One quick note before ya'll start this fic: It is set in the 1970s and the first chapter is pretty slow. The second chapter is pretty in-your-face, though, so I think it more than makes up for it. 'Kay. Go on, now. ;)
Chapter I: Growing up, Shrinking in.
It started with the crash.
Sarah remembered the moment in slow-motion—shattered glass like droplets of rain hovering in midair; Toby's toy dinosaurs suspended above his head, just out of his grasp; the airbag against her father's face looking soft and comforting, when in reality it was crushing his bones; the feel of the seatbelt against her chest like a vice grip, thieving her of breath; and hearing her stepmother's scream in the front seat the way one might hear the sound underwater—indistinct, gurgling. Then again, that might have been due to the blood in her mouth.
Then, without warning, it all sped up. The slingshot effect slammed her spine against the seat. What seemed to be only moments later, she found herself in a bright white hallway, unfamiliar faces hovering above her head but paying her unfocused mumblings no attention as they shouted to one another. She couldn't hear what they were saying.
She didn't remember passing out, but when she returned to awareness, her whole body ached terribly. Sarah pried her eyes open and saw someone in her peripheral vision. She turned her head, her neck protesting painfully. Though her eyesight was blurry, she could tell it was her stepmother. The woman at first looked very happy to see Sarah awake—maybe even surprised. And then, her face rapidly distorted into one of indescribable pain. She shook, nearly convulsed with the power of the oncoming sobs. As if she were physically breaking before Sarah's eyes, she hunched over, her hands coming up to hold her face. Her mouth was open in the ugliest of expressions, wet and misshapen. Sarah could tell she was trying to speak but Sarah herself was in too much pain, too out of it to help her stepmother get the words out. Finally, speaking through what could only be described as a wail, she spoke:
"Sarah!" she choked. Her eyes screwed shut. "Sarah, he's—he's dead." Her hand flew out for Sarah's and landed on her forearm, clutching it just under the I.V. Sarah blinked, feeling her circulation getting cut off. She didn't understand what her stepmother was trying to say. Who was dead?
"Darling," her stepmother's eyes opened when Sarah made no response. She took in a wobbly, wet, heaving breath. "Darling, I'm so sor—" She couldn't finish the apology; she couldn't get it out. Her hand slid off of Sarah's forearm and her unusually messy blonde hair hid her face as she wept next to Sarah's body on the hospital bed, clutching violently to the sterile white sheets.
Sarah's body seemed to understand these words before her mind did; she felt hot tears sear her dry skin on their way down the sides of her face.
It had been three years since the car crash, three years since her father's funeral, and six months to the date since Karen had given up on forcing Sarah to get mental help.
Three years since the dreams had started.
It had begun the night after they returned from the hospital. Her sleep was fitful at first, for the first three weeks after the crash. Then, she started having night terrors featuring the characters from a child's story she'd been obsessed with before her father's death. The dreams were fanciful enough; Karen made her tell her what was causing her such emotional anguish. In fact, Karen had expected they'd be dreams of the crash. A part of her felt like Sarah should've grown up by now—that after such a horrible ordeal, after losing one's father, her worst nightmares should somehow be less about fairies and goblin kings and more about shattered glass and funerals. When she caught herself thinking this, however, Karen quickly banished that resentment; Sarah and Toby were all she had left of her husband and Sarah was the only one of the two who would be old enough to remember him in the years to come. She vowed to protect Sarah's innocence as long as she could, even if that innocence came in the form of silly nightmares.
At least, that's what she'd told herself. Karen quickly learned that these "silly nightmares" weren't as ridiculous or passing as she'd first anticipated. They were recurring and horrific. Often, Sarah couldn't remember what they were about by the time she woke up. She'd hold her head in her hands, sobbing, looking in every corner of her dark room like she was waiting for something to get her. Sarah had packed away all her stuffed animals that week, two months after the crash, and Karen realized with some internal horror that Sarah had done it to prevent herself from thinking they were goblins when she woke up in the dark.
Sarah started self-inducing insomnia, making large pots of coffee after she knew Karen had fallen asleep, buying "study" pills from the older kids at school with her lunch money, never shutting the light off in her bedroom. This, however, only proved to make matters worse; Sarah would fall asleep in class and once (for it only taken it happening once for Karen to finally act) she woke up screaming at her desk, half-delirious and unresponsive to the teacher's placating tone. For three full minutes, Sarah had cried, wide-eyed, in the corner of the classroom, screaming at anyone who dared approach her. When she'd finally come to her senses, it was too late. Karen ended up forcing her fourteen-year-old stepdaughter into therapy.
Karen thought it was just a little problem, that Sarah's emotional anguish was manifesting itself in unrelated night terrors. The psychiatrists seemed to be of another opinion entirely.
"She believes it," Dr. Farley had said. When Karen told him she didn't understand, he elaborated, announcing the words to her slowly. "Mrs. Williams. Sarah believes she went to the Labyrinth. She said it occurred the day before the car crash." Karen couldn't believe what she was hearing. No, that couldn't be possible.
