Monsters and devils went skulking through the streets of Graz—and crowds had gathered to cheer them on and scream at their wild antics.
It was the night of the Krampuslauf, or the “Krampus Run,” a longstanding tradition in many Germanic cities come wintertime, and a practice that was steadily sweeping into others across the world. In this macabre extravaganza whose roots stretched to decades passed, revelers dressed as Krampus—a proverbial evil Santa figure of folklore—and indulged in the morbid fascination and sensationalism that the figure had garnered through the years. While celebrants sported an array of costumes and masks ranging from the whimsical to the terrifyingly grotesque, each evoked Krampus’ classic half-man, half-goat representation, leaping and prancing about like imps before the people lining the street-ways.
Alfie Wood stood among the onlookers, a smile on his face, a bottle of schnapps in hand, and another bottle’s worth already in his stomach. He’d cheered and jeered in kind as the event played out, his tourist showing—not that he cared in the least. It was the perfect way to wrap up his holiday before returning to another year at Brighton; he’d stayed behind in the city for a full day longer than he’d intended, all just to witness the parade. He knew he couldn’t pass it up.
“Have a butchers at that!” he called out with a laugh, pointing his bottle to a hefty performer with a rather crudely-made Krampus mask. “That’s an ugly one right there!”
Another celebrant came bounding by then, a bundle of birch sticks in their hand, whipping it fiercely at the bystanders. The person wore a shaggy bodysuit of black hair and a matching mask, horns of white curling about its leering visage.
“Oy, there! Watch it now, watch it!” Alfie hollered his Cockney tones at the performer, who was now singling him out for a whipping.
He stumbled back from the swishing sticks, knocking aside others as he went and nearly tripping over his own feet as he broke free of the crowd. He gave the costumed man and the bystanders a sneer before moving along down the street, taking another swig of his schnapps and looking for somewhere else to stand and watch the festivities.
As he looked about, a darkened alley to his side caught his attention; but it was the figure that stood within its dimness that held it. A great big person dressed in quite the Krampus get-up stood there, watching the parade with a grim look on its gray, white-bearded mask. The person’s contacts glimmered with a tint of red, enhancing the mask’s severe, rather judgmental look. The person’s bulky frame (easily seven feet tall and some change) was covered by a red cloak as big as a tarp, a hood raised over his head from which two black, elongated horns tore up and out of. The cloak’s folds covered the person’s torso and legs entirely, their ends stretching down to the street and swaying about his concealed feet.
“Oy! Why ain’t you out there cel– celebratin’, you big bastard?” Alfie said, stepping up to the performer and admiring the successful costume.
The performer simply looked at him, groaned, and turned around, striding off down the bare alley.
“Are you taking the piss?” Alfie said angrily, not taking well to being ignored. He followed after the man, the alcohol bringing fight to his veins.
“I’m talking to you, you cunt!” Alfie shouted when they were halfway down the way, the cheers from the parade rising up behind him.
The tall man continued on, saying nothing.
That’s when Alfie pitched his bottle forward, sending a splash of schnapps across the back of the performer’s cloak. Finally, the tall man stopped.
“Right!” Alfie said with pride. “Now, then . . .”
The performer spun about, sending the folds of his cloak flying and revealing hairy legs and cloven hooves for feet; his enormous arms and clawed hands went reaching for Alfie. The hands clasped his face and his neck, and as Alfie yelled into the giant’s palm, the performer ripped his head clear off with one superhuman show of strength.
Alfie’s body fell to the concrete, its legs twitching.
With a satisfied huff, Krampus—the one true Krampus—dropped the head down beside the corpse, the bits of spine hanging from the bloody, rent neck cracking as it landed.
Then, Krampus went on his way, pleased enough that the mortals still knew his name, and that such deeds as he’d just performed gave them ample reason to know it—and better yet, to fear it.