Written by Luke Greensmith Originally published on May 15th, 2021
Last episode was Urban Legends, a modern era branch of Folklore. Campfire stories, effectively, and while these can be propagated online in the digital age the Internet also has its own special branch of this:
The online campfire stories. Things not merely reported upon by the Internet but things which have sprang forth from its depths. If the name seems odd, it’s because it is. It’s a derivative of copypasta, which is message board slang for copy and paste. The creepypastas, therefore, being scary stories being copy and pasted to spread them. There’s a lot of overlap with Urban Legends, those themselves able to spread via copy and paste posts online, but typically when someone refers to something as a creepypasta they mean something that’s made specifically by and for the internet. This in no way invalidates them, it’s just a modern medium for a type of story we brought with us from the origin of language in prehistory. Plus, some of them are a lot of fun!
SECTION BREAK – The Internet’s Bogeyman
If I was to say Slenderman, I doubt anyone would need much elaboration. This is a creature which escaped from the Something Awful forums out into the rest of the Internet, and from there to the wider world. They are an incredible phenomenon that we got to see unfold in a relatively short space of time. From a fun story, to a fearsome presence, to real world atrocity, to terrible Hollywood attempts to cash in which finally killed the rising interest. (Turns out Slenderman’s weakness was underwhelming film adaptations).
The broader strokes seem to be what stood out here. Slenderman is tall and faceless, appearing to wear a suit but having strange tentacles. They prey upon children, and can warp your mind if you look into them too closely. An interesting cosmic horror spin on an otherwise standard bogeyman.
What I find extra fascinating here, is that the creator had no intention of trying to pretend Slenderman was real, and basically everything about this bizarre entity grew organically from inference and the retelling of the story.
Slenderman first came from a photoshop thread in the Something Awful forums called “Create Paranormal Images”. User Victor Surge made two submissions to the thread. Both photos of children playing, and in the background the strange figure of the Slenderman looms menacingly. They’re really subtle and pretty fantastic for it, although this was probably the last time the term “subtle” could be applied to Slenderman.
The two images came with the following captions:
"We didn't want to go, we didn't want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…" – 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.
One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as "The Slender Man". Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
From there, the images got spread without context, an iconic image copypasta moment. Someone sees it, likes it, then spreads it. Slenderman becomes a memetic monster in motion, and begins to grow in the telling.
Slenderman is no longer an ambiguous background presence. Anyone can be abducted, even YOU. Sometimes people get found again out in the forest, taken apart and put back together again. Slenderman can get inside of your head, creating paranoia or insomnia, even infecting people with “slendersickness” coughing fits. Then there are stories of Slenderman having a cult, part of the expanded mythos online creators had run with such as games like the Slender series or Marble Hornets on YouTube.
Then it stops being a game, as someone gets hurt.
Winsonsin, 2014. Two 12 year old girls lured their friend Payton Leutner into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in an attempt at a ritual to become something called “proxies” for Slenderman.
I will not be naming the perpetrators, as the victims in this type of crime need to matter more.
Payton did, thankfully, survive. But this went incredibly far, and almost ended tragically. I write horror myself, I don’t blame anyone in the chain of events that escalated to this who just wanted to make some honest fictional fun, but this got so incredibly out of control. In a way, it’s a testament to the power of stories, but it would be nice to have had a positive takeaway from this one.
The near mania that drove the appeal of Slenderman has died right down, but they remain irrefutably iconic. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got regular revivals going forward, but I really hope that’s in the context of fun horror instead of the grim alternative.
SECTION BREAK – Possessed Videogames
Perhaps unsurprisingly, folklore stories reflecting people and interests of their time, there are a LOT of game based creepypastas. Retelling these just as a podcast can be a little difficult, given how these stories can be told. Some are in long form blog formats that include visuals, such as modified screens of games and even full customised gameplay videos. The NES Godzilla Creepypasta is a good, if pretty damn long, example of this. Sometimes the story is told AS a game, which is where you get things like Sonic.Exe. You can describe the gist of it, but you can also go and play through what is supposed to be an example of these cursed or haunted games.
Sometimes the game isn’t even dangerous. I mean, obviously there’s a subculture online of younger storytellers trying to one up each other, so there’s death and dismemberment a plenty, but the point of a haunted game sometimes is that the game is wrong and messed up. Something which can almost feel real, a weird bootleg picked up at a yard sale or from the bottom of a trade in store’s bargain bin. Some just need a weird area within a game to fixate upon for strange stories, such as pretty much anything to do with Lavender Town from the original Pokemon games.
One pretty well known is a story called Ben Drowned.
This story typically has the yard sale origin. A distraught father is selling his deceased son’s possessions off, and a shopper finds a Nintendo 64 cartridge with a torn label that has “Majora” penned on to the torn label. In the original story a college dorm roommate passed an old console on, so it still kind of fits modern tellings as a retro console tale. So, bored of the one game his dorm mate left him on the old N64, they gladly pick up what they presume is a copy of Legend of Zelda, Majora’s Mask, and when they get back and turn it on it does seem to be what they’ve got.
