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The Inconvenient Nature of Glitter

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She felt ridiculous, standing there in her parents’ bedroom, covered in glitter and wearing clothes that hadn’t fitted properly in years. The out-of-date peasant blouse was stretched taut, and the jeans seemed to be attempting to cut her in half, but Sarah gritted her teeth and continued grimly daubing a pentagram on the floorboards. Standing back to review her work, she shuddered in pre-emptive horror at the thought of how her skittish stepmother would shriek upon seeing her pristine carpets rolled back to the skirting boards, antique furniture shunted against the walls and a large pentagram drawn in smeared red chalk over the spot where, years ago, Toby’s crib had stood.

Sarah rubbed a spot above her eyebrow, unintentionally leaving a streak of chalk across her forehead. She really didn’t know the first thing about pentagrams, excepting the vague feeling that they had something to do with candles, strange gifts and summoning things better left well alone. Well, she reflected with a wry smile, the latter two suited Jareth, the King of the Goblins, down to the ground. In each of the star’s five points she placed odds and ends that would, she hoped, attract the melodramatic monarch with a penchant for the sinister – and for glitter. In accordance, she had appropriated a pot of craft glitter from Toby’s pre-school class when she had picked him up the previous Thursday, and it now stood at the top of the pentagram. The four remaining points were headed by a can of hairspray, a small glass ball (the closest she could find to Jareth's crystals), the figurine of the Goblin King (which had been languishing in her closet for years), and a long white feather which, if you squinted, could conceivably be mistaken for part of Jareth's cloak.

Sarah scowled at the glitter. While carrying everything through from her bedroom across the hall, she’d sneezed into the container and found herself bathed in the obnoxious substance. Even without the knowledge that she’d smeared bright red chalk dust over her forehead, she was aware of looking as foolish as she felt. Still, she’d come this far, and might as well carry on. She’d waited four years, worked her way through high school and college so efficiently that she was finished a full year early, and now she was ready to leave. After having spent a final summer in the family home, her parents thought she was currently on a plane to San Francisco, following a job offer from a law firm, and were reconciled to her leaving. She was sure they wouldn’t miss her too much. Toby was five now, and since she had been away at college, all four of them had grown accustomed to separation. They’d be alright, she nodded to herself.

For years now she had felt the pull of the Underground – a pull that, when she had returned all those years ago from retrieving her baby brother, had been satisfied by frequent visits from her friends of the Labyrinth. Hoggle, Sir Didymus and Ludo came to see her regularly, usually accompanied by a passle of shy goblins bringing her clumsily assembled bouquets of flowers and fruit (Sarah generally left the peaches well-alone). In college, her room in the girls’ dorm often saw raucous goblin carousals, though the space was so small that the furry, hulking Ludo had to agree to be used as a sofa.

It had originally been a misplaced comment from an unthinking goblin that had started her thinking. In utter innocence, Nurk, the goblin in question, had let fall that the Goblin King was presently occupied with expanding his library to include a comprehensive selection of human literature. Curious, Sarah had asked why. “Reckon the king thought you’d like something to read when you come back to live in the Labyrinth.” Nurk had blinked in confusion at his suddenly frozen interlocutor. Sarah had remained silent and unmoving for the next minute or two, by which time he’d forgotten what they’d been talking about and wandered away. Sarah's mouth had opened and closed a few times. When she came back to live in the Labyrinth? Is that what all her friends from the Underground assumed would happen?

She’d been childish at sixteen – but not stupid. She knew quite well that Jareth had been attracted to her. At this revelation from Nurk she had been eighteen, and able to look back on her previous behaviour as an attempt to rid herself of the last dregs of childhood; defeating the Goblin King nearly single-handed; atonement for wishing away her own baby brother – both were bids at adulthood, and at the time there had been no room for considering that, perhaps, there had been more to Jareth's actions than spite or idle amusement. At the age of eighteen Sarah had spent a great deal of time thinking hard about her time in the Labyrinth. Wondering whether this new light cast upon her memories should be allowed consideration. Whether she’d been wrong in her casting of Jareth as the mysterious, attractive but dangerous figure she had assumed. The temptation in Eden, the worm in the apple (or peach), the fairy-tale allegory of a honey-tongued wolf.

Finally, after weeks of staring into space and nail-biting, she’d plucked up the courage to ask Hoggle about him.

“Hoggle,” she began hesitantly, “What exactly is – I mean – Jareth is…he’s…well – what is he like?”

