Title: The Reality of Memories
Summary: Left alone to babysit Toby, yet again, Sarah must face her fears. Did she learn the lessons that the Labyrinth has taught her, or is she doomed to make the same mistakes?
disclaimer (dĭs-klā'mər): noun
1. (law) a voluntary repudiation of a person's legal claim to something
2. denial of any connection with or knowledge of
©1986, 2007 The Jim Henson Company.
LABYRINTH is a trademark of The Jim Henson Company.
Labyrinth characters ©1986 Labyrinth Enterprises.
All rights reserved, but not by me.
All rights are reserved, but not by me. This short story is a work of fiction. All original characters in this story are fictional. Any similarities to actual persons, either living or deceased, are purely coincidental. Permission for the use of the non-original characters has not been requested by the author or granted by the licensor. This short story was written for your perusal and pleasure. No compensation, either financial or actual, has been collected or requested.
Plea for Reason: It's not plagiarism if I give credit. Passages in bold type only are lifted directly from Labyrinth--a novel based on the Jim Henson film, written by A.C.H. Smith, and published by Henry Hold & Company, New York. A little Solstice gift for you (and Sarah!) Enjoy!
Franco locked the front door to his rental, grateful for the muffler that he put on underneath his coat. It looked for all the world like a dark, charcoal grey, camel hair coat, but not everything is what it seems. Franco, dressed in a sharp tuxedo, skipped down the outdoors stairs of the apartment complex, the lake winds ruffling the front flip of his hair. Situated on the main avenue behind the lake, it was a very posh address—in August. The owner of the townhouse maintained the apartment as a summer vacation home, renting it out during the off-season. It worked out well for Franco; the owner only occupied the apartment for three weeks in the late summer. During that time, Franco stayed with his sister and her family under the pretense of watching her kids.
Now in December, with the bitter lake winds blowing in from the North, living in a summer home was not most cottage owners' idea of a vacation. In order to maintain the property value on the condominiums, owners sought out caretakers, people who would be willing to live on the shore of the lake during the winter and safeguard their property from freezing pipes, downed power lines, and the occasional theft. For Franco, it meant a lower rent than anywhere he applied for with a whole lot more amenities than he could have afforded. It also looked good on his résumé.
The weak, early winter sun hovered over the horizon as he drove through the streets of the quiet town. Franco loved this time of day when things were almost at a standstill waiting for the long night to start. He loved this time of year when everyone was so house-proud, gussying up their lawn with lit Nativity scenes and garish snowmen. He loved the town that he lived in with its gingerbread Victorian homes and manicured town-center park. The benches were empty now, those with spare time not wanting to be bothered to brush the remaining snow off the benches and sit in the brutal wind. Children opted to play indoors and adults hurried to the warmth and comfort of their homes.
Franco turned onto the asphalt drive and shut the engine off. A shiver shuddered across his shoulders. The three-season gabardine coat was no match for the weather, and yet, he knew that it was more than the temperature that caused that reaction.
He could not put his finger on it, but there was magic in the air tonight. Something was going to come through a door tonight. He only hoped that he would be able to handle it.
The grandfather clock in the corner chimed six times for the hour as she came down the steps, dressed to the nines for the evening out. Her finery was only a compliment to how the house was bedecked for the season. The vibrant berry red dress contrasted the deep evergreen of the garland that wrapped around the banister, giving the overall appearance of a cardinal perched within a blue fir tree. Silver tinsel, threaded deep within the garland, merrily reflected the colored lights that encircled the street facing windows. Beacon candles, once a source of a light that pierced through the gloom to guide the weary, glowed in the center of each of the windows. In the scintillation that effused the foyer, the glint from the stones in her ears competed poorly against the overwhelming sparkle and dazzle from the holiday decorations.
"Sarah, thank you so much for being able to sit for Toby on such short notice," Karen called to her stepdaughter when she noticed the teen feeding her half-brother his dinner.
