â€œWhen are they gonna send for us?â€ Gerdie called.
There was no answer.
â€œHey, krampus!â€ she called.
â€œVhat? Vhat?â€ one of them replied. â€œAre you hungry? Are you thirsty? Vhat do you vant?â€
He came down the corridor to her cell.
â€œWhen will they send for us?â€ Gerdie whined. â€œItâ€™s been forever!â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ the krampus said. â€œThe master has his own time and place for everyzhing.â€
â€œWell, why donâ€™t we just go there right now? We know who the Great Betrayer is. We can tell him.â€
â€œVhat? You know?â€
â€œBut it smells like you!â€
â€œItâ€™s not us.â€
â€œI vill take you up zhere. Climb out your hole.â€
â€œBut we need to all be there together.â€
â€œNo, he vants to talk one at a time to each child.â€
â€œWhy do you all have to be there?â€
â€œBecause she doesnâ€™t want to go by herself,â€ Gordon said. â€œSheâ€™s scared.â€
â€œOh, are you scared, little girl?â€ the krampus asked.
â€œYes,â€ Gerdie said.
Tears appeared in the krampusâ€™ eyes and he looked like he felt really bad.
â€œI have to do as the master says,â€ he finally said. â€œThe master says one at a time. When he calls. I am sorry.â€
â€œWhy canâ€™t we go right now?â€ Gerdie said. â€œDonâ€™t you thinkâ”€â€
â€œBecause itâ€™s not until ze master is ready.â€
â€œWell â€¦ when is the master due to get ready?â€
â€œIunno. He is the master.â€
â€œItâ€™s taking forever.â€
â€œWell, take a nap. Sleep is good. I enjoy sleep ze most.â€
He walked back up the hallway.
â€œAll right, plan B,â€ Gordon said.
They discussed fighting the things and Gerdie was not enthused about their chances.
â€œIs it time to break the glass?â€ George whispered to them.
â€œWhat are you going to do after that, dummy?â€ Gerdie asked.
â€œBeat â€˜em down!â€ George said. â€œJust like the New York Yankees.â€
â€œGordie hit them with an axe and they didnâ€™t die!â€
â€œYou get one of them down here and weâ€™ll bust out and beat â€˜em up and then weâ€™ll go get the other one. Yeah!â€
â€œAnd what do we do if we donâ€™t beat â€˜em up?â€
â€œI guess weâ€™ll be in prison again. But weâ€™re already in prison. Man â€¦ I need a cigarette!â€
â€œGeorge, shut up!â€ Donald said.
â€œYou shut up!â€ George said.
â€œYou shut up!â€
â€œGeorge you ainâ€™t smoked a day in your life,â€ Gordon said.
â€œHey, you shut up!â€ George said. â€œI mightâ€™ve. You donâ€™t know nothing.â€
â€œTried some of paâ€™s chaw one time,â€ Gordon said. â€œIt wasnâ€™t so good.â€
Gerdie had changed her mind about dealing with the krampus. She wanted to get to the master and tell him who the great betrayer was so they would take them home. Gordon agreed and they passed the word to the other children. Gordon went ahead and cut the rope. He thought he could squeeze through.
â€œHey krampus!â€ Gerdie called.
â€œVhat?â€ one of the krampus called back. â€œAre you hungry? Are you thirsty?â€
â€œI tried to turn the iron bar back and it disappeared!â€
â€œWait, is this it?â€ George whispered to the girl as the krampus walked down the hallway towards them. â€œAre we going?â€
â€œThe glass is broken,â€ he said.
â€œNo no no!â€ Gerdie said. â€œNot yet.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not what youâ€™re supposed to say,â€ George said.
The krampus came down and saw the broken rope. He groaned.
â€œI donâ€™t know what to do!â€ Gerdie lied. â€œI tried to fix it.â€
â€œWell fix it!â€ the krampus said. â€œYouâ€™re a dreamer! Fix this.â€
â€œI tried to.â€
â€œAnd it broke more!â€
He grabbed the two ends of the rope and tried to push them back together.
â€œWas that the signal?â€ George called.
â€œDamn it, George!â€ Donald said.
â€œGeorge, just go!â€ Gordon said.
There was the tinkling of shattered glass and George ran out of the cell and rushed the krampus, swinging his baseball bat but missing completely.
â€œGod damn it, George!â€ Donald cried.
