Author's notes: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.Translated? It ain't mine, but I ain't makin' profit, so isallgood.
It took a full minute for Sarah to react. She ran forward, her eyes dragging over the little broken body, as tears spilled down her face. Remembering her minimal first aid training she held her shaking hand over his bloody muzzle and was relieved to feel a trickle of hot breath on her fingers. Gently she took off his hat, and smoothed down the bright russet fur on his forehead.
“Sir Didymus?” she whispered, her voice cracking. She couldn’t tell if he had been mauled or had taken a massive fall, either way his wounds were extensive. His little foot was twisted at a strange angle and she could make out a bad gash down his torso. His forearms were also cut, as if he had thrown his arms up in defence.
A large tear fell from Sarah’s cheek and splashed onto the end of his nose. He stirred, his one good eye fluttering weakly. She leaned down and wiped the tear from his nose, now mixed with his blood. Her mind was spinning; she had no idea what to do next.
“Am… am… ambrosius??” Didymus said weakly.
“No Didymus, it’s me. It’s Sarah.” He looked around the room, unable to focus. He tried to move, and Sarah softly placed a hand on his chest. “Don’t try to move. You’ve been hurt…”
“Please don’t hurt him,” He said, weakly pushing against her hand and collapsing in exhaustion. “He’s just a dog… Ambrosius…”
Sarah bit her lip and choked back a sob. Her spirits rose as she realised she might be dreaming, but the stench of the blood was too sharp to deny. It hurt her so much to see her friend like this, and she felt a wave of guilt for previously thinking he wasn’t real.
“Don’t worry Didymus, I’m going to help you. I promise,” she said, without a clue as to what she could possibly do. She darted into the kitchen and returned with a tea towel soaked in warm water, and dabbed at his face and mouth carefully. He whimpered and tried to push her hands away.
“No… please… don’t hurt him!” he cried, giving a watery cough. Sarah didn’t know anything about animals or medicine, but she could tell something was seriously wrong. His lungs sounded damaged, like they were filling with fluid. She wiped her eyes furiously with the back of her hand, leaving a streak of blood on her forhead, and tried to soothe Didymus with gentle shushing sounds. He closed his eye and coughed again, clutching at his chest and wheezing. After a few moments his breathing slowed, and Sarah straightened.
She racked her brain for options. She could take him to a vet, or the hospital, but a talking fox-terrier creature would arouse far too much suspicion. She didn’t have anything in her house that could possibly help; her medicine cabinet was filled with aspirin and band-aids. Her mind flew to her step-mother, who had been a school nurse for a few years. Did she trust her enough?
Didymus coughed again and a trickle of blood ran down his muzzle. Sarah wiped it away, terrified. She didn’t have any choice. It was a three hour drive to her home in Albany, and she didn’t even know if Didymus would make it that far. She ran into her bedroom, pulling on a pair of jeans and her big winter jacket. Struggling into her boots she grabbed a blanket and dragged it back into the living room, spreading it out on the floor.
She stood over Didymus, not knowing how to proceed. She didn’t want to hurt him further, but she had to somehow get him into the car. He was so small, she would be able to carry him without any difficulty, but if he had ruptured a lung she worried moving his body would do further damage. He seemed to be unconscious again, so she gently slipped her arms under his legs and neck, and lifted him like she would a baby. He stirred and whimpered, but was still as she hugged him close to her chest. She crouched down, lying his prone body down on the blanket, and wrapped him loosely in the folds.
“I’ll get you some help, Didymus. Just hold on,” she called out, rummaging around in the bedroom for her keys and wallet. She tripped on her discarded pajama pants and swore loudly, grazing her hand on the carpet. Finally ready to go, she gathered him up in her arms, careful to keep him steady, and sidled out the door.
She was grateful for the late hour, the hallway and elevator were both deserted. She reached the basement without meeting anyone. Didymus was not moving. She fumbled to open the car, then lay him down on the front seat, dropping the back to make him more comfortable. Sarah raced around to open her own door. Within a few moments the engine was purring, and she was pulling out of the garage and onto the main street.
