Bad Kid

As many of you long-time followers of Speculating Canada know, I try to have a little gift for you around the holidays – a tale inspired by this time of year. There is a long history of telling stories (and especially spooky stories), after all, for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is the time of year with the longest nights. 

The story I bring you is inspired by a monster from Yule traditions – Gryla. She is an Icelandic ogress who eats naughty children on Christmas. If you want to learn more about Gryla, check out my post on Through the Twisted Woods at https://throughthetwistedwoods.wordpress.com/2019/12/09/creepmas-yule-monsters-gryla/.

Note: Trigger Warning for discussions of abuse and family violence

Bad Kid

By Derek Newman-Stille

I know I haven’t been the best kid this year. I know that I’ve caused trouble. I know that I keep making Dad angry. I know that he hits me because he wants me to be better.

All of the other kids seem happy this time of year, as Christmas approaches. All of them seem to be excited for the holiday season and to be rewarded… even the kids that I don’t think are good… even the kids that bully me.

But who am I to know what is good? I’m a bad kid, so how am I to determine who is good or not. How am I to decide what is good behaviour or bad?

None of them seem to be afraid.

None of them worry about her.

Not like I do, at least.

Even though I know that it is still a few weeks before she comes down from the mountains, I can hear the chomp of her jaws, hear the clomping of her feet, and feel the chill of her breath.

Dad told me about her when I was really little. “If you don’t behave, Gryla will come down from the mountains and slice you into pieces and throw you into a pot and boil the evil out of you and she will eat you.”

There was even a statue of her in the town square with her oversized ears, her horns, her big nose, and teeth worn flat from chewing the bones of children. She leared over a big pot, looking hungrily into it.

If you wanted to, you could climb up on her statue and even climb into her pot, pretending to be a sacrifice to her monstrous appetite. While the other children crawled all over her, dropping themselves into her pot and laughing as they looked up into her looming face, I couldn’t go near it.

Father would push me toward the pot, telling me “Those children think it’s funny. They think Gryla will leave them alone. That she is just a silly troll from our stories, but you, my dear, you know she is real. Maybe they don’t think they have anything to fear from her, eh? Maybe they think that they have been good little boys and girls who listen to their fathers?”

He would look down on me with the same monstrous hunger that Gryla’s statue showed. I would tremble as I looked up at him “I don’t know, father. I don’t know why they aren’t afraid”

“Are you afraid, my girl?”

I would silently nod my head, my curls bouncing up and down.

“Say it, girl.”

“Yes.” I would squeak out, “I am afraid.”

“And why are you afraid?”

“Because I’m never good, daddy.”

“That’s right. Never. Good children listen to their fathers. You never do. Go, get up into Gryla’s pot. Remember what it feels like. That could be you this year. That could be your Christmas, eaten up by Gryla the troll.”

This year I was extra afraid of Gryla. The eyes of her statue seemed to follow me, and they seemed hungry to me. If I stared too long, I swore I could see her move.

Just a little.

Not even a step.

Just a slight shrug and she was closer.

The other children began to sing.

“Down from the mountain

I come abounding

on silent feet

up to your window.

I hear your breathing

hear your fear

knowing you’ve done

bad deeds this year.

Leaving my Yule Lads

up to their mischief

as my cat

goes prowling at night.

I am hungry

hungry for meat

even though you are rotten

even though you are bad.

I come abounding

out of the darkness

Gryla the Ogress

Gryla the Troll.

My hooves will step lightly

My hooves with step sure

Before you know it

I’ll be at your door.”

The children laughed and rolled in the snow and I watched on, wishing I could be like them. Wishing I didn’t have to be afraid.

Last month, I asked one of the boys in my school, Einar, why he wasn’t afraid of Gryla.

He had stared at me and asked “You don’t really believe in her, do you? The Troll?”

I nodded back at him.

He began laughing, calling all of the other children “Hekla believes in Gryla! Hekla believes in Gryla. She’s a little baby.”

He shoved me in the snow, kicking me in the face. Red ran into the snow as other kids joined him, laughing and kicking snow into my face.

I lay still.

It was the same thing I did when my father hit me. I pretended I wasn’t there. I wished I was invisible. I wished they had something to distract them.

I wished Gryla would take them and eat them.

“Your parents give you presents and your parents say that Gryla will eat you so you will be good all year.” Said Magnus, pushing the other children away and looking at me with something worse than anger. A sadness.