The dwarf had looked at her then, with a look of surprising shrewdness in his eye. Sarah had the unsettling feeling that he knew precisely what she was asking – and why she wanted to know. Still, he made no comment and answered her straightforwardly. “Nowadays, I don’ rightly know what to make of him. Before you and the little gentleman came to stay in the Labyrinth,” (this was how all the Underground inhabitants referred unfailingly to the events of two years ago) “he was a right menace, always threatenin’ some poor beggar with the Bog of Eternal Stench, or enchantin’ staircases to turn upside down when you was tryin’ to walk, just to amuse hisself.” Hoggle grimaced, obviously recalling personal experience. “Then after, it was…it was odd. Didn’ say or do much for a while. Stayed up in his tower a lot. After that he was back to bein’ a rat, but since then, he’s had times when he goes around for weeks like an ‘urricane in a temper, bellowin’ that it all needs changin’ and nothin’s right. He does barmy stuff like makin’ the goblins move all his furniture around, then he changes his mind and makes ‘em move it all back again. Then he shouts summat about ‘she’ll hate it’ and uses that magic of his to make a whole new room. I heard tell that once the rat had a tantrum and turned the whole castle upside down.”

“You mean he muddled everything up?”

“Nah, I mean he actually turned the castle upside down. Stood there on the hill balancin’ on a turret. Took a week for some of the goblins to find their way out.”

Sarah made some expression of horror, but Hoggle just shrugged as though it were nothing unusual. “Don’ fret, little lady. Some of the stuff he makes isn’t half-bad. He put me in charge of keepin’ the new gardens around the castle, and they’re a real thing of beauty.”

“Gardens?” Sarah's interest was piqued. She’d had a soft spot for the kind of rambling, romantic gardens found in old estates in England, ever since she’d visited the country in the summer between high school and college.

“Aye. That was a while ago now. Reckon you gave him the idea.”

Me?

Hoggle nodded in a way that seemed deceptively placid. “After you came back from that holiday you went on. The goblins told him about how you took a fancy to some gardens an’ he got started on them right away.”

Sarah let the conversation lapse into silence after that. What she had learned already was enough to quite reconfigure her ideas about Jareth, who appeared to be – there was no other term for it – nesting. After some more delicate interrogation, she divined that it appeared to be a common assumption, among the other subjects of the Goblin King, that she would be coming back to live in the Labyrinth sooner or later. As queen. The shock of this confounding information was matched only by the subsequent revelation that she didn’t mind at all. At all.

For the next two years, Sarah had gleaned as much information about the Labyrinth and its King as she could. Through her own memories, as well as the stories of her friends and any number of goblins, she felt as though she knew Jareth. Or at least could. She was long past her childish fear of him, and before she even knew it, was dreaming about the day she would return to the Labyrinth. Quite apart from her fascination with its King, the call of the Underground itself was an impulse she had felt ever since she had returned Above, all those years ago. She knew stories like that of Thomas the Rhymer; that those who had been in the Other World never quite left it behind. But how to get to it? Would she have to wish herself away as she did Toby, or would taking on the role of the ‘wished-away’ turn her into a goblin? Would she have to run the Labyrinth again to win entrance?

Daunting considerations such as these had kept her awake often, not least among them was the uneasy voice that told her Jareth might not want her to stay – might not want her anymore. Nevertheless, Sarah knew quite well she couldn’t stay in the Above, and looked towards the day when she would leave, for good or ill.

Looking down at the wobbly pentagram on her parents’ floorboards, Sarah rubbed at the stubborn spot of glitter on her nose and considered how to go about this. Impulsively, she darted back into her own bedroom and fished a battered baby doll from the back of her closet, then sat it upright in the centre of the pentagram and inhaled deeply. She was only a moment away. A sentence was all that stood between her and the moment she had lived, breathed and planned for.

“I wish the goblins would come and take you away, right now.”

She held her breath.

In a few seconds she would begin to hear the titters of goblins, see them skittering about in her peripheral vision. Then he would come, probably in a melodramatic flash of glitter and lightning.

Soon.

Any second now.

Perhaps she ought to go out the room? Last time the goblins only took Toby when her back was turned. She slipped into the hallway and pretended to walk away, then turned to peek back inside.

Discounting the disorder of the room and the incongruous presence of a pentagram, everything was disappointingly ordinary. Sarah opened the door wider and stood on the threshold with her hands on her hips, disgruntled. Should she try putting the doll in Toby’s old cot, in the name of authenticity? Sighing gustily, she stomped down to the garage and hauled the musty old frame all through the house, cursing the restriction of her outgrown clothes. She was sweating by the time the cot was arranged in its former place over the pentagram, and plonked the doll in with a scowl, before saying her right words through gritted teeth.

