Sarah doesn't pretend to remember all of their names; the names were never important. Even as she flips through the pages of the cursed book, the book she has sworn to burn, the book that has haunted her for far too long, she does not remember a single name. He stole them all, just as he steals everything from her life. His gloved hands are far too red, as red as the book she holds in her shaking grip.
The pages are falling to the carpet as she tears them out, one at a time—useless effort, wasted effort, but she can't stop. She can't stop the shredding the photographs between her nails in the hope that she is tearing off his wings, in the hope that with each page, she is ripping through his bone-white skin. The ink is his blood, the words are his soul; she wants to tear them apart. He exists far beyond words, he exists beyond Underground, wherever that may be—he exists beyond everything.
Labyrinth. Such a simple title. Such a childish novel. And yet, it refuses to lie still beneath its covers, reaching beyond the printed page into her life. It watches her through those fallen pages, its invisible eyes sparkling in merriment, snickering as her world falls apart for the second time. She can't be resurrected a second time; there is no quest, no distraction from him. There is no brother to save; there is no wicked king. It is only her, this time. Her and the book.
Monster, she thinks, he is a monster.
Far darker than any storybook villain, far more dangerous—and she knows she is doing nothing; she is humoring him. She can see that grin on his face as he watches her. (Because he is always watching… she has learned that much.)
He knows everything; she can hide nothing. He will find her. And there is nothing to stop him—nothing for her to do but watch and wait for his arrogant interventions. She hates him, she loathes him; she doesn't know how to describe the anguish she feels.
His eyes. She hates his eyes most of all—the eyes that can see past her soul, through her beating heart, the eyes that smile as her pulse thunders faster in her ears. His mismatching eyes that contain not a spark of humanity, but a single flame of obsession burning through her skin. Humans don't understand the words to describe him; there are no words for the way his eyes devour. Goblin King—even demon is too generous a name.
There are dozens of shredded faces and scattered pieces of words, now; their corpses encircle her as she sobs and watches them die. There is a perverse glee—she enjoys it, she hates it, she hates everything. Labyrinth, they called it, as if it were some challenge to be overcome. It is a monster, just as the book is, just as its monarch is. It is worse than Hell.
The tears are streaking down her face, and she is cursing and screaming. She hates it—she hates what he has driven her to. There are no curses foul enough to smite him. There is no expression spiteful enough for the malice in his laughter, the laughter that haunts her daydreams and her nightmares. The sweep of a hand across her face that she swears she imagines—the vilest of words would be too pure. (She doesn't imagine anything. Imagination is far too dangerous to be trusted.)
She can't trust anyone. It has taken years, but she has learned it all the same. He is everywhere, just as he is nowhere. Every face in every crowd reflects him, his grin, his gloating laughter. Never look him straight in the eye, and never believe a word he says, because he doesn't always lie. That's what makes him so dangerous.
You have no power over me.
Those words hold no power. They hold nothing. Not God, not the Devil, and certainly not the Goblin King. How could she have been so stupid, to think she could contain him with mere words. A children's story, she had believed…. Now, she is not so gullible; she prays she is not so gullible. It is not fair, she knows, but she does not expect it to be. She craves that sense of justice—nothing is fair, nothing is right, nothing is just and true.
Justice would not tolerate the mutilation of her book, but its broken wings still scatter across the floor as she rips and tears and curses. Damn me, she cries with each torn sheet, get it over with and damn me. I would rather rot in hell than see his eyes again, than hear his voice again, feel his smile….
Power, justice: They mean nothing—only the faded feathers of a torn book, stained from the tears streaking down her face. Leave me alone, she cries, go back to that pit you crawled out from. I never asked for the stars; I never asked for the moon; I never asked for your eyes, your cursed, mismatched eyes.
She knows he is watching. She can feel him standing behind her saying nothing—she does not want to turn, she does not want to acknowledge him. She prefers the hope that he might not exist, that it might be some terrible dream. But she doesn't dare hope. Like imagination, like the Goblin King, hope can never be trusted.
"It's not fair…."
"Do I know you?"
"No, of course not—that's the fun of it."