I knew that couldn’t be true. My father wasn’t smart enough to think of something like Gryla, wasn’t smart enough to lie that well. His lies were always so silly, blaming me for things that he did.

He didn’t need to lie well.

He had all the power, and I had learned a long time ago that powerful people don’t have to lie.

Magnus reached down and I winced. I think he was trying to help me up from the snow, but I knew it was safer to look after myself.

I spat blood into the snow. Father said I should never spit, but the taste of the blood was making me sick. I rolled over and stood up while Magnus held his hand out for me. He moved closer to help me up and I pulled away. I didn’t know what he wanted.

“You know,” Magnus said, “It’s okay to believe in Gryla. I just wish you wouldn’t. Parents made her to make us afraid. She’s not real. The other kids make fun of you because they don’t believe in her any more.”

“Do you?”

“No… of course not.”

He still looked uncomfortable and I noticed his eyes drifting toward the mountain. Toward Gryla’s home.

I nodded to him.

It was our secret.

I knew he didn’t want to admit it. He wanted the other kids to think he was tough.

I was late, so I hurried home.

I didn’t realize that my coat was stained with blood until I got to my house.

“What happened to you?” His voice was angry, not worried.

He pulled at my coat, knocking me down.

“I’m sorry.” I said, trying to keep the tears out of my voice. He hated when I whined.

He didn’t ask what happened. It didn’t matter to him. I always tried to figure out what I had done wrong and I knew I had done something wrong. I ruined another good coat. I got into a fight at school. I was making him look bad. I- I-

“Get in here. The neighbours are going to see all that blood and think that I’ve been hitting you. I shouldn’t have to get in trouble because you can’t behave and you do things like this.”

He could get in trouble for hitting me?

He always said that it was a parent’s right to punish their child. Even the teachers said it. And the priest said it. How could he get in trouble?

“You will have Child Protection knocking on our door and then what will I do? Huh? What?” He was screaming in my face, spraying it with spittle. If the neighbours cared that he hit me, they would have called Child Protection before now. They must know. How couldn’t they know?

I looked at the floor like I always did. Looking up was “getting smart” with him. I stared hard at the floor, trying to memorize every knot in the wood, every burl. I ran my toes over the worn parts of the floor, which he seemed to think was me being apologetic.

“Get to bed. No dinner” He dragged me half way up the stairs before I could get my feet under me and run the rest of the way to my room.

I closed the door, wishing it could keep me safe. Wishing it could keep him out.

Wishing it could keep Gryla out

***

I heard the crunching of snow outside my window.

Or was it bones?

It didn’t have the crisp sound of boots in the snow or even bare ogre feet. It made a grinding sound, wet and slushy.

I pulled my blankets off of my bed, darting beneath it.

I knew she could smell me.

I knew that the reek of bad girl was all over me.

I knew that her big ears could hear my breathing, my sobs.

I could feel my finger nails dig into the palm of my hand. Maybe if I just hurt myself that little bit, I could keep from sobbing out loud. I clenched my teeth down on my tongue.

Everything in me said “run”.

My body was shaking with fear.

I knew I couldn’t outrun her. How could she eat so many bad children if they could all run away? She had to be faster, had to be able to catch us.

I couldn’t tell if it was the huff of my breath or if it was hers. It seemed too close.

My bed sagged down with me beneath it.

I swore I could smell the stink of rotted flesh from her breath.

“Don’t be afraid” came a gravelly voice. It was a voice that was used to harshness, used to yelling, but trying to be soft-spoken, comforting. It made it all the more terrifying.

“You don’t need to fear me.” I let out a squeak of fear and shoved my hand into my mouth, breathing around it.

“It’s okay. You’re a good little child, aren’t you?”

I wanted to shout “No”.

“You are, you know. I wish you knew that. You don’t smell like food to me. You smell like fear, but you wouldn’t taste good. There’s nothing rotten in you.”

I wanted to tell her that I was rotten – that I knew it. I wanted to tell her that I deserved to be eaten. I was more than rotten, I was downright evil. I knew it. I still had the lash marks on my back to prove it.

“Something rotten has been done to you. Parents are supposed to look after their children.” I heard a low chuckle, “I look after the Yule Lads, feed them fresh meat from the bad people of the world. I keep them fed. I clothe them. I give them the clothes of the people we eat. I’m a good mother.”

I felt her shift on the bed above me, but she still didn’t look over the edge. “But you. No one has looked after you, have they? Oh, I know you have clothes. I know you have food. I know you have a bed and a house. But you don’t have a home, do you? A home is where you should feel safe, protected. You’ve never felt that. Don’t you think you deserve it?”