The middle-aged woman walked gingerly on her stilettos, the heels quietly clicking as she crossed onto the tiled kitchen floor to join the children. "Are you sure it's all right? I might be able to catch Mrs. Henderson before she goes to bed…"
"No, Karen, we'll be good for tonight," Sarah interrupted, lying through her teeth. She had hoped for a quiet evening to work on her English lit paper that she was struggling through, but her stepmother corralled her into babysitting Toby, yet again, at a moment's notice. Sarah busied herself with spooning strained carrots into the boy's waiting mouth, only to quickly scrape it off his chin. Terrified that some weird, maternal alarm would alert Karen to her simmering annoyance, Sarah focused on Toby's meal. Coo, wheedle, spoon, smile, spurt, scrape--anything to keep her from looking at the older woman. She had learned over the summer that when Circumstance closed one door, Opportunity usually opened another for her, even if it dropped her into an oubliette. "I'll probably read him T'was the Night Before Christmas after his bath." Or something, the little voice in her head added.
Looking rather dapper in a dark suit, Robert Williams joined the rest of the family as his wife gave their son a perfunctory kiss. "C'mon, sweetie. We don't want to be late." He moved to the other side of the table to give his daughter a kiss on her temple as Karen went into the foyer to retrieve their coats from the closet, the taps of her heels muffled by the carpeting. The teen-aged girl barely registered the touch to her head as she concentrated on the deep golden goop that spewed forth from between the toddler's pressed lips. There was no way she was going to eat dinner herself tonight. Toby decided at that point to pick up a carrot coated Cheerio and attempt to feed his father.
"No thanks, champ." Robert chuckled as he ruffled the tow-headed tot. "I don't want to spoil my appetite! Oh, and Sarah, don't forget to turn off the lights before you go to bed."
"I won't, Daddy." Really! Does he think I'll forget! He only tells me every night!
"Try to put him down by 8 o'clock, Sarah. We should be home around midnight."
She's such a stickler for schedules. "Okay. Have a good time!"
Sarah bantered with Toby, trying to convince him to eat his dinner, all the while straining so that she might hear the quiet conversation of her parents. She could just about make out Karen's concerned inquiry to her father as they walked out the door. "Do you think it's all right…"
"Oh, no you don't. Two helpings of Pat the Bunny and three times around with Goodnight, Moon before bed is plenty for me, and it will have to be for you." Sarah got up from the floor where she was reading to her brother, long hair swaying around her shoulders. "Besides, wouldn't you like a ride on the Sarah-pony?"
"Ride!" Toby held his arms up. Obligingly, she lifted him up and swung him to her back, her arms locking underneath his rump for stability. A boisterous jaunt up the stairs, punctuated with much rearing, whinnies, and squeals of delight, was followed by a once around the bedroom and a pass at the hall light switch before his dismount onto their parents' bed.
"Thank you for turning off the lights. Now, off to bed with you, young man," Sarah said in a mock stern voice as she placed him into his crib. Toby, not ready to concede to sleep, refused to be put down. He stood in his bed, hands clenched around the rails, already performing the keeling whine that could explode into a full-blown cry in a matter of moments. Not moved by the normalcy of his routine, she held a finger to her lips in a classic gesture. "Shhhh. You don't want to wake Lancelot now, do you?"
By the pale, reflected light of the neighbor's Christmas lawn decorations bouncing off the patchy snow, Toby quieted and turned to find the cherished bear. When she first gave it to him nearly six months ago, he was inseparable from it. Lancelot was with him from his first meal in the morning, through the adventures of the day, having near catastrophes in every store if Toby threw a tantrum, sat in the bathroom to watch the boy have his bath, and was snuggled into every night, safe and sound tucked in the crib. A few seconds of silence in the darkened room ended with a query. "Ance'ot?"
Sarah turned back towards the crib. "What's up, Toby? Oh, did we forget Lancelot downstairs? Okay, let's go back to find him." Once again, she lifted him up and carried him down the now shadowed stairs.
The foyer was illuminated by an eerie array of multi-hued circles around the windows from the Christmas decorations. Sporadic color spilled from the living room across the floor, creating a dance hall effect in the entryway. Sarah descended the split staircase with Toby riding her hip, his knuckle wedged firmly between his lips. She tried not to jump when the clock in the corner started to chime the hour.
Toby felt his sister's torso jolt in reaction to the unexpected sound and started to whine. The sound only heightened Sarah's nervousness.
Silly me. What do I have to be nervous about? It's only the clock.
