Rumpelstiltskin III and the Moonbeam Grotto by Kevin Kauffmann
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Looking up at the full moon above him, Rumpelstiltskin couldn’t stop a smile forming on his face. He had no plans, as of yet, but he knew for certain that he would soon see something miraculous. It always seemed to turn out like this, no matter the odds. Last time he was conscious for a full moon, he ran into a very nice dog who stood like a man and wore a monocle. They exchanged pleasantries and tea before the creature went off howling into the night.

Indeed, if that big, white rock above them all decided to show its true face, Rumpelstiltskin would surely experience something new, something exciting.

Though perhaps, the imp reasoned, that exciting, new thing would only happen if he would get off his rotting log and stop blowing bubbles with his spit. It was a shame—the rotting log was a comfort in these dark woods and it was filled with tons of interesting grubs and even a morally-ambiguous snake—but Rumpelstiltskin knew that comfort and adventure do not go hand in hand.

“Alright, Mr. Slither, I’m going to wander around,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he pushed off the log and to his feet, unintentionally collapsing a hollowed-out portion of the decaying tree. At once he heard a hiss and then a green body snaked its way out of a dark space underneath the rock that was so graciously holding up Rumpelstiltskin’s seat.

“Good! I don’t much care for imps who collapse my living room,” the viper spat out, coiling around itself as if it might strike the imp, but Rumpelstiltskin just laughed and wagged his finger at the reptile.

“Don’t be like that. You barely ever used it anyway,” he replied, turning before he could see the viper flicking out its tongue in annoyance.

“You’ve only been lounging around my house for two days, imp. Just because I didn’t use it while you were here doesn’t mean I didn’t use it,” the viper replied, slinking back into its alcove beneath the rock before shouting as loud as a snake could. “And don’t call me Mr. Slither! My name’s Ronald.”

“Yeah, I know. Ronald Slither. I’ll find you another living room when I get back,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he started to walk into the shadows between the trees.

“Don’t bother!” Ronald shouted back, sounding oddly like a whisper, but the imp was no longer paying attention. It was taking all of his admittedly-lacking focus just to be able to wade into the darkness. While the full moon was a blessing in the clearings of the forest, the canopy of leaves above him permitted only scant amounts of light; flickering moonbeams appeared and disappeared as the trees swayed in the summer wind.

As scared as he should have been—all kinds of monsters and beasts dwelled deep in the heart of this forgotten forest—Rumpelstiltskin only gaped in wonder as the scenery around him changed with each moonbeam that managed to slink through the leaves. The imp continued to walk forward, his hands out in front of him, and looked to each patch of light and past them into the shadows. Every hollow of every tree hinted at faces, but then the moon would take the life and mystery from them and Rumpelstiltskin would look to another, hoping to find some friendly creature that would invite him to another world.

“Is there anybody out here?” the imp asked to the darkness, feeling confident that he was on the right path. This was how it was supposed to happen—getting spirited away—and Rumpelstiltskin had evidence to prove it. He had been spirited away on four occasions after so many lifetimes, and he wouldn’t have traded any of those experiences away for bags, even mountains, of gold. He had no use for the stuff, anyway, and Rumpelstiltskin in his immortal heart desired more than riches, more than land or things or influence.

An imp like Rumpelstiltskin needed a connected to something more.

“Hello?” he asked as he deftly and unintentionally stepped over a gnarled branch that surely would have tripped him. Almost immediately afterward, Rumpelstiltskin felt a briar patch scratch his left side and he yelped, blood trickling down the skin of his leathery arm, and he touched it out of sheer reaction. Yelping again from the sting and promising he wouldn’t be so foolish next time—a promise he would break as soon as he was able—Rumpelstiltskin huffed and then noticed a clearing beyond the briar patch. He was about to investigate it further when he heard a strong, male voice coming from the empty space.

“Hello? Who’s there?” he shouted, sounding somewhat defensive, and a sane person might have approached the stranger with caution. However, since Rumpelstiltskin had lost his sanity quite soon into his childhood, the questions only steeled his resolve to venture into the clearing. As hostile as the voice was, the imp was sure he would be able to turn its owner into another friend.

“Just a traveler, sir,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he dove headlong into the briar patch, already so forgetful about the pain and his promises. Although this time, it seemed that luck was with the imp, as he only gained a few scratches which did little more than itch. Once he was through the patch and almost into the clearing, Rumpelstiltskin patted down his new injuries—feeling the sting and wondering where it came from—and then looked at the clearing just as the clouds covered the sky. At once, his jaw went slack and he murmured in awe.

