Short Story: Rumplestiltskin III Tries to Help a Dame by Kevin Kauffmann
Rumplestiltskin III was never the kind for seriousness, but he did dabble in it from time to time. He loved to shake things up, and when it comes down to it, there was nothing more unconventional for the imp but to act serious.
It was only just acting, however, and in this particular adventure there was little for the imp to accomplish by acting, but such was the wont of the carefree imp. He would do as he pleased.
Over the least three decades, the moving picture had become quite popular and Rumplestiltskin III had snuck into many a theater in his more-than-many afternoons. The advent of sound in particular was enough to make the imp smile from ear to ear, watching as people moved about on the screens in front of him. He would rarely catch any of the stories, as he was usually pursued by angry ushers and hungry cats, but the idea was there. Science and entertainment had merged, and it did not seem out of the question for the imp to tone down his adventures when he could just watch those of others.
We all know this would never happen, but the very idea was enough to make Rumplestiltskin III quite excitable and anxious. He would often rehearse scattered scenes from various movies and try to attach them into a piecemeal story. It made sense to him, of course, since he was quite insane, but his audience was rather stupefied by his performances. Although that may have been because his audience consisted of neighborhood bums, assorted stray animals and the plentiful cockroaches which lived around his cardboard box.
Oddly enough it made perfect sense to the cockroaches, but they had always had a special kinship with the imp.
One day, Rumplestiltskin III had had enough of rehearsed fantasies and subpar acting. Most of all, he was tired of having to run through the theaters to catch a few sparse lines of dialogue, and so he resolved to earn the funds to watch a proper show. Times were hard and money seemed to slip through the fingers of the poor multitude, but Rumplestiltskin III had a secret weapon; his lunacy was quite entertaining. On the streets of the big city, Rumplestiltskin III sat on an upturned garbage can and told his stories to those who passed by. Clearly the imp was an escaped inmate from some asylum who had lost his mind; it was not his fault that he was begging on the street. Coins started to fill up his water cup as he spoke.
It was a completely unintentional byproduct, as he had not intended for anyone to give him money as he recounted aloud his various misdeeds and fantastic adventures. This was just practice until he started his actual attempts to earn his theater ticker. Really, when he spoke of the Jilted Centaur or the Yellow Dragon’s Midwife, he was doing it for his own good. He had simply forgotten details of his colored life and his cup set near his position was for his water. It only made sense; his throat did become scratchy after all that talking.
He wasn’t even aware that he had acquired a small fortune of coins in his cup until he finished up recounting the story of the Nine Lyres of Byzantium, when he went to take a gulp of his water. In fact, he had already swallowed two coins before realizing that there was anything else inside the cup. Once he had realized his error, Rumplestiltskin III did a somersault and threw himself at the wall in a foolish attempt to reclaim his earnings, which surprised even him once he saw that he had been successful.
Sitting down to calculate his earnings, the imp lost count three or four times because of the neighborhood strays distracting him, clearly judging our favorite imp. He imagined that they held him in disdain, so it was up to him to put them back in their place by barking at them. While it did help to make Rumplestiltskin III seem even more insane, even more shockingly, it actually helped solidify his position as the local Alpha.
After about twenty-eight minutes of counting and re-counting, Rumplestiltskin III nodded to himself, certain he had more than enough money for his movie ticket. Once he picked up his earnings, Rumplestiltskin III walked over to the theater, taking time to avoid walking anywhere close to the corner store, as he owed the proprietor a hefty sum for…something he could not recall. In any case, he did not want to miss his movie, especially since he was going to be a paying patron this time. He had unintentionally worked far too hard to fail now.
He arrived at the movie theater and looked up at the ticket counter, only just tall enough to see over the counter, but with his beady black eyes, he could see the annoyed usher sitting inside the booth. In as comfortable a position as possible in those cramped conditions, the usher was busy reading a newspaper and couldn’t even see the imp, which was something of a problem. Frowning, Rumplestiltskin III spilled his coins on the counter and then started whistling an old Celtic love song. He didn’t know why, and he had never heard it before, but it seemed like the appropriate arrangement of notes, and in any case it put a smile on his face. After a few seconds and a heavy sigh, the newspaper rustled as it was folded up and set to the side by the ticket seller. Upon seeing Rumplestiltskin III, the usher’s brow furrowed before his eyes turned to slits, recognition evident on his face.
