Wishful Thinking

Bad Memories

As Sarah screamed, dropping backward down the shaft, with Stephanie just behind her, the two girls realized that their fall was being slightly impeded by things brushing against them. Large, thick leaves they might be, or some sort of tough fungus sprouting from the walls of this pit. Whatever they were, the girls tried to grab hold of some, to save themselves from the terrible smash they expected every instant. They were falling too fast.

Then, by blind chance, Sarah’s wrist landed  smack in one of the things, which at once closed firmly, and she, in turn, grabbed Stephanie with her free hand when she smacked into her. With a jolt that nearly disjointed her, Sarah found herself dangling by  one arm and holding onto one of Stephanie’s wrists with the other. “Oh!” she gasped in relief, while Stephanie silently thanked their lucky stars, and they both found themselves heaving for breath. Falling like that was a terrifying experience.

They looked down the shaft, to see how close they had been to breaking every bone. All they could see was a long tunnel, lined with the things that had broken their fall. They looked up. The doorway through which they had entered the shaft was very high above them.

As their eyes adjusted to the gloomy light, the girls saw what it was that had caught hold of Sarah: a hand. All around them, protruding from sides of the shaft, hands were groping the  air, like reeds under water.

Sarah’s relief gave way to a sick feeling: she was in the grip of a hand with no arm or body attached to it, and she had no apparent means of ever releasing herself. Perhaps they were carnivorous hands, or like those spiders that simply dissolved you away over a long period of time.

Stephanie was also suspicious of the hands, but she could feel herself slipping a little from her sister’s grip. It was a real strain on Sarah to keep holding her up. She looked nervously up and down the shaft again, this time to see if there were any skeletons dangling there, as in a jungle trap. She saw none. Stephanie decided to relieve her sister of her burden and let one of the hands grab her free arm.

Sarah was surprised by this, and little concerned, but at least she didn’t have to worry so much about dropping her anymore.

And now they felt other hands reaching for them and finding them, taking hold of them by their legs and their bodies. There were hands on their thighs, their ankles, their necks. The sisters shuddered, and Sarah shouted, “Stop that!” Knowing it was futile, she called, “Help! Help!” The girls writhed, trying to shake them all off, and with their free hands reached out for a hold and each other, in a despairing attempt to climb away together. All they could see to grasp hold of was yet another hand. Hesitantly, Stephanie put hers in it, and it responded immediately, grasping her hand firmly. With the idea of perhaps climbing up the hands as though on a ladder, she tried to free her wrist from the first hand. It was no good. Now she was more tightly held than ever, stuck in a web of hands.

“Help!” Sarah whimpered.

Each girl felt a tap on their shoulder, and they turned their heads to see what it was. To their bewilderment, they saw that hands to one side of them contrived to form themselves into a face of sorts, with finger-and-thumb circles for eyes and two hands working together to fashion a mouth. And the mouth spoke to them.

“What do you mean, ‘Help’?” it said. “We are helping. We’re the Helping Hands.”

‘Well,’ Stephanie reflected, ‘I suppose they did help us by stopping our fall…’

“You’re hurting,” Sarah told them. It was not quite true. Fear, rather than pain, was what afflicted her.

Now there were several more faces of hands around them.

“Would you like us to let go?” one of them asked.

The girls glanced down the shaft. “Uh… no,” Sarah said, while Stephanie shook her head emphatically in the negative.

“Well, then,” one of the mouths said. “Come on. Which way?”

“Which way?” Sarah asked, nonplussed.

“Up or down?”

“Oh…” She was more confused. “Er…” She looked up the shaft toward the light, but she thought that would be a kind of retreat. She looked down, into the unknown, unfathomable abyss.

Stephanie didn’t have to think about it. For all they knew, down could be a dead end. She wanted to go up. She had already considered why there might be a pitfall in the path that was supposed to have been safe, and half suspected their whole exchange with the guardians of the doors may have all been an act, and that both had been capable of lying from the start. If this was the case, then they should go up and try the other door. But perhaps they really did choose the right door, after all, no one actually said it  would be safe, just that the path behind it led to the castle. And that was where they needed to go. So either way, Stephanie had reached the conclusion that the solution was to go back up. But, since she couldn’t speak and had no free hands to signal with, she had to wait for Sarah to answer for the both of them.

“Come on! Come on!” an impatient voice urged them.

“We haven’t got all day.”

Haven’t you? the girls thought to themselves. What else where they going to do, stuck to the sides of this shaft?

