Standard disclaimers apply.
The Labyrinth is the property of Jim Henson, George Lucas, Brian Froud, as well as its script writers, including but not limited to Dennis Lee, Terry Jones, Elaine May, and A.C.H. Smith. Characters and concept are used without permission and not for profit.
Again, apologies for the lateness, it was more than a little difficult to write. My original ending didn't seem to fit anymore, so I was obliged to come up with a new one. =( So if you catch some discrepancies - typos, sentences that never end, or anything just doesn't make sense - much forgiveness asked. Simply point them out, and I'll correct them.
Also thanks to camcalli for helping me with this chapter!
Open Your Eyes
I haven't locked the door,
Nor lit the candles,
You don't know, don't care,
That tired I haven't the strength
To decide to go to bed
Seeing the fields fade in
The sunsent murk of pine-needles,
And to know all is lost,
That life is a cursed hell:
I've got drunk
On your voice in the doorway.
I was sure you'd come back
--Anna Akhmatova, "White Night"¹
The story draws to an end. The pen has stilled. The book is closed. There is nothing more to be done, nothing more to be said. The story is over.
But it is not true for all the characters.
The story is different upon the various tongues, told differently in each book. Different tellings, different versions, different truths, witnessed through different eyes and stored in different hearts.
For some, the story continues. A gust of wind that blows the pages open, a hand that picks up the pen and records the following events. The story of fifteen year old Sarah William ended seven years ago, passing by like a swift summer storm. She has turned the page and closed the book. That story is ended.
But the story of the Goblin King has not ended yet. No, the story has only begun, a story of wanting and of possession. It is the story of a man -- yes, a man -- haunted by dreams, without the promise of consummation. There is no conclusion to this story, his story. There can be no conclusion to his story.
His story has not ended yet.
It is time to end it.
The castle was falling apart.
Stones fell out of the bulwark, wooden beams snapping and crystal sconces shattering upon impact. Already dilapidated, without the protection of magic or the strength of Jareth's will, the castle collapsed under the weight of the laws of physics. Stone could only withstand so much. Gravity refused to be denied any longer. Millennia of thwarted Time now flowed through the Labyrinth with a vengeance. Soon, there would be nothing left but a mountain of rubble, and eventually that too would disappear as rain and sun and wind weathered that down to dust. The dust too would vanish, scattered upon the winds. Given time, nothing would would remain. The Labyrinth would become little more than a ghost, existing only in the memory of disillusioned dreamers.
Luke pulled Sarah down the passage, half dragging and half carrying her limp and unresisting weight. The destruction followed them, surging forward like a devouring Beast, a vindictive tidal wave insatiable in its gluttony.
In the gallery of portraits, carved gilt frames clattered to the ground and splintered. Canvases were buried under rubble, crush and unsalvageable. Not one painting remained. All those faces, lost forever.
Sarah was oblivious to the wreckage, staring past it all with unseeing eyes, as Luke harried her. Her lips moved, shaping words that Luke did not hear or understand. But she didn't fight him. Her calmness unsettled him -- this lack of fury, this unresponsiveness, this indifferent acceptance. This surrender -- so different from her usual fervor. As if she too had died in that moment. He'd been prepared to face her hysteria, even her anger and hatred, just to prevent her from running back like some tragic heroine. He'd expected it. But she didn't. She simply... stopped. A puppet with cut strings, with nothing to orient her but Luke, and she let him. She trusted him to find their way through a world that was falling apart around them.
Everything was falling. The castle was falling apart. The proud king had fallen, and she was falling even yet -- falling down, falling apart, falling into pieces, falling in love when she had expected to fly, heavy with the weight of her body, dragged down by the force of reality. The world was falling around her, breaking into pieces that refused to fit together. Falling, falling, falling... It didn't make any sense. It didn't make any sense to fall, not at all.
And there the sound of an angry roar.
They were sprawled on the floor, faces buried protectedly against a storm that never came. The explosion was a blast of light, a presence that enveloped the three prone figures and saturated the room with colors that blended into white. Glassmakers knew that white can only be achieved when every color has been bled from the tincture, the pure distillation of light. To an artist, it is a blank sheet, a pristine canvas, unmarred by the stroke of color. To a physicist, it is an amalgam of all colors, woven so tightly that the seams become invisible without a prism to disaggregate it into a rainbow of hues. It was the existence of light, tangible and corporeal, the opposite of the black of darkness, which is the absence of light. As the white light engulfed them, Jareth had flung himself over Sarah with the assurance of his own immunity from harm, his body a shield between her softness and the grating rasp of broken glass. He had felt the explosion, felt the impact of it strike him down, felt the absence of thousands of little shards that did not lacerate his garments and tear his skin. The pressure was a heavy weight, flaring around them. Then -- nothing -- silence.
No, wait, something, something very faint. A dull throbbing, erratic and yet determined.
Sarah stirred under him. "Jareth?"
It was louder now... louder and tangible. He could feel it....
Suddenly he groaned, a keening acoustic ache. Rolling onto his back, he clutched his chest frantically. Fingers tangled in silk, clawing at the fabric there in frenzied need for release and rending them into shreds. Nails scratched the skin underneath, digging into his flesh and leaving angry welts. It hurt. He'd forgotten. He'd forgotten it could feel like this. The physical brutality paled in comparison to this pain. If he could delve into his chest, inside of himself, inside of his body, open it up and expose his insides -- expose, unearth, extricate, exhume -- perhaps this pain would go away. Agony distorted his features into an ugly mask, scrunched up tightly in concentration against a force only he could see and feel, his knuckles white and strained under his skin.
And he began to laugh.