Gordon pulled out his axe but, not really wanting to hurt the krampus, turned it around so it was the blunt end of the axe instead of the sharp blade. He rushed to the bars and swung the axe through the hole, slamming the krampus in the left hand and knocking him back. There was a crack and the krampus grabbed his hand in the other hand with a cry.
Another door opened down the corridor and Alice ran to the krampus with a shriek and stabbed him in the back. Gerdie tried to hit the thing with her shovel through the hole in the bars, smacking him in the side of the head but not really hurting him. Donald beat on the krampus with his fists, punching the creature in the gut.
Edward held back and watched down the corridor, peeking from his cell.
Donald punched the krampus in the gut again. Gerdie quickly climbed out of the cell and lunged at the krampus, trying to push him over. She struck the krampus in the knees and he stumbled.
â€œHey, vhatâ€™s going on down there?â€ the krampus at the end of the hallway called.
â€œOh, you terrible children!â€ the krampus they were all beating on yelled. â€œStop!â€
He tried to punch at Alice. Though he had terrible claws, he made a fist and tried to punch the girl, almost as if he didnâ€™t want to really hurt her.
â€œVhy do you have a knife?â€ he cried out. â€œLittle girls shouldnâ€™t have knives!
George swung away again, missing with the baseball bat and almost spinning himself completely around. Gordon swung through the hole in the bars but missed completely. He was too far away. Alice screamed and stabbed the krampus with her switchblade.
â€œGuys, hurry up!â€ Edward said, backing towards them from his cell.
â€œYou are not supposed to be doing that!â€ the other krampus yelled as he walked down the corridor towards them.
Donald punched the krampus again, clocking the creature in the side of the face. Gerdie swung away with her shovel but missed completely.
â€œYou terrible children!â€ the further krampus yelled.
â€œGet off!â€ the one they fought cried out.
The krampus punched Donald in the head and the boy stumbled back and fell to the ground, unconscious.
â€œOh no!â€ the krampus cried out. â€œIâ€™m so sorry.â€
George struck the krampus in the back with his baseball bat but missed again. Gordon leapt out of the cell and swung at the krampus but the back of the axe merely scored a glancing blow. Alice stabbed at the thing again, this time drawing blood.
â€œYou are the worst!â€ she shrieked.
â€œThe other oneâ€™s coming!â€ Edward said, backing towards them. â€œMaybe we shouldâ€™ve sent them for gruel or something first!â€
Gerdie dropped the shovel and attacked the krampus with her bare hands. The creature swung wildly. George beat on the krampus with his baseball bat, finally hitting the thing. Gordon swung again and struck the krampus, who shrieked and fell to the ground.
â€œDonald!â€ George screamed. â€œHe killed Donald!â€
Edward reached them as the other krampus approached. Gordon tried to tend to Donaldâ€™s wounds but wasnâ€™t able to wake the youth.
â€œHeâ€™s fine, George,â€ Gordon said. â€œShut up!â€
â€œHeâ€™s dead!â€ George shrieked. â€œHeâ€™s dead!â€
â€œHeâ€™s still breathing, dummy!â€
â€œOh. I should kick him for tricking me.â€
â€œYou children, put down those terrible, evil weapons!â€ the other krampus called as it approached.
Gerdie lunged at the krampus, trying to knock him over but just crashed into his legs and bounced off.
â€œVhat are you doing, little girl!?!â€ he cried out. â€œGo back to your cell!â€
He tried to cuff her but missed as she ducked out of the way.
â€œBatter up!â€ George yelled, thinking he was being clever.
He rushed the krampus and swung his baseball bat but missed completely.
â€œYou suck at baseball, George!â€ Gerdie yelled.
â€œHey, shut up!â€ he yelled.
Gordon leapt up and rushed the other krampus, swinging the blunt side of the axe at him, but the blow just bounced off the thing. Alice shrieked and rushed the creature.
â€œYouâ€™re gonna die too!â€ she screamed, stabbing ineffectually at it.
â€œThose knives are dangerous, little girl,â€ the krampus said.
Edward ran to Donald and tried to see to his wounds. Donald blinked his eyes and looked around. He leapt up.
â€œYou filthy krampus!â€ he yelled. â€œYou stink! You smell!â€
â€œNow, dat is very hurtful,â€ the krampus said. â€œWhy would you say such a thing?â€
Donald rushed the krampus and punched him in the gut. It didnâ€™t seem to hurt the creature. Gerdie, meanwhile, crept behind the krampus and tried to shove the backs of his knees to knock him over. She ended up pushing on his thighs.
â€œLittle girl, thatâ€™s not appropriate!â€ the krampus called out.
