Chrístõ watched Julia ice dancing on the busy frozen lake. Her years of dedication to ballet and rhythmic gymnastics made a perfect combination with ice skates. She glided beautifully around a space left by the less professional skaters who paused to look at her.

“Beautiful,” he said appreciatively.

“She won’t be able to do that when the two of you are married,” Garrick pointed out. “The wives of patriarchs don’t skate.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Chrístõ answered him. “There are plenty of lakes that freeze in winter on our property. And I intend to have a dance studio and gym fixed up in the house for her. She can do all the things she loves. I won’t stop her.”

Garrick considered that remarkable break from tradition carefully. His own mother was an elegant, beautiful woman, but he couldn’t imagine her ice skating or ballet dancing, let alone performing the gymnastics Julia was so good at. It just wasn’t what Gallifreyan ladies did.

“Don’t worry, kiddo,” Chrístõ told him. “Gallifrey won’t fall because of one Oldblood wife who can do perfect triple salchows.”

The jump that Julia had just executed was actually a double Lutz. It was all about the part of the foot used in the lift off the ice. The subtleties bewildered Chrístõ as much as the gymnastics he always called ‘fancy cartwheels’. All he knew was that he could watch her do it all day.

But she didn’t plan to do it all day. She finished skating and came to join them, her skates replaced by warm winter boots.

“That was exhilarating,” she said. “But there is shopping to do.”

She smiled widely and Chrístõ knew the next hour or so was going to be expensive.

It was a Christmas market that drew her attention. With two weeks, yet, until the big day itself, the spirit of the season was catered for in every bright, cheerful way. Everything from the cheap and gaudy to fine craftsmanship was available to suit every budget.

The colourful stalls were laid out alongside the frozen Butterfield Park, on the outskirts of New Canberra. Just like old Canberra which was populated by descendants of colonists from Europe, this town on a colony planet in the Orion sector was home to people whose families came from all parts of Earth. Traditional Christmas souvenirs and decorations and foodstuffs from almost every part of Earth culture was on sale, from the figures that made up a Provençal Crèche to hand made clogs as set out by Dutch children to be filled with sweets by ‘Sinterclaus’.

“Your aunt and uncle have a very nice table top nativity scene, don’t they?” Chrístõ asked after paying for a collection of the fore-mentioned ceramic figures that would have crowded out any stable he had ever seen. The Provençal tradition allowed for villagers such as the butcher, grocer, ironmongers, sailmaker, seamstress, fisherman and many more traditional tradesmen and workers to visit as well as the standard shepherds and Wise Men.

“This one is mine,” Julia answered. “For when I have a home of my own and Christmas is my responsibility.”

“Your home will be Mount Lœng House, on Gallifrey,” Chrístõ reminded her. “And there is a nativity set there that belonged to my mother.”

“I know, but these are MINE,” Julia insisted. The logic was indisputable.

Julia was preparing for life after marriage.

“What’s going on there?” Garrick asked after Chrístõ had prised his fiancée away from a cheese stall with pungent varieties originating from all over Earth. A crowd was gathering around the front of a colourful marquee. They joined the audience in time to see a traditional Saint Nicholas procession with the Turkish born holy man acted by a tall, bearded man with robes and mitre to make even the High Councillors of Gallifrey in full ceremonial regalia look dull. This was the character that evolved in some parts of Human society into the red coated Father Christmas or Santa Claus. He gave out sweets to children and pronounced his blessings upon the season.

That was all very well, but he was accompanied by two other characters who were rather less cheerful.

“Zwarte Piet,” Julia remarked about the man in a red and black ‘jester’ suit who was shorter and slimmer than she was. “That’s a tradition that could have been dropped by now. Black make-up on a white man is inappropriate.”

“I’m not sure if he IS blacked-up,” Chrístõ answered. “He might really be dark skinned. But what worries me is the image of a little black man in chains. What does that say about human history?”

This character was also distributing food treats – traditional northern European biscuits called Kruidnoten. But the fact that his legs were bound by quite realistic looking iron fetters seemed at odds with such a benign activity.

So was the iron collar on his neck. A long length of chain was held at the other end by a truly frightening character. His face – which,/ unless he was a really unfortunate human, had to be a prosthetic - was blood red and pointed at the chin. He had yellow fangs sticking up from the lower lip and the ‘whites’ of his eyes were also yellow. So were the two horns that protruded from the shaggy hair that ran down his back.

