Continuing Tales


A Labyrinth Story
by Willa Suvia

Part 3 of 9

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This did not feel like her usual dream.

Instead of a shimmering veil of unreality, everything she touched had an aura of truth about it, a solid seeming. Her braid hung long and natural down her back; no heavy silver adornments weighed her down. She reached back and felt the scrunchie holding her braid in, wondering at the softness of her hair.

No, this did not feel right at all.

She breathed deep and to her surprise did not gag on floating bits of marabou and glitter. She bent down, shocked at the ease of such a seemingly simple action. There was no gown to restrict her movement, no tight slippers to keep her from wiggling her toes. Just the whispery soft cotton of her pajamas and the ragged panda slippers on her feet. She looked all around, wondering where the marbled floors and columns and pearl-strung chandeliers had gone.

The answer was easy enough. The sand had swallowed them up.

Sand was all around her, golden-pale in the sunlight, burning beneath her feet. Nothing but sand stretched out in every direction, shifting in great sculpted dunes and scouring the bones of forgotten dreams far below the surface. There was nothing here, and never had been. Nothing but sand and sky. And Sarah.

She heard a rustling behind her and swept around, nearly tripping over her own feet. She gasped to see a hobbling, hunched form with the weight of the world on her shoulders. "I know you," Sarah murmured, but could not place her. It seemed that the hag knew her as well; her cracked parchment lips moved in a semblance of speech, but no sound could be heard.

Sarah raised her hands in exasperation. "I'm sorry," Sarah said, shrugging as the old woman ranted in silence. "I can't hear you."

The old woman unfurled her small, gnarled hand. Clasped in her fingers was a flower, pale green and shimmering in the sun. She pulled off two petals and stuffed one in each ear, then offered the flower to Sarah so that she could do the same.

"I don't know about this," Sarah fussed over the flower. It had tiny teeth at the heart of it, teeth that could nip off the tip of her finger if she had the notion to put it in there. "It doesn't look quite...right..."

The crone tapped her foot impatiently and gestured for Sarah to get on with it.

Sarah sighed, and stuffed the petals in her ears. It was all a dream, anyway.

The world opened itself up to her as the flower had unfolded once in a far-away garden. She heard the crinkling of a fairy's wings as they beat a million times in a second, rivaling any hummingbird's. She heard the desperate whispers of a cold dark moon, the crunch of sand grains beneath her feet, the tearful music of the spheres. She thought for an instant as she gazed into the bright white sky that she had just heard the deaths of a billion stars.

"There's no death," came a familiar voice from behind her.

"Hoggle!" she exclaimed, and reached her arms out to greet her old friend. But the farther she reached, the more distant he became. "Hoggle, what's wrong?"

"Burying won't stop it breathing forever," he sermonized. "Underground, it takes to root."

"I don't understand," she moaned, and reached for him again. He withdrew from her with a sigh. "I don't understand any of this!"

Hoggle wagged his finger at Sarah like a naughty child, "It don't seem right, he's in there and you're on the outside."

"Crazy life," agreed the old lady.

The Junk Lady, Sarah recalled. The one with the counterfeit dreams...

"I don't know...I don't understand..." Sarah puzzled again, frustrated. All around her, the land was coming to life in frightening waves of sound and vision. The sands had begun shifting beneath her still feet with crackles and low, murmuring growls, and even now she was buried to the ankles. She shuffled, pulling herself from the sucking sand. "Who is-" Comprehension washed over her face slowly. "Oh. He. Him."

"Did you think he'd just disappear?" the Junk Lady asked, and cackled until tears streaked her face. She looked up suddenly, her black beady eyes fixed on the darkening sky. She reached out and placed a mirror in Sarah's trembling hand. (Trembling? In a dream?) The handle swirled and writhed like water, and she clutched it with both hands just to keep it in her grasp.

The old lady smiled as amiably as she was able, guiding Sarah's hands up until she could see her face in the mirror. "We have always been blind," she told her. "This will help."

Sarah gazed into the mirror, royally confused. She saw only herself with no makeup and tendrils of loose hair slipped from her braid. She saw a tiny pimple on her chin, a bit of sleep lodged in the corner of her eye-

"No," the Junk Lady said, guiding the mirror a tiny bit to the right. "Never look at yourself. Look beyond."

Sarah felt hopelessly lost. Hoggle and this...woman...spewed riddles like tap water. They might as well have been speaking another language, for all the sense they were making. She looked into the mirror again, expecting a view of barren sands and infinite wastes, but...

Her heart fell like broken ropes.

The castle.

She turned, glancing over her shoulder where the only sight to meet her was a vast expanse of charred sands. There was no castle here...was she going mad?

Hoggle's small hand closed around her wrist and persuaded her to turn once more. He nudged the mirror up again, and she stared in shocked disbelief.

"Hindsight's 20/20, isn't it?" Aggy croaked, punctuating with a snort.

"Is he there?" she whispered, and the winds howled around her, laughing at her foolishness.

"He has always been there," the old lady said.

Sarah jumped as thunder boomed nearby. Overhead, great black thunderheads rolled in waves, drowning the sun and casting gray shadows across the golden sand.

Hoggle touched the Junk Lady's arm. "I'm sensing a change of weather," he intoned ominously.

The air vibrated, crackling with pale blue electricity. Sarah's first instinct was to seek shelter, and her eyes darted this way and that in search of some protection from the rain.

Who am I kidding? she chided herself. Out here there's nowhere to hide but in my own skin.

But there was the castle.

"I can't get to it!" she cried, and stared in longing at the empty sands behind her. "When I turn, it disappears!"

"Then don't turn," the old lady said, taking Hoggle's arm. "Remember what he told you, the old man. Remember that the way forward is sometimes the way back."

She blinked and squinted vacantly as cold, piercing rains assailed her face and shoulders.

"Perhaps the way back," she went on, "can also be the way forward."

Sarah shook her head and turned again, holding the mirror up so that the castle was in clear view behind her. She took a step backwards, and drew closer. She took another, and another, and soon the castle loomed grand over her and no longer fit in the mirror's small frame. She almost stopped when the topmost turret cracked and crumbled before her eyes. Long fissures spidered down its ancient gray structure. The tower itself threatened to topple and fall into the sands.

"Don't stop," she told herself, holding her breath as she neared. "Just keep going and don't stop or it might go away."

Hoggle breathed a sigh, watching her draw nearer the castle in a careful backward crab-scuttle. He was glad she hadn't stopped; it might truly have fallen if she had hesitated a moment longer.

"In the end," he whispered, squeezing Aggy's hand in his own, "a change is due."


A Labyrinth Story
by Willa Suvia

Part 3 of 9

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