The eve of St Nicholas day had arrived and the family were busy baking, cleaning and preparing for the celebrations ahead. The carpenter was busy in the workshop finishing last minute orders for customers and everyone was involved in the festive preparations. Everyone that is apart from Max. There was only a few hours of sunlight left and Max had been particularly naughty the previous day and his photograph was still inside the Krampus Box on the fireplace. In the festive hustle and bustle nobody had remembered to remove Max's photograph from the box, in fact nobody had even acknowledged Max was there. In an opportunistic moment Max took it upon himself to remove his own photograph from the box. In the Christmas chaos and calamity nobody saw Max take the box, nor did they see him remove his own photograph and more to the matter, nobody saw him replace the photograph with one of his baby brother, Lukas. Max knew that the Krampus did not exist, that's what he kept telling himself, but a constant nagging in his curious mind kept wondering “what if?”. True or not, either way he was not prepared to be the one with his photograph in the box on Krampusnacht. So he did what any devious wretch would do, he swapped his photograph for one of Lukas, the darling little brother who had stolen his mothers heart. Max closed the box with an evil glint in his eye and placed it back on the mantle. The sun set, the box locked and Max went to bed.
By the time his father had returned from the workshop it had long been dark and everyone including Max was safely tucked up in bed fast asleep. He remembered that Max had been naughty the day before so he went to remove the photograph from the Krampus Box. To his surprise, just as the tale foretold, the box would not open. It was firmly locked and no amount of prising and shaking would make it open. Just as he had told Max, the box could only be opened in daylight and the sun had set hours ago. Could the old wives tale be true? What if the Krampus really was coming for Max? Regardless of how naughty Max was, he loved his son and didn't want to risk the possible consequences. He hurriedly gathered the box, wrapped it in a cloth and hid it in his workshop under a pile of wood, well away from the house and Max.
The night passed peacefully and the morning St Nicholas Day sun streamed through the windows of the cottage. The carpenter and his wife sat by the fire and waited for the impending tide of excited children to come crashing down the stairs. One by one the children poured into the room, all of them that is apart from Max and Lukas. In a blind panic the carpenter raced upstairs to find Lukas' bed empty. He tore back the sheets to find nothing but the still warm imprint of his son covered in black sooty hand prints. He then raced into Max's room who was still fast asleep and shook him awake hysterically shouting Lukas' name over and over. Suspecting Max's resentment of Lukas he know that he must have something to do with his disappearance.
“Where is Lukas? Have you seen Lukas? What have you done with Lukas?”
Max stared at his father, his eyes still blurred with sleep. Lukas? What could possibly have hap... And then it struck him. The box, Max had put his photograph in the box. Max started back at his father in fear and disbelief; he could only mutter two words.
“The b-b-b-box, the b-b-b-box...”
The carpenter threw Max back into the bed and raced to the workshop to retrieve the hidden box. The worst of his fears were true and a feeling of dread began well in the pit of his stomach. The box was not there. He searched everywhere but the box had vanished. In a delirious dash of panic he charged back home as fast as his legs could carry him so raise the alarm. Yet, as he burst through the door, there it was, the box was back on the shelf above the fireplace where it had been the previous night when he had returned from the workshop. He grabbed the box and as the rays of sunlight shone though the window it opened with ease and the carpenter was faced with a disturbing discovery. The photograph of Max was no longer in the box. It had been replaced with a photograph of Lukas but where Lukas should have been was a scorched hole. With a shaking hand he removed the blackened photograph from the box and underneath he saw something that made his blood run cold. On the postcard of the Krampus, instead of eight children there was a ninth child sat on the broomstick. The carpenter squinted and looked closer and as he wiped the tears from his eyes he could see that the ninth child was his beloved Lukas.
Lukas was never seen again. In the search for the young boy the villagers found nothing but his favourite teddy bear and a track of large hoof prints that led deeper into the dark forest. The tracks stopped suddenly, as if the creature that made them had just vanished or flew away.
Max's bad behaviour came to a grinding halt. The carpenter kept him locked in his room most of the time and his photograph was placed back in the Krampus Box. Max's devilish trick was so bad that the box could never be opened again, even in the sunlight of the brightest summer day. No matter how well he behaved the box remained clamped shut and it stayed that way for a whole year.
The following Krampusnacht the creature returned. With a black clawed hand it opened the box with ease and took out the photograph of Max. The image of smiling boy began to fade and burn and Max was never seen again.
So next Christmas, as you lie in bed eagerly listening for the soft jingle of sleigh bells also listen for the bark of dogs and the rattle of chains. The Krampus is coming to town so make sure you're good or you might just be spending Christmas with Max.
For those wishing to discover more about the roots and rebirth of this folkloric devil than I can thoroughly recommend 'The Krampus and the Old Dark Christmas' by Al Ridenour available through Feral House.