Six Dreams Before Oblivion Dawns
By Alison Harvey
Disclaimer: Labyrinth is not mine. It's certainly not my work and I wouldn't be so silly as to assume you'd believe me if I did claim it was mine. Author's notes are posted at the end of the chapter.
Sarah Williams dropped her books at exactly one o'clock in the afternoon.
She knew this, even as she ducked down beneath the counter to pick them up under the librarian's disapproving gaze, because she always knew what time it was.
Some people could tell by the sun, others by the stars. Sarah had a clock inside of her that never stopped silently chiming the hours, minutes and seconds of each day with invisible tones and harmonics.
She'd had it for four years now.
So as she stacked the books back up in to a teetering pile, that same part of her told her that she'd wasted fifty-six seconds of the librarian's time. Judging from the way the woman peered down her half- circle glasses and narrow nose, that was more time than was strictly necessary.
But Sarah didn't care. She'd just seen a ghost. More precisely, she'd seen someone that had no right to exist, save on stormy nights with rain and otherworldly beings lashing at the windows.
So she mumbled an unneeded apology to the librarian, grabbed the reminder slip, and dashed out the door, dropping the books into the large messenger bag over her shoulder as she did.
She burst out into the sunny November weather, looking quickly from side to side. Left: empty concrete sidewalk, lined by gingko trees that paraded proudly to the municipal court entrance. Right: ten steps over straggly grass to the brick wall of the reference section. In front of her was the nearly deserted parking lot, with the same cars sleeping in the sunlight that she'd seen as she'd pulled up an hour ago.
In no direction could she see the man in black, blonde mane haloed in the sun, who she'd distinctly seen through the glass four minutes ago.
Sarah pursed her lips, checking one last time for the phantom figure. Half-disgusted, half-puzzled, she allowed herself another few seconds of inaction before deciding it was time to move on. Shrugging, she reached a hand around to the strap of her heavy bag and hoisted it further up on her shoulder before walking to her car. It had been a long morning, capping a long week. After all the fairy tales she'd been reading, it was no wonder she was imagining scenes from her own personal story.
The car engine sputtered a few times before turning over, and Sarah let out a sigh of relief when it finally caught. "If you can just hold out 'til Christmas," she said to the dash, patting the steering wheel, "then I can get you the tune-up you need. But please don't break down on me now?"
The car gave no answer, and Sarah realized she'd almost been expecting one. Laughing nervously to herself, she pulled out and headed through the series of turns that would take her home.
Three traffic lights managed to turn red just before she could get close enough to speed through the yellow, and she was beginning to wonder if this just wasn't her day. She rummaged in the bag on the passenger side and plucked out an apple, crunching it absentmindedly as she navigated one-handed. Karen always told her that this was a dangerous activity, which was probably why she'd gotten so used to doing it.
She managed a smile as the fourth traffic light caught her just four streets from home.
Tapping her toes as she waited, she looked at the sticky apple core. A quick check out both windows showed no grandmothers or inquisitive neighbors that might see her littering. She rolled down the window and chucked the core out, watching with satisfaction as it arced cleanly towards the drainage ditch where it would rot considerately. Suddenly remembering the car behind her, she lifted her gaze to spy on the following driver's reaction. With her luck today, it'd be one of Karen's bridge partners.
A bored redhead, frizzy hair bouncing against her collar, was dancing along to the faint strains of bubblegum pop. Sarah was pretty sure she'd been in one of her freshmen year English classes. She turned to wave, and froze.
Sitting next to the redhead was a lanky man, head tilted as he regarded her with mismatched pupils.
The sound of honking reminded her to breathe. She refocused on the redhead, who had stopped dancing and was now leaning on the horn. There was definitely no one beside her: the seat next to her was piled high with shopping bags from the nearby mall.
Shaking her head, she turned back and peeled away before the redhead could rear-end her, thinking furiously as she did so. Some of the bags on the top had been yellow--but she'd seen him, she'd swear to anything that she'd seen him.
Yet, quite clearly, she hadn't.
Was she schizophrenic? She didn't think so. Her life had been pretty normal, if maybe a little sleep-deprived. Something odd was definitely going on.
