Krampus is red from head to toe, though thin like something dead wearing human skin – no weaker for it, but we stopped most of the deaths. The Krampus comes as Santa Claus, and children aren’t scared until it is almost too late; their need reached the wandering magician barely in time for us to save some of them. The Krampus ran, claws tearing gouges into stone and earth, but we followed. My name is Charlie, and I can eat gods. Krampus is something else, a monster born of the world and not a god, but it carries enough myth for me to find it no matter how well it can hide itself.
Jay follows beside me. He is young, born far Outside the universe though he looks like an ordinary human boy. He is pale, and quiet in a way that worries me. Krampus flees into a warehouse, one storing goods for a toy drive – whether out of irony, luck, or simply because such places are open to it, I’ve no idea.
“A god eater?” The Krampus laughs, voice like iron filings. “I am beyond your power, and the god I see within you.”
Most can’t see the god inside me, but the Krampus is a very old monster. The first Krampus, perhaps, or near enough to.
“And the boy with you must not be human, for all he looks like he’ll taste divine when I kill you.” Krampus flexed long, thin fingers ending in ugly talons, smile a baring of hungry teeth. Fattened on more children, it would resemble Santa Claus with a terrible accuracy.
“You killed them,” Jay says softly, his voice carrying because he is so very good with bindings. “You killed them slowly, because you could, and you enjoyed it because you’re the kind of monster that other monsters are scared of!” He trembles beside me, small hands balled into fists.
Jay has seen many things, but I don’t think he’d ever walked in on a torture scene like we did mere minutes ago. The wandering magician is generally always ahead of monsters would would butcher humans and preventing them from doing so. I reach for his hand, not thinking, but Jay evades my grip and walks toward the Krampus.
It laughs, unafraid. It has been a monster in the world for a very long time. Blood drips down from its fingers and the Krampus licks them gently, mocking. Four children only, so much blood covering bone and fur, and it was still so thin after.
Jay is an inhuman blur as he moves, but the Krampus is not human at all. I’ve seen Jay be hit by cars and get back up only bruised: the Krampus slices right into his skin and draws blood as Jay skids backwards with a yelp.
But Jay says nothing. Not about how he’s going to win, or how he’s totally jaysome. Krampus licks the blood with a giggling laugh. “Small child. Quick, an Outsider thing I think, hidden but not well enough. You will be such a delicious meal.”
“No.” Not nope. Just a soft, solid finality. “I’m a Jay, but I’m also a Jaysaurus.”
The Krampus laughs, then hiccups, then doubles over and screams, the sound shocking low like a broken church bell being molested.
“You let me inside you,” Jay says, and his voice is a roar filling the room. “And I’m not going to try and get you to be jaysome, and I’m not sure I would try even if I could. I can’t bind you, but I can do other things.”
“Whu – hah –?” The creature manages before dropping to its knees and begins wasting away, bones and flesh twisting as Jay’s blood – or whatever Jay put into his blood – rips it apart from the inside out. The Krampus lets out whines as it gasps for air, curling up in agony on the ground as bones and flesh twist and shatter.
“Jay.” I move beside him.
Jay turns slowly and looks up at me. Something ancient and pitiless stares up out of his eyes. “You should go, Charlie. You don’t want to see this.”
“And you do?” I manage.
“He can slip out of bindings. I had to do something else.” Jay turns back to the Krampus. It has no eyes now, but seems aware of him and screams, soft but shrill, then collapses inward into a husk and to ashes moments after.
“Jay.” I don’t move.
“He murdered orphans. You couldn’t stop him, and Honcho is busy healing the – the others at the orphanage, and he couldn’t get away. I couldn’t – we couldn’t let him do that.”
“I know.” I reach over, pull Jay back from staring at the dust that had been the Krampus, and I hug him tightly.
“I’m fine, Charlie,” he says muffled. “It was a monster, and we had to beat it and I did!”
I pull back, raise his chin and meet his gaze. “But are you jaysome?”
Jay opens his mouth to speak, closes it, then bursts into tears and flings himself into my hug as he trembles all over.
I say nothing, holding him so tight that if he was human I’d break bones. I pull him toward the door finally and he follows me slowly, breath hitching as we leave and find the wandering magician waiting for us.
“Honcho.” Jay says nothing else: I’ve no idea how much passes through the bindings they share, but the magician just walks over and gently ruffles Jay’s hair.
“You did what you had to,” the magician says. “And you’re going to doubt it, Jay or not, and it’s going to hurt you inside for a long time. But if it doesn’t hurt, that’s when you should be scared.”
“Oh.” Jay nods to that, pressing close to the magician as we walk away from the warehouse. He’s trembling, sniffing a little and trying so very hard not to cry. By the time we reach the hotel, he says he has to have a shower even though he hasn’t had one – or needed to – once since entering the universe. There is running water, and crying Jay doesn’t want us to hear.
“He’ll be okay,” I ask, not wanting to but needing to.
The magician lets out a breath. “If we think he will, yes. He did what he had to, and destroyed a monster.”
“The Krampus wanted you trapped, thinking it could get away.”
“And that, if it couldn’t, it could still do damage.” The magician smiles, tight and cold. “Which means we help Jay and we don’t let it win,” he says fiercely, and I just nod in silence before what blazes from the magician in that moment.
I’m pretty sure Jay can hear us. I hope it helps. I hope everything we can do helps. I turn on Christmas specials on the tv, and Jay comes out of the bathroom and plops down beside me on the couch to watch them.
“Better?” I ask.
“Not yet,” he says, but crowds close on and relaxes when I hug him. Sometimes so much is made from such small steps.