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MAZE ETERNAL    PART  I

As Sam stepped out of the black cab and adjusted the strap of the canvas pack slung over her shoulder
the first thing she noticed was the clean sidewalks.  The sidewalks were never this clean or in as good condition
back home and she wondered if perhaps it was accomplished by magic.  When she was little her mother would tell her stories about a place where everything was created by magic.  Maybe London was just such a place, a place like her mother’s La...

“Excuse me, lass, but that will be 35 pounds,” the cab driver interrupted after clearing his throat politely.

In New York, Sam thought as she grabbed her duffle bag and computer case from the back seat and handed the driver two 20 pound notes, the driver would have yelled, Hey, lady, I don’t got all day.  What do you think I’m running? A taxi service?  Come on, fork over the cash!  But, well, this was London, and the British were supposedly more refined than those crass New Yorkers.  Yet, as the cab pulled away, Sam noticed that it just managed to miss hitting  a shoeless old man with no teeth by swerving into an oncoming lane of traffic. Maybe the Brits were more refined, but they were definitely worse drivers.  Oh, well, no one is perfect she reminded herself as she grabbed her luggage, a brown backpack, computer carrier, and large blue duffle bag, and headed for the entrance of her apartment building.  It was a narrow, five story brownstone building with what looked like several small chimneys protruding from its roof and a large white door at the front and she sincerely hoped that her room was on either the first or second floor.

The gentleman at the front desk didn’t even look up as she closed the door behind her, nor even when she stood directly across the counter from him.  Pah! Refinement, she nearly said aloud before pasting a smile on her pale, freckled face.

“Pardon me,” she said after loudly clearing her throat, “but I’m here to take up residence.”

“Name?” the slightly balding man asked without looking up at her.

“Samona Williams,” she replied promptly, only allowing a little bit of the annoyance she felt creep into her voice as the man grunted and put his newspaper down.  Ten minutes in the city, Sam thought sourly at the old man, and already I am beginning to dislike London.

“Here you are,” he said as he limped back over to the counter.  “Paid in full until the end of August, you are.”  As he said it he finally looked at her and Sam was shocked at the startling disparity of his eyes.  One was brilliant blue and the other was a soft, comforting brown.  She had never expected to meet anyone with eyes like hers.  She just stared at him for what seemed like hours but in actual fact was only seconds.  Was it a coincidence?  Perhaps fate?  Maybe the man whose eyes she had knew the answers to so many of her questions.  Then again, maybe not.  Whatever the answer, it could wait.

“That’s right,” she replied, trying to keep her gaze away from his.  “Three full months.”

“Well,” he grunted again, “here is your key.  Room 503.  Top of the stairs to the right.”  After his long speech, he sat back in his chair and appeared to forget about her.

Sam looked from her room key to the steep, narrow staircase and back again.  She gazed at her heavy duffle  bag and then to the stairs and back again.  And then she sighed.  “It just figures, doesn’t it?” she muttered  under her breath.  Up the daunting stairs she trudged and didn’t notice the man staring at her intently as she went.

***********************************
Standing at the street side window in her tiny flat, Sam reflected upon her experience in the great city of London.  After working and going to the university  both full-time for four years she had finally been able to take a break and concentrate on her writing.   Here, in this magical city of culture and elegance and mystery and dreams, she had come to forget her own life and create a few new ones.  But three weeks and several pints of brandy later, Sam was ready to get on an airplane and call it quits.  There was just nothing in the entire vastness and cultural array of the city to inspire her.  She walked around, day after day, searching for dreams in a sleepless town.  All she had encountered to date had been hopeless eyes and lifeless smiles plastered to the faces of the cheerless denizens.  How could she ignore the misery of homeless cripples, overworked young fathers, abused young mothers and neglected children?  No longer were the streets clean, as she had once thought them, but they were covered with the degradation and despair of humanity.  And Sam could not bring herself to put such unpalatable truths on paper.

