I've been having these dreams -- these nightmares -- and when I wake -- she wants to say

THE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES

Sarah is kidnapped, Nightmare on Elm Street-style. Dreams have power, as our glittering '80s children's film (and a million other consequent fanfics) teaches us, but this is not for children (i.e. take note: rated M).

Disclaimer: I do not own Labyrinth or its characters, nor do I own the title The Book of Nightmares – which is a wonderful book of poetry by Galway Kinnell – and I am not making any money from this.

Warnings: Dark. Probably confusing. "Evil bastard Jareth." Some non-con inklings, so please bear that in mind. Vignettish/sectioned.

I noticed that you can actually change the font and margins via the top right-hand corner. That's neat.

--

It was a dark dream, darlin'; it's over.

The firebreather is beneath the clover.


--Joanna Newsom

--

Under the fluorescent light of the doctor's office, shirtless and goose-bumped, Sarah closes her eyes and lies down on the table. She wishes she could fall asleep here, under the watchful eye of a medic. Even with her eyes closed for seconds, she feels her mind shutting down, her breath lulling to a sleepy pace and for one moment she feels at peace. The coolness of the stethoscope jolts her awake as it crawls up above her chest, then over her heart, then to the right. The doctor raises her eyebrows, stops listening, hovers the stethoscope over her skin.

"Where did you get these bruises?"

Sarah opens her eyes, then her mouth to say, "I've been having these nightmares, and when I wake. . ."

But she stops, because even she does not want to believe it. How can her dreams be so palpable. How can she wake up as if she's been running through thorns and tripping on roots and stones, sometimes with bruises and blood, barely able to walk from her bed to the bathroom. And what would they do – where would they put her – if she told them that she dreams her wounds?

(How can I wake in one piece when. . .).

Instead, she lies, "I fell off my bike and into some rocks. Took quite a spill. But I'm okay, really."

"Well," she sighs, "just be careful on that thing."

The doctor asks her to inhale, then exhale, then cough once here, then here, then here. Then open her mouth, stick out her tongue, say Ah. The nurse takes her blood sample, the receptionist wishes her a Good day! as she walks out from the sterile scent and into the parking lot, ignoring the icy winter wind, taking deep breaths as she removes the keys from her purse, clicks the doors unlocked.

(Calm down)

Driving home on the highway, past the gray-skeleton trees, dreams from the past few months crawl from the back of her mind: Little girl (her) whistling down the trail (skip to my Lou), caught and devoured piece by piece. Another: her body swaying upside down, ankles tied to a branch by a hunter's trap (no one will come for you), the blood rushing to her head as night begins to fall. And another: she lies down to nap beneath an oak and the roots stretch and wrap over her arms and legs and throat like earthen chains, the crack of bone as they tighten.

In every vision, she sees him – feels him – hovering, or staring from a tree branch, or chasing her through the rushes, through the sharp-branched pines. Always so beautiful and sparkling darkly in his black cloak, like a constellation behind a thin layer of cloud. She always sees his eyes before anything else: opalescent grey and blue and hazel and cold. She can see them now, even, as she watches the road unfold before her, the black pavement made unreal by a fresh dusting of snow.

Every book becomes this story.

--

In her bedroom, she lies awake well past midnight, visions tangling at the back of her mind in a dark cabaret. How long can she take this? She closes her eyes, opens them, closes them, opens them: the shadows seem to move without bodies, to turn and shift until they have voices of their own. When she closes her eyes, she can hear them rustling and whispering to her, like leaves across a tin roof.

(And is that an owl at the window).

She can feel their cold breath on her neck, the way they reach out to her from their places in the room and touch her face, slight tendrils of voices. . .some kind of haunting. She forces herself to keep her eyes closed, listens as they grow louder, more present. . .until she can almost touch them.

(What are they saying?)

(Your name)

When she finally opens her eyes, the window is cracked ajar. The wind is freezing. She looks outside for a sign (nothing), shivers, then locks the latch. Had she been sleeping?

--

Sunlight. Along the shore, the sea foams at the mouth, glitters and stretches to touch her. Blue and blue and blue. It really is endless, she thinks. Like the end of the world. Or does she say that out loud?

She walks the sand with her black dog, and then runs with him, feeling like such a child again in her white cloth dress, the salt glow soft over her skin, her brown hair tangling in the wind. So peaceful. Nameless.

