1000 Vultures, 2012
Our unnamed hero has been through an ordeal more horrible than even he knows, starting with the day when, for an elementary school project, he released a balloon with a message inviting whoever found it to write back. It reached the wrong hands. Now in his twenties, he's piecing together the fractured details of his childhood, and we're invited to join him in watching it all click into place.
There are a few small instances of what feel like unintentional repetition within paragraphs of internal monologue. I'm also sure there are many readers who would find the deliberately disjointed intersecting short story style harder to follow and get invested in than a more traditional form, but in this case, I am not one of them.
Penpal is creepypasta-turned-novel in the best imaginable way. The nostalgic, realist, memoir-esque tone common to creepypasta setups is used to full effect to keep the story grounded and personal, and each of the six sections ends with a pasta-style, head-turning (if unsupernatural) stinger. The long form of the book as a whole is also taken beautiful advantage of, with the accumulating details of what happened to the narrator mirroring, on a larger scale, the crescendos of building dread in the individual sections, and the extended acquaintance with the characters allowing for more substance than campfire scares.
The horrors that the narrator dredges out of his memory are as deeply sad as they are spine-chilling, thanks in large part to that believable naturalism paired with the extreme and extended horrible happenings, and unlike many stories that use memory loss as a more fanciful plot device, the fractured pieces of the narrator's early childhood, some incidents in full, indelible detail, other stretches of time completely blank, is such an accurate representation of what remains of long-faded memory that it begs the question of what might lurk unknown in the reader's own past.
This disturbing trip will get under the skin of both creepypasta fans and horror traditionalists.
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