The doctor went on to explain that Sarah's dreams were fuzzy—that she blamed the crash for jumbling her memory. She had told him she could hardly remember any details, only the main ideas. She didn't understand why she was so afraid when she woke up because she could never remember anything legitimately threatening. Dr. Farley tried to comfort Karen, to tell her that occasionally trauma can do this sort of thing to a child, despite the fact that he'd never seen a case where a child was so dead-set on insisting her dreams were reality. Karen didn't find this knowledge comforting and, on the way home from Dr. Farley's office, she told Sarah as much.
"Sarah, I have something to tell you." She took a breath. "I know you believe these things happened to you. I know there is probably nothing I can say to convince you otherwise…"
"I already told you!" Sarah broke in, "The doctor lied to you!" She had been furious that he'd told her stepmother something she'd only admitted in confidence.
"Sarah, please stop," Karen swallowed. She was driving and she couldn't cry. That wouldn't be safe. "Listen. You will continue to get therapy. Not because I'm punishing you, but because I want you to get better."
"I don't need to get better! There's nothing wrong with—"
"I've already lost my husband." The words quieted Sarah immediately. Karen lowered her voice, marked by emotion. "I won't lose my daughter, too."
After that, Sarah had only stipulated that she didn't return to Dr. Farley. This was something she was insistent upon. Dr. Farley had broken her trust and she wouldn't ever feel safe talking to him again. Karen understood (and frankly hadn't liked him much herself). What Karen hadn't realized was this simple change was the beginning of a pattern—a long, hectic, and exhausting pattern of doctor after doctor after doctor. The ones that Sarah agreed to meet with either proved to aggravate Karen or Sarah or both—or, most commonly, Sarah would test their limits and within a week they would inform Karen that they did not have the patience to endure one Sarah Williams as a patient. The ones who agreed to take Sarah on despite her reputation—the notes transferred over from one doctor to another were not encouraging, since Sarah made it clear she was no longer willing to discuss the Labyrinth as anything but vague dreams—didn't last long either, mostly for the fact that they made absolutely no observable progress with their patient. Sarah hated them all for various reasons—"He wears too much yellow," "He talks to me like I'm five," "She's so pretentious; she said my problem was that I didn't read enough Shakespeare," "I caught him staring at my chest"—the last one made Karen rush into his office, screaming and threatening to get his license taken away.
After thousands of dollars had been spent on the problem, at the age of sixteen, Sarah finally confronted Karen.
"I can't do it anymore, Kar." The name was affectionate, which was more than Karen had come to expect from Sarah. She knew the girl would never acknowledge her as anything more than a stepmother and had determined long ago that, if that were to be her role, she would strive to excel in it. She did everything she could to show Sarah understanding, love, and loyalty. Sarah responded by showing her the same. While Sarah had never used the word, she treated Karen as one would treat a mother. And now, it seemed, she was calling on that mutual love and trust.
"Can't do what, darling?" Karen didn't look at her face as she washed the lettuce in the kitchen sink; she knew damn well what Sarah was talking about. As she broke apart the leaves, she pretended this conversation wasn't long due, but the truth is she'd begun to think the same thing herself, years ago. Only now, Sarah was asking her to do something about it.
"The therapy isn't working. It's never worked, Karen."
Mrs. Williams breathed deeply and stopped what she was doing. Shutting off the water, she turned to look at her stepdaughter. Her arms were crossed and her black hair was tied in a ponytail at the base of her neck, revealing her face to the light. Dark under-eye circles had become a permanent feature of her face. Karen couldn't remember when the girl last looked healthy. She didn't visit those memories because that would mean remembering another face—an older, masculine face.
At the thought of her husband, Karen was forced to truly reevaluate what she'd been doing with his daughter. Sarah felt tormented by having to regurgitate the memories of the crash, once a week, with stranger after stranger sitting opposite her. She felt betrayed and humiliated by having to repeat her worst nightmares to people whose "professional opinion" deemed these horrors "childish." These same people whose "professional opinions" never seemed to do a damned thing to help her daughter.
Karen took a good, hard look at Sarah's exhausted face. And there, in those dark circles, Karen got her answer. No. Her husband wouldn't want this. Sarah's father wouldn't want this.
"I know, darling." She gathered Sarah into her arms and they both began to cry. "I know."
That was the day Karen, at the unsolicited reprimanding of Dr. Collin, canceled all of Sarah's standing Wednesday afternoon appointments. It was over. If Sarah was ever going to get better, it wouldn't be thanks to the prodding and belittling of some educated hack.
Hello again. :) I hope ya'll enjoyed the first chapter of my second fic. This story didn't start the way I really thought it would. I wanted to start a new FanFiction story because my first one is nearly two chapters away from wrapping up. Oh, and if you are worried this story will interfere, fear not, dear friends! How Could I Forget? is my priority. In-between working on it, though, I wanted to try something new. Initially, I was going to start a Star Trek fic, but then I had been reading a lot of Labyrinth fanfiction (try 17 by Petrichorous; it's probably my favorite fanfic ever.) And this bubbled up. At first, I wanted to fight it, but alas! all my struggling was in vain. I fell in love with the plot.
I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I'm enjoying writing it. ^-^ I love favs and follows, but reviews are really helpful and legitimately help me steer the direction the story takes. If one knows she is drawing a flower, that's all well and good. But she's yet to determine the color, size, and style. My point being that I may have the story planned out, but your input really does matter.
Live Long and Prosper, friends.