The seagulls whirl in the cerulean above them, calling to each other. She hears herself laughing. Let's play a game: throw the stick in the water. She throws the stick, and the dog happily chases it into the waves, splashing the water into sunlit diamonds. Shine, beautiful. She laughs again.

Only the dog never brings the stick back to her, keeps swimming far out into the water, his black body shrinking as the current carries him into the vaster body – into the sky and sea and whatever lies between it.

"Come back!" she cries, diving into the frigid water after him, her dress heavy and sopping, her eyes stinging with salt. "Damn it!"

"Come on, boy!" When she calls the salt water floats into her mouth, burning her tonsils.

She blinks and the dog is gone.

She blinks again and the vast ocean is not water but blood, lukewarm and metallic and swallowing over skin, soaking her dress red, coursing over her tongue – cascading into her throat, drowning her – and the current sweeps her further – and she screams as a hand grasps her ankle, pulling her underneath – and her lungs fill with it. . .

--

She wakes screaming on her armchair, her head laid awkwardly on her shoulder, her mouth tasting strongly of salt and blood. The sunlight through the window is blinding. No, haunting is not the right word. He is no ghost.

--

Darkness. The field is cold and black and static, without moon or stars or even cloud above. No smells or sounds, not even the pat of her bare feet touching the ground. She wanders (floats) the grass as if walking on space itself, or through some kind of dark matter. The darkness seems penetrable: she can see forever into all of space and time and matter, into that sheer blackness. It is like being the night. A kind of knowing.

But when she stops walking, she can hear someone calling.

Sarah.

Her name, polished as a marble. She turns, carrying the darkness with her, twirling it around herself like a cloak.

Sarah.

She turns again and sees only darkness, but the darkness rocks its own cradle and she sways. Nausea creeps into her stomach, up into her throat, like a seasickness as she walks (floats) forward, then back, trying to focus her eyes to see something – anything.

She stops, still dizzy. Who is here?

A hand cups over her mouth. The heat of a heaving chest meets her back. Lips touch her neck as another hand cradles her stomach, inches downward, and then the hot words trace her ear:

"Soon, Sarah, my broken-winged dove, my little angel lost --"

--

"No," Sarah gasps, waking in her bedroom, the sheets cocooned around her body like the darkness she remembers vividly – like a trap. Cold bites at her skin, and her teeth are chattering: The window has been opened wide. She tastes bile at the back of her throat, can still feel his hands inching across her, fingers tapping slowly on her abdomen. This is not right. This is not a game, this is not a dream, this is happening.

(Leave this room now, go go go)

Even awake she can feel his body circling her, the prick of his voice like a tiny crow pecking her eardrum. She feels some presence in the room, circling, preparing to swoop down and grab her. Perhaps he walked in through her sleep, or has been hiding under the bed like the boogeyman – she doesn't know – but she knows he is hunting her. That he's come for her.

She knows that even awake, she is not safe.

In a flash, she jumps from the bed and bolts into the hall of her apartment complex, down the flight of stairs, barefoot and still wearing her boxers and tank top because there's no time for dressing for the weather, for thinking, for worrying if someone thinks she's crazy. At twenty-four, she knows her own mind. A story is a story and this is no story, and she doesn't care if she has to run screaming it into the city streets.

Let me be crazy, she thinks. Please.

Down, down, down the stairs, each second feeling endless, and then she steps through the metal door, now feeling more cautious and careful. (Is he behind the door) Quietly now: one step, then another. It is sometime in the dead middle of the night, and the lobby lights are grimy yellow. One flickers.

From here she hears the elevator, a wisp of laughter. From a man? No. The creak of footsteps from behind her.

(What is that sound is it)

And Sarah takes one step out the lobby door, one step into the subzero wind, when suddenly her head aches and swells and blurs and she sees black spots rise in front of her like crystals floating in the air. . .

--

Under the blushing sky, its amethyst light. The trees dead and craning their many necks (branches) towards her bright body, which stands on the top of the world in jeans and a vest and white shirt. How familiar. She walks down the hill into the garden, seeing the fairy glow below, the iron doors and the murky water. I'm coming! The labyrinth lurches and groans like a coil of sleeping bodies. A child is crying (who?) and she needs to reach the center, and find him, before something terrible happens to him (to her). She is the hero of this story, floating with such grace. How easy this is! She holds out her arms and levitates. How bright she must look among all the crows, gliding past the forest, through the castle gates in what must be minutes. But the throne room is vacant and silent; the child is no longer crying. I need the child (there is no child). There is the empty throne carved roughly of stone, the tiny bones at her feet, rattling as she steps on them. But the child is gone.

