Imaginary Can Mean Real

If your characters were able to talk to you, what would they say? A short story on having faith as a writer, both with your stories and yourself.

Cover as always done by the lovely Victoria Raven!

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1. Imaginary Can Mean Real

"Guys! Come on everyone, please. I need at least something. I can't just leave it an empty page. Guys!"

My pleading falls on deaf ears. They are all ignoring me. How am I supposed to write if I don't have anyone to work with?

I have plunged into the world of my subconscious, trying to write the first chapter of a new book. It's been a while since I've written a whole novel, and I'm getting antsy.

In the imagined workplace of my mind, it's serene and peaceful.

The dusty sandstone butte I'm sitting on is raised perhaps only thirty feet in the air, but it allows me to see everything from my position in the plush furniture.

I'm not sure why this world is the way it is. Just the inner workings of my mind, I suppose. Daydreaming isn't quite the right word for what I do, as the experience is so vivid and alive it’s like touching and feeling everything in a tangible sense, but it's the closest term that comes to mind. It's the place where I can live the stories I write.

On the butte there's always seven exceedingly comfortable chairs, fabric the color of sapphires. They're arranged in a perfect circle around a gargantuan table, smooth glass rimmed with gold accents. It's similar to the kind you see villains gather at when plotting nefarious deeds, although the only crime here is how much time I spend sitting around it while avoiding my responsibilities. There's enough seating for me and six other characters of my choosing, by which I mean I imagine the characters to be here and they just show up.

In the center of the table resides a notebook and pencil. It’s nothing too fancy- just a plain black journal- except it starts out blank every time. No matter what I've written here or in the real world, it has never had a single word in it.

Nothing else is here, but the sum of hours I've spent immersed in the space totals several months. I'm always working hard to plan out my project of the week. With the amount of times I've seen this place, it feels like home.

The butte has a less sheer cliff face than would be expected. In fact, the characters always make their way down to find a story worthy of consideration by using their momentum and skidding along the side. They make it look easy; even Veronica can do it and she's only eight, but every time I watch them in essence rock surf, I just about have a heart attack. I don't know if they can die or not, I don't see how they could, but I appreciate having them around and not smeared onto the sandy rock. All in all it looks entirely too dangerous and is not an activity I'll be engaging in. Having a fear of heights makes me wonder why my writing place had to be on top of a tall landform.

A sloping valley and lush grass surrounds me, a soft breeze causing the blades of green to ripple like ocean waves. The air is pleasant, crisp with cold scent of the coming fall. In a few weeks, the emerald leaves on the trees will change into hues of rust and gold. For now though, the vegetation and wildlife reflect the easy summer of the year.

“Plot bunnies” as I call them, meander below, hopping along curiously as they nuzzle different objects with their nose. In anatomy, they are not so different from regular rabbits. Ears, long and pointed, lead to a small frame that appears to constantly quiver. An adorable, round tail adorns their backsides. Whiskers twitch in discovery against their silky fur, colors ranging from brown and speckled to pure black. There are only two differentiations.

First, they retain this kind of warm glow. A sort of shimmer surrounds them, not quite a color, but in no way is it translucent. Every one of them has this.

Second, as their name suggests, they hold the plot or main idea to different stories. Not through speech, in a way they can tell it to me. No, the words are literally on them, letters imbued into their bodies. Ink is dappled across their fur, similar to spots on regular rabbits. Some hold longer messages, writing stretching all the way from their ears to their hind legs. Others merely hold a short message, occasionally only a word, printed squarely in one spot.

They're not here to write the story for me, but more a representation of the ideas I've created absentmindedly throughout my life.

Once they have their ideas recorded, the ink recedes from their form and they spring away, waiting until the day another idea comes to them.

As I gaze down at the bunnies, I grow more frustrated with the lack of response from those present with me. It's not even that there’s silence, because at least that would be more acceptable. There's a discordance of sounds arising from the mouths of the people that inhibit my books, none of which are ones that would help me. I'm regretting the fact I called these particular characters here to work with me to write this story, but they were the best individuals I had available to help me with the theme I had in mind.

So far, all they'd heard was that I wanted to do a mystery piece for said theme.

"Minho!" I yell, trying to get his attention. He's currently attaching his face to his girlfriend's.

Minho and Maddie were the first ones I called. High school sweethearts, they've been together for three years now. They don't discuss marriage with me, saying they "prefer to avoid labels." Minho's tall and lean, with perpetually mussed coffee colored hair and lighter than caramel skin. Maddie is shorter, about to Minho's collar bone, but that's not her fault because that's how tall everyone is to Minho. She has medium length, somehow magically curled to perfection golden hair.

