“Krampus is coming! Fear him. Krampus is ...” gravelly voice of a street tramp jarred on Dylan’s ears. Dylan, nicknamed the Groom, wrapped in a warm cloak, walked down the snowy street, hurrying to take shelter from the winter blizzard in the nearest tavern. There a cup of warm grog and a goose grilled with apples and prunes would warm him. The owner of the "Copper goose. Excellent rooms and good drinks without overpay!" met Dylan at the door and hurried to take his coat and hat.
“Young master, it's nice you came by this evening.”
“Today is indeed no ordinary evening,” Dylan said showing off a polished gold ring with a big jewel that had a color of fresh blood. “I’ve got my gifts for Christmas Eve: this beautiful ring and a handful of coins.”
Dylan the Groom patted on his full pocket.
The owner greedily licked his lips, looking at the gem.
“So you’ve managed to bamboozle the lonely widow, which I told you about two days ago?”
Smile disappeared from Dylan’s face and he grabbed the host by the lapels.
“Bite your tongue you old dolt! I pay you for the information, but it does not mean you can chat about it. You hear me?”
“Yes, young master,” hissed the strangled host of the "Copper goose. Excellent rooms and good drinks without overpay!"
“Good,” said Dylan, letting him go and putting a gold ducat in his hand. “Now arrange me a hearty dinner and fine room with less bugs and more wood in the fireplace. There’s a real snowstorm and I am chilled to the bone.”
Fifteen minutes later, Dylan the Groom warmed himself near bursting heat of the fireplace in a room on the second floor. The dinner brought by the host’s daughter was instantly and mercilessly destroyed, and the young man fell asleep in one of the capacious armchairs in front of the fireplace.
He woke up from a strange sound, the source of which he could not immediately tell.
It was late night already, the fire went out long ago, but from the depth of a charred fireplace one could hear silent jingling and gnashing of metal. Dylan lit a candle standing on the table next to the chair and looked closer.
Inside the fireplace he saw a huge metal hook on the chain, hanging down from the chimney. What is it, a joke? Dylan stood up as he heard vile demonic laughter from the fire, like a howling storm. The candle he was holding immediately went out and the young man spent no little time before he could light it again.
When the trembling light of the candle spread out around the room, Dylan discovered he was not alone. A creature, vaguely reminiscent of a human was sitting in the chair. He saw a woman's bonnet with ribbons covering the head, a scarf thrown over the shoulders, a fur coat and horns. Huge horns extending over the back of the chair.
“Who are you?” asked Dylan, struggling not to show fear. He was still trying to convince himself that it was some kind of stupid and barmy prank.
“Do not you recognize me, Dylan the Groom?” asked the guest with a creaky, ugly voice imitating an old woman’s.
“Excuse me, madam. Perhaps this is some sort of a mistake...”
“Oh, stop it, mein Lieblings-Braut, I could not be mistaken. After all, you are wearing my ring and your pockets are full of money that you tricked out from me, pretending that you need it for treatment of your dying mother.”
The cap fell off the guest’s head, and Dylan saw a shaggy beard, a hooked nose and the demon’s terrible eyes. He raised his right hand, aiming a single-shot ladies’ pistol, a wonderful work of dwarf gunsmiths... But he did not have time to shoot. The monster sitting in the chair swung his weapon, resembling a sickle. Dylan's hand with the gun fell to the floor, cut off in one stroke. Dylan howled in pain and fell to his knees, splashing blood all over. His hand still clutching the gun was lying between the guest’s hooves.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” rasped the demon, and took up the severed hand. “It's time to pick up gifts. This I love the most. After all, I am Krampus, and I come only to the naughty boys. And you were a very naughty boy, Dylan.” With these words the demon took the ring off the finger that once belonged to Dylan and put the severed hand into a bag soaked with other victims’ blood.
Cradling the stump to his chest, Dylan started to cry helplessly. His tears pleased Krampus.