Wishful Thinking


“Toby,” Sarah whispered again, gazing down at the empty cradle with Stephanie.

Sir Didymus was looking from their faces to the cradle. He lifted the blanket and the pillow, searching beneath them, and shook his head. “An exceptionally small knight is Sir Tobias. I cannot even see him.

“He’s gone,” Sarah said.

“Jareth took him,” Stephanie said, narrowing her eyes slightly.

The vulture made a dry cackling noise.

Sarah and Stephanie knew that Jareth would not have abandoned the castle. He had to be here somewhere, and so had Toby. The sole exit for the chamber, apart from the way they had come, was a flight of stairs to one side of the throne. She could not see where it led because the passage turned a corner, but a lovely glowing light was emanating from it. “That’s the only way he could have gone,” Sarah said.

Stephanie nodded in agreement. The glowing light seemed like an invitation to follow.

They ran toward it, taking care to avoid stepping on the half-gnawed chicken bones, rotting tomatoes, squashed pears, and other garbage that littered the floor. Sir Didymus, Hoggle, and Ludo ran after them.

“No,” Sarah said, when she and Stephanie reached the first stair. She turned around and told her friends, “We… Stephanie and I have to face him alone.”

Stephanie was a little surprised by this, but it seemed right once she’d said it. This was their quest. They started it. They had to be the ones to finish it.

Sir Didymus, already rehearsing his lunge and parry as he ran, was disconcerted. “Why?” he asked.

“Because…” It was a good question. “Because that’s the way it’s done,” Sarah replied.

“Who says?” Hoggle asked.

“They all do,” Sarah told him. “The stories, all of them.”

“And what say you, Lady Stephanie?” Sir Didymus asked.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Stephanie answered, wishing they didn’t have to break up the team, “but I agree with Sarah. That’s how it’s done.”

The three of them regarded her and Stephanie for some time. Seeing the disappointment on their faces, Sarah felt wretched. Stephanie felt bad about it too. But they knew that they were right.

At length, Sir Didymus said, slowly, “Well if that is the way ’tis done, then that is how thou must needs do it.” He raised his staff and squinted along it. “But shouldst thou have need of us…”

“Yes,” Hoggle added, “if you need us…”

“I’ll call,” Sarah promised. “Thank you. All of you.”

“Thanks for everything,” Stephanie added.

The sisters smiled, awkward with gratitude.

Then they turned and ran up the stairs together, toward the glowing light.

It was a long staircase and turned through several angles. They were both puffing by the time they reached the top and emerged onto a stone platform. What they saw took their breath away.

Above, below, or around them—which, they could not tell— was a vast stone hall, with so many staircases, balconies, windows, and doorways at different heights and odd angles to each other that they had no idea what was up or down, near or far, inside or out, backward or forward. Planes reversed themselves as you watched them, receding corners suddenly jutted out, rising steps inverted themselves floors became ceilings, and walls turned into precipices. In this room, it seemed that the law of gravity had been repealed, and perspective had seven dimensions. It was like something M.C. Escher might make. If there had been water, it would have seemed to flow uphill. They felt sick and giddy, and had to cling to a pillar to remain upright.

“It’s impossible,” Sarah whispered. As long as they went on looking at the hall, it went on altering. She and Stephanie both wondered dizzily if it still went on altering itself when no one was looking at it.

“Still, we have to do it,” Stephanie said, determined.

With their backs to the wall, they edged along the platform. They thought if they took it step by step, they would get there. If there is a there. They edged along, hoping that it was along and not up or past or through, until they came to a point that they were quite certain was where they had started. Yes, there was the top of the staircase behind them. They began to edge the other way, until they heard a voice from somewhere below. They knew whose voice it was.

“I’ve been expecting you,” it said.

With a deep breath each, they inched to the edge of the platform. Beyond them, apparently sitting on a vertical wall, was Jareth.

“Where’s Toby?” Sarah and Stephanie asked.

“He’s safe. In my keeping.”

“You’re not keeping him,” Stephanie said.

“Oh. And why not?” he asked.

“We have come this far. We are here,” Sarah said.

Jareth chuckled. “Sheer luck.” He would not admit defeat.

“We are here,” Stephanie repeated. “Give us Toby back.”

“You have understood nothing,” Jareth told them. “You have answered none of the labyrinth’s riddles. You don’t even know what the questions were.”

“That wasn’t our bargain,” Sarah said.

Jareth threw back his head and laughed. “There, just as I told you. You have understood nothing.”

“You are wrong.” Sarah said. “We have come to understand one thing very well. You are just putting on a show of confidence. I doesn’t take us in anymore. You are frightened, Jareth.”