It seemed like a regular copy of the game, having a single save file named “Ben”. Eager to relive his childhood, the new owner creates a new save file called “Link” and starts to play. It all seems normal at first, but then as strange things begin to happen they become convinced they have a bad bootleg copy. Textures start to corrupt, game characters from different parts of the game begin to appear and just stand still, audio files begin to play out of sequence, and then just as they were about to give up and do something different the game does something very strange.
It puts the player into a warped version of the main town area. Everything seems different to how it should be, a deliberate recreation more than a corruption, and despite everything seeming so creepy this catches their curiosity, so they begin to explore. The more they play through, the more afraid they begin to get, and a strange statue begins to keep appearing as he runs through the corrupted game area. For whatever reason it doesn’t occur to him to just turn the game off, he keeps going in a panic with the corrupted game playing screams at him until their character dies in the game.
From there, the statue from the game began to haunt the dreams of the person recounting this tale, and an overwhelming compulsion to pursue the strangeness within the game for an answer consumed them. They kept updating stranger and stranger things to the online forum, including videos taken from playing the cursed game. Everything pointing to a simple alarming truth.
Ben drowned, and is now somehow haunting this old game.
Unlike a lot of creepypasta that just escapes into the wild, Ben Drowned has a fully attributed creator in Alex Hall, also known by their online handle Jadusable. There’s a pretty expanded upon Ben Drowned story they have made out there to go look into, I only giving a bare bones version here. The true Jadusable Ben Drowned doesn’t work for me as a this-is-a-true-story attempt at an online scary story, but it’s an entertaining read if you have some time to spare which includes custom made videos using game assets to help “sell” the story.
SECTION BREAK – Search Contain Protect
Assorted online message boards are typically the origin of creepypastas, dropped off without warning and from there spread by people who enjoyed them and wanted to keep going.
So, from humble beginnings, a massive online fandom did sprout. Allow me to read the whole thing, you may or may not have heard of this one. This may remind people of a certain Doctor Who villain, and there’s been some debate online about this with the following creepypasta appearing to have come first:
Item #: SCP-173
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: Item SCP-173 is to be kept in a locked container at all times. When personnel must enter SCP-173's container, no fewer than 3 may enter at any time and the door is to be relocked behind them. At all times, two persons must maintain direct eye contact with SCP-173 until all personnel have vacated and relocked the container.
Description: Moved to Site-19 1993. Origin is as of yet unknown. It is constructed from concrete and rebar with traces of Krylon brand spray paint. SCP-173 is animate and extremely hostile. The object cannot move while within a direct line of sight. Line of sight must not be broken at any time with SCP-173. Personnel assigned to enter container are instructed to alert one another before blinking. Object is reported to attack by snapping the neck at the base of the skull, or by strangulation. In the event of an attack, personnel are to observe Class 4 hazardous object containment procedures.
Personnel report sounds of scraping stone originating from within the container when no one is present inside. This is considered normal, and any change in this behaviour should be reported to the acting HMCL supervisor on duty.
The reddish brown substance on the floor is a combination of feces and blood. Origin of these materials is unknown. The enclosure must be cleaned on a bi-weekly basis.
This was the first SCP, a SCP being Secure Containment Procedures for some sort of paranormal object each with an object class reflecting how hard it is to keep hidden from the public. Safe objects can be dangerous, even potentially world ending, but are securely locked away. Euclid objects are difficult to keep locked up and have a significant breach of containment if the Foundation isn’t careful. Keter is the most fearsome, and then generally more fun, classification since they’re at constant risk of escaping into the regular world at any moment to cause supernatural chaos.
While this all may have begun as a standalone creepypasta with an arbitrary number, the SCP Foundation is its own huge fandom now. Their website scp-wiki.net is a massive community project with thousands of entries extending from the SCP file style entries to an impressively extensive collection of short stories, the collective whole being a great example of cosmic horror on a large scale. It’s one hell of a rabbit hole to fall down, especially at the size it has expanded to. I quite like two YouTube channels which perform SCP files: The Volgun and The Exploring Series. Should you embark on an extended SCP adventure of any form, I take no responsibility for the creeping paranoia that reality is fragile and humanity can be extinguished like a candle being blown out at any moment.
After all, if this really is a top secret global society keeping fates worse than death locked up in bunkers, why would they be so easy to find online?
Unless they’re hiding in plain sight, gradually training up regular members of the public ahead of recruitment drives…
SECTION BREAK – Expressly Not a Gardening Tool
The Rake is a pretty neat, if vicious, Creepypasta that popped up around 2003 and continues to make occasional appearances. Originally disseminated as fake journal entries such as historical logs and witness reports, further backed up by weird photographs and fan art. I’ll share a disturbing extract now since it manages to capture the dark appeal and disturbing nature of this one:
From a Witness: 2006
"Three years ago, I had just returned from a trip from Niagara Falls with my family for the 4th of July. We were all very exhausted after a long day of driving, so my husband and I put the kids right to bed and called it a night.
At about 4am, I woke up thinking my husband had gotten up to use the restroom. I used the moment to steal back the sheets, only to wake him in the process. I apologized and told him I though he got out of bed. When he turned to face me, he gasped and pulled his feet up from the end of the bed so quickly his knee almost knocked me out of the bed. He then grabbed me and said nothing.
