Beware of Goblin Gifts
I don't own it,
Wish I did.
And don't blame me!
The muse is loose!
(Taken from the A.C. Smith novel)
For a moment, they regarded each other, adversaries trying to size each other up at the outset of a long contest. Thunder rumbled. Then Jareth raised his left arm, and made a large gesture with his hand. Sarah looked around, thinking that he was summoning assistance. When she faced him again, a glowing crystal had appeared in his hand. "I've brought you a gift, Sarah," he said, holding it out to her.
She paused. She could not trust him. "What is it?"
"A crystal, nothing more. Except that if you look into it ... it will show you your dreams."
Professor Sarah Williams drove the familiar lanes with a wistful smile on her lovely face. She was home. The area had not changed much in her absence. It was still the same sleepy little town with the same sleepy little buildings and the same quaint little park. Sarah smiled to herself secretively, one of the reasons she'd agreed to take the assignment to teach at the little college she was on staff at was because it was situated in a little town much like this one. Her drive toward the old homestead took her in the direct path of the park. It had not changed, and that pleased Sarah. From the road going past she caught a glimpse of the lazy stream that filled a pond where beautiful swans swam. But she didn't have time to stop and reclaim them; she was hurrying to reach her destination, home.
Pulling up in front of the old Victorian she took a moment to admire the dwelling. It had been a few years since she'd last seen the house. She had a very busy schedule, what with teaching and writing, and had very little free time of late. Her life was busy and full and she was very happy with how things were turning out for her. Leaning on the side of her car, she looked up at the windows of the second floor bedroom. Home, she sighed peacefully. Home.
"Are you planning on standing there all afternoon?" a voice asked curtly.
Sarah blinked and brought her gaze down to the woman standing on the porch with a touch of a scowl on her face. For a moment the girl remembered another time when Karen had stood scowling at her from the porch. "Hello Karen," she greeted her stepmother politely. "I was just admiring the classic lines of the house," she sighed.
The look on her stepmother's face was one of skepticism. "I'm putting you in your old room, if that's alright." Karen stated curtly. "I thought you'd be most comfortable in there… and…" she stopped herself from going any further. "It was very thoughtful of you to come a day early."
Sarah took her suitcase from the trunk of the car, and walked up toward the porch. "Well I wanted to spend some time with the family," she said by way of explanation. "I don't get to see much of any of you, what with my job, and Daddy being so wrapped up in law cases." She stepped onto the porch, coming face to face with her stepmother. "And Toby will be leaving soon for college…"
Karen nodded, agreeing with the girl. "We are all so busy these days." She opened the front door, allowing Sarah to step into her childhood home.
Even though she was now thirty almost thirty-one, and a full professor, this place could make Sarah feel like a girl once more. "It looks the same," she marveled as she stepped into the foyer. "Everything looks the same."
"One does not change a classic," Karen insisted quietly. "Would you like me to take you up?"
"No," Sarah waved at the woman. "I'm sure you're busy getting dinner ready. I'll just show myself up," the young woman insisted. She smiled at her stepmother and said, "I'm so glad to be back home."
"We're glad to have you home," Karen said sounding sincere. "I laid out fresh towel for you," she said before turning and heading toward her kitchen.
Sarah looked at the winding staircase and smiled. How many a fantasy it had fired, how many a dream it had inspired. She paused to look at the lovely antique clock, one of Karen's prized possessions, now on display in the alcove built in. Then shifting her weight she carried the heavy suitcase up the stairs and to the landing of the second floor hall. Her bedroom door was the first on the right hand side. Toby, her brother's room was just across the hall. The room her father and stepmother slept in was down the hall and to the right. She remembered Karen sleeping in Toby's room for the first six months after he was born, and the canopy bed that eventually ended up in her room. That bed sat in her room even now, awaiting her like a comforting old friend.
Taking a moment she noticed that even the wall paper had not been changed, and yet it looked nearly as fresh as the day it had been put up. She looked at the arched woodwork and the little leaded opaque glass lights that hung like upside down tulips. 'Home', she thought to herself affectionately. Her bedroom door was shut; Karen kept the room upstairs closed off. A tingle of excitement filled Sarah as her fingers gripped the knob of her door. The hinges softly creaked as the door opened and Sarah looked into what had been her private sanctuary for years. Her room, her private place, her fortress of dreams.
Stepping into the room and flicking on the light switch didn't dampen the excitement of being home. It was smaller than she'd remembered, perhaps not as vivid. Still it was home, she was home. She dropped her case on the bed and began to unpack for her stay. She'd been thrilled when the high school had contacted her, asking her to be the inspirational speaker at the graduation ceremony. She had graduated from that very school herself, and to be asked back to speak was exhilarating. But it was not the real reason Sarah was back, even if they had not asked her to speak she'd be here. Toby was graduating, and she would not miss that for the world. For Toby she would move the stars, she thought to herself.
