He had a crush on Josh's sister, Veronica. I wanted to hold her hand but I didn't. Eventually we were too cold and weak to even try anymore. If straight lines move "as the crow flies", then my neighborhood must have been built based on the travels of a snake. We had misjudged how long the sun would linger. ", I didn't understand what she meant, so I said the only thing I could. What's your 20, Princess Jasmine? He kidnapped Josh the same way he had attempted to kidnap the narrator and left a false note. Her eyes rolled over to mine and her lips moved. I thought about Veronica. During the summer after Kindergarten, before the events of "Balloons", Josh and I had taken to exploring the woods near my house, as well as the tributary of the lake. She didn't laugh at that one and I thought she might be offended—she might have thought I was implying that she couldn't get in based on her intelligence. I was surrounded by trees and was smiling. She died on the last day you visited her. I was going by myself and so I didn't want to just hang around there waiting. They're supposed to be in boxes. Because there is nothing supernatural or fantastical about the situation, it becomes very real and readers are able to sympathize with the main character that much more. This book - on several different occasions - made my skin crawl. I told Josh to go back to my house, and to say that we were playing hide and seek if my mom was home. I rushed inside to tell my mom, but my excitement coupled with her being distracted by a phone call made my story incomprehensible and she responded simply by saying "Oh wow! He was my only friend, next to Boxes. We lived in the kind of house you see being transported in two pieces on the interstate, but my mom took good care of it. I paid too much attention to where I was stepping and not enough to where those steps were leading because not long after hearing the cry I saw something that filled me with a kind of despair I haven't experienced since. Later, when rafting with Josh one day, he hears the sound of pictures being taken and a drawing of him (standing next to the penpal, with his initials) is left in the pocket of his shorts that had been left at the raft’s dock site for the narrator to find afterwards. She smiled, and I was about to suggest that maybe we could sit together when she quickly closed the space between us and hugged me. I know it's only been like three weeks since she got hit, but she said she would try to come, and after that she just stopped talking to me altogether. And as my eyes swam over the sea of Polaroids I became increasingly anxious. Boxes had been missing since Friday afternoon; I gathered that she had not seen him since returning home after dropping me off. But the collar ripped and the body fell back down on top of his son. We quickened our pace and made it out of the woods faster than we thought we would, and we found ourselves back in my old neighborhood. We continued mocking each other, and were in the process of turning the raft around to head back when we heard: It was whispered and forced as if it were powered by the last breath in a pair of deflating lungs, but it didn't sound sickly. I actually appreciated the idea that it was a reused card since I'd always thought that cards were silly. You heard it too right?" Josh told his mom about the robot; our moms laughed and Josh went home. She gets confused and forgets, but Tom's not ever coming home. I would call after this weekend and talk to him, but this was my only chance to see if Veronica could or would take me so I asked for her. Because this was during the time when Josh mostly stayed at my house building the raft and navigating tributary with me, I didn't have the chance to bring it up to Veronica because I simply didn't see her. She relented and dropped me off that Saturday a couple of hours before the movie. "What? My mom and I ate dinner, and then I went to bed. Up until that moment I thought more about getting out of the woods than how I got in, but being back at the beginning caused my mind to swim. ", "Ohhh I get it. I understand why her last words to me were so important, even if neither she nor I realized it at the time. He was nice enough, but he seemed kind of slow; we never really talked at length except for when I finally decided to ask why he had been sitting with me. This is a long read—so long, in fact, that each part was originally posted as a standalone story (so it's really more like a series of six stories). Jokingly, I asked her if she was going to invite me in for a snack, but she said maybe another time; I was too busy looking for my map and the shirt to really engage her, but she sounded happy so I didn't feel bad. I fumbled with my phone to call for help but I had no signal. When I saw the gift I had no need to suppress the laughter anymore. Carefully, he retrieved a folded piece of paper from Josh's pocket. He threatened to go home if we didn't just take the shortcut, and I accepted it because I didn't want to go by myself. I hadn't seen her in a long time. She didn't seem bothered by that, nor was she bothered when I handed her the ticket I had already bought. It sounded like a crying baby. My mom had gotten me a small snow cone machine for Christmas that year, and Josh had really coveted it—so much so that his parents bought him a slightly nicer one for his birthday which was toward the end of the school year. Back in my room, I opened the drawer and took out the stack of envelopes and showed him some of the pictures. On it was a drawing