Time is short…
Sarah arrived at the main level of the house, her heart pounding harder than when she started on the stairs. Quickly, she entered into the living room, the sound of Toby sucking hard on his fingers loud in her ears, but not loud enough to drown out the sound of…
rustling. There was the sound of rustling paper. No, it was not quite the sound of paper, more subtle than that. A bit more tinkle to it, too. Sarah swung around to survey the randomly lit room.
Toby was starting to sniffle now. Sarah knew that wailing was about to commence if she did not find Lancelot very soon. But where was that sound coming from?
She turned towards the tree. The blinking lights were enough to distract her to want to look away, but that was where the rustling sound was coming from.
"Eight o'clock. If Mom knew you weren't in bed, she'd have my head right now."
"Hey, lady, you want to take your head off, don't you?" "Sure she does!" "It's lots of fun."
Toby's focus was now on the blinking tree and the sound that emanated from it. Holding Toby close to her chest, Sarah approached the tree. Random colors, some brightly lit, all ablaze, now only a third winking, then sudden black. The next thing to break the silence of the room was a small gasp--a reaction of hearing the sound of something tearing through cloth.
Random colors, some brightly lit.
Without putting her brother down, Sarah craned her head this way and that to scan around the tree. Delicate glass orbs, suspended by wire tinsel, shivered and gently rattled their interior chimes. Needle heavy boughs swayed almost imperceptibly in a non-existent breeze. Toby complained and squirmed a bit due to the uncomfortable position his sister was forcing him into as she leant over to examine beneath the tree.
The sounds of snorting and grunting were definitely being produced from beneath and behind the tree. Moist sounds of consumption where there should have been none. Licking her dry lips in nervousness, Sarah pursed her lips as she attempted to cover Toby's ears by pressing his head to her shoulder.
Now only a third winking.
She let out a shrill whistle. The sound pierced through the room, startling Toby, who started to cry. The sounds from the tree ceased.
Then sudden black.
With a burst of chaos, boxes and odd shaped gifts flew from under the tree to the outskirts as a pale, furred creature flung itself from under the tree. Still clutching a now terrified screaming boy, Sarah turned her back to the corner in an effort to protect them. She felt a mass press to her legs and snuffle her hands.
Random colors, some brightly lit.
"Merlin! You old hound! I let you in for a bit and this is how you repay me?"
The old sheepdog, his face covered in the crumbs of his newly found Christmas present, gave Sarah his best canine smile--lolling tongue and all. Still berating her pet, Sarah shooed out the animal before attempting to calm down Toby and clean up the mess. Her attempts to cheer the boy were failing miserably; Toby was overtired, over stimulated, cranky, and without Lancelot. Still on her hands and knees, Sarah gazed into her brother's sniveling face. Tears ran with mucus beneath bleary, red eyes over cherubic cheeks.
"Maybe Mom washed Lancelot and he's downstairs in the dryer. I'll go check."
The maître d' placed the middle-aged couple in a velveteen appointed circular booth. The seating arrangement was a favorite with couples, as it could be as intimate or not as the occupants so wished. Or, perhaps it seemed to be the popular choice, as most of the permanent seating around the dining room were these booths to allow ample space for the dance floor. An avid 'people-watcher', the maître d' casually glanced at the newly seated pair as they perused the menu. Not at the edges of the bench, but not so close to each other to be touching knees. An established pair, he thought to himself as he readied for the next guests to arrive. Probably a Christmas date with a sitter at home, minding the children.
Candle flames flickered in time with the couples on the dance floor. As the flames swayed and sputtered, the dancers whirled and fox-trotted to avoid colliding. Shadows sat in the curves of the booths, waiting to be intimate with each other while the dancers were not looking. The parquet still maintained its high polish gleam, reflecting the rhinestones in some of the women's shoes and the high polish from the men's. Glitz was the catchword of the moment, and the room was glitzing.
"You look wonderful tonight, sweetie."
The blonde smiled, nothing more than a small curl at the side of her mouth, but it spoke of things that she made sure he learned early in their relationship that she expected him to ask of her. He did not disappoint her. Her smile spread to accommodate her sense of power, knowing that she had trained her husband well.
