Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Man in Red and the Krampus

Grossmueti always told us if we misbehaved, she would feed us to the hogs.

She’d tilt her head back and smile with grey teeth, listening to the boar rub his prodigious sides against his pen and crow that he was hungry again. Michael and I would stay silent and stare at our plates, like the saints we were constantly pressed to be.

Misbehaving was a foreign state of being always threatened and assigned but never felt. Misbehaving could be the failure to complete a chore fast enough, or simply standing in the wrong place when Grossvati was in his cups.

There were always chores to do. Chopping wood. Weeding. Cleaning. Ironing clothes until your finger joints popped. We were always slothful, spiteful children. We did not need to say anything, for the retort, we were told, was written on our faces. Öhi spilled my wash bucket out and laughed at my fury, so well concealed beneath a bland expression I didn’t even feel it.

The only luxury we were allowed were bedtime whispers. We were given mean space in an old corn crib, with two straw ticks stuffed with summer grass and a guttering candle. We spoke not of the indignities we’d suffered that day, nor hope for the day our parents came to fetch us (for they were much the same) but of things we had observed during the day.

“I was out by the woodpile, getting whipped by Grossvati,” Michael would say, “and I saw a darling little Phoebe cock its head and give me a most intelligent glance. I think I shall bring it crumbs and become friends with it.”

I told him about how I noticed, while Grossmueti took the strop to my hands, what a brilliant shade of orange the sunset was. We spoke until drowsy, not given to nighttime perambulations. Other children might have snuck out to steal portions held back from meals, but our relatives cooked like they hated food. I’ve seen the pigs reject what they force us to choke down.

Their cruelty was rank, but their kindness was worse.

Grossvati would make us sit on his knees and blow sour mash breath into our face as he delighted in telling us tales probably meant to enchant but had the opposite effect.

“Sinterklaas,” he wheezed, “is a kind saint dressed all in red and gold, with a beard fine and white as lamb’s wool. He travels all through the night on Christmas Eve, bringing goodies and toys to especially well-behaved children.”

We feigned joy. The only toys we’d had growing up were the ones we’d made ourselves, out of stick and string and whatever else we had to hand. But now the old man’s face twisted devilish and he took a pinch of skin from beneath both our chins.

“But he carries with him a special passenger, the Krampus. If you are even one drop naughty, he will steal you away in his sack and beat you with blackthorns and visit terrible punishments on you.”

His enthusiasm was more grating that his thorny fists. Before we went to bed that night we were made to swallow castor medicine and told not to crack an eyelid before dawn. We had already pledged to sleep in; we knew there was nothing waiting for us.

I woke by Michael’s hand in the night.

“Greta! You must be silent,” he hissed, face showing white as tallow. I was too experienced to ask why.

There was an undisguised thumping beneath us, as if someone in clogs wanted to stomp the whole house awake.

“Öhi?”

Michael shook his head.

“Vati? Mueti?”

He was shaking so he could barely speak. “No, it is a visitor. I was naughty and peeked.”

I rose to one elbow and listened. The thumping was beginning to sound impatient.

“We should lie abed, pretend to sleep,” I told him, “we will be passed over anyway.”

Michael’s grip was cold iron on my arm. “No, you don’t understand! The man in red, and the Krampus! They are one and the same!”

Below, a thump on the bottom step.

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The City

We lived in a city named for where it was built, a place where two rivers merged and fed into the sea. We took the name from the people who had lived on the land before us, and then took the land as well.

There were many people living in the city, and more came every day. Some lived tragic lives, some joyous, but we all felt our lives were good. The city was important, and so we all felt important in some way. We were proud of its bridges, steel spans that were the envy of architects. We were proud of our skyscrapers, which only got taller with every passing year. We thought we lived in the most interesting place on earth.

Then the day came when we had a minor earthquake that made window glass into jello and set off car alarms. The news, in the middle of reassuring us it was only a 3.2 tremor, accidentally showed us the cause of the shaking. The news copter was roaming over the bay shore, filming fish thrown up from the sea, when it came upon a black bar sitting just beneath the surface of the water. We all gaped and the blackness gaped back. It broke the surface. It kept going.

