The storm raged on over their house. The clouds boiled. Rain lashed the leaves on the trees. Thunder was followed by lightning.
Sarah and Stephanie were listening. What they were listening to was an unnatural silence within the room. Toby had stopped crying, so suddenly it scared them. The two sisters looked back inside the nursery. The bedside light was out. “Toby?” Sarah called. He did not respond.
Stephanie flicked the light switch beside the door. Nothing happened. Sarah took over and jiggled it up and down several times, to no effect. A board creaked. Stephanie tensed, filled with an eerie sense of apprehension. “Toby?” Sarah called again. “Are you all right? Why aren’t you crying?”
Sarah and Stephanie stepped nervously into the quiet room. The light from the landing, coming through the doorway, threw unfamiliar shadows onto the walls and across the carpet. In the lull between two thunderclaps, they thought they could hear humming in the air. They could detect no movement at all in the crib.
“Toby,” Stephanie whispered in anxiety, and the sisters walked toward the crib with their breath drawn. Sarah’s hands were shaking like aspen leaves as she reached out to pull the sheet back.
Both sisters recoiled. The sheet was convulsing. Weird shapes were thrusting and bulging beneath it. They thought they glimpsed things poking out from the edge of the sheet, things that were no part of Toby. They felt their hearts thumping, and Sarah put her hand over her mouth, to stop herself from screaming.
Then the sheet was still again. It sank slowly down over the mattress. Nothing moved.
They could not turn and run away and leave him. They had to know. Whatever the horror of it, they had to know. Impulsively, both sisters reached out a hand to pull the sheet back.
The crib was empty.
For a moment or an hour, they would never know how long, they stared at the empty crib. Stephanie was horrified and confused. Sarah was not even frightened. Her mind had been wiped clean.
And then she was frightened, by a soft, rapid thumping on the windowpane. Stephanie jumped, startled. Sarah’s hands clenched so tightly, her fingernails scored her skin.
A white owl was flapping insistently on the glass. They could see the light from the landing reflected in its great, round, dark eyes, watching them. The whiteness of its plumage was illuminated by a series of lightning flashes that seemed continuous. Behind them, a goblin briefly raised his head, and ducked down again. Another did likewise. The girls didn’t see them. Their eyes were fixed on the owl’s eyes. Something was not right, Stephanie could feel it. That thing was not a normal bird.
Lightning crackled and flashed again, and this time it distracted Stephanie’s attention away from the window by shining on the clock that stood on the mantelpiece. She saw that the hands were at thirteen o’clock. She was staring distractedly at the clock when she felt something nudge the back of her legs. She glanced down. The crib was moving across the carpet on scaly legs like a lizard’s, with talons for toes, one leg at each corner of the crib. Stephanie’s lips parted, but she made no sound. She quickly tugged on Sarah’s sleeve to get her attention. When her sister turned and saw the transformed crib, she let out a startled shriek.
Behind them, something snickered. The girls spun around and saw it duck down again behind the chest of drawers. Shadows were scuttling across the walls. Goblins were prancing and bobbing behind them. Sarah and Stephanie were watching the chest of drawers. Like the crib, it had a scaly, clawed foot at each corner, and it was dancing.
The sisters wheeled around, mouths open, hands clenched, and saw the goblins cavorting. They ducked away into the shadows, to evade the girls’ eyes. Stephanie looked for something that would serve as a weapon. In the corner of the nursery was an old broom. She took it and advanced upon the goblins. “Go away. Go away,” Sarah whimpered, while her sister charged.
“Where’s Toby? What happened to our brother?” Stephanie cried, trying to sweep them up, but the handle of the broom twisted in her hands and slithered out of her grasp.
The storm rose to a pitch. Lightning made daylight in the room, and scared faces suddenly began to vanish into cupboards, drawers, or down the cracks between floorboards. As the thunder boomed and the wind shook the curtains, a blast of air blew the window open. Between the fluttering curtains the white owl entered.
The girls wrapped their arms around their faces, and screamed. Sarah screamed again. She was petrified that the flapping owl would brush across her. She thought she would die if it did.
