Readers. Dear, dear readers. I have received a very interesting piece of mail. Generally I don’t like the word “interesting”, because of the way it’s so often used as a meaningless descriptor, like “nice”. How was the play? Interesting. How was your meal? Interesting. How was that triple bypass surgery? Interesting. The word “interesting” doesn’t tell you much about a thing, except that it supposedly generates interest, and that’s really something for the person who might or might not be interested to decide. In this case, however, that person is me, and I was interested. I remain interested, in fact. Let me tell you why.

The first thing that interested me about this particular piece of mail is that it was unsolicited. That isn’t really much of a recommendation as far as mail goes, I know. I would even be willing to argue that more bad things arrive through unsolicited mail than good things. Now that I think about it, I’m starting to feel like most bad things come through unsolicited mail: letters from the IRS, legal summonses, anthrax, and invitations to birthday parties for cats all arrive by mail whether the recipient desires them or not. This letter did not appear to be from the IRS, a court of law, or a terrifying maniac, but those can all be hard to spot just by looking at the outside of a letter. And because I was not expecting any important mail, the manilla envelope waiting in the entryway of my building had gone unnoticed for some time, possibly sitting around for weeks before the guy downstairs caught me on the stairs and said, “Hey, you got an interesting-looking letter”.

The envelope was quite thick, and addressed to me at home, and neatly typed, all of which served to increase my level of interest. I wondered what sort of materials might have made this envelope so thick. I wondered how whoever sent the letter learned my home address, where usually the only letters I receive are from my landlord and the cable company. I wondered who out there was still typing envelopes on an old typewriter, because that appeared to be the case with this one. Perhaps it was merely printed using an ingenious computer font capable of mimicking the irregular smudges and faded ink of an old typewriter, but either way, I was interested.

The envelope’s contents were more interesting still. There was a cover letter, addressed to me, and fifty or so pages of additional materials labeled “Guidelines and General Information”. Readers, I will now depart from my excessive use of the word “interesting” to describe these fifty or so pages as “fantastic”. More on them in a moment. First, I would like to include the full text of the cover letter—or letter of invitation, for that is what it proved to be:

Mrs. Henriette Sylvester
The Hemlocks
Prism Bay, Maine

The First of May

Mr. Patrick Black
[address redacted to avoid attention of IRS, lawyers, maniacs, etc.]

My Most Esteemed Mr. Black,

It is with the sincerest pleasure that I extend our most cordial invitation to join us for the summer season at the Hemlocks on Prism Bay. As always, dates of residency will extend from two weeks before the summer solstice until the last week prior to the autumnal equinox. Your room will, of course, be reserved for the full duration, and you are welcome to stay as much or as little as you like.

For your convenience, I have enclosed certain materials that might aid you in planning your trip, including directions to the Hemlocks and a few essential policies of our little house. While I am sure it will be entirely unnecessary for one of such grace and refinement, I humbly request that you take the time to review these few simple guidelines. Prism Bay is a vibrant and diverse community, and we at the Hemlocks wish to do our utmost to preserve its unique character, while ensuring the harmony, comfort, and safety of all. One need hardly be reminded of the unfortunate incidents of some years back, which I am sure we all regret, and of which I will say no more.

We look forward to having you with us once again in Prism Bay.

With all deference and respect, I am ever

Mrs. Henriette Sylvester, Custodian

Readers, dear readers, have you ever seen such a charming letter? Just so you can actually see it, I’m including a few pictures taken with my digital camera. Those of you adept at spotting computer font might be able to confirm its presence here, but to me it looks very much like the work of an old typewriter, and that is, I think, only the first of this letter’s abundantly charming features. Let us continue with the respectful yet wry tone of the prose, which left me greatly endeared to the writer. Next, there is the unusual means of marking time: dating the letter “The First of May”, for example, and describing a residency running “from two weeks before the summer solstice until the last week prior to the autumnal equinox”.

Most charming of all, in my opinion, is that this is a letter of invitation. I do enjoy receiving invitations, even if, as with the invitations to cat birthdays I mentioned earlier, I am not always able to attend the corresponding events. I must admit, however, that I had some trouble figuring out precisely what I was being invited to. What exactly is “the Hemlocks on Prism Bay”? The Internet had conspicuously little to say on the subject, which came as quite a surprise, knowing the Internet as I do. There is an indie rock band from Columbus, Ohio, called “the Hemlocks”, and a housing development in Roslyn, New York, by the same name, but neither are located very near Prism Bay, Maine, possibly because—again, as far as my associate, the Internet, is concerned—no such place exists. And yet, here was this letter, inviting me there, beginning two weeks prior to the summer solstice.

Luv you guys but I think giving out my home address is more of a 100th blog post sort of thing...

