This is the way the world ends:

Not with a bang but a whimper.

– T. S. Eliot 

No one noticed the crow as it flew tirelessly through the sky, a glossy black against the soft white and pale blue of the heavens, blended in such a way as to make the crow appear unreal, a three-dimensional living being against a two-dimensional sky painted on canvas. The crow had been flying for a long time, but not without reason, nor purpose, nor patience: it knew it would find refuge soon. A crow does nothing without reason or purpose. A crow is nothing if not patient. A crow is patience itself. It flew on, searching for the perch it knew it would find. 

No one noticed the owl as it winged its way silently through the sky, a silken white and brown blended against a white and blue in such a way as to make the owl appear unreal, the outline of an owl, where white feathers met white clouds, and only the brown of the owl and the blue of the sky indicated that there was indeed anything there at all. The owl had been flying for a long time, but not without reason, nor purpose, nor certainty: it knew where it was going. An owl does nothing without reason or purpose. An owl is nothing if not certain. An owl is certainty itself. An owl is born with all its questions answered. It flew on, searching for the perch it knew it would find. 

The crow flew on and on until it reached a telephone pole beside an apartment building. There it perched and watched, waiting. 

The owl flew on and on until it reached a tree inside a park. There it perched on a branch and watched, waiting. 

The crow watched impassively as the police pulled a white sheet over the murdered body of Eric Draven, watched as the paramedics pressed an oxygen mask with increasing urgency onto the bruised, battered face of the bleeding body of Shelley Webster. It flew nearer, following the paramedics, then landed and watched as Eric Draven was taken hurriedly to the morgue, which only held the promise of death, even as Shelley Webster was taken hurriedly to the waiting ambulance, which might hold the promise of life…


“Keep back, kid…”

“Where is Eric? Tell him to take care of Sarah…”

“You Sarah? Your sister’s gonna be fine…”

“She’s not my sister, she’s my friend, her and Eric…she’s gonna die, isn’t she?”…

The crow watched, listening patiently to the many voices: the anxious cry of the girl Sarah, the feeble yet anguished plea of the woman Shelley, the brusque yet concerned compassion of the officer Albrecht. It listened to the hated yet spoken question of the girl, the hated yet unspoken response that followed from the officer. Eric Draven was dead…Shelley Webster was near death. 

And so it began with a parting… 

The owl watched impassively as the girl in the white gown dreamily walked through the park reciting well-loved and well-memorized lines from the little red book she held in her hand. “Through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the Castle Beyond the Goblin City…” The owl watched as the white and gray Old English Sheepdog at the girl’s feet barked once, twice, as if in reply. It watched as the dreamy statement on the girl’s face turned to horror at the sudden chiming of the clock.

“I can’t believe it! It’s seven o’clock!” she cried, then lifted the edges of her gown and ran, ran through the park, ran down the streets, ran as though she could outrun the rain that even now pelted the earth, and the frustration that even now swelled and grew within her. The owl flew after her, following her, as she ran through the streets fast and then faster still. Turning corners, her lungs burning, her legs screaming an aching protest, Sarah Williams ran faster and still faster until she reached her own house. Never missing a beat, and putting on one last desperate burst of speed, she ran inside, escaping the patter of the rain only to run headfirst into the roar of an infant crying and screaming, finally finding someone on whom she could vent all of her anger. “Toby! I hate you! Stop crying! I wish the goblins would come and take you away, right now!”

Toby stopped crying at once.

“Toby!” Sarah Williams cried. “Why aren’t you crying?” The owl could see the girl run to the crib, pull back the covers, gasp in alarm…there was no one there…as if Toby had never been. 

And so it began with a parting… 


Come away, O human child,

To the waters and the wild,

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping

Than you can understand.

–William Butler Yeats 

Sarah Davis stared mutely down at the two graves. Her bouquet of flowers was on one and the single white rose was on the other. She read the headstone again; no epitaphs or anything; carved from gray rock, the tombs looked exactly alike.

Except they weren’t…because of the names.

She read them silently. SHELLEY WEBSTER and ERIC DRAVEN. Then she spoke them aloud: “Shelley! Eric!” Maybe if she repeated them enough she would wake up from this nightmare, find it was all a bad dream, that Eric and Shelley were alive and well and married instead of six feet underground in what was undoubtedly G-D’s idea of a sick, humorless joke.

It was so unfair. She’d read someplace that Death was the ultimate fairness, because it struck everybody and didn’t discriminate against anybody, but all she could think of now was how unfair that supposed “ultimate fairness” was. A part of her hoped the police would catch the bastards who did this to Eric and Shelley, but another part of her reminded her that she didn’t have that much hope.

Everything was falling apart. Part of a poem that Shelley had read to her crossed her mind: 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned. 

Shelley had loved poetry; she was often found curled up either on the bed or under a tree (or, Sarah suspected, in Eric’s arms when he and Shelley were alone) with a book filled with her current favorite poet’s poems. Sarah smiled, remembering how, after Shelley had read that particular poem, she, Sarah, had groaned about not know what “gyre” meant, or “anarchy” either. Shelley had had to explain them to her. Sarah didn’t understand most of it, but the part about the center not holding sure was true. Things did fall apart, and the center couldn’t hold and it seemed to her that innocence had drowned.

She was startled out of her thoughts by the rustling of wings, as a large crow flew past her to settle on Eric’s headstone. “What are you, the night watchman?” she joked, and was surprised as it gave a loud, friendly caw, as if it had understood her question and had responded to it. “You gonna watch over them tonight?” she asked, and received another caw in response. “Well, OK…later,” she told Eric and Shelley. Then she turned, hopped on her skateboard, and skated out of the cemetery.

The crow sat perched on Eric’s headstone, pecking at it, pecking at it until little stones chipped off and fell to the ground, waiting, ever waiting. The crow sat perched on Eric’s headstone, waiting as the sun sank behind the church and disappeared from the horizon, leaving as its legacy a sky streaked with crimson and soft pink and periwinkle. Not stirring a feather, patiently, the crow waited as the dying sun seemed to fill the name of ERIC DRAVEN with a red light akin to blood, waiting until the moon rose and bathed the cathedral and the cemetery in a silvery light.

The night cloaked the earth in a glossy ebon, and only an occasional flash from the crow’s eyes indicated that it was there at all, obliterated as it was against the blackness of the sky. The blackness of the sky and the grayness of the headstones and the brownness of the earth produced an eerie, otherworldly effect. Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters might have held council there, or Milton’s Satan. 

Darkness is dizzying. We need light; whenever we plunge into the opposite of day we feel our hearts chilled. When the eye sees darkness, the mind sees trouble. In an eclipse, at night, in the sooty darkness, even the strongest feel anxiety. Nobody walks alone at night in the forest without trembling. Darkness and trees, two formidable depths–a chimeric reality appears in the indistinct distance. An outline of the Inconceivable emerges a few steps away with a spectral clarity.

–Victor Hugo 

The crow sat and waited in the darkness, waited even as the first drops of rain sprinkled the earth, as the few drops became a few more, and a few more, and a few more still, until rain fell steadily from the sky. Still the crow sat, pecking at the headstone, until the earth began to shake. And as the earth began to shake, the earth began to crack. And as the earth began to crack, the earth began to crumble, falling away in brown wet clumps, skittering away from Eric’s grave. The earth, crumbling and skittering and falling away, split open and a large crevice appeared in front of the headstone, and a hand reached up and out of the crevice, clawing rain and mud, clutching the wet earth. This was not just any hand, this was a human hand, a human hand attached to a human body. That human body was clawing at the wet earth, was ripping and tearing and lacerating that earth until it worked its way out of the gaping hole of a grave. It was as though the body had simply fallen into a muddy hole by mistake and was now struggling to free itself from it. It worked its way out of the hole and collapsed on the mud, howling, screaming an almost bestial cry, shrieking in anguish at the sky, writhing and twisting on the damp ground and finally struggling to its feet as ungainly as a newborn foal.

It was Eric.

He screamed again, howling and shrieking as if he could scream away the pain that streaked and raced and pounded within him. He was being reborn, and birth is always painful. It was Eric, and yet it was not Eric…Eric without name, without memory, without everything save some primal instinct, some bestiality from some bygone time. He flinched instinctively, cringing as the crow fluttered past him to settle on a nearby tree branch. He flinched again as the voice of the crow whispered in his head.

<Come, warrior. Follow me. It is time.>

Eric said nothing, but the crow heard a scream inside his head, a scream that seemed to embody all of his pain and fear and confusion: <Shelley!> 

Where do I take this pain of mine

I run, but it stays right my side

So tear me open, pour me out

There’s things inside that scream and shout

And the pain still hates me

So hold me, until it sleeps

Just like the curse, just like the stray

You feed it once, and now it stays…

So hold me, until it sleeps.

–James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, Metallica 

<Shelley!> Eric screamed silently again. <Shelley! Someone help me, I am in so much pain…and all of this is new yet so familiar…and Shelley…what has happened to Shelley? Shelley! My Shelley! My dearest Shelley!> He flinched again as the calm, patient voice of the crow filled his head.

<Do not fear, warrior. I am with you now, and your Shelley is safe. You will be with her again. But now, warrior, we must hurry. There is much to be done. Come, warrior. Follow me. It is time.> The crow cawed once and flew from the branch out of the cemetery in a flutter of wings. Eric, obeying some unconscious instinct, drew a shuddery breath, and followed it.

The crow led Eric down deserted streets and through twisting, turning dark alleys until they came to a Dumpster that held a pair of discarded shoes. Eric walked over and picked them up, scarcely comprehending what they were, picking them up and staring at them curiously. The crow cawed and Eric slowly unlaced the laces, put the shoes on his feet, re-laced them, and continued following the crow as it flew threw the dark night… 

Sarah Williams was staring at Toby’s crib in shock, not understanding where Toby had gone. The last thing she remembered was saying, exasperated and angry, “I wish the goblins would take you away…right now.” But surely that was just a story she’d made up…the words hadn’t worked…they couldn’t have worked…the Goblin King hadn’t really taken Toby away, had he?

She gasped and turned quickly as something fluttered against the window. It was a large crow, who flapped its wings and pecked at the window until the window opened and the crow flew in the room, soaring over Sarah’s head to settle on the crib. It gave a caw and a man came in through the window. He was tall, with dark eyes and hair, dressed in black, with paint and makeup on his face looking like a mask, like one of those sad Harlequins in one of the Italian opera books Sarah had read. He carried a black electric guitar in his hands. Too frightened even to scream, she could only stare as the man stepped towards her. He looked at her sadly, as if begging her not to be afraid. “Shh,” he whispered to her.

<There she is, warrior,> the crow told him. <Do what you must.>

Sarah continued to stare and then tried to back away as the man reached towards her and put his hands on the sides of her head.

Eric gasped in pain as a barrage of images pelted him. Sarah running through the rain…shouting at her mother…sulking in her room…running to Toby’s room…shrieking…saying words…turning off the light…turning to go out, then turning back and gasping in horror as she realized that Toby had gone…

He leapt away from Sarah as though he had been burned. He huddled in a corner, rocking and sobbing quietly, feeling the eyes of the girl on him but ignoring them.

Sarah continued staring at him and asked the first question that came into her mind: “Why are you crying?”

Eric looked up at her curiously, as through remembering there was another person in the room, and whispered, “I saw him disappear…I saw him through your eyes…Oh, Sarah, I’m so sorry…no one should have to go through what I have gone through, what you have gone through…”

“What are you talking about?” Sarah asked, and then, frightened, “How did you know my name?”

