Chapter 12: White Knuckles
“Help !” You cried thrashing the ground with your fists, unable to feel your feet anymore. A figure appeared over a heap in front of you, wading towards you through the junk . You squinted still trying to free yourself.
“Oh Hoggle!” You cried relief flooding through you “thank god you’re here- I’m sinking! I’m running out of time!”
“Sloane!” He called, hand shielding his eyes to squint at you “hang on , I’ll get y’ out! “ he ducked behind a heap and you heard him curse as he shifted through the mess until he reappeared .
“Here take this!” He threw you a skipping rope with you held tight in two hands. Hoggle tied the other end to a large chair, and heaved with all his might . By some miracle you felt yourself actually freeing. “It’s working!” you cried able to move your feet and squirm out the rest of the way.
You climbed a top, chest heaving with effort. You sat up throwing your arms around his neck “ Hoggle I’m so glad you decided to come back” you gave him a squeeze “I knew you wouldn’t abandon me!” you gave a giggle “you were right about me from the beginning, getting into trouble I mean”.
He tried to smile but he looked uncomfortable “Sloane I-“
“Oh wait!” You slung his bag off your shoulders thrusting it at him “I’m so sorry I took them! Hoggle, will forgive me?”
“Of-of course I do!” his voice wavered, forgetting how sweet and innocent you could be. You both tried to balance yourselves uneasily on the unsteady ground.
“I have to get to the castle! I’m almost out of time!” You tugged him along in the direction of the castle but he pulled back.
You paused, half turning so your hair swished "yes?" you tipped up a smile.
Hoggle wrung his hands “Actually I – I know a faster way, through, uh, a tunnel”
"Really?" Your face lit up “Well come on then what are we waiting for!”
The dwarf gestured you to follow him and you did so blindly stomping through the swap of brick-a-brack and nick-nacks. You held Hoggle’s forearm to half steady yourself.
You both jumped down from the junk yard’s wall. You scanned the surroundings, “Hoggle how much further is this short cut? I can’t even see the castle anymore” you whined. You could feel your calves throbbing.
He tried to keep his voice upbeat and jovial “Nearly there, just follow me!”
Hoggle lead the way meandering, between trees and shrubbery.
When your feet crossed over yellow sandstone you paused wrinkling your nose “Hoggle you’ve taken me backwards! We’ve gone in a loop!”
“We’re here, Sloane, look” he pointed to a drain in the cobbles. Where had that come from, you hadn’t seen when you were here last- your journey would have been a whole lot quicker if you had!
“This is the short cut?” you didn’t like the idea of going beneath the ground again “a-are you sure?”
“It’s the best way!” Hoggle’s voice sounded hoarse and forced but he knew the Labyrinth far better than you, you’d have to take his word as gospel.
Reluctantly, the dwarf wraps his fingers around the metal gaps and lifted the lid, you half expect something to jump out. Smoke and fog rose from the drain. Let’s get this over with.
Hoggle was looking down “uh, maybe you should go first”
You grinned “Hoggle, you scaredy cat” .
You hovered over the hole, peering in with your hand shielded over your eyes “I can’t see any ladders, will we have to jump? It doesn’t look that fa-“
You felt two small hands on your back as Hoggle pushed you and you reeled forwards, feet pivoting almost in mid -air “Hoggle !” you cried, losing your footing partly to the leaden cloak and vanishing from sight into the drain.
“I’m sorry! Ja-“ before the light disappeared all together.
“Agghhh!” You reached out towards the diminishing light. “Hoggggle!”
You flew down , grasping onto what you thought was tree branches. Twirling down, down at the hyper speed, screaming.
“Help! Hoggggle!” you hollered gasping for air.
You felt something grasp you, then lots of things. Your falling ceased.
“Stop it!” you screeched, tearing yourself from their tight grasp. “Heeelllp!” you cried upwards
The hands, gnarled, skeletal and pepper-minted slimy green made “faces” talking “what do you mean help?” they drooled “we are helping!”
