This month’s free short story is another tale of the Royal Occultist; one of the first ever written, in fact. I wrote it back in the dim, ancient days of 2010, and gave it away as a free Christmas story. Since then, it’s been reprinted several times in various anthologies, including Horror for the Holidays, from Miskatonic River Press. I hope you enjoy the story – and if you do, be sure to drop a buck in my Ko-Fi link at the bottom of the page.
Now, without further ado, on to our feature presentation…“Krampusnacht“.
It was 1920, Christmas was in the air, and Oswald Rawdon was terrified. He huddled in the large wingback chair, a cup of tea clutched in his trembling fingers. The last of the Rawdons nervously slopped brandy-laced tea onto the knees of his trousers as he started suddenly at the sound of wood crackling in the fire.
“Nervous are we, Ozzy?” Rawdon’s host said. “Try not to ruin the carpets, please.”
“I’m sorry Charles,” Rawdon said, swallowing a mouthful of tea. “It’s just, I hear it everywhere.”
Charles St. Cyprian nodded in sympathy, and took a sip from his own cup. “Perfectly understandable, old boy, considering the kind of life you’ve led.”
Rawdon froze, and his eyes narrowed as he looked at the dark-haired man opposite him. The two men were a study in contrasts for all that they were of an age. Where Rawdon was a thin stretch of Teutonic paleness, St. Cyprian was dark and sharp-featured, with a Mediterranean exoticism to his features. Both men were dressed well, though Rawdon’s suit showed distinct signs of hard living.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rawdon said. “The kind of life I’ve led?”
“Don’t be dense, Ozzy.” St. Cyprian put his cup aside and pressed his fingers together. “You’re a bit of a bastard, is all.”
“How dare you!” Rawdon shot to his feet, the cup falling to the floor. Tea immediately soaked into the Turkish carpet, and St. Cyprian groaned.
“Now look what you’ve done,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Do sit down Ozzie. Your reputation as a complete and utter pillock is well deserved and you know it.”
“Fine,” Rawdon said, flopping back down in his seat. “Fine! But you don’t have to say it with such relish.”
“Hardly relish, chum.” St. Cyprian sighed. “Granted, you’re no Crowley, but you do tend towards the troublesome.”
“If I’m so much trouble, then why did you even agree to see me?” Rawdon spat. Outside, the sound of church bells gave voice to the late hour.
“He’s got a heart made of nutmeg and cinnamon,” a new voice interjected. Both men turned as the speaker, a young woman, walked into the sitting room, dropping an armful of wooden boards and a hammer onto the floor as she did so. “Me? I’d have left you to the tender mercies of the-”
“Don’t say it!” Rawdon barked, clapping his hands to his ears.
“Tea, Miss Gallowglass?” St. Cyprian said, gesturing to the teapot and the extra cup and saucer sitting on a low table nearby.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Ebe Gallowglass said. Dressed in a frayed Guernsey and a man’s trousers, she looked less than ladylike. A swath of freckles spattered across her sharp features, and her grin was almost feral.
Filling a cup, she knocked it back a moment later. “I’ve got the windows braced with birch boards and the upstairs chimneys blocked with sprigs of mistletoe, holly wreaths and holyrood. Oh, and the carollers have finally wassailed off.”
“Excellent,” St. Cyprian said. “See? You can uncoil now, Ozzy. We’re safe as houses.”
Rawdon lowered his hands. “Do you really think you can keep it out?” He looked nervously at the fireplace that dominated one wall of the sitting room, blazing merrily away. It was the only light in the sitting room save for the odd candle or three resting in the branches of the Christmas tree that occupied one corner of the room.
“Keep it out? No.” St. Cyprian stood. “Direct its method of ingress, however?” He went to the fireplace and used the poker to shift the cherry-red logs, the three steel rings on the fingers of his left hand clinking against the metal of the poker. “Certainly,” he continued, with all the assurance one expected of the Royal Occultist.