He laughed until the tears ran down his pale drawn face and he had no more breath left, and still he laughed. He doubled and twisted from the force of it, spasms wracking his thin form. It frightened Sarah. There was no pleasure in it, nothing like the amused chuckles he'd express at her expense. It was the wild frenzied laughter of a man who has lost everything and laughs at the joke that Life has condescended to play on him. It is the laughter that contains no mirth, but finds humor in the sadistic and hopeless and ruination. His ruination. He laughed because of the pain. He laughed because he could feel it, and more, he laughed because he now knew what his mother had called him. Of course he never found it! Pushing away Sarah's concern, Jareth laughed and laughed until he had no voice left and could only cough -- one arm wrapped around his center, holding himself together, the other pressed flat against the hard stone floor -- and still he shook with silent cynical glee.
Six thousand years!
Luke had climbed to his feet warily during Jareth's hysteria, his attention captured by the mirror. The cracks had vanished mysteriously, the surface intact and perfect, and he saw the room and Sarah and Jareth and himself reflected back to him, their imaged pressed upon its surface and into its depths. It was like looking into a window onto themselves, and Luke was struck with the sudden uncomfortable idea that perhaps the real story was happening on the other side of the mirror and that they were the reflections. The Sarah on the other side was the real Sarah, and all his emotions were shadows of the real Luke's feelings. Perhaps they were only a dream, dreamed by the real Sarah and the real Jareth and the real Luke on the other side of the glass. All the objects in the room too were reflections, reproductions composed of light particles -- impressions -- images -- shadows.
And Luke thought then of vampires. Bela Lugosi. Dracula. Black and white horror movies and Bram Stoker's 19th century gothic horror novel that delved into the darkness of the Carpathian mountains. Superstitious beliefs that intertwined with Orthodox sacraments -- rituals of the consummation of blood and flesh -- the Eucharist -- to conceive beautiful unworldly fiends that preyed upon the beautiful and the pure. They lingered between life and death and chained to the material world without souls to guide them to Heaven or Hell. No mirror could hold them, for a reflection was the testimony of the soul, rendered visible to the physical world through the magic of quicksilver and glass, an alchemical distillation of light -- of shadows -- into truth. But Jareth was no vampire, he was the Goblin King, cloaked by night and crowned with stars. He had a soul. His reflection proclaimed his very soul.
But perhaps the mirror did not show the soul.
"Do you hear that?" Jareth gasped amidst his hysterics.
"Hear what, Jareth?" Sarah asked, her voice almost shrill with panic as she tried to force him to calm down, to stop laughing, to tell her everything would be alright.
When had the world become the parody of an Edgar Allen Poe story? But it wasn't a trick played on his ears by nerves strung high with paranoia and guilt. It was no delusion. It was there, intruding into his consciousness, rippling outwards until it filled his mind with a crimson haze. Each pulsation proclaimed its existence. He placed a finger to his lips -- shhh -- his other hand clasped against that terrible ache inside him -- if he could hold it in, hold it down, suppress it. Listen, he said without words. Listen. Listen.
And he looked past her towards his dark haired adversary. Something passed in that look, something that she could not catch -- a signal, a message, an understanding between the two men where there had once been only contempt and distaste. It might have been a plea. And he said, "Luke, you promised."
Slowly, Luke nodded. Yes.
From the smallest finger of his left hand, Jareth drew a small gold ring, its red stone a drop of blood in the light. It could have been the twin to the one she wore herself, but duller and cheaper, its stone only colored glass. He held it to Sarah, both of them kneeling on the stony floor, and she knew immediately, without a doubt, that it was hers. The ring in his hand was her ring, the ring she had left behind seven years ago, and that the ring she wore was a replica. A present, he had pronounced. A gift. A pledge. He was no longer laughing. "Take it. It's yours, the one that belonged to you," he told her. "I knew you would not have accepted mine unless you thought it was yours, and I wanted to keep a part of you with me. But I can't keep it. Take it and give it to someone else. Give it to Luke."
She took it with numb fingers, a heavy weight in her hand. "I don't understand..." she implored. A faint rustle of clothes and the muted tap of shoes were the sounds of Luke shifting around, but all her attention was riveted upon the red red stone in her hand and the supplicating king.
"Principessa di morte!" he said with a gentle brush of his fingers against her face. She was warm to his touch, warm and alive and bright, and he was so cold, so very cold.... "È l'alba, e amore nasce col sole! Sei mia! Tu puoi perdermi se vuoi!"²
The world erupted, red and painful and violent.
Jareth closed his eyes, his breath a ragged sigh, and fell.
And Sarah saw Luke, except there were two of him, separated by the glass, one outside and one inside the mirror, twin vengeful angels in tattered shirt sleeves and bloodied collars, their expressions terrible and harrowing and regretful, except they were the same and not the same.
One held what had been a beautiful rose with petals the color of midnight blue, wilted, dying, petals scattered, its root unearthed, exposed, stripped, vulnerable....
The other held a heart in his hands, pierced through with the pointed edge of a golden pendant that was all too familiar, bloody droplets dripping through his fingers onto the floor.
And Sarah saw that Death stood in the room.
Between the idea
And the reality...
Between the conception
And the creation...
Life is very long...
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
An alchemical distillation of truth from shadows using mercury and glass.
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain,
Thou gav'st me thine not to give back again.
--William Shakespeare, Sonnet 22
The roar sounded again, deep and raw and terrifying.
It conjured memories of monsters in his closet and under his bed, and more recently, a large red beast tearing after him through a stony labyrinth, its wide jaws a gluttonous void. It petrified Luke, paralyzing him with fear. It also slowed the rocks in their descent. as if impeded by some invisible force, dropped into viscous air. What rocks hadn't fallen yet, they clung adamantly to their mortar framework, hesitating against the call of gravity. If anything, the roar seemed to calm the rocks against whatever agitation had shaken them out of their cozy niches. Gravity is a lie, it seemed to tell them, and the rocks believed it. It was a roar that could stop a hurtling meteor.
Sarah roused, as if she'd been called back from a long way away. "Ludo," she murmured, then louder, questing. "Ludo!"
There was an answering cry from somewhere outside. "Sa-wah!"