Set up all around the clearing was a myriad of mirrors and reflective surfaces, propped up on the ground, against rocks and braches, hanging from trees; any place that could possibly hold a mirror was used for exactly that purpose. Even though he was off to the side and half-hidden by the undergrowth of the forest, Rumpelstiltskin felt like he could see his image in almost every surface, especially when he moved side-to-side and into the path of each mirror.

The only thing he couldn’t see in the mirrors was the man standing in the center of the clearing.

“Well, keep moving if you value your life,” the man said, crossing his arms and trying to look menacing. Normally, he would have succeeded just fine; he had jet-black and grimy hair, his skin was alabaster white, even his clothing spoke of spooky things and dark tidings. Among other things, he wore a long waistcoat that was just as dark as his hair.

Rumpelstiltskin didn’t mind the macabre nature of the man. He knew his own fair share of ghosts and spooky things.

“I value it immensely, sir, but I have no fear of losing it,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he stepped further into the clearing, only a few yards from the aggressive forest-dweller, and oohed and ahhed at the fanciful conflagration of mirrors. Some of them looked quite decadent; there were silver and gold frames and even a nice, stylized wood carving on one of them that seemed to describe some forgotten war. Once he got his fill of the details and trying to ignore the death and destruction the frame described, Rumpelstiltskin looked back up at the pale man with a smile. “So what’s your name?”

“Why would I give it to you, imp?” the man said, almost snarling out the words. Before Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes, darkness seemed to cloud around the man’s lanky frame. “I told you to leave.”

“But we only just met!” Rumpelstiltskin shouted, indignant at the man’s rudeness, but then he slapped his forehead once he realized his mistake. Extending his hand, he smiled at the man standing against the darkness. “Oh, wait, I’m sorry! My name’s Rumpelstiltskin the Third. Pleased to meet you.”

“I don’t care what your name is, imp, I need you to leave before…” the man started, but then his eyes fell to the blood that had come from Rumpelstiltskin’s scratches. He stopped speaking for a moment and the imp wondered if the man would eventually breathe or do something, but then Rumpelstiltskin saw the man’s canines descend. It was only a flash of a moment before they retreated, but Rumpelstiltskin knew exactly what that meant.

“Oh, you’re a vampire!” he shouted before jumping in glee. Once he noticed the man’s confusion—even the darkness had retreated into his body after the imp’s reaction—Rumpelstiltskin settled down and set his hands on his hips. “Well, why didn’t you say so? I have tons of vampire friends.”

“You—you do?” the vampire asked, tilting his head to the side as a breeze attempted to move his hair. Because of the grime, however, it only succeeded in moving a few strands. In any case, it was of no consequence for Rumpelstiltskin.

“Well, only a couple, but I’m pretty sure they’d remember me,” the imp said before crossing his arms and lifting his right hand to stroke his chin. He had seen someone deep in thought do that once, so he figured it might help. Though instead of helping him think, all it did was allow Rumpelstiltskin to notice the scratches and dried blood on his skin. At once, he looked at the vampire and could see the desire starting to come back.

“Oh, don’t bother, sir,” he said, shocking the vampire back to confusion. “You don’t want my blood. One of my friends tried it out once and it made him kinda sick. Said it was too much magic in it, I think.”

“Too much magic… so you’re not normal, either,” the vampire replied while biting his lip, and Rumpelstiltskin smiled and beamed up at the man.

“Nope! Wouldn’t want to be, either,” he said before walking to one of the nearby mirrors and running a gnarled finger along the frame. “So what’s all this, then? If I didn’t know that you can’t see your reflection, I’d say you were pretty narcissistic.”

“It’s not for… that. I…” the vampire hesitated, biting his lip hard enough that it drew blackened blood, but then he relented and uncrossed his arms. “Do you know much about vampires, imp? Do you know about our relationship with sunlight?”

“I know it wouldn’t feel too good,” Rumpelstiltskin said, his voice tinged with sorrow for a moment, but then he turned back to the vampire and cocked his head. “Are these mirrors for the sun?”

“No, imp, not quite. Well, not yet,” the vampire said before looking up at the sky. Another breeze drifted through the forest, and above them he could see the clouds starting to move across the sky. It would only be a moment before the moon would shine with all its glory. “No, these mirrors are for the full moon.”

“Ooh, is it a spell?” Rumpelstiltskin asked, excited about seeing another display of magic, but the vampire smiled and shook his head slowly.