She blinks.

The king lounges across his throne, a crystal twirling at his fingertips. He stares into its contents, grinning with teeth.

"Sarah."

He looks up at her with hooded eyes, but still they shine. "How are you enjoying my labyrinth?"

The silence unsettles her. Where are the goblins in this city. Where is the child. Where is the song. The only sound in the room is her breathing, heavy and turbulent. Where is the monster, the dwarf, the fox, his dog. She notices her fists are clenched; she's shaking. She has been here before. Hasn't she?

"Where is the child? What have you done with the child?"

He looks her up and down, but there is no leer in his eyes. He has the face of an artist admiring his sculpture, a carpenter looking over a finished house for imperfections. Around his head Sarah sees, faintly, small bits of light circling – something behind his skin seems to glow – but the area around his eyes is almost dramatically dark. Almost black.

Now, suddenly self-conscious, she thinks to look down at herself. She wears a white cloth dress, a cut that stops well above the knee. How did that happen. She touches her head, where someone has placed a soft crown of clover. Around her neck, a string of thorn and red berries. Like a forest nymph. Like a fantasy. Where are her shoes?

"I believe that story has long been completed, my young heroine. You finished it."

His voice draws her from her bewilderment. The crystal spins on its axis.

She whispers: "What do you want?"

"Little Sarah," his smile widens, jagged and dark on his frosted face (beautiful, soft-lit). She finally sees his eyes fully, how they are time and water-polished: mismatched grey and hazel and cold, like the rocks one skips across a lake. They skip across her body.

"What would you give?"

The crystal looks planetary against his night-black cloak. It disappears in a small implosion of light.

She steps back toward the door (But where will you run).

The king laughs quietly. He leans forward on the stone throne, casting a long shadow.

"Do you remember me, Sarah?"

His words feel strangely powerful, as if they ripple through the air, as if the torch-lights flicker to their cadence. And suddenly she remembers: the words tumbling from her mouth. The world crumbling into her room. Everything comes flooding back into her.

"But I said the words and the platform fell" – she swallows – "You fell."

Laughing gently still, he stands from his chair, his lithe body unfurling elegantly, and steps towards her.

One. Two.

As he walks, his black cloak trails the floor, shining darkly (a constellation behind a thin layer of cloud) in the musky light. He draws his teeth into a jagged smile.

"Ah," he says, and pauses. "But I did not fall into nothing, child. I only transformed. Did you think I would perish so easily, at a mere six words from the mouth of a little girl?"

She shuts her eyes, holds them closed, opens them again.

"Is this a dream?"

"It is."

"So it isn't real."

"Of course it is real." He smiles again, viciously. "You would not take your dreams, so I gave you mine. Do you like them?"

Her heart thumps so fast it hurts. Everything here certainly feels real – painfully so.

"What, exactly, do you want from me?"

"Oh, Sarah. You do not know?" His eyes are wide, almost joyful now. A cat toying with a mouse. "Surely my techniques are not so opaque."

The words somehow feel cold, and she warbles: "It's not fair – I ran your labyrinth, and nearly died, and beat your clock – and – "

But the king snickers and grins at her, tilts his head, bits of light falling from his bright hair to the filthy ground.

"Nearly died? On the contrary, my dear. That was your story to twist and turn; you were always going to live."

He circles her now, as if this were a dance and she were his partner, his eyes always on hers. His shadow – so dark below his bright skin – eclipses her body, seems to catch her fleshy brightness in its sack. She tugs at the thorns around her neck, feeling more aware of them now – a little prick, a little blood – yes, she is bleeding. The blood tickles her neck in its trail to her shoulder. He stares at it lustfully.

She falters: "What do you mean 'the story was mine to twist and turn'?"

And still he gleams and gleams at her, rolling the secret slowly over his tongue, rotating around her body like a dark star around a planet. His face – nebulous eyes, darkened – comes close to hers, his breath on her mouth for a moment.

"I mean that story was yours to tell, to weave and make as pretty and innocuous as your little heart desired. I mean you were a child."

He stops turning, runs his hand along the side of her neck. Cradles her face.

(What kind of game is this)

"But you were so careless," he sighs.

