The Adventure of the Krampus Foot
The Adventure of the Krampus Foot
by John H. Watson, M.D.
as edited by A. Conan Doob
Of all the bizarre and unexpected arrivals at our rooms at 221B Baker Street, I can think of none so extremely unnatural as that of the first of December, 1886, and the riot that descended upon us on that particular morning.
Sherlock Holmes had been using his irregulars to track the doings of the consequential Charles Lamont that November, so their sudden arrival at any given time of the day or night was not that unusual. What was unique about that December morning, however, was that he clatter on the staircase was at least three times its normal volume, and our sitting room was flooded with more of the street urchins than I even knew existed.
The thunderous stampede upon the staircase was quickly joined with yelps and howls of the later arrivals and the snap of what sounded like a dog whip, followed by a singularly heavy set of footfalls upon the stair.
“SAVE US, MR. HOLMES!” Wiggins cried breathlessly, as all the boys around him added their similar statements and agreements.
As the massed irregulars swarmed around us, hiding behind whatever furniture they could, a great horned figure came through our door, swatting at the slower moving lads with a birch branch until it broke, then pulling another from a basket on his back and swatting some more.
“Stop that immediately!” Sherlock Holmes commanded, unperturbed by the fanged goat-face of our intruder, his bestial form, or his lack of trousers.
“These children verge on naughtiness, and must be warned off!” the pantless goat-man growled. “Why there are so many of them along your street, and why they insisted upon running ahead of me, I do not know. But my main purpose for being here is to seek your professional services, Mr. Holmes.”
“You appear somewhat different from your pictures, Mr. Krampus,” Holmes replied, picking up his cherrywood pipe and loading it with tobacco from the Persian slipper on the table beside him.
“Ah, so you’ve noticed the peg leg,” Krampus sighed. “That is why I am here, Mr. Holmes. Someone has stolen my foot!”
“Watson, you might want to start taking notes immediately. This has to be a good one. How did someone steal your foot — from your leg, I’m assuming — without your knowledge?”
Krampus shook his head sadly, then waved his birch branch threateningly at some Irregulars by the bookcase to cheer himself up.
“Krampusnacht is coming, and I can’t make my rounds with this pirate peg!” the creature growled. “It makes a worse clatter than my hooves, and who can get a full gallop going with a peg?” (Editor’s note: These are Krampus’s own words, truthfully transcribed. The author holds that all horned beasts are due equal respect, and does not wish to offend any demons, satyrs, or other supposed mythological creatures in the reading audience, regardless of their number of hooves.)
“Would you like some schnapps, Mr. Krampus?” Watson asked.
Krampus nodded and held up his thumb and forefinger at the exact measure of how he would like the glass filled.
“Have a chair and tell us about the time before and immediately after, your foot went missing,” Sherlock Holmes said.
Krampus settled into the big wicker seat, which made that squashed wicker sound such chairs make, maybe a little moreso than usual, and began to tell his tale.
“I was visiting Mama Hel in the Underworld for one of their lovely boat parades along the Styx. The Labor Day one is a special favorite of mine, not just for the chorus of birthing moans and wails, but because that’s when the big candy demons toss the most small children to the crowds, and I fill my sack every year.”
“As one would, were one Krampus,” Sherlock Holmes agreed, always one to make a client fell welcome. The irregulars were making themselves smaller and folding themselves into any hiding places they could find.
“There’s a little inn just off Murderer’s Row in the Seventh Circle that I like to stay at, where the beer is the usual nastiness down there, but they put an orange on the rim of your glass. It’s called the Glowing Bride, and they reserve the Ottawa Suite for me if I notify in advance.
“Well, it had been a very long day, the parades were lovely, I had two full sacks of small children to take home with me, one of which I left with mother. She had cooked an excellent Labor Day dinner for the whole clan that eve, so I returned to my hotel satisfied and sleepy. There was still time for one last drink at the bar before heading up to my room, however, so I pulled up a stool and ordered something bitter. This American woman strolls up and sits down next to me . . . what was your mother’s name again, Dr. Watson?”
“Urmm,” finding Krampus’s attention focused upon me, I was suddenly without words.
Krampus laughed. “Sorry, old man, just had to have a little fun at your expense.”
I forced a chortle. “Quite all right. Go on . . . an American woman you say?”
“Yes, her name was Elizabeth Something. Said she was just in town for the boat parades, like me. There was a piano player who only knew that old Husavik folk tune, “Jaja Ding Dong,” and we found ourselves singing along after about the fifteenth repetition. You just can’t help yourself with that one, can you?