I let out a whispered “No”.

“Have you never felt wanted?” She waited, but I couldn’t answer again. “What if Gryla wants you? What if you could be my child? No, no, not to eat. There is enough rot out there to keep me fed.”

A ragged, warted hand appeared over the side of the bed, reaching down gently, slowly. I could see the blood under her nails, see the pustulant warts leaking down her hand.

It hovered there, open and relaxed.

It reminded me of Magnus’ hand, reaching out to help me out of the snow. This wasn’t a fist, wasn’t a hand that was grabbing at me. It was a hand that was offering something.

I think anyone else would be disgusted by those thick knuckles, by the sprouts of hair, by the thick, yellow nails. I think I would have been disgusted before.

I just knew I wanted something and there had only been one thing that I had ever wanted – escape.

This was a hand of escape. It was a hand that was marked by living in the wild.

The blood didn’t even bother me… and I didn’t know why.

I reached a finger up and touched it to the middle of the hand.

She didn’t move.

I pushed a little with my finger and she playfully pushed back, tapping her fingers on mine.

I let out a giggle.

Somehow things are more funny when you have been scared. It had gotten me in trouble so many times, those little laughs when I was being punished – those “outbursts” as he called them.

I pulled my hand away, afraid that Gryla would hit me for laughing at her.

“It’s okay” came the gravelly, whispery voice.

I don’t know what it was about hearing those words — maybe it was because I had never heard them before, maybe because nothing ever seemed okay — but I let my tears fall and grabbed onto her hand, really believing that it could be okay.

Part of me still expected her to grab my hand and drag me away to the dark of the mountain… but she didn’t. Her rough hands caressed the back of my hand.

“It’s okay” she said, over and over again. “You’re safe now. Will you come out from under the bed?”

I pushed myself across the floor, craning my neck up to see her.

She looked just like the statue, all rough bark-like skin, warts, and horns.

But her face seemed gentle. Natural. And her eyes were gentle, brown and wide with compassion.

“No one will hurt you again.”

My heart jolted. “What about him?”

“Do you know when a bear is at her most angry and scariest?”

“No” I said, looking up into those eyes.

“When her cubs are in danger. She becomes fierce.” Gryla lifted her other hand, showing off her blood-crusted nails and playfully swiping at the air. She made a little grr sound.

I giggled again.

I don’t think it was the awkward giggle of fear.

She smiled with her flat broken teeth, but somehow they seemed soothing, even silly. I couldn’t help but smile back. “I am the mother to children who have been hurt by bad people. I am the mother to children like you. I don’t let my cubs get hurt.”

I finally knew what she meant.

I looked again at the blood on her long, yellow nails, at the crusting of blood around her hairy knuckles, at the drip running over the lines on her palm. I jumped up and grabbed around her neck, holding tight.

I finally pulled back, looking deep into her eyes. “But, you already have children. You have the Yule Lads”

“Oh, my dear, do you think those were Leppaludi’s children? He is so lazy, he never moves. No, they are children like you, ones who haven’t been loved like they should.”

“But you only have Yule Lads. I’m a girl.”

“I know, love, I know. That’s the way the story goes. But my children aren’t all boys. There are girls too – Yule Lasses. They may even do more mischief than the boys do.”

She gathered me up into her arms, standing up so that her head pressed against the ceiling. She looked down at me again, a smile on her twisted lips “Do you think you could do some mischief?”

I smiled back at her.

I would start thinking of mischief I could do. Nothing really really bad. Maybe just pinch some bullies. Just a little pinch. Just to let them know that Gryla is watching.

‘Twas The Night Before Krampus

‘Twas The Night Before Krampus
A review of Sam Beiko’s Krampus Is My Boyfriend
By Derek Newman-Stille 

As a folklorist, the figure of Krampus has fascinated me for years. Krampus is the devilish companion of St Nicholas and while the saint passes out gifts to good children, Krampus passes out beatings to the bad ones. He’s got a Pan-like look with goat legs and horns and he often is depicted carrying a switch for beating children and a bag or basket for carrying them away. 

Originally a figure from Austria and the Bavarian regions of Germany, Krampus has gained popularity in North America as the “anti-Santa”, and Sam Beiko’s Krampus from her comic “Krampus Is My Boyfriend” is inspired by that image of the creature. In fact, when the German exchange student at St. Gobnait’s Academy first mentions the demon, she is greeted with the response “he’s the anti-Santa Claus, right?” 