A moment of silence stretches between them. She hears her own breathing, but not his, as if he isn't breathing at all.

"I warned you."

His shadow seems to pull her closer.

"Warned me?"

He brushes her shoulder with his fingertips, lightly (it prickles), as he turns behind her. She turns to face him.

"'I have been generous,' but I am cruel, Sarah."

A kiss on her forehead (it burns).

--

He leaves her alone in the throne room, where she curls on the floor, among the dust and bones. She dreams herself into another body. Away (and above). In the dream someone puts a hand to her face. A man says, "She won't wake up. I found her lying on the sidewalk, out cold." A woman says, "Open your eyes, sweetheart." The lights of the city make strange patterns in the sky.

But her eyes are open (But I can see you).

--

In the back of her mind, the dream flashes, then fades. She still lies on the floor of the throne room – in the rancid smell the dust and bones – when he kneels down, and blows into her ear, and wraps her into his arms. She keeps her eyes closed, pretending to still be asleep, but slowly inhales his scent: snow, and cold. He truly smells of winter, of that kind of death. He puts a hand to her forehead, as if checking for fever, and inside her heart squirms. She can't face him now, disoriented and vulnerable, half-asleep and half-awake.

"Open your eyes for me."

She pushes him away. Her heart struggles to fly out of her flesh and she can't breathe.

"I won't," she says, not in the tone of a spoiled child, but calm.

He touches two fingers to her eyes and they fly open, the lids pulled up by magic. His eyes turn to slits, his pearl face glowing in the dim light of the room. Not a ghost, no. But not flesh. What is he made of?

(What tendrils beneath his skin)

"Do you remember my warning, Sarah?"

A hand cradles her head, and she shivers, a shadow (heavy and numbing) wrapping itself around her. What will happen, now that he has her here? What more does he need?

(What more to take)

"Take heed, Sarah. This is not a matter to treat lightly."

His grip around her tightens. The air around them turns thick and cold, and his voice turns thick and cold with it.

"Sarah. Will you agree to my terms?"

She sighs: "No."

He sighs: "As you wish."

And Sarah feels herself falling into sleep, drifting down through the stone. . .

--

. . .And then he is pulling her up onto a shore through clear water, up into half-light – her body wet and cold but clean, all the dust from the castle floor washed away – and he smirks as she coughs dizzily, then stumbles forward into his chest. Around them: a milk-blue lake, swirling like a galaxy, and dark trees with lit orbs for leaves that seem to sway back and forth (or is that her own vision?). The leaves cover the ground with a pale, soft light, but they feel cold and sharp against her bare feet. Where has he brought her?

Without a word he begins kissing her collarbone (it burns), up to her neck, her jaw. He scrapes his teeth against her ear, and she whimpers, still trying to push him away as he lays her down on the ground. He unlaces the back of her white cloth dress, and she closes her eyes, afraid to look at him, but still pushing with what parts of her body aren't held. . .

(No no no!)

He leans down, pressing his own body onto hers. He puts a finger to her lips (it tastes of fire), as if warning her not to speak, but. . .

"Hush, love."

The horror lurches in her stomach, up into her heart, which swings like a pendulum back and forth against her ribcage as he pulls the dress over her head, revealing her bare skin.

She croaks out, finally: "No – please."

He laughs gently, now tracing his finger gently over her collarbone, then pushes down firmly, and she trembles – the skin dissolving to lacework, to blood, to muscle, until a sliver of bone is exposed to the cold air – and then screams, because it hurts.

(What is he)

Then he touches her thigh (it burns). He kisses her throat softly, and yet she can feel her skin bruising. Now he kisses her mouth, bites her lip. She tastes blood. Now he runs his fingertip along her neck, as if marking her skin with the thinnest knife.

"See how fragile you are to the touch of gods," he breathes into her ear, "see how you fall away. Would you like to be divine, Sarah?" His face is luminous yet carved deeply with shadow, as if made of shadow and light itself. "Love me, fear me, give in and nothing will ever hurt again."

Her vision blurs with confused tears, which make her own face shimmer in the leaf-light, the sound of her breathing becoming louder and more erratic in the quiet space. "What have you done to me?"

His hands have left marks, traced thin roads up and down her skin, almost labyrinthine in their movements. Hesitantly, her hand finds her collarbone: smooth, polished, exposed. The horror forms a knot at the back of her throat. There is the kind of pain that comes from a dry wound in winter wind.