of a man holding hands with a small boy and next to the boy were initials. My name is [Name] and I attend ______________ Elementary school. I had never seen her at night before, and in this poor light, she looked exceedingly frail. I grabbed the shorts off the floor and padded my pockets; I felt something, but it wasn't the lighter. If someone moved back in with her she might even think it was Tom, but he's gone, Sweetie.". Veronica was in fourth grade and was probably the prettiest girl in the school. It wouldn't have taken much pressing for Chris to confess. I chuckled. By that point I was walking really slowly because my feet hurt so much, but I was so happy to be so close to home that I broke into a light jog. She was, as best as I can remember, around eighty years old, but despite that she was one of the friendliest people I had ever met. I knew what she had said, but I didn't understand what it meant that night. But this comfort was short-lived as she realized just how wrong she was. I didn't even get to grab the rest of my boxed clothes. Man, it's dark in here. Sitting on each of our desks was a marker, a pen, a piece of paper, and an envelope. I just wanted to be home. But even during these periods we wouldn't really talk. The house was abandoned, though it looked simply forsaken. I remember him calling her an ugly crow. There were two ways to get from Josh's house to my old house. She followed that with an extremely prolonged and excruciating kiss on my forehead that transformed the group's bewilderment into hysteria. How is he, anyway? It was a smile of bliss. I got up and walked over to her. I asked him about the big bag and if it really moved and he said he couldn't be sure. "Your old house sucks, dude!" We even sounded enough alike that when I stayed with Josh he would sometimes call my mom pretending to be me; his success rate was impressive. And as my mother described where this was, I knew I had been at that spot both before the soil was broken and before it had been filled in. He was finishing the map—that must have been his idea for my birthday present. I played in the woods by my house all the time, so I knew them really well, but if these weren’t the same woods then how could I get out? But we had never snuck out of his house before. The next paragraph should refer to something in the person’s profile. He even took odd jobs that would occasionally come up; mowing lawns, repairing fences—anything that to keep from traveling. Boxes was only an outside cat when he escaped. I didn't think about it until today when I pulled that same guy off of my son.". As I ran toward Veronica's car and as my orientation changed, I saw what the car had hit. There are hundreds of them! It's only now that I understand what we heard. On the day Veronica died, her mother was late leaving work, and by the time she arrived at her daughter's hospital, Veronica had already passed. He states that "If the initial success of Footsteps had gone unnoticed, I probably would not have continued writing the rest of the stories to continue it." The narrator notes that this was the last time he ever saw Josh. And make sure to bring your walkie. We both laughed and he asked me if she invited me in for a snack, joking that the snacks must be terrible since she couldn't even give them away. I thought about Josh's parents—how much they had lost and how quickly that loss had come. But it wasn't my mom. My mom and I didn't speak that much. "Yeah, I try to anyway... what about you? The growling of the engine got louder. I came back every afternoon for several days. Her evaluation wasn't rescinded when I told her I couldn't even receive pictures on it. When I opened my eyes I saw stars. "Hey, do you have a flashlight?" The book has had moderate success and has even been optioned for a film. Her right arm was free, but the rest of her was bound like a cocoon. I thought I was dreaming, but that didn't seem right, though neither did me being in the woods. He was pointing at the pool float. It smells like something died. This was us from yesterday. Josh was dead. There was no return address, so I couldn't even write back if I wanted to. I repeated the number back to her, and she confirmed. Our raft was breaking. Someone begins to chase Josh, who escapes and drops his walkie-talkie. Josh and I were assigned to different groups that year, so, since we didn't really see one another during the school day, our parents were more willing to let us hang out all weekend each week. What'd you hire someone to—. I didn't write this letter.". Tom's in heaven. I was worried I'd never see you again." My mood became increasingly depressed, and my mother, who had been really nice as of late, asked me if I was OK. "He paid me a hundred dollars so that I would bury him with my boy...". I would have only been around five or six when she told me that, and while I didn't understand it completely, I was still profoundly sad for Mrs. Maggie. I wanted to save Josh. All I could see were the violently bright headlights that were cutting through the otherwise stygian surroundings. Behind us I could hear yelling, though they weren't words, only sounds. She knew who it was, but she couldn't understand what he was saying. The police officer exchanged a few words with my mom on the porch while I stared at the letter. One was much bigger than the other, but neither had faces. He was a cop. Josh was surprisingly quiet. "Hhh... he... P... pi... picture. At home, the narrator hears meowing coming from his walkie-talkie, realizing that whoever