The Smell of the Goblin's Breath
Donna had outgrown her belief in faeries, but she sometimes wondered if Brian Froud hadn't in fact seen at least one or two to draw them in the completeness that he did. Large posters of his work graced the walls of her room, the last remnants of a childhood fascination with all things fey. At sixteen Donna liked to think that she had matured beyond that stage in her life and was now merely an admirer of Mr. Froud's masterful artistry. His conceptual sketches for the movie "Labyrinth" – her all-time favorite movie – were timeless. Yet still sometimes, looking at the painting of a hodgepodge of goblins huddled together in gleeful mischief, she wondered.
Donna's six-year-old sister, Jenny, came bouncing into the kitchen at 11:00 am sharp as Donna poured her breakfast into a glass. Jenny, for as long as Donna had known her, always managed to wake up with the most amazing bed-head this side of the equator. More often than not it required at least an hour's work with a brush and detangling spritz to restore it to presentable condition. This morning Jenny's thick blonde hair was teased into a large beehive of knots in the back and two identical discs of matted hair on the sides. Donna stared for a moment, attempting to envision what kind of sleeping position her sister would have to be in to have concocted such a mess.
"What are ya making?" Jenny asked climbing up to kneel on the nearest stool, leaning cotton covered elbows on the counter. Donna returned her attention to the thick liquid in her glass. Protein shake with wheat grass blended in for texture.
"Breakfast shake," she answered, "Want to try some?" Jenny grabbed the glass and unceremoniously sniffed the mixture. Her small nose crinkled between rosy, round cheeks.
"It smells like goblin breath," the little girl said shoving the glass back along the white tiled counter. Donna narrowed her eyes in irritation.
"How would you know?" she retorted. Donna raised the glass as though to take a sip and surreptitiously sniffed her drink. Chalky sweet it made her think of floppy brown curls and wide pliant lips hiding strangely pointed teeth. Images that had been taking over her dreams of late. Jenny shrugged.
"They come at night and chew on my hair," she answered matter-of-factly. Donna made a little-sisters-are-crazy face and shook her head.
"That would explain a lot," the voice of their mother wafted from the door on a current of amusement. Donna made another sour teenager face to add to the one she was using on her sister. The expression was meant as a sign of independence to cover the awe Donna felt at the woman who had given birth to her but ended up looking rather more like a sign of constipation. Jenny turned on her stool to regard the older woman, faded nightgown rucking up around her middle to reveal cotton underwear in a similar fading floral pattern.
Their mother looked elegant, Donna noted with a strange mingling of pride and jealousy. Light brown hair done up in a French twist accentuated a long neck sloping into slim shoulders clothed in a ruffled navy blue blouse with white polka dots and plunging neckline. She wore a soft tan skirt and suede pumps to match. Donna decided it should be illegal for anyone's mother to look this good. Especially her mother.
"You look nice Mommy," Jenny said reminding Donna of the proper response for a good daughter attempting to earn points with her single parent. Donna made a conscious effort to swallow her envy, bolster the pride, and rearrange her face.
"Yeah Mom," she said forcing a smile, "you look very nice." Ms. Carlin looked back and forth between her two children dumbfounded.
"Thank you girls," she said in a heartfelt tone that almost made Donna feel guilty. Ms. Carlin surged forward to wrap an arm around each girl's neck in an awkward hug. Particularly awkward since Donna had out stripped her mother in height over a year ago. Ms. Carlin stepped back and looked her daughters over.
"Are you sure you don't want me to drive you to the airport?" Donna asked hopefully. Her mother smiled tersely; the two were still learning to compromise on Donna's newly acquired driving skills.
"Bob will take me," she said, words punctuated by the sound of a car pulling up, "And that's probably him now." The girls dutifully followed their mother to the front door where Bob waited to load suitcases into the station wagon. There were some last minute reminders about meatloaf preparation and emergency phone numbers followed by a promise to come home in a few days as soon as the convention ended and an affectionate peck on the cheek for each girl.
When the door finally closed on the retreating car, the sisters trooped back to the kitchen where Donna salvaged her breakfast shake and Jenny returned to her stool.
"Hungry?" Donna asked taking a sip of her drink and rolling it around in her mouth. Mostly flavorless, it was thick and grainy, conjuring to her memory the sensation of a roughly budded tongue slipping expectantly into her mouth. Jenny nodded vigorously in answer to the question.