They go everywhere together, it's almost sickening, but they're by no means a conventional couple. She kicks his butt when they play video games. He has an obsession with cooking strange and exotic things.

With his athletic build and her porcelain skin, they have no problems showing off that they would make pretty children.

It's not fair for two people in their mid-20's to be so attractive.

It's pointless to pretend I'm not jealous they always look great. Sometimes I look like I slept under a bridge. I'm sure there's some way I can affect that, but I don't know how. My appearances don't change between worlds, and I like sleeping in too much to really get ready many days.

Maddie and Minho are both unrivaled in their ability to sass people, including the other characters and me, even though I'm the one who made them. Way to give thanks, guys.

To be honest, Minho is kind of my favorite. I love all my characters, of course, they're all a part of my soul. But there's something about Minho that makes him my favorite. We didn't used to get along, actually. He wouldn't talk to me the first few weeks after I made him. It was only after I'd had the most horrible day and came here to try and bury myself in a world not my own did he start to converse with me. It might have had something to do with the fact I was crying. As he proved that day, he can be unexpectedly gentle. Ever since then, he's like a best friend. He's just a diva of a best friend.

I think he knows that too, despite my efforts to hide it, and he occasionally takes advantage of it.

"Minho!" I shout again, this time throwing my pencil at him. "Get off of Maddie!"

He pulls away from his spot in the chair across from me, looking irritable.

"What do you want?" he snaps, giving me a glare for interrupting him. Now that I look beside him, I see so is Maddie. Great.

"I'm trying to write a story here!" I answer, exasperated. "I need you to help me, not act like you're on a couple's retreat."

His glare intensifies.

"You called us when we were in the middle of a date," Maddie hisses from her precarious perch on the arm of his chair, "so we're continuing it."

Did they think they could bully me? I was in no mood. I needed to at least start this book.

"No," I respond lowly, "you won't be continuing it."

"Oh?" Minho asks. "And why's that?"

"Because I'm the author! You're supposed to listen to me!"

Why don't my characters ever do anything I say?

"Since when has that been a rule?" he asks, an eyebrow quirked playfully.

"Since always!" I bark. "Don't make me force you to cooperate."

"You don't have the capability to force us," Maddie says with a smile. "You're too nice to do anything."

"Remember that time that I needed to get a feel of a breakup so I asked you two to experiment to tell me?"

Minho stiffens, muscles rigid, and Maddie takes a sharp breath. Oops. Maybe I shouldn't have brought that up. I didn't want to do it to them, I just had nobody else to ask. But I'm in too deep now to take back my words if I want to get anywhere.

"So," I try to say confidently, but it comes out apologetic, "I could do that again. I have the power."

Minho catches my eye, making it clear he knows I would do no such thing. Of course he knows.

"Is that so?" he asks nonchalantly, clueing in Maddie with his tone that I'm bluffing. "Let me remind you what happened when you did that. We didn't talk to you for two weeks. Two whole weeks without story ideas. You were practically crying when you asked us to come back and help you. Wouldn't want that to happen again, would you?"

"Well," I try again, desperate, "you're not giving me any story ideas now. So what harm would it do me?"

When he looks at me in a way that suggests how stupid that comment is, I groan and give up on them.

"Cheer up," he says lightly, tossing my pencil back to me. "I'm sure someone else will help you."

Why did I even bother to ask them?

Fine. I'll ask Aaron and Lucy.

Or not.

As I turn to their chairs, I find them bickering again. Or to be more accurate, I find them continuing to bicker. They never stop.

They're actually really close friends, they even live together, not that you'd know it with the vitriolic things that come out of their mouths. It's like a constant name calling match.

Aaron's got longer hair than Minho, and it's more similar to milk chocolate. He has an obsession with scarves. I don't know why. Even if it's 90 degrees out he'll be wearing a scarf. I'm starting to wonder if he has some sort of self-esteem issues with his neck. He'd probably yell at me for thinking that if he knew.

He lost his wife in a car accident a few years back, so he didn't want to get close to anyone. That is, until he became friends with Lucy.

Lucy's the very definition of a fiery redhead, temper and passions included. She's got quite the vocabulary that I would rather not showcase to the world due to age ratings. Don't let the dimple and freckles fool you. I'm not so sure she doesn't know how to hide a body.

