The door swung open with an ominous creak, and Toby’s sticky fingers tightened on Sarah’s hand. She squeezed back reassuringly, even as Sir Didymus lunged protectively in front of both of them, confronting the vampire who’d swooped into the open doorway, all shadowed eyes and blood-stained mouth.
“What say you, villain? Will it be trick or treat?”
The vampire blinked, glancing from the circling tip of Didymus’s sword to the plastic treat bucket in Hoggle’s sullen grip. Sarah tugged Toby forward. Newly-walking, he was all shy smile and chubby cheeks beneath the curling satyr’s horns she’d spent the last week making for him.
“Twick o’ tweat!” he echoed, lifting his own bucket
The vampire’s bewilderment gave way to a charmed smile. “Great costumes,” she said, dropping generous handfuls of candy into each of the proffered buckets.
“Thanks,” Hoggle said gruffly, even as Didymus bowed in acknowledgment.
“Is that a puppet or something?” the vampire asked, as Didymus steered Ambrosius back towards the porch steps. Didymus stiffened, turning back in indignation, but Sarah lifted a hand to keep him in place.
“Nope!” she laughed, grinning beneath her own curling horns and carnival mask. “Just magic!”
Her grin lingered as they started back up the sidewalk, crunching through the brittle carpet of fallen leaves.
Barely an hour after sunset, and this was already shaping into the best Halloween ever. Last year, it felt like everyone from her stepmother to the kids at school had criticized Sarah for choosing trick-or-treating over getting wasted at Halloween parties.
“Aren’t you a little old for this?” she’d heard, even from some of the strangers giving out candy.
But with her little brother in tow, trick-or-treating wasn’t babyish, but noble. Her parents had been thrilled when Sarah volunteered to escort Toby, freeing them up for a party of their own. Even the kids at school had only smiled in sympathy when Sarah mentioned her plans. They could all understand family obligations. Strangely enough, only Didymus and Hoggle had protested.
“But my lady, it’s far too dangerous!” Didymus had cried, when she idly mentioned the reason for the carnival mask hanging on her wall. Even Hoggle had looked up in alarm, his hand stilling over the block castle he’d been building with Toby.
“Are you mad?”
Sarah had tried to reassure them. Whatever Halloween was like Underground, she’d explained, there was nothing to fear from trick-or-treating. Still, they’d insisted on accompanying her. Sarah’s initial hesitation had faded once she realized Halloween made the perfect excuse to take her friends outside without being noticed.
Now, she practically skipped down the sidewalk, feeling almost as mischievous as the goblin dancer she pretended to be. In moments like this, she knew she’d been right not to take Jareth up on his offer. What did she need the Labyrinth for? It was Halloween night, and the air was crisp and sweet. The moon was shining over the roofs of the houses. Toby was adorable in the costume she’d made him. Best of all, her magical friends were with her– and nobody even noticed! The glances they got from the other clusters of trick-or-treaters were only admiring, not suspicious at all.
On the sidewalk, Didymus marched ahead on Ambrosius while Hoggle stoutly took the rear. Between them, Sarah walked tall and proud in her ball gown, Toby balanced in the crook of her arm. She felt like the heroine in her play, like the clever, brave girls she loved to read stories about. Across the street, three gangly children dressed as scarecrows paused beneath an oak tree to watch them pass, like Sarah and her friends were more interesting than the candy waiting behind closed doors.
She gave them her best fey grin beneath her goblin mask. But Didymus had drawn up sharp, fur bristling. Hoggle clutched her arm in alarm. Even Toby gave a startled wail, burying his face in her shoulder.
“It’s alright,” she soothed, kissing the top of Toby’s head in reassurance. “They’re just trick-or-treaters like us.” She looked back across the street, planning to point out the scarecrow kids, remind Toby and her friends that there was nothing to worry about.
But they were gone. The sidewalk beneath the oak tree held only shadows. Behind her, Hoggle crowded closer, drawing a slingshot from the waistband of his trousers. Didymus had his sword out again, the tip pointing this way and that as he scented the air.
Despite herself, a knot of fear was beginning to form in Sarah’s stomach. She clutched Toby close, glancing from the shadows beneath the oak tree to the cluster of garbage cans on the sidewalk ahead. In the distance, an owl hooted.
