Wishful Thinking

No Problem



As Stephanie continued to walk the air cooled and the land began to change. The ground hardened and there were no more pools of acid. She saw fewer and fewer of those strange plants and insects, and more tall, dark trees with wide trunks and high branches. Stephanie tried to climb one, to see if she could spy what direction the castle was in, but its branches were too high for her to reach and its trunk was too smooth for her acid-worn sneakers to get any traction. When her last attempt ended with her landing flat on her back, she decided that she should probably quit before she really hurt herself. It would be dangerous if she received a wound that prevented her from moving while she was here in this place, all alone.

She stood up and was about to move on when she heard a small voice cry out in alarm. “Help! Ma! Da! Help me! Someone, please!”

Stephanie stopped and looked around. About a couple Yards off, in the shadow of a tree, a small creature was fighting for its life against a carnivorous plant, which shared an uncanny resemblance to Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, and was using the same kind of vines that had been chasing her earlier. The little creature in its clutches was the size of a pigeon and had wings like a bird, but was definitely not a bird itself. If anything, the creature looked part feline. Whatever it was, it must still be a baby, because it had more fuzz than feathers and it was crying out for its parents. For all she knew this poor creature could be another vicious meat eater, but Stephanie, moved with pity at the sight of a scared child, decided to save it.

She looked around for something she could use as a weapon, preferably something she could throw. Sticks, twigs, pebbles—the only thing large enough to make an impact on Audrey II was a thick log that was too large and heavy for her to be able to completely lift off of the ground. She glanced from the log to the plant to the little creature struggling to stay in the air. There was a slight downward slope in the ground towards the plant. Stephanie gritted her teeth, readjusted the angle of the log, and gave it a strong kick to send it rolling. It bowled straight into Audrey II and pinned the main part of the plant to the ground. Audrey II gave a roaring shriek and the tentacles loosened momentarily. The little creature used that instant as an opening to wriggle free and escape.

It beat the wings on its back frantically as it flew towards her. “Run!” it shouted, passing her to lead the way for their escape. Stephanie didn’t have to be told twice. She wanted to be well and truly out of reach before the carnivorous plant recovered and came after them again. They did not stop until they felt that they had reached a safe distance.

Stephanie stood bent over with her hands on her knees and the little creature was sprawled out on its back like an exhausted kitten. They were both panting. “Thanks for saving me, Stephanie,” it said after a while.

She was surprised to be called directly by name by this creature she had never met before. She wondered how it knew. She hoped he wasn’t some kind of mini spy sent there to distract her with his cuteness.

“I’m not a spy,” it said, forming its beaked face in a small frown. “I only read your mind. Everyone from the Forest of Echoes can do that.”

‘Forest of Echoes?’ she thought, surprised once again. She wasn’t sure how she felt about having her mind read without her permission. The idea was kind of unnerving.

The little creature cocked its head at her. “Yes, it’s the place you’re heading towards right now. We’re on the border between it and The Carnivorous Swamp right now. And I can’t help reading your mind. It’s not like I’m doing it because I want to, although maybe it’s a good thing I can, since you can’t talk,” it explained a bit defensively.

Stephanie shrugged. The little guy had a point. It was a lot easier to communicate when she didn’t have to constantly stop to write everything down. He looked young, but she wondered if he or someone he knew might know the way to the castle, or if anyone had seen her sister and Hoggle and could point her in their direction.

It shook its head. “I haven’t seen anyone like that,” he said, receiving a clear image of Sarah from her memories, “but I know a way you can get to either her or the castle.” He brightened considerably. “I know, since you saved me, as thanks I can show you how to get through the Forest and take you to that place.”

‘That place?’ Stephanie asked silently.

“Deep in the forest there’s a special portal that can take you to anywhere you want in the Labyrinth.”

Stephanie’s eyes widened. Now that sounded very promising. Almost too good to be true. She looked long and hard at the little creature, who was smiling innocently at her, and decided it probably wasn’t a trick. He seemed to genuinely want to help. ‘But… knowing this place, there must be some kind of catch,’ she thought.

“Well, my Ma and Da did say that place was dangerous,” it said, “but we’re really far away from where you need to be, and you seem like you’re in a hurry.”

Stephanie conceded to this observation with a nod. He wasn’t wrong that she needed to hurry. The sooner she and Sarah saved Toby, the better. Besides, after everything that she had already faced, how much worse could it get? She gave the little creature a determined smile and thought, ‘In that case, count me in.’

It smiled, happy to be of use, and, together, the two of them headed deep into the Forest of Echoes.

Jareth had been observing Sarah’s progress through the crystal ball when one of the goblins spoke. “What about the other one?” he asked. “What happened to her?”

