I kept hearing it... the eerie scratch of wood against metal, branches scraping across the surface of a locker.
It seemed first to come from one direction and then abruptly from another. Hallways became a maze and it sounded like there was always something around every corner.
Lights had been turned down at the school for some reason and everything took on an uncomfortable quality. Shadows seemed to cling far too easily to the corners and arches of the hall and it reminded me that they called schools institutions too. There was something definitely institutional about this place - cold, uncaring, distant.
It didn’t feel like that most of the time. Normally everything was pretty buoyant with voices ringing through the hallways, laughter bouncing around, and loud, totally unselfconscious footsteps banging from place to place. But something had changed.
There was a somber quality that had levelled itself around the school. People spoke in hushed tones, eyes always darting around the hallway. They didn’t linger in the hallways chatting away any more and instead moved quickly from class to class, as though clinging to those little spots of light that darted the halls.
Students had been bringing in twigs for the past few days, painting them white and silver and leaving them in bundles around the hallway. It made the school look like a trapped, dead forest, casting shadows onto the ceiling that seemed to creep overhead. Branches seemed to loom overhead everywhere I looked.
I assumed that the sound of wood on metal was just the branches strangely moving against the lockers, but I couldn’t figure out what could possibly be moving them... and I was more than a little unsettled by the fact that the sound seemed to advance on me from different directions, scratching toward me instead of in a random pattern. Something seemed too precise about it, too intentional.
I was pretty accustomed to the rattling of chains. It was in vogue for the ghost students to wear chains lately and normally I found their clatter and clink comforting, but these chains seemed different... heavier perhaps. They seemed to carry a weight about them that ghostly fashion didn’t carry. And oddly there was a tinkling of little silver bells that accompanied the chains. The dissonance between the little bells and the deeper clank of the chains somehow make both seem more unsettling. They clashed against each other in cheer and imprisonment.
I don’t think I would have been quite as disturbed by all of the strange occurrences in the school if it weren’t for the disappearances... and, perhaps more strangely, the silences about all of the disappearances.
Not only were people not talking about which students had disappeared, but everyone seemed to avoid the topic whenever it came up. I couldn’t decide whether I was experiencing paranoia or whether I really was outside of a secret that everyone else seemed to be in on.
I am still pretty new here at Monster High, so most things seem pretty new and different. I started here when I was 16... days old. So, most things EVERYWHERE seem pretty new and different. Mostly I have been relying all semester on friends to help me figure my way out around the school and learn about the world around me... and I think that’s why all of this just seemed so unusual.
Normally my friends would quickly fill in details that I needed, giving me background that I was missing because, of course, classes were going to be very different than the sterile lab that I was created in.
“Frankie, you really really should get to class” an anxious voice shouted down the hallway. Clawdeen was normally a pretty tough werewolf, but she was hunched over as she called to me and her ears kept on twitching from one direction to the next. She normally didn’t twitch her ears that much unless she was catching gossip from around the hallway.
“Okay, I’m just getting stuff from my locker,” I hollered back, “I still have a few minutes before class starts.”
But she was already at my arm, linking her claws over my skin with an urgency I wasn’t familiar with from her. She began pulling me toward our Biteology class.
“Hey, Clawdeen, I don’t even have my books with me.”
“It’s okay, you can look off of mine.” She breathed out in one long word, “Trust me, you want to get to class now.”
“Why is everyone always hurrying to class lately?”
“Look, just trust me on this, okay?” Clawdeen sighed, dragging me faster.
The class looked emptier than normal. I could see chairs left unoccupied that used to be filled every class. I couldn’t remember everyone that was missing, but I noticed a few people who weren’t there.
Where was Scarah?
What happened to Slo Mo?
Where was Jane... okay that was a little less concerning. Jane Boolittle was a bit more comfortable with animals than she was with people and had a habit of disappearing every once in a while and watching us from afar. Still, she had been getting better and she was becoming a lot more social. She had been coming to classes and hanging out pretty regularly until last week.
Clawdeen was tapping her claws on the desk in front of her, looking around the room as uncomfortably as I was.
“Shhhh” she whispered, “There’s Cleo. Wave her over.”
Cleo didn’t have the normal swagger in her step and her bandages seemed wrapped tighter than they usually were. Normally she used them as accent pieces - they were, after all, designer wraps - hanging gently off of her arms and legs, but now they seemed to be shrouds, hiding as much of her as possible.
Cleo sat down quietly beside us, looking around and trying not to make eye contact with anyone for too long. She normally has a huge personal space bubble around her, which she fills with dramatic gestures, but she seemed to hold her arms tightly around herself, and, perhaps more strangely, moved close to my side.
She didn’t even complain that my anxiety sparks were ruining her hair.
A new teacher walked in to the classroom, one I haven’t seen before. This was really strange. Mr. Hackington never missed class. He seemed to find torturing us as an actual healing activity. I could swear I could see him getting more robust with every yell of “you fail”.
So, it didn’t make sense that Mr. Hackington would miss class for any reason.
“Hello class. I am sorry to inform you that Mr. Hackington can’t be in class today. I am your substitute teacher, Mrs. Belsnickel. I will be teaching Human Studies until Mr. Hackington returns.”
I was having a tough time deciding what sort of scaritage Mrs. Belsnickel came from. She looked strangely human, like a Normie.
