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Midsummer

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Sarah Williams was drunk at a club in Stockholm.

 

She was having so much fun.

 

It was summer, she was on a short break from her university program’s term abroad in Europe, and she was looking for a good time.

 

Even better, she was here alone.

 

The friends she’d made in the program hadn’t wanted to go to Sweden for the week off, but Sarah wanted to do something to celebrate Midsummer.

 

She didn’t mind – she frequently found travel with friends got complicated quickly. This way she could choose exactly what she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it.

 

So, she’d quickly booked her train tickets and a hotel in Stockholm for the last week in June.

 

She’d planned to make friends along the way, maybe meet some locals who’d invite her to a park for a small gathering; if all else failed, she’d head to the Skansen museum for a traditional look at Swedish Midsummer celebrations.

 

She’d always been flexible and willing to try new things.

 

Now, it was a day before Midsummer’s eve and Sarah was at some dark nightclub in the center of the city.

 

She was already three drinks in and had taken a break from dancing to participate in the worldwide ritual of female bonding – using the club bathroom while tipsy.

 

One girl in particular, waiting on her friend currently using the stall on the far right, was as enthusiastic about the ritual as Sarah had ever seen.

 

“You’re so beautiful oh my god. Where are you from? Wait – don’t tell me. Croatia? Do you speak English?”

 

Sarah laughed, but it was muffled by the pounding bass from the dancefloor above them.

 

“I’m American,” she yelled. “Where are you from? Your hair is gorgeous.”

 

Really feeling her three drinks, she reached out and touched the girl’s blonde hair. It was curled into a tousled style that didn’t seem affected by the building’s humidity.

 

The girl smiled and shrugged by way of thanks. “I’m from here! Well, not Stockholm. But I’m Swedish. My name’s Klara.”

 

“I’m Sarah – great to meet you.”

 

They hugged and Klara asked if Sarah was in the city alone. That’s when her friend, a darker blonde, came out of the bathroom stall.

 

“This is Hanna,” Klara pointed to her as though Sarah would miss her.

 

“Hi Hanna – I’m Sarah,” she turned to Klara. “I’m here alone, yeah, just for Midsummer.”

 

“Ooooh!” Klara squealed and grabbed Hanna by the arm.

 

Sarah laughed at her enthusiasm. Klara spoke again.

 

“We’re actually from Dalarna – it’s an historical area in Sweden that always does the best Midsummer celebrations.”

 

Sarah raised both her brows. “That’s really awesome – what’re you still doing here, then?”

 

Hanna smirked and Klara laughed. “We’re actually going home to visit tomorrow. You should come with!”

 

Sarah tried to hide her grin; she wasn’t sure if it worked.

 

This was exactly what she’d wanted. She could hardly believe her luck, being invited to someone’s hometown for the holiday.

 

“Wow, are you sure? I’d really love that, but only if you’re cool with me tagging along.”

 

Hanna grabbed her hand and squeezed before letting it go. “We’d love to have you visit. Klara’s mom organizes the maypole decoration and a few raffles. She’d be willing to host you too, I bet.”

 

Klara nodded enthusiastically. “Totally. It’s the biggest holiday of the year in our village. I think you’d have a great time.”

 

“Then I’m happy to accept – what time are you leaving tomorrow?”

 

Both girls looked at one another; Hanna had a brow raised. Klara laughed again.

 

“Well, I’m not going to wake up early after tonight. How’s eleven in the morning?”

 

Sarah smiled back. “I’d appreciate sleeping in. Eleven is perfect.”

 

“Wonderful!” Klara grabbed her hand to drag them all back to the dance floor, but paused.

 

“Oops – didn’t you want to use the bathroom?”

 

Sarah chuckled and nodded. “Give me just a minute. I’ll be right out.”

 

A little less than a minute later, all three girls were back upstairs and dancing underneath flashing lights and caged dancers in impossibly high heels.

 

By two in the morning, they were standing outside the club and on the street, waiting for taxis to take them back to their apartments – in Sarah’s case, her hotel.