“Hoggle?” she whispered. “Is it . . .”
Without warning, the garbage cans clattered to the payment. Sarah stepped back, expecting to see the flutter of white wings, Jareth’s tall form folding out from the shadows. Instead, the three scarecrows crouched beneath the fallen cans, leering at them.
This close, there was no mistaking them for human.
Green flames burned inside the crudely carved eyes and leering smiles of the jack-o-lantern heads that she’d mistaken for masks. Beneath ragged clothes, their bodies seemed formed of twigs and straw. One by one, they lurched to their feet in stiff, jerking movements. The first of them took a step closer, and Didymus growled.
“Stay back, villain!” he warned.
“Run!” Hoggle yelled, tugging on Sarah’s skirt. She glanced from his frightened face in time to see Didymus charge forward, driving the sword through the midsection of the nearest scarecrow. It punched through the thing’s flannel shirt, straw spilling out around steel, but the scarecrow didn’t even flinch. Clumsily, it reached down, yanked the sword from its belly and let it fall, clammering, to the sidewalk. Its companions were closing in around Didymus.
Sarah thrust Toby into Hoggle’s arms, ignoring his sputtered protest and Toby’s frightened wail.
“Take him home! Keep him safe!”
“But—“ Hoggle started.
“Please!” Sarah cried, even as she turned back, gathering her skirt in one hand to keep from tripping as she ran to help Didymus.
One of the scarecrows was leaning forward, obviously intent on plucking him from the saddle. Desperately, Sarah looked for something, anything, to distract it. The garbage cans the scarecrows had knocked over caught her eye, and she seized up one of the lids. With a cry of anger, she ran forward, slamming the lid into the scarecrow’s back.
Aluminum crunched into flannel with the snap of breaking twigs. The scarecrow straightened, turning its spiteful, green-glowing eyes on her. Its companions were glancing between her and Didymus, clearly trying to decide which of them to attack first.
Sarah crouched low, holding the garbage can lid out before her like a shield. “Go away!” she yelled at the scarecrows. “You don’t want to fight us!”
A high, echoing laugh sounded from behind the scarecrow’s carved jack-o-lantern leer. “Human girl,” it sneered. “No fight. Just meat.”
Through the corner of her eye, Sarah saw Hoggle and Toby, paused a few yards down the sidewalk. Hoggle had turned back, as if unsure whether or not to come to her aid. In his sturdy arms, Toby was watching her, eyes big and worried.
Sarah straightened. “I’m not just any human girl,” she warned the scarecrow. “Didn’t you hear? I defeated the goblin king himself!”
“It’s true,” Hoggle said, hefting Toby higher. “This is the child Jareth took.”
The scarecrows hesitated.
Didymus had retrieved his sword, and he and Ambrosius took advantage of the scarecrow’s hesitation to double back, drawing up close at Sarah’s side.
“Aye!” he yelled. “We stormed his castle and defeated his guards! And we’ll defeat you, too!”
Letting the garbage can lid clatter to the sidewalk, Sarah stood tall. A strange, fey sort of certainty coming over her. This was how she’d felt the night the goblins came for Toby.
“It was Halloween night,” she intoned, “and three silly boggins had crossed into the human world for mischief, never knowing the danger that awaited them there.”
The three scarecrows glanced at each other, uncertain.
Stepping towards them, Sarah felt the words come to her, certain as lines in a play. “For the girl who lived in that neighborhood was the daughter of a wise and powerful witch! She’d once called the goblin king himself to her, and had bested his labyrinth, tricked him at his own game. The girl spied the boggins. She knew that they didn’t belong. And so she called down a spell of reckoning!”
Sarah lifted one hand to the sky, dramatically, and the three scarecrows leaped backwards as one. In a swoop of rushing air, the evening fog drew in around them, leaves swirling as if caught in a cyclone. Then, with a flash of green light, they vanished. The three jack-o-lanterns splattered against the sidewalk, ordinary pumpkin seeds spilling out amidst abandoned flannel shirts and overalls, strewn twigs and straw.
For a moment, Sarah could only stare down at the mess, heart racing, veins flooded with adrenaline. Again, an owl hooted. When she lifted her head, she spied a snowy owl watching her from a limb of the oak tree across the street.
