Labyrinth and Leroux

Chapter 1: Conferences and Costumes


Sarah Williams liked to keep two feet planted firmly in reality. She did not like to daydream or to fantasize. She only liked things that were real, that were tangible. Sarah Williams had not always been this way.

When Sarah was a little girl she loved to play make-believe. She would dress up and pretend she was a beautiful princess waiting for her Prince Charming to come. When she got bored with that Sarah would brandish a plastic sword and take on imaginary villains in her backyard. Sarah was a princess and a knight all wrapped into one. Sarah loved a good story and love to pretend she was in it. Her favorite story above all others was The Labyrinth.

Then one night, when she was 15, something happened. Sarah had spent the afternoon acting out the story of the Labyrinth in the park. She lost track of time and had to run home in the rain. She was an hour late. Her stepmother and father left with nary a word to her and left her to baby-sit her crying little brother. Sarah was frustrated. Why should she have to take care of Toby? She just wanted to live in her own magical world. The story of Labyrinth was still fresh in her mind and being the dramatic teenager that she was, she said the words. She wished the Goblin King would come and take her baby brother away.

And he did.

It was the most fantastic thing that had ever happened to Sarah. She got to solve the Labyrinth, the real one. She made friends with all sorts of talking creatures. She played a real live game of wits with Jareth, the Goblin King. She even got to be a princess and go to a ball, even if it was just for one dance. It was an amazing night. But when it was over and Sarah found herself back in her own room, something had changed. Sarah felt in the pit of her stomach that it was time to say goodbye to the world of make believe. It was time to be normal.

The next day Sarah was resolved to pack away all her old books and toys. She told her stepmother she wanted to redecorate. She wanted her room to be more grown up. Her stepmother was so excited and went out to get Sarah some paint samples and magazines.

As Sarah started packing away her room she started to notice how many things reminded her of the Labyrinth. The stuffed fox in the musketeer outfit. The dwarf bookend. The princess music box. Even the statue that sat on her dresser.

Her mother, her real mother, had bought her the statue at an art fair. Sarah picked it out because she thought he looked like some sort of elf king. Linda Williams liked it because she thought it looked like a glam rocker. The artist told them they were both wrong and the statue was just a joke. His boyfriend had been trying out costumes for his cabaret act and this was the worst of them. The artist made the statute as a testament to his boyfriend's bad taste.

Whatever the statute had originally been meant to be, all Sarah saw now was the Goblin King. Everything in her room reminded her of something in the Labyrinth.

Sarah sat back and let her mind roam. What if?

What if it had been all a dream?

Sarah stared at the statue. Her mind turned to memories of her mother. What if she was like her mother? What if last night had all been in her mind?

What if?

What if Sarah was developing the same mental illness her mother had died from?

It wasn't something her family ever talked about. Her mother Linda had been such a beautiful vivacious woman. They all preferred to remember her that way. Linda was an actress. She got to play make-believe for a living. Her life was filled with imagination and fantasy. Sarah wanted so much to be like her.

But Linda was sick. She went undiagnosed right until the very end. The most anyone would admit to seeing were small eccentricities. Linda would have erratic bursts of anger, but people just chalked it up to her being a diva. She would become overly protective of Sarah, but then again what mother hasn't been overly protective of their child? Linda had an odd way of looking at the world. Most people just thought it was part of her charm. But the small things started to add up and weigh on Linda's fragile mind. She got more and more eccentric, more and more agitated.

Then one night Linda snapped. There was no reasoning with her and Sarah and her father were forced to bring her mother to the hospital. The psychiatrist on staff said they needed to keep her there to properly diagnose her. Spooked by the bustle of the emergency room and the thought of having to stay there, Linda ran. She ran out the front door and straight into oncoming traffic. A semi hit her and ended Linda Williams' life.

Sarah stared at the statue.

"It all started with make-believe," she whispered to herself. Was Sarah traveling down the same path as her mother?

Sarah told no one of her suspicions or of her time in the Labyrinth. She just tried to forget.

Time passed. Sarah did her best to be a normal girl in high school. She tried her damndest to do normal things. She went to football games and to parties. But every now and then she would see something that reminded her of the Labyrinth. A white owl sitting in a tree. Rocks rolling down a hill of their own accord. Occasionally she would see something worse. A dwarf starring back at her in a mirror trying to speak to her. A bubble floating by with people dancing inside of it. When Sarah saw these things she closed her eyes tight and told herself they weren't real. None of it was real.

By the time Sarah graduated from high school she had developed a bad reputation. She was a freak who jumped at stupid things and mumbled to herself. Sarah Williams was the sort of girl who wouldn't be missed if she didn't show up to a high school reunion.

