A.C.H.Smith. The Labyrinth. Chapter 3: Pipsqueak

      Sarah felt herself toppling forward, into the darkness. Only by swinging her arms wildly did she manage to keep her balance. The hillside was very steep.
      Her mouth had gone dry with fright. Carefully, she sat down. That felt safer, but she could not afford to sit there long, with only thirteen hours to get through the Labyrinth and find Toby in the castle.
      She tried slithering down the hillside on her bottom, but that was no good either. Rocks and little shrubs impeded her, and she dared not stand up to get past them. It was so black, she might have been trying to find her way through a sea of ink. She felt tears rising, but blinked them away. She would do it. There were no limits to what she could do, given the determination (which she certainly had), and the ingenuity (which she had never lacked yet, admittedly in more humdrum predicaments), and maybe a little luck (which she deserved, didn't she?). She would do it, she vowed, as she sat on the black hillside with no idea how to move another foot.
      High above her, where the owl had flown, she heard a lark sing. She peered up at it, and by taking her eyes off the blackness below she became aware that a hint of light was staining the rim of the dark sky. She watched the light grow brighter, changing from red to pink, and then pale blue, and when she saw the edge of the sun inch up over the horizon she shut her eyes and took a deep breath. She felt the sun warming her skin. She would do it.
      When she opened her eyes again, Jareth's castle was shining before her, its spires and turrets rimmed with the reflected sunlight. Anxiously she scrutinized the valley, which, like a developing photograph, took longer to reveal itself.
      The first thing she could gauge was its width. The extent of the land between herself and the castle was not so very great. I can run that far in a couple of hours, she reckoned. It's only a few miles. Jareth was trying to hoax me. He thought I would be so scared in the darkness that I would give up and forget about Toby. How could I? Anyway, in thirteen hours I can be there and back with time to spare.
      She wondered if thirteen hours in Jareth's land would take the same time to pass as at home. If so, what would her father and stepmother think when they returned? They would probably call the police. Well, there was nothing she could do about that. She did not expect to find a telephone in Jareth's castle. She smiled wanly.
      The sun was above the horizon, and color and shape were seeping into the valley. There was an awful lot of stuff down there; she could tell that much. She went on watching, and gradually she took in the full nature of the valley.
      At first she could not believe it. As the sun rose higher and disclosed more to her, her shoulders drooped and her face lost its smile. She shook her head slowly, dumb founded.
      From the foot of the hillside where she sat, to the castle and beyond it, and from horizon to horizon on each side, there stretched a vast, intricate maze of walls and hedges.
      "The Labyrinth," she whispered. "So that is the Labyrinth."
      She studied it, trying to decipher some pattern to it, some principle of design that might guide her through it. She could see none. Corridors doubled, and wound and coiled. Gateways led to gateways leading into gateways. It reminded her of thousands of fingerprints laid side by side, overlapping each other. Did someone work all that out, she wondered, or had it just happened?
      The impossibility of ever finding her way through the Labyrinth started to overwhelm her. She stood up, clenched her fists, set her jaw, and cleared her throat. "Well," she said, "here we go. Come on, feet."
      In the dawning light, she could see below her a path that zigzagged down the hillside. She picked her way to it through the rocks and shrubs. At the foot of the path, she came to a great wall, strengthened with buttresses. It stretched as far as she could see to the left and right.
      Doubtfully, she approached the wall, with no idea what she might do when she reached it. As she got closer, a movement just at the base of it caught her eye. There was a little man. He was cackling as he ground something underfoot.
      "Excuse me," Sarah said.
      The little man nearly jumped out of his skin. "Just going," he said, before he had even looked around to see who it was.
      When he did turn, he had his face down so that he regarded her from under his thick, bushy eyebrows. "Well!" he exclaimed, looking cross and astonished at the same time. "Well!" It seemed that he had never before set eyes on a person like Sarah. Or perhaps it was that no person like Sarah had ever caught him unawares. "Well!" he said again.
      We'll never get anywhere like this, Sarah thought.
      He was an odd little person. His sprouting eyebrows clearly wanted to be fierce, but his wrinkled face couldn't live up to that ferocity. His expression was wary now, not particularly friendly, but not hostile either. He seemed to be avoiding her eyes, and she noticed that whenever she moved her hands his gaze would follow them. On top of his head he wore a skullcap. From the belt that held his breeches up, he had a chain of ornaments dangling, costume jewelry as far as she could tell. She saw his mouth moving to say "Well!" again and interrupted quickly.
      "Excuse me, but I have to go through the Labyrinth. Can you show me the way in?"
      His mouth frozen in the formation of a W, he blinked at her once or twice. Then his eyes darted to one side. He rushed a few steps toward a bluebell, at the same time pulling a spray can from under his jacket. As he aimed the spray, Sarah saw that a diaphanous little fairy was emerging from the bluebell.