Mrs. Belsnickel finished writing her name on the board and turned around “As you may have noticed... I have some special insights into Human Studies.”
“Oh, oh, she’s a Normie” Cleo hollered out impulsively, covering her mouth after this spoke.
Mrs. Belsnickel chuckled and then bowed for the class. “Thank you for that introduction Ms.....”
“De Nile... Cleo De Nile. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to holler out about your scaritage... or heritage? Isn’t that what you call it in the Norm- human world?”
“That’s a good first step. Let’s call us humans. We... prefer that over ‘Normie’s’.”
There were awkward glances around the room.
I shot my hand up.
“Stein. Frankie Stein. I’m really excited to learn Human Studies from a human teacher, but... well, I’m also worried about Mr. Hackington. It isn’t like him to miss class...”
Cleo air quoted and mouthed out the word ‘worried’.
“Thank you for your concern about your teacher Ms. Stein. I am really pleased to be teaching somewhere that students care so much about their teachers. But, sometimes everyone needs a bit of a break and I hope that you enjoy my time here as much as I am sure I will enjoy teaching you. Now, I know that because you get a chance to talk to a human, you may have some questions for me and I will make sure that there is time for questions at the end of each class. But first, I want to introduce you to a few ideas you may not have had a chance to learn about yet. Today, I want to begin an exploration of two interrelated aspects of the human world: Fear and Hope. As you can imagine, studying human fear is relevant to you as monsters, particularly since their fear can motivate them to harm you. But, there is a complicated relationship between ideas of fear and hope. Human beings use hope as a way to fend off their fears with the promise that something better will eventually come along.”
She drew a snowflake on the chalk board. “Winter is a tough season for human beings. Food is more scarce, human bodies are more prone to illness, days are shorter and nights are longer. It is a tough time.”
Abby Bominable raised an icy hand, letting icicles form from her fingers and said in her Slavic accent “Winter is beautiful season. Is good. Is not to be frightened of.”
“Yes, that is definitely true” Said Ms. Belsnickel, “But it is also a very harsh season.”
“Harsh is good for the body. Keeps everyone strong.”
Ms. Belsnickel smiled, “You are right. And that is perhaps why it is such an important season for human beings. All around the world people have created different celebrations for MidWinter to fend off the fear that comes with cold by celebrating the fact that light and warmth will eventually return.”
“Pah, warmth is over-rated.” Abby spat.
“Rituals are different all over the world, but they often involve symbols of hope like fires, candles, bringing greenery inside to remind everyone of life-“
I shot my hand up “Is this why people are bringing sticks into Monster High?”
Everyone looked at me with shock on their faces. The silence was palpable.
“Well,” said Ms. Belsnickel, “Bringing greenery into the home is a human custom. Also... do any of the sticks you have seen have greenery on them?”
“Well, no... I haven’t seen any.... But this is so strange.”
“Okay, we should make sure to focus on human customs while we are in class. Let’s take a look at a short slide show of some customs from around the world.”
Bright green, red, gold, and silver flashed across the screen.
“Is so... shiny” Abby said.
“Yes, I suppose it is.” Ms. Belsnickel said, “And I think that is the point of it. It’s about fending off the darkness with light. It is part of that human desire for hope when things get dark.”
“But why are they so afraid of the dark?” Clawdeen asked, “It’s so much easier to see the moon in the dark.”
“The thing is...” Ms. Belsnickel said, “It’s not necessarily really about the dark. The dark is sort of a representation... it means something bigger than itself. It represents uncertainty - the unknown. And to some degree everyone fears the unknown. I think that is one of the reasons why humans fear monsters - because they don’t understand, and anything they don’t understand, anything that doesn’t make sense to humans is inherently viewed as frightening.” She flipped slides, showing a giant Santa Claus, “So all of these lights are ways of making things visible in the darkness, of bringing a sense of hope.”
“Again, is symbolic?” Abby asked.
“That’s right. It’s not about the actual light. It’s about what the light represents. It’s meant to be cheery. But it’s also about fending off the uncertainty, about a distraction from the dark.“
Normally I would find all of this interesting. I found human studies really fascinating and enjoyed learning about new cultures, but I couldn’t help but be aware of the missing students around me. The bright, flashy holiday lights on the screen only made me notice the absence more.
All of these images of hope weren’t very comforting to me as a monster. I wondered if perhaps this was something that just didn’t translate well from human experience to ours, but whatever was happening, i couldn’t focus on anything until class was over.
People shuffled out of class quickly, going to their lockers as quickly as they could and then heading immediately into class.
I ran into Draculaura outside of her locker. I must have startled her because when I said her name, she became a bat in a puff of smoke and had already flown down the howlway before she realized that it was me.
“Oh sorry Frankie” she transformed back into a vampire, “I didn’t realize it was you. I just got a bit startled when you crept up on me.”
“I thought I was being pretty much as loud as I always am. I’m sorry that I didn’t make myself more noticeable. What has gotten you jumpy?”
“Oh, you know.” She seemed to be searching for something to say, “Just the usual, I guess. It was quiet and I got surprised. That’s all. I must have been distracted.”
“I’ll say. You’re normally not so on edge. Did you get your homework done for Monster History?”
“Oh?” She looked off over my shoulder into the distance, “Yes? I’m sure I must have... I must have done it. We should get to class.”