She can't remember the first one's name; it was never important. Or so she decided later, in that dark room in the middle of the night with his breath on her neck and his hand on her face. It did not matter what he called himself, what the world called him—like the stars, there was no definite human word for his essence.
She remembers the way he looked at her, his eyes burning like hell-fire, consuming in their brilliance. They were not the eyes from the Labyrinth, but they were still his eyes—his cold, inhuman eyes, hidden behind layers of glamour as he stood across the street, still as marble, with hair drenched in the November rain.
She remembers watching him and noticing how odd it was, how he seemed glued awkwardly to the earth, not human. She forgets how old she was, but it can't have been more than twenty. She can't remember the color of his hair, or the color of his eyes—but she remembers the wonder she felt as she watched them flame in the pouring rain. Familiar, she had thought, tantalizingly familiar… if only she had known, if only she had realized the truth.
She asked him for coffee. He had smiled, charming, if only for a moment. She still remembers the smell of his black coffee—black as the heart of the Labyrinth, black as his soul. The bitter smell that engulfed her senses as he bewitched her yet again, the familiar gestures she dared not recognize, that lazy smile that she concealed from herself—now, she remembers them all, can't understand why she couldn't remember it then. (She must not have wanted to know. Not at first.)
It was brief, but she had enjoyed her time with him. As she walked away, into the downpour, there had been a smile painted on her face. It is only now, when she reminisces, that she realizes his gaze must have been locked on her back, face blank and eyes calculating, as she walked away from him once again.
Even at twenty, she had been a fool.
Soon enough there was another man. She wonders how she never realized. Flipping through pictures with haste, she sees him, his eyes in every one—the tousled hair, that arrogant smile. He hid himself in the beginning, but not well. It was never meant to fool—only to tease. She hadn't realized, even as she watched him during the movies, felt his arm around her shoulders. Even as her world teetered on the edge of destruction, she had felt something… and yet, she had not heeded it.
At first, there was nothing but an odd moment—a smile out of place, a mocking comment that should not have belonged to human lips. It did not frighten her right away; the Labyrinth was too close in her mind. She had tried to shut it out, to shut him out. Apparently, he did not like that. (She laughs at the idea—sobs and laughs.)
She tries to remember the names he told her, the lies he fed her, the smiles he gave her (laced with arsenic, as always.) There were moments when she hoped she was going insane—she still hopes she is going insane, she wishes she is insane. She wants him to disappear; she prays she made him up, prays he is simply a lonely spoiled child's sexual fantasy gone too far. She could deal with that—but she doesn't know, can't know for sure…. And his eyes are so real.
The poison is so easy to deny. He hid himself so well, in the beginning—only the faintest glimpse lead her to fear (deliberate windows, deliberate slips).
Each boy was dropped. At the time, she had thought it was for different reasons, petty reasons like a forgotten present or an abandoned date—but now she knows it was his smile. She can't stand his smile, the all-knowing grin that still haunts her dreams. She dumped them in fear of those white teeth and the malicious smirk that she fought against. A dream, she said, and nothing more.
But she knew how powerful dreams were, now; she should have known better then, when she could have stopped him, when she might have been able to stop him. He is winning, and she hates it. He steals her dreams and warps them into his own twisted image; she does not know what is real and what is his. (It is a slowly seeping poison, tangling itself in her heart and mind and wishes and dreams.) They all belong to him, and that is why she supposes she is tearing apart his book, his faces, his faces in his book.
A crystal—nothing more, nothing more than a dream. But it is nothing less, either, and he failed to mention that when he attempted to hand her a dream. So she dreams and wishes, and prays that she will defeat him—but she knows it is hopeless. He is far too good at the game.
"Who are you supposed to be?"
(Masks, everywhere, writhing strangers in twisted guises… Halloween.)
A crawling grin. "The Goblin King, my dear."
His first slip came in a movie theater. He had forgotten (or pretended to forget) that he didn't know her, that he hadn't been introduced to her. The glamour was a new one; it didn't suit him, but that hardly mattered—it didn't matter that he had been playing the role of academic, that his shirt had been ironed and his pants had been pressed, or that he looked ridiculous attempting to be something he was not.