“We’re helping hands!”
“You’re hurting” you winced, fighting the iron grips
“would you like us to let GO?”
They chortled echoing and dropped their hold on your arms and legs so you flew down without warning “ahhh! No! Stop stop ! Catch me!”
“Well then, come on, which way?” One “face” said with a long nose
“Which way?” you frowned not understanding.
“Up or down?”
“Oh” you tried to peer down into the darkness “uh…”
“Come, come on, we haven’t got all day”
“Well it’s a big decision for her!” another cut in with a croaky voice
“Which way do you want to go!”
“Yes, which way!”
You tried to think rationally, as rationally as you could with five pairs of hands shouting at you for an answer.
“Well” you exhaled trying to regain breath as well as your thoughts. You snapped your head up but then down again nodding below you “since I’m pointing that way," you looked at Helping Hand-Face beside you “I guess I’ll go down”
“SHE CHOSE DOWNNN”
“SHE CHOSE DOWN?”
They passed you down rapidly before you could change your mind, you hair whirled behind you ”Is that wrong!?”
“Too late nowww”
“Wait!” You took a sharp intake of breath hearing the laughter echo all around you as you zipped into the blackness.
The helping hands released you and you slashed through cobwebs to fall on your knees. You snapped your head up in the light, the voices and wailing trailing behind you. You heard the clang of the replaced lid of the hole you had fallen through.
“She’s in the oubliette” Jareth said half to himself . So the dwarf wasn't totally useless after all.
The goblins gathered around him on his throne to also observe your actions in the crystal intensely. They gave an uproar of cheer.
“Shut up!” He sighed at the goblins hubbub “she should give up now” the Goblin King said confidently.
“She’ll never give up” one piped up closest to him in a scratchy voice.
“Won’t she?” He lowered the crystal momentarily, banishing your image.
“she’s about to go back to the beginning- she’ll soon give up, when she realises she’ll have to start all over again ” he roared with laugter at the thought.
The Goblins were silent in confusion, trying to work out the punchline. For gods’ sake.
“Well? Laugh then” he rolled his eyes at the dumbfounded creatures. They did so, feeding him further rejoice.
He threw the crystal orb, laughing more.
You dusted yourself down looking up and down the tunnel. It was incredibly dark bar the light from the drain.
You were going in circles, no further to the castle. Up, down , up, down not one inch nearer and those hours were trickling away. Time was incredibly short.
But Hoggle ensured you this would lead you straight to the castle. But Hoggle was gone, he betrayed you, again, how could you trust that it wouldn’t lead you somewhere sinister. You were alone. Back to square one.
What choice do you have?
Your footsteps thudded, it was incredibly difficult to see, the darkness showing no end to this tunnel. You hoped this wouldn’t be a repeated episode of the never -ending path. You had no worm to help you now.
“Spare a coin?” You jumped at the croaky voice below you looking down. A beggar in a hat and shroud, sat stiffly against the wall of the tunnel. Their head bent so you couldn't see their face but held out a tin cup. You hadn’t even considered how he got here in the first place.
You found your voice.
“oh, sorry” you turned out your pockets.” I don’t have any money- I’m not from round here” . Dammit you’d given Hoggle’s bag back!
You felt a little bad but then a thought popped into your head; like the Wiseman, maybe if you gave him some of your jewellery he would point you in the right direction at least, without Hoggle you were lost.
“How about this?” you hurriedly took of the beautiful bangle to show the beggar. It was your first gift from the bird, but you had nothing else to spare.
“Yours. If you point me in the right direction. To the castle” you held out the piece in the palm of your hand.
The shimmering blue and golds inside the stone reminded you of it's beauty, you hadn't even given it up to the Wiseman, but you were more desperate now.
The beggar leaned in to inspect it closer, carefully took the bangle in its hand and then without warning snatched your wrist.
“hey!” you struggled, leaping back “let me go!” the beggar stood and grew in height towering over you, whipping off his hat and coat to reveal-
“Well well, what do we have here?”
