Playing Games

Written in response to: Write a story about a pair of pen pals.... view prompt

6 comments

Horror Fiction Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

Content Warning: Some adult language and themes


 I wanted to be pretty. Pretty enough to make boys crazy and inspire songs, poems, and stories. That must feel so powerful. People lied and said it wasn’t all beauty, and sure, some boys loved girls with pleasant personalities. That’s another type of love, though. It’s appreciating practical value. Acceptance, not desire. Pretty people shifted the world with their presence. Changed how people acted. I craved that desperation to impress, but I looked as plain as possible. Incapable of eliciting more than a mediocre interest.

I thought my only choice was to accept I couldn’t captivate any man’s attention. Then, I discovered a special pen pal app for people who enjoyed the mystery of a masked face. It’s my theory that someone wearing a mask and saying things a person wants to hear will fill in a blank image with perfection. The imagination wants to believe an amazing personality has a face to match. I could work with that. Of course, I wouldn’t know what he looked like either, and I’d also be living in a fantasy. That didn’t matter, though. He could look like anything. I wanted to feel desired. Besides, I’d never meet him in person. That wasn’t safe.

The app blocks a person’s face with a mask. They can add any photo with any background, but the app picks the mask. The first photo I took in my bedroom, so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed showing off a little cleavage. Highlight the positives, right? For the other two, I went outside. I wanted to add some personality, so I took one photo in my local park, dancing with a life-sized bear statue. It’d make me look fun. When I looked at the photo, I liked it. I wore a cute dress and makeup even though my face wouldn’t show. With the excellent lighting, I looked the best I have in a photo. That’s not saying much, but still. With a smile, I posted it to my social media, too. I tagged the park and wrote a caption about my day, so I didn’t look vain. The third photo showed me sitting at this cute cafe in my town. The cafe had a Paris theme, which gave me an air of sophistication. I liked this too, so I shared it with my five-star review. 

Which mask would I get? A giant horse’s head. Not even a pretty horse, but one with its eyes wide in panic. I rolled my eyes. This app refused to help me. 

 My friend Natalie would be mad if she knew. She told me not to trust strangers online. When I mentioned how common online dating was now, she sent me a video about women murdered by men they met on dating websites. Her paranoia worried me, but this was different. These men wouldn’t know my identity or full appearance. They’d see that stupid horsehead. 

My first message came from clockhead. 

Clockhead: hwu? 

I had to look up what that meant. Why did people say what’s up? I never knew how to answer that.

Me: Nothing. How are you? 

There, I converted it to something I understood. Something more meaningful. 

Clockhead: Eh. Bit gassy. Trying a new protein powder.

Not what I was going for. Could he see my true ugliness through the screen? The horsehead with its bulging eyes gave me away. Damn app! I didn’t want to talk to men about their gas. I wanted to be desired! 

I scrolled through the profiles and found an apple head with an attractive body. I wrote “hey” with a wink. Did that still sound sexy despite the flared nostrils of my horsehead? 

Applehead: lmfao! God, that pic is great! 

I almost gave up. This seemed pointless. Then, I got a new message. 

Foxhead: Hey, Cassie. 

Me: Hey.

Me: Wait, how do you know my name? 

Foxhead: Just a guess. 

Me: A weirdly good one. 

Foxhead: I have a gift. 

Foxhead: You look like one. 

My stomach flipped, but not from butterflies. I had heebie-jeebies. After staring at every detail in his picture, I couldn’t find any clues. They were devoid of all detail. He took them in front of a black wall or screen, with nothing but blackness behind him. He wore baggy black clothes. Only a floating fox head appeared. 

Foxhead: I get my coffee from a place very similar to yours. Maybe we could have coffee together sometime.

Foxhead: Virtually, of course. Wouldn’t want to make you uncomfortable. 


        I felt like ants were crawling up and down my arms. Could he have guessed my name? Offering a coffee date had more promise than talking to me about farts or laughing at my horse head. Besides, if he was a creep, having a little evidence wouldn’t hurt. That way, I could put the what-ifs to rest. 


Me: Maybe. We could talk a little more first. What do you do for fun?

Foxhead: I like hunting, games, books, and movies. You?


I took a deep breath. All that sounded normal enough. Regular guy stuff, right? 


Over the next few days, my focus shifted completely to Foxhead. He was the one I waited for. His messages always seemed vague and mysterious. Although he talked a lot, I never seemed to learn much about him. Everything I told him was a lie. I fabricated stories of overseas affairs and sex parties. I had a different man each night who would do anything for me. 

Sometimes he asked odd questions. What music was playing during the parties? Did they have food? I heard the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, so I included food. Chocolate being drizzled over flesh, and sticky fruit in places they shouldn’t be. I wasn’t sure about the practicality of any of this, but he seemed to like these food stories best. Mostly he didn’t react much to anything I said. I panicked I didn’t sound advanced enough and asked about his own experiences. He said he was a virgin, but I assumed that was a joke. 

