The Continuation of Sarah Williams is my first fanfic. I had always meant to write a “what happens to Sarah” after seeing Labyrinth. My dear childhood friend N. and I watched the movie at least a dozen times together — we got to the point where we could quote entire passages.
I envision that poor Sarah feels alone and destitute after her Labyrinth experience. She wonders if she was crazy or if it was all a dream as Toby grows into an overweight, video game addicted preteen.
So obsessed is Sarah with her glory days as Goblin Princess that she flunks out of high school and winds up in community college, a relative disgrace considering her I.Q. and affluent background.
Sarah dates a guy named Seth and slowly learns to find herself through writing as she falls away from her Labyrinth experience. It is only once she has truly grown up that she can fulfill herself . . . will Jareth be part of that destiny?
AFTER THE LABYRINTH
The three words stuck in her throat. She could not bring herself to say them anymore; as if she were trying to swallow a fat, wriggling, wart-studded toad fresh from a hillbilly’s backyard crick.
She was so sick of herself. She was so sick of her own antics, she couldn’t be her own friend if she doubled herself. Sick of the endless loop of emotions: hope-perseverance-despair, with hope sagging as deep and bowed as the decrepit shingled roof of her father’s overstuffed tool shed, where raccoons and brown owls nested amongst the old rakes and gasoline-stinking mower. Always the diminutive brown owls, never the snow white barn owl she wished for.
She tried to imagine the neighbor’s ambling Victorian was Jareth’s castle. She pretended by squinting her eyes until they were narrow slits that the white turrets poking out of a sheath of overgrown trees could have been behind a hedge maze. Almost, but not quite. “It’s . . . not . . . fair!” She blurted out to her usual non-audience.
There they were, the three words that had never had the slightest relevance within the context of her life, yet there she was, uttering them.
He had asked her what her basis for comparison was.
Was it fair that nine year olds in the Sudan were starving or turned into child soldiers forced to maim and execute their own family members? The imaginary Jareth in her head liked to ask, liked to skewer her on a prong of guilt in penance for being American-born and white in one of the most prosperous eras in human history.
Was it fair that a girl her age in Afghanistan had never been to school and would have daughters and granddaughters who would never go to school, mainly because said girl was married to her own uncle at twelve and the law smiled upon it?
Was it fair that the kid down the street-she forgot his name even though he had been trying to get her attention since January-had to go to community college because his daddy was, to put it bluntly, poorer than hers? No, life wasn’t fair for many.
Her life was pretty charmed, all things considered. She ought to be grateful, the imaginary Jareth cadjoled. Her evil stepmother Irene rode her constantly for her negative attitude. It worried Dad, Irene, and everybody else that she seemed unable to make friends at her advanced age. Truth was, she didn’t want friends. She had nothing in common with them. Besides, she didn’t want the severity of her depression known.
It was bad enough not being able to stand yourself, what if others couldn’t stand you either? Yeah, yeah. Other girls with similar circumstances, i.e. rich girls, didn’t mope around wasting their lives on a fantasy. Other girls had lives: boyfriends, after-school activities, real friends. Other girls didn’t want to run away with an imaginary Goblin King. It begged the question: Am I insane?
Even though the thirteen hours she had spent in the Goblin King’s world had seemed utterly real, maybe none of it had happened. Maybe she was just another garden-variety schizo. There was crazy on her mother’s side; Great-Aunt Maggie who killed herself by sticking her head in a gas stove and Grandpa Kerry who heard voices.
Hoggle and all of her beloved friends had returned only twice after she had gotten Toby back, once in a great raucous party in her room and the last time in a field in the vicinity of the particle accelerator grounds.
They had promised to always be her friends . . . they had lied. It didn’t make her angry, only sad. The last time she had seen Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus was the last time she had felt genuinely good about herself. Seven years was a long time not to feel good about yourself, as if a curse were cast upon her the day she had broken the great mirror in Jareth’s ballroom.
Both times, her friends from the Labyrinth had congratulated her on beating Jareth and choosing the right-hand path. She had basked in the admiration, absolutely convinced that she had done the right thing by refusing Jareth’s offers and pleas.
She could have been his Queen and lived in a magical land, ruling over time and enchanted space where anything she dreamed would have been possible. She had given up that land of mysticism and wonder to save her little brother, sparing that annoying kid from becoming the Goblin King’s apprentice, sparing him from becoming somebody special.
Toby wasn’t so little or special anymore. He didn’t remember anything-of course he was only eighteen months old at the time—but there was more to it. Toby was just an average kid. The child she had risked her life for, braved the mazes, the Oubliette, the Cleaners, dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, was painfully average.
If Jareth existed, he might not even notice Toby, a bratty eight year old gaming addict who was getting more than a little fat from his constant diet of foods that ended in the suffix -ito (Cheetos, Doritos, Fritos) and played video games until his thumbs were sore.
Would Toby go be a Goblin Prince if Jareth newly summoned him? Jareth wasn’t there to answer any questions. The white owl had stopped coming around to stare into her bedroom window not long after her so-called friends had abandoned her.
The annoying neighbor-Seth, right, that’s what his name was-was in her Art Appreciation class at Bryce Community.
She thought she recognized him as she walked in, her long skirt flowing behind her, her beautiful dark brown hair unbound. It was the first day of Autumn and she was personally celebrating by wearing her authentically hand-sewn dark red medieval cotehardie. She didn’t care how weird she looked or how many fellow students eyes popped out of their sockets. A couple of jerks had snickered and muttered “Where’s the Ren fair?”, under their breath as she walked across the campus that morning; but for the most part her fellow community collegians minded their own business, smoking their smokes and sucking down their bitter vending machine coffees or syrupy Mountain Dews.
She took her Interpretations of Art text out of her leather bookbag and thunked it down upon the table. Seth came over and sat next to her.
“Good morning, Sarah. Is this seat taken?”
“Not that I know of.” She said flatly in Seth’s general direction. He made himself comfortable. His ultra-short brown hair stood in eager tufts around his dense hairline, a five-o’clock shadow darkening his eight A.M. chin. He had baggy brown pants on that were vaguely military, a faded black shirt with some band she didn’t know on it, and combat boots. Seth wore the uniform of every suburban ex-alternative kid in high school, indicating that for him, Bryce Community College was the equivalent of being a super-senior. The rank, dusty smell of old lunches emanated from his backpack as he extracted his own Interpretations text and happily placed it next to hers.
“I’ve heard this instructor is a pushover.” Seth sneered with false bravado. She already wished she had been a bitch and told him to bug off.
“Is he?” She didn’t want to play ball.
“Yeah, as long as you show up, you make the grade. You don’t even have to do better than a C on the final exam.”
“Cool.” She thumbed through her text, pretending to be interested in the illustrations.
“So, how are your folks?” She gave him an underlook.
“Why do you care?” She mentally willed Seth to disappear. It didn’t work.
“Sorry I asked.” Seth thumbed through his own text. If he had been a puppy, his tail would have been between his legs.
“They’re going through one mess of a divorce, if you have to know. My mom has been cheating on my dad for the last three years with some himbo from the human resources department of her company. My dad has lung cancer. Really something you wanted to know, right?”
“Oh man, sorry. That sucks.”
“Whatever.” She shrugged and buried her nose in her art book as the instructor breezed into the room, the silence descending around him.
DREAMS AND REALITIES
She thought about dropping Art, but according to her counselor she needed the credit. Seth began to tail her out of art class and spend the hour or so break with her afterwards.
A natural loner, Sarah resented his company most of the time but on occasion found him entertaining. Seth’s one gift was his scathing sense of humor. Seth was so funny that you would remember one of his jokes or epithets at an inopportune time-like in the middle of eating a frozen dinner in front of the TV or while trying to focus on a Biology test-and the giggles would attack. Seth was a funny guy, a bit of a clown. People liked him.
It was no secret that some girls found Seth to be quite the hot muffin.
His face was darkly Italian, with a fine straight nose and a high forehead. He had a nice body that he obviously worked on; big shoulders, trim waist, and sleek legs. Sarah didn’t want to see his six-pack, but it was clear he had one somewhere hiding underneath those black concert T-shirts.
It was a shame, Seth hanging on her every word and wasting his time with a girl that was not only three inches taller than he was, but completely not into him. Seth was intelligent in a practical bourgeois sort of way. He could have owned his own farm in Goblin City, or maybe he could have been a merchant or a burgomaster.
He was a catch. She just didn’t care for the short, dark types.
