The Response to Humor
It had started out innocently enough. It had to, she realized, or else she would never have let them reenter her life.
It had started with the Goblins speaking with her through her mirror. She found them to be far more cunning than she'd first thought, and they often surprised Sarah with their empathy—any sorrows she had, it seemed, at least one of them had faced something similar. And since they had faced something similar, they offered her sound advice and comfort, something the world Above lacked desperately.
Such a small step it was, then, that Sarah let the Goblins visit her in other mirrors. She liked watching them make faces at the girls primping in the bathrooms, and she enjoyed snickering at the comments they made in response to a shopper passing by a mirrored column. She was far less lonely, then, when she had only to find a mirror to find a friend. Sarah wondered, sometimes, why her old friends never visited her, but the Goblins were just so kind, she ignored the impulse to ask after them.
Not too long after, the Goblins started showing up in any reflective surface. Sarah laughed with them when they appeared, distorted and grinning, on the back of some bald man's head, and she loved to race the horde of Goblins around the lake. Sometimes she won, but more often than not, four or five of the Goblins would pull ahead of her, racing back and forth between her and their designated finish line.
So was it really such a big deal, then, when Sarah invited them to walk beside her, for real? By that time, the Goblins had been her friends—her family—for three and a half years; she couldn't wait to embrace her Goblins and be embraced by them. It was touching, how fond they were of her—Ma Treydij even let her babysit the Treydij twins. Toby often slept with the Goblins curled around him.
When she went off to college, she knew the Goblins kept their loving eyes on Toby as much as on her. Regularly, she made time to talk with her beloved Goblins, sneaking off in the dead of night, if she had to. Some of them simply took up residence in her book-bag; others migrated between the college dorms and the Williams house every month.
Almost six years after she left the Labyrinth, Sarah called on Hoggle. She waited for him to appear… and waited for him to appear… and waited still longer. Worried, she called the Goblins and asked them to check up on her old friend. They came back about half an hour later, carrying news of Hoggle's return to his family home and the bracelet Sarah had given him years ago. The Wise Man's eyes gleamed as he comforted Sarah, so distraught over her friend's absence that she nearly collapsed with relief on hearing he'd merely moved south again.
"The last I heard," the Wise Man mumbled and nodded, "Hoggle's quite happy to be with his family. Missed his brothers something horrible, I imagine; they were always so close, growing up." Sarah sniffled, a little, but accepted the tender hugs from the Goblins and moved on, happy for Hoggle and his return home.
"Maybe I'll send him a message, then," Sarah pondered optimistically.
Eight months after, Sarah called for Sir Didymus. The old fox did not appear, not even after she'd called several times, and Sarah fretted over the vulpine knight. One little Goblin offered to go and check on Didymus, and Sarah readily agreed. The Goblin returned shortly, clutching Didymus' eye-patch in one clawed hand.
"Found this, Lady," the Goblin whispered as he scampered up to perch upon Sarah's shoulder. "Heard the old bogger went out on another Quest, somethin' 'bout a Patch of Valor. Took his dog with him, so he'll pro'lly be gone for a while."
"Thank you," Sarah said in reply. "If you see him, will you ask him to stop by? I know he'll be gone for some time, but I do want to speak with him."
There was an odd note in the Goblin's voice as it answered, "Of course, Lady, if I see him."
Three weeks later, Sarah called upon Ludo. Her calls went unanswered, seemingly unheeded by the gentle beast. Again troubled, she was immensely thankful when the double set of twins set out to find Ludo in the wood. One pair arrived back a quarter hour before the other. The latter pair handed over a lock of orange fur; the former presented Sarah with one of Ludo's well-loved stones.
"He's in da forest, somewhere," one of the four started.
"Don't know where, just that he's there. Found tracks, but not him," the first's twin added.
"Brought these back, found them on the trail," the first of the other set of twins began.
"But we think he's hib'rn'ing," finished the last of the second set.
Sarah's shoulders slumped in disappointment as she rubbed the fur between her thumb and forefinger. "I'll try again when he wakes up, I guess."
Seventeen days later, Sarah summoned the Goblin King. To her astonishment, and to her anxiety, Jareth did not answer the formal call. When she relayed her qualms to the Goblins, Ma Treydij took Sarah by the hand and lead her through the mirror.
