Genres: Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Supernatural Fantasy, Horror
The epic origin of a beloved holiday icon unfolds, as nine-year-old
Klaas Krengel flees plague-ravaged Germania on a swashbuckling adventure
across Medieval Europe to the remote ends of the earth, where he finds
himself pitted against a gruesome host of adversaries, all resurrected
from old Austrian lore. A bit of a spoiled brat, Krengel’s only friend
is an insidious counterpart called the Krampusz, a blue-furred monster
who suffers from a pronounced hoarding disorder.
Vexed by his half-brother’s lifelong privilege and pampering, the
Krampusz enjoys nothing more than imperiling the boy through calculated
misdirection, ultimately trapping him in the bottomless depths of the
enchanted “Sack of Shadows.” Therein, a fantastic realm of weird and
warring races demands a showdown between Krengel and its tyrannical
ruler, a horrendous witch who alone holds a key to the connection
between Krengel and the Krampusz.
Every bell in Bari had a unique tone and timing. Each was
synchronized to the timing of a specific, daily event. The toll of a
bell would prompt a skyward glance from anyone within earshot, to make a
quick check of the sun’s position. The bells were so intimately linked
to the passage of time that on the rare occasions when every bell in the
city tolled at once, the experience rattled a Baresi to his very soul,
stilled him in his tracks, for time itself unraveled and was strewn to
confetti. The joyous crash of sound reverberated through the seaport’s
writhing arteries to flush pigeons in dappled flocks that flashed in the
sky like schools of minnows.
At midday on May ninth, the first day of the annual Festival of the
Translation of the Holy Relics, Bari came alive with clanging bells.
Starlings gushed from the clerestory windows around the pealing bell
tower at Basilica di San Nicola, the final resting place of Bari’s
patron saint. It was an imposing fortification, a somber hulk of ancient
masonry that loomed darkly over the peninsula with its back to the
Adriatic Sea. With its cruciform mass shouldered between Romanesque
towers, it better resembled an English castle than an ordinary place of
worship. And at times, it had served as such.
Across the bustling piazza from the seaward dormitories, a hooded
figure emerged from the basilica’s Lion’s Portal. The brown fabric of
his Dominican robes flapped in the briny wind, throwing back his hood as
he skulked beneath the engraved names of those famous sailors who
rescued Saint Nicholas from Myra, five hundred years ago. He jerked the
hood back over his naked head and turned to face the wall. Head bowed as
though in prayer, he reached into the sleeve of his tunic, and withdrew
a steely dagger.
Cast upon the spike of shimmering steel, was a leering distortion of
his broad face and blazing eyes. He lowered and tilted his chin,
trailing his fingertips over his newly shaved scalp. It was another of
the Krampusz’s bright ideas. Krengel smiled. He looked funny bald, a bit
like Friar Otto.
In five months, he’d grown in height and width. Though they might’ve
starved a passive child with their severe Dominican diet of broth and
rye, what were Krengel’s lifelong failings, but symptoms of his
indomitable will to have while others around him had not. Greed ran
strong in both sides of his family. And it was no small irony that
Krengel, now a custodian of the relics of a saint canonized for profound
acts of generosity, had honed his naturally greedy edge to a perfect
tool for survival. Since Christmas Eve in Rome, he’d grown meaner,
stronger, and more formidable. Daily acts of theft and trickery against
the hardened peasants of a foreign land had honed Krengel, right beneath
the noses of his Dominican handlers, into perhaps the most dogged
urchin in all of Bari.
Krengel lifted his tunic, glanced around the crowded piazza, and then
sheathed the dagger back into a tight fold in his braies. He hitched up
his secret contraption. The rope was itchy about his waist, and the
weight of the invention had begun to chaff his flesh. The dangling wood
blocks clonked between his knees. Should’ve wrapped them in cloth to
quiet their knocking. Too late for any of that, now. This was the big
day. Around front of the basilica, cartwheels rumbled against the pavers
as guests and dignitaries continued to arrive.
He’d not yet spotted Cardinal Moretti, rumored still unfit to attend
this evening’s festivities, deathly ill as he’d been. Moretti posed him
little threat in his weakened condition, but he was indeed the one
person in all of Italy who could possibly spoil everything by summoning
for him at the critical hour. Thus, the first phase of Krengel’s plan
for May ninth was simply to avoid Moretti at all costs, to meld into the
visiting crowds and simply lay low until sundown.
