Sarah sat in her desk, pointedly ignoring her teacher and doodling aimlessly in her notebook. Being the final period of the day, almost no one else in her class was listening either. Normally an attentive student, Sarah was slightly ashamed she couldn't make herself concentrate no matter how hard she tried. Her mind kept wandering one year back.
Being fifteen had been quite tumultuous for Sarah. The relationship with her stepmother had been terrible, the bond between her and her father had cracked and to make everything much more difficult, her baby stepbrother Toby, had been kidnapped by the Goblin King.
Goblin King… Sarah wrote in curvy, looping letters over the page. It still sounded so unrealistic even to her. But it had been real. She had wished Toby away one night while frustrated with her life. The constant nagging from her stepmom and her father distancing himself from her in favour of his new wife had been too much. Angry at her parents and at Toby for being irritating, she wished him away while he cried in his crib. How could she have known the Goblin King would really appear to snatch the baby away? Things like that only ever happened in fairytales.
She leaned back in her chair, staring blankly out the classroom window. 'I wish I could go back,' she thought dreamily. 'Things were good there, despite the dangers.' A bell rung, signalling the end of class. Sarah's daydream was interrupted. The girl shook her head, coming back to the monotony of life. 'What am I saying?' she scolded herself silently; 'it was insane there.'
She packed her notebook into her backpack before slinging it over her shoulder. She weaved through the packed hallways, elbowing past people. Her school had an immense student body, almost to the point of over-population. Sarah hated it. There seemed no room for imagination. Even the drama department was boring, only putting on commonly used plays like 'Romeo and Juliet.' Sarah had been hopeful starting high school. She wanted to meet more people like her who loved reading, drawing and acting. She had been severely disappointed to discover the main interest at her school was sports and gossip. Sarah couldn't understand why in a school so huge there wasn't more diversity in personalities.
Fresh autumn air hit her crisply as she strode out the front doors. She hurried behind the school building and started home through the shortcut in the park. She kicked piles of crunchy leaves, making them swirl around her ankles. She relished the soft green grass. Soon a contracting company was going to tear up most of the park to pave an additional parking lot for the students.
Sarah stopped under her favourite tree, a towering oak. She touched its trunk tenderly. When the news came in about the parking lot, she had been horrified, thinking they were going to chop down her tree. Fortunately, the plans for the lot stopped twenty meters from the oak.
The leaves above Sarah's head rustled. She looked up to see a barn owl shoot out from the branches. A thrill ran up her spine. She recognized that owl. She began pelting after it. The owl streaked across the sky, gaining more and more speed. Sarah darted between two parked cars and onto a road. She dodged an oncoming truck which honked at her angrily. Sarah ignored it, keeping her eyes on the steadily shrinking bird. It was getting farther and farther away.
A stitch suddenly flared up in the girl's side. She gasped deeply and clamped her hand to her ribcage, where the sharp pain throbbed. Sarah slowed her pace while trying to even her breathing. "I ran too hard," she panted, "and I lost sight of that stupid owl."
Anger as sharp as the pain in her side spiked in Sarah's mind. She knew that owl. It was the Goblin King in disguise. He had been checking up on her. "Damn him," she spat. As much as she missed parts of the Underground (which she was embarrassed to admit) the thought of coming face to face with the King was terrifying. Sarah had a feeling in the pit of her stomach that he wouldn't play nice when they met again.
"If only I saw were he went," she moaned. "I could've shot that damn owl or something." Her dad owned a revolver. He kept it hidden in his closet. Sarah pushed her hair out of her eyes, sighing. Of course planning to shoot the owl was ridiculous. It would just fly away before she could even get the gun. A shiver went down her spine again. The Goblin King had been watching her…
Glancing at her watch, Sarah let out a soft moan. "I'm gonna be late!" She took off across the street again at a fast pace, stitch in her side making her wince. She ducked down a catwalk, jogging lightly. Only a few more blocks until her house. She slowed her pace to a quick walk. Sarah checked her watch again. Her stepmom would be home any minute. Worried, Sarah began to jog again. Things had gotten marginally better at home, as long as she kept her mouth shut and did all her chores, Irene, her father's new wife, wouldn't bother her.
A gasp of dismay exited her mouth. Irene's car was pulled up in the drive way. Sarah sulked up the porch steps and opened the front door. Irene wasn't standing in the front hall, tapping her foot and fuming. Sarah eased in quietly, placing her backpack silently on the floor. She tiptoed steadily towards the stairs that lead up to her bedroom. Maybe if Irene thought she'd been home the whole time, she wouldn't get mad.
"Sarah? Is that you?" called Irene's voice from the kitchen. Sarah sighed and walked over to the kitchen. "I'm home."