Sarah stepped through into the Underground and into the true Heart of the Labyrinth—not the City, as people were often told, but the woods beneath it, the ones that lived off the light of dreams and the rain the Goblins carried to it and the seeds their King had planted. The Goblins, usually spread throughout the Labyrinth, crowded into the trees and the underbrush to line the path Ma Treydij steered Sarah down. The trees whispered, and Sarah could have sworn she'd heard the faintest echoes from the false alarms, but one little Goblin hugged her neck, and Ma Treydij had a firm grip on her hand, so Sarah could not pause to think on the sounds she heard.
The forest consisted of trees, their great, grey trunks stretching away from the City as their roots formed the ground upon which the Labyrinth stood, and of dense ground foliage, and all the leaves—so many leaves, of so many sizes, and so close together—were shades between navy and black. Amidst the layers of dark leaves, Goblin eyes—tawny and silver and black and green and red and—peered out at Sarah and her honor guard, until at last, they reached a brook of iridescent mist.
The Goblins, as one, stepped back, and Sarah stepped up to the edge of the brook. Within the mists, she could make out, very faintly, what seemed to be… wings…?
The wind whirled through the clearing around the brook, and the Goblins held their breath as Sarah gasped. She had been right, there were wings in the mists, and Sarah stepped forward again, into the brook. She winced at how cold the mist was, and wondered if it were mist at all, for it was at once too wet to be mist and too dry to be water. Ignoring the panicky chills racing up her legs and through her spine, Sarah pushed through the surprisingly thick mist to the center of the brook. She knelt in the brook, and the chills became trembles. She dipped her hand into the mist, and the trembles became shudders. She pulled up the half-owl, half-man form that was Jareth, and the shudders became convulsions of fear, racking her belly with claws as sharp as a Goblin's and cold as the brook.
She could barely drag Jareth through the brook to the bank; the mist curled around her ankles and slowed her progress; Jareth was limp, dead-weight (please, not dead, not dead, not dead, Sarah prayed frantically) and bulky; the weariness of a fifteen-hour-day and a long walk through the Heart of the Labyrinth made her steps falter. Still, she was determined, and after what seemed an eternity, she reached the bank of the brook. Sarah sagged onto the ground and her burden half-slipped back into the brook—Sarah strained against exhaustion and the mist's current to pull Jareth onto the bank beside her. She was relieved to see him breathing, slow and painful as it was, he was still alive; she was alarmed to see the amount of cobalt blood soaking his otherwise pristine feathers and clothes. As pale as she remembered him, he was more so now, and his lack of color scared her.
The Wise Man shuffled forward.
"He will live," the old Goblin assured Sarah. "We would not—could not—kill him unless you wish it, Lady." Sarah's head snapped up, and her eyes searched the Wise Man's desperately.
"You did this?" Her gaze stayed upon the Wise Man for a moment more, before sweeping around the clearing and the forest beyond. "Then Hoggle…"
"He betrayed you," hissed a Goblin from the treetops. Other Goblins murmured their agreement.
"And what of Didymus?"
"He impeded you," spat a Goblin from the bank of the brook.
"He used you," cried a Goblin from beside the Wise Man.
Sarah looked down at the King beside her. His labored breathing was still rhythmic, but he showed no signs of waking, not even when the Wise Man tore one bloody feather from Jareth's wing to offer to Sarah. "And your own King? What did he do?"
The Wise Man's eyes gleamed again, and none of the usual senility hung about him as he answered. "He loved you… but not as we do. He loved you, but not enough to deserve to love you." The feather remained in the Wise Man's outstretched hand, the blood cobalt almost too rich to look at, a color half-dry now, but still far too fresh. "He is our King, but you… You are our Lady. So much the better, to have a Lady than a King," the Wise Man hummed. Sarah still did not reach out to take the feather, so he ran the wet quill across her cheek. She winced, and turned her head, but the slash of azure ran beneath one horrified eye nonetheless… The Wise Man tucked the feather in her hair. "We will not kill him unless you wish it, Lady," he said, and the Goblins rumbled their assent. A few had crept closer, and now they embraced her, cooing, and as she shrunk against the unconscious King, Sarah felt the Goblin arms close upon her as a cage.
There was a time, once, when I wrote horror stories to frighten and annoy my English teacher. I became damn good at it, and then fell out of the habit to write humor.
I may not have lost my touch.
The title, in case you're wondering, is a rather sick pun on my part. "Humor" means many things, not just commedy--it also means a quirk, a freakish whim, and blood. So the title may mean a response to a quirk or whim (the Goblins and my own) or a response to blood (Sarah's response to Jareth's).
Don't worry, I'll be back to commedy soon...