The crow gave a loud caw. <Help the living and you will bleed,> it said to Eric. <However, in this case, we must break that law. You must help the living, warrior. Only by helping the living will you see your Shelley again.>

“My name is Eric Draven,” he told Sarah, “and I once heard your mother call you Sarah. I saw everything…through your eyes. I saw how Toby was there one minute and gone the next, and I’ve come to help you get him back.” Quietly, he added, “Even if I bleed, I have to help you. It’s the only way I’ll ever see her again.” He went to cover his forehead with his hands but he realized that the solid black, six string, standard Fender Stratocaster he’d “borrowed” from Gideon’s before it had “accidentally” burned down was blocking him, so he slung it across his back. Then he covered his face with his hands, and repeated quietly, “Even if I bleed…it’s the only way I’ll see her again…my Shelley…my Shelley….”

He glanced at his hands, at his little finger, on which was the golden engagement ring he had once given to Shelley and which he had found in a large metal box stashed rather carelessly under Gideon’s counter. His face showed a hint of a smile, remembering how he didn’t even have to look to know it was Shelley’s ring…how it had begun singing softly to him as soon as he touched it…no words, just a soft, sweet melody composed entirely of Shelley’s name…

Giving himself a sad little shake as a reminder to stay in the present, for if he dwelled too long in his memories the pain of remembering would overwhelm him, he looked up and, louder, he asked Sarah, “Do you have any idea what happened to Toby?”

“The last thing I remember was saying that I wished the goblins would come take him away, but that couldn’t have happened, could it?”

“Anything’s possible,” Eric said with a half-smile. Heck, he thought, I’m one of the living dead with the ability to talk to a telepathic crow and experience other people’s memories. What’s a few goblins? He then became serious. “What exactly happened?”

“It’s a story I read somewhere…or maybe I made it up…I can’t remember,” she confessed. “It’s about a girl whose stepmother always makes her stay home and look after the baby – that’s Toby – and the baby’s a spoiled child and always wants everything and everyone for himself and the girl – that’s me – is practically his slave. But what no one knew,” she continued dreamily, as if to herself, “was that Jareth, the King of the Goblins, had fallen in love with the girl, and he was so in love with her that he’d given her certain powers. ‘Say the right words, and the goblins will take the baby away to my castle and you shall be free.’” She sighed and when she spoke next there was a pleading note in her voice, as if she was begging him to understand why she had done what she had done. “Toby was so loud and obnoxious and I felt like I would go insane if I had to listen to him scream and cry another minute…so I said the words, and the next thing I knew he was gone.”

“Jareth,” Eric repeated. “Jareth and the goblins. A whole jolly club!” He laughed bitterly. “I’ll find him, but you’ll have to help me. You know his world. You tell him that Death is coming for him…tonight. You tell him that Eric Draven sends his regards.” The crow gave a loud, piercing caw, as if punctuating his words, and Sarah, Eric, and the crow were suddenly transported out of the house and onto a windswept hill with a lone tree next to them, the whole of it overlooking a broad valley and a magnificent castle with turrets and spires and domes, massive walls, a portcullis, and a drawbridge. The castle was on top of a large mound, and both the castle and the mound were in the center of a labyrinth that stretched as far as Eric, Sarah, and the crow could see, twisting and turning so it made them dizzy if they looked at it too long.

“So how long do we have to find your brother and kill the king?” Eric asked.

Sarah opened her mouth to answer, but stopped and gave a small gasp as a voice said, “You have thirteen hours in which to solve the labyrinth before your baby brother becomes one of us forever.” The voice started fading away. “Such a pity.” 


Eric and Sarah looked at each other.

“Jareth,” they said together, and Sarah was frightened to hear the tone of utter hatred and fury in Eric Draven’s voice.

Eric adjusted his guitar. “Let’s do this,” he said, and strode off towards the labyrinth so quickly that Sarah had to practically sprint to catch up with him. As they neared the labyrinth, they saw that a shining pool was off to the left surrounded by many bushes full of bluebells and a little man, half of Sarah’s height (one-third in Eric’s case) standing in front of the pool, his back to them.

Sarah walked over to the man. “Um, excuse me?”

“Oh! Excuse me!” said the man, quickly, zipping up his pants and turning around, adjusting a chain of various ornaments and jewels hanging from his belt and ignoring Sarah’s look of revulsion; he had been relieving himself in the pool. “Oh,” he said in a different tone, one full of disgust, “it’s you.

Sarah ignored this and asked, “Can you help me get through this Labyrinth?”

“Hmm,” the man said noncommittally. Then he noticed a tiny fairy, gorgeous in a white frock and shimmering incandescent wings, hovering around one of the bluebells, and he picked up a spray can by his feet and sprayed the fairy so it fell to the ground. “Ha! Fifty-seven! That’s two more than yesterday,” he said happily, kicking dirt roughly over the dead fairy.

“You’re horrible!” Sarah cried. “How could you, you great monster? Killing the poor innocent little thing like that. You’re horrible!”

“No, I ain’t,” the man retorted hotly. “I’m Hoggle. Who’re you?”

“Sarah,” Sarah retorted. She pointed to Eric. “That’s Eric Draven. How do we get into the labyrinth?”

Hoggle snorted, as if dismissing their names as unimportant, and sprayed another fairy, shouting, “Take that, you nuisance! Fifty-eight! Ha ha!”

Eric had had enough. Practically flying over to Hoggle, he grabbed the spray can away from him, held him upside down, and said, “Mr. Hoggle. You’re not paying attention.” Eric turned him the right way round and pinned him against the wall with one hand. “We need to get into the labyrinth. Where’s the entrance?”

“Ah, yes,” Hoggle said nervously. “Um. I was just going to answer the little missy’s question. You gets in there,” he pointed to an enormous gate consisting of gigantic double doors of red stone. He stared at Eric’s fist holding him. “Um, you wanna let me go now?”

“No. Now you’re going to tell me if you work for Jareth and where to find him and how to kill him.”

“M-m-me?” Hoggle stammered. “Um…” he stalled, thinking furiously to concoct a lie; Jareth would dump him straight in the Bog of Eternal Stench without a second thought if Hoggle gave away information like that.

Eric seemed to sense his intention, and said menacingly, “If you lie, I’ll find you and kill you so harshly you’ll think you’d been pecked by a crow.” Hoggle started to laugh nervously at the idea of himself running in terror from a little bird, but as if obeying some silent command, a large crow flew over and landed on Eric’s shoulder, its wickedly sharp beak just inches away from Hoggle’s eyes.

“L-l-lie? Me? Ha ha, of course not, I was just remembering everything you told me! You know Hoggle, in one ear and out the other. Forgetful Hoggle, they calls me. Ha ha,” he said nervously. Eric’s eyes narrowed dangerously so Hoggle babbled, “Castle at the center of the labyrinth! I don’t know how to kill him!”

“Do you work for him?” Eric insisted.

“N-n-no, of course not! Hoggle doesn’t work for nobody! He works for himself!”

Eric considered, then relaxed his grip. “We’re wasting time with this sniveling idiot,” he growled. “Let’s go.” He strode away from Hoggle and pounded furiously on the gate, which swung open in response. Then he went through the gates and halted, confused; two paths lay before him, one on either side.

“So, um, which way do we go?”

Eric jumped. Sarah had sneaked up behind him and Eric had been too distracted with that dwarf and his own growing sense of urgency to remember that there was someone else with him.

“I don’t know,” he answered her. “Let me think a minute.” He closed his eyes. <Do you know the way?> he asked the crow.

The crow cocked its head to one side. <Two ways lead to the castle, warrior. One of them is longer and harder than the first. The other, short and simple.>

At first Eric was going to suggest the shorter path, but a mental nudge from the crow made him reconsider. Killing Jareth quickly would be too easy and would not even begin to sate the bloodlust surging and rising within him. To really do it, to return to Shelley, he would have to take the harder road and kill Jareth slowly, painfully, making sure that the king suffered as Sarah had suffered, as Eric himself had suffered: long and slow and painful, the countless hours spent waiting, always waiting…not knowing…

“The right road,” he said finally, pointing down it, “will get us there. Lead us to the castle. To him.

They set off down the path, the crow flying ahead, sending images back to Eric; a path littered with trees, rocks, dirt, twigs; walls of stone that seemed to stretch on as far as eternity, with so many endless twists and turns that even Eric lost track of them…straight, turn, right, turn, straight, left, left, right, turn… Finally, with a leap that belied his supernatural abilities, he soared up and landed on one of the walls to view the lay of the land. He was dazzled, and had to cover his face with his hands for a moment before looking again. The labyrinth seemed to have multiplied, with even more paths and dead ends and endless choices; for a minute, Eric was overcome with a feeling of utter despair; how could he, even he, with his abilities, solve such a labyrinth? Then he shook his head to clear it. No time to doubt himself. He swept his eyes over the whole of the labyrinth, trying to decide where to go next. He noted where the paths turned to other paths, and where the paths turned to dead ends, and where the paths turned back to the same paths so you were actually going back the way you came when you thought you were going forward.

He noticed a long path that seemed to lead straight to the castle and, after following it with his eyes to see how far it would take to get to it from where they were, he called down to Sarah: “Come on,” and took off at a run.

As she ran, trying frantically to keep up with him, Sarah was full of confusion. Who exactly was this guy? Where did he come from? Why did that crow follow him everywhere? And how did he know what had happened to Toby? She risked a look up at him; it was hard to do much of anything besides try to breathe properly when she had to take three steps to his one. He was sprinting now along the top of the wall, looking and moving like the crow flying ahead of them, moving with a speed and grace and agility that Sarah wished she had. Occasionally the wall broke off and turned down a different passage, but that didn’t stop Eric; he continued leaping along the wall, sailing from one stone to the next, graceful, surefooted, strong and swift.

“Hey,” she panted, “who are you? Where d’you come from and why do you have a crow?”

Eric, still practically flying across the wall, shook his head. “No time,” he said, and she took a minute to be both impressed and even more confused; he had answered in a normal tone of voice, as if he hadn’t been leaping and dashing for goodness-knows-how-long, and she’d practically had to force her words out of her mouth. Who was this guy?

“How much further?” she gasped. Her legs and arms and lungs were painfully reminding her that yes, they were there, and they ached, and would she please slow down before her legs collapsed and her lungs gave out.

“Keep going,” Eric said, not really answering. Then he grinned down at her, a grin that was more of a sneer than anything else, and she shivered when she saw it. “We’ll get there in time. Don’t worry. We’ll get to the castle, and we’ll find him, and we’ll make him pay.”

Sarah gulped and continued running, taking her eyes off of Eric and refocusing them on the path, forcing more speed out of her exhausted legs and more air out of her exhausted lungs, trying not to notice how Eric hadn’t even broken into a sweat.

Eric, while running, was thinking of something. “We’ll make him pay,” he repeated. “We’ll damn well make that bastard pay.” He grinned to himself, and, as he soared effortlessly along the top of the wall, he began to laugh. He laughed because he had always dreamed of moving like this, effortlessly and swiftly and agilely. He laughed thinking of the doom that he was going to bring to Jareth for making Sarah’s life as much a living hell as those bastards who’d murdered him and Shelley had made his. He laughed, thinking of the word which swirled and whirled within his mind, winding and twisting through his head as endless as one of the paths of the labyrinth: Vengeance! 

He put on justice as his breastplate; salvation, as the helmet on his head. He clothed himself with garments of vengeance, wrapped himself in a mantle of zeal. He repays his enemies their deserts and requites his foes with wrath.

–Isaiah, 59:17-18 

He thought of this word, vengeance, and he laughed.

His feet barely touched the wall as he easily flowed from one stone to another as he laughed, his mind caught up in that glorious word which flowed within him like the chorus to one of his songs: Vengeance!

His feet barely touched the wall as he easily flowed from one stone to another as he laughed, his mind caught up in that word vengeance, so he didn’t notice where the stone of the wall ended and the leaves of the hedge began. He tried to step from one to the other, and the leaves were too weak for his weight, and he fell with a shout of surprise and dismay and a loud curse: “Aw, fuck!”

Sarah, out of breath and gasping, gratefully slowed to a stop, but grimaced when she caught sight of Eric. He’d fallen right into the hedge, and was now struggling and thrashing to free himself.

