I don't remember being an idea.
It must have been strange being pulled from human's mind bit by bit, my very existence in fragments of space and time dependent on the click of a computer keyboard. My first recollections go back to my days as an ignored, imbecile manuscript. Now of course I try to forget that scornful period of coffee stains, red pen, and sallow skinned sticky notes, but at the time, it was the best place a growing idea could be. With each passing day something immeasurably exciting would occur. Additions were the absolute best news, because a part of me, maybe the human equivalent of an idea or feeling, would experience the most pleasurable spurt of growth and abundance. All other forms of revision were tolerable enough, but cuts had me moping for days on end until I realized how light and concentrated I felt without their extra weight. But of course, this was only the beginning. When word got out that I was to be published, some extraordinary metamorphosis occurred. I was now a being, a complete and perfected story, and living was a wonderful feeling. Like a caterpillar emerging from his delicate cocoon, I was finally a novel, a beautifully unique butterfly.
My final form was an honorable but soft-spoken, hard cover first edition. Needless to say, I looked stunning on the shelf. Next to all the busy covers I stood a proud sea crest turquoise, shining and elegant but not too ostentatious. My binding was of a tough but welcoming texture, and shone golden as soft sand. And as for my pages, they fit perfectly; because some heavy novels are too congested, page after page, to be physically welcoming to read, and some flimsy soft covers simply worm around in one's hands to a point of extreme exasperation. On my cover, in crisp silver capitals, the name of my creator, Norton Juster, was inscribed with valor, and I could not have worn his name with more pride. As a knight bearing a royal crest of arms, I set off into battle, ready to meet head on whatever my young life would throw at me.
My universe consisted of a cozy, well-lit bookstore; the kind one might pass into just to breathe its glorious scent on a rainy day. Dust and warmth intermingled to stew the perfectly balanced stereotypical library-smell, an aroma of delicate whispers, crinkling pages, cups of steamy coffee and sweetly stale air. Without any idea of the outside world I was perfectly happy perched on my display shelf, sitting a proud front row volume next to the chatty and somewhat obnoxious "Pride and Prejudice" works, and to my right "Gone With the Wind", whose southern drawl was a comfort in my youth as opposed to the former's persnickety British accents. No matter what hour, there was always the steady hum of conversation, singed with the padding of curious feet and the jovial song of the bell on the shop's door as yet another customer would emerge from the frightening unknown. From my seat facing forward from the farthest wall of the entrance, I could see a misty glow of white light as humans trekked through the gate to my realm. Every breath of cool air and flash of iridescent radiance was a mystery to me, and I was more than glad to be positioned far away from this dangerous gap in the walls of books and aged mahogany. In one of the many conversations I upheld with the books around me, I discovered that many books went by a name that they knew and liked from the story they held, and forever after I would introduce myself as what I thought seemed understated, interesting, wise, and quite catchy: Milo.
On a slow afternoon I managed to peek at a lonesome newspaper headline, barely visible on his side on the table below me. The paper lay, most likely asleep, for papers were notoriously lazy; only having to carry the whining opinions and concise summarize of shallow public happenings, they were far below a respected, creative, thick, and well-regarded novel. It read, "Yuri Gagarin Becomes First Human in Space", and I discovered with wonder that it was the year 1961 and some human somewhere was floating in a bookstore called "the universe". In due time I also got my mind around the purpose of being displayed in a bookstore at all. The thought of trying to sell ones self to a completely unknown passerby was too below my sense of dignity to accept, but after seeing a few lucky novels be chosen over me, to be purchased became one of my strongest desires.
With a violent rumble, the "Pride And Prejudice" books let out terrified screams, while "Gone With the Wind" was a chorus of "Oh Lordy!" and "Well I have positively no idea. What so you reckon Tara?" and so on. I shook along with the rest of the shelf, but then the monster emerged from the aisle, I jittered with more fright than the earthquake the shelf was experiencing. When I first saw the scrawny creature wheeling towards the display shelf, I practically dared the child to put his ruddy chocolate-covered hands on my shining cover. A boy of about eight years, he had a thin, stiff coating of icy blond hair that grew from every plausible angle on his head's youthful curvature, and the large, amber brown eyes of a fawn caught in headlights. A Hail-Mary formation of freckles sprinkled his pasty white skin like a Jackson Pollock masterpiece, and a large ear-to-ear grin stretched immensely, showing off a gaping smile missing two front teeth. At the time, he had been dashing to the display shelf at break-neck speeds, to a book of course, and finger to wrist on each hand he was abstractly smeared in creamy dark chocolate with a Hershey's bar tucked, a stowaway, in his pocket. I was terrified.
