Penpal

In my last Web Crush I talked about Mr. Creepy Pasta and one of the videos I included was a creepypasta called “Footsteps” by 1000Vultures. The story is actually part of a series called The Penpal Series. It’s a really great story, the entirety of which can be read here in the reddit r/nosleep community (start with “Footsteps” at the bottom and work up) or listened to on this playlist, as read by Mr. Creepy Pasta, of course. As I mentioned before, I like hearing the stories read, but going to the original posts is fun too because you get to see the author interacting with readers and answering questions. Doing so will get you a little more insight into the world than just what is written since the author answers the questions in character as the narrator of the story, maintaining the conceit that these creepypasta stories are true.

The reason I’m talking about this story in particular is not just because I love it (it’s the story that made me love creepypasta in general and Mr. Creepy Pasta in particular) but because this online author did what so many dream of doing: he got his work published.

I know this isn’t necessarily revolutionary. Writers have gained popularity online and managed to parley that success into real-world business; even fanfiction which has started online has been published, but these success stories aren’t exactly common so it’s always exciting to see someone manage to pull it off.

The author, Dathan Auerbach, began a kickstarter campaign to fund the endeavor and thankfully got enough support to produce the novel. I didn’t get into this story until after all that happened so I don’t know the finer details of it or when it all happened but I was able to reap the rewards and purchase a copy of the novel once it was available on Amazon. I was excited to read it when it arrived and you can read my review under the cut.

The book opens with an introduction called “Memories”. This chapter is completely new material, not having appeared in the original creepypasta series, and I like it a lot. The narrator describes a particular memory of his, a happy one, and then discusses memory in general and how we sometimes let some fade away on purpose and how trying to remember one thing often leads to unlocking more memories. This is a great introduction to the story because it’s exactly what this tale is about. The narrator of this first-person account is diving into his own memories to make sense of his past. Many times things which seem unimportant or benign reveal themselves to be much more sinister the further we go and the more we learn. Chance encounters are rarely ever just that, and when one issue seems at peace something more ominous is often lurking in plain sight.

After the introduction, the first chapter (the first memory) begins. It is “Footsteps”, the same memory which began the creepypasta series. From here on out each chapter corresponds to the original parts of the creepypasta, but there are new details and ideas are further developed than before. The book still reads cohesively though. It doesn’t feel as if Auerbach is merely padding out the existing story, rather, it’s almost as if this was always meant to be a novel and I can only occasionally pinpoint where additions were made to the versions found online.

I did feel that the author could have used a more keen editor though. There were some grammatical and typographical errors that I noticed. Some of them weren’t errors so much as they were awkward phrases and structure, so perhaps it was just a case of my personal taste rather than actual shortcomings on the book’s part in those cases.

Apart from the technical aspect of the book I do have one legitimate complaint against the story. The premise of this tale is that a very young boy is being stalked by someone in his town. This unknown person is nearby and has access to the narrator at all times, as evidenced by various incidents, but most tangibly by the pictures of the narrator which the stalker takes and sends to him. The narrator’s mother is aware of this danger but she still lets her son have an unbelievable amount of freedom.

For much of the story the narrator (and I’m sorry to have to keep calling him that. but he never names himself within the story and I’m not sure it would be appropriate to refer to him as Dathan) is in Kindergarten to Second Grade, making him as young as five to as old as nine. He still somehow manages to spend much of his time unsupervised in the woods behind his house, even going swimming in a secluded lake with no adult supervision. Even under normal circumstances I wouldn’t believe that a parent would give his or her child that kind of freedom at such a young age, but taking into account the fact that his mother knows someone is stalking her child makes it even more preposterous. While she does give him restrictions (Home before dark; check-in every hour, on the hour) it just doesn’t seem to me that any parent with a child in such a situation would allow that child out of their sight without the supervision of one or more trusted adults.

The story is not told in chronological order so it’s possible that I got the timeline messed up and she actually pieced together the truth later into the situation and after some of these episodes, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Even if it is, as I said above, I have a hard time believing any child under ten would be allowed to do some of the activities the author describes.

Despite this complaint, and despite it being a rather large one, I still love this story and encourage you to check it out. Auerbach has an incredible gift for making a situation feel real and bringing the reader’s emotions right along with the character’s. The story unfolds in a very natural way, as though the narrator really is going back into his memories and documenting them, one recollection unlocking another, and as the pieces start to fit together the picture being assembled gets darker and more unsettling. This story builds an unease slowly and effectively until the “resolution” where everything finally fits (at least as well as it’s going to) and the reader is left with a sick feeling that doesn’t want to go away. Even now if you could see my face as I write this review I’m scowling and my lips are curling in distaste as I relive the emotions of this story.

And that’s what makes it so great.

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