“It’s a big decision for them,” said a sympathetic voice.

“Which way do you want to go?” asked an insistent one.

Everyone in the Labyrinth was so peremptory. ‘I’ve  got good reason to be in a hurry,’ Sarah felt. ‘We’ve only got thirteen hours to find our baby brother, and heaven knows how much time has already gone by. But why are all these people—if you can call them  people—so bossy?’

“Come on! Come on!”

“Well, er…” Sarah hesitated. Up was chicken, and down was dreadful.

Many faces were watching her indecisiveness, including Stephanie’s. Several of the hand faces were snickering, covering their mouths with another hand.

Sarah took a deep breath. “Well, since that’s the way we’re pointed… we’ll go down.” She was surprised by the look of disbelief Stephanie shot her way.

“They chose down?” The girls heard snickers behind their hands. “They chose—down!”

“Was that wrong?” Sarah inquired timidly.

“Too late now,” said one of the hand faces, and with that they started to hand the two girls down the shaft, not roughly. Sarah and Stephanie heard them singing something like a shanty.

“Down, down, down, down,
Down, hand ’em down, boys.
We’ll all go to town, boys.

Down, down, down, down,
Down, hand ’em down, boys,
Never a frown, boys,
Down, down, down, down.”

And down they went, far down, until Stephanie and Sarah found themselves momentarily above a manhole, while Helping Hands removed the cover of it. Then the lowest hands let go of Stephanie, dropping her neatly down the manhole, repeating the process with Sarah, and the last they saw of the hands was their waving goodbye, helpfully.

As they landed on the stone floor of a dark, small cell, one on top of the other, the cover was replaced on the manhole, with a clunk. Stephanie, who was now under Sarah, had let out a noisy gasp, which sounded like an “oomph”, upon impact. She was fairly certain Sarah’s knee was in her spleen. In pitch darkness, Sarah rolled off of her little sister and sat down. Her face was blank.

The picture of her silent face and Stephanie lying on the floor, massaging her new bruises, was clearly beamed to a crystal in the chamber of the Goblin King.

“They’re in the oubliette,” Jareth observed.

The goblins cackled wickedly, dancing and prancing around. Their jaws gaped with merriment, and they slapped their thighs.

“Shut up,” Jareth told them.

They froze. Their heads twitched around to look at their King. A sly goblin inquired, “Wrong laugh?”

“They shouldn’t have gotten as far as the oubliette.” Jareth was still staring at the picture of the two sisters in the crystal. Stephanie was already standing up and using the light from her swatch’s glow-in-the-dark face to try to see more of their surroundings. He shook his head. “They should have given up by now.”

“They’ll never give up,” said a keen goblin, watching as Stephanie began gesturing in the dark for Sarah to try climbing onto her shoulders to see if she could reach the manhole, though it was unlikely that Sarah would be able to see much other than the hand illuminated by the weak light of the watch in the dense blackness.

“Ha,” Jareth said mirthlessly. “Won’t they? They’ll give up soon enough when they have to start all over.”

It pleased him to think of his Labyrinth as a board game; if you got too close to the winning square, you might find a snake taking you back to the start. No one had ever won against him, and very few had gotten as far as this disturbing pair of girls, who were too old to be turned into goblins. Jareth examined their faces in the crystal. The younger sister was interesting, despite that disrespectful mouth. He liked her much better now that she was silent. He felt particularly drawn to Sarah, who  was the older, more beautiful of the two, with her mature body and green eyes that shined like pale jewels. Too old to be a goblin, but too young to be kept by him, damn her innocent eyes. They both had to be sent back to square one immediately, before they became a serious threat to Toby, and he knew just the snake for the job. “Higgle!” he called, spinning the crystal.

Hoggle’s face appeared in it. “It’s Hoggle, your Majesty.”

“They’re in the oubliette,” Jareth said. “Get them back to the outer walls.”

Hoggle cocked his head, grimacing. “They’re quite determined, your Majesty. It won’t be easy—”

“Do it.” Jareth flipped the crystal into the air, where it vanished like a bubble.

He chuckled, imagining Sarah and Stephanie’s faces when they found themselves beside Hoggle’s pond again. Then he threw back his head and roared.

The goblins watched him uncertainly. Was it all right to laugh now?

“Well, go ahead.” Jareth told them.

With the simple glee that is natural to evil-hearted folk, the goblins launched themselves into their full routine of cackles and snickers. The keen goblin directed them, like a conductor, bringing them up to a crescendo of malign mirth.

