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Dangers Untold And Podcasts Unnumbered

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On the third evening after her husband went missing, Sarah called an Uber to take her and the baby to Burger King.

She didn't know what she expected to find. The police hadn't turned up anything. The last hit on Arnie's credit card was at the drive-through, and a security camera had caught their license plate going in, but there were no witnesses, no footage, not even a torn-up patch of grass to hint at where he'd gone next.

What she found...was an extrasensory shiver that made her hair stand on end and her daughter start fussing.

"Whoa," murmured Sarah, rubbing Gwen's back in soothing circles. "No wonder the cops didn't pick up on that, huh? Shh, Gwennie, it's okay. Nobody's going to take you. Not while I'm around."

Had someone taken Arnie? He was a little old for being wished away — but Sarah knew he would never have abandoned them on purpose. And besides....

Well, put it this way: if incredible world-crossing magic was what got Sarah's motor running, her life would have unfolded very differently.

She wove her way around the parked cars to the nearest crosswalk, a path of lines in faded yellow paint. It wasn't as glittery as a rainbow bridge in a fairyland, but it had the symbolism, and that was what counted. It would help her draw upon powers she hadn't needed to reach for since...wow, how long had it been? A decade? More?

Not so long that she'd forgotten the script, at least.

"Goblin King!" ordered Sarah, in a clear, strident voice. Scared the bejeezus out of a nearby pigeon. "I charge you to come to my side!"

 

*****

 

ARNIE
Whoa, guys...check out tall, bright, and feathery who just walked in. Is that a normal Foon style, or are they something special?

CHUNT
"They"? I only see one guy.

ARNIE
Well, I wasn't sure if they're a boy or a girl.

USIDORE
ARNOLD! How rude!

ARNIE
It's Arnie.

USIDORE
That is CLEARLY some fey king of great and terrible power. And his hair is ALL RIGHT. What he is doing in such a backwater tavern as this, I know not. Unless perhaps he hath heard of my QUEST to DEFEAT THE DARK LORD, and has come to seek me out....

CHUNT
Shut up, Usidore, he's staring!

ARNIE
Actually, now that I think about it, he looks a lot like David Bowie.

USIDORE
Who is DAVID BOWIE?

CHUNT
Is he, like an archer, and that's why they call him Bow-y...?

ARNIE
No, he's, uh, he's this musician...I don't wanna talk about Earth stuff.

USIDORE
You know who he reminds me of? Ziggy Stairdust.

ARNIE
Uh-huh? And who is Ziggy Stairdust?

USIDORE
The elven janitor at the Great Halls of Terrakis. It's a sort of nickname. He moves back and forth a lot, zigging and zagging, you see, so we call him Ziggy, and his favorite thing to do is...

ARNIE [overlapping]
...dust the stairs. Okay, I get it.

CHUNT
Well, whether this guy was an archer or a janitor or what, I guess we'll never know, 'cause he's off on his way.

USIDORE
Without even buying a drink?

ARNIE
So, ah, this Ziggy Stairdust, is he friends with any spiders?

USIDORE
What?

CHUNT
C'mon, Arnie, he's a janitor. He spends all day sweeping spiders out of their spaces. Why would the spiders like him? That would be a real space oddity.

ARNIE
Are you sure? Not even really weird exotic spiders, maybe from some place called Mars?

USIDORE
Arnold, you're very confused. There is not, in fact, life on Mars.

CHUNT
Yeah, why don't you just believe him? Why are you so insistent about this spider thing?

ARNIE
Look, if we were on mic, Earth people would be loving it.

 

*****

 

Sarah turned slowly, looking mostly for unseelie shapes in the trees, and jumped when she came full circle and saw that he'd appeared next to the restaurant's plastic statue.

A real King to outshine the a cartoon one. Molded robes and too-shiny paint standing in stark contrast with feathers and gold weave and inhumanly-perfect eyeliner.

