"Over To You" by Michael Marshall Smith
This story comes from the anthology "Dead Letters" edited by Conrad Williams.
Mysterious packages in the mail; who did they come from? Do people leave messages from beyond the grave? If they do messages, do they use the post office like any other normal person? This was the case for Matt. He went down to check the mail and sneak a cigarette so his son wouldn't see him and found a package in his mailbox.
The package had all kinds of writing on it, some crossed out, and it had made it rounds through the mail system. People who received sent it back and placed return to sender on the package. The problem was there was no sender to return too. So with that in mind, Matt decided to open up the package. Inside was a chess piece, a bishop, and a note, saying only Over To You.
The chess piece had a funky odor like a disinfectant that his son, Scott, picked up on almost immediately after asking what a bishop was used for. After explaining to his son about chess, he too noticed the smell. That just added to the mystery of the chess piece and how he ended up with it in his mailbox. Why did the chess piece smell? Who was it destined for? So many questions and no answers. Matt pondered over the chess piece for a week or two. Still coming up with nothing.
As the days went by the smell became stronger and stronger. Eventually it stunk up his office so bad he decided he would throw out the chess piece. He took the piece to the edge of the woods and threw it out into the woods. that day as he walked back into his office, he discovered the chess piece sitting on desk again. How did that get back to his desk? He was sure he threw it out into the woods.
While pondering, yet again, the chess piece and who it might belong too, he receives a phone call from his mother. She is an obsessive compulsive person, always cleaning, and having to find things when they go missing, etc. She was calling to tell him that a chess piece from his father's chess set is missing. Matt can't believe his ears and what he is hearing. He double checks what she said and asks what piece. She tells him it's the biship if she understand the game correctly. Mystery solved, but is it really? His father died. So what would he be trying to tell him?
During the entire story Matt is hiding the fact that he is still smoking from his son, Scott. Anytime Scott one of his packs he destroys it telling his father that he needs to quit. Matt's next door neighbor also used to smoke, but still drinks like a fish and invites Matt over for a few drinks.
As any smoker know cigarettes go with booze like peanut butter and jelly. And before too long, Matt is lighting up and so is his neighbor who quit smoking. After a few drinks and some general male bonding and bull-shitting Matt decides to call it quits. As he reaches for the pack he sees the glint in his neighbor's eye. Matt tells him he can keep them, he won't be needing them anymore. And as he walks away he whispers to his neighbor, Over To You.
This is an interesting story. I like the mystery of a package showing up and not having any return address. Then finding out the chess piece belonged to his father. It adds an intimate touch to the story after he finds out where the chess piece comes from. It turned out that the chess piece and the note were what Matt needed to kick his habit. Almost like it was one last message from the grave his father could give him. It was very apropos to the title of the story and to the story as he handed over his addiction of cigarettes to his neighbor.
This story had me wanting to know where the chess piece came from as much as the character did. The story was well written and even in the short story the characters were well developed. I was hanging on the edge waiting to find out where the chess piece came from, praying that it wouldn't end before I found out.