"It is Ludo! Ludo!" she cried again, shrugging Luke off her as she straightened up. Her eyes brightened a little, a tiny flare of recognition and hope. "It's okay, it's Ludo!" She began to run. With no alternative, he followed her. Somehow they managed to scrabble through the dilapidating passage with little trouble, unhindered by the crashing bulwarks around them, and Luke almost imagined the rocks rolled out of their way as they ran, clearing a path that led them to the glittering morning waiting outside.
It seemed an eternity since he had seen the sunlit sky, and both he and Sarah were momentarily blinded by the unfamiliar rays. He'd forgotten how bright sunlight was, and how warm. They washed down on the two adventurers, banishing the coldness of the castle, and Luke closed his eyes to savor the sensation.
The rumbles faded into silence.
Somewhere nearby, a familiar gravelly voice said, "Ah well, there goes the castle again." It didn't sound particularly sorry. If anything, it was almost cheerful.
"Sir Hoggle!" a shriller voice admonished. This voice also touched a chord in his memory. "How canst thou speak so?"
Luke opened his eyes unwillingly.
"What, it's true!" a dwarf was arguing, his white hair sticking out erratically from under a leather skull cap as he scowled at a fox terrier wearing an eyepatch and plumed hat. Next to them, a large shaggy beast, horns curving wickedly above his head, vermillion fur dusty, looked on mournfully. The dwarf crossed his arms obstinately and kicked a stray pebble. "Or ye want me ter say it's still standing?"
The big red beast, horns curving wickedly, gave Hoggle a mournful look and shook his head. "King gone," it said with childlike grief. "Rocks sad. Ludo sad."
Sarah had been staring at the wreckage, her back to the motley group. Even the briar had fallen, dragged down and buried, dark red petals like drops of blood shed by a wounded beast. A breeze teased her hair, but without an spirit, and faded into stillness. "He is, isn't he?" she said after a while in a hollow voice. No one knew how to answer her.
Sarah began to scream. A shrill piercing keen that stabbed the air and burst eardrums, as only spoiled brats could muster in fits of righteous anger, and much like the screams of children, it accomplished nothing.
"It's not fair! It's not fair! It's not fair!" she wailed.
The stones yielded no response, not even the echoes of her own voice. After a while, Sarah stopped, panting from her exertion. When she turned to face her companions, her eyes were dry. "Sorry," she said.
The fox terrier was the first to recover, sweeping his plumed hat elegantly as he bowed before her. "My lady, thou hast returned!" he piped. "And thy valiant knight!" he added after a momentary pause, his one eye taking in the ragged sight of Luke.
Luke felt compelled to say something. "Um. Hi."
"Friend?" rumbled Ludo.
"Um, I guess?" Luke ventured tentatively. He hadn't forgotten the sensation of being chased through petrified passages.
"Yes, that's Luke," Sarah answered patiently. "He's a friend too."
Hoggle sniffed disdainfully. Another friend! As if she didn't have enough friends already. Luke glanced at the dwarf, and for a moment, they both stared at each other. Then he nodded and looked away. They might both be Sarah's friends, but they would never be friends with each other. They understood each other completely.
But Ludo and Didymus seemed pleased by the new acquaintance. "Well, Sir Lucas, I salute you," Sir Didymus chirped. "The friends of my lady Sarah shall be mine too."
"Um, thanks," Luke said, still taken aback by the miniature knight's courtly manners. He didn't know if he should bow back. It seemed so... hammy. He gestured vaguely in response instead. "Um, so, I'm glad to meet you too and all that, but how do we get home?"
"Er, I don't know," Didymus admitted after a moment's pause, reluctant to admit his ignorance. "I've never been outside the Labyrinth before. Aboveground is a distant realm I have not the pleasure to explore. My lady, how didst thou return home last time?"
Sarah chewed her lip in concentration. "Last time I was here, there was a room like one of those paintings by Escher, with the staircases that go on forever and forever, and I... I jumped," she said slowly. "The world fell apart, and we were... alone somewhere that was suspended. I spoke the right words. Then I was home, and he was an owl, flying out of the window. It was as if we'd never left my house in the first place."
"The right words?"
"I'd summoned him with words, I had to banish him with words too," Sarah explained. Something about her tone discouraged further questions. "Besides, I don't think it'll work this time. J- The castle's fallen, but we're still here. We'll have to find another way home."
Luke noticed that Hoggle had been oddly quiet during the conversation, his eyes shifting away almost guiltily and foot scuffing the dirt. "Do you know how we can get home?" he asked the dwarf.
"I don't know nothing!" Hoggle protested.
"Hoggle...." Sarah knelt down next to him and picking up his hand, the one that wore her bracelet, looked him in the eye. He fidgeted under her gaze, remembering how she'd bullied him into subservience before. She was going to do it again... "Hoggle, you know the Labyrinth better than anyone!"
And drat him, he couldn't say no to her. Not to his first friend. She's forgiven him when he'd betrayed her. "I knows it," he mumbled miserably. "Its how we sends home all thems that lose. They goes in, and we never sees them again."
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee....
The Ascent was a passage in the subterranean tunnels, silent and sinister and unlit. When Luke kicked a pebble down the tunnel, they listened for the echoes of its trajectory. They didn't hear anything. Even Ludo's voice was reduced a whisper. The tunnel seemed to swallow all light and all sound, devouring them until only shadows were left, too weak to be distinguished. It was all emptiness and nothingness, and all the more terrifying for the lack. It was impossible to look into that darkness and imagine that it ended, that on the other side was a sun and a moon and life.
"You, ah, really going in there?" Hoggle asked. He'd asked the same thing once, poised then at the entrance of the Labyrinth.
Sarah looked down the yawning mouth resolutely and almost smiled. "I'm afraid we have to," she repeated.
"I was afraid you'd say that...." muttered Luke.
She gave him a push, half jokingly, but only half. "You just solved the Labyrinth, act like it," she chided. "Don't tell me you journeyed through dangers unknown and hardships unnumbered, defeated the Goblin King, and you're afraid of the dark?"