"My dear Sarah," purred the Goblin King, stalking toward her across the pavement. Like a cat, except for the part where no cat alive would allow itself to be squeezed into pants that tight. "I knew you would call me back one day."

"Hi, Jareth. It's...well. It's good to see you again." It was even true. If it wasn't for the nagging feeling that he would take it the wrong way, Sarah would have given him a call years ago.

"And, hm, a child." Jareth peered at Gwen with interest. "As I recall, Toby was larger, so this must be a new one. Am I keeping it? Or are we leaving it behind when we depart?"

Sarah raised her eyebrows. "You really need to stop and take another look at this situation."

Jareth frowned. He looked between the baby's face and Sarah's. His brow furrowed; his lips drew into something that could almost be called a pout. "Wait. Is that one yours?"

"And I'm putting a comprehensive ban on anyone taking her away. Don't get any ideas."

"Little Sarah Williams has finally taken a consort?"

"Husband. Took a husband. And it's Sarah Maher now."

"You got married? How long have I been gone?" Yes, the Goblin King was definitely pouting. "I haven't even heard of this Maher. Can he re-order time, turn the world upside down, and move the stars for you? Is he even the dread ruler of anything?"

"He's not a Maher, I started using my mom's maiden name, and then...okay, the fact that you're asking all this proves you haven't seen him." Dammit, Sarah had been really hoping Jareth was behind the theft. At least then she would know how to get Arnie back. "Jareth, please. I need your help."

 

*****

 

ARNIE
Usidore! You're here! C'mere, quick.

USIDORE
What is it, Arnold? Do you need a re-casting of the Miniscule Lightning Incantation so that your strange device will once again have the power to reach Twatterton?

CHUNT
No, we're not having any problem being twits. It's just that the feathery guy from a month ago is here again, and Arnie wants you to help talk to him.

ARNIE
Look, you said he had great fey power or whatever, right? I don't want him turning me into a newt, or, or throwing me into the Bog of Eternal Stench, without a wizard around to fix me up.

USIDORE
The Bog of Eternal what?

CHUNT
Are we sure you haven't been thrown in that already?

ARNIE
It's just something Sarah used to joke about. I don't want to talk about wife stuff. Look, Usidore, can you flag him down? But try not to make us look too desperate.

USIDORE
Are we not desperate? For if the Dark Lord takes over ALL OF FOON, then despair will reign o'er all the land, so, yea, we must plead most desperately with all who might have the power to help save us from this fate —

ARNIE
I actually just wanted to invite him on the podcast.

GOBLIN KING
Did you now.

USIDORE/ARNIE/CHUNT
Aaahhh!

GOBLIN KING
You would conjure the King of the Goblins to appear on a human audio drama?

ARNIE
It's not a drama, it's a serious record of real events....

CHUNT
What Arnie's trying to say is, he wouldn't conjure, Your Majesty. He would ask politely.

ARNIE
That too, uh, Your Goblin-ness.

USIDORE
Arnold can't even conjure things in the first place — but, more to the point: you, sir, are NOT who you claim to be! The goblins are ruled by the noble Queen Fibro Myalgia. You don't even look like a goblin.

GOBLIN KING
Different goblins. Different dimension. Honestly, you didn't think this one and Earth's were the only two?

ARNIE
Hah!...wait, you know about Earth?

GOBLIN KING
Oh yes. I've been there many times. Lots of humans call in my people to take away a child they don't like.

ARNIE
So you can just...go there? Do you think maybe...Earth is where I'm from, see, and now I'm trapped here, and my friends are great but I really miss my wife and daughter, so could you....

GOBLIN KING
Take you home? No. Nor can I appear on your podcast, for reasons which will become clear. But there is something I can give to you. Look carefully at my balls.

ARNIE
Uh.

CHUNT
We've sort of been making a very specific effort not to —

USIDORE
He's talking about those magic crystal spheres he's holding, you uncivilized nitwits.

ARNIE & CHUNT
Oh.

USIDORE
Crystals of great power and magic, such as e'en I would have difficulty in trying to create, and you have to make a sordid pun out of it? Honestly.