Her mind continued to race as she drove. She left the city and hit the thruway, traffic easing off. She pushed the speed limit, stealing furtive glances at Didymus. She wondered what she was going to say to Karen. Picturing it in her head, her stomach sank at the thought. How would it look? 3am, pounding on the door. ‘Hi Mom, Hi Dad, can you fix my imaginary friend? I think he was attacked by something, and I found him dying on my kitchen table.’ The word dying made her eyes well with tears, and her foot pressed down on the accelerator, but the bright lights of a passing car brought her to her senses and she slowed a little. The last thing she needed was to be pulled over for speeding.
About an hour into the drive and her heart had slowed, but her mind had not. She tried to get her thoughts in order. The last time she had seen her friends was the night she had solved the Labyrinth. The only evidence that they had existed at all was a forlorn party streamer she found several weeks later on top of her wardrobe, and a tuft of dark red fur that had come from her largest friend Ludo. She kept both items pressed in the pages of her diary.
There were so many unanswered questions. How had Didymus arrived in her kitchen? She wondered if the Goblin King had anything to do with it, but the thought of him attacking the tiny knight did not sit right in her mind. Deep down she knew what was responsible; the same things that had been haunting her dreams for so many months. The creatures that were vicious, that would attack. The creatures her own brother had been afraid of that very evening…
She accelerated unconsciously as she thought of Toby. He was not that much bigger than Didymus and unlike the knight he had no idea how to fight. He was only a little boy. She swerved around a car and it blared a horn. Beside her Didymus woke again, pushing against the blanket and coughing up a mouthful of congealed blood. Sarah fought back the tears, worried that they would blind her. She reached out a hand and tried to still her friend while still keeping her eyes on the road.
A loud cry from Didymus made her swerve again and she screamed, thinking she had lost control of the car. She skidded to a halt and with a shaking hand turned off the ignition. Resting her elbows on the steering wheel and placing both hands over her eyes, her heart raced as she gasped for air.
“My lady?” His voice was feeble and Sarah leant over the seat, fumbling with the seat belt buckle and tossing it aside so it made a loud cracking sound against the door. Didymus winced at the noise and she shushed him, stroking his muzzle and using the blanked to mop up the blood that was now flowing freely from his mouth.
“I’m here, Didymus. It’s alright, I’m here.” He held out a small paw and she took it, his claws gripping her fingers but not enough to hurt. She realised that he was using all the strength he had left and she bit back a sob. “You’ll be ok, I’m taking you somewhere safe.”
He shook his head, his eye rolling. “Nay. They are after me. They are looking for…” he broke into a spasm of coughing and Sarah tried to prop him up, lest he choke on his own blood. She could barely see; her eyes were filling with tears, blinding her.
The reality hit her then, and she bit down on her bottom lip until she drew blood.
“Don’t die,” she whispered, and he stopped coughing and focused on her face. The paw holding her fingers slipped and she held it in her own hand carefully. “You can’t die.” He gave her a weak smile.
“My Lady? Hast thou returned to us?”
“Yes Didymus, I’m here. I’ve come back.” He closed his eye and let out a deep sigh that tore at her heart.
“That is good,” he said, and his little body went limp.
“Didymus? Didymus!” Sarah shook him gently, then harder, but her efforts wielded no response. She turned away and stared out the window, her whole body shaking uncontrollably. She was unaware of the passing cars, of the gathering clouds, of the sound of the wind that had lifted and was whipping the roadside trees into a frenzy. Sarah beat her hands against the steering wheel, again and again, until she could feel nothing but the pain. She screamed, before collapsing over the wheel and sobbing until she could no longer breathe.