The Goblin King smirked, hand on his hip- knowing he'd caught you out.
“Release me goblin king!” you twisted much to his delight.
“And what exactly were you doing, hmm?” he leaned in.
“Nothing! I was doing nothing!” but you knew you'd been caught red handed. Fuck.
He threw down your wrist.
“Nothing? Nothing ? Tra la la !”
He conjured an orb snaking it across his long fingers. You hated that glass ball- you thought about knocking it out of his hands as well as wiping off that bloody expression.
“It looked to me like somebody was cheating” the Goblin King’s eyes burned “that’s two strikes down, Sloane, you may as well quit now. You’ve become quite daring in my absence, I see” he teased . If not for his arrogant leer, you might have been glad to see him again.
You watched the tally in the orb cross down another line. One remaining. If stepped out of line again- Game over.
“No!” you protested straining yourself not to punch him in that smug mouth “you provoked me! Again! This is all because of you! It’s not-
“Fair?” he quirked an eyebrow gleefully. He was enjoying tormenting you. “You say that oh- so often you know. Besides, cheating means you really should be disqualified, and you know that means I win...”
You shut up at that.
The Goblin King smirked. “No- one insults the crown without repercussions.”
“Except me.” you dared but then wished you hadn't. Shut your mouth!
He chuckled softly at that.
Jareth put his hands behind his back, stepping forward, properly emerging into the light that leaked from the drain above. In this light he almost looked... angelic. You flash backed to the ballroom haze. You shook yourself. Concentrate.
“How are you enjoying my labyrinth” he leans against the wall coolly his arm blocking you in, towering over you. You didn't feel frightened, in fact this made you feel extremely... What?
You heard him chuckle a little and you saw he was reading your face- apparently he'd deduced something wonderful.
You lifted your chin higher.
“Easy as pie” you said nonchalantly. “I’ll be home in an hour, so you should really be saying your goodbyes” you tried to skirt around him but his quick reflexes enabled him to stick an arm out and stop you.
“uh uh ah!” he tsked. “home you say?” he smiled and tilted his head like he knew something you didn't . “Is that so?”
“yes” you made a move but no matter what he wouldn’t let you past.
“see, I don’t think Miss Hazel, that you even want to go home at all” he inspected his nails casually and you darted around him, blocking out his cutting words.
“oh you can run” he called “but you won't get far. Not down here'.
You stopped in your tracks. Did he have that power? To change the Labyrinth even down here.
You turned back but he was gone and instead standing in front if you.
“This labyrinth is mine to alternate” he murmured backing you to the wall “to -control” he gave you a meaningful look.
You cleared your throat, watching your footing as you stepped back, the more he pushed forward “Then-then it sounds to me like you're the one who’s cheating”
Jareth slide his arm up further along the wall, having you completely blocked in.
Why the hell was your body starting to react to this? There was a distinct heat building up in your core and your heart was hammering wildly. Were you actually enjoying this power struggle?
“well if it’s so easy then you'll have no trouble still” he countered.
You were about go ask him what exactly he meant when he threw the crystal sphere into the dark end of the tunnel where you couldn’t be sure how far it went. You strained your ears to hear if it would bounce or smash to smithereens but you heard nothing.
"what - what are you doing " you wavered uneasily, the ominousness creeping up you "Goblin King what was that" you asked louder again peering over his shoulder into the darkness.
The king faced you again with a grin that looked the cat who just caught the mouse. "why, serving you the pie of course" and he vanished.
You spun to see where he'd gone.
"Jareth? Jareth! I wasn’t serious!" but he was nowhere and out of earshot. You kicked the wall in frustration. Why did he always leave! The coward!
You crouched back sliding down the wall until you sat on the cool stone with a thud. Damn him and his evil, beautiful face!
You remembered his gloved fingertips touch your cheek in the ballroom dream. You touched it now like a flower might blossom, or a nettle.