She was still thinking it over as she walked through the garage and into the kitchen, dropping her keys with a jangle onto the counter. From his usual spot at the kitchen table, scribbling on reams of construction paper, Toby looked up with a broad grin.
"Hey sis," he said, a blue crayon behind his ear: the ultimate in six-year-old cool. "Mom wants you."
Sarah scrunched up her nose. She'd only taken six minutes and twenty-two seconds longer than she'd told Karen. Even for her obsessive-compulsive stepmother, that shouldn't be enough to deserve a lecture.
"Did she say why?"
"Some letter came today from the school," he said, waving his hand around in such a perfect imitation of a Karen-tizzy that she had to smile.
She thought about this. She was happily between high school and college, taking a gap year to earn money for tuition. Her deferral was until next fall, so this was probably some sort of reminder to not apply to other colleges, or something silly like that. Karen had probably spent an hour misinterpreting it to mean dire consequences.
"Where is she?"
Toby took the crayon from behind his ear and pointed behind her with it. "Garden."
She nodded and dutifully headed to the back door. She paused with the door half-open.
He looked up from his scribbles expectantly.
She couldn't believe she was asking this . . . but she couldn't stop herself. "Have you seen anything weird today? Any strange people?"
Toby paused for a moment to consider. "Miss Klein," he said. "You know, she has that big bump on her chin with the hairs sticking out?"
"You shouldn't ever say that to Mrs. Klein," Sarah cautioned, repressing a smile. "She wouldn't be very happy."
"No, she wasn't." He looked forlorn, and she bit her lip to hold back the grin. Oddly relieved by the normality of his answer, she went into the garden, shutting the door behind her.
Toby went back to his drawing: perfect spheres drifting under a blue-gray sky.
Talking with Karen was never so much a conversation as a subtle way to guarantee manual labor. Three minutes and four seconds after she'd stepped outside, Sarah found herself wearing kneepads and gardening gloves, pruning the rosebushes while Karen talked to her.
"Don't forget to check for green before you cut it," her stepmother chattered, pausing to fix Sarah with a hard stare as she moved to Karen's favorite damask. "That rose barely bloomed last summer after you cut it down so much in the spring. Just take a little so I can start bedding it down before it gets dark"
"You told me to make sure it was short in the spring," Sarah grumbled as she caulked the cut end and angled the shears for the next snip.
"Not that short," Karen snapped, voice suddenly tight. "You were distracted by prom, and look what happened to my roses."
Karen was clearly spoiling for an argument, and Sarah didn't want a screaming fight added to her list for the day. "Toby said there was a letter from UConn?"
Caught off-step, Karen visibly thought about this. "Yes, and I meant to ask you about that, but you ran late from the library and threw me off schedule. They warned you not to apply to any other colleges, or you'll lose your deposit--you haven't, have you?"
Sarah resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "No. I want that deposit back as much as you do. And I wasn't late. Your watch is five minutes fast."
"And they wanted you to know that because of their new policy, you have to enroll in the spring semester or lose your place."
Sarah caught her shears just in time; she'd nearly cut off a whole healthy section in surprise. "What do you mean?" She tossed the shears out of the way as she turned to face her stepmother.
"I left the letter on the table," Karen said, shrugging. "No, stay here until you're done with the row," she added as Sarah made to rise. "It said that unless you had an urgent medical or family reason not to enroll, their deferments only cover one semester."
Sarah frowned. "Want to write me a letter?" Her dad would write something full of flat jokes and chain-letter investment advice. At least Karen would know the right words and tone to take with the humorless admissions office.
Karen raised her eyebrows. "You know, I thought this deferment was a silly idea to begin with. You could be in college right now, instead of working in the mall and lazing around with your books."
"That job," Sarah said, more than a little exasperated, "is paying for next year's tuition. Next semester's," she corrected, "since you said you wanted me to pay my share."
"I meant work-study," Karen shot back, "not retail. The sooner you get through college, the sooner you can be off minimum wage." Unexpectedly, she softened. "Look, one of the admissions officers called this afternoon to see if you had any questions. I told him you'd call him back at four. Why don't you at least speak with him, hear out his explanation?"
Sarah nodded. "I can go next semester. I just wanted some time off before I had to face everything and go to college."