“Scram, runt. I’m not chasing you today,” he grumbled before picking up his newspaper, Rumplestiltskin III bristling at the implied accusation that he was destitute. The imp had come here with hard-earned money and this little man was going to take it. Knocking on the glass once more, Rumplestiltskin III pointed at his assortment of change as the usher lowered his newspaper in annoyance. Upon seeing the small fortune, the usher raised an eyebrow, but he eventually scoffed once he saw what Rumplestiltskin III had to offer.
“Well, that’s certainly a change, isn’t it? It’s still not enough, though, so go away,” the usher lazily commanded before returning to his newspaper. Rumplestiltskin III couldn’t believe it, he could have sworn that he had enough to enter the theater, but now that was clearly denied him. Backing away, the poor imp started to cry at his misfortune, but his wails went unnoticed, or likely ignored, by the teenaged usher behind the glass. It was not entirely the usher’s fault, since Rumplestiltskin III had pulled this routine before, albeit without any money to back it up. However, all this mattered little to the pockmarked teen, as he was far more interested in the sixteenth page of his newspaper, and we all know that is where news goes to die.
Rumplestiltskin III was a state. Rocking back and forth on his knees in front of the movie theater in broad daylight, the imp could not believe his misfortune. It seemed so completely unfair that he wouldn’t be able to see a movie with his paltry amount of change. Never mind that he had been so much more unfortunate in his many lifetimes and that this was nothing new. However, this current tragedy was enough for him to start rolling around on the ground near the ticket booth and lamenting the price of coal.
“What is happening here?” a woman shrieked, even if Rumplestiltskin III didn’t stop his diatribe on the price of empires and their fuel, and the ticket counter boy looked up from his newspaper to see a well-to-do lady dressed in a fur coat staring at him in horror. Immediately realizing that he was about to find himself in trouble, the usher set aside his newspaper and gathered himself before speaking.
“Well, uh, he does that sometimes. He sneaks in here all the time and spouts off about whatever he thinks is important. It’s kinda funny, I admit, but we spend a lot of time chasing him around when he gets past the ushers. He’s just making a scene because he actually has money this time, but it’s not enough,” the usher said before shrugging, confident that he had explained himself. All the while, Rumplestiltskin III had continued to pontificate about global justice, although he had stopped rolling around since it had made him dizzy. It was hard to keep the words straight with the world spinning around him, but he was sure he had made some good points. When he concluded his five point thesis, he looked up to see the affluent woman bringing out her purse and rifling through its contents.
“Have you no compassion, boy? The young child here is just trying to watch a movie, and clearly he is somewhat deranged. Here,” she said while passing a small bill to the usher. “Let him in and get him off the street,” she said before walking off, Rumplestiltskin III only just able to see her smile at him before continuing on her way. The woman likely thought he was stunned by her philanthropy, but in truth he had ignored the entire exchange and had no clue who she was or what she had done. However, when he turned back to look at the usher, he saw the disappointment on his face before he let out a heavy sigh.
“You can come on in, runt,” he surrendered, and Rumplestiltskin III was overjoyed to the point that he improvised an ode to the old lady and started to warble off notes as he passed the teenager. He was so enamored with the idea that he did not even remember to collect his earnings before heading into the darkness of the theater. He didn’t even remember the small amount of coins he had brought with him.
He was going to the movies and nothing else mattered.
Happy as could be, the imp stumbled through the dark theater before cart-wheeling into the middle row. The room was largely empty since it was the middle of the day, but that was far better for a creature like Rumplestiltskin III; he didn’t want anyone to interrupt his experience. Deciding that he was the victor of some epic battle, the imp sat down in his makeshift throne and looked over his domain. His feet didn’t even reach the floor as he surveyed his kingdom, but he didn’t mind in the slightest. He loved the cool air and the darkness. It reminded him of his favorite cave in Germany and he wondered if the four-headed troll still lived there, which meant that he would just have to visit when he acquired enough money to travel again. He loved being the tie-breaker in the creature’s own arguments.
Once the movie started, Rumplestiltskin III was instantly transported into the visual world. The black and white tones on the screen became his entire existence, and suddenly the imp knew what he had been missing all of this time. The air seemed electric as the detective tale got underway, as Film Noir had just become popular in this time period, and Rumplestiltskin III got the full effect. The dingy bars, the dangerous girls, the shootouts…all of it was enough to make the imp forget his very existence. He knew for a fact that this was how life was supposed to be. This wasn’t just a story; it was an instruction manual. As he watched the tale of intrigue and modern horror, the visuals and the ethics of these people seeped into his very mind. The chaos which dominated his inner workings seemed to subside as it melted into the black and white clarity that dominated his vision.