"Sarah," her stepmother's voice carried up to the second floor. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Yes, thank you," Sarah called back. "I'll be right down." She finished hanging her clothes and her robe with its academic hood and placed her suitcase in the back of the closet. She was had to bend down, and stoop over to place it where she wanted it. When she stood up she was surprised to fine herself staring at a vest with an amber broach. "Well I'll be," she murmured softly. "My old vest…." Her fingers removed the vest from the hanger and she carried it with her as she went back down to the kitchen. "Hey, look what I found in my closet." She called out to Karen who was pouring two mugs of fresh brewed tea.
"Oh Lord," Karen exclaimed. "I haven't seen that in years." She placed the mugs on the table and laughed. "I remember when we couldn't get you out of it. I forgot it was even in there. I'll bet you find a lot of your old clothes in there. And by the look of you, miss-rail-thin, they'd all still fit!"
"Mom gave me the broach you know," Sarah said wistfully her fingers moving over the gold filigree and amber cabochon. She didn't speak of her mother often, it still hurt too much. "She and I found this vest in a shop in SoHo." Taking a seat at the table, Sarah felt comfortable enough to share the moment with Karen. "It was just before I turned fifteen~ remembered?"
"I do," Karen reached across the table and held her stepdaughter's hand. "You spent a lot of time with Linda that summer, and into the early fall…." Karen gave Sarah's hand a squeeze. "She gave you such lovely gifts that year. I recall some of them, a music box, some costumes, books~ truly lovely gifts."
Tears, unshed, shown in the green eyes. "She was really something, wasn't she?"
"She'd be so proud of you," Karen assured her. "You're the youngest professor on staff at Caberfae University, that's nothing to sneeze at you know."
"I know," Sarah agreed quietly. "I just wish she'd lived to see it…" Sarah remembered the day of her high school graduation. And of the misery she'd felt learning that her mother and Jeremy had been lost in a tragic auto accented on their way to the ceremony. "I think she'd have understood my change of course, don't you?"
Karen smiled wistfully and nodded. "Drink your tea dear, don't let it go cold."
Sarah sipped the warm fluid and looked at the vest, now in her lap. "What time is the graduation tomorrow, and where's Toby?"
"Toby is off with his new buddies," Karen didn't sound too pleased. "Most likely they are pulling some prank, bunch of little hooligans. I sometimes wonder what gets into them; they act more like… imps than boys sometimes." She poured more tea, "The ceremony starts at three, I'm so glad they decided to have a Sunday afternoon ceremony instead of the evening one like you had."
Sarah returned to her room, sat on her bed and reminisced about the days when this room was her everything. She heard the door slam down stairs and then the raised voices. Karen was arguing with someone and the voice was too young to be Sarah's father. Sarah laid the vest on the bed, moved to her door and listened.
"I don't care how far she came she can just turn around and go back!" a young male voice bellowed.
"Don't talk that way," Karen snapped. "It's rude and it's…"
"I don't care!" Toby's voice was filled with loathing. "I don't know why she had to go and accept their stupid offer to speak…" He was now stomping his way up the stairs. "She's just trying to embarrass me, as usual."
"Your sister is not trying to embarrass you!" Karen called at his back. "She worked very hard to get to where she is and you should be proud of her Toby!"
Sarah heard the door across the hall slam and she shuddered. She Backed away from the door, fearful that he'd find her there and think she was spying. She remembered her teen years, and the feeling of being under surveillance at all times. She sat down on her bed and gave into a moment of despair. He didn't want her here; Toby didn't want her here at all. Sarah was not even sure she could blame him. After all this was the first time in three years she'd even been home. She'd missed birthdays and holidays and vacations, not to mention his big debut on the High School stage. Now he didn't want her here.
Sarah didn't hear the light tapping on the door; she was too buried in a healthy dose of self pity. The door creaked open and Karen popped he head in. "I'm sorry," she offered quietly. "He'll be glad you're here once he settles down."
"No he won't," Sarah differed gently. "But it's alright, I understand. He's not very different from how I was when daddy married you, is he?"
Karen came in and closed the door. "Actually I think he's worse," she inclined her head in the direction of the room across the hall. "He's so… changeable right now. One moment he's the sweetest kid who ever lived, the next he's…."
"Yeah," Sarah sighed. "I know." She laughed but not with any real humor. "Kids," she rolled her eyes, "You should see some of the ones I teach."
Though she was laughing, Karen could see that Sarah was now hurting. "Sarah, don't let him get to you…"
"It's his graduation," Sarah held up her hand. "I'm going to give him a few moments to simmer, and then I'm confronting him." She stood up. "I'm not the only speaker for the graduation, I'm sure I'll never be missed if I have to cancel."