"And rats," he volunteered. "I can't abide rats."
"The fair lady is right, Sir Lucas, where is thy courage?" Didymus trilled. "Wilt thou cower in the face of danger? To stare Death in the face and conquer it! And even then, why shouldst thou fear it? to die would be an awfully big adventure...."
"Besides, rats ain't nothing compared ter what ye should be 'fraid of," Hoggle interrupted. "Just remember, Sarah, should you need us...."
Sarah did smile. "I'll always need you guys. I don't know why, but I do. So don't go far, okay?"
Holding hands, Sarah and Luke stepped into the tunnel.
Hoggle, Sir Didymus, and Ludo vanished as the shadows engulfed them.
The darkness lurking in those walls was complete, betraying nothing of up and down or left to right. Even the silence of was absolute, their footsteps betraying no sound, and Luke began to doubt whether he walked on solid ground or on something else. Limbs felt disjointed from the torso, the mind disembodied. Only the pain of fatigue reminded Luke that he had a body, and the small press of a hand in his that Sarah walked beside him. On and on they walked, always waiting and always hoping for a reprieve from the nothingness.
"We're never going to make it home, are we?" he asked dejectedly at last, after an eternity it seemed. In the darkness, his voice was strangely hollow.
For a moment, he thought wildly that perhaps he was talking to himself and that he was imagining that he held a hand. Her voice washed over him like a wave of relief. "No," she said quietly. "We're just not going in the right direction."
"What do you mean, the right direction?" Luke flared, almost letting go in his urge to flail his arms. But Sarah was wise enough to grab his hand tightly, and he calmed down. "We've been walking for what feels like hours, maybe forever, and we're not getting anywhere"
"Sometimes the way forward is also the way back."
"What the hell does that even mean?"
Sarah stopped walking. He felt the tension of her hand pulling him into a standstill, and he stopped too, not daring to move in case he lost his bearings in the disorienting nothingness. Then strangely, he felt her start to turn, and she was turning him too until they were -- he thought, it was so difficult to tell when he couldn't see -- facing backwards. She said, "It means we stop taking things for granted and go back the way we came."
"Are you sure?" he asked doubtfully.
"Don't worry," she said. "It'll be a piece of cake."
Five minutes later, they emerged out of Sarah's coat closet into her front hall. Merlin began to bark.
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
--T.S. Elot The Wasteland, "V. What the Thunder Said"
Sarah blinked rapidly, spots clearing from her vision as the light spread out and faded, revealing the audience that had climbed to its feet in a thunderous ovation. In the front row, Toby jumped up and down in excitement, a grin splitting his chubby face in two, almost a miniature gentleman in his rented tux, an effect spoiled by his flailing arms as he clapped as loudly as he could. Next to him, her father was the very picture of paternal pride, and even her stepmother looked pleased. She faintly picked out her mother and Jeremy a few seats down -- beautiful and poised -- glamorous -- members of audience while she, Sarah, stood in the spotlight, the focus of their awesome attention. The faces beyond the first row obscured, out of focus and dimmed as though peering through a fogged lens, a veil woven by the streams of light.
"Sarah!" the stage manager hissed from the wings. "It's the curtain call!"
The play was over.
Tonight had passed in a blur of scenes she never saw, of costumes she didn't remember changing, of dialogue she didn't hear. She had spoken her right words without knowing them, pulled out of some inner recess of her mind, unbidden and not forgotten. It had always been more difficult to forget the words. Despite the shock of stumbling out of her coat closet into her apartment -- despite her mother's inexplicable presence and irrational relief -- despite a lapse of thirteen days in her memory -- despite a million thoughts unrelated to the play -- she had managed to say her words. It was if the part of her that was Sarah slept and dreamt about a girl named Beauty.
Feeling as if she were moving underwater -- as if she had just emerged from the water -- her limbs sluggish and heavy and tired -- as if she were an old woman -- as if she'd just woken up from a long and vivid dream -- and perhaps she had -- she bowed and curtsied with the rest of the cast, then again with Patrick and Kyle and Amelia, again with Patrick, and then by herself. She waved and smiled and let the applause wash over her, loud and jarring and forceful, until it was cut short by the drop of the curtain.
"I can't believe we did it! It's all over!"
"I can't wait to get out of this costume!"
"Party at the underground club! You know, the new one on the corner of...."
Feeling misplaced -- displaced -- among that happily chattering crowd, cast members she'd never bothered to befriend beyond a superficial work relationship, who were now congratulating each other heartily, Sarah slipped away to her dressing room. Back by the dressing rooms, the theatre bustled still, but with less vigor, as the scene changers stored the sets for the next performance and dressers hung up costumes while waiting for the actors to come back.
"Hope you like the flowers," Luke said, shuffling almost awkwardly in front of her dressing room door with a bouquet of irises and orchids and baby's breaths. "I thought I should still give them to you anyways, even though I know that... well, anyways, I hope you like the flowers."
She took them hesitantly, almost awkwardly. Words danced on her tongue, but they were all hollow and superfluous. Because Luke was sweet, and for his youth, he wasn't naive, and he didn't need to hear the words. So instead she simply said, "I'm sorry."
He shook his head, sticking hands in his pockets to forcibly refrain from ruining his gelled coif. His tone was entirely devoid of bitterness. "No, don't be, because it's just the way it is, right? I probably won't like you half as much if you could just go out with me after... after all that happened. And I couldn't be happy with myself either. Besides, I'm just glad that you don't blame me. So, will you be okay?"
She picked at the flowers absent-mindedly, smoothing out the crinkles in the cellophane wrapper. "I honestly don't know," she said at last. "I think, eventually, I will be. At least, I need to believe that I will be. I have to be. You?"
