A.C.H.Smith. The Labyrinth. Chapter 6: Up And Up

      Sarah gasped. The whizzing blades were rapidly drawing nearer.
      Hoggle was pawing pathetically at the great door and mumbling to himself.
      But Sarah wasn't listening to him. She was looking around for an escape - above, below. She dashed along the side walls, looking for a handle or button. There had to be some way out. That was how the Labyrinth worked. There was always some trick, if only she could find it.
      The clanking, whirring, seething, brushing noise was louder. She glanced momentarily at what Hoggle was doing. He was still just scrabbling at the door. It was no use trusting to him. What could she do? What?
      Her eye fell on part of the wall, to one side of the door, that looked distinct from the rest, a panel of metal plates. She pushed at it and felt it give a little.
      "Hoggle!" she shouted above the echoing din.
      "Sarah!" he answered, hammering his pudgy fists against the door and kicking at it, as though it could be expected to relent in the face of such frustration. "Don't leave me!"
      "Get over here and help me," she yelled back at him.
      Hoggle joined her. Together they shoved with all their weight at the metal plates.
      "Come on," Sarah told him, "push, you little double-crosser. Push!"
      Hoggle was pushing. "I can explain," he panted.
      "PUSH!"
      The panel caved in suddenly. They fell through the space it left and sprawled flat on it.
      Behind them, the machine slashed through the air just beside their feet. When it reached the great barred door, there was a terrible crunching sound as the knives and cleavers bit through the wood, spitting it out as splinters, which the whirling brushes swept up neatly. The machine was cranked along by four goblins, standing on a platform behind the wall of knives. They were grunting and sweating with the effort of turning handles and working levers to keep the contraption whirring. The racket clattered onward, through the demolished doorway, and off into the distance.
      Sarah lay on her back, recovering her breath. Hoggle looked down at her. "He's throwing everything at us," he said, and shook his head with a trace of admiration. "The Cleaners, the Eternal Stench - the whole works. He must think a lot of you."
      Sarah answered with a faint, forced smile. "He's got some funny ideas."
      Hoggle was busy again. Eyes darting left and right beneath his bushy eyebrows, he clumped around in the shadows until he found what he was looking for. "This is what we need," he called. "Follow me."
      She sat up and looked. There, on the floor of the tunnel they had entered, she saw the base of a ladder. It led up into darkness.
      "Come on," Hoggle was calling. The first rung was too high for him to reach, and he was hopping around trying to jump up to it.
      Sarah went over to him. The ladder looked unsafe to her. It was constructed of an odd assortment of bits of wood, planks, and branches, patched together with ends of rope and half-driven nails.
      "Come on, give me a hand," Hoggle urged.
      She stood with one hand holding the ladder. "How can I trust you," she asked, "now that I know you were taking me back to the start of the Labyrinth?"
      "I wasn't," Hoggle protested, and stared fiercely at her with those piggy eyes of his. As a liar, he was so bad it was quite touching. "I told him I was taking you to the start of the Labyrinth, to throw him off the scent, d'ya see? Heh-heh. But actually - "
      "Hoggle." Sarah smiled reproachfully at him. "How can I believe anything you say?"
      "Well," he replied, screwing up one eye, "let me put it this way. What choice do you have?"
      Sarah thought about it. "There is that."
      "And now," Hoggle said, "the main thing is to get back up." And he started again to try and hop up to the first rung of the rickety ladder.
      Sarah gave him a leg up, watched him start, and followed. At any moment she thought the thing might collapse; but then, as Hoggle had said, what choice did she have?
      Without turning his head, Hoggle called out, "The other main thing is not to look down."
      "Right," she called back, and, as though it were a playground dare, she had to snatch a little look past her feet. "Ooooh!" she cried. They had climbed much higher than she would have thought possible in the time. The wobbly ladder seemed to stretch down below her forever. She could not see the bottom of it, nor could she see the top. She felt unable to climb another rung. Clutching the sides of the ladder, she started to shake. The whole ladder shook with her.
      Above, Hoggle clung desperately to the shaking ladder. "I said don't look down," he moaned. "Or perhaps don't means do where you come from?"
      "I'm sorry, I didn't realize..."
      "Well, when you've done all the shaking you want, perhaps we could continue."
      "I can't help it," Sarah wailed.
      Jumping around like a monkey on a stick, Hoggle managed to answer, "Well, we'll just have to stay here until one of us falls off, or we turns into worm food."
      "I am sorry," Sarah told him, still shaking.
      "Oh, good. She's sorry. In that case, I don't mind being shaken off to my certain death."
      Breathing deeply, and looking resolutely upward, Sarah forced herself to think of happy, secure things: Merlin, her room, lovely evenings out with her mother, multiplication tables. It worked. She gained control of her body and started to climb again.
      Hoggle felt her coming, and he went on, too. "See," he called to her, "you've got to understand my position. I'm a coward, and Jareth scares me."
      "What kind of position is that?"
      "A very humble one. That's my point. And you wouldn't be so brave, either, if you'd ever smelled the Bog of Eternal Stench. It's... it's..." It was his turn to pause on the ladder, and control his shakes.
      "What is it?"
      "It makes me feel dizzy just to think of it."
      "Is that all it does?" Sarah asked. "Smell?"
      "Believe me, that's enough. Oh, dear me. You wait, you just wait, if you get that far."
      "Can't you hold your nose?"
      "No." Hoggle shuddered again, but started to climb. "Not with this smell. It gets into your ears. Up your mouth. Anywhere it can get in."
      Sarah thought she could see the top at last. There were chinks of daylight above her head.
      "But the worst thing," Hoggle continued, "is if you so much as get a splash of the mire on your skin you will never, never be able to wash the stench off."
      He was on the top rung now. He reached up, fiddling with a sliding bolt and pushed open a wooden hatchway.
      Outside was a clear blue sky. Sarah had never seen anything so beautiful.