Irene was standing over the counter, vegetable peeler in hand. A large salad bowl stood brimming with leafy lettuce. Sarah could smell a pot roast broiling in the slow cooker. "Come give me a hand with making supper. Wash your hands first."
Sarah advanced towards the sink cautiously, reaching for the soap dispenser. She scrubbed her hands up more than was necessary. You never knew with Irene. Towelling her hands off Sarah asked, "What do you need me to do?"
Irene went to wash her hands quickly. "We're having people over for supper tonight, and I need to get Toby from the daycare place. Can you make dessert? I also have to pick up some stuff at the grocery store."
"Who's coming over?" Sarah asked lightly, flicking through the cook book to the dessert section. She stopped at the lemon meringue pie, which didn't look too bad. She read over the instructions absent-mindedly as Irene prattled about so-and-so and her lovely family. Sarah began to wonder if they had all the ingredients for the meringue pie.
"Sarah? Did you hear me?" Irene was standing in the kitchen entrance, spring jacket folded over her arm.
"Oh, sorry," Sarah said, suppressing mild irritation when Irene rolled her eyes. Her stepmom smoothed out a fold on her jacket before addressing Sarah again.
"I said that it would be appreciated if you took Toby to the park after supper while your dad and I chat with our company."
Sarah shrugged. "If I finish my homework by then, ok."
Irene gave her a thin smile. Sarah choked back a laugh. She couldn't believe how hard Irene was trying to get along. They almost never got along. When they did, it was because one of them was acting friendly for the rest of the family's sake. Irene gave an awkward wave and told Sarah she'd be back in about an hour. Sarah nodded and turned back to the recipe book.
As soon as the front door clicked shut, Sarah slammed the recipe book closed and began digging for the instant chocolate pudding. She could just tell Irene the pie hadn't turned out. A failed lemon meringue was a good enough excuse for chocolate pudding. Sarah opened the corner cupboard, reaching for a mixing bowl when something caught her eye. A barn owl perched on the deck railing. Crying out in surprise, Sarah dropped the plastic bowl. The owl cocked its head and stared balefully at her. She began to tremble. Their eyes met and the owl hooted, muted by the glass. Startled back into motion by the sound, Sarah dashed upstairs to her bedroom and slammed the door shut. The Goblin King was in her backyard.
"Go away!" she screamed, certain he could hear her. "I didn't wish you here! You have no power over me! IT'S NOT FAIR!"
"You say that so often," a low voice murmured. "I wonder what your basis for comparison is."
Sarah whipped around, eyes wide. "You!"
Before her stood the Goblin King, splendid in a velvety dove grey doublet, form-fitting black trousers and boots. His ash-blond hair fell down his back, longer than she remembered. His eyes glittered at her arrogantly, one a deep brown and the other a shocking blue. He cocked his head to the side owlishly, smiling. "Hello, Sarah."
"Get out." She growled, teeth clenched. Her eyes darted around the room, looking for a suitable weapon. The Goblin King stepped forward, offering her his hand. "Come now, Sarah. Is that anyway to treat an old friend?"
Sarah almost smacked his hand away. "You are not my friend. You never were." She sneered at him, faking confidence. "And you're too late. Toby isn't here."
The King threw his head back and laughed. Sarah stepped back from him warily, bumping against her desk. He leered at her, chuckling to himself. "I'm here to talk to you, Sarah. Still planning to shoot me?"
She froze, hand gripping her desk's chair until her fingers went numb. "How did you…?"
The Goblin King shrugged, grinning sardonically. Suddenly, he began looking around her room. Movie posters and drawings plastered her walls. "Where are all your toys, Sarah?" He asked softly. "Things really have changed."
"Stop it," Sarah hissed, "get out of my room. Get out of my life!"
The King laughed softly. He leaned forward slightly, studying her face intently. "Weren't you just thinking about how you missed my labyrinth, Sarah? Don't you want to come back to the Underground?" He pulled out a crumpled piece of note paper for her to see. The words 'Goblin King' were scrawled across the page in curvy, looped writing. Her writing. "If I didn't know better," he breathed, "I'd say I've been on your mind."
He flicked a strand of blond hair behind his shoulder. "That's not important right now." He crossed the room and placed his palm flat on Sarah's mirror. "I just wanted to give you my offer once more." The glass beneath his palm began to swirl milky white like cataracts. Sarah watched in horrified fascination as the swirl began to quicken, like a maelstrom forming on stormy ocean waters.
The Goblin King smirked at her. "You see Sarah? I still have power over you." His hand began to sink into the glass. Sarah's breath caught in her throat as he faded away into her mirror. The hand that hadn't disappeared into the glass reached out to her once more. "Please, Sarah," he whispered, "this is your last chance."
Sarah sucked in a breath and closed her eyes.