Krampus Tales 3: Blue Lungs by Charlotte Huggins; The Bad Brother by Rob Burton

We are delighted to support the brilliant Brisbane based Tiny Owl Workshop for a second time, in their innovative Krampus Crackers competition to find 12 flash fiction stories inspired by the mythical Christmas demon Krampus – a half-goat, half-demon, mythical beast, terrifying ‘wicked’ children into being ‘nice’ for Christmas- accompanied by some fabulous artwork by Simon Cottee,Kathleen Jennings, Terry Whidborne, Kirsty Greenwood and Gustavo Ortega. Today we are publishing Blue Lungs by Charlotte Huggins and The Bad Brother by Rob Burton.

Blue Lungs by Charlotte Huggins 

 

Krampus by Kirsty Greenwood © 2014

Krampus by Kirsty Greenwood © 2014

I killed my brother on Christmas Eve. He was a child model for Christmas cards.

An agency plucked him from peasantry when he could barely talk. He had just the right Artful Dodger smile and rosy cheeks. I didn’t like how my classmates always bought his cards. I didn’t like the way his bloated stocking strained the hook, the way it made mine seem deflated and sad.

So, when we were out playing, I killed him.

It happened like this. He ran onto the lake with his new coat over his head, flapping like Superman’s cape. I stood and watched with my hands in fists. My brother spun and danced, his red coat twirling around him. He was an Oberon of winter, in light-up trainers.

I heard the crack and didn’t call out.

The lake opened its frozen jaws and swallowed him whole. His small hands stippled the lake’s belly with desperate dark handprints, and then faded. I didn’t move.

I walked home. I hung up my coat on the hook, and took off my boots. Dad asked where my brother was. I shrugged.

My father made a phone-call, and the town came alive for him. Christmas was baptised in blue lights and the bugle of sirens. The stars overhead drew nobody to the lake.

Christmas morning. Neighbours dragged my brother’s blue body from the water.

Christmas night. Dad drowned his red suit and white beard, but they floated on the lake, an outline of Santa in a young boy’s grave.

 

My secret jumped at my throat, scratching at the back of my teeth, my gums and my tongue. I swallowed. It hooked its awful weight onto my bones, crushing my ribs and stretching my spine. Secrets can do strange things to you.

My secret did strange things to Dad, too. Every Christmas, he grew longer and narrower. Wolf’s fur grew thick and dark on his face, his soft hair turned to pine needles, and his fingernails yellow thorns. He didn’t look at me, but that was okay. We were comfortable with one another only in distance and silence, even before.

 

It was my last Christmas before university. I would move, my hands would be clean, and my secret would go to the grave. Ascending the stairs, I said goodnight. My father looked at me.

The mad rolling eyes of a goat swallowed me up, secret and all.

I ran. I locked my bedroom door. I curled in bed and closed my eyes, and listened for sleigh bells and reindeer hooves and forgiveness. My secret beat in my hands, like a mouse’s heart.

I heard hooves.

I heard the rattle of chains.

The world creaked like straining ice.

My lungs swelled full, and my voice was squeezed to a gasp. My eyes opened.

A long narrow shadow from under the door.

Handprints on the ceiling.

A key turned in the lock.

Biography: Charlotte Huggins is a psychology graduate with too much spare time lately. She’s 21, but has embraced drinking wine and complaining like an old woman.

 

The Bad Brother by Rob Burton

 

Krampus by Terry Whidborne © 2014

Krampus by Terry Whidborne © 2014

Night’s chilly mist distanced the gaudy lights and costumed figures. The boy recognised Santa and Jack Frost, the others were strangers. The bad brother kicked his legs, feeling the bench’s damp seep into his jeans. The group embraced and split. A demonic character, all horns and hair, shambled towards him, carrying a bundle of sticks. Appearances couldn’t frighten the bad brother, but he was cautious of the man within.

The demon’s hooves clacked in the damp air, almost passing the bad brother before the head turned.

“Hey,” said the demon.

The bad brother didn’t reply.

“Lost?”

The bad brother shook his head.

The demon sat beside him with a tired groan, placing the bundle of sticks on his lap. The bad brother slid a few inches away.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” the demon stated, needlessly.

The bad brother studied the demon’s hairy arm, his clawed hands. He considered running, but this was his bench; the demon could leave. But the demon didn’t leave; he just let the quiet in.

Then, without knowing exactly why, the bad brother said, “I’m the bad brother.”

 

The demon nodded.

“I get into trouble. A lot.”

“Your brother doesn’t?”

The bad brother shook his head.

“He does as he’s told?”

The bad brother nodded.

“What happened tonight?”

“I took mum’s bottle away and smashed it.”

The demon self-consciously covered a schnapps-stinking sigh, stretched out his goat-legs and placed his hands behind his horned head.

 

“I have brothers,” said the demon. “So many. Each picks some authority or set of rules and thinks if they obey, that makes them good.  And yet the things they do don’t seem that way to me. Good to some is sometimes bad for others. Acting from certainty hurts more people than anything else. Luckily, there are people like you.”

The bad brother sniffed dismissively.

“It’s a lot to take on, though, yes? Certainty’s easy. Actually thinking about consequences, admitting mistakes, learning, questioning your own assumptions? That’s a hard, unhappy slog.  Just…”

 

The demon glanced down at the bad brother.

“Sometimes when people say you’re bad, they’re wrong. The best we can do is just try and be better. But sometimes we forget that because… well, we get locked into habits.”

The bad brother squinted up at the demon.

“A person can get too close to what they’re doing, unable to see what it really is.”

The demon slumped forward. They sat quietly for a while.

“Here.” The demon passed him the bundle of birch. “I really don’t want this.”

“Thanks?”

The monster rose and walked into the night, tail swishing.

The bad brother sat a while longer, then snapped the tip from a twig and slid it into his shoe where he could feel it press against his skin.

Biography: Rob Burton isn’t the Robert Burton who wrote The Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621. He only once stole Christmas, but people won’t let it go.


You can read the first four Krampus Tales here.

You can find out more about Krampus and the Krampus Cracker project here.

 

Terry Whidborne © 2014

Terry Whidborne © 2014

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend Festival. Fiona is the Festival's Coordinator, helping to bring the whole festival together.

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