Sarah sat on the floor of the black cell wishing she had asked the Helping Hands to take them up the shaft, toward the light, trying to understand why Stephanie appeared to be waving her hand around. What could they hope for in this place?

Four of her senses sharpened in the darkness; she detected a little scratching sound. “Who’s there? Who’s there with us?” Her body was tense with alarm, as was Stephanie’s when she stopped and heard it, too.

“Me,” a gruff voice replied.

There was another noise of scratching, followed a glare of light as a match ignited, and in turn set a torch aflame. Hoggle was sitting there, on a rough bench, holding the torch up so that he and the two girls could see each other. Stephanie, who had frozen in a rather ridiculous position, allowed herself to relax.

“Oh,” Sarah said, “it’s you. I am glad to see you, Hoggle.” She was so relieved she could have hugged him.

“Yes, well,” Hoggle said brusquely, as though he were slightly embarrassed by the situation. “Well, nice to see you, too.”

Sarah and Stephanie went to stand beside him in the torchlight. “What are you doing here? How did you get here?”

Hoggle shrugged, and half turned away. “I knows you were going to get into trouble soon as I sees you. So I—I’ve come to give you a hand.”

‘A helping hand,’ Sarah thought, and shivered. She had had enough of them. “You mean,” she asked, “you’re going to help me unriddle the Labyrinth?”

“Unriddle the Labyrinth?” Hoggle answered scornfully. “Don’t you know where you are?”

The two girls looked about them. In the circle of the torchlight, which was much brighter and broader than the glow from Stephanie’s swatch, they saw stone walls, stone floor, stone ceiling. One rough wooden bench was the only luxury.

“Oh, they’re looking around now, are they?” Hoggle’s scorn had turn to sarcasm. “I suppose the little misses have noticed there ain’t no doors—just the hole up there?”

Sarah and Stephanie peered as hard as they could into the shadows, and realized that he was right.

“This,” Hoggle was saying, “is an oubliette. The Labyrinth’s full of them.”

Sarah was stung by his knowing, mocking tone of voice. “Really?” she replied, matching his sarcasm. “Now, fancy that.”

“Don’t try to sound smart,” he told her. “You don’t even know what an oubliette is.”

‘An oubliette is a specific type of dungeon that has only one escape route—through a trap door in its ceiling,’ Stephanie thought, crossing her arms sassily. It was like the Cadillac of dungeons. She had seen them depicted in horror movies and books before, unsuspecting places where psycho killers kept their victims.

“Do you?” Sarah asked, unaware since she was not as much of a horror buff as her sister.

“Yes,” Hoggle said, with a touch of pride. “It’s a place you put people to forget about them.”

‘Yeah… that, too.’ Stephanie conceded.

Sarah remembered her verbs in French class, and, pleased with herself said, “Of course. It comes from the French verb oublier, to forget. But you already know that, naturally.”

Hoggle raised his chin to scratch it, at the same time letting his eyes roll portentously around the cell.

What he had said began to sink in, and Sarah and Stephanie looked at the flickering stonewalls and shuddered. To forget about them… Was that what Jareth was doing with them? Just forgetting about them? Sarah began to  feel indignant. It wasn’t fair. He had challenged them to this contest. All the odds were stacked against them, but they had made a brave enough start—he couldn’t, now, just dump them in here to rot. Could he? Stephanie had a feeling he could. After all, they knew next to nothing about him, other than that he apparently hated to lose, and who were they to him? But, she reasoned, if Hoggle could get in then there must be another way out, because he certainly hadn’t come through the trap door. Having been standing right under it, she knew he would have landed on top of her if he had.

Hoggle had taken the torch and waddled  into one corner of the oubliette. He beckoned the two sisters to follow. They did, casting great shadows across the walls. Lying in the corner was a skeleton, on its back, knees bent, head propped against the wall.

Sarah put her hand to her mouth and was about to scream, glanced at Stephanie, then thought better of it. She would force herself to remain cool, too.

“You see?” Hoggle was squinting up at them. “This Labyrinth is a dangerous place. No place for little girls.”

They looked at him. Who was he calling little?

He nodded at the skeleton. “That’s how you’ll end up if you keep going. In an oubliette, like him. Lot of bad memories in the Labyrinth, I can tell you. What you got to do, little missies, is get out of here.”

“But we must find our brother.”