Stephanie felt the wind blowing her hair around, but the flapping had ceased. Between her fingers she peeked out, to see where the bird was perched. Sarah also lowered her arms to look, but they saw nothing. Perhaps it had flown out again. Stephanie suddenly had the feeling that someone was standing behind them.
A prolonged crackling of lightning was throwing a giant shadow on the wall facing the window. It was the shadow of a human figure.
Sarah and Stephanie spun around. Silhouetted against the stormy sky was a man. He wore a cloak, which glistened like beetle’s wings and swirled in the wind. They could see that his hair was shoulder-length and blond. Something glinted about his neck. More than that they could not see in the dim light.
Sarah said, “Uh…,” and cleared her throat. “Who are you?”
“Don’t you know?” The man’s voice was calm, almost kindly.
Lightning traced the veins of the sky and lit up his face. He was not smiling, as one might smile on greeting a stranger, nor was his expression fierce. His eyes were fixed upon Sarah’s with an intensity that she found compelling and Stephanie found worrying. When he took a step toward Sarah, she did not retreat, and Stephanie remained at her sister’s side. If his eyes had not hypnotized Sarah, the golden chain around his neck might have. A sickle-shaped ornament hung from it, upon his chest. Beneath the cloak, he was wearing a dark armored chest-plate over a fitted black shirt. He was shod in black boots, over black tights, and on his hands were black gloves. In one of them he held the jeweled nob of a curious cane with a fishtail shape at the end.
“I…,” Sarah answered. “I…”
The humming that the girls though they had heard in the air was now quite distinct, and musical. The stranger smiled at Sarah’s hesitancy. He was certainly handsome. She had not expected that. Stephanie thought he reminded her of Jeremy, eerily, in the way that they both shared a rather remarkable resemblance to David Bowie around the face. They appeared to be the same height, too. But with that teased coif and elaborate makeup, he looked like he should be singing lead for a hair band, though she had to give him credit; he was probably the first man she had ever seen who could wear as much makeup as a 5th avenue hooker and still manage to look devastatingly handsome. He was terrifying and beautiful all at once. Like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“The long-lost member of Twisted Sister?” Stephanie ventured, defaulting to her number one defense mechanism for when she was nervous, sarcasm, even though she actually quite liked that band. She instantly regretted opening her mouth. The stranger tore his eyes away from Sarah and narrowed them at her in a sharp glare. He clearly did not appreciate Stephanie’s wicked sense of humor.
Sarah finally spoke up, her voice a whisper. “You’re… him, aren’t you? You’re the King of the Goblins.”
He turned his attention back to Sarah and bowed. “Jareth.”
The two sisters resisted the ridiculous impulse to return a curtsy.
“I have saved you,” he said. “I have liberated you from those bonds that distressed you and frightened you. You’re free now, Sarah.”
“Free?” Stephanie asked, with a frown. So Toby really did disappear because of Sarah’s wish? This was so messed up.
“Oh, no. I don’t want to be free,” Sarah answered. “I mean, I do, but—I want my little brother back. Please.” She gave him a tiny smile. “If it’s all the same to you.”
Jareth folded his hands on the top of his cane. “What’s said is said.”
“But I didn’t mean it,” Sarah replied quickly.
“Didn’t you, now?”
“We didn’t think you were actually listening,” Stephanie felt compelled to point out.
“Silence,” Jareth commanded with a wave of his hand, “this has nothing to do you with you.”
Stephanie was opening her mouth to tell him that it had everything to do with her, because Toby was her brother too, but she felt her throat tighten slightly, and no sound came out when she moved her lips. Her eyes widened, and she shot the Goblin King an incredulous look when she realized that he had somehow taken away her voice.
“Oh, please. Where is he?” Sarah asked anxiously, oblivious to her sister’s plight.
Jareth chuckled. “You know very well where he is.”
“Please bring him back, please.” Sarah heard herself speaking in a small voice. “Please!”
“Sarah…” Jareth frowned, and shook his head. His expression was all concern for her. “Go back to your room. Read your books. Put on your costumes. Forget about the baby.”
“No, I can’t.”