Nothing. Again.

She groaned aloud. What was she doing wrong? “I wish the goblins would come and take you away, right now. Right now.” Silence. “I said right now, are you all deaf?” Perhaps it was the absence of a real baby? Or was it intent that mattered? In which case; “I wish the goblins would come and take me away, right now.” No result. “No? Nothing? Um, I wish the goblins would come here right now? I wish the Goblin King would come here right now?” Sarah hesitated slightly before speaking her next variation. “I wish the Goblin King would come and take me away right now.” He would hardly resist that direct invitation, she reasoned.

Sarah stared anxiously at the balcony doors, waiting for his entrance. Crickets chirped in the fading dusk, punctuated by the placid hoot of an owl somewhere in the garden. The room’s obnoxious and persistent tranquillity set her nerves on edge, and after a minute of pervasive inactivity, she erupted, throwing her hands up. “Oh, come on! What else do you want? I did everything right! I even wore the same stupid clothes! Do you want me to – I don’t know, beg? Fine! Please, Goblin King, let me back into the Labyrinth. Satisfied? Well?” A beat of silence. “Well?”

Despite her bravado, Sarah was beginning to panic. What if nobody ever answered? If she’d missed her chance? “Ugh, fine then! Be like that!” She growled at nobody, feeling thoroughly rattled. She set about putting the room to rights with a vengeance, clearing up the armful of mismatched objects, rolling the carpet over the smeared pentagram and hauling furniture around with a determination stemming from sheer momentum, though it began to wear off as she was dragging the old cot back to the garage. Her eyes burned as she toed off her shoes in the hall, and by the time she pushed open her bedroom door, she felt drained. Sitting morosely at her mirror, Sarah contemplated the smear of red chalk decorating her forehead and the patch of glitter on her nose that refused to budge, but couldn’t summon the energy to do anything about it. She could call for Hoggle, Ludo or Sir Didymus, she supposed – but didn’t, for fear that they too, would not answer.

The old, outgrown clothes suddenly felt too uncomfortable to tolerate, and Sarah stood quickly to strip them off, digging around in a suitcase for her most reassuring pyjama set. More comfortably attired, she sat down on the bare mattress, next to the luggage that was supposed to be on its way to San Francisco – just as she was. What on earth was she going to tell her parents? Everything she’d been banking on for years had fallen through in a messy heap, right into her lap. What did she do now?

Picking up the Goblin King figurine, Sarah gazed at the object sadly. She’d been a fool to read so much into his actions. And now everything – everything – was ruined. “Damn you, Jareth.”

 

 

“Really, precious, what did I do to deserve that?”

 

In a bizarre blend of clumsiness and agility, Sarah managed to simultaneously fall off the bed, and pitch the figurine she held with deadly accuracy at the head behind her. Both actions were accompanied with a peculiar, whooping screech of shock. The figurine met its mark, and triggered a (barely) more masculine yelp of surprise. Hoisting herself up from the floor, Sarah peered in blank disbelief over the edge of her bed, at the incongruous sight of the Goblin King sitting on a mattress amongst piles of suitcases, a figurine of himself in hand, and rubbing his forehead with an air of reproach. While she tried to formulate a response, he asked in an aggrieved tone.

“Was that entirely necessary? A simple ‘good evening’ would have been sufficient.”

“You’re here,” was the best Sarah could think to say.

“Well, yes,” Jareth answered as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. He extricated himself from her luggage and walked around the bed to hold his hand out to her expectantly. She took it and pulled herself to her feet. “You did call me, after all. What did you expect?”

His manner was irritatingly superior, and layered with smug amusement that made Sarah’s ire rise to the surface again. “I expected you to answer on time, not half an hour later,” she snapped, removing her hand indignantly from his, “Do you know how worried I was that you weren’t going to turn up at all?”

Perhaps it was her imagination, but she thought the Goblin King’s amusement faded just a trifle. “As entertaining as your outlandish methods were to watch, I required no such lengths to summon me. You merely needed to call my name.”

“I said ‘Goblin King’. Does that not count?”

Jareth tipped his head to the side, strands of his bizarre, feathery hair drifting with it. “Are we not beyond formalities, Sarah? I should think we are on first name terms, at least.”