“Forget all that. Now it so happens,” Hoggle said, scratching his cheek with a forefinger, “that I knows a shortcut out of the whole Labyrinth from here.”

“No,” Sarah said at once, and Stephanie nodded firmly in agreement. “We’re not giving up now. We’ve come too far. We’ve done too well.”

He nodded, and in a smooth voice assured them, “You’ve been wonderful.” He shook his head, and made a sucking noise on his teeth. “But this is only the edge of the Labyrinth. You’ve hardly started. From here on in, it gets worse.”

There was something in his confidential tone that made Sarah and Stephanie suspicious. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but Stephanie thought it was strangely convenient for him to show up now, when they were most in need of help, and after they had just chosen the door that would take them to the castle, especially since he was suddenly being so nice to them after a history of nothing but gruffness. “Why are you so concerned about us?” Sarah asked him.

“What?” Hoggle sounded aggrieved. “I am. That’s all. Two nice young girls… terrible black oubliette…”

“Listen,” Sarah interrupted him, “you like jewelry, don’t you?”

He pursed his face. “Why?” he asked slowly.

“You’ve got some very nice pieces.” She pointed to the chain of ornaments dangling from his belt. In the torchlight they could not be sure, but the girls fancied that a smirking little blush was on his whiskery cheek.

“Thank you,” he said.

“If you’ll help us through the Labyrinth…” Sarah took a breath. “… I’ll give you…” She slipped her bracelet off. It was only a cheap plastic thing, not one of the special ones that her mother had given her, and which she wore when she was going out. “… this,” she concluded, holding it out to him.

“Hm.” Hoggle licked his lips and eyed the bracelet appraisingly.

“You like it, don’t you?” She could see that he did. He also had an eye for the ring on her finger. That had no intrinsic value either, though Sarah was fond of it because their mother had worn it when playing Hermione in The Winter’s Tale. Stephanie noticed he was eyeing her bright and shiny bracelets as well. He could have one of them, too, if he asked, but she hoped he would not want the ring on her finger, which had a small but real emerald on it, and had been a gift from Jeremy to celebrate her recovery from her illness. Not only did it possess intrinsic value, it was a symbol of everything she had overcome. There was also the matter of the locket around her neck, which held pictures of her family, and had been a gift from her father.

“So-so,” Hoggle said. “Tell you what. You give me that bracelet and here’s what I’ll do. I’ll show you the way out of the whole Labyrinth. How’s that?”

“You were going to do that in any case,” Sarah pointed out.

“Yes,” he replied. “That’s what would make it a particularly nice gesture on your part.” He held his hand out.

“Oh, no!” Sarah withdrew the bracelet abruptly. “For this you must show us the way in. The whole way.”

Hoggle snorted “What makes the little miss so certain I knows my way through it?”

“Well,” she answered, “You got here, didn’t you?”

“What?” Hoggle chuckled, shaking his head. “Yes, yes, but… I told you, this is just the fringe of it all. You’ve got nowhere yet. Come on, where’s your common sense? You don’t want to go farther than this. Really. You’ve done all you can, and more. You have proved you’re smart, brave girls, and you don’t deserve what would become of you in here.” He glanced pointedly at the skeleton, which seemed to be jiggling in the flicker of the torchlight. “No, no, you deserve to be saved from that. I’ll say that much for you. So—how about it?” He gazed up at them with eyes of piggy shrewdness from beneath his sprouting eyebrows.

The girls looked back at him candidly. Whatever his game was, he played it badly. Sarah had to bite her lip to stop herself from giggling at him. “I’ll tell you what,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “If you won’t take us all the way through the Labyrinth, just take us as far as you can. And then we’ll try to do the rest of it ourselves.” Stephanie nodded in agreement.

He looked disgusted at them. “Tcha! Of all the headstrong numbskulls I ever came across…”

Sarah dangled the bracelet before his eyes. “Fair deal,” she offered. “No strings. One bracelet. Hmm? How about it?”

The bracelet danced in her hand, and his eyes were dancing with it. Grudgingly he said, “Make it two.”

Stephanie removed her shiniest bracelet and held it up for him to see.

Hoggle nodded in approval of her selection. “What are these, anyway?” he asked.

“Plastic,” Sarah answered, with a small shrug.

His eyes shone. Then he raised his stumpy arm for the girls to put the bracelets onto his wrist. He looked at them there and could not conceal his pride. “I don’t promise nothing,” he said. “But”—he grunted resignedly—”I’ll take you as far as I can. Then you’re on your own.  Right?”