Even more sinister, the figure held another head, a very gruesomely realistic prosthetic, on a stick rammed up the ‘severed’ neck. The glass eyes glittered in a particularly nasty way as it was waved around at the crowd of onlookers.

“Krampus,” Julia added. “I’m not sure THAT tradition was worth translating to the Beta Delta system, either.”

“Creepy looking character,” Garrick noted. “What’s he all about?”

“In the more widespread Father Christmas story, good children are rewarded with presents and bad ones punished by not getting any by the same man,” Julia explained. “But in some parts of Europe, the ‘good’ Saint Nicholas rewards the good children and ‘evil’ Krampus punishes the bad ones. It’s a sort of God and the Devil, Saints and Sinners thing.”

“As a teacher,” Chrístõ observed. “I’ve never really met wholly good and wholly bad kids. And a lot of the time I’ve noticed that the rich ones got lots of expensive presents and the poor ones got hardly anything regardless of their behaviour. Besides, I don’t think anyone has the right to brand a child as either one thing or the other. Except for my cousin Epsilon. He’s been evil for a long time. But everyone else deserves a chance.”

“We’re rich and I don’t get Christmas presents,” Garrick pointed out.

“That’s because you’re not Human, not because you’re a bad boy,” Julia said. “Besides, I’ve bought you a present. And no, I’m not telling you what it is. It’s a surprise.”

Garrick grinned. He had already decided he liked this Human idea of Christmas. He was enjoying every aspect of it.

Except for the Krampus. There was something about that character that bothered him. He didn’t understand why. It was obviously just a Human in a very well fitted mask. But when he looked at the Krampus he had a feeling that the mask was more than just a facial disguise. He felt as if he was being deceived about much more than that.

He wasn’t the only one who was upset by the Krampus. A lot of the younger children were being hugged and soothed by parents after being frightened by the red face and fangs or the head on a stick pushed close up to them.

And that was before the Krampus started calling them by name.

“Andrew Costello… aged nine…. Andrew has been a bad boy. He pulls girls’ hair and spits in the playground.”

A boy who might have been Andrew Costello started to cry as the Krampus brandished the head in his general direction.

“Peter Dickens, ten, spitting and biting… Helen Atkinson, eight, pinching her baby brother….”

“How is he doing that?” Julia wondered aloud. “The names and stuff….”

“The parents probably filled in a card,” Chrístõ answered.

“I don’t think so,” Garrick contradicted. “Those parents are really angry. They want to know how these people knew details about their children. They think it’s some kind of identity theft.”

“That’s really odd,” Chrístõ admitted. “But…”

“Garrick D’Arpxia de Lœngb?rrow….” The Krampus called out. He turned, at first seeming to have trouble locating his victim. Then Zwarte Piet looked directly at Garrick and pointed. The Krampus stalked towards him.

“No!” Chrístõ exclaimed, stepping in front of his half-brother and adopting a Gung Fu defensive position. It was perhaps a little too much for an over-elaborate joke, but a deep-rooted instinct was ruling his body movements.

“No, you don’t,” he repeated fiercely, halting the Krampus and forcing him to take a step back. “Get away from my brother and from all of these people. Your joke has gone way too far.”

“My apologies,” said the Saint Nicholas character in reconciliatory tones, stepping between Chrístõ and the Krampus who swerved away towards another family group who also backed away from him. “Please do not be alarmed. No offense was intended. It is just the spirit of the season.”

‘Nicholas’ nodded to Zwarte Piet who handed out whole boxes of Kruidnoten to those families who had been upset. Garrick accepted the gift graciously. Chrístõ relaxed a little, but as soon as he could, he guided his family away from the marquee. He conceded to the purchase of more cheese than they could eat in two Christmas seasons and a whole collection of tree decorations before they reached an outdoor café with a canopy and space heaters where German coffee topped with thick cream and American style turkey subs was a welcome distraction from the unsettling experience. More shopping followed, including decorations for the interior of an entire house, and presents for everyone.

It was expensive, but a more positive Christmas spirit was achieved by the time they were ready to return to Chrístõ’s house in the city, shared these days by Cal and Glenda. After a festive ham tea, with cheese and biscuits for after, they dressed the tree and felt distant enough from the affair to talk lightly about it.

