The sun left behind white streaks as it shone through the early evening
clouds. The different shades of green found in the trees that lined the highway
were bright and soothing, filling Sarah with the comforting joys that spring
brought. A sharp wind whistled and
moaned as it forced its way through the open car window; Sarah leaned her elbow
against it, her manner quiet and reflective as she tapped her fingers, letting
the upbeat song on the radio better her wonderful mood. She had not a care in
the world at the moment, for even the highway was devoid of the usual midday traffic.
returning home would be blissful. She
had a new apartment in New York, but if one asked her where her home was she
always said "Highland Grove." Sure,
it was small and unnoticeable, hardly a dot on a road map, but she held her most
important memories there. Even as
the sun glared through the windshield, making a partial silhouette of the
scenery before her, she did not peel her vision from the horizon.
that hill and beyond,
she would vaguely say in her mind through images and feelings, beyond this
futility I have left behind, beyond the constraints, beyond the labyrinth of
confusion, there is my house, in the middle of that little town, and I am coming
back to it, if only for awhile. I
am going to escape and forget what is there for me in New York and I am going to
take full advantage of my visit. If
only for two days, I will no longer be plagued by the future.
imagined a little boy, pacing in his room, tugging at his mother's shirt,
begging, not in words (for her thoughts were not that developed) but in
expression, in motion, begging for his mother to bring his sister home more
quickly. A cake sat on the counter
in the kitchen, and this little boy harboring on five years would make a sneaky
approach to this cake and dip a small finger into the cloud like frosting; he
would close his lips about the digit and reveal a satisfied smile, not so much
for the flavor, but the mischief involved with the action of taking a forbidden
taste. He would stare out the
window, he would skip across the porch, he would turn hours into days while
awaiting his sister's arrival – all of these things she knew would happen in
all of the detail she had vaguely pictured in her mind, for Sarah knew her
brother well enough to predict every aspect of his character, every action he
might take. She pictured all of
this knowingly, and still wondered at the complexity of a child; instead of
turning a frown upon her lack of understanding, she smiled, reveling in the
mystery that slowly solved itself each moment she was around him.
Sarah impatiently looked toward the shortterm future as much as her young
sibling, Toby, must have been on this day– his birthday.
couldn't wait to give him his gift; she had run across it while browsing in a
unprofitable craft shop in downtown New York. Her gaze had been idle, her intent
not to spend money, yet, suddenly, there it had stood magnificently among the
other plainer figurines, as if wanting her to see it.
It was as if an implacable memory had reached its long white arm out to
her and tapped her on the shoulder, the words of yesteryear blowing like a cool
breeze through her ears, saying, "Take it, take it… this thing, you know
he will like." Her hand had
rushed to grab it, the movement independent of any conscious thought. She rubbed
her fingers across the powderfine grain of the ceramic, touched the rough
gemstone eyes, caressed the soldered metal accents.
Nothing in the world might have pried it from her grip at that moment,
and she had instantly bought it, without any second thoughts.
was one of the few wonders that had presented itself in her new home.
New York was a daily growing disappointment.
When she had journeyed there five years ago in the old family station
wagon, she had looked at the city streets in awe, imagining that she would
someday be walking down those streets on the way to a movie shoot.
Her aspirations were way over the top; she had ended up struggling
through acting classes with a teacher that beat down her aspirations in an
attempt to beat down the pre-madonna in her, many studios had refused to even
allow her an audition while none had even accepted her for even a small part,
and she had ended up accepting a job as a commercial actress just to pay her
looked at the clock on the dashboard and saw that she was only five minutes away
from entering town. It had only been five years ago that she had rushed away to
New York in order to escape ordinary life; an ordinary life that had made itself
painfully apparent after her encounter with the Goblin King.
Goblin King resided in a land called the Underground.
