Snow had fallen in the early morning blanketing the town, and the second twelve year old Kristoff Henrikson saw it out of his bedroom window, he ran down the stairs. After a quick search throughout the first floor, Kristoff found his boots, hat, gloves, and coat. He tugged them all on, and then ran out the door to join the other children who had discovered the snow. Sleds were ridden down the hills surrounding the town, snowmen constructed, and breaks taken half way throughout the day for hearty lunches and hot chocolate warmed by the hearth.
When the children returned outside, sleds and snowmen were cast aside for the formation of teams, and the packing of snowballs. An icy battle began to rage, the frozen spheres flying through the air, some flying past faces, others colliding with them, spurring on the fight. It went on for hours, and as the time grew later and the air colder, the number of children began to dwindle down until only five remained, two girls and three boys, including Kristoff himself, and his best friend Gunnar Johannson, whose hair was a shaggy blonde in stark contrast to Kristoff’s raven black locks. Gunnar’s family, like Kristoff’s and a few others in the town were immigrants who had come to the states from Iceland. Both of the boys were born in the town, and since their families had known each other from the old country, had grown up together.
At the moment the boys were at a standstill, the three other children gathered around them as they both held a snowball firmly in their grasps and ready to fire “Drop it Kristoff.” Gunnar told him.
“I think not.” Kristoff said holding his hand back further, and was about to launch the ball through the air when someone called out.
“Kristoff!” he turned to find his father standing in the doorway of their home “Time to come inside, your mother and Gran have dinner ready.”
With a whine Kristoff called back “But Father!”
“Do not, but Father, me. You need to come inside. Making a fuss does not work, and especially not this time of year, they see everything you do, do you want to give them an excuse?” his Father asked.
Shaking his head Kristoff said “No.” then turned to his friends and said “I need to go.”
Gunnar walked up to him “What did he mean by, they see everything you do?”
“The Yule Lads.” Kristoff told him sharply.
“What?” Gunnar asked beginning to laugh “You do not still believe that old story do you?”
Kristoff looked down at the ground in shame and said “Yes.”
“You are such a baby.” Gunnar laughed again, but this time it felt as if he was laughing at Kristoff rather than the concept of the Yule Lads.
“Kristoff! Now!” His father called out.
“Goodbye.” Kristoff told his friends, turned around and began to walk away. He was a few feet away when suddenly he felt something hit him in the middle of the back, reaching around he discovered a spot of snow, and realized what must have happened “Gunnar!” he yelled back as he spun around and found his friend laughing hysterically. So Kristoff lifted the snowball still in his hand, and let it fly, sending it straight for Gunnar’s face. The boy screamed out in rage and ran at Kristoff, tackling him to the ground. Gunnar’s fist slammed into his face sending a spraying of blood out across the white of the snow.
Gunnar punched him once more and then suddenly Kristoff felt him being lifted off of him “That is quite enough.” Kristoff’s father said, while holding Gunnar by his shirt collar. He let the boy go and then helped his son to his feet. He grabbed Kristoff by the shoulder when he tried to move towards Gunnar, and spun him around leading him back towards the house “Do not worry. The Lads will take care of him. Nothing but potatoes for him, if he is lucky.” he told his son.
With one last glare back a Gunnar, who had begun laughing again, Kristoff walked through the front door, his anger seething inside. But even through all of his anger he could not help but think perhaps Gunnar was right about the Yule Lads. Doubts had begun to grow in his mind since last year, when he woke up in the middle of the night and saw his father placing the exact gifts he was given from the Yule Lads inside of his shoes which had been sitting on the window sill. However he already had plans in place to find out the truth once and for all. Kristoff’s father had told his mother and Gran what Gunnar had done do him “That boy better watch himself.” said Gran “The Lads aren’t as forgiving as you seem to be.” She told Kristoff’s father eyeing him sharply “If it was me, I would have grabbed that boy by his ear, and marched him straight to his parents and had them deal with him.”
“Mother.” Kristoff’s mother said snapping at her own “The boys were just having some fun in the snow, and got a bit worked up, it happens with all of the children this time of year.”
“Pfff, children fighting does not just happen.” The elderly woman turned to her grandson “What did you do?” she asked her voice sharp.
