This takes place two years before the current story line.


It was Christmas Eve. A Christmas Eve lacking in snow but making up for it in cold, gray, and wind. But that was all outside. Inside was nice and toasty and filled with light.

The boss was out- hell if I knew where. He'd ordered me to keep the house clean and warm, so I obliged by tossing a few cluttery pieces of furniture in the fire. The polish made the smoke smell weird, but it made for a really bright flame.

I was just about to start hacking up the piano when there was a knock at the door. So I did the stupid thing and answered it.

The door opened and a pair of very familiar, highly unwelcome faces greeted me.

"Hiya, Bri," said the first disgustingly cheerful face. "Guess what?"

I slammed the door on him and locked it. Then I took off for the kitchen. Maybe I could make it to the laundry room and lock myself in before-

The door exploded inwards a second later, cracked down the middle and splintered where the lock had torn loose. Ah well, it had been worth a shot.

"Dammit guys!" I said, casually turning around like I hadn't been trying to run. "My meatsack's going to have a hissy fit when he gets back. He's still nagging me about the last door you broke."

"I REGRET NOTHING," boomed Klonkor, stepping through the doorway.

"Come on, Bri, is that any way to greet old friends?" said Galzeekebull, following behind and picking splinters off his coat.

"No," I said flatly. "It isn't."

He didn't get the hint. "Well there you go! Apology accepted. Right Klonkor?"

"INDEED."

"Gaz," I said, pinching the spot between my eyes. "Why are you both dressed up like Santa Claus?"

He adjusted his overlarge Santa hat to fit better over his horns and gave me a toothy grin. "It's part of my plan," he said.

"Plan?"

"THE PLAN," said Klonkor.

"You're gonna like the plan, Bri."

I went over to the remains of the door and tried standing the two pieces up in the doorway. Maybe Bossman wouldn't notice? "No, I don't think so."

"You don't even know what it is yet!"

"And I don't need to. Out. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

Gaz visibly drooped. "But we got you a costume and everything."

Klonkor held up a green, sequin infested outfit.

"What the fuck is that?"

"A HUMAN'S PERCEPTION OF ELVEN WEAR. LOOK, IT HAS BELLS." He shook it. It jingled.

"Never in life," I said.

"Come on, Bri. Just hear us out." Gaz pouted. "Please?"

I hate it when Gaz goes all pathetic like this. He looks like a sad puppy who's just been kicked, only I feel bad about it instead of wanting to laugh.

"Fine," I said. "Fine. I'll listen. But Gaz?"

"Yeah?"

"Take off the beard."

His hand flew to the fluffy white monstrosity currently trying to eat his face protectively. "What? Why?"

"I can't talk to you when you look like that."

"I THINK YOU ARE BEING WHAT IS COLLOQUIALLY REFERRED TO AS A 'KILLJOY' AND HAVE CHOSEN GALZEEKEBULL'S AS YOUR NEXT MARK."

I scowled. "Since when do you talk so fancy, Klonkor? I just noticed, you've been saying 'I'."

He stood up a little straighter, radiating smug. "YES. ASIDE FROM THE OCCASIONAL LAPSE, I NOW SPEAK WITH NEAR PERFECT GRAMMAR."

"Huh. Now you just gotta take care of the shouting thing and you'll be good."

"WHAT SHOUTING?"

"We're working on that," said Gaz. "I'm not going to take off the beard."

I sighed theatrically. "Fine. What's up?"

"Krampus," he said.

"Gesundheit."

"No, have you ever heard of Krampus?"

"No. Sounds painful. What is it?"

He pointed at Klonkor. "He is. And I am. We're going to be Krampuses."

"And that's. . . .?"

"A NEGATIVE COUNTERPART AND COHORT TO THE TRADITIONAL SAINT NICH-"

Gaz and I, as one, did what under different circumstances would have been the stupidest thing in the world and leapt on Klonkor, trying to shut him up.

"Don't say the name," we hissed together.

"Use the nonsecular," said Gaz.

"You want Them Up There to notice us?"

"BEG PARDON." He effortlessly brushed us off.

"The point is, Bri, is that kids are supposed to be scared of Krampus. Evil Santa. So imagine how scared they'll be with two of us? Or three? Ehy? It's perfect!"

"Gaz, I don't even eat fear. Not a cacodemon, remember?"

He shrugged. "I know. We just thought you might have fun. You don't go out enough, it's unhealthy. You gotta be social, and who better to be social with than your friends? Right, Klonkor?"