Formed during the reign of Elizabeth the First, the office of Royal Occultist (or the Queen’s Conjurer, as it had been known) had passed through a succession of hands, starting with those of diligent amateur Dr. John Dee. The list was a long one, weaving in and out of the margins of British history, and culminating, for the moment, in one Charles St. Cyprian.
His position was an open secret, and the rather cluttered house on the Embankment that served as the hereditary abode of the office was equally open to any who might need a consultation. It had been that way since the tenure of Sir Edwin Drood in the earliest days of the late Victoria’s reign, and St. Cyprian saw no reason to disrupt tradition, no matter how much he might occasionally wish otherwise.
Thus, Rawdon’s breathless appearance on his stoop this Christmas Eve was not surprising so much in and of itself, though the fact that it was Rawdon who was doing the calling had thrown St. Cyprian for a turn. He hadn’t seen Ozzy Rawdon since the end of the War, though he’d kept abreast of his activities via the usual outlets of society gossip.
Rawdon was a rum one, no two ways about it. He was a gambler, a professional lout and a war hero. St. Cyprian stabbed the fire again. A cascade of sparks swirled upwards. Still holding the poker, he turned. “Ebe, be a dear and get me the container on the third shelf of the second bookcase there.”
“The one with a cat’s head or the one shaped like a jolly fat man?” she said, sipping on her second cup of tea.
“The one shaped like a fish.”
“That’s supposed to be a fish?” Gallowglass said, peering at the shelf in question.
“Get it, please.” St. Cyprian turned back to Rawdon. “Now, Ozzy, I’d like you to spill those guts of yours in the figurative sense, while we scheme to prevent the literal.”
“There’s not much to say,” Rawdon said, licking his lips.
“That’s a lie,” Gallowglass said, handing St. Cyprian the container. “And I still say that this looks like a cat.”
“Possibly a cat-fish, then?” St. Cyprian murmured. “And Ozzy isn’t lying, are you Ozzy? Ozzy never lies. Ozzy just bends the truth into new and more advantageous shapes.” St. Cyprian opened the container and took out a pinch of powder. Flinging it onto the fire, he looked at Rawdon. “I want the unbent truth, Ozzy.”
“Fine way to treat a man who saved your life!” Rawdon said.
“Ozzy, it’s because you saved my life that I didn’t turn you away the minute a certain word tripped from those bud-like lips of yours.” St. Cyprian frowned. “In itself, that tells me everything I need to know, really.”
“You don’t know anything,” Rawdon protested.
“I know you, Ozzy. And I know what’s after you. What I don’t know is why it’s chosen now to bring you to bay.” St. Cyprian stabbed the poker into the fireplace again. Then he pulled it loose and examined the smouldering tip. “Now, I say again, why exactly is the Krampus after you, Oswald?”
The fire gave a pop, and Rawdon jumped in his chair. He visibly fought to control himself. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? I’ve been bad.” Rawdon stared down at his hands. “That’s why. I’ve always been bad, and it’s always been after me and now, now, it’s finally caught me. It was my gran who first put it on my trail, I’m sure of it, Bavarian biddy that she was. Did you know she was a Kraut, Charles?” Rawdon shook his head. “Hardly matters now. Besides, go back far enough, and most of the great families of fair Albion are either Frogs or Krauts.”
“Or Punic, in my case,” St. Cyprian murmured.
“Nothing. Go on.”
Rawdon grimaced. “Jokes on the block, Charles?”
“Not our necks getting the chop, now are they?” Gallowglass said. As Rawdon shot a glare at her, she held up the teapot. “More tea, Mr. Rawdon?”
Rawdon looked at his cup on the floor, and then shook his head. “Gran always told me that the Kra-the gentleman in question-would get me if I didn’t mend my ways.”