After adjusting to the dark for a half second, I was able to see what caused the strange reaction. At the foot of the bed, sitting and facing away from us, there was what appeared to be a naked man, or a large hairless dog of some sort. Its body position was disturbing and unnatural, as if it had been hit by a car or something. For some reason, I was not instantly frightened by it, but more concerned as to its condition. At this point I was somewhat under the assumption that we were supposed to help him.
My husband was peering over his arm and knee, tucked into the fetal position, occasionally glancing at me before returning to the creature.
In a flurry of motion, the creature scrambled around the side of the bed, and then crawled quickly in a flailing sort of motion right along the bed until it was less than a foot from my husband's face. The creature was completely silent for about 30 seconds (or probably closer to 5, it just seemed like a while) just looking at my husband. The creature then placed its hand on his knee and ran into the hallway, leading to the kids' rooms. I screamed and ran for the lightswitch, planning to stop him before he hurt my children. When I got to the hallway, the light from the bedroom was enough to see it crouching and hunched over about 20 feet away. He turned around and looked directly at me, covered in blood. I flipped the switch on the wall and saw my daughter Clara.
The creature ran down the stairs while my husband and I rushed to help our daughter. She was very badly injured and spoke only once more in her short life. She said "he is the Rake".
The Rake is a little bit of a stereotypical bogeyman, but distinctive enough in appearance to stand out with giant claws in a lot of depictions to make it The Rake. It’s a pale grey humanoid with long claws it isn’t shy about using. Within its own little mythos, they mostly lurk in rural New York State with some sightings in Idaho, and that detail makes it very easy for The Rake to leap out of the Internet and into campfire stories.
Yet there’s an extra layer here. The Rake may have a basis in older stories, being a type of Fleshgait. Maybe simply an adaption of the story, or else just worrying unrelated synchronicity. As is usual for this show, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here, and before I needed to record I have yet to narrow down if Fleshgaits are based in Native folklore, if they are a modern era Cryptid, or they are a more recent Creepypasta creation themselves. I will have to dig deeper and will be looking to tackle Fleshgaits as their own thing. The Fleshgait cliffnotes is that they are mimics that copy voices to lure away victims, in some stories they can also mimic appearances, and their true form is supposed to be a tall skinny grey skinned figure with no hair and long claws. There are some suggestions they relate to Skinwalkers, but my gut says that’s some cultural misappropriation to try and sell the story. I shall be back to that topic!
SECTION BREAK – A Fresh New Creepypasta In The Wild
I did catch this one as videos popped up about a year ago or so ago, and just kind of shrugged it off as a novelty.
Then, as recently as last week, I would see it come up in discussion with similar comments: “My kids love that one.”
Sirenhead was essentially a horror art project that blew up on YouTube via fan films and people doing Let’s Plays of fan games. It was simple, and very effective. A tall creature striding in the distance that is an inexplicable mix of flesh and machine, with a siren for a head that makes an eerie noise. And that was all it needed to go viral. Strong concept, light on details, everyone got to have a collective freak out over it. Kids especially, as this wasn’t a whole story. This was a story prompt that your imagination filled the gaps in for and expanded upon, and if it’s one thing kids have in spades it’s imagination. I don’t quite think we have a new Slenderman on our hands here, but it follows the Slenderman pattern: Very creepy, very striking, and very little information. It spread virally as people shared and discussed it, with the key loss of fictional context in the spread leading to the occasional freak out that Sirenhead may be real.
It also led to a brief Creepypasta argument, as denizens of the Internet began arguing over whether or not Sirenhead was a new SCP. I can confirm it wasn’t, or at least was not at the time of its creation, as it was an original really cool idea for monstrous imagery brought to life in 2018 by artist Trevor Henderson. They were heavily influenced by Slenderman, or at least the Slenderman games looking at images of this 40 foot tall spindly abomination lurking in the woods hidden among the trees. That influence came full circle as fan games featuring the creature got a massive push from popular YouTubers, a phenomenon that drove Slenderman further than just message board pictures, and launching Sirenhead into the spotlight with a younger audience.
Looking at the trajectory of this story… I may have been a bit dismissive saying it’s unlikely to be the next Slenderman. It has the elements, but also the disadvantage of Slenderman having gone first. Wait and see for the Sirenhead movie I guess, while hoping no one does anything dangerous or weird, and it may yet even surpass the original.
That’s all for this episode. Bit of an accidentally bonus length episode this time out, aptly ironic in that copy and pasting some segments of creepypasta bulked the script up without me even noticing! Wanda has got pretty much all of these in the bag, so I’m excited to see their Urban Legends releasing each Friday on the Ghost Story Guys Instagram as we go forwards. I still want to hear your Urban Legends too, so please reach out! If I can get four or five substantial stories, I’ll circle right back around to the topic and we may even extend the Urban Legends art series if we can impress Wanda together. If you do send in a story, or even just a lead and I’ll go dig up the rest, let me know if you want a shout out on the show when the story is used.
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Goodbye for now.