I nodded in acquiescence. Holmes made a gesture for Krampus to continue.
“That led to a discussion of Nordic composers of the second century, and we took turns heartily drumming on the bar. It was an exhausting conversation, and as I had already had a full day and a fully meal, I tired quickly, and was soon excusing myself to go back to the Ottawa Suite for a much needed collapse.
“Now, I know you look at a fellow like myself and think you know what is going to come next, but I assure you, weariness was filling my every bone and muscles that night, so I trudged upstairs along, shut my door behind me, and fellow on to the wooden slab that served as the room’s bed. Morning never comes in the Seventh Circle, so I awoke when I awoke, and rolled off the slab, ready to start my travels back home with my bag of children.
“I cannot convey my horror as one hoof hit the floor accompanied by the sound of that single wooden peg, which had replaced my other hoof.”
“Fascinating,” Holmes observed. “Usually one notices such a traumatic thing as an amputation.”
“You perceive my wonderment,” Krampus replied. “But that is not the end of my tale. As I spoke to the innkeeper upon leaving the Glowing Bride, I was given a note that had been left for me.”
Krampus handed Holmes a folded sheet of paper that he produced from somewhere upon his person.
Sherlock Holmes took it, ever-so-cautiously put it to his nose and sniffed it, looked at it from every side, unfolding it as he went.
“Thank you for your donation,” Holmes read aloud. “We will seek you out when we need another. Not to let you know first, of course.”
Krampus’s eyes were wide with terror.
“How do I stop them, Mr. Holmes? How do I keep my other hoof?”
“I don’t suppose you do, Mr. Krampus,” Sherlock Holmes replied. “What Hel hath given, Hel can taketh away.”
“What? My mother? Surely, you can’t mean my own mother did this awful thing!”
Holmes took a long drag on his pipe.
“You don’t write letters to your mother, do you, Mr. Krampus?”
“Who writes letters any more? Telegrams serve, even the Underworld.”
“True. But a mother likes a letter. And when you write your mother, she writes back, and you begin to recognize her hand and her paper. Your mother wrote this note!”
Krampus scoffed. “How could you know that?”
“While I am not a correspondent of hers either, my line of work does bring me into contact with certain contracts made by the less kindly of our community with the Queen of the Underworld herself. To be honest, I thought they were merest hoax-work to keep one’s gang in line, and not the authentic thing. Your arrival here, however, has made me reconsider that thesis.”
“But why would my mother want my foot? She has feet of her own!”
“You hit on her motive earlier, I think. She has every reason to want to slow down your bagging of children each Krampusnacht. A naughty child delivered to her at such a young age has no chance to become a naughty adult, and do you know what naughty adults do?”
“Bear naughty children?”
“Yes, but only after they have infected other adults with their naughtiness. Your method catches the naughty children, yes, but her’s sends some good children her way as well, when they become naughty adults. Besides, your handicap is only temporary. I could tell by the awkwardness of your gait coming in that your shortened leg is starting to grow back. Immortal creatures tend to have that ability.”
Krampus nodded. “But how did she take the leg? And why the peg?”
“A slow-acting, yet powerful soporific in your hearty meal. And the peg . . . the peg should have been your first clue. A stranger would have left you with a stump, hopping your way home. Only someone who cared about your continued quality of life would be so kind as to give you a peg-leg to get by. And I have no doubt that handicapping you was just a hell-mother’s way of telling you to slow down, stop and smell the brimstone, a kindness as well.”
Krampus seemed satisfied with that.
“It does sound like my mother. Thank you, Mr. Holmes. While I’m here, though, do you think you could tell me how I could find that American woman I met at the inn? I think I would like to see her again when I’m not drugged by my mother.”
Holmes chuckled. “She probably has a lawyer husband she was visiting down there. They always do. You’re better just left with that memory.”
Krampus nodded. Then he swept the room with his gaze. The irregulars shuddered en masse.
“I think I’ll take my mother’s advice and slow things down a little. I don’t think I’ll be seeing any of you this Krampusnacht, so I’ll wish you all ‘Compliments of the season!’ and be on my way.”
“Good luck to you, Mr. Krampus, and just so your visit isn’t a total loss, I have an address for you: “Cheesman’s, Lamberly, in Sussex, south of Horsham.”
“A naughty one?” the goat beastie-man asked as he headed out the door.
“The worst. Merry Christmas, Mr. Krampus!”
That night, we had more houseguests overnight at 221B Baker Street than any other night in our time there, quite understandably.