“Okay, do you want to wait for me to get my books.”
She was already part way down the hall, “Sorry Frankie, I don’t want to be late. I will save you a seat.”
Before Draculaura’s cheery voice stopped echoing down the empty hallway, I could hear it again... that dull scrape of wood on metal, a shriek far more uncomfortable than a banshee’s wail.
The hallway wasn’t as entirely free of footsteps as it had been recently.
There was one set of footsteps that echoed down the corridors - a dull clop clop sound of heavy hooves on the marble floor. They were steady steps, echoing like a heartbeat. Each stomp purposeful and they seemed to be speeding up, which matched my own heartbeat ramping up quickly as my terror rose.
I couldn’t figure out where the sounds were coming from. They seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.
My neck bolts started flashing electric sparks as I got more anxious. I could feel lightning coursing through my veins. Small currents leapt out from my body to electrify the lockers in archs of blue, soldering the metal face of them.
My body ducked down instinctively. I couldn’t figure out which direction to run in, so I ended up running toward class. At least there I would be able to be around my friends. But around every corner I expected to see a huge hulking figure hunting me through the hallways.
The rattle of chains and the ring of bells seemed right behind me as I rounded the doorway and into my classroom and then there was silence.
Everyone was looking at me.
For a second, I thought I was late for class but I glanced at the clock and knew that I was definitely early.
The classroom was even more empty than my classroom this morning... and I had a feeling that this was everyone that would be arriving.
I noticed Draculaura crying at her desk.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“I’m sorry. I just- Have you seen Cleo anywhere?”
“There’s still time before-“
“No. She would already be here. She’s not coming! She’s-“ Draculaura swallowed loudly “Gone.”
“Oh” I patted her on the shoulder, “No. She’ll be here.”
Clawdeen leaned down from behind us, “No, She’s right.” She grabbed Draculaura in a hug from behind. “We just need to stick together. Look after each other.”
“Okay class, settle down” Another new teacher walked in. It seemed like the teachers were disappearing along with the students, “Mr. Rotter is unavailable today, so I will be taking over his classes for the time being.”
I shot my hand up in the air.
“I will ask all of you to remain quiet for this class. We have little time together and I need you to focus.”
She was fairly harsh, which was fairly normal for Ogre culture, though she looked like she might also have some Troll scaritage along with her Ogre scaritage.
“I am Grýla. Not Ms. Grýla. Not Professor Grýla. Just Grýla. I will be teaching you about Monster History. I understand that you have assignments to hand in?”
Students shuffled in place.
“That’s what I thought.” She glared at everyone in the classroom, “You can’t get distracted and stop doing your work for the term. You need to stay focussed. All of you have detention.”
“Wait” I said, waving my paper in the air, “I have my paper done and I’m sure that others do too.”
I looked over at Draculaura and she subtly and quickly shook her head. I turned to look at Clawdeen and she suddenly became very interested in the notebook in front of her. I suspected that it didn’t have her homework in it.
Gryla’s eyebrow arched in an impressed look at me. A few of her crooked teeth showed and I wasn’t sure if that was a smile or a barring of teeth, “Anyone else?” She asked, glaring around the room, “Okay -?”
“Frankie, ma’am. Frankie Stein.”
“Not Ma’am. It’s Gryla. You will call me Gryla. Remember? I was very specific about this.”
“Yes, Ma’am - Gryla. I’m sorry. I am used to using titles for my teachers as a sign of respect.”
“My name is a sign of respect. It is a name that has struck fear in millions for thousands of years. It is far more powerful than ‘Ma’am’. Now, bring your paper to the front of the room.” She waved her arm toward me. “Come, come. Do not be scared.”
I was shaking as I picked up my paper, especially since everyone looked at me. My neck bolts were sparking so much that I was worried I would set my paper on fire. I waved it back and forth in the air a few times, trying to keep it away from the sparks.
My stitched came loose and my arm went flying toward the front of the room and landed on the floor in front of Gryla.
“Well,” she said, looking down at my arm and the paper still being held by it, “That is an unconventional way to hand in your paper.... Could you perhaps bring the rest of you to the front as well?” She reached down and picked up the paper from my hand.
My hand flipped over and started scurrying toward me. It crawled up my body and to the end of my arm. I temporarily put it in my pocket. I didn’t think that Gryla would let me take the time to sew it back on. She didn’t seem like the patient type.
Gryla came around her desk, each footstep slamming onto the ground. Her toes hung over the end of her shoes and kept wiggling with excitement. “Good. Let’s see what you have to say here.”
“Oh,” I felt so extremely awkward, “You... are you going to read it while I’m standing here?”
“Yes.” She said, her eyes scanning the page. “The Empousa: An Ancient Greek Vampire by Frankie Stein. The Empousa is a monster from the Ancient Greek world that feeds off of blood just like the-“
“-Wait. Are you going to read my paper out loud to the class?” I asked.
“Yes. As I was saying, ‘...that feeds off of blood just like the modern-“
“I don’t think it is very appropriate.” I cut her off.
She looked extremely frustrated, “You might remember, Ms. Stein, that I am the teacher for this class and you are the student.”
“...vampire. There are differences in appearance between the vampire and the Empousa since the Empousa has two different legs. One is often described as being the leg of a donkey and the other leg is one made of brass.”