Both of her parents left her when she was young, so she became essentially a modern version of Oliver Twist to make a living. She doesn't do anything illegal anymore, besides mass downloading music from anywhere but iTunes, as I made her get an actual job.

It turns out she's an extraordinarily talented artist. Some of the sketches she's done take my breath away. Once, she made one of me relaxed across the chair that's technically unassigned but is still rightfully mine. My legs were tucked up under me while I serenely pondered something I had written down in the notebook. I'm going to pretend I didn't cry at the way she paid attention to all the details.

She is like me when it comes to getting ready, thinks it’s too much of a bother most of the time.

While Aaron's more fashion forward, even runs a style column in the newspaper, Lucy hates anything to do with it. She especially abhors dresses. The one time I tried to dress her up, she got revenge on me by making fun of my clothes for a month. I'm still a little self-conscious about some of my outfits. She did apologize, but only after she saw me look down uncertainly at my clothing every time I talked to her.

Fortunately, both Aaron and Lucy found something in each other, so they make excellent roommates. After they stop complaining about what the other did that morning, of course.

I once suggested they try out a test date. He's 35, she's 32, and they spend all their time with each other. That's a logical progression, right? Just to see if they had chemistry, not because I was forcing them. Needless to say, I took Aaron's steely gaze and Lucy's very literal vomit as a metaphorical sign they were not meant to be together.

"Shut up!" Lucy is exclaiming, an edge lining her voice. "It's not my fault the bugs got in! You're the one who leaves food everywhere to attract them!"

"Me?" Aaron shoots back, incredulous. "You're the one who always stands in front of the door too long! They're coming in because of you!"

"Aaron!" I try, raising my voice to be heard over their fight, "Lucy!"

They can't hear me. I think about throwing the pencil at them like I did to a certain smug boy earlier, but I'm sure if they do stop for a moment to get mad at me, I won't be getting the utensil back. And I need it. Just because I can’t take the paper itself back to reality doesn’t mean I don’t need to remember the words written down.

"You're such a hermit!" Lucy screeches.

"And you're such an oddball!" he bites back.

"Aaron!" I shout again. "Come on! Lucy!"

This is useless. They're going to have to tire themselves out before I can get anything out of them. But then they'll probably go off topic and start discussing vintage cars, which will never end.

I'm not sure why I called them either.

Actually, I do know why. It's because Matt, Jason, and Maggie were out on some hike who knows where. Why are all the blonde people who actually respond to me busy? And since when did I lose the ability to really get to choose who came and who didn't? This is bad. I'm starting to lose control over my characters. Soon, they're going to be ignoring me and will run amok.

Oh, wait. They're doing that now.

"Would it really kill someone to help me out for once?" I exclaim, frustrated.

"I could help you, if you'd like," says a soft voice behind me.

"Simon!" I shout joyfully. "Oh Simon, I'm so sorry! I forgot you were here."

Precious angel Simon. He might just have to be my new favorite because he's standing there, a string bean that somehow manages to be lithe at the same time, offering to help me. His mop of black hair is swaying as he laughs at my jubilant cries. Simon always helps me. Well, not always, but only because he gets distracted by-

"Simon!" I hear the familiar voice chirp, only to have the owner run straight into my thigh.

Veronica.

Simon and Veronica are siblings. Their parents love them dearly, but in order to keep food on the table they are out working much more often than not. The 16-year-old practically raises Veronica, but he doesn't seem to mind too much.

I just realized how depressing the lives of some of my characters are.

"Bro! Bro!" Veronica rambles, "I found this bug over there, and it's super cool! It ate this other bug that was standing there, and I was like 'whoa!' But then it hopped away so of course I had to go catch it."

Simon throws me an apologetic look, remorse coating his sea foam irises, but he leans down to listen to Veronica anyway.

That's it. This is absolutely hopeless. I'm never going to get anyone to help me with this story. What's even the point anyway? It's not like I'll become a real author. What kind of author can't control the people they made?

The last few weeks have been a low point in my life. I've been writing and writing, putting my heart and soul into short stories, poems, even that attempt at nonfiction. Nobody liked it, there were no constructive comments. I even got a negative review on one of the stories online where the reader hated everything about the main character. There was nothing worthwhile about the piece if he was in it, they said. So where has writing got me? Absolutely nowhere.

