"Toby, why is that man on fire?" Cousin Cher asked, sounding way too concerned as she examined the drawing Toby was working on.
"He's not a man. He's a Fiery. They like to play in fire," Toby explained. He dug through his jumbled bucket of crayons. There had to be a better color in there somewhere. The regular yellow and orange crayons weren't bright enough. "They also like to take off pieces and trade them with their friends, but when I try to draw that it just looks like I can't count how many arms and legs everyone is supposed to have. Sometimes they shoot fire out of their eyes. One time I saw a Fiery shoot-- Ah-ha!"
He triumphantly held up the object of his search, a neon orange crayon from the special day-glow set Mom had given him a few months ago. He scribbled it around the edges of the flames surrounding his Fiery and nodded to himself in satisfaction. Yes, that looked much more realistic. However, Cousin Cher did not compliment him on the improvement to his drawing. She wasn't even looking at it anymore. Instead, she was just staring at Toby. If she was going to tell him that he was only allowed to play video games for an hour before he needed to find something else to do, then it would be nice if she appreciated the effort he put into that something else, even if it was secretly the first step in his cunning plan.
"What did you see a Fiery shoot one time?" she finally said.
"One time I saw a Fiery shoot fire out of his butt!" Toby said with a laugh. "Sarah yelled at him until he stopped." That had been years ago, but it was still funny. Cousin Cher was not laughing, though. She was still staring at him and looking very worried. Why did adults have to be so weird?
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Toby Williams, who was wished away to the Labyrinth by his frustrated older sister, Sarah, when he was not yet even a year and a half old. She immediately regretted it, of course, so she went and got him back. Along the way, she made many friends in the Labyrinth, and once Toby grew a little older, she introduced him to them, and they all went on many adventures together, having lots and lots of fun and only occasionally getting a little bit scared. It was wonderful.
It didn't last.
The years went by, and Toby kept getting older, which should have been great, because getting older meant getting taller. The problem was that Sarah also kept getting older too (that in itself wasn't fair, because how was Toby ever supposed to catch up to her if she kept having a birthday every year just like he did? Jareth probably could have helped him get Sarah to skip a few, but Sarah had made Toby promise not to talk to Jareth without an adult in the room, which made scheming difficult, not to mention the fact that the last time Toby had seen those two together Jareth had whispered something in Sarah's ear which made her mad enough to kick Jareth in the shin and threaten to kick him somewhere worse if he ever said it again. After Jareth left, Sarah had given Toby a long talk about when it was and when it wasn't okay to kick somebody, and most of the 'okay' times involved kicking Jareth or anyone acting like Jareth), only instead of getting taller she just got busier and had less and less time to spend with Toby. She didn't completely abandon Toby or their friends from the Labyrinth, but she had started making friends outside of the Labyrinth too, and then she went off to college.
The years went by (almost a forever-worth as far as Toby was concerned), and now Sarah was something called a senior in college, and she only ever had time to take Toby to the Labyrinth on very special occasions. Toby had his own friends outside of the Labyrinth by now, some of them neighbors and some of them boys he had met at school, and those friends were good for playing sports and videogames, but their idea of adventure was ringing somebody's doorbell and running away, and they thought magic was limited to men in tuxedoes pulling rabbits out of hats at birthday parties. If Toby wanted real adventure and magic, he needed to go to the Underground, but Sarah had made him promise not to go alone, just in case Jareth still wanted to turn him into a goblin.
Toby really wanted to visit his friends in the Labyrinth, but as was so often the case, Sarah was not available. He couldn't ask his parents to take him, because, while all adults were weird, parents were even weirder than regular adults and, worse yet, always thought he was asking them to play make-believe. His usual babysitter, Mandy from down the street, was even more useless and mostly ignored him as long as he didn't make too much noise. However, Mandy was away on vacation with her family all this week, so when Toby's parents decided that they wanted a night out without him, he had somehow ended up with Cousin Cher for a babysitter.