He told me stories about hunting in vivid detail. Describing the blood, gore, and strength of the skin against his knife. This was a good sign though. Like a cat bringing a dead mouse to your front step, he was sending a positive message in a messy package. He wanted me to know he was strong and manly. A good provider. Someone skilled. Only boring, ugly girls, like I really was, took interest in men’s hobbies, so I shut him down. Told him he was repulsive. He didn’t get mad or stop talking to me. He just took it. I had him right where he needed to be. I felt good. Confident and powerful. 

Things were progressing, but I needed to step up my game. So far he hadn’t tried to do anything big to win me over, and I needed that. I watched a tutorial video created by the goddess of flirtation. Her opening warning made me laugh. “Keep in mind, playing games will never lead to a healthy relationship. It often leads to trouble, but that’s what we’re all about here, right ladies?” I liked her and the confidence she stirred within me.

Foxhead: You wanna video chat? 

Foxhead: You can keep the mask.

Foxhead: I’m having a hard time typing. 

Foxhead: Mangled hands.

        The app offered a video chat where I could keep my face concealed and my voice altered. Why not? I didn’t know if I was ready. Was it too soon? Had I learned enough? It was easier to mask my identity when typing.

Me: What happened to your hands? 

Foxhead: Hunting accident.It was worth it. I got a good one this time. Spent days stalking her and building her trust. It helps. Sometimes you can walk right up to them with a knife if you’re patient enough. But this dog didn’t like what I was doing. It worked out ok in the end.

This guy and his hunting. Never shut up about it. I needed to do something more. Get him more focused. I quickly changed into a pretty, slightly revealing dress. My whole body trembled as I sent the video chat request. The thrill excited me, too. Now was my big moment. I’d make this special. Seal the deal. He sat before me on the screen. His backdrop and clothing were all black. Only the foxhead with its glowing amber eyes looked at me. I saw the fingers of his right hand tapping against the blackness. 

“Hey,” I said. My voice sounded too soft. My heart pounded so loud it hurt my ears. I felt beads of sweat pop through the skin on my forehead, then slide down. “Hey. Can you hear me?” 

Tap, tap, tap. 

I laughed, nervously. “I don’t think this is working.” 

He kept tapping. Quicker, then slower, then quicker, then slower. Tap. Tap. Tap. Taptaptap. Tap. Tap. Tap. 

“Can you hear me?” 

Tap. Tap. Tap. 

I looked at the screen for a way to type. Maybe his microphone was off. Then again, how could I hear the tapping? 

“Nod if you can hear me?” I tried. 

Tap. Tap. Tap. No movement. 

“Hello?” 

Taptaptap. 

I clicked the exit button. When his masked face disappeared, I gulped in large breaths of air and bent over. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and fanned my face with my hand. What was that? I shook my head. 

I went on my social media and posted that I was going for a run at the local track if anyone wanted to join. No one ever did. Still, when I heard the notification ding, the hope swelled in my pathetic heart, anyway. 

Natalie: Cassie, you can’t just post where you’re going! That’s like asking for stalkers.

Me: OMG, Nat! No one’s stalking me. 

Natalie then sent me a whole infographic about stalking and how it could happen to anyone. I rolled my eyes, put on my sweats, and headed out the door. I thought a stalker wouldn’t be so bad, but then I scolded myself. As sad as my life could sometimes be, I enjoyed living. A stalker could end that. 

Running around the track helped boost my mood. When I stopped to drink some water, I noticed a strange black car parked right next to the track. The car lined up like the person was watching me. I didn’t notice it before. The tinted windows made it hard to see anyone. I ran another lap, but couldn’t stop glancing at that car. They had plenty of other places to park. Then I noticed a little cloud of smoke dancing up from the window. Someone was in there. Someone sitting, having a cigarette and looking my way. I wrapped my arms around my body, lowered my head, and decided I had run enough for one day. 

I checked my phone for any messages on the app. A part of me hoped to see one from Foxhead apologizing for some technology issue. Nothing. What if he saw my face? That could explain the silence. My car was close to the black one. Shrinking into myself, I hurried, with my keys already positioned to jam into the ignition. I opened my car door and heard a light tapping. Shivers ran down my spine. I slammed the door behind me and started driving before even putting my things on the seat next to me. I shook my head, trying to shake off the nerves crawling through my body. 

I stopped at a gas station to pick up a snack and a magazine. As I headed towards the register, I glanced out the window and saw the black car. Again, parked to look right at me. Even though I had everything I needed, I continued to look around. I picked up random bags and read the nutrition labels. Each time I checked the window, the car remained. I glanced at my phone again and sent Natalie a text. 

 Me: So maybe you’re right. I think someone is following me. What should I do?!?! 

Natalie: Ha Ha. 

Me: For real. 

Natalie: Where are you? 

Me: Inside the gas station. 

Natalie: Go out the back.

Could I do that? I paid for my stuff at the counter. The cashier had a kind face. 

“Hey, that car out there is following me. Can I leave out the back?”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Uh, sure. There’s an exit by the bathroom. You want me to call the cops?” 

“I’m not that sure. I’d feel better leaving another way, though.”   