I don't expect a huge publishing deal, but it would be nice if there was any sign I wasn't just churning out words onto a piece of paper that nobody will care about. Some sort of reassurance I was cut out to do the thing I loved to do so much. That I wasn't wasting my life chasing some obscure dream I could never come close to.

I've been told it's not realistic. That there are too many other authors out there. That it is a silly notion for me to hope for a big break when I could go for something more sensible and secure. I love the English language, I should teach it. I have a lovely way of interacting with people, I should work in politics. Over and over again, hearing what I should be, not what I want to be.

But when they do hear my dreams, I immediately regret telling them. They regard me with disdain, as if being a writer isn't a working job. As if those long hours spent not sleeping because I was trying to figure out a plot hole weren't representative of working. After the literal tears that have escaped my face due to the emotional roller coaster of writing a novel, it wasn't hard work. As if my passion, my dedication, and the standard of success I constantly push to achieve for myself is insignificant. Like it means nothing.

Maybe they're right.

They are right.

Nobody else believes in me. Why should I believe in myself? Easier to let the childish dream fall apart by itself than to be destroyed with it.

Writing is not worth it. This isn't worth it. This frivolous fantasy I've concocted is merely that, a fantasy. A game, a dream, a romanticized version of reality that would get me nowhere.

I can't keep up with the famous authors out there. Who am I even kidding?

My chest is starting to ache, my breathing becoming hitched. As I descend into the agonizing spiral of angst and despondency, I am unnoticed.

It is not, however, due to my character's negligence. They're all standing when I manage to lift my head off the ground for a moment, their eyes fixed on something to the left.

My sorrow is momentarily stopped, curiosity taking over instead. What are they staring at?

I turn to the direction of their gazes, peering out as something crosses my field of vision. It looks like . . . plot bunnies? But there are so many. And why are they running?

The mass of fur is frantically leaping forward, slamming into each other in panic.

Something is wrong. They don’t ever act so terrified. What is making them so scared?

I see the answer. Cresting the edge of the valley are five dark, ominous figures. Even from here, I can tell they writhe when they move, contortions unnatural and violent. Darkness flickers off of their skin, shadows dissipating around their form. The closer they get to my view, the more they look lupine.

They're loping after the rabbits, predatory grace in every bound. What are they?

I watch in horror as one of the wolf-like creatures catches up to a rabbit, brutally entrapping it within its jaws. The rabbit twists, desperate for escape, but it's too late. The poor animal wilts upon contact with the ground when it's tossed aside, the glow surrounding it fading away before it crumbles into nothing.

I can't breathe. They're chasing after the lifeblood of this place. The very ideas I love are being systematically hunted down. How did this happen?

Lucy turns to me.

"What did you do?" she asks, fearful of the coming creatures.

"What? I don't understand."

"Everything in this world is affected by you," she explains, hurried. "What were you just thinking about that brought them here?"

"I-I don't know what-"

"It's your soul!" she screams to me, both of us flinching as another rabbit falls prey to the hunt.

"You have to fix it," she pleads, all the strength in her voice gone. "What were you thinking about?"

She used to be one of those rabbits. All of them did. Lucy, Minho, Aaron, Maddie, Simon, Veronica.

Each and every one of them started out as a rabbit, transformed through writing to who they were now.

My future friends are being killed right now.

And that's killing me.

One of the rabbits is speeding towards the rock, a shadow right on its heels. They can't keep dying. They just can't.

I take off running to the edge and drop when I get there, sliding along on my stomach. The height is the last thing on my mind.

I can't reach far enough for the rabbit to leap into my arms. I can tell before it's even made it within 20 yards. I squirm along further, ignoring the protests I can hear behind me. I lean down with my leg pressed against the butte. I think I can reach it! Now it's scrabbling up the rock. My fingers brush against something soft, but then it's wrenched away.

I cry out as the loss of the rabbit registers.

Then I'm jerked backwards by my leg, sliding off the ledge.

I scramble to find purchase on the side of the cliff, knowing that if I were to fall the consequences would be dire. Fake world or not, there is something very real about the danger awaiting me below. I manage to grasp the edge of the rock with my fingers before I sink further down, but only barely.

The sound of fabric tearing captures my attention, and the force pulling me down stops. My pant leg must have ripped.

I look down and immediately understand that to be a mistake. All five of the dark creatures are surrounding the butte, attempting to claw their way upwards. Their teeth are now visible. Sharp and white, a contrast to their obsidian silhouettes. Rows of them line what would be their mouths, each one ready to be sunken into another being.