 

*****

 

Sarah ordered a Whopper, because she was ravenous. Either Jareth had an exotic goblin diet or he was just being weird for weirdness' sake, because all he got for himself was a fistful of little packets of salt.

Gwen started fussing again as they settled in, and this time it wasn't from fear of the supernatural, it was because she too was overdue for dinner. Which was good, because Sarah's boobs were starting to ache. "If I feed her, you can be a gentleman about it, right?"

The Goblin King did something flickery with his hand. All of a sudden his fingers were toying with his trademark crystal spheres. "Your standards for me are so low, Sarah."

A flash and a twirl, and the modern pop song on the Burger King speakers was replaced with something soft and orchestral. They were sitting in a great hall, surrounded by diners in beaded masks, while Jareth had sprouted a feather-trimmed suit and Sarah was in a ball gown. It had a light shawl over the shoulders, which, she realized as she started to adjust it, was hung perfectly to make a modest drape over a nursing infant.

"You've gotten a lot more helpful," admitted Sarah. "Thank you."

Jareth raised a knife-sharp eyebrow. "I was always helpful. The difference is that you've gotten a lot more grateful."

"You're less smarmy, then. You can't deny, you were awfully smarmy." Sarah winced a little as Gwen (now wearing the most adorable sparkly dress with poofy sleeves) latched on.

"I assure you," said Jareth primly, "when it comes to fae, you would rather deal with the smarmy ones, as you so eloquently put it, than the Kindly Ones." He was still fiddling with the spheres. As Sarah watched, they morphed into a single globe cupped in his palm. "Aha! Found your husband."

Sarah caught her breath and sat up straighter.

The crystal ball showed a room, small and cramped but homey. Friendly decorations, like a tapestry covered with embroidered animals, hung on the dirt walls. And sure enough, there was Arnie, scruffier and more bedraggled than usual but definitely alive, sitting on a folded blanket on the floor and sharing a box of honeyed rolls with....

"Is it me," said Sarah, "or is that a talking badger?"

"Looks to me like a shapeshifter," said Jareth. And he would know, wouldn't he. "Either way, your Arnie seems to be in good paws."

"Yeah." Sarah cuddled the baby closer as the weight of understanding settled over her. Arnie was okay. He'd stumbled into Narnia or something, but he probably wasn't any more unprepared than she'd been for the Labyrinth, and he already had at least one ally. "That's not part of your domain, right? Can I still go get him, even though I didn't wish him there? Can you go get him, if I can't?"

"Let me check on the travel restrictions." Jareth turned the globe in his hands.

Instruments tinkled in the background. Light danced over the surface of their table.

For the first time since their confrontation in the Escher room, the Goblin King looked genuinely stymied. "My dear Sarah...I'm afraid neither of us can go pick him up. Not from his current point in time."

Sarah bit back an instinctive what? that's not fair! "Why not?"

"Well, ah." Jareth grimaced. "It seems your husband has a bit of a magical destiny."

 

*****

 

ARNIE
Wait — what — whoa! Where are we? What's that music? What happened to the tavern?

CHUNT
What happened to our clothes?

USIDORE
Hrm, I think the ball gowns looks rather fetching.

GOBLIN KING
Magical tailoring is a wonderful thing. Gentlemen, I bring you here so that we can speak privately, without any...unsavory characters...overhearing the details. Now, where was I...ah, yes: I cannot bring you home now, Arnold Niekamp.

ARNIE
It's Arnie — and why not?

GOBLIN KING
Your destiny is to return to Earth at some time in the future. Perhaps years in the future. After fighting your way through the standard adventuring package — dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, that sort of thing.

ARNIE
Well, that doesn't seem fair.

GOBLIN KING
Where have I heard that one before.

USIDORE
Will he perchance only be able to return after helping me to DEFEAT THE DARK LORD and liberate all of Foon?

GOBLIN KING
Surprisingly enough, yes.

ARNIE
Hey!

