A.C.H.Smith. The Labyrinth. Chapter 5: Bad Memories

      As she screamed, dropping backward down the shaft, Sarah realized that her fall was being slightly impeded by things brushing against her. Large, thick leaves they might be, or some sort of tough fungus sprouting from the walls of the pit. Whatever they were, she tried to grab hold of one, to save herself from the terrible smash she expected every instant. She was falling too fast.
      Then, by blind chance, her wrist landed smack in one of the things, which at once closed firmly. With a jolt that almost disjointed her, she found herself dangling by one arm. "Oh!" she gasped in relief, and felt herself heaving for breath.
      She looked down the shaft, to see how close she had been to breaking every bone. All she could see was a long tunnel, lined with the things that had broken her fall. She looked up. The doorway through which she had entered the shaft was very high above her.
      As her eyes adjusted to the gloomy light, she saw what it was that had caught hold of her: a hand. All around her, protruding from the sides of the shaft, hands were groping in the air, like reeds under water.
      Her relief gave way to a sick feeling: she was in the grip of a hand with no arm or body attached to it, and she had no apparent means of ever releasing herself. Perhaps they were carnivorous hands, or like those spiders that simply dissolved you away over a long period of time. She looked nervously up and down the shaft again, this time to see if there were any skeletons dangling there, as in a jungle trap. She saw none.
      And now she felt other hands reaching for her and finding her, taking hold of her by the legs and the body. There were hands on her thighs, her ankles, her neck. She shuddered, and shouted, "Stop that!" Knowing it was futile, she called, "Help! Help!" She writhed, trying to shake them all off, and with her free hand reached out for a hold, in a despairing attempt to climb away. All she could see to grasp hold of was yet another hand. Hesitantly she put hers in it, and it responded immediately, grasping her hand firmly. With the idea of perhaps climbing up the hands as though on a ladder, she tried to free her wrist from the first hand. It was no good. Now she was more tightly held than ever, stuck in a web of hands.
      "Help!" she whimpered.
      She felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned her head to see what it was. To her bewilderment, she saw that hands to one side of her contrived to form themselves into a face of sorts, with finger-and-thumb circles for eyes and two hands working together to fashion a mouth. And the mouth spoke to her.
      "What do you mean, 'Help'?" it said. "We are helping. We're the Helping Hands."
      "You're hurting," Sarah told them. It was not quite true. Fear, rather than pain, was what afflicted her.
      Now there were several more faces of hands around her.
      "Would you like us to let go?" one of them asked.
      Sarah glanced down the shaft. "Uh ... no."
      "Well, then," one of the mouths said. "Come on. Which way?"
      "Which way?" she asked, nonplussed.
      "Up or down?"
      "Oh ..." She was more confused. "Er ..." She looked back up the shaft toward the light, but that would be a kind of retreat. She looked down, into the unknown, unfathomable abyss.
      "Come on! Come on!" an impatient voice urged her. "We haven't got all day."
      Haven't you? Sarah thought to herself.
      "It's a big decision for her," said a sympathetic voice.
      "Which way do you want to go?" asked an insistent one.
      Everyone in the Labyrinth was so peremptory. I've got good reason to be in a hurry, Sarah felt. I've only got thirteen hours to find my baby brother, and heaven knows how much time has already gone by. But why are all these people - if you can call them people - so bossy?
      "Come on! Come on!"
      "Well, er..." Sarah still hesitated. Up was chicken, and down was dreadful.
      Many faces were watching her indecisiveness. Several of them were snickering, covering their mouths with another hand.
      She took a deep breath. "Well, since that's the way I'm pointed... I'll go down."
      "She chose down?" She heard the snickerers behind their hands. "She chose - down!"
      "Was that wrong?" Sarah inquired timidly.
      "Too late now," said one of the hand faces, and with that they started to hand her down the shaft, not roughly. She heard them singing something like a shanty.

      "Down, down, down, down,
      Down, hand her down, boys.
      We'll all go to town, boys.
      Down, down, down, down,
      Down, hand her down, boys,
      Never a frown, boys,
      Down, down, down, down."

