Sarah loved her mother like no one before her. When she was born, she didn’t cry. She was placed directly in her mother’s arms for a moment that could never have been long enough, in which her mother finally found her daughter's name: Sarah, which meant ‘princess,’ as she recalled. And a princess she would be. Her princess.
Sarah was a happy child, sweet and rather bright. For these reasons, you might think she’d be the neighborhood babysitter’s favorite. But Sarah was so attached to her mother that, when she was a toddler, she would cry every time she remembered her mother wasn’t home. When she got to be a little older, she didn’t cry. Instead she moped around the house, cheering up only with talk about her mother—what they did last weekend, where they went. How she helped mommy fix dinner, and how last night mommy told her a story about when she was a little girl.
Sarah never made any friends, really. She was well liked and smart, and played with the children at preschool. But she didn’t take to them as she did her mother, and because of this, none of her playmates became close to her. Her mother thought Sarah clung to her so because of her lack of companionship. But that was wrong, her father always knew. Sarah didn’t make friends because, simply, no one was ever quite like his wife.
But Sarah’s parents began to notice strange things about their only daughter. When she was almost four years old, they realized the night terrors hadn’t stopped since they began—when she was two.
“It’s perfectly normal,” the pediatrician said. “Children often have nightmares at this age due to separation anxiety from their parents.” This made sense to them. So Sarah’s mother continued her routine of stirring from her husband’s side to shuffle through the darkness and flip the hallway light switch. She first went to the kitchen and heated a glass of milk. She’d then pluck a throw pillow from the love seat, and fetch a spare blanket from the linen closet.
She never noticed the flitting shadows bouncing at the touch of the hallway light when she gently creaked the bedroom door open. But Sarah did, and between dripping sobs she would point to the dark shape littering her baby pink room. Her mother would peer through the dim illumination of the Lisa Frank night light, and see nothing more than a shadow as faint as the sound of drifting snow. It would never occur to her that nothing that she could see was casting the shadow.
Sarah would drink her warm milk, and pull the blanket off her bed, her eyes never leaving the shadow as she curled up next to mother on the pink plush carpet, where strong but gentle arms pulled her against a beating chest, where she could best hear her mother’s singing with her ears pressed to her.
Hush, hush, little princess
Shush, shush your nightmare fears
Touch, touch, my hand and know that
Much, much love holds you here.
Sarah’s mother was no lyricist, but her voice was sweet and her words were true. The little lullaby the two of them shared would always sing in their hearts when Sarah was afraid.
Even when her mother was no longer there to hold her.
By morning, she had been placed back in her bed, and the shadow was gone. The nightmares were never more pungent than dreams are after they’ve faded into daylight. Sarah’s day would be like any other, just as her nights would be when the nightmares came.
Then one day, the nightmares stopped. It was perhaps three days before Sarah started kindergarten, and after that night, the goblins no longer came. They haunted many other children across the city, the country, the world; but not Sarah’s dreams, not her baby pink room, lined with shelves of teddy bears and hand puppets, plush animals and a night light. Sarah was as unique as any other ordinary child, so she should have seen the goblins now and then, shouldn’t she?
She wouldn’t see the goblins for many, many sleeps later. But there was something amiss in her room every night, between this time and then. Cast onto the dusty panes of glass in her canopied window was the silhouette of a young man, which even grown-ups could see, were they quick enough. Sarah never saw the shape, as she was resting too peacefully to know he was there. But he was the very reason for her sweet dreaming; the young man with beautiful eyes—one blue, one green—the one who cast the shadow, by watching carefully over Sarah’s sleep. He had seen into her heart, her mind, and vowed to ward off the demons which aimed to shatter her innocent dreams.
He appeared every night, in both her bedroom window and in the world she dreamed in since the first night he came. He was tall, darkly handsome, his voice low and unfeeling, his words often cold and bitter. But Sarah was completely taken by him--don't ask me why--and for the first time she chased after the heels of someone who wasn't her mother.
She came to know him as The Prince. The beautiful prince would argue that, no, he was not a prince, but a king. The first time he said so, Sarah took his hand and smiled with rosy, blushed cheeks. “But kings don’t save damsels in distress. Princes do. Like in my fairy tale book.” She looked at him, and gasped with a silly sort of horror. “Are you my prince charming?”
The Prince did not smile. He had forgotten how to, you see. But his heart felt warmth for the first time in, well—he couldn’t remember. But he squeezed her small hand. “I’m hardly charming, young Sarah.” He gazed out at the landscape of his kingdom. It was so long, so vast, so endless. He felt like he was being swallowed, slowly, but surely. “Hardly charming at all.”