Under the scrutiny of his mismatched gaze, Sarah had suddenly become very aware of the red chalk on her forehead, the patch of stubborn glitter on her nose, the less than elegant state of her hair and – she nearly groaned – pyjamas. And not even good ones; but the faded, stretched pair she’d had for years. She didn’t want to contemplate the romantic implications of being on ‘at least’ first name terms with Jareth until she was wearing something more presentable, and decided to sidestep the matter. “So that’s it? I just call ‘Jareth’ and you come to take me back to the Labyrinth?”

Regardless of her feelings on the matter, Jareth looked annoyed to have his hint sidestepped. He turned away, ruffling the artfully tattered edges of his sweeping coat, and made a show of adjusting his gloves with an air of indifference. “And who said I would be willing to take you back to my Labyrinth?” He sniffed contemptuously. “You did, after all, make quite a fuss about leaving it four years ago, if memory serves. Perhaps I've yet to extend my magnanimity to forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness!” Sarah's temper flared yet again. “You took my baby brother and made me risk my life, in ridiculous ways, to get him back!”

“You were never in any danger,” Jareth waved his hand airily, “But that’s beside the point. And if you’re going to be so unpleasant, I’ll take my leave of you.” With a flourish, a crystal appeared, balancing on the tips of his gloved fingers.

Had Sarah not heard the stories from the others about his eager preparations for her arrival, or had she missed the way his eyes flickered anxiously to watch her reaction, she might have been genuinely worried. As it was, she was rather amused by Jareth's attempt at bluffing. She arranged her expression into one of resigned indifference. “Yes, I suppose you better had.” Turning to the dresser, she pretended not to notice how his own cool mien slipped, giving way to shock. “Send Hoggle when you have the chance, we haven’t seen each other for a little while. I expect he’ll be able to find me in San Francisco?”

“San Francisco,” spluttered Jareth.

“Yes, I have a job offer from a law firm.” For effect, she began dropping empty perfume bottles and old mascara into a hold-all. “As you don’t seem to want me in the Labyrinth, I guess I’d better see if I can get a flight out there today. It’s been lovely seeing you, Jareth, but you should probably go, so that I can pack and–”

“Wait – wait!” he stammered, “Don’t, I – I didn’t mean it!”

Sarah tried not to smirk as she turned around, constructing an air of innocent confusion. “I beg your pardon?”

“I mean, ah, don’t – don’t go to San Francisco. I was just – never mind, you can come back to the Labyrinth.”

“Oh, don’t worry, I can just as easily go to San Francisco, if it’s going to be a problem–”

At his stricken expression, Sarah almost – almost – felt guilty, but she hung on doggedly, and turned away again to walk towards the door. Although it had been her plan, she was still unprepared for the gloved hand closing around her wrist, pulling her to a halt. She looked up at him, eyebrows raised.

Jareth gritted his teeth. “I’m – sorry.” Sarah waited. He tried again, with a touch more remorse. “I – I am sorry. Please come back to the Labyrinth, if you would still like to. I would like you to.”

“Would you, really?”

He looked relieved at her softened tone. “Yes, precious. Which, I suppose, is what you’ve been driving at.” Sarah nodded, and he kissed the hand he held in his. “You’ve got chalk on your forehead, did you know?” Again, a nod. She didn’t really know what to say. “And glitter, on your nose, which I approve of, but I suspect you don’t.” He dropped her hand and began to remove his glove with painstaking precision. Licking his bare thumb, Jareth rubbed it along the smear above her eyebrow, the tender concentration on his face making her laugh. He gave a feline smile in return, and moved onto her nose. After a moment, he stripped off his other glove to cup her face, holding it steady. “Dear me. This doesn’t seem to be coming off at all. And I seem to have transferred the chalk to your nose – I do apologise,” he said, not sounding sorry at all.

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Shut up.” Fastening her hands in his leather lapels, she drew the Goblin King down to meet her kiss.

When they broke apart, he nudged his nose to hers. “You’re not going to fear me at all, are you? Or do as I say.”

She shook her head. “No, not even a little bit.” Considering, she amended, “Well, maybe on very special occasions. Are you still going to turn the world upside down for me?”

“Quite possibly. Are you ready to leave now, my dear?”

Taking a last look around the room, Sarah nodded firmly. “Yes, I am.” She exhaled deeply as Jareth summoned a crystal to the tips of his fingers, and between one breath and the next, found herself in the Castle beyond the Goblin City, surrounded by excited, chattering goblins. Realizing almost instantly what a catastrophic error she had made, Sarah turned to face the Goblin King, who was good-naturedly drop-kicking one of his subjects across the throne room. “Jareth!” She hissed over the caterwauling of the goblins, “I’m in my pyjamas!”