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The Last Book

The book had first been captured by my great-great-grandmother, back when ink life was common in the forests behind our estate. It had been kept in a large silver cage and passed down through the generations, a magnificent specimen for all children and guests to behold. As the forests were cut down and drained of their ink to draw more useful things like new factories and apartments, the wild books slowly died out, poached by literary hunters and purchased by ink collectors. Our family's book became the last of its kind, at least that anyone knew of.
As a young child I would lay on the carpet of our mansion's empty library, watching the book for hours as it flapped its dog-eared pages, or sometimes banged against the bars of the cage over and over again.
"Can we let it go?" I asked my mother once, tugging on her velvet skirts one evening as we all circled around to watch the last book in its cage.
"Heavens, no," she said, touching a fine white glove to her chest. "If we let it free, it would lose its ink and die. That book is the last of its kind. Imagine how valuable it will be when you grow up!" she tussled my hair. Giggling, I climbed into her lap. Later I learned that my mother had put things nicely for my sake. The book wouldn't "lose its ink" as she had said: the ink would be sucked out of it by some greedy merchant to sell on the black market, where all the rarest and strongest reality inks were traded.
Now, as I gaze out the window of our private family airship twenty years later, it is hard to imagine there ever being thick, ink-rich forests in this country. All that remains these days is a barren expanse of forlorn mining posts, where doomed men drill deeper and deeper in hopes of finding a new reservoir of ink. I have not stepped out of my cabin the entire trip, avoiding the ship's many luxurious distractions as best I can. I cannot allow myself to become distracted from my mission.
A messenger boy interrupts my reminiscence with a swift knock on the door, followed by his entrance.
"We will be landing in less than an hour's time, sir. I suggest preparing your bags."
"Thank you."
Once he has departed, I check the secret pocket deep in my suit coat. I can feel the book inside, its engraved cover squirming desperately against my skin.
"Worry not, friend." I caress its spine, gently tracing the ancient paper with my fingers. "We are almost across the border. Tomorrow you will be free, back in the forests of ink where you belong. Perhaps you will find other books like you there."
The book sighs, its ruffled pages smoothing out.
Perhaps.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

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