“Krampus. You can say it, Ozzy. He already knows where you are, after all.” St. Cyprian stirred the fire again. “The word originates from the Old High German word for ‘claw’, which is appropriate given the demeanour and personality of the fellow.” He looked at Gallowglass. “Anything to add, apprentice-mine?”
“Oberstdorf,” Gallowglass said, tapping her chin. An ability to store and recall seemingly trivial facts was just one of the many talents which she had discovered as she assisted St. Cyprian in his investigations into obscure matters. “They’re supposed to have a similar sort of chap. Except that he doesn’t work for Father Christmas, I don’t think.”
“Neither does this thing,” Rawdon said harshly.
“Is that experience speaking?” St. Cyprian said.
“It’s been after me since I was eight, Charles. I’ve read up on the subject quite a bit.”
“You mean, when you weren’t trying to forget about it with opium, heroin or alcohol.” St. Cyprian raised a hand. “No judgements intended, Ozzy.”
Rawdon made a face. “I’m sorry that I’m not as brave as you, Charles. Not every man can face his demons head on,” he spat.
“Got you there,” Gallowglass said.
“Shouldn’t you be making us some more tea?” St. Cyprian said. “Like a good apprentice?”
“Whoever said I was a good apprentice?”
“You’ll be an unemployed apprentice if you don’t pipe down,” St. Cyprian said, glaring at her. Gallowglass stuck out her tongue and hefted the teapot.
“There’s still a dreg or so in here, milord,” she said. “If you’re thirsty.”
“Stop talking about tea!” Rawdon snapped. “I don’t want to die, Charles!”
“Few of us do, Ozzy.” St. Cyprian handed the fish-headed container to Gallowglass. “Make yourself useful and put this back.” He looked at Rawdon. “You said your grandmother put it on your trail?”
“She’s the one who first mentioned it to me, at any rate.” Rawdon shrugged. “Put the thought in my head. I stole a cookie from the kitchen, and she said the K-Krampus would punish me.” He had to force the word out. His hands clenched and unclenched repeatedly. “That I would know he was coming by the clattering of his bells and the scratching of his-ah-his claws.”
“And?” St. Cyprian said.
“And? And what? And I heard it!” Rawdon said squeezing his eyes shut. He ground the heels of his palms into his sockets, as if trying to wipe the images from his mind. “I heard it. Just a whisper of sound. It might have been anything. Bells on a carriage. Leaves on the roof.”
As if to emphasize Rawdon’s statement, from somewhere upstairs there came the sound of shutters being rattled violently. He started, looking around wildly.
“What was that?”
St. Cyprian glanced at Gallowglass. “We’re edging towards midnight. Get the pentacle.”
“That old electric thing of Carnacki’s?” Gallowglass said. “Think it’ll be any use?”
“I wouldn’t ask otherwise,” St. Cyprian said. “Go on, Ozzy.”
“The scullery maid.” Rawdon ran his hands through his hair. “I was fourteen. And she was quite pretty.” He looked at them. “It wasn’t my fault she got pregnant!”
“Immaculate conceptions occur where you least expect them, I’m given to understand,” St. Cyprian said. “You heard it again?”
“Gran was dead by then and good riddance. But I heard it all the same. Louder.” He shook his head. “Father put her out, of course. Scandal, you know.”
“Yes. I know.” St. Cyprian’s face was like stone as he turned to the fireplace and jammed the poker into the wood again. Soot tumbled down from within the chimney, and St. Cyprian’s eyes narrowed.
If Rawdon had noticed St. Cyprian’s tone, he gave no sign. “Do you remember that Felstead fellow? The Christmas Truce?”
“Vaguely. I was elsewhere at the time.” St. Cyprian said, recalling the whirlwind months following the death of his predecessor Carnacki at Ypres. He could still see Carnacki’s bloody fingers shoving the trio of rings that now decorated his hand through the mud of the trench towards him. He looked down at them, twisting his wrist so that the nearly invisible characters engraved on the rings caught the firelight. “You heard it then? During the truce?” he said.
