December 31, 2012

The Clever, Wicked Girl, By Jazz Sexton

Editor's note: Jazz takes on the idea of the pretty fairy tale heroine in this story and both subverts and endorses it. She also keeps the classic story form, while putting the reader at odds with the narrator, making for a fun, light-hearted read.
This story is true, though you might not want it to be. There once lived a girl whose father had died in the war, and whose mother was confined to bed, and so the girl took it upon herself to earn money for her mother’s medicine and food for her six younger brothers by weaving baskets. It was of the entire town’s opinion that this child was pure and selfless, but you and I know better when it comes to children. The girl found a wealth of business in town, especially at the market where merchants displayed fruits and trinkets inside wicker baskets. Besides the normal wear and tear, many merchants found their baskets burned to ashes overnight or termites hiding within the fruit, after eating through the baskets. This misfortune they could only blame on the scoundrels from whom they bought at wholesale, a town troublemaker, or plain bad luck. Never once did they suspect the golden haired girl who never ran out of customers in the small village.

As Christmas neared, the girl counted her money daily.

“By Christmas I will have enough for a ham and fixings, a little present for each of my brothers, and the strongest medicine from the apothecary for mother.” She was so pleased with herself that she decided not to create any mischief for the merchants that day. Tomorrow was always another opportunity. She ran home where her six brothers played in the yard.

“Quickly,”she said, pointing to the ground. “Line up here, and tell me what you want Santa to bring you this year. I will write your wishes down, and send them to the North Pole.”

So excited were the boys that they climbed over each other to be first in line, for never had they received anything for Christmas except a switch across their rumps when they made noise in church. Deservedly so, I should think. The boys asked for a roof without leaks so they wouldn’t wake up shivering in the night, a yo-yo for the youngest so he could make friends and impress them, and thread and needle to patch the knees in their britches.

The girl wrote down her brothers’ wishes and set off for the market. She had never planned to send the letter to Santa. He never brought them anything. Besides, now that she had her own money, she had no use of Old St. Nick. The girl hummed on her way to town, thinking of how happy her family would be. She wished for nothing for herself. To her, the best gift would be to see her mother well, if you can believe it from an arsonist like her.
The girl felt clever, conducting business as she did. She felt just in all of it, never destroying the baskets of the merchants who saw the least business.

As she approached the tailor’s shop where she intended to purchase the needle and thread, an odd looking man stepped round the corner. He wore a black day suit, and his hands and face were covered in brown fur.

Knowing it impolite to stare, the girl averted her eyes and continued toward the shop.

“Pardon me,” said a dark voice like gravel. It came from the strange looking man.

The girl turned and smiled at him. She stiffened at the sight of red horns protruding from his forehead, and the red tongue lolling from his jaws.

“Might you be the young lady who makes those wicker baskets all the merchants use?”

“I am that girl, sir.”

“Wonderful. I require a commission from you. I’ll need a basket, but not just any kind. This basket must be large at the top, and taper at the bottom. It must be long enough for something large to fit into with a lid that latches from the outside, and cannot be opened from the inside. Why, I’d say it should be large enough for you to fit into. Name your price, child.”

The girl thought it over, and came to a number three times her normal cost.

“Very well,” the strange man said. “I shall retrieve the product on Christmas Eve. Hold out your hand. I’ll pay you in advance.”

He counted out the coins to her, and disappeared back round the corner he emerged from. Now, unfortunately for people like us who wish to see such dishonest brats receive their comeuppance, this girl was not stupid. She knew the man covered in fur was Krampus playing a trick on her. The girl got straight to work on the basket, anyway, never one to go back on a business deal. On Christmas Eve, as she placed her mother’s and brothers’ presents by the hearth, Krampus appeared at her side. He no longer wore his suit. Now she saw his entire body was covered in fur. He held chains in his hands.

“Ah, yes, just as I wanted,” he said of the basket. “Just to make sure it is the right size, would you please step inside?"

The girl did as he bid her, and Krampus slammed the lid over her.

“You’ve been naughty,” he whispered through the wicker slats. “Tonight you shall burn just as the baskets you set on fire.” Krampus placed rope through the slats, and hoisted it on his back. “My, you are heavy,” he said as he went through town, laughing to himself.

As Krampus passed through the market, a mob of townsfolk met him at the center. With them was the girl who made the wicker baskets. Tears spilled over her sickeningly pink cheeks.

“That’s him! That’s the man I saw burn the apple seller’s basket.”

Krampus could not see how this was possible. He felt the weight of the girl on his back.

“That’s ridiculous. I’ve come to collect this girl for Santa. She’s been naughty all year. She’s the one who destroyed your baskets and stock for her own gain."

Krampus stood confident before the crowd. The apple seller looked from his charred basket to the sweet girl.

“Check his basket,” said the girl. “He made me make it so he could fill it with matches.”

