“Don’t fall for it,” the English major said. “It’s a trap.”

The long 18th century British novel opened itself and seductively flipped a few pages. “I’m written with gratuitous Latin and French, my views on domesticity are problematic at best, and very little of substance happens over my 800 pages.”

“I CAN’T HELP IT!” The English major fell upon the work with both hands, only to find them both bound by sticky secretions as the novel–now revealed to be the lure for a predatory plant lingering just out of view–drew them up to be consumed.”

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“We have tamed this wild land, made it our own. But the time has come to find new challenges. These colonists we scatter to the winds will be the next generation of our civilization. Go forth in peace and find new worlds to conquer!”

A moment later, Alonzo sneezed violently.

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Our parents’re fond of telling us
How they stopped an unjust war
How strange nobody kicks up a fuss
Now that they’re starting more

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I woke up in a cold sweat. It was just past dawn, and light was starting to come over the hills. I stood up and looked out my bedroom window. The old tree was still visible on the hill there, as it had been for decades, with the sunlight streaming through its leaves, casting shadows that looked like words.

I was sure that my dream had been just that, the passing fancy of an unconscious mind. Elizabeth surely did not exist, and never had.

But I needed to be sure.

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The leaves told me that the tree was planted by a woman named Elizabeth. She lived in the area, but her full name was unknown. The leaves also say that she disappeared when she was very young. Her disappearance meant nothing to me then, but I had a sense that we might meet at some point in the future.

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In my dream, I came across a tree, perched atop Hollow Hill outside of town. Each of the leaves was brittle brown parchment, inscribed with printed letters. The long “s” and faded sepia ink were like something out of Shakespeare.

A blast of cool air swept by, and a handful of the papery leaves. I reached out, took one, and with difficulty began to read what was inscribed on its surface. It was a hand at once centuries old and just a few months.

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You are an author working on a novel. You are researching its setting in a rural town. You enter town to interview people, only to find that the town is not what you expected. It is dull, plotting, and unpleasant.

You leave town and head back home. If you had stayed, your story would have been less interesting, filled with staid character. But since you have left, the reader has no reason to care about any of them anymore. They are forgotten. No, worse than that: they never even existed.

The story will be just as good without them in it, you tell yourself. This is how an author should always approach writing novels. Leave out all unnecessary details and focus on the main character’s thoughts, feelings, actions and what he or she thinks at the time.Then write the rest of the book from those points of view. This way, you can concentrate on developing your plot and not worrying about characters who don’t matter to you.

But still, they haunt you. Those characters that never were, less than nothing, cheated out of even an existence on the page because they were too dull for life. It would make you angry, if you weren’t so sad.

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