Sarah was thirty-three years old when she walked into her apartment one day and found the Goblin King sitting on her sofa, gazing idly out the window onto the busy street below.
Sarah was not surprised in the least. Actually, she'd been expecting his visit for quite some time. So while seeing an unknown man upon her sofa caused her heart momentarily to skip a beat, when she recognized him (his face turned from the scene outside and gave her a sharp-eyed smirk) she was tolerably able to go around her normal routine.
Tossing her bag onto the sofa and stripping off her cardigan (it was unseasonably warm for a March day in Washington D.C.) she washed her hands in the kitchen and put a kettle of water to heat. The mail went in its usual spot on the hallway table, her shoes flung carelessly beneath. Barefoot, she marched into the living room and sat down in her grandmother's rickety rocking chair (Karen had begged her to take it with her—it clashed with her aesthetic sensibilities) and faced him, in silence.
"I must say, you have grown up, Sarah."
The way he smiled as he said her name, the familiar sing-song with the emphasis on the second syllable, made her smile herself.
"I have. What do you think of that, Goblin King?"
"I am most agreeably surprised. When last I saw you, you were not very promising."
"That's surprising. That was the very day I started growing up."
Lips pursed, he nodded. "It happens that way."
"The Labyrinth forces change, especially to those who were not expecting it. I am grateful that you took the more logical way towards maturity."
"The other way being…?"
"Those who deny the Labyrinth and its powers of metamorphosis often go insane."
Sarah blinked. "Ah. Then I'm glad I took the way I did."
Glancing towards the kitchen, she noticed that a thin plume of steam was issuing from the spout of the kettle. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
Eyes fixed on her face, Jareth studied her in silence until he finally smiled. "I would, thank you."
Sarah relaxed, tension releasing from her stomach. Standing, she turned and pulled two mugs (debating whether to use her nice tea set with matching saucers and deciding against it) from the cabinet and steeped the tea. Putting both mugs on a tray, she added her open pint of milk, sugar bowl, and two spoons to the tray and carried it to the coffee table in the living room. If he took it with lemon, he was out of luck.
Though he must have attended and been served tea in a much more elegant fashion throughout his many years of life, he maneuvered around her amateur set-up very well. Taking it black with two spoonfuls of sugar while she loaded her tea with milk they both stirred in silence while listening to the choky hum of the air conditioner in the background. There was a kind of sharp odor in the air, and Sarah made a mental note to have someone come in to take a look at the central air…it smelled musty, like a dank cave where pirates came to hide their treasure…
"Well, some things do not change."
"You breathe stories, Sarah. When you walk, when you look at things, your mind and imagination breed stories and legends and people…always an admirable talent. I used to pity the fact that as a child you lacked the discipline to give them life. But your maturity has solved that problem."
"I wouldn't put it that way."
"How would you put it?"
"…That, what you said, sounds much too romantic. They're not alive yet…I'm not that good. They're still…paper constructs."
Discussing her fantasy writing with a creature of legend made her tongue stumble. It felt unnatural, wrong even, to speak of this with him. Somehow she got the feeling he was laughing down his sleeve at her.
He chuckled. "'Paper constructs'," he quoted, "and yet I am the romantic one."
She wished she'd added sugar to her tea when she had the chance, but now she wouldn't lean forward. Any closer to him and she'd burn up from the proximity. Younger, she'd not noticed what brilliant and vibrant life poured through him…like a nuclear reactor, he would be living long, long after she was dead, and mere mortals didn't come into contact with that and live.
It was like having a lion in her living room.
Sudden suspicion. "Can you read minds?"
He laughed. "That power is given to very few, Sarah. I recognize your talent, when it coincides with my own. As an artist recognizes a fellow artist, nothing more."
Silence again. Sarah contemplated her tea, trying hard to go against years of instinct and training to suppress any similes or stories that would likely arise from this situation. She found it unsettling to be thus found out by him, of all people. He, of course, looked insultingly comfortable, even on her ratty blue sofa with the disorderly row of spider plants on the windowsill behind.