“I still like Christmas, even if some bits of it ARE creepy,” Garrick admitted.

“It’s beyond creepy,” Chrístõ considered. “How did the Krampus know YOUR name. I certainly didn’t fill in anything. Nobody beyond Gallifrey knows you as D’Arpexia. I don’t think that name has ever even been spoken aloud outside Gallifrey before today. I am going to look into this. I’d like to know who gave that show a trading licence, first of all.”

“You sound like a Gallifreyan civil servant,” Garrick told him. “Why don’t you do something heroic.”

“If it’s called for,” Chrístõ answered. “Investigating the paperwork will do for a start. I don’t ALWAYS have to be knocking people down with martial arts.”

“Just as long as you do that SOMETIMES,” Garrick told him. “And you teach me to do it, too.”

“I will teach you defensive martial arts,” Chrístõ replied. “You don’t need anything more, yet.”

“Who’s for hot mince pies and brandy cream?” Glenda asked, hoping to steer the conversation away from Garrick’s current obsession with learning to fight. As she went to prepare the food treat, though, Julia gave a soft scream and dropped one of the baubles she was hanging on the Christmas Tree. It smashed against the fireplace and she jumped away from the glass shards.

“Sorry,” she said as Chrístõ came to check that she wasn’t cut and Cal found a brush and pan to sweep up the mess. “But the face on that bauble… it shocked me.”

“What face?” Chrístõ asked. Cal silently held up a large piece of thin, curved glass. The image moulded onto it was no jolly Father Christmas, but a Krampus exactly as they had encountered earlier. “You bought that?” he queried.

“No, I didn’t,” Julia insisted. “I selected different snow scenes. Two dozen, hand blown and hand painted. There was NOTHING like that. I never would have chosen it if there had been. It looks more like Halloween than Christmas.”

“Somebody at the bauble stall with a weird sense of humour?” Cal suggested. He carried on sweeping away the broken pieces and took them to the outside bin. Glenda brought the mince pies to soothe frayed nerves.

“It’s not funny, at all,” Julia insisted. “That whole sideshow was creepy. I’m not even sure I liked the St Nicholas character. He hangs around with the other two, after all.”

“It certainly is an odd tradition to want to revive,” Glenda admitted. “There are loads of great ideas… like Julia’s créche. I want to buy some more figures for it that reflect modern careers as well as the old-fashioned ones. Space pilots and computer programmers should have as much right to visit the stable as the boulangère. THAT’S a great tradition.”

“Marine arachnologists,” Chrístõ suggested. “For Riley and his new friends. Though I’m not sure how they could be represented in ceramics. Maybe with wet suits and scuba tanks, and bringing along a barnacle encrusted Grecian urn as a gift for the baby.”

The idea made everyone laugh. Again, the dark shades that the Krampus had brought were cast aside. They all enjoyed a pleasant evening with the Christmas Tree lit with coloured lights providing a warm, pleasant ambiance. They went to bed after warm drinks, Cal and Glenda to one of the master bedrooms, Chrístõ and Julia to another, Garrick to his single bedroom where he was graced with Humphrey’s company, snoring dramatically under the bed.

A little before a wintry dawn Chrístõ was abruptly awoken by a noise. He sat up, waking Julia curled up beside him in her long cotton nightdress.

“Who’s screaming?” she asked.

“Garrick, I think,” Chrístõ responded. He grabbed his sonic screwdriver from the bedside cabinet and ran in his bare feet and black satin pyjamas. Julia followed quickly, meeting Glenda and Cal on the landing, equally puzzled and concerned by the night time disturbance.

Chrístõ reached his half-brother’s room in time to see a ghastly apparition melting away through the outer wall. Garrick was hunched against the headboard of his bed with the dark shade of Humphrey expanded to surround him. It was, Chrístõ realised, Humphrey who had made the high pitch warning noise, not Garrick.

“Are you all right?” he asked. Garrick was strangely unresponsive, his eyes staring at the place where something resembling a larger than life version of the Krampus’s head on a stick had been. Chrístõ gently held him by the shoulders until the odd trance dissipated.

“It WAS real,” the boy insisted. “I didn’t dream it. I saw it, right there.”