Sarah didn't fare much better in college. Her attempts to immerse herself in the fraternity / sorority lifestyle were dismal. She could have sworn that on the night of her first kegger a boy that looked a lot like Jareth tried to lure her upstairs. She stayed away from the frats from there on out. Sarah avoided the other end of the social spectrum as well, the artistic types. She knew they would just encourage her oddities. All-in-all Sarah stayed by herself, afraid to try anything new.

Finding her major was a process of trial and error. She tried most everything but eventually had to settle on English. Despite her misgivings about studying the books that she was obsessed with as a child, it was the only thing she was really good at besides acting. She definitely did not want to be an actress like her mother anymore. Sarah became an English major and took an analytical approach to the stories that plagued her. It helped calm her fears, give her a new lease on life. By the time she graduated Sarah felt she had a handle on books and even had started to write.

Writing is what led her to Paris. She dabbled in writing contests here and there in her spare time, but never won anything. She saw an essay contest in the back of a magazine asking people to write about Gaston Leroux's book, The Phantom of the Opera. Sarah had read it in school and cranked out a quick essay. It was nothing spectacular or insightful so Sarah was shocked when she got a phone call that she had won. The grand prize was a trip to Paris to attend an international writers conference. At first, Sarah didn't want to go, but her family finally talked her into it. Toby wanted an Eiffel Tower souvenir. Her father assured her that she would be safe. Despite her gut instincts, Sarah hopped on a plane and headed to Paris.

The writer's conference was mostly what Sarah had expected. Rooms filled with writers talking about writing. She was placed in a group with several other Americans. It was actually quite boring. The organizers anticipated this and planned several field trips for the writers to take. Sarah went along with everyone else to tour places like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. Towards the end of the writer's conference to promoters had planned something spectacular. In honor of their theme of The Phantom of the Opera, they were hosting a Masquerade Ball at the Palais Garnier.

Sarah was extremely apprehensive when she saw the notice about the ball in her conference literature. The invitation came stuffed in a free copy of Leroux's book. Sarah tossed it aside immediately. She had been to a masquerade once. She had danced with the Goblin King. It wasn't something she really wanted to relive. Sarah planned to skip the Phantom's Masquerade. She didn't want any relapses. She didn't want to see Jareth amongst the dancers. Sarah would stay in her hotel room and watch a movie. It was all settled in her mind. No ball for her.

It was mid afternoon when the writers groups were ushered out of their rooms and onto their tour buses. Today they would be touring the Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera House. After the tour the writers would have a chance to pick out their costumes for the ball, from out of the Opera's wardrobe department. Sarah knew she wouldn't need a costume but she had to go along on the tour just the same.

The tour guide showed the group the grand staircase and the theater. He pointed out box five, but told them that none of them would be allowed to go near it. The guide showed a tiny portion of the backstage and that was it. Sarah was disappointed. When the guide announced that he would be showing the group to where pick out their costumes Sarah interrupted.

"Aren't we going to go down and see the lake?" she said.

The tour guide reprimanded her.

"No madam nor shall you be going up to the roof. The opera house is not in business to let Phantom fans like yourself enact your little fantasies. It's bad enough you are having this ball. Be grateful for what you get."

Sarah looked more than a little annoyed with him but held her tongue. She tried to excuse herself from the costume selection, but the tour guide had already dubbed her a troublemaker and forced her to stay with the group.

An array of magnificent costumes from the opera's long history were waiting for the writers to try on. Five costume mistresses and one master were there to help choose costumes. Sarah stood off to the side watching, but not participating. The costume master saw her and approached.

"Do not be so shy mademoiselle. It is fun. We shall find you a perfect costume. Just like Cinderella."

"No thank you. I'm not going. Don't waste your time on me. Please help the others."

He ignored her protest and disappeared into the wracks. Sarah rolled her eyes and tried to hide in another corner so he wouldn't find her. She thought she was in the clear when he popped up right behind her. She jumped.

"Here we are. A beautiful dress for a beautiful lady. You will look like a princess."

Sarah turned around ready to pooh-pooh the dress and send him on his way. Her eyes went wide when she saw a vision from her past. The dress was white with large puffed sleeves. It was the dress from her princess music box. It was her dress from her dance with the Goblin King. Sarah stepped back and closed her eyes tight.

"It's not real. It's not the same dress. There is a different dress there. Open your eyes and see a different dress," Sarah mumbled to herself. She opened her eyes. The white dress was still there.

"Trust me moi cheri. It was like it was made for you. Try it on. You will love it!"

"NO!" She yelled at him. Everyone turned and started at her. She tried to cover her tracks.

"I mean no thank you. It's not my taste."