After a few minutes of rolling around and cursing, Eric managed to break free of the hedge. He shook himself like a dog as if he had just emerged from a pool of water, and then cast an eye over himself.

“Damn!” he shouted. He was covered in leaves, twigs, and thorns. His hands were bruised and bleeding and full of thorns, but he wasn’t worried about them and he ignored the pain, because something else was wrong: his prized black leather overcoat was scratched and covered in thorns.

“Damn!” he repeated.

Sarah, after catching her breath, asked, “Are you OK?” She blushed, knowing how stupid that sounded; the guy had just fallen into a thorny hedge, for crying out loud, but she wanted to know why he was so upset.

“Look at this!” Eric shouted angrily. “Look at this! Just look at this!” Awkwardly, but still furious, he started cleaning up his hands, brushing off the leaves and pulling out the thorns, ignoring both the passing physical pain and Sarah’s gasp of surprise as he extracted the thorns one by one.

Sarah gasped again. Oh my GOD…His hands…! As he brushed aside the leaves and the twigs, pulled out the thorns, streaking his hands with dirt and blood, the cuts immediately healed…the blood flowed back into them…the flesh closed… It was as if his hands had always been large and white and perfect, with artist’s fingers, never scarred by blood or dirt before.

Eric grunted as he pulled out the last of the thorns, barely noticing that his cuts healed instantly. Looking up at Sarah, he asked, “Help me with my coat?”

Hesitantly, Sarah walked over to him. “How bad is it?” he asked.

“The back is totally covered,” she answered.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” he groaned. “Help me with that, will you? Please?” Obediently she began picking off the thorns from the back of his coat as he attended to the ones attached to the sleeves and cuffs, repeating, “Jesus Christ. Look at this. Leaves and sticks and all these thorns like little nails all over my coat. Oh, Jesus Christ.” Suddenly he grinned and gave a little chuckle. “Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” he started. “Jesus Christ walks into a motel…”

“Hold still,” Sarah said, still picking out the thorns.

He was quiet for a minute, then continued, “He hands the innkeeper three nails and asks…”

“Ow!” Sarah said as she was stuck. “Hold still, please. They’re almost out.”

Eric sighed and then finished, “Can you put me up for the night?”

Sarah stood back, sucking on a bleeding finger. “There you go.”

“Thanks.” Gingerly he shrugged off his coat and examined it, checking to make sure it was all right. Satisfied, he put it back on and turned his attention to his guitar, which had, in some miraculous way, escaped unscathed except for the covering of leaves and twigs. Brushing them off with furious but tender care, he then minutely examined every inch of the instrument checking for scratches, stains, streaks, and thorns. Nothing. Good.

“It’s a good thing my guitar’s OK,” he announced. “If it wasn’t I would’ve killed Jareth.” He looked at Sarah. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to kill him, but if he’d damaged my Strato I’d’ve done it much slower.”

His voice trailed off; he heard a low, high-pitched laugh that was hard as wood and as rustling as leaves: “Ooohssssshahahahahheeheeheesssss!”

“Did you hear that?” he asked Sarah. She looked around, biting her lip.

“No, it’s OK,” he began, then hushed as he heard it again, a little louder, so that Sarah bit her lip again and creased her brow, looking worried: “Sssshahahaheeheehee!”

Sarah wildly looked all around her, Eric circling where he stood, his eyes darting here and there, suddenly holding out his hand and motioning Sarah to look at the hedge.

The hedge was staring back at them. Two large black eyes had appeared through the leaves.

Three things happened at once. Sarah gasped in alarm, the eyes vanished, and a voice yelled, “Ooohssshahahaheehee! Catcher ’ums! Get ’ums!”

Out from the hedge swarmed an army of furry little creatures dressed in rags and leaves, armed with sharp sticks. They ranged in size from a full-grown raccoon to a full-grown Chihuahua, with sleek yet stringy fur that was black with white and gray patches mixed into it. They had long snouts, long, fennec fox-type ears, sharp looking white teeth, and beady black eyes. Brandishing their sticks and an odd assortment of thorny branches, they rushed at Eric and Sarah, chanting, “Catcher ’ums! Ssssoohoohoohahaha! Catcher ’ums! Pricker ’ums an’ sticker ’ums, hahahaha!”

“Who in the world are these guys?” Eric asked.

“Hedger goblinses! Us’ums be da hedger goblinses! Hahahahahahaheeheehee! Us’ums sticker you’ums wiv our long sticks an’ kill you’ums dead! Ssssooohoohaha!”

“Hedge goblins?” Eric repeated.

“Why do you want to kill us?” Sarah asked anxiously.

“This be our mazeses! You’ums be trespassingers! Tresspassingers! Death to tresspassingers! Death an’ more death! Ssssooohoohoohoo!”

“Death, huh?” Eric said. “Well, first come, first served.” He let out a yell and started to charge them but the crow stopped him.

<Killing these creatures will not help, warrior.>

Eric had an idea. He’d seen people like these hedge goblins before, street punks who were always ready to fight and full of hot air, but who always turned and ran at anything fiercer and louder than they were. He took up his Strato, tuned it, and played an E major, full and long and loud, following it with a few A majors and Gs.

The hedge goblins panicked. “Aiyeeee! Big noiseses! Big noiseses! Bad’ums! Bad’ums! Runrunrunrun! Ssssoooahhhayee! Runrunrun!” Falling over each other in their mad rush, they dashed back into the hedge and vanished.

“Everyone’s a critic,” Eric sighed. He looked around. “What the––?”

Everything had changed. The path he had seen from on top of the wall was not the path that lay before them now. The hedges appeared where the path had been, and the path appeared where the hedges had been, and all the twists and turns were in the wrong places. 

Year after year beheld the silent toil

That spread his lustrous coil;

Still, as the spiral grew,

He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,

Stole with soft step its shining archway through,

Built up its idle door,

Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more

–Oliver Wendell Holmes 

“JARETH!” Eric screamed, furious.

A mocking voice laughed, and said, “You didn’t think I’d make it that easy, did you? Credit me with more imagination than that.”

JARETH!” Eric screamed again, in helpless anger.

“And, oh, by the way,” the voice continued, amused, “the longer you stand here arguing, the more time you waste. A little thought to keep you company.”

“Oh, it’s not fair!” Sarah complained. Eric, meanwhile, swore loudly, then reached into one of his overcoat pockets, pulled out a pistol, placed it on the stone floor, and spun it. He and Sarah stood watching the muzzle until it stopped. “West,” said Eric, repocketing the gun. “Let’s go.”

Sarah was beginning to see the upside of coming home late every evening.

Meanwhile, back in the hedge, the goblins had gathered in a great rustling of leaves and were now muttering darkly to themselves: “Wood rot! Leaf burn! Bad’ums scaring hedger goblinses! Sssssoooh! We’ums catcher ’em! Heeheeheehee, we’ums teach ’em not to tresspanginger our mazeses! Make ’um’s diedead quickfastest, quickfastest, heeheehee!” 

Up the airy mountain,

Down the rushing glen,

We dare not go a-hunting

For fear of little men.

– William Allingham 


However, Eric, Sarah, and the crow were unaware of their impending death, preoccupied as they were with running down the path which Eric’s gun had shown them, for Eric was far too angry to ask the crow. Eric was furious with the crow. <Why didn’t you foresee this?> he mentally hissed angrily at it. 

 The crow fluttered to rest on Eric’s shoulder, cocking its head to one side and clacking its beak as if angry. <What would you, warrior? I am not destiny. Even my powers are limited. True, I possess some knowledge of the future, but even the Inner Eye cannot see past its scope.>

<That’s really comforting.>

The crow ruffled its feathers and looked at Eric, cawing softly. <Do not fear, warrior. You are the arrow unleashed that always flies true. You are the blade polished that always strikes true. Then, too, I am here to guide you. True, my powers are limited, but even then they will prove propitious in the battle to come.>

Eric sighed and, as the crow flew ahead to send messages back to him, turned to Sarah: “Gonna be a little harder than I thought, but we’ll do this.”

Sarah, however, was thinking of something else: “How much time do you think we lost?”

Eric shrugged, glancing at his watch, which had somehow acquired an extra hour so a 13 appeared where the 12 usually was. “A few minutes, so no problem. Of course, time might work differently in the labyrinth, so a minute here might equal an hour, or a week, or a year, or a decade, or even a century, in which case we are royally screwed. I don’t know.”

“It’s not fair!”

Eric snorted. “Who said life was fair? The whole stupid world’s not fair. I learned that a year ago,” he added quietly.

“What happened a year ago?” Sarah asked, a little ashamed of her outburst and feeling sorry for him; it must have been something dreadful.

“My life was destroyed. My world was shattered. Everything I ever loved was taken away from me. Shelley…my Shelley…my dearest Shelley…”

He bowed his head to hide the tears coursing down his face as he was flung unmercifully into memories past… 

It had started out as a perfect day.

Eric had awoken to sunlight streaming into the room and slanting across the bed in a sheet of gold. Opening his eyes revealed the further pleasantness of Shelley curled up in his arms. He was full of a warm, tingling feeling, like sparks of electricity going off everywhere. He felt as though he’d just finished another successful concert, that wonderful natural high, that wonderful elated, on-top-of-the-world feeling. He looked fondly at the woman still sleeping in his arms, her beautiful lips curled into a slight smile, her breast falling and swelling delicately with every breath she took, and the feeling increased ten thousandfold. At first he couldn’t figure out why he felt so excited, so alive, for every moment with Shelley made him feel refreshed and renewed and like a boy again, but then he remembered…tonight they were getting married!

Only a few more hours to go, and then she’d be his according to law, for she was now and always had been truly his in his heart, the moment he’d laid eyes on her.

He ran over the program in his mind. They would be married tonight, on Halloween – he and Shelley thought it would be hilarious, since his band was going to perform a special concert…his band was entitled Hangman’s Joke. It was going to be a sunset wedding. He didn’t know how other musicians felt about it, but Eric thought the sunset a poetical, magical time of day, and since he’d met Shelley he’d become even more convinced. He could picture it: he in his tux that he’d bought especially for the occasion, Shelley in that fabulous white wedding gown like a blanket of silk and beadwork and lace, the two of them together in the old cathedral, swearing their vows of eternal love as the sun sank slowly over the horizon streaking the sky with pink and blue and gold…

He reached over and took her in his arms, kissing her hair, her cheek, breathing in her ineffable scent and smiling. “Mine,” he said, tightening his grip as she turned and smiled at him, nestling her head into the hollow of his neck. “Mine. Mine forever.”…

As he kissed Shelley goodbye and went out to buy a few groceries, the last thing he remembered thinking was how lucky he was, and how happy he was going to be… 

Eric didn’t realize that he’d gradually picked up the pace, running as though he could outrun his memories, didn’t realize it until Sarah, gasping for air and breathing raggedly, panted in a pleading voice to stop for just a few minutes so that she could both catch up to him and get at her breath. He slowed to a stop, apologized, and waited till she could breath without a racking pain in her lungs, then took off again, still remembering… 

Cold as the northern winds

In December mornings

Cold is the cry that rings

From this far distant shore.

Winter has come too late,

Too close beside me

How can I chase away

All these fears deep inside?


When he got back to the apartment, his arms full of groceries, some sixth sense warned him that something was not right. He anxiously called out, “Shelley?” and when she didn’t answer he frantically fumbled for his key, put it into the lock, and turned it…

He opened the door to the loft and stepped into his worst nightmare.