You really were so susceptible to him.
You hated yourself for even admitting that, after this entire battle of running from him. Like you were betraying...yourself? You remembered the hurt look on his face when you left him, alone in the dream, was that real too?
You sighed- you and your mouth determined to goad him! You could be finished by now and home. If you even still wanted to go home that was...
It was then you heard a small noise- coming from the end of the tunnel...you felt your pulse spike in the palms of your hands. You rose gravely. Whatever it was didn't sound good.
In the limited light teeming through the grates of the drain, you saw the glint of metal. Then more metal until it burst through the darkness completely, a machine of some sort, spiralling in motion and steaming towards you, the irregular blades glinted. It whirred noisily.
Run. That was the only thing you could think.
You took off immediately running with your hands over your ears. The machine thumped it seemed to thrum right through your body and made the path harder to run down but it didn’t matter you had to keep going.
Faster, faster. You willed yourself. "Goblin King!" you yelled over the noise of the machine "you stop this right now!"
You dodged every odd brick and cob web ducking at the uneven ceiling hoping to god an exit or ladder would be close by. There must be one here, not everything was as it seemed, surely there would be a false wall here somewhere!
Stupidly, you dared yourself to look over your shoulder.
It was right behind you! It seemed to be speeding up, the needle would soon impale you if slowed.Your anger turned into fear quickly.
"Goblin King I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to cheat you!" you cried picking up the pace with all you could, willing Jareth to see sense and call it off now that his ego was stroked.
"Please stop this!"
Still the machine chased you down, your lungs were burning you knew you couldn't go on much longer. You panted heavily, watching your footing but you looked back once more and stumble, clattering to the cobblestone.
“Agh!" you hit your elbows and knees squarely so they stung viciously .
The machine gained on you. You scrambled to your feet tripping over yourself again, but you willed yourself on, off balance. Your right knee was throbbing something wicked.
"Please !" you yelled
You were able to see the dead end of the oubliette a meter ahead. You were going to be obliterated- you were about to die all because you couldn't keep your mouth shut!
You knew you were beginning to slow.
You reached the daunting end brick wall and slammed your hands on it -maybe it was a false wall! Come on come on! You smacked your palms against the stone until you could feel them tear and bleed.
You pounded harder, tears skiing down your face, willing the wall to collapse. You jumped up and down hammering your hands harder and harder.
You spun quickly.
The machine was coming right at you. It wasn’t going to stop.
You tried the opposite walls but nothing would give. This was it.
You crouched down with your arms over your head squeezing your eyes shut and begged it would be swift and wouldn’t hurt. The floor rumbled under the speed of the cleaner and you screamed helplessly sobbing.
You heard a swoosh, an arm held you closely to a warm body under its wing. You jumped at the contact expecting to be impaled.
You peaked between your arms, still over your head, to see a cape swish over you in protection, transporting you behind the machine.
From safely behind, you watched, panting heavily as the machine charge into the brick wall, not even stopping on impact, it powered on.
You coughed at the dust rising, bricks crumbled down...
That should have been you.
Jareth whipped the cape back, safely behind the cleaner.
“Sloane! Are you alright ?" he was kneeling with you, concern etched across his face.
He tilted your head this way and that to check for injuries and then felt along your windpipe, thankfully you seemed to be unharmed, but that was close.
Jareth wrapped you in a relieved embrace, holding you so tight and close, afraid you would suddenly vanish.
His hand cupped the back of your head whilst you sat dazed across his lap. He could feel your thudding pulse in your clammy palms that splayed across his chest.
That was so ,so close. He began to rock you. Too close. Never again. No more mind games.
You took deep, gasping breaths - chest heaving with the effort.
You could hear a muffled voice at the back of your mind as you wavered in and out. You feel disorientated.
"my sweet, please look at me” you drew back to face the saviour you needed to thank.
Two thin gloved hands held your head delicately.
"Jareth" you blinked staring straight into his face. He’d save you. He gave a touched smile at your use of his name- for the first time no less.