“No, no magic. I was never too good at that,” he said before lifting his hands to his waistcoat and undoing the buttons, starting at the top. “At its apex, when the full moon shines down on us, it will hit these mirrors, and all of the reflections from that light will converge on this point.”

“And it’s… not a spell?” Rumpelstiltskin asked further, but the vampire smiled before taking off the last button on the middle section of his waistcoat, allowing the fabric to hang from his hips. He wasn’t overly muscular, nor was he overweight and threatening to burst out of his own skin. The vampire looked decidedly average.

“No, Rumpelstiltskin, it’s not. I miss sunlight terribly; the warmth of it, the feel of the spring air on my skin. I miss being alive, imp, and in this grotto during the full moon, I get the closest thing to it. Once those clouds drift away, I will bathe in moonlight and… it’s the closest to happy I get to be these days,” he explained, a tear forming at the corner of his left eye.

“That’s really sad in a way,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he looked at the mirror with the wood carving. It seemed so dismal and appropriate, but then he remembered that it was the way of things.

However charmed a life Rumpelstiltskin lead, he knew his own share of misfortune. Over his years, he had learned many ways to enjoy life in spite of its pitfalls, and he recognized the vampire’s mirrors as another coping mechanism, even if he had no idea what a coping mechanism was. Looking back at the vampire crying in the middle of the clearing, Rumpelstiltskin decided that the mirrors were a very nice way to find happiness.

“Though I really like the idea, Mr. Vampire,” he said, clasping his hands in front of him and stepping back from the mirror. He knew the moon would unveil its full glory quite soon. “Would you like me to step out of the clearing?”

“I… yes, Rumpelstiltskin. I would very much appreciate that,” the vampire answered, making grateful eye contact with Rumpelstiltskin before looking back up at the sky. “And my name is Petyr. No need to call me Mr. Vampire.”

“Well, there’s no need, of course,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he stepped back beyond the tree line, almost into the briar patch that had scratched him earlier. “But I think I like Petyr a little better.”

“I have to admit, imp, that I enjoy hearing it again,” the vampire said before the clouds broke and revealed the full moon above them, which was instantly reflected by the dozens of mirrors around the clearing. Where before there had been a dim clearing, Rumpelstiltskin now looked at a patch of forest that was as bright as day, moonbeams swarming through the air and illuminating everything in their path. At its center was a frail man who was now radiant, and Rumpelstiltskin could see that the man had closed his eyes in exaltation.

“It’s beautiful,” the imp murmured, and he watched as the vampire lowered his head and opened his eyes, a smile on his face.

“It’s more beautiful than you can even comprehend, Rumpelstiltskin,” Petyr said as new tears rolled down his cheeks. He breathed in, even though his lungs were useless. “It’s the only beauty left to me. It’s the only thing that keeps me…that keeps me…”

“Going,” Rumpelstiltskin finished the statement for him, and the vampire looked at him in shock. Then understanding filtered in and Petyr looked at his feet.

“Then you know,” he muttered, his beautiful moment unintentionally ruined by this strange imp. However, the vampire looked back up with resolve and lifted a hand, beckoning Rumpelstiltskin to come closer. “Come, imp, and you’ll see why I love this clearing so much.”

“N—no, I can’t take this treasure from you,” he replied, but Petyr shook his head and gave another smile before stepping out of the center.

“I’ll have another in a month, Rumpelstiltskin, and I have had my fair share already. A monster like me does not deserve this treasure more than anyone else. In a way, I never deserved it at all. Please, imp, let me share this with you,” he explained, and Rumpelstiltskin only had a moment where he felt shy and reticent. Then he walked into the light and closer to the center, already feeling the pale moonlight on his skin.

“There you are, Rumpelstiltskin,” Petyr said as he backed away, matching the imp’s speed as he retreated to the tree line. “Stand right in the center.”

“Are you sure?” Rumpelstiltskin asked, his usual confidence absent, but the vampire’s smile was already enough of an answer.

“Please,” he replied, and the imp needed no further persuasion. Rumpelstiltskin gingerly walked into the center and almost immediately could not see. Light came from almost every direction, and the only way he was able to avoid it was by looking at the sky.

What he felt was beyond what you or I could understand. With his childish and insane mindset, Rumpelstiltskin felt pure and unyielding awe at the spectacle. And although it was not a spell or magical in any sort of way, Rumpelstiltskin felt like it was magic. Light swarmed around him, moonbeams bounced off every inch of his small body, and the imp felt almost like he was connected to anything and everything in the world. In that moment, the sun was a distant second place to this grotto filled with mirrors. After ending his mind’s retreat into the sky, Rumpelstiltskin looked back down and could see and feel light all around him, like he was in an ocean of dreams in some other place.