A mass of shadow, they don't have any features besides their teeth. But then the smooth surface flickers once more, this time forming into what appear to be faces. They're not clear enough to really make out, but all of the expressions are twisted into scorn, disgust crossing the hardly there eyes.

They bark, throaty sounds emanating from them as they slam into the wall, all chase of the rabbits forgotten. It's obvious I am their real target. I can feel the hot breath just a foot away from my ankle.

My fingers scream in agony as they start to slip from the ledge.

Voices are coming into my head. Whispers, malevolent and cruel. Shivers of revulsion go down my body as they invade my mind.

 

You'll never be anything.

 

You have no talent.

 

Go back to the real world, little girl.

 

Your efforts will fail.

 

You have no place here.

 

The five acidic voices creep through my thoughts. As my fingers give way a little more, I realize that these figures are a materialization of my self-doubt. They are the representation of what I've been feeling.

They're here to take me away. They want to eliminate this world's existence so I can never indulge in my fantasy again. I am resigned to this fate when my hands slip off the ledge and I begin to fall.

I'm stopped, not moving. Why am I stopped?

I look up to see Maddie struggling against gravity as she holds my wrist tightly in her grip. She's sliding down. Not her. Not any of them. They can't get hurt too.

Then Minho is there. He's calling for my other hand. When I give it to him, he starts to hoist me up. The others join him. Hands at my waist on either side, more added to my arms. Six pairs of them working together. Six characters I made trying to save me.

Of course they are. They wouldn't leave me there.

They finally lift me back onto the solid ground of the butte.

"Are you okay?" Aaron asks, concern in the question.

Is he serious?

"No, I'm not okay!" I scream, emotion pouring from my voice.

They start, now regarding me with wide, unsettled eyes.

The wolves continue to lunge at the wall, guttural growls coming from their mouths. Thankfully, they seem to be too heavy to maintain the grip needed to travel to the top.

I face Lucy.

"I was thinking about how my writing was never going to get anywhere," I confess, my voice shattering as a fresh wave of pain invades my heart.

"What do you mean?" she asks quietly, cocking her head in confusion.

"How am I supposed to get anything done when all my ideas suck and none of you want to help me?" I ask bitterly. "Do you seriously think I'll be able to cut it as a writer with this?"

"Is this about that harsh comment you got last week?" Simon interjects, green eyes wilting at my words.

"No!" I hiss. "Well, yes! But not just that! It's everything! What's even the point of me doing this anymore? I'll never be an author!"

I can feel warm liquid cascading down my face, caused by despair and anger. Maybe even more by the sense of hopelessness, so crushing it’s like I’m losing all lung function.

I wipe my face with my sleeve, furious and ashamed to show them the moment of weakness.

There's silence from them as they study me, the only sound coming from the still present shadows below.

Minho's the first to move. With a determined look on his face, he strides forward and wraps an arm securely around my shoulders.

"I'll help you," he promises, eyes smoldering and voice intense. "Just stop crying. Please."

His voice breaks on the last word.

"Me too," chimes Maddie.

"Me three," Aaron and Lucy announce at the same time. They laugh slightly instead of their usual arguing, like they understand this is not the time.

"Veronica and I would like to help as well," Simon says, the little brunette bouncing beside him.

"Us too! Us too!" she cheers.

I look up at them, surprised, and when I see the support on their faces I am reminded of what we all have gone through together. Changes in scripts, edits, praises, criticisms. People trying to change them entirely. People helping them become better characters. They've been here since their creation every time I've written something. They've always answered my calls when able, even if it was interrupting them or they didn’t want to talk.

They've believed in me. I had been wrong. The only ones who needed to believe in me are already lending me support. The characters of the book make it worth the read. If I have the characters, the rest should be able to be achieved through research and work.

It's quiet. I can't hear the pawing against the wall anymore. Have they gone?

Of course. Lucy said everything was affected by me. So when I removed the doubt, I removed the wolves.

It was over.

"I'll go scare off any of those lingering, infuriating pests if there are any," Minho says, removing his arm, "stop them from killing any more ideas. We may have lost three, but the others are still present and alive."

As he brushes past, he places a gentle hand on the top of my head, comforting me for a moment until he's moved away.

"Be careful," I call, worried for him. "Don't get yourself into any trouble."

I can't lose them. Not now. Maybe not ever.

He gives me a grin.

"As long as you have faith in me, no stupid self-doubt can even touch me."

I do have faith in him. I tell him so.