It was a long, slick oblong that rose until it dwarfed the tower bridge. Another had grown near the shipping yards and curved to meet its twin. We watched as they grew silently towards each other until they met, so smooth and black it seemed like no light could escape the surface. It was a bridge, resembling a strand of mycelium or some alien root more than the tower bridge it had engulfed. The newscaster, uncharacteristically silent throughout the whole act, spoke first: “what about the people on the bridge?”

There was a mad exodus at first, those who had cars jammed intersections for blocks around, those who didn’t tried to make it on foot. They were joined by the drivers when it became clear the cars weren’t going anywhere. They came to the other two main land passages just as they, too, were being swallowed up. Slick black spider-filament bridges, bigger than anything made by human hand up until this point. We decided to go home for a while.

The bridges made leaving impossible, and no one wanted to put a boat in the water in case anything else came up. We tried watching the news, see if people outside knew what had happened, but after the bridges went up all signals, television, phone, internet, were lost.

The spires were next.

Nobody called them buildings. It didn’t seem to fit, a human word on these black monoliths. The first one yawned open beneath a block in the business park, swallowing whole the four skyscrapers that had been there only to push them back out a moment later. It took a whole day to grow and when it stopped, the tallest building in the city multiplied by six and stacked end to end couldn’t have measured it. This turned out to be one of the smaller spires. The rest averaged about three days to grow and wound up impossibly tall, no architect in the city knew how they could support their own mass at that point.

They weren’t all tall. Some were just oppressively huge. We lost the zoo and the library in the same fell swoop, you could hear the zebras shriek as something that looked like a pyramid of staircases domed over the whole thing. The stairs were so massive we’d have to climb up on each other’s shoulders to even touch the top of one step. The city square sank into a massive pit, but nothing grew out of it. Instead, water rushed in from the bay to fill it, until it was a bottomless pool.

We lived in terror those first few weeks. Someone might be sleeping in their bed and, with no warning stronger than a groaning sound, be relocated to the earth’s crust. Or crushed. Or absorbed into the new building. We never found out exactly what happened to them. All we knew was by the time the city silenced, there was only a fraction of the population left. What few man-made structures had survived squeezed between the new city’s buildings like lichen, we crowded into those rather than brave sleeping in one of the monoliths. The black rock or volcanic glass or whatever the structures were made of deadened sound, and even our hardest tools could not scratch it. They all smelled wrong…empty, like nothing had ever lived or died within them. This was not a city that invited inhabitation.

We’ve been stuck like this ever since.

Since the city’s stopped growing the only sound is the wind that churns through the tops of the spires, the wind that makes it impossible for any aircraft to pass over the city. The population’s dwindled so much that, if we keep rationing like we do, we might be able to stick it out for another three years. Until rescue or…until the people who belong in this city arrive.

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Dead End

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[REDACTED] are coordinates that, once entered into a standard GPS, direct the driver to a small cul-de-sac 3.7 miles outside of [REDACTED] City. They were discovered by [NAME REDACTED] of [REDACTED] City, who proceeded to post it on a small urban exploration message board he frequented. He was mystified by their apparent adjacency to [SUBURB] since “[he] drove past it every morning on the way to work and [he’d] never seen anything like it.” On the encouragement of fellow posters, he decided to input the coordinates into his GPS and follow them to the letter, including occasional photos.

[REDACTED] started out sometime after 10am and posted a blow-by-blow account from his mobile phone, including the cardinal directions he traveled and the street names. He also uploaded photographs, which showed up as broken links. The other posters became concerned when he failed to check in for half an hour, his last message of, “just passed [FRANCHISE], but I don’t feel like a burger heheh,” not appearing to indicate anything dire. When a poster who claimed to live nearby [REDACTED]’s residence offered to check up on the situation, the thread was closed. Following police investigation, the coordinates were stricken from the cache and a speed trap set up at the mouth of [REDACTED] street to catch would-be explorers. In a barn approximately three hours upstate, an abandoned car was found with traces of [REDACTED]’s DNA. Pieces of [REDACTED]’s body have been found intermittently on [REDACTED]  road, including most of the torso save for the [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] organs. Fellow message board posters attempting to follow [REDACTED]’s written directions have found their path terminating in a brick wall.

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