"Yeah," she said with the kind of breathless excitement over food that only seems possible in children. Donna forced herself to swallow.
"What do you want to eat?" she asked in a mood to be more accommodating than usual now that she was in charge in her mother's absence.
"Macaroni and cheese, please," the brown eyed child sang through a grimacing exaggeration of a smile that the words "cheese" and "please" seemed to have inspired in her.
"With fish sticks and ketchup?" Donna asked. Jenny nodded again, this time voicing approval of the suggestion by panting with her tongue hanging out in imitation of a puppy.
"Little kids," Donna muttered to herself as she began opening cupboards, "are so weird."
When Ms. Carlin called later that evening she was relieved to hear that both of her children were alive and fed and that Jenny's hair had been laboriously combed. At the time of the conversation the younger girl was seated in front of the television watching "Labyrinth" while dressed in pink footed pajamas, golden locks still damp from a bath. Getting off the phone, Donna climbed long-legged over the back of the couch to settle beside her sister.
"Can I braid your hair?" Donna asked running a hand through the moist strands.
"No," Jenny answered, eyes still glued to the TV. The Goblin King was serenading Sarah in a ballroom of strangely masked dancers.
"Come on," Donna cajoled, "I can do two pretty French braids on either side. It will keep you hair nice for the morning." Jenny waited so long to answer, Donna started to wonder if she'd zoned out to the lilting sounds of David Bowie's voice.
"Even if the goblins chew it?" the little girl finally asked. Donna thought for a moment on the appropriate answer to that question.
"Yes," she finally assured her.
"Great." Donna jumped up to assemble the obligatory hair bands and brushes. In the bathroom Donna paused at her reflection. Brown hair pulled back in a messy chignon, wearing a tank top and sweats for pajamas she was cute and stylish, not that anyone who ever saw her in her pajamas cared. After two facial scrubs, one toner, and an application of acne medicine, her face was red, raw, and naked, and still sported a number of small blemishes. Donna frowned and popped a zit into the mirror, yellow puss squirting across the cold glass. She snatched up a tissue and wiped it away.
"Gross," she muttered to herself, returning to the family room.
Donna slipped into her dreams with a sense of anticipation. He would come. Every night he came crawling lean and dark over the edge of the bed. Black eyes and skin the color of tree bark. His weight never made depressions in the mattress. Free of gravity he slipped over the sheets to rest the pressure of his mass upon her, naked and muscled.
She should have pulled back in revulsion from the toned body that writhed over her with a power and control that made the muscles in her breast tighten and tingle. Certainly were he to approach her on the street she would avoid him and all the aura of creepiness that surrounded him. But dreams are different. A grotesque parody of a human male, he bore a certain resemblance to the goblins in the poster had Donna ever thought to make the comparison. His face was handsome in the regular shape of his large eyes and straight nose framed by dark glossy curls that ran through her fingers like silky cream. But his mouth -- it was wide and wild as though someone had grabbed the two ends of his smile and stretched it, and the skin had stayed that way. Those lips moved constantly, fluidly, sensuously; always exploring as though they were the primary organs through which he experienced touch.
Donna's skin tightened and hardened under his caress, encasing her in a chrysalis of sensitivity. He nibbled her lightly with tiny pointed needle tip teeth surrounded by those elastic lips.
Donna lay as still as she could manage in an attempt to prolong and savor every rough fingered stroke. She released thought and let it float away from her, sinking ever deeper into her body, reveling in the beauty of her form when outlined by his interested hands.
Capillaries stretched and blossomed. Blood flowed freely in a warming current through strange muscles that flexed with a pulsing intensity that drew her out of sleep and dreams. Toes curled, thighs clinched, back arched, Donna's breath caught roiling in the back of her throat. She lay on the bed alone, body satisfied, mind returning with a sigh and sad disappointment to wakefulness. Blood lingered and pooled into her relaxing limbs. She breathed slowly, staring at the ceiling, thankful that the sheets were thrown back in wild disarray so that her body could cool.
The bedroom door opened slowly, outlined by the soft glow of the night light in the hall.
"Donna?" Jenny called cautiously. Donna struggled between a desire to remain perfectly still and the need to strangle her sister.
"Yeah?" she answered. Jenny approached on swift small feet covered in rubber and fleece that swished against the carpet. She climbed on the edge of the bed.