Kristoff hung his head once again “I threw a snow ball at his face.”
“You see?” Gran asked Kristoff’s mother gesturing at the boy.
She looked at her son “Kristoff,” she chastised “he is your friend. How could you do something like that?”
“I’m sorry.” He told his mother.
“Tomorrow you will go to Gunnar’s home and apologize. I am sure he will be just as sorry for what he did.” Said his mother.
Kristoff nodded and said “Yes ma’am.” But he doubted Gunnar would offer any sort of apology.
“Now, come over here boy and get your gift.” Kristoff’s Gran told him patting the chair next to her. Kristoff nearly ran over, hoping this year would be the one that she actually gave him a toy “Here you are.” She said as Kristoff sat, and handed him a small, tightly wrapped package. The boy tore into the paper, excited until he found the socks that lay within. His hope faded, and his Gran noticed right away “What is the matter?” she asked him.
He shook his head “Socks.” he told her, lifting the partially opened gift.
His Gran nodded “Yes socks. You know very well that you must have new clothing. The toys and sweets come later. If you have no new clothing the Lads will know and drag you back home to their terrible Yule Cat. You know very well it will devour any child who has not been gifted clothing.” Gran crossed her arms “And being so unappreciative does not bode well for you either Kristoff.”
“I am sorry Gran.” He told her still hating his gift but knowing she thought she was doing what was best. Sometimes Kristoff wondered if Gran actually believed the stories she told him from the old country. “Thank you.” Kristoff leaned over and hugged his grandmother.
She laughed patting his hair, and saying “You are welcome.” Then he tore his gift open the rest of the way, tugged off his wet boots and socks, and slid his new warm woolen socks over his feet.
After Kristoff opened his gift the family sat down to a meal of smoked lamb, cabbage, buttered potatoes with gravy, and rolls with strawberry jam which his Gran and mother had jarred back in the summer. When they finished with dinner they sat by the fire place, Kristoff’s father lit the Yule log to guide them through the longest night, and his mother and Gran told the same stories they told every year. Soon Kristoff was yawning, and his parents and grandmother were quick to usher him into bed. What they did not know was that Kristoff was faking; he was not tired at all and was planning to not sleep at all until he knew for certain whether the Yule Lads were in fact real.
Kristoff laid in bed for hours waiting, closing his eyes and feigning sleep when one of his parents would come in to check on him. Before going to bed he had placed his shoes on the window sill ready for any presents that might arrive. It was late now, and Kristoff had begun to actually grow tired. It took all of his strength to keep his eyes open; that is until he heard it. Somewhere in the dark a loud thump rang out startling Kristoff awake. Fear gripped him as he heard feet shuffling in the hallway and his door began to slide open. He closed his eyes as a series of grunts and growls sounded out in his room. There was knock on his window pane “Window.” Came a stern garbled voice along with more shuffling of feet and the sound of his window creeping open and a thud sounding like something heavy jumping down from the window sill. “Good, leave toy.” The voice said once again and that was when Kristoff smelled it, a scent like rotten eggs, vomit, and dirt “We go now.” The mystery voice told someone and two grunts sounded out from either side of Kristoff’s bed. Kristoff opened his eyes as little as he possibly could and looked around his room. Walking out of his room were two stumpy figures, one’s back hunched splitting its shirt down the back, the others back was straight but his knees jutted out to the sides bowing his legs slightly. Another one of them stood poised on his window, he was lankier than the other two. All three of them however shared the same lumpy twisted features, huge bulbous nose, and sharp cracked teeth, their clothes all torn and dirty “Out.” said the one with the hunched back, and the lanky one jumped down to the ground, Kristoff’s window somehow shutting on its own, and the other two lumbered out of the room and down the hall, the door to his room closing in the same manner as his window.
Kristoff opened his eyes completely at that point, and found himself suddenly staring into the eyes of a fourth figure, hanging down from the ceiling and swinging back and forth, this one smaller than the other three, his nose longer and mouth extended into a wide grin “Awake!” he called out in a sing song voice “Awake, awake, awake!!!” he kept singing, until the door swung open again with a slam.
“Quiet.” The hunched back one barked then ran up to Kristoff, and grabbed him by his hair.
