Michael woke up wet. His hair had left a damp stain on his pillow, and he appeared to have first jumped into a pool completely clothed and then jumped directly into bed. He stared about the tiny room in confusion. The walls were whitewashed, and sunlight was pouring through the lace curtains, making patterns of shadows. He sat up, knowing that recognition should have come by now. But in all honesty, he didn't know. Then a head poked around the door, and a woman with white hair braided up and a weathered face smiled cheerfully at him.
"Ah, you've woken, then. I wasn't sure you would today at all, no indeed I wasn't! There, then, it was a fine, heroic thing to do, jumping into that river to save that poor lass, but next time try to kick off your shoes!" She pointed at the sodden dress shoes with a warm chuckle. Michael stared at her, looking thunderstruck as she spoke. Then, suddenly, he bounded out of bed and hugged her fiercely. She seemed mildly surprised.
"Gran," Michael muttered, head buried in her floral patterned shoulder. She patted his wet back, tsking sympathetically. He finally drew back a bit to take in every detail. Her blue eyes glittered with concern from amidst the careworn and laughing lines of her face. "I must've dreamt—I was so sure something'd—" He choked, and stopped. Tears threatened to spill over. So silly, she was perfectly safe. The house was fine; fine and as sturdy as it had been for more than a century now.
"Now then, Michael-me-lad"— She always called him that, it was something that made her Gran—"You just come into the kitchen, now, and get yourself some food. You're too skinny to go about jumpin' into rivers! Next time, you'll be fat enough to float!" Gran laughed merrily at her own joke, and Michael smiled; a thin, tired smile. He'd had such dreams...
Gran steered him toward the large kitchen, which always seemed half again as large as all the other rooms in the house to Michael. Her hand on his shoulder felt...bonier...than usual. He glanced down in concern, but the appendage was as sturdy as ever. Gran was the kind of woman who, though not easily mistaken for a man, had been easily able to do a man's job and then go home and cook magical dinners and keep the house shining. She was large boned and tough, was Gran. Her hands showed it.
Michael allowed himself to be gently pushed into a chair around the large kitchen table. He watched intently as his grandmother moved about her domain, humming "The Fields of Old Doneen" as she collected foodstuffs. He rubbed his temples. There was something he was forgetting, he was sure of it. He wracked his brains, trying to remember. Finally, he gave up. Whatever it was, surely everyone would forgive his lapse in memory. It wasn't his habit to forget things, and no one could expect him to be on the ball after an unplanned swim in the river. He wondered, a little, why he hadn't been in the hospital? Maybe they'd found nothing wrong with him, and had let his grandmother take him to her home to rest.
Gran came over, beaming at him and carrying two plates. "I baked this for you specially, while you were away with the fairies. For being a hero." She set down a plate with a cake on it, an angel cake that had frosting and strawberries in the frosting. She had baked it occasionally before, on days like birthdays or Christmas or Easter. It was the kind of cake that never had leftovers the next day. "And there's this"—she set down some weird potato dish that he'd never bothered to ask the name of, but knew involved butter and cheese in bountiful quantities. next to be set down was a trout, which had been cooked until brown on the outside and soft enough to mimic butter on the inside. Immediately after was a bowl of cream with strawberries and billberries and all kinds of berries sunk into it. After that a plate with field mushrooms that had been slowly cooked and flavored with salt. On and on, all kinds of food, until the solid kitchen table groaned with the weight of it all.
And Michael watched, a sick feeling growing in him that had nothing to do with his stomach. His Gran never skimped anyone, but she didn't believe in wasting food by cooking more than could possibly be eaten. Aside from that, more important, she kept urging him to "eat, eat!" Although she didn't insist that everyone be seated before a meal was begun, she did insist that they pray together. "Gran," Michael ventured, "Do you want me to say the blessing?" He watched her face carefully.
"Oh, now! If you feel like it, then I suppose you can!" She laughed. Catching the hand that patted his shoulder, Michael bowed his head, closing his eyes. "May the Lord our Father bless this food, and this house, and all who are here, and remove from our eyes the deceptions which seek to tempt us from our true path. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen." As he spoke, he tightened his grip on the hand which felt thinner and bonier in his grasp by the word. Finally, as he crossed himself, he opened his eyes and stared into the hollow sockets of a skeleton.
He let go of the bony digits and rose slowly from the mostly broken chair. The table now groaned under the weight of rotten food writhing with maggots, and a desolate wind moaned by, unimpeded by the remnants of walls almost burnt to the ground. A sudden laugh made the priest spin around to see the creature Jareth leaning against one of the charred walls. He swallowed the lump in his throat as he heard the rattle of bones collapsing.
"Why that house? Why her?" He asked, voice raised to carry over the mourning wind. He could feel the bitter twist to his mouth, it suddenly seemed like too much, too far. The Goblin King stood and stalked past the priest, stopping just behind him.
"Why?" he repeated. "Can't you tell me?" Michael turned, met the angry gaze. Anger. Why should this being, who seemed to command the power to satisfy every whim with the snap of a finger, be so bitter? His own anger set aside, the priest searched those strange eyes.
"I miss her." Fr. Michael said softly, surprising himself. The slanting eyebrows shot up, the challenge faded. "I miss them both, I'd give almost anything to have them with me again. I pray for them every day. Here, in this place"— He stopped, looking around at the corpse strewn plain. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. The child... I need to go." But Jareth had already gone. With a weary sigh Father Michael began picking his way through the bones and the rot.