It was a special place that existed beyond the human realm… A place
somewhat likened to a mirror image of the known worldnot physically, but
inwardly… An Underground in which magic was a vagrant looking for an employer,
creatures were unafraid of giving vocal opinions, and the land sprouted forth
castles, villages, forests, and bazaar circumstances… An alternate world whose
black night sky revealed an immense, silver moon, while a flaming sun came to
burn at the crack of dawn…
had begun the incident, four years earlier, in which a fifteen yearold Sarah,
believing the Underground was merely fantasy, had held her bawling, baby brother
Toby towards the sky, high towards the ceiling of his nursery, and called out
the eternal words that would give the Goblin King permission to take the child
hesitation, he had taken the burden of her baby brother from her.
With a horrorstricken face she watched as twittering little creatures
crept into the room, a mad owl pounding upon the glass door of the nursery.
The wind and rain lashed at her face on that stormy night as the owl
finally beat open the doors and changed into a human form much more menacing and
mysterious. She had pleaded to the
silhouette of a man who had come to her balcony that night, begged with him to
please return her brother… She hadn't truly meant what she had said!
no words, no matter how many tears accompanied them, would sway the Goblin King.
He taunted a glass sphere before her on his dancing fingertips, the
clocklike ticktock of his hands entrancing as well as intimidating her, the
glistening black pools in his eyes fixing her in place. She had two choices:
take his offering of dreams and fantasies as a replacement for her brother, or
travel through his Labyrinth with a maximum of thirteen hours in which to reach
his castle at the center, and ultimately bring her brother home.
had taken the latter of the two, thus embarking upon a journey she had never
highway made a sharp curve, the strip of road ahead blocked by trees. Sarah
turned the car left with the road and inertia caused her body to slant to the
right. She lessened the pressure on the accelerator, warily watching the road
and squinting her eyes against the strong glare of the oppressive sun.
turn in the road ended and Sarah could see the highway go uphill and disappear
into the horizon, the sun's dagger rays scattering across the asphalt.
The light was blinding, allowing her to see only the small strip of road
ahead. She pulled down the visor to
relieve her of the bright sun's glare and she was suddenly rewarded with full
vision of the highway.
dark, heavyset person stood at the center of the highway about a mile away, not
showing any indication of moving. Sarah
anxiously stabbed at the horn on the steering wheel, but the person just faced
her, not moving, not flinching. The
car was closing in, foot by endless foot; Sarah pressed firmly down on the
brakes in short bursts. The
speedometer went from fifty miles per hour to forty, then from there to thirty
and from thirty to twenty, until the needle pointed to zero and the car was a
yard away from whom it had nearly hit.
few beads of sweat trickled down Sarah's forehead as she let out a long sigh and
rested her head wearily on the steering wheel, still gripping it with tense,
white hands. Her head continuing to
lay on the wheel, she reached underneath it to turn off the car and hesitated in
the middle of the task.
Sarah help," a familiar voice called from outside.
so many peasants had done at the possible sight of a miracle from the tombs of
saints, Sarah jerked her head with joyous reflex and stared in front of her.
As she saw who it was, her eyes widened beyond normal proportions and her
knuckles became even more ghostly. Her
mouth suddenly went dry and she unconsciously worked to wet it.
Could she truly be seeing this figure in the road?
Was it a mirage produced by the hot sun beating against the ebony
she mumbled uncertainly, afraid of stepping from the car to find that it was
only the trickery of her imagination that brought this old friend back to her in
the middle of this deserted highway.
she saw that it was Ludo, in all of his magnificent detail.
The beast was about eight feet tall, the long, shaggy fur on his back a
rusty red in the sunlight, his frontal features fighting against shadows.
His broad, wistful face was scrunched up in a pug nose while his large
teeth protruded upward from his lower lip.
He indeed would look like a large beast, if it were not for his strange,
wistful smile and ridiculously small eyes.
He stretched his hands out toward her, palms up. His warbling voice came
out softly and bore a melancholy tone:
Need Sarah help… Need friend…"
quickly opened the car door, having many feelings at the same time, but not
quite comprehending any of them because extreme excitement overpowered them
altogether. She stepped out onto the highway and veered around.
was no longer there. She ran earnestly to the front of the car and surveyed the
deserted highway and the area around it. There was nowhere for him to have gone.