The Goblin King raised an elegant eyebrow. “The sister? She is of no consequence,” he said dismissively. It was Sarah who had made the wish and, therefore, only Sarah could undo it. No matter whether she solved the Labyrinth or how she much pleaded, he had no obligation to return Toby to Stephanie. She had no power here on her own.

However, he was slightly curious as to how the defiant little brat might faring. Even that stubborn girl must be crying helplessly and cursing her silence by now while she sat in the middle of a miserable heap of waste. A sharp smirk formed on Jareth’s lips at the thought. He certainly would not mind seeing that. With a graceful wave of his hand the image in the crystal ball switched from Sarah entering the Forbidden Forest and losing the ginger beast named Ludo to show Stephanie traversing the Forest of Echoes with her new guide. Jareth narrowed his eyes, startled.

She should never have gotten that far. She should still be struggling to navigate the subterranean waste shoots. How could she have gotten past his garbage disposal? What could have possibly possessed her to choose that way? He would have been impressed if he was not so concerned. No matter what he threw at them this pair of disturbing sisters continued to exceed his expectations in the worst ways possible.

The goblins laughed.

“She’s going the wrong way!” one said.

The goblins crowed and cackled with laughter.

“She’ll never make it to the castle now,” another added.

“Silence,” Jareth snapped.

Those goblins who knew what was good for them immediately shut their traps.

Jareth was disturbed, but he kept his expression carefully neutral, so as not to show any sign of weakness. Things were not as simple as they seemed. He disliked the Forest of Echoes, as even he had trouble dealing with its residents, yet Stephanie appeared to have somehow managed to befriend one of them. Because of the nature of all who inhabited it, there were no secrets in that forest. If one of them told her about the portal, then all could be lost. He had to make sure that, in the event she actually did succeed in the improbable task, the two sisters would never be able to finish reaching the castle together in time to reclaim Toby.

He had to stop them, before it was too late. Given how far she had been able to make it on her own, even without her voice, Stephanie would most likely be too crafty to be tricked into accepting enchanted fruit from a stranger. Sarah, who was in the process of becoming shrewder, would most likely hesitate as well, but, then again, in Sarah’s case it did not have to be a stranger. He would make her forget, and he would make certain that she would be trapped somewhere her troublesome sister could not reach, even with the help of a magic portal.

Hoggle was hoggling around the hedge maze still, minding his own business, and most of all minding that that girl had gotten his jewels. He’d tried to please both her and Jareth, and that’s what you got for trying to please everyone. No baubles.

When Sarah screamed, he heard her. It stopped him in his tracks, which were heading for the start of the Labyrinth. He listened, heard a second scream, wrestled with his rudimentary conscience, came to a decision, and began to run in her direction. He knew his way around this place better than the stupid goblins in the castle. “I’m coming, missy,” he shouted.

He galloped around the corner straight into a pair of knees.

Jareth was wearing his cloak and looking quite handsomely fiendish. “Well,” he said pleasantly, “if it isn’t you.”

“It isn’t me,” Hoggle told him, trembling.

“And where are you going, hmm?”

“Ah…” Hoggle was staring at Jareth’s boots. “Ah…,” he said in a different tone of voice, to hold his audience’s attention. Then he spent a little while scratching his backside, suggesting that a person can’t be expected to answer a question while he’s plagued with an itch.

Jareth was content to wait, with a smile on his lips.

“Er…” At last Hoggle came up with it. “The little missy, she gave me the slip… er… but I just hears her now…”

Jareth’s eyes narrowed.

“So I’m… er… er, I’m going to fetch her and then lead her straight back to the beginning. Just like you told me.” He wished the King of the Goblins would kick him, or pelt him with slugs, or do anything, anything but smile that nerve-racking, pleasant smile.

“I see,” Jareth nodded. “I thought for a moment you were running to help her. But no, you wouldn’t. Not after my warnings. That would be stupid.”

“Ha-ha,” Hoggle agreed, with a trembling heart. “Oh, ha-ha-ha. Stupid? You bet it would be stupid. Me? Help her? After your warnings?”

Jareth elegantly inclined his head to examine Hoggle’s belt. “Oh, dear,” he said, seeming concerned, “poor Hoghead!”

“Hoggle,” Hoggle growled.

“I just noticed that your lovely jewels are missing.”

“Uh…” Hoggle looked down at his sadly unadorned belt. “Oh, yes. So they are. My lovely jewels. Missing. There now. Better find ’em, eh? But first,” he promised in a profoundly reliable voice, “I’m off to fetch the little missy back to the beginning of the Labyrinth.” He thought of trying a wink, but decided not to. “Just like we planned,” he said, and started to march obediently away.

“Wait,” Jareth told him.

Hoggle froze. His eyes closed.

“I have a better plan, Hoggle. Give her this.”