She forgets what the movie was—some fantasy, no doubt; she doesn't particularly care, because all she remembers about the movie was thrown out the window when his arm wrapped around her shoulder. She remembers choking on the soda she had been drinking, and turning sideways to pin down the owner of the arm. His hair was auburn, and far too neat to be his hair—yet, she knew who it was the second her eyes hit his.
She had wanted to die. She felt herself falling back into that thirteenth hour; she was screaming as she flung herself away and ran from the room, ran from him. Her instincts were on fire as she felt him morph into something far more lethal, far more alien than some bored college student. The clock struck thirteen, the crystal was cast into the air—the dream shattered.
That was supposed to end it. The reality was supposed to come back; she had broken more than just the dream that day. And yet, she found herself in her room, sobbing, panicking, trying to rationalize the situation. A rude college student, an obscenely confident asshole—nothing more, he was nothing more.
How could it be more? They didn't even look alike (but that never mattered). She refused to give into her irrational terror. She remembers laughing at herself, her throat dry from fear, and attempting to call herself paranoid. After all, he was still in the Labyrinth, the place that didn't even exist, the place that couldn't have existed in the real world. A childhood fantasy, nothing more.
But his hazel eyes had told her differently; in that theater, it had only taken one second for her precious reality to be shattered. Is this another illusion, another part of the Labyrinth she lost herself in? Has she ever really rescued Toby, or is he still trapped somewhere in the Labyrinth's pages?
She does not remember how she came to be in her room, hyperventilating as she tried to erase the past from her thoughts; she does not remember waking up the next morning from a nightmare ruled by the golden-haired king. She still screams at the thought.
Perhaps it was not a mistake. Perhaps he had been bored by how easy it was to fool her—perhaps he had wanted a bit of fun. That first slip, that first smile, that first round of inhuman laughter—she can't always convince herself that it was a mistake. Perhaps he meant for her to know all along. Where was the fun without the chase?
(A bridge, a cold winter night, the wind blowing—a stranger walks by, shoulders brushing.)
(A peach falls into her hand; he smiles, walks past without stopping.)
(The snow has begun to fall.)
"My name is Adam." His voice sounded like velvet—soft and seductive, threatening to pull her back into the world she just escaped from. She lowered her book, gazing at him from between the pages, watching his flaming eyes dissect her (they should have been icy, cold—gray eyes should not flame). The panic hit like an avalanche, and yet she attempted to swallow it down, telling herself she was being ridiculous. Goblin Kings had better things to do than pursue spoiled children they had lost.
"Sarah. Do I know you?" she replied curtly, the tension squirming its way into her words with desperation.
He smiled, pearly white teeth displayed in a feral grin that set her fight or flight instincts over the edge. She ignored the urge to scream—this was no dark movie theater… she should have known better. There were no monsters on a college campus, no demons from her past come to haunt her. Jareth had better things to do.
"Perhaps. Perhaps I've seen you passing by at lunch, sitting on a lonely bench, reading a fantasy novel covered in dust, and perhaps today I decided it was the day for you and I to have a heart to heart." Why did the word heart sound so vile when he uttered it? As if he were possessing the word as he spoke, caressing the still-bleeding flesh with gloved hands…. She shuddered and attempted to clear the image from her mind. (It never worked. She still has nightmares.)
She can't remember what she was reading. She only remembers the way he smiled as he watched her shiver in broad daylight.
(Conquer her fears—it was a futile attempt to conquer her fears, to defeat Jareth in those thirteen hours.)
"Would you like some coffee?" she asked, moving past his smile, moving past the haunting glow of his eyes, moving past the way he stared at her as if she held the world upon a fraying string (watching it fall down, out of her grasp.)
(Must, crumpled pages, hardened leather... dusty air.)
(A red book thumps onto the table before her.)
"This was what you were looking for?"
She cringes. "No, not at all."
His hand running down her arm, his lips against her skin, whispering promises never meant to be spoken aloud, painting a fragile dream which shattered in her open hands. That is what she remembers of the dreams—that, and she remembers the laughter resounding through her room with the morning sun. The boys had changed shape before her very eyes. If there grew to be too much of a resemblance, she dropped them. She feared them, but she found his eyes everywhere. She couldn't avoid him—he was always just out of sight, the next partner in a slow-moving waltz.