"We like having you around too," Karen said quietly. She sat still for a moment, and then stood. "Come and get me when you're done and I'll bed down the roses." Her hand rested lightly on Sarah's shoulder for a moment, almost no weight at all, before she went inside.
Sarah had an hour and thirty-six minutes before she had to call the UConn man. Picking up the shears again, she stared critically at one of the smaller damasks before making a small, precise cut and continuing the winter cut-down.
At five minutes until four o'clock, she shucked off the gloves and kneepads and headed inside, rubbing her hands together in an effort to make them pink instead of blue.
The sun was beginning to set, low and orange in the western sky. She stopped at the kitchen sink to wash her hands, looking through the window above the sink at her next-door neighbor's garden and the sunset beyond it.
There was a man standing with his back to her in the Murphys' garden, also watching the sun. Against the strong sun, all she could see was a black silhouette. She stared a moment longer, feeling an odd tugging at her memories.
"Karen," she called. "Are there relatives staying at the Murphys' this weekend?"
Two rooms away, Karen yelled back. "Sophie told me her brother was going to stop by today or tomorrow. Why?"
"I see him, that's all." Feeling slightly ridiculous at her overreaction, Sarah dried her hands, looking down at her bitten nails. "I really need to grow them out," she said. "I'm almost in college now."
"What was that?" was the muffled inquiry from the living room.
"Nothing," Sarah replied, replacing the hand towel on its cheery harvest-themed stand. Smiling at Karen's holiday fever, she looked up for another glance at the sunset.
The man was still there, but the sun had sunk lower and he was no longer blacked out. Glints of gold from his hair reflected orange in the fading light.
Sarah blinked, leaning closer to the window as she noticed he was wearing black, or maybe deepest blue.
Then he turned around and was clearly dark-haired; the dark clothes a pair of jeans and a gray polo. He was young, and smirking slightly in her direction. Caught, she jumped away, turning red. Well, she could easily find excuses to stay away from the house for the rest of the visit.
What was wrong with her? One strange, hardly explicable event a long time ago in her past, four normal years since . . . and now she was jumping at shadows and painting pictures in thin air.
She ignored the part of her that informed her she had two minutes and twenty-seven seconds before she had to return a phone call with the conviction of those unfortunates firmly in denial. Behind her, Toby continued drawing, picking up the orange-yellow and charcoal crayons intermittently.
Two minutes and eighteen seconds later, she unearthed the piece of paper that recorded, in Karen's copperplate script, the Caller (Mr. Smith), Reason (Sarah's deferral, the latter underlined three times), Time (1:05 p.m.), Additional Note (Call him back around 4:00 p.m.) and the Number, which she dutifully punched in. Seven chimes and three rings later, the connection sparked to life, just as Sarah was contemplating the unusual event of a university bureaucrat calling before lunchtime was over.
"Good afternoon," said a rich baritone on the other end of the line. "I assume that I'm speaking to Sarah Williams?"
Sarah laughed. "You're correct. My mother said that you'd called earlier today to talk about my deferment?"
"To the point, aren't you?" Mr. Smith said, the good humor in his voice taking any sting out of his words. "I don't know if your mother--Karen, wasn't it?--mentioned this, but we recently changed our deferment policies." He then proceeded to outline them in the kind of excruciating detail that always seemed to Sarah to be designed to overwhelm anyone too much to consider challenging the university's decision. She'd had to deal with a few of his kind to get the deferment in the first place.
"So you see," he eventually concluded, long past the time that Sarah had considered putting the phone down, walking away, and coming back in ten minutes "unless you can prove that you have exceptional reasons for not enrolling next semester, your deferment will only last until spring term begins."
"I don't suppose exceptional reasons would include wanting to be lazy another semester before jumping into college?" she said glumly, not having heard any reasonable loophole in his explanation. A long pause followed, and she hastily filled it. They couldn't revoke her admission, probably not at any rate, but it still wasn't a good idea to act like a total idiot on the phone with the admissions officer. "Sorry, that's not why I want it. I'm actually working . . . "
"What you said, you said," Mr. Smith chided, neutral enough that she couldn't decide what he meant. "No point in backtracking."
