Bratty Tessa, By Candace L. Barr
Editor's note: Candace's story evokes the delightfully detailed tales of Hans Christian Andersen, when he writes about very bad children. And Tessa, the protagonist of this story, is a very bad girl, in a perfectly everyday sort of way. Another Krampus Contest Winner will be published tomorrow.
In a fairly typical house, in a fairly typical town, there lived a young girl named Tessa. She looked fairly typical and was a fairly typical bully. Her younger siblings lived in fear of her, conceding to her every whim lest they be punished. Her younger sister had already lost three dolls to the older girl's tantrums. The middle child, a boy, had a scar on his leg from a bad scrape he got when Tessa pushed him down.
The children in the rest of the neighborhood were similarly cowed. Tessa changed the rules of their games whenever she wished. She also broke those same rules with no consequence. Even some of the older children bent to her every wish and demand. They didn't have much choice; putting Tessa in her place would get them in trouble for picking on a poor little girl.
Her school life was fruitful due to others' labor. She cheated every chance she got and would often get classmates to do her homework for her. It wasn't that she needed it; if she had made the effort, she would have done very well on her own. For Tessa, effort was for those who hadn't found an easier way.
Tessa fell asleep on the eve of Saint Nicholas day warm and secure in her bed after a fairly typical day. She made fun of other children in school and even teased one girl to the point of tears then mocked her for being a crybaby. When asked why she would do such a thing, Tessa said, “Because I can,”which was her usual response. After school, she visited the candy store and walked out with all her money, plus several lollipops. She didn't pay if she could get away with just taking it. She had also talked back to her parents and had plans to cheat on her homework the next morning.
Learning the truth about Santa Claus had been freeing. Normally, for one month out of the year, Tessa would be on her best behavior. She once built the sweetest, kindest facade she could in hopes of tricking Jolly old Saint Nick into forgetting eleven months' worth of sins, but now she knew that no matter what she did, her parents would still have gifts waiting wrapped beneath the tree for her come Christmas morning. She even knew what some of them were since she had already rummaged through the closets and peeked.
No, she had nothing to fear, especially not from a creature she'd never even heard of. One who frightened children an ocean away.
She had stayed up past her bedtime that night despite her parents' insistence that she needed her sleep, and spent a good hour playing with the old toys she would soon push to the bottom of her toy box to make way for the new. When she finally got into bed, she was the right kind of tired to fall into a peaceful sleep.
That peace would not last very long, for a visitor was coming. Tessa slept through the sleigh landing on her roof and the footsteps down the hall. She slept through her door creaking open, and the blanket being lowered. What she couldn't sleep through was that first lash, which woke her up with a gasp. Her scream was muffled as she was taken out and up to the roof, where her punishment continued. Through tears she begged until the sobs took over, making her unable to speak. Her appeals to her parents went unheard as they passed the night deeply asleep. After what felt like an eternity, the little girl was stuffed into a basket on the sleigh, where she whimpered pitifully, barely aware of the others sharing her fate.
As the shock wore off and she was being flown through the night, she peeked out of the basket for the first time. From the back he looked hideous with his back covered in fur and his horns pointing back toward her. She spoke, her voice shaky and hoarse from crying. “H-hello?”
Her call went ignored. After a few moment she tried again, louder. “Ex-excuse me, but what are you?”
Her abductor answered without turning. Unfortunately she could not understand the words, his language foreign to her ears.
She tried again. “Could you p-please repeat that? I don't understand.”
A heavily accented reply came. “I am zee... helper to Saint Nicholas.”
In a return to her normal attitude, she scoffed. “You mean Santa Claus? There's no such thing! It's not even Christmas yet.”
“Not your Santa Claus! Of course he is not real! Saint Nicholas visits zee good little children tonight. Und I... zee bad.”
Tessa asked, “And what is your name?”
“I am called many things, but you may call me Krampus.” With that, the creature turned and revealed his face. A wide grin showed off his large, pointy teeth and a long tongue; his mouth looked perfect to devour children with. She could see how the horns grew from the top of his wildly furred head and curved back, reminding the girl of the Devil.
Tessa recoiled, then after a moment noticed other heads peeking out of the basket. Little eyes were wide with terror. Remembering the beating from earlier and fearing what would happen next, she swallowed a lump in her throat then asked, “Where are you taking us? ... Why?”
A short silence followed the question before the answer many ears were straining to hear was uttered. “Home vith me. Und because I can.” Krampus cackled, and the grating sound made all the children cover their ears and hunch themselves down in the basket.
The rest of the journey was relatively quiet as Krampus flew his sleigh to pick up the rest of his victims. None of the newer arrivals was brave enough to speak and spent most of the time sniffling and whimpering in the baskets, unaware of what was going on or why.
When they arrived at their destination, the children were led off the sleigh in a single file line, chained together and weeping. It would be hard to tell for sure, but Tessa may have wept the hardest.