Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 2

Was a time I did not believe in The Inexplicable.  You know, the things that people call “supernatural” or “miraculous.”  Ghosts.  The Fay.  Angels. Mythology.

But that was before I started working at Floggin’ Brews.  The Inexplicable happens here on a regular basis, and I’d kind of gotten used to it.  

For instance, I half-expected something magical to happen when I agreed to work at the bar on Christmas evening.  My suspicions were justified – when I arrived for my shift, there was an honest-to-goodness sleigh and team of reindeer taking up three parking stalls outside.  Sure, they weren’t flying at the moment, but it wouldn’t have surprised me.  Much.

Still, I was rendered speechless when I saw Santa and Krampus sitting together at the bar. 

I’d taken a European folklore class once upon a time, so I knew that Krampus was a companion of St. Nicholas.  St. Nick gave presents to the good children; Krampus punished the bad ones.   And sometimes carried them away in a basket. 

Much like the basket on the floor.  Which may have twitched, but I didn’t want to look too closely.

Mikhel had pointedly told me to keep an eye on their glasses.  I couldn’t make myself look directly at Krampus, but I could see an empty glass at fifty paces.  I stayed a safe distance away and made a Blood & Smoke:  rye, blood orange juice, bitters and simple syrup mixed over ice, then strained into a glass rinsed with Laphroaig scotch.  I added an ice cube & slice of blood orange for garnish.  Then I steeled myself and walked toward the pair at the end of the bar.  As I approached, I got a whiff of the smell of a primate house in an old-style zoo.   I grabbed Krampas’ empty glass and set the full one in its place without actually stopping.

Santa caught my eye as I turned.  His glass wasn’t quite empty, but the relaxed smile he gave me made it clear it wasn’t his first.   I smiled in return.  “Can I get you another?”

“Please, young lady.  It’s a fine, fine brew.”

Avec les Bons Vœux de la Brasserie Dupont saison was in fact a fine brew, arguably the best Belgian beer made.  I’d never seen it anywhere other than Floggin’ Brews.  It was fermented in the bottle, so was one of the few beers that wasn’t on tap.  I pulled a bottle out of the nearest mini-fridge, twisted the cage off the cork, and popped it off.  Santa let out a satisfied “Ho!” as I poured the beer into a glass.  I set it down in front of him on a new Brasserie Dupont coaster, along with the rest of the bottle.  He gave me a wink as he reached for the glass, and I noticed that he smelled of wood smoke.  Not surprising.  I grabbed his empty and headed back to the far end of the bar.

“Mikhel.  What do you mean, ‘we’re going to get busy’?  It already is.”  There was someone at almost every table on the main floor, and a few people coming and going on the stairs to the loft.  The bar itself was more than half full.  I was impressed that he’d managed to keep everyone served working solo.

Mikhel looked around and beamed.  “Isn’t it wonderful?  Not an unhappy person in the place.”

Which was true only if you didn’t include Krampus, who was not exactly happy.  But I wasn’t sure the word “person” applied either.

The place did look remarkable.  The holiday trees glowed, there was a smile on every face, and the conversations had a lilting sound.  A small crowd was admiring the reindeer from the front window.  No one seemed to be paying any attention to Santa and Krampus, though no one was within ten feet of them either.

Mikhel seemed to hear my thoughts.  “Not everyone can see them.  Most of the ones who do see them think they look like two old guys out for a nightcap.  Which they are.  Sort of.”

“What about the reindeer?”

“They’re outside.”

“Oh.”  I pondered that for a minute.  “Yeah, The Truly Inexplicable only happens inside.”

Mikhel didn’t bat an eye.  “You got it.”

This place is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  It’s like a cross between the Tardis and the wardrobe to Narnia.

“So.  Santa and Krampus.”  I glanced down the bar.  They appeared to be having an amiable discussion.

“Make sure they have whatever they’d like.  And it’s all on the house, per Boss.”

“Where is Boss?”  I asked.  Mikhel nodded, and I saw Her half-way up the spiral stairs to the loft, keeping an eye on the place.  It was also about as far away from Santa and Krampus as She could get.  “What’s She wearing?”

“Her Yule collar.”  Mikhel looked bemused.  “She only wears it for holiday parties.”

“It’s . . . shiny.”  I connected the dots.  “Like tinsel.”

“Yes, like tinsel.”  Mikhel sighed.  “Looks like Krampus needs a refill.  You watch them, I’ll take care of the rest for now.”

I hadn’t actually seen Krampus take a drink, but his glass was in fact empty.  I mixed another and placed it in front of him.  I caught part of their conversation and decided to linger a bit toward that end of the bar.  Taking shallow breaths helped with the smell.

“Yeah, I know,” said Santa.  “It’s getting harder and harder to separate the ‘nice’ from the ‘naughty.’  Virtue is so situational, ya know?”  Krampus inclined his head.   “And no one’s perfect.  But ya wanta give ‘em a break after all.  They’re just kids.”  He contemplated his Bons Vœux and shook his head.  “And don’t even get me started on the parents who think their kids are perfect.”   He gave Krampus a sideways look.  “You know what I mean.”

“There are also parents who believe their children can do no right.”  Krampus’ voice was deep and cavernous, and felt like sandpaper on skin.  “Sometimes they are correct.”

“Well,” said Santa thoughtfully. “I guess sometimes they are.   I can think of a couple of thoroughly bad kids.   I appreciate the work you do, you know.” 

“And I, you,” replied Krampus.  “My work would be much less satisfying if there wasn’t such a . . . stark alternative.  Being thoroughly bad becomes an act of will when you keep being reminded that you have a choice.”

I could have sworn a faint noise came from the basket at Krampus’ feet.

Santa nodded.  “Kant was right, evil is a natural impulse – though I’m not sure his take on moral law passes the smell test.  Wouldn’t choose it myself, except, you know, it’s good for business.”

Krampus snorted.  “I have plenty of work.  Just let me know and I will find you a job.”

Santa gave a booming laugh, but from my angle behind the bar I couldn’t see if his belly shook.  “And leave all the sweetness and light to others?   Not likely.  Though you could use some help, my friend.  You’ve missed a couple.” 

Krampus shrugged.  “Sometimes they’re tricky.  A few always get away.  And then they get too big.  Some,” he said with a sly grin,  “even get elected.”

Did the basket twitch again? 

I realized that Santa’s bottle of Bons Vœux was almost empty, and decided to duck back to the cooler to find another. 

This shift was turning out to be even more interesting than I expected. 

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