During the 1920s vaudeville theater was at its peak in New Orleans. Throughout the city, but especially in the French Quarter, raucous shows featuring musicians, magicians, comedians and acrobats were packing houses at larger and larger venues.
With those crowds came money and with that money came the promise of a better and better life. Despite prohibition being in full swing, alcohol flowed free in the Big Easy and, with it, nearly any other vice you wanted could be bought or sold.
It was that life that Peter and Mary wanted. They dreamed of cheering audiences, wealth beyond their dreams and all of the parties that could attend. They felt they had the talent to take them wherever they wanted to go and that they belonged on the same stage with the greatest entertainers on the planet.
But there was a small problem. Peter and Mary weren’t singers or acrobats, they had met and married while studying puppetry and ventriloquism.
They were both amazing performers. They were often called the “Masters of Marionettes” and had even toured the country once. However, their career had been sidetracked, relegated to children’s theaters and kid’s shows.
As eclectic as vaudeville was, it never found much use for puppet shows. The vaudeville scene saw puppeteers as a flight of children’s fancy and not something grownups would pay money to see.
But that didn’t stop them from Trying. They constantly worked on their act, honing new comedies and dramas they felt would appeal to an older crowd but they failed every time. No promoter would take them and no audience would have them.
It was then Peter came up with his first stroke of genius, using humans instead of puppets on the stage. New Orleans was filled with performers desperate to be in an act so he and Mary quickly rounded up two actors and built a show around the premise.
The idea was simple enough, have human play the parts of the puppets and, using winches and levers, manipulate them like marionettes. It was a brilliant idea for a stage show and one that quickly became the couple’s obsession.
Unfortunately, the duo quickly learned about the troubles that come with working with humans. The actors were, in a word, difficult. Not content to be mere puppets, they refused to play their parts and wanted to take control of the act.
On the eve of their first pitch to a promoter, one of the actors kept wanting to change their part. When he threatened to storm off Peter, never having been a violent person, became so enraged that he grabbed his screwdriver and stabbed to poor actor in the neck, killing him instantly. Mary was quick to respond, grabbing a knife and holding the other actor at bay, taking him hostage and locking him in the couple’s workshop.
However, Peter and Mary found themselves with two very big problems. In addition to the corpse lying on their floor and the hostage in their garage, they had an appointment the next day with no act to present.
It was then Peter hit upon his second stroke of genius. With wires, bolts and a drill, he wired up the corpse and, using the rig he had developed for live actors, created a marionette out of the corpse. After a few trials, Peter realized how well the system worked and rushed to his workshop he killed his hostage with a hammer, working hard to kill him in a way that left his corpse stage-ready.
The act, with the two formerly-live marionnettes, was a huge hit. The novel act did well with both the promoter and on vaudeville stages across the city as well.
But as the weeks dragged on the couple quickly learned the challenges of working with the dead. The corpses wore out quickly and had to be replaced regularly.
At first Peter sought out cadavers, even working out a secret deal with the coroner to keep a steady flow of cadavers coming in.
But Peter wanted creative control over the entire act and eventually grew dissatisfied with the coroner’s selections. He stopped accepting the bodies of the naturally deceased and sought out to find living individuals that fit his visions and then crushing their skulls with hammers so he could reconstruct them into his perfect marionettes.
And that was how the years went, Peter writing plays while hard at work with his tools, turning the living into corpses and the corpses into puppets. He spent hours in his workshop making the puppets for his masterpieces.
All the while, the public was unaware. Critics wrote rave reviews for their shows and crowds would line up down the block to see the Masters of Marionettes perform, amazed at the quality of the “actors” and how still they could be.
Peter and Mary had the life they wanted and more, including all of the money, booze and partying they could imagine.
But, while Peter was reveling in the limelight, Mary was not so sold. The grizzly secret of their show was starting to weigh on her, though her unclean hands kept her from speaking out. Still, she couldn’t ignore the toll that it was taking on her and she started to drift away from Peter, professionally and romantically.
First she stopped helping find their targets. That wasn’t a problem thanks the number of actors “trying out” for new parts voluntarily. But when she stopped helping in the workshop, the tension grew and grew. The couple almost completely stopped talking and Mary became a shut-in, refusing to come out or work until it was completely necessary.
But one day, when she went out to the garage, she found that Peter had kidnapped a young girl to play a part in a new play. Mary, seeing the innocence of the child, couldn’t stand it any longer. She flew into a blind rage and attacked Peter with her knife, stabbing him in the chest repeatedly.
Horrified and frightened at the wild woman who had just killed a man in front of her eyes, the child grabbed a hammer and smashed into down on Mary’s hip. Mary’s anger was out of control and she turned it to the child she had been saving, slitting her throat and stabbing her repeatedly.
As Mary surveyed the grizzly scene, a new wave poured over her, one of deep regret. She walked, covered in blood, for over a mile to the police station where she turned herself in.
However, the police never believed her story. After finding the workshop, littered with bodies and body parts, they tried to put the blame on her.
But even though the police thought her guilty of a dozen vicious murders, they never took her seriously, not even bothering to handcuff her during most of the interrogations. It was because of that, she was able to escape, breaking the neck of the officer that was watching her and fleeing on foot into the streets of New Orleans.
It was there she disappeared. Much as the scandal itself faded from the headlines, Mary faded from memory, with no confirmed sightings since her escape.
However, Peter is back and he’s bringing Mary with him. The couple have an axe to grind and a show to put on. So will you dare visit them in their workshop? Will you be a part of the audience? Or a part of the cast.
Only Peter and Mary will decide.