She sniffed, and let out a sob for greater effect, the wretch. The townsfolk ripped the lid from Krampus’ basket. Inside they found matches and cans of gasoline just as the girl said.

That clever, wicked girl had created a trap bottom. She had slipped out and placed the matches and cans, which she hid in her apron, while Krampus wasn’t looking. Krampus found himself being chased down by the townsfolk with his own chains. They swung the chains and called for his head on a stake as Krampus fled to Santa’s sleigh.

The girl headed home, content that she had placed the blame on someone else. She resolved not to burn anymore baskets as she knew when to quit when she was ahead. The girl’s brothers cheered over their presents, and the sight of their joy was enough to cure their mother’s melancholy. With all the money she received from Krampus, the girl had enough to move her family to a bigger town where business was always steady. So this Christmas remember: you can even outsmart the devil so long as you are clever, and others think you are pretty enough to trust.

Jazz Sexton is on the Naughty list this year, but she doesn't mind. She blogs about books and writing at

December 29, 2012

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.
Candace L. Barr is an avid reader, blogger, and lover of the dark and macabre. She has also been featured in Enchanted Conversation's Snow White issue. 

December 28, 2012

Song of Krampus, By Jennifer A. McGowan

Editor's note: Here's the first of the five Krampus winners, which will be spread over the next few days. Jennifer's work examines Krampus' zeal while making every word count. Also, as I am a bit ambivalent about Jolly St. Nicholas myself, this poem grabbed my attention.

All year I gather birch twigs,
gather them up into bundles, just so.
Tie them carefully.  Make sure
the heft is right for shins
and backsides.  At the end of November
I begin blackening:  rubbing coal dust and ash
into my already-dark hide until
I leave smoky footprints.

Oh, child, when you feel my stings
will you realise at last I’m the only one
to care about the naughty?
The chuckling saint only brings gifts
for those sweeter than spun sugar.
Too much sweetness attracts flies, like dung.

Let us dance.  You hide behind the chair.
I snarl and flash my sharpened teeth.
Around and around each piece of furniture
until you tire and my switches
tease your skin.  Your parents will hang
my golden bundle—my gift—for you
to look at year-long, while your spun-silk
sister’s doll will break in a week, maybe two.

Listen at the window for my chain-call.
Don’t reach for spun sugar.  It shatters.
Jennifer A. McGowan lives near Oxford, England, and has published widely on both sides of the Atlantic.  For more poetry, info about her first collection and anthologies, and for samples of her medieval calligraphy, visit

December 20, 2012

The Talking Cat, By Laura Beasley

Editor's note: Laura Beasley has managed to create a fairy tale that is uniquely her own, yet still manages to evoke all the elements of fairy tales we love: Talking animals, an orphaned child, royalty, character tests and a happy ending.

The girl had been raised by a cat. But not an ordinary Cat. The Cat was able to speak and walk on his hind legs. Cat wore proper boots and a cap with a feather plume as befit his status as a skilled hunter. The girl’s father had been killed soon after he’d met and impregnated her mother. Theirs had been a passionate teenage love affair and her mother had died in childbirth. Cat had found the baby girl and provided for her. He made sure she had goat milk or sheep milk or pig milk to drink. The baby slept cuddled amongst litters of kids or lambs or piglets to keep warm at night. The farmers were none the wiser because Cat removed the girl from the barns before sunrise. After she was weaned, he caught rats, mice and sparrows for her to eat which they roasted on sticks over a campfire. He told the little girl how to start a fire because although Cat was clever, he still lacked opposable thumbs. He had read extensively in the noblemen’s libraries and knew many things. He shared all he learned with he girl.

By the age of five, she knew more than any other child of her age. She could dance ballet and play the harp. She spoke French, Latin and Arabic. She was skilled in spinning, weaving, knitting, quilting, crochet, needlepoint and cross-stitch. And yet, you can learn only so much from books and even the best teacher. She wanted to ride, jump horses and shoot arrows. Disguised as a boy, she became a page and learned chivalry from the knights as she helped them at the tournaments. Every night, she returned to Cat where she would build a fire at their campsite. He would tell her stories until she fell asleep at night. As the years passed, Cat’s face grew grizzled and his breathing became labored. He needed to walk with a cane. Cat told her that he could not care for her much longer.

Fire Fancies, by Arthur Hacker
Meanwhile, stories had spread about this exceptional young person. Every one in the village was impressed that someone so young could be so smart and so skilled. The king and queen invited her to high tea on her twelfth birthday. They were incredulous to learn that she had been orphaned by peasants and raised by a cat.

 “Cats are disgusting filthy creatures,” said the queen.

“Cats are incapable of speech,” said the king.

Cat had been sunning himself in the garden and he overheard everything the monarchs said. He retrieved his boots and cap which had been hidden in the bushes and dressed before entering the castle.

"I had thought that you might be adequate parents for my daughter but your prejudice troubles me. You will need to prove yourselves by successfully completing three challenges,” said Cat.

