The yarn lady had left to take the noisy girl to class, so Clem decided to continue her research on the December holidays. She was still having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, and last night the yarn lady had laughed a lot when she’d been looking at a website about something called a Krampus. There were photos of people dressed in very scary costumes, and although it hadn’t appeared very funny to Clem, she thought she’d check it out, particularly since today seemed to be the Krampus’ own special day.
Wikipedia was always a good place to start when she didn’t have any idea about a subject, and this was no exception. There wasn’t a lot of information, but it was very much to the point. The Krampus was the villainous companion to Saint Nicholas in the Alpine regions of Europe. While St. Nicholas brought presents and candy to good children, Krampus grabbed bad children and carried them off to hell. Sometimes he stuffed them in a bag, and other times he popped them into a washtub carried on his back in preparation for their trip to the nether regions. He carried chains or branches that he used to whip the bad children with, assumedly before catching the children.
Clem shook her head. Why in the world had the yarn lady been laughing? This wasn’t funny, especially the accounts of how in some countries people dressed up as the Krampus and roamed the streets looking for unsuspecting children to terrorize. It was obvious why this had never caught on in this country. The child psychologists and probably even the politicians would have raised a ruckus about how children would develop post-traumatic stress disorder from their encounters with Krampus. She was pretty sure that in modern Krampus celebrations the folks who dressed up wouldn’t actually beat the children with the chains, but even so, it would be pretty scary to be singled out by one of these beasts. Imagine being a small human child who was trying her absolute best to be good so that St. Nicholas would bring you presents and then be singled out by one of these human pranksters just because you were being escorted home from, say, your piano lesson. You’d be convinced that your best just wasn’t good enough, and that Krampus would be back at bedtime to haul you off to hell. Good grief.
Although the Krampus legend wasn’t strictly historical the modern celebrations were tied to actual times and places. It didn’t have anything specifically to do with cats, but perhaps she could visit one of those celebrations and try to convince the cats she’d undoubtedly find there that it was a barbaric practice and that they would irreparably harm the children in their families. It was her civic duty to try to stop this horrible practice, wasn’t it? Clem considered if it would be a good idea to try to visit one of these celebrations. First she thought yes, and then no, and then she wasn’t sure. She went so far as to type the web address of the site that seemed to take her to wherever she was researching into the address bar, but she hesitated to press the key that would open the site. As she continued to consider her eyes started to get heavy. Maybe she’d just take a nap and think about it later. As she was thinking this, she nodded off for a moment and her chin hit the screen. Her eyes flew open and she saw that it had hit the enter key. The decision had been made for her…
Clem shivered as she landed in a snowbank. She levitated, but unfortunately landed right back in the snow. She glanced around, looking for somewhere that was dry, if not warm. She was alone on a dark street, presumably in some European country, since there was no snow in New Jersey and it had been pretty darn warm there when she’d been on the sunporch this morning. Well, at least warm in comparison with this place. Clem worked her way into the street itself, where the snow was at least packed down. It was cold under her paws, but she could hopefully dry off her fur if she could find somewhere warm to sit and groom off the excess snow before it melted and got onto her skin. She carefully made her way down the street, watching carefully for both dogs and Krampuses. When she found herself several blocks away, having seen no one and nowhere to get in out of the cold, she tried calling out for another cat. “Hello, is there anyone there? I seem to be lost…and cold…and wet….”
A voice came from under a bush up ahead. “Of course you’re cold. You’re covered in snow, doofus. Don’t you know enough to stay dry when it’s this cold?” A face peered out from the bush.
Clem explained that she hadn’t purposely gotten covered in snow as she made her way over to whoever had spoken. She told the other cat about her research about the website that took her different places and she began to talk about her research into the Krampus. Before she could get out the second syllable of that name, the other cat charged out from under the bush and pounced on her. “Don’t say the name. Just don’t. We don’t want to attract his attention. I haven’t been a very good kitty this year, and I don’t want to be hauled off to the cat version of hell. From what I hear, it’s a very dark and damp basement that you can never leave and the only food there is soggy and moldy crunchies.”
That was too humorous not to react to with a laugh, and Clem nearly fell over as she laughed and slipped on the snow. “Oh, come on. It’s people who dress up in costumes to scare children, not a real thing that’s going to haul me to cat hell.” She looked at her attacker, and saw that it was a half-grown kitten. Well, that explained it. Not only were the human children traumatized by this practice, but the feline youngsters were also being targeted.
The kitten swatted at Clem’s tender nose and then hauled her back under the bush. “You don’t understand. Yeah, there are humans who dress up funny and scare children and have parties, but there’s a Krampuskatze, just like there’s a St. Nicholaskatze. I know because some of the older cats told me so. They even told me about a kitten who was hauled away last year and never seen again, except through the barred window of a damp basement. I don’t want to end up there too.” The kitten shivered in fright.
