Madame Baderschmitt’s Sweet Emporium
Madame Baderschmitt owns the most renowned sweet emporium in the old city. Situated behind a red door, at the end of a narrow, cobbled lane, it opens just once a year, on Christmas Eve. Very few of her customers know that Madame Baderschmitt is the youngest sister of Saint Nicholas. Those that do, never take their children with them when they visit her shop—the risk is too great.
As soon as the Cathedral bell chimes midday the red door magically swings open. Customers file inside and descend the creaking spiral wooden staircase to the crypt, where they pause as their eyes adjust. The room is lit by hundreds of candles, their flames reflecting from the glittering gold ornaments decorating the branches of dozens of Christmas trees. Aromas of cinnamon, orange and nutmeg waft through the air on currents that bring life to tiny golden bells hanging overhead.
Shelves, counters and even the floor are smothered in jars, baskets and bowls filled to overflowing with every confectionary delight imaginable. Toffees, fudges, lollipops, lemon drops, chocolates, nougats and jelly beans clamour for attention. Sherbets, liquorice, aniseed wheels and boiled sweets of all flavours await discerning palates.
A scroll on the wall clearly explains the single rule—one must purchase all that one touches. The consequences of failing to follow the rule are written below in fine print. Only customers of a certain disposition bother to read the rule, even fewer inspect the consequences.
The sensible, restrained and hygienic patrons, the ones who use the tongs provided and pay the correct sum at the till, exit by way of the green door. They wind their way up a second staircase, step out into the old city and the joys of Christmas.
Those stupid, gluttonous, and greedy fools who fill their baskets by the fistful, or finger each delight before selecting, find themselves leaving by quite a different door—the black door. Behind the black door there is no return to the old city, no Christmas Eve drinks, and no Christmas Day. Once through that door those with an unhygienic disposition or a dishonest heart find only regret, pain and terror. For behind the black door lies the domain of Monsieur Baderschmitt, otherwise known as Krampus.
For those who meet him, Krampus is a creature born from the nightmares of their nightmares. Aside from the glint of his obsidian eyes and the blood red of his long tongue, his blackness is absolute. He approaches each offender with deliberate care, the slap of his foot followed by the scrape of his hoof. Bags of tainted confectionary scatter, arms and legs thrash and terrified screams thicken the air. There is no escape from Krampus’s Grotto.
With a firm grasp he drags each client into the next chamber through a long tunnel. For those who can see beyond their terror the reindeer motif carved into the smooth basalt walls is remarkably delicate, but few appreciate its beauty. Even fewer admire the fine filigree work depicting winter scenes on the iron manacles that hold them bent over the serpentine altar. Nor do they notice the spicy aroma of gluhwein that masks the stench of fear and fills the air with Christmas atmosphere.
That not one of his clients has ever complimented his décor remains an eternal disappointment to Krampus, a simple act of appreciation and a little gratitude for his efforts may have redeemed them. In the absence of redemption Krampus is obliged to mete out his punishment. The terms of the arrangement with his wife’s older brother are quite explicit in this regard.
Krampus pauses for a moment in anticipation of the pleasure that comes from inflicting pain. Then, using his birch rod, he flays the skin from their back with studied precision. As each stroke cuts through soft flesh he roars, his tongue bobs and quivers with pleasure and his tail thrashes. His rhythm is slow but relentless, only ceasing long after the screams stop and the body goes limp. As he replaces the birch rod into its cavity on the altar the manacles holding hands and feet fall free.
In a smooth action, gained through centuries of practice, he spears the body with his horns, piercing the heart, liver and lungs to ensure death. With a flick of his head the body arcs through the air and disappears into a dark space that doesn’t exist. Krampus shudders in ecstasy as the future joy and pleasure unlived by the departed client streams back at him and surges through his body. Then he slaps and scrapes his way back down the tunnel to greet his next client.
All the while, Madame Baderschmitt, moves amongst her customers with a twinkle in her eye and an enigmatic smile. Just before midnight, the red door swings shut, then as the Cathedral clock starts to strike the hour the last customer exits via the green door. Madame Baderschmitt sighs happily. Once again this year she’s been able to gift great joy and pleasure to her husband. As she joins him to receive her own ecstasies on his serpentine altar her only regret is that Christmas comes but once a year.
Copyright 2016, Jacqui Greaves. All rights reserved.
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