A cup of coffee, a drink in a bar, a face on the street… she found his mismatched eyes everywhere she went. She told herself it was irrational, that it could not be him; she danced with him, flirted, and he would smile that knowing smile that made her hair stand on end. And there was nothing she could do.
She began to confront them; she aimed for the ones she wouldn't have looked for, the ones who didn't attract her eye. She prayed it was not him—she prayed his eyes remained human, whoever he happened to be, but they never were, they never were.
"Hi, my name is Sarah. You're in my English class," she said to the poor boy under the mountain of books as he shuffled under their weight. Jareth couldn't have shuffled; the Goblin King had too much dignity for such an act. Or so she had thought—but it turned out he doesn't care about dignity, as long as he can watch the horror in her eyes.
"I know," he said simply. Dweeby, with round, thick-rimmed glasses… she blinked at the timbre of his voice; far too sensuous for the man she had chosen. She could feel the cool assurance in his tone, and she wondered if she had the right boy, the only one who couldn't have been him, the only one who wouldn't transform into some nightmare before her very eyes—the only safe visage in a mob of masks.
"I was just wondering if you'd like to go out some time for some coffee?" she asked hesitantly, waiting for the books to drop, waiting for the stammering words at her interest. They didn't come. Instead, he lowered the books carefully so he could look her full in the face. And she saw his eyes.
Don't run, she told herself, they are the wrong color. It was not him; it could not have been him. But it was, it was always him. She knew him then, she still knows him, she knows him better than anyone else—his eye color means nothing.
"I would love to, Sarah." She tried to ignore the way he spoke her name, fleshing out the syllables as if they were something to be held, slowing down only for that word. "Does one o' clock sound alright to you?" And suddenly the moment was gone and he was standing there, a normal, confident college student.
The coffee was always too bitter, and she watched him beyond her mug, praying she was hallucinating, that he wasn't leering at her from across the table, that he wasn't rocking on his chair in an arrogant, all too familiar posture. She knew she was lying; she knew it even then, she certainly knows it now as she curses God and life, begging for the torture to end and for her to disappear into nothingness.
"You look lovely in blue, Sarah; you should wear it more often." His feral grin raised goose bumps along her skin; her teeth were chattering in her skull as she attempted to sip her coffee. She could see him behind those thick-rimmed glasses—she could see him laughing.
"Yes, well… Jeffery, is it?" she asked dimly, aware of nothing but the mad laughter that surrounded her.
"Jareth." The word was uttered in extreme confidence, in a way that shattered all the safe-guards she had built for herself, leaving her nothing but a cold fear in the pit of her stomach as the shaking continued.
"I'm sorry?" She prayed she had misheard, but she knows that she hadn't; he played her so well, the lying bastard. He had toyed with her reality and woven it so tightly that the cords began to snap one by one, until nothing was left but broken strings. (Why didn't she see it?)
"Jerrod, my name is Jerrod."
She knows he never said Jerrod; she wishes she had realized the difference sooner. But what could she have done—there was no stopping him. All she could do was wait.
(Timers, tables, the nervous agitation. Rejection, she craves the rejection.)
(The clock ticks; a new partner claims the chair.)
(The timer buzzes, relief fills her, the partner rotates—a new player sits.)
(She feels as if the clock has moved backwards.)
"Sarah, we're worried about you. You should start seeing someone."
Karen never understood, and listening to her on the phone, Sarah had nearly burst into paranoid tears. She couldn't tell her step-mother that Jareth was always there, that there was no point in seeing anyone because it was always the same man.
"No, I'm fine, Karen." She remembers the weeks of sickness caused by the paranoia, by the chance that she might see him beneath her window. She at one point decided it might be best not to leave her room at all—but of course, when has Jareth ever let that stop him?
"There's this nice boy I met the other day—he's an artist… he reminded me so much of you…."
Curiosity killed the cat, and Sarah isn't sure if dead is worse than her condition. Would it be better if she were safely buried beneath the earth, beyond reach of the devious king? Can death stop the Goblin King from winning his prize? She still doesn't think so.