It’d look like I went to the bathroom. I’d escape without them looking. Then I’d go where? As I exited the building, my phone dinged with a notification from the app. 

Foxhead: Why’d you leave the chat? I wanted a good look at you. Thought you were a wild, rabid horse geared up for a show. Not a scared little puppy.  

 What the hell? Rabid? Show?

Me: It was uncomfortable.

Foxhead: Uncomfortable? You seemed relaxed. Isn’t that your kind of thing? Having people watch. Should be more careful, you know?

Me: Let me guess. You drive a black sedan? 

Foxhead: I drive a truck. Cherry red Ford. All-American. Bitches drive sedans. Bet you drive a sedan.

Me: So, you’re not following me? 

Foxhead: I got better things to do. 

I didn’t believe him. The black car sped away. I don’t think the driver saw me, but there was no way to know for sure. If it was Foxhead, maybe he gave up. With a deep breath, I walked around the gas station to my car. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, but I didn’t see the car anywhere, either. It felt awful, and I longed to curl up and hide away from everyone’s eyes. I ignored my phone until I got home. I locked all the doors and windows and closed the blinds. Natalie had called me a million times, so I called her to fill her in on the story. She asked to see my pictures, so I showed them to her.

“Cassie! It’s like you never listen to me at all. You can see the name of this restaurant and what park this is. You’re so easy to find.”

“They can’t see my face.”

“That doesn’t matter! Even your bedroom one gives details about who you are. These people can see things like the store sign through your window.”

“I didn’t even notice that.”

“Cassie, why are you doing this?”

“I just wanted to be sexy. To be liked.”

“Plenty of non-sketchy, normal guys like you.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Greg does! He thinks you’re so funny.”

“Funny, great.” I rolled my eyes. I’m not even funny.

“I don’t recommend Jake because he has a bit of an alcohol problem, but he thinks you’re cute.”

I sighed.

“Cassie, I love you dearly, but you need to work on yourself, girl. Love what you have.”

“Okay.” I didn’t want to talk about it.

“You can’t do this. It won’t end well. Play games with people, and they’ll play games with you.”

“I’d say what he’s doing is much worse than what I am.”

“Maybe, but it’s not harmless. Purposefully manipulating people and lying is not nice.”

I thought about it. She was right. A little right. I don’t believe my stories really harmed this guy, but I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I was in way over my head. When I woke up, I’d delete the app and forget about this whole thing. Exhausted by the day, I passed out.

In the middle of the night, I woke up and headed toward my bathroom. I was brushing my teeth, when I heard a noise at my window. Tap. Tap. Tap. It sounded like someone was tapping their fingers right on the window closest to me. I also heard whistling. Was someone tapping on my window and whistling a song? I turned off the lights. My body felt so cold. I wanted to look out the window, but my feet sealed to the floor.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Taptaptap. Tap. Tap. Tap. 

The song was eerie. Haunting. I ran for my phone, but I wasn’t sure if I should call the cops. Was this all in my head? I crawled to the window and peeked through the blinds. I saw a figure dressed in all black, like a shadow in the streetlights. The figure wasn’t close to the house. How could he be tapping? Were there two? How could I hear him? He stood there completely still. The whistling sounded so loud I swore it was right in my house. Right next to my ear, like someone singing right into my eardrum. The tapping didn’t sound like fingers at all anymore. More like someone slamming two rocks together. The figure didn’t move. Was it even there? Were my eyes playing tricks on me? How could a person be that motionless? What could I do? Was it Foxhead? Why was he so angry?

 The figure raised an arm and pointed a gun right at the window. Would he shoot me? Then I heard a ding that had me jumping out of my skin. I fell back with a gasp. Then glanced at the phone and saw a text from an unknown number. I clicked on it. 

Let’s play












August 25, 2023 21:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

6 comments

Eric D.
05:07 Aug 26, 2023

Very spooky story, and great suspense build up to that hyper panicky last few paragraphs. I went back to read about foxhead to confirm that stalker might be him. There's little hints there at least to me but really it could be anyone from the app. She sort of opened a door that should have been never opened.

Reply

Annalisa D.
15:29 Aug 26, 2023

Thank you! I'm glad to hear that. I hoped I was leaving enough clues to show that she really opened up the possibiliy to it. Not that it's her fault, but just thinking of some of the safe technology use tips I've heard over the years that people often don't even think much about.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Hannah .
05:40 Sep 04, 2023

I absolutely love this eerie, spooky, suspenseful story. This is a must-read! (I'm finally back on Reedsy after some time... :D)

Reply

Annalisa D.
20:50 Sep 04, 2023

Thank you so much! That's so nice. It's great you are back and I look forward to reading more of your stories.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Danny G
10:34 Aug 26, 2023

This was incredibly creepy! You built the suspense through the story and I was sure it was Foxhead, but I don't know. You created a lot of doubt which makes it even better. But the last part was just super creepy. It seemed very Scream-esque in some ways.

Reply

Annalisa D.
15:31 Aug 26, 2023

Thank you! I'm really happy to hear that. The scream-esque part is a wonderful compliment.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply