@StephenKing via Twitter
Anthony Breznican
July 22, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EDT

In one of the strangest Comic-Con events ever staged, hundreds of fans lined up Friday to collect a children’s storybook that isn’t real and meet an author who never was.

It was all the handiwork of Stephen King — although he wasn’t there either.

More than 500 fans of his gathered on the convention floor to get their hands on one of about 150 copies of Charlie the Choo-Choo, a picture book about an intense-looking locomotive who doesn’t want to be asked silly question and won’t play silly games.

The elusive author of the bedtime book, Beryl Evans, showed up to autograph them… despite having written it in 1942… and despite having been killed a long time ago in another dimension.

It was all part of an ultra deep-dive fan promotion for next February’s The Dark Tower, an adaptation of King’s sprawling eight-book saga that specializes in blending fact and fantasy.

King’s novels follow the quest of Roland the Gunslinger (played by Idris Elba in the film) as he attempts to reach the towering, shadowy edifice that stands at the center of countless dimensions. Other worlds often bleed into our own through storytelling an imagination – and Charlie the Choo-Choo was a slightly sinister echo of a sentient (although haywire) bullet train named as Blaine the Mono in Roland’s realm of Mid-World.

The storybook turns up in King’s third book in the series, 1991’s The Waste Lands, and the cover art for the children’s tale (created by artist Ned Dameron, who’s also real — we need to keep specifying that!) was one of the illustrations in the original novel. Charlie/Blaine is neither evil nor good, but has an impatient, intolerant disposition. Don’t mess with him.

The 19-page storybook given out Friday doesn’t have a barcode and may never be put up for sale (except on eBay). It was actually written by King but features new illustrations in its tale of a steam engine who is angry and heartbroken about having been abandoned but resolves to get itself back on track – no matter what.

In The Waste Land, the Charlie book helps lead a boy named Jake (in the movie, newcomer Tom Taylor) in the direction of the Gunslinger. In later novels, the dimension of our world (named Keystone Earth) is different from the one Jake previously inhabited, and the author of the storybook changes from Beryl Evans to Claudia y Inez Bachman – the wife of Richard Bachman, a.k.a. King’s infamous pseudonym.

In that iteration of Earth, Beryl never wrote Charlie the Choo-Choo because she was tragically murdered by a serial killer. That info comes courtesy of Robin Furth, who is real, and was hired by King to catalog the threads of his saga in a book published as The Complete Concordance.

So, you see how the line between fantasy and reality first becomes tangled, then disappears entirely.

On Friday at Comic-Con, scores of grinning fans came by the booth of Simon & Schuster (King’s publisher) to have the cheerful, curly-haired Evans autograph their books. Most asked for their names, although a few asked for allusions to the King books in her inscription. One woman asked her to sign it “to a true rose.”

“So are you Beryl from the movie?” one man asked.

“Evans” smiled as she signed his book. “I’m Beryl, period,” she answered.

In truth, the makers of The Dark Tower say Blaine the Mono and his storybook alter-ego are not major parts of the movie, out Feb. 17, although it could still be featured in any sequels that may follow.

“Beryl Evans” really was an actress – real name, Allison Davies of Los Angeles – but she’s not in the film. (Maybe someday.) She is a devoted fan of King’s, however, particularly his 2000 memoir On Writing.

After their small stockpile of the Charlie the Choo-Choo books was exhausted, Beryl Evans put one aside to be sent to a special reader who wasn’t in attendance.

“To Steve,” she wrote on the inside page. “XO, Beryl Evans.”

It’s not every day that an author receives a book signed by one of his own characters.

For ongoing coverage of The Dark Tower, follow @Breznican.

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