Sometime when I was a young teenager, I began to write a novel, a story, that existed only in my imagination. Characters sprang into existence and I gave them detailed histories and complex lives, a world, sent them through experiences both beautiful and painful. And, they live on. For nearly 2 decades their world has been a place of comfort and escape for me. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nights, in the dark in bed, I have retreated to that place where I am both maker and watcher. The characters and their histories are so familiar to me now that they are like old friends. They are not hallucinations or spectres or even imaginary friends; as JRR Tolkein or George RR Martin have created rich and vast and expansive worlds and the tales of the beings within them, I imagine - write - these people and their lives too, but without putting pen to paper. I turn and change, test and replay scenes until they feel as if they are as they should be. And yet, in a sense, I still feel sometimes as if I watch their lives unfold, unseen, as from the eye of some deity. They age with me. I recognized many years ago that each one is, of course, in their own way a facet of myself. Like dreams, I don't think the story is just a fantastical narrative, but also a way of making sense of myself and my journey; of turning thoughts and experiences over and examining them in some safely removed way. This world sprang into existence, I am sure, as a way for an awkward and very withdrawn teenager to privately let her imagination run away and thrive. And as a way for her to find escape from an out of control life and into a place whose flaws and painful moments were only those she controlled. It continued to exist after I fell in love with the people within it, they became familiar, interesting, and I became curious about where I would take them over the years, something I cannot predict, since their story unfolds year by year, as my own does (Will they grow old? Die? Will I lose interest in or no longer need them one day?). And it comforts me to know that as long as I have a semblance of control over my own consciousness, even as I slip from life, they will continue to be there if I want them to be. There will be an untouchable place, inhabited with the familiar and the beautiful, where I can feel as if I am not alone, or even, if I need to, as if I do not exist at all. I once posted anonymously on a message board about the existence of my decades-long incorporeal novel, and many people encouraged me to write it down, to publish it. "If you already have the plot, why not write it down and share it?" But I won't. I don't think that I ever will, even if I was convinced that it would be poignantly meaningful or interesting to anyone but myself. Or, at least, I won't until our lights are fading, theirs and mine; maybe then, when we are old, slipping from this world, I will release them so that in some small way I can feel that they will exist beyond me. Until then, they are mine; my characters, my escape, my private land that is safe from outside touch, that none of the traumas of life have ever been able to take from me.