Beiko’s use of the graphic format is a powerful part of the narrative since Krampus is a visually stimulating figure. But, more than just the striking image of the demon himself, Beiko evokes the demon’s character through her comic pages, often featuring chains and vines binding one scene to the next and wrapping them all up in her image of Krampus as a pagan deity that pre-dates Christianity. Her motif of the natural world reinforces the pagan origins of Krampus, making him something connected to the forest even though he operates in an urban environment.

Beiko situates “Krampus Is My Boyfriend” in a tale of teen bullying, connecting the demon to ideas of childhood and youth, but also to ideas of punishment for bad behaviour. The demon is summoned by high school student Olga when she is bullied at her prestigious private high school by wealthier students. She is described as a “bursary kid”, denoting her poverty and is mocked for her weight. 

Beiko plays with the notion of importing a custom from Germanic tradition by having a German exchange student first mention the demon, but also plays with the notion of Krampus expressing something intrinsic to all youth by having Olga call out the Krampus ritual as if she knew it. Beiko explores the notion of traditions extending beyond their place of origin and moving to a new location, which mirrors what has occurred with Krampus as a folk entity. Krampus has begun to be a figure celebrated in American holiday traditions with people gathering at celebrations dressed as the demon, and even importing the tradition of the Krampuslauf (Krampus Run). Beiko explores the way that Krampus in North America occupies a strange space of both tradition and newness, being from another country’s traditions, but, also, new to this region. Beiko reinforces this collision of tradition and newness by having mythical creatures use technology to track Krampus while having this tech connected to trees. 

While drawing on the legend of Krampus, Beiko creates her own mythology – one intimately connected with aspects of science fiction – to create a fascinating new take on the Christmas devil.

To discover more about Krampus Is My Boyfriend, go to http://krampusismyboyfriend.com

Consider supporting Sam Beiko on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/smbeiko

Find out more about Sam Beiko and her work at https://www.smbeiko.com

Retail is Hell

Retail is Hell

A review of Elizabeth Twist’s “Prodigious” in Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus (World Weaver Press, 2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Retail is Hell… and it gets way more hellish around the holidays. The blaring of jolly music is only beat out by the screaming of customers who want what they want right away and the sound of cash registers. Elizabeth Twist has set her tale “Prodigious” in a toy store around Christmas time to tell the story of Krampus… a figure from Austrian Yule traditions whose whole job is to punish children who are naughty so that Saint Nicholas can reward the ones who are good. Krampus is portrayed as a demon with a long tongue, horns, and fur, holding a set of twigs that he uses to lash bad children with. In some tales he throws those naughty children into a bag and bring them down to hell.

He is the figure that I’m sure a lot of retail workers wish would be around to deal with naughty customers and Elizabeth Twist plays with this idea, having store employees play Krampus each year for the holiday party as a break from the artificiality of the canned Christmas music and ho ho hos of fake Santa Claus figures. Who wouldn’t want to play Krampus after having to deal with the Christmas rush every working day.

Twist’s “Prodigious” plays with traditional holiday narratives, subverting them into a retail revenge tale with occult undertones and even a love story because a Christmas demon may want some snuggles.

To find out more about Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus, visit https://www.worldweaverpress.com/store/p66/Krampusnacht_%28ebook%29.html

Big Red Suit Scare – A Midwinter Cold War

A review of The Claus Effect by David Nickle and Karl Schroeder (Tesseract Books, 1997)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

Every child wishes they could go to the North Pole to become one of Santa’s elves. What child wouldn’t want to get everything that they want? David Nickle and Karl Schroeder take on the spirit of the holidays in The Claus Effect and explore what the personification of the holidays would be like. They cast a critical eye at the materialism of modernity and the overwhelming impulse of desire in Western society, and its particular expression of indulgence around the holiday season.

Santa Claus becomes the personification of capitalist desire – the manifestation of the idea that everyone should get what they want rather than what they need even when what they want is destructive to the society around them. Nickle and Shroeder’s Santa becomes a figure that seeks overall destruction by giving children access to weapons that would do harm to them and others, gleefully indulging in the destructive impulse of desire.