It was apparent that the kitten wasn’t going to listen to reason, and that either Krampuskatze was alive and living as an urban legend here or some older cats were playing a trick on this poor kitten. If there really was a Krampuskatze, Clem was sure she’d have found information about it on the internet. She decided that she’d make it her mission to calm down this poor kitten and prove to it that there was no such thing as Krampuskatze.
Calming down the kitten was the easy part. Clem spent a few minutes introducing herself and talking about her home and began grooming the snow out of her fur. The kitten, who was named Kasse, moved closer and began to remove the snow from the hard to reach spots. Within ten minutes Kasse was calm and had told her about her humans and the other cats she knew. It turned out that there was somewhat of a bully of a cat in the area and it was that cat, known as Rabauke, who had told Kasse about Krampuskatze.
Kasse invited Clem to the local gathering place for the feline community, which happened to be the basement of a local tavern. It was warm and dry and had easy access for the cats of the neighborhood. The two cats worked their way across snow covered streets. Clem watched her footing as Kasse kept an eye out for the Krampuskatze. It was only a few minutes before Clem found herself staring at a gap in a basement stairwell. Kasse disappeared into the hole and Clementine followed, hoping that the local cats would welcome her as Kasse had.
She emerged into a dimly lit room that was toasty warm and apparently full of cats, all of whom were talking at once. Clem sat down with a thump, overwhelmed by the number of cats and the cacophony of voices. Kasse screeched, and the other cats fell silent – and stared at her in fear. After a few moments, one asked in a hesitant voice if she was Krampuskatze. Clem laughed and said that no, she wasn’t, and there was no such being.
The other cats obviously did not agree because at once at least a dozen voices all began to talk about the beast. Clem silenced them with a wave of her paw, and singling one out, asked what the cat knew of the monster, and where the information had come from. She repeated this several times, and a pattern began to emerge. The stories were all the same, and all of them had been told about this cat monster by Rabauke, or by someone who had originally heard the story from him.
Clem looked at the assembled cats and asked where Rabauke was. They all looked at each other, and finally they determined that he hadn't been seen all day, although it was very unusual for no one to see him for that long. Clem smiled. She guessed that either he was hiding out, preparatory to scaring the local cats as they left the tavern basement to head home, or was just hiding because he knew his story would be shown to have no substance tonight. She was betting on the first one, though.
Signaling for the cats to come closer, Clem shared her suspicions with the local cats. Although some looked doubtful, others who had been bullied by him slowly nodded their heads. Next Clem outlined a plan. Kasse and one of the other half-grown kittens would leave, talking about how scared they were of Krampuskatze. Meanwhile, the other cats would sneak out by another exit, and position themselves where they could see the route the kittens would take. If they were waylaid by anycat, the older cats would come to the rescue. Even if there were such a thing as Krampuskatze, there would be so many other cats that he wouldn't be able to carry any one cat away without being mobbed.
Kasse was scared, but a pep talk from Clem reassured her that she wouldn't be left alone with the monster cat. The two kittens and Clem were the only ones left in the basement within a brief time. After enough time had elapsed for the other cats to get in position, the two kittens ventured out the regular exit. Their voices shook as they talked about Krampuskatze - it was perfect. They slowly made their way down the street, and Clem followed after a moment or two.
One block, nothing. Two blocks, nothing. On the third block there were thick hedges on both sides of the road. As they moved in between the hedges there was a roar, and a dreadful looking cat leapt upon Kasse. The other kitten screeched and ran in fear. Clem yowled an alert to the other cats (as though they hadn't heard the monster cat's roar) and ran towards Kasse.
She was beaten to the spot by four other cats, who had the attacker pinned. As Clem came closer, it became apparent it was a cat wearing some sort of costume. There were horns coming up from the cat's forehead, and the rough black fur was wound around with chains that clinked and clanked. One of the cats ripped the costume back from the cat's face, making it apparent that the attacker was in fact Rabauke. The cats ripped the costume off him and shredded it with their claws.
The eldest of the cats demanded an explanation from Rabauke. With a sullen expression he told how his human had celebrated Krampusnacht for years, and had found a costume for his pet cat earlier this year. The human's plan had been to take Rabauke to the party he usually attended, but the cat decided he'd rather act out his own version of the legend. He'd started telling tales of how cats were carried away and imprisoned for life and fed foul foods, and began to plan how he could terrorize the local cats on Krampusnacht. It should have worked, and Rabauke looked around to figure out what happened to ruin his fun. Finally his gaze fell on Clementine. She looked at him with narrowed eyes and explained how she'd gotten to this place and time, and that she obviously had been sent her by some spirit who really did exist and cared for the happiness and well-being of cats. At this, Rabauke looked frightened, his gaze darting one way and another.
As Clem continued to speak, telling him that cats were supposed to be loving and caring to younger or weaker cats, she noticed thickening fog. Finally she couldn't see the other cats at all, and when the fog cleared a moment later, she found herself back on the bed, staring at a picture of an angelic looking cat on the iPad. The cat smiled at her and winked, and the iPad blinked off into powersaver mode. Her paw reached out to turn it on again when the sliding door opened and Clem heard the voice of the yarn lady. "I'm home!"