"Look at the power I have over you. I only need your words."

--

He sends her back into sleep, carries her to the castle, and leaves her alone again in the throne room. She dreams in white, dreams herself into her twin. Into a white room with a soft bed and bright, seraphic faces. There is a murmur of voices, the tink of hospital machinery beside her. The shuffle of footsteps around her bed. A child asks, "She'll get better, won't she?" And his mother replies, wearily, "Of course she will. She's just sleeping, but it's a very deep sleep, see, where she doesn't feel any pain."

--

"You are a thief," she spits, sitting on the stone floor with her head in her hands, caught under his gaze. His billowing shadow covers her. The thorn necklace digs into her throat, making her bleed lightly. Her white dress is covered in dust. Each place he's touched her burns.

"Ah, Sarah, I have not taken anything that doesn't belong to me. I merely ask for a trade."

The torch-flames on the walls quiver as he brushes by them, the force of his body almost snuffing them out, his whole form seeming to darken and brighten like the changing of day into night again and again. He kneels down in front of her as if she were a small child, and continues: "Would you like to move between the worlds? Would you like to move inside a star?"

"But all you do is take."

And he smiles with his voice, carefully shaping his words, as he leans forward to speak against her hair: "Look at what I'm offering you."

His magic cups her shoulders like cold hands (or are those his hands). Quickly, she pulls away. The hay-moon hair frames his face, his teeth bared as he stands straight, pulling on her arm to lift her up.

"Would you like to see yourself, Sarah?"

She doesn't answer, unsure.

"Come" – he slowly conjures a mirror out of the air, rimmed with bright tendrils that move and grow in light and shadow and dust – "Look."

And she finally sees the signature of his touch: where the bone lay exposed; where she bled down her neckline; where his palm rested, left a burnt island above her breast. The flame-licks where his lips brushed against her.

"Do you still think this body is yours?" he asks, holding her bare shoulders (even now it burns), his eyes in the mirror glowing like two black holes emitting light.

"Yes," she says.

"But I have signed my name across it again and again."

In the mirror, she watches his face smoothen as he finishes speaking, pale and sculpted from light and darkness by a meticulous hand.

"But only in magic, nothing more."

He smiles behind her, his teeth almost vampiric. "But Sarah – tell me again about your dreams."

--

That night, the dream is his: a hunter finds her lost in the woods (but it is not her body, not her voice, somehow different) and offers to walk her back into town. Instead they come to his secret house far off the road. He gives her a coarse smock. He keeps her in a cage. At night he comes and licks her earlobe and says horrible things as he lays her down in the filth.

--

"I can protect you from such fates," he says as she wakes from her nightmare, plucking a crystal from the darkness.

(But can you protect me from you?)

--

Today, he brings her out of the throne room, leads her through the torch-lit brownstone halls that curve intestinal through the castle. He drags her by the hand, saying nothing. She could be a ghost: pale-skinned and thin in a wispy white dress, now torn in places, now stained with dust as if she has been sleeping underground. Only she is not dead, not yet.

He stops before a door.

"What's in here?" she asks, feeling uneasy.

Still silent, he swings the door open. Inside, a cluster of ordinary sparrows frozen in flight. "Look," he says, and places one in her hand.

And he leads her onward through the castle halls, opening the doors one-by-one: In this room, huddles of fireflies. In this room, thunder and lightning. In this room, emptiness: only a sound like needles falling onto the floor.

"Don't you have any things?" she asks.

He doesn't answer again, but pulls her left, opens a heavy silver door. Inside: piles and piles of dusty books (encyclopedias and folk tales and illuminated manuscripts); oil paintings propped against the wall (haloed saints and fleshy gods and sacred animals); sculptures (pieta and centaur and little hoofed boy with his flute); cave paintings (horses and deer and women and men). All the art and words taken from a world Sarah can only vaguely remember.

He traces her collarbone with his fingertip from behind her, breaths against her ear. "Isn't it fascinating, isn't it beautiful, what humans create in their likeness?"

"Why do you keep all this? How did you get –"

But he leans forward, speaking louder now: "For the same reason I keep you."

--

The crystal slides down his arm, levitates, turns over his fingertips. Mesmerizes her. It shatters, a tiny supernova brightening all corners of the room, highlighting all the dust floating in the air. She shields her eyes, opens them to momentary blindness and to him – smiling (awfully) now – as he slinks down theatrically from his throne to the floor. He stands over her, his hair wild and seeming to make its own light.