 

“We can come pick you up at eleven – your hotel is only about five minutes away from Klara’s place.”

 

“I can’t wait – I’ll see you guys then. It was really great meeting you,” Sarah gave them each a hug before getting into her taxi.

 

The girls waved goodbye as she shut the door and the driver sped off.

 

The next morning, Sarah held a cup of weak hotel coffee in one hand and a duffel bag in the other.

 

It was ten minutes before eleven, and she watched as a beat-up station wagon carrying Klara and Hanna pulled up to the curb.

 

For girls who’d probably woken up hungover, they seemed unbelievably chipper. Klara waved her hand outside the passenger-side window.

 

“Sarah! Hop in!”

 

She readjusted her grip on the duffle and threw it in the popped trunk. Settling into the backseat, she looked for a cupholder for her coffee. And found none.

 

Klara was looking at her from the front and smiling wryly. “Yes, it’s an old car with few amenities. But the drive isn’t terribly long.”

 

Sarah shrugged. “It’s no problem, really. Thanks again for inviting me – I can’t wait to see your hometown.”

 

Hanna glanced over from the driver’s side. “We can’t wait to show you around. It’ll be fun to have someone else in the running for the May Queen, too.”

 

“May Queen?” Sarah shifted in her seat and tilted her head in question.

 

“You’ll love it – it’s when all the women in the village dance around the maypole. When only a few are left standing, the Midsummer host selects and crowns the May Queen. She gets a beautiful flower crown and feted by the whole village.”

 

“That does sound fun – who’s the Midsummer host, though?”

 

“Ah yes, he’s usually a man or boy from the village, selected at random by the other men.”

 

Sarah made a humming sound and waggled her brows. “Intriguing. Does that ever get touchy, with him picking only oneMay Queen from all the women he knows in the village?”

 

Klara and Hanna laughed. “It can get touchy, yes. But it’s usually just fun. A ton of the younger men, if they’re the host, use it as an opportunity to declare their love for a particular girl in town.”

 

“That’s how Hanna found her boyfriend,” Klara sing-songed.

 

Hanna’s smile was wry. “It is – Lucas could hardly speak to me the entire year before, but suddenly he gets a mask on him and he’s ready to crown me with flowers.”

 

“A mask?” Sarah questioned.

 

“It’s traditional – made out of vines and leaves and things, to contrast with the women and their flowers.”

 

Sarah nodded, taking a sip of her coffee.

 

“Speaking of,” Hanna began, “Once we arrive, we’ll have a late lunch and then begin gathering flowers for the crowns and decorations with the other girls.”

 

“That sounds great,” Sarah was already starving, but could hold out for another few hours.

 

“We’ll teach you how to weave the flowers. But we should warn you that the flower-gathering must be done in silence.”

 

Sarah raised a brow but nodded. It didn’t seem that odd.

 

“And,” Klara continued, “you’ll collect a few different types of flowers. Then, we place them underneath our pillows and dream about the man we’ll marry someday.”

 

Sarah smiled. “Did you dream about Lucas, Hanna?”

 

Hanna rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “I’m notorious for never remembering my dreams. I sleep like a log.”

 

Sarah laughed. “Romantic. How about you, Klara? Have you met your husband in dreams?”

 

Klara made a humming noise. “I think I have, but I never remember his face – just his voice. I have almost the same dream every year…we’re sitting together on grass – in a park, I think. We’re just talking and laughing. The sun is rising and it’s framing his head, like a halo. Then I usually wake up.”

 

Sarah considered that. She wasn’t like Hanna – she tended to remember her dreams. But she’d always had an overactive imagination…it had gotten her into trouble, when she was younger.

 

There was the one instance – an instance Sarah didn’t like to think about – where she was sure she’d wished her brother away to goblins and defeated a Goblin King to get him back.

 

 But that had been so long ago, never to be repeated again, and Sarah had convinced herself that it was some sort of fever dream.

 

Never mind that she hadn’t been sick. It simply wasn’t possible that it had really happened.