He punched Donald in the face and the youth went down, out cold. George let out a shriek.
â€œNooooo!â€ he yelled. â€œDonald is dead! For real this time!â€
He struck the krampus in the horn with his baseball bat. Then Gordon swung at the thing but missed completely. Alice tried to stab the krampus and missed as Edward pulled Donald out of the way and tried to bind his wounds again.
Gerdie tried to punch the krampus in the back of the knee without effect. The krampus turned to George and punched the kid in the head.
â€œYou son of a bitch!â€ George yelled, tears in his eyes.
â€œDonâ€™t use such language, little boy!â€ the krampus scolded him.
George swung away again, popping the krampus in the side. Gordon swung and missed completely again. Alice swung wildly with her knife.
â€œHey, should you be fighting with your prisoners?â€ Edward called. â€œYou might hurt us and then youâ€™ll be in trouble, right?â€
Gerdie punched the krampus again, hitting the thing in the leg once more. The krampus swiped at her but missed. George slammed the krampus in the head with his baseball bat and the thing stumbled but did not fall.
â€œItâ€™s up to you, Gordie!â€ he yelled.
Gordon struck the krampus with the blunt side of the axe, cracking him in the side of the head and the creature went down, out cold.
Gerdie searched the two krampus but they only had the harnesses they wore. They dragged them into one of the cells though Gerdie complained they would just vanish. There was a short argument between Gordon and Gerdie about it.
â€œIt would probably take less time if you two would quit arguing!â€ George said.
â€œLetâ€™s just get out of here!â€ Gerdie said. â€œGrab everything!â€
She grabbed a pocketful of sand from Edwardâ€™s lock. Gerdie helped revive Donald at least enough for him to stumble along after them. Alice stood over the unconscious krampus with her knife as if thinking about stabbing them.
â€œCâ€™mon Alice,â€ Gordon said.
She followed after them.
A door stood at the other end of the corridor and opened into a spiral staircase going upwards. As they headed up the stairs, they suddenly shifted and changed into a spiral slide. However, the children didnâ€™t slide down them, but hastily slid upwards.
â€œWeeee!â€ Gerdie and Donald cried out.
They slid for what felt like a while before they were hurled into a room at the top. Donald landed perfectly and smiled, holding up his arms. The rest of the children also landed well except for Gordon, who crashed to the floor in a heap.
They found themselves in a circular room, obviously the highest room in the Tower of Punishment. After recovering their senses, after the long slide and harsh landing, they were able to quickly take measure of their surroundings. It was clear they were in the tallest chamber of the tower. Torches and a massive brazier of burning coals lit the room. The sounds of cruelly blowing winds would be heard howling just outside. There were a dozen high windows commanding a good view of the surrounding area. All around the tower, as far as the eye could see, was a rocky wasteland enveloped in ice and eternal darkness. The ceiling of the room was very high to accommodate the massive being who dwelt there. The one item of furniture in the room was a massive granite throne upon which sat the Lord of the Krampus.
The creature towered above them like some giant out of a fairy tale, as tall as two men. It appeared much as the other krampus, only more hideous. Thick, black fur covered its body, its feet ending in massive cloven hooves. Its face sported a muzzle filled with black, jagged teeth; its eyes burned red and glowing with hate. Its head was crowned with long, curved horns, between which hovered a burning mass of blue flame. On its hip, hanging from its massive leather harness, was a vicious-looking whip with many leather strands, each tipped with dozens of metal hooks.
It looked over each of them carefully, its lips curling back in disappointment. It spoke in a deep, menacing voice.
â€œNone of you are ze one I seek, yet you bear her scent,â€ it said. â€œNo matter. You will tell me vhere she is before ze end. You stand before me to be judged! Step forward. Tell me your names and where I can find â€¦ â€˜The Great Betrayer!â€™â€
George screamed and ran back to the spiral slide, jumped in, flew out and landed, jumped in, flew out and landed, and repeated that process for the next minute or so until he regained his sanity.
â€œVhat is your name?â€ the Lord said to Gerdie.
â€œGerdie Pope,â€ she replied.
â€œVhere is the Great Betrayer?â€
â€œZe Great Betrayer! Her smell is all over you? Vhere is she?â€
â€œOh, because of this knitted stuff?â€
She realized she was no longer wearing the gifts from Aunt Gretchen.
â€œOh,â€ she said.
She stared at the creature.
â€œSpeak up, child!â€ it said.
â€œI mean, Aunt Gretchen gave us all knitted stuff,â€ she said.