The man of Sarah’s dreams loomed tall and fair, his heterochromic glance withering but tender, so capable of love if only she had been aware enough to receive it.
“Wanna see my new tat?”
“What, as in ‘tit for tat’?”
“What are you talking about? Do you wanna see my tattoo?”
Sarah had become a barely tolerated member of Seth’s circle of friends, a tag-along on their trips to Subway and the two-dollar movie house on Forty Seventh and Monroe.
She fit in like a square peg in a round hole in her typical refusal to resemble any one of them. The girls all sported multiple piercings, ripped denim, and hair that had been shaved and dyed in violent colors. She was the only one who had never listened to Nirvana.
The guys seemed a little afraid to flirt with her, each one involved in a semi-serious relationship with one of the girls in the posse, but their involvement wasn’t the first reason. She intimidated them with her big vocabulary and her staunch refusal to chop her long locks and rejection of tattoos. It wasn’t just her weird, pseudo-ancient clothing. It was her manner. It drove Seth wild, but most of the others, especially the females, were nonplussed.
“Oh, your tattoo. Let’s see.”
Tina hiked up her skirt in a way that probably could have gotten her arrested in Singapore. She revealed a giant mid-thigh depiction of a Chinese dragon. The tattoo was covered in scabs, one puffy black biscuit of a scab obscuring the dragon’s face and ears and another riding its back above the wing like an unknown passenger.
Sarah tried to hide her initial instinct of pure revulsion.
“Wow, it’s very Yakuza.” Sarah tried to sound nonchalant.
Tina laughed, seemingly satisfied.
Irene was glad that Sarah had suddenly gleaned friends. She naturally assumed that Sarah was dating “the Scarlato boy” as Seth was known to their family, even though Sarah insisted it wasn’t that sort of relationship.
Even if Seth wanted it to be.
Seth did help her to achieve a remote semblance of normalcy, you had to give him that.
High School had been bad for her. After the journey back from the Labyrinth, life had gone back to pretty much normal.
The sad part was that normal wasn’t nearly good enough anymore. Having tasted her dreams-having them waved in front of her-had ruined her. Her everyday high school life seemed covered in a pall of gray dust, all of her senses dulled.
She no longer tried out for plays. They reenacted her favorite one, The Doll’s House by Ibsen, and she didn’t even bother to audition.
She tried not to think about the Labyrinth, but when it came down to it, it was all she cared or dreamed about. She didn’t dare try to conjure the goblins again-she wasn’t stupid or reckless-but she constantly wondered if they watched her from her vanity mirror when she went about her routines. She still threw a blanket over the mirror when she undressed.
And then there were the dreams.
Even if the story had been lopped off in real life, severed like an errant tree limb, it continued in her dreams.
She dreamed of a beautiful queen, so like her but infinitely more cruel, who drew Jareth away and made him into a prisoner in a mirror world.
She dreamed of being lost in the deep forests that engulfed the Labyrinth; of living as a hermit until she grew old and had humps on her back, crazy and alone.
She dreamed of the goblins and the fairies dancing in wild revelries as they burned Jareth’s castle to the ground, the Escher mazes crashing in upon themselves and the stairs tumbling into one another.
She dreamed of wandering a library populated by mountainous stacks of petite red books, each housing a new tale with a world inside. She looked forward to sleep far too much; it was unhealthy. Dreams were the only time that Jareth or any of her old friends spoke to her anymore.
“Why can’t I be with you again? I belong here, in the Labyrinth!” She asked during a particularly lucid dream where she had cornered Jareth in a hedge maze.
“You’re all grown up, Sarah. You must put away childish things.” He stalked around a hedge, proselytizing. “You have already made your choice. What’s done is done.”
He peered at her imperiously, but there was something off. His coat was worn and shabby. His boots were scuffed.
“I was stupid! I was young! Please let me stay here. I don’t belong anywhere else.”
“You don’t belong? You turn my world upside down, you refuse to love me, and then you tell me that you want me to reorder the past because you don’t belong?”
She fell to her knees. “Please, Jareth. I was wrong. I was only fifteen! You had my brother!”
“Get up. Begging doesn’t become you.”
She rose, sniffling.
“I am old. I am tired, a fool. I have gone away from the place of your imaginings, forced into exile by your indecision. I can no longer remedy your plight—I am to be pitied.”
“You wouldn’t have hurt him, would you?” She asked pathetically, frantically searching his face for emotion.
“Of course not. What do you take me for, a beast?” He smiled, a hint of cruelty dancing at the corners of his lips.
She ran to embrace him and he disappeared into the hedge. She ran her hands along it. It was just a hedge.
The fateful day had come when she had found the red spellbook hidden behind her Collected Works of Shakespeare volume set.
It had appeared there mysteriously. It definitely hadn’t been there before. It was the exact same size as her Labyrinth book (the one she had re-read a thousand times) but instead of a story told in the form of a play, it was full of conjurations.
There were nasty recipes for Stew of Wooly Mammoth’s Intestinal Tripe, Fartflower, and Liver of Cross-eyed Griffin that you were supposed to obtain during certain phases of the moon and smear all over your chest like Vick’s Vapo Rub.
There were detailed instructions and diagrams of circles to draw on the floor so that the goblins could not eat you.
There were lists of absurd things you could and couldn’t get a goblin to do for you, like how you could bribe one to let you ride inside the mouth of a whale.
In order to get them to make someone you desired fall in love with you, you had to trick the goblin to eat three scales from a dragon.
The book suggested serving the dragon scales barbecue-grilled with cream cheese and olives on top, like hors d’oeuvres.
Evidently cream cheese was well liked by goblins. It was mentioned several times.
There was even instructions on how one summoned the Goblin King, which stated that the only way to get him to come was to wish that someone who truly loved you would go away right now.
She was obsessed with the spellbook. When she felt like it, she made up some illness and stayed home to read it. Irene didn’t seem to care and Daddy wasn’t living there anymore.
Neither of them seemed to notice until her grades started to slide, first Math and Science, then even her better subjects like History.
She had flunked out of enough courses in high school that she had to graduate late, completing her degree at home with a G.E.D. The G.E.D. had been followed by a year and a half of depressive soul-searching while working dismal temp agency jobs.
No one had expected that she would turn out to be the dunce of her tribe, even worse than her own mother.
She was the ultimate academic embarrassment of her family. A flunkee among aunts with PhDs, uncles who taught in universities, and cousins who graduated magna cum laude more often than not. Irene had a master’s degree. Her father had his doctorate by age 28.
Nobody in the family tree had ever flunked high school.
Sarah lived with Irene, even though she could never trust her again after what she had done to Daddy. Sarah lived with Irene because she couldn’t stand to leave the house she had grown up in. To replace that house with a new one would be the final straw.
She had gone on a few trips with her Dad to the Grange Clinic (Irene had only visited him there once) and she visited her Dad’s condo once a week if she could, but it was on the other side of the city. It was more than two hours drive on a good day.
She could understand why he had moved, but did it have to be so far?
The chemo was brutal. No matter what fresh hell the doctors dreamed up for Dad, it never seemed to have lasting effects.
Irene was like a vampire, the longer the divorce went on, the healthier she got and the worse Dad became.
There was talk of exploratory surgery: the cancer was spreading. There had been shunts, catheters he’d dragged around to his court dates like a horse with a feedbag of oats.
She hated her stepmother for that.
Sarah had taken it upon herself to press her father not to fight for custody of Toby, but it was a hard sell. Anyone could see that the fight had been drained out of her father, but he worried what Toby would think if he didn’t raise an objection. As the cancer got worse, it actually became an easier decision. Toby wasn’t able to visit him because most weekends, Dad wasn’t home. He was in the hospital.
Custody problem solved: he’d likely be dead within a couple of years so what was the point? Every time she thought about it, another hole was punched into her heart like a bullet wound.
The idea of losing her father before graduating college-before getting married or having kids or any of that life stuff-crushed her soul.
Daddy liked Sarah McLachlan a lot, so she stopped and bought the new CD from DiscDealers at the strip mall near Grange Center where he was having his latest round of chemo.
It hurt just to look at him, never having been overweight in the first place, he had dwindled fifty pounds or more, and that had been in the last three months alone.
He was starting to look gaunt, like the scarecrow version of his former self, puffy in his own skin, bones sticking out. A knife of secret malice darted psychically towards her stepmother.
“So I hear they raised the price of stamps again.”
“Yes, Daddy.” She dutifully arranged the stiff hospital sheet around his midriff.
