The goblin slapped a toy carousel onto the growing pile on Sarah's back. Still lost in her thoughts, Sarah was unready for it and her knees shook as her back bowed forward.
"No," she said softly, "this is wrong."
The goblin bobbed at the edge of her field of vision, it was bending to retrieve a stuffed unicorn that had fallen free of the clutter in Sarah's arms. And it was clutter, nothing but things Sarah didn't need anymore. She should box them all up. Most of them weren't even good enough to move to the attic, they'd be better off being given away to charity or to … to Toby!
"No!" Sarah yelled, hitting the unicorn away before the goblin could add it to the pile. "It's all trash!"
The toys she'd held in her arms went flying and the goblin screamed in rage. Sarah was still hindered by the toys on her back. She gathered her legs beneath her to propel her up and forward, away from the goblin and away from all this junk, but the moment she bent down, a hand shot through the still raining toys to grab her wrist.
Sarah gasped at how strong the goblin's grip was. She had to fight not to fall to her knees as the small, wizened hand tightened on her arm.
"No!" Sarah cried, feeling tears sting her eyes. She didn't know if it was from the pain or her desperation to get away. "I have to go," she said.
"Now see what you've done!" the goblin snapped irritably. "You've made a terrible mess and who do you think will be picking up all these pretty things, dearie, hmmm?"
Sarah tried to pull away from the stench of rot that surrounded the goblin and recoiled with a disgusted cry when she saw a mouse poke its head out over the top of the pile on the goblin's back. The sudden shift in Sarah's weight made the toys on her back wobble and many of them fell to the floor. The goblin, her grip strong as ever, began gathering them up, muttering to herself about irresponsible young girls.
"Let me go!" Sarah cried. She grunted as she gave a great tug. The pile wasn't upset this time but the motion stopped the goblin's piling. She dug her bony hand in Sarah's hair and tugged it back. Sarah's whole body twisted after her hair and she whimpered.
"You're only making this harder," the goblin said with a huff. "How do you expect to get any of this done with you jumping around and upsetting everything every two seconds?" She let go of Sarah's hair and went back to gathering. "This is all important. Can't just leave it all strewn about. No respect at all for what's yours. You've got to take care of your things, haven't you, dear?"
Sarah struggled a little but couldn't do much. Some of the hair from the base of her skull had gotten caught on a doll's arm and the bent teeth of an old, wire brush. She tried to reach over her head to free it but only hurt herself more.
"All right, all right," Sarah said. She had no hope of freeing herself on strength alone, she'd have to go about this a different way. "If I pick them up, will you let me go?"
The goblin hummed, long and pleased, turning her face up to Sarah's.
"You'll let me go. All right?" Sarah asked, nodding as far as she could in hopes of prompting an answer.
The goblin only echoed the motion. Sarah sighed, hoping that meant yes, and picked up Lancelot.
Sarah had to hunch her shoulders and lift her chin to avoid ripping her hair out. Her whole body bobbed in a sick sort of dance every time she bent to gather some new toy into her arms. The goblin scoffed and tsked as if she were a slow child. She grabbed the soft, stuffed toys out of Sarah's arm and shoved them onto her back, securing them under the trapped strands of hair.
"Easier," the goblin explained gruffly.
Sarah only kept grabbing up the toys. She was breathing heavily now. The awkward way she had to move to avoid pain in either her head or her arm was tiring her out quickly and the mess on her back wasn't helping matters. She kept working at it, knowing that the sooner she finished to the goblin's satisfaction, the sooner she could be free and rest.
She picked up a doll named Charlotte and a carry-case full of stickers, just beyond them was a music box and a book of Grimm's tales. She shuffled along, grabbing things up and throwing them over her shoulder. The music box tumbled back down and hit the ground beside her foot with a crack that snapped it open. She snatched it up, angry that it had almost gotten lost and nearly hurt her besides, and slammed it over her shoulder. The gentle sway of the music gave a lurch as gears were pressed and bent and crushed. She didn't let go until she was certain she had ground it in so it would not move again.
Hard, uneven edges of her childhood dug into her back under the pressure. Something might have broken through her shirt into her skin, the snapped bars of a decorative birdcage perhaps, but she didn't notice. She barely even realized that another lock of her hair had been caught under the music box but that she saw as a blessing. Hunched as she was she could already see so little but her hair hanging down around her face blocked out everything that was not right in front of her.