â€œShe is ze vun! Vhere is she!?! Vhere is she!?! Vhere is ze Great Betrayer!?!â€
â€œI donâ€™t think sheâ€™s in the Dreamlands!â€
â€œVhat!?! This is the only place for her to be!â€
â€œI mean, she didnâ€™t come with us into the Dreamlands.â€
â€œVhere is she!?! Vhere is she?â€
â€œVhere is zhis Kingsport?â€
The creature seemed to be becoming more and more agitated.
â€œVhere is she!?!â€ the Lord said again. â€œShe is ze Great Betrayer!â€
â€œIs she a dreamer?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œVhat are you talking about? Zhis is not a dream! Tell me vhere she is!â€
â€œHow did she betray you?â€
The Lord sputtered.
â€œZhat does not matter,â€ it said uncertainly. â€œZhat does not matter. I must find her. She must be punished as an insolent and disobedient child!â€
â€œSheâ€™s not a child anymore,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œIt matters not! She has gone against her fatherâ€™s wishes. She must be punished for zhese things.â€
â€œOh, because she married Uncle Wally?â€
â€œShe married ze American, yes. She married him. She laughed in her fatherâ€™s face and married against his wishes, yes. And she must be punished for the way she is acting. You!â€
He pointed at Gordon.
â€œVhere is she?â€ the Lord bellowed. â€œVhat is your name?â€
â€œGordon Brewster,â€ Gordon said.
â€œVhere is the Great Betrayer? You know her. Her smell is on you.â€
â€œWe said sheâ€™s in Kingsport.â€
â€œNo no no! That is lies. Tell me or I will become angry and have to hurt you all, you terrible children!â€
It reached down and clutched the whip.
â€œSheâ€™s at our Great Aunt Normaâ€™s,â€ Gordon said. â€œYou can take her too, if you want.â€
â€œVhat?â€ the Lord said. â€œNorma? I do not know this Norma.â€
â€œSheâ€™s very mean,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œI donâ€™t care about her!â€ the Lord said. â€œI must punish The Great Betrayer!â€
â€œI mean, we can go get her.â€
â€œJust tell me vhere she is!â€
â€œWhen we were dreaming, we were dreaming in Kingsport, right?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Gordon said.
None of the other children were sure when they started actually dreaming. Alice noted Aunt Gretchen had seemed sad when she talked about her father and their last words.
â€œCousin Melba would know, wouldnâ€™t she?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Gordon said.
â€œDid you kidnap Cousin Melba too?â€ Gerdie asked the Lord of the Krampus.
â€œNo!â€ the Lord replied. â€œI only kidnapped those â€¦ that â€¦ ugh. Children are so stupid. I was trying to find the Great Betrayer and my krampus brought me you six! And they snatched up the other six children as well, though they did not smell of the Great Betrayer. She has betrayed her father without remorse and she must be punished!â€
â€œWait, whyâ€™d they snatch up the other six children?â€
â€œBecause theyâ€™re stupid. Theyâ€™re krampus! Theyâ€™re idiots!â€
â€œIâ€™m standing right here,â€ a krampus who was loitering in a nearby doorway muttered.
â€œGo!â€ the Lord of the Krampus yelled at him. â€œGo do something with yourself!â€
â€œYes sir,â€ the krampus said with a pout. â€œIâ€™ll go do something with myself. You donâ€™t have to be hurtful.â€
â€œWell, if we just wake up, we can bring Gretchen,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYou will not escape easily!â€ the Lord of the Krampus said. â€œI varn you.â€
Gordon and Gerdie both realized the Lord of the Krampus was probably Gretchenâ€™s father, whom the girl had told them sheâ€™d had a terrible argument with just before leaving Austria a week or so before.
â€œBut Aunt Gretchen misses Austria,â€ Gerdie suddenly said.
â€œVhat!?!â€ the Lord of the Krampus replied.
â€œShe misses Austria.â€
â€œNo no no! She has no remorse for what sheâ€™s done! She has left! She has left her father!â€
â€œYeah, she looked kind of sad when she was talking about it,â€ Gordon said.
â€œShe looked â€¦ she looked sad?â€ the Lord of the Krampus said, his voice softer.
His voice had suddenly become more human and the flame between his horns dimmed a little bit.
â€œShe told us she missed her family,â€ Gerdie said. â€œAnd she wanted to spend Christmas with them.â€
The flame over the Lord of the Krampus went out and tears welled up in his eyes, rolling down his face.