"I didn't really mean it," she said, wondering if hitting her head against the wall would be audible over the phone.
"Oh, you didn't?" he replied, and any relief she had to hear the amusement in his voice disappeared with the short vowels and clipped consonants that she knew hadn't been part of his accent before. "You know very well where he is."
She could hear her own heart beating, loud enough that she was surprised she couldn't hear it in the phone as well. The voice was wrong. The voice was very wrong.
She stood, unable to move, the phone clutched to her ear. Toby's crayon's rasped against the coloring paper in uneven counterpart to her heartbeat. The dryer thumped dimly behind her from the open laundry room.
"Sarah," said the voice, and she forgot how to breathe. "Ms. Williams?" it continued, suddenly back to the deep baritone from the beginning. "Are you there?"
Sixteen seconds had passed. Forcing slow and deep breaths, she pulled the receiver closer to her mouth. "I'm sorry, Mr. Smith," she said, pausing as she scrambled to think of a reasonable explanation, her eye finally catching on Toby. "My little brother just dropped his crayons, and I missed what you said." Not the most brilliant cover-up, but decent.
"I was asking you what your decision was," Mr. Smith said. "You have until enrollment before it's finalized, of course, but that's only two weeks away. We'd like to know now if you're planning on joining us for the spring semester."
"Yes," she managed, ignoring his jovial congratulations. "Thank you for calling to tell me that the policies have changed, Mr. Smith." A pause. "Goodbye." She hung up the phone with a satisfying click, leaning back against the pantry door as she tried to calm her still-racing heartbeat.
Watching Toby color was oddly soothing. She was tempted to go over and see what he was coloring, but had a sneaking suspicion that she'd see something in it that she didn't want to see; another apparition that wasn't really there. Especially in Toby's drawings, frequently muddles of irregular shapes and colors that were open to free interpretation. With her overactive imagination today, she'd end up seeing . . .
. . . a whole Goblin City, or something. She squinted at what looked like an upside-down castle from her position across from him, drawn in gray. Was that something in its largest tower?
She shook her head. That was exactly the type of reaction that showed she shouldn't go over there and look. "What are you drawing, Toby?"
He looked up, startled. "A story."
"About a hero who saves everyone by blowing up the bad guys!"
She smiled, the tension draining out of her.
"Tell Karen I'm going to be up in my room for a while."
He nodded; already back at work on the gray blob.
Drained from the aftereffects of all the adrenaline that had hit her during the day, she wearily climbed up the stairs, and entered her room, sitting down in front of the vanity--the one sentimental relic she'd kept from when she was younger, over Karen's strenuous objections--with a sense of purpose.
Four times in three hours was ridiculous. She needed answers. Thank goodness, she thought, absentmindedly smoothing her hair behind her ears as she looked at her reflection, she had someone who could provide them.
She leaned in to the mirror, so close that her breath steamed circles on the cool glass. "Hoggle? Ludo? Sir Didymus? I need you . . . "
She sat back, folding her hands into her lap, and waited. Contacting her friends was a bit like a long-distance call, she'd found: it seemed to take longer each time, and she prepared herself for a very long wait.
In fact it was thirty-four minutes and eleven seconds by her count when Hoggle's face began to come into focus, appearing in bits and pieces like Alice's Cheshire Cat. He looked a little harried, but no different from any other time she'd seen him in the looking glass.
"Sarah!" he exclaimed. "I wasn't expecting this!"
She grinned, cheered just by looking at his face. Talking with her three friends always brought back the bright shining moments when, scared out of her mind but determined to fix what she'd caused, she'd run the Goblin King's Labyrinth and forced him to give Toby back. She felt energized just by hearing his voice.
"Neither was I," she said, unsure of how to ask, and deciding on the most straightforward. "Hoggle--was the Goblin King Aboveground today?"
"Your today?" Hoggle asked, straightening with interest.
She nodded. Her internal clock had no problem measuring the thirteen-hour day and vagaries of time that changed the hours between the Labyrinth and her world, another fact she firmly shoved away.
"Don't think so," her friend said. "He's been busy all day with the goblins--they're revolting again."
She giggled, imagining the havoc.