"I have enjoyed your books."
Against her will, a sharp smile crossed her face, and for once she was able to laugh at him. "I thought you might."
"I noticed that you deliberately omitted the 'magic' words."
"Those thirteen hours might have, in hindsight, been good for me, but I doubt your kingdom would have the same strength if every fifteen year old were able to get through it."
"True. Sarah, ever the beneficent goddess, caring for the masses of the self-indulgent and careless."
His words cut sharp and deep.
"Children are innocent and heartless. J.M. Barrie said that, and he was right. But they change and grow, even without the Labyrinth's help."
"Tell me Sarah, were you innocent? Did you not say the words with intent to hurt?"
"I have been through this, Goblin King, without your help. I have come to peace with the mistake I made and I will not be made to feel guilty for it."
"Strong words. Good. I would expect no less from you. I would not like it if I could make you cower, Sarah."
His words were sickening, and Sarah felt her shoulders tighten with tension. Her grip on the mug was uncomfortable, and it was long empty. But she could not reach forward to set her cup down. Though he said he did not want her to be frightened, she was. The reasons as to why, though, were unclear even to her. She'd been expecting him to come, after her series on the Labyrinth had been published and steadily climbing up the bestseller list, but his actions now that he was here were not what she'd been expecting.
She'd been expecting him to try and make her feel guilty, to lord it over her that he'd been privy to her most terrible moment of reckless arrogance. She'd expected taunts that her writing was borrowed, unoriginal, pale copies of a masterpiece work. She'd expected him to lacerate every part of her most vulnerable insecurities.
This almost solicitous and admiring attitude, though, was terrifying because she didn't know where it was going.
Bull by the horns, Sarah. "Why are you here?"
Jareth had not been looking at her, and he kept his face turned away for a long moment before responding. "Tell me, Sarah, did I make so little impression on you that you felt it necessary to write me almost entirely out of your novels?"
Pause. "You are in them. You serve the function you served with me; you pop in, menace and throw in some monkey wrenches, and get out." Another pause. "And then you're defeated." How cruel can I be? "Pretty standard, I thought."
Another silence. As if responding to the thread of another conversation, the Goblin King remarked idly, "Do you know, Sarah, that you were supposed to be in love with me? Well, perhaps thirteen hours' acquaintance is not long enough for love, but regardless, you were supposed to be infatuated enough with me to cease pursuing your quest. You have no idea, do you, the number of women—and men—who fell for this trap."
Sarah had to bite her lip to stop it from trembling. God, if only he would ridicule her so she could fight back! "I am not surprised, but I don't happen to be made that way, Goblin King. I was not then and am not now in love with you."
"Why are you here?"
"…It is tiresome, sometimes, to be around those who love you."
"You mean, this is just a social call?"
"It is not often that the Labyrinth is defeated. The last victor died some dozen years before you were born. I know something of your life; I was curious. But I cannot read minds, as I told you. I can only infer what you are like from what you produce. I enjoyed your novels, and wanted to know more of the you who wrote them."
Sarah let out a shaky breath. He noticed, and smiled. It was not a kind smile.
"You will not save them from me, Sarah. Wishes are made every day, and though that particular formula will never fail to summon me, I can, if I desire, respond to other wishes. And I do."
"I am not going to set myself up as an enemy to you, Goblin King. If you want entertainment of that sort you'll have to try somewhere else. You will never die; any opposition I could offer you would be pointless."
"…You are indeed much wiser than you used to be. Very well. I shall stay in touch, Sa-rah."
And then he was gone.
After a long moment, Sarah gathered the tea things and brought them back to the kitchen. She could hardly stand to touch his mug, and instead set it as far back into the pantry as she could reach, not caring if the remaining sugar bred mold. The rest of the dishes she washed and set away.
Then she went into her bedroom and sat against the window, wrapped up in her old college sweatshirt for suddenly the air conditioning was too cold.
It might have been ridiculously melodramatic, and as a writer she would have reprimanded herself for thinking it, but she knew she had not seen the last of him.