Her shoulders slumping Karen shook her head, "It's not right, it's not fair, not to you." She choked back her tears and said as calmly as she could, "Dinner is at seven."
She waited half an hour before she opened her door and ventured across the hall. She tapped lightly on his door, and was answered with silence. Resolving not to be easily put off, Sarah tapped again, this time louder. There was no answer, and she then called out, "Toby, its Sarah."
"Go away," the muted angry reply came through the door.
Taking hold of the handle she twisted it, found the door unlocked and she pushed it open. "Do you really want me to leave?"
The boy on the bed looked up at her from under the ragged long hair cut. He was not the sweet little boy she'd remembered. He was tall now, taller than she, and long-limbed. Though he was slender he was not skinny, his bones were covered by well toned muscles that did as he told them. His face was the most changed high cheekbones and classic lines. His jaw was set, and his pretty baby mouth had grown into a generous man's mouth with well formed lips. His stormy eyes blazed, "Yes," he snarled at her. "I want you to leave." He heaved a long and ragged breath. "I never wanted you to come back! I didn't invite you, did I?"
Her heart felt as if it were about to break, for a moment in the fading light he looked like someone else, someone she'd forced from her memory long ago. "Alright Toby, I'll go," she exited his room, holding back the tears that were burning in her eyes. She opened the door to her room and stepped in quickly, too quickly. The door didn't properly latch and remained ajar; Sarah moved to her bed and fell back onto it allowing her tears to fall. She clutched the vest to her chest, fingering the amber pin, seeking some kind of strength to do what she felt she must.
He opened his door and heard her sobs; a faint smile crept to his lips. A Cold and cruel utterly charming smile. He leaned on the wall beside her door, listening to her misery, and rejoicing having caused her some measure of pain. Through the crack he could see her reflection in the mirror of her vanity as she lay on her bed sobbing. Sarah was not the only thing he saw in the mirror and his smile deepened. He watched for a few moments, elated at having hurt her. The elation faded as he heard the familiar sounds of their father's car pulling into the drive way. He looked at the mirror and saw that Sarah had not heard. He smoothed his hair and headed down the stairs.
Robert called out as he entered, "Daddy's home," just as he had for years. He smiled as Karen came to greet him with outstretched arms. He looked up to find his handsome teenaged son leaning over the rail of the banister watching his parent's sweet evening greeting. "Toby," he said with a smile for the boy. He then looked at Karen. "Where's Sarah?"
"In her room," Toby said coming down. "What's for dinner, I'm famished." He walked past his parents who both looked up at the second floor.
"Did he upset Sarah?" Robert asked quietly.
"I don't know," Karen answered truthfully. "I'll go tell her it's time for dinner." She moved up the stairs and halted before reaching the door, hearing the sobs. She entered the room and moved to hold her stepdaughter comfortingly.
Sarah came down, eyes red and bloodshot. She took her place quietly and listened to her father speaking about his golf game and his new partnership. Once or twice she looked up to find Toby glaring at her with an intensity she found hard to fathom. It was easier for her to just look at her plate she found.
"So, have you decided what your speech is going to be on?" Robert asked half way through the dinner.
Sarah looked up at him, gulped down the mouthful of food and said quietly. "I'm not going to be speaking."
"Sarah," Robert looked astonished. "Do you have cold feet?" He teased. "Once you get on that stage you'll be fine… just like your mother always was."
"I'm not going to be here, I won't be at the graduation; I'm leaving." She answered quietly. Her father began to question her, and Karen stared at Toby. Sarah stood up, "I'm leaving in the morning… they can get another speaker…" she ran from the dining room not stopping until she reached her room and once more dissolved into tears.
Robert looked at his son, "What did you say to her?" Threateningly he rose from his seat at the head of the table. "Have you any idea of how hard it is for her to be here?"
"Hard," Toby repeated with malice. "She's center stage, hard…"
Karen's hand on Robert's sleeve halted him from going further. Her eyes warned him, and pleaded that he stop. Robert looked at the boy who was full of what seemed to be unreasonable anger. "Your sister was asked to speak, and you would deny her this honor?"
"Let her speak," Toby said leaving his chair and the table. "I won't be there to hear it," he sulked past his parents on his way up to his room. "Everybody loves Sarah!"
"He doesn't know," Karen whispered urgently. "We never told him when Linda died, not exactly. He has no idea it was on her graduation night. He was not yet four when it happened… he doesn't remember."
"Still," Robert winced remembering the state officer bringing the message to the door and poor Sarah's face. "I don't know what's gotten into him these days."
"It's that crowd he's running with," Karen murmured. "I don't know what they are into, but it's not good."
Toby looked out his window; his room was as dark as the night sky. He looked at the stars and counted them, he was familiar with everyone. He even knew some of them by name. He wondered if Sarah were still awake, would his entering the room would disturb her if she were asleep. If only the school had not contacted her, she'd have stayed away he'd told himself. But she was here, and would have to be dealt with. He would have trouble sneaking into her room, but knew if he was careful he could do it.