was in the house abducted Boxes. We walked around the mall and talked about the movie. I could tell he was making fun of me, and I grew really angry; in my mind that lunchbox was the last good thing about my day. "Well, I think that gift might be the winner, but you have a couple more to open.". I felt a chill. After a minute or two, she came and stood behind me and asked me what I needed. I had fallen into my mom's habit of calling these children I hadn't yet met my "friends" already, but as the condition of my cast worsened, I became deeply upset at the thought that surely I wouldn't be able to apply that label to anyone by the time this day was over. She commented that it might be the worst cell phone she'd ever seen. I angled it so that the money wouldn't fall to the floor when I opened it, but the only thing inside was the message that had come printed in the card. [1][7], In an interview with Auerbach, he explained how he came up with the original idea for the short story "Footsteps", which would later be tuned into the full novel "Penpal". My mom insists that it couldn't have possibly happened, so I guess I'll never know. Walker published the original four-part novella on Reddit in 2015, then expanded upon the story with the fifth part in 2016. "The map?" I kept saying it but the words started to fall apart as tears came streaming down my face. The book is not an easy read because the plot and events are somewhat complicated. I laughed a little thinking I had just crawled under a house looking for him and how this was so much better. I timed it right and got there about ten minutes before the movie. It was a bottle. While I was waiting for Josh to tell me what he found, I kicked out my leg which had started falling asleep because of the position I was in and it hit something. Josh didn't know about the last time I walked through these woods at night. She would visit Veronica twice a day since she was recuperating at a different hospital; once before her shift, and once afterward. I was moving pretty fast because I needed to get home, and was about to give up when my concentration was interrupted by a sound coming from just behind me. I ran behind the houses and peered out over the water and scouted along the shoreline. This startled me so much that I staggered back and fell onto the asphalt with her phone my hand. We untied the raft from the tree, grabbed our branch-paddles, and cast off. Around the third week of school, he started sitting with me at lunch, and this put an immediate end to the shortage of my food supply. I had heard the footsteps, but was too far gone to be woken up by them, and when I was awoken it wasn't from the sound of footsteps or a nightmare, but because I was cold. One day, a man approaches Josh's dad and offers him money to fill in some holes in his yard. I tried not to think about the contents of those pictures. I kept insisting and the following week she said that she thought she might be able to make it to the next midnight movie. But I was in every single one of them—off to the side, in the back, bottom of the frame. In our panic we jostled the raft too violently and I felt one of the ropes under my chest loosen. But it was too late. Kindergarteners had the lunchroom to themselves at my elementary school, but some of the tables were off limits, so I didn't have to sit alone. I got a text from her the next day telling me not to come back. I yelled as I pointed at the water right next to him. She had imagined him so many times, always evil and always terrifying, and the cries of Josh's father seemed to confirm her worst fears. In fact, this distance-writer is a twisted individual with an unexplained yet potentially fatal obsession. There are a lot of small details buried in the book that, in addition to tying things together more tightly, make for an even better story, if I may say so. I grew increasingly upset over the next several days. As she sat there resting her back against Josh's dad's. Haha! I found myself strangely hoping that he hadn't been taken while expanding it – as if that would somehow matter now. "Let's just go, man!" Take your favorite fandoms with you and never miss a beat. One weekend I was staying over at Josh's and my mom called me to say goodnight; she was still pretty watchful even when she couldn't actually watch me, but I had gotten so used to it that I didn't even notice it, even if Josh did. As we approached the parking lot I noticed that the car with the cracked back window was gone and that her car was now the only one in the parking lot. When we got back Josh's mom was waiting for him at the kitchen table with my mom. The last time I had rounded the bend ahead I had seen my house fully illuminated, and all the memories of what transpired came flooding back. My mother stooped to one knee and raised the collar of her shirt over her nose so that she might block out the smell. I was only ten feet from where I had woken up. A few weeks later, an elderly lady with Alzheimer’s in the neighbourhood is murdered, and it's speculated that the Penpal tricked her by pretending he was her dead husband from a business trip and that he lived with her to get close to the narrator. [1], To finance the book's publication Auerbach chose to raise funds via a Kickstarter campaign, which raised $15,946. Even as a six-year-old who fully endorsed the notion that girls were disgusting, I still knew how pretty Veronica was. As a kid, the muffled, rhythmic beats sounded like soft footsteps on a carpeted floor, so as a kid, almost