"I'll probably get over it a bit faster than you. Probably in another few days, I'll just convince myself it was all a dream, except for these teeth marks in my arm," he said, his expression rueful as he rubbed his arm. "Which I will probably also convince myself was the result of a rabid dog. My neighbor happens to own a Rottweiler, so it'll be a convincing lie. But you probably won't ever forget, will you?"
He was halfway down the corridor when she called out. "Luke? Thank you."
He looked surprised. "Whatever for?"
Sarah shrugged. "You know... everything. For coming to get me. For getting us out of the castle. For helping Jareth. I mean, it was what he wanted."
Luke smiled, just a little. "It was, wasn't it? He was a strange person."
"He was," she agreed, smiling back. "So I'll see you around?"
So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.
--T.S. Eliot, "La Figlia Che Piange"³
"Sarah! Sarah!" a little figure hurtled through the darkness, a comet bringing destruction and mayhem, and crashed into her, crushing layers of skirts as Toby squeezed her around the waist. "You were so good, sis," he declared proudly. "And really pretty in your costume. All the boys in my class wish you were their sister, but you're my sister."
"Aww, thanks Toby," Sarah said, leaning down to hug him back, not caring that if the flowers in her arms were crushed. "So you liked the play? Not too boring or too girly for you?"
"Nope, I stayed awake the whole way through!" he preened, thrusting out his chest as manfully as only a boy of eight years could. "Oh, look, I wanted to show you this! I'm doing an assignment on goblins for English class, like the goblin stories you used to tell, and I was printing out this picture, except another picture came out -- this one! He's really handsome, like a prince, isn't he? -- and the printer wouldn't stop, and Dad got really annoyed because it was wasting ink, but it wasn't my fault, so he didn't yell at me, so it was okay, and I brought you a copy because you like the weird stuff, and maybe this guy is the King of Goblins, since I was trying to print out a picture of goblins anyways and -"
Sarah's fingers clutched the printout, and she stood up so that Toby wouldn't see her expression. "Is this one for me?" she asked.
"Yeah! I got lots at home, I'm going to bring them to class to show Miss Henson and tell her how the goblins messed with my printer. Dad can vouch for me too!"
Sarah laughed breathlessly and folded the paper, tucking it into her bouquet. In the dim lighting, no one noticed that her face was a little paler under her stage make-up. "That will be a presentation! Listen, I have to go change, let's go find Dad and Karen, okay?"
"That's okay, I know where they are! The theater's not that scary. I can get back to the foyer without help!" Toby boasted as he ran off, dashing to find whatever new adventures lurked in wait in the shadows, hidden niches waiting to be explored, unknown worlds waiting to be mastered. Sarah watched him run, and she wondered idly what sort of goblin he would have made. Yet she didn't regret her actions -- neither the choice nor the wish.
"So are you coming?" Amelia asked, sticking her head into the room. And paused. There were roses everywhere -- red and pink and white and yellow and dyed lavender, the kind you get when you stick a white rose in colored water. "Wow. That's a lot of roses. Who are they from?"
Sarah paused in the middle of helping her dresser struggle with a jammed zipper. "Huh? Oh, the roses? I have no idea, there aren't any cards or anything."
Assured that she wasn't interrupting anything -- no secret lovers -- Amelia sauntered in. She was still wearing her costume. She looked as if she intended to wear it all night long. "We're all going to this club that's opening tonight, for the after party, Pat knows someone who knows the owner. Laura, you're coming too, right?" She nodded at the dresser.
The zipper unjammed, finally, and Sarah shimmied out of the silk confection, which was duly carried off to be hung up properly. "I can't, my stepfather's throwing me a party, I have to go" she said ruefully, then looked up brightly. "I know, why don't you guys come to my stepfather's party? You should come."
"With all the posh people?" Amelia made a face as she checked her make-up in the mirror. It was a club, no one would care if she wore stage make-up, not like the nobby crowd at Sarah's stepfather's party. "Not my scene. I like to get down and dirty. Oh, here's a bouquet that's not made of roses, how nice. Sarah, who's this?"
Sarah snatched the paper out of Amelia's hands. "Apparently a computer virus," the dark haired girl answered, tucking it into her bra, just in case. "My brother gave that to me. Apparently there are ghosts in the machinery or something, and instead of the goblins he was printing out, he got that. He gave me a copy."
"I don't believe you. So, are you dating this guy? He has nice cheekbones."
"Definitely not. He doesn't exist. It's just a glitch in the program or something. You can ask my brother, he's out there in the foyer," Sarah retorted, removing hair pins from her skull, hissing at the sudden relief as curls tumbled down. "He'll give you a very long and detailed explanation."
"You're no fun, are you? Anyways, if you change your mind, here's the address." Grabbing an eyeliner pencil, she scribbled messy instructions on a Kleenex and made a show of tucking the tissue into Sarah's open purse. "We'll probably still be there when the stores open in the morning."
"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."
The redhead girl skipped out of the room, glittery with silver sequins, and Sarah pulled the printout back out again, smoothing out the creases on the page. Amelia was right, he did have nice cheekbones. Carefully, she tucked the picture into the frame of the mirror. Toby probably would have another copy on him, just to show around. She'd ask him if she could have that too, for her apartment.
Then she turned off the light, stepped out of the room, and closed the door behind her
She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
--T.S. Eliot, "La Figlia Che Piange"
Midnight found her, both restive and hesitant, lingering outside the entrance of the club, still wearing her fancy pale green dress under her jacket and red scarf, staring up in silent disbelief at the neon sign glaring above its doors. Behind her, the flickering lamps illuminated the empty street with eldritch light, and beyond, a filigree network of lights that made up the cityscape at nighttime, its beauty belying the cold concrete and iron framework of the urban squalor.
The Underground. Well... it was certainly below ground level, dark and nefarious and pulsing with music. Best of all, it wasn't Jeremy's party.