      He sprayed it, with a couple of quick bursts. The fairy at once wilted, like a shriveling petal.
      "Fifty-seven," he said with some satisfaction.
      Sarah was shocked. "Oh, how could you?"
      He answered with a grunt.
      She ran to where the fairy was lying on the ground, wings quivering and shriveling. "Poor thing!" she exclaimed. She picked it up gently in her fingertips and turned accusingly to the fairy-slayer. "You monster."
      She felt a sharp pain, as from broken glass. The fairy had bitten her finger.
      "Oh!" Sarah dropped the fairy and stuck her finger in her mouth. "It bit me," she muttered around her finger.
      "'Course she did," the little man chuckled. "What do you expect fairies to do?"
      "I..." Sarah was frowning, perplexed. "I thought they did - well, nice things. Like granting wishes."
      "Ha!" His eyebrows went up, and he chortled. "Shows what you know then, don't it?" He raised his spray can and casually hit another bluebell with it. A second shimmering fairy fell down, turning brown like a leaf in autumn. "Fifty-eight," he said, and shook his head. "They breed as fast as I spray."
      Sarah was still wincing as she sucked her finger. "Ooh," she complained. "It hurts." She took her finger from her mouth and shook it.
      He walked to a plant nearly as tall as he was, tore off one of its broad, grayish leaves, and handed it to her. "Here," he told her. "Rub that on it."
      She gratefully did what he told her. No sooner had she started rubbing than she dropped the leaf, clasped her finger with the other hand and hopped around in pain. "Ow!" she shouted. "That makes it worse. Much worse. OWWW!"
      He was holding his sides with his pudgy little hands and roaring with laughter. "'Course it do. Fancy rubbing one of them on a fairy bite. You don't know nothing, do you?"
      Her face screwed up with pain, Sarah answered indignantly, "I thought you were giving it to me to make it better. Oh! Ooh!"
      "You thought that too, did you? You've got a lot of opinions." He chuckled. "All of them wrong. And you've got grass all over the seat of your trousers!"
      In spite of the pain in her finger, she had to glance over her shoulder, and she saw that he was right. It was from sliding down that hillside. Brushing off what she could, she realized that he was paying her back for having caught him unawares. "You're horrible," she told him.
      "No, I'm not." He sounded surprised. "I'm Hoggle. Who are you?"
      He nodded. "That's what I thought." Spotting another fairy, he squirted her. To make sure, he stepped on this one and ground his foot around. The fairy squealed. "Fifty-nine," Hoggle said.
      Sarah was thinking, still sucking her finger. He seemed to know about her. So he must have something to do with Jareth, mustn't he? Some kind of spy, maybe. Well, maybe. Yet he was not her idea of a spy. Spies weren't grumpy. They didn't play mean tricks on you. Did they? If all her opinions were wrong, as he'd said, then this one might be wrong, too. But in that case, she thought, supposing he is a spy, then it might be his job to persuade me that all my opinions are wrong when really they are all correct. And if they are all correct, he is not a spy. But that would mean he had no motive for persuading me that I'm wrong about everything, and so probably I am wrong about this, too, and so ... "Oh!" she exclaimed in exasperation. It was like one of those drawings she had seen in a book at home, where the water seems to be flowing uphill, and yet you can never put your finger on just where the drawing is telling you a lie.
      Hoggle tore a leaf from a different plant and offered it to her, with a sort of twinkling scowl on his face.
      She took her finger from her mouth. The pain was easing now. She shook her head, and had to smile a little at the funny, wizened face of his.
      His expression, in answer, went dark again. He looked at her mistrustfully. He was not used to being smiled at.
      Well, she thought, there's nothing else to do. Whether or not he is here to spy on me, he is the only person I can ask for help. So she tried. "Do you know where the door to the Labyrinth is?"
      He screwed up his face. "Maybe."
      "All right, where is it?"
      Instead of replying, he dodged to one side, raising his spray can. "Sixty."
      "I said, where is it?"
      "Where is what?"
      "The door."
      "What door?"
      "The door into the Labyrinth."
      "The door! Into the Labyrinth! Oh, that's a good one." He laughed, not kindly.
      Sarah wanted to punch him. "It's hopeless asking you anything."
      "Not if you asks the right questions." He was giving her a sidelong look. "You're as green as a cucumber."
      "Well, what are the right questions?"
      Hoggle stroked the top of his nose. "It depends on what you want to know."
      "That's easy. How do I get into the Labyrinth?"
      Hoggle sniffed, and his eyes twinkled. "Ah! Now that's more like it."
      She thought she heard that music in the air again, the magic music that had hummed around the Goblin King.
      "You gets in there." He nodded, indicating behind her. "You got to ask the right questions if you want to get anywhere in the Labyrinth."
