DISCLAIMER: Labyrinth and its characters are not mine. More is the pity...
2. Do not go into the faerie circle.
For a moment Sarah and the blotch traded bemused blinks. Inky darkness obscured any details, but Sarah could see that it wasn't reacting to the winds that swayed its perch. It was likely some kind of bird to be so comfortable high up in a tree, but it was too big for a crow or even a raven. Sarah peered out at it.
The bird peered right back.
"Well okay, sue me. I'm curious," Sarah muttered at it from her side of the glass. "What are you?"
The eyes tilted, just so, to the side and she had the distinct impression that it was amused.
Sarah laughed quietly. "Alright then, let's play twenty questions." Katherine was going to think she was right off her rockers to be questioning a random creature of the night. But it was sitting outside of her window and her interest had been piqued. "Two blinks for no. One blink for yes."
The creature outside obligingly blinked. Once.
The girl shook her head at her own antics, blaming stress and late night brownies for her temporary, at least she hoped temporary, stint of madness. "You are a bird?"
Again, the eyes disappeared for a moment, but stayed open after. If anything, it almost looked like it had winked.
Sarah began to wonder if creatures just didn't blink twice. "You're not a cat then?"
The shape outside straightened as if affronted and blinked twice in quick succession.
She narrowed her eyes at it. Either her imagination was really having a field day with her or by sheer random chance she had a parrot outside, that could lip read, and was adapted to freezing temperatures. "Are you a parrot?"
If she had thought it had looked offended before, it was nothing to the ruffling of feathers she was seeing now. The two blinks were followed by a glare that Sarah swore could melt frost.
"You can understand what I'm saying then?"
Sarah began laughing to herself. Oh dear lord, she was losing it. Talking to a bird that said it understood the human language. At - Sarah read the clock - two thirty in the morning. She slumped back into the pillows and narrowed her gaze on the remaining brownies. Katherine wouldn't have left her special brownies would she? She snorted to herself. Oh yes she would. Especially since tomorrow was a Saturday and Sarah didn't have to work. Strangely enough, Sarah was comforted by the idea that she was in fact drugged to the gills. It did explain a few things.
She turned back to the glass. "You, my friend, are a figment of my imagination. Courtesy of my mischievous roommate," the happy girl declared to the creature outside. She paused to study its reaction.
At first there was no reaction. The eyes stayed steady without blinking once or twice. They stayed watching each other for a good minute until Sarah's eyes started to sting and the shadows began to blur into each other. The two golden discs, however, remained sharp in her vision, in fact Sarah imagined that they were getting bigger.
Eventually the eyes blinked once and Sarah smiled to herself thinking that whatever was in the brownies was being quite amicable. Then without a doubt they blinked again, slowly.
Her jaw dropped. Her drug trip was daring to disagree with her? "Oh really?"
Sarah snorted. "And you can prove this how?"
Her conversation partner did the same curious tilt it had done before.
The girl thunked the back of her head against the window casing and closed her eyes. Granted, their method of communication did not allow for anything departing from yes or no answers, but this was getting ridiculous. She looked at the brownies one more time. To her knowledge, Katherine would only bake weed into the chocolate goodies.
Stretching out, Sarah picked up a brownie and sniffed it. From past experiences, she knew she never could taste or smell the marijuana that Katherine put in them, but she had never had a trip this immersive before. Usually she just thought everything was amusing. She looked back out at the bird. She didn't feel high. In fact, it was feeling too surreal to be funny anymore. Sarah dropped the brownie back on the plate.
"You're real." It was more of a statement than a question this time. Still the bird, apparently feeling helpful, blinked once again.
Leaning back into the pillows, Sarah crossed her arms and frowned at the blotch. The hallucination was maintaining the image that it was intelligent, a bird - not a parrot - and, oh yes, it wasn't a hallucination. At the moment it had come down to a choice. Either Sarah could prove to herself, and possibly to the confused bit of imagination sitting in her tree, that it really was not real. The other choice was just to ignore it and go to sleep. She rubbed her eyes; even for her it was late. Usually, by the time the alarm chimed, she was ready to drop where she was.
