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As part of The Isolation Journals project, writer Suleika Jaouad was partnering California Medical Facility to collect letters written by the public to someone who is incarcerated. The facility, a prison prioritising men who are sick or physically challenged, had - like many other prisons - cancelled visiting hours indefinitely because of Covid

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O ne of the best bits of travel was always the food. Or, more specifically, the junk food — the brightly coloured boxes of Pocky in a Japanese 7-Eleven, the rows of uncharted chip flavours in a foreign supermarket.

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The work was first published in paperback on July 11, through Vultures and is based on a series of popular creepypasta stories that Auerbach posted to Reddit. The book follows reddit penpals narrator as he finds himself the focus of an obsessed stalker who tracks him throughout his childhood. Film rights to Penpal were optioned by producer Rich Middlemas in Penpal is told via a series of non-linear recollections by an anonymous narrator trying to make sense of mysterious events that happened to him during his childhood, the truth of which have been kept from him by his mother all his life.

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As a boy in kindergarten, the narrator becomes best friends with another student named Josh. One day, their class conducts a penpal experiment, in which the children tie self-addressed letters to balloons and send reddit penpals off; as the children receive responses, their teacher tracks how far their balloons went on a state map in the classroom. While most of the children get letters back, the narrator does not, until the end of the year, when he receives an envelope full of Polaroid photos of himself and his mother, prompting her to call the police.

The narrator recalls a series of disconnected events which, while innocuous to him astake on sinister new meaning from an adult perspective: a neighborhood snowcone seller once returned the same dollar bill to the narrator he'd included in his initial penpal letter; while out rafting with Josh, the narrator became aware of strange clicking noises he later identified as camera flashes; the narrator once found a strange drawing in a pair of shorts he'd left by the riverside reddit penpals a depiction of himself aside a much larger man; one of the narrator's elderly, Alzheimer's stricken neighbors was murdered shortly after claiming her long-dead husband had returned home and was living with her again.

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In an incident that particularly stands out in the narrator's memory, he recalls awakening in the woods one night in his pajamas and finding his way back home to discover the police looking for him; he later discovered a letter on his bed stating his intentions to run away, although the narrator notes that his name was misspelled. Shortly after this incident, the narrator's mother discovers something in the house's crawlspace that prompts her to sell the home and move.

Shortly after the reddit penpals incident, the narrator's cat, Boxes, disappears, prompting the narrator and Josh to sneak back to the narrator's old house at night to look for it; there, they discover cat food and an adult man's clothing inside the crawlspace.

Pen pal initiative helps young people bond with seniors

Pursued by an unseen individual, Josh drops the walkie talkie he and the narrator had been using to keep in touch; later that night, the narrator hears Boxes' mewing coming from his own walkie talkie. Josh attends the narrator's 12th birthday party but seems troubled and says he thinks he's been sleepwalking ; the narrator notes that this was the last time he ever saw Josh. Years pass and the narrator-- now a teenager-- meets and begins dating Veronica, Josh's older sister, who is reluctant to talk about her brother.

One night, on a date to the movie theater, Veronica is the victim of a hit and run in a movie theater parking lot, although the narrator does not see the vehicle. In the hospital, Veronica admits to the narrator that Josh has been missing for years after his disappeared one night, leaving a note on his pillow saying he was running away.

The pair begin texting and their relationship intensifies, culminating in Veronica telling the narrator she loves him; He later learn that Veronica has been dead for weeks and that her phone reddit penpals never recovered following the accident.

Now an adult, the narrator confronts his long-estranged mother about these incidents. The narrator's mother confesses that shortly after Veronica's death, Josh's father-- a construction worker-- was approached by a man who paid him cash to fill in a series of holes in his backyard. A month later, while he was landscaping the same property, Josh's father unearthed a coffin containing the bodies of Josh and a large, adult man holding him in his embrace.

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Calling the narrator's mother to the scene, Josh's father identified the man as the same individual who'd paid him to fill the holes, and realizes that he was responsible for abducting Josh and arranging for them to be buried alive together; the narrator's mother confesses that Josh was wearing a set of the narrator's missing clothes. The pair agree to keep what's happened a secret and Josh's father reburies his son and the man.

Culture vulture: letter writing's becoming quite the thing during the covid pandemic

The narrator reconciles with his mother, thanking her for revealing what happened. He confesses he'll reddit penpals know why the Penpal kidnapped Josh instead of him, but supposes the man suffered a broken heart after the narrator moved and took the next best thing. Suffering from survivor's guiltthe narrator wishes he had never met Josh so that he could still be alive, and admits that-- believing there is no afterlife-- he does not think the Penpal will ever face punishment for his crimes.

The narrator concludes saying he loves Josh and cherishes all of the memories he had of them when they were young.

'like penpals, but with snacks!' unable to travel, strangers mail each other tastes of home

The story line for Penpal is based on a series of stories that Auerbach posted to the subreddit "No Sleep" under the username Vultures. 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". He stated that it came from hood memory: "My mom denies that this ever happened, but as a kid I distinctly remember waking up on my porch outside, cold and in my underwear. My mom insists that it couldn't have possibly happened, so Reddit penpals guess I'll never know.

But I've carried that memory around for years. He described how these experiences, mixed with the idea that "people can't perfectly remember everything from their childhood," served as "the impetus for 'Footsteps'.

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SF al rated Penpal at four stars and wrote "Auerbach took something with childish innocence and twisted into a haunting tale of obsession. I look forward watching Auerbach improve with future works that are bound to give me nightmares. The novel was greatly received by critics as well as fans. Because so many people had followed the individually released stories that Penpal contains for so long on creepypasta.

Auerbach explains in an interview held by Horrornovelreviews. 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. 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 reddit penpals.

This article consists almost entirely of a plot summary.

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'like penpals, but with snacks!' unable to travel, strangers mail each other tastes of home

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