Cousin Cher didn't know about the Underground any more than Toby's friends or Mandy from down the street did, but Toby had a plan to get around that minor detail. It was a very cunning plan, if he said so himself. He was very proud of it. Little did Toby know that his plan, like most plans made by children his age, was not quite as good as he thought it was. He would find out soon enough.
Cousin Cher had finally started looking less worried about the things Toby said once he stopped talking about the Fireys and started telling her about the time Ludo accidentally got splashed with water from the Bog of Eternal Stench, causing Sir Didymus, Sarah, and Toby to need to go on a quest to recover the Crystal Goblet of Purification, which turned anything you put in it into the soapiest water ever and was the only magical artifact powerful enough to save Ludo from the embarrassment of stinking forever. Cousin Cher probably would have started worrying even more than before if Toby had mentioned how the Goblet had been hidden in a living ice cave that kept trying to drop really big, really sharp icicles on their heads, so he skipped over that part of the story.
"I think that's enough drawing for tonight, kiddo. It's less than ten minutes until your bed time, and I know you usually take longer than that to get ready," Cousin Cher said and started gathering up the crayons Toby had scattered around the table over the course of the evening.
Usually Toby would have protested and begged for an extra half hour or more and then stalled further by claiming that his pajamas were missing and making his babysitter figure out where he had hidden them. Tonight, however, bedtime rituals were another part of his cunning plan, so he gave an exaggerated yawn and went with only a token protest to keep from raising her suspicions. He brushed his teeth extra fast, put on his pajamas without prompting, climbed into bed, pointed at his clock, and said, "Look! I'm a whole two minutes early. Can I please have a bedtime story?"
"I don't see why not," Cousin Cher said. She took the chair from his desk, carried it over near his bed, and sat down in it. "What did you have in mind?"
"This one," Toby said as he reached under his pillow and pulled out the very special little red leather-bound book which Sarah had told him he should be very careful to never read out loud but had never said anything about not getting other people to read it out loud for him.
Cousin Cher took the book and turned it over in her hands. "The Labyrinth?" she said. "You know, I remember Sarah bragging about getting this, way back when she was only about the age that you are now and I wasn't much older." She smiled. "I had completely forgotten about that until just now. She kept going on and on about how great the story was, and I got so mad because she wouldn't even let me see it. Eventually I decided she was being a brat and had made up the whole thing just to make me jealous about something."
"Sarah always said that she didn't learn to share until after I was born," Toby said, wearing his very best Serious Face. "Now read me the story!"
"Okay, but only a few chapters or neither of us is going to get enough sleep tonight," Cousin Cher said. She opened the book and began to read. Toby could feel the magic slowly beginning to build as each sentence followed the last, setting the stage for the most important (at least as far as Toby was concerned; Sarah would disagree) magic-filled sentence of all. He could feel it so keenly that he did not even think to wonder whether the magic words in the book would do what he hoped for if they were said by anyone who was not his sister, and then it was too late, and Cousin Cher had already said them. "I wish the goblins would come and take my brother away right now."
Instantly, there was a blinding flash of lightning, followed by a deafening crash of thunder, and all the lights went out. Somewhere in the darkness, someone was clapping slowly and sarcastically. It couldn't have been Cousin Cher, because as soon as the lightning had flashed, she had reached out and grabbed Toby's hand, and she was still holding on with an uncomfortably firm yet somehow comforting grip, which made clapping impossible. Or at least nearly impossible. Toby supposed Cousin Cher could have been clapping if she had really talented feet, but that seemed unlikely, even to a seven year old.