“Well,” Sam laughed, letting deep cynicism color her voice, “here’s to my paradise, my city of dreams.”  And she put the half-empty pint of brandy to her lips and swallowed, closing her eyes to the dirty haze of the urban night.

**********************************

Sam would have recognized the man almost immediately as the man from the reception desk.  Not from his voice, hair color or body type, but by the disturbing incongruity of his eyes, one blue and one brown.  Undoubtedly, though, she would have been confused by the conversation he was carrying with a small brown goblin of indeterminate age.

“Stewart,” the man was saying, “I think she’s finally ready.”

“I believe so, milord,” the goblin replied while shining the man’s sleek black boots.

“She so reminds me of her mother sometimes and it pains me to witness her disillusionment. And, dammit,” he thumped his fist on the arm of his throne, “she belongs here!”

“Indeed, milord,” the goblin, Stewart, continued impassively.

Jareth, King of the Goblins and Ruler of the Underground, ran an unsteady hand through his long, spiky tangle of golden hair in agitation.

“How, by all the powers I possess, am I going to get her here?”

“I would not suggest anything drastic, milord,” the goblin volunteered mildly.  “You do remember what happened with her mother?”

“Yes, I do,” Jareth said in irritation.  “Powerful wizard and exalted ruler I may be, but I am still a fallible human.  Besides, Sarah was barely a child with a head full of fairy tales.  Samona is real!”

***********************************

Sam woke up, slightly hanging off the edge of her bed, still clutching the bottle of liquor.  She peeled her eyes open with a great deal of effort and sat up slowly.  She groaned as the room began to spin and curled her fingers painfully into the soft blue blanket as a terrible pounding began deep in her skull.  She lifted the hand still holding the brandy and finished off the bottle in one swig.  Then she stumbled to her little corner kitchenette and started boiling water for some soothing herbal tea.  Yep, she thought to herself, definitely a hangover.

She couldn’t stand to let the whistle blow on the teapot, so she drank luke-warm tea.  As the herbs worked their way through her body, she remembered a snatch of dream.  In it a tall, lithe blonde man of no age (it seemed) had told her about a place of magic and beauty.  He’d said, no, sung actually, life can be easy, it’s not always swell, don’t tell me truth hurts little girl, ‘cause it hurts like hell.  But down in the Underground you’ll find someone true.  Down in the Underground, a land serene, a crystal moon...  Why the hell would anyone think the Tube was magical or beautiful, anyway?

“Who cares,” she decided into her cup of tea.  “Chalk it up to too much liquor on an empty stomach.”

***********************************

Later that day, Sam decided to play tourist, something she hadn’t done since her first week in London.  After an afternoon spent investigating the area near Picadilly Circus, Sam took the tube to Trafalgar Square.  It was still light out, and the artists had their easels out.  She walked past them, past the huge monument with the giant lions and past the vendor selling birdseed for all the pigeons.  She went directly to the large fountain to bask in the dying golden light.  As the last streaks of warmth were sinking behind the tall buildings and the sound of the artists packing up mingled with the sound of the rushing water Sam heard a beautiful voice singing It’s only forever, not long at all.  That’s the Underground, Underground...  She snapped open her eyes and turned her head to the right as she recognized the melody.  Sitting next to her, not more than two feet away on the fountain’s edge, was the strangest man Sam had ever seen.  And he looked exactly like the man from her dream.  She stood up to, well, she didn’t know what to do--either confront him or run away or something! But as soon as she stood, the world spun away from her in a swirl of ebbing twilight.

**********************************

Jareth looked down at the girl laying unconscious on the bed.  And smiled.  He’d caught her just as she was about to hit the ground and brought her here.  He’d spent a good deal of time cleaning the alcohol and its effects from her body, but it had been worth his exhaustion.  Now she lay peacefully, her head resting gently on the soft pillows.  Her hair was nearly the same color as his own, though without the magical streaks and highlights.  Mostly, though, he noticed her freckles. There were 27 of them, all the color of apple butter.