 

She was dragged from her thoughts and back into conversation with Hanna and Klara. The drive passed quickly, and it wasn’t long before they’d arrived at the village.

 

Sarah immediately asked about lunch, which prompted a million apologies about not providing her breakfast. She waved them off – it was her own fault for not taking advantage of the hotel buffet.

 

She met Klara’s mom, who piled Sarah’s plate high with things like pickled herring, potato salad, lentils, cured salmon, and a strawberry cake.

 

After that, they helped Klara and her mom organize a raffle for the local historical society. Sarah took inventory of the prizes, and helped sell some tickets.

 

Everyone in town was friendly, and she was more and more thankful that she was getting to celebrate Midsummer in an authentic way.

 

Then, in the evening, some of the older women gathered the girls of the village together for flower picking.

 

With a second reminder that the activity was meant to be silent, Sarah set off with the group.

 

Klara pointed to a few specific flowers, while Hanna went back and forth, handing Sarah bunches and bunches without explanation.

 

It went on for over an hour, and once they were done, Sarah was sure that she’d lost her sense of smell. Her hands were filthy. But she had never seen so many gorgeous wildflowers in her life.

 

Laughing, no longer under the silent-order, Sarah and Klara went back to her cottage at the end of town.

 

It was still light, and they tied together the different flowers in small bunches. Klara arranged them underneath her pillow, and helped Sarah with hers.

 

Around midnight, the girls got ready for bed. Klara’s mom gave them a strict wake-up time of seven in the morning.

 

Sarah fell asleep almost immediately, pulled under into swirling whorls of black and silence.

 

At first, she didn’t dream. But something shifted in the middle of the night. Someone became aware of her presence, so close to the summer solstice.

 

She knew she was dreaming. That was different. She’d never been aware of her dream-state before.

 

It was warm and dark, but the ground was illuminated by moonlight. That struck Sarah as odd – wasn’t it supposed to be light out, basically the entire night?

 

She was barefoot and walking in an open glade of some sort, hemmed in by trees.

 

There must be a stream nearby, she thought idly. She watched as a few fireflies flitted in and out, blinking light and dark, on and off, in front of her.

 

She wanted to see the stream – the thought came to her unbidden. She followed the fireflies as they seemed to lead her forward and curve to the left.

 

They left the glade and came closer to the trees. She heard the sound of moving water, light and melodic.

 

The trees opened a bit and revealed the small stream, with a widened pool of sorts, just a few yards in front of her.

 

She felt the desire to drink from the stream and moved towards the small pool. Kneeling, she cupped her hands and drank.

 

The water was cool and sweet; it struck Sarah as peculiar – she’d never actually tasted or felt anything so viscerally in a dream.

 

She didn’t question it long though, as she felt – rather than heard – the soft press of footsteps advancing behind her.

 

Turning to look over her shoulder, she saw the figure of a man.

 

He was taller than her and wore a mask made up of leaves and vines that curled around his face. She saw his blond hair peeking out around the edges.

 

She assumed he was the Midsummer host that Klara and Hanna had mentioned earlier. How funny, that he should be her dream-husband.

 

His lips seemed familiar as they quirked into a small smile at Sarah’s stare.

 

“Hello,” she offered.

 

The smile grew wider. “You can speak here – that makes you powerful indeed.”

 

Sarah raised a brow at that – why should she be unable to speak while he could? He was arrogant for just some random village boy, chosen to be the Midsummer host.

 

“And why should you be more powerful?” She voiced her objections aloud.

 

His laugh cut through the sounds of the water and swaying of the trees. She found him overconfident and frowned.

 

“For many reasons, my dear Sarah. But I’m delighted that we could meet here – even better, that we can speak to one another. Though you don’t appear to share my delight.”

 

Sarah’s frown deepened as she rose from her knees on the streambank and faced him.

 

“I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow, either way. And we can speak to each other then. I’ll have to ask Klara and Hanna about you – something tells me they aren’t big fans.” How could they be? He wasn’t a very pleasant conversationalist.

