Hello again, dear readers! Now I know some of you are curious to hear any new developments regarding the strange Letter of Invitation I received last week (probably some weeks back, actually, but I found it last week, so let’s go with that). Those of you closely attuned to the movement of the heavens might have noted that this Thursday, June 7, marks the point exactly two weeks before this year’s summer solstice: the day my residency at the Hemlocks on Prism Bay is set to begin. And, readers, I plan to be there when it does.
You will have questions, I’m sure. A few to get you started: Did Mrs. Henriette Sylvester respond to my rather impertinent letter, asking whether she was, in fact, for real? Have I been able to discover anything more about the mysterious Hemlocks on Prism Bay? Am I truly planning to attend such a bizarre and potentially fraudulent artists’ retreat? The answer to these questions, dear readers, are as follows: “yes”, “not much”, and “indeed, albeit with a few rational misgivings”.
First, my letter to Mrs. Sylvester. For those of you who haven’t yet read my post from May 31st, I recommend you give that a quick perusal now, elsewise what is to follow will seem very strange indeed. Actually, it’s probably going to seem strange anyway, but if you’re caught up, it will at least be strangeness with context. Go ahead—I’ll wait. Everyone with me? I hope so, because in the event of my unexplained disappearance the authorities will have to rely on your formidable observational and deductive talents to discover my whereabouts.
So, as we are all now fully aware, I recently sent a letter, addressed to one Mrs. Henriette Sylvester of the Hemlocks on Prism Bay, with a two-centimeter square drawing of a walrus in place of a postage stamp, containing a single question: “Is this for real?!” Now then, dear readers, I did a little research into the likely fate of such a letter, and so far as I was able to learn, it would be classified as “undeliverable-as-addressed” and sent to the US Postal Service Dead Letter Office (also known as a Mail Recovery Center)—that is, if it was not simply tossed in the dust bin. Possibly I would be visited by a pair of shadowy individuals and subjected to a stern lecture on the evils of wasting the valuable time of postal employees, who want nothing more than to faithfully deliver the mail and deserve better than pranking by snarky writers who can’t even draw a very good walrus. It would not, however, be delivered, especially to an address that, for all I and my good friend the Internet have been able to discover, is to be found nowhere in the state of Maine or, for that matter, the continental United States—yet that, dear readers, seems to be just what occurred.
Not long after dropping my letter, ersatz walrus and all, into a mailbox a few blocks from my apartment, I received Mrs. Sylvester’s response—or, I should say, I think it was from Mrs. Sylvester. Like the original Invitation and fifty-or-so pages of Guidelines and General Information, this letter arrived in an envelope addressed, it seemed, using an old typewriter. This time, however, the envelope contained only a small card bearing a single line of typewritten text. That text read, “We are ‘for real’, Mr. Black, as you well know.”
I will admit, dear readers, that I experienced a chill upon reading those words, a chill not dissimilar from what might accompany the reprimand of a stern schoolteacher. At the same time, I thought I detected a note of wry amusement there—maybe even affection. Quite a lot to take away from one little line, I know, but I think I can be forgiven for imagining mysterious imports into this card, which, I will note, resembled something out of an old library catalogue. After all, I had just received a direct reply to a letter posted using nothing more than a drawing of a walrus, and not a very good drawing at that!
Following some reflection, however, I realized there were at least a few mundane explanations for this seemingly uncanny event. For one, Mrs. Sylvester might have anticipated my question, or one like it, and sent her response without having actually received any letter from me. It wouldn’t be too difficult to guess the reaction of a reasonable person to the original Invitation and fifty-or-so pages of Guidelines and General Information. Even if I had decided not to send my little letter, similar ideas would still have been rumbling around my mind. You, dear readers, might plausibly have been thinking the same. And if I’d had this same card from Mrs. Sylvester, with its one chiding line, how surprised would we have been then, when it seemed a response, not to some lost letter, but to our own silent thoughts?
Beyond that, this line—“We are ‘for real’, Mr. Black, as you well know”—could serve as a reply to a great variety of inquiries. Mrs. Sylvester had already made it clear she considered her fifty-or-so pages of Guidelines and General Information more than enough for any prospective resident, and with good reason. Coming up with a real question—one that wasn’t answered in those pages and couldn’t wait to be answered in person—wouldn’t be easy, which is one reason I decided to be cheeky instead. Maybe Mrs. Sylvester, after years of getting similar letters from prospective residents imagining themselves to be clever, has taken to sending a catch all response, one that just happened to match mine especially closely. I’ve been trying to convince myself this must be the case, but it would be a lot easier if it weren’t for those quotation marks around “for real”. I suppose I can always ask Mrs. Sylvester herself, if and when I meet her, but from the tone of her correspondence I get the sense she’d only glare disapprovingly at me until I apologized for my rudeness.