The Claus Effect begins with the short story “The Toy Mill” (originally published in Tesseracts 4) in which a young girl named Emily, obsessed with the mythology of Christmas and the desire for belonging asks Santa Claus if she can become an elf. Santa is wordsmithed with a predatory quality, described as having “an endless quest for girls and boys”, and licking his lips when he encounters them. His desire is for workers for the mill, children transformed into elves to work in his industrialist nightmare – a factory with huge smokestakes and enslaved workers. The factory itself is described with a predatory, consumptive quality – drooling cables and iron spiderwebs.

Emily struggles to find out why Santa doesn’t always give children what they desire, not reading their requests in his letters and points out to him the horrifying possibility that he may benefit from reading the words of children. Santa has become embittered from not receiving the thanks he feels he deserves for giving children what he thinks they should want. Santa lives in ignorance, believing he is above hearing the requests of children in letters, above the need to learn anything new. But when taught about the opportunity presented in this letters, when told that it could be research on giving children the very items that would allow for the full manifestation of their self-destructive consumptive impulse, he pays attention to this “market research”. He finds letters from children who wish their whole town would catch syphilis, who wish they owned M-16s, AKMs, and other munitions, and thousands of requests for their parents to die.

Emily begins to realise the horror of giving The Claus access to the full extent of children’s wishes and empowering the maliciousness that gave manifestation to him. Mrs. Claus has been preventing Santa’s wrath by telling him that letters were complaints from children about his gifts, indicating their displeasure.

Wishes and desire become the means for The Claus to manifest his love of destruction. He realises that the most harm he can do to the world is to give people what they want. He realises that consumption is consumptive, that over consumption and desire is destructive.

Despite her realisation that giving people what they want can be destructive, and her attempt to end Santa’s destructive regime, over-consumption is something that has become too enmeshed in our society. Santa can’t be destroyed, and Shroeder and Nickle re-visit Santa in The Claus Effect, which examines a clash of ideologies as over-consumptive capitalism meets communism.

Neil Nyman views war as a means of expressing American Western ideals of “the right way” and as the ultimate expression of ideas of masculinity and concepts of honour, particularly when that violence is directed toward a perceived communist threat. His uncle, a soldier teaches him at a young age that vengeance and violence are expressions of patriotism and that Christmas can be a time of vengeance.

After becoming a soldier himself, Nyman discovers some of the horror that militarism can wreak when he realises that Santa is in a conspiratorial relationship with the U.S. government: a weaponry wishlist delivered by the military to Santa each year. Santa has become a manifestation of the capitalist industrialist-military complex.

In order to keep his secrets, Santa targets Emily, now a grown woman who remembers his weaknesses. Emily is continually reminded of the horrors of working for Santa while she works for ValueLand, another commercial empire profiting from greed and, particularly, seasonal greed.

Neil and Emily eventually meet each other, both suspicious and questioning of the status quo and both having discovered secrets surrounding Santa Claus and his relationship to the American government. The two of them come into contact with another figure from Christmas mythology, Krampus, a figure that mythologically existed in contrast to Santa Claus in Germanic countries and was responsible for capturing and punishing children who were naughty. Krampus is an ideological figure, one who believes that human beings shouldn’t get everything that they want, but rather should be focused on their needs. Krampus had once discovered a copy of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and saw in it a potential for the balance between punishment and reward, a way to balance the greed embodied by Santa Claus. He travelled to Russia and joined the Russian revolution.

In The Claus Effect, the extremes of capitalism and communism come into ideological conflict, embodied by mythic figures surrounding the Christmas as an ideological time that focuses both on the extremes of capitalist greed and also ideas of community and working toward a common good. Christmas for Schroeder and Nickle is a time of contradictory impulses, a battle of extremes of ideology – a winter cold war of conflicting messages.

You can discover more about Karl Schroeder at his website at http://www.kschroeder.com/ and you can discover more about Dave Nickle at his website at http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/ . To explore The Claus Effect for yourself, visit the Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing site at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/clauseffect/ce-catalog.html

End of the Week End of the World: SANTApocalyptic Saturdays

SANTApocalyptic Saturdays Throughout December, 2012

The Mayan calendar was written to include everything up until December 2012. There is a widespread discussion about whether this means that our world will end on December 21, 2012.

Of course, while holiday depression is setting in on people and the wild extremes of capitalism are raging as people seek to buy their way to happiness… I thought it would be a good time for an Apocalyptic narrative.

This month, stay tuned for some exciting recommendations of apocalyptic reads for the maybe-not-arriving New Year and some discussions of apocalyptic themes.

Nothing says holiday bliss like thinking this may be the last one!!

Make room in your calendar for the SANTApocaypse: Saturdays Throughout December