“I saw it, too. You weren’t dreaming. Humphrey, hush, now. It’s over.”

As Humphrey slid back under the bed and Cal came into the bedroom to announce that the girls were making hot milk, Garrick tried to get up from the bed. He swooned weakly and fell back into Chrístõ’s arms. At a second attempt he got his feet on the ground, but he could hardly stand. Chrístõ sat him on the edge of the bed and examined him carefully.

“You seem to be missing some vital proteins and amino acids,” he said. “Nothing serious. A wholemeal bacon sandwich will sort you out.”

He tried to sound cheerful about the opportunity for a very early breakfast, and Garrick rallied enough to walk downstairs with his brother to lean on.

As they reached the drawing room where the warmth of an easily rekindled fire was inviting, Julia screamed even more shrilly than Humphrey had. Chrístõ looked around at the cause of her distress.

Every single bauble on the Christmas Tree was glowing bright red from within and the Krampus face peered eerily fire om each one. Chrístõ reached to switch off the lights and realised they WERE off. The glow was not electrical bulbs.

Moments later, right before his eyes, the eerie baubles vanished and the tree was back to its elegant normality with beautiful hand crafted baubles and icicle lights.

“We weren’t seeing things. It really was… for a moment….”

But there was nothing there, now, except a very faint meisson energy trace, too faint to get any kind of lock on the source.

Hot drinks and sandwiches by the fire made it all seem like a fading dream, though Garrick was still weak and disorientated even after the food.

“I feel as if something was trying to drag me out of myself,” he tried to explain. “And I’m exhausted by the fight.”

“There WAS some sort of psychic projection,” Chrístõ confirmed. “Meisson energy is caused by intense telepathic fields.”

“It WAS the Krampus,” Julia said. “The faces on the tree….”

“Or something that made you THINK you saw it,” Cal suggested. Julia rounded on him and accused him of disbelieving her. “I didn’t disbelieve you. I’m just thinking out loud… trying to work out WHY you imagined you saw this Krampus.”

“Cal and I haven’t seen it,” Glenda pointed out. “We weren’t with you yesterday at the Market. We have no image in our minds to be manipulated by whatever this intense telepathic field is. But something WAS here. I felt its oppressiveness upstairs.”

“Me, too,” Cal added. “There WAS something. But it might not be connected to this Krampus thing. It WAS only a rather bizarre sideshow.”

“It IS connected. “I just….”

He was interrupted by the front doorbell combined with rapid knocking and a terrified voice calling out. It was still only just gone five o’clock in the morning. Cal moved cautiously out to the hallway. Chrístõ followed, his fingers on the buttons of his sonic screwdriver. Some of its settings COULD be used as weapons if they absolutely had to be.

He recognised the frantic caller as the woman from the house next door, addressed by Cal as ‘Mrs Williamson’. It took a little longer to recognise any intelligible word from her. When he did, he didn’t waste a moment. He ran out of the house, still in his pyjamas and a pair of canvas shoes he had slipped on to stop his feet getting cold. He hardly noticed the iciness of the morning as he ran from one driveway to the next and in through the open door.

In the drawing room he found eight children no more than ten years old in sleeping bags and makeshift pillows, all very unnaturally still. He bent to examine a boy in yellow pyjamas for signs of an ordinary tragedy like carbon monoxide poisoning before looking for less obvious reasons why none of the children would wake up.

Mrs Williamson returned to her house, accompanied by Glenda and Julia. She told Chrístõ that the boy he was examining was her grandson and the others his friends having a pre-Christmas ‘sleepover’ party.

“Chrístõ… look at the tree,” Glenda said in a dry-mouthed dread.

He had seen the tree. He had decided that the children were more important than the same sinister baubles he had seen already. Mrs Williamson couldn’t even look at it.

“Chrístõ… I don’t think these are the only ones,” Glenda told him. “I can hear sirens all over outside. People have called the police or ambulances….”

The sounds were overlapping, some close, others far away. When he opened his mind beyond the room he was in, reaching out across the city, he didn’t need the sirens to tell him something terrible was happening in many other homes.

“The children…” Julia whispered, struck by the unnatural quiet of the room beyond Mrs Williamson’s sobs. “Are they… dead?”

“No,” he answered. “But there does seem to be some kind of neural block keeping them in a coma state.”