“Right,” Sarah agreed.

He nodded. His eyes were still shining as he looked at the bracelets on his wrist. “Plastic!” he murmured, thrilled.

Stephanie wondered if plastic was actually valuable here. It appeared to be quite a novelty.

“Come on, then,” Sarah urged him.

Hoggle sprang into action. He seized the heavy wooden bench and, with a strength Sarah and Stephanie wouldn’t have suspected in his small and round-shouldered body, he upended it so that the seat was flat against the wall. The girls were surprised to see two doorknobs on the underside of the seat, one on the left and one on the right, and they were soon disconcerted when Hoggle turned one knob and the seat became a door into the stone wall. ‘That’s not fair,’ Sarah thought, while Stephanie marveled over the feat. With a mischievous grin—because he was enjoying himself, showing off to the young misses—Hoggle walked through the doorway.

The girls were about to follow him when they heard a crashing and clattering. Broomsticks and buckets fell out of the doorway into the oubliette. They grinned, recognizing the old broom-closet joke.

“Oh, damn!” they heard Hoggle say, within the cupboard. He came out backward, and avoided their eyes as he thrust the brooms and buckets back inside and closed the door.

Still sheepish, he grasped the other doorknob. “Can’t be right all the time, can we?” he muttered. This time, he opened the door rather less boldly. He peered through. “This is it,” he told them. “Come on, then.”

The girls followed him into a dimly lit corridor with walls of grotesquely carved rock.

They were working their way along the corridor when a voice boomed, “DON’T GO ON!”

Sarah jumped violently and grabbed onto Stephanie, which made her jump, too. They looked all around them, and saw no one, except Hoggle. And then they realized: carved in the stone wall was a mouth. Standing back from it, they saw that the mouth was part of a huge face. Similar faces lined both sides of the corridor. As the girls and Hoggle passed them, each intoned a deeply resonant message.

“Go back while you still can!”

“This is not the way!”

“Take heed and go no farther!”

“Beware! Beware!”

“It will soon be too late!”

Sarah and Stephanie put their hands over their ears. The warnings seemed to be echoing inside their heads.

Hoggle, bustling onward, looked around to see where they had gone to, and saw them standing. “Pah.” He waved his hand. “Don’t take no notice of them. They’re just False-Alarms. You get a lot like them in the Labyrinth. It  means you’re on the right track.”

“Oh, no, you’re not,” a face boomed.

“Do shut up,” Hoggle snapped back at it.

“Sorry, sorry,” the face said. “Only doing me job.”

“Well, you don’t need to do it to us,” Hoggle answered, and led the way on down the passage.

The face watched them go. “Shrewd cookies,” it murmured appreciatively.

The passageway twisted and turned, but on the whole Sarah and Stephanie had the impression that they were moving forward, if such a direction existed in the Labyrinth, and they felt encouraged. They passed another carved face.

“Oh, beware!” the face exclaimed. “For—”

“Don’t bother.” Hoggle flapped his hand dismissively.

“Oh, please,” the face begged. “I haven’t said it for such a long time. You’ve no idea what it’s like, stuck here in this wall, and with—”

“All right,” Hoggle told it. “But don’t expect us to take any notice.”

The face brightened up. “Oh, no, of course not.” It cleared its throat. “For the path you take will lead you to certain destruction!” It paused. “Thanks,” it added politely.

While the face was droning on, a small crystal had been rolling down the passage from behind Sarah and Stephanie and Hoggle. It overtook them as they turned a corner, and they saw it bounce on ahead of them. A blind beggar, with a beak-like face, squatted with his back to the wall, was holding out a tin cup for collecting alms. The crystal ball hopped smartly into the cup. Remembering the last time they had seen a crystal like that, Stephanie had a bad feeling about this encounter.

The sisters heard Hoggle groan. They looked at him. His mouth was open, and his eyes were staring at the beggar and his cup. ‘Bad feeling confirmed,’ Stephanie thought.

The beggar turned his face toward them. “So what have we here?” he asked.

“Uh, nothing,” Hoggle spluttered.

“Nothing? Nothing!?” The beggar rose up and ripped away his disguise.

Hoggle froze. Stephanie tensed. Sarah gasped. It was Jareth.

“Your Majesty…” Hoggle bowed so obsequiously that he was at risk of performing a forward roll. “What…,” he swallowed, and smiled haggardly, “what… what a nice surprise.”

