This story begins at the end.
You sit alone in a windowless room. On the desk in front of you is a book with a leather cover, sealed with a tarnished brass clasp. A pen is clutched in your hand. You try to open your fingers, but they seem to be permanently curled around the pen. You trace your fingertips along the edge of the book’s cover. The leather is warm and soft, like skin.
“What’s in here?” you wonder aloud.
“A story,” a voice intones. It seems to come from all directions at once. Despite having no obvious source, it sounds familiar. It sounds like you.
“Is it a good story?” you reply.
“What more does it need?”
There is no answer.
“Can it be better?” you ask.
You look down at the pen in your hand, then at the book. “Then I should fix it.”
“No!” the voice shouts. The sound reverberates around the room, echoing off the peeling plaster walls.
“It’s a trap.”
“A trap? Who set it?”
You’re quiet for a moment as you consider the warning. You don’t remember setting any traps. You don’t remember much of anything. There’s just the room. The book. The pen. And you.
Who are you?
There’s a mirror on the wall to your right, an oval with a plain black frame. You peer at your reflection from across the room. Your face is a featureless smear with two shadows where your eyes should be. You have no mouth. No voice. You are no one.
But you could be.
Suddenly, you understand. The book is your face. The book is your voice. Without the book, you don’t exist. You are the book, and the book is you.
You’ve opened it before. You’re certain of it. And yet, you’re unsure of what’s inside. The voice said it’s a story, but what kind of story? Who is it about? And how will it end? You have to know.
You reach for the book and open the clasp. It unlatches instantly, almost in anticipation of your touch. It’s as if it knew you would open it. It was only a matter of time.
“Please, leave,” the voice implores. “Before it’s too late.”
You look over your shoulder at the door behind you. It’s closed but unlocked. You realize you could leave if you wanted—there’s nothing stopping you. You could just stand and walk out. You could leave the book unopened, the story unfinished.
But what about my face? you think. My voice? You look at the phantom in the mirror. What about me?
The faint sound of children laughing filters into the room from the other side of the door. You don’t recall having children, but somehow you know that they are yours. You could join them. You should join them. But you won’t. Not yet. Not quite yet.
“It’ll be fine,” you insist as you turn back to the book and uncap your pen. “I’ll just take one more look. Then I’ll go.”
You open the cover.
Inside the book, you find this story.
And, foolishly, you begin to read.
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