The room was a mess, like some great wind of a tornado had ripped right through it, not stopping until it had destroyed everything in its path. Books had been carelessly ripped and creased and lay all over the floor, clothing had been flung just as carelessly over chairs, on the floor. The refrigerator door was hanging open, looking for all the world as though someone had simply forgotten to close it; the contents were totally ruined; half-eaten food and food opened and left to spoil abounded…meat, eggs, apples, bottles of wine…

He barely had time to take in all of these details, each one screaming its importance at him, silly little minutiae that were somehow rendered extraordinary by his sense of growing urgency, before a sharp pain seared through his chest and he looked down in horror at the flashing, glinting silver blade whose handle protruded through his chest, his blood flowing like a beautiful crimson river in droplets to stain the floor like tiny rosebuds…

He looked up and through eyes blurred with shock and pain he saw men grouped around something huddled in the middle of the floor…what looked like three – no, four men… A fat bearded one, who seemed to be in charge…a skinny little rat of a man who didn’t look more than twelve but had to be over twenty…a slender guy who looked like a California surfer king turned street punk, his long blond hair disheveled, his handsome features twisted into a stupid grin…a man whose black skin seemed to increase the hardness of his face… He was the one who had thrown the knife, and through the tears that sprang almost instinctively to his eyes, Eric could see the sneer that marred his face as he readied his other knife for a second throw…

Eric frantically tried to clear his head, looking at the men huddled over something lying on the floor, grouped around it, sitting near it…he stared, blinking with tears, at it, not comprehending…

It hit him with a fresh wave of terror.


Shelley! Shelley! My Shelley! He screamed silently. Shelley was lying on the floor…

“Shelley!” he screamed, and started towards her. The pain in his chest increased, like a fire burning, a searing, blistering, hot-poker kind of pain that rippled and surged through him. Fighting back tears, he struggled on…he had to reach her…get those creeps away from her and out of their home…Pain blinded him…he couldn’t see…he walked like a drunken man, putting one foot slowly in front of the other, trying to get to Shelley…

He could no longer stand the pain, and he tottered, then he fell…  

Eric ran fast, and then faster, still trying to outrun his memories, to put even a small amount of distance between him and his demons of the past, but it was no use…the faster he ran the more he remembered… 

…And with a sword he clove my breast,

Plucked out the heart he made beat higher,

And in my stricken bosom pressed

Instead a coal of living fire…

–Alexander Pushkin 

He fell to the floor in agony, still straining to reach Shelley…and that’s when he saw her clearly, and his mind screamed in protest…no…oh, dear G-D, no…not that…please…anything but that…no…dear G-D, pleasepleaseplease…

Shelley lay there, her beautiful face battered and bruised, her right eye blackened, her pretty red mouth opened in a feeble attempt to scream, her slender, soft, tender body bruised and bleeding…her simple yet elegant dress was stained with blood…and there was someone on top of her, moving…moving?…and others were gathered around her, laughing and cheering…and someone was speaking…

“No, no, no, no, no! Me first!” It was the blond one…what was he doing to Shelley? Eric struggled to think of alternative explanations, simple clean ones, anything was better than what he was seeing…

The blond one, leering over Shelley, his pants around his ankles, giggling… “I’ve got a gun in my pocket. You happy to see me, sweetheart?”

Still writhing on the ground, helpless as he watched his own dear sweet beloved Shelley being ravaged and violated and defiled by those bastards, Eric never stopped struggling, straining his hand to reach her, to get her out of their reach…

She was struggling with all her might to free her body from those hands, clawing, reaching, grabbing…hands everywhere…and to free her eyes from those faces, leering, laughing, giggling…faces everywhere…laughing like a couple of bullies watching their classmate being tormented…laughing while she was in so much pain…oh please, get the hands and faces away, get the people away, get me away, get me away from here, get the hands away, get the hands away…it hurts, oh G-D it hurts…nonononononono…please help me, someone help me…Eric, where are you? EricEricEric…helpmehelpmehelpme… ohpleaseohpleaseohplease, someone help…makeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop…

With a painful, wrenching turn of her head, she seemed to sense him, and turned her head towards him, pleading in a voice that was barely above a whisper: “Eric?”

“Shelley!” He was almost there…just a few more inches…a few million miles away…He reached…missed!…reached again…his hand and fingers torn and bleeding, he strained…

Just as his hand was about to close reassuringly on hers, he felt himself being lifted away from her…a few inches away…a million miles away from her…and he began to struggle again…he had to reach her! But whatever it was that held him wouldn’t let go, and he gradually realized that two of the bastards who had broken in and destroyed both his home and his love had him by his arms, were holding him up by his arms in a grotesque parody of the crucifixion, and he could only stare in shock and helpless rage down the muzzle of the gun one of them held, and the last thing he heard was the shot mixed with his own screams and Shelley’s cries of pain…And then he faded away into blackness and nothing… 

Eric didn’t realize he was screaming. He’d stopped running, he’d fallen to his knees, his face covered in his hands, and he was screaming, no words, just a voiceless scream…

He began flailing around, helplessly, like a newborn foal or baby, trying to reach something solid, something to anchor him and pull him out of his nightmare, and he didn’t stop until he felt something hard and sleek and cool and he clung to it like a lifeline, not realizing what it was until a sound erupted from it and he realized he had grabbed his guitar and was strumming it madly, mindlessly, letting his guitar scream and bleed its song into the empty air…

“Mmmmm…oh, yes, hmmm…not very pleasant, mmmm, is it, m’dear? Hmmm, mmm, no, indeed, no, indeed, no!”

Eric, still clutching his guitar and weeping openly, looked up, startled, and instinctively flinched at the voice and the owner of the voice. It was a tiny woman, just a touch taller than that dwarf Hoggle had been, tiny but painfully thin, and gray-all-over, with ears like a cat, and claw-like hands, and piercing black eyes, clothed in a drab mess of rags and mud and leaves. She held a stout oaken staff, a little taller than she was, in her hand.

She was chuckling. “Mmmm…oh, no, m’dear, not very pleasant, no, no!”

Tears in his eyes, Eric said brokenly, “Who…? Where…?”

“Ah, so m’dear is looking around now, looking around now, is it not, is it not?” The goblin, for that was what the woman was, gave a dry chuckle. “Mmmm….looking around now, it is, it is! Hah! By what name are you called?” it demanded.

Eric had to think for a minute. “Eric,” he said finally. “Eric Draven.”

“Eric!” someone called. It was Sarah, and she was struggling over to him, her hands and legs stained with what looked like gray sludge or mud or clay, as if she’d waded into a soggy marshy bog-land. “Eric!” Sarah repeated. “There you are! Where are we? I want to get out of here…it’s so horrible…I keep seeing myself saying the words and then I see myself looking where Toby was, only he’s not there anymore…it just keeps playing over and over, like one of those old movie projectors that gets stuck, or when I’m listening to one of my records and the needle sticks on the same phrase over and over and over…Ugh! You can get us out of here, can’t you?” she pleaded.

Eric stared at her uncomprehendingly for a minute, looking at her stained hands and clothing, and then turned his eyes to his own clothes, and his eyes widened. He was standing waist deep in thick gray sludge, what looked like a mixture of water and mud and clay, with tired plants and sticks all around, and rocks, too, everything either gray or a tired brown…even the plants were brown and sickly, not properly green…

“Where am I…where are we?” he asked.

The goblin smiled at them. “Hah!” it said, turning to Sarah, “here is the other! How are you, eh? Hmm, mmm, you look shocked, shocked…like the other. Scared, are you, eh? Sad, are you, eh? By what name are you called, eh, m’dear?”

Sarah noticed the goblin and automatically answered, “Sarah. Sarah Williams. Who are you? What is this place? Where are we?”

The goblin grinned at her. “Sarah…hmm, mmmm…pretty, pretty…I am Aughura Hoarfrost the Ancient. I am Ternea Grisatrea, the Drab Gray One. Aughura Hoarfrost the Ancient! Yes, yes, hmmm, mmmm, Hoarfrost!”

“Please,” Sarah begged, “where are we?”

“Hmmm, mmm,” Aughura muttered to herself. “M’dear wants to know where she is, hmmm. Has to be somewhere, eh? Can’t be nowhere, eh? Yes, yes, has to be somewhere, yes, hmmm. M’dear has heard of the depths of despair?” she asked suddenly.

“Yes,” Sarah said, “sometimes I feel the depths of despair, but what…?”

“Feel, feel, hmm!” Aughura Hoarfrost the Ancient waved away the word. “Yes, feel, yes, true, you can feel, but m’dear does not know of the depths of despair? Hmmm?”

“I just told you, sometimes I feel…”

“Forget feel, yes? Forget, forget!” Aughura said angrily, waving her hand. “Hmmm! Sarah Williams m’dear,” she continued, speaking Sarah’s name for the first time, “feels in the depths of despair, and perhaps her friend, Eric Draven m’dear, feels this too, yes, hmmm, but perhaps they did not know of the place Depths of Despair?”

“The place Depths of Despair?” Eric repeated.

Aughura sighed impatiently. “Hmmm, mmmm, look, look around! All around you is the Depths of Despair. Big, eh? Big, yes, and gray! Big swamp! Yes! Ha ha! Hmmm!” 

Let me observe here that when I say the people abandoned themselves to despair, I do not mean to a religious despair, or a despair of their eternal state; but I mean a despair of their being able to escape the infection, or to outlive the plague…The people were brought into a condition to despair of life.

–Daniel Defoe 

“I don’t understand…” Sarah began. “How can we be in the depths of despair…”

Aughura lost her patience and jumped up and down, screeching angrily. “M’dear, little big-eyes, little brain!” she screeched at Sarah. “There is a feeling, depths of despair, but also a place Depths of Despair, yes? You see, eh? Hmmm, mmmm! Feelings and places, they are the same, connected, hmmmm, for every feeling there is a place, hmmm, mmm, oh yes!”

Sarah looked around helplessly: Eric, Aughura, and the crow were the only other living beings she saw for literally miles around. The swampy bog seemed to stretch to the right and to the left and in front of her and in back of her and all around her for eternity, and it was gray, and drab, and dank, and full of some heavy and aching sorrow that she couldn’t name but that pressed all around her like a suffocating blanket. It was threatening to drown her, and she tried to think of how to get away, but her brain was like one of those saber-toothed tigers she’d seen at the history museum, the ones who were stuck in the tar pits, and all they could do was look around them and struggle and sink down deeper, ever deeper, into the black, formless, heavy depths… She felt like one of those tigers, ever struggling, and knowing in the back of her mind how useless it was because the more she struggled the more she sank…

“It’s not fair!” she cried.

Aughura whirled on her: “Not fair, is it, eh? Not equal, is it, eh? Hmmm, mmmm, m’dear, despair is fair!” Aughura burst into a peal of laughter, as wet as the bog and yet as dry as her own robe. “Fair is despair, despair is fair, fair is despair, despair is fair…” she chanted. “Ha, ha! Hmmm, mmmm! Yes, yes! Oh yes!” She broke into another peal of reedy laughter as dry as one of the twigs that was even now drowning in the gray mess.

Sarah tried to flounce away, beating the gray slime around her in hopeless, helpless anger. It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair…

The labyrinth was unlike anything Sarah had ever experienced, all reason and no logic. Or maybe it was the other way around, and that was the trouble, that it was all logic and no reason… Everything that was supposed to be, wasn’t, and everything that wasn’t supposed to be, was… The paths changed, goblins charged out of hedges, dwarves stood guard over the gates, and now she was stuck in a horrible gray swamp called the Depths of Despair with only the goblin woman Aughura who was more likely crazy than not, and a man who’d come out of nowhere whose wounds instantly healed and who could fly along walls for hours without breaking a sweat and who had a crow as a companion, and it was all so miserably unfair…

Unknown to any of them (except perhaps Aughura, who kept silent about the whole thing, for any matters directly unrelated to her realm were none of her business), this sad picture was clearly beamed to a crystal in the throne room of the Goblin King. “They’re in Aughura’s realm,” Jareth observed, looking intently at the crystal orb in his hand. All the goblins present immediately burst into laughter, some slapping their knees and falling to the floor and rolling around. “Shut up!” Jareth snapped, and they immediately fell silent, bowing and cringing fearfully. One brave goblin timidly asked, “Wrong laugh, Sire, yes, no?”