The remaining characters usher me to my chair and crowd around it, this time around perhaps a bit too helpful. But their eagerness and sincere attitude make it seem less like an inconvenience and more like a celebration.

They're talking to me about different personalities of the someone new about to join their ranks. Who they have met recently, what they have seen that would help me make a new story.

Minho comes back half an hour later, a lone plot bunny cradled against his chest. He’s gentle when he lays it down on the table.

"Here's the one I thought seemed like it had the most potential," he says softly, "and it has that theme you wanted."

I take the still slightly shivering creature into my arms, gazing into the words splashed across its fur.

"I'm sorry," I coo, running my fingers through the silky hair. "I shouldn't have worried so much. I won't let those wolves hurt you anymore, okay?"

"Make sure you don't," Aaron comments from beside me. "You are what makes us who we are. You made us, you've helped us, and you're the only one ultimately who can decide what to do with us."

Lucy is nodding.

"But you better not make me wear any dresses," she interjects, a lilt in her voice, "because I will hit you."

"I know it's scary to be a writer," Maddie says, "but it's what you care about, we can tell by the effort you put into us and our lives. It'd be a shame if you stopped because you didn't know where it was leading you."

"Hey! Hey!" Victoria chimes. "Simon tells me that stories are about the journey to see what's at the end! That's what's fun!"

"That's right," Simon replies. "The best part of reading a book is that we experience it as we go, not knowing the end. Just like writing. You don't have to know where it'll take you."

Tears are pooling up in my eyes. I'm not sure if it's that I'm tired, or that I've been scared, but as I lean down to nuzzle the bunny with my nose, I realize it's something else. These characters are my best friends. They've been with me through thick and thin, and they know me as well as I know them. Perhaps even better. This, yes this is what makes writing worthwhile. Sharing these people with the world. It isn't about reaching publishers. It isn't about having to appeal to everyone. It is about expressing the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of the loved ones I have presently standing in front of me. I am proud of each and every one of them, and I can tell they feel that.

"You see?" Minho asks, stepping beside me to scratch the bunny's ears. "Don't worry so much. If all else fails, we'll still be here for you."

He tilts his face to see mine more clearly, and smiles.

"I can't guarantee I'm not going to sass you," he says cheekily, "you made me this way after all. But I can reassure you that I will always be here if you really need me. The same goes for the others, and any characters you create in the future. If you believe in the fact that there's something there, something inside of you that makes you a writer, then you'll never have to feel alone and doubting again. Skill can be honed. Love of a craft is forever. And when you made us, each and every one of us, you infused that love into our very beings. So don't ever doubt you have that love, and by association, that you are made to write."

"You're feeling unusually eloquent today," I breathe, my heart in my throat as I try to hold back even more tears. This time happy ones.

He reaches over to flick me in the forehead, appearing to try and make his twinkling eyes harden into a glare. It's not working.

"Don't make me avoid you," he says, pretending to sound annoyed, "because I will just leave with Maddie."

"What happened to being there if I really needed you?" I ask, a bit more playful.

"Shut up," he answers, not harshly, and bumps my shoulder lightly with his.

"Look!" Veronica chimes. "Look at the bunnies!"

A golden and orange sunset casts warm, shining rays on the creatures now creeping out of hiding places.

They have all returned to the valley splayed out below, calming down now that the threat has disappeared. They huddle together, noses and whiskers brushing against each other affectionately. All of these would one day join the family I have now gazing out at them with me. The smiles are heartfelt and buoyant on everyone's faces.

This too, is a reflection of myself.

We take in the sight for a while longer, appreciating the ephemeral warmth of the moment.

Then we settle down into the cushions of the chairs, all peering forward to read the markings on the white plot bunny Minho brought. Once they are recorded, the rabbit scurries down the side of the butte, now pristine and unmarked. It's rejoining its friends, ready for a new idea to come its way.

Jokes are made, laughter is shared, and a character begins to form on the pages. We decide we'll name her Stephanie.

I look at all the friends I have been invested with over the years, and I don't think a single one of them fails to notice the beaming smile that's made its way onto my face. They all return it.

As we delve deeper into Stephanie and her adventures, I come to truly realize for the first time why it is I come here. To the world of the imaginary, the place that separates from fact to go into fiction. It's because to me, it's realer than anything I've ever felt outside of it.

The love, the bonds, the way the lines are blurred between dreams and waking life. These are all reasons I belong here, with the people who have worked alongside me, even when they were only ideas themselves.

I am home.

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