“So are you,” Jareth said.

“Yes,” Stephanie admitted with a strong voice, tightening her grip on her sword.

For a few seconds, they were watching each other’s eyes, Jareth looking back and forth between the sisters.

Then Jareth began to move, all over the seven perspectives, and Sarah and Stephanie watched him as he moved. He seemed to walk along ceilings and climb descending stairs. He danced on high walls. And as he moved he called to one of them. “You are cruel, Sarah. We are well matched, you and I. I need your cruelty, just as you need mine.”

Watching him, Sarah and Stephanie felt their knees start to wobble. They had fallen for his trick. They had no idea now whether where they were looking up or down whether the platform where they stood was solid or void. Everything switched continually, like a photographic negative at an angle to the light. They held their arms out for balance, but it was no good for Sarah. She stumbled, her head spinning, and felt herself topple. Stephanie watched as she landed on the ceiling. While Sarah tried to adjust her senses, Stephanie jumped and joined her. She thought it would be better not to get separated. She helped Sarah stand up.

“How are you okay?” Sarah asked.

“I’m not, really,” Stephanie admitted. She was barely hanging on. She wondered if her balance was better because of fencing. You also had to be able to see and react to quick movements that could come from a number of directions.

Then they saw Toby. He was crawling up a flight of stairs, still in his striped pajamas.

“Toby!” they called.

The baby did not respond.

“Toby!” Sarah shouted.

“Over here!” Stephanie yelled.

The only answer they got was Jareth’s laughter.

Somehow, they had to reach Toby. They began to work their way down a flight of stairs. A movement below them caught their attention. They peered beneath the stairs and saw Jareth walking parallel to them, apparently upside down, like a reflection in ice. Or maybe they were upside down. Sarah grabbed Stephanie’s hand and ran to get away from him, to get Toby. Jareth mirrored them wherever they went. They ran along a balcony, and suddenly he appeared at the far end of it, upright. They turned, ran back, and Sarah fell and pulled Stephanie down with her. They landed with a bruising thud. Jareth was watching them, laughing.

“We will reach him,” Stephanie said to Jareth. The fire in her eyes was as strong as ever.

Instead of answering, Jareth produced a crystal ball and tossed it up a flight of stairs. Stephanie and Sarah’s eyes followed it, and they saw it land near Toby, who was happily climbing on hands and knees up another staircase.

“Toby!” they cried in alarm.

The baby was fascinated by the bouncing ball. He reached for it, and when it passed him he scuttled after it. His sisters saw him approaching the edge of a precipitous fall.

“No! Stop!” Stephanie called out.

Oh, no! Toby!” Sarah called.

Toby went over the edge and crawled down the vertical wall, still chasing the ball, which was bouncing around crazily in defiance of all the laws of motion.

Sarah and Stephanie blinked. It was impossible. Jareth laughed.

They started to follow a line of stairs that went in the direction of Toby. As they drew near him, the baby went after the ball in another plane, leaving them stranded. They followed him again, and the same thing happened, and again. He was moving on an axis with which they could not intersect. And everywhere he crawled, he seemed to be at risk of falling from a balcony, or tumbling all the way down a flight of stone stairs.

Suddenly, Jareth appeared behind them. Stephanie seemed to sense this, because she immediately spun around to face him. He moved to lay his hands on Sarah’s shoulders and spin her around, but Stephanie raised her sword, pointing it at him. She wasn’t going to let him lay a finger on her. Jareth smiled, not the least bit bothered that there was a sword in his face. Sarah slowly turned around to face him, feeling weak. His face, as he looked into the girls’, was amused. It said: It’s been a fine game, and now it’s time to finish playing, because you cannot ever win.

In the corners of their eyes, they saw a small movement. Toby was crawling toward a window ledge. They stared at their brother. There could be no optical doubt about it this time. Outside the window, birds were flying in the sunlight, and Toby was clambering up onto the ledge. Between them and the baby was a vast space of the hall. He was teetering on the ledge now, trying to stand up. They could not run to him, even supposing they were able to find a path to him through the deceiving planes. It was possible, they could not be sure, that he was below them, and that they could reach him with a jump: a jump so deep that they would crack every bone in their body.

Jareth was smiling triumphantly at them. This was how their quest ended. If he could not keep the baby, nor would they. They watched Toby totter on his precarious perch, and as a small cry came from Sarah’s lips, Stephanie grabbed her hand and jumped. They closed their eyes as they fell.