CHUNT
Are you seriously objecting to finding out that you're going to transform from a random schlubby guy into a badass magical hero who saves the world? Because I would think that's awesome. I do think it's awesome.

ARNIE
He didn't say anything about badass. I could just be one of the hobbits in this adventure.

USIDORE
What is a HOBBIT?

ARNIE
Um, they're basically like the halflings here in Foon...I don't want to talk about Middle-earth stuff. I think we're getting off track here. Goblin King! If you can't take me back to Earth, can you at least take a message to my wife? Like, if I give you her address....

USIDORE [under his breath]
Arnold, I think you may have missed the earlier references to child-stealing.

CHUNT [under his breath]
Yeah, you won't give Sarah's address to normal Earth humans, but you'll give it to a Goblin King?

ARNIE
...okay, maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

GOBLIN KING
You have prudent friends. How sweet! You're going to need them.

 

*****

 

Sarah got Jareth to show her a highlights reel of Arnie's magical future. Enough to give her the basics, while leaving Arnie the chance to fill in the details by telling his own story.

She saw Arnie bring his laptop to a wizard, where they discovered (will discover) a spell that would (will) keep the battery charged. Arnie sharing drinks with the wizard and the shapeshifter at a quaint little tavern, talking to warriors, bards, goblins, sirens, the whole D&D complement. Arnie and his friends approached by agents of the Dark Lord, and fighting them off in ways that were (will be) various combinations of brave, clever, and true.

A few magical creatures tried to tempt Arnie along the way. Sarah wasn't bothered. It didn't escape her notice that every one of them invoked her image to do it.

She also didn't miss the occasional glimpses of a tall figure with fluffy hair and tight pants. If she couldn't travel there and reassure Arnie in person, at least she would get Jareth to deliver a few messages.

The baby finished nursing. "I could take a turn holding her," said Jareth, almost shyly. "I...have a lot of experience taking care of children."

Sarah thought about it, then handed Gwen over. "Careful, though. She might spit up on your nice cape."

"You forget, my dear Sarah, I can change outfits rather quickly when I need to."

Gwen didn't fuss at all. She actually fell asleep in Jareth's arms, while Jareth and Sarah watched Arnie venture away from the areas where he got a spotty connection to Earth's internet. Watched him start exploring a dungeon, learning to fight the monsters around its entrance, as practice for the stronger fiends lurking in its depths.

"We could stay on this part for a while," murmured Sarah. Arnie was clashing with some kind of dire worm, and it was really showcasing the exercise he'd done. She let out a sigh of appreciation. Those new arm muscles, mmm.

Jareth pouted again. "Your sighs can be so cruel."

 

*****

 

CHUNT
Don't look now, but the Goblin King is over at the bar. And is he the one who brought the stroller?

USIDORE
Probably stole another child.

ARNIE
It looks like Otok's trying to kick them out.

USIDORE
Serves him right. That poor foundling child was probably snatched from its bed in the night, its grieving mother left behind...and is definitely not of legal drinking age.

CHUNT
Do you have drinking ages on Earth? It's this thing where....

ARNIE
I'm gonna go talk to them.

CHUNT
Arnie, wait!...oh, geez, we better follow him.

GOBLIN KING
...no intention of buying her any rainbow bowls, and at this rate I may not even purchase one for myself —

ARNIE
Hi again, Your Goblin-ness. Don't worry about him, Otok. I'm sure everything's fine! It's just that there's so much child death around here, you don't really know how to handle seeing a live one in person. Let's stop worrying and all of us, except for the kid, have a round of rainbow bowls. On me.

GOBLIN KING
Deftly handled.

ARNIE
You are here in person, aren't you, baby? Yes you are!

BABY
Awhaa!

ARNIE
Oooo, aren't you just the cutest little thing in Foon?

BABY
Aba gaboo.

CHUNT
Gotta admit, that's pretty adorable.