"Oh, it's nothing, I suppose." A lack of response did not indicate the end of the conversation. Her spouse was not at a loss for expectant glances; nor was she one to miss an opportunity to speak her mind. "I was just thinking about Sarah."
"She really is a sweet girl—very loving with Toby." She placed the cumbersome menu on the table to free a hand for the wine glass. "I'm glad to see her mature so."
Robert waited until the sommelier finished pouring his wife's wine. Pride and love made his eyes gleam more so than the fine vintage. "She's come around. I knew she would."
"I suppose. It's just been so sudden. Almost overnight."
"I wouldn't say so," he countered.
"You don't see her as often as I do. It's like she's a more centered person since the start of school." A swirl and a decorous sniff preceded the tasting.
"And this troubles you?"
A note of exasperation filled her voice, "I did say it was nothing."
"Ah, but I know your 'nothings' from your 'nothings'." Robert rejoined as he lifted his glass to toast his wife before he prepared to place their order.
"I'll only be a couple of minutes, okay?" She called over her shoulder to Toby. Framed by the doorway, Sarah tried not to feel remorse for having to pen him up in his high chair while she continued the search for Lancelot, but it just was not a good idea to bring the toddler down the obscured stairwell into the unfinished basement. Toby vented his frustration and crankiness loudly.
Standing at the top of the flight, she peered down through the inky space, hoping to see the bottom landing. No such luck. The light from the kitchen only reached so far; it spilled through the open portal around Sarah to fall across the first three steps fully. The next two steps down were in a dusky twilight--beyond could have been No Man's Land for all that she could see.
The stairs themselves were part of the original structure of the house. Why no one had thought to replace them with a concrete flight was beyond Sarah's understanding, not that she would normally concern herself with such matters. Sarah only went into the basement at Karen's insistence, usually to collect the laundry or to put some of her old things into storage. During daylight hours, the atmosphere that enshrouded basement was still as dark, but the space was not as ominous. She was always nervous that one of the old, wooden slats would give way, granting her a dizzying view of the earthen basement floor at a distance far enough for her to break a leg. Not trusting the banister either, Sarah placed an open palm along the cool, rough wall.
Thirteen steps. That's all there are. Thirteen steps. The seventh one creaks a bit… Sarah kept a litany of words running through her head, anything not to think about what she could not see and to try not to concentrate on the escalating howls of her brother. …then I know I only have six more to go down…
"She chose -- down!" "Too late now!" "Down, down, down, down... Down, hand her down, boys. We'll all go to town, boys. Down, down, down, down. Down, hand her down, boys. Never a frown, boys. Down, down, down, down."
Sarah hesitated momentarily as a shiver ran down her spine, down through her legs, and out the soles of her feet. Was it the damp, cool cellar air or the memory of the song? Getting a grip on her nerves and the wall, she continued.
In the pitch black that she had stepped into, Sarah's right hand now had to do the job of that her eyes could not. Undetermined lumps contoured into her splayed hand as she pressed it into the wall for support. Razor-like edges traced lines of pain along the fleshy portions of her palm as it traveled a path over the small pebbles embedded within the rough-hewn wall; the earth was damp beneath the pads of her fingertips—
Sarah stopped in her tracks, her feet on descending steps, and her equilibrium fighting gravity to halt her downward progression.
The breath from her lungs was in short, breakneck pants, matching her heart rate. Hypersensitive hearing accentuated Toby's crying to a fevered pitch and the shifting of the step beneath her lower foot. The seventh step. She forced an exhale to steady her racing heart and continued down the remaining stairs. Almost there. Just a little less than halfway...
"This is not the way!" "Go back while you still can!" "Take heed and go no farther!"
Her nose and mouth were full of the cool, dank taste of the earthy air as she swallowed down her paranoia and fear caused by the voices from her past. "This is a piece of cake," she muttered to strengthen her resolve. Finally, counting down the steps to the thirteenth, she moved forward with her arm outstretched. Come on- -I know you're there… Finally her open hand encountered the cord with which to turn the light on with. Yanking hard, Sarah took a deep breath to cleanse her mind and lungs. Once the space filled with light, it was easy to dismiss the terrors that her mind created.
"Don't take no notice of them. They're just False Alarms. You get a lot like them in the Labyrinth. It means you're on the right track."
