Literature: Pen Pal

How much do you remember about your childhood?

Pen Pal started as a series of short stories about the childhood of one young man named Dathan Auerbach that were posted as an online horror story on a forum. It quickly drew popularity from its readers and soon there were illustrations, audio recordings, and short films made of it. Then it was revise and expanded to be turned into a full length book.

The story of Pen Pal is a young man, in an attempt to understand his childhood, investigates seemingly unrelated, strange, horrifying, and soul-crushingly tragic events that occurred over the course of his life. Beginning from his early days in kindergarten and persisting well into his teen years, he discovers that these incidents are actually part a single frightening tale that have molded his entire life and affected everyone around him. Ever played in the woods a little too long after dark? Ever had the feeling that you being watched, and by someone with less than noble intentions? Do you remember you first friend you ever made and how strong that bond was? Well, then Pen Pal has something for you, and it is a journey you won't soon forget. Though, you might just try, anyway. Also, make sure to bring a box of tissues Whether this is a true story or not has been left ambiguous.

The book is divided into six chapters, Footsteps, Balloons, Boxes, Maps, Screens, and Friends.

The book is available here.

You can listen to an online dramatic reading here, by Mr. Creepypasta of The Midnight Society.

Pen Pal has examples of:

  • Adult Fear: This isn't a supernatural horror story. It's much, much worse.
  • Anachronic Order: The chapters aren't organized by sequential date, but rather come as revelations as the narrator remembers more, or asks his mother for information.
  • And I Must Scream: Josh. Poor, poor Josh. His relationship with the narrator causes the stalker to turn his focus towards him. The stalker kidnaps Josh, leaving a note on his pillow that states he has "run away" so there won't be an investigation. For two years, the stalker detains Josh doing God knows what to him (the narrator himself states he doesn't allow himself to think about what must have happened), all the while pretending Josh is the narrator; he dyes his hair and forces him to wear the narrator's old clothes. Ultimately, the stalker decides he wants to go out with a bang and ends up paying Josh's own father to unknowingly fill up the hole he is going to place himself and Josh in. When their bodies are found, it's clear that Josh was still alive when he was buried and was being embraced by his kidnapper and torturer. It's no wonder Josh's father basically has a mental breakdown when he finds the scene and realizes that what he thought was some ordinary construction work led to his son's death.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The stalker terrorizes the narrator for years, killing several of his loved wins, and at the end, he dies blissfully with Josh-dressed-as-the-narrator.
  • Could Have Avoided This Plot: The story's events could have not occurred by certain aspects: Dathan would have never been stalked if the school didn't do the Balloon project. Dathan's idea of going to his old house looking for Boxes would have never gotten the Stalker to take his interest in Josh, as he took his picture. Dathan's mother in particular ends up unintentionally making things worse by not communicating with anybody about what's going on, not getting the police involved enough, not telling Dathan himself anything until he's much older, and not telling Josh's family about the pedophile she most likely has deduced is in the area. Had she not tried to handle things herself, the stalker may have been caught before he could have done anything worse than scaring the kids and at the very least, Josh's family could have known about the danger.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Josh and Dathan are said to be strikingly similar, to the point where Dathan's mother says that the only way she can tell the two of them apart is by their hair. So when the stalker can't have Dathan, he settles for Josh, dying his hair to match Dathan's and dressing him in Dathan's old clothes.
  • Children Are Innocent: Josh and Dathan are honestly just two sweet little kids. Josh may be a bit of a trouble maker, but he's honestly a nice kid. He even tell Dathan he has a surprise for him for his next birthday, only to learn that the present he had planned was the completed map from the "Maps" chapter.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: The stalker. He goes after several of Dathan's loved ones, including his potential girlfriend, for no other reason than that they are close to him. He even kills his cat.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: The stalker steals Veronica's phone when she dies in the hospital and begins a brief text message relationship with Dathan while claiming to be her. He doesn't find out who he's really talking to until his mother tells him that the real Veronica died weeks ago.
  • Diary: The story is told in the first person by the main character writing down the results of his investigation into his past.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: The first story has our protagonist wake up in the woods, not knowing how he got there. Future sojourns into the woods spell danger for anyone involved.
  • Downer Ending: Dathan learns about how his childhood basically ruined the lives of the people around him, specifically his friend Josh, who was taken by the stalker because of their similar appearance and was buried alive with him by his own father, as well as the stalker killed his pet cat, his kind old neighbor from his old neighborhood, and Josh's sister. The story also implies that Josh's family will never recover from the loss of their children and Dathan's relationship with his mother becomes strained by the fact she kept the events from him for so many years.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each chapter is named after a single plural noun that is relevant to its respective story.
  • Karma Houdini: The stalker gets almost exactly what he wanted in the end, and explicitly died smiling. Dathan reflects on the injustice and cruelty of the world.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nice not telling Dathan about the stalker or getting more involved with the police, Dathan's mom!
  • Nothing Is Scarier
    • See Present Absence below. It makes the stalker a whole lot more frightening.
    • The death of Miss Maggie. We don't get any graphic detail, but her body came out in garbage bags.
  • Reality Ensues: Arguably the most horrifying aspect of the story is how realistic it is.
  • Red Herring: At the beginning of Screens, Dathan brings up a kid named Alex who had a crush on Josh's sister Veronica and wants Josh to tell her for him. Aside from asking Veronica if Josh ever actually told her about him, Alex is never mentioned again and served only to segue into the subject of Veronica.
    • It was almost implied that Mrs. Maggie might have been the stalker based on her senility and confusing Dathan and Josh for her sons. The boys also point out how despite her friendliness, she always gave a creepy vibe and Dathan's mom always told him to never go into her house whenever she invites him in. Her innocence is made clear when the stalker murders her to get closer to Dathan.
  • Present Absence: Dathan's stalker is never seen, described, or even identified, and only was one real line in the story.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The stalker kidnaps Josh and pretends that Josh is the narrator for an unknown amount of time. He even makes Josh dye his hair and wear the narrator's clothes.
  • Stalker Shrine: At the end of "Boxes", Dathan and Josh find out the stalker has broken into his old abandoned house after they moved and took his childhood clothes (that he left behind packed in boxes) and hung them back up in the closet and pasted numerous photos he took of Dathan on the walls.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Of the most horrifying variety. The unseen main antagonist of the story is an obsessed pedophile that began stalking Dathan when the boy was five. It started with a kindergarten project to release balloons with a letter and picture of the child who sent it. The purpose was for whoever received the balloons to take pictures of the area they live in and mail them back. Dathan's came to him. Instead of following the instructions in the letter, the stalker instead tracked it to the source and began stalking Dathan for about ten years and killed anyone who got too close to the boy. The victims included a sweet old woman who always watched over Dathan, the family cat, his best friend, and later, Dathan's potential girlfriend.
    • While the reason for his actions may seem to be For the Evulz, Dathan's mother states that, upon looking at his dead body, he looked like an ordinary man in love. This arguably makes him even more terrifying, since he must have thought that he was truly being romantic while stalking Dathan and killing anyone whom he thought got in the way of their love. There's sick, and then there's FUBAR.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else