Luv you guys but I think giving out my home address is more of a 100th blog post sort of thing...

Not to raise a contentious word processing subject, but two spaces after a period, eh?

Not to raise a contentious word processing subject, but two spaces after a period, eh?

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My current front-runner, guess-wise, is that I’ve been contacted by some kind of artists’ residency. As you know, dear readers, I am a writer, and in some cultures, writers are also considered artists. And it is not unusual, or so I’ve heard, for artists—including writers—to be invited to communities in places like Maine, pristine and peaceful places, where their art will have the opportunity to flourish. That would be a reasonable explanation for this interesting letter, wouldn’t you say, readers? The word “residency” is right there in the first paragraph, after all. And while I’ve never been to an artists’ residency, I’ve always wanted to attend one, and I think that ought to count for something also. It is troubling that I’ve never heard of this particular residency—that it not only lacks a website, but any electronic presence at all. Then again, the invitation was written on an old typewriter (probably), so it would be easy to believe technology is not the focus here. Possibly the focus is bringing tranquility to the souls of artists, even writers, so that they might produce great works of art.

Any reservations about this artists’ residency raised by its lack of web presence—whether in the form of a website, Twitter account, or evidence of filing for tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code—were, however, largely assuaged by those fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information”. I said I would return to these pages, readers, and now I shall. In format, the pages are not much different from any normal orientation guide—as for a resort, school, or corporate office. I’ve seen my share of similar packets, readers, but the contents in this case were… let us say, unusual. For example,

Dress and Comportment

While we understand that the community of Prism Bay draws from a great variety of backgrounds and cultures, we nevertheless request that all residents at the Hemlocks, as well as their guests, adhere to a common standard of conduct.

Modest and presentable attire is expected of all residents and their guests while in the house’s common areas. We recommend against athletic gear as fashion; please reserve mesh shorts, sports jerseys, and form-fitting elastic attire for your daily healthful exercise. For evening meals, a jacket and collared shirt are preferred for gentlemen, skirts hemmed below the knee for ladies, and appropriate grooming for all diners of bestial aspect. Please keep all sigils, wards, and runes covered whenever possible. Young children are requested to wear horn protectors, where applicable (we know they are your little darlings, but your fellow guests might not agree after being prodded in the rump or eye!).

Shoes or other outdoor footwear should not be worn above the house’s ground level, except on designated occasions. Residents and guests who do not typically wear shoes: please remember to clean all hooves and claws when entering the house, especially when the weather is inclement. Brushes and hoof picks are provided at all entrances to the Hemlocks, including the belfry and upper porches.

Unusual, wouldn’t you say, readers? At first, it isn’t unlike a dress code for a fancy-pants hotel, club, restaurant, or similarly stodgy institution—until you get to the part about “diners of bestial aspect”, whereupon it begins to sound like you’ll be eating with visitors from Narnia. I suppose it’s a clever way of adding levity to a lot of dull and old-fashioned rules; I certainly found myself chuckling over certain parts, especially the deadpan reference to children with horns—anyone who has been forced to spend time with unruly youngsters can relate, I think, if only metaphorically. This is not the only section of the fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information” to strike such an irreverent pose, either. Some, to be sure, seem perfectly normal. Others, well—I’ll let you read for yourself. Take a look at this section from “Facilities and Amenities”: 

All guestrooms at the Hemlocks are furnished with a bed, desk, set of wardrobes, scrying glass, and full washroom en suite. We kindly request that residents and guests refrain from activities that might cause undue damage or mess to their rooms, especially if better confined to the house’s laboratory, workshop, garage, stables, or library. Most rooms are NOT equipped for major incantations, but a signup sheet for the house summoning circle can be found in the lobby.

Any special rooming needs should be brought to the attention of your house custodian. Alternative rest arrangements, as for guests who prefer to sleep upside-down or underground, can be provided upon request, but we are, unfortunately, unable to offer long-term accommodation to aquatic residents at this time. If you are expecting guests requiring long-term submersion, please contact your house custodian, who will arrange for lodging at one of our affiliated residencies better suited to your needs. Seahaven, Evermere, and Spring Tide House are all within easy traveling distance and have provided excellent hospitality in the past.

Again, it reads like the handbook from any well-run place of hospitality, but with a peppering of strangeness throughout. I’m almost certain I’ve seen the phrase “unable to offer accommodation to X at this time”, except where X is “pets” instead of “aquatic residents”. Oh, and speaking of pets!

Pets are generally expected to make their own arrangements prior to arrival, and will receive a Letter of Invitation concurrently with their owners. We nevertheless encourage you to alert your house custodian of any pets in your care, on the chance yours is careless in managing its social calendar, or if special precautions will be required, as with large reptiles, gorgons, boogey- or bogeymen, devil bunnies, and border collies.

