He was just five when his parents took him to the imaginarium for the first time. He couldn't appreciate what it was at first, what it really stood for, he only knew afterward that he really liked the dragons the best, though his older sister kept wanting to go on another unicorn ride and he only got to see the dragon show once. But that was okay, because his dad took him to the goblin house, and that was pretty cool, even though his mom said it was too scary for him.
It wasn't until later that he realized what the imaginariums were for. They were the last refuges for imaginary creatures. The entire South Island of New Zealand was being converted into a preserve, so that they could all roam free and interact naturally. They would then start introducing the people from the Hero Museum, so the creatures had stories to live in.
It wasn't until he learned to read that he discovered why the imaginary were going extinct.
No one was reading books any more, so the stories weren't being told enough. Without the stories being told, the creatures and heroes began to die off. They were saved from extinction by a supreme act of conservation and a bit of tinkering with the fabric of space-time and brought to the real world to live in zoos.
But it wasn't enough. They couldn't breed in captivity, and some of them were simply dying. And the heroes were aging quickly, along with not breeding, so were rapidly growing too old to provide context to the creatures on the preserve. The imaginariums closed to the public only a year and a half after his first visit. His parents had taken him when they did because they weren't sure how much longer the creatures would be around. As it was, three years and continuous degradation left the imaginariums in ruins. Only the long-lived creatures were left, and most of them had become tired and lethargic. So his parents read him the stories about the creatures and heroes he'd seen, and he asked for them again and again.
Three years later researchers on the South Island Preserve watched helplessly as the last magical creature, a lonely dragon, died in front of them. By his eighth birthday, most of the creatures he'd seen with his own eyes were barely remembered by many of the people around him.
He was in the attic months after and he found a box of his parents' old books. He opened a book and began to read. It was hard. The letters were smaller than he was used to, but the words were bigger and he didn't understand most of them. He could usually figure it out from what was going on around the word, but still, it was slow going.
But the story had him by then, and he spent the afternoon in that dusty attic, reading by portable lamplight until his mom called him down to dinner. He brought the book with him and asked his dad to bring the box down after dinner. He read from dinner to bedtime, and tried for a little bit after, until his mom caught him at it and took his flashlight.
That night, he dreamed about dragons.