Stories You Can Touch

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A cast iron post box.

Who doesn’t love to get mail? These days, it turns out there are a number of membership services that capitalize on that very simple human quirk, curating colorfully themed packages and sending subscribers a monthly surprise in the mail (not email, snail mail—you know, that ancient form of correspondence that has something to do with stamps?). The idea is simple: pay a subscription fee, get a mysterious box of goodies every month.

But one company is a little different. While others pride themselves on delivering the coolest swag around, The Mysterious Package Company is in the business of telling stories. Specifically, stories you can touch. Far more than just a mindless delivery service, the MPC considers itself a “Purveyor of strange and unannounced deliveries, designed to intrigue, befuddle, and delight.” As a customer you can expect to receive (or anonymously send as a gift) a fully formed transmedia narrative utilizing “letters, postcards, diary pages, artifacts and more,” with packages strategically staggered to “arrive over time to build anticipation and intrigue.” Elegant and artful handmade creations delivered to your doorstep which together tell a sophisticated story full of macabre horror and steeped in suspense.

There’s something to be learned from the creativity of such a service I think. Not only does it signal a return to an older form of serialized stories in a way, it’s indicative of a nostalgia for stories-as-artifacts, a reminder to a literary industry that seems to be going electronic more and more that there’s still something special about holding an object in your hands—the touch, smell, presence of something that can be pressed to one’s chest or pinched between two fingers—and there always will be. It’s also an impressive example of mutual appreciation for form and content. Who knows how ambitious or imaginative publishers could get by following such an example? Consider a world with serialized poems printed on popsicle sticks, or complex novels like advent calendars whose chapters can only be unlocked upon receiving a special key in the mail each month. The possibilities are limitless.

What I admire most about the folks at the MPC—second only to their obvious appreciation for the power of storytelling—is the tactile craftsmanship (“…how everything feels in the hand is as important as what is written on the page”) and glee with which they play their role, even going so far as to field all customer correspondences through the voice of the mysterious Curator: a persona with a courteous albeit eloquently cryptic tone.

Presently, customers can choose from three difference experiences: the plague-themed RISEN!, the Lovecraftian/Robert Chambers-inspired KING IN YELLOW, and the time and space tripping TEMPUS FUGIT.

According to the site, every story begins with

The Pledge, often an unexpected letter, often regarding a relative or other previously unknown person. This is the start of the adventure, a puzzling moment of intrigue that draws the recipient into the scheme.”

This is followed weeks or months later by

The Turn: photographs, old newspaper clippings, diary pages, patient records, and in some cases, coded messages. These all work to compel the recipient to research what is happening to them, and hook them into the storyline.”

The experience climaxes with

The Prestige…a handmade wooden crate, an objet d’art, the central focus of the story, and an impressive end to the adventure…acting as a touchstone for the experience, [this is] something that can be displayed on a mantelpiece, or set upon a table,”

in hopes that others might ask about the object and the story of its receiving might be passed on. “This is the aspiration of what we do,” writes the MPC, “creating fond memories that are told and retold to kith and kin, over dinner at home, or drinks in a pub. Our goal is to make this story a part of a personal mythology, something that brings a spark every time it’s recounted.” Lastly, the experience is capped with

The Reveal, a suitably mysterious black envelope, containing an elegantly sealed message on parchment. The note reveals who was behind this wonderful gift, as well as offering immediate membership to the recipient. It furnishes a moment for reflection on the experience as a whole, and provides some necessary closure.”

At $179 per experience the service can be a bit pricy, but lately it seems they’ve begun experimenting with more affordable experiences (most recently something called THE WEEPING BOOK was offered for $69.99, to which I immediately subscribed—I shall report my experience in a future blog post.) There is also a newsletter, CURIOS AND CONUNDRUMS, to which one can subscribe for $24.99:

“a quarterly missive, which we hope will bring a bit of mystery to your doorstep. It includes our newspaper, which is chock full of bizarre and mysterious news from around the world, and throughout time. It occasionally sheds a little light on the scurvy wags who make up the Mysterious Package Company, and contains puzzles and clues for the community to solve, some of which will lead to prizes of a varied and exciting nature. A subscription to Curios and Conundrums also arrives with other documents, journal notes, memorabilia and esoterica to expand on the puzzles contained within the newsletter, as well as spark the imagination of you, the recipients.”

So, the next time you’re looking for a gift for that person who has everything, consider sending them more than just a story—consider sending them a story they can touch.

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