“First Christmas I didn’t,” Rawdon said. “The first Christmas I was free of those damn bells.” His smile was crooked. “I didn’t hear it much, during the War.”
“But when you came back?”
“Old habits,” Rawdon said, making a loose gesture. “A man can’t be blamed. Especially one who went through what we went through.”
“The bells again, I trust?” St. Cyprian said.
“And the claws. Scratching over the windows and in the chimneys.” Rawdon paused, head cocked. “I say, do you hear that?”
“Yes. Go on.”
“It’s been seen to, Ozzy. Go on.” St. Cyprian tossed another log onto the fire.
“Drinking, gambling. The usual.” Rawdon wrapped his hands together and squeezed the air from between them. “Harmless fun.”
“Vice and sin,” St. Cyprian said. “Gossip as well, if I recall. How much did Lord Pettigrew pay you to keep silent on his son’s doings?”
“Enough,” Rawdon muttered. “A man has to earn a wage.”
“Most men do it honestly.”
“You’re one to talk Charles!” Rawdon said, pushing himself up out of his chair. “You’ve never met a lie you didn’t embellish!”
“All in the name of necessity,” St. Cyprian said, after a moment, clinking his rings together gently. It sounded hollow, even to him.
Rawdon grinned mirthlessly. “Necessity depends on perspective.”
“So it was your perspective that the younger Mr. Pettigrew was a threat?” St. Cyprian said. Rawdon jerked, and St. Cyprian nodded. “I have contacts at the Yard, you know Ozzy.”
“He intended to kill me! He said his father had disowned him!” Rawdon protested.
“So you killed him first?”
“No!” Rawdon shook his head. “I mean, I-it was self-defence!”
“Perhaps the Krampus doesn’t see it that way,” St, Cyprian said. “You know, you could have solved all of your problems by simply changing your ways, Ozzy.” St. Cyprian felt a momentary surge of pleasure at Rawdon’s visible flinch. “Given up the dirty deeds and damnable deals and done something with your life.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Easy enough to do,” Gallowglass said, returning, a heavy electrical apparatus in tow. St. Cyprian winced as she drug it across the floor, leaving scratches in the wood. “If you’ve got the minerals.”
“Stones. Rocks. Testicular fortitude,” Gallowglass said. “One electric pentacle, as requested Cap’n.” She tossed off a lazy salute to St. Cyprian.
“At ease,” St. Cyprian said. “My predecessor created this device for situations such as this, when contact with an untoward manifestation could result in death. Or worse.”
“Manifestation?” Rawdon said.
“Monster. Spectre. Long-legged beastie,” Gallowglass said. St. Cyprian frowned and shot a glare her way. She shrugged in response.
“A manifestation of hostile intent,” St. Cyprian said as he sank to his haunches and began to arrange the diverse apparatus of the device, which was composed of a central generator and five vacuum tubes. He swiftly stripped a section of the rug away from the floorboards, revealing a dark pentacle scored into the wood.
St. Cyprian set the generator in the center of the pentacle, and arranged the vacuum tubes at the corresponding points of intersecting triangles. “If you-come here Ozzy-if you stay within the pentacle, you should be safe.”
“Should be?” Rawdon said.
“It’s not an exact science, I’m afraid.”
“It’s not a science at all,” Gallowglass said, snapping open the cylinder on a Webley-Fosbery revolver and spinning it experimentally. She loaded the pistol with brisk efficiency, and then flicked her wrist, popping the cylinder back into place.
“A good apprentice keeps her comments to herself,” St. Cyprian said, situating Rawdon beside the generator. “Don’t move, no matter what happens.”
“I was just pointing out the flaws in your reasoning, Mr. St. Cyprian.” Gallowglass rubbed her cheek with the pistol barrel.
“Duly noted, Miss Gallowglass.”