You reached out shakily to touch his jaw in a trance...
"am I dead?" you looked around with your eyelids drooping slightly. You didn’t think the after-life would look like the dismal oubliette. Maybe you were a spirit? Doomed to haunt the tunnel forever.
He said something again, cupping his hand over yours to his cheek .
Why was he here? Maybe was an angel after all but-
"you tried to kill me" you whispered horrified, snatching your hand back from his face.
You came out of your daze, scrambling backwards on your hands and knees from the goblin King's embrace “no, no, not you, not you ” you whimpered, eyes widened.
He still held out his arms where he had just embraced your body.
"No, Sloane " Jareth whispered crawling on his knees to you.
You shrank back terrified until you smacked against the wall.
Jareth came closer to stroke your hair soothingly but your arms flew up shielding yourself- just as you had done before the Cleaner was about to rip you to shreds.
“Don't ” you whispered head down. Jareth halted. At the weight of your single word Jareth felt a knife twist in his gut.
You sounded so small.
So young and frightened.
At your bent head, you hair fell all around you like a curtain.
He saw your shoulders shake and you burst into tears, sobbing violently. Your hands shook in mid- air.
“I thought-!” you protested covering your face from his view so he couldn’t see how much pain he'd caused. “I thought I was going to-!“ but the sobs were so violent you couldn’t finish the sentence
Jareth didn’t expect such a reaction.
All he'd wanted to do was scare you a little so you wouldn’t be so defiant -you'd come to him easier maybe, stop this make-believe foolishness. Why couldn’t you be obedient? Fear him, love him, did as he said? Why were you so insistent on finishing the labyrinth? Was the thought of staying here, in his kingdom, with him, forever, so awful?
You wept louder. Your sobs echoed and filled the oubliette, bouncing around him.
Yes, he decided, it was. It was an awful fate. What was wrong with him?
You were disgusted with yourself for being so weak in front of him.
Jareth didn’t know how to fix this. So he only put an arm around you expecting you to resist again, but instead you stupidly fell against his chest and clutched him closer.
“I’m sorry, don't be mad at me, I’m sorry, don't be mad at me, I’m-”
Is all you can say until you were babbling the words, then no longer audible when you stick your face into the crook of his shoulder. He felt your hot tears in his neck. The goblin king ran a soothing hand across your back.
Great. Now he had got what he wanted: you certainly feared him and obeyed him.
This was not what he wanted- not at all.
The Goblin King just wanted you to come to him willingly like you had before, he couldn’t live with himself if he knew he was causing you true distress. It was just games he was playing in the Labyrinth, just silly games, he never meant you real harm and now look what he had done.
The Goblin King found his voice, moving his hand up and down your back “things just got out of control, I-I never expected you to be so shaken, I would never have let you get hurt, on my life, please -forgive me” his pathetic words sounded empty and hollow.
You had gone silent and appeared to be holding your breath.
“You know I would never hurt you don’t you, Sloane?...Sloane ?” he looked down at your precious head still buried in his shoulder, lowering his voice.
Your knuckles were white the way you gripped his clothing tightly in fear he may suddenly vanish again and play another trick.
“Dearest please say something” he begged you.
He rose and dragged you to your feet clumsily beside him.
You seemed to sway on your feet when he released you and so he wrapped a hand around each of your elbows to steady you.
He ducked his head to inspect your eyes which were distant. He felt you go limp and with inhuman speed catches you instinctively as you reel backwards, your eyes rolled back.
He shifted your weight equally in his arms, bringing you up further to him.
“It’s over. Its over precious girl. I promise. Everything will be fine"
He carries you splayed across his arms. Your unconscious angelic face soft and peaceful. He felt a pang of guilt. How could he even pretend to harm you? To scare you senseless?
He was a monster after all.
Jareth mumbled the magic words so that the dark end of the tunnel glimmered into a portal taking you both back to the palace.
He would put things right.