With a wave of his left hand, Jareth produced a bubble from the air. In his hand it became a crystal ball. He waited for Hoggle to turn around and tossed it to him. Hoggle caught it. It had become a peach. Hoggle looked at it, dumbfounded. “Wha—What is it?”

“A present.”

Hoggle’s eyebrows beetled. “It… it ain’t going to harm the little missy, is it?” he asked slowly.

“Oh.” Jareth placed his hand over his heart. “Now, why the concern?”

Hoggle pursed his lips. “Just… curious.”

“Give it to her, Hoggle. That’s all you have to do. And all you have to know.”

Hoggle was torn between fearful obedience, which was familiar to him, and affection, to which he could not have put a name. “I…” He stood more erect. “I won’t do nothing to harm her.” He reckoned that such a moment of defiance might have earned him a pint of earwigs down his breeches, at the least.

Instead, Jareth replied with that pleasant smile that by now was like broken glass on Hoggle’s nerves. “Come, come, come, Hogbrain,” the Goblin King laughed teasingly, “I’m surprised at you. Losing your ugly head over a girl.”

“I ain’t lost my head,” Hoggle scowled.

“You don’t imagine that a young girl could ever like a repulsive little scab like you, do you?”

Hoggle was stung. “She said she was…” He stopped himself mid-blurt, but it was too late.

Jareth gave him a coy, sideways grin. “What? Bosom companions? Was that it, Piggle? Piggly-Wiggly? Friends, are you?”

Hoggle, red-faced, was blinking at his boots again. “Don’t matter,” he muttered.

Jareth’s voice came back crisply. “You give her that, Hoggle, or I’ll have you tipped straight into the Bog of Eternal Stench before you can blink.”

In miserable obedience, Hoggle nodded. “Yes.”

He had started to hurry on his way, assuming the interview was over, when he heard Jareth’s voice again. He stopped, rigid, not daring to turn around.

“I’ll tell you what.” Jareth had his head back and was looking down his nose at Hoggle. “If she ever kisses you—I’ll turn you into a prince.”

Hoggle knew there was going to be a catch. “You will?”

There was a catch. “Prince of the Land of Stench.”

Jareth thought that was a capital joke. He was still laughing as he disappeared.

Hoggle remained standing still, staring at the peach in his hand. His registered several emotions at once. Amusement was not among them.

The bright, savage figure that had leaped out in front of Sarah was a Firey, and Fireys are wild. Are they ever. They are wild about how wild they are.

She screamed a second time and shrank away from the creature, hands folded across herself. It was a bit like a scrawny fox, with a long snout that opened very wide, and a tufted tail. Its fur was red-pink-purplish. It walked, or rather bounded, on two chicken-like legs. Its staring eyes were blue, with red pupils. It had very long fingers, which seemed to be perpetually drumming.

“What’s happening?” it demanded.

She shook her head and opened her mouth to frame some sort of answer, but all that came out was a sob.

“Now cut that out right now, you hear?” the Firey told her.

“Yeah,” agreed another one from behind her, making her start around in fright. “That ain’t gonna do no good.”

“No, sir!” hollered a third one, prancing from the trees and leering wildly at her.

“No, sir.” A fourth one appeared.

And a fifth. “Hey!” it said to her, rousingly, “Come on, now.”

She looked around at them all in great alarm. “What do you want?”

“Wa-hoo!” one replied, rapping out a fast rhythm with his fingers on a rock.

“Hoot!” another said, setting up a cross-rhythm.

“What, us?” asked a third.

Sarah nodded.

“Why, we’re just after havin’ ourselves a good time.”

“Oh,” Sarah said, confused. “I see.”

They all slapped their sides at her demure reply and laughed maniacally. One let out a whoop and hit his hand on a log.

“She sees!” it howled.

“Yeeeahhh!”

“Hey-ey!”

“You can’t stick around like that,” one told her.

“No,” said another. “You gotta shake it loose a bit.”

“Yeahhh. Quit crying. Let it all hang out.”

They leaped around, hooting and clapping. One struck his finger on the ground and it ignited, like a match. He used it to light a bonfire, then blew his finger out nonchalantly.

Sarah was still timidly backing away.

“Oh, yeah. What you need is a little mess-around.”

“Yes, sir!”

A Firey jumped over a pair of tree stumps and started using them as drums. The rest broke into an up-tempo dance number, clicking and drumming their fingers as they circled around her.

Sarah watched in astonishment, standing near the bonfire. She couldn’t have fled if she’d wanted to, with them capering all around her, but in any case she was rooted to the spot by their antics.