As Jareth noticed the rosy tint coming back into Sam’s ivory cheeks, he did a total un-Jareth-like thing--he sighed a wistful little sigh.  Then he reached down to place a gloved hand on her brow.

Sam became instantly aware of several things.  One, she was laying on something soft.  Two, that thing was not her bed back at the flat.  Three, there was a rather large hand gently resting on her forehead.  And four, she didn’t actually mind it!  With that realization came actual consciousness and she cautiously opened her eyelids, not quite sure what to expect.

Of course, nothing could have prepared her for the sight of a tall, lithe man with the receptionists eyes staring intently at her.  She knew him both from her dream and from Trafalgar Square.  Who are you? she thought.

“I am Jareth.  I suppose one would say I run this place,” he supplied in a way that made Sam think he was reading her mind.

“Where am I, then?”  Sam asked out loud.  She just wasn’t ready to find out if he really could read her mind.

“You are in my Labyrinth.  We are in the Underground,” he finished and went to the window.  As he pulled open the shutters with one hand he motioned for Sam to look out with the other.

“Oh, that Underground.  I see.”  She slid her legs over the edge of the immense bed and stepped across the room to the oddly shaped window.   And smiled in amazement at what she saw.  It was exactly what her mother had described.  A gigantic circular maze surrounding a city filled with tiny houses and even tinier occupants.  What had her mother called them?

“Are...Is that...”

“Yes, Samona,” Jareth answered, knowing what she was trying to ask.  “Those are, indeed, goblins, and that is truly a goblin city.”  And then he chuckled at the bewildered expression on her face.

“How did you...Never mind,” Sam corrected turning to look directly at him, “I think I know.  You’re him aren’t you?  You’re the Goblin King?”

“Samona,” Jareth offered, slightly surprised by her assumption and her phrasing, “You may not believe this, but your mother said the same exact thing to me when we first met.”

“But I thought it was just another of her fairy stories, like The Wizard of Oz and Snow White.   Am I dreaming again or something?”

“Calm down, Samona.”  Jareth was trying to soothe the tension from the atmosphere.  Samona was obviously in a state of shock.  “You know very well what Sarah told you was nothing more and nothing less than the truth.”

“I don’t believe you!” Sam cried, on the verge of hysteria, and Jareth could see in her eyes that she was beginning to accept the truth.  But her next words shocked even him.  “If you are the Goblin King and you did know my mother," Sam continued in a blind rush, "why did you let her die?”

“Samona, I didn’t let Sarah die.  It was the way she wanted it.  I...” but Sam was no longer listening to him.  She had her face buried in her hands and tiny crystal teardrops were falling to the floor.  When Jareth made a move to comfort her, she shoved him away with all her strength and ran from the room, still sobbing in despair.

Jareth made a move to follow her, but decided she might not be willing to share her tears with him yet.  Everything in its own time, he mused with uncharacteristic patience.  He only hoped he could handle her pain as well as his own.

**********************************

In the wee hours of the morning, Sam woke to discover she was laying on a hard, cold stone floor.  Why couldn’t it have been just another dream? she pleaded to no one in particular.  Why couldn’t I have just woken up safe and warm in my nice British bed?  Why am I here?  But this time, there was nobody near to answer her thoughts.  She was utterly alone in the dark and the cold.  Better get moving.

Sam lay on the floor until her eyes adjusted to the darkness and then made her way to the barely discernable exit across the room.  It was a dangerous journey filled with steep, winding stairs and narrow passages that suddenly ended, but Sam finally found her way to the castle’s main entrance as false dawn spread acoss the sky in shades of pink and gray.  She looked at the large wooden doors in front of her and wondered how she was going to get out.  Sam wanted to find her way out of the Labyrinth--just the opposite of her mother’s journey, she mused.

“Say,” a voice interrupted from near the gate, “aren’t you the Lady Samona?”

Sam tensed, wondering just what Jareth had been telling these goblins of his.  Lady Samona?  What bullshit!  It was time to set the record straight.

“Nope, I’m just plain ol’ Sam.  Now, how about opening this door for me, please?”