"KLONKOR HAS NO FRIENDS, ONLY ENEMIES HE DOES NOT YET WISH TO DESTROY." he frowned. "THAT I DO NOT WISH TO DESTROY."

"He's just putting on a tough guy act. He likes you too."

I felt a headache coming on. "Listen, guys. I appreciate the sentiment, really, but I've got stuff already planned, and-"

Something big grabbed the back of my neck.

"YOU WILL JOIN US IN FESTIVE FEAR MONGERING AND YOU WILL LIKE IT."

* * * * *

"I don't see why I have to dress up," I said, closing the front gate behind us. The outfit jingled with every step. I could just tell this was going to get very annoying, very soon.

"Because you gotta stay in character," said Gaz.

"What character? I'm a demon. I do demony things-"

"Yes, but now you're a festive demon!"

"WHERE DO WE START?"

Gaz took a list out from under his hat. I peered over his shoulder. On the list was about a dozen names and addresses, all labeled with the words, 'OTC, TBW'. There was something familiar about the type style and layout.

"Hey," I said. "Is that from the database?"

He grinned sheepishly. "Maybe. I had to make sure we got naughty kids, you know? Keep it authentic."

I groaned. "Right. Unauthorized physical copies of delicate Hell intel. Infernal Affairs is going to have a field day-"

"THE KILLING OF JOY," said Klonkor, tapping my shoulder with a claw sharp enough to pierce through the sleeve of my costume. YOU ARE DOING IT AGAIN."

"Yeah, right. Sorry. Where to?"

Gaz lead the way on foot, the list of I dutifully followed behind, with Klonkor following behind me in case I bolted.

These guys know me way too well.

It was a long walk from Bossman's place to Gaz's first target, and the whole time, neither of them would stop talking.

"-but by then the nun was already knocked out, so I said 'why not?' and Klonkor took her habit and her shape- he's getting pretty good at the shapeshifting, aren't you Klonkor?"

"YES."

"He really is. So then by the time the mother superior got back, we'd shoved her under the bed and Klonkor wound up passing the whole tierce hour before we could finally release the invisible bats. It was great, screaming nuns everywhere, right, Klonkor?"

"YES."

"You would've loved it, Bri. Too bad you were stuck here. How about you come along next time? It'll be fun?"

"Ah, maybe," I said despite myself. It kind of did sound like fun. . . "Give me time to think about it."

"Alright. Oh, look, we're almost there."

At first, from a distance, I entertained the thought that maybe the entire neighborhood was on fire. No such luck, obviously. The entire place was just drenched in lights. Strings of off-white lights swirled around tree trunks and hung on branches and strung over front gates and front lawns and were dotted with the occasional herd of glowing wire reindeer, waving Santas and inflatable snowmen. Icicle lights hung off roofs and porches and every so often we would pass by a cross, but they were usually far enough away that we didn't have to worry.

"IT APPEARS THAT A STAR MAY BE GOING NOVA SOMEWHERE IN THE NEAR VICINITY."

"No, Klonkor, this is just what we call 'peacocking'."

"Okay," said Gaz, tucking the list under his hat again. "This is place. Every house in this neighborhood has at least one kid on the list, and every one of them is spoiled rotten."

I looked around. "So, which one's first?"

"Uh, that one. The one with the giant inflatable snowglobe." He strode forward.

"Are you sure about this?" I said, hurrying to match his pace. "These houses all look like they'd have alarms. Aren't there easier marks?"

"Bri," he said. "You don't really think I'd be dumb enough to come in unprepared, do you?"

I wisely chose not to answer. He pulled out a couple sheets of waxy looking paper from under his hat, all rowed with what looked like. . .

"Stickers?" I said.

"Stamps, actually," he said. "Check it out, they're specially modified stasis spells. Stick on the door, and everybody's zonked out except for the little targets." He handed me a sheet.

"Were did you get these?" I said. The spells might not have been the most impressive things in the world, but whoever set them up had meant business.

"Won them in a drinking contest a while back."

We reached the porch. He peeled off a stamp and slapped it onto the door frame. The marking on the stamp glowed a muted red for a second before fading into a dull gray.

"Klonkor??" he said, stepping aside to make room.

The door was promptly seen to. "I AM BEGINNING TO SUSPECT THAT THIS IS ALL YOU THINK I AM GOOD FOR.".

