The following story can be found in The Lehane Book of Children’s Stories.
This story takes place somewhere beyond the swift river but before the lonely hills, past the darkling valleys but not the fearsome woods, after the time when one learns to fear the dark but not before one learns why.
There in that high strange country, Little Suzie and her Granny lived together in a tiny cottage. Suzie was young and her Granny was old. Suzie was curious and her Granny was wise, and while the two had always loved one another, they did not always see eye to eye.
It was Christmas Eve and Granny was cooking what passed for a feast in those hills in those days. Suzie lingered by the old stove and watched as Granny chopped and peeled, boiled and baked.
But little Suzie grew bored of cooking and the thought that Santa Claus would visit her house that night was becoming too much to bear. It had been an especially hard year for the two, but according to Granny, little Suzie was an angel except for the times when she was a devil.
Granny saw the little girl fidget and squirm by the fireplace. “Remember, Suzie,” she said, “Santa still has his eye on you. Even as he loads up his sleigh, he’s still watching.”
Suzie sighed and straightened her back. Being a good girl was hard work, and Suzie wasn’t sure yet whether it was all worth it. She knew that she had sometimes given Granny a hard time, but Granny could give as much as she could get.
Whenever little Suzie got on the wrong path, Granny would sit her down and tell her one of her many, many stories. Some of the stories were about fire-breathing dragons and talking animals, but some were about Granny when she was a little girl.
Suzie loved Granny’s stories, although she sometimes resented the lessons that always came at the end. What always enchanted little Suzie was that Granny could weave something as rich and delightful as a story right out of thin air.
“You know, Suzie,” Granny continued, “Santa comes to visit good boys and girls and bring them toys, but the bad ones get a visit from the Krampus.” Granny went back to her cooking knowing that behind her, Suzie’s eyes were growing wide with fear and her head was slowly turning away from the fireplace.
“Granny,” Suzie’s little voice called, “what’s a Krampus?”
Granny chuckled quietly. In her granddaughter’s voice she heard the fear that haunted childhood, but she also heard the headstrong curiosity that reminded Granny of her daughter and herself.
“Well, Suzie,” Granny said, “we need another log for the fire. Why don’t you fetch one from the woodpile and then I’ll tell you the story when you get back.”
Suzie’s eyes narrowed and a flash of frustration flared across her face. She grudgingly took her coat from its hook near the door, slid her little feet into her old boots, and slammed the door as she left.
The air outside was cold and crisp and the sky was lit from end to end by the glimmer of countless stars. Suzie sometimes wished she lived somewhere where it snowed, and then she could ride a sled or build a snowman like the children did in her books.
Suzie trudged across the cold, hard dirt past Granny’s vervains, yarrow, and mugwort to the woodpile. Suzie reached into its dark recesses and pulled out a dusty log.
It was almost too heavy to carry, so Suzie pulled it behind her. She was admiring the furrow the log gouged in the ground when a noise drew her attention.
In the woods not far from the cottage, Suzie heard a sound like a tiny bell. She stared at the darkness, at the trees standing close by.
There was a crack – this time much closer – that sounded like a tree branch snapping.
Suzie pulled the log a little faster. Another crack from the woods. She pulled the log to her chest and began to run. As Suzie neared the cottage, a figure – a shadow – suddenly swept in front of her and blocked the path.
It stood taller than tall. Shaggy black with red devil eyes. A mouth of razors and two scrawny goat horns turned and pointed menacingly to the stars.
Suzie dropped her log.
Suzie stood in its shadow and the monster stared hard at her and she saw the infinity that was like a fire inside its eyes. Before she was completely lost on that fiery path, she swallowed and said, “Merry Christmas?”
The monster huffed in response. It seemed to stand even taller for a moment and Suzie heard a bell’s jingle and then it stood on the cottage roof and then it was a only a distant mark on the night sky, a dark star in the heavens.
Suzie breathed. She picked up the log and went inside.
Granny sat by the fire with her knitting while dinner bubbled and cooked on the stove. “Now that you’re finally back,” she said without turning to Suzie, “I can tell you that story.”
Suzie set the log next to the rosy fire and leaned against her grandmother’s chair. “No, Granny,” she said and Granny looked up in time to catch the arcing flash in her granddaughter’s eyes. “I can tell you a story.”