“Oh.  Okay, then.  No problem.  Be just a minute.”

Sam was relieved that the goblin hadn’t questioned her further.  She really didn’t like to lie, especially to those who were only doing their jobs.

The door swung open with a rusty squeak and Sam went through it, just managing to restrain herself from looking back at Jareth’s castle.  Before her was the chaotic mass of the Goblin city.  Little stone buildings in an array of shapes and colors pointed to the sky like bony fingers in the pre-dawn light.  Sam shuddered, both at the thought and the early morning dampness.  She was clothed only in a pair of close-fitted tan chinos and pale pink linen blouse with short sleeves.  Her white leather oxfords and belt did much for her simple outfit, but nothing to lessen the chill.  She was dressed for a British June afternoon of sightseeing, not for tramping about a Goblin City at sunrise.  Sigh.

Nonetheless, she made her way through the city with only a few curious glances directed her way.  It seemed that goblins liked the morning even less than she did, because she didn’t see many besides the gateman until the sun was well above the horizon.  By then, however, Sam was at the edge of the Goblin City, waiting patiently for a young dwarf in a blue leather jacket to open the gate for her.

“Are you really going out there?” he enquired with a touch of doubt.

“I am” Sam affirmed without hesitation.  “I want to go home, and to do that I have to find a way out of this Labyrinth.”

“Well, good luck, miss.  But if you need any help, just look for me da’.  He knows this here Lab’rinth better than the king himself.  His name is Hoggle and you just tell him Hoddle sent ya.”

“Oh. Well, thank you, and goodbye, Hoddle.”  Sam smiled and waved.  Then she turned and walked through the gate and into the sprawling Labyrinth.

**********************

Jareth stared into the crystal balancing on his black-gloved fingertips and smiled.  He hoped that the Labyrinth and it’s creatures would help Sam heal.  He’d let her spend the night in his empty one-room tower so she could be alone, but he had worried that she might catch a cold and become sick but, she hadn't.  He was glad that she was so strong, because she was on her own now.  He would only interfere if she asked it of him.

“Stewart,” he said to the goblin at the door, “tell that dwarf Hoggle to watch her.”

“Yes, milord,” he acknowledged then vanished before Jareth could blink again.

Jareth paced the length of his study, hands clasped tightly behind his back.  He thought about how well and how little he knew Samona.  He had known her mother well, and had been great friends with her towards the end of her time on Earth.  When she died, Jareth had been tempted to bring Samona back to the Labyrinth where she belonged, but Sarah had absolutely forbidden it.  She wanted the flesh of her flesh to be raised on Earth.  And if the time came when Samona could no longer stand her native land, then  and only then could Jareth intervene.  And that time had come.  Samona may not accept it, or even know it yet, but she no longer belonged in the mundane world.  Her powers and imagination had long outgrown those of most other humans.  Not to mention what tragedy, violence and alcohol had done to her mind and body over the years.  No, Jareth did not regret his decision to bring Samona home, he only regretted the promise that had left her to suffer for so long on Earth.  He prayed he would not have to make the same mistake twice.

**********************

It was nearing high noon and Hoggle had just finished spraying the last fairy when he spotted the human coming towards him.  He didn’t recognize her, but something about the way she walked snagged at his memory.  He’d known someone with that lilting, graceful stride once upon a time.  But this girl looked nothing like Sarah, in fact, she was as pale as the Goblin King, himself.  And who else could have those eyes?  Well, it wasn’t for him to question, he was just following Jareth’s orders and if the Goblin King hadn't seen fit to tell him who this girl was, then that was that.  It really didn’t matter who she was, he was just supposed to keep her from getting hurt.

“Um, excuse me,” she said, slowing her pace as she approached the dwarf.  “Are you Hoggle by any chance?”

“Yes. Yes I am.  What of it?”  the dwarf asked cautiously.

“Well, my name is Sam and your son Hoddle told me you could help me find my way out of this Labyrinth.”

