By: Monica S. Kuebler
It arrives in an innocuous cardboard box, left on your doorstep just like an Amazon delivery or care package from mom. But when you run a blade along the tape and reveal what the Mysterious Package Company describes on its website as an “uncooperative wooden crate,” you know this isn’t any ordinary mail.
Rue Morgue recently teamed up with the Mysterious Package Company for The Buried Puppet, a horror-themed mystery box experience that “features a small number of puzzles peppered within a strong narrative.” Then they had one sent to me.
In some ways, I was the perfect victim. I work off-site and had no hand in the creation of this. Never mind, I’ve always harboured a genuine curiosity about these packages I frequently see advertised in my Facebook feed, if not the disposable income to take the plunge and partake in one.
But now, we can do it together…
Let’s begin with that aforementioned uncooperative wooden crate. An apt description. Not only is it nailed shut (points for authenticity) but I had to tell my five-year-old daughter to stop touching it for fear of her getting a sliver. For the record, The Buried Puppet is recommended for ages thirteen and up, due to its unsettling narrative – also because you are going to need tools to get into this thing.
The box broke while I was prying off the lid. Oops. But moving right along, here’s where I get my first look at what’s inside…
Oh hey, some crumpled pages of Rue Morgue. Executive Editor Andrea Subissati warned me these would be in here. This is the only point in this experience where I have any (mild) advantage over anyone else. Having been one of Rue Morgue’s editors (in varying capacities) for nearly eighteen years, not only is our style guide written on my soul, I can immediately spot what content I’ve never seen before. Did any of that help me get to the bottom of the mystery any faster? No, it did not. Not one bit.
When I push the two tearsheets from the Cinemacabre section aside I find… the puppet, Mr. Bellylaugh. First impressions: it’s kind of cute; it’s got a whole raggedy ’70s sort of vibe going on with that thick, woolen moustache. I brush the debris off its green knit sweater and put it on my hand. Wait? Was that a good idea? Maybe not. I take it off, flip the puppet around in my palms inspecting it, then investigate the rest of the contents of the box: a journal from the Bon Air Correctional Center, written by a fourteen-year-old boy named Jacob Stelnicki, a broken inhaler with most of the prescription info rubbed off, and a faded plastic library card.
With everything out of the box and spread out before me, it’s time to get down to the business of exploring Jacob’s journal – both the text (a first-person, handwritten account of a haunting; a missing boy; an obsessive, murderous father; teenage bullying; and a mysterious puppet found in a wall) and the drawings (the young man is quite the artist). Is he telling the truth in his writings? What do the clues say? The library card leads to his search history at the library’s website and enough information to begin to tie the crate’s disparate contents together and unlock the next layer of the narrative. All told, there’s a considerable amount of reading involved, and for the most part, the speed you move through the puzzles will be determined by how honed your attention-to-detail skills are.
The Buried Puppet experience took me roughly two and a half hours to navigate. As a lifelong video game nerd, the puzzles landed on the gentle side of the difficulty scale, but the tactile nature of them – which even required the use of scissors at one point – reminded me of those encountered in escape rooms, only with the time constraints removed, allowing for much more in-depth storytelling to unravel. It’s a testament to the writing that the rather innocent-looking Mr. Bellylaugh becomes creepier the further down the rabbit hole you travel with Jacob and the story’s fellow travellers (of whom you soon become one).
A final friendly, housekeeping suggestion should you wish to experience The Buried Puppet yourself. Don’t make the mistake I did of cracking open the “uncooperative wooden box” on a nice tablecloth. Because, cool authenticity aside, the uncooperative wooden box leaves behind a rather uncooperative splintery mess.
Click here to find out more about The Buried Puppet and the Mysterious Package Company.