“What could do that?” the lady of the house asked. “And what does it have to do with… with….”

She pointed to the Christmas Tree where leering Krampus faces glowed instead of benign gaudiness.

“Did you go to the Christmas Fair at Butterfield Lake?” he asked, the question seeming trivial in the light of these stricken children.

“Yes,” Mrs Williamson answered. “I took them all. They loved it… all except… That horrible show… with that… creature. He named Frank… my grandson… as a bad child. He HAS been disruptive for a while. His parents are divorcing. It upset him. But he ISN’T bad and I don’t know how those… those… paholaisia… knew anything about him….”

The word she used was Finnish for ‘devils’ betraying the origins of her colonist forebears as well as accurately describing the Krampus and his companions. Chrístõ was ready to accept that they were far from sideshow players. Something much more sinister was happening.

“Keep the children warm and wrapped up,” he said. “Don’t… don’t tell the other parents yet, if you can help it, though it sounds as if the whole town is waking up, now. But if I can do something about it before any more people are hurt, I will.”

He turned towards the tree with his sonic in analysis mode. The psychic energy creating the evil glamour around the tree fought against the energy that powered the screwdriver very briefly before dissipating. But as the tree returned to normal, he had enough information about where the energy came from to formulate a plan.

“You two stay with Mrs Williamson,” he said to Julia and Glenda. “Make tea, look after each other. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Ordinarily, both girls would have protested about being reduced to a domestic role in the crisis, but it was true that Mrs Williamson needed help to care for a drawing room full of comatose children. Besides, neither really wanted to get up close with the Krampus.

He ran back to his own house, calling for Cal and Garrick as he headed straight for his TARDIS, parked in the dining room, disguised as a Welsh dresser.

“We’re going into action?” his half-brother asked.

“Cal and I are,” Chrístõ answered as he jammed the sonic screwdriver into its data port on the console then opened a cupboard where several sharp swords were kept. He gave one to Cal and belted a scabbard around his waist over the pyjamas he was still wearing. “You are going to lie down in the zero room to recover from the psychic attack you already suffered. I’ll know you’re safe, that way.”

“No chance,” the boy answered. “Besides, I’m fine, now. The bacon sandwiches worked once I fully digested them.”

“If you were human, you’d be in a coma, now,” Chrístõ told him, but he knew the only way he would get Garrick into the Zero Room would be by rendering him unconscious and carrying him there. “All right, but you do everything I say… including, if the need arises, running back to the TARDIS and shutting yourself in. I presume father has taught you how to put up mental walls to prevent psychic intrusion?”


“Then put up the biggest, strongest walls you have, and concentrate on them. This… whatever it is… attacks children. It already tried to get you once. Your Gallifreyan DNA was tougher than it expected, but you’re not invincible.”

Garrick didn’t like being reminded that he was one of the ‘children’, but rule one – obey his half-brother’s orders - applied here. He had already opposed it once. He couldn’t do so again.

“Do I get a sword? I HAVE learnt basic fencing from father.”

‘Basic’ fencing from their father was more advanced than master swordsmanship for most people. Chrístõ let him have a rapier – for self-defence only

“Where has the TARDIS brought us, anyway?” Cal asked as the time rotor came to a stop.

“Near Butterfield Lake, where we were this afternoon,” Chrístõ answered. “Amongst the caravan site for the people running some of the stalls. And by the looks of things, there are victims here, too.”

There were lights in and aroundsome of the caravans and people out in the grey, cold dawn. There were crying women and anxious men sling each other what could be done. Chrístõ didn’t try to answer their questions. He and Cal, with Garrick tagging along behind, made for a caravan where there was no disturbance.

“It’s the right place,” Garrick whispered. “I can feel it… the evil mind trying to get inside me.”

“Yes, I can sense it,” Cal agreed. “Stronger now we’re close.”

Chrístõ had only the slightest sense of something eldritch inside that caravan. It wasn’t interested in adults. Garrick was a child even by human standards. Cal, in his eighties, would be a scholar at one of the Academies if he had not chosen to live outside of Gallifreyan society.

“You practice your mental walls, too,” Chrístõ told him. He adjusted his sonic screwdriver and applied it to the apparently ordinary lock on the caravan door. He noticed that it was nothing of the sort. It was an isotechnic lock with a thousand combinations. It took as much as a minute to crack.