Confidence buoyed her step towards the dryer. Crouching down to peer inside, she let out of sigh of frustration and disappointment--the dryer was empty. A cursory look into the washer for good measure yielded the same information. A husky tenor voice, one that sounded like it was used to the echo of a cave, filled her head.
Sarah turned to ascend the stairs and face her irate brother. Somehow, someway, that kid was going to go to sleep - - without Lancelot.
To heck with it. I'm leaving the light on.
The first course wine choice was sublime to suit the well-seasoned yet delicate nature of the prawn tartare. They were into the bisque before Karen continued. "Do you think it's all right to be asking Sarah to sit so often?"
Robert used the side of his spoon to portion off a piece of the buttered crouton. The deep blush of the soup filled the new channel as he ladled the bread. "We don't go out that often."
"Yet every time we do, we ask her to watch Toby. This was to be the first time with a new sitter. Perhaps if we were to ask someone more mature, maybe Mrs. Henderson, to watch him, then maybe Sarah would go out more often herself."
"Nonsense! She has ample opportunity to go out with her friends."
Karen stirred her soup. The smooth chowder held the pattern of the swirl in her attempt to cool the broth. "But she doesn't. I don't want Sarah to feel resentful toward Toby because she's his only sitter."
"Sweetie, you said yourself that she's matured. She's not throwing those tantrums anymore. Life isn't one huge drama for her. She's not resentful."
Karen leveled a withering glare at her dinner and life companion. "And when was the last time you were a 16-year-old girl?"
Her glare was returned with a roguish grin, "Never, and aren't you glad for that?"
She waited until the busboy removed the soup bowls from the table before she responded. "What I'm saying is that although you are her father, you don't know what's going on in her mind."
"Sweetie, I was the middle son of five boys. It was my job to watch over the younger two," Robert reached for the wire basket that was between them and removed a breadstick. He neatly snapped it into two and buttered an edge as he continued, "I understand resentment. Yes, Sarah used to hate sitting for Toby, but, as you pointed out, she's more mature now. I credit your level treatment with her for that change." This elicited a smile from his wife. "You're a wonderful mother. Stop worrying so much. Sarah loves Toby."
Karen took a sip from her refreshed wine glass as they waited for the arrival of the next course. "Yes, she does. But, that doesn't mean she doesn't resent us for making her watch over him."
Nothing was working. Another bouncy ride up the staircase only served to cause Toby's crying to become a vibrato instead of a sustained note. Singing, story telling, star counting—nothing was getting through to him. All Sarah knew was that Toby wanted Lancelot and she had no idea where the old bear could be.
For forty-five minutes she tried to console him. She tried to distract him, but he was too tired to be able to pay attention to anything. She tried to replace Lancelot with another of her stuffed toys—a rakish squirrel with an eye patch and a plumed cap—but Toby merely threw the offering to the floor. Books met their fate in the same fashion. As a last recourse, she left him alone in the room, safe in his crib, with the lights out and the door slightly ajar. Toby's howls bounced off the walls and rang through the air without end. Even the walls seemed to reverberate from the onslaught. At long last, Sarah vented her own frustration.
"I need some help here!"
"But shouldst thou have need of us ..." "Yes, if you need us ..."
Understanding dawned on her. "I'll call."
Sarah entered the bedroom. "Alright! Alright, already!" She exclaimed as she reached into the crib to lift her screaming brother. Toby grabbed at her hair as it cascaded over the railing, yanking hard. "Ow! Stop that! Let go!"
Winking lights from the neighbor's lawn decorations were barely a distraction upstairs in the bedroom. Very soon though, as the night grew longer, they would wink out of existence. But for now, they served to illuminate the sheer curtains that covered the french doors to the false balcony outside her parent's room. There was a time when Sarah believed that doors to nowhere did lead somewhere, but now she knew better. They only led somewhere if you allowed yourself to undertake the journey, and right now, she wished to take Toby to the beautiful Land of Nod.
"What do you want, Toby, huh?" She asked her brother rhetorically, her eyes narrowing as her voice filled with sarcasm. No longer could she take the screaming baby. No longer was she going to be the understanding older sibling. Now, Sarah had come to the end of her rope. Toby quieted, if only to listen to his sister's voice, trying to comprehend what she was saying.