After half an hour she leant over and turned on the engine. She drove carefully along the dark road, sticking to the speed limit. Somewhere on the way home she unconsciously pulled the blanket up and over the body of her dearest friend.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Toby woke to the sound of his mother screaming. He sat bolt upright in Sarah’s bed, and not waiting to put on his slippers he raced out of the bedroom and down the stairs. His father followed close behind him. They reached the bottom and could see Karen standing in the living room. Robert stopped Toby and pushed him back, then entered the room before him. Toby didn’t know what to expect in the living room, but when he crept up behind his mother and peered around her dressing gown, he was surprised to see his sister sitting on the floor.
Sarah had arrived at the house some time in the early morning. She had parked across the street, placed the body of Didymus in the trunk and let herself in with her key. Not wanting to wake her family she had curled up on the sofa and fallen into a troubled sleep. Karen, heading downstairs to prepare breakfast for the family, had woken her with a scream so piercing that Sarah had fallen off the couch in shock.
“Sarah!” Toby yelled as he ran to his sister’s side and flung his arms around her neck. His father joined him, kneeling at his daughter’s side. Karen, one hand over her mouth and the other over her heart, sank down onto the sofa opposite, her face pale.
“Are you alright?” Robert asked his daughter as she disentangled herself from her brother’s arms. Her father grasped her by the shoulders and turned her to face him.
“Fine, Dad. I’m fine. I didn’t mean to scare you guys, I just didn’t want to wake you up in the middle of the night.” She gave him a weak smile and turned to Karen. “I’m sorry Karen. I guess the word ‘Surprise’ doesn’t quite cut it?”
Karen shook her head at Sarah and she was surprised to see a tear slip down her stepmothers face. Robert smoothed his daughter’s hair down.
“Honey, what are you doing here?” Sarah looked at her father and frantically tried to come up with an explanation.
“Well, Toby called me last night, feeling scared. I was worried about him, so I decided to come down last night to see him in the morning.” Beside her Toby squirmed as if he was about to get in trouble, but his father was oblivious.
Robert’s voice was calm, the voice he used when he was trying to keep everything under control. “What about the blood?” Sarah looked at him puzzled until she looked down at her shirt. She hadn’t noticed, but her pajama top was smeared with blood and gore from where she had held Didymus. Her hands were covered as well, and there was a thread of russet fur under her fingernails.
“Oh,” she said, feeling sick. “I hit a dog.”
Robert sighed in relief and Karen stood up and headed over to the group, taking Toby’s hand and pulling him behind her, ever the protective mother. “Why didn’t you clean yourself up?” she said, her voice still a little shaky. Sarah could see that she was clearly relieved, and she turned back to her father who was wearing a similar expression.
He gave her a kiss on the forehead and helped her into a standing position. “I guess I was in shock”.
Karen gave her shoulder a squeeze and smiled tightly. “You certainly gave me a shock” she said and gave a light laugh. “I thought…” she glanced at Toby who was peering at his sister. “Well, I don’t know what I thought.” Sarah understood and gave her an apologetic look.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and clean up? You can borrow one of my shirts if you like,” said her father. Sarah nodded and she headed up the stairs, Toby close at her heels. She reached the bathroom and her brother darted off.
“I’ll get you a shirt” he yelled, disappearing into his parent’s bedroom at the end of the hall. She peered into the mirror at her own reflection and she understood why Karen had screamed. Her eyes were red rimmed and her face pale and blotchy. There was a streak of blood across her forehead and over her eye. Blood had matted her bangs and her top was disgusting. She looked like a murder victim.
She sighed and turned away as Toby stepped back into the room holding out one of his father’s white collared shirts. She gestured to the towel rack and he draped it over the bar. Turning back to his sister he shuffled his feet and studied the floor.
“I’m sorry I made you drive last night,” he said and Sarah’s heart went out to him.
She sank to her knees to be on his level. “Oh, Toby. It wasn’t your fault. Something… something happened after I spoke to you.” She wondered if it was wise to tell her brother. If it weren’t for the blood, she would have thought she’d imagined the whole thing.
