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As Easy Mayst Thou Fall

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Dear Toby,

You don't remember me, I know, but that's the price I paid. I am your older sister, Sarah, your father's daughter from his first marriage, to Linda. I took care of you all the time when you were a little boy—until I went away to college. I used to tell you such stories! I wish you remembered them. Or maybe you do? Have you kept your affection for fairy tales and fantasy? Oh, I wish I could see you as you read this; I wish I could be with you to tell you this in person.

I believe in fairy tales, Toby; but even if you don't, let me tell you one now.

Once upon a time, there was a young girl whose father remarried when she was fourteen, and had a child with his new wife. All the time, the girl had to care for the baby, and she began to hate the baby because he represented what she did not have: a mother who loved her and a father who had no one else. And so one day she did a very selfish thing: she wished that the goblins would come and take her brother away, something she had read about in a book and only partially believed. But they did! The goblins came and took her brother, and in that moment, she realized that she loved him very much, and wanted him back.

The Goblin King came to her and told her that he would keep the baby unless she could solve his Labyrinth in thirteen hours or less. And, with a little luck, a little courage, and three wonderful friends, she succeeded and brought her brother home.

Sounds like the story should end there, doesn't it? But years later, the girl made another wish, and the Goblin King came back into her life and stole her away to his castle, his home in a world of magic that lives alongside our mundane world. There, she learned that she could care for his people, his land, and even the King himself. And even more than she cared for the King, she also came to believe in his cause, to believe that the work he was doing was worth dying for—or even better, worth living for.

Just over twenty-four years have passed, Toby, since the day that I wished you away, and twelve have passed since I chose to go back, to stay. Before I left, I set up a trust fund in your name, with all that I had; it isn't much, but I hope it's done well, these past years. It is yours now, free and clear, though I hope you will use the money wisely. In addition, I would like to ask you a favor.

Do you remember the park, near your parents' first home, the old Victorian, that has a pond, and a footpath, and a stone obelisk? It was one of my favorite haunts, as a child. If it is possible for me to return Above at all, I will be there on the day after Christmas, and I will stay near the obelisk from noon until six. I don't know where you're living now or what responsibilities you have, but if you can, and if you wish to know this sister who still loves you very much, please come to the park at that time. But even if you do not come, or cannot, I will understand. There is also a chance that I will not be able to return to your world; if I cannot, please forgive me. I will try again the following Christmas and every one thereafter.

If you cannot make it to the park, or you do not find me, you might try wishing for me, but I do not know if I will be strong enough to answer.

Fondly,

Your Forgotten Sister, Sarah

Tobias Robert Williams had never met his father's first wife. He'd gone nearly sixteen years, in fact, without ever knowing that Dad had been married to someone else before Mom, and he'd been absolutely shocked to learn that she was the famous Linda Williams. He certainly didn't remember a sister. But ever since the bank had called with the keys to this safe deposit box, containing a letter and the necessary paperwork to claim the money, on his twenty-fifth birthday the previous summer, he hadn't been able to get the story out of his head. She'd left him a book, as well, a small red leather-bound volume called Labyrinth that told the tale of a girl who wished away her brother to the Goblin King.

The money had been real enough. It wasn't enough to set him up for life, but it was enough to buy a midrange car free and clear, or make a down payment on a house, or pay the bills while he spent a year working on that novel he kept meaning to write and never quite starting. He hadn't decided, yet.

He also hadn't told his parents he'd received it.

All he knew was that he couldn't let this opportunity pass, which is why he had come home for Christmas and then escaped on the twenty-sixth, and had now been leaning against the base of the obelisk in the park for the past two hours, looking anxiously into the face of every woman who passed, hoping for a spark of recognition. The letter from the box, much-creased with handling, was clenched in a hand inside his coat pocket.

He didn't even know how old she would be. Fourteen or fifteen years older than he was, from the note, but if she wasn't crazy—if she really had gone to Fairyland or whatever—maybe she hadn't aged at all. Taking into account that some people looked old for their age and others young, he'd reasoned that she could look anywhere from twenty to forty-five. Would she look like Dad? Would she look like him? Would she look like her mother? Was he crazy for even being here, out in the cold New England December, freezing his ass off against this icy stone pillar?

He might be, but he couldn't bring himself to leave, even as the sun set and the moon rose and his watch told him her time was up. Finally, he spoke aloud to the empty night.

"I wish my sister Sarah was here, right now." He waited, but nothing happened.

As he turned to leave the park, he knew he'd be back the next year, and every one after that.

Toby didn't quite believe in fairy tales, but he wanted to.