And inside was no ordinary caravan. The interior was a hexagonal space easily comparable to any Greek or Roman Temple.

“Something like the dimensionally relative space in a TARDIS, but more primitive,” Cal remarked.

“Yes,” Chrístõ agreed. “I’ll find out where it came from, later.”

The idea of a religious place like a temple was suggested not only by the size and shape of the impossible space, but by an altar-like structure in the centre. It was made of something like black granite.

There was a woman lying upon it, but she was not, as anyone might imagine, being prepared for sacrifice. Rather, she seemed to be using the altar as some kind of bed, even, possibly, a regeneration chamber. Even as the three intruders looked at her, age lines on her face were smoothing away and she was becoming younger and more attractive by the second.

“I saw her yesterday,” Garrick whispered. “She was at the stall where Julia bought the tree baubles… the ones that turned into Krampus faces. She was older, then.”

“She’s feeding on the lifeforce stolen from the children,” Chrístõ said. “Like a… psychic vampire. She must be the reason for all of it. The Krampus is trying to rejuvenate her.”

“So… where IS the Krampus?” Cal asked.

“Err….” It was quite by chance that Chrístõ looked up at that moment. Wordlessly, he pointed. Above the altar three strange figures hung, bat-like, from the ceiling. One was tall and thin, one small and stringy, the one in the middle immediately recognisable by the red face and hair down its back. All seemed to be either sleeping or possibly hibernating like…

The word ‘vampire’ already invoked by the woman on the altar came to mind once again.

“What?” Garrick exclaimed, viewing the horrific features of the first figure. “You mean… even St. Nicholas… is some kind of demonic THING?”

The tall, thin creature was still wearing something like the Saint’s bright robe. Garrick was distracted for a moment wondering why the robe defied gravity and didn’t slip over the demonic head to reveal what such creatures had on for underwear. He quickly stopped thinking about it and put up his mental walls, but perhaps the brief opening had been enough to disturb the smallest of the creatures. The eyes opened in the dark face and it looked down pleadingly at the three intruders.

“Release me… please…” it begged. “Please… save my soul from this living hell.”

“Not a chance,” Garrick responded. “You were working with them. You pointed me out to the Krampus.”

“I am bound to do the bidding of the demon who owns me, against my will,” Zwarte Piet answered him. “But if you release me….”

Chrístõ fingered his sonic screwdriver slowly. There was a possibility that Zwarte Piet was telling the truth, that he was a slave of these demons. The chains he wore even when they were pretending to be sideshow actors were convincing.

But it was also possible that he was as evil as the others and this was some kind of entrapment.

He had to make a decision – and make it fast.

“Whatever you decide… I’ll back you up,” Cal said, quietly.

“Me, too,” Garrick added. “But… I don’t think….”

Chrístõ didn’t wait to find out what his brother thought. He raised his hand and pressed the button. A quick laser beam shot out and hit the chains between Zwarte Piet’s legs and then the one pinning him to the ceiling.

He fell awkwardly, just missing the edge of the altar, but managed to roll in the air and landed in a crouch.

“The other two are waking up,” Zwarte Piet warned, ducking and pressing his small body against the altar as if to hide from the imminent danger. “Quick… destroy them.”

There was a thoroughly inhuman snarl before Chrístõ faced the thoroughly inhuman figure in the human saint’s clothes. The face was contorting as it tried to morph into the genial Nicholas, but the more vicious demon with slashing talons instead of fingers was overruling him. He fought Chrístõ as the Krampus descended to attack Cal.

“Look out!” Zwarte Piet called out to Garrick. He swung around with his rapier and lunged at the huge, disembodied Krampus head, but this was not a demon with corporeal form but a psychic projection. Its riposte was not physical, but a searing attack on his young mind. He felt his brother and Cal reaching out to defend him mentally, but he was going to have to fight his own corner. They were both already up against strong foes.

“Kill the callicantzaros,” Zwarte Piet called out to him. “She’s projecting the head.”

“The… what?” Garrick replied.