The tired, stressed, agitated, and potentially drugged editor looked up at the theoretical bird outside her window. "What do you think; can I just ignore you and go to sleep?"
The eyes performed a strange circling motion, different from the tilt of before, and finally blinked twice.
"No huh?" She got another singular blink for her troubles. Grumbling, Sarah got up from her nest of pillows. "Well, it looks like I'll have to face reality." She turned and fully faced the window. "I am coming out. Will you be outside when I get to the tree?"
Yellow eyes slowly blinked. Sarah waited, but it did not repeat. "Alright... I'm coming."
Shaking her head, Sarah started to really question her sanity and supposed lucidness. She was going outside, into the winter cold, to disprove a drug vision. But what if it is real? A whisper went through her mind. The same small voice that had nudged her into taking up storytelling and eventually editing classes. "Then we will have a lot to talk about," Sarah whispered fiercely back. "If there really is an intelligent bird out there, then either I am going mad or there is a very good reason for this."
The bird kept watch as she pulled a thick sweater from a drawer and tugged it on before walking out the bedroom door.
Manoeuvring to avoid the creaks in the hardwood floor, Sarah made her way back down to the foyer. Stopping to pull on a pair of hiking boots she glanced at the coat rack debating what to battle the cold with.
Her own coat was still in the closet, but Katherine's fake fur coat was hanging invitingly within reach. At least Sarah assumed it was fake. Artificial or not, the inner lining was a tactile pleasure. Argument proven to be null and void, Sarah tied the last knot on the laces and took up the fur mantle. It flared and settled about her shoulders in a rather satisfying swirl of warmth.
If anything should come of the night, Sarah thought to herself cynically, at least I get to experience it while being warm and well covered. Indeed, the fur coat reached down to the soles of her boots. She was fully and completely ensconced in animal heat. Sarah winced, fake animal heat.
The whisper made itself known again, I don't think it's -
Shut it! Sarah willed it. Thankfully, it took its whispery, treacherous self back into the recesses of her mind. Great, I'm arguing with myself, Sarah thought morosely. I'm doomed.
With those positive thoughts in mind, Sarah flicked on the back yard light, then unlocked and opened the door. Oh damn it's freezing! Her mind shuddered to a frosty stop and she almost closed the door right there. But no, there was a hallucination that needed to be exorcised. Whimpering in frustration, Sarah reached back to the coat rack to snatch up a toque and a scarf. The fur coat, fake or not, didn't have a hood and she wanted her ears and nose to survive the night.
"If that bird isn't there like it promised, either I'm going to be very happy or very angry," Sarah grumbled. She was betting on the angry outcome despite the fact that it was a drug trip. "For a drug trip, it's turning out to be a royal pain in the arse!"
Surely the cold could not be manufactured from her drug trip. She knew it had been cold during her trip home and now it was so much colder a few hours later. If anything, the drop in temperature would kill any hallucination dead in its tracks. Sarah paused after closing the door behind her. If she knew that any imagination from a special brownie was going to dissipate into the chill air, then what was she doing going through with the walk around the house?
Because that bit of imagination was so very adamant about being real. The whisper was back. And you can't put down a challenge.
Well that was true. And she didn't have any grudge against the whisper - apart from the fur argument. Usually the silly thing was right - again, apart from the fur argument. She had enjoyed storytelling and she had found enormous satisfaction in editing.
Shrugging, Sarah figured that a late night walk around the house could be peaceful and settle her nerves. With her imagination running as wild as it was tonight, perhaps she just needed a little air. Too much time cramped up in front of a desk, the editor thought. There hadn't been a chance to enjoy the night earlier when she had come back home, on account of not having a warm coat.
Tugging the toque down over her ears and wrapping the scarf about her neck twice, she felt like an abominable snow creature. Actually, in the state her mind was in, she should probably be expecting yetis for tea right about then. Sarah stuffed her hands with their already chilled fingers into the deep pockets. Oh bliss. The pockets were lined in fluffy polar fleece. Katherine might never have the coat back again.
In better spirits, Sarah grinned to herself and trotted down the stairs to the walkway below. At the bottom she turned a sharp right and followed the side of the house until turning another corner to see the tree at the back of the house.