“I can’t talk about it now. When Mom and Dad go to work, k?” Toby looked up at her, confused, but he nodded and headed out of the bathroom and closed the door behind him. Sarah stripped and stepped into the shower, washing the blood away and letting the steaming water soak into her skin. She barely noticed as her tears mingled with the falling water.
Drying herself off after a good twenty minutes in the shower she peered into the mirror again. Her hair and body were clean, but her face still looked pale. She pulled on her jeans that were mercifully clean of blood, and her father’s shirt that was far too big for her. She tied it at the waist and rolled up the sleeves, towel drying her hair as she headed down into the kitchen.
“Ah, that’s better” said Robert as he put down a plate of pancakes in front of Toby, who was silent and looked like he was brooding. Sarah noticed that he too looked tired, and she wondered how well he had slept once she had hung up the night before. Karen gave her a smile and served up a plate of pancakes for her as well while her father made her a cup of strong black coffee. She accepted both from her parents, but left the plate untouched. The idea of food made her feel queasy.
“Is the car alright?” asked he father, and Sarah looked at him confused. “It must have been a pretty big dog, I imagine.” Sarah nodded at him and glanced at Toby, who was pushing his pancakes around on his plate.
“It’s fine, Dad. I was just in shock, that’s all. Maybe we should talk about this later?” He followed her glance to his younger son and nodded in agreement. Karen sat down next to her husband, placing a plate in front of him and one in front of herself.
“We should also discuss just what happened that brought you all the way up here in the middle of the night,” she said, and Toby looked at his sister. Sarah shrugged.
“It wasn’t his fault. I was feeling a little down, and Toby called after a bad dream. I just felt like I had to see you. It’s only one day early. You really can’t blame Toby.” She glanced up at Karen, who seemed a little sceptical. “I was thinking about coming home early anyway. He just cinched it for me.” Toby gave her a look of gratitude and she smiled at him, reaching out to ruffle his hair.
“Even so, Toby. You really shouldn’t call Sarah so late at night.” Karen continued. “You can always come and talk to us if you get scared. Was it the noises in your room again?” Toby looked at his sister and she gave a minute shake of her head.
“No, just a bad dream,” he said, and Karen seemed sated.
They had breakfast in silence, Sarah not eating and Toby only finishing one pancake. Sarah cleared the plates away as her father disappeared to get dressed.
“You have to get ready to go to the Johnson’s, Toby” said Karen. The Johnson’s were a family down the street that had a boy Toby’s age. They looked after him during the school holidays, while Robert was at work. Karen was often at home in the school holidays as well, since she worked in a high school, but she was volunteering at a homeless shelter over the Thanksgiving break. Toby raced across the kitchen to stand next to his sister.
“But Sarah’s home! I can stay with her today.” He looked up at his sister and she grinned at him, up to her elbows in soapy dish water.
“It’s ok, I don’t mind watching him.” Karen looked at the two siblings and was amazed how alike they were. Even though Sarah was pale with dark hair and hazel eyes, and Toby was blonde, tanned and his eyes were a dark blue, they were still unmistakably family. Something about the way they both held themselves, something in their eyes; like a shared secret.
Karen shrugged. “Well, if you’re happy to do it,” Toby gave a happy yelp and his mother walked over to place a finger on the end of his nose, a calming technique that Sarah had always admired but never mastered.
“You behave, and take it easy on Sarah. She’s had a rough night. Got it?” Toby nodded and she patted her step-daughter on the back. “He’s all yours” she said, heading upstairs to get dressed.
Toby helped Sarah clean the kitchen and put everything away, and Sarah was grateful for the distraction of the morning chores. Robert came downstairs to say goodbye, followed shortly by Karen. As the last plate was put away Sarah heard the garage door close and they were alone in the house.
Her brother had been listening for the sound as well. Sarah turned to him and he folded his arms across his chest and watched her. “So, what happened?” he asked. Having still not made up her mind whether to tell him or not, she turned away. “Are you gonna tell me?” he asked, but she didn’t respond.
“Don’t you trust me?” his voice was small, and she sighed.