Stephanie watched in silence as, for a moment, they regarded each other, adversaries trying to size each other up at the outset of a long contest. Thunder rumbled.
Then Jareth raised his left arm, and made a large gesture with his hand. Sarah and Stephanie looked around, thinking he was summoning assistance. When they faced him again, a glowing crystal had appeared in his hand.
“I’ve brought you a gift, Sarah,” he said, holding it out to her.
Stephanie’s frown deepened. Sarah paused. They could not trust him. “What is it?” Sarah asked, voicing the question her sister could not.
“A crystal, nothing more. Except that if you look into it… it will show you your dreams.”
Stephanie didn’t much see the point in that. You could see your dreams any time you wanted, all you needed was your imagination. And what good was it in just looking at your dreams, when you could work to make them come true in real life? Wasn’t it more fun to live them? ‘Besides,’ she thought, ‘coming from a shady guy like this, there must be a catch.’
She became concerned when Sarah’s lips parted involuntarily, entranced. Jareth watched her face, while he spun the shining crystal around in his fingers. Sarah’s hand started to reach out for it. He smiled a little more, and withdrew the crystal from her.
Raising the cane in his other hand, he told her, “But this is not a gift for an ordinary girl, one who takes care of a screaming baby.” His voice was quieter now, and huskier. “Do you want it, Sarah?” He held it out toward her again.
This time Sarah’s hands remained by her sides, and she made no answer. Her eyes were fixed on the dancing, flashing glints of the crystal. To see her own dreams—what wouldn’t she give for that?
“Then forget the child,” Jareth said firmly.
While Sarah hesitated, another bolt of lightning illuminated the sky behind the Goblin King.
She was torn. The gift was not only seductive, it was also the choice of someone who understood her, someone who cared about the secret places of her imagination and knew how infinitely much more they meant to her than anything else. In return, she would have to trade her responsibility for an offensively spoiled child, who made endless demands upon her and never showed the least sign of gratitude; who was, after all, only her half brother. The crystal was spinning, glowing. And then she felt Stephanie tug, once, on her sleeve.
Sarah willed her eyes to close. From behind shut eyelids, she heard a voice answering. It was her own voice, but it seemed to be a memory. “I—I can’t. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do for me… but I want my baby brother back. He must be so scared…” She opened her eyes again.
Jareth snorted, and tossed his mane of blond hair. He had lost patience with the girl. With a wave of his hand, he extinguished the crystal. With another wave, he plucked a live snake from the air. He held it with a straight arm in front of him, so that it writhed and hissed near Sarah’s face. Then he threw it at her. “Don’t defy me,” he warned her.
It was wrapped around her neck. Sarah clutched desperately at the thing, and Stephanie quickly helped her pull it off. The writhing snake turned into a scarf in their hands. Sarah yelled when it growled, and they dropped it and jumped away when it started to squirm. When it hit the floor it shattered into a number of horribly ugly little goblins, who scuttled, snickering, to the corners of the room. Other goblins crept from the shadows, or popped out from their hiding places, and stood all around the room, brazen now, watching to see what their king would do to them next.
“You are no match for me, Sarah. Not even with your sister’s help.” Jareth sounded impatient. “Let the child alone. Take my gift. I will not offer it to you again.”
Before he could produce the crystal, Sarah told him, “No.” She paused. “Thank you all the same, but I can’t do what you want. Can’t you see that? I must have my brother back.”
“You will never find him.”
Stephanie’s eyes shined upon hearing that.
“Ah,” Sarah said, and took a deep breath, before saying exactly what her sister was thinking. “Then… there is a place to look.”
Just for a moment, Jareth’s face flinched. Sarah and Stephanie saw it, the merest trace of fear fleeting across his eyes. Was it possible? His nostrils tightened, he gripped his cane, and appeared to hesitate slightly before answering her. They could not quite believe it, but the suspicion that the Goblin King could be afraid of one of them, even if only momentarily, was encouraging.
“Yes,” he said. “There is a place.”
And now, with a really hammy gesture straight out of vaudeville, he twirled his hand and pointed through the window.