The oak was lit by the yard light up to its lower branches, but the rest of the trees limbs were lost in the black of the night. In fact, the light just about did in her night vision. Walking up to the tree, she peered up at the branches ahead of her and didn't see anything in it. Tree, yes. Branches and stars, yes. Blotch? Not so much.
"Hello Mr. Hallucination. I believe you are no longer present?" Sarah called out softly to the empty tree. Despite what she had expected, she felt a little disappointed. Not happy, nor angry, just an empty acceptance for what she knew was reality. So much for the imagination's resolve, Sarah thought wistfully.
A hoot came from above her head.
"An owl?" Sarah jerked her eyes to the right and involuntarily looked straight into the light. "Gah!" She held up a hand to shield her eyes and tried to see past the white outline of her hand. She didn't see any owls, but then her vision was swimming with incandescent spots, so it wasn't surprising.
She felt more than heard movement in front of her. A whir of feathered wings and the faint click of talons on the cement walkway. Then for some ridiculous reason, she saw faint sparkles of light wafting into the grass at her feet. Glitter?
"While I do have a brilliant personality - "
Wait - what? Sarah jerked her hand down and tried to see past the glare.
" - and I do appreciate the gesture." The voice was urban, smooth, cynical, rich in all ways yummy, undeniably male, and utterly unexpected.
Bit of imagination be damned! This wasn't in her head! She made out wispy hair, made into a corona of white gold by the light, and broad shoulders covered by what appeared to be a cloak of white feathers.
Owl feathers? White owl feathers? An Arctic owl? Something jarred in the back of her head. For a bizarre moment Sarah had a vision of her little whisper in an abandoned attic, frantically digging through old cardboard boxes, muttering about a really bad acid trip when she was very young. But I never did acid, Sarah thought dazedly.
She blinked slowly at the silhouette of a feather-caped man in front of her and felt she should have known him. Or at least of him. "Have we met?" She frowned, moving slightly to the right to see him clearly.
A dry chuckle preceded his movement as he parted the white cape to rest over his shoulders and then he stepped away from the lamp.
Sarah felt her jaw drop for the second time that night. Oh, holy hell. Wow.
The man was wearing armor. Not the polished steel chrome of the shiny knights of fantasy. Not the scarred, war-beaten relics of the museums or private homesteads. No, this was the glossy black plates of an evil king. Specifically an evil king who did horrible, nasty things to virgin girls. Like tossing them to dragons.
Or into bed chambers. At that moment, the whisper in her head made a triumphant shout - jarringly different from its usual quietness - , yanked open a duck-taped box, and dumped out the contents.
Sarah felt the blood leave her face, the sensation of draining and lightening in the head which happened only when she knew something awful had just occurred. "Oh, holy hell," she repeated, this time aloud, her voice a broken whisper.
The armoured man smirked. His lips tweaked up just far enough at one corner to reveal a lengthened fang. "Depends on which religion you subscribe to," he replied. He tilted his head at her and she had a sudden recollection of the eyes in the tree doing the exact same movement.
The girl blinked at her hallucination and desperately, frantically, prayed that it was a hallucination.
Mr. Hallucination That Couldn't Possibly Be Real let out a sharp edged laugh feeling of falling glass and shattered crystals, and outright grinned at her. "Breathe girl."
Sarah ogled at the amused man, sucked in a huge gasp of air, and promptly choked it back out again. She doubled over and nearly blacked out from the coughing. There were spots dancing in front of her eyes, whether from her earlier glance at the light or from the more recent lack of oxygen she wasn't sure. However, she was sure that she did not want to see who she thought she was seeing when she straightened up again. Oh please be gone. Please don't be there.
Unfortunately, when she did manage to stand upright again, the man of her nightmares had not deigned to disappear into the night. He was looking just as amused, just as frightening, just as real, as before.
"You," Sarah lifted a shaking finger to point at him uselessly, "are not real." Her finger may have shook, but her voice had picked up its broken pieces and had returned strong and defiant.
The smirk fell off his face and he stalked forward, every inch the offended royalty. She stood her ground, but it was terrifying the way that he glided over the cement.
