{Isolation Tales} Grand Guignol In A Can By Madeleine Swann

These are the most testing times the human race have faced since World War II. This time the enemy is unseen, an enemy so powerful it’s forcing many of us to retreat back into our houses. It’s here that people will try to continue to live as normal a life as they can and it’s here that the wonderful art of storytelling may blossom. Be it, young children sitting in front of a parent, or a person sadly on their own listening to the radio, stories will be spread and remembered, to be told to future generations once this horrible virus has faded.

I wanted to be able to share some stories with the fiends of Kendall Reviews, stories to help people get through these difficult times.

If you have a tale you’d like to share then please contact me via email

Today’s contribution to Kendall Reviews Isolation Tales is from the brilliant mind of Madeleine Swann. I’m incredibly honoured to be able to host this story as it was only written a few days ago based off of a tweet I made where I referenced Madeleine’s superb collection Fortune Box.

If you’ve not read Fortune Box here’s the blurb…

No one knows where or what Tower Ltd Surprise Packages is or why it’s sending gifts to complete strangers across The City. All they know is that each package is the best thing that’s ever happened to them…or the worst.

In one box is a packet of seeds that allows you to grow your perfect date. In another there’s a cupcake that causes anyone who eats it to grow eyeballs all over their skin. There’s also a parcel with a mousetrap that turns all your enemies tiny. Or you could receive your autobiography, which when signed, makes your every thought famous. Or maybe even a key to a secret door that leads to another dimension where all your unfinished and abandoned projects exist. But with each package received comes both fortune and misfortune that will surely result in unexpected consequences.

You can read the Kendall Review for Fortune Box HERE

In my tweet, I claimed a package was found in an empty grave whilst Madeleine was working the Kendall Reviews Graveyard Shift 

This package has now reappeared elsewhere, to be opened by a girl called Jenna.

It really doesn’t get much better for me and the blog that I can exclusively reveal to you the secrets contained within an otherwise unknown 10th parcel from Tower Ltd Suprise Packages. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Madeleine. You really are a ray of sunshine.

So fiends of Kendall Reviews, give this tale a read, digest and please tweet your thoughts on ‘Grand Guignol In A Can’ #IsolationTales #FortuneBox

Grand Guignol In A Can

By Madeleine Swann

The 10th package was sent to a flat on the outskirts of the city.

Jenna sipped her beer and tried to look interested. Maria was on another videogame tirade and it was hard to hear over the thumping music and drunken yells. It was a bright Sunday afternoon and the pub was full, as always. “It’s not though, is it, really?”

“No.”

Maria sighed. “You did the ‘I’m not listening’ no. did you hear what I said?”

Jenna blushed, “Dark Souls isn’t… something?”

“The story isn’t as complicated as everyone makes out. If you don’t hear me, I’d rather you just said.”

“Sorry.” Jenna liked video games, just not as much as Maria, and she didn’t want to talk about them all the time. She’d made a new set of friends since starting her blogging job in the city, and they all lived on the outskirts in flats they could afford. Every time she met up with them she was left with a lingering sensation of being wrong somehow. She tried to start conversations but could barely remember what she truly enjoyed, so kept herself afloat by asking about their interests. She wore the most average clothes, anything not to stand out.

“You’re quite thin, you’d be pretty if you put your hair up sometimes, or maybe just tucked one side behind your ear.” Maria did just that. Jenna hated people touching her long hair but she didn’t want to complain.

Why don’t we go to the cinema?” said Jenna.

“Yeah, that new murder mystery’s on.”

“Ah, I’ve seen that one.”

“Suppose there’s always the new Marvel. I’m not massively keen but it’ll be alright.”

Jenna hated Marvel. “We could go to the one right in town, that shows lots of different ones, old ones, too.”

“I’m not massively keen on old films either,” Maria said, wrinkling her nose.

We could go on a killing spree, I suppose,” Jenna said, laughing. Maria chuckled politely.

Anyway, I can’t spend too much this week. It’s all got to go on work.”