‘Lightning and thunder, right on cue,’ the sisters thought. They moved past him and stared into the night. On a distant hill, brilliant in the flashes, they saw a castle. Sarah and Stephanie leaned on the windowsill, trying to see more clearly. There were towers with turrets, massive walls, spires and domes, a portcullis and a drawbridge. The whole edifice was built on top of a sharply rising mound. Around it the lightning flickered and forked like snakes’ tongues. Beyond was blackness.
From just behind Sarah’s shoulder, Jareth murmured, “Do you still want to look for him?”
“Yes.” Sarah swallowed. Stephanie took her sister’s hand, holding it, and nodded in agreement. “Is that… the castle beyond the Goblin City?”
Jareth did not answer at once, and they turned around. He was still there, watching them intensely, but they were no longer in the house. They stood facing each other on a windswept hilltop. Between them and the hill on which the castle stood was a broad valley. In the darkness the girls could not tell what was down there. They became aware that a hint of light was staining the rim of the dark sky. They watched the light glow brighter, changing from red to pink. Jareth’s castle was shining before them, its spires and turrets rimmed with the reflected sunlight. Anxiously they scrutinized the valley, which, like a developing photograph, took longer to reveal itself.
The first thing they could gauge was its width. The extent of the land between them and the castle was not so very great. But, from the foot of the hillside where they stood, to the castle beyond it, and from horizon to horizon on each side, there stretched a vast, intricate maze of walls and hedges.
Stephanie’s eyes widened. She studied it, trying to decipher some pattern to it, some principle of design that might guide them through it. She could see none. Corridors doubled, and wound and coiled. Gateways led to gateways leading into gateways. It reminded her of thousands of fingerprints laid side by side, overlapping each other. ‘Did someone work all that out,’ she wondered, ‘or had it just happened?’ Regardless, they had no choice but to challenge the impossible labyrinth if they wanted to save Toby.
Stephanie turned again and Sarah followed. The wind blew Stephanie’s hair over her face. Brushing it back, she steeled her nerves and took one small step forward.
Jareth’s voice came from behind them. “Turn back, Sarah. Turn back before it is too late.”
“I can’t. Oh, I can’t. Don’t you understand that?” Sarah shook her head slowly, gazing at the distant castle, and to herself, quietly, repeated, “I can’t.”
“What a pity.” Jareth’s voice was low, and gentle, as though he really meant it.
“It doesn’t look that far,” she said, and heard in her voice the effort she was making to sound brave.
Jareth was at her elbow now. He looked at her and her sister with a smile that was icy. Stephanie squared her shoulders and met his chilling expression with fire in her eyes. “It’s farther than you think.” Pointing at a tree, he added, “And the time is shorter.”
Sarah and Stephanie saw that an antique wooden clock had appeared in the tree, as though growing from a branch. On it were marked the hours to thirteen, as on the nursery clock in the lightning.
“I’ve never had two runners at once before, but since your sister is so keen to follow you, I suppose I will allow it, this time,” Jareth told Sarah. “But remember, if you start together, you must finish together. You have thirteen hours to unriddle the Labyrinth, before your baby brother becomes one of us.”
Jareth nodded. “Forever.”
Magic still hummed in the air. Sarah and Stephanie were standing still, hair tossing in the wind, looking out across the Labyrinth toward the castle. Sarah glanced at her younger sister. Stephanie stood resolutely at her side. There was no way she was letting her older sister do this alone. After a while, Sarah said, “Tell us where we start.”
They waited for an answer, and finally they heard him say, “Such a pity.”
“What?” They turned their heads to look up at him, but he was not there. The two girls spun all around. He had vanished. They were alone on the windswept hilltop.
They looked across again at the castle. They thought they glimpsed the figure of an owl, high above, wings spread wide on the air, as he flew steadily away from them. Sarah clenched her fists, set her jaw, and cleared her throat. “The Labyrinth,” she said. “It doesn’t look that hard.”
Stephanie would beg to differ, but she took another step forward anyway, down the hillside.
“Well,” Sarah said, moving to follow her, “here we go. Come on, feet.”