"Of course not," said Gaz. "You just happen to have a way with doors Bri and I lack."

I felt around for a light and found a switch on the wall. I flipped it, and seemed for a second to unleash another small nova. Against all odds, the inside of the house was actually brighter than the outside. Not because there were more lights, but because it was so damn full of shiny things that the lights it did have were reflected ten times over.

The inside of the house was the perfect vulgar pairing with the outside. It looked like someone had loaded everything garish and vaguely celebratory about Xmas, loaded it into a cannon, and then shot blindly around the room until every bare surface was covered with festive vomit.

"MY EYES HURT."

"You'll adjust, buddy," I said, poking the train set set up in the corner. Somebody earlier had had some fun, as a few of the miniature people were laid across the tracks. Judging by the dents in them, they'd been run over a few dozen times.

"Okay," said Gaz. "Plan's simple. Scare the kid, siphon off the fear, eat like kings. Uh, then stop for a burger or something afterwards for you, Bri. Got it?"

I nodded. Klonkor nodded.

"Klonkor," said Gaz. "You want first shot?"

"YES." he cleared his throat. "HO HO HO. I AM SANTA CLAUS, HERE TO DELIVER PRESENTS TO ALL THE WELL BEHAVED HUMAN MEAT CHILDREN OF THE WORLD."

We heard the padding of little feet coming down the stairs.

Gaz ducked behind the sofa. I hid behind the tree.

I watched through the edges of the branches as a little girl, probably around five or six or fourteen came down the stairs. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of Klonkor.

Then, instead of doing the usual thing kids did when they caught sight of Klonkor, she ran towards him.

"Santa!" she said. It was the quiet, barely-repressed scream-whisper of someone- let's say, trying not to wake up her sleeping parents. She had her arms out, like she was going to give him a running hug.

Klonkor straightened up. "I AM NOT SANTA CLAUS, LITTLE MEAT CHILD. I AM KRAMPUS,"

She stopped a foot away and frowned, arms still up. "Who?"

"KRAMPUS. KRAMPUS, THE BEAST THAT EATS EYES. AND PUNISHES NAUGHTY CHILDREN."

"Oh," she said. The arms were let down. She seemed to think about this for a second. Then, she smiled. "D'you like cookies? I got gingerbread ones." She went over to the coffee table and picked up the tray of cookies there. "Got milk, too. They're for Santa, but you can have them."

"I DO NOT WISH TO FEED OFF COOKIES, ONLY YOUR FEAR."

Gaz audibly slapped his forehead. "No, no, no!" he said, getting out from behind the sofa. "You're not supposed to come out and tell them! You-"

"Santa!" said the girl again.

"Huh?"

She threw herself at Gaz, wrapped her arms around him and squoze anything he might've been about to say to death. His eyes bulged slightly. She didn't notice.

I laughed. The tiny blond head swiveled my way. She squealed.

"An elf!"

I backed up. "Wait, no-"

Too late. She'd rocketed away from Gaz and gave me a hug that was way too strong to have come from any reasonable child. Things inside me creaked in protest.

"Gaz," I wheezed.

"I know," he said. "Klonkor?"

"ON IT. SMALL MEAT CHILD, DIRECT YOUR ATTENTION TOWARDS ME."

She looked, but she didn't let go of me.

Klonkor's eyes flashed red. His skin grew darker, going from mottled shades of gray to inky black. Literally inky, as it looked like parts of him were melting off. He grinned, and pieces of his face writhed and flew off, having become locusts, leaving bloody red-black gaps where they'd been a second before. The locusts flew wildly around the room, filling the air with the noise of their wings.

About half of the swarm landed on the tree and began devouring the branches. The girl stared. I disengaged myself while she was distracted and went to go to the far side of the room, away from small clingy things of both blond and buggy nature. A few glass ornaments fell off the tree and shattered on the hardwood floor. She leapt back from the glass, but she didn't scream. Her eyes were wide, but she didn't look scared.

The hunk of raw meat that was Klonkor's face frowned. "ARE YOU NOT AFRAID OF THE MANY CRAWLY BUGS?"

"Mom's gonna be mad," was all she said. "She liked that tree."

A few of the locusts went over to the train set in the corner, where they got caught in the cars and went for a ride. The girl giggled.

"They're cute!" she said as a couple landed on her nightgown. She reached down to pet one, and it crawled onto her hand. She giggled.

Gaz groaned. "Klonkor, call them off. We're not getting anywhere."