“That doesn’t sound like a vampire to me” I heard Draculaura mutter.
“No, other than the desire for blood, there isn’t a lot in common between them.” Gryla said.
“Not all of us drink” Draculaura gulped in disgust, “the red stuff...”
“It is a big problem” Gryla stared at me, “to assume that any one monster scaritage is linked to another.”
“But that’s not what I-“ I began.
“Remember that scaritage is complex. It’s not something that can be grouped into easy categories. And I speak from personal experience.” Gryla did a dramatic gesture pointing to herself, “As you can see, I am from a mixed scaritage, myself being from both Ogre and Troll background. Do you think Gryla is like any other?”
“No...” I said, “of course, you are right. It doesn’t make sense to try to narrow down people’s scaritages or group them into simple categories. We aren’t simple, so simple categories don’t really work. We are all complicated beings.”
“Well said, Ms. Stein.” Gryla said, “and just in time too. If it had taken you much longer, I would have had my cat eat you.”
I heard a purring sound from under her desk and noticed two deep green eyes looking hungrily at me. The cat jumped onto the table and I jumped backward.
“Now, Ms. Stein, if you could return to your seat? I believe that Jólakötturinn wants me to talk to you about the history of monstrous fashion.”
Was she talking about the cat?
Jólakötturinn began purring and curled up in a ball on Gryla’s desk.
“She has a real taste for fashion” Gryla said, “Oh, and also a taste for anyone who doesn’t buy themselves new clothes before mid-winter, so I suggest that you treat yourself to some new clothes soon.”
I was really hoping that the cat coincidently yawned at that moment, but it wasn’t comforting to see her mouth open wide and her teeth show.
While Gryla talked about the history of the shroud and its relevance for monster fashion, her cat Jólakötturinn prowled around the room, weaving across our desks and occasionally knocking our textbooks out from under us if we seemed to drift in attention.
Clawdeen was rapidly taking notes and doing quick sketches in her notebook as Gryla shuffled through slides. I could see that she was inspired by some of the fashions of the past and was curious about the history of monster clothing.
Clawdeen was still sketching as Draculaura and I walked with her to the Creepateria. She seemed so absorbed in what she was doing that she didn’t have that alert look that she had developed over the past few days. Draculaura more than made up for it, getting startled every few moments when there was a sound that was just a little too loud.
Everyone in the Creepateria were huddled around a few tables in the centre of the room with a wide space around the door. No one seemed to want to sit near the door and most students tried to sit strategically so that they could see the door.
People ate in silence, which was really unusual. I could understand why Clawdeen was quiet. She was still drawing furiously and writing notes. I looked over at the beautiful fashions she had created incorporating shrouds. She was in the middle of decking a shroud out in chains when she suddenly stopped, staring down at the chains in horror. She reached for an eraser, quickly rubbing away at the page with it until the page ripped.
I leaned over “Oh, I actually thought the chains were pretty nice.” I smiled at her.
“How could you say that... considering everything?”
I paused. I remembered the sounds of chains in the hallways, the eerie sound of something that had once been contained and now was loose, an escaped prisoner, something unleashed. I shivered along with her.
Lagoona sat down at our table, scooting her chair between my chair and Clawdeen’s as if she wanted to make sure she was safe. “Hey ghouls” She said, “Make room for a ghoul, will ya?”
Her lips were chapped. It looked like she hadn’t been swimming in days and normally she tended to spend a fair amount of time in the water, being a sea monster and needing a little more hydration than the rest of us.
“Lagoona, you’re looking a little dry. Do you need a swim?” I asked.
She looked startled and confused about why I would be asking such an unusual question, “No, no. Frankie, I’m okay, really. Maybe just a couple of glasses of water?”
“I can go down to the pool with you if you need a swim.” I said.
There was silence. Not only were the rest of the ghouls at our table staring at us, but everyone else was too.
“Uh, Frankie... I don’t think-“
There was a shout from the hallway outside of the Creepateria. It sounded like Abby. I couldn’t figure out what she was saying, but there was a lot of yelling and what sounded like the cold snap of ice.
Clawdeen bared her claws, Draculaura turned into a bat, and Lagoona and I ran to the howlway. The howlway was a huge snowdrift and icicles hung off of the lockers. The snow was blowing through the howlway as though there was an outdoor wind rustling through it and there was a cold banging of lockers and the crisp snap of ice. We couldn’t see Abby anywhere in the snow and ice or hear anything over a wintery howl of wind.
I hoped it was wind.
Clawdeen knelt down to the snow, sniffing and signalled us to follow her down the howlway. I noticed prints in the snow from Abby’s stilettos. They scraped and twirled at various strange angles as though she was involved in a complicated dance... only I didn’t think it was a dance. It looked like she had been fighting for her life.
Ice was scattered erratically, hanging in complicated patterns from the ceiling, which wasn’t like Abby. Even in an emergency, she had control over her ice powers and could shape a steady stream of ice in one direction. This looked like an Abby that had been firing her power at shadows, uncertain which way threats were coming from.
I noticed Lagoona staring down at prints in the snow with horror too. “Ghouls, do you see-?“ She looked in horror at cloven prints in the snow.
“Was Manny here too?” I asked, wondering if the prints were from our one Minotaur student.