“Yeah, same. I just thought it might be nice to do something different.” They worked in media, she’d assumed old films would be safe, but she’d been outed as weird again. She pretended to look out the window so Maria didn’t see her burning face.

“Anyway,” said Maria, pulling her phone from her pocket, “I said I’d meet Gil in a bit, I’d better go.”

She’d done it. She’d sent her away. Everyone else had said they were busy except for Maria and now she was leaving, and meeting up with Gil no less. So much for the important jobs he had to do today.

She traipsed back to her building, smiling politely at the couple on their way out. The pair looked so happy and always said hello. In the hallway Jenna decided to call Federico. She’d only rung him three times last week and he’d answered on the third. Perhaps DMing would be better. Faced with three unanswered messages on her side, however, she put the phone back in her pocket. She was single again, it was time to face facts. There was always Paul, the quiet one she liked at work. Maybe that could be something.

She climbed the stairs and unlocked her door, kicking something on the way in. It was a cardboard tube with her name and address on it. She checked about her – all the doors were closed. One of them had to have brought it in, the postie would never come inside.

She shut her door, fell onto the front room sofa and popped open the lid. A black spray can fell into her lap. She picked it up and read the elegant grey text, “Grand Guignol in a Can.”

“What?” She sniffed it. It smelled like the musty attic she used to hide in as a child to read. It was an instant hug. Tentatively she sprayed, but the smell didn’t increase. Confused, she stood up and sprayed harder. Her front room was now the basement of a club with a small stage at the back. People sat at round tables lit by a single candle, engrossed in conversation. Their skin was bright white, dark grey and everything in between. Their hair and clothes were grey, and they were dressed as though they’d emerged from the silent films her college professor showed them. Expressionist portraits lined the walls and shadows clung to the corners. Jenna wondered if she’d fallen through the floor into a grey scale party but when she looked down she, too, was grey. She sat but the sofa was no longer there and she fell hard on her backside. All faces turned her way.

“Don’t worry,” said a strange voice. It was soft and high with a heavy accent. A short man with large eyes emerged from the crowd. He seemed young despite his baldness, “they won’t hurt you.” Jenna was caught between abject terror and wanting to laugh. They were overdoing it slightly, whoever had set this up. The man was too silly to be creepy, too ostentatiously dressed in a fur collared coat, his baby face too friendly. “Here,” he said, reaching out a hand and pulling her to her feet. They sat at a table. A man was dragged onstage, chained at the wrists and ankles, and interrogated by two men. They tore his shirt off and Jenna wondered if it was going to be like the Banana Bar in Amsterdam she’d heard about.

An interrogator turned his back and a loud, hissing sound filled the room. When he faced front, he held a burning poker. “Are they going to hurt him?” Jenna whispered.

They’re just going to pull his skin off.”

What? Really?!”

No,” said the man, “they’re acting, it’s a Grand Guignol.” The burning iron was pressed onto his chest. His bellow sounded so real. “Don’t you do anything creative?” Jenna tried to tear her thoughts from the stage. She had done some acting at school. Her teachers had praised her highly. As soon as she got to college, though, her crippling shyness had swallowed her completely. She’d disappeared into the words of others in an English degree then supposed she ought to do something similar after graduating.

Sometimes, I suppose.”

Now the other interrogator sliced the man’s arm with a knife, sending blood pouring. If Jenna had bought a ticket to the theatre, and read up on the performance she would have been able to relax. As it was her heart raced and she felt as though she’d swallowed an untested drug. It was too much. The realistic smell of burning hair stung her nostrils. Cigarette smoke irritated her eyes. She didn’t know these people, or how they’d got into her flat. Where was her flat? She stood up. The man tried to calm her, to get her to sit, but she backed away. He looked wounded.

Then she was back in her front room. Whimpering, she threw the can in the bin. She would be put away if she told anyone. She went to her bedroom and curled up on the bed, pretending to be ill when her housemate Manda returned. That night she dreamed of sizzling skin, staring strangers and her companion. She dreamed of the soft collar of his coat, of laying her head on it.