Dark swirls of color filled the mirror, as did dozens of eyes. They watched the girl, and plotted their revenge. She would pay for her crimes against them, they swore. This time they would use the boy as their instrument of vengeance. One shape moved out of the mirror and across the floor. A second one and then a third joined them. Soon the space around the bed was filled with dark creatures staring at the girl. One of the creatures moved closer, took a pouch from its belt and reached in. He then blew the contents of his hand at the sleeping girl. She twitched and mumbled, but didn't awaken. Bulging eyes were accompanied by slack mouths and beaky noses. One creature moved across the head board of the pretty canopy bed, and draped a silk scarf down until it was dangling over the girl. The creature then snickered as it scurried away. Some of the creatures danced wild little dances; others moved her belongings even hiding her shoes. One of them leapt under her bed and came out with a wooden maze game. He left it on the floor next to her nightstand.
Sunday morning Sarah felt as if she'd been run over by a Mack truck and looked nearly as bad. She stumbled out of the bed, her feet connecting with the wooden maze game. She cried out in pain as the edges dung into her feet. Her head was pounding and her vision was as blurry as if she'd tied one on. Trying to remember the last time she saw the maze game, Sarah shook her head. She had been sure she'd put that away long ago. It should have been in a box up in the attic along with some other toys she was saving in the hopes of passing them on. It should not have been under her bed, and most certainly not on her floor. Giving the toy a shove with her injured foot she moved it back under the bed and out of the way. When she stood up, she winced, having now stood on one of the small metal balls that were used to traverse the maze board.
She stumbled into her bath and prayed the shower would revive her. Half way through the shower she was not sure it was helping. In fact she felt as if the water pelting her was making her feel worse, if that were possible. Once out of the shower she opened her medicine cabinet and looked for something that would help. She found the tablets that Karen had in each bathroom's cabinet and took some quickly. Then to give them time to work she went back to bed, praying the thunder in her head would stop. It seemed that every sound in the house was magnified. Sarah worried that the pain was making her delusional; she'd have sworn that the shadows against the wall were moving and dancing.
Karen poured coffee and worried, she didn't want Sarah to leave. However she wasn't sure she could stop her either. It had been too long since the girl had come home, and Karen wanted her to stay. It was not fair of Toby to treat his sister so badly. Not after all the time she'd spent lavishing on him when she could have been dating and having fun with friends her own age. Karen fretted that Toby was becoming an emotional tyrant.
Robert came into the kitchen carrying the Sunday paper and reading the headlines. "More trouble in Harrisburg," he muttered as he moved to the breakfast nook.
Karen poured his coffee and asked. "Is Sarah up? I thought I heard her."
"She's got a head ache," Robert replayed. "I looked in on her and she said she'll be down a little later." He looked at the coffee, "Where's the creamer, it's not on the table again."
Karen walked over to the pantry and found the creamer container on a shelf. "I swear we have gremlins." She put the container down brusquely. "I keep finding things out of place, and Millie swears it's not her moving them, and Toby is nowhere to be found when they go MIA." Her husband shrugged, poured creamer into his coffee and read the paper.
Unseen in the hall leading to the kitchen, Toby looked from his parents toward the ceiling. He needed her out of that room, and he needed it now. He moved silently, stealthily up the stairs and tapped on the door. "Hey Sarah, breakfast is ready." He opened the door and looked in.
Sarah was seated on the bed putting on her shoes, and looked over at him. "I'll be down in a moment," she answered flatly.
Toby came into the room. "You don't look so good…"
"I don't feel so good," she answered. "I feel like I'm going to explode."
"Hangover," Toby teased unkindly. "You'd go and become a closet drinker?"
Sarah looked up at him and began to snicker at the very idea. "No," she stood up on unsteady legs. "I think I must have eaten something that didn't agree with me, I'm going to have to check for food allergies when I get back to work."
Toby reached out and steadied her. "Need help there?"
"Can I trust you not to throw me down the stairs?" She asked half serious. Sarah was sure she didn't like the gleam in his stormy eyes. "I'll be fine; I'll get there on my own."
"Come on," He took her elbow and guided her out of the room, he saw the mirror fill with fog as he led her out of the door and into the hall. After a cup of coffee and some dry toast, Sarah felt better. She sat talking with her father and stepmother while her meal settled. Toby excused himself and moved swiftly up stairs knowing his time was short.
He entered Sarah's room and moved to the mirror. "Did you see, I made her cry… she's going to feel all the pain you want her to." He said swiftly. "There's very little time right now… I'll do what I promised." He was now breathing heavy with excitement. "And I'll be rewarded, right? He'll be pleased with me again?"
The images in the mirror smiled back at the boy, assuring him of his rewards to come.