The mirage had vanished as quickly and convincingly as it had appeared.
her mind cleared somewhat, she started to realize that she was standing in the
middle of a highway and was an easy target for a crash.
slowly removed her hands from her hips and walked back to the car, the entire
time looking back, expecting him to be there as soon as she got inside.
eased in and gingerly closed the door, pulling her trembling hands in front of
her eyes. It had been another
trying ordeal to accompany this suddenly trying day.
She put the key in the ignition and stared blankly at it as she turned
the car on. Was it all in her mind? As she looked up from the steering wheel she
blew a wisp of brown hair from her face. The road in front of her was still
forsaken, discluding the notion that Ludo would reappear as soon as she had
returned to the haven of her vehicle.
she put her foot to the gas, the feelings that she had suppressed earlier
started rushing back into her mind. Sarah began to question her sanity and asked
herself why she would suddenly imagine that she had seen a friend from the
Labyrinth. Maybe it was the excitement of coming back home. Splitting her
attention between watching the road and thinking, she looked at the opposing
side of that question. What if it wasn't her imagination?
turned up the radio, a sudden uneasiness flooding her.
Where was that shred of evidence that would prove her sanity?
Of course, with things involving the Underground anything was possible,
but she hadn't seen her friends from the Labyrinth since her junior year of high
school. The years had passed and
the dreamlike world called the Underground had faded into the misty depths of
her memory. Of course, she knew
deep down that she had forced the memory away, trying to forget that she had
once had another world at her fingertips and was made to sacrifice it for
practicality and her love of Toby. Nothing
in the world would have made her change her decision and to have forsaken Toby
so that she could live in the Underground, but she still wished there had been
some other way.
she had not forgotten, but life itself had crowded so tightly into her brain
that there was little room for anything else.
Especially her hopes and dreams. And,
for her, the Underground was just a hopeful dream that had come and passed over
a hazy period of thirteen hours.
looked down with weary eyes at the dashboard.
Her gas tank was empty. "That's
strange," she remarked with a slight expression of confusion.
"I filled it only an hour ago." She looked up and, as if on cue, the gas station at the
county border became visible on the edge of the horizon. The inclination to say "What luck" rose and fell
within Sarah as she thought of the statement's possible eerie and displeasing
it happening again? she found herself asking.
If it is, I don't think I could handle having to give it all up a
as she approached the station, a dull, white sign passed by her in a ghostlike
flurry, its black cursive letters declaring, "Welcome to Highland
Grove." She had passed that
sign numerous times within the past year and only noted its presence
subconsciously. Yet, with that mild
acknowledgment came the thought that this particular journey did not make her
feel so welcomed.
reaching the gas station she turned and pulled up alongside the gas pumps. A man
in a grungy jumpsuit approached her from his workshop, wiping his hands on an
oily rag. He bent over to face her
and said, smiling, "Can I help you, ma'am?"
forced a nervous smile and replied, "Fillerup, please."
thing." He tipped his cap and
went to work at filling her tank.
stared without focus through the windshield.
Something was nagging at the back of her mind, but she couldn't pinpoint
what it was. It was as if she was
having a sudden recognition of something, but the object she supposedly
recognized was not making itself apparent to her.
It was deja'vu, melancholy and rueful in nature.
It made her want to reach out with her hands and grab that thing that had
caused it, to hold on to it with all of her strength and to never let go.
To suppress her overwhelming urge to take hold of something substantial,
she clasped her fingers together tightly, holding herself down in her foolish
need. Yet, she felt that, if she could hold onto the eluding source of her
recollection, she would have an ultimate grip on her life.
an optimistic effort to relive that unknown piece of her past, Sarah gave the
area around her a sweeping glance. She
squinted her eyes against the glaring reflection of the sun that emitted from
her side view mirror. She unhooked
her fingers and went to reposition the reflecting piece of glass; the light
subsided and her eyes were drawn to the crisp image of the man who was filling
leaned on the back of her car as if it were his own.