      And down she went, far down, until she found herself held momentarily above a manhole, while Helping Hands removed the cover of it. Then the lowest hands let go of her, dropping her neatly down the manhole, and the last she saw of the hands was their waving goodbye helpfully.
      As she landed on the stone floor of a dark, small cell, the cover was replaced on the manhole, with a clunk.
      In pitch darkness, Sarah sat down. Her face was blank.

      The picture of her silent face was clearly beamed to a crystal in the chamber of the Goblin King.
      "She's in the oubliette," Jareth observed.
      The goblins cackled wickedly, dancing and prancing around. Their jaws gaped with merriment, and they slapped their thighs.
      "Shut up," Jareth told them.
      They froze. Their heads twitched around to look at their King. A sly goblin inquired, "Wrong laugh?"
      "She shouldn't have gotten as far as the oubliette." Jareth was still staring at the picture of Sarah's face in the crystal. He shook his head. "She should have given up by now."
      "She'll never give up," said a keen goblin.
      "Ha." Jareth laughed mirthlessly. "Won't she? She'll give up soon enough when she has to start all over."
      It pleased him to think of his Labyrinth as a board game; if you got too close to the winning square, you might find a snake taking you back to the start. No one had, and very few had gotten as far as this disturbing girl, who was too old to be turned into a goblin. Jareth examined her face in his crystal. Too old to be a goblin, but too young to be kept by him, damn her innocent eyes. She had to be sent back to square one immediately, before she became a serious threat to Toby, and he knew the snake for the job. "Hoggle!" he called, spinning the crystal.
      Hoggle's face appeared in it.
      "She's in the oubliette," Jareth said. "Get her back to the outer walls."
      Hoggle cocked his head, grimacing. "She's quite determined, your Majesty. It won't be an easy - "
      "Do it." Jareth flipped the crystal into the air, where it vanished like a bubble.
      He chuckled, imagining Sarah's face when she found herself beside Hoggle's pond again. Then he threw back his head and roared.
      The goblins watched him uncertainly. Was it all right to laugh now?
      "Well, go ahead," Jareth told them.
      With the simple glee that is natural to evil-hearted folk, the goblins launched themselves into their full routine of cackles and snickers. The keen goblin directed them, like a conductor, bringing them up to a crescendo of malign mirth.

      Sarah sat on the floor of the black cell wishing she had asked the Helping Hands to take her up the shaft, toward the light. What could she hope for in this place?
      Four of her senses sharpened in the darkness; she detected a little scratching sound. "Who's there? Who's there with me?" Her body was tense with alarm.
      "Me," a gruff voice replied.
      There was another noise of scratching, followed by a glare of light as a match ignited, and in turn set a torch aflame. Hoggle was sitting there, on a rough bench, holding the torch up so that he and Sarah could see each other.
      "Oh," she said, "I am glad to see you, Hoggle." She was so relieved she could have hugged him.
      "Yes, well," Hoggle said brusquely, as though he were slightly embarrassed by the situation. "Well, nice to see you, too."
      Sarah went to stand beside him, in the torchlight. "What are you doing here? How did you get here?"
      Hoggle shrugged, and half turned away. "I knows you were going to get into trouble soon as I sees you. So I - I've come to give you a hand."
      A helping hand, Sarah thought, and shivered. She had had enough of them. "You mean," she asked, "you're going to help me unriddle the Labyrinth?"
      "Unriddle the Labyrinth?" Hoggle answered scornfully. "Don't you know where you are?"
      She looked about her. In the circle of torchlight she saw stone walls, stone floor, stone ceiling. One rough wooden bench was the only luxury.
      "Oh, she's looking around now, is she?" Hoggle's scorn had turned to sarcasm. "I suppose the little miss has noticed there ain't no doors - just the hole up there?"
      Sarah peered as hard as she could into the shadows, and realized that he was right.
      "This," Hoggle was saying, "is an oubliette. The Labyrinth's full of them."
      She was stung by his knowing, mocking tone of voice. "Really?" she replied, matching his sarcasm. "Now, fancy that."
      "Don't try to sound smart," he told her. "You don't know what an oubliette is."
      "Do you?"