 

She paused, but spoke again when something else registered. “Wait – how do you know my name?”

 

His smile dimmed a bit, but she could see his eyes sparkling with mischief behind the mask.

 

“I’m not sure that Klara and Hanna are familiar with me, but feel free to ask…and we will see each other tomorrow, precious Sarah. That is without a doubt.”

 

She thought he wasn’t going to answer her question, but he spoke again. He also stepped closer.

 

“As for your name…well, are you not familiar with me?”

 

She lifted her chin and furrowed her brow. “Well…yes. You do seem familiar. But I don’t know your name.”

 

“I believe you do, though I’m wounded that you can’t seem to remember it now.” He stepped closer again, and Sarah fought the urge to step back. It would only put her in the stream.

 

“We’ve never met before.” She stated this definitively, with confidence. With confidence she didn’t truly feel.

 

He was too close to her, and Sarah quickly attempted to sidestep him, swooping to his right and away from the streambank. He caught her arm and she was about to jerk it out of his grasp.

 

“Ah-ah, Sarah.” He pulled her into his body, while his other hand reached to pluck something from her hair. She couldn’t control her blush.

 

His hand came away and Sarah saw a small blue flower between his fingers. It reminded her of the ones she’d picked earlier in the evening.

 

“I believe you traditionally save these for tomorrow evening.”

 

Glaring up at him, still trying to escape, she replied “And if I don’t? Will you decide not to pick me as the May Queen?”

 

He smiled again. “Nothing will prevent you from becoming May Queen, Sarah.”

 

She felt chills at his words. She didn’t much care about being the May Queen – it would have been fun, to tell her friends and family back home – but something told her that being chosen by him wouldn’t be so enjoyable.

 

He tugged her closer, still, and his other hand came to clutch at her lower back. Her eyes widened when she was able to see his – mismatched, unmistakable.

 

She’d seen those eyes before, but knew they weren’t – couldn’t – be real.

 

She’d self-explained her…encounter with the Goblin King…as little more than childhood fantasy and an overactive imagination.

 

She’d tried to block the entire experience out of her mind, least of all because of the guilt she had felt, wishing her brother away.

 

Now, here, she felt just like she had when she’d been in his labyrinth. His hand on her wrist and his arm around her waist…it was too similar to the way they’d been in that ballroom dream.

 

Her breath came out in shorter pants – from fear or something else, she couldn’t say.

 

He felt the change in her demeanor; he sensed the recognition in her eyes. It made the grin on his face widen – exposing his uneven teeth.

 

“You remember now don’t you, precious?”

 

“I – I…that wasn’t real. You’re not real.”

 

His laugh had no humor in it; it was harsh and sharp.

 

“Yes, let’s explain this away – shall we? I’m not real, the ground on which you stand isn’t real, and this little interlude is nothing more than a mundane dream…even better, when we last met – why, that wasn’t real either. Do I have that right?”

 

Regaining some of her anger at his condescending tone, Sarah tried to dig her nails into his hand.

 

He smoothly adjusted his grip, now holding her hand exactly the way a dancer would – exactly the way he had when they’d danced years ago.

 

“Your temper has not changed, my dear. Though you certainly have,” his voice and smile were lascivious.

 

“Spare me,” she sent him a look that had forced many other men to run with their tail between their legs.

 

Not so for the Goblin King, however. He simply stepped forward, leading her with him, and turned her with unnatural grace. He pulled her back and she gasped.

 

“Yes, you certainly remember me. Dream or not, you cannot control your reaction to me.”

 

She was about to retort with something poisonous, but his head came down and he pressed his lips to hers.

 

Sarah was startled into moving her lips back against his. She was slightly surprised at how softly he’d begun the kiss – she would’ve pegged the man for something a bit rougher.

 

He wasn’t to be underestimated, though. He tilted his head, and his tongue came out to trace her lips. She opened her mouth obligingly. Things ramped up quickly, after that.