Jareth ignored him. “They should not have gotten as far as the Depths of Despair; they should have given up by now. Especially Draven.” He glared at the picture of Eric Draven, too old and stubborn and experienced to be turned into a really good goblin. Sarah, on the other hand…too old for a goblin, but what about as a companion? It was very tiring with only a pack of witless, foolish goblins to reign over, and Sarah at least would bring some beauty into the midst of their ugliness…

“The crow-man won’t give up, Sire,” another goblin ventured.

“Won’t he? Won’t they? Hmm. You never know. Aughura will keep them there for a while, playing with them, and then lead them to the oubliette. They’ll soon give up when they realize they cannot escape!” Jareth chuckled happily.

The goblins watched him apprehensively. Was it all right to laugh now? Jareth glared at them. “Well, laugh!” he ordered. With that simple gleeful mirth that comes so easily to the wicked and the foolish, the goblins obediently burst into laughter, tears streaming from their eyes, shaking uncontrollably. They continued guffawing as Jareth threw his head back like a spirited stallion and burst into laughter.

In the chilled air and gray formless mists of the Depths of Despair, Eric and Sarah were still trying to find a way out.

Eric looked around for the crow, which was fluttering uneasily in the air, its eyes darting here and there, taking in everything, flitting from one place to another on black wings that seemed dull in the bleak place. He called to it, and it alighted on his shoulder, clacking its beak uneasily and cawing fretfully.

<You said that if I helped the living I would bleed,> Eric told the crow. <Is this what you meant?>

The crow bobbed its head. <There are all kinds of wounds, warrior, as there are all kinds of ways to be blooded. Here, in this gray place, reliving all of your past horrors more vividly than ever, is not all of this worse than any flesh and blood wound?>


<Why?> the crow pressed him.

<Because a flesh and blood wound will heal,> Eric replied grimly. <This doesn’t. This seems to heal, but then opens again and bleeds again, over and over and over…I feel like I’ll break if I have to hear Shelley’s cries again, hear all the shots and screams and see all of the blood and the glass again…Is this what insanity feels like? Am I going insane? Will I ever see Shelley again? It would be easy to just give in…just relax and let the memories wash over me, and drown in them…just give in…just…>

<NO!> the crow screamed.

<I am in the Depths of Despair…a gray, shapeless bog. I’m half-drowning already. Why not just give in…dear G-D, I can hear Shelley screaming…I can see us…in the apartment…I’ve been pinned by Tin-Tin’s knife, and I’m trying to reach my Shelley, and I can’t…I’m so tired…I’m trying to reach her…Shelley…my Shelley…and I can’t…so tired…>

<NO! Struggle on, warrior! One flies or one falls. Fly!> 

…The sister of misfortune, Hope,

In the under-darkness dumb

Speaks joyful courage to your heart:

The day desired will come…

– Alexander Pushkin 

Eric knew that the crow didn’t really expect him to sprout wings and soar away, but he got the message. Fighting back his lethargy, he waded through the gray sludge until he got to Sarah, was beating the bog around her angrily with little yelps of frustration. She gave up, still half-heartedly struggling, sobbing quietly, then crying out. “It’s not fair… it’s not fair… Toby, stop it! Toby, if you don’t stop crying I’ll say the words! Stop it! Stop! Goblin King, Goblin King, wherever you may be, take this horrible child far away from me! There! That’ll show you! Oh, stop it, Toby, stop it! I wish the goblins would come and take you away…right now! Toby? Toby, are you all right? Why aren’t you crying? Toby? Toby, are you…oh no! Toby! Toby! Where are you? Toby! Toby! Toby!”

Eric didn’t have to ask what she was doing. He could guess. She was reliving those last few moments, the ones she’d told him about, the ones he’d seen, where Toby was crying and wailing and she couldn’t stand it any longer so she recited the words and then was struck horrified when they really worked and Toby disappeared…

“Toby! Toby! Toby! Come back! Please! I didn’t mean it! Oh, Toby, where are you? Come back!” 

One can no more keep the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore. For the sailor, this is called the tide; in the case of the guilty, it is called remorse. God stirs up the soul as well as the ocean.

–Victor Hugo  

Sarah was paralyzed. She couldn’t move. She stared straight ahead of her, her unseeing eyes on some distant point on the horizon. She couldn’t see or hear properly; she didn’t even know where she was anymore. It was like a haze or a veil or a scarf had settled around her head, obscuring her eyes and her ears. She heard, over and over, with frightening clarity, Toby’s wails, and her own furious protests, and then she saw, with growing horror, the emptiness that now filled Toby’s crib when Toby had gone…

It was like the time she’d had a song stuck in her head, a silly little childish thing, and she’d been doomed to go around for half a day with the chorus stuck in her head until one of her classmates asked her what was wrong and had suggested another song to drive away the one lodged in her brain. But this was different from a song. If a song becomes stuck in your head there are always other songs to replace it, to drive away the annoying, taunting words. But with images like this, images full of guilt and sorrow and horror… what can drive them away?

Sarah stared straight ahead of her, transfixed, her eyes and her ears and her mind totally on the sights and sounds of Toby crying, and disappearing… They were so real that she hardly heard a voice that seemed to be growing louder and more insistent.

The voice was crying, “Sarah! Sarah!” It was Eric. He was trying to get her attention, to get her out of her nightmare, but it was useless.

“Sarah! Sarah!” The words echoed in her mind, changing, whirling and twirling, becoming bursts of mocking laughter. “Sarah! Sarah!…Sarah! Sarah!…Ha, ha, ha!… Sarah! Sarah! … Hahahahahaha! You lost Toby!… Sarah! Sarah! You lost Toby! Ha, ha, ha, ha! Hahahahahahahahaha! … Sarah! Sarah! Hahahahahahahahahaha!”

Someone tugging at her sleeve, shaking it insistently: “Sarah! Sarah!” A louder noise, a discordant sound, a cawing noise…

“Caw, caw! Sarah, Sarah! Caw, caw! Sarah, Sarah!” …

Sarah screamed and flung up her hands, closing her eyes, trying to escape the calls and the visions.

In closing her eyes, in flinging up her hands, in trying to free her mind of the pictures and the laughter and the screams, Sarah broke the spell of Despair. “Who… what…?” She looked wildly around her and tried to move, but the sludge inhibited her. She looked down at her jeans stained with gray and wrinkled her face in disgust. “Oh, my gosh! What is this stuff?”

“The Depths of Despair,” Eric told her. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before…”

“Leave, is it? Go, is it, eh? Eh? Hmmm! No, no, m’dear, oh, no, no!”

“What d’you mean?” Sarah asked Aughura, frightened.

“M’dear wants to go, is it not, is it not, eh?” Aughura repeated. “Hmmm, mmmm…Go, is it? Hah! M’dear doesn’t like the Depths of Despair, eh? Yes? No? Hmmm…M’dear wants to leave, mmmm…. Try, m’dear, try, hmmm…. Hahahahaha!”

“You go that way, I’ll go this way,” Sarah told Eric, pointing in two different directions. Eric chuckled, gave her a mocking salute, and started off in one direction, the crow on his shoulder ruffling its feathers uneasily. Sarah stood, looking at them for minute, then started off in another.

Mile after

Mile after

Mile after

Mile after


Sarah trudged. Nothing looked different, and everything looked the same: the same gray swamp, the same tired old rocks and twigs and plants, the same chilled air and formless mists. “This can’t be part of the labyrinth,” she said, just to hear something besides the unbearable silence; except for her, Eric, Aughura, and the crow, she hadn’t heard any other sound. No birds sang, except for the cawing of the crow; even the swamp that sucked in the twigs and leaves did it silently. “This just can’t be part of the labyrinth,” she repeated, trying to convince herself. “Nothing changes. Same old rocks, same old twigs, same old gray sludge…Ugh! It just goes on and on! Big spaces of gray nothing!”

She looked behind her. Miles of the vast expanse of gray-all-over stretched as far as she could see, and even farther. She looked ahead of her. Miles of the vast expanse of gray-all-over stretched as far as she could see, and even farther. She looked behind her, then ahead of her, sighed, and struck out ahead of her.

On and

On and

On and

On and


She trudged, lifting her leg out of the mud, squelching it back into the mud, putting one foot in front of the other, growing more and more hopeless, sinking deeper and deeper into Despair. She was half thinking about just standing where she was and letting the memories roll over her, no fighting, when she saw people in the distance.

“Hey!” she shouted joyfully, “hey!” Fighting the sludge, she ran, running towards the creatures ahead of her, shouting happily.

She could see them clearly now… a tall man all in black, a small strange woman in a ragged robe, and a big black bird…

Her heart sank.

What she saw in front of her was Eric, Aughura, and the crow.

“Oh, it’s not fair!” she cried.

Eric turned at her outburst: “Oh, no! Not you too! I walk and I walk and I walk and nothing changes and I think about giving up and then I see someone in the distance so I go over and it’s just this goblin and you.”

Aughura was slapping her knee, hooting with laughter. “Hahahahahahahaha! Not so easy, not so easy, is it, eh, m’dear? Yes, yes, yes! Hahahahahahohohohoheeheehee! Not so easy, oh, no, no! Try again, eh, m’dear? Eh? Try again, eh? Yes? Always happens, yes! Easy to get into, hard to get out! Hahahahaha!” 

Blood rose in Eric’s eyes. Marching forcefully over to Aughura, he grasped hold of her shoulders, looked her full in the face, his eyes flashing dangerously, and growled, “If you don’t show us the way out of here, I’ll beat you within an inch of your life with your staff. And then I’ll take that inch by drowning you in your own swamp, and for the big finish I’ll let my crow peck out your eyes.”

Sarah, however, put a restraining hand on his arm: “Let’s look at this logically.”

Eric, however, wasn’t interested. “Screw logic, I need to kill something! I’m through being stuck here reliving my sweet Shelley’s rape and both of our deaths courtesy of those bastards! I demand vengeance!” The last word was no mortal speech. It was a growl, a snarl, a howl of frustration, rage, and pain.

“Why do you want to kill her?!” Sarah demanded. “How will that help the situation?”

Eric turned on Sarah: “Screw the situation! I just wanna feel better!”

A realization struck him like a thunderbolt! He muffled a chuckle and began to laugh. Sarah was beginning to look a little worried as Eric continued to laugh: “I just wanna feel better… just make this pain go away so I can get on with my afterlife…that’s how I can get out of despair.”

“WHAT!?” Aughura croaked.

“You’re keeping me from my goals by using despair. So… I’m just not going to despair anymore…” He turned to Aughura, a sneer–almost cruel–marring his face. “I’ve got something for you,” he said, smiling. “I don’t want it anymore.”

“Eh? What, what? M’dear, what are you doing, eh?” Aughura asked, worried and confused.

Eric advanced on her. “I’ve got something for you that I don’t want anymore,” he repeated. Reaching out, he clutched the right side of her head with his hand. “Thirty hours of pain! Thirty hours of uncertainty! Thirty hours! Thirty hours of despair!” Reaching out with his other hand to clutch the other side of her head, he howled in triumph, “Thirty hours of pain and despair! All at once, and all for you!”

Aughura’s screams as memories of Shelley’s last hours at the hospital swarmed into her mind mixed with the violent shaking of the bog around them. Trembling violently, the swamp fell apart, broke into pieces and fell apart, crumbling and oozing away and leaving them standing looking down a passageway whose walls had become black stone.

<Well done, warrior,> the crow thought at Eric. <The Depths of Despair is one of those places that is easy to enter but difficult to leave. I congratulate you.>

Sarah was staring at Eric. “How…what did you…how did you…what happened?”

The crow cocked its head and clacked its beak. Eric, after listening intently, answered, “You know the saying, Nature abhors a vacuum?” At her nod, he said, “All I did was fill the vacuum. Despair is the absence of feeling, right? Well, Anger is the excess of feeling. All I did was get angry. Suppose you had nothing and you added something to it. What would you have?”