ARNIE
Can I, uh. Can I hold her? I promise not to steal her. Or double-steal her, or whatever you want to call it. It's just, back on Earth I have a daughter, who would be about this age now, if I'm calculating that right....

CHUNT
Which he probably isn't.

ARNIE
...and I really miss her....

GOBLIN KING
Oh, I cannot wait for the penny to drop.

USIDORE
What is a PEN NEE?

GOBLIN KING/ARNIE
Earth stuff.

GOBLIN KING
Of course you can hold this child. One moment while we switch to dreamspace....

 

*****

 

For some reason Sarah was still in the dress when they shifted out of dreamspace. Jareth was in yet another ensemble with a cape and boots and glittery eyeshadow. Once the Uber driver heard they were going to the theater district, she didn't give them a second look.

Their initial dropoff spot was Sarah's favorite stage, a few blocks away from the home of Arnie's improv group, but Jareth looked at the darkened windows and tutted in disapproval. "Granted, any stage will be enough of a liminal space to provide some power. But if you want to reorder space and time in a dimension as magic-poor as this, you need to — as they say — go big or go home."

Sarah frowned. "Are you implying we need to find a stage that's open tonight? Take over their audience? Interrupt whatever play they're doing?"

"Don't worry, we'll give the simple people their money's worth. I have no difficulty putting on a show." Jareth patted the baby's back. "Tell your mommy to listen to your Uncle Jareth, eh?"

Gwen snored gently into his shoulder.

 

*****

 

ARNIE
Hi, cutie! Aww, look at your new little poofy dress! I mean, the rompers were cute too, but this, wow.

GOBLIN KING
For the record, I did not steal her. I am babysitting.

ARNIE
C'mere, you pretty little princess. Gitchy gitchy goo?

USIDORE
...you do that? Is that a thing now?

BABY
Ka da ajabla da-da!

GOBLIN KING
Ordinarily, no. But Sarah has always been a special case.

ARNIE
With the cutest little nose and the say what now?

GOBLIN KING
It begins.

CHUNT
Wait, Sarah? Like, as in Arnie's wife, Sarah? Wait, are you saying this is really Arnie's —

USIDORE
Arnold! You promised you weren't going to give strange older men your address!

ARNIE
I didn't! I never!

GOBLIN KING
Arnie is correct. It just happens that the former Sarah Williams and I are...old friends.

ARNIE
And you never said anything?!

CHUNT
Ooh, Arnie, if this guy has been secretly hanging out with your wife since you disappeared on her....

GOBLIN KING
As to that, you have nothing to worry about. For one thing, Sarah is an experienced dimensional traveler, who understands the difficulties of your situation. For another, as you have already begun to speculate, in Earth time you will not be away for nearly as long as you have spent here. Finally, your wife has no interest in becoming Goblin Queen. And believe me, she has had plenty of opportunity.

USIDORE & CHUNT
[discrete sound of choking on rainbow bowls]

GOBLIN KING
But it seems she prefers to be married to a fellow human, and raise non-royal children. Such as Gwen here.

ARNIE
Oh my god.

GOBLIN KING
I understand you call her Gwennie.

ARNIE
Oh my god, oh my god, hi sweetie.

BABY
Bwrbl.

USIDORE
GWEN NEE NEE CAMP!...yes, that checks out.

 

*****

 

The house lights went up on what should have been the next in a series of one-act plays, but was instead the fortress of the Dark Lord, under attack.

Jareth helped Sarah walk up the walls into the rigging, and waved for the astonished techies to give them some space on the catwalk. They made themselves comfortable next to the biggest spotlight.

It was a great vantage point to watch a truly epic battle. They saw a vaguely dragon-y beast at least twenty feet tall: the shapeshifter, in a form more likely to be equal to this fight. A full company of wizards robed in all colors of the rainbow, led by a white-bearded wizard in blue who had summoned up the very rocks to come to their aid. A crew of fighters in all shapes, sizes, and species.

And there in the middle stood Arnie, dressed in a set of light-yet-dashing armor, and wielding the most gorgeous fantasy sword Sarah had ever seen.