 

His kiss was absolutely filthy. He used his tongue and teeth and his hands were gripping her so tightly that she could barely think. She’d never been kissed like this.

 

At some point, he’d released her arm to wrap his hands around her waist. Her own hands came up to thread through his hair, kissing him with equal enthusiasm.

 

She didn’t know how or when she came to be pressed against a tree. One of his knees thrust up between her legs and she let out a low moan.

 

He broke away from the kiss to watch the flush on her cheeks and the way her mouth opened on each breath. Her arms were clutching his shoulders and she opened her eyes to see his mocking expression.

 

Before she could react with any trace of anger, he bent his head and began sucking on the side of her neck. One of his hands came to grasp her backside, guiding her thrusts against his leg. She could feel how hard he was against her hip.

 

Gods, he was manipulating her body so well – she couldn’t do anything other than pant and groan as his other hand swept underneath her top and teased the underside of her breasts.

 

His fingers went higher until they were rolling and pinching her nipples. She no longer needed his help; she was grinding herself against him desperately, sure that she could come just from this.

 

She felt his chuckle against her neck, his warm breath working to heighten the dizzying feelings and sensations.

 

“I believe our time is almost over, darling. Shall we see how far I can get you before you wake?”

 

She was confused, and didn’t have the sense to answer, but she found she didn’t need to. He was moving down her body, down to his knees on the ground.

 

She glanced down and saw him move his hands upward, gently pulling her sleep shorts down and off of her.

 

He took one leg and placed it over his shoulder. She thought she knew where this was going – that he’d put his mouth on her – and she could feel herself clenching in anticipation.

 

She was wrong. Instead, the Goblin King took a moment to look down and study her, soaked and desperate to be filled.

 

He looked back up and they just stared at one another for a moment; her with a look of mingled arousal and anger, and him with smugness and challenge.

 

His fingers brushed up, teasingly against her inner thighs, until they reached her center.

 

She sucked in a breath as he parted her and began to circle her clit with one finger.

 

Her exhale turned into a moan as he turned his hand, slipping two fingers inside and letting his thumb rest against her clit. The fingers pumped, slowly.

 

Things started to become hazy after that. She thought it was from the orgasm she could feel building within, but it was the dream itself; his fingers moved faster and his image began to fade out.

 

She could still feel him, though; she was so close that she barely registered his laughter as the dream completely shattered and she woke, sweating, in her bed at Klara’s home.

 

Sarah turned quickly to where Klara slept, across from her.

 

She was still sleeping, so Sarah counted that as a good sign she hadn’t done something profoundly embarrassing in her unconscious state.

 

Gingerly rising from the bed, Sarah moved quickly and quietly to the adjoining bathroom. The flowers, forgotten, slipped to the ground.

 

She turned on the shower taps and rinsed with cold water, willing herself to forget the dream and the partially-obscured face of Jareth – the Goblin King – as he’d pleasured her with his fingers.

 

He hadn’t been real – he couldn’t be. Still, she couldn’t shake the ominous feeling she had about today.

 

Klara and Hanna said Midsummer’s eve dreams, woven with wildflowers under your pillow, meant you dreamt of your future husband – Sarah refused to believe her dream had been of her husband.

 

It would be laughable if she wasn’t slightly terrified. Was she overreacting? Probably. It was just a dream.

 

A dream she should quickly forget about – it was Midsummer and she was looking forward to celebrating with the village.

 

She was determined to have a good time and participate as fully as she could.

 

The day began with decorating the maypole at nine; this was followed by the women helping one another with their hair, liberally decorated with leftover wildflowers from the evening before.

 

Lunch was similar to the day before; Sarah tried a dish with moose and drank a type of spiced vodka.

 

She was feeling pleasantly buzzed, and the dream was far from her mind as she left to take a short nap before the evening’s raffle drawings and raising of the maypole.

 

Her nap was free from any dreams, thankfully.

 

As she watched the village men raise the maypole, Sarah turned to Hanna and asked about that year’s Midsummer host.