He should be making noise! He's wearing a freaking full suit of armour! Sarah thoughts scattered.
His boots are leather though, the whisper noted.
Not helping! Sarah mentally squeaked as the king loomed over her.
"I am real, Sarah. Don't you remember? We've had this conversation already." Mismatched blue eyes seemed to slice straight through her thoughts and mercilessly tossed her wits from her head.
"No, we have not!" Sarah stuttered at him. Weren't the owl's eyes yellow?
His eyes abruptly shifted colours. Sarah watched in morbid fascination as rays of gold blossomed from the pupils and dominated his irises; just as the pupils themselves shrank and bloomed in size.
She gasped when the transformation was complete and she was left staring blankly into the two shimmering yellow eyes that she had earlier conversed with.
They blinked once. "Yes, we have. Sarah-sweet."
Her breath escaped out in a hiss. Sarah felt betrayed, confused. What was going on? If he was real, what was he doing here? What did he want?
"Say my name, Sarah."
She glared up at him. "What do you want?"
Owl eyes, half-lidded and cold, watched her. "For now, I want you to say my name. At least my title."
The man lifted his right black gloved hand - Leather, the whisper said helpfully - and threaded it under the scarf, the fur ruff of the coat, the soft wool knit of the sweater and finally reached her skin. Instead of the expected chill of exposed leather, Sarah felt a startling warmth which spread out from his touch. His thumb rested on the ridge of her collar bone while the rest of his fingers curved over the muscle of her left shoulder.
"It's been ten years, Sarah, but I know you remember me." His grip tightened. I want you to acknowledge me. That you have not forgotten me, were the silent words singing through the air like so many spider silk threads. Glinting in the night, felt on the skin, hoping not to be seen. Fragile, thin, but unmistakably there.
But she had forgotten him and all that had involved that one night of adventure. Her life was normal before that night and after had been no different. Sure, she had taken the dream's lessons to heart and had treasured her baby brother forever after, but the shock of returning to bumbling regular life had been a betrayal of the worst kind. She had cried afterwards. Broken, feeling utterly alone and discarded, she hadn't seen any evidence of her tromp through Underground. At first she had been terrified of calling upon her dream friends. It would have been the final crack in her fragile mind if they would not appear, proof that her adventure had been just a dream. So she had not tried.
The years had gone by and she had satisfied herself with telling fantastic stories to Toby. At least there in his eyes she saw her friends come alive. Saw the kingdom rise and fall in the boy's imagination. For a few hours a week, Sarah saw her younger brother believe in a world that she was slowly losing faith in.
Sarah opened her eyes, she hadn't even noticed when she had closed them, and looked up at the man in front of her. She remembered now. Her whisper had brought every single moment, every cherished gem of a memory to the fore of her mind. Her mind sparkled with all the glimpses into a brighter, a more vivid world; like the glitter that he was so fond of.
Her hand came up, almost of its own volition, to trail fingers through the feathers on his shoulder. Her eyes never strayed from his and she saw how the skin around them tightened and his pupils expanded. She brought her hand down to rest on his breast plate, above where his heart would have been. "Goblin King," she whispered.
His breath hissed in through his teeth. His weight shifted back and his hand began to withdraw taking its tantalizing warmth with it.
She took another breath. "Jareth," she whispered again almost in a sigh and she closed her eyes, accepting that he would leave. Sarah felt his body still. His hand stopped with mere finger tips grazing her skin. She could feel her heart beat thundering in her ears. Dreading that he would stay. Terrified that he would leave.
The Goblin King drew in a shuddering breath and ghosted his finger tips back and forth. Her skin prickled with the goose bumps it caused. Sarah gasped and snapped her eyes open. He had stayed.
The smirk that he was wearing wasn't as cock sure as it had been several minutes ago. "There, that wasn't so hard now was it?" He finally slid his hand back out entirely and Sarah felt adrift and cold. "Sarah-sweet."
She shook her head and took a step back crossing her arms. She had been hurt by this king before. Hell if she would let that repeat. "What do you want?" Sarah asked again. He lifted a brow. She huffed. "What do you want, Jareth?"