"Not so funny," Hoggle remarked, somewhat sourly. "Can't go anywhere without tripping over one of their battle groups. Or being called a traitor. Or being held up as Jareth's replacement--he gets ticked no end if I go along with that part. Didymus and Ludo snuck away just in time, lucky rotters." He snorted. "Rescue of fair maidens, if you can believe that."
She laughed harder. She could believe it, both as a half-fudged excuse and a sneaky way to avoid any problems at home. Didymus and Ludo between the two of them could have easily cooked it up and left Hoggle to deal with the trouble.
"But why," Hoggle said, looking at her sternly, "would you want to know where His High-and- Mightiness is today? Or Aboveground? Any babies of your friends' gone missing?"
"They're not old enough to have babies," she replied, somewhat indignant at the thought. "I . . . just thought I'd seen him today, that's all."
Through some lift of eyebrows and twitch of his mouth, Hoggle managed to convey his deep and abiding interest in a further explanation of what she meant, all without saying another word.
So Sarah explained to him about the library, and the car, the neighbor, and finally the phone call, which quickly devolved into a discussion of UConn's unfair policies and how she was going to be at college after all--Hoggle wasn't entirely sure of what that was, but had accepted that it was a necessary if peculiar Aboveground institution, being simultaneously optional yet required for any job. When she at last halted for breath, Hoggle had one question for her.
"So going to college means you're grown up?"
"Yes," she said. "I . . . don't know if I'm ready for that. For college. I don't feel like I've finished everything, and I have no idea what I'm going to do when I get there. But it looks like I'm going to be there in January, whether I want to or not." She wished she'd thought of talking to him earlier. Usually, by the time she was done explaining to him all the concepts she was having problems with, she'd figured out a solution to them. This time, even though no solution was popping up, she felt relieved to have told her worries to someone. Karen and her father wouldn't understand, Toby was too young, and all her friends were busy taking classes in their first semester of college. She was the only one who'd chosen something different--a little extra time to get things in order.
"Well, Jareth was here today," Hoggle said, abruptly changing the topic. "I can vouch for that."
She frowned. "And there was no way he could have done that to me? Some sort of magic?"
"You know," Hoggle said, leaning in confidentially towards the mirror. "I don't know if it's my right to say this, but I know he wouldn't mind seeing you again. He has a lot to say."
"You're not answering the question," she said, wondering what he meant by that. It didn't matter if he had things to say or not. She'd beaten him. He'd lost. That was the conclusion, the finish, the happy ending.
"He didn't do any magic like you said." Hoggle looked unhappy, and she had a suspicion that he'd left something more out, but he'd at least given her the answer she'd hoped for when she'd sat down in front of the mirror.
"I just wish I knew what was going on."
She looked up at the odd noise; Hoggle's mouth was open, but he seemed to have something caught in his throat. He started coughing violently, straightening with a guilty look.
"You do know something, don't you?"
Hoggle nodded glumly.
"But you can't tell me?"
"If I could get my hands around his scrawny neck--if I could get to it through all of that hair--I swear I'd strangle him," Sarah fumed.
Hoggle shook his head violently. "It's not Jareth."
Sarah noted that whatever was stopping Hoggle from speaking, it didn't apparently prevent him from covering up for the Goblin King. Conveniently enough.
"So you can talk about it, just not specifically."
"That's the way the old-fashioned spells work. Kinda like Alph and Ralph," he confirmed.
Which wasn't the most comforting answer, particularly when she remembered how annoying it had been to deal with the two guards. "And you promise it's not Jareth?"
That would have been too easy.
"I think I can say . . ." Coughing. " . . . that is, it's about . . ." Violent hacking. " . . . forgetting," he at last managed to get out through the wheezing.
Hoggle stared at her in mute accusation.
"Sorry I asked. So, forgetting about Jareth? Doesn't seem so hard," she said, feeling distinctly cheerful at the thought.
"More than that," Hoggle said.
She stopped, stunned. "Everything?"
"Yeah. Can't have a bunch of grown-ups wandering around the world knowing how to get here and what's waiting for them. It's protection for them."