“Her… the demoness….” Zwarte Piet raised his hand to point to the woman on the altar. He screeched in alarm when she reached out a clawlike hand to grab him by the wrist. Garrick, though his first instinct was to face the disembodied head, turned and took two quick steps towards the altar before thrusting the thin, light, but sharply pointed sword into the woman’s chest, hoping that demons had their hearts in the same place most other single-hearted beings did. He tried not to be repulsed by the black blood that gushed from the wound as he withdrew the blade or the screech that came from her lips. Instead, he turned the sword and sliced down at her neck. The theory of fencing that he had studied told him that the pointed rapier is essentially for thrusting and stabbing, but that didn’t mean that its edge couldn’t also cut. He felt it go through the flesh and something that might have been vertebrae and hit the hard surface of the altar.

As soon as the head was parted from the body a number of things happened in quick succession. First, the Saint and the Krampus both collapsed into heaps of decaying flesh as if the female demon had been their lifeforce. Second, a beam of blue-white light surged up from the altar and streamed through the ceiling as if it was completely insubstantial.

Third, Zwarte Piet gave an anguished cry and slid down onto the floor. Although Garrick had been the one who had mistrusted him the most, his natural compassion made him reach out to the tiny man or whatever he was.

“I’m dying,” he said. “She held me in her thrall for hundreds of years, but now she’s gone and I’m dying.”

“No, we can help you,” Garrick told him. “You helped us. You told me what to do. We can help….”

“No, we can’t,” Chrístõ told him gently. “Besides, I don’t think he wants us to.”

“You freed me. I am thankful,” Zwarte Piet told them before his body went limp and he could say no more.

“I have a very strong feeling we ought to get out of here, now,” Cal said as Chrístõ reached out to close the strange being’s eyes. “The Krampus and his friends might not be the only things she was maintaining by force of her will.”

Chrístõ agreed. He grasped his half-brother’s hand as they ran for the door. They were only a few paces away when the caravan burst into flames. Some of the men ran to fill buckets of water, but a lot of them weren’t interested. They and their wives were more concerned with the fact that their children were awake and recovering from what had affected them.

“The children at Mrs Williamsons will be all right, too?” Garrick asked as they stepped, unobserved, into the TARDIS and left the scene.

“I think so,” his older brother answered. “We’ll find out in a few minutes - after we’ve cleaned these swords and put them away. By the way, kiddo, well done for your first battle with dark forces. And we’ll agree right now that none of this gets back to your mother.”

The children were all right. All the children in the city were recovering. The crisis was over.

Chrístõ finally managed to change out of his pyjamas in time to eat a second, less urgent, breakfast with plenty of hot coffee. Garrick ate heartily, too, but with one hand while searching for something on Julia’s laptop with the other.

“Here it is,” he said. “What Zwarte Piet called the woman….”

‘The callicantzaros was a peculiar type of Greek vampire. Its unholy activities were tied to the sanctity ascribed to Christmas time. It was said that children born during the week between Christmas and Epiphany were feast-blasted. Their souls could be claimed by the callicantzaros before all other children that she took during the narrow period around Christmas when she could stalk humanity.’”

“Lovely,” Glenda commented. “And I thought the Krampus was nasty. Christmas vampires, too.”

“The callicantzaros from Greece, Saint Nicholas from Turkey, Krampus from northern Europe, Zwarte Piet from the Netherlands,” Julia noted. “All different cultures but with their dark side of Christmas… and all ending up here on Beta Delta where we all have our different Earth traditions.”

“The fact that this planet is a melting pot of Human culture is probably what drew them together,” Chrístõ said. “It is also possible that they weren’t all completely evil. ‘Nicholas’ and the Krampus might have been under the callicantzaros’ influence much longer than Zwarte Piet and had forgotten any vestige of goodness they once had.”

“So we did them all a favour by releasing them?” Garrick suggested. “Not just Piet?”

“I think we did,” Chrístõ answered. “Incidentally, let’s try to remember, they were just tortured creatures who adopted those personas, and they’re gone, now. Saint Nicholas was a real and holy man whose legacy to human beings is a benign Father Christmas who would want us all to have a happy Christmas, and I fully intend to make sure we do.”

“We need a lot more presents for that,” Julia said.

“No, we don’t,” Cal answered. “We just need the people we love here with us. Presents are the frills on top of what REALLY matters.”

“I agree,” Chrístõ commented. “But let’s not dwell on that or we’ll start to look like some kind of soppy Disney movie with a smaltzy moral to it.”

“Which means we buy more presents?” Garrick asked hopefully.