The bugs immediately vanished, and Klonkor was back in one piece, looking like his old self.

"Aww," said the girl.

"SHALL WE TRY AGAIN? I CAN BE TALLER."

"No, no. It's no good, we've already lost the element of surprise." Gaz sighed and took the list out of his hat. "Bri, you got a pen on you?"

"I have one," said the little girl. She ran into the kitchen and returned with a pen in hand.

"Thank you," said Gaz absently, crossing a name off the list. "Come on guys, let's go." We started for the exit.

"Wait," said the girl, padding after us, carrying a tray of cookies. "Are you sure you don't want any?"

"We don't eat cookies-" said Gaz.

I grabbed as many cookies off the tray as I could hold and started stuffing them in the pockets of my costume. "Thanks, kid," I said.

She beamed. We left. Gaz and Klonkor both gave me Looks.

"What?" I said.

* * * * *

"THIS ACTUALLY ISN'T THAT BAD," said Klonkor.

"I told you. Gaz, you sure you don't want any?"

"Starch and sugar," he growled. "That's what you're pumping into your veins right now."

"Pfft. Health nut," I said through a mouthful of crumbs. "Is he always like this?"

"YES. HE IS AN UNREASONABLY PICKY EATER." said Klonkor, examining another gingerbread man. He bit off its head. "ADMITTEDLY NOT AS DELICIOUS AS FRESHLY PICKED EYEBALLS, BUT STILL GOOD."

Gaz made a disgusted half-groan, half-sigh noise and slapped another stamp onto the door frame of the next house.

Since Klonkor had the last one, this time was Gaz's turn, meaning Klonkor and I had to hide. I didn't have any problem, but in the end, the only place big enough for Klonkor to hide was behind the sofa. meaning there was now a good three and a half feet of space between sofa and wall. This time, we kept the lights off.

Gaz took a deep breath.

"HO HO HO!" he shouted.

"MINE WAS BETTER."

"Shhh!"

Unlike Klonkor, Gaz decided to take the more subtle approach. As soon as we heard the sound of the kids- at least two of them, judging by the footsteps, he vanished. Not literally- I don't think he knows how to do that trick. But he sort of hunched in on himself and managed to turn off everything interesting about him. I was looking right at him, but I found my eyes sliding away from where he was. There was nothing interesting to see there, they said. Just background. Just wallpaper. The only way I could tell where Gaz was by process of elimination, keeping track of where I could focus in the area and assuming Gaz was the empty place in the middle.

The uninteresting gray patch of nothing slunk into the fireplace. I yawned.

A boy, probably around three or four or twelve waddled down the hall, clutching a plush dog. His thumb was lodged firmly in his mouth.

As soon as he got into the center of the living room, a fire broke out in the fireplace. The boy turned and stared at the flames, conveniently ignoring the uninteresting patch of dullness that crept around behind him.

It actually came as a shock when Gaz snapped back into the world of color again. He drew himself up and kept on going, silently making himself several feet taller and rail thin. Bat-like wings sprouted from Gaz's back, each one covered in a couple hundred unblinking eyes. His skin rippled into scales that shone bright green in the firelight.

He opened his now-lizardlike mouth and roared.

The boy whirled around, eyes wide. He dropped the dog, but the thumb was still stuck in his mouth. I heard Klonkor breathe in deep, then sigh.

"ALMOST A LET DOWN AFTER THE GINGERBREAD," he said.

Gaz swept his wings back and laughed.

Then the boy smiled. I saw Gaz falter for a second before opening his mouth even wider. The boy pulled out his thumb and giggled.

"Fah who?" he said.

Gaz drooped. "What?"

The boy giggled and did the awkward kicking-waddle-hop all humans did when they were too small to know how to run properly. He went to the couch and grabbed a box off the sofa. Klonkor poked his head up to see what was happening. The boy waved, giggled, and then waddle-run-hopped back to Gaz.

"Foraze," he said, pointing insistently at the front of the box.

"What?" said Gaz, taking it from the boy. "What is this?"

Klonkor and I duly went to investigate.

The box was that of a DVD container thing. On the front was a familiar looking green figure in a Santa outfit, smiling manically at the viewer while carrying a sack over his shoulders.

By virtue of having been exposed to human culture a lot longer than they had, I got it before they did. I laughed. I laughed so hard that it hurt. I fell backwards onto the couch, still laughing.