"Beware, Sarah." She takes one step back from him.

"I could lock you in a cage and make you sing for my mercy. I could starve you until I see your red heart beating through your skin."

His voice is sharp, without warmth. The wind carries into the room through no window at all, as if flowing out from him, to tousle her hair. Tonight he smells of licorice and ice, the shadows playing like snakes over their bodies. She can almost hear them hissing over her skin, through her hair, into her ear: "I ask for so little."

She jerks away."You do not ask!"

He pauses, staring. His eyes wax and wane, and suddenly he gives her a gleeful smile. "Sarah, would you like to play a game?"

She means to say, "No." Instead she says: "What kind of game?"

But he's already gone.

--

In the castle halls, the torch-light licks her body gold. She walks alone, as she has been alone in the room for what seems like days, sleeping on the stone and silence and waiting for something to happen. He hasn't returned, and she is so hungry she might be floating in her lightness. How long has it been since she ate? It could be days. Could be weeks. Time seems to have disappeared, and so goes her sense of self – her knowledge of the person she was before coming here. . .

(I could starve you until I see your red heart beating through your skin. . .).

But one of these rooms must house a bit of stale bread, or even dry rice or moldy apples, she thinks. Lightheaded, she keeps walking, opening the doors one-by-one. But in this room: staircases upside down and sideways and – she slams the door. In this room: a garden of stalactites and ice, a cool whisper of invitation. In this room: only darkness.

But some invisible hand draws her inside.

Wary, she tiptoes into the pitch darkness, squinting and holding out her hands. "Hello?" she whispers. "Anybody here?"

Suddenly a mirror image of herself appears before her: brown-haired girl dressed lightly in white, looking weak and dead with her wounds and bruises and bits of her bones exposed.

"Don't I look terrible," she says. "What has he done to me?"

But the mouth in the mirror doesn't move with hers.

Instead the spectral girl answers – in her voice – "I'm frozen." She takes her hand, rasps: "You are so warm, I should like to live in you."

There is no mirror.

She whispers: "He will kill you."

--

When she returns to the throne room, breathless and aching and glistering with sweat, she finds him waiting for her there (he will kill you), smirking with his arms crossed over his chest. He looks up slowly at her entrance, his face wintry and sleek and almost blue in this light, and smiles wider – as if happy to see her.

"Sarah," he coos her name. "Would you like something to eat?"

She nods, ready to burst into tears.

"Of course you do. Poor thing."

He conjures a peach from the air, all rosy-glimmer, and throws it into her hands.

She shakes her head, hot with fever. "No. Give me something else." But her voice wavers, quiet and frail.

"Beggars can't be choosers, Sarah." How he loves saying her name, like moonlight uncoiling off his tongue. He steps towards her.

"But – please."

"Do you not like my gift?"

Her stomach roils at his words. She shakes her head, which sloshes with a dull ache that seems to worsen with each word he says. "I don't want it. Stop this."

He contorts his face in a mock-hurt, and steps closer again, smelling of electricity.

"This may be the story you began, my pretty one, my word-weaver, but it is no longer yours to tell." And he holds her chin in his hands, whispers: "What happens when the storyteller loses control of her story?"

Slowly, he takes the peach from her palm, holds it up to her mouth, kisses her above the eye. Runs a blunt thumb along her throat. He breathes: "What path will she choose to tread?"

She must eat something.

--

Here the people twist and gnarl like trees in the wind to the wordless music, to each other's voices. They bend to her in dance, wearing their fleshy demon masks; they kiss the back of her hand.

"Sarah," they croon (they know my name?). "How nice to see you here."

She blinks, and suddenly she stands in the middle of a silent forest, the old knotted trees bowing their branches towards her, as if she were a queen. The trees smell of rot and bones but how fluidly they bend their branches. . .

She blinks again, and she is back in the raucous ballroom, being twirled and twirled by the men and women, all of them dressed so elegantly in silver and gold and hideous masks. "Oh Sarah, beautiful," they coo, "come join us."

Then she realizes: she is naked.

And as she notices, so do the dancers. They stare at her body, they begin to touch her as she passes. They brush against her breasts. They kiss her neck, they breathe against her ear:

"How lovely you look tonight. You shine."

But their voices are all wrong, laced with darkness, and now they grab her in their dances: they cup their hands to her hips and pull her closer. "How delightful."