“What in Heaven do you think you’re doing, back here?”
Krengel spun to find the rector glowering out at him through the
Lion’s Portal. He seized Krengel by an ear and marched him along the
wall toward the main entrance of the basilica. “We’ve been looking
everywhere for you! Your benefactor has arrived!” The rector lifted him
by his ear and flipped back his hood. “You’ve shaved your head. What is
“I had lice?”
The rector harried him to the main portal, where Cardinal Moretti was
being lifted from his wagon in a sort of birthing position by a host of
able-bodied Dominicans. The friars set him gently upon his unstable
feet. He swayed weightlessly in the bullying wind, as though might at
any moment be sucked off the earth and flung through the heavens. He
lolled back his head and peered at the ecclesiastical assembly from
beneath his fallen eyelids. The purplish growth in his lower jaw had
swelled to the size of an onion, forcing his tongue to protrude like a
newly hatched chick. He attempted to speak, but his lips produced only
Krengel’s survival for five months in the favored hunting grounds of
this predator was owed mostly to a bout of poor health that robbed
Moretti of all but an infant’s strength, slackening the musculature of
his face, not a day after Miso del Gallo. As a result, Krengel hadn’t
suffered sight of the awful man since Christmas Eve, which was
fortunate, but rumor held that Moretti’s health was steadily improving.
So said the Dominicans anyway, who’d just this morning doted over
Moretti’s latest accomplishment of peeling and devouring a boiled egg
all by himself.
A breeze kicked up and snatched the mitre right off Moretti’s head,
tumbling and spinning it down the street. But the friars supporting the
feeble body of their guest could only look on in despair as they goaded
him forward, one cautious step at a time. A silvery thread of slobber
whipped from Moretti’s lip and bowed like a harp in the wind. Snowy
wisps of hair all writhing on scabrous pedestals, Moretti looked for all
the earth to be some deranged and ancient warlock, routed from his
As the trio approached, Krengel bent his knees until he felt those
wood blocks beneath his tunic touch the ground. He then stepped atop
them and rose, oh so slowly, to his tiptoes, causing the special knot
from which they were suspended to unwind. Through the fabric of his
robe, he gathered the reigns of his makeshift stilts. Those milling
around him were so transfixed by the precarious transfer of Cardinal
Moretti that none seemed to notice that Klaas Krengel had suddenly
sprouted a foot in height, looking quite enough like an adult friar,
with his broad shoulders and shaved head, to pass before the myopic eyes
of the monster.
Moretti made some unintelligible grunt as they led him past Krengel,
swinging his disheveled head. Yellowed fingernails splayed as he reached
for the boy, but groped naught but thin air. Those rattling claws
sliced past his face without touching, only to rasp against the doorpost
as they pulled Moretti inside.
Safe. Just as the Krampusz had promised.
So many friars were about for the Festival of the Translation of the
Holy Relics, tending to all the dignitaries being housed in the monastic
dormitories that a hooded man-boy on stilts could walk freely through
the piazza, disturbing only a few pigeons. The first phase of his great
caper was complete. Krengel grinned at the dull impact of his clopping
stilts upon the pavers. By nightfall, he’d be comfortably seated aboard a
ship destined for the Habsburg Netherlands, his mother’s homeland,
where not even the Holy Roman Empire could touch him. But first, he
needed a hostage. And not just any would do. His hostage was to be a man
more celebrated in Bari than both Christ and Pope Alexander VI
combined, a man with the power to lift an orphan right out of Bari.
About the Author:
M.C. Norris is an Active HWA member, whose first four novels, all
published by Severed Press, are slated for release in fall of 2014: Deep Devotion (09/01/14), Krengel & the Krampusz (11/01/14), The Dread Owba Coo-Coo (11/15/14), and Nod (TBA). His nineteen short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines and e-zines, including: Withersin, Wrong World DVD, Brainharvest Magazine, Pseudopod, Malicious Deviance, and Dead Bait. M.C. Norris also won 5th in Chizine/Leisure Books 13th Annual Short Story Contest.
Connect With The Author:
Amazon Author Page
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