Once upon a time, there was a girl who worked in a public library. She loved her job, and with every book she put back on the shelves, she felt as though she had been briefly introduced to a new person. Occasionally, a book would catch her eye, and she would greet it every time she passed it, until she finally got around to reading it. One such book was The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.
The Monsters of Templeton was so sophisticated, polite, and reliable that the girl always ended up reading more demanding books first—those that threatened absence, obscurity, or even that the girl might forget about them if she didn’t read them immediately. But The Monsters of Templeton was always there, quietly waiting in the exact same spot on the shelves.
One sad day, the girl moved away from her favorite library. She missed all those wonderful books—there were so many she had meant to read—but she knew the unlikelihood of running into any of her old favorites when she saw the public library in her new city. It was tiny, with only one short aisle for fiction. Just one? She had to check many times to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. But as she sorrowfully assessed her inadequate new browsing grounds, she ran into an old friend: The Monsters of Templeton. Oh small, wonderful, itty-bitty world! She checked the book out along with two others and took them home to read.
First, she tried a science fiction story that was interesting but ultimately felt like a video game. Next, she tried a period piece that reminded her why doctors once suspected her of having ADD. Then, finally, she picked up the book with the charming black and white cover.
The Monsters of Templeton seemed, at first, very straightforward. It was every bit as polite and smooth-talking as she suspected it would be. It was so smooth, in fact, that strangely gruesome descriptions and uncouth jokes would slip by without the girl having really noticed them. She would just chuckle or blush and keep turning the pages as she sipped her Jamaican hot chocolate.
Then the book began to spin other tales with other voices in other periods of time, and the girl would lean in, rapt, though these tales had only the barest connection to each other. The book was slow-moving but so full of mystery that, even though this was not the kind of story the girl would usually read, she just couldn’t stop.
When the book finally revealed its mystery in a predictable but satisfying way, it leaned back and puffed on its pipe, which the girl was sure it was smoking.
“Thanks so much for that story,” said the girl.
“But wait,” said the book, before the girl could close it. “There’s one more thing.”
So the girl settled back in her rocking chair, as the book told her one last story in one last voice. And that last story will haunt nightmares inside the girl’s nightmares until the day she dies. Because it was that… freaking… weird. It was adorable kittens disemboweling baby mice. It was teddy-bear suicide. It was fields of pretty daisies murdering bunny rabbits with poisonous aphids. It was beautiful, saccharine horror.
And the girl said, “Holy shit,” as the book took another puff off its pipe and grinned like a madman in a musical.