“Which way do you want to go?”
“Yes, which way?”
Up seemed like such an obvious choice. The thought of going down, down into the unknown was certainly unpleasant. Then again, things weren’t what they seemed here, were they? Perhaps down was the better path after all. Surely, Jareth would not expect her to choose down, would he? She almost blurted it out, but as she looked down into the darkness, the seemingly endless tunnel of hands, she hesitated. What if it just went on forever and ever? What if Jareth, in his bitterness, sought to trap her, falling, for all eternity?
“Up,” she said, “That’s where the castle is, isn’t it?”
“She chose up!,” said one of the hands in a tone that was not at all comforting.
“She chose up?” said another, laughing.
“Was that wrong?” she asked.
“Too late now!” said another set of hands as they began lifting her back up towards the surface.
She was thrown out of the hole and hit the ground with a thud. Rolling onto her back, she cautiously prodded at the spot on the ground where the trap door had been. Nothing but dirt, as far as she could tell. Once choices were made, there was no taking them back, not in this place. She didn’t want to think about what that might mean for Toby. As far as Jareth was concerned, she had made her choice on that matter, too.
The first things she noticed once she got her bearings back was that it was cold. Not freezing, but cold enough to make her shiver. It had been warm when she fell, just a minute ago, but now it was cold and it was quiet. Goblins were noisy little creatures and she’d gotten used to hearing some banter or clanging armor or distant footsteps wherever she went. Not so anymore. She looked towards the castle. Perhaps she was getting closer. Perhaps Jareth had ordered the other goblins away in case any of them decided to help her.
She set forward along the twisting, turning paths and found nothing, nothing but dirt and stone walls. Not even a worm or some strange fungus, and the cold was starting to get bothersome now. But she kept going forward, taking solace in the fact that she could still go forward. She hadn’t hit a dead end yet, and that could mean she was going the right way, at least. But she had to have been wandering for hours now and the castle didn’t seem any closer, either.
She began to drag her foot along in the dirt, leaving a faint line behind her in the cold soil. She kept her eyes on it, running back a few times to make sure it was still there and no one was tampering with it. It was always there. She began to wish for it to be cleared away. At least that meant that she was on to something and that Jareth was trying to stop her from figuring it out.
It would mean that someone was there with her. As it was, all she had was quiet so intense she could hear her own heart pounding.
“Hoggle?” she cried out, hoping the dwarf – or anyone, really - would answer, “Hoggle, are you there?”
Her voice echoes through the walls and empty corridors, but there was no response. How long had it been, now, since she’s gotten out of that hole? Her hands were starting to feel numb and she longed for some warm gloves. Her thoughts were still with Toby, however. She hadn’t heard him cry out in a while now. Was he still there? Had Jareth grown tired of this little game and decided to just take his prize and leave her here until the thirteen hours were up?
She slumped down against one of the walls, closing her eyes. She couldn’t sleep, not now, not with time running out, but it couldn’t hurt to rest a bit, either, could it? She let out a heavy breath, thoughts drifting away, thinking about warmth and food and friends and Toby…
“Sarah,” came a very familiar voice.
Sarah jolted awake, glaring at the goblin king, “You’re cheating. There’s no way out of here.”
“There has always been a way out, Sarah,” Jareth said.
“What do you mean?” Sarah said.
“You know what I mean,” Jareth said, reaching out to her.
Without thinking, she went to take his hand, but there was no warmth to him. In fact, there was nothing at all. She was grabbing at the air, holding on to nothing.
Dammit, even his company was starting to seem better than this quiet.
She didn’t know how long she’d been out, or if she fell asleep at all instead of just closing her eyes for a brief moment, but if Jareth hadn’t shown up for real to gloat about his victory there must be some time left. She got up and took off, running down the empty paths until she couldn’t run anymore.
Sarah was wishing she had a watch or a clock or some method of keeping time other than counting down the seconds in her head, when suddenly she heard something like jingling keys – or a bag jewelry, like Hoggle always carried around.
“Hoggle, is that you?” Sarah shouted, running towards the source of the noise.
“Who’s Hoggle?” said a short goblin with green skin.
“Oh, he’s just –” Sarah began, before noticing the little bag of jewelry the creature carried around its waist, “Where did you get those?”
“These? Oh, I found ‘em near the gates,” the goblin said.
“Those are Hoggle’s,” she said.
“Not anymore they aren’t,” the goblin said with a grin, “Whoever dropped ‘em must have left ‘em a long, long time ago. They were covered in dust and dirt.”
“I just saw him a few hours ago,” she said.
“Really? And you’re the first one I’ve seen in weeks. It’s not so easy to come by others anymore,” it said.
“What do you mean ‘anymore’?” she said.
“Since the king left,” it said.
“Jareth is gone?” she said.
“Oh, yes, he left years ago,” it said, “And most of the goblins went with him.”
“Then how do I get out of here?” she said.
It gave a little shrug, “You don’t. He sealed it off. It just goes around and around and around forever.”
And with that, the goblin skittered off around a corner. Sarah tried to run after it, but it was nowhere to be seen. It couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Jareth wouldn’t just abandon his kingdom, and it couldn’t possibly have been years. The goblin must have been sent to discourage her until time ran out. She breathed in, clenched her fists, and resolved to find a way out of this.
Jareth watched Sarah wander aimlessly from the comfort of his throne. Through the crystal ball he saw her running and pushing on bricks and leaving lines in the sand and, once, reaching out for someone. Who, he wondered, was she reaching out for? He had to admire her persistence. He smiled, tapping idly on the arm of the throne with two fingers.
“I think she’s had enough,” Jareth said to no one in particular, although a few goblins were eagerly watching with him.
He stood up, and with a flick of a wrist he stood before Sarah.
“Again?” Sarah said, “I’m not falling for it this time.”
“Falling for what?” Jareth said, realizing quickly that he must have been the person she was reaching out to, but he wanted to hear her say it.
“You disappeared last time,” she said, “You’re not really here.”
“Any last time between us in this realm was a construct of your own imagination,” he said, “Not anything of my doing.”
He stepped closer to her. He had warmth, and volume, and the ground shifted beneath him. This was no hallucination. She reached out to touch him, just to make sure, and quickly drew back when he was really there after all.
“You left,” she said, “The goblin said you left.”
“And I did,” he said, “In this particular place.”
“This is still the labyrinth, isn’t it?” she said.
“A part of it, yes,” he said, “A part that is stuck in another world, a world where things went differently from how they actually went.”
“Is there a way out?” she asked, unsure if he would tell her the answer at all, let alone give her an answer she’d like to hear.
“There is. You can ask me, nicely, to take you back,” he said, and he knew by the look on her face that she understood that that would entail her surrender, “Or you can stay here until the thirteen hours are up.”
“How long have I been here?” she said.
“From your perspective, about twenty hours. From my perspective, about two minutes,” he said, “And I’m afraid we’re going with mine, if you choose to wait it out.”
“That’s not fair!” she said, fists clenched, stomping one foot on the ground.
Ah, there she was. Back to her old self already. He chuckled. This was the first time she’s said that in a way that’s seemed more desperate than angry.
“It is perfectly fair. You had a choice, did you not?” he said, “Oh, my dear, dear Sarah, you should have chose down.”