Sweat was dripping from her face, from the dangling strands of her hair, and pooled in the seams of her clothes, making it hard to move. She wiped it away from her eyes with an old sock that she stuffed down the back of her shirt. She had not even realized she could use the pocket made by her collar to hold things and smiled at the new development, eagerly stuffing a watch and a bag of marbles after it.
She had left both the goblin and the replica of her room far behind without knowing. She could not, if asked, say when exactly the goblin had released her, only that it was easier now to pick things up and keep the pile on her back balanced. Bent so far over with so little she could see she hadn't even noticed the trail of items to be saved leading her out the door and along narrow, curving pathways between treasure piles. Some paths she made herself as she dug through, grabbing up all the possessions she needed to keep safe. She no longer reached only for what was familiar because everything was. She knew the shape of a toy horse or a ball or a shoe, even if she had never seen the particular one her fingers closed around and that was enough reason to keep it. There was so much to do, so much to search through, and the going was so slow.
Once she might have heard distant yelling. A man calling for a woman, a rumbling roar that might have been a word, and a high-pitched bark. She had no need to gather up a woman, people could look after themselves. She gave the noises no mind.
Later still she might have heard the chime of a clock, loud and triumphant. It was fitting. She had just found a box of barely used baby clothes, a treasure indeed.
The goblin's grey skin was pulled tight over her bones. Her wide eyes were sunken between the sharp angles of her face. Her long fingers were tough and brittle. Scars crisscrossed the palms of her hands, completely obscuring lines of love and life. The skin had healed and broken so many times that it was now rough and strong, able to dig through the piles of human excess. There was no way to know her height for she was forever bent double under the teetering weight on her back. Her name was Sarah once and might be still. Seeing as she had no need for names there was no point in knowing for certain.
Anyone looking might see an old book of fairy tales or a doll smiling out from the collection on her back, but they would be just as likely to see a rat curled in a nest of the goblin's long, dark hair. Her hair hung in thin, greasy strands, pulled back from her head like reins, twisted through a hundred cracks and holes in her collection to be held by some unseen driver in its depths.
A hand touched the goblin's shoulder and she turned, her collection clanking and shuddering as it all shifted around. She had to bend back dangerously to look into the face of a human girl. The girl demanded attention, a spot of gold against the murky greys and browns and blacks of the Underground.
"Can you help me, I-" The girl's eyes caught on the plastic doll the goblin had just unearthed. "That's mine."
"Is it?" the goblin asked. Her voice was tight and thin, like the cry of a harp strung out of tune then left unplayed for too long.
"Yes!" the girl said and snatched the doll away. Its hair was the same color as the girl's and she petted it reverently. "But how did it get here? I thought mom threw it out along with…"
The goblin had gone back to digging through the pile. The girl fell to her knees beside her. There was a great cardboard box hidden beneath an old dresser. Goblin and girl both tugged and the whole pile wobbled. The girl's hands flew back and the box resettled, most of its weight still on some empty violin cases but some of it resting precariously on the butt of a baseball bat. The girl fell back on her heels.
"I don't understand how this got here," she said, frustrated. "Nothing for it now," she sighed. The doll slipped from her fingers and she began to rise.
The goblin gaped at the girl. She couldn't just leave her things! The goblin snatched up the doll and pressed it into the girl's hand, holding her arm in a bruising grip that kept her on her knees.
"It's yours though?" the goblin asked. She gestured to the box, its open end staring at them and spilling more toys around the girl's knees.
"Yes," the girl said, almost wistful through her annoyance, "but it's all trash. None of it's as important as my sister." She shrugged the shocked goblin back.
It was madness … To leave all the pretties … What would the sad, little doll do without her?
The goblin remembered another girl, one who had called all her most precious possessions trash. She had been taught better. She had been made to see. She would do the same for this girl.
The girl began to rise, dusting herself off as she went. The goblin stepped back.
"It's all important," the goblin said.
The girl glanced up, her eyes going wide as she saw the goblin's hand moving.
The goblin snatched the baseball bat away quick as a flash. The girl ducked down, covering her head with her arms. The box fell, its open end landing on her back. The violin cases spilled down to knock her legs out from under her. The dresser rolled end over end, followed by a whole wave of treasures. The goblin was already gone by this point, digging again.
She did not hear the silence come after the crashing stopped. She did not pay the distant chime of a clock any mind or see the shadows turn all the way around on the back of the fallen dresser. She did not see the pile shudder and shake and lift up from beneath, or the bloody hand, still too soft to dig effectively, claw its way to the surface. Nor did she see the girl, so desperate to escape, keep digging even after she was free.