Hoggle smirked. "Believe me, we take care of ourselves. We're more worried about humans getting through and then taking back guests with them. That last crop circle outbreak was a disaster . . . and have you ever seen those men and women who think they're changelings? You don't want to know what Titania did to the last group that wandered through telling every one they met that they were long-lost fairy royalty." He shuddered.
She managed a half-hearted smile, still shocked by what he'd confirmed. "But what about me? Why didn't it just go away? Why do I have to have shadows and silhouettes and Goblin Kings making me drop things?"
Hoggle didn't meet her eyes. "Spells are tricky things. You can't just throw one at a person without giving them a warning first. There's always a loophole."
"But you can't tell me what it is. Except that whatever it is, it has something to do with all the weird stuff happening today."
"You understand," he said. She could see the want to help struggling in him, and some of her frustration at his evasion drained away.
She heard a faint noise coming through the mirror. Hoggle looked over his shoulder, then back at her. "The goblins have figured out where I am," he said. "Sorry, but I have to go before they can get here. Jareth always finds out. If he locks me up again I won't be able to help you until he remembers where he put me."
She nodded. "Thanks for telling me. I'll try and talk soon. After I figure out what's happening and stop it."
"We've missed you," he said. It sounded suspiciously like a goodbye.
"I've missed you too," she said, knowing how inane she sounded. "I'm sorry I took so long this time."
His dark eyes were solemn as he looked at her. "We're always here for you. We tried to plan for this, you know." There was the distinct sound of a crash behind him.
"That'll be your escort, King Hoggle," she said, forcing a smile. If she really did forget, she wanted him to remember her happy.
"Don't forget your watch today," he said as his image faded away. "Just in case."
Sarah stared at the empty mirror. "What?" she asked it, but it was glass again and couldn't answer her. Staring at it, she soon learned, failed to bring back Hoggle by force of will.
She looked at her watch, snug on her wrist, but nothing about it looked different to her. It had been an eighteenth birthday present to her from Hoggle, Sir Didymus and Ludo, a joke about her time sense. It looked like a regular watch, but was always frozen just before thirteen o'clock. Ludo had called the materials, Hoggle had put it together, and Didymus had polished it and hand-painted the scripted numbers on the dial. "So you never forget the important times," they had said when they gave it to her. She'd never been able to explain why she felt compelled to wear it, but wear it she did, even pretending to consult it when she was asked what time it was.
She checked its time. Still stopped seconds before her time ran out in the Labyrinth. Thirteen seconds, actually, which she'd always assumed was part of the joke. She'd heard the clock chime in the ruins of the Escher room, after all.
Pulling at the watch to make sure it was still fastened properly, she left her room and went downstairs to dinner, trying to understand all the while.
"Sarah, would you go put Merlin in the garage?" Karen said as Sarah stepped into the kitchen. Happy to have a distraction, she dutifully whistled for Merlin and led him to his bed in the garage. Her father had left the garage door open when he came home, she noted, and took a moment to appreciate the view of their placid street, lit dimly by aging streetlamps and more brightly by the almost-full moon.
Her gaze drifted to the house across the street, almost identical to her own. The curtains of the other master bedroom weren't drawn, for once, and to her surprise someone was standing there behind the window, backlit only by a narrow square of light coming from an open door.
She was far less surprised when a second look at the person showed that it was a tall man, with a riotous fall of long hair that was outlined in perfect detail by the faint light behind him, its glow shining through the folds of cobwebbed fabric falling down from his shoulders.
It seemed almost inevitable at this point. Well-rounded craziness, after all, was important.
Then she shook her head and glanced again, and saw a plump woman closing the curtains.
She was definitely schizophrenic. There was no other possible explanation. Except, maybe, that she was delusional. Above all, she was definitely not thinking about Hoggle's offered information, or that the Goblin King wanted to talk to her for some reason. Not at all.
She was determinedly not thinking about it while eating the baked chicken bite by careful bite, and not thinking about it even more when attacking the broccoli with wielded knife and fork. When she got to the peas, however, which were alarmingly incompliant with her fork, she remembered how to count.
"Five," she said to the one pea she'd managed to successfully impale with a tine.
Karen and her father exchanged concerned parent looks with each other from their seats, but Sarah remained quiet for the rest of the meal. Both parents shrugged and chalked it up to teenage moods.