"It didn't work," said Jenny accusingly. Donna frowned at the silhouette of her sister in the darkness.
"What didn't work?" she asked confused.
"The goblins came and the braids didn't work." Donna focused on Jenny's head. The right braid still held with the expected occasional flyaway. On the left side there was no evidence of the hair having ever been braided. It was an intricate knotted mass looking something like a blonde Mickey Mouse ear.
"Can I sleep in here?" Jenny continued, "They'll come back when they're done in the kitchen." Donna rolled her eyes heavenward and debated whether to be a good sister or to go back to dreaming. The sound of glass breaking in the kitchen made her sit up, a sudden jolt of adrenaline washing the last of the lethargy from her limbs.
"Wait here," she ordered, jumping out of bed and stepping lightly to the door. Donna froze and took a step backward, her eye caught by something only just visible in the dim light from the window and hallway. Her goblin poster hung blank against the wall. The white glossed paper showed no mark of the inhumanly stretched warbling smiles and noses that had pressed against it looking out onto the world. Donna blinked but the painting remained empty. Heart pounding, she advanced into the hall. Her practiced feet proceeded silently, avoiding spots that creaked and moaned beneath human weight. She could hear many more sounds now that became clearer as she approached.
Down gray carpeted stairs to the kitchen, she paused two steps from the bottom. The noise of a dinner party reached her; pots and pans, dishes and laughter. Lights were on and the radio was tuned to a Spanish speaking station. A pan was dropped and the laughter reached a maniacal pitch. Donna leaned forward carefully to peek into the room. Dark brown creatures varying in size from one to four-and-a-half feet tall clambered about the kitchen. Their bodies were primarily round and weird with long spindly arms the color and circumference of twigs. They jumped up and down from the counters with a sinister grace that should have been impossible to their proportions. Some climbed the shelves of the refrigerator while others rifled through the cupboards opening bags and boxes of rice or flour. Confectioner's Sugar dusted the floor and sink. On the island counter an orchestra of pots and wooden spoons was assembling. The conductor, a short fellow wearing a colander for a hat, was trying to get the musicians' attention by rapping his good silver spoon baton against the tile. It was like a room full of Jim Hensen's Muppets turned nightmarish.
Donna bit back a shriek as a rough strong hand grabbed her, pulling her back against the stairs. Black eyes glared warningly into her own. When he was certain she would not scream and alert the revelers Donna's dream lover smiled, mobile lips revealing sharp toothed grin. Leaves and clumps of fragrant loam clung to the tangled hair that had been like silk in her dreams. His bare skin was streaked with dirt. He forced her to stand and pulled her inexorably up the stair, long uneven nails caked in soil digging into her arms. Donna held a steady resistance but felt no point of weakness in his grip. He slunk somewhat like a thief as he walked, knees bent. They moved down the hall and turned into the bathroom the dream in flesh locking the door behind them.
He was taller than her, Donna discovered, standing next to him for the first time. He was slim and his tight skin revealed the corded muscles of a cat. Donna shrank against the cool smooth wall.
"Are you one of them?" she asked him. The black-eyed man stood very near and seemed to be smelling her. The tip of his nose grazed the skin of her neck sensuously as his breath tickled her, pricking goosebumps into her flesh.
"Are you -" Donna almost choked on her next words, "the Goblin King?" He stepped back and smiled at her. A strange wheezing emanated from him but his shoulders shook in what was obviously mirth. It seemed that the longer he considered her question, the more it amused him, his laughter increasing in depth and eroticism. No, Donna decided, he could not be the Goblin King, not when so much else of Brian Froud's artwork had been accurate. This creature looked nothing like the Goblin King she knew from her childhood fantasies. And yet he was too human to be one of those things in the kitchen. A prince maybe?
"What are you?" she asked, and her lover paused in his laughter, for a moment his eyes suddenly sad. Longing. As though even he did not know what he was. As though he had once been something very different. Possibly even human. Donna's mind spun.
"Toby?" she whispered, inching along the wall and away from him. The goblin prince let his gaze fall to the floor a moment before meeting her eyes once more, his composure regained. The corner of his wide elastic mouth curved upward as he splayed his hands and bowed his head to her in a gesture that almost seemed to acknowledge her guess. It made her stomach churn with disgust and fear. The movie lied. Sarah never won back her brother. Not her real brother anyway.