We are about to find out, dear readers, because I’ve made my decision: I’m going to the Hemlocks on Prism Bay. Or, at least, I’ll try to go. I’ve already started packing, and on Thursday, maybe around noontime, I intend to get into my car and begin driving north. Where exactly I will end up is, as yet, not exactly clear. The fifty-or-so pages of Guidelines and General Information that arrived with my Letter of Invitation do include directions to my new residency, but those directions are—and here I must resort to an adjective I’ve been bringing out a lot lately—unusual. This will probably come as no surprise to you, dear readers, having already seen a few other selections from those fifty-or-so pages. But talk of fitting children with horn protectors is all well and good when there are no horned children present to deal with. In the case of the section labeled “Directions to the Hemlocks on Prism Bay”, however, we’ll get to see how practical these Guidelines really are. The answer, I’m afraid, is “not very”. Let’s begin with the house itself:
So far, so good. We have an actual address, albeit one unknown to any electronic map service I’ve been able find, and even a definite geographic reference: Cutler, Maine. Cutler does, in fact, exist, both on maps and the Internet, but I’ve been unable to find any reference to a “Prism Bay” in the vicinity, or for that matter anywhere else. My current running theory is that Prism Bay is a local nickname or archaic term for some other area or community—maybe not even a bay at all—like Blubber Hollow in Salem, Massachusetts, which is a real place (near Gallows Hill, also real) you likewise will not find on Google Maps. We do find the sorts of whimsical additions I’ve come to expect from Mrs. Sylvester’s Guidelines and General Information—that business about “astral projection”, for example—but on the whole, these look like directions I should be able to follow. After that, well, things become slightly more complicated.
The directions do not actually say “Exit ***” and “Route ^^^”, readers, it’s just that I can’t find anything on my keyboard that will approximate the symbols used. The “***” in “Exit ***” appears to be a drawing of a bird holding a small branch in its beak, while “^^^” looks like the astrological sign for the planet Jupiter. Ah, here we are: ♃. (Thanks, Unicode input!) No luck on the bird thing, though, so I’m including a photo.
I’d say things go downhill from there, but even that feels like a generous description, because “downhill” is still an obvious direction. Maybe I’m being too harsh, dear readers—you ought to judge for yourselves.
Since I’ll be driving from Boston, these are the directions most relevant to me. It all starts out well enough—I could even draw this route on a map! And then, somewhere along the way to Bar Harbor, we enter that “dense bank of fog”. What am I do with this, dear readers? Just go as far I can and muddle my way from there? I had the idea of using other bits of the directions to narrow down my area of search, to triangulate my destination, but watch what happens.
Again, things seem to be going well until we encounter that dense bank of fog. Winking at the border guards might potentially cause trouble, but fortunately that won’t be an issue for me as I won't actually be leaving the good old US of A. The main problem is that these directions lead to a completely different part of Maine than the directions from the South. But that’s just the beginning. Next, we get this:
That just seems like an invitation for a lawsuit. (And in case it isn’t already clear: I do not recommend that any of you attempt any of this). Forget that it tells us very little more than the general direction of travel. And that isn’t all.
Readers, I hope you will forgive me for stating the obvious, but there is no driving from the east. If Prism Bay is in fact a bay, very likely the only thing to the east is water. This is certainly true of its neighboring town of Cutler.
If you were not previously convinced someone out there was having a little fun with us, dear readers, well, maybe you’re changing your mind. Perhaps this is all a prank—or, perhaps, Mrs. Sylvester and her friends at the Hemlocks simply intend to test our fortitude, like a monastery that forces new initiates to demonstrate their commitment by sitting out in the wind and rain. Either way, readers, I don’t think they counted on running across a writer with a lot of time on his hands and not enough material for his blog.
I’m going to try and find this place. I’ll report back if I do. I’ll report back if I don’t. Either way, I should have a story to tell. In fact, readers, if you don’t hear from me in a week or so, I request that you alert the authorities—or my publisher, at the very least—because there is always the possibility that I am being lured into the wilds of Maine to be imprisoned, murdered, and/or subjected to illegal genetic experiments. I don’t consider this likely, of course, or I would not be making the trip. But you never know. You do not need me, dear readers, to tell you people are crazy. You have the Internet.
And just in case you would like further evidence regarding the oddness of humans, I will leave you with a few other selections from “Directions to the Hemlocks on Prism Bay”:
Until next time, dear readers—with luck!