every night—just as I was about to drift off to sleep—I would hear these footsteps and I would be ripped back to consciousness, terrified. If Boxes ran out and I missed him then he'd be gone. As I walked toward him I stumbled and nearly fell into a fairly large hole that was sitting in the middle of this small clearing, but I regained my balance and stopped right at its edge. My mom had set up a little place for Boxes to encourage him to come here instead of running around the neighborhood. I got a text from her the afternoon of the movie saying: I got Ryan to drive me since Chris' parents had found out what had happened and said I wasn't welcome at their house anymore. [9], SF Signal rated Penpal at four stars and wrote "Auerbach took something with childish innocence and twisted into a haunting tale of obsession. We should have been making excellent progress, but when we finally made it to the impasse and had the opportunity to explore past it we couldn't find a place to dock the raft. It was Mrs. Maggie. I was worried that whoever had crashed the car might harass Veronica. He was just a baby and was striped with tan and white. But, Josh and I—to my surprise and delight—stayed close. We have to go there ourselves... We have to go there tonight...". The story is then understood: When Josh and the narrator were in kindergarten, a stalker picked up the narrator's balloon and became obsessed with the young boy. "Honey, please calm down. It's funny how memories work. I had to go back and re-read sections here and there. We had our bathing suits on under our clothes, so we stripped off our shirts and shorts and left them in two separate piles about four feet from the edge of the water. The only reason this stopped was due to the actions of a kid named Alex. As the summer passed, my abilities grew and before too long I was climbing fairly high. I'd like to think that she was remembering that part of the story inaccurately, but I'll never know for sure. The blanket smelled moldy and most of the bowls were empty but one had something that I recognized still in it. I had drunk my whole soda during the movie and all the walking was putting pressure on my bladder. Don't worry man, you can move it easy. "About a month ago, a guy approached me as I was cleaning up the site on the new development a block over. We did this for five weekends in a row until my mom told us that we had to stop, and I've only recently come to understand why she did that. I need to mark these on the calendar.". Inside the coffin is Josh's dead body, along with the body of a large man holding him tightly. None of them were close shots. The world is a cruel place made crueler still by man. I only remember two things very clearly: I was the best at writing my name the right way, and the Balloon Project, which was really the hallmark of the Community group, since it was a pretty clever way to show how a community functioned at a really basic level. The envelopes were all opened by the teacher, but after a while I stopped even looking at the pictures. The first time we had to resort to that method of propulsion, I remember thinking that from far above it must have looked like a colossally fat man with tiny arms was out for a swim. I exploded, "WHY DID IT TAKE THEM SO LONG TO SHUT OFF HER GODDAMNED PHONE?! I didn't mean to do anything...". I had saved a seat for her right next to me near the exit so she could get in and out easily, but ten minutes into the movie a man slid into the chair. I had sat with my mom picking out my clothes the night before; I had spent a great deal of time picking out my backpack; and I had become exceedingly excited to show everyone my lunchbox that had the Ninja Turtles on it. Most of the kids started fighting over the balloons because they wanted different colors, but I started on my note which I had thought a lot about. Usually her texts were fairly short, and mostly only in response to more lengthy texts that I would send her. An aerial view of my neighborhood would give one the impression that an enormous squid had once died in the woods and some adventuring entrepreneur found the corpse and paved roads over its tentacles, only to withdraw his involvement and leave time, greed, and desperation to divide up the land among prospective home-owners like an embarrassing attempt at the Golden Ratio. I got into my car and left. While we waited, the police came in and talked to each of us—I told them what happened, they made some notes, and then they left. His voice was hushed and broken—I could hear he was on the verge of tears. I had stepped on a thorn. My heart sunk as I rounded the corner and my house came fully into view. As a boy in kindergarten, the narrator becomes best friends with another student named Josh. I told him that she didn't and he was surprised, and now that I had time to think about it so was I. As I think about it now, the feeling of profound sadness for Mrs. Maggie returns, but it is augmented by a looming feeling of despair when I think about why she said "maybe another time." I broke the embrace and staggered backwards. The school year pressed on, and the letters had stopped coming for nearly all of the other students. He handed it to my mother. I told her that I hadn't heard from Veronica in days, and I felt all the warmth leave her disposition. I told my mom about the footsteps and she said that I was just imagining things; I persisted enough that she blasted my ears with water from a turkey baster once just to placate me, since I thought that would help. "Mom! There