She woke up, sweaty and embarrassed, and called in sick to work. Relieved not to be spending eight hours blogging about influencers and chunky boots, her thoughts turned again to the can. His wounded look played again and again in her mind, and the cheers and laughter of the audience tingled in her ears. She browsed youtube, twitter and facebook in bed but it all seemed so boring. Eventually she got up and, still in pink leggings and a Nyan Cat T Shirt she plucked the can from the bin and inspected it. In small letters were the words ‘for best results spray hard. May last up to four hours.’ Jenna thought about the day she would spend alone, and the evening, and work the next day blogging and thinking of things to say to colleagues. Before her brain could interrupt she pulled off the lid and sprayed, not too soft but not too hard.

A silent film was projected onto a screen above the stage and the speakers boomed with music. Only a small group was present clasping coffee mugs and teapots. When they saw her, they waved her over. She went slowly, worried they might grab her and burn things on her. “What on earth are you wearing?” said the man, her companion from the night before.

“Zsolt,” one of the women squealed, “you’re not supposed to say that.”

“Well, I don’t know,” he mumbled, shrugging.

“Um, I probably should have got dressed.”

“Its fine,” said another woman, “we can pick something out for you. You don’t mind helping us, do you? We need someone to stick pins in the landlady tonight.”

Two of the women bustled off to fetch supplies. “Don’t look so nervous,” said Zsolt, you’ll be great, and they’ll help you.”

“Do you think? I haven’t done anything like this for ages.” The thought of it terrified her, but also made her blood fizz. Blogging wasn’t creative, no matter how much she’d convinced herself.

“Absolutely, you look as though you could be a Victorian noble woman. That’s the part you’re playing, you see.”

“Thanks.” Jenna blushed, desperate to return a compliment. “You’ve got poet’s hands. Uh… but manly too. Not that manly means anything. You know what I mean…”

“I’ve got manly poet’s hands? Thank you very much.” They smiled. “You could stay with us perhaps.”

“Perhaps.”

The women returned, put her in a Victorian dress, handed her several long pins and pushed her onstage. The ‘landlady’ waited in a rocking chair, her hair in a bun and knitting in her lap. “You want me to…?”

“Yes,” they cried, and Jenna stuck the first pin into the landlady’s hand. It didn’t retract, instead popping into the skin and drawing blood.

“Oh my God.”

“Its fine,” said the lady, “it doesn’t hurt. I’ll put on a good show for the guests tonight, don’t worry.”

“But…”

“It’s fine, look.” She plucked another pin and stuck it into Jenna’s arm. Jenna’s scream reverberated around the room. “See?” She was right, it didn’t hurt, but blood dripped onto Nyan Cat’s ears. “Do the next one in my eye, maybe. They’ll hate that.”

“Love it, you mean,” called one of the men.

Shakily, Jenna held the point to the woman’s left eye. She told her hand to push it through but it wouldn’t move. She tried again, and nothing. “Come on,” the others called.

“Just do it, quick, don’t think about it,” said the landlady.

The noise attacked her ears. She couldn’t think. Stricken, she turned to the group. “You can do it,” said Zsolt.

“No, I want to go home.”

“What?” Manda was in the doorway of their flat, key in hand, confused.

“Uh… nothing, I must have been sleep-walking.”

“You actually are ill,” Manda said, surprised, “I thought you were skiving.” She sat on the sofa and played with her phone. “Don’t forget everyone’s coming tonight. What did you do to your arm?”

“Nothing! I’ve been scratching myself in my sleep or something.” The pin prick was still there, and blood stained Nyan cat’s ears.

“You should get a plaster on that. If you’re not well you could stay in bed, we won’t disturb you.”

Rage flashed through Jenna. Of course they’d prefer her not to sully their fun with her weirdness. Well, they’d have to put up with it. She could make something of this life. She didn’t belong in that other place. She would stay here and start her own web company perhaps. “No, I’ll be fine. I’ll get dressed.”