The bow legged one cackled and the one hanging from the ceiling flipped down and landed on Kristoff’s floor “Awaaaake.” He sang again, this time in a low whisper.
Kristoff was suddenly ripped from his bed, and he began screaming as they pulled him through the door out into the hall, and the bow legged one snapped his fingers. Instantly Kristoff’s mouth shut and would not open, no matter what Kristoff did. The three of them dragged him throughout the house and out of the front door. He was thrown into the snow “This one.” Said the one with the hunched back and he was suddenly snatched up by the arm by another one of them who was carrying a large sack that was squirming like something was inside of it. The troll that held his arm gripped him tightly, lifted him, and shoved him into the bag where suddenly he could scream again. After he calmed down a bit he noticed he was not the only one screaming, and stared hard into the darkness that surrounded him “Gunnar?” he asked, his feelings of anger welling back up inside of him.
“Oh thank the Gods, Kristoff.” Gunnar said, throwing his arms around his friend “I am so sorry for laughing at you. They are real.” He let Kristoff go “Why did they take you?”
“I was awake. I needed to know for sure if they were real.” Kristoff told him. It was then that the bag was lifted off of the ground, and the two boys could hear the sounds of other kids screaming out “Help!” Kristoff called along with them, and soon Gunnar joined in.
They were slammed into something, possibly a tree trunk “Shut up.” Came a squeaky voice and the boys did as they were told, tears beginning to well up in their eyes as they were carried away from their homes.
It was not very long before Kristoff heard the voice of the hunched back troll once more “Home!” it called out as if signaling someone.
The ground shook as something stomped towards them “What did you bring me this year Laddies?” the voice was deep and whiney as if begging to be shown whatever it was asking for, and the two boys were suddenly dumped out onto the cold hard ground along with six other kids from other sacks “Ah yes, they look absolutely divine. Nice and plump.” Kristoff looked up and saw they were surrounded by thirteen figures including the four he had encountered, and a large lumpy creature that Kristoff assumed was a female because of her head scarf and ratty dress. She was twice the size of any of the others, her face dotted with nasty pustules that looked as if they were ready to burst and scabs from some that seemed to have burst already. If these thirteen things were the Yule Lads, then this must be their mother Gryla.
“Laddies back?” called a much deeper voice from the mouth of a huge cave which was illuminated by what appeared to be flames from deeper inside.
Gryla yelled back “Yes!”
“Food?” the voice, who Kristoff assumed was the Yule Lads father and Gryla’s husband Lepalludi, asked.
She simply ignored him, and looked down at all of the children “Yes. You.” She said pointing to a small girl at the front of the group who looked around fourteen, then leaned forward and picked the girl up “No new clothes.” She laughed and made a clicking noise with her tongue and a gigantic gray cat with fiery glowing eyes and more rows of teeth than Kristoff had ever seen sauntered out of the shadows. Gryla tossed the girl to the cat and it caught her out of the air, gulping her down in one bite. It walked over to Gryla twirling around her legs as she pet its head “Bring the rest inside.” She told her Laddies. Kristoff felt like he could not breathe as the one with the hunched back walked over to him one eye wide open and yellowed, the other swollen nearly shut and leaking puss, then dragged him by his hair once again, deep into the mouth of the cave along with the other children all screaming.
Suddenly Kristoff woke up back in his bed, the sun shining through the window. His father chose that moment to walk through the door startling Kristoff and making him scream “Calm down my boy.” He glanced at the window sill and said “Oh, looks as if the Laddies paid you a visit last night.” Kristoff’s gaze moved to the window and he saw the gifts which had been left in his shoes. He shook his head thinking it must have all just been a nightmare “Come down stairs.” his father said “Breakfast is waiting and you don’t want it getting cold.” Kristoff nodded and his father walked out with a smile on his face. Jumping out of bed the boy rushed to the gifts left on his window sill, a small hand carved wooden horse, and a large bar of chocolate. It was then that he saw it, a hand print on the glass of his window, sending shivers down Kristoff’s spine. He snatched his treats up and quickly ran out of the room. From that day on he knew to be a good boy, and never doubt the old stories again, for fear that the Yule Lads would return for him.