When the battle commenced, the audience went wild.

The noise woke up Gwen. Jareth was still holding her, mostly because, if she fell, he was the one who could mess with gravity to catch her. She didn't even fuss, just watched the swordfighting in wide-eyed astonishment.

At last Arnie ended up face-to-cowl with the Dark Lord himself, in a vast room whose otherworldly architecture didn't mimic Escher so much as Lovecraft. He brandished the Lunar Sword and launched into an improvised speech that was half through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle and half I want to go home to my family already!

Out of nowhere, both castle and theater were plunged into total darkness. The Dark Lord growled, in triumph, that the Lunar Sword was only undefeatable in the light.

Sarah, who knew her way around the back of a stage as well as the center of one, switched on the biggest spotlight and aimed it directly into Foon.

 

*****

 

CHUNT
Arnie! We felt the shockwave. Are you in here? Do you see him, Usidore? Jyn'Leeviyah?

JYN'LEEVIYAH
No, but I feel his presence. He yet lives! Somewhere over to the left, probably.

USIDORE
And none of these battlements shall fall, nay, neither on him nor us, as long as USIDORE THE BLUE still walks in Foon!

ARNIE
Hrrrngh.

CHUNT
Okay, did you hear that? I definitely heard that. Arnie!

USIDORE
I see him! Chunt, let us down, quick, quick —

JYN'LEEVIYAH
Arnold! Move not. I have a potion that will stop the bleeding.

ARNIE
Am I...dead yet? I'm dying, right? It's so bright....

USIDORE
No, there's just a mysterious blinding light source pouring through some kind of hole in reality. We all see it. Perfectly unremarkable.

ARNIE
...and an angel....

CHUNT
What's an angel?

ARNIE
...it's like...beau'ful person inna long white gown, but...uhhh....don' wanna talk about death stuff.

BEAUTIFUL PERSON IN LONG WHITE GOWN
Arnie!

ARNIE
Oh...hrmph. Fangy. Could you please, could you take a different form...really not up for this right now....

GOBLIN KING
This is no gremlin. No shapeshifter. And I would know.

BEAUTIFUL PERSON IN LONG WHITE GOWN
I'll be there in a second, Arnie. Just have to get through the non-Euclidean rubble. This is where the timelines connect, you see? This is where you go home.

 

*****

 

Sarah hiked up her long tulle-festooned skirts to get across the room, and was gratified to realize she had sensible shoes on underneath. Jareth followed, effortlessly avoiding the holes in space, occasionally warning her to dodge a backwards angle of masonry.

The blood and scrapes and the dazed look on Arnie's face were all fading fast, leaving him sharp-eyed and alert, and only scruffy in a movie-star-playing-rugged sort of way. Usidore, in billowing robes of subtle shifting blues that Jareth's balls really had not done justice, helped him sit up. The other wizard flanking him — Jyn'leeviyah, red fabric draped fetchingly around her scarred face — watched Sarah with deadly seriousness, power glittering at her fingertips. And of course Chunt-the-dragon's Volkswagon-sized head hovered ominously at their backs.

Fortunately, it only took a few sports references and a handful of Smash Mouth lyrics before Arnie fell into Sarah's arms and started sobbing into her frilly neckline.

"He's usually a lot more manly than this," said Chunt, in a gentle voice that made it clear he thought he was being helpful. "Well, maybe usually is pushing it. But right now, I mean. He just went up against our most evil wizard with no magic powers except a really awesome sword. He's got a lot of manly cred built up, is what I'm saying."

In the background, a confused Gwen started crying too, until Jareth did something sparkly and probably-hypnotic to settle her down. Sarah wasn't even mad.

"That child is much smaller than the last time we saw her," muttered Usidore. "I doubt she can even walk yet. What manner of magic is this?"

"Time magic," said Sarah, rubbing her husband's back. "We're from Earth's past. Or, relative to us, you're from Foon's future. This is actually Gwen's first time meeting any of you — Jareth's too, for that matter."

