Once there were three brothers Grimm – Wilhelm, Jacob and Jerome – who set out about the countryside collecting tales. They hadn’t traveled more than a day out from Frankfurt when they stopped at an inn for the night. Their ears attuned for stories they were drawn to a leathery old spice trader from the East sitting by the fire telling tales from his homeland. The Brothers Grimm listened, and while they later agreed that the stories they heard were of the sort they had in mind to collect, they decided not to record these particular stories. Their diaries only state their decision and not their reasons why only that after listening late into the night they retired to their rooms to sleep.
But in the middle of the night young Jerome could not sleep and decided to take in the night air. As he reached the main room he found the Eastern traveler still by the fire, this time stirring a small pot of soup.
“Troubling sleep?” the traveler said. “I have just the thing.”
The traveler offered up a ladle of the soup from his soup to Jerome who sniffed it cautiously.
“Mushrooms, with a clearing effect on the mind.”
Jerome had no reason to doubt the traveler, and after tasting it found the soup to be quite tasty. He sat next to the traveler and stared into the fire, transfixed by it.
“Some journeys are not taken by foot,” said the traveler. Jerome nodded, and then closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth that overtook him.
The next morning Jacob and Wilhelm awoke to find their brother’s bed empty. When they ventured into the main room of the inn they found Jerome had taken off his bedclothes and climbed into a small kiln space next to the fireplace where wood was kept to dry. He was mumbling incoherently, almost singing, and rocking slightly. The traveler from the East was nowhere to be found and there was no reason for Jacob and Wilhelm to suspect he had anything to do with their brother’s behavior.
Wilhelm and Jacob tried in vain for hours to remove their brother from the cramped space, fearing the heat of the fireplace was boiling him from within. Any attempts to put out the fire were met with Jerome screaming as if being tortured, as were his brother’s attempts to toss water on him to keep him cool. At last Jerome climbed out, and with a calm smile on his face sang:
Shall we go, you and I
While we can?
Through the transitive nightfall
Then he collapsed dead.
Jacob and Wilhelm agonized over what to do. To return home so soon, and with their brother dead, would destroy their mother who had already lost her husband and her father. It would also place a public pall over their storytelling venture they feared would overshadow their work. So instead they decided to bury their brother in a nearby wood under a different name and agreed to write home with a fabricated story of Jerome’s exploits leading him to run off with an enchanting young girl.
Soon Jacob and Wilhelm began having strange dreams. Jacob dreamed of a pair of brothers who sold a third brother to a Turkish sultan as a slave. The slave brother, who looked a lot like Jerome, was taken by the sultan’s daughter to be her husband. Wilhelm dreamed of Jerome as well, on in his dream he had married a chambermaid in hiding who turned out to be the daughter of the King of England. Both Wilhelm and Jacob kept their dreams to themselves and separately took the meaning that their brother had been well-received in the Kingdom of Heaven.
After a few days the Brothers Grimm arrived at the edge of a dark forest. Entering the forest they felt a cold chill that never left no matter how much they bundled up. And out of the corner of their eye a small, hairy gnome seemed to be following them. That night rains forced them to make shelter where they slept uneasy alongside a fire. That night they dreamed of their brother Jerome, only this time the dreams were not as nice as the other ones. In Wilhelm’s dreams Jerome was tossed overboard from a ship where he swam to shore and was arrested as a criminal and jailed. In Jacob’s dream Jerome had been caught stealing a royal scarf and was placed in prison until his beard had grown below his knees. At once both brother woke up crying.
“What have we done! Our brother is in hell!” cried Jacob.
“We should not have abandoned him!” cried Wilhelm.
Quickly Wilhelm and Jacob related their dreams to each other and took it as a sure sign that they should have taken him home to be buried alongside his father and grandfather. They were all set to pack up and return home when the rain stopped and a beam of moon shone through the trees.
Wilhelm and Jacob searched out the source of the voice but they were looking too hard.
“Down here, brothers!”
Before Wilhelm and Jacob stood a gnome, or what their brother might have looked like if he had been squashed to under two feet with a full salt-and-pepper beard.
“This cannot be!” said Wilhelm.
“I know, pretty trippy, right?” said Jerome.
“Is it really you, Jerome?” asked Jacob.
“Well, it is and it isn’t,” said Jerome. “And you can call me Jerry.”
The full-grown Grimm brothers looked down at their miniature gnome brother in shock. It was so clearly their brother and yet, somehow, he was something else.
“Okay, let me lay it on you,” said Jerry. “That trader back at the inn, the one from the East? Yeah, he fed me some magic mushrooms. Opened my eyes right up, let me see that I just couldn’t live a straight life. Not here, not now, and not even later it turned out. But, hey, I’m not complaining.”
“You speak so strangely,” said Jacob. “Can you, perhaps… explain it in a way that we can understand?”
“Right on,” said Jerry. “You know how sometimes when the rye goes bad and a village goes a little crazy with visions? That’s what the mushrooms did. Only the visions… oh, man. The visions. It was like the universe opened up and showed me its clockwork.”
“So…” asked Wilhelm cautiously, “Are you really here before us? Did we not bury you many days back?”
“Oh, yeah. That. No, I’m dead. I took some time off, zoomed around on the astral plane for a bit until I could find the rest of the band, didn’t drop back down until 1942. In the United States. But it’s all good, man, it’s all golden.”
“But if you’re dead, then…”
“Right. Who are you talking to now? Well, it’s sort of complicated if you don’t dig the whole concept of reincarnation, or non-linear time sifting, or any of that. I am your brother, I’m a vision from the future dressed up to look like something you might be willing to accept for a crazy place like this.”
“And the dreams?” asked Jacob.
“Dreams, oh man. That’s a whole different thing, but it’s all connected. You think you’re seeing me as a slave or on a ship or whatever, that stuff happened. But it didn’t happen when my name was Grimm, and a lot of that is all mixed up with stories you haven’t even encountered yet. You guys are tapping into the great cosmic unconsciousness. Everyone’s there doing their thing and the only way you can interpret it is through the filter of your current knowledge. Trust me, you’re going to have some major deja vu moments in the coming years. Just don’t go thinking you always know what’s going on, ’cause there’s no way you can.”
“We have lost our brother, and the guilt of it has driven us mad,” Jacob whispered to Wilhelm.
“We have entered a place of evil and are bewitched by a warlock into seeing things that are not,” Wilhelm whispered to Jacob.
“Boys, I’m right here, and I’m telling you, it’s all good.”
“Why now?” said Wilhelm. “Why not come to us that night you died, or better still, come to yourself and prevent your death?”
Though Wilhelm was satisfied with his line of questioning it merely caused the gnome to laugh.
“You have much to learn about time travel paradoxes and the butterfly effect!”
Jacob began to grow angry, and Jerry could sense it.
“You speak in riddles! Talk plainly, why are you here?”
“I could see that you boys were having troubling dreams and knew that you would not be able to do the great work you are about to do without putting this all behind you.”
“Our work will be… great?”
“You have no idea! Picture books for kids, an entire movie industry with merchandising tie-ins, departments at universities devoted to the stories you are about to collect, Freudian reinterpretations of the symbolism in the stories, desperate-for-attention writers blogging about your tales… it’s all out there, waiting for you.”
Wilhelm and Jacob straightened up, satisfied to think their work would be as important as Jerry said, even if they didn’t quite understand all of what he said.
“How do we proceed, then?’ said Jacob.
“Well, in the words of all the most clichéd stories, open your eyes.”
Which they did.