Sarah, however, was thinking so loudly she half-expected her family to comment on it. She'd seen . . . something . . . five times in the last seven hours, seventeen minutes and three seconds.
She'd read enough fairy tales to know that tasks and quests always had numbers to support them. Seven sisters, thirteen hours, nine pipers piping, three wishes . . .
But which number? She knew it was more than five, and probably not more than thirteen. The time sense inside of her was wound too tight, too close, for it to last much longer.
And what would she do even if she knew how many more visions she had?
She looked down at the wristwatch and its still hands. Hoggle had mentioned it, so it must be important. But what good was a broken clock? She could keep track of passing seconds without it.
She sat at the kitchen table while Karen and her father cleared the dishes from around her, blindly toying with the strap of the watch. Toby unconcernedly retrieved his crayons and resumed work on a large picture made from four sheets of paper clumsily taped together.
Watching him color was soothing. She was about to fall victim to a spell designed to keep her safe, but Toby would still scribble here at the table. A little chaos in her side of the world would be balanced by the reddish animals dancing across a field of green sticks in his.
She stared at her stepbrother's mismatched pupils, and thought of Hoggle's comments. She was hallucinating the King of the Goblins on every street corner and talked through a mirror to a dwarf who favored skullcaps and plastic bracelets.
Asking her little brother for advice didn't seem so odd by comparison.
"Toby, do you remember the goblins?"
He didn't look up from his work. "Of course I do. Don't you?" Blonde bangs fell into his eyes as he concentrated on adding another green stick to the page.
It should have shocked her, but she'd always suspected he remembered something. After all the other unexpected events of the day, it was hardly surprising. "I still do," she said, "but not soon. A friend of mine told me I was going to forget all about it soon."
Toby exchanged his brick crayon for burnt sienna. "Do you want to?"
She had no idea where she was going with this. "No. But I've had five . . . dreams . . . and I don't know how many more I get."
Startled, she looked up from where she'd been tracing wood grains with her index finger. "What did you say?"
"The goblins give you six dreams," he said. "Didn't you know that?"
Sarah gaped. "How can you know that?"
He grinned and reached up to wiggle one of his teeth. "I know things. I have friends, too. And they told me you always get six dreams in the labyrinth. That's just the way it works."
"Toby, do you promise me you're not making this up?"
He put his right hand against his heart. "I pledge allegiance, to the flag, that I'm telling the truth. Honest, Sarah. Could you give me that crayon over there?"
She handed it to him, watching silently as he finished up the last dancing animal under the trees.
"Thanks," he said, absorbed again in his masterpiece of the day.
Not sure what to say, she shrugged on the coat hanging on the hook by the door and went outside.
The moon was supposed to be full, but all she could see was a hazy glow from behind thick clouds. She stared out into the dark backyard. The watch was cold against her skin, reminding her of all she was trusting tonight.
Trusting that Hoggle was telling the truth: that she really was going to forget, but that she had a chance. That Toby knew the right number. That the present her friends had given her had a role. Trust that this wasn't some elaborate trap of the Goblin King.
She frowned. She'd nearly forgotten what Hoggle had said earlier about Jareth wanting to talk. Too bad he hadn't asked before she was due to forget about the existence of the Labyrinth. Maybe if she'd known about the spell, she might have agreed to talk, if only for more information.
Of course, she could always be passive and let the spell wash everything away. Even as she thought about the idea, she rejected it. She'd earned those memories and refused to give them up.
Sarah looked up at the sky, but even the stars were hidden.
She didn't want to forget. Shivering now beneath Karen's thin jacket, she turned around and went inside. Toby had abandoned his drawing on the kitchen table, and she wandered over to see what it looked like from the right orientation.
"Don't look!" Toby said, flinging himself in front of her before she had the chance to look. "It's not finished yet!"
She grinned, impressed by his protectiveness. "Show it to me later, okay?"
He smiled back. "I will."
She trusted Hoggle. She would trust Toby.
If she had one turn left, she didn't want to trigger it yet. She went upstairs, careful not to look out of the window or towards the door that led to her dad's study. She had closed the curtains in her room earlier before she'd contacted Hoggle, so she knew she was safe in her bedroom.
