One

In his palace, the Goblin King paced back and forth, twirling a ribbon through his fingers and staring out the window. Her whole existence baffled him. He'd seen her now, so long after, a woman now, and seen her life. How could she exist up there? She was so ill suited for it.

She zoned out, walked into danger without the slightest care, befriended all sorts of vagrants and good for nothings and generally degraded herself among lesser people. And worse, she didn't even realize how above them she was. How had she picked their world over him? She was incomprehensible.

How much time had passed? He knew not, and he had absolutely sworn never to count it. No need to quantify such a meaningless set of time. No need at all. All that he knew was that it was high time she came back. This moping, sullen melancholy was intolerable, and though he'd tried everything to fill the void, it seems she was the only option.

Yes, the time had come for Sarah to come back to him. No way around it.

xx

All was dark and hazy when Sarah stirred from sleep. Someone was sitting on the end of her bed, and in her confusion she couldn't discern anything about the figure except that he was humming a slow, rhythmic song.

Groggily, Sarah's mind rejected the figure's presence. Just dreaming. Just a dream. Don't be silly.

She shut her eyes.

xx

The figure was gone the next morning, of course, and Sarah smiled to herself. Just another figment of her imagination. It was the latest of many strange dreams and experiences she'd had of a shadowy figure skirting the edge of her vision, a fragment of song floating down to her, an owl flying in the distance.

She was able to disregard these visions for the most part, chalking it up to wishful thinking and escapism. She'd recently lost her elementary teaching job due to funding cuts, so money had been tight. Plus, she and her long time boyfriend recently broke up, and even though the split was mutual, it still pained her.

She stared wistfully out her window, sighed, and looked back down at the fruit she was cutting for lunch. No sense brooding. She was a practical, thoughtful girl, and it wasn't in her nature to fall into excessive gloom. Her imagination carried her far away to a glittering ballroom as she took a bite of the peach in her hand.

xx

That night, Sarah fell into a dreamless sleep, into a blackness so deep it felt like death. But something was prodding at her consciousness, a tugging sensation that was both familiar and alien, welcome and terrifying. She obeyed the impulse, and with an almost impossible effort, she pulled herself into wakefulness.

Someone was sitting at the end of her bed, looking straight at her. The gaze was like an electric jolt, and in the profound silence that followed, Sarah understood everything. No waking slumber blinded her tonight about who this man was, why he was here, what he wanted.

She had the vague notion to scream. She didn't want to go with him. This man frightened her, had always frightened her. And yet she saw herself reach out to meet the hand he extended, yearning for his touch in a way that was awful and delicious. He whispered her name, touched her hand, and pulled.