“He did, did he?  Well, that son of mine always did go around tellin’ creatures that I was some kind of tour guide or somethin’.  I remember one time...”

“I’m sorry,”  Sam cut him off in mid-sentence, “but I’m in a dreadful hurry.  Could you please show me the way out of this Labyrinth?”

"Well, I could," Hoggle sniffed, none to pleased with having been cut off in mid-sentence, "but I might not want to.  Why do you want to leave anyway?"

"I want to go home--back to Earth, where I have a life.  I don't belong here!"

"Why not?"

"Why not, what?" Sam asked, starting to get confused.

"Why don't you belong here?"

"Oh.  Well, look around," Sam gestured with her arms.  "For one thing, I'm human."

"So?  Jareth's human."

"I don't have any magic."

"Me neither.  Keep trying."

Sam was getting exasperated.  What else could she say?  She was running out of reasons and that little dwarf knew it.

"Come on, then.  I don't have all day."

"Fine," Sam huffed, "I don't know.  But I still don't belong here."

"Well, let's get you out of here, then."  Hoggle turned on his heels and started walking towards a big green bush.  "Are you coming?"

"But that's just a bush."

"Shows what you know," the dwarf shrugged.  He approached the bush, grabbed one of its big leafy branches and pulled.  A small door opened out from the bush.  Sam hadn't seen any cracks, handles or anything until the door opened, but now it was so obvious that she wondered how she'd missed it before.  Definitely magic.

"How'd you do that?"  Sam asked with a tiny bit of awe in her voice.

"You live here long enough, you learn a few things," is all he would say.  Let her figure it out for herself.  He had.

"Gee, that was helpful," Sam muttered under her breath.  Hoggle pretended not to hear.

"Follow me," he said, then walked through the opening in the hedges.

Sam watched his body disappear into the darkness and sighed.  She crouched down in front of the doorway and peered into the other side.  Nothing.  She felt like Alice might have before she followed the White Rabbit down his hole.  With one last look at the light behind her, she went stumbling after the dwarf.

********************************

They resurfaced some time later by climbing out of a giant flower pot with a lid.  When her feet were planted firmly on the ground, Sam turned to get a good look at their exit.  It was a three foot tall, two foot wide cast-iron cylinder with leaves carved around its base.  Nothing too unusual about that.  However, as Sam bent over to dust off her knees she noticed that the bottom of the pot was a good foot off the ground.  How had the tunnel taken them there?  It was probably better not to ask.  Sigh.  Instead, she turned towards Hoggle and asked what was next.

"Well," the dwarf answered, "normally we'd be at the gates by now, but we must've taken a wrong turn a ways back."

"Why do you say that?" Sam asked with a growing suspicion.

"Because right now we're about a mile away from Dream's kingdom.  It's right there over them hills."

"Oh."

"Yeah."  Hoggle had been very impressed with her acceptance of the flower pot.  Many people probably would have started asking him questions he couldn't answer, but Samona had just accepted that that was the way things worked.  Good for her.  She didn't cry or complain about ending up in the wrong place, she just accepted that too.  Good for her again.  But now they had to find their way back.  Not good.

"What's Dream's kingdom?"  Sam asked curiously.

"What?  Oh, that.  It's what it sounds like--a kingdom ruled by Dream."

"Gee, that's helpful.  Can we go there?"

"NO!"

"Why not?"

"Because Jareth said so."

"Well, then, what are we waiting for?  Let's go so hello."  Sam wasn't used to people arbitrarily telling her 'no'.  Especially when they were sitting in their castle and she was all the way out here in the middle of nowhere.  She was having none of that.

"Let's just go back the way we came."

Sam smiled.  "No.  I'm going over there," she pointed her finger at the not-so-distant hilltop.  "Are you coming with?"

Hoggle swallowed hard.  Jareth had told him to keep her in the Labyrinth.  He was not going to be happy about this change in plans.  Should he go, should he stay?  He was still debating it when he looked up to find Sam halfway to the hill.  It appeared that he was going.

***************************

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