Jareth grinned this time enough to show a full display of sharp teeth. "Why, some of us were wondering whatever happened to our dear friend the first, and last, victor of the Labyrinth."
She glared at him. "You wanted to know what happened to me?"
The fae tilted his head back at her vehemence. Both brows were now lifted and he looked intrigued. "Yes. I wanted to know." She snorted. He waved a languid hand. "And others of course."
"What? The others, or you, couldn't have just dropped in to visit me a week after my run?" Sarah uncrossed her arms to cut the air in front of her with a hand. "Or maybe even some-time in the last ten years?"
His eyebrows snapped down to match her own scowl and he growled. It was a rumbling thing, an angry sound of annoyance, confusion and sheer bestial wounded pride. "Did you call upon us, Sarah?" he snarled and she gasped. "After that first night of celebration? No, you did not. Not one of us." Not even me. The cry went glinting out into the night.
"What was I supposed to think, Goblin King?" She sniped back. "I woke up in my room the next morning. Everything was proper and fine and normal, even though my celebration had broken at least a chair and a lamp. The goblins had chewed up several pillows and one of them had even made a nest in the laundry basket!" Sarah threw her hands up in the air. "When I woke there was none of that. I thought I had dreamt it all!" She had been like the broken crystal dream of a shattered ballroom, the pieces lying scattered and forgotten like so many shed feathers. A sob tore up from her throat and she buried her face in her hands.
The king was silent before her. Still angry, still cold, but there. She could not deny that, not even to blame it on a drug trip.
Still thinking about that even now, the whisper mocked. He's here in front of you. What do you suppose really brought him here tonight?
"Yet you were too scared to call." His voice was low and even, the rich warmth leeched from its tones.
Sarah sniffled and angrily swiped the moisture from her eyes. She stood tall and looked him in the face. "I lost faith," she admitted softly, regretfully, painfully.
He tilted his head to the side and his look became considering. "You said you wanted proof," he said almost mockingly.
She felt a shiver up her spine, an icy feeling of dread, but it was quickly followed by a rush of tingling adrenaline. Proof. Proof that her adventure had been real. That she hadn't dreamt it up on some odd summer night with a thunder storm raging outside and her baby brother wailing down the hall.
Sarah took a deep breath and accepted her choice. "Yes. I want proof."
Teeth flashed and his eyes seemed to shine in the light. Jareth, the Goblin King, Ruler of the Castle beyond the Goblin City, and the enemy of every runner of the Labyrinth, grinned like she had just given him her soul. A gift handed to him willingly, wrapped with fanciful bows and adorned with fistfuls of glitter.
"Well, Sarah. I'm sure you know about the traditional method of fae travel." He swept his arm out and a few of the feathers from his cloak were dislodged from the hem.
Sarah frowned at him. "Arches? Cave entrances? Pools of water? Stonehenge?"
He clicked his tongue at her. "Fae circles, sweet one. Surely you know of them?"
"Jareth, there are no mushrooms on my lawn." She would have noticed that for sure.
"Ah, but who said the king used fungi?" His eyes had a wicked gleam to them.
She opened her mouth to reply, but instead stood watching as the feathers from the cloak fluttered down to the grass, the wind toying with a few of them. There was no mistaking that the white down had rested in a perfect circle that settled not two feet from her.
"Proof, Sarah?" The Goblin King stepped up to the circle, turning to hold out a hand towards her. His expression was aloof, calculating, both judging and challenging. "You'll have to walk with me sweet one. Or I can't guarantee where you'll touch down on the other side." His tone was amused, but Sarah could almost feel the tension humming in the air.
To walk into a fae circle, willingly or not, was bad news. Even in the past ten years she had avoided them. Her hands clenched for a moment by her sides and she pulled in one more breath of winter air. Oh Katherine is going to kill me for walking off with her coat, was Sarah's last skittish, incredulous, thought before she took the two steps forward, placed her hand in his, and nodded.
"Show me your proof, Goblin King."
And together they stepped into the ring of soft white feathers.
Thank you to Itsy and Adam for helping me weed out the typos and scatter in the needed commas.
Uhm, welcome to the Canadian dictionary. A toque is the same as a took. We tend to use the letter "u" a little more often.