“No, he’s been gone for-“ Draculaura caught herself and stopped talking.
I was frustrated. We were in the middle of an emergency and they were all holding back. “What’s going on here?” I yelled.
“Shhhh” Clawdeen said, “I’m trying to find out where Abby went.” Her nose was right to the snow. Maybe it was harder to smell when it was this cold out.
She stopped abruptly. I looked down to where Clawdeen was looking. The stiletto shoe prints were gone and after that there were a few meters of what looked like a bag that had been dragged through the snow and then the howlway cleared of snow.
“Did someone... Did someone take Abby in a bag?” I asked.
Everyone stared at me.
“We need to tell someone. We need to talk to the Headmistress about this. I don’t know what is going on and I don’t know why no one is talking about it, but something has to be done here!!”
I marched off down the howlway not even caring if the other ghouls followed me and not caring that I could again hear that clank of chains and tinkle of bells.
“Someone should go with her.” I heard Clawdeen whisper to the other ghouls, “I don’t want her to go on her own. It’s not safe.”
“Shhh” Draculaura said, “You know it is forbidden to talk about it.”
I didn’t even wait to hear if they finally explained what it was forbidden to talk about. I was going to ask it directly from the Headmistress and not leave her office until she told me something.
There was a serious issue going on at this school and I wasn’t going to let any more of my friends disappear, especially since Abby’s disappearance confirmed for me that this wasn’t just kids taking off from school or teachers taking extra time. People were afraid and people were getting hurt.
I knocked on the Headmistress’s door.
Lagoona showed up beside me, watching in every other direction. She tried to smile at me with cracked, dry lips.
“Thanks for coming with me” I said to her, knocking again.
“Frankie, you really shouldn’t -“
“Come in” I heard from the other side of the door. It wasn’t the Headmistress’ voice.
I opened the door cautiously, staring at the witch who was sitting at the Headmistress’ desk.
“May I help you?” She asked, like an accusation.
“Oh, I’m sorry” I said, “Is the Headmistress in?”
“I’m afraid the Headmistress is on holidays. I am Frau Perchta. I’ll be assuming her duties for the time being. As I said, can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m Frankie Stein and I am here to report some disappearances”
Lagoona tugged on my sleeve “Frankie, I don’t think this is-“
I pulled my sleeve away. “Students have been going missing and my friends and I just heard our friend Abby Bominable be attacked.”
“Oh” Frau Perchta leaned forward, green fingers knitting on top of the desk, “Is she okay? Where is she now?”
“She was taken.” I said.
“Oh my! And you saw this happen?”
“Well, no. But we heard some shouting and then came out to find snow all over the hallway - she’s an abominable snowperson, you see - and we could see footprints and what looked like a place where a bag had been dragged.”
“Ah” Frau Perchta sat back in the Headmistress’ chair. She picked up a stick from her desk, tapping it against the side of the chair, “So you didn’t actually see anything, did you? Are you sure that your imagination isn’t getting the better of you?”
“No! We know what we heard!” I found myself shouting.
“Oh my. I think we can be a bit calmer than that.” She said, looking into my eyes with her deep green ones. I could see the spark of magic in them, a twinkle that all witches had.
Even if I had wanted to yell any more, my voice was suddenly softer and I could tell that she had worked a subtle spell on me. “Students are afraid and there are more missing students each day.”
“Winter is tough for a lot of people” Frau Perchta said.
“C’mon Frankie” Lagoona tried to pull on my sleeve again, “Let’s leave her alone.”
“No, we need to figure out what is going on Lagoona.” I turned back to Frau Perchta, “I think someone needs to investigate all of these disappearances. This doesn’t seem normal. Even with the cold, there is no way that this many students are out sick... and if anyone is going to be sick from the cold, it isn’t going to be Abby. She is stronger and healthier in the cold and there is no way one of our winters would cause her any trouble.”
“Hmm, good point.” Frau Perchta said, “I will see if I can look into this and try calling some parents to see what is going on. Maybe we can find out if students are at home sick. If not, maybe we can start searching for them.” She looked me up and down “Is this... Sorry, this may be a personal question, but is this your first winter?”
“Yes. I was created just before this school year started. I’m not only new to the school. I’m sort of... well, just new.”
“Ah.” She seemed to have figured out for herself, “That explains a lot.”
“A lot about what?” I asked.
“Oh, well, you haven’t had a winter here at Monster High before, so perhaps you aren’t familiar with the number of students who have to be away from school during this season.”
“Ya, that’s got to be it, Frankie” Lagoona said, “This is all pretty normal.”
“I- I refuse to believe this is normal” I said, as loud as I was able to with the quieting spell on me, “There’s something not right here.”
Frau Perchta stood abruptly, banging the twig in her hand on the table. “It’s not nice to shout... or at least try to shout” She said. Her tongue now lapped out of her mouth, suddenly incredibly long.
This wasn’t a normal characteristic of a witch. The tongue was bright red and slid from side to side in her mouth as though tasting the air.
Horns began protruding through her hair, curling up from her head like ram horns and fur started forming across her face. A hissing sound came from her mouth, along with a low growl.
Lagoona leapt to her feet, backing toward the door, and trying to pull me with her. I was a bit slower to move backward, my whole system feeling like it was shorting out as electricity zapped from the bolts in my neck.