Please note that the Hemlocks makes no special accommodation for so-called ‘comfort animals’, as all animals are comforting and yours does not deserve preferential treatment just because you are an unscrupulous person with twenty dollars to spend on a fake certificate. Service animals are, of course, completely welcome, including seeing-eye dogs, actuarial cats, amanuensis toads, and personal stylist crocodiles.

Pet peeves should be kept in the privacy of one’s room to every possible extent, though pet projects, pet notions, and pet names may have the run of the house, within reason.

I can only assume, dear readers, that whoever wrote these fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information” is having some fun with us. Possibly, this delightful individual became bored with writing page after page of rules and regulations, and decided to add a bit of pizazz. I must say, I was grateful they did, for this unknown writer (the mysterious Mrs. Henriette Sylvester, perhaps?) brightened what was turning out to be a dreary day indeed. Readers, if you can get through this excerpt from “Personal Belongings” without at least cracking a smile, well, you have more composure than I:

Residents and guests are welcome to store any personal belongings too large or cumbersome for their rooms in our attic or catacombs. Vaults are available upon request for anything of special price, provenance, power, or peril. We humbly request that potentially hazardous items be left at home, but if this is not possible, please be sure to alert your house custodian, so that we can best ensure your safety and the safety of your fellow residents.

The range of potentially hazardous items is too great to include a definitive list here, but some of the most frequent offenders are: explosives, firearms, zucchinis, medical waste, golems or homunculi, forbidden knowledge, corrosive or radioactive materials, inherited silver, “scrunchie” style hair ties, poetry, portraits of 11th United States President James K. Polk, and anything carrying a curse above the third hexidecile in potency, as determined by the International Commission of Curses, Hexes, and Noxious Attitudes, including but not limited to jewelry (especially amulets), pens, keys, paintings, dolls or figurines (especially those with moving eyes), furniture, and clothing, most particularly head wear, even more particularly top hats, fascinators, and ancient masks.

It sounds almost like I’ve been invited to a Harry Potter themed bed and breakfast—and if such a thing does not already exist, it should. (Any readers in a position to appropriate licensing for an HPB&B, take heed!) If nothing else, I am convinced the Hemlocks on Prism Bay is a place of genuinely creative people—for who else would send a letter like this? And what more could a person desire in an artists’ residency than to be among creative people? Well, readers, I can think of at least one thing, and here it is:

Rates and Expenses

While we expect it goes without saying (and therefore have written it), there is no charge for your stay at the Hemlocks. Special expenses, such as the catering of private functions or acquisition of sacrificial victims, will be reviewed with residents before any costs—whether they are to be paid in money, the indenture of child dependents, or the binding of free will—are incurred.

There you have it, readers: free. The best price. Now then, it’s entirely possible this whole thing is a scam, even if it’s unclear just what the endgame would be. Get me to drive up to Maine and then… what? Sell me a timeshare? Finding out the answer would in itself be reason enough to see what this Letter of Invitation is all about. And what if it really is for real? What if I really am being invited, by dint of my artistic potential, to a summer of tranquility in some lovely little town in Maine? I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I could certainly do with a bit of tranquility about now.

By my calculations (and reference to the Internet), “two weeks before the summer solstice” would be June 7—not very far away, but if I am to believe my Letter of Invitation, I can show up just about any time I want, so I thought I might take advantage of another section from the fifty-or-so pages of “Guidelines and General Information”:

Getting in Touch Prior to Your Arrival

If you have any issues not covered in these Guidelines, well, that would be something of a surprise, as we have endeavored to be quite exhaustive. Regardless, you may contact your house custodian at the address given in your Letter of Invitation. As postage, be sure to place a single drop of your own blood, or the blood of a similarly-sized mammal, or else a drawing of a walrus measuring no more than two centimeters square.

In my view, there is one simple question not answered in the entire fifty-or-so pages: put simply, “Is this for real?!” I will post this question to the esteemed Mrs. Sylvester by the method suggested, and see what happens. In the interests of hygiene, and because I’m passable at sketching, I’ll be mailing by walrus rather than bodily fluids (today, in “sentences I never expected to write”). Stick with me, dear readers, and we will see what happens!

(And what was that bit about having me with them “again”, by the way? Because, in case it is not already apparent, dear readers, I have never been to Prism Bay, nor ever heard of it. Perhaps this will all turn out to be something disappointingly mundane—a summer camp I attended for two days when I was eight, now reincorporated under a new name and planning to hit me up for a donation once they’ve triggered my nostalgia for summers past. But I intend to find out, readers, yes indeed.)

Until next time, dear readers!

And now, as practice for my two-cm-square postage: a drawing of a walrus.

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