“Thanks for the CD. I love her voice, you know. Reminds me of yours.”
“Right, except her singing doesn’t sound like a drowning cat. I didn’t get Mom’s voice.”
He laughed and coughed, at first a gentle chuff, it quickly became a wretched attack from traitorous lungs.
“Oh no, Daddy! I shouldn’t have . . . ”
“Made me laugh? No such thing! They say laughter is the best medicine, whoever ‘they’ are. Maybe if I laughed more, I could stay out of here longer than a week.”
“You’ll be well soon. I know it.” She lied. Every week her hope for his recovery was exponentially diminished. He was literally shrinking away before her eyes.
“What’s this I hear about you having a younger boyfriend?”
“What? Where did you hear that? I don’t . . .”
“Your mother told me.”
She didn’t correct him. In the past, he tried not to call Irene her mother, but nowadays, she gave him carte blanche.
“She’s capable of being civil, you know, even if it only lasts five minutes a stretch.”
“Not like I would know. I try to avoid her as much as possible.”
“That’s barely possible. You live in the same house.”
Sarah refrained from sharing with Dad the fact that Irene was almost never home. She was over at her boyfriend Chad’s house most of the time.
Chad who was young enough to be Sarah’s boyfriend, or her brother. Chad, the twenty-something idiot in the black Lexus. He came from L.A. His head was shaved, that old tactic that insecure men used to disguise the fact they had gone bald. His eyes were the small and squinty type so common to men incapable of profound thought.
It was disgusting how Chad looked at Irene, as if life was one big porno and they were the stars, the aging cougar and her mate. Sarah had caught him checking her out like a piece of fresh meat and she had nearly felt capable of murder at that instant.
She had stuck to her room when they were present, glad for Toby and his constant presence indoors, because on the rare occasions Toby wasn’t haunting the living room or the kitchen, Irene and Chad were all over each other. Most of the time Sarah was able to jump in her car and hop over to the library or the shopping mall if the library was closed, but once or twice she had been forced to suffer the sounds of their lovemaking-no, humping is what you called it, there was no love involved-and she had turned on her record player until Bartok made it sound like she was performing a live Satanic ritual right there in her room.
“I want to come live with you, Dad. I can take care of you.”
The way he said her name, dragging it out until it was three syllables instead of two, was endearing, as if it had been translated from a dead Biblical language and still had the hyphens and commas in it.
It was the same way Jareth had pronounced it, as if it were the name of a beautiful enchanted princess. “You’ve got to live your life, not tend to a sick old man. Besides, I’ve got Henry. We don’t want Henry to think he’s not doing his job, right?”
Henry was Dad’s day nurse. He was a Polish guy who was pushing fifty but strong as a bull and built like a brick shithouse.
“Does Henry cook?”
“As a matter of fact, he does!”
“What does he make, bratwurst and deep fried cheese?”
“No! You wouldn’t even believe it if I told you!” Dad started to smile and chuff again.
Sarah’s face grew very grave. “Dad, I don’t want you to start coughing again!”
“Sarah, so serious! Don’t worry about me.”
“But I do worry, Dad.”
He grinned, sucking in his laughter, trying to tamp it down. The thin skin on his cheeks, where a fine net of capillaries and blue veins was visible, vibrated with good humor. “Henry’s a tiptoe-through-the-tulips vegetarian.”
“You’re joking.” Henry looked like an old truck driver. Such types usually weren’t known for their vegetarianism.
“Everything he cooks is organic-this and soy-that. He gets pissed at me if I sneak a cheeseburger.”
“Weird. Proof you can’t judge a book by its cover, I guess.”
“He takes good care of me.”
“That’s because you pay him, Dad.”
“Well, Henry’s a good nurse. He truly is.”
“If you say so.”
“So tell me more about your new boyfriend, Sarah.”
“Uh, he’s not my boyfriend . . . ”
A petite female nurse came in with ice chips and a bowl of Jello.
“Hello, Sarah. Visiting hours are almost over.”
“Right, I’ll go. Do you need me to get you anything, Dad?”
“No, Nurse Jo has got it covered.” He smiled at Nurse Jo and she smiled back.
She said her goodbyes to Dad and wound her way back down the long hospital corridors to her car. She had finally gotten used to finding it in the three story garage, but not before getting lost and wandering around a few times. It was raining enough to justify an umbrella, but she didn’t have one.
She thought about calling Seth but refrained.
Seth was getting to the point where he knew far too much information about her, her past, and her family. Seth was a great listener, always at the ready to absorb some new tidbit or emotional revelation, ready for any ammunition it would take to push their relationship beyond the casual.
He knew about the ding dong ditching that she and her brother had terrorized the neighbors with a year ago, how she and Toby had placed flaming paper bags of dog poop on porches and devised complicated systems of pulleys and fishing line in many successful attempts to exact maximum suburban hysteria.
He knew about the scar on her lower back, when she had fallen out of a hayloft as a kid and almost died.
He knew she was a virgin-that one she had admitted by accident after getting her mildly drunk on beer during a marathon Mystery Science Theater 3000 video binge, when she was so tired she was almost crying.
She hated that he knew that, because now all his friends knew.
To the girls, her virginity explained everything, the uppity nonconformity, the obsession with the European Renaissance, her twitchy awkwardness in casual conversation.
For the guys, she was now the ultimate tease, the great big challenge. They circled around her like dogs, making her the subject of vulgar fascination. She rued the night she had told Seth her confession.
It was none of his business and she hated him for knowing, but not as much as she hated herself for telling.
Tonight was the night she had been waiting for.
The moon was in the right phase. The weather was rainy and brewing a lightning storm. She had thought about the risk and the risk was worth it. She had waited long enough.
Too long, in fact.
She came in through the garage. Rain was pouring outside, beating against the windows and streaming down the outsides of the leaf clogged gutters. Dad used to take care of the gutters, she thought bitterly. Irene had let a lot of things go around the house.
Toby and his chubby little friend Mark were playing Mortal Kombat, their thumbs nearly blistered from beating the virtual crap out of each other in the form of digital cartoons.
She could tell Irene was gone the moment she saw the coffee table strewn with the remnants of pizza and empty Mountain Dew cans, a yawning bag of Doritos spilling florescent orange triangles onto the floor.
“I hope you plan on cleaning up your mess, dorkface, because I’m not going to do it this time.”
They ignored her.
Maybe this time I really won’t clean up after you, you little pig. She thought. Toby’s fat little face wrinkled in concentration, his mouth hanging open, drool threatening to spill. Some Goblin Prince you turned out to be.
She went to her room and fished out the spellbook from its hidden place behind the Collected Works of Shakespeare.
She put on a horrible collection of piano works by Schoenberg, the record player screeching. She drew the blinds and pulled the curtains over them. It felt good to shut out the prying eyes of the world.
She lit all the candles in her room, the tea lights, the candelabra she had bought from the resale shop, and even the bayberry candle she had found in a destined-for-Goodwill box of Christmas stuff.
From the candles she lit a couple of nag champa incense sticks. They quickly filled the room with their musky Indian temple smoke. She donned her white kimono and shut the lights.
The candles flickered eerily in anticipation. The darkness swallowed the room in a black veil.
She considered Toby and his friend. She wondered for a moment what they would think if they caught her, if they knew what she meant to do. She thought again-of course they wouldn’t catch her. All they cared about were their stupid video games.
Lightning flashed outside, followed by the sudden crack of thunder.
It was a night just like the night she had entered the Labyrinth.
Inwardly she was glad that she had not chickened out and called Seth. She stood before her mirror, the candle shadows rendering her eyes as dark sockets in a glowing skull.
She said the words, reading directly from the book.
“I wish the Goblin King would take you away again, right now!” She screamed during a thunder crack followed by a dramatic squall of rain.
Schoenberg thundered along with the hail. Lightning flashed and for a split second she swore she saw Jareth’s face in the mirror, a phantom face not much more than a skull with a pale halo of hair, long chin, and thin lips. He reached for her as if he were on the other side of the mirror with his skeletal hand, touching the film of glass.
Lightning flashed, the thunder tearing the sky apart. The room rattled and Lancelot the teddy bear and a tchotchke of a ballerina tumbled to the bed from an overhead shelf. Or was it the goblins?
She ran to the light switch and shut off the record. She tried to turn the light on-it didn’t go.
The power was out, just like the fateful night she had first entered the Labyrinth. Her heart raced with excitement. She quickly ran to each candle, dousing each with a quick puff of air from her healthy lungs. Unlike Seth and his pals, she didn’t ruin her airways by smoking.