She couldn't stand it anymore, all the stifling small talk and monotonous conversation and the hollow praises, offered by Jeremy's fashionable friends. She accepted them graciously with a fixed smile, playing the part of the gracious and flattered actress, letting the words wash over her, not really hearing what they said nor understanding what she said in reply, when what she really wanted was to scream and throw down her champagne flute and watch it smash into fragments -- smash all the champagne flutes in the party, spill the champagne, sweep all the platters of catered food and send everything crashing onto the carpetted floor. She wanted to destroy that illusion of civilization and culture, because none of it really mattered, because nothing would ever matter again, because the Goblin King was dead. And yet somehow all these socialites were able to stand around in their beautiful clothes and drink imported champagne from fancy glasses and talk about something as tedious and boring like a play, and no one realized that she was in pain. No one realized anything. Everything seemed both surreal and dull at the same time. Unimportant. Insubstantial.
She'd slipped away. It was very easy. After their initial fawning over her, the guests had irrevocably turned their attention back to the glamorous Jeremy and Linda, and she had quietly gathered her coat and scarf, careful not to say goodbye to anyone, and walked out the front door while her mother asked Jeremy to tell that really funny story about some incident at another party. Yet once away, she realized that she didn't want to go home either, to an apartment filled with roses.
So she'd come here instead, where the rest of the cast were celebrating the successful end to an opening night, to a club called The Underground.
Music blasted over her when she entered, dark and seductive and insistent, the force of its vibrations washing against her body in tidal waves, threatening to pull her under. Mingled in the strains were shouts and laughter and the clink of beer glasses, the sounds of people enjoying themselves loudly and robustly. Then the stairs came to an end, and she stepped into the main room, and stopped.
The decor was disturbing. The walls looked as if they were carved from stone, roughly hewn and littered with tiny crystals and minerals and segmented by subterranean roots that crept down the faux earthy panels and dangled from the dirt ceiling. The corridors were tunnels intersecting and merging, and the corners were decorated with crude faces that watched and measured the festivities with dark holes for eyes. Everything sparkled and glittered in the dancing lights.
Then the people solidified into existence, a great jostling crowd that foisted itself against the sense, neither ethereally nor sinisterly beautiful, but coarse and rough and human, dressed for fun, fashionable according to early 90s rock culture. And the cavern became a nightclub again, a mixture of colors and noise. On the stage, someone was singing, his voice a deep croon, his features obscured in a blinding wash of white.
All my violence
raining tears upon the sheets,
For we're strangers when we meet
Blank screen TV
preening ourselves in the snow
Forget my name
But I'm over you
"You came! I knew you'd show up!" Amelia screamed through the noise, barreling through the crowd and hugging Sarah with unusual familiarity before dragging her towards the stage. "Awesome, I won my bet! I bet Patrick dishwashing duty for a whole month that you'd show up. You came just in time too, King's singing, you almost missed it! He does an amazing David Bowie impersonation too. Last time, he got mobbed by the girls after singing 'China Girl.'"
Cold tired fingers
Tapping out your memories
Dazzled by the new
"Who's King?" Sarah bellowed, unwinding her scarf and shrugging out of her coat.
"He owns the club! It's fabulous, isn't it? It really feels like we're under the ground, doesn't it?"
Amelia was right, Sarah thought. The singer -- King, apparently -- was good, his voice a good imitation of David Bowie's dulcet tones, smooth and sexy and masculine. In his voice, the lyrics became more than words, they became a story, transcending the physical shape of their sounds and metamorphosed, transfigured, into something alive and real and expansive.
All your regrets ride rough-shod over me
I'm so glad that we're strangers when we meet
I'm so thankful that we're stranger when we meet
I'm in clover, for we're strangers when we meet
Heel head over, but we're strangers when we meet⁴
And she noticed then that under the blinding stage lights, the man's hair was golden although short and slicked back from his handsome angular face, where the lights drew deep shadows -- a face so similar to the picture she carried in her purse -- and the floor seemed to fall out from under her, and she was falling...
"I need a drink," she said breathlessly. "Where's the bar?"
The alcohol burned her throat on its way down, reassuringly sharp and coarse, and she slammed the glass back down on the bar as she restrained herself from coughing the drink back up, whatever it was that she'd drunk -- she'd picked up the first drink and quaffed it unknowingly and not caring. She was going to get drunk, because there didn't seem to be any other way to make it through the night.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" someone -- he -- asked, sitting on the stool next to her and watching her with disconcerting absorption bordering on fixation. "That's a beautiful dress, by the way. How does it stay up?"
The dress was the color known in the fashion industry as sea foam green. It was the palest shade of green, the pale froth that tinged the crashing waves of the stormy ocean, violent spray illuminated by the moonshine before it disintegrates into nothing. The skirt was thick with layers of gauze, the topmost layer a thin net caught with tiny crystals, a fairy's dress, airy and ethereal and incandescent. His question was directed at the strapless bodice, which revealed a tantalizing glimpse of cleavage and creamy expanse of back.
"With a lot of modesty," she replied, finding shelter in a movie quotation. Fortified with liquid courage, she met his eyes fearlessly and glared. Luck was on her side. He sat with his back to the light, and all she could see were different layers of shadows and the gleam of a cheekbone. One beautifully sculpted cheekbone. Even so she recognized him. "So you're the King."
He grinned, shadows twisting to create the semblance of mirth. "Not the King, just King," he corrected, leaning against the bar and propping his face with one white hand, all body language and attention directed towards her without mercy. "Although I suppose I am in charge of this hell hole. I won't mind if you call me your Highness."
"Your name is King?" Her tone was incredulous.
King shrugged, narrow but muscled shoulders under his starched white shirt and set off by the line of his black vest. Part of Sarah's thinking process, the part that had yielded to the alcohol, observed that he wasn't a king, he was a duke -- the Thin White Duke, preferably without the cocaine addiction. "It's part of my name," he confessed, his smile never wavering.
"What's your whole name?"
"You know, I don't think I'm going to tell you just yet. In fact, I'll tell you in the morning when you have breakfast with me," he answered delicately, conjuring a glass of water with a crook of his finger at the bartender. "Naturally, I'd like for you to not have a hangover when that happens, so won't you be a good girl and drink this glass of water?"