      Sarah had spun around. Now, in the great wall, she saw a huge, grotesquely designed gate. She stared at it almost accusingly. She could have sworn it had not been there before.
      "There ain't no door, see?" Hoggle was explaining. "All you got to do now is find the key."
      She looked back at him and then all around her. She saw at once that it was going to be no problem to find the key. Near her was a very small mat, and from each end of it an enormous key was sticking out. "Well," she said, "that's simple enough."
      She went over to the key and tried to pick it up. She could just manage to get one end of it off the ground, or the other, but the whole key was too heavy for her to lift up to the keyhole in the gate. She glared at Hoggle.
      "I suppose it's too much to expect you to give me a hand?"
      "Yes," Hoggle said.
      She tried again, straining to lift it. It was hopeless. "Oh," she said. "This is so stupid."
      "You mean you're so stupid," Hoggle correct her.
      "Shut up, you rotten little pipsqueak."
      "Don't call me that!" Hoggle was agitated. "I am not a pipsqueak."
      "Yes, you are," Sarah said. She was uneasily reminded of herself at a much younger age, at school, chanting cruel jibes at some tormented girl, but she persisted. "Yes, you a-are. Rotten little nasty ugly pipsqueak!"
      Hoggle was beside himself with rage. "Don't call me that," he said hysterically. "You! Ha! You're so stupid you are, you take everything for granted."
      "Pipsqueak! Pipsqueak!"
      "I'm not. I'm not. Stop it! Stop it!"
      "Nasty, creepy little pipsqueak!"
      Hoggle collected himself and with some dignity told her, "If you weren't so brainless, you'd try the gate."
      That stopped her short. She thought for a moment, then went to the gate and gave it a little push. It swung open.
      "Nobody said it was locked," Hoggle observed.
      "Very clever."
      "You think you're so clever," Hoggle said. "You know why? Because you ain't learned nothing."
      Sarah was peering cautiously inside the gate. She did not like what she saw. It was dark and forbidding in there. The music humming in the air seemed to be more intense. There was a smell of things rotting.
      She gathered her courage and took two steps into the Labyrinth. Then she stopped short. A passageway ran across the entrance. It was so narrow, and the wall was so high, that the sky was a mere slit over her head. In the gloom, she heard a continual drip of water, echoing. She approached the farther wall, touched it, and pulled her hand away. It was dank and slimy, like mildew.
      Hoggle's head was poking through the gateway behind her. "Cozy, ain't it?"
      Sarah shuddered.
      Hoggle's manner had altered. He was quiet, and it was almost possible to detect a hint of concern in his voice. "You really going to go in there, are you?"
      Sarah hesitated. "I... yes," she said. "Yes, I am. Do you... is there any reason why I shouldn't?" She was clenching her fists. It did seem such a dreadfully gloomy place, inside the gate.
      "There's every reason why you shouldn't," Hoggle replied. "Is there any reason why you should? Any really good reason?"
      "Yes, there is." She paused. "So I suppose... I must."
      "All right," Hoggle said, in a tone of voice that implied, on your own head be it. "Now," he asked, "which way will you go? Right or left?"
      She looked one way and then the other. There was no reason to choose either one or the other. Both looked grim. The brick walls appeared to extent to infinity. She shrugged, wanting some help, but too proud to ask for it. "They both look the same," she said.
      "Well," Hoggle told her, "you're not going to get very far, then, are you?"
      "All right," she said crossly, "which way would you go?"
      "Me?" He laughed without mirth. "I wouldn't go neither way."
      "Some guide you are."
      "I never said I was a guide, did I? Although you could certainly use one. You'll probably end up back where you started, given your record for being wrong."
      "Well," Sarah snapped at him, "if that's all the help you're going to be, you might as well let me get on with it!"
      "You know your problem?" Hoggle asked.
      She took no notice, but tried to look determined to set out in one direction or the other. Left, right, she was thinking, that was the normal order. So in this abnormal place, she might as well try going to the right, mightn't she?
      "I told you, you take too many things for granted," Hoggle went on. "This Labyrinth, for instance. Even if you get to the center, which is extremely doubtful, you'll never get out again."
      "That's your opinion." Sarah moved to her right.
      "Well, it's a better opinion than any of yours."
      "Thanks for nothing, Hogwart."
      "Hoggle!" His voice came echoing from the gateway, where he remained. "And don't say I didn't warn you."
      Her jaw set, she strode out, between the damp and dire walls.
      She had gone only a few strides when, with a mighty, reverberating clang, the gate closed behind her. She stopped, and could not resist returning, to see if the gate would open again. It wouldn't.
      Hoggle was shut outside. The only sounds in the Labyrinth now were the drip of water, and Sarah's quick breathing.