy sausages.
“After school we trooped over in a great party to salute the father and he was very pleased to see us. He was a hearty looking man with the most magnificent white beard, his locks so thick and full. Our parents had followed us and they formed a crescent around the fire. The poor father was overcome, recognising so many whom he had once greeted as children.
“There was a heavy brown bottle hanging from the father’s neck, and he confided in us that it contained something hot which would warm us down to our toes and keep us toasty throughout the winter. Each of us stepped forward to sip from the father’s bottle. I can still remember the taste of it to this day – it was like a mixture of rich ancient wine and Turkish delight and your whole body seemed to shine like a ruby as you tasted it. As I was one of the younger children, the father presented me with a little wooden doll as well.
“I still cannot understand how the proceedings were choreographed, but after we had all drunk from the bottle, there was an almost imperceptible change in the mood, as if some silent music had been switched off. It was like when a cloud brushes the sun and a summer’s day loses its twinkle. I was suddenly looking around for my brother Tobias in panic and I could not see him. Yet I caught my father’s eye and he shook his head vehemently at me.
“We found ourselves retreating from Sigmund, Jurgen and Ana, who now stood in a sorry little knot at the edge of the fire. A tall sprightly-looking man was stepping out from amongst the trees, looking as striking as a dancer. I firstly registered the blade poised above the man’s head and only secondly the thin black hair which dangled from his sinewy limbs. There was the most terrible goatish hatred stamped across his face. The man was gazing at Sigmund with an intense interest and we all jumped as he wrapped himself around the boy in a single slithery movement. Professionally, like a butcher killing a pig, he slit the boy’s throat and then the boy flopped into the fire.
“The crowd gasped. The father of Christmas looked away, preoccupied with his pipe.
“The goatish man proceeded to Jurgen, who stood transfixed to the spot like somebody who has volunteered to take part in a magic trick. Jurgen’s throat was likewise slit and he too sagged into the fire. The father still refused to look at his companion and he stood smoking by himself, apparently very interested in the sight of the falling snow.
“None of us knew that Ana was pregnant – presumably with either Sigmund or Jurgen’s child. As she was consigned to the flames, there was a crack as her belly burst open in the heat and the foetus was expelled. The goatish man was scrambling to retrieve it, but with a furious stare the father warned him back. It was the only time that the father had ever looked at the goatish man. The foetus expired in the open air, its tiny limbs unbending in the snow.
“The stench of burning flesh around the fire was overwhelming and we were too distressed to notice the black man skip back into the forest. The father beamed at us, seemingly unconscious of the choking fumes and the sounds of our retching and gasping. “A merry holiday to all!” he declared grandly.
“The spell was broken. Everybody was running for the safety of their houses. My mother scooped me up and whispered in my ear, “Pray my darling! Pray for your poor damned brother!”
“The authorities had recovered from their astonishment and gathered together their wits. Three of the village’s young people had been murdered by a pair of psychopaths. A police contingent was summoned from Innsbrook, and it was requested that they bring live ammunition.
“My father had the devil in him. He prowled around our house with a knife and told us not to let anybody in. He had barricaded my brother in his bedroom since early in the morning, and he would now stand vigil at the door.
““The priest!” my mother hissed. “For God’s sake, call the priest here. That will help us more than a thousand policemen.
“My father disliked the priest but in these circumstances any ally would do. I was told to run for the priest and bring him back to the house. I found the poor man lying spread-eagled in supplication across the floorboards of his cupboard-sized church. After mastering his nerves, he agreed to return with me and as we reached the house, some policemen were being already shown in.
“My mother’s face had lit up with joy. “Thank heaven the police are here! Go and fetch your brother, Ingrid.”
““Policemen?” my father queried at the door of the bedroom. He glared suspiciously, before grunting assent. “Toby,” he called through the door. “Come down to speak with the police…”
“There was a long wild yell like a great ribbon unfurling beneath us. The priest had ducked into the living room to confer with the police, only to find that underneath their caps and uniforms, the first had a familiar white beard and the second was a hairy creature with a sour goatish face. The first had settled into an armchair and he was busying himself with a newspaper, refusing to look up at the second. The goatish man took a step towards the priest, puffing out with aggression.
“The priest waved his cross at the creature, but he was shaking so furiously that it jumped in his hands like a live fish. “By the p-p-power of C-c-c-hrist,” he stammered “I b-b-b-seech that you leave!”
“His cries had summoned my mother, who burst into the room brandishing her fists. The black man scowled at her. I had slipped in behind my mother, but my presence seemed to suddenly make the creature wary and it slunk back a little, keeping its eyes on me. The priest reached for our hands and he enjoined us to chant prayers at the creature. It was soon being bombarded with the Lord’s Prayer, which came as fast and steady as the snowfall outside our window.
“We stood planted in that sitting room throughout the whole of Christmas day, pleading and weeping, chanting prayers like madmen, whilst the creature watched us with a sore displeasure. Yet once the winter sun had finally set, the father of Christmas stood up from his armchair and quietly indicated to the creature that it was time to leave. The creature went berserk and it danced and screeched like a monkey, but his master bade him come. We continued to pray long after they had left.
“My brother was sent away to a seminary after that. He became a good little monk, more devout and roly-poly than Martin Luther. We spent the successive Christmases in prayer, but the Krampus never returned.”
[There is more about the Krampus here. Ed.]