"What?" said Gaz. "What is it?"

"He- he thinks you're-"

"OUT WITH IT."

"He thinks you're the Grinch!"

"The what?" He flipped over the case and read the synopsis on the back. Then he turned a bright shade of green, right around the cheeks and nose. "This is preposterous!"

"I WANT TO SEE." Klonkor snatched the case out of his hands and read for himself. After a second, he too began to laugh.

"I look nothing like this Grinch fellow!"

"Grinch!" squealed the boy.

"Let's get out of here," said Gaz, making a beeline for the door. Every step he took had him shrinking back to normal. By the time he was actually at the door, he was himself again.

"No!" whined the boy, running after him. "No!" He stood in front of the door, trying to block the way.

"Aww, Gaz, you made a friend."

Gaz tucked his chin into his chest. "Not funny," he muttered. "Out of the way, boy."

"No!"

Klonkor stepped forward. The boy didn't move. With no apparent effort on his part, Klonkor lifted the boy up and moved him out of the way.

"No." said the boy, sniffing.

Gaz was first out the door, Klonkor followed. I hung back and waited until the others were on the porch and safely out of view before turning back to the kid. He sniffled. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a cookie.

"Here, kiddo," I said, offering it to him. "Now shut up."

He somberly took the gingerbread and started gnawing on it.

"Bri?" shouted Gaz. "You coming?"

I hurried after.

* * * * *

Things went downhill from there. The next house was a bust.


"WHY ARE YOU NOT COWERING IN FEAR?" said Klonkor, currently in the shape of something like a dragon and something like his normal self.

The two boys beamed. "You're so cool!"


As was the next.


"Aww," said the older girl. "You're so cute!"

"I am not cute!" said Gaz. "I am Galzeekebull, the-"

"I thought you were Krampus?" said the younger girl, playing with his hat.

He snatched it back from her. "That too-"

"Hey," I said, eying the loaded plate set out. "You gonna eat all that gingerbread?"


And the next.


"I ASSURE YOU I AM NOT FAMILIAR WITH EITHER GAMES WORKSHOP OR WIZARDS OF THE COAST. NO, NOT DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS EITHER. I DO NOT CARE WHICH CREATURE MY CURRENT GUISE RESEMBLES, OR WHAT MY STATS ARE. PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO MY FEAR INSPIRING ANTICS."


I confronted Gaz sometime around the fifth or sixth house while Klonkor was busy dealing with the kids.

"You don't actually know anything about Krampus, do you Gaz?"

A vase shattered across the room as Klonkor ran past. The twin boys of the house screamed. Unlike the other houses, this one wasn't decorated at all, as apparently these ones didn't celebrate Xmas.

He took off his hat and scratched the base of his horns. "I know plenty! He's kinda like Santa, only kids are frightened of him. And. Uhm. Well, what more do you need?"

An expensive looking painting fell off the wall. Glass knick-knacks fell off the mantle. I resisted the urge to slap my forehead.

"Great, Gaz. Just Great."

Klonkor leapt onto the coffee table, cracking the glass with his claws. He roared loudly enough to shake the walls.

"Let's get out of here," I said. "He's not even trying."

"Yeah," said Gaz. "I know. He just looked like he was having fun, I didn't want to stop him. Hey, Klonkor!"

"YES?"

"Stop playing, we've gotta go to the next house."

Klonkor's face fell, but he bent down low and let the two boys slide off his back. They both whined in protest and wrapped their arms around his neck. He stood up, letting them struggle to hold on before helping them down gently once their arms gave out.

"KRAMPUS MUST GO NOW AND DEVOUR THE EYES OF NAUGHTY CHILDREN," he said regretfully. The two kids' lower lips wobbled.

"Next Christmas?" said one.

Klonkor looked at Gaz hopefully. Gaz shrugged, looking embarrassed.

"PERHAPS."

The two kids hugged Klonkor and saw us off with waves and enough gingerbread to keep us going for the next week. We left the house, Gaz and I leading the way, Klonkor trailing thoughtfully behind us.

"Maybe the next house will be better," said Gaz, checking the list. "Supposed to be another little girl. Maybe she'll be better than the last ones-"

"Face it, Gaz. This whole thing's a bust."

"I don't get it! These should've been perfect targets! We've been doing everything right- why aren't they scared of us?"

I pointedly shook my swirly shoes. The bell at the ends jingled.

"You think it's the costumes?"

"Well they leave a bit to be desired."