"Hmph! I dare you to try and find a better dress. Rude American." The wardrobe master turned in a huff and left her. The rest of the writers turned and went back to searching for their own costumes.

A plump little woman named Matilda from Sarah's writing group came waddling over.

"It's all right Sarah. Just find something you like."

"No I'm not going to the ball."

"What? Why not?"

"It's just…I don't like parties. I'm not very good with small talk. I'm even worse with crowds and strangers." Sarah said. She couldn't very well say it was because when she was fifteen she lost her mind and thought she went to a masquerade with a Goblin King and now she was worried going to another ball might make her loose her mind again.

"Oh but you have to go! It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Why come all this way to Paris and then you sit in your hotel room? And it's just all us silly writers. You've already met all of us. It's not strangers. Please Sarah? If I'm going to squeeze my big ol' butt into one of these costumes you surely could find the courage to do it too."

Sarah thought the lady had a point. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Why was she so scared? She never used to be scared of anything. She shouldn't let that damn figment on her imagination Jareth ruin the rest of her life. Matilda was right. Sarah should go to the ball. Just find a costume that isn't even the slightest bit Labyrinth-like and go to the ball. It will be safe. It's just a bunch of silly writers after all.

"Um…ok. I guess you're right. I'll go to the ball. I should go find a costume."

"Yay!" Matilda clapped her hands like a little girl whose best friend was now coming to her slumber party.

"There were some real fancy ones over in that corner. I couldn't fit into them. I've got to go over to the big diva section, but I bet you could fit in them. Good Luck." And with that Matilda wandered off into another part of the room.

Sarah moved towards the shady corner the portly woman had pointed out and stroked her hand across the costumes. They were old, probably from the 1800s. There was a slave girl costume, but that was a little too revealing for Sarah's taste. A shepherdess costume…erm…no. Her hand stopped on something she liked the feel of. It was Spanish looking. She pulled it out from off the wrack. Elegant ruffles lined the full skirt. A fitted blouse, matching corset and a red silk rose on the bosom. It was like a flamenco costume, but much more romantic looking. The little girl who used to like to play make-believe burst out. Sarah held the costume tight with wild abandon and snuck behind a curtain to try it on.

The costume hugged her curves and felt like a perfect fit. Sarah emerged from behind the curtain to try and find a mirror. The socks she was still wearing ruined some of the effect, but from the ankle up she was one sexy looking Senorita.

Matilda waddled back over to her wearing a rather ridiculous looking Viking costume. She whistled when she saw Sarah.

"Whew-hoo! Look at you. You've got to wear that."

Sarah smiled.

"You like it? I wonder which opera they used it in? Carmen probably."

The wardrobe master came round the corner of a costume wrack holding the Brunhilde helmet that went with Matilda's costume. He dropped it with a loud clang when he saw Sarah.

"Mon dui," he gasped. Sarah smiled more widely.

"See. I knew I could find a better dress."

"Mademoiselle please do not wear that costume. I do not know how it got out here. You must not wear it."

"Why not?" Sarah asked.

"Yeah why not?" Matilda chimed in.

The wardrobe master looked shifty and moved closer towards them dropping his voice almost to a whisper.

"It's just that it has a very unfortunate history. It was one of the costumes used in Don Juan Triumphant."

Sarah pursed her lips. So they were already trying to stir the Opera Ghost legend amongst the gullible writers.

"You're telling me that this was used in the Phantom of the Opera's opera? Please. You do understand it was a FICTIONAL book. None of it actually happened."

The wardrobe master look offended. He reprimanded Sarah.

"I thought you of all people would believe in the Opera Ghost."

"What? Why? What do you mean me of all people?"

"Writers," he amended. "Your type is more apt to believe in the fantastic."

"Yeah…well…not this writer. Let me tell you something buddy, the Phantom of the Opera never existed. It was just a story. It was just a book. There was never an opera called Don Juan Triumphant. This costume is not cursed or special or anything like that. It's just a costume and it's mine. I'm wearing it tonight and you can't stop me."

Matilda had her back. "Yeah it's hers. Back off Frenchie!"

"As you wish mademoiselle. I warned you. No good can come from wearing that dress." And with that he skulked back into the shadows. Matilda picked up her helmet from the floor.

"Come on Sarah. We should change back to our own clothes and get back on the bus."

Sarah was distracted. She didn't hear the other woman. Sarah hadn't acted that haughty since she was a teenager.

"Sarah, come on. We're gonna miss the bus."

"What…oh…right. I've got to just change back to my jeans quick."

Sarah changed quickly and folded her costume gingerly in her arms. She had to sprint to make it to one of the last departing buses.

Well it was all settled then. Tonight Sarah was going to let her guard down, just a little. Tonight she was going to dress up. Tonight she was going to play make-believe.