An artist, Karen had said—and indeed, he had dressed as an artist. It was perhaps the closest he came to revealing himself. Jagged blonde hair, exotic clothing bordering on bizarre—he appeared most at ease in the artist's guise. And that is what scares her the most, the sheer confidence in which he could step into her home and gaze at her walls with that still smile. As if he knew what every shelf would hold, the print in every faded book, he knew her house inside and out. And she knew it, even then she knew it.
She isn't quite sure how he wound up past her front door, pacing through her apartment with eyes only for her. A drunken invitation, perhaps, a single moment where she had been so misguided as to believe his lies. An artist… an illusion is a far greater skill than a mere painting. Yes, Jareth is an artist.
Either way, he was there, lounging on her couch watching her with an amused smile, swirling the drink in his wine glass, waiting for her to move. She wonders why she didn't kick him out right then, but she wanted to prove something, to convince herself he wasn't real, to make him disappear into fantasy. A screwed up childhood fantasy, nothing more.
A crystal, nothing more—but how much illusion could he create out of a simple crystal ball?
"You should see my studio some time, Sarah. I'd love to have you model for me." He smiled, then, and Sarah's eyes widened as she imagined the horrors of the workshop. "I've wanted to work on a piece, but have never found the right subject. Have you ever heard the tale of Persephone and Hades?"
It was a lie. She knew the story well; she knew it by heart. It was her life painted before her eyes—how could she not know the tale of Death and his Spring Bride? It didn't matter what she replied with, for he would have told her the story all the same. The bastard.
"Persephone was a beautiful child goddess; one day, Hades spotted her and became obsessed. He flattered and confused her through the very gates of his kingdom, weaving words of trickery, deceit, luring her in with promises of dreams made reality. All with the intention of making her his bride—and yet, she refused him. But, weak with hunger, she consumed six seeds of a pomegranate, condemning herself to his eternal grasp. Although she dwells on earth for sixth months of the year, she must always return… and he is waiting." His eyes were far darker than she remember them being, his smile wolfish as he closed in on his prey, moving closer to her, looming over her with a night dark expression saved for the god of death.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here… She has passed through the Gate to Hell.
"Time is such an interesting thing—isn't it, Sarah? Six months in one world might be, oh, I don't know, eleven years in another. The clock is ticking, Sarah—that minute hand you fear so much is drawing near its mark. Persephone can't hide in Spring forever. One day, she's going to come home." He smiled and took a sip of the golden wine, lazy expression in his eye. "You would make such a beautiful goddess, Sarah. All I need is to find the right paints, and we can set a time."
The world fell down; the shards of glass were everywhere as she watched the mirror shatter through her memories. Her mouth was dry but somehow, she found her reply, her stammered refusal to his ideas of possession. Her eyes lifted and she swallowed as she watched curiosity flicker in his eyes.
"Have you ever heard of Hephaestus? The deformed god lived beneath the mountains, lonely and deformed, cold to the bone even as he labored endlessly beneath the withering heat of his furnace. The very flames that he breathed life into turned on him, devoured his flesh, distorted his already horrific visage. He was nothing but a crippled abomination never meant to see the light of day, not even worth the company of ghosts. One day he lured a young woman into his home with crystal dreams and wishes, distorted children's visions of love and beauty. He knew nothing of love—his heart was that of stone, burning in the heat of his own obsession. There, she was bound in chains, forced to sing to the whims of both the jealous fire and its master.... I think that would make a far more interesting painting."
His velvet laughter echoed through the room as he threw back his head, raising the roof with its mockery. There was no denying that laughter—she knew that laughter, that cold and harsh laughter that jeered as the clock slid forward, passing through the hours. It wasn't fair.
"That reminds me, Sarah, I should be getting back home. God knows those oubliettes don't keep themselves."
After he left, when her apartment was safe again, when she could curse his name and his heritage all she liked without fear of him standing over her shoulder, she noticed the new addition to her mantle piece—a small silver statue of a barn owl, peeping out at the world with all-seeing silver eyes; the eyes that seemed to stare straight at her.
(A canvas, a gray pallet—the clock tower, Big Ben with its tarnished hands.)
(He does not turn toward her, but his voice carries, all the same.)