"You want to go to sleep, isn't that right, Toby? But, you can't because you don't have Lancelot, do you? Well, you don't have to have him, you know. You just need to have your right words."
She held the toddler close to her chest, check to check. His blond, baby fine curls tickled her lips as she whispered in his ear. "All you need to do is wish."
The walls held their collective breath for the words.
"I wish," she continued, crooning in his ear. "I wish…"
Then the lights winked out.
Franco watched as the couple from table fourteen strolled out the door, she tottering ever so slightly on her heels, he with his hand at her waist, gently supporting. They had wined and dined and danced to the respectable hour of eleven before asking for the check. Early by most patrons' standards, but who was he to compare? Franco's hand discreetly moved to his tuxedo trouser pocket. The gentleman has been rather generous. Whether it was due to the wine, the season, or the service, he did not know. Franco did know this—it was good to be the maître d'.
The couple moved quietly through the parking lot towards their sedan, coats wrapped tightly against the pervasive chill of the night. Perhaps they had both had a bit too much wine, or perhaps they were laying down the night's events to pleasant memories, but they traversed the short distance in comfortable silence. Only the crunch of old snow in slush under his shoes broke the tranquil dark. Within seconds, they were alongside their vehicle. Robert gallantly opened the door for his wife and she was about to step in, when she spied something.
"You're welcome, Guinevere," Robert bantered.
"No, not you silly," she giggled, looking up into his face before reaching into the car. She heavily pawed her way in, bending through the gap between the front seats to snag the discarded bear from behind the driver's side. "Toby's bear. He doesn't go anywhere without Lancelot." She held up her prize to show him as she stood upright.
"Well, it seems that old Lancelot here had a night out for himself."
"I could only imagine the time Sarah had putting Toby down without Lancelot." Concern covered Karen's face as she turned around in preparation to sit in the car.
Robert closed the door behind his wife before circling around the car to enter it himself. He settled himself in and adjusted his coat before he spoke with an air of conviction. "Every hardship is an opportunity in disguise. They'd manage. I'm sure that when we get home, both of them will be asleep." His eyes sidled to the right before he started the car. "Does this mean I'm not your Lancelot?"
In her inebriated state, Karen was not in her faculties to maintain her constant lady-like demeanor. She responded, with a snort, "Now I know where Sarah gets it from!"
She did not know how long it was after she heard the grandfather clock in the foyer chime twelve strikes for the hour when she heard the key in the front door.
She was exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and physically. It was all she could do to watch the sequence of the lights rotate through their paces. Random colors, some brightly lit, all ablaze, now only a third winking, then sudden black. With a sallow expression, Sarah's glazed look did not completely register the presence of anything else in the room. She sat on the couch, in a near fetal position, focused on the Christmas tree, lost within her own mind, with her own thoughts. Her father's mutterings were barely audible as he went about the house, unplugging the decorations that left puddles of light in the entryway. She did not hear her stepmother enter the room in her shoes.
The girl started at the sound of her name and turned to face her stepmother.
"How'd it go tonight?
Sarah averted her gaze. "It was a rough night."
Now only a third winking.
Karen held up her arm, revealing what she kept behind her back.
Then sudden black.
"I found him in the back seat tonight," Karen gave a graceful shrug in her woolen swing coat, the gestured exaggerated by the large collar. "I guess I forgot to bring him in when we came home from shopping this afternoon. I'll just bring this up to him now."
"No, Karen! Wait!"
Random colors, some brightly lit.
Sarah unfurled herself quickly and bolted towards the door after the older woman, but Karen was already on the first landing, the one with the side entry to her bedroom.
The same room her parents shared with Toby.
Sarah stood transfixed by the newel post, the skin over her knuckles stretched taut. She watched as Karen entered the room stealthily, not wanting to disturb the occupant. Sarah held her breath, terrified of what she might hear next.
Now only a third winking.
Nothing. The house was still quiet. Robert came out of the kitchen and berated her for leaving the basement light on. Not quite hearing him, Sarah could not remove her eyes from that first landing archway.
Then sudden black.