Frau Perchta’s ears became more pointed and began lengthening like a wolf’s ears and her finger nails formed into talons. I noticed a familiar clanking of chains as she began pushing her desk aside.
Her body hung with chains and bells that rung as she moved slowly in place. She stood on cloven hooves.
“What is-“ I began to ask when she leapt toward Lagoona and I, her claws raking the air where I would have been if Lagoona’s reflexes hadn’t carried us out of the way in time.
The creature that was Frau Perchta reached at me again, grasping my arm. With a tug, she pulled my arm loose from its stitches and it flailed in the air as Frau Perchta put it over shoulder into a bag that had appeared slung over her back. It was red in colour, as though it had been stained with the blood of all of the missing students.
Her clothes had changed to read too and she wore a red cloak trimmed in white fur. A red hood hung down her back with a white fur ball on the top of it. I could see my arm struggling in the red sack that she had slung over her shoulder.
Lagoona kicked the Headmistress’ door hard, opening it out into the hallway and both of us backed out into the hallway.
Even though Abby was missing, snow began howling down the howlway on the wind, brushing along all of those twigs that had been left in the howlway and leaving them clattering against the floor and buried in snow drifts.
Draculaura and Clawdeen were still down the howlway where we had left them. They still looked terrified, but they were also still waiting to see if we were okay.
They very quickly realized that we weren’t okay when the huge, dark, horned figure burst through the Headmistress’ doorway after us, growling, tongue licking the air.
“It’s time ghouls!” I heard Clawdeen yell, “It’s the Winter Solstice and Krampus has finally shown himself!”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but other students seemed to understand since they came running out of the creepateria as Clawdeen howled.
“The chase is on!” Lagoona called, grabbing her skateboard and joining the other ghouls.
Frau Perchta - or perhaps it was Krampus now - froze in the hallway looking at all of the students. Her/his tongue licked the air.
“We’ve had enough of being afraid” Draculaura yelled, “now it’s your turn to be afraid, Krampus.” She turned into a bat and flew down the howlway, darting at the creature’s head. He tried to reach for her with his clawed hands but several other vampire students joined her, darting and zigzagging around Krampus.
Clawdeen’s howl was joined by her sister Howleen and her brother Clawd. They rushed at Krampus with their claws barred, snarling.
Krampus grabbed several of the bats from the air and stuffed them into his red bag, zipping it closed before the students could escape. He grabbed Clawd mid-leap and threw him into the bag too and the werewolf growled and snarled until he was inside. I hoped that he didn’t claw up my arm while he was in there... or any of the other students.
I noticed that several of the students were trying to grab hold of Krampus’ chains and tie them around him. They must be trying to trap him. I let loose some electricity, hoping to be able to taze Krampus and stop his rush to trap students in his bag. He yelped as my electricity hit him and I pulled a lock from the nearest locker, jumping at Krampus and grabbing onto one of his chains.
Bells jingled as I pulled a chain tight around his arms, attaching the lock from the locker around his wrist.
He looked shocked and frightened and then swung his bag around the howlway, knocking us all aside and ran off.
We could hear the jingle and clank of the chains and bells as he ran away. It only took a few seconds for us to recover and we were off again. Clawdeen was in the lead, using her nose to track Krampus.
She seemed to be having a lot of trouble keeping his scent and kept sneezing whenever she sniffed for too long. “Damn peppermint. It always blocks up my sense of smell.” She said, scratching at the end of her nose.
“Spread out!” I yelled, “and search all of the classrooms”
Draculaura turned back into a vampire beside me “No, that’s a bad idea! Stay together. There’s a lot more strength in numbers.”
But people had already started spreading out through the howlways, groups of them going into different classrooms.
“Stick with me?” I asked Draculaura.
“Absolutely. Strength in numbers” She said, though her voice wavered.
Skelita Calaveras, a skeleton student with Dios De La Muertos painting on her face came up to us with Lagoona, “Can we join you too?”
“Sure. Since we’re already here, let’s check the Human Studies classroom?” I asked.
“That would be a weird place for a monster to go” said Lagoona, “but worth a try. We need ta eliminate every possibility.”
She kicked in the door. Kicking in doors was rapidly becoming a habit for Lagoona.
“What is going on here??!!” Yelled our new Human Studies teacher Ms. Belsnickel.
“Oh, we are sorry Ms. Belsnickel” Skelita said, “The school is under attack by someone named Krampus and we are trying to find out where he is.”
“And did it require you to kick in my door?”
“Perhaps, ah, not so much” Skelita said.
“That was my fault” Lagoona said, “I got a little carried away with myself.”
“Well, as you can see, I am alone in here.” Ms. Belsnickel said, “So you can be on your way.”
We started to walk out of the room when Skelita paused, “Wait. You are a teacher. Why are you not concerned about the students?”
Ms. Belsnickel licked her lips. “Oh, of course I am. I was just about to follow you.”
“You didn’t seem to be following us.” Lagoona said, also looking suspiciously at our human teacher.
She licked her lips again, “Well, I’m not really equipped to deal with monsters. Humans aren’t as strong as monsters are, you see.”
Her tongue hung out a little too far.
I took a few steps toward her to get a better look. I noticed that her teeth were a little sharper than human teeth, a touch longer than they should be. Where her hair was straight before, there were now two buns on her head, which didn’t really suit her.