“More,” Sarah answered.

Eric nodded. “Simple arithmetic, that’s all. I filled the vacuum. So much for despair,” he added cheerfully, petting the crow on his shoulder.

“It’s a piece of cake!” Sarah cried happily.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, the ground underneath them opened, and they fell, falling down, down, down, as the hole through which they fell became a fast-dwindling shaft of light.

Down, down, down… The wind whistled and sang in their ears. The crow, although it was supernatural, could not hope to carry the weight of both Eric and Sarah, so it fell with them, cawing angrily.

They landed with a dull thud (because thuds aren’t very interesting in the first place) in what looked like a darkened room. No windows, no doors. All around them was black stone and the sound of water running somewhere in the distance. 

Alone, alone, in a terrible place,

In utter dark without a face,

With only the dripping of the water on the stone,

And the sound of your tears, and the taste of my own

–Edna St. Vincent Millay 

Once Sarah, Eric, and the crow had re-oriented themselves, they looked over their new surroundings. As far as they could make out, it was all stone, with a large dark shape that they took to be a bench in the corner. A single shaft of light streaking diagonally across the floor was the only source of natural light, and not much at that; the whole of the place was almost as dark as the grave.

Sarah sank onto the bench, trying to get at her breath, dizzy after that wild, crazy fall. Eric fell into a corner, his knees huddled against his chest. The crow hopped along the floor, as if measuring the dimensions. Occasionally it stopped and pecked at the wall.

Eric didn’t know what in world it was doing, and told it so. <I don’t think there are any worms or beetles here for you to eat.>

<Patience, warrior. As I freed you from one dark place, so too am I attempting to do so again.>

“The crow’s gonna try and get us out of here,” Eric told Sarah.

“What? The crow’s just a crow, it’s just a bird, how can it get us out of this place?”

“Hear how it’s pecking at the walls?”

“You don’t expect it to break through, do you?” Sarah asked incredulously.

Eric shrugged. “A crow’s beak is incredibly sharp. It freed me.” He looked fondly at the big black bird, still clawing and pecking at the wall, at his guide on his mission of vengeance, his confidant, his trusted ally.

“Might take a while,” he said truthfully. He looked at Sarah: “How about another one of your stories to pass the time?”

“No. I want to know about you. Where did you come from and how can you dash along the walls like that without breaking a sweat and why on earth do you have a crow that follows you everywhere and how did you know about Toby?”

Eric sighed. “It’s a long story, but OK. I’ll tell you the story. They say it helps if you talk about it, whoever ‘they’ are. But it doesn’t, sometimes. Sometimes it just makes the pain stronger. What the heck,” he sighed again, “nothing better to do. I’ll tell you the story. Once upon a time there was a man named Eric Draven. He was full of big dreams and he played a mean guitar – a six-string, solid black Strato, in fact, was his instrument of choice,” he added, nodding towards the Fender strung across his back, then realized it was useless, since neither of them could see that well in the darkness.

“He played a few gigs now and then for pay, but really struck gold when he and some guys from school formed a band. They called it Hangman’s Joke and started playing music the way they thought it should be played: passionately, wildly, intensely, expressing every kind of emotion you can think of; loss, hate, pain, hunger, friendship, you name it. One day Eric met a woman named Shelley Webster, and the minute he laid eyes on her, he felt as though a half of him that had been missing had been found again. She was his soul mate, his kindred spirit, his other self. She was talented, intelligent, beautiful… They fell in love. They took a room at Caulderon Apartments and lived together, playing music, reading poetry, joking around, just being alone together…and every day they fell more in love. Soon they thought of getting married, and Eric even got Shelley a gold engagement ring.”  

The attic didn’t feel cold and drafty at all, like most attics, but soft and warm and glowing in the candlelight, the golden ring setting off glints of fire and twinkling and winking in the soft light. Shelley looked up at him, and the smile on her lips was miniscule compared to the smile that was in her eyes…

He smiled back at her, and took her in his arms, murmuring, “I love you…”

She melted into his embrace, and caressed his ear with this angelic whisper, “I love you, too, Eric…so much…”

“Mine,” he whispered happily.

“Yours,” she smiled.

“Mine,” he repeated, tightening his hold. “Mine forever…” 

Eric had been reciting this in a cold, mechanical voice devoid of emotion, in a voice that sounded as though he were struggling to keep his emotions under control. Now his voice changed, brimming with tears. “It was a simple golden engagement ring, but it was just for her, and when she put it on it was even more beautiful.” He stopped, chuckling. “Funny…I’d planned to make a speech, you know? One of those flowery ones that you read about or hear about, all full of I love you and be my wife and forever and all that… But when I showed her box with the ring inside, it’s like I forgot how to talk. I just got embarrassed, like a little kid giving his first sweetheart a valentine. Huh,” he chuckled. “It didn’t matter. I took her up to the attic, I showed her the ring, slipped it on her finger, and she fell into my arms…” He stopped, blinking back tears.

“She was…she was so…so happy…she was thrilled…she…she couldn’t believe it…and I…I just held her, and whispered that I had everything I ever wanted now that she was going to marry me…” He stopped, his voice choked with tears. Then he continued. “We were going to get married on Halloween. We had it all planned out…a sunset wedding at the old cathedral…I’d bought a tux and she’d made this fantastic wedding dress, all silk and lace and beads…and Sarah was going to be our flower girl…”


Eric looked blankly at her for a minute, then said, “Sarah Davis was – is – like a daughter to me, and to Shelley. Her mom, Darla, works at the Pit as a barmaid and is always going through a string of boyfriends and drugs and so Sarah…well, she met Shelley this one time in the florist and they started talking like they’d known each other for ages. Sarah started spending more and more time with us in our apartment and less time on the streets, which is where she took refuge when Darla was gone too long, as she often was, or she just couldn’t stand it…

“We were going to be married on Halloween,” he repeated. “A year ago, at sunset, in the old cathedral – just last year. I woke up that morning just on top of the world. Just a few more hours and Shelley would be mine by law. I walked out of the apartment to get a few groceries, and when I came back…”

His voice stopped, but his lips moved.

It was almost as bad as the Depths of Despair.

The memories kept coming, and coming, and coming, and the words he had spoken so lovingly now came back to haunt him and taunt him… 

“Mine. Mine forever…” 

But she’s not yours anymore… 

You found her and lost her…she’s not yours anymore…not yours…not ever again… 

Why is she still so beautiful…a final joke?

So beautiful…and dying… 

Mine…mine forever? 


So beautiful… 

––Ah, dear Juliet,

Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe

That unsubstantial Death is amorous,

And that the lean abhorrèd monsters keeps

Thee here in dark to be his paramour?

– William Shakespeare 

“When I came back,” he resumed, trying to fight his way past the pain, “my arms full of groceries, I could feel that something was wrong. So I called Shelley’s name and she didn’t answer. I got out my key and opened the door and walked into my worst nightmare. The house was a mess. Books, clothes, jewelry everywhere. The fridge was open, food was rotting, looked like a normal robbery. Then I took a knife in the chest…”

He talked on and on, relating how he’d fallen to the floor, how he’d seen T-Bird’s gang (“T-Bird, Funboy, Tin Tin and Skank, a whole jolly club with jolly pirate nicknames!”) violating Shelley, how T-Bird’s gang had shot him and thrown him out of the sixth story window, how the crow had freed him from the grave and guided him.

As Sarah listened, she felt more and more sorry for him. She also felt ashamed of herself, complaining about having to look after Toby a few days a week and giving her stepmother such a hard a time. Would it have been too much, she thought, to baby-sit now and again? She, her father and her mother and even her stepmother were all alive and well. She hoped Toby was, too. She thought he was – Jareth had just threatened to turn Toby into a goblin which, while it certainly didn’t constitute “well,” meant, at least, that Toby was still going to be alive – who needed a dead goblin? She felt so ashamed about it all: She was complaining about babysitting when right in front of her was a man who had had everything he had ever loved and cherished taken away from him. His life and his love had been stolen from him in a single night – and when they were about to be married, too! Horrible irony! It’s not fair, she thought to herself.

She was interrupted by the crow, who had been pecking steadily at the walls and was now emitting angry caws and squawks, fluttering its wings agitatedly and clacking its beak furiously.

<I have tried to free you, to free us, but I cannot. There is something within this place that blocks and contorts my powers.> The crow cawed irritably a few more times.

It then fluttered toward a scratching sound.

The sound became a cry of alarm: “Ahh! Gerroff me, ya feathered fool! Gerroff me!” The crow circled, low to the ground, flying around for a few times as if coming to a decision, then landed and walked, with dignity, to Eric, looking proud of itself.

The scratching sound continued: “Who’s there?” Sarah asked, frightened. “Who’s in here?”

“Me,” a voice said gruffly. “Or what’s left of me after that great lummox nearly pecked my eyes out. Hmph.” A light shone, illuminating a match, and holding the match was…

“Hoggle!” Sarah cried.

The match burned out, singeing his fingers; Hoggle swore loudly and hastily lit another. “Ahem, well, yes, I knew you were gonna get into trouble the minute I saw you, and so I sez to myself, Hoggle, sez I, you better look after ’em. I mean you,” he added, nodding towards Sarah. “The big’un looks like he can handle himself all right.”

Sarah blinked at the sudden light and, for the first time, got a good look at her surroundings. It seemed to be a cell made of stone with a wooden bench in the corner and a few unlit candles in the sconces; Hoggle had lit several candles, burning himself in the process.

Hoggle noticed Sarah’s gaze: “Oh,” he said cynically, “the little missy’s looking around now, eh? Suppose she’s noticed that there ain’t no doors or windows or anything – only the hole up there?” He paused, and said dramatically, but with a touch of sarcasm in his tone, “This is an oubliette.”

“Well, fancy that,” Sarah shot back, matching his sarcastic tone perfectly.

“Don’t sound so smart, little missy,” Hoggle said scornfully. “You don’t even know what an oubliette is, you don’t.”

“And you do?” Sarah retorted, stung.

“Yep,” Hoggle said proudly. He assumed a dramatic tone as he said impressively, “It’s a place you put people to forget about them.”

“From the French,” Eric spoke up unexpectedly. “The verb oublier, to forget. I used it in one of my songs to Shelley.” He softly hummed the first few notes to “How Could I Ever Forget You?” which was one of the first love songs he’d written for her.

“Now, then,” Hoggle said, continuing his earlier conversation as if neither Eric nor Sarah had interrupted, “what you need is a way to get out of here. And it just so happens that I knows a reliable shortcut out of the entire labyrinth, starting from right here. Just follow me, and–”

“No!” Eric and Sarah cried at the same time.

“I can’t quit now,” Sarah protested.

“Damn straight you can’t quit,” Eric growled. “None of us can quit. Shelley would never forgive me if I left now. I would never forgive myself.”

“You’re just plain aggravating,” Hoggle said, exasperated.

“We’ve come this far,” Sarah pointed out. “We’re doing, um…” She faltered, looked around her. “We’re doing OK.”

“Oh, of course you are, little missy, of course you are,” Hoggle said reassuringly, sitting beside her, “an’ the other one too, of course, but I should warn you that it gets a lot worse and a lot more difficult once you get out of the oubliette. A lot more difficult,” he clucked, patting Sarah’s hand with his gnarled fingers.

Sarah and Eric regarded him suspiciously, and even the crow looked sideways at him: “Why are you so concerned about us all of a sudden?” Sarah asked.

“Oh!” Hoggle realized he was sitting beside her, touching her hand, and he quickly jumped up, snatching his hand away, “I just am, is all. No reason. I mean, look around…Pretty young girl in a terrible dank dark black oubliette. An’ her friend an’ his pet bird, all alone in a terrible oubliette.”

He danced back, as if to state that he had no reason at all to be concerned about them, and his jewels and badges and ornaments clinked and jangled merrily against his legs as he moved, catching the light and sparkling.