She sprawled on her bed and looked at the watch on her wrist. It was distressingly normal for an object that was supposed to help her fight a spell. Shrugging, she unbuckled it from her wrist and got up to put it in the drawer underneath her vanity. As long as she couldn't see other people to mix up with the Goblin King, she wouldn't have the sixth dream.
She didn't know what she would when the final visit came, but decided she could think about it in the morning after a full night's sleep. She curled up beneath the blankets and fell asleep quickly.
Sarah had forgotten about the first time that afternoon, when she'd seen Jareth outside the library but found no one in return.
Twelve hours, fifty-eight minutes and forty-seven seconds after she had dropped her books in the library, Sarah woke up.
She knew it was almost one o'clock even before she was fully awake. The time sense within her was strong, almost bursting to get out, pushing so hard that her waking up felt like an accidental byproduct. She felt hyper-alert in the darkness, aware of the hushed stillness of the sleeping house, broken only by her father's snoring in the next room over.
When the mirror began to glow, she realized how foolish she'd been to think she could put off the last dream.
Slipping out of bed, she padded over to the vanity and sat down on the cushioned chair she'd had as long as the mirror and desk. The mirror was lined with faint golden light from a source on the other end, but no picture appeared.
Hoggle . . . Sir Didymus . . . Ludo . . . the Worm . . . Alph and Ralph . . . the Fieries, even Jareth passed through her mind in the forty-three seconds in which she waited for the final appearance. She didn't want to lose her memories: she'd defined herself by them for too long. But if they were going to be taken from her, she wanted to have them in full for these last few moments.
Especially the Goblin King, though she couldn't quite admit to herself why. She regretted that she had never gotten the chance to speak to him as Hoggle had suggested, to find out why he'd sought her out after all this time.
When the image finally appeared, she wondered how it had known. There was no silhouette, no half-seen figure, no solitary flashes of light and dark. Instead she saw Jareth, leaning against a stone wall overlooking the Labyrinth. It was night there; the crystal moon shone in the sky behind him, overshadowed by the bright crystal hovering near his hands.
He wore black, plain and sober: a loose shirt, slim pants tucked into rough-textured black boots, onyx gloves on his hands. Blond hair fell back from his pale, angular face as he looked up, apparently stargazing. One hand was outstretched, but she couldn't see beyond the crystal to see why. As she watched, a second crystal formed in that waiting hand, beautiful and luminescent.
It burst with a shower of magic that glittered like snowfall against the fabric of his clothes.
To her enormous surprise, a few glimmers came through the mirror, touching her skin like the caress of feathers before disappearing.
This was the end, she realized. This was the moment in which she finally lost.
Then she heard the ticking.
Sarah frantically grabbed the drawer and threw it open, realizing she'd almost ruined everything by putting the watch aside. She grabbed the watch and saw the slender second hand sweeping away the seconds.
Six seconds until thirteen o'clock. Her internal time sense, perfect as always, told her the clock was right.
She looked at the mirror. Jareth stood there, hand still outstretched. She'd left it all unfinished, she knew. It felt incomplete; something important left undone. And even Hoggle had urged, in his own way, that she hear Jareth out. Maybe it had been another way of talking around the spell. Maybe it was all connected . . .
The real world was waiting for her to grow up. But so was the Underground. All the terrible confusion she'd had, all the moments she'd doubted Hoggle for not helping more. They'd all planned almost from the beginning to help her when this moment came.
Ludo may have called the materials, Hoggle may have built the watch, and Didymus may have polished and carved it, but she knew now that they'd taken it to Jareth. And Jareth had given it magic.
Had given her magic. In the meantime, she had two seconds until she forgot it all, forgot all the delight and amazement that the Labyrinth had shown her, all the strength it had given her.
Unless she took the option they'd painstakingly crafted for her. She looked again at Jareth, waiting.
Sarah touched the watch to the mirror.
Before the thirteenth chime, she was gone.
Author's notes: For Lilith, my lovely beta. She helped immensely with the first draft of this piece on top of all her own work and January relocation. And remember, kiddoes: feedback and concrit are always appreciated.