He started wreaking havoc on the left side of the display shelf, so I didn't have a heart attack. Close behind him trailed a withered old man of about seventy with large, beetle like glasses, about three hairs on his age spotted head, and the brightest eyes I have ever seen light up a human face.
"Hold on there Mathias!" bellowed the old man, with unpredictable gusto.
The child, Mathias, I presumed, turned around hesitantly and looked down, almost ashamed for leaving the old man on the chocolate trail behind him.
With one hand in his pocket involuntarily reaching for the Hershey's Bar, and one fondued finger scratching his head, the boy waited patiently for the former to arrive. Immediately I had a newfound respect for the child, and once my terror passed, and I found myself fervently hoping he would grab me off the shelf.
The old man handed Mathias a tissue to wipe his fingers on, which was returned and discarded a muddy amber, and then ushered him over to the shelf again, much to my excitement, purring patiently, "Alright Mathias, let's pick a winner for the birthday boy; for an eight-year-old little man lets see what this shelf has to offer…"
"Me!" I wanted to scream, but no sound could escape my paper bound heart. Slowly the old man's beetle eyes traveled from left to right, and I heard the "Pride and Prejudice"s clucking with disapproval. I resisted every urge to lash out at the uptight novels for their inconsiderate attitudes, but I kept my peace, trying to look my best as the beetle eyes traveled at snail speed over the shelf, almost seeing through each cover. This, I could already tell, was a man who loved books.
It was when I was about to call a particularly rude one of the "Pride and Prejudice" volumes a "Green Eggs and Ham Imitation", when the bright blue bug eyes finally landed on me. The old man emitted a warm, deep "Hmmmmm…" and reached out steadily to grasp me as his soft breath washed over my cover. I was shaking with excitement as the gentleman gently fondled my binding and read aloud in an earth shaking voice, "The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster". All at once something changed in his eyes, and he began to read, his voice rolling across deep oceans and over golden dessert to the shore of the Sea of Knowledge, the starting point of the story I had held so secretively throughout my earlier years. He began, "There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself…" and the three of us, boy, man, and book, were transported in a haze of the shimmering magic of literature.
There is no experience in the human life that is even comparable to the feeling of being read. Suddenly, every thought trapped inside you is set open, like a giant dam breaking, and in a split second, every element is singing a song as free as love itself. It's as if you've finally fit your last quizzical puzzle piece, and through the distant rumble of a voice's thunder, you accomplish your sole purpose. After my first line erupted in a starry sky of supernova, I was ushered to the front counter, and with a quick good-bye glance, and the priceless look of jealousy from the "Pride and Prejudice" section, I was bought. When the transaction was made and the couple was ready to leave, the grandfather lifted me out of the bag and placed me cover-open on a dark, wooden table. I could taste cool autumn and adventure seeping from the now seemingly tempting unknown, but the old man opened my cover gracefully and in a sprawling meaty cursive, he printed "To Mathias, From Grandpa George," and on the bottom right corner in bleeding golden Sharpie marker, he drew a sparkling five-pointed star as Mathias beamed up at him with the purest form of respect.
I found myself in a new place with a new purpose in the following months. The bedside table in Mathias's room was my new home, and I loved it. The walls shone a misty navy blue like the velvet dusk horizon, and I was always sitting patiently on the oaken dresser for each night when he would read from me. There was good conversation amongst the other residents during the day as well though. The comic books were good moral support, although some were a little below my level of sophistication, but "Charlotte's Web", "A Wrinkle in Time", and "The Call of The Wild" were my absolute best friends; cordial, proper, and each a vividly crafted work that was a pleasure to spend time with.