When she blinks she is in a forest, and when she blinks again she is in a ballroom. One gold-masked man licks her ear, runs his hand up and down her stomach. A silver-masked woman kneels down, begins to suck at her fingers, then runs her other hand up and down her thigh. Struggling to pull away, Sarah closes her eyes, counts to three, and opens them wide. . .

(Wake up wake up wake up)

The Goblin King stands in the center of the room (no no no), black-cloaked and gloved, smiling at her – wolf-teeth bared and glinting. She blinks and he's gone. Panicking, she moves to turn around – must keep her eye on him – but he comes up from behind, and slowly runs his fingers up and down her arms, hissing:

"If you will not give yourself over to me, perhaps you'd rather I give you to them."

His breath slides into her ear. She says nothing.

He kisses her neck: feathery, but poisoned. "How they love to play."

And she remembers: the chair. The chair through the glass. She looks and looks, but there is no chair – nothing but dancers (demons) –anywhere in the room. He calls from where he stands, his voice pricked with malice:

"Not this time."

And she turns and several dancers are already upon her, kissing her shoulders, licking her neck, brushing their bare hands along her skin and laughing and whispering and laughing into her ringing ears. From certain angles, they look like wolves prowling in the shadows, under the forest trees.

--

"Sarah."

She opens her eyes, lightheaded and feverish.

"How nice to see you awake."

His shadow blankets her form as she rises from sleep. The black cloak spreads behind him like a parallel shadow, but glittering as if a piece of night. She says nothing, and stands from the floor clumsily, backing away from him as he takes slow and deliberate steps towards her.

(Run)

(He'll find you)

"Why do you look so frightened?" he asks, his face finely-tuned into a mask of concern, a smile laced behind his thinned lips.

She looks down at the peach, still rocking on the stone where she dropped it. The worm wriggles out like a caressing finger and she shudders (I remember). Silent still, she presses her back against the wall, her spine scraping against stone with each heavy breath. Closes her eyes, hoping to wake up somewhere else.

"My Sarah." How he loves saying her name. His hand brushes against her breastbone, leaving a pale red trail.

"Has the story turned on you?"

--

She dreams: "So there's nothing you can do, doctor?" a man asks, sounding exasperated. His voice is a distant trail to its body, like a lighthouse beam spotted miles from shore. "Until we find the source, no. I'm sorry." The room is dimmer than she remembers. In her ear, a little boy whispers: "Sarah, I miss you." (Toby – why is it so dark and cold?)

--

The torch-lights flicker high and low, as if giggling. The room smells of dead things. Always the same scene, over and over, except she feels bits of herself falling away each time he comes to her. The dreams – dreams of white, and warm – keep her anchored, but they are not enough. She can't live in them forever. And so like the labyrinth, nothing seems to change, yet it does.

His eyes rimmed darkly, the Goblin King hovers over her – where she stands with fists clenched – and brushes the hair from her face, and smiles hideously. This time he says: "I am going to kill her."

(He's going to kill you).

Her heart spasms. "Who?"

"The girl you dream of."

Her eyes widen, and he stares into them, his body leaning toward hers. She chokes out a sob: "Don't." All the while, his eyes glitter.

"You will not see her again."

(You won't be her again).

"You can't!" She is so close to falling on her knees to the stone and begging like a slave, to grasping his ankles and letting the black cloak and shadow swallow her in their single rippling wave.

"Did you think you could run into her forever? Did you think I would allow it?"

The torches lick his face with shadow, highlight his teeth.

"No, I – please. I'll do anything to keep" – he tilts his head and smiles.

(Anything?)

It is not her dream-self she wants to save, to feel and be again, but the little boy (Toby) whispering in her ear, and his mother, and her father laying his hand on her forehead. The dream is all she has left. Without it she is utterly alone. Whether or not it is real no longer matters. It is a place. It is warm.

He cradles her face in his hand (it burns), runs his other hand from her neck to the end of her shoulder like a trickle of scalding water.

"Sarah," he says. "Stay here, stay with me and I will leave her be." He hisses: "Yield to me, Sarah."

The tears – the sheer panic – light up her eyes and she looks down from his face to hide them (But he will kill her). Her breath clots in her throat (But he will kill). What if she's real?

She looks up – first to the taut line of his mouth, then to his eyes, and then to his fiery halo of hair – as the fear tugs at her pulse and the simple words slide like acid between her teeth. . .