Bumbling downstairs and nearly tripping head over heels, she realized that she had forgotten to take off the robe. The lights in the living room were off, the cold shadows of rain reflected in eerie pale illumination.
Her chest flooded with guilt as she came upon the empty living room, the TV screen heroes quivering in ready-to-pummel-each-other mode, the controllers left haphazardly on the couch.
Her heart was an exclamation point of shame and elation: she had successfully sent Toby to the Labyrinth again with his nasty little friend dragged along for the ride!
It was a horrible act on her part, but she had proved that she still had the power to enter the Labyrinth at will. She didn’t mind rescuing them both, Toby and the other brat. She would rescue them, no problem.
The point was to see Jareth again, and this time, she would make a different decision.
A flashlight probed the dark. There was a groaning rattle and the lights flipped on. Electricity surged back into the veins of the house. Toby and Mark stood gaping at her.
She had never felt so disappointed.
“What the hell, freak. Why are you dressed like that?” They smelled that little boy mixture of Dorito, grime, and snot.
Sarah drew the kimono over herself protectively.
Mark began to make ching-chong sounds, imitating the noise of falling silverware, pulling his eyes into slits with his index fingers. He thrust his front teeth into an overbite and bowed. Toby laughed hysterically.
“Damn you!” She turned and ran, tripping over the kimono up the stairs en route to her room. Her hands smarted from falling upon them.
“But I saw his face!”
She wept into the pillow, the little spellbook lying open on the floor. “Jareth!” She doubled over, heaving with despair.
“I saw him! I’m not going crazy! I’m not!” The sudden truth of never being able to see Jareth again swept over her in waves, even though it had been hiding there all along.
“I hate my life!” The pillow swallowed her tears and she threw it aside, digging in her drawer for her pocket pack of tissues. “It’s . . . not . . . fair!”
The silence in the room about her was uninterrupted.
There was no audience for her voice, save herself.
Seth had taken to wearing a fedora. It was ridiculous, she thought, a dressy cap on a guy who wasn’t capable of wearing a suit unless he was standing up for a wedding.
It looked alien, a mismatch with his ever-more-giant shorts (they almost looked like a skirt) and his floppy t-shirts. She had bought him a shirt and tie at Target one day-a creepily girlfriendish thing to do-and she wondered if he’d take the hint.
“Wow, you bought me this? Why?”
“I just figured you would look nice in it.” She felt herself unable to look at him.
“I’ll never wear it.”
“I know. It’s not your thing.”
“Do you want it to be my thing?”
“I don’t care. Wear what you want, Seth.”
“No, I’ll wear it. I will if you want me to.”
“Just return it for something else.” She was becoming irritated. She became irritated all the time these days.
“I’m sorry I said I wouldn’t wear them. I will now. I promise.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
On the coffee table lay a glossy magazine, addressed to Seth’s sister. On its cover was a girl of Sarah’s approximate age with a white chiclet smile, all vapid cheer and not particularly bright-looking, but apparently having the time of her magazine model life. Sarah purposefully swept the magazine to the floor as she grabbed the box with the shirt and tie still in it.
“Let’s go to your room and see if it fits.”
Seth nearly bolted from his seated position.
Weights and barbells bordered various corners of his room. A sad sagging childhood bed bore a threadbare forest green quilt that draped the floor. Deep, dust caked shag carpeting engulfed their feet. The different colors of yarn resembled a field of mildewy Rice-A-Roni, beige, brown, black, blue, and white. A Star Wars poster advertised the Jedi’s return, coming soon.
After looking each way down the hallway, Seth carefully closed the door.
He turned his back to her and took off his oversized T-shirt. She could see the labor that had gone into his physique and was even distantly impressed through her hot cascading flushes of embarrassment. He faced her again. He was trembling.
She brusquely handed him the shirt. He opened it frenetically, pins and miniature plastic clips dropping on the floor. She stooped down to pick up the fallen pins so he would not impale his feet upon them later.
By the time she had finished retrieving pins, he was already buttoning up the shirt.
“You’re doing it wrong.” He was two buttons off, telltale asymmetry already showing in the collar.
She undid his buttons and corrected the error. He did not seem to be breathing as she worked her way up towards the hollow of his neck.
She stood back and examined her work. She shook her head.
“You forgot to put on an undershirt.”
“What?” He looked down.
“An undershirt. I can see your nipples, Seth.”
“Look at those. Nice.” He resumed breathing. “Should I put the tie on anyway?”
“No. Maybe some other time. Take it off.” She realized to her horror that she sort of enjoyed bossing him around.
He started unbuttoning the shirt. His style was so unbearably slow that she pitched in and helped him, grabbing a button carelessly and threading it through her fingers so roughly that it almost pulled off. She could feel him breathing into her hair. To her dismay, she liked it.
When his hands traveled to the small of her back to pull her closer, it was expected and natural. His shirt was partly open and his chest felt warm and sweet, not as wrong as it should of felt. Thrills raced through her body as she realized that she wanted more-not nearly as much as he wanted, but more nonetheless.
She kissed his neck. She tipped her head back and he kissed her, parting her lips. She allowed him to kiss her. His perennial five o’clock shadow scoured her cheek as he nuzzled her chin and moved towards her ears.
It felt feathery.
“Stop!” She giggled uncontrollably.
“What’s wrong?” He reluctantly stopped the flow of kisses.
A door creaked somewhere in the house. He looked at the door and buttoned his shirt, crestfallen and disappointed. “Goddammit! Somebody’s home. Could be my dad.”
“I’ve gotta go anyway. I have to read five hundred pages of Tolstoy by Friday or else.”
“I’ll drive you home.”
“It’s a nice day, I’ll walk.”
“I’ll walk you then.”
“I’d rather just . . . well . . .”
“SETH! SETH? Are you home?” Seth’s mother’s voice boomed from the living room.
“Yeah! Just a minute Mom!” He called back.
Seth’s mother came upon them as they were exiting Seth’s room. She gave Seth a knowing look and Sarah felt she could immediately die of embarrassment.
“I was just leaving.” She stumbled awkwardly out of his room, glad that she didn’t wear lipstick that would have been smeared all over her face from kissing Seth.
Seth’s car was pinned in so Sarah waved a cheerful goodbye and skipped down the sidewalk as Seth vowed to move the cars. She didn’t let him get that far-by the time he moved his mother’s car she would already be halfway home.
It was a beautiful Spring Day, cool and windless with tulips and daffodils blooming against the backdrop of the awakening trees. She spontaneously decided to go to the park.
The park was deserted and eerie, the trees of the forest preserve beckoning seductively, their cool freshness scenting the air. She wasn’t wearing boots and the muddy patches and puddles threatened her every step, just waiting to swallow her dry suede-slippered feet.
It was one of those days where she bitterly missed Merlin, the best dog she had ever had.
The old white and gray sheepdog had passed away five years ago, after a long and ugly fight with her stepmother about putting him to sleep.
He had horrible arthritis that had began with not being able to walk upstairs to her room (she had stubbornly carried him every night even though he weighed a hundred pounds) and ended when she and Toby had come home from school to find him dead in the front hallway, his head down, his eyes closed, his front legs crossed like human arms.
Merlin had died waiting for her to come home from school. Merlin’s death added to that special dimension of tyranny that was high school for her; being forced to be at that stupid place with its pep rallies and its piled reams of homework assignments was worse than any Labyrinthine oubliette.
She had been inconsolable for weeks-in so many ways, Merlin was her only friend. There would never be another dog like him.
She shuddered with the remembrance of Seth’s kiss. It should have been Jareth. Jareth had never kissed her. She had never let him. Ah, the stupidity of fifteen year olds, especially her.
She had kissed two other boys-Seth made three. She hadn’t passionately kissed them either, except for Seth. The kisses had been akin to how you’d kiss a sibling or a parent.
She was infinitely sad that she had just had her first real kiss from Seth at her belated college age.
Tina would find out and would now become jealousy incarnate. Well, Tina could have Seth, she thought. They were peas in a pod: they both loved their oversized clothes and grunge rock and tattoos. They loved their bogus nonconformity, whereas she was an actual nonconformist, the one who actually lived it down.
In high school she was friendless except for Jamie Oderman and Samantha Warwick. Jamie had gone to Colorado State and Sam went to a tiny college in Iowa. Jamie never gave Sarah grief about her lack of male companionship. Sam assumed she was gay. The two guys she had kissed, friends of their tiny group, had eventually presumed the same. Sarah was considered an ice-princess tease, beautiful but frigid, tall and elegant, nice to look at but off-limits, like a haughty supermodel. Wouldn’t Jamie and Sam love to hear about Seth once they got home for the summer.
