I was five the first time they told me I was Not Real. Hansel, who liked to play teacher back then, had been teaching me about ink. I knew all about paper: the textures, the million shades of white, the way my brothers glued it into perfectly still stacks within the leather covers.
“…and the day you start to see ink, I’ll teach you how to read.”
“Read?” I said excitedly. I’d seen Hansel and our older brothers hunched over the books for hours, immersed by what they called “reading.”
“But the day you see ink is the day you start to carry our burdens,” Hansel warned. “You must start slow…too many stories here, too much pain…You see, each book in the Library is the story of one individual, one entire life.”
“Do I have a book, too?”
“Silly!” laughed Hansel. “We don’t have lives. We’re Not Real, Michael.”