Something banged loudly across the roof. Rawdon started, his eyes widening. “It’s here!”
“It’s been here for some time, Ozzy, scampering across my roof and testing the runes on the windows.” St. Cyprian flipped a switch on the generator and the vacuum tubes began to hum and spark. “Stay within the pentacle.”
“Soot,” Gallowglass said, simply.
St. Cyprian turned, loosening his tie and shrugging out of his coat. Soot tumbled down the chimney, and he could hear metal scraping against the brick. He strode swiftly to the fireplace and reached up, taking down the short-bladed sword mounted there.
Roughly two feet in length, and wide, the sword was a xiphos-a weapon that had been in St. Cyprian’s family for centuries, and had purportedly been carried by an ancestor in the Peloponnesian Wars. Unsheathing it, St. Cyprian swung it experimentally. It cut the air with a near-silent hiss and he nodded.
“Rag,” he said.
Gallowglass plucked a rag out of her back pocket and tossed it to him. The fabric was smeared with the juice of the holly bush. St. Cyprian rubbed the blade with it until the former was glistening. He sighted down its length.
The fire coughed and sputtered as chunks of brick and more soot fell into it. He stepped back, rolling up his sleeves. “I trust you took the proper precautions?” he said, glancing at Gallowglass.
“The bullets were prepared according to Alpine tradition.” Gallowglass cocked the pistol. “They should do the trick right enough.”
“Should being the operative word.” St. Cyprian frowned. “We only have to hold it until midnight. Then, it should depart.”
“There’s that word again,” Gallowglass said. St. Cyprian glanced at her. “Should,” she elaborated.
Smoke suddenly billowed out into the room, carrying with it a foul odor, like wet dog and rotten meat. The trio gagged as the smell swept over them. And then, with a clatter of rusty bells and a shower of sparks, the Krampus erupted from the fireplace, howling like a lonely wind coiling through the Bavarian peaks.
It was a black shape, outlined by the flickering dregs of the fire at its back. It was so large that there was no conceivable way that it could have squeezed down the chimney. Chains draped it, and cowbells dangled between its oddly-jointed legs and off of its bony shoulders. Curving horns swept up nearly three feet off of its vulpine skull, and its hair was matted and filthy. The carpet sizzled beneath its cloven hooves as it stepped forward, jaws working soundlessly. Eyes like red sparks rolled madly in its sockets as it swung its head back and forth.
Rawdon made something that might have been a hastily strangled whimper. The Krampus’ jaw opened, revealing a forest of curved teeth that sprang like iron nails from the black gums. A long, impossibly red tongue slithered out of from the depths of the beast’s gullet and tasted the air. The Krampus snorted, and it stamped a hoof. Wood splintered beneath the carpet as it trotted forward.
“Stop right there,” St. Cyprian said, stepping in front of the beast, arms spread. The Krampus reared back, head cocked. It gave an interrogative snarl. The sound might have contained words, but sounded for all the world like a distant avalanche.
“No. No, I think not.” St. Cyprian gestured with the sword. “In fact, I think you’ll return back the way you came, friend.” He said it with a bravado he didn’t entirely feel. St. Cyprian had seen worse things than the spectre before him, but none so close, and none so foul.
The Krampus was simply wrong. If Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, however you referred to him, was everything joyous about the season, then the Krampus was everything that was terrible and tragic and ill-fitting. The bells in his chains were funerary voices, and his breath was a fog on the air, showing ghostly images of fallen friends and starving children. Of the unfortunate and the lost, those for whom the season was anything but happy. A dozen ghosts were caught in the thick links of the Krampus’ chain, bound to the beast for all eternity. Sinners all.
That was the Krampus’ remit, after all. Where Father Christmas rewarded the good, the Krampus was responsible for punishing the wicked. And at that moment, it’s eyes were solely for Oswald Rawdon.