Karen emerged from the bedroom and stood at the guardrail, looking down at the young woman below. "There, all done, and he's in his crib. But, Sarah, please tell me where did you ever find that brown flotaki that Toby was sleeping on?"
Sarah blinked once, then again. Oh, God. She thinks… "Uhm, yeah. Lucille's parents were redecorating their basement and they were going to throw that rug out. Ah, I asked if I could take it." She shrugged in self-depreciation, "I like it."
"Well, do take that thing out of my bedroom now," her stepmother huffed as she descended the flight, "No wonder that thing smells so musty."
She took but a moment to watch as her father and stepmother went to the hall closet to hang their coats up before taking the stairs in twos. She slipped into the bedroom, hoping that her parents might have a nightcap downstairs before retiring for the night.
In the nearly pitch-black room that was punctuated by the pale light of the moonless night, Sarah crept towards the center, praying not to trip. The sheer panels that floated from their rod above the rectangular windows were blank slates, save for the milky glow of the cloudy winter sky. On kitten-quiet feet, she advanced towards the large dark patch that was on the floor. Leaning over, she grabbed a mass that seemed bunched up and gave it a good shake.
"Ludo! Wake up!" Sarah continued in a hiss, continually shaking the beast's shoulders. His groggy groan rumbled through the room before she continued. "Hush, Ludo! What are you still doing here? Hoggle and Sir Didymus have left already!"
Heavy lids opened to reveal deep puddles of dark warmth, still hazy with sleep. Ludo moaned again, only for Sarah to shush him once more, before he spoke. "Ludo sleepy."
"Oh, Ludo." With a heavy sigh of determination, Sarah tugged on his wrist, urging him to rise. "C'mon, we have to get you out of here."
Although she pulled as hard and she thought she could without hurting him, Sarah merely accomplished keeping Ludo from lying back down again. Situating herself underneath his shoulder, she coaxed the shaggy behemoth to his feet. She stopped suddenly, petrified mid-shift, when she heard the rustling of cotton nearby. With baited breath, she waited until Toby let out a small sleepy sigh as he rolled over in his crib before she moved towards the second floor doorway.
"That's some rug you have there." A quiet male voice said. Unable to the owner of the voice, Sarah stood still, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Be careful not to trip. You're dragging quite a bit of it behind you."
Without entering the dark room wholly from the landing, her father appraised the 'rug'. "Horns?"
Sarah swallowed her nervousness before answering in a whisper. "Yeah. Lucille's basement was a Western theme." She thought she heard her father mutter something about some people's lack of taste in interior design before he offered to help her take it out of the bedroom. "No! No, Daddy," she whispered emphatically. "I can handle this myself."
Half dragging, half pushing, Sarah guided Ludo through the door into the low-lit hallway. Discreet outlet lights illuminated the floor space, giving the causeway a yellow cast across the floor, much different from the effect the holiday lights created in the foyer. Grateful for the dimness, Sarah continued to guide her friend across the passage. Ludo, more asleep than anything else, scuffed his large, bare feet quietly across the floor, his arm and massive head draped over Sarah's shoulders. She prayed silently that her stepmother would choose to use the closer, stairway entry into the master bedroom than to come all the way up to the second storey. It was an eternity to Sarah before she was able to close her bedroom door behind them.
She leaned heavily against her door to assess the situation. Her room was darker than her parents; the window was smaller and the knick-knacks the filled the walls drank up any stray light greedily. It was after midnight, she was exhausted, her parents were tipsy, and she had the stuff of children's nightmares asleep on her floor--for there was Ludo, crumpled at the foot of her bed, using the corner of it as a pillow. His gentle, woofing breaths were more audible now that he was in a seated position.
How do I manage to get myself into these messes? Usually, her friends seem to come and go through a mirror, but she had no idea how to push Ludo through. Like tonight, she had wished that her friends could come and help her put her brother to sleep. As she passed by the mirror that was astride her parent's credenza, she saw the three of them, seated on the queen sized bed. Toby did not seem to notice their entry, he was still snuffling in her hair as she turned around in near shock that her wish…
Her wish! I did make a wish, didn't I?