He frowned and scratched his beard. "Not enough bells?"

"While that is possible, it's not the direction I would have gone in."

"Let's just try this last house."

I felt the headache coming back. "Yeah, okay. Might as well."

We trudged up the walkway, Klonkor covering the rear. It had to have been sometime around midnight. I wondered briefly if Bossman had gotten home yet. Gaz stuck on the spell without even looking and pushed open the front door.

This house, like the majority of the others, looked like Xmas itself had come in and vomited festivity over every available surface. Unlike the others, this one had a rotund bearded man in a familiar red suit placing presents beneath the tree.

We stared at each other for a split second of stunned silence.

"Gaz," I hissed. "The charm! Why is-?"

"I don't know!" he hissed back.

The man blinked a few times, then stood up with a smile. "HO HO HO," he said.

"THAT IS MY LINE."

"Krampus?" called the big man. "Are these yours?"

Someone else came out of the kitchen. He was taller than the fat man by several inches, even if you didn't count the swirly, almost-ramish horns. He wasn't wearing any clothes, but that didn't much matter as the coarse black fur he was covered in did the job instead. There were rusted chains draped around his arms and torso, but judging by the way he moved, they were there just for fashion, not to bind. The hooves at the bottom of his long goat legs were, I noticed, cloven.

"It's you!" said Gaz. "You're the guy from the bar!"

"Beg pardon?" said the goat man.

"The bar! You gave me the stamps!"

The goat man seemed to think about it. "Oh!" he said, snapping his fingers. "The little imp. I remember now."

"So you're actually-"

"Krampus?" said Krampus with a smile that split his face all the way up to his eyes. "Yes. Who did you think I was?"

"Oh," said Gaz, turning red.

"Enjoying the stamps?" said Krampus.

"NOT PARTICULARLY."

"They work great," said Gaz hurriedly. "It's us. We haven' been having the greatest night. . ."

"Let me guess," said Krampus, crossing his arms. "You wanted to sneak into houses and do a little holiday horror show. Am I right?"

"Yes! But we've been doing something wrong. Nobody's afraid of us."

Krampus peered at us. In a sudden onslaught of clarity, I knew exactly how ridiculous we looked.

Klonkor who was a foot thicker and two feet taller than the both of us combined and made out of stuff more like concrete than muscle, whose Santa costume was tearing at the seams because he was too big for it, and whose hat was small enough to fit tucked between the two horns on the top of his head. Galzeekebull, who was the same height as me, and the same amount of scrawny, but more lizardy, without any glamour to hide the scaliness and currently had a Santa costume on that was a couple sizes too big, with a hat that drooped over his eyes if he didn't watch it. And then me. Dressed like an elf.

"And you say they aren't frightened of you?"

"No! They laugh at us and then give us gingerbread. They think we're funny."

Credit to Krampus here: he kept his face completely straight. "I don't know what could possibly have given them that impression."

The entire conversation, the fat man in red had been discreetly milling about the edges, placing presents in some of the stocking and under the tree. He looked just like Santa Claus. But if Krampus was here. . .

"Hey, Red," I said. "If he's really the Krampus, then that means you're. . ."

The fat man's eyes twinkled. "Saint Nicholas."

As one, Gaz and I both took one long slide-step to the side and hid behind Klonkor. Klonkor then reached behind, grabbed us both by the arms, and pulled us forward so he was hiding behind us. After that was a mad scramble to see who could hide behind who first before the others dragged them out.

Krampus and Nick exchanged a somber look, held it for approximately ten seconds, and then burst out laughing.

"Calm down," said Red.

"Nick and I have an arrangement," said Krampus.

"I was never much of an exorcist in any case," said Nick. "More of a general 'generosity' sort of saint. Good behavior." To Krampus, he said, "I think I'm done here. You ready?"

"Oh, right." Krampus reached behind his back and pulled a sack I hadn't seen there before.

"What's that sack for?" said Gaz, still half behind Klonkor.

"Hmm? Oh, this?" Krampus held up the sack. "For carrying off children."

"Bwha?" said Gaz.

Krampus shrugged. "It's what I do. Just the real snotty ones, though. Right, Nick? Wanna double check for me?"

Nick took off his hat and fished around inside. He pulled out a piece of paper. "Yep, this one's one of yours."

"Thanks. Be right back-"

"Wait," I said. "You're going to kidnap a kid like, right now?"

