Check-out Time

The invitation arrived in a classy linen envelope with gilt edging, but I, being busy, ignored it. Mail these days is junk by definition, and I often feel that mine exists only to give me a modicum of exercise as I scoop it from the welcome mat, where it lands after cascading willy-nilly through my old brass mail slot. Have I mentioned that I adore my mail slot? I do. I love it both for its antique nature and because it is all but unique in my mailbox- dominated Slabtown neighborhood.

Once I have my mail in hand, this is what happens: I toss it without regrets or hesitation into my hand-painted recycling bin. (I refer of course to my indoor bin; the plastic outdoor bin, provided by the city, is simply and irredeemably green.)

True, around the holiday season the odd greeting card arrives to break the monotony, but on the day of that particular envelope’s fateful appearance, it was already late April, with Easter gone and Beltane beckoning. Let’s face it: for the bulk of the year, the mail’s only purpose is to sell me something I don’t need or, on occasion, to beg for handouts. I never say yes, even when the cause is noble, in part because charity is inherently problematic—it does nothing to alleviate the root causes of whatever requires this latest round of charitable giving—and in part because my money is already spoken for. Yes, my stubborn refusals produce lingering pangs of guilt, but given my salary and my situation, what spare change I can scrounge goes right back to where it is needed most: my church, my congregation. The Unitarian Universalist Church of South Traverse City, Michigan.

Not five days later, on a Thursday, a second invitation arrived, this time half-buried by a set of local circulars, the kind that advertise replacement windows, car washes and ground chuck for such and such a pound. This last was not in any way a temptation no matter what the price, since I have not let so much as a morsel of red meat pass my lips since 1998. However, the grisly image of the red-inked meat did serve to highlight the fastidious cream-colored envelope lying sideways atop it, emblazoned with my address and name, “Reverend Renner”, neatly printed in raised gold ink. Curious, I plucked it up and expertly slit the seal, using Grandmother’s elephant-ivory opener, an Edwardian prize kept all these years expressly for this purpose. Preparing to be disappointed, I withdrew the matching cream card within.

Mark Rigney

In handsome cursive, it read:

The Neil House
Your Reservation (Complimentary) is Confirmed
The Favor of a Reply is Requested at your Earliest Convenience The Neil House, 41 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43215

I was puzzled, to say the least. Columbus is perhaps nine hours by car south of Traverse City, and it was not a location in which I had spent any time. I had certainly never stayed at any hotel called the Neil House, nor had I made plans to travel there in the future.

As I continued to stare, quietly flummoxed by the card in my hand, I became aware of a vague tingling sensation that began in my fingers, traveled up along my wrists, then deadened and died, only to reappear as a sort of itch, a rashlike burn at the tops of my shoulder blades. Next, the hair on the back of my neck rose suddenly, as if I had just rubbed against a carpeted wall in a heavily air-conditioned building. It was all I could do not to tense simply from the expectation of a static shock.

(end excerpt)

Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
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Check-Out Time Copyright © 2014 by Mark Rigney ISBN: 978-1-61922-244-1 Edited by Don D’Auria Cover by Scott Carpenter

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Chapter one - (Renner)