"How do I know you haven't drugged it?" she demanded, crossing her arms. Something felt very familiar about this situation. "I don't know you, how do I know I can trust you?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Do you though?"
"Do I what?"
"No. Not one bit."
"Good, you shouldn't," he rejoined quite cheerfully. "But as a show of good faith, I will take a sip from this glass, just to show you that it's not drugged. There. Now will you drink it, or will I have to force it down your neck for you?"
This golden haired stranger seemed adamant on this point, smiling at her with his head tilted, almost daring her to argue. His expression said he welcomed a confrontation. Something tickled her mind, an almost memory that she couldn't quite grasp. Like trying to hold moonlight in your hand -- you opened your palm and saw it illuminated, but you couldn't touch it, couldn't feel its shape. Sarah resigned herself. As she guzzled the water, she seemed to hear him say "The problem with our situation is that even if you don't know me, I know you." But the music thundered, mixed with the shouts and laughter of a hundred drunken carousers, and she couldn't trust her ears. Moonlight streaming through the window, insubstantial and inpalpable. She remembered a legend she'd heard once, that sleeping in the moonlight engendered madness, hence the term lunacy. Lunar. Luna. The moon. The disease of the moon.
"If I get a hangover, it's because I got drunk, which is kind of the whole point," she told him matter-of-factly. "I don't want to be sober."
He plucked the empty glass from her hand and set it back on the bar. "Now, why don't we want that?" he asked.
"You wouldn't believe me."
The revelers were dancing now, twists and shimmies and gyrations in time to the thumping bass. This dancing was not the carefully regulated movement of aristocratic ballrooms, but the primeval urges of the body to express itself through movement. It reminded Sarah of Dirty Dancing, Baby bursting in upon a secret dance party and agog at the sight of bodies moving in ways she'd never imagined. In the center of the floor, someone paid tribute to Patrick Swayze's dancing skills.
"No," Sarah said.
"In that case -- Cassie, can you get that bottle? Yes, that one -- I shall have to help you. If you're going to drink yourself into happy inebriation, at least do it right," he informed her seriously, producing two glasses almost magically on the counter and filling them with something that shone like liquid gold or molten sunlight. "Now this is a wine that I was saving for something special, and I think this just might qualify."
She picked up her glass reluctantly. "The last time I had wine, I regretted it..."
"Well, good thing I'm here to stop you from doing anything stupid, isn't it? Now, what shall we toast to? To wishes that come true, perhaps?" He raised his arm. Disco lights shone through the golden elixir, refracted and disaggregated and transmuted.
"I don't believe in wishes."
King lowered his glass, his expression perplexed. "No? How about to puppies? To flowers? To fairies and goblins? Ah, I know. I heard that your play has opened successfully tonight, something about Beauty and the Beast, so let's drink to Beauty."
She couldn't say no to that. "To Beauty," she repeated. Clinking glasses, she drank deeply, feeling the wine trickle warmly down her throat, but without the scalding burn of her earlier drink. It was like drinking sunshine, golden and joyful and sultry.
"So why don't you believe in wishes?" King asked, setting down his empty glass.
"When you know you can't have what you want, what's the profit in wishing?" she asked, shrugging.
"And what do you want?"
And to both their complete surprise, Sarah began to cry.
"You sure you alright, love?" he asked, slightly panicking, and at a complete loss, pulled her into his arms comfortingly, only to have her cry harder to his utter bewilderment and bemusement. "Shit, what do I do? Please don't cry. I couldn't stand if you cried."
"I-I-I'm sorry, I can't-- I can't --can't -- can't seem to stop, I don't usually cry like this," she sobbed, blowing her nose into the napkins that he pushed bewilderedly into her hands. "And I don't know w-why-why. It's been a really long day, and I think I was in shock-ck-ck, and y-y-yo-ou're being really nice to me, and I'm probably ruining your night by breaking down like this, an-an-and -- and -- you don't even know me and you have to deal with this, I'm really sorry. And I'm sorry I got your shirt wet."
"That's alright, I'm sending you the dry cleaning bill," King joked reassuringly. "Maybe I should take you home."
Sarah sniffed miserably. "It's your party, you should stay. I can take a cab ho--"
"What, and let you go home alone at this time of the night, you a pretty all by yourself? I couldn't live with myself. The blokes can lock up after themselves, I just own the place, I don't have to be there all the time," he interrupted smoothly, fishing a handkerchief out of a pocket and pressing it into her hand. "Probably more environmentally friendly if I let you use this. You wait here while I go get your coat."
She nodded obediently, watching him disappear into the crowd at she dabbed at her eyes with an incredibly lacy handkerchief. It was rather difficult finding an area with enough fabric to soak up her tears. At least it wasn't monogrammed. Sarah wasn't sure what she thought about a man who used lacy handkerchiefs.
Oh, yes, she knew exactly what she thought.
She stared at the little square of fabric, aglow and violet under the black lights, and dropped it. It floated onto the dirty floor, disappearing under the heels of stilettos and boots. It hadn't turned into anything dangerous, like a snake or a goblin. It was an ordinary handkerchief. Except with more lace than is normal or even sane! she told herself. Alarmed and not a little confused, she pushed through the crowd, desperate for something, for air, for room to breathe. Her heels clattered on the staircase as she climbed upwards.
"Wait! Sarah, wait!"
She couldn't disobey that voice. It transformed her name into a prayer, gripping her, soundly, both pleading and commandingly, and because she had not told him her name. So she waited, unable to push open the door, listening to the sound of his footsteps ascending until they stop, a step or two below her, perhaps waiting for her to turn around and face him, but she couldn't. She wouldn't. She didn't.
"It's cold out there, Sarah, and you're not wearing your coat," he said, draping the heavy garment around her shoulders. His palms were a heavy, reassuring weight as he held her lightly, impersonally, just as a person holds a bar of soap, afraid that it'll slip away if he squeezed too tightly, and gently, he turned her to face him. "I also told you, I'm not letting you go out there by yourself."