“Hello, Hedgewart,” said the King of the Goblins.

“Hogwart,” Sarah corrected him.

“Hoggle,” Hoggle said, gritting his teeth.

Feeling a silent nervous giggle forming in her throat, Stephanie had to bite her lip to avoid looking too amused. Poor Hoggle. Everyone kept butchering his name.

“Hoggle,” Jareth said, in a kindly conversational voice, “can it be that you’re helping these girls?”

“Helping?” Hoggle prevaricated. “In what sense? Uh…”

“In the sense that you’re taking them farther into the Labyrinth,” Jareth said.

“Oh,” Hoggle replied. “In that sense.”


“Oh, no, no, your Majesty. I was leading them back to the beginning.”

“What!” Sarah exclaimed. Stephanie pinched the bridge of her nose. He was such a terrible liar.

Hoggle forced his lips into an ingratiating smile for Jareth. “I told them I was going to help them unriddle the labyrinth—a little trickery on my part…” He guffawed and gulped. “But actually…”

Jareth, smiling pleasantly, interrupted him. “And what are those plastic things around your wrist?”

“These? I…” Hoggle looked wide-eyed at the bracelet, which someone must have slipped onto his wrist when he was snoozing and which he had unaccountably not even noticed there until this moment. “Why,” he stuttered, “er, my goodness, well I never, where did these come from?”

“Hoggle.” Jareth spoke levelly. “If I thought for one second you were betraying me, I would be forced to suspend you headfirst in the Bog of Eternal Stench.”

“Oh, no, your Majesty.” Hoggle’s knees were wobbling. “Not that. Not the Eternal Stench.”

“Oh, yes, Hoggle.” Jareth turned and looked at the two sisters, his eyes shifted from the youngest to the oldest. He smiled at Sarah. “And you, Sarah—how are you enjoying the Labyrinth?”

Sarah swallowed. Beside her, she heard Hoggle’s feet shuffling. Stephanie was the picture of calm. Determined not to allow Jareth to intimidate her, Sarah affected a nonchalance she was far from feeling.

“It’s…” she hesitated. “It’s a piece of cake.”

Stephanie crossed her arms and smiled smartly up at him.

Jareth raised one elegant eyebrow.

Hoggle’s eyes closed in dismay.

“Really?” Jareth sounded intrigued. “Then how about making it a more entertaining challenge?” He flicked his wrist, and a trapdoor opened beneath Stephanie and swallowed her up in the blink of an eye, and closed shut behind her. The expression of shock on Sarah’s face was priceless. He watched her drop to her knees and try to pry it open again. It would not budge, of course.

“Stephanie!” she cried anxiously. “Hold on, Stephanie!”

Jareth looked up, and in the space of air before his eyes the thirteen-hour clock appeared. He gestured gracefully, and the hands visibly began to turn faster. “Remember, Sarah, I told you before you entered the Labyrinth, that if you and your sister started this together, you had to finish it together. If you want Toby back, you must reach the castle together. If either one of you shows up without the other, it’s game over.”

“That’s not fair,” Sarah said.

“You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

With a slight of hand, Jareth drew forth the crystal ball and tossed it down the tunnel. At once, from the darkness, came a noise: a crashing, whirring, trundling noise, distant as yet, but getting closer all the time, and louder. Hoggle’s face was a mask of panic. Sarah found herself instinctively shrinking away from the approaching din.

“The Labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it?” Jareth laughed. “Well, now we can see how you deal with this little slice.” While his mocking laugh still rang, he vanished.

Sarah and Hoggle stared along the passageway. When they saw what was coming at them, their jaws dropped and they trembled.

A solid wall of furiously spinning knives and chopping cleavers was bearing inexorably down upon them. Dozens of keen blades glittered in the light, every one of them pointing forward and whirring wickedly. The wall of blades completely filled the tunnel, like a subway train, and it would chop them into little pieces in the blink of an eye. And, Sarah noticed with horror, along the bottom of the slashing machine was a busy row of brushes, for tidying up after itself.

“The Cleaners!” Hoggle shrieked, and took off.

“What?” Sarah was so terrified she was mesmerically rooted where she stood.

“Run!” Hoggle’s shout came echoing back from some distance away and brought her to her senses. She dashed after him.

The slashing machine came clanking and trundling remorselessly on behind them. All that was needed for Sarah and Hoggle’s part in the story to finish now was that they should come to a dead end. Around a corner, they found one. A heavily barred door closed the tunnel in front of them.

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