In a way, it was a place no one else might ever visit.

“Thank you, Petyr,” he muttered, almost unable to speak as he drowned in light. “Thank you so much.”

“No, Rumpelstiltskin. Thank you for letting me feel like I’m not alone,” he replied, but when Rumpelstiltskin heard that, he knew his time in the moonbeam grotto was over. Stepping forward, he looked at his vampiric friend and shook his head. Even when he was not in the center, he still felt the memories of that ecstatic moment.

“You’re not alone, Petyr. Not right now, and not when you’re in this grotto,” he said just as the moonbeams disappeared. He looked up briefly to find that another patch of clouds had intercepted their precious moonlight, but he turned back to Petyr and continued his approach. “When you’re here, you get to be part of everything. Those people who only know the sun don’t know what they’re missing.”

“No, imp, they don’t. I would trade anything to be part of that world again, but this place… it makes it hurt a little less,” he replied, looking off into the middle distance as he paused, but he resumed eye contact once Rumpelstiltskin was just a few feet away. “Often, it’s the only thing that helps me through each month.

“Is it already over? Is there more for you tonight?” Rumpelstiltskin asked, concerned with his friend’s depression, but the vampire just laughed and patted him on the head.

“No, imp, it requires a very special angle and a very special time of night. In spite of what I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some magic to it all. It certainly feels like it,” Petyr said as he crouched down and set his hand on Rumpelstiltskin’s shoulder.

“Yeah, it does,” he replied, looking down slightly as he considered what the vampire had said earlier. “You said…you said that it wasn’t for the sun, but not yet. Does that mean that…” he tried, but he couldn’t finish the thought.

“Eventually, Rumpelstiltskin. Eventually this will be the way I choose to go. I… don’t know when that will be, but I don’t think much longer,” he said, which caused Rumpelstiltskin to lift his head and frown.

“But why? Why would you want to do that? Isn’t there more you want to do?” he demanded answers, and Petyr briefly smiled before his thoughts turned dark.

“Over these centuries, I’ve done more than enough. I’ve done… too much. And when I go—when I finally end it—I don’t want to go with a stake in my heart or a gravedigger’s shovel through my neck. I’d rather bathe in light just as I do every month,” he explained, looking up at the cloud-covered moon. “I’d rather feel what it’s like to drown in that warmth. Maybe… maybe it’ll just be like another full moon.”

“And maybe it’ll be something else!” Rumpelstiltskin shouted, smiling as he considered the absurd possibility in his head. “I felt like I was somewhere else with just the moon! Maybe instead of... burning away, it’s kinda like being taken to somewhere else!” he concluded, his grin growing wider with each hypothesis, but Petyr knew the truth of it. However, he could not bear taking the imp’s happiness.

“Maybe so, Rumpelstiltskin,” he said as he reached out and tussled the imp’s hair. “It’ll be a grand adventure.”

“Yeah! And until then, if you ever feel lonely or hurt, I’ll come by and we’ll have our own adventures!” he shouted, which only made the vampire chuckle before letting out a sigh.

“We’ll see about that, imp. We’ll see,” Petyr said before rising to his feet and looking up at the sky. “For now, we’ll have to part ways. I have a long way to go before sunrise, and many things to do.”

“Oh, alright,” Rumpelstiltskin said as he calmed down and looked up at the vampire sheepishly. “Where are you going?”

“I shouldn’t tell you, imp. I don’t want you to think less of me. However, it was very nice to meet you,” the vampire said before extending a pale hand, and Rumpelstiltskin didn’t think twice before grasping it and shaking it as hard as he could.

He heard that was how you were supposed to do it.

“Very nice to meet you, too, Petyr,” he said, letting go of the vampire’s hand after the tenth hard shake. After backing away, the vampire snapped his fingers and seemed to fade into the shadows. The imp already thought it was a cool trick before a swarm of bats burst out of the darkness and then shrieked into the sky.

“Goodbye, Rumpelstiltskin,” Petyr’s voice came from the cloud of flying rodents, and the imp was soon left staring up at the bats, who almost seemed like another cloud while the moon was still hidden in darkness.

“Goodbye, Petyr,” he said as he waved at the departing monster. “Maybe I’ll see you next month, or the month after that. I hope you don’t leave before then.”