Sarah cocked her head at him: “You like jewelry.”

“Maybe,” Hoggle said cautiously. “What of it?”

“If you help us get out of here and get to the center of the labyrinth,” she began, “I’ll give you…this,” she finished dramatically, holding out her right arm for him to see the bracelet on it. It wasn’t one of the fancy ones her mother had given her, just a plastic frippery that she wore sometimes for the heck of it, a string with beads of different colors.

“You like it,” she said, seeing him eye the bracelet appraisingly, with appreciative, greedy little eyes.

He quickly looked away: “It’s so-so,” he said dismissively.

“Oh,” she said, matching his tone, “all right then,” withdrawing her arm and turning back to Eric, asking, “How’s the crow doing?”

“Uh, wait a minute,” Hoggle said quickly. “Tell you what. You give me the bracelet, and I’ll get you and your friend out of the labyrinth. How’s that?”

“You were going to do that anyway, you little creep,” Eric observed.

“Yes, well, that’s exactly why it would be a particularly nice gesture on the little missy’s part, wouldn’t it?”

“No,” Sarah told him. “No. Tell you what. If you won’t take us all the way through to the center, then at least take us as far as you can, and then we’ll manage the rest by ourselves. How’s that?”

“Hmm,” Hoggle hummed and hawed for a few minutes, considering. He asked, gesturing to the bracelet, “What is that, anyway?”

Sarah shrugged. “Just plastic, nothing fancy.”

Hoggle’s eyes lit up. “Oooh, plastic!” He’d never heard of it before, but it sounded wonderful. He shuffled over to Sarah, leaned toward her confidentially, and said, “I don’t promise nothing, but, er, I’ll take you as far as I can, then you do it on your own. Right?”

“Right.” Sarah handed him the bracelet, which he immediately slipped onto his wrist. “ Oooh,” he repeated appreciatively, “plastic!”

After admiring it for a few more minutes, he seemed to remember himself, and said briskly, “Right, then! All we need is a door. Now, lemme see…” He scratched his head, as if trying to remember something, then eyed the bench. “D’you mind gettin’ up, little missy?” Sarah obligingly got up, and Hoggle, with strength surprising for someone so small and rather stout, pushed the bench up against the wall. The bench disappeared and became a door in the stone wall, with a knob on the left and a knob on the right.

“Now, lemme think…which one of ’em was it?” Hoggle muttered, scratching his head and staring at the knobs. He pulled on the left knob but shrieked and let out a curse as brooms and pails and mops came crashing down on him, and Eric and Sarah both smiled as they realized the old broom-closet gag.

“Broom closet,” Hoggle muttered angrily, slamming the door. Trying to recover his dignity (and trying to save face in front of the “little missy,”) he said gruffly, “Can’t expect me to be right all the time, can you?” before turning the knob on the right side, which opened up on another passage.

“Ah,” Hoggle said, pleased. “Here we go. Come on, then.” Practically puffing his chest out at his own cleverness, he swaggered and strutted out of the oubliette, leading them out of the darkness.

They hadn’t gone far when a voice boomed out: “DON’T GO ON!” 

Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

Then reached the caverns measureless to man,

And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:

And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

Ancestral voices prophesying war!

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

Sarah gasped in surprise, Eric spun around pulling out the pistols and cocking them in one fluid movement, the crow cawing in alarm.

Sarah looked all around her, but saw no one except Eric, Hoggle and the crow. Then she realized: carved into the stone passage wall was a face, and it was from the face’s stone lips that the warning had come. Along the wall carved in the rock were more faces on either side, and as the group passed them, they intoned a resonant message:






Sarah put her hands to her ears, Eric shook his head, even the crow bobbed up and down uncomfortably; the words seemed to be echoing and resonating inside their heads. Hoggle, who had gone a little ways ahead, looked back at them: “Aw,” he said disgustedly, “don’t worry about them. They’re just Phony Warnings. False Alarms, y’know? Don’t pay no notice to ’em. You get a lot of them in the Labyrinth. It’s a good sign, it is, cause it means you’re going the right way.”

“OH NO YOU’RE NOT,” another face boomed.

“Shut up, you,” Hoggle snapped.

The face sounded positively sulky, and said, quietly, “Sorry, just doing my job.”

“Well, you needn’t do it to us,” Hoggle told him.

The rock face pouted a few minutes more, then grinned and intoned dramatically, “BEWARE, FOR THE–”

Hoggle held up one hand. “Just forget it, OK?” he gritted between clenched teeth.

The rock face adopted a pleading tone. “Oh, please!” it begged. “I haven’t said it for ever such a long time! Please? Just once?”

“Oh, all right,” Hoggle said grudgingly. “But,” he warned, “don’t expect a big reaction.”

“Oh, no, no, of course not,” the rock face said happily. It cleared its throat and resumed: “BEWARE, FOR THE PATH YOU TAKE WILL LEAD TO CERTAIN DESTRUCTION.” He smiled and said politely, “Thank you ever so much.”

The passageway they were walking through had as much twists and turns as the beginning of the maze, but the rock faces looked different so Sarah thought they were moving forward, if indeed such a direction existed in the Labyrinth, and felt encouraged. As they listened to the rock face boom out its dire warning, Sarah heard a clinking sound and looked to see a crystal ball rolling and skipping merrily across the floor. It rolled past them and around a corner, and when they turned the same corner they saw the orb clinking on ahead of them.

It was headed straight for a figure leaning against the stone wall, which turned out to be an old blind beggar, whose legs, hunched against his chest, were seen poking through ragged red pants with holes at the knees. He was huddled under a blue drapery, over which was a black, tarp-like cape. His face was a pink mask with a long beak like the face of a vulture. He wore slouched on his head a large, floppy, dark brown leather hat, the brim of which was folded up to the crown with a tiny, white, rodent-like skull. As the crystal ball rolled and pattered along, the beggar apparently heard it and held out his hat; the orb smartly skipped off the floor and into the hat.

Sarah and Eric heard a small, strangled sound behind them. They turned and looked at Hoggle, who had groaned and was staring, wide-eyed and scared, at the hat. He took a step backwards as the beggar wheezed in a creaky, tired voice, “Well, and what have we here, hmm?”

Hoggle, backing away, nervously stuttered, “Um, nothing.”

“Nothing?” the beggar repeated. “Nothing? Nothing?” The beggar stood. “Nothing? Nothing, tra la la?” He peeled off his cape and drapery with a flourish and shook the rags at them, and Sarah and Eric could only stare: the beggar was Jareth.

Sarah gasped in surprise. She remembered a phrase her mother had repeated to her, quoting from a book of mythology: “Be wary and kind to beggars, for they may be the gods in disguise.” Smiling faintly in spite of herself, Sarah thought that the next time she saw her mother and she quoted the line, she, Sarah, could add, “or it might be the king of the goblins.”

Hoggle composed his face from nervous mode to what he hoped was a pleased smile and, bowing so low and fawningly that he was in danger of falling over and performing a forward somersault, said, “Your Majesty! What a nice surprise!”

Jareth gave him a disarming smile. “Hello, Hedgewart,” he said pleasantly.

“H-Hoggle, Sire,” Hoggle stammered.

“Hoggle,” Jareth asked, his tone light, “can it be that you are helping this boy and his bird and the girl?”

“H-h-h-helping?” Hoggle stuttered. “I-in what sense?”

Jareth put his hands on his hips and fixed the dwarf with a piercing stare. His voice was hard and serious as he said, “In the sense that you are leading them towards the castle.”

“Oh, you mean, helping them in that sense. Um, no, no!” Hoggle protested. “I was – I was – I was leading them back to the beginning of the Labyrinth, your Majesty!”

Sarah stared at him. “What?” she demanded, outraged.

Hoggle motioned Jareth to come closer, as if to tell him a secret. Jareth obediently leaned in, and Hoggle said, “I told them I was gonna lead them to the Castle, a little clever trickery on my part, y’see, but actually…”

Jareth interrupted him with a look of disgust: “What is that plastic thing round your wrist?”

Hoggle stared at the bracelet which someone must have slipped on to his wrist while he was distracted, sleeping maybe, and which certainly hadn’t been there before since he hadn’t noticed it until now. Who would do such a thing? The fairies were mischievous enough…

“Oh, this!” Hoggle laughed. “Why, I don’t know! My goodness me, wherever did this come from?”

Jareth straightened, fixing Hoggle with another stare. “Higgle…” he started.

“Hoggle,” Hoggle corrected quickly.

“Yes…If I thought for one second that you were betraying me I would be forced to suspend you headfirst into the Bog of Eternal Stench.”

Hoggle fell to his knees. “No, your Majesty!” he pleaded, whining and cringing. “Not the Eternal Stench! Please!” He leaned forward and grasped Jareth’s legs, sobbing. “No, please!”

“Oh, yes, Hoggle!” Jareth shoved Hoggle roughly away and turned to Sarah and Eric, who was staring at him with a look of pure loathing.

“And you, Sarah,” Jareth continued, in quite a different tone, one that was gentle and kind and – could it be? – loving, “how are you enjoying my Labyrinth?”

Sarah glared at him, and, with a nonchalance and carefree attitude that she was far from feeling, she answered stubbornly, “It’s a piece of cake.”

Hoggle covered his face with his hand and moaned softly at this. Jareth ignored him, smiling at her, and replied, “Really? Then how about upping the stakes a little, hmm?” He turned his head, and in the space of air in front of him the ornate thirteen-hour clock appeared. Jareth gestured gracefully, and the clock’s hands began to move faster.

Crying out against the injustice, Sarah exclaimed, “It’s not fair!”

Jareth looked at her. “You say that so often,” he remarked. “I wonder what your basis for comparison is.” He walked over to Eric. “Sarah doesn’t seem to like my Labyrinth. What do you think about it?”

“I think you better get out of my sight before I get even angrier,” Eric snarled. The crow cawed loudly, menacingly, as if adding a threat of its own. Jareth looked at it: “Have you ever fought an owl? In a fight between a crow and an owl, who do you think would win?”

“What are you talking about?” Eric hissed.

Jareth turned, and his crystalline sapphire and emerald mismatched eyes met Eric black, angry ones. He smiled slightly. “I’ve brought you a gift,” he said almost carelessly, holding his hand out to Eric, and a crystal coalesced in his fingers, shining and iridescent.

“What is it?” Eric snapped.

“It’s a crystal, nothing more,” Jareth said in the same nonchalant tone. He began playing with the crystal, turning it over and under and around his fingers: “But if you turn it this way, and look into it, it will show you your dreams.” He stopped playing with the crystal and held it out to Eric. “Do you want it?” His voice grew hard, almost threatening. “Then forget the baby.”

“Never,” Eric growled.

“Your dreams, Eric,” Jareth went on in a much pleasanter tone. “Anything and everything you want. Cast your mind back,” he smiled, “surely there must be something …someone…you want…more than anything else in the world…someone you want to see…?” He smiled slyly.

“Shelley…” Eric whispered. He closed his eyes, bowing his head as tears streamed down his face.

Jareth smiled and waved his fingers elaborately, and when Eric opened his eyes, Shelley Webster stood before him, smiling, looking even more beautiful than Eric remembered.

He stared at her, scarcely daring to believe it. “Shelley?” he said, his voice barely a whisper and brimming with tears and hope.

<No, warrior,> the crow cried in his head. <She is not what she seems. She is not your Shelley.>

“You’re wrong,” Eric insisted. “Shelley’s come back…!” He started to reach out to embrace her, but the crow said sharply, <No, warrior! She is not your Shelley. You are not seeing properly. Look at her through my eyes.>

Although certain that the crow was wrong, Eric obediently looked at Shelley through the eyes of the crow.

Nothing was there.