Ignoring St. Cyprian, the beast raised a hairy paw and pointed one filth-encrusted talon at Rawdon, who shrank back. Then, it howled like a locomotive and leapt. Straight over St. Cyprian’s head it bounded, its hooves digging divots in the carpet as it landed and flung itself at Rawdon. There was a fat pop and crackle and then the hiss of sizzling meat and the Krampus hit the ground in a rattle of chains, rolling to its feet like a kicked dog. Carnacki’s electrical pentacle had held.
“I told you that it would work,” St. Cyprian said, raising his sword. “Now be a dear and shoot the bugger!”
“Gloating doesn’t become you,” Gallowglass said. The Webley bucked in her hands and the Krampus shrieked as a bullet rubbed in bear fat and mistletoe creased its hip. It staggered, tongue flailing like a serpent’s head. Gallowglass fired again, stepping back to stay out of the beast’s reach.
The Krampus lunged for her, but St. Cyprian moved forward, stabbing his sword down through a link in its chains and on into the floor. The beast yowled as it tried to pull itself free, and swung a thunderous backhand at the occultist. St. Cyprian hopped awkwardly back, losing his grip on the sword.
Gallowglass fired a third time, and the Krampus shrieked again as a blossom of blood burst into existence on its breast. It reached out with an impossibly long arm, swatting the pistol from her hands, and sending her skidding sideways. Then it spun, eyes blazing like twin torches. It grabbed the sword and began to jerk it from the floor.
St. Cyprian darted towards it, sweeping up one of the birch boards that Gallowglass had deposited on the floor. He brought it down on the Krampus’ arm, eliciting a yelp. Claws tore at his waistcoat, severing buttons. He swung the birch board again, shattering it against the Krampus’ skull. The beast shoved him back and he slid across the floor, only stopping when he struck the wall.
Shaking its head, the brute yanked the sword free and hurled it aside with a victorious growl. Then it turned back to the crackling pentacle and Rawdon, who cowered within.
“No! No! Not me! I didn’t do anything!” Rawdon said, twitching like a rabbit in a trap. “I don’t deserve this!”
The Krampus hissed and slowly trotted around the pentacle, eyes narrowed. Brass claws trailed across the invisible barrier, leaving a trail of sparks in the air. Rawdon turned with it, his eyes pits of terror.
“Charles! Help me!” he shouted, pounding his useless fists against his thighs.
St. Cyprian pushed himself to his feet, head ringing. “Ebe?” he called out.
“I’m fine,” Gallowglass said, scooping up her pistol. “Just knocked the wind out of me. Bugger’s not so tough.”
“He’s not after us. And our precautions don’t seem to have been that effective,” St. Cyprian said, stooping to pick up the sword from where the Krampus had hurled it.
The Krampus stopped its pacing and eyed them warily, its red gaze flickering like dying embers. St. Cyprian stopped moving, and motioned for Gallowglass to do the same.
The Krampus could have killed them both, had it wished. But its prey had to have been judged and found wanting by whatever celestial court empowered the creature. The chains it wore were not symbolic, but real shackles, binding what had once been an old, wild nightmare of Pre-Christian times to the new ethos of this age.
The chains rattled across the floor as the beast crouched, digging its claws into the floor. Its hulking shoulders hunched and the wood began to give with a series of rending cracks.
And, as the floor gave way, the nearest of the vacuum tubes tilted, and, finally, toppled, shattering. The Krampus surged to its feet and lunged for the opening in the mystical barrier, its form twisting and billowing like a thread of smoke.
“Get Rawdon out of there!” St. Cyprian said, throwing himself towards the closest bookshelf. A number of containers sat amongst the books. Some held dust, or a variety of foul-smelling pastes. All had proven useful, once or twice.
As St. Cyprian shoved books out of the way and scrabbled for a solution to their problem, Gallowglass fired the Webley at the curling twist of Krampus-smoke, perforating it even as she tackled Rawdon out of the pentacle. The Krampus began to reform, a look of brute hatred on its face as it moved to pursue them.
