I discovered the Fort Thomas Public Library in Kentucky after receiving a Nancy Drew novel from my Aunt Mary for Christmas: The Ghost of Blackwood Hall. Hardcover. I didn’t read it right away. It sat in my bedroom until summer, when, out of boredom most likely, I picked up the book and didn’t put it down until the end. I wanted more.

I got permission to ride my bike to the library. I had never been there before, but it was a straight shot, two miles uphill. This is no hyperbolic statement. The hills of Kentucky kept my lungs and thighs strong.

The center of town sat flat at the top of the hill, but the residential neighborhoods of Fort Thomas sloped steeply on the outskirts. I biked until it became too hard, then I walked with the bike beside me until the terrain leveled. There was a unicorn statue in front of the library, and I always knew my ride was almost over when I saw its horn come into view.

I’d choose my books and then rush back down the hill toward home — wheee!

Once inside, I found the Nancy Drew series. During each visit, I checked them out three at a time, stowed them in my backpack, and coasted down the hill toward home. I liked to see how long I could go on my bike without applying the brakes. The speed both exhilarated and scared me. This was my reward.

I don’t know if the trip would have felt as worth it if I had lived at the top of the hill with the library at the bottom. To coast to the library and then struggle to make it home with books didn’t fit the mood.

I’d rather work my way up that long hill to the library. It was delicious anticipation. I’d choose my books and then rush back down the hill toward home — wheee!

After I read the Nancy Drew series, I read the Trixie Belden series.

Then came the day when I needed something more. I stood in the library, not knowing what to read next. I drifted over to the adult section and saw a title that I recognized from a movie I had seen advertised on TV. It was a large book, but I felt ambitious. I checked it out and sailed back home on my bike.

“Look what I got,” I said to my stepmom.

“They let you check this out?” she asked.

“Yeah…”

“Why do you want to read Mommie Dearest?”

“I saw the commercial on TV.”

“You’re going to have to take that back. Now.”

Did she drive me to the library to return it? No. I got on my bike and started the arduous journey back to the library. This time, I returned with Stephen King’s Carrie. After reading about “dirty pillows,” I couldn’t imagine how much worse Mommie Dearest could have been. But it didn’t matter—Stephen King had me hooked on horror, and I returned to the library again and again for Christine, The Eyes of the Dragon, and then Talisman, co-written with Peter Straub.

The library has since moved to a different location. The old building is now an insurance company, and the unicorn no longer stands out front. But for me, the unicorn still guards the memories of all the magic I had found inside. To see the unicorn meant that I was almost there, and it was always worth the ride.