Draculaura seemed to notice it too, “No... way”.
Ms. Belsnickel was making a hissing sound now, her tongue hanging down, licking the air.
I let my electricity crash across the room, striking her. It would have been enough to stun a human, but I had a feeling that she wasn’t quite as human as she pretended to be.
She staggered backward, falling against her desk.
As her desk scraped across the floor, it revealed a red bag beneath it that was currently moving with the bodies of students struggling to get out.
Ms. Belsnickel leapt onto her desk on all fours, her legs now fully formed into goat legs and her horns showing through her hair, “Remember to hold out hope against the darkness” she hiss-laughed at us.
“Cover your eyes, ghouls” I whispered to the others and then looked directly into Ms. Belsnickel or should I say Krampus’ dark eyes, “How’s this for light against the darkness?” I asked, letting my electricity brighten up. I touched the light switch beside me, letting green lightning flow into it, transforming all of the lights in the room into bright green sparking lights.
The light was blindingly bright and Krampus looked confused and disoriented, eyes searching around the room.
Draculaura, able to navigate by echolocation like a bat, was able to fly at Krampus, pulling chains around his body, tightening them around his back.
Skelita called on her ancestors and their magic, inviting them to help her and they grabbed the tight strings of Krampus’ bag and pulled them open. Several students struggled out including Clawd, who had my hand in his paw.
My electricity overloaded the lights above and they winked out in explosions of green sparks, raining down like fireworks before they left the classroom in darkness.
I increased the electricity to my bolts, lighting up the room a little bit. Draculaura was dazed on the floor and Krampus had once again escaped.
“I am sorry” Skelita said, “My ancestors were focussed on saving the students. They didn’t notice which way Krampus went.”
There was some commotion in the howlway and I heard Clawdeen’s howl.
“C’mon ghouls, Clawdeen’s caught Krampus’ scent!” Lagoona said, racing toward the door.
We got into the howlway to see the huge Gryla lumbering toward us, her toes overhanging her shoes and scraping across the floor as she walked. “What is going on out here?” She hollared, “Is everyone okay?”
“Yes ma’am- uh, Gryla.” I said, “Well, no, actually. There is a creature called Krampus who has invaded our schools and was trying to abduct students and he keeps taking the shape of different teachers at the-“ I paused, giving her a once over.
“Well,” said Gryla, “spit it out, ghoul”.
If she was Krampus in the form of another teacher, she was hiding it well. She appeared genuinely confused and concerned by everything that was happening. Still, I kept an eye on her mouth as she talked, waiting for any sign of a long, slithery Krampus tongue.
“Krampus keeps taking the shapes of our teachers.” I said.
“Which means you could be Krampus” Draculaura added, crossing her arms in front of herself, “Since you are also new here.”
“Remember what I told you about making assumptions. Don’t fear every new person you see or try to put everyone in a category together” She said, looking down over her long nose at us.
“Of course. I’m- I’m so sorry” Draculaura said. “That was really rude of me.”
“Maybe I can help” said Gryla, “Where did you see Krampus last?”
“In the human studies room” said Skelita, “We were able to steal his bag away from him and free students from it.”
“Ah, so he was putting them in a bag, was he?” She asked, “How many students did you get out of it?”
“Oh...” I said, “Uh, we sort of left it there. We just assumed everyone would get out on their own and we wanted to deal with Krampus before he hurt anyone else.”
“Ah. I suppose you did what you could. Perhaps we can go help them out now. There is strength in numbers.”
“That’s what we said when we first chased...” Lagoona trailed off, then she leapt at Gryla, grabbing her arms, “I’ve got him ghouls. This has to be him. He knew exactly what we said when we first chased him.”
Gryla stood still while Lagoona crawled all over her, trying to pull her arms behind her back. Gryla was too large for Lagoona to budge. She stood still while the sea monster crawled over her.
“Lagoona... I don’t think that’s Krampus” I said.
Clawdeen sniffed the air around Gryla “Nope, she doesn’t smell anything like peppermint.”
“But how do we know she can’t change her scent” Lagoona said, wrapping her arms and legs around Gryla’s arm.
“Lagoona,” Skelita asked in a calming voice, “Do you think Krampus would put up with you crawling all over him?”
“Actually,” I asked, “do you think anyone but a teacher would put up with this.”
“This teacher” Gryla said, “Isn’t going to put up with this for long...”
Lagoona let her arms slack and pulled away from Gryla, “Oh, I’m so sorry. You’re right. I made a huge assumption because you are new here.”
“Yes” Gryla said, “I see that.” She brushed herself off, “I guess there are multiple different ways to teach... and multiple different ways to learn lessons inside and outside the classroom. We will just chalk this up to... extra credit, shall we?”
“Yes thank you” Lagoona’s voice squeaked.
“Okay, lets find Krampus” said Gryla, “He deserves a strong talking to”
We moved together as a group. We learned that the notion of spreading out didn’t work well for us and that we were stronger together. Clawdeen sniffed and sneezed along the hallway in front of us. Draculaura hovered above her in bat form, darting ahead, but not so far that she would be out of sight. She fluttered in front of classroom windows and peaked inside as she went. Lagoona tried to curb her desire to heroically kick down doors and barge into rooms. Skelita seemed to be listening carefully both to everything that was happening around us and to her ancestors. I wondered if they were providing some details about what was happening in other parts of the school. Gryla walked directly in front of me, her cat weaving between her legs. I followed behind everyone.