â€œThey wanted to come visit you,â€ Gordon said.
The hideous giant melted away, leaving behind a man. He was an older gentleman in his 50s with white hair, a black mustache, a care-wrinkled face, a white cape, walking stick, and a top hat. He was crying.
â€œWhoâ€™s that?â€ Donald said, still very confused and loopy.
â€œDo we take him out?â€ George whispered to the rest.
He had finally gotten over being afraid.
â€œDo we take him out?â€ he whispered again. â€œWho is he?â€
â€œWho is that?â€ Edward said. â€œWho are you?â€
â€œHeâ€™s another dreamer,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYah,â€ the man said, wiping his eyes. â€œI am so sorry, children, for the terrible things I have done. Krampus! Get in here now!â€
The krampus came running up the sliding stairway. There were some 30 of the strange beasts. The one Gordon had injured earlier limped into the room. He looked at Gordon in horror.
â€œThatâ€™s the one!â€ he cried, pointing at Gordon. â€œThatâ€™s the one!â€
â€œI told them to say I was sorry,â€ Gordon said.
He went over to hug the krampus who shrieked in terror and ran away.
Even the two the children had knocked unconscious stumbled into the room, apparently still out cold.
â€œVe vill transport all of you back to Castle Mitzividor,â€ the old man said.
The krampus grabbed the children and they all suddenly appeared inside Cousin Melbaâ€™s castle. After the others there realized it was not another attack, the old man surrendered himself to the White Maiden, begging her forgiveness and throwing himself upon her mercy. The children told her everything that had happened and saw that the orphan children had been returned as well. She forgave the man on the condition that he contact his daughter in the waking world as soon as he awakened. He agreed, telling her that was his greatest wish anyway. Then he turned control of the krampus over to the White Maiden.
â€œYou will follow her instructions and orders now as you would have followed mine,â€ he said.
Then they all woke up!
* * *
The children awoke, sunlight streaming into their rooms. It was Christmas morning! According to the clock, it was 10 a.m. They could hear Aunt Norma badgering someone.
â€œItâ€™s Christmas,â€ Gordon said with a smile.
They ran downstairs and enjoyed a wonderful Christmas morning. All of the children had slept in and felt well-rested despite their strange ordeal in the Dreamlands. They privately whispered with Melba about their adventures and opened their presents. Gordon got the cleaning kit for his rifle. Gerdie got her shovel and was surprised it looked just like the one sheâ€™d created in the Dreamlands. George got his football, Alice got a Raggedy Anne, Edward got his Latin book, and Donald got his art supplies.
â€œWhat happened?â€ Donald said after theyâ€™d opened their presents. â€œAll I remember is someone hit me and some old guy was there with a mustache.â€
â€œYouâ€™re just not a very good dreamer,â€ Gerdie said, patting his hand.
He just looked at her.
â€œShut up!â€ he finally said with a pout. â€œIâ€™m a good dreamer!â€
Shortly after that, a knock came at the front door. It proved to be an older man, finely dressed, who apologized for his rude intrusion in a thick, Austrian accent. He humbly asked if he could enter and speak to â€œWally and Gretchen Weedon, my son-in-law and daughter.â€
He was shown inside and proved to be the man they had met in the Dreamlands. He introduced himself as GÃ¼nter von Khol. Wally and Gretchen were shocked to see him in Kingsport but were even more so when he apologized to them both for being such a fool and begged them both to forgive him. What followed was a very tearful reunion between father and daughter with even the war veteran Wally Weedon shedding a few tears at their happiness.
He spent Christmas with the family.
After a few hours, he snuck off to speak with Melba and the children. He explained he had created a gate between Vienna and Kingsport, as it was the fastest way to travel between the two cities. He thanked them all from the bottom of his heart.
â€œI owe each of you a debt that I can never repay,â€ he said. â€œBut that wonâ€™t stop me from trying. Please, allow a foolish old man to hand out a few Christmas gifts.â€
He gave Melba and each of the children a signet ring with the von Khol crest, explaining they were now under the protection of his family. He said if they were ever in Europe, they could use the rings to get help as people would recognize the crest and help them, especially in Austria. He told them they could open the gate to Vienna using the rings as well, giving them the location of the hidden, magical portal in the city. He invited them to visit him in Vienna whenever they liked, noting the gate opened in his castle there. They also learned he and Gretchen were both Austrian nobility. He said he had other gifts for the children and thanked them so much for saving him from the terrible madness that filled him when he daughter left him for Wally.
They all had a very merry Christmas.