      "Yes," Hoggle said, with a touch of pride. "It's a place you put people to forget about them."
      She remembered her verbs in French class, and, pleased with herself, said, "Of course. It comes from the French verb oublier, to forget. But you already know that, naturally."
      Hoggle raised his chin to scratch it, at the same time letting his eyes roll portentously around the cell.
      What he had said began to sink in, and Sarah looked at the flickering stone walls and shuddered. To forget about them... Was that what Jareth was doing with her? Just forgetting about her? She began to feel indignant. It wasn't fair. He had challenged her to his contest. All the odds were stacked against her, but she had made a brave enough start - he couldn't, now, just dump her in here to rot. Could he?
      Hoggle had taken the torch and waddled into one corner of the oubliette. He beckoned her to follow. She did, casting a great shadow across the walls. Lying in the corner was a skeleton, on its back, knees bent, head propped against the wall.
      She put her hand to her mouth and was about to scream, then thought better of it. She would force herself to remain cool.
      "You see?" Hoggle was squinting up at her. "This Labyrinth is a dangerous place. No place for a little girl."
      She looked at him. Who was he calling little?
      He nodded at the skeleton. "That's how you'll end up if you keep going. In an oubliette, like him. Lot of bad memories in the Labyrinth, I can tell you. What you got to do, little missy, is get out of here."
      "But I must find my baby brother."
      "Forget all that. Now it so happens," Hoggle said, scratching his cheek with a forefinger, "that I knows a shortcut out of the whole Labyrinth from here."
      "No," she said at once. "I'm not giving up now. I've come too far. I've done too well."
      He nodded, and in a smooth voice assured her, "You've been wonderful." He shook his head, and made a sucking noise on his teeth. "But this is only the edge of the Labyrinth. You've hardly started. From here on in, it gets worse."
      There was something in his confidential tone that made Sarah suspicious. "Why are you so concerned about me?" she asked him.
      "What?" Hoggle sounded aggrieved. "I am. That's all. Nice young girl... terrible black oubliette..."
      "Listen," Sarah interrupted him, "you like jewelry, don't you?"
      He pursed his face. "Why?" he asked slowly.
      "You've got some very nice pieces." She pointed to the chain of ornaments dangling from his belt. In the torchlight she could not be sure, but she fancied that a smirking little blush was on his whiskery cheek.
      "Thank you," he said.
      "If you'll help me through the Labyrinth..." She took a break. "...I'll give you..." she slipped her bracelet off. It was only a cheap plastic thing, not one of the special ones that her mother had given her, and which she wore only when she was going out. "...this," she concluded, holding it out to him.
      "Hm." Hoggle licked his lips and eyed the bracelet appraisingly.
      "You like it, don't you?" She could see that he did. He also had an eye for the ring on her finger. That had no intrinsic value either, though Sarah was fond of it because her mother had worn it when playing Hermione in The Winter's Tale.
      "So-so," Hoggle said. "Tell you what. You give me the bracelet and here's what I'll do. I'll show you the way out of the whole Labyrinth. How's that?"
      "You were going to do that in any case," she pointed out.
      "Yes," he replied. "That's what would make it a particularly nice gesture on your part." He held his hand out.
      "Oh, no!" Sarah withdrew the bracelet abruptly. "For this you must show me the way in. The whole way."
      Hoggle snorted. "What makes the little miss so certain I knows my way through it?"
      "Well," she answered, "you got here, didn't you?"
      "What?" Hoggle clucked, shaking his head. "Yes, yes, but... I told you, this is just the fringe of it all. You've got nowhere yet. Come on, where's your common sense? You don't want to go farther than this. Really. You've done all you can, and more. You have proved you're a smart, brave girl, and you don't deserve what would become of you in here." He glanced pointedly at the skeleton, which seemed to be jiggling in the flicker of the torchlight. "No, no, you deserve to be saved from that. I'll say that much for you. So - how about it?" He gazed up at her with eyes of piggy shrewdness from beneath his sprouting eyebrows.
