Halloween’s approaching, and what better time to dig out those classic spine-tingling urban legends to tell around the campfire? You know the ones—Smile.Dog, Slendy, the Black-Eyed Kids.
Oh, you don’t?
OK, so maybe in the age of the Internet, the campfire is now a virtual chat or IM. And maybe these chillers aren’t as well known as the typical ones about the couple making out in the woods or the curious incident of the dog in the microwave. But to countless numbers of horror-lovers on the Internet, these stories and more like them have spawned sleepless nights and viral storytelling—a whole new genre of horror known as creepypasta.
The term “creepypasta” (pronounced like the noodle) is a pun of another Internet-spawned word, “copypasta,” a portmanteau of “copy/paste” that probably grew life on the notorious imageboard 4chan. Copypasta refers to easily grabbable chunks of text, often no more than a few paragraphs, that get copied and pasted all over the Internet. Copypasta might take the form of Internet memes, text from email forwards, or fun stories to share with friends.
Creepypasta, on the other hand, is copypasta’s evil mirror, the spookier version of terrifying tales that end on the creepiest note possible—their horror often enhanced by their brevity, their journal-style format, or their casual “here’s a