 

“Hmmm. I’m actually not sure about this summer. It wasn’t one of Lucas’s friends, but we sometimes have a neighboring village boy participate. I guess we’ll see.”

 

Sarah felt cold fingers, like ice, slide down her back. She attempted to shake off the feeling and nodded at Hanna.

 

Klara took her to change into traditional dress for the maypole dance. All the women wore similar dresses; the older, married women wore bonnets. The young women let their hair hang loosely, woven with small flowers.

 

They gathered around the maypole.

 

Sarah saw a wooden platform in front of the maypole. There was a simple chair; to its side, a crown of flowers sat.

 

In the chair was a man with blond hair. He wore the mask from her dream. Sarah felt panic seize her body and her heart skipped a beat.

 

He was smiling, good-naturedly. One of the village men spoke in his ear and he laughed.

 

Sarah tried to rationalize the situation in her mind. He’s a village boy – or some neighboring village boy. Everyone has blond hair here – it’s a coincidence.

 

She ignored him – refused to glance his way again – as the music began.

 

The women held hands and started to move in a circular motion. Sarah held Klara and Hanna’s hands, jumping slightly and attempting to mimic their movements.

 

As the dance went on, Sarah could feel an odd sense of elation building within. Minutes passed, ten more, then twenty.

 

She could see some of the other women begin to tire; older ones sat down, laughing and cheering on the younger ones.

 

Klara and Hanna were still going, but at one point they’d let each other’s hands go. Sarah had linked up with other girls, and her steps didn’t falter, not yet.

 

She sensed that Hanna had dropped out, looking down and to the side to see her pumping her arm at everyone still in.

 

More and more fell out of the circle, and Sarah finally saw Klara falter. She chanced a look at the Midsummer host.

 

She quickly realized that had been a mistake.

 

He was looking directly at her – even with his mask, she could see that his eyes were trained on hers.

 

Sensing her gaze, his smile slowly built to wolfish proportions. His teeth – she couldn’t mistake them.

 

It was the Goblin King. The panic returned.

 

She wanted to stop – if she did, she wouldn’t be named the May Queen. She could escape.

 

Suddenly, she glanced down and saw a mushroom below her feet. She hadn’t remembered seeing any mushrooms before the dance began.

 

Then she looked forward and saw more mushrooms. The few dancing girls left – only three, including Sarah – were surrounded by a wide arc of mushrooms.

 

Sarah’s heart beat faster. She couldn’t bring herself to stop. The music seemed to become louder.

 

From Sarah’s understanding and her conversation in the car with Klara and Hanna, she thought the maypole dance would stop once there were less than five girls still in the running.

 

But they weren’t stopping. The other girls looked like they were in a trance. The spectators were still clapping and cheering – enthusiastically.

 

This didn’t seem right – she looked at him accusingly. She saw him wink.

 

At that moment, both of the remaining girls dropped to the ground, giggling.

 

Sarah was still moving, but her body slowly came to a stop. She was breathing heavily; her heart was pounding in her chest.

 

The town’s women jumped up, whooping, and surrounded her. Sarah saw Klara and Hanna coming towards her and smiled, exhausted.

 

She momentarily forgot about the Goblin King as she accepted hugs from dozens of strangers.

 

It was intoxicating, she wanted to do this every day.

 

The crowd of women parted and Sarah looked up to see the host coming towards her, crown in his hands.

 

She wanted to turn – to run – but the girls and older women’s arms around her were no longer petting and congratulating.

 

They felt caging – restricting.

 

Panicked, Sarah found Klara and Hanna’s eyes. Their smiles were beatific as the Goblin King approached, closer and closer.

 

No! she couldn’t voice the yell aloud. Her throat was constricted.

 

Finally, the Midsummer host was before her. He gave a small bow and raised his arms high, crown held in his hands.

 

His smile was one of victory.

 

Sarah watched, feeling helpless, as the flower crown came to rest on her head.

 

The last thing she heard, before darkness swept her away, were Jareth’s words – spoken in a hiss.

 

My Queen.”