The first guests arrived. “I read a really good article,” she said to a girl, “made me think differently about death and burial around the world and stuff.”

Really?” said the girl, her eyes glazing over. It didn’t matter, there was still hope. Jenna made an excuse and went to the toilet.

The place filled, the music got louder and quiet chat became shrieks and cackles. Jenna told herself she loved parties, she wasn’t frightened of crowds, and began to believe it. She drank whiskey and coke, vodka and red bull, and found herself in a corner with Paul. “Shoes are weird, aren’t they?” she slurred.

“Yeah, pretty weird.”

“They’re like horseshoes, but on people feet, only horses don’t worry about, like, if they should wear heels or chunks or something.”

“Chunks? Do you mean wedges?”

He wasn’t responding properly. He was meant to laugh with her, wax whimsy on the nature of fashion. Instead he kept glancing at other people. “Who cares, it’s all shit, isn’t it? Honestly, who cares? I could start a trend and call them chunks if I want. I’m gonna make my own website and we’re only gonna sell chunks.” She was an angry drunk – she’d always known – yet somehow had thought tonight would be different.

“I’m gonna see if Manda wants any help.”

“Right,” she grunted. He turned to leave. In a moment of frenzy she tapped him on the shoulder, “I had this dream that a lady wanted me to stick pins in her eyes. I mean, it’s real, but I suppose it must be a dream.”

“OK,” said Paul, and he was gone.

“Do you do journalism too?” said a man behind her. He was handsome. Jenna swallowed.

“Yes. I mean, I do blogging, but it’s not permanent. I could probably do journalism. You?”

“I’m freelance.”

Wow, that’s hard, a lot of freedom though.

Yeah, yeah, it is. Thought you might be over at Dash Publishing with Manda, been meaning to speak to those guys.”

“Not yet, one day I will.”

“Fabulous, fabulous. Said I’d go see Manda, speak in a bit.”

Jenna watched him leave, her fists balled. “Hi,” said a girl, “Jenna, isn’t it?”

“I’m not well.”

Jenna grabbed the can and headed for her bedroom. When Manda called on her in the morning she wasn’t there.

Madeleine Swann

Madeleine Swann’s collection, Fortune Box, was published by Eraserhead Press and nominated for a Wonderland Award. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and podcasts including Splatterpunk Award nominated The New Flesh: A David Cronenberg Tribute. She likes bright colours and funny noises, much like a baby.

You can find out more about Madeleine by visiting her official website www.madeleineswann.com

You can follow Madeleine on Twitter @MadeleineSwann

Fortune Box

No one knows where or what Tower Ltd Surprise Packages is or why it’s sending gifts to complete strangers across The City. All they know is that each package is the best thing that’s ever happened to them…or the worst.

In one box is a packet of seeds that allows you to grow your perfect date. In another there’s a cupcake that causes anyone who eats it to grow eyeballs all over their skin. There’s also a parcel with a mousetrap that turns all your enemies tiny. Or you could receive your autobiography, which when signed, makes your every thought famous. Or maybe even a key to a secret door that leads to another dimension where all your unfinished and abandoned projects exist. But with each package received comes both fortune and misfortune that will surely result in unexpected consequences.

Like a season of episodes from The Twilight Zone or Friday the 13th The Series, comes a collection of dark and humorous stories from the premier British female author of bizarro fiction.

You can buy Fortune Box from Amazon UK & Amazon US

The Bumper Book Of British Bizarro

The Bumper Book of British Bizarro! will contain anything Bizarro related featuring short fiction, short non-fiction, poems & experimental works.

The British Bizarro Community are seeking to celebrate the weird and wonderful Bizarro writers we have in the UK and to make the world a more caring and safer place.

All proceeds from TBBOBB are going to Mermaids UK, the charity for gender diverse young people.

KR: Release date is currently set for June. Keep an eye on Kendall Reviews and @BizarroBritish for updates.

 

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