She stepped gingerly over the sleeping giant's foot in her crossing the room to her vanity table. Placing one hand upon the glass and one on the tabletop, she gazed deep into the mirror to find her friend's reflection. "I wish that you would go home," she pleaded to his sleeping reflection, but he slept on. Sarah turned around, hopeful that her plea had some effect in the physical world, but Ludo's form was still slumped at the end of her bed.
There was a sigh from the hallway. In a near panic, Sarah whirled around and moved to her closet. Pulling aside the louvre doors, she opened her closet and pushed her clothes to one side. She was in the process of trying to get Ludo up and into her closet when there was a gentle knock at her bedroom door.
"Sarah, may I come in?"
"Oomph. Not right now, Karen! Ugh..."
Karen cracked the door just a bit, just enough so that her voice would not be muffled. "I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciated that you were able to sit for Toby on such short notice tonight. It really means a lot to your father and me when we are able to get out and act like a couple. I wouldn't normally ask you so suddenly, but the woman who I asked to babysit tonight canceled at the last minute." Karen continued to ramble. "I'm sure that when you decide to start dating, you'll understand. Either way, thank you." She paused, listening to the sounds of her stepdaughter struggling with something. "Do you need some help, dear? Should I ask your father…"
"No! No, I've got it under control." Sarah panted, barely closing the closet door as Karen looked into her room.
"All right, dear. Good night."
Eyes shut in silent prayer, her back pressed to the seam of the doors in her effort to keep them shut behind her, Sarah remained motionless until she heard the gentle click of the door jam to her bedroom door engage. She let out a deep breath once she heard the confirmation of her privacy before she moved to sit on the edge of her bed. Drained, she sat with her head bent, her hair forming a sheet obscuring the rest of the room from her sight. With her elbows resting heavily on her knees, she waited for her heart to stop pounding so painfully against her ribs. It took her a few seconds as she allowed her breathing to normalize before she realized that the closet doors had not split open yet from the pressure of the bulk that surely pressed up against them. Confusion crossed her forehead as she sat there and looked at the closet. Concern replaced the confusion as she rose and approached the closet doors.
It was three, short steps from her bed to the closet. Most times, she would never notice the proximity but would just bound from her bed to the closet in a hurried effort to get dressed for school. But now, with no time constraints and her nerves on a fine wire edge, Sarah had the opportunity to count them out. One. Most of her leg crossed into the box of light that was cast from the reflection of her mirror. Two. She needed to skirt a bit to the right, least her left hip scrape into the side table overflowing with books. Three. Any closer and the closet doors would crash into her face when she opened them. Sarah reached forward with both hands and opened both sides of the closet door simultaneously.
There she found her clothes pushed haphazardly to the far left. Her shoes and boots were scattered a bit on the floor, but not too much. The boxes, games, and storage crates that were on the shelf above were untouched.
There was no shaggy giant.
What was there, but rolled out of the slightly messy closet, was a clear crystal sphere.
Sarah watched as it rolled silently out into the middle of the room. With one step, she scooped it up before it came to a rest anywhere. Looking into it, all she could see was her image overlaid over the rest of the room.
It was empty.
With a relieved sigh, Sarah allowed her exhaustion overtake her suspicions. There is only so much adrenaline a person could take. She placed the orb onto the vanity, being careful that it would not roll off in the night. Turning, she approached her bed and reached under her pillow for her nightclothes. Shortly thereafter, Sarah tucked herself underneath her blankets, with visions of sugared plums, biting fairies, and dwarves dancing in her head.
Reflecting the velvety black room, only illuminated by the winter sky, the mirror stood witness to the sleeping woman-child. A ripple crossed the image, followed by another, before the entire scene dissolved into quicksilver. In a silence to rival solitude, a protuberance formed low on the vertical surface. With a sureness that belied its inanimate demeanor, the outcropping engulfed the crystal ball, leaving nothing in its wake. Once again the mirror, illuminated by the winter sky, reflected the velvety black room of the sleeping woman-child.
Only then, if there were someone awake to hear, was the sound of laughter. A sound much like the glass enclosed chimes of Christmas ornaments on needle heavy boughs that were swaying in the night. On a non-existent breeze, an accented male voice broke through the night.
"Happy Solstice, Sarah."
Author's Note: I've done it for you. Now, please return the favor. Review. Thank you.