“Ha!” St. Cyprian barked, hanging off of the bookshelf. He hefted something that resembled a canopic jar and tossed it towards the pentacle. “Shoot it!”
Gallowglass shoved Rawdon off of her and fired her last shot. The bullet shattered the urn and a dark substance spattered across the floor, mostly in the spot where the Krampus had broken the power of the pentacle.
The Krampus turned back towards the opening, and then retreated abruptly with a howl. It turned in place, spinning so fast that its chains struck the barrier and cast off foul-smelling sparks.
“What was in that?” Gallowglass said, getting to her feet.
“A little concoction from the Tyrol region-rosemary, juniper and fat from a priest’s grave. It’ll only hold until it dries, but that should be long enough-ah.” St. Cyprian dropped down from the bookcase and held up a hand. Somewhere, church bells sounded the midnight hour. Christmas Eve had given way to Christmas Day.
The Krampus gave a long, low mournful howl as it writhed in its makeshift cell. Smoke and ash drifted from its hairy shape and soon it was completely obscured, save for the hot glow of its eyes. And then, even that was gone, as if it had never been.
Waving a hand to disperse the smoke, St. Cyprian moved to turn off the electric pentacle. Gallowglass stepped over Rawdon’s still-prone form, and grabbed a bottle of sherry off of the book case. Pouring herself a snifter, she said, “Well. A merry Christmas to one and all, I suppose.”
“What-what-what-” Rawdon said, staring at the space where the Krampus had been.
“It’s Christmas Day, Ozzy. The Krampus has returned to wherever it goes for another year. Which means that you’re safe, relatively speaking.” St. Cyprian stood, and helped Rawdon to his feet. He pulled the other man close. “You have a year, Ozzy. Don’t waste it.”
Rawdon yanked his arm free. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I might not be around next year to save your wretched hide.” St. Cyprian’s eyes narrowed. “And even if I am, I may decide not to.”
“What?” Rawdon blinked.
“You never really answered my question, you know,” St. Cyprian said. “About young Pettigrew.”
“It’s none of your business,” Rawdon said. “And I’ll thank you to stay out of it.” He straightened his coat.
“Would that I could, Ozzy,” St. Cyprian said.
Rawdon turned, his face a picture of confusion. There was an electric buzz as someone rang the front bell. Rawdon whipped back around. “What was that?”
“The police, I imagine.” St. Cyprian motioned to Gallowglass. “Miss Gallowglass, please show them in.”
“The police? What is the meaning of this Charles?” Rawdon said. “What are you playing at?”
“I had Ms. Gallowglass ring the police while she was upstairs seeing to our defences,” St. Cyprian said, pouring himself a glass of sherry. He held it up, and then took a sip. He didn’t look at Rawdon. “Was it really self-defence, Ozzy? Or did you murder him because he called you on your black ways? Either way, the truth will out.”
Rawdon didn’t reply. A moment later, the police bustled in after Gallowglass, and Rawdon seemed to slump in their custody. He didn’t resist as he was led out and away. St. Cyprian didn’t turn around the entire time.
When Gallowglass had seen them out and returned, he sighed and set his glass down. She cleared her throat, and he turned.
“Are they off?”
She nodded. “Think he’ll hang?”
“No. He has friends yet, and likely it was self-defence. Or it’ll be seen that way.” He looked up at the ceiling, noting the ash mark right over the pentacle. A reminder of the Krampus’ visit.
“Think our visitor will be back for him next year, then?”
St. Cyprian was silent for a moment. Then, softly, he said, “Well, Christmas is a time for miracles, they say.”
And somewhere distant, just at the edges of his hearing, it seemed that he could hear the clatter of funerary bells, and the tromp of black hooves.
If you enjoyed this story, please consider dropping a buck or two at my Ko-Fi, via the button below. Every little bit helps, and it would be much appreciated.