When they opened their eyes, they were not sure where they were. It could have been another part of the hall. They thought they recognized it, but could not place it. Yet something had changed. Near them was an ogee window, without glass, and through it they could see the upper half of one wing of the castle. It was in ruins, the cladding stones mostly gone, grass growing in the gaps they’d left. The turret roofs had collapsed, and brambles were reaching for the throat of the tower. With the castle, where they were, they heard in the air the humming that they had come to associate with Jareth, but it had a hollow ring to it, something forlorn, like music in an abandoned house. In the crack between two flagstones where they lay they saw that weeds had started to push their way through. They stood up and looked around. There was no sign of Toby.

Jareth stepped out from a shadowy archway, wearing a faded, threadbare cloak. His face looked older, drawn. In his blonde mane was a trace of grey.

How long had they been there? Sarah and Stephanie detected no change in themselves.

Jareth was waiting for them with his arms folded. They advanced upon him. “Give me the child,” Sarah said.

He paused before answering. “Sarah—beware. I have been generous until now, but I can be cruel.”

“Generous!” She and Stephanie advanced another step. “What have you done that was generous?”

“Everything. I have done everything you wanted.” He took a pace back, into the shadow of the archway. “You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me. I was frightening.”

Taking another step away from them, he gestured in the air. “I have reordered time,” he said. The thirteen-hour clock had appeared, floating above his head. It’s hands were whirling around. “I have turned the world upside down.”

Sarah and Stephanie continued to advance upon him. Sarah’s arms were outstretched. He retreated deeper into the shadows.

“And I have done it all for you,” he said with a shake of his head. “I’m exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn’t that generous? Stay back!” He raised his hands as though to fend them off and took another pace away from them.

“Give us our brother,” Stephanie told him.

In a louder voice, he repeated, “Stay back!”

Sarah’s lips were parted. “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City—”

“Listen!” said a goblin, one of a nest in a dark corner of the castle.

Jareth was retreating step by step up a staircase behind the archway.

Sarah and Stephanie continued to advance, into the archway.

“—to take back the child you have stolen,” Sarah recited. “For my will is as strong as yours—”

“Stop!” Jareth raised the palm of his hand to them. “Wait! Sarah, look—look what I can offer you.” He raised his left arm and made a large gesture with his hand. A glowing crystal ball appeared in it. He spun it around in his fingers, smiled wanly, and said, “It will show you your dreams. You remember.”

Sarah and Stephanie took another step.

“—and my kingdom as great—”

“She’s going to say it,” a goblin hissed.

“She’s going to say the words,” gabbled another, agitatedly.

The stairs behind Jareth were descending now, and he backed slowly down them as Sarah and Stephanie stood above him.

“I ask so little,” he said, spinning the crystal. “Just believe in me, and you can have everything you want… everything you have ever dreamed of… your dreams, Sarah…” Appealing to her was his last hope. Stephanie was already beyond mercy. The fire in her eyes scorched him.

Sarah was frowning, and had halted her advance. Stephanie halted too, concerned for a moment, until she heard her sister say, “… and my kingdom as great… Damn!” Sarah was merely struggling to remember her lines.

A goblin shook his head decisively. “That’s not it. Never.”

“Sshh!” said another.

Sarah’s fists were clenched white. She was thinking frantically. What were her right words?

Jareth took a step toward her. He needed her belief in him. “Just fear me and love me,” he told her in a gentle voice, “and do as I say, and I… I will be your slave.” He stretched his hand out toward her, and took another step back up the stairs.

“Nah.” A goblin shook his hideous head. “Doesn’t look like it now, does it?”

Jareth’s fingers were close to Sarah’s face.

Stephanie grabbed her sister’s hand. “You have no power over me,” she whispered.

Sarah held her head higher. “You have no power over me,” she repeated.

No!” Jareth screamed.

“No!” the goblins exclaimed, astounded.

A clock began to strike.

Jareth tossed the crystal ball up into the air, where it hovered, a bubble. Sarah and Stephanie looked at it and saw Jareth’s face, distorted, on the shifting, iridescent surface. Gently, it drifted down toward them. Sarah reached out fascinated fingers for it, and as she touched the bubble with her fingertips, it burst. A mist of water atoms floated down the air toward Jareth.

But the sisters saw that Jareth had disappeared. They heard his voice, for a last time, moaning, “Sarah… Sarah…” His empty cloak was settling onto the ground. A beam of light picked out a little cloud of dust motes rising from it.

The clock continued to strike. With a last, slow flutter, the cloak lay still. From beneath it, as the clock struck for the twelfth time, a white owl flew out and circled over Sarah and Stephanie. Tears were streaming down Sarah’s cheeks. Stephanie hugged her sister.

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