“Sawah!” Toby cried, and she turned to see him straining forward in Hoggle’s arms until the dwarf relented, setting him down on the sidewalk. He ran towards her, and she scooped him up, holding him close for a second, possessive.
“Come on,” she said, straightening the horns on his head. “Let’s go home.”
* * *
Troubled though she was, Sarah couldn’t help but smile as Sir Didymus and Hoggle drank spiced cider at the dining room table, their candy spread out across her stepmother’s lace tablecloth. Toby was already asleep in his crib, worn out from the excitement of the night. Sarah had latched, then double-checked, the windows.
“I say,” Sir Didymus was saying, “doest thou have any miniature Snickers?”
“Hands off!” Hoggle warned. As he possessively scooped his haul of candy closer, Sarah slipped into the kitchen and out the back door.
In the moonlight, with the memory of the scarecrows fresh in her mind, even the neatly-trimmed grass and well-tended flower beds of the back yard seemed vaguely sinister. She paused in the doorway, scanning the shadows, the rooftops, the branches of the dogwood tree. No owl hooted. No white feathers caught the moonlight. But she knew he was there. She could feel it in her bones, the same intoxicating mix of danger and excitement she’d felt the night she accidentally wished away Toby
“Jareth!” she called, low enough that her friends inside wouldn’t hear. “Come out! I know you’re there.”
For a moment, she thought he wouldn’t answer. Then a breeze blew across the backyard, bringing with white feathers and the glimmer of sparkles. Jareth the Goblin King stood in front of her father’s garden shed, lips quirked in that maddening smirk of his.
He was dressed all in white again, from the feathered cowl around his neck to the straining front of his leggings. Sarah refused to be impressed.
“I played your game,” she said. “I solved your labyrinth. I rescued Toby. I did everything you asked me to do. So why aren’t you holding up your end of the bargain?”
Jareth quirked an eyebrow at her, curious and mocking. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“The boggins! I know you sent them!”
Lips quirking, Jareth asked, “Haven’t you read any of those fairy stories in your room? It’s Halloween night. The veil between our worlds has lifted. Any number of creatures can walk back and forth, without any intervention from me, I assure you.”
“But I saw you there!”
He tilted his head, bird-like. “Did you ever consider that I might have come to help?”
“Of course not!” she snapped, planting her hands on her hips. “When have you ever helped me? You took Toby --”
“At your request,” he reminded her smoothly. “Be honest, Sarah. My labyrinth best thing that ever happened to you.” He nodded his head to the window, where they could see Hoggle was lifting up on tiptoes to help himself to more hot cider from the crockpot. “Do you really regret the magic I’ve brought into your life?”
Sarah bit her lip, unsure what to say. Jareth took advantage of her hesitation to step nearer, close enough that she could see the wind moving through the feathers on his cloak, watch his curved, jeweled pendant rise and fall against his chest as he breathed.
“Those boggins were only the first. You’ve spent too long in my world, you and your brother both. You can recognize magic now. You can see us as we truly are. You’ll never be able to unsee.” Smiling, he held out a hand to her, palm up, white leather gleaming in the moonlight. “I can help you, Sarah. Guide you.”
“I don’t need your help,” she said, crossing her own arms over her chest.
He looked at her for a long moment, considering. “No,” he said at last. “Maybe you don’t.”
“I don’t trust you,” Sarah said.
Jareth threw back his head, laughing.“Nor should you!” He stepped backwards, into the shadows. Even as he spoke his next words, the wind rose around him, feathers and glitter obscuring his face as he said, “But tell me, Sarah, isn’t it more exciting this way?”
She started to answer, to say no, it wasn’t. But he’d already vanished. Through the corner of her eye, she spied white wings sailing over the roof of the house.
Frowning, she hesitated in the yard a moment longer, replaying his words in her mind. She couldn’t deny that he’d had a point. As terrifying as it had been at the time, the labyrinth was the best thing to ever happen to her. She wouldn’t trade Hoggle or Sir Didymus for anything. But Jareth?
Tricks and treats, she thought, stepping back into the house. You can’t have one without the other.
“My lady! Is everything well?” Sir Didymus asked, half-rising in his chair as she slipped back into the dining room.
She smiled at him, knowing the words were true even as she spoke them. “Yes. Everything’s fine.”