The clapping stopped, and a deep and familiar, at least to Toby, voice purred out, "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, once again you manage to astonish me with your behavior." Yup, that definitely wasn't Cousin Cher. "First you wish your baby brother away to my realm," Jareth, the owner of the voice, continued. "Then you fight so hard to get him back, and now, such a scant few years later even by mortal standards, you wish him away, this time with full knowledge of the consequences. Or have you come to your senses and this was merely a ploy to gain my attention once more? Either way, whatever am I going to do with you, my dear?" He snapped his fingers, and the lights came back on, revealing the one and only Goblin King, wearing an enormous, pointy-toothed smirk, which dropped from his face as soon as he saw that he was not addressing his intended audience. "You're not Sarah," he said so coldly that the air in the room seemed to crackle.
"No, I'm not," Cousin Cher said, obviously shaking but still brave enough to scoot her chair over to place herself more firmly between Toby and Jareth.
"She's Sarah's and my cousin, Cher," Toby added helpfully around her shoulder. "And that's Jareth, the Goblin King," he said to Cousin Cher. "You were just reading about him."
"So I figured."
"Well, Cousin Cher," Jareth said, stalking forward to loom over her, "you can't wish Toby away using the words that you did, since he is not, in fact, your brother."
Cousin Cher surged to her feet to meet Jareth's approach, which still left him looming over her, but not by as much. "I wasn't trying to wish anyone away," she protested. "I was just reading from a book!"
"And yet wish someone away is exactly what you did, because what's said is said, and you have the look of someone with a brother of her own," Jareth said, his smirk beginning to return. "I can sweeten the deal if you're suddenly filled with regrets." Jareth reached to run a gloved finger down her cheek, but she slapped it away before he had the chance to make contact with her face. His smirk turned into a full leer.
"You can have my brother if you think you can take him," Cousin Cher snarled, "but I've read enough fairy tales to say here and now that you're not taking anything else from me, and I'm not taking anything you'd call compensation in return. Now get out of this house before I show you what Williamses are really made of. You aren't welcome here, Goblin King."
"If you say so," Jareth said, still leering. "I'll see you and your sister later, Toby."
"Not if Sarah sees you first!" Toby said and stuck out his tongue at Jareth.
Jareth tsked. "Such manners, my dear boy. It's still not too late for you to join my goblins, since you seem so eager to visit my realm. All you need to ask."
"You have no power over me," Toby shouted, getting mad now and trying to crawl out of bed, but Cousin Cher put out an arm to block him. "And you don't have any power over Cousin Cher, either!"
"Time will be the judge of that," Jareth said with one last predatory grin and then vanished in a cloud of glitter which melted away to nothing before it could reach the carpet.
Cousin Cher sank back into her chair. Her hands were still shaking, but she reached out, took hold of Toby's shoulders, and asked, "Are you okay, Toby?"
"Yeah," Toby said, beginning to sniffle a little bit, "Don't worry about Jareth. He's always like that." He wiped his nose. "Sarah says that he gets off on being a blowhard but mostly he's full of hot air and glitter." He was trying to sound brave, but the realization of what he had done was beginning to sink in, and it was getting harder not to cry. "Also, I can explain," a pause and another sniffle, "and I'm sorry."
"It'll be okay," Cousin Cher said and pulled Toby into a hug. "For a start, that Goblin King of yours never bothered to ask if I had a little brother like you or an older one. I don't think he know exactly what he's let himself in for." She drew back, ruffled Toby's hair, smiled, and said, "Now let's go see if we can get your sister on the phone and bring her in as reinforcements, and maybe she'll let you help us get your Cousin Ash back."
And that is the story of how Toby Williams learned that it is very important to make sure that the exact right magic words are said when you are trying to get something done. It is also the beginning the story of how Cheryl "just call me Cher" Williams learned how dangerous it can be to read out loud from strange old books and how Jareth the Goblin King learned both the importance of finding out who exactly is being wished away before agreeing to take them and the importance of not leaving giant robots lying around where angry college dropouts with dual talents for engineering and violence can get their remaining hand on them. But that is a story which Toby is not allowed to repeat, because of all the swearing.