A brush of cashmere against her cheek as he wound her scarf around her neck, pulling her forward with the action, until she could hear the whistle of his breath and her skin tingled with the propinquity of their bodies despite layers of cloth inbetween. "I'm not letting you go anywhere without me," he added, tucking the ends inside the lapels of her coat, his hands careful to never touch her bare skin. The whole time, she watched the corner of his mouth, watched it move as he spoke, as if trying to commit each nuance of shadow -- the texture of his skin -- the sheen of his lips -- the faint traces of scruff to her memory, or perhaps she was comparing them to another recollection. "Or your scarf."
"What's your full name, King?" she asked.
His hands paused, resting against her clavicles through layers of wool and nylon lining. He disoriented her with his proximity, because this close, she could smell him, and he smelled like no cologne she knew. If only the light was bright enough to see his eyes...
"Eriol," he said at last, quietly, resignedly, with a heavy sigh. "Go ahead, laugh. My name is Eriol King."
Someone -- a clubber -- brushed past them through the door, and a beam of eerie streetlight fell across his face, illuminating eyes that were the most beautiful she'd ever seen. Even though the shape of the eyebrows was wrong. Not wrong. Different. Human.
Sarah blinked, and then she did laugh. Quietly at first, building in volume until she could no longer keep it inside her, she laughed. Her shoulders shook with mirth. She laughed and laughed and laughed, not because his named was funny, but because it was his name, and it was wonderful, everything was wonderful. They weren't strangers, how could he be a stranger when she knew him, she knew him by heart, and everything was falling into place, and she wasn't falling, she was flying.
Eriol King.... Errol King.. Erlking... Erlkönig. The Elfin King.
And Sarah put her arms around his neck and said to him, "I can't call you that, and I can't call you King either. I think I'll call you Jareth."
And Jareth smiled.
"As you wish."
1. A phenomenon in northern Russia (but not exclusive to this region) when during the summer, the hours of darkness either diminish to only a few hours or disappear altogether due to the Earth's tilted axis and its relation to the sun over the course of year. Vice versa, winter is characterized by short day lit hours. But I'm sure you all know this already!
In relation to the poem, it's up to you to decide who the unnamed "you" in the poem is. It might be a lover. It might be the night. It might be sleep. Akhmatova is devilishly unclear about it. This is probably my favorite poem.
2. Princess of death! It is dawn, and love with born with the sun. You are mine! You can destroy me if you wish.
3. The Girl Who Weeps
4. This would be the 1993 release of this song on Bowie's Buddha of Surburbia album, just so it fits within the timeline. A better known version of this song was released in 1995 on Outside, with a slightly different arrangement.
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So, um.... yeah. It's over for real now. Thanks to everyone who read it and commented and added it to their favorite list, and to all the people who redirected me to new sources of inspirations, such as songs and videos that somehow made their way into the writing process. Most of all, thank you to everyone, because you motivated me to write. There's no bigger motivational force than knowing that a lot of people want to read this.
And along with the smattering of physics that somehow managed to weasel their way into a fanfiction about magic, possibly due to their relationship to alchemy, here is another mathematical thought for you:
"Love is like pi - natural, irrational, and very important" -- Lisa Hoffman
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If anyone is interested in knowing what songs played a large part in shaping the story but weren't referenced, here's a track list (ps, I'm not listing any Bowie songs, for the simple reason that there's no point 8D You can go ahead and assume that I listened to a lot of Bowie, because you're probably right. You know what, you are):
1. "I'll Forget You" from Frank Wildhorn's The Scarlet Pimpernel, lyrics by Nan Knighton
2. "Where's the Girl?" from the same musical.*
3. "When I Look At You" from the same musical.
4. "Inside of You" from the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
5. "If I Never Knew You" from Disney's Pocahontas.
6. "If It Kills Me" by Jason Mraz, from the Casa Nova Sessions.
7. "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles.
8. "A Million Pieces" by Emmy Rossum.
9. "Tell Me Where It Hurts" by Garbage.
10. "Intrada" from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. Actually, The Nutcracker has been a large influencing force over the last few chapters. I recently rediscovered a Soviet animation of this story on youtube, which I had watched as a child, and proceeded to take a long and leisurely stroll down Memory Lane. Okay, maybe it was Memory Path. It was a twisty path, and I got lost a few times.
11. "Part of Your World" and its reprise, from Disney's The Little Mermaid, which actually the main thread of the story the whole time, even more so than all the Phantom and Beauty and the Beast parallels I let everyone see.
12. "If I Ever Fall in Love Again" by Sarah Brightman.
13. "The Last Man in My Life" by Sarah Brightman.
14. "Half a Moment" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Ask Jeeves.
16. "The Last Midnight" and "Finale" from Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.
17. "Wanting" from the musical "Rags."*
18. "If I Can't Loe Her" from the Broadway musical version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.*
19. "Far Longer than Forever" from The Swan Princess.
20. "So In Love" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate.
21. "True" by Spandau Ballet.
22. "The Fear You Won't Fall" by Joshua Radin.
23. "Slide" by Goo Goo Dolls.
24. L'Email A Des Ailes" by Alizée.
25. "Shelf" by the Jonas Brothers. Yes, I'm very embarrassed by this fact.
26. "You Look So Fine" by Garbage.
* For anyone who's familiar with these songs, you'll know that they're performed by one Terrence Mann, whose voice I think is auditory sex. 8D
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Other influences that were not referenced directly in previous quotations or author's notes:
Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, and Freddie Highmore.
Atonement, book by Ian McEwan, movie directed by Joe Wright, starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola
Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz.
Ghostwalker, a novel by Rebecca Stott.
The Farseer Trilogy and its sequel The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb. Truthfully, the whole spiel about Jareth's name was heavy influenced/based on the Fool.