They sat on a park bench eating lunch. Sunny days were meant for small breaks. She was staring at the new apartment building going up across the street when a woman in a grey dress seemed to float up the partially constructed front stairs. She was so graceful she looked like she belonged on a dance floor not a construction site. And that dress? It was so delicate, so gauzy, so...wait...see through? Not like the dress was see through but she could see through the woman herself. She leaned forward to get a better look....
"Do you see that?" she turned to her lunch companion.
"The woman in grey? Yeah, I see her. She's not real though, poor thing."
"She's not real? You and I both see her, she's right there, what do you mean she's not real?"
"Well, I mean, she's not real. Or at least she's not any more. I would guess with the level of detail involved she was real-ish for a while. Someone really worked hard on her. But now? Look at her."
"You think she's a ghost?"
He looked again, "I don't think so. She doesn't act like a ghost. I don't think she was made to be a ghost."
"You and I can both see her. She's translucent. She's not a ghost. And she's not real."
"Yep. That's what I think."
She looked at him and shook her head, "I have no idea what all of that means."
"Well you know there are only a few hundred real people, like really real people in the whole world right?"
She laughed, "What?"
"There are only a few hundred real people. The rest are all made up by them. The best they reach is real-ish."
"Are you crazy? Everyone but a few hundred people are made up?"
"Yeah, I mean yeah on the made up, not yeah on the crazy. Look people like to interact with other people. And they like variety. New stories. New people to meet. With only a few hundred real people around things get pretty boring. Or I would guess they would. There have been so many generations of made up people that it's kind of hard to imagine the before."
"Yeah, when there were only the few hundred. And then even when there were only scattered pockets at all. Before the internet I imagine it was especially barren in places. But now you can imagine people all over the world and interact with them so there are more and more made up people filling every space. It's getting to be much more crowded. Though you still get fade aways like her." He lifted his chin back toward to the woman in grey.
As she looked at her again the woman did seem even more pale. "A fade away? Is that what you call people who aren't real?"
"No, fade aways are the unreal people who are forgotten. Someone real made her up at some point but now? Now they've started to forget her. So she's just, you know, fading away."
"So she's dying?"
"No, not dying. Who ever made her didn't have her die. That wasn't part of what they made up. So she didn't die. My guess from looking at her is that she never made it out of what ever dance they met at. She just stayed there until she was forgotten. And now..." he waved his hand her way. She was still gracefully climbing and descending the steps, but she was definitely paler than she was at the start.
"So since we can see her. And we can see each other. That means that we are real?"
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea. I mean I feel like I'm real. But maybe you made me up because you didn't want to eat lunch alone. Or maybe I made you up for the same reason. Or maybe someone else made us up but gave us a lot of details."
"A lot of details?"
"Yeah, okay, you know how some people you know everything about right? You know where they grew up, where they are now, where their family is, where they work and on and on? They have a lot of details. Then there are the people that you see once and never see again. They don't even have a name. Not a lot of details. Sometimes it's just because they aren't part of your story, but other times it's because who ever made them up just didn't fill them in anymore than a sketch. You know, like 'bus rider #1' in the movie credits. They are less real than 'coworker of 5 years' less details versus more details."
"If we were real wouldn't we know how to make people up?"
"Nah. The reals don't know they are the only ones any more than the real-ish don't know they aren't real. They don't even realize they are making people up. They just know that when you get on a bus there are supposed to be people on there, so there are. They know that they are supposed to go to school and have classmates so they have them. The world is populated by the people they think should be there. They don't realize they are doing it. It's just what your life is, you know? Well for most. I have met a few real-ish people who seemed to know they were only a part of someone else's story and didn't have one of their own. They weren't fade aways, but they weren't really substantial either. You know? Like the only details they had were about someone else."
"I don't think I understand."
"Okay, middle school. Do you remember middle school?"
"Okay, you know the girlfriend? She wasn't really a part of your group of friends she was just the girlfriend of someone. She was there sometimes but mostly not. And if you ever tried to talk to her all she talked about was her boyfriend? Same with some boys. They are just the boyfriend. Or in sports, they are just the teammates. These are the girls on the swim team...and some of them had real personalities and some of them all they could talk about was swimming."
"So assuming that all of this is true and you aren't just making up a complex story to try and pretend you didn't just see a ghost, how do you know about it all? How do you know about the reals and the real-ish and the fade aways and the sketches? How do you know all of this and no one else does?"
"I'm not the only one who has it figured out. You've seen the quotes right? 'Everyone is the star of their own movie' 'Be your own hero' Those are all from people who have figured it out. Some of them are real and some are just very detailed real-ish. Someone real wanted someone to talk to that was as aware as they were, so they made them. They could sit around and have deep thoughts or get high and dissect life. Neither one realizing that only one of them was actually real.
The first time I talked to someone about it was college. I had walked in to a classroom I hadn't seen before and when I opened the door there was nothing behind it. It was like a television set. Just a classroom door but nothing on the other side. I closed it and backed up and looked at it again and again and each time there was nothing there. Then someone behind me said, 'That room hasn't ever been needed, I would guess if you look at your schedule it's not really your class either.' He was right, I was off by two doors. But it didn't really explain why that one was just nothing. It should have been an empty room right? Someone imagined that room there for some reason and so the door was there, but nothing beyond. I don't know if I am real and I knew it was the wrong room so I didn't build it out, or if I am real-ish and just touched the wrong door that someone real had put there as a meeting place.
But that was the first time I saw behind the scenes. I tracked down the guy in the hall and we talked a lot about it. His name is Jonathon and we are still friends today. He has a lot of details. And we have shared experiences. Times when you walk in to a room and it seems like the conversation was stopped before you got there. Like it was just waiting for you to make it start. The times you have been out walking in a snow storm and it's silent. Like more than just quiet, but silent. Because no one imagined that anyone would be out walking in the cold so it was empty. Things like that. Like right now, maybe because we are gone nothing is actually going on at work. Maybe it's just paused waiting for us to come back before it starts again. Or did you imagine there would be a meeting while we were gone? Because if you know that they are working then I would guess they really are working. Most of them have pretty good details. Except for Kent on the third floor. He's pretty sketchy."
"This is all very confusing and I'm not sure I believe it. I think I'm getting a headache."
"I understand, it's a lot to take in at first. Though it could be worse. You could be her."
They looked back toward the apartment building and saw that the lady in grey was now just a blur. And then she was gone.
"Well, back to work."
And with that he packed up his lunch trash and held out his hand to help her up, "We wouldn't want to keep everyone there waiting."