      She looked back at him candidly. Whatever his game was, he played it badly. She had to bite her lip to stop herself from giggling at him. "I'll tell you what," she said, narrowing her eyes. "If you won't take me all the way through the Labyrinth, just take me as far as you can. And then I'll try to do the rest of it myself."
      He looked disgusted with her. "Tcha! Of all the headstrong numbskulls I ever came across..."
      Sarah dangled the bracelet before his eyes. "Fair deal," she offered. "No strings. One bracelet. Hmm? How about it?"
      The bracelet danced in her hand, and his eyes were dancing with it. Grudgingly he asked, "What is this, anyway?"
      "Plastic."
      His eyes shone. Then he raised his stumpy arm for Sarah to put the bracelet onto his wrist. He looked at it there and could not conceal his pride. "I don't promise nothing," he said. "But" - he grunted resignedly - "I'll take you as far as I can. Then you're on your own. Right?"
      "Right," Sarah agreed.
      He nodded. His eyes were still shining as he looked at the bracelet on his wrist. "Plastic!" he murmured, thrilled.
      "Come on, then," Sarah urged him.
      Hoggle sprang into action. He seized the heavy wooden bench and, with a strength Sarah wouldn't have suspected in his small and round-shouldered body, he upended it so that the seat was flat against the wall. Sarah was surprised to see two doorknobs on the underside of the seat, one on the left and one on the right, and she was disconcerted when Hoggle turned one knob and the seat became a door into the stone wall. That's not fair, she thought. With a mischievous grin - because he was enjoying himself, showing off to the young miss - Hoggle walked through the doorway.
      She was about to follow him when she heard a crashing and clattering. Broomsticks and buckets fell out of the doorway into the oubliette. She grinned, recognizing the old broom-closet joke.
      "Oh, damn!" she heard Hoggle say, within the cupboard. He came out backward, and avoided her eye as he thrust the brooms and buckets back inside and closed the door.
      Still sheepish, he grasped the other doorknob. "Can't be right all the time, can we?" he muttered. This time, he opened the door rather less boldly. He peered through. "This is it," he told her. "Come on, then."
      She followed him into a dimly lit corridor with walls of grotesquely carved rock.
      They were working their way along the corridor when a voice boomed, "DON'T GO ON!"
      Sarah jumped violently, and looked all around her. She saw no one, except Hoggle. And then she realized: carved in the stone wall was a mouth. Standing back from it, she saw that the mouth was part of a huge face. Similar faces lined both sides of the corridor. As she and Hoggle passed them, each intoned a deeply resonant message.
      "Go back while you still can!"
      "This is not the way!"
      "Take heed and go no farther!"
      "Beware! Beware!"
      "It will soon be too late!"
      Sarah put her hands over her ears. The warnings seemed to be echoing inside her head.
      Hoggle, bustling onward, looked around to see where she had gone to, and saw her standing. "Pah." He waved his hand. "Don't take no notice of them. They're just Phony-Warnings. You get a lot like them in the Labyrinth. It means you're on the right track."
      "Oh, no, you're not," a face boomed.
      "Do shut up," Hoggle snapped back at it.
      "Sorry, sorry," the face said. "Only doing me job."
      "Well, you don't need to do it to us," Hoggle answered, and led the way on down the passage.
      The face watched them go. "Shrewd cookies," it murmured appreciatively.
      The passageway twisted and turned, but on the whole Sarah had the impression that they were moving forward, if such a direction existed in the Labyrinth, and she felt encouraged. They passed another carved face.
      "Oh, beware!" the face declaimed. "For - "
      "Don't bother." Hoggle flapped his hand dismissively.
      "Oh, please," the face begged. "I haven't said it for such a long time. You've no idea what it's like, stuck here in this wall, and with - "
      "All right," Hoggle told it. "But don't expect us to take any notice."
      The face brightened up. "Oh, no, of course not!" It cleared its throat. "For the path you take will lead you to certain destruction!" It paused. "Thanks," it added politely.
      While the face was droning on, a small crystal ball had been rolling and skipping down the passage from behind Sarah and Hoggle. It overtook them as they turned a corner, and they saw it bounce on ahead of them. A blind beggar squatted with his back to the wall, his hat upturned on the ground in front of his feet. The crystal ball hopped smartly into the hat.