When the film ended Rumplestiltskin III didn’t see a movie theater; he saw an ambush waiting to happen. This was not the place to find a job or waste a few hours; this was a place to die. He inched out of his ex-throne and cautiously walked through the aisle, and he was certain that the scattered people throughout his former kingdom were all spies and terrible people. They were the kind of people that would sell the cardboard out from under him just to get a better piece of the pie.
Rumplestiltskin III wasn’t safe here; he wasn’t going to be safe anywhere.
With a soft step, the imp passed by the ticket booth without a word to the surly teenager. He didn’t want to be noticed; he didn’t want anyone to know where he was going. Once he felt that the teenager wasn’t spying on him, he continued down the street and wondered how the world had gotten this way. The cracks in the sidewalk were enough to remind him of the cracks in his very own existence; this world was ruined and he had come too late to save it. Looking down, he could already see the moon reflected in the puddles along the street. If only he could go there to escape this middling town of mediocrity.
He didn’t see the world in color anymore. As Rumplestiltskin III walked down the sidewalk with his fingers poking through the holes in his pockets, all he saw was shadows fighting against the light. Every step brought victory to the darkness, as the light faded and became consumed by its nemesis. That was what the world was now to the jaded imp. As he passed by the smoke coming from a manhole nearby, he heard the voice. He felt her presence. Stopping in his tracks, he knew he had no choice but to look ahead.
She was there. The dame; the woman who had paid his ticket and showed him the world for what it really was. She was laughing there on the street, smoking a cigarette attached to a thin reed. To Rumplestiltskin III, the extended cigarette seemed like just another magic wand; just another way to show how she was powerful enough to change his life. Rumplestiltskin III knew he had found something special in her; he knew why he had found his way to this dead-beat town. He finally knew what he had been waiting for.
He had been waiting for the dame to find her way into his life.
Rumplestiltskin III noticed the fur coat and the caked-on makeup, he noticed the pearls on the earrings and the heavy necklaces pulling down the skin of her neck. The dame had money. It didn’t matter that she had a few years on her, but the imp didn’t care; he had a couple of hundred of lifetimes on her. He was the December in their relationship, verging on New Year’s Eve.
Looking down at himself in his sorry state, Rumplestiltskin III realized that he was entirely under-dressed. The imp had taken to the homeless lifestyle with flair, and now it had become a choice that would make their reunion just a little inappropriate. It was obvious that Rumplestiltskin III would have to do something to change this. The dame deserved more than he could currently give her, empty hands and pockets would not impress such a dame.
The imp looked to his left and found the answer. Behind a sheet of mottled and dirt-covered glass was a trench coat just like the one he had seen in the movie. His new uniform, his modern-day suit of armor, was propped up in the display of a hole in the wall, and Rumplestiltskin III could not help but let a smile crack his grim facade. Walking inside the store and sidling up to the display rack, Rumplestiltskin breathed easy knowing the store owner did not see his small frame. However, the imp could do nothing about the door closing and hitting the bell above the threshold, and he watched through a gap between garments as the man approached the doorway.
Rumplestiltskin III knew he was in trouble, sweat clung to his brow as the owner inched ever closer, and he did his best impression of being a piece of overpriced clothing. When the man stopped by the entrance and watched the cars barreling past, Rumplestiltskin III held his breath and wondered if he could get rid of the man and outrun the police. He certainly didn’t want to, but a man in Rumplestiltskin III’s position would eventually have to spill innocent blood.
The man turned back and headed to the counter, oblivious that a thief had stolen his way into the store. Letting out a sigh of relief, Rumplestiltskin III allowed himself a moment before realizing that the hard part was just about to start. There was no way he could pay for that magnificent coat; he was going to have to steal it. Already he was breaking the laws for this dame. Chuckling silently, Rumplestiltskin threw himself off the display rack and ran over to the window, whipping the coat off the mannequin and throwing his small arms through the sleeves before making a dash for the doorway. Midway through his efforts, the store owner caught on and gave chase, causing Rumplestiltskin III to curse as he burst out of the shop. Without thinking, the imp turned to the right and sprinted away on stubby legs, only hearing the man’s words as he rounded a corner into the alleyway.
“Hey, stop! Thief!”