Sure they would.
She couldn’t let Seth go any further.
Little did he know that he had gotten the furthest of anyone yet.
Maybe they were right, maybe she was frigid. Or maybe it was that she could feel Jareth watching her the whole time. She imagined he was watching her now, replaying the kiss for himself, enjoying her foolishness.
Stupid girl, easily led astray was what he was thinking. It was true.
She got home and her stepmother was yelling at someone on the phone.
Irene’s face was beet red, livid, and she was cursing foulness with every other word. Toby was nowhere to be seen, gone from his usual encampment in front of the television.
Sarah tried to sneak around the stepmother as quietly as possible as spittle flew from her screaming face into the phone’s receiver. A bill with a flash of suspiciously red text was in her hand.
Irene looked at Sarah indignantly and Sarah disappeared up the stairs.
From the hysterical yelling, Sarah gleaned that it was her father being yelled at by the evil harpy, whose prospects were obviously drying up (wasn’t Chad clear enough evidence?) and who was getting hers while the getting was good. Robbing the cradle and Sarah’s father simultaneously.
Sarah felt her own internal thermometer rising. How dare the Irene yell at her Daddy, only two days home from the hospital. She wanted to grab the phone out of her hand and end the conversation, slamming it down on the both of them.
How could they even get married in the first place if they had any inkling they would one day act like this towards each other?
They were worse than infants.
She wanted to pack her suitcase immediately and drive up to Daddy’s and never come back. Forget Toby or any of her belongings. Forget community college! She could work. Her brain burrowed wildly through the possibilities. She didn’t have to go to Daddy’s. Not Mom’s though, that dream had been dead for what seemed a thousand years.
She was free to do what she wanted!
She could just drive and keep on driving until there was a town where she didn’t know anybody, where there was no family and no college and certainly no Seth.
But what kind of job could she get, realistically? A factory in a small town where there weren’t even enough office buildings to outnumber the farms? She had no skills save the ability to read a ton of books. The car was technically the Irene’s because it was Irene who had bought and made payments on it.
There was nothing Sarah could do except sob into her pillow, and she knew enough about that already. She could call Seth and he would be over within seconds. With him would come temporary escape, a movie or a long drive, but with it came the inevitable pressure, his endgame to have her all to himself.
She opened her old diary, thinking that she would re-read some old accounts of her past misery or maybe even write some new ones. Instead, she found herself writing about a character who was like her in ways but fundamentally different in others, a character who existed in a parallel future universe.
She was scribbling words into the poor beaten-up diary an hour and a half later, a crazy story about a spaceship in the year 2410.
Her hand was cramped and tired. She re-read the weird story and though rationally she wanted to dismiss it as nonsense, a part of her felt it would be wrong not to continue. Even though she had not read her Tolstoy and was officially behind, she felt good for the first time in a long time.
She hadn’t even noticed that the contentious phone conversation between Daddy and his soon to be ex-wife had ended.
The house was quiet again.
That night she dreamed lovely dreams about her future-world where she lived on a verdant planet of trees and glowing white oceans. She inhabited the Great Hall where she could gaze upon three huge moons riding the sky of black and cobalt. She was at total peace, able to sense the magic all around her as if she were a monk who had devoted a lifetime to meditation. She did not long for Jareth uncontrollably, though he did exist in the glittering map of stars stretching beyond the moons in their glorious phases.
She felt so good about the positive turn of the previous day that she called Seth the next morning and let him take her out for dinner. He was delighted to see her. He was wearing his new shirt and tie, the fedora, and a pair of faded, baggy pleated pants. The combination was slightly better than his usual, but still ridiculous. She told him he looked nice. They went to an Italian restaurant.
“I wish I could order wine.”
“I could order some and give it to you.”
“No! That’s illegal. Next time I’ll have to remember my fake ID is all.”
“Fake IDs are illegal, Seth.”
“I know, Sarah.” His brown eyes met her green ones and she felt butterflies escape her solar plexus. Seth truly was sexy.
“My Dad says that wine helps cut the heaviness of the pasta.”
“How is your Dad?”
“Not so great. My hag stepmother was yelling at him on the phone about money. He’s just days out of chemo.”
“Is it working?”
“Honestly? No. I don’t think so.”
“Just give it time. It’ll work eventually.”
“How do you know?”
“My Aunt Delores had cancer. She died last year.”
“I don’t get you, Seth.”
“Well, she was in remission for a long time.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. Seth was always saying stupid things. It was as if he liked to hear the sound of his own voice.
“Do you want to go to a ball?”
“What?” A flash of memory invaded her mind, the ghost image of herself after eating a poisoned peach, clad in a ball gown like Cinderella, dancing with her dark Prince.
“They’re throwing a masquerade ball for a charity my mom’s involved with. It’s either for starving children or diabetes, I forget.
“Starving children or diabetes. Ironic, isn’t it?” She quipped.
“What’s ironic? So you wanna go to it?”
The peaceful dream of her lunar sci-fi palace did not return the next night, or the week after.
It was replaced.
The weekly Sunday drive to her father’s condominium was a long one. Saturday’s dream haunted her as she merged onto the melancholic stretch of highway, the sleet-colored road unfurling under a sky of mottled chalcedony.
She hated being haunted by her dreams. She had dreamed (of course) that Jareth had kissed her instead of Seth.
It wasn’t so much of a dream as a replay of the kiss with a different person: she and Jareth in Seth’s room, their feet submerged in the Rice-A-Roni carpeting. Jareth’s lips were dry and rough like antique lace. Jareth’s shirt had been no more than rags under which his poor chest was emaciated and bony. She had caressed him tenderly, like a mother, and his pleading voice had implored her not to leave him ever again, ever.
But dreams always ended and leaving could not be helped.
The dream had been especially disturbing. Jareth had been pale and fragile, nothing like the dominating riding-boots clad monster she had known in the Labyrinth. He was thin and wasting. Seth’s room was both his room and a dripping undergroud dungeon at once in that strange way of dreams.
Was this some Cassandra-complex garbage dredged up by her subconscious because of her guilt that she couldn’t help her Daddy in his cancer battle?
Didn’t she have enough pain in her life without her subconscious joining in the torture sessions?
THE LOST PRIZE
The school year wore on and her counselor upped the pressure machine. She hadn’t even applied to a college yet and Maryann was worried.
Was it because of money? The divorce?
No, Irene seemed to feel enough of a parental debt to Sarah to pay for the car, classes, books. A hundred percent of the community college’s tuition came out of Irene’s trust fund. Irene asked her all the time about college, happy to chirp away about how great it was and the best time of your life, blah, blah, blah.
The hidden subtext was that people who didn’t go to college were damaged, losers who would never amount to anything. Like her mother, whose biggest part had been the understudy to Grizabella in the Chicago run of Cats.
Most “kids” her age were already in grad school.
Out of obligation more than motivation, she applied to three different schools-one in San Francisco, one in New York, and one in Britain. The third one was completely on a lark, her only thought that she might be able to find Jareth’s replacement, or at least a passing substitute.
Irene was delighted that she had applied to colleges.
“Well, you’re going to have the time of your life. You’ll have so many friends that you’ll wonder how you’ll ever find time to study.”
Irene was wearing a black spandex bodysuit, as if she were either about to dance a modern interpretive ballet or accompany Jacques Cousteau to snorkel the barrier reef.
“I don’t think I’ll have that problem.” Sarah had no friends in her current college; therefore she surmised that nothing about her situation would fundamentally change if she went to another college.
“You’ve made the right decision. Time to move on with your life.” Irene was smug and self-satisfied, as if she was trying to imply that there was a parallel between her moving on from Sarah’s father and Sarah’s eventual flight to college. If there was was one thing Irene possessed, Sarah thought, it was nerve. Pure, unadulterated chutzpah.
“Can you babysit Toby tonight?”
Sarah felt a surge of obnoxiousness coming on. “Why are you even asking? You usually don’t bother.”
“You don’t have to be snippy. Chad and I have hotel reservations downtown.”
“Fine, I’ll babysit.”
“Thanks. You’re welcome to have your friend over, you know.”
“Your friend . . . Seth.” Irene looked at her with a naughty gleam in her eye. “He’s cute.”
“Glad you think so. I’ll tell him for you.” Sarah bounced off the couch and headed for the stairs.