      Sarah heard Hoggle groan. She looked at him. His mouth was open, and his eyes were staring at the hat on the ground.
      The beggar turned his face toward them. "So what have we here?" he asked.
      "Uh, nothing," Hoggle spluttered.
      "Nothing? Nothing?!" The beggar rose up.
      Hoggle froze. Sarah gasped. It was Jareth.
      "Your Majesty..." Hoggle bowed so obsequiously that he was at risk of performing a forward roll. "What...," he swallowed, and smiled haggardly, "what... what a nice surprise."
      "Hello, Hedgewart," said the King of the Goblins.
      "Hogwart," Sarah corrected him.
      "Hoggle," Hoggle said, gritting his teeth.
      "Hoggle," Jareth said, in a kindly conversational voice, "can it be that you're helping the girl?"
      "Helping?" Hoggle prevaricated. "In what sense? Uh..."
      "In the sense that you're taking her farther into the Labyrinth," Jareth said.
      "Oh," Hoggle replied. "In that sense."
      "Yes."
      "Oh, no, no, your Majesty. I was leading her back to the beginning."
      "What!" Sarah exclaimed.
      Hoggle forced his lips into an ingratiating smile for Jareth. "I told her I was going to help her unriddle the Labyrinth - a little trickery on my part..." He guffawed and gulped. "But actually..."
      Jareth, smiling pleasantly, interrupted him. "And what's this plastic trinket around your wrist?"
      "This? I..." Hoggle looked wide-eyed at the bracelet, which someone must have slipped onto his wrist when he was snoozing and which he had unaccountably not even noticed there until this moment. "Why," he stuttered, "er, my goodness, well, I never, where did this come from?"
      "Hoggle," Jareth spoke levelly. "If I thought you were betraying me, I would be forced to suspend you headfirst in the Bog of Eternal Stench."
      "Oh, no, your Majesty." Hoggle's knees were wobbling. "Not that. Not the Eternal Stench."
      "Oh, yes, Hoggle." Jareth turned and smiled at Sarah. "And you, Sarah - how are you enjoying the Labyrinth?"
      Sarah swallowed. Beside her, she heard Hoggle's feet shuffling. Determined not to allow Jareth to intimidate her, she affected a nonchalance she was far from feeling.
      "It's..." she hesitated. "It's a piece of cake."
      Jareth raised one elegant eyebrow.
      Hoggle's eyes closed in dismay.
      "Really?" Jareth sounded intrigued. "Then how about making it a more entertaining challenge?"
      He looked up, and in the space of air before his eyes the thirteen-hour clock appeared. He gestured gracefully, and the hands visibly began to turn faster.
      "That's not fair," Sarah said.
      "You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is."
      Jareth took the crystal ball from his hat and tossed it back down the tunnel again. At once, from the darkness, came a noise: a crashing, whirring, trundling noise, distant as yet, but getting closer all the time, and louder.
      Hoggle's face was a mask of panic. Sarah found herself instinctively shrinking away from the approaching din.
      "The Labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it?" Jareth laughed. "Well, now we can see how you deal with this little slice." While his mocking laugh still rang, he vanished.
      Sarah and Hoggle stared along the passageway. When they saw what was coming at them, their jaws dropped and they trembled.
      A solid wall of furiously spinning knives and chopping cleavers was bearing inexorably down upon them. Dozens of keen blades glittered in the light, every one of them pointing forward and whirring wickedly. The wall of blades completely filled the tunnel, like a subway train, and it would chop them into little pieces in the blink of an eye. And, Sarah noticed with horror, along the bottom of the slashing machine was a busy row of brushes, for tidying up after itself.
      "The Cleaners!" Hoggle shrieked, and took off.
      "What?" Sarah was so terrified she was mesmerically rooted where she stood.
      "Run!" Hoggle's shout came echoing from some distance away and brought her back to her senses. She dashed after him.
      The slashing machine came clanking and trundling remorselessly on behind them.
      All it needed for the story to finish now was that they should come to a dead end. Around a corner, they found one. A heavily barred door closed the tunnel in front of them.