The queen who had been unable to have a baby had fallen in love with the adorable child.

“We will do anything you ask of us, Cat,” said the queen.

After the girl left with Cat, the king and the queen wondered what the challenges would be. The queen consulted with her household staff. In order to feed the girl, she had her Royal Cook plan a year’s worth of suitable menus. In case the cat wanted to ensure the girl was comfortably housed, the queen ordered the Royal Decorator prepare an entire suite of rooms painted in pinks and lavenders. The queen hired tutors and teachers and ordered more books for the Royal Library. The castle was filled with flowers and all sorts of girlie decorations in anticipation of the arrival of their new daughter.

The king prepared as well. He knew that the girl was interested in horses and archery and typical masculine pursuits. She was a well-rounded girl who might have been called a tomboy. He bought a dozen new horses so that she might choose the one she liked best. He hired coaches and trainers for archery and fencing as well as riding instructors. The king and queen thought they were prepared for anything that Cat could ask of them. They had more than enough money to be the perfect parents.

Everyone knows that money attracts the poor. A poor woman came asking for alms. It was the practice in the castle to give each beggar a few hay-pennies, a bit of broth in their bowl and a hunk of bread. Because this beggar seemed unusual, the guard informed the king. When the king went to the gate, he noticed the green eyes of the woman and the odd way that she stared too long which reminded him of Cat. He welcomed the woman into the throne room and sent a message to his wife to join them. The queen agreed that this situation represented a challenge from Cat. The queen invited the woman to stay with them in the castle and be provided a hot meal and clean clothes. The queen served the woman breakfast in bed day with her own silver tea service the next day.

After a few days, the beggar woman’s healthy had improved. So much that she made unreasonable demands of the servants. The queen liked to cater and take care of the beggar woman, however the king had changed his mind.

“It was fine in the beginning, when she was dirty and hungry and needy. Now she is healthy and strong. It’s time for our guest return to the world. She can find her own way,” said the king.

They gave the beggar woman a basket of cheese and bread. The queen hugged her goodbye and told her that she could visit again another time.

Cat returned to the castle the next day. They sat together at tea which Cat poured and served to the two monarchs. The queen took two sugars and cream in her tea as always. The king had nothing added to his tea.

“You have successfully completed the first two challenges,” said Cat. “You have shown that you can be nurturing and attentive when it is necessary. You have proven that you can be respectful and place limits when you need to.”

“I knew that we could meet your demands,” said the king.

“What is the third challenge and when will we be able to adopt our daughter?” said the queen.

“Never,” Cat said and left abruptly.

The queen cried for forty days and forty nights and seemed inconsolable. The king could not understand. Since they had been married at sixteen, he had never seen her act this way. She had been a determined woman yet the loss of this child had destroyed her spirit. The king woke up each day determined to find new ways to comfort and love his bride. Despite his frustration, he continued to dry her tears and listen to her moans.

He told her, “Even if you cry every day for the rest of our lives, I will be here to try to help you. You have given me so much happiness, I owe you my life. I don’t understand why you are not getting better, but I am willing to be here with you forever.”

The room filled with green smoke and they heard laughter. They turned to see Cat and girl standing in front of them. Cat looked old but happy.

Cat spoke, “You have completed the final challenge and proven that you can be successful parents. You truly love each other. I poisoned your wife with crying cream in her tea. She was forced to cry for the forty days and nights in order to test your love. No one should parent in the absence of a strong marriage. My ninth life is ebbing and this child needs the best parents possible and I know that you will love her almost as much as you love each other.”

The girl became a princess who lived happily ever after.

Laura Beasley, the Mother who Tells Stories, has lost 190 pounds and lives beyond cancer. After raising their three children in California, she and her husband live with their whippet in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

December 16, 2012

How Beautiful She Is, By Mary Meriam

The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt
She climbs the flights of palace stairs
Her gold and silver gown a charm
Whispering gone all troubles and cares
Worries and woes that cause alarm.

Tickled by rushing mountain streams
The gentle mountains kiss the sky
The sky alive with clouds and dreams
Sinking to dusk with one last sigh.

The fiddle sings, the heartbeat drums
While through the swirling, twirling court
The kindly prince of kingdom comes
As if a sailing ship to port. 

Two turtledoves flush from a tree
As prince and maiden hand in hand
Begin to dance, this dance to be
A realm of peace, a fruitful land.

Mary Meriam's poems are published in Literary Imagination, The New York Times, American Arts Quarterly, Poetry Northeast, American Life in Poetry, many other journals, and several anthologies. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, The Countess of Flatbroke and The Poet's Zodiac; a blogger at Ms. Magazine; and the editor of Lavender Review.
Editor's note: Mary Meriam's small poem is alive with imagery. It's a great example of how just a few words can have a lot of impact, which is why it was one of the November 2012 contest winners.