--

When she opens her eyes, she lies naked on softness and air and light. Around her – on the ceiling and walls and floor (not walls, not a floor) – stars flicker from their places in seemingly infinite blackness. From the corner of her eye she sees small bursts of powder blue and white, streaks of silver. The bed (not a bed) is smeared with iridescence, like a slab of opal. Except the bed (not bed) is not a slab, but silky and supple, leaving her skin somehow glossed and incandescent. She runs her hand along her arm. Her skin feels flawless. As if not skin at all.

"Sarah," said softly, but it startles her. It is only now she realizes the unbelievable absence of other sounds.

The king comes to sit where she lies, his black cloak seeming to unfold from the walls (not walls), his skin as lustrous and flawless as hers.

"How are you feeling, my Sarah?"

She props herself up on her elbows, still looking around. "I'm not sure."

"Oh, Sarah," he breathes, warm. "You have been asleep for so long, I thought you would never wake." He leans over her, kisses her eye, smelling of rock dust and glass.

"How long?"

"Time is boundless, little one. Let us just say 'long.'" He kisses her other eye, and moves down to her throat.

"All I can remember is a white room. A white room, and people – but everything was so blurred – crowded around me. There was warm blood everywhere. My blood. And then everything went black, and I woke up here. Am I dead?"

(And who are you)

He smiles. "You are one of the lucky – the chosen – who has not died, but transformed."

"Transformed?"

"One body cannot survive in two worlds, and you have crossed into this one." He brushes hair from her face. "To be here with me."

Standing up (bits of light falling around his hair) he conjures a mirror out of dust and air, rimmed with bright tendrils that coil and uncurl and grow into the darkness. "Come, look at yourself."

She does, and gasps upon seeing her nude body: how each muscle seems lit from behind, as if the bones beneath were light itself. How her skin is milky and smeared with something bright. A thin necklace of thorns and berries looks so dark and earthy against her celestial throat, and around her hair, she notices a crown of clover, the tiny slivers of petals like many half-moons in a bouquet.

"See how you shine, Sarah, beautiful."

He moves to her front, kisses her throat again, presses his hand to her nape. "My angel, I am so glad to have found you again," he breathes against her skin, leaving a trail of luster around her neck. "To have rescued you."

Then he lays her down on the iridescent bed (not bed).

(Is this a dream)

"No, love. Not anymore." He kisses the top of her breast, cradling her head in his hand.

(Am I real)

"Of course you are." A tongue tracing up her throat, sliding between her lips.

Eyes closed, she does not notice that he has removed his starry cloak, his black boots. He places his hand on her belly, licks her ear. His touch feels so surreal, as if her body is floating through space, leaving bits and pieces of itself.

He presses his hand to her hip, rubs his other hand up and down her upper torso, then her thighs. He kisses her forehead. Suddenly, he moves into her sharply -- then harder, his mouth on hers – and they move together, breathing faint clouds of light, as it does in the cold (but it is warm where they are) – and her body trembles like water as he pushes forward, rubbing against her stomach and chest, saying things into her ear like, "You are divine," and "You taste of petals, and streams, and rain."

"Who am I?" she rustles, as he thrusts forward again, and he bites at her lip, and runs his tongue along her jaw to speak into her ear.

He breathes, "You are my earth, and I am your path between the stars."

He bites her shoulder, and the blood is not red but white and shining soft and metallic. It hurts, but not the way she would expect. He licks it from her skin.

"What am I?" she asks.

And he thrusts into her again, and scrapes his teeth along her breast, then her throat, and she can barely breathe (barely think) as he pushes as deep as her body will allow, then again, and exhales, his breath a faint luster in the black air. . .and she is so dizzy, and it feels as if she is falling. . .covered with his hands, and his mouth, and his breath. . .

It is over. He lies beside her, trailing his satin finger along her collarbone.

He moves close to hiss (harshly) into her ear: "You are mine, Sarah. And you are infinite."

--

THE END (ah, happily ever after!)

Just something short, based on a dream I had. Sorry if it's confusing, and sorry if my attempts at any semblance of realism (or smut) failed miserably. I'll finish up my other story at some point, hopefully soon. Also, if you got this far, PLEASE REVIEW: I am not averse to editing. Really. This is probably not as polished as it should be, but I don't technically have the time for this as it is. ;) Also, sorry for posting this three times (if you got three notification emails); my section breaks weren't working.