It worsened quickly. Where he had been an observer before, he began to interfere deliberately in her life, to seek her out in a place where she couldn't refuse his company. A connection through the family, a fellow employee, another student of English—there were so many guises he could take, and he took nearly all of them. Everywhere she turned, there was his smooth voice as he drawled, "Hello, Sarah."
He would walk, rain dripping from his hair, his hand brushing against her arm as he strolled past, whispering in her ear, "Almost time, darling. You are almost mine, Sarah." And then he was gone, down the street, shaking with the cold and the laughter.
She felt she was losing her mind. The faces ran together, the names ran together—in the end, they all belonged to Jareth. He was the master of men, he was their artist; he controlled their features and set their limbs into play. His lips brushing against her cheek in the night mouthing those hated words… the lack of time, the futileness of her efforts.
She is not mad. She knows this now.
(He is there, every night, watching her attempt to sleep, his flickering eyes glued on her sleeping figure. He chuckles—it is the sound ringing through her nightmares, the tolling of the church bells. His velvet hands rest on her shoulders as she closes her eyes and prays he isn't there, that the black-gloved hand above her blankets isn't real… but it is, it has to be. Every night.
Sometimes he becomes an owl, resting on her headboard, golden eyes blinking as his talons dig into the dark wood. She watches him watch her with the bones of mice crunching in his mouth—never blinking, never hooting. To hoot would be to bring about her death, and what good is she to him if she is dead?
His gloved hands brush against her cheek and he leans against her; his arms wrap around her, pulling her in; his breath against her neck as the moon rises steadily in the sky. "My Spring Goddess," he whispers against her skin, his hold tightening, becoming possessive.
Any time she looks, everywhere she turns, he is there, smiling with that predator patience. Each step she takes brings her closer to his kingdom; each time she falls to sleep, she feels as if she is falling into his arms. Because that is the truth, isn't it? )
"Sarah, have you been looking for me?" he would say as he turned from his book in the library, watching her in glee. And it is true, in a way—she has been looking for him. Jareth responds well to honesty; it does no good to lie when he knows what races through her mind regardless.
"It's a conspiracy, isn't it; you aren't really him, are you? You are only pretending to be him—but I'm not fooled, Goblin lackey. You can play your games with my head, you can spin your crystal balls, but you won't win. You didn't win last time, you won't win this time." She was so confident; she was certain she figured it out in the dark shadows of her room: The men of the world had swarmed upon her like a cloud of locusts, but they were not his puppets. It was an easier explanation to accept than the latter—one man could not intervene so wholly in her life.
"Does lying make you feel better, Sarah?" he asked smoothly; her dreams crumbled into shards of broken glass lying at her feet. Could he not have allowed her to hope? No, she assumes, no, he could not. He is far too cruel to allow such lapses in his power over her. Even a tiny shard of dream could give her freedom.
She didn't answer him. Rhetorical questions begged not to be answered. The Labyrinth was created through riddles, word games—mental challenges meant to befuddle the challenger until they beat their head against the stone walls. She should have known that those skills would join him in reality.
Every corner, every side-walk, every room, every dawn, every midnight, he consumes her time. He is time, rearranging itself, moving out of its tradition for a whim—a flight of fancy, he moved the stars for no one. Time stops for no man, so why does it haunt her so well, why does it bow for her? She did not ask for time, she did not ask for his mismatched eyes to follow her down the street, she did not ask for him.
He is time, he is life, he is love, he is her death. He is the reaper of her soul and she knows it; even as she tears out his pages, and curses his name, she knows him. There is no denying his kingdom is great, and once more her own foolishness comes back to haunt her. Yes, he does have power over her—death has power over all, and who is she to deny that?
(A magician's show, Toby's birthday party. Standing ignored in a corner, she waits.)
(He wears no hats, he carries no rabbits—in his hand there rests a crystal ball.)
(The illusions look too real.)
"I will need a volunteer for my next act." A spin, a gesture. "You, girl in the corner."
"No, no—I've had bad experiences with magic tricks…."
(He smiles, he knows, and yet his hand still beckons.)
"But it wouldn't be the same without you, Sarah."