“You do that, girlfriend.” Irene smiled a mouthful of veneers and sashayed out of the room, her legs encased like twin black sausages. Sarah felt a headache threatening to come on.
Irene and Chad left at six forty five. By seven, Toby called to ask if he could sleep at his friend’s. In loco parentis, she told him Toby stay the weekend at his pal’s if he liked. She was left all by herself in the house. The thought of trying to conjure the goblins or their king again was just too damn depressing, so she called Seth.
“Where’s Irene?” He asked.
“Where do you think? She’s out with her boy toy.”
“She’s still going out with that douche?”
“No signs of stopping.” She cradled the phone uncomfortably.
“How’s your story coming along?”
“My sci-fi?” She played with her napkin. “Fine. I work on it in the mornings before school.”
“Do you want to go out somewhere?”
“No. We can rent a movie.”
Seth came to her door of her house with a bouquet of flowers and a videotape.
“What are these for?”
“Because I like you a lot.” He kissed her on the cheek. They kissed each other frequently now, whenever they were alone. Like him, she was addicted to it, the sensations it gave her.
She let him in and went to the kitchen to get a vase. He followed her.
“I’m considering joining the Marines.” He blurted out behind her.
“Why would you do that? So you can go die in the Persian Gulf!”
“I won’t get sent there. It’s almost over anyway, and we’re gonna win.”
“Is that what they tell you at the recruitment center?”
“I might not even qualify, Sarah. You have to be in perfect health.”
“You are in perfect health. Of course they’ll take you.” She hosed the water into the vase disdainfully. It sloshed out. She shoved the flowers in rudely.
“They’ll pay for my college.”
“Serving your country is bait?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look, Sarah, you’re not going to be around here in a year and I have to think about the future. I’m not like you-my parents don’t have money for a university. Hell, I paint houses every summer just to afford Bryce Community.”
“What about loans? Scholarships? Can’t you go to college without serving in the military?”
“I haven’t made a decision yet.”
Sarah knew she would be accepted into the three colleges that she had applied to. Of course she would. She had a 3.9 average at Bryce and her father and stepmother had plenty of money. As far as the college admissions people were concerned, what was there not to love?
“Seth, I don’t know that I’ll even go to university. Why should I?”
“Sarah, come on! To have a college education practically thrown at you? Do you know how lucky you are? I wish I could have it like you do.” He said bitterly.
“I’m sorry!” The guilt of her privileged status ravaged her.
“Don’t be sorry, just appreciate how good you have it for once!”
“For once? What do you mean by that?” She grew defensive, her eyebrows gathering over her eyes like thunderclouds.
“Be happy is what I mean, Sarah. Sometimes you just have to be happy.”
“Do I have to?”
“Uh-huh. Because if you’re not happy, they line you up and shoot you.”
“Let’s watch the movies I got.”
They watched their movies and drank too much cola. Their dietary choices had been markedly similar to Toby’s usual fare, she noted with amusement as he helped her clean the mess from the coffee table.
He would have left if she had let him.
He would have gone home to leave her to another one of her lonely nights with a book or a hot bath or any one of a hundred diversions she had designed to avoid boredom on the weekends.
He didn’t go home.
A goodbye kiss was intensified by too much caffeine and the idea that he was leaving her and vice versa. A kiss became a caress, a caress an embrace. Suddenly, all the things she had fantasized about doing to him (and letting him do to her) were coming true.
She never asked him to stop, not once.
She was amazed at herself these days. Unleashed, her lust got her into all sorts of trouble. She had been a passionate lover, ravenous for every touch. She had matched him in frenzy and ardor.
Her virginity was gone.
That lovely prize that she had wanted Jareth to claim had been wasted upon the local neighbor boy. She could feel the phantom Jareth cringing somewhere in remorseful pity, if only in her twisted subconscious.
She had officially grown up.
As Seth slept beside her, his dark brow solemn and angelic in slumber, she knew she should feel regret, but didn’t. It had felt great. Everything he did to her. Her body reacted pleasantly with the thought alone. There were definitely rewards. She felt that she had been freed. Her virginity had been like an addiction that was no longer stimulating, not been a monkey on her back but close.
Wouldn’t Tina be jealous once she found out? Let her be.
You always idealized what you couldn’t have.
Seth stirred. She kissed him on his forehead. His eyes fluttered open, long black eyelashes pulling apart.
“Sarah.” He murmured and smiled.
She bent to kiss him again.
“Noooo. I have morning breath.” He turned his face from her.
She kissed his stubble cheek towards his mouth. “I don’t care.” She whispered.
“How are you feeling?” He looked at her appraisingly.
“Fine.” She smiled. “Better. Glad that I let go.”
“I was kind of reminded of the librarian who lets her hair down and you know . . . look out.”
“Yeah, except I don’t wear glasses.”
“I love you, Sarah.”
Damn, Sarah thought. She couldn’t say it back to him. What had happened the night before hadn’t been love, at least not to her.
“Seth, I . . . ”
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to say it.” He tried to be light, but she could see that he was crushed by her inability to reciprocate.
“I can’t say it. It would be wrong.”
“Thank you, Seth.” She nuzzled his neck.
“You want another go?” He looked under the covers. “I don’t know if I have the energy after last night.”
“No, maybe later.” With the promise of maybe later, Seth was cheered. They rose from her bed, where all of her dolls, bunnies, bears, and stuffed characters had watched the previous night’s events. It was eerie.
Seth left in the afternoon after much kissing and deliberating. She was slightly tired and more than a little glad to have some time to herself. As she returned to her room, the memories of Seth still floating around like ghosts, she finally felt the sadness of what she had done. In her mind’s eye, Jareth stared mournfully at her through the mirror, oh she of zero faith.
“Give me a little credit here.” She said to the mirror, not amused by the fact that she was already talking to herself again. “I waited until I was twenty-two.”
The mirror was silent and dark. Slightly sorrowful, she reached around the back of Shakespeare for the spellbook.
It was gone.
She knew she had put it there. The Labyrinth book was still in its rightful place.
Her mind immediately flew into accusation-mode. Had Seth found the book and perhaps taken it from her?
No, he wouldn’t do that, she thought. Seth’s not interested in magic. Toby, then? Or Irene?
She raged through her room, tearing books, stuffed toys, and ephemera from the shelves, throwing piles of junk on the bed. Instinctively, she knew the spellbook was gone. Two hours later, she had proved herself correct. Maybe it had never existed in the first place.
She cried bitter tears once again, sobbing until she had used half a box of tissues and her nose was red and her eyes were bloodshot. She was so sick of herself.
School was wrapping up.
Graduation was imminent. The weather became sunny. Summer had arrived. Everyone was joyful. She was done accumulating credits as far as Bryce could take her and it was time to go to a real school.
She had chosen San Francisco, based on pictures alone. She figured the warmer weather might do her some good.
She was now officially Seth’s girlfriend.
They were dating. Everyone was thrilled, except for Sarah. She enjoyed the physical pleasure that Seth gave her, but it wasn’t love.
The more she was with Seth, the more he pressured her to feel something for him, the more she became aware of how empty and hollow she felt, how sad her life was.
Her only respite was the sci-fi dream, but she had it only rarely. School and finals had kept her too busy maintaining her GPA to work on the sci-fi story her dreams had inspired.
Her daily life had become like High School all over again, a sad, gray drudgery. She longed for her silver palace. It was the only place where she felt powerful or possessed any sense of peace.
“Stop asking that. I hate it when you ask me that.”
“I just want to know . . . ”
“What, my mood?”
“I’m leaving soon. These are some of our last times together.”
“As you constantly strive to point out.”
“How’s your father?”
“Not too bad.” She was glad he had changed the subject. “He’s gained some weight. Henry is . . ”
“Taking good care of him?”
They graduated. Her father came to the ceremony in a wheelchair. Toby was forced to wear a tuxedo, which was humorous. Irene and Chad showed up, an unofficial declaration of themselves as a couple. Seth’s family had a barbeque. Relatives sent her cards.
Days passed without school to occupy them. Seth was with her nearly every waking hour, spending the night when Chad and Irene vacated the house. Toby didn’t even notice or protest when Seth stayed the weekend. It was almost like Seth was a part of the family now, and why not?
The dreams were getting very bad.
Sometimes she relived the Labyrinth with different endings.
She chose to abandon Toby and let him become a goblin. She was coronated as Jareth’s obedient Queen-wife as Toby was groomed to assume the throne. She obeyed Jareth, lovingly and miserably, until she became a faded, pathetic remnant of her former self, shrinking into a waifish old woman years before her time. She became another servant to Jareth’s empire, wholly taken for granted.