His head was bent downward as he waited for the tank to fill, the long,
blond hair that covered his face pale in the sunlight.
He cupped his hands before himself, as if pondering a translucent sphere
that was held there. Her
distraction must have been so strong earlier, because she had not noticed his
striking air. She felt that she
might reach out towards him and pull a piece of the world from the canopy that
surrounded him, as if the imaginary globe he held contained all of her hopes and
dreams and he held it out before himself for the taking…
swung her head around suddenly and looked back through the windshield.
She heard the man pull the nozzle from the gas tank and head towards the
side window. The recognition's
source had been found. The
clickclack of his boots sounded like a drum in her ears and drowned out the
sound of her own breathing. Like a
messenger of doom he came to her car window, standing silently in front of it
after the abrupt ending of leather soles against concrete.
Still, his face was out of reach from her sight and only his torso could
be seen through the window. Each
second was agony for Sarah as she wondered whose countenance the man possessed. Slowly, carefully, he bent down, placing his crossed arms
onto the edge of the window as his face eased its way into the image framed by
else, Sarah?" His lips were
thin and straight, but his eyes were flirtatious, humored by the sudden motion
Sarah made to push herself back into her seat.
She stared anxiously at him and groped around for her keys.
are you doing here?" she demanded tonelessly with widening eyes.
The Goblin King gave a coquettish smile and his whispery eyebrows slanted
upward on his brow. His accent was
smooth and entrancing. "Why,
to see you."
ran her fingers through her hair and closed her eyes.
It was all she could do to get a grip on her emotions. Why,
after five years, is Jareth visiting me? Is
he taunting me? Is it just a game?
And what does Ludo have to do with it?
And are the others all right? And
you okay ma'am?" The voice that came was not that of Jareth's as it had
been a moment before. She hesitantly opened her eyes again, to find a different
man standing there with a look of concern on his face. The nightmare was over.
It wasn't Jareth standing before her, but a normal man, hired to pump gas for
had it really happened? Was she going over the edge?
sighed and shook her head. "Um…yeah. I'm fine. II just felt a little
wrinkle in his brow eased and he pressed her further. "You sure? 'Cause I
can get some help if you need it." He stared at her as if she were a china
doll tottering on the mantel.
I'm okay…" She gripped the steering wheel firmly to reassure herself
that she was in reality. "How
much is the gas?"
he let go of his worried expression, yet he did not seem fully convinced that
she had recovered. "Thirteen fiftysix," he replied, as if the money
were no longer important.
she dug in her purse he commented with false alacrity, "You know, you had
me worried there a minute, asking me what I was doing here, 'n' all."
sorry," she mumbled absentmindedly as she handed him the money.
"I thought…I thought you were someone else, that's all.
I'm visiting my family for the weekend, and…"
he exclaimed, forsaking his discomfort. "I see.
An old boyfriend, come to haunt you, I suppose."
like that," she replied distantly as she stared away from him and out of
the windshield. No, this had not been the first time that thoughts of the
Underground had haunted her. She
had thought once before that time would drag them away, but time had only made
them more persistent and troublesome in nature.
Though she tried to deny it, vivid dreams and nightmares had afflicted
her for the past week, and the past two occurrences of the day had fit neatly in
with the other disturbing reminders of the Goblin King.
noticed that the gas station employee's uneasiness was returning at her
thoughtful demeanor, so she forced herself to return to the present situation.
"As a matter of fact, it was a lot like a boyfriend come to haunt
me," she said in addition to her former answer to his question. "I'm glad it was just my imagination."
Suddenly she realized that she was still holding the money, so she
proffered it to him. "Keep the
took it earnestly. His interest in
the matter vanished as he counted the money, but he did not speak without
warmth. "Have a nice
to you," Sarah answered with a forced smile as she turned on the car and
pulled out of the filling station.
she was back on the highway the man stuffed the money in his pocket and stared
at her departing car.
girl. Looks homesick."