The sky was orange and outlined him well. She didn't feel like moving, she didn't feel like breathing, and that was why she supposes he was there. Death was too stubborn to let her fall through his arms so easily. He watched over her with a soft gaze… comforting, if it had not been him who gave it. His gloved hands twitched as he attempted to hold himself motionless, still watching her fade into illness.
She remembers another orange sky, years ago, when she was still young and untouched by his gloved hands. Even that sky had looked ominous, as if it had been burned into life—a fire that had stolen her spring blue sky, burned away into embers with her innocence.
He never moved from his place in her room, and even crowded under her blankets, she saw him watching her, painstakingly still. Death is a patient being, for all creatures fell under his hands. She didn't want to get up. Why would she? He would still be there—hidden in a reflection of light, but none the less, he would still be there.
"Sarah, you can't hide from me under those covers." He was right, of course, he is always right—but why did those words sound so weary, as if he were tired of being able to find her so easily, as if the game were becoming boring…. "You know you can't escape me. You run from me the way an emperor runs from death, but you can't escape me, Sarah."
He paused, the silence consumed his words… but he was still there. (He is always there; she can not avoid him, she can not escape him.) She bunched up tighter under the blankets, hiding from the fire that ate at the sky, hiding from his eyes.
"You think your stubbornness will save you, Sarah? You think your pride will stop me?" He was angry as she had never seen him. She had seen him weary, she had seen him smug and confident, but she had never before seen his anger. "If you huddle under those blankets like a child, do you think I will care? I will come for you no matter where you run, no matter where you hide, no matter what man you try to seduce into your bedroom. I will be there. You can't stop me, Sarah—do you understand that?" He was pacing; his feet were pounding across her bedroom floor.
She cowered, refusing to face him, refusing to find her courage. "How do I even know you're real?" she whispered, the thought striking her like blasphemy. How was she sure that he was the reality? And yet she was positive he was—it was in the way he haunted her so easily
"Sarah, there is only one way to find out."
And he was gone, a childhood fantasy and nothing more, leaving nothing but a pile of blankets and a bright orange sky.
(A white office, silver instruments, the smell of anaesthetics giving her a headache.)
(The man clashes with his surroundings.)
"Stress is your illness. Exam coming up?"
(She nods, lies—she has to lie.)
"Ah, yes, well don't worry, what's said is said."
And so here she is, the hero, the victim, the dreamer, the lover. Weeping over her fate because she knows she only has one choice left to her, and she hates him for it. Because as he said, she can do nothing to stop it—there is no other ending. Even as she tears his world apart, she knows the words that will create her ending. She hates his world, she hates his people, she hates him. There are no words to describe how much she hates him.
What good are the words, anyway? The words which condemned her all those years ago, the words which seduced her—the words which possess her still, even as he waits for her answer. Her life is nothing but a pile of words, unread by human eyes, only meant for his eyes, only meant for him. The man who moves the stars for no one, the man who shakes the earth for no one, the man who left his world for her.
Is he real? Is that reality; are those mismatched eyes the reality she craves? She doesn't know, she doesn't understand—she is not sure she wants to. She doesn't answer the phone, she doesn't answer the door; her tongue is tied on the words she knows she must speak. She wonders how long she has been here, in this room, waiting for the answer that just won't come.
She is running out of options and she knows it. The clock is ticking once again; her red rimmed eyes gaze at it in horror. She can't fight him, how is she supposed to fight him? She has no choice.
"I wish the Goblin King would take me away…."
She pauses, taking one final glance at her room, drinking in the sight of torn papers and strewn blankets, letting out one final sob.
(A friend's wedding, the hall covered in white, flowers blooming everywhere.)
(The bride smiles, a bouquet cradled in arm—her husband grasps them by the stem.)
(He looks at her, his eyes mismatched, and tosses the flowers.)
They land in her hands.
He sits on his throne, the king of time, an easy smile on his face as he welcomes the sight of her. And again she is reminded of that day so long ago, when they were both drenched in rain, where his eyes sought her out as if she were his world. Nothing has changed for them, and she wonders if she ever truly had a chance at freedom when she bartered for her brother's life. Did she ever truly have a chance at victory, or have the dice always been weighted?
She does not meet his eyes, even as he kneels down before her, tilts her face with his finger.