The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the
fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass. It was one of
those strange purple dawns that color July there, when the bowl made by the
hills fills with a thick fog and even the songbirds sing timorously, unsure of
day or night.
The fog was still deep when Dr. Cluny found the monster on his morning row. I imagine how it went: the slide of the scull's knife across the lake, the oar heads casting rings on the water, the red bow light pulsing into the dark. Then, sudden, looming over the doctor's shoulder, an island where there had never before been an island, the vast belly of the dead beast. Gliding backward, the old doctor couldn't see it. He neared; the bow-ball of his boat pushed into the rubbery flesh like a finger into a balloon; the pressure of the boat versus skin reached a tensile limit without piercing anything; the boat checked its bow-ward motion., and jerked to stern. The doctor turned, but he was prepared only for the possible, and didn't at first know what was before him. When he saw the large and terrible eyes still milking over with death, the good doctor blinked. And then he fainted.
When Dr. Cluny came to, the dawn had thinned, the water was shot with bars of light, and he found himself rowing around and around the bellied-up beast, weeping. In his mouth there was the sweet burn of horehound candy, the exact savor of his long-ago childhood. Only when a seagull landed upon the flat chin of the leviathan and bent to steal a taste did Dr. Cluny return to himself; only then did he skid back over the water to the awakening town, shouting his news.
"Miracle," he called. "Miracle. Come, quick, see."
At that precise moment, I was idling in the park across the street from Averell Cottage, my childhood home. For at least an hour, I had been standing in the depression that the town flooded in winter to make a skating rink, gathering what courage I could. The fog veiled my grand, awkward house, with its original cottage from 1793, one wing from Victorian 1890, and another from the tasteless 1970s, turning the whole into something more coherent, almost beautiful. In my delirium, I thought I could see my mother inside with a few lifetimes of family antiques and the gentle ghost that lived in my childhood room, all traced like bones on an X-ray, delicate as chalk.
I felt the world around me creak and strain, snapping apart, fiber by fiber, like a rope pulled too tautly.
Back near Buffalo I had had a glimpse of myself in a rest-stop bathroom, and was horrified to find myself transformed into a stranger in rumpled, dirty clothing, my once-pretty face bloated and red with crying jags. I was drawn, thin, welted with the bites of a thousand Alaskan blackflies. My hair, shorn in April, was now growing out in weird brown tufts. I looked like some little chick, starving, molting, kicked out of the nest for late-discovered freakishness.
As the night thinned around me, I leaned over and retched. And I still hadn't moved when, down Lake Street, there came a muffled trampling sound. I knew before I saw them that the sounds were from the Running Buds, a small, dear band of middle-aged men who jog around the streets of Templeton every morning, in all weather, in ice, in rain, in this fine-pelted fog. When the Buds came nearer, I could hear gentle talking, some spitting, some wheezing over their footsteps. They moved out of the dark and into the glow of the single streetlamp on Lake Street, and seeing me in the park in my little depression, seeing, perhaps, something familiar about me but not quite recognizing who I was at that distance, all six of them raised their hands in my direction. I waved back and watched their thick bodies disappear down the street.
Excerpted from The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. Copyright (c) 2008 Lauren Groff. All rights reserved. Published by Voice, an imprint of Hyperion.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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