Each and every night however, all other novels were ignored and I was dramatically called upon to spin my tale of imagination, and pure and uninhibited fantasy. Each character I held came to life for Mathias and I, and I too partook in the adventures of Milo and the Watch Dog on the shore of the Sea of Knowledge. Every evening I would awaken from my constricting slumber in the eyes of a child, and sing my story to open, waiting ears, itching to be transported to a world of dreams and mystery. It truly was fantastic. I would often catch Mathias peering with absolute intent at everyday items, no doubt living by my protagonist's principles to see things with a new and creative set of eyes. As Mathias grew, I grew with him, and grew to a proud and confident individual all while being worn with sticky notes for book reports, pencil doodles of Milo's adventures, and mostly love and adoration from my comrade.
One evening, it happened.
In the blink of an eye my heart was torched, frozen, minced to pieces, and ripped through the center. With one subtle trek up the grimy stairs clasped in Mathias's mother's claws, my life was over. I was placed in the attic.
Mathias had finished me long ago, but I was still a young book! I still had potential! There were things I still had to do, and I was now trapped in a dusty prison, locked away in a tower with out any idea if my prince even knew I was missing. I pitied myself. I was tormented by the scuttle and leap of gnarled, cackling rats, but if the swirling dust and groaning floorboards played tricks on my ears, I would never know. A dark and impenetrable haze ate my flesh and bones, as the cold of winter blew frost and despair through the rafters. I loved myself too much to let go of hope. I was a work of art, but I was hidden from all, my beauty never to be seen. I do not know how much time passed in my musty jail cell, but I hated every millisecond with all my soul.
In the depths of nightfall I awoke to a heat that stank of smoke and fear in the sickly fever of a summer's night. "This is the apocalypse" I thought to myself, "The end has finally come". But some part of me wanted to survive. Flaming devils tore and ate at the attic walls. In the harsh, violently golden light of fire my gloomy prison was illuminated as the torturous dance of the flames' shadows was magnified against the walls of my heartless dungeon. Demons of raging inferno swallowed my prison cell as the fire alarm sang quietly, mocking my demise. As I choked smoke, I said good-bye to all and myself, Milo, all 256 pages.
A door swung open with a resilient pop, and after childishly batting the duststorm he had caused, a little boy stomped up the attic stairs. It was morning, and innocent golden light spilled like milk from within the ancient crevices of the wooden paneling. Behind him, an old man slowly climbed the stairway laboriously and emerged behind the child; playfully tousling the latter's icy blond hair, sprouting from his head in toughs of free dandelion grass. The child ran playfully from corner to corner, as the old man watched with a smile, as if reminded of himself some eternity ago. The pure air of dawn sang innocence and the scent of age and wisdom intermingled with the morning's magical stillness. Suddenly, the boy stopped and dropped to the ground slowly, his features, seemingly familiar to the old man, glowed bright with curiosity. With eyes shining with wonder and a smile with two missing front teeth, the child pointed, entranced, at the artifact he had discovered.
A mangled book lay torn on the attic floor. Dust fell in a gentle haze upon its age worn surface like the mystical shimmer of fresh snow, and the book seemed to sag, surprisingly relaxed in its beaten position, crippled in pain. Its worn turquoise cover shone like the wise sparkle in the wink of the full moon, and although half of the binding was scorched to a charcoal smear, the light hue of golden soft sand still sang out from under the cyan wave.
The boy asked, transfixed, "Grandpa Mathias, what is this?"
The older man kneeled down along side his grandson as a countenance of deep nostalgia, remorse and utter respect shaped his age-worn, freckled features. Delicately, he turned open the cover and sat dumbfounded in disbelief. A golden five-pointed star, slightly faded but shining with the entire glow in the night sky, lay on the inside cover smiling up at his misty brown eyes, as if greeting an old friend.
In a shaky voice, full of remembrance, warmth, and hunger to dream, the grandfather asked, "Timothy, do you want to go on an adventure?"
The boy nodded slowly, still smiling his toothless grin. And as the dawn light painted shadows and dreams on the attic floor, and the room filled with the sparkle of imagination, the couple sat side by side and unleashed a tale that wanted nothing more than to fly away home on the wings of literary freedom. He began in a clear, deep voice that lapped steadily upon the warm fabric of the moment, seeping through time itself. "There once was a boy named Milo…" And the book smiled.