were a lot of woods surrounding the neighborhood that I would play in and explore during the day, but at night—as things often do to a kid—they took on a more sinister feeling. C.K. The pen pal program was created to give teens something to do after many summer activities were canceled due to the pandemic, according to Rae Grad, chair of the synagogue’s Hesed Committee. There's a bunch of my old clothes still in boxes in my room, you can look in there to see if he crawled in one. Before leaving, he apologizes for not bringing a gift and says he will bring one for next year. Be polite; her feelings won't get hurt. She really was beautiful, just like I had thought she'd be when I was a kid. She didn't answer. Because there is no way to effectively clean the area between your body and a cast, the dead skin that would normally have fallen away merely sits there. One night, he carried the narrator out to the woods and left him there after he began to wake. I thought about Josh. The party went pretty well. Josh lightly punched me in the arm, the smile slowly returning to his face, and we continued walking. I know now that it is. Yeah, there should be a couple boxes in front of the closet. He suddenly looked terrified and was struggling to get off the float, but he couldn't in a quick manner due to the awkward way he had been laying on it. I decided that I would call Veronica to see if she could pick me up. We made it back to Josh's house and back into his room before his parents woke up. On the third day, he arrived at a spot that he could not level. I chuckled a little and said, "Gee, thanks for the awesome card, mom.". Do you still play Ninja Turtles with your friends?”. She said it was as if he had fixed his gaze right on her, his open mouth offering an all-too-late plea for help. I got too confident and one afternoon I tried to step from a branch before I had firmly grasped the next one. I waved to her and walked to close the distance. He hears the screeching of tires and returns to the parking lot to discover Veronica has been hit by a car. She said that she told your mom and dad the same thing. ", "Oh, that's right. She said she'd come anyway. It's a puzzle. As we began paddling in the direction toward my house we heard a loud and unconcealed rustling in the woods. As my throat stung from screaming and I was drawing in another breath I became aware of a sound that had been present for longer than I had perceived it. She told me that she had been released and was convalescing at her house. These sounds were overpowered by a noise that I can still hear when it is quiet and there are no other noises to distract my ears. I told my mom the basics of this story a couple days ago. The theatre was still open, I imagine, for three reasons: I went for the first two, and that night they were showing Scanners by David Cronenberg for $1.00. One day, their class conducts a penpal experiment, in which the children tie a letter to a balloon and send it off. At last her struggling gasps were conquered and she simply dropped the remaining mail on the table and ran to the kitchen to get the phone. WHERE'S MY MOM? That's why she messes up yours and Josh's names sometimes. Since I already had the looming feeling of having done something wrong, I decided that I would wait until tomorrow. What do you like? She heard Josh's father grunt and looked to see him pushing the man's body back into the ground. I'm sorry. As I thought about it, I came to agree. His eyes lay half-lidded facing straight up. Quick!" They would only occasionally work well enough that we could talk across the city, but when we stayed-over we'd use them around the house, talking in mock-radio speak that we had taken from movies, and they worked great for that. She simply said: She was delirious, and I was worried about her. I took the first envelope and set it on the floor and set the blurry desert Polaroid on top. It traveled straight ahead until it collided with a tree, briefly exploding the light in a much greater diameter. I said several times in the comments that nothing really happened after "Footsteps", but that wasn't true. However, I saved them in one of my drawers that housed my collections of rocks, baseball cards, comic book cards (Marvel Metal cards, for those who might remember), and little miniature baseball batting helmets that I'd get out of a vending machine at Winn-Dixie after T-Ball games. Like PenPal (my all time favorite), this is a book you have to pay attention to while you're reading it. I had decided to wait outside until around 11:57, since that would give me time to find her inside if she was already seated. Before too long it had completely fallen apart. They're all very real and relatable. adapt them into a full-length novel, named, https://creepypasta.fandom.com/wiki/Penpal?oldid=1425334, they showed a different cult movie twice a month at midnight; and. We each held on to a separate piece of Styrofoam, but the pieces weren't big enough to keep us completely afloat, and our legs dangled beneath us in the winter water. The whole way through the woods Josh kept yelling: But I knew the man already had Josh's picture—from all those years ago at the ditch. I loved him then, and I love him even still. I'm just hesitant to leave out any details that might be important. My mom was running toward me yelling and I remember her sounding like she was underwater—I don't remember what she said but I do remember being surprised by just how white my bone was. 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