She was horrified to see one of the Fireys pluck out his eyes, shake them like dice, and throw them. “Yeah,” the others all cheered, crowding around to look at them. “Snake eyes!” Then the owner of the eyes snatched them up, tossed them in the air like peanuts, and caught them in his eye sockets. The rest were hooting and dancing and clapping. As though to outdo the first, another Firey took his head off his shoulders and threw it in the air. It was kicked and headed around like a soccer ball. Another took his leg off, and with a delicate chip shot hit the head back onto its body. They all cackled and slapped their thighs. The drummer went wild.

Meanwhile, the rest crowded around Sarah and tried to persuade her to join in the dance. After seeing their wild pastimes, she was shy and nervous of them. But she thought she had their number now—just crazy good-timers, out of their skulls—and she was no longer frightened, not even when one tried to lift her head from her shoulders.

“Hey!” she protested. “Ouch!”

“It don’t come off!” the Firey exclaimed.

“What?” The rest were astonished, and they all gathered around in the attempt to decapitate her.

“Ow!” she said, more sternly. “Stop it!”

“You’re right! It’s fixed on!”

“Of course it’s fixed on,” she told them.

“Where you goin’ with a head like that, lady?”

“Well, I’m… oh!” The hopelessness of her predicament flooded back, and she started to sob again. She missed Stephanie and Ludo terribly, and Hoggle, too.

“Hey! Now what’s up, little lady?”

Sarah hiccupped. “Oh! I’m trying to get to Jareth’s castle at the center of this Labyrinth…”

“Holy Mo!”

“You sure you know what you’re doin’, lady?”

“Yes,” Sarah said firmly.

“Well, hot dog! How about that!”

The drummer shouted, “She knows what she’s doin’,” and he gave her a drumroll on the tree stumps.

“Yeah,” the others said, grinning and bopping.

“But I’ve only got a few hours left,” Sarah told them. She wondered how few.

The Fireys whistled and grinned at each other.

“Well, that ain’t no problem.”

Sarah looked up at them through her tears, with a gleam of hope in her eyes. “It isn’t?”

“Why, shoot! No!”

“We’ll take you there.”

“Yeah,” another squawked wildly, waving his fingers above his head. “How about us comin’ along a little, hey?”

The rest cavorted in a frenzy of excitement, hooting and screeching.

“A castle, oh, wow!”

“Well,” Sarah said doubtfully, “it’s kind of you, but…”

“You think we’re just too wild?” The Firey’s head rose up from his shoulders as he spoke, and he had to grab it in his hands and press it back into place.

The drummer did a big roll. “Why, shoot. We ain’t that wild.”

“Oh, yes, we are,” another called. “Hey!” He formed himself into the shape of an ostrich, ran two steps, and exploded. As he put his pieces together again, the rest howled and clapped.

“Cool, man!”

“Now look, little lady, you can’t just go walkin’ through this place on your ownsome.”

Sarah sniffed sadly. “Well, I did have a friend just—”

“Hey! Fellow with clothes on, right?”

“Hoggle?”

“That Hoggle, yeah! Oh, wow! Everyone around these parts knows Hoggle.”

“Really?” Sarah asked.

“Sure. Hog and me, we’re like that.” The Firey crossed his fingers.

“Oh. We…”

Before she could say any more, Sarah felt herself being propelled along by the Fireys. All she could see ahead of them was a rocky wilderness.

“Now the castle’s just down along around this way,” one assured her.

“Wait, I still have to find my sister! Are you sure you know how to get to the center of the Labyrinth?” she asked nervously. She had precious little time to waste, and she thought she would have preferred to be left to find her own way. But there was no escaping the Fireys, who had hold of her clothes in their long fingers and were hopping enthusiastically along with her in tow.

“She says she has to find her sister!”

“Do we know how to get to the center of the Labyrinth!”

They all burst out laughing. Their heads flew up in the air, and their arms had to detach themselves to catch the heads.

“Why, lady!” one screeched. “We may be wild but we sure know where we’re goin’.”

“Yeahhh!” the rest concurred.

“You wanna find your sister? We’re helpin’ you look for her. You wanna go to the castle? We’re takin’ you to the castle. Ain’t we just doin’ those things?”

“Yeeeahhh!”

“So you come on along with us, little lady, and you ain’t gonna have no problem.”

Jareth was watching Sarah from the castle. In his crystal he saw her distraught face looking around for a way to escape.

He held Toby up in front of his sister’s picture. “Look, Sarah,” he murmured. “Is this what you’re trying to find?”

Toby gaped at Sarah’s face in the crystal. He held a hand out to touch it.

Jareth chuckled to himself and put his arm around Toby. “So much trouble for such a little thing,” Jareth said, shaking his head. He looked at Toby’s puzzled face. “But not for long. Soon she’ll forget all about you, my fine fellow, and that other, less pleasant, sister of yours. Just as soon as Hoggle gives her my present, Sarah will be beyond Stephanie’s reach. She’ll forget—everything.”


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