The Goblin King gave them all a polite little wave. The ones with hands waved back.

Arnie's flood of emotion was starting to settle down. He was quaking and sniffly and still clinging to Sarah like a life preserver, but managed to choke out, "H-how far in the past?"

"A few days after you disappeared," said Sarah quietly. "Long enough to give us all a good scare. That's all."

"Well, why, that's wonderful!" exclaimed Usidore. "You get to see your family again, you get to be there in person as your daughter grows up...this is exactly what you wanted, this is fantastic! Isn't it? Chunt, tell him this is fantastic."

"It's pretty great, yeah," said the dragon. If his voice was sort of thready, nobody was going to call him on it.

"Although we shall miss you, of course."

"Oh, sure, obviously! We're gonna miss you a lot."

"But this is wonderful, and we are truly happy for you."

Sarah had a feeling they were all missing a big part of the picture. "Besides, it's not as if you'll never see him again."

"What?" chorused Chunt and Usidore. Even Jyn'Leeviyah, who hadn't been one of Arnie's constant companions, sat up a little straighter. And Arnie himself finally let up on the death grip on his wife, the better to look her in the eye. "It isn't?"

"It isn't." Sarah used a corner of her billowing sleeves to wipe the tears from Arnie's face. "You do have to stay Earthside for a few years, until we catch up to this point in the timeline, so we don't do anything messy to causality. But after that? You can visit. Or they can visit you, if they want. Any time I can talk Jareth into it. And I assume you're leaving them the computer, right? So you'll always have Twitter."

 

*****

 

ARNIE
Thank you guys again for the party. And getting so many old friends to show up for a final podcast episode. And some new ones, too. What was that one group of creatures, the diamond dogs?

SARAH
It was great to meet all the scary monsters and super creeps.

ARNIE
What I'm saying is, Usidore, Chuchu — you never let me down. Are you sure you don't want me to, y'know, stay just a little longer? Maybe help you deal with whatever's going on with the mysterious guy in what we have definitely decided is a space station?

USIDORE
Not to worry, Arnold. Of course we shall call on future-you if we require assistance! But after our GREAT TRIUMPH over the Dark Lord, we anticipate no trouble with the STARMAN WAITING IN THE SKY.

CHUNT
I know it's gonna be weird. It's gonna be a big change, not even being able to email us for a couple of years until we sync up again. But you've gotta turn and face the strange changes.

ARNIE
Yeah. Okay. I...guess this is it, then.

CHUNT
Bye, Arnie.

USIDORE
And remember: should you need us....

CHUNT
Yeah, buddy. Should you need us...for any reason at all....

ARNIE
I do, guys. I will. You're my best friends, my boon companions, and I miss you already...and, like, right now I need to be with my wife and child, but I know, in the rest of my life, I'm gonna need you.

 

*****

 

"...yes, of course. Don't worry about it." Arnie ended the call and turned to Sarah in dismay. "The babysitter had to cancel. Some kind of family emergency."

"Oh, no! I hope she's okay."

"Yeah...I told her to go ahead, do what she has to."

He looked up and down Sarah's slinky floor-length gown, accessorized with jewelry that couldn't have been sparklier if it was magicked that way. As far as he was concerned, she was as ethereally gorgeous as any goblin royalty. Even with one high-heeled shoe industriously bouncing Gwen's bouncy chair.

"I guess the restaurant is probably too fancy to take a toddler," said Arnie reluctantly. "And in this dimension we can't just transfigure Gwennie into a plant or a rock or something for a couple hours. Uh. We could order takeout, light a few candles, and pretend?"

Sarah grinned. "Don't cancel our reservations yet."

She unstrapped the baby and popped her out of the seat. All of a sudden Arnie realized why the rompers he'd put on Gwen that morning looked familiar.

"I wish the goblins would come take you away," declared Sarah — "for a few hours, to hang out with your daddy in Foon, and bring you back afterward — right now!"