He nodded. Gaz turned cautiously to the fat man. "And you're. . . okay with this?"

It was Nick's turn to shrug. "It's on the list. None of my business what happens to the rotten ones."

"Holy shit Santa, you're kind of an ass."

Klonkor and I both turned stared at Galzeekebull. It was the first time I'd ever heard him curse. It was like seeing a dog walk around on its hind legs: you know it's possible and probably happens a lot when you're not looking, but when it does happen, it's just wrong.

"Why should I care?" said Nick. "They didn't even leave out an offering for us. That's what they're supposed to do, you know. Leave an offering. Kids these days, no respect."

He and Krampus sighed and shook their heads.

"Ah well," said Krampus, straightening up. "Be back in a second." He moved for the stairs.

"Bri," said Gaz.

"What?" I said.

He glared at me. "Bri."

"What?"

He looked pointedly at the bulging pockets of my costume.

"Aww man, do I have to?"

"Bri!"

I groaned and pulled out a handful of gingerbread from each pocket. "Hey, Krampus. Claus. Hold up."

"Yes?" they said at the same time.

"Here." I went over and gave each of them a handful of partly crumbled cookies from all the houses we'd hit that night. "Will that cover it?"

They were trying not to smile. I could see it in their eyes.

"You're a little light," said Krampus.

I glared at him and gave him the last of my stash.

"Now?" I snarled.

"This is acceptable," said Claus, "Krampus?"

"I think this will work." The bastard wasn't even trying to hide the smile now.

"Then I suppose we've nothing left to do here," said Nick. "Shall we be off?"

"Yeah," said Krampus. "Just one thing-" He dug around inside his child napping sack and pulled out a bouquet looking bunch of sticks. "Here," he said, holding them out

"What is it?" I said, reaching for the bundle.

He swatted my hand with the sticks. "Fucker!" I shouted, pulling it back. There were several long, red welts where the sticks had hit. "What the hell was that?"

"Ruten." He opened his mouth and let a snake-tongue roughly the length of my arm loll out. "Nick?" he said.

"Have a nice night, kids," said Nick. He snapped his fingers, and the two of them were gone. No puff of smoke, or noises, or flying reindeer breaking into the room with a sleigh. Just gone.

"What a couple of freaks," I said, nursing my hand. "Let's get the hell out of here."

* * * * *

We all sat on a bench at the bus stop, under a streetlight. Gaz was in the middle, head in his hands, radiating misery. He'd taken off the Santa hat and tossed it onto the street.

"Well, that was all a huge waste of time." said Gaz. "I'm sorry, guys. I really though I had something there. . . "

Klonkor sighed and patted Gaz's shoulder with a hand big enough to crush the little guy. "DO NOT WORRY ABOUT IT. I HAD A MODERATELY ENTERTAINING EVENING." to me, he added, "YOU WOULD NOT HAPPEN TO HAVE ANY MORE COOKIES ON YOU, WOULD YOU?"

"No, those two bastards got the last of them"

"DAMN." he sighed. "I AM ACTUALLY TOO TIRED TO BOTHER SWEARING MY VENGEANCE."

"Don't worry, buddy. They aren't worth it."

Gaz moaned. "Aww man. I'm sorry. This was such a waste."

"Maybe not," I said slowly.

"HOW SO?"

"Well, you guys wanted to scare kids, right? The whole fear-eating thing. And, yeah, it didn't work tonight, but tomorrow morning might be a different story. And you guys have gotten pretty good at the 'don't notice' thing, so you could probably sneak in no problem. . ."

"AT THE RISK OF REPEATING MYSELF, HOW SO?"

"You guys left those houses looking like disaster areas. And knowing kids, they aren't going to bother cleaning it up. So when their parents wake up-"

The light flicked on in Gaz's eyes. "Oh yes. Adult fear. They wake up and find the place in shambles with their children saying someone broke in- it's perfect!"

"I wasn't even thinking that. I was thinking about the ones who'll think the kids are lying. Ones would get pissed off. Kids that little are way more afraid of their parents than- well. Us dressed up like Santas."

They thought about it for a second.

"This could work," Gaz said eventually. "This might actually work." He smiled and leaned back in the bench. "Thanks, guys."

We probably should have gotten up started home, but instead, we spent the next while hanging out on the bench in comfortable silence.

Much thanks to Jet-Poop and Pandeism Fish for letting me play with their toys. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and happy end of the fiscal fourth quarter, all.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.