To be honest, I was terrified about walking behind everyone. I knew that it left me vulnerable. Anything could sneak up on me. My sparks knew it too because they were jumping at my neck bolts in terror.
I kept thinking that I could hear a tinkling of bells behind me and kept turning around. The howlway was always empty, but it seemed to be a strange sort of empty, a very full empty.
Lagoona was collecting locks from lockers as she walked “We may need these for later. It’ll help hold those chains in place” she said.
I felt something drip on the top of my head and looked ahead to make sure that Lagoona was still there. If it wasn’t her, what could be dripping.
I looked up as claws reached down from the ceiling and grabbed onto my shoulder. A long tongue hung down beside my face as I was pulled up toward the ceiling. I instinctively let my sparks fly and Krampus jolted and tumbled from the ceiling with me. Gryla grabbed him by the chains, lifting him up.
Krampus was huge, but Gryla was larger. She held tight to Krampus while he hissed and kicked at her with his cloven hooves.
“Ghouls, I could use some help here.” She gasped, finally showing some effort.
We grabbed the locks from Lagoona, pulling chains tight around Krampus and locking them in place, dodging his claws, hooves, and teeth as we secured the locks in place.
He smiled and turned back into Ms. Belsnickel. “Well done ghouls! You caught me! Though you did have the help of” she made a dismissive gesture toward Gryla “this. You could have completed the chase all on your own. You didn’t need to get a teacher’s help.”
“Oh, it was my pleasure” Gryla said, showing far too many of her teeth, “I know you think this holiday is yours Krampus, but this should be my holiday. I’m tired of you hogging all of the fun.”
“Fun?” I asked, incredulous, “Are you seriously calling this fun?!”
Clawdeen was still panting from the chase and she looked up at me with a huge puppy smile “Didn’t you have fun? That was terrifying”
“And awesome” added Lagoona.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They were terrified for the past several days. Students were being kidnapped. Nothing about this was fun.
“Awesome?” I asked, “No! I didn’t find this awesome at all. I thought people were being kidnapped.”
“Oh, they were” Ms. Belsnickel said, “They absolutely were. That’s part of the fun. Part of the chase. It’s the great part of Krampuslauf, the Wild Hunt. You get to experience all of the excitement of the chase, of conquering your fears and coming together against the darkness... you, know” She smiled her toothy smile, letting her tongue hang out, “me”
“This... this is a game??!!” I asked, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
Draculaura put an arm around my shoulder, “We’re sorry Frankie. It’s part of Krampuslauf. No one is allowed to talk about it. We have to keep quiet about it. Part of Krampuslauf is needing to be isolated for a time, needing to see the danger of loneliness, isolation, and fear, and then overcoming that fear. And you know what, you were the one who brought us together this year. You turned our fear into a sense of protection.”
“But all of you were genuinely terrified. You weren’t acting like this was a game.”
“Oh, it isn’t.” Said Clawdeen, “At least, not entirely. Hunts are never games. They always have real consequences, real sacrifices. And the fear we felt, well that’s part of what Krampus does. Krampus exudes fear. It’s like a perfume, like that gross peppermint smell, and it gets everywhere, covering everything in stinky fear. No one can help but be afraid. Part of the Krampuslauf is overcoming that fear because it is something we have to do constantly. Fear can be dangerous. We see it constantly in the way that humans react to us. It can turn people against one another and make us hate each other. So we have to overcome it - constantly. Krampus is about the biggest challenge we have to face - overcoming the fear that separates us in order to come together and protect each other.”
“I guess that makes sense” I said, “I just... well, I was terrified and didn’t understand what was going on.”
“Isn’t that sort of what life is like?” Gryla asked “We can never really understand everything. We are always learning, always struggling against fear and ignorance to find out something new. And you brought people together Frankie, you didn’t let your own fear make you turn away from others. You wanted to keep your friends safe and you sought out the resources to do that.”
“I guess I learned a lot from this.” I said.
Cleo walked down the howlway toward us, looking irritated, her bandages dissheleled “Did I seriously get caught first? How does this happen to me every year?”
Clawdeen wrapped her arm around Cleo’s shoulder “We’ve got to work on your instincts, ghoul!”
We laughed hard, pouring out all of that fear that we had been holding onto. It felt incredibly good to release all of the tension. Even my bolts had stopped sparking.
I looked over to Krampus/Belsnickel, wondering why there had been silence. I would have thought that these lessons on coming together would have come from the howliday creature, but of course there was no one there any more, just a collection of chains and bells on the ground.
Maybe it was better that Krampus didn’t try to explain Krampuslauf to us. It sort of made sense. Krampus was all about secrecy, darkness, and fear, and the revelations that come afterward are something different. They are about coming together as a community, which means learning from each other, not being told what we should have learned.
I noticed something else. All of our lockers now had stockings stuck to them, filled with treats.
“Hey, did Krampus leave us-“
“No!” Said Gryla, “That was my boys. This is what I bring to the howlidays. My boys leave little collections of treats for all of you for learning so much and coming together as a community. Don’t give that much credit to that Krampus.”
We chuckled. “Thank you!” I shouted to her, excited to see what treats awaited me.