Rumplestiltskin III didn’t care about the words. He had been called worse by better men, and this was not the time for pride. At the end of the alley, he rushed around the corner into the busy street, letting the man’s accusations fade into the wind. He was going to lose the man for sure. The alleys had been his playground for the last ten years; a shop owner wasn’t going to find him unless the imp wanted the confrontation.
The imp ran around the dismal, dark world of his city with the trench coat dragging behind him. They didn’t make anything small enough for the imp and it showed, but Rumplestiltskin III didn’t care. The water staining his new coat would just give it character. It would just show the he lived his life closer to the ground, closer to the truth.
Rumplestiltskin III knew he had lost the man after ten minutes of running. The shop owner wasn’t in shape; not with that cushy job of his. Just in case, the imp looked over his shoulder and saw no evidence of the man. Confident in his escape, Rumplestiltskin III had a wry smile on his face as he readjusted his new coat. It wasn’t going to fit, but that was alright; he didn’t really fit into this town anyway. Shoving his hands into new pockets, no holes in the lining this time, the imp walked down the street, hunching his shoulders over like he did not want the attention he subconsciously craved. The stares of the passersby did not bother him; these people did not matter. He just needed to find the dame. That’s what mattered.
He found her waiting at a crosswalk. Standing there, waiting for the lights to turn, content to let the world decide her future. It seemed like such an obvious trap to Rumplestiltskin III, like she must have known, but the imp ran up to the dame to save her, even though he knew he was running into danger. All of this for a girl, the imp thought, stopping only within he was within a few feet of the woman, spinning around and looking for the hitman likely hiding in the shadows. There had to be one; the dame was just too damn flashy for her to not be in danger. When he realized the threat was nonexistent, he turned back to the dame with urgency. Above all else, he had to get her to a safe house.
Rumplestiltskin III did not expect the look of horror on the old woman’s face; he expected gratitude. Grabbing his coat by the lapels, he adjusted the ill-fitting coat and tried to make himself presentable. He would just have to show her that this whole crossing the street business was too dangerous.
“Look, we have to get out of here, sweetheart. You never know where they’re coming from,” Rumplestiltskin III said, shifting his gaze to the cop across the street as he spoke. He didn’t trust the fat man. There was something off about the way he was looking at the dame.
“Help, police! I’m being attacked!”
Rumplestiltskin III heard the voice but didn’t believe it; it felt like he had been shot in the gut. Looking up at the woman he was trying to save, he found the dame backing away and screaming her head off, screaming for help. Didn’t she know that Rumplestiltskin III was the help? Unable to react, the imp saw the cop crossing the street out of the corner of his eye, wondering how things had turned out this way. How did he become the bad guy?
That’s when it hit him, and he wondered how he could have been so stupid. The dame was in on it the whole time. It was all a set-up. This was just a way for the cops to get their dirty, grimy hands on the imp once again, send him to that school thing that he hated so much. Rumplestiltskin III sighed as he realized he was going to have to fight the cop, knowing full well that it was going to end well, that he’d have to get the hell out of dodge. Cracking his knuckles, Rumplestiltskin III waited for the approaching menace and a fight he probably wouldn’t win.
He didn’t have a chance to fight. As soon as the imp felt a hand on his shoulder, he whipped around to see the drooling, domineering face of the store owner, though the drooling was all in his imagination. All he knew as his heart sank, all he felt, was that this fight, this life, was over. His happy ending wasn’t ever going to happen. Oddly, when he felt a blow at the back of his neck, as the world faded into darkness, he almost felt relieved that it was finally over.
Dames, he thought. Never should have trusted her.
Rumplestiltskin III woke up to find himself in jail. Before losing consciousness, he thought for sure that he was going to die on that street, but then it dawned on him that the only thing he had done wrong was steal the coat. Rubbing the back of his head, the imp pushed himself off the bench and walked up to the iron bars in front of him. The fat cop was filling out paperwork just ten feet away, and just as soon as he realized his situation, the world regained its color and Rumplestiltskin III remembered who he really was. He was not a detective and he didn’t care about dames.
Jumping away from the bars, Rumplestiltskin III laughed as he started playing a game with himself. He ran around the room as he started shouting out random words and then took the role of his opponent doing the same thing. Obviously, he didn’t know he was doing and he made up the rules as he went along, but he could swear that he was cheating. The other one, that is. Rumplestiltskin III would have to give a stern talking to himself later on, but that could wait until he had been released again. It wouldn’t be long; the police found him too adorable.
At least, that’s what Rumplestiltskin III thought.