Donna shrank further against the bathroom wall, sliding toward a corner where plaster met with bathtub. She sank to a crouch when she reached the towel rack, continuing her progress beneath it. Her lover followed her, eyes gleaming in wicked anticipation.
"Why are you here?" she asked. The goblin laughed again and looked at her in a way that made her shudder. Isn't it obvious? his gaze seemed to say. Donna felt the cold of the porcelain bathtub bump her shoulder and stopped her progress, pulling her knees to her chest. He crouched in front of her smiling.
"Can you make them leave my sister alone?" Her lover dropped his head with a frustrated sigh. After a moment he tilted it scarcely to the left and looked at her through the short curtain of hair. Slowly, seductively his lips stretched into another smirk and he offered her a hand. When Donna remained motionless he moved closer reaching out to touch her thigh. The girl flinched.
"No," she said her voice wavering, "I want you to leave." The goblin growled and stood. He leaned over her, hands on the wall. He'd had enough of her failure to cooperate as she had in their dreams.
"I don't want you anymore," she spoke into her knees, eyes squeezed shut. He pulled up to his full height taking a breath that puffed his chest to twice its size and bellowed; his voice was deep and rumbling. It shook the towels from their rack and toppled a bottle of mouthwash. The vibrations could be felt in the marrow of her bones and her knuckles turned white, gripping her knees.
Donna could hear him rampaging. He ripped the shower curtain from its rings and threw shampoo bottles against the wall. The tiny linen closet was torn open and towels and toilet paper followed the shampoo. He smashed the mirror over the sink with the cover from the toilet's tank then slammed it against the tile near Donna, breaking the heavy porcelain. He leapt against the walls screaming until finally he rested, panting, on the ceiling with his neck craned to glare angrily at the teenage girl cowering against the bathtub. She sobbed.
He raged again not long after but as the night wore on the episodes became shorter and farther apart. Donna slept once and woke to find the bathtub over flowing with cold water and her goblin hanging from the shower rail to watch. His eyes were full of anger and vengeance. Vengeance spurred by a pain that tried to hide behind the cruel grimace with which he regarded her. She tried not to think about what could cause him so much pain.
When Donna fell asleep again she did not wake until morning.
The floor was wet but the mirror and toilet cover were whole and in their rightful places. For a blessed moment Donna thought she had dreamt it. She stood to take stock of her surroundings and revised that thought. The shower curtain lay in a heap in the tub, the toothbrushes were in the toilet bowl, and every tube of toothpaste had been emptied to draw hearts, flowers, and smiley faces on the sink and various other surfaces, not to mention the muddy footprints tracked across the floor. There was a knock at the door and Donna opened it to discover more toothpaste on the knob and her sister in the hall.
"I have to pee," Jenny told her.
Jenny's braids had not survived the night. She now had a matching Mickey Mouse ear on the right side of her head still damp with saliva. Jenny regarded her baby-sitter with a certain air of self-righteousness.
"You had sex with one of them didn't you," she stated more than asked. Donna's brain skipped a step.
"I did no- What does a second grader know about sex?" she demanded. Jenny shrugged.
"Everybody at school knows about sex," she said, but the hint of defensiveness betrayed her uncertainty on the subject.
"Go pee," Donna ordered, stepping out of the bathroom and heading for her bedroom.
The goblins in the poster had returned. Crammed together in a mad throng of rubber grins on strange rubber faces. Donna recognized the orchestra conductor and hidden away behind several others the dark eyes of her lover. She tore it down and took it outside were she burned it in an old paint can on the cement patio along with the rest of her Brian Froud collection.
Jenny helped sweep the sugar and put the pots and pans away. The milk had been left out and spoiled. Cleaning took most of the day and at the end of it Donna pulled out all of her protein shakes. One by one she dumped the drinks down the drain. The last was chocolate flavored, her favorite. She stared at the open can and on impulse brought it to her lips. Taking a sip she gagged. Still chalky sweet it was not much better than dirt. When her retching stopped, she closed her eyes and tried to forget but couldn't. The solid existence of the can in her hand wouldn't let her. Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes again and watched as she deliberately tilted the opened can over the sink.
"Goodbye Toby," she murmured. Then poured the last of her memories down the drain.
A/N: I realize that this is really almost more original fiction than fanfiction, but I didn't know how else to post it since it has so many Labyrinth references. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it! And please, tell me if you'd like to see more of Donna and Goblin Toby.