By Liz Cox
A glass of warming Gluhwein
Peter woke. It was black outside his bedroom window. His hands shook. Through the bare window he watched the big star glinting in the wintry night. He shivered as he tried to pull the thin blanket around his shoulders. It was Krampusnacht.
‘You’re a wicked boy.’ He could still hear old Frau Stein’s rasping voice ringing in his ears. He hadn’t meant to break her flowerpot; he’d just tripped over because the sole of his shoe was flapping, ; letting in the melting ice. Was that enough for the Krampus to come to get him? He didn’t think so, but you couldn’t be too sure. The Krampus watched for every little misdemeanour; he’d been told. He wriggled down to try and keep warm and to hide. He hoped the monster wouldn’t find him.
Ice had formed on the inside of his window; he admired the pretty leaf-like patterns, but he would rather they were not there. His mum said he was young and shouldn’t feel the cold. That was a lie. His t-shirt only covered his shoulders, and he lifted the sheet to examine his legs which were stuck out of the bottom. He waggled his toes, but his legs were still thin and white.
His dad was gone. They hadn’t seen him for ages. Mum hadn’t been the same since. She cried and drank all the time from that bottle with the funny label. Why she wanted to drink all that chilly water when it was already cold, he couldn’t understand. And why buy it from the shop when water came from the tap? Sometimes she would slip the bottle under her coat and forget to pay for it when they got to the till. She always remembered to pay for the day-old bread. Once when he tried to tell her she’d forgotten it, she slapped him hard on his face and made him cry. Afterwards, although she cried, hugged him, and said she didn’t intend to hurt him, he never reminded her again.
He didn’t mean to upset his mum, but he seemed to do it all the time. Perhaps he really was a naughty boy and deserved for the Krampus to beat him with its twigs. He wondered what would happen if the monster did come for him. Would it take him away? He wouldn’t want to leave his mum; what would she do then? She would be alone, but maybe his dad would come back then, it could be Peter’s fault he had left. Who would want to live with a bad boy? His mum would be happy again.
‘Peter!’ his mum groaned, her voice sounding like cracking glass. ‘Peter come here!’
Peter slid out of bed and peered around the door which led into the other room. His mum lay on the floor, surrounded by the shards of a broken bottle. Blood was gushing from her wrist, soaking her thin trousers.
‘Get Frau Stein,’ she croaked, ‘I need a doctor.’ Her voice was fading, and her eyes rolled back in her head.
‘Mum, Mum what have you done. Don’t leave me please.’ Peter snatched the tablecloth and wound it tightly round his mum’s arm. The tablecloth turned scarlet.
Even though he was scared he had to go out into the night, he knew that. He rushed to the bedroom and grabbed his joggers, dragging them on as he ran back. It was dark in the yard and every shadow could be the Krampus. The frosty moon gave a faint glow to light his way. He crept around the walls feeling his way until he came to Frau Stein’s steps. They were glittering with ice, but he pulled himself up with the rail, slipping and sliding. He fell on his knees, screwed his eyes up and bit his lip drawing blood.
Having heard the kerfuffle, Frau Stein was already at the door, looking grim, holding a large lump of wood ready to strike out at the intruder stumbling up her stairs. She had a woollen shawl gripped around her shoulders and Peter noticed that she was thin, and her face had a yellow tinge. He’d never noticed that before.
‘Peter!’ she cried. ‘What’s going on? What do you want frightening an old lady in the middle of the night?’
She turned to go back indoors and tried to close the door in his face. Peter stuck his foot in the door, grabbed her arm and attempted to drag her down the steps. Frau Stein wrenched her arm out of his grasp and peered at him in the darkness.
‘Frau Stein, my mum’s hurt, she’s bleeding. She needs a doctor, hurry up!’
On hearing this Frau Stein opened the door wider, enough for Peter to wedge his scrawny body in the hall so she couldn’t close it again.
‘Come on, hurry up,’ he screamed, his face red. ‘My mum’s dying!’
‘Wait here Peter. Let me get my coat and telephone for an ambulance. Then I’ll come with you. Come into the warm.’ She turned to go back into the house and beckoned him to follow her.
Peter hopped from one foot to the other, willing her to hurry up. After what seemed to him to be ages, she returned wearing her coat and carrying another one for Peter.
‘This used to belong to my son. He died a long time ago, but it should fit you nicely.’
Peter looked up at her and saw that her eyes filled with tears. Peter scowled. Was this the same Frau Stein that was always shouting at him?
As Frau Stein picked her way down the steps, Peter rushed ahead, skittering, and sliding. In the distance he could hear the siren of the ambulance getting closer and louder.
Frau Stein followed him into his home. She knelt beside Peter’s mother.
‘Kirsten, please wake up, the ambulance will be here in a moment.’ She shook the girl’s shoulder.
Frau Stein examined Kirsten’s arm, and although the blood had soaked through the cloth, the bleeding seemed to have stopped. Kirsten’s eyes fluttered, then closed again. Peter leaned over his mother and shook her arm. He draped the coat Frau Stein had given him over her.
‘Wake up Mum!’ Silent tears made dirty streaks in Peter’s face. ‘Don’t die Mum! This’ll keep you warm, Mum.’ Frantically, he tucked the woollen garment around her still body. Kirsten’s brow creased for a moment. ‘Frau Stein gave it to me, it belonged to her son.’
Peter felt a slight pressure on his fingers and looked down. ‘You’re a good boy Peter.’ Kirsten breathed.
‘Yes,’ said Frau Stein bustling around, ‘Peter has been a very brave little boy. Don’t worry about anything, I will look after him until you are well again.’ She stroked the still woman’s hair. ‘Don’t worry.’
The flashing blue light stopped on the street outside their yard, and they heard the crunching of the men’s feet on the frosty cobbles.
‘Will the Krampus get me Frau Stein?’ Peter’s teeth were chattering as he wrapped his arms around his thin chest and huddled into her body.
‘No Peter, the Krampus will not be looking for you tonight.’ She smiled and placed an arm on his shoulder.
About the author
Liz writes short stories and poetry and is just finishing her first novel. She lives in North Yorkshire and at the time of writing is looking out over beautiful, inspirational snowy fields.
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