He closed his eyes for a minute, then opened them and stared unblinkingly at the spot where Shelley had stood, and then he opened his mouth and howled a snarl of such pain and rage that the earth shook. Eric reached out to grasp Jareth, to kill him with his bare hands, but Jareth laughed and in a flash of light, disappeared, leaving Eric to grab at empty air and shriek curses to the sky.

“Well, ah…” Hoggle stuttered after a minute, “come on, then.”

Eric whirled on him: “How can we trust you now that we know you were in league with Jareth all the time, you little double-crossing creep?”

“I’m not!” Hoggle protested. “I told him I was gonna take you back to the beginning to get him off our backs – throw him off the scent, y’know?”

“Hoggle, how can we trust anything you say?” Sarah demanded.

“Lemme put it this way, little missy,” Hoggle said, “what choice have you got?”

Sarah looked at Eric, shrugging: “He’s right.”

“Well, now that that’s settled, come on, follow me.” Hoggle started off down the passageway, with Sarah, Eric, and the crow right behind him. The passageway was stony and long and seemingly endless, but they finally came to a break in it, with a ladder leading up to a hole at the top.

“Ah,” Hoggle said, sounding satisfied. “This is what we need, right where it’s supposed to be – this time. Come on, then.”

“What was all the fuss about the Bog of Eternal Stench?” Sarah asked as they climbed.

Hoggle shuddered, which wasn’t a good idea if you’re five feet off the ground and trying to keep your balance on a rickety ladder. “The Bog of Eternal Stench is one of the worst places in the whole Labyrinth. Even worse than the oubliette I freed you from.”

“Eternal Stench, huh?” Sarah repeated. “That’s all it does, just smells?”

Hoggle shuddered again. “Oh, believe you me, that’s enough. It’s – it’s –”

But what the Bog was, was never revealed, because just then a rung broke off of the ladder and everyone froze for a minute. When they had recovered, Hoggle moaned softly, and resumed, “Oh my, yes, that’s enough. But that’s not the worst part. If you set so much as a foot in the Bog of Stench, you’ll smell bad for the rest of your life. It never washes off. Spending an eternity dunked headfirst into a bog of stench – bloourrgh!” He took several deep breaths, taking one hand off the rung he was on to massage his stomach for a few minutes.

Just then, thankfully, they reached the top of the hole. “Ah,” Hoggle said, relieved, anxious to leave the dark stone passage and all memories of the bog behind him. “Here we are, then.” He heaved himself upwards, Eric and the crow followed, and then Sarah, each stepping out of a large ornate urn, like one of those Ming vases in some of the art books Sarah had mused over in the library, stepping out onto another part of the maze floor. It was made of stone, like the passage, but at least it was in the sunlight.

Hoggle dusted himself off and snorted, then announced, “OK, that’s it. You’re on your own from now on.”

What?” Sarah cried.

“I quit!” Hoggle declared.

“Wait a minute,” Sarah ordered, struggling out of the vase and rushing over to him.

“I said I’d take you as far as I could. Never promised you anything,” Hoggle said defensively. “Well, I took you as far as I could. I’m resigning.”

“Hoggle!” Sarah positively shrieked with outrage. “You traitor! You little double-crossing cheater!”

Their argument was cut short by a low wheezing and murmuring. They turned and saw a wizened old man, with a long drooping white mustache and an even longer white beard and fluffy white eyebrows that barely showed his large, surprisingly sharp blue eyes. He was dressed in faded robes emblazoned with all manner of symbols all over them, mathematical symbols, letters, all matter of signs. Perched on his head, on the top of his hat, was a bird, or rather, the head of a bird, with a very sharp beak and even sharper eyes, shrewd and piercing, darting glances this way and that. The old man slowly shuffled over to a throne made out of stone books. Seating himself gracefully in the throne with a small sigh of relief, the man closed his eyes, absent-mindedly chewing on the ends of his mustache, his fingers laced together, mumbling to himself.

Sarah tiptoed over to him, awed. He was obviously a very Wise Man, like the ones she’d read about, the men who spend all their time thinking Deep Thoughts. She wondered what this man was thinking. It must be something very important, since he was mumbling to himself as if trying to voice his thoughts. Was it some mathematics problem, like the square root of negative two, or the cube of ninety-six times pi divided by half? Or matters philosophical, like the meaning of truth, or the truth of meaning, or even the meaning of meaning? Or thoughts historical, like trying to remember how many wives Henry the Sixth had and the relevance that had to when Charles the Second was crowned, or who won the War of the Roses?

“Excuse me,” she said tentatively, and the bird glared at her. “Hush!” it hissed. “Can’t you see he’s thinking? Shut up or you’ll put him off!”

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said, “it’s just…”

“Be quiet! You’re interfering with his profoundly important work!” The bird then gave a hearty laugh, winking at Sarah. “Although, between you and me, it’s all a lot of bunk! I’m the real brains of this operation. Ha ha!” It noticed the crow. “What kind of bird is that? A squab?” It clucked cheekily at the crow, who fluffed up its feathers and squawked indignantly.

“Eh? What’s this?” The Wise Man had entered the conversation. He blinked once, twice, staring blearily at Sarah and her friends for a minute, before his vision cleared and he said, “Ah! A young girl!” The bird gave a low, appreciative whistle, which earned him a glare from the Wise Man and a shy smile from Sarah.

“Please,” she began again, “can you help me?”

“Hum!” The Wise Man said reflectively, stroking his beard. “Whether I can help you is one thing, and whether you can be helped is another.” He thoughtfully looked at the sky for a while, then looked back at Sarah, and asked, indicating Eric and Hoggle as if noticing them for the first time, “And who are they?”

“They’re my friends…both of them,” Sarah said hesitantly.

“Ah!” said the man, and then sunk back into whatever reverie he had been contemplating from the beginning. After a poking and prodding and quite a few “Ahems!” from the bird, he spoke again, “Eh? Oh, yes, quite. Well, now, young lady, and what can I do for you?”

“We – that is, I – well, we have to get the castle at the center of this Labyrinth, but it keeps changing, and nothing stays the same, and –” she sighed. “Do you know the way?”

“Hmm,” the old man hemmed, chewing on his mustache again.

“Eh?” the bird mocked him.

“What? Oh, yes…hmmm…where was I?”

“Beats me,” the bird laughed. “You’re the Big Thinker, remember?”

“Oh, yes, hmmm…so…my dear young woman…you want to get to the castle, do you?” the old man said slowly.

“How’s that for brain power, huh?” the bird exclaimed.

“Be quiet!” the old man snapped.

“Aw, nuts,” the bird sulked.

“Now, then, young woman,” the Wise Man continued, “the way forward is sometimes the way back.”

“Not bad for off the top of his head, huh?” the bird screeched, chortling merrily. “Aye! Will you listen to this crap?”

“Will you be quiet!” the Wise Man snapped.

“OK, OK,” the bird said meekly. “Sheesh. Touch-y.”

“Finished?” the Wise Man demanded.


“Quite often, young lady,” the Wise Man continued, “it seems like we’re not getting anywhere, when in fact…”

“We are!” the bird finished.

“We are,” the Wise Man repeated, glaring warningly at the bird.

Sarah looked around. “Well, I’m certainly not getting anywhere at the moment.”

“Ha!” the bird laughed. “Join the club!”

Exhausted by so much taxing mental travail, the Wise Man had closed his eyes and was now snoring with gusto. The hat looked down at him, pulling a face, then looked at Sarah, Eric, and Hoggle perkily. “I think that’s your lot. Please leave a contribution in the little box.” As if on cue, the Wise Man extended his arm and shook a box in his hand.

Sarah and Eric looked at each other, then at Hoggle. “What about something from your collection?” Eric suggested, nodding towards Hoggle’s badges and ornaments.

“Don’t you dare think it! Them’s mine!”

“Whoo! What about the ring?” the bird piped up, eyeing Eric’s ring with appreciative eyes.

“Is that fried chicken I smell?” Eric threatened. The bird immediately looked away, humming an innocent little tune.

Sarah sighed. They were going to be here all day, or however long a day lasted in the Labyrinth. At any rate, they were wasting time. She wrung her hands and then looked down at her fingers and saw a ring on one of them. Like the bracelet she had given Hoggle, it wasn’t fancy, just a costume ring made out of paste and a fake jewel. She slid it off her finger and dropped it into the box, saying, “Well, I suppose I can spare this.”

Merci, ma belle,” the bird said politely. As Sarah, Eric, the crow and Hoggle walked away, Hoggle asked, “Why’d you give him the ring? He didn’t tell you nothing important anyway.” The hat watched them walk away, and remarked, “Well, well, then, they’re taking your advice. What a couple of suckers!” This comment was greeting with a particularly loud snore from the Wise Man. The bird looked down in exasperation. “Ah, it’s so stimulating being your hat.”

“Zzzz,” the Wise Man concurred. 

“I never knew words could be so confusing,” Milo said to Tock. Tock scratched himself a little above half-past four and replied, “Only when you use a lot to say a little.”

–– Norton Juster 

Walking, walking, and more walking! That’s all they seemed to do! In the back of her mind Sarah half-wondered if Toby really was in the Labyrinth at all and whether this was one of Jareth’s tricks and whether she could take anything for granted again once she got out of this place. However, once they had left the Wise Man, they found that by walking forwards they were actually going forwards, which made a nice change. Better still, the castle seemed to be ahead of them, its turrets and spires gleaming in the light and looming in the distance.

The nice change, however, proved to be not so nice when the trio (or quartet, depending on whether or not you counted the crow) turned a corner and discovered that hedges surrounded them. There were hedges to the right of them, hedges to the left of them, hedges in front of them, in back of them, around them, a thorny mini-maze of green and twig and stickers. It was like those old garden mazes Eric read about that were easy to enter but hard to leave…much like the entire Labyrinth itself, he thought grumpily, remembering the Depths of Despair.

To his surprise, Hoggle didn’t seem at all alarmed. “Ah,” he said happily. “Here we are, then. Come along.”

Well, the long and short of it was, they couldn’t come along, for every time they tried to go forward, they ended up going back again. Going down an alley only led them to a corner, and going down a corner led them to an alley, and to make things infinitesimally worse, scattered about here and there (and, it seemed, everywhere) were stone columns upon which were mounted stone hands pointing in all different directions. Following a hand pointing left only led them to a hand pointing right, and following that hand led them back to the hand pointing left. Following the hand again for a second try led them to a hand pointing up, which was of course impossible for anyone except the crow, who told Eric that even if it took to the air and charted a course for them, it was bound to change when they actually started walking along it.

After what seemed miles and miles of nothing but dead ends and hedged alleys and hands which only pointed back to themselves, Eric grabbed Hoggle by the scruff of the neck and threw him to the ground. He then picked up the dwarf and backed him into a particularly thorny section of the hedge. “Answer me and you’d better think damned hard before you do or your life isn’t worth crow’s-meat,” he snarled. “Where are we and how do we reach the castle?”

“W-w-we’re right where we’re s’pposed to be,” Hoggle stammered. “This is the hedge maze, y’see, an’…”

“And we’ve already run this part,” Eric hissed. “We’ve been retracing our steps the whole time.”

“No, no!” Hoggle protested. “We’re doing fine! This is…this is good!”

“How can it be good if we have to start at the beginning again?” Sarah demanded. “This is where we were nearly gored to death by those hedge goblins.”

“This ain’t the beginning at all,” Hoggle said irritably. “It’s another trick of the Labyrinth, see? Illusions and that. Things aren’t always what they seem in this place,” he finished, “so you can’t take anything for granted.” 



Eric stared at the huge hole in his overcoat, the result of the cannonball fired by one of the goblins. He looked back up at the goblin army, who were alternately grinning with hope and whimpering with fear, both at what they should do if their cannonball didn’t stop that big man and what Jareth would do to them if it didn’t.

Eric grinned at the goblins. “Ow,” he said, annoyed. “I really don’t like it when people shoot me,” he continued. “It ruins my wardrobe and doesn’t do anything for my temper.”


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