“First there’s something I need to do, ok? You just wait here.” She grabbed her car keys and headed outside, and Toby heard the garage door opening. He opened the door to the garage from the kitchen and watched Sarah back her car into the empty space. She stopped the engine but didn’t get out, and Toby wondered what she was doing. The trunk popped and he jumped.
Sarah got out of the car and moved around to the trunk, lifting out a blanket and laying it across his father’s workbench. She looked so tired and sad that Toby instinctively went to her, placing his hands on the bench and looking at the blanket. He could see a smear of blood on the side, but it didn’t frighten him.
“Is that the dog?” he said, and Sarah shook her head.
“It wasn’t a dog Toby. It was one of my friends.” Toby blinked at her and wondered what she meant. She turned to him. “I don’t know if you’re old enough to see this, kiddo” she said.
“But I’m almost 11!” he said, and she smiled at his defensiveness. She reached out and pulled back the blanket and heard her brother’s sharp intake of breath.
Didymus looked both worse and better than she remembered. It appeared most of the blood was on her shirt rather than on his body. His face was clean and though his arms and body were still cut, they were no longer bleeding. The bright colors of his uniform were visible still, and his face was quiet, as if he was asleep, not dead. She reached out a hand to stroke his face, but froze. Toby looked at his sister and back to the form of Didymus.
“What happened to him?” he said in a hushed voice, and Sarah shook her head.
“I don’t know. But he’s gone now.” Toby reached out his own hand and gave the terrier a light pat on his paw. The gesture made Sarah cry again, but she swallowed back the tears. “I need to bury him” she said.
“Under the willow tree?” Toby asked. Merlin, Sarah’s old dog, had died a year before. Toby had been present at the burial in the back yard, though Sarah was unable to make it due to work. She had forgotten until now that he had already seen one friend buried.
“That sounds nice” she said, and gave him a weak smile.
They worked together quietly, Sarah fetching a bucket of warm soapy water and a cloth while Toby stood guard over the body. She washed the blood away carefully and tidied his uniform the best she could. Halfway through the process Toby disappeared, returning with the plush fox knight that had belonged to Sarah. When she was done, she tipped the red water down the drain and rewrapped him in the blanket. Together the siblings walked out into the back yard.
Toby ran ahead to the willow tree. A stone had been placed with Merlin’s name painted on, and Sarah noticed his old dog bowl and leash were sitting beside the stone, looking worn. She laid Didymus down on the grass and headed back into the garage to find a shovel.
The wind picked up again, and Toby shivered in the cold. He had forgotten to put on his coat, but he didn’t want to leave Didymus alone in the yard. He hoped his sister would get it for him. He stamped his feet and rubbed his arms to keep them warm. At least he was wearing shoes; his father’s boots that he had slipped on at the back door.
A scuffling sound behind him made him turn. There was a movement to his right in the bushes behind the willow tree. He peered into the bushes but whatever was making the noise did not emerge. Curious, he took a step closer to the bush, careful not to disturb the loosely wrapped body. He clutched the plush toy to his chest and inched forwards, still trying to make out what was scraping around in the underbrush.
“Toby, where’s your coat?” Sarah called out from the house, and he turned to look towards the back door.
“In the hall closet!” He yelled back, his voice shaky. Sarah appeared at the back door, holding out his coat, and he gave her a weak smile.
He watched as his sister’s expression changed from blank to terrified. She began running towards him, at the same time a snarling noise from behind made him turn.
Sarah screamed at Toby to run as he was knocked to the ground, the plush toy sent flying. He landed on his back beside Didymus's body, banging his head on the cold ground. He cried out, trying to see what had attacked him. He raised his arms across his face as a clawed hand raked down his forearm, cutting him deeply. He could hear Sarah still screaming, and he yelled and cried, trying to push his attacker away.
Sarah’s feet pounded down the backyard as she tried to reach her brother. She gripped the shovel tightly, not wanting to believe what she saw. Everywhere she looked; scrambling out from the bushes, leaping down from the trees... the Goblins were coming.