She became the memory of beloved.
Other nights, she visited Jareth deep in the Underground where he was held captive by a witch-lady who possessed a giant mirror. The walls were full of worms and grubs, thickly packed mud which stank from the unholy tortures visited upon his fellow inmates. Sarah went to Jareth where he slouched in a corner of his mirror dungeon cell, secreting bowls of human childrens’ tears from an enchanted fountain.
He drank weakly because he was dying. Dying like her father, whose disease had spread to the kidneys. The scans revealed blooming poisonous white flowers of renegade cells, a garden of sickness.
The worst dreams were the kind where she lived happily ever after with Jareth, those where she awoke embracing her pillow in a passionate liplock. It had happened a few times waking up next to Seth, truly embarrassing.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to explain her behavior.
She was practically exploding with anxiety from the dreams, but she didn’t dare confide in anyone.
She had never told any living person the story of the Labyrinth, how her mom had given her the mysterious authorless book when she was a little girl and how it had quickly become her favorite bedtime story. She had never told anyone that she had lived (or at least thought she had lived) the story of the Labyrinth and saved Toby. She absolutely didn’t dare tell about the weird book of spells and its subsequent disappearance. She didn’t talk about the dreams and she was too depressed to write her sci-fi story.
She couldn’t tell anyone because she knew what they would think.
They would think she was crazy.
They would probably be right.
The Benefit Ball for Children with Diabetes was coming and she just couldn’t bear to go dress shopping. It was set for June 22, the Midsummer Solstice. If all else failed, she could try to borrow a dress from Irene, but it would likely be far too short. Irene was mutton dressed as lamb. Her imitation of youth grew increasingly more jarring with each passing month. Irene was considering a host of plastic surgeries: breast enlargement, liposuction, rhinoplasty. All to keep up with Chad, a guy not worth his weight in crap.
Literally. At least, Sarah thought, they could make good fertilizer out of crap.
Seth was going into the Marines, scheduled for boot camp in September. It wasn’t as bad of a time commitment as he had originally made it out to be. The war was over, he had just missed it. She was going to Stanford. She wished she could be happy about it.
The night of the ball was sultry and sticky. The humidity was a wet assault upon the senses, slicking you down the moment you ventured outside. Irene had shut every opening in the house and the air conditioning was going full blast, a misty fog on the storm windows from the clash of inside and outside temperatures. The divorce nowhere near finalized, Chad was now living at their house. He had keys and everything.
She changed into the black gown she had bought from the consignment shop. It had thick straps and probably was more appropriate for autumn, but she had stopped giving a damn a long time ago. She put on vampirish red lipstick and mascara, not bothering with more than that.
Seth picked her up at seven. His mother and father were waiting in the car.
“You look beautiful.” He had grocery store flowers for her again, roses and statice with a few lilies and mums thrown in.
“Thanks. Why aren’t you wearing a suit? Isn’t it a formal thing?” Compared to him, she was vastly overdressed. He wore oversized Dockers and a collarless T-shirt. They were a total mismatch.
“Oh, I didn’t think about it. Do you think they’ll let me in like this?”
“It’s the Holiday Inn, I doubt anyone will care.”
“No, don’t, you look beautiful.”
The short drive to the event was uncomfortable, for Sarah at least. Seth’s mother didn’t like her. It had been plain for a long time, that his mother thought that Seth could do better. She actually seemed to like Tina more, piercings, tattoos, and all.
“My, don’t you look grand.” His mother commented as Sarah rustled her dress into the back seat. Seth gave his mother a look in the mirror.
“Denise, that’s enough.” Seth’s father growled from the helm of the SUV.
“I should change.” Sarah said self-consciously.
“We don’t want to be late.” Seth’s mother arranged her purse.
Sarah was the only person wearing a gown, tall and out of place in the sea of T-shirts and tank tops and even jeans.
“I thought this was a ball.” She whispered to Seth.
“It says it is on this program. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. I dress weird on a regular basis, I’m used to the attention.”
“You do dress weird.” Seth smiled. “Remember the first day of Art Apprec?”
“I was kind of a bitch to you.” She grinned.
“Yeah, I thought you were going to bite my head off.”
They danced, her head bowed down to match his. She had three inches on him, even in flats.
Seth’s father took them home around eleven. Denise was in a far happier mood, stuffed with canapés and rolling merrily along on countless margaritas from the hotel’s open bar.
She saw Seth and his father silently communicate with each other, a glance in the mirror she wasn’t supposed to see.
They arrived at Seth’s and Seth’s mother was ushered quietly into the house by his father. What were they up to?
“I’ll walk you home.” Seth volunteered. “You’re not wearing high heels under there, are you?”
“No.” The heat of the day had turned pleasant and balmy, perfect weather to walk and enjoy the night, the street lamps mellowing the view of different houses.
It was blissful and reminded her of her sci-fi palace dream, a tiny single gibbous moon watching them instead of the huge triplicate orbs, but peaceful and pleasant nonetheless.
They reached her front porch and he took something out of his pocket. He got down on one knee.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m . . . proposing.”
He held a black box open with a modest diamond ring in it. The stone glittered in the front porch light.
“I can’t! Seth!”
He sat there in shock for a few awkward seconds before closing the box.
“How can you do this to me? What’s wrong with you?”
Her body was ravaged with red heat waves of shock and despair, clogging her throat.
“Say something, Sarah.” He got up and put the box back into his pocket. It was a small relief.
“I’m sick.” She leaned against the dusty porch railing, unconcerned about her dress.
“Crazy. Mentally ill. Damaged. Schizo.”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t love you Seth. I want you, but I don’t love you.”
“Is there someone else?” He looked at her forcefully.
“What do you think? Like I have time to see someone else?” She thought about her dreams. Dream lovers didn’t count as cheating.
“I had a feeling this would happen. Goodbye, Sarah.”
He turned and left her porch. She did not call after him, did not implore him to stay or try to work things out. It was better this way.
She felt complete in her sourness, complacent in the awful person she was.
She had allowed Seth to believe they had a future together so she could access the relief of his presence and his body. She had used him like an object, a fire to warm herself by, a drug to alleviate the boredom and misery of her stupid life.
She took one of Irene’s sleeping pills and burrowed down with a quilt for the evening. The air conditioning was cranked to sixty-four and it felt freezing in the house.
After hours of black, merciful, dreamless slumber, she found herself in a lucid dream, half awake and aware of her sleeping body under the old duvet.
“Sarah, I have escaped.”
“Jareth! You’re here!” She sat up from her bed excitedly.
They were at once in her room and in the Crystal Temple of her Moon Castle on the sci-fi planet. Jareth looked better. His arms were fleshier, his clothes were new. The brocade of his trousers freshly stitched and the white shirt gleamed resplendent in the moonlight.
“Sarah. My beloved. You have kept me alive. You have nourished me with magical tears in the witch’s evil lair when I thought all was lost. You have always believed. I want to thank you, Sarah, the maiden to whom I owe my life.” He drew her name into three syllables. She wanted to clap her hands in delight but restrained herself.
“I’m no maiden.” She thought, ashamed.
“You are a pure heart and will be a maiden all your days.”
“What happened to you, Jareth?”
The triple moonlight shone through his corona of hair, illuminating his face. A soft breeze carried the scent of strange night-blooming bushes across the altar where incense burned.
“What happened? A fool returneth to his folly, Sarah. It is a long tale unworthy of this momentous occasion. I can only hope that after all my tribulations, after all I have put you through, that you still love me.”
“I’ve always loved you, Jareth. I can’t bother my heart with someone else.”
“Then accept me into this world of your creation, take my old broken soul and make me new again.”
Jareth pulled Sarah towards him, his long hand at the nape of her neck, drawing her to his lips.
He kissed her deeply. She inhaled his dry dust scent, his hair falling like cobwebs through her lips.
Her mind filled with the overwhelming sense of his longing, like a tub slowly collecting bathwater.
“How I tried to forget you.” The stars floated between drifting clouds through his halo of hair. He embraced her, surrounding her possessively in his arms, preventing her from an escape she did not try to make. “You would not allow yourself to be forgotten.”
She was moved by the psychic impressions of her own darkly innocent caprice, how once she had angered him and singed the edges of his immortal existence.
His consciousness pushed its way into her thoughts, making her understand. She threaded a hand under the white shirt. He tore her nightgown, the flimsy collar exposing her naked shoulder. The gown fell to the temple floor with a weak sigh.
“Be mine, Sarah.” She gave herself to the fire.
He made love to her under the canopy of stars and moons. Her fear of him, the overwhelming consciousness of how he had suffered for her, was dissipated in the gentle adoration of his caresses. They were united. All was made perfect and whole.
They were back in her room, Jareth holding her in her childhood bed.
“You must always cherish me, Sarah. No matter what happens.”
“I will.” She rested her cheek upon his chest.
He would stay in her imagination for as long as she lived, he promised, which was as good a happily ever after as anyone ever got. He disappeared. Outside her window, the great wings of the barn owl beat a solitary cadence. She woke up alone, clutching her pillow with tears streaming down her face.
“Jareth. Jareth.” She called his name to her empty room. “I love you.”
She did not dream of Jareth after that night, but she still dreamed of the temple under the three moons in her Great Hall where she ruled as Queen. With the dreams came the stories. Sarah had officially developed a hobby other than reading books-she was on her way.
Sarah moved away to college, where she was very sad for a time, but not forever. Eventually, Sarah was refreshed to discover that people of all ages and stations of life, many older and younger than she was, could become her friends-because she let them.
Much to the old Sarah’s chagrin, Irene was right. Sarah was having the time of her life.
Sarah’s father began to recover shortly after her graduation. Although he would never feel young again, he gained much of his old energy back. By that Christmas, he was walking on his own two feet again. He would be officially in remission by the time summer arrived.
Sarah no longer wore her cotehardie or her velvet capes. She laid the last of her funny medieval outfits to rest shortly before Easter of her first year of graduate school. She did so during her brief stay at the house that had become the residence of Irene, Chad, and Toby.
Her old room was repainted and converted into Chad’s exercise room, a television mounted on the wall where her old vanity mirror used to be, a treadmill where her childhood bed had stood.
Her toys were donated away for other children to love, the remainders pared down to one box, a plastic bin that was the last refuge of her childhood.
She opened the trunk of her car. The plastic box sat snugly in the trunk alongside her black suitcase.
Poor Lancelot, the worn teddy bear, was packed in tissue paper and mothballs beneath a plastic-encased dress and a shoebox that contained a small pile of books.
The Labyrinth book was at the top of the forlorn pile, its worn pages stained with many readings.
“What wonderful air you have out here in California. I think I’ll consider moving.”
“Oh, Daddy, would you? I’d love that.”
“Anything for you, princess.”
They walked on the beach together. The ocean air was tinged with eucalyptus as their feet traced the long flank of pier to the lighthouse.
“Property out here is expensive.” He looked around at the beautiful day surrounding them. His hair had grown back, but it was completely white. “If the weather is always like this, I can see why.”
“You could live in my condo until you sell your place.” The breeze frolicked with the ends of Sarah’s hair. “I have plenty of room.”
“There isn’t anyone in your life?”
“Sarah, I probably shouldn’t ask about this, and you certainly don’t have to answer, but . . . ”
“You’re going to ask me if I’m gay.” She smiled and squinted in the rays of the sun.
“Are you? There’s nothing wrong with that . . .”
“I’m not gay.”
“It’s just that I haven’t heard. Nobody since that Seth fellow. Maybe I’m just out of the loop.”
“There’s been boyfriends here and there.” Her sneaker squeaked on the pier, the sound swallowed by the ocean. “I’m just picky, Dad. You know me, I’m happy to be by myself.”
They toured the lighthouse, climbed its circular staircase and absorbed each of the tidbits of history posted in embossed letters on brass plates around the lighthouse’s circumference.
They pumped quarters into the metered telescopes along with the other throngs of visitors, watching the boats sail until the sun began its steady slide down the horizon.
“How about we grab a bite to eat down at the Wharf?” She suggested as they trod back the length of the pier, the waves deepening to black.
“Let’s do it! I’m starving.”
The loud shriek of a whistle shattered the calm of the early evening.
“Somebody! Please, somebody help!”
There was a young man in the shallow water dragging and older, taller man by his armpits. The older man was unconscious. Her father’s face read silent alarm. Sarah sprinted the rest of the length of the pier as her father looked on worriedly. She reached the two waterlogged men just as a crowd was beginning to form.
“Does anyone know CPR?” “I know—stand aside. Has anyone called 911?” Sarah put two fingers into the unconscious man’s mouth and water streamed onto the sand. She was puffing air into his waterlogged mouth when the paramedics arrived.
Their feet pounded the sand. It flew everywhere.
“We have a pulse!” The paramedic shouted as the rescued man was carried off the beach on a stretcher and loaded into the ambulance.
“Where are you taking him?” She shouted at the other paramedic.
“Mercy General! Do you know him?”
“No, I don’t.” The man was weirdly familiar, but she couldn’t place why.
Her father arrived at the scene as the paramedics pulled away, their horns and sirens blasting.
“Is he okay? Did he drown?”
“They said they had a pulse. I wonder if he’ll be okay?”
“Lucky for him that there was a med student on the pier today who knew CPR, huh?” Sarah’s father looked at her as if he were about to burst with pride that his daughter had chosen to become a future pediatrician. “Well, check the paper in a few days. Maybe it’ll show up as a story.”
She went to dinner with her father. They dined in a candlelit restaurant in the Fisherman’s Wharf with fishing nets decorating the walls. It was lovely, but she couldn’t get her mind off of the drowning victim.
“Dad, do you mind if I drop you off back at the hotel? I’m going swing by the hospital and see how that poor guy is doing.”
“The one whose life you saved?”
“That’s what I want to find out. He could be in a coma.”
“Of course I don’t mind. We have the whole week.”
She tried to be as deliberate and careful in traffic as possible, but by the time she got to Mercy, she sprinted down the halls where she spied no nurses present.
“I’m looking for a John Doe who was brought in earlier today from the Roe Island lighthouse—they told me I could find him in this ward?” She tried to control her panting as she explained to the night nurse.
“The man who received CPR.”
“Yes, I was the one who administered CPR.”
“You’re Sarah Williams?”
“Yes, how did you know my name?”
“He’s awake. He’s been asking for you. He’s in room 34B. It’s just around the corner.”
She walked around the corner, her sneakered feet slapping queerly on the vinyl tiles. The rooms were glowing with the twilight of tiny hospital lamps, curtains drawn around metal beds. Somewhere in the distance a bell dinged. 34B’s door was slightly ajar. She pushed it open gingerly. The man in the bed was reading a small red book whose cover was torn and stained.
Her lungs somersaulted as she tried to take in what she was seeing. The room seemed to fall out from under her feet and she staggered in the doorframe.
“Is it you? Is it really you? It’s . . . not possible!”
“And yet here I sit.” He folded his hands in his lap. The bed creaked as if in agreement.
“There’s . . . there’s no way . . .”
“If you’re trying to say it was difficult to journey here, you’re correct in that assumption. I despise swimming.” His eyes fixed upon her, one blue and one brown.
“You’re a figment of my imagination! I created you!”
Her hazel eyes were wide with disbelief.
She had been doing so well—no more medications, no more psychiatrists. Yet here she was, bat-shit crazy, seeing people that didn’t exist. Part of her was thrilled, but another part was filled with terror at the implications of the vision before her.
“You created me? Are you certain?”
“Yes, along with the Labyrinth and Hoggle and Sir Didymus and the goblins!” Her hands flew to her face. It was still there.
“Sarah.” He elongated the syllables, drawing them over his tongue. “You’re very talented for a mortal, but parthenogenesis? I’m afraid not.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Are you . . . uh . . . okay?”
“Yes, because you saved me. Do you not remember?”
She guffawed. “It’s been years. I still don’t understand. This isn’t possible—I must be insane!”
“Please. You’re perfectly sane. Everything is possible. Now come here and give me a kiss.”
“If you’re the Goblin King . . .”
“Ex-Goblin King. I turned over the Labyrinth to Hogwich.”
“Right.” His eyebrows arched.
He stuffed the book under his pillow. “If I’m the Goblin King, then I would know a thing or two, wouldn’t I? I would know of the Crystal Temple of the Triple Moon, and I would know about the birthmark shaped like an M you have on your inner thigh, right next to your adorable . . .”
“Yes, you would know about that. But it doesn’t prove that I’m not crazy.”
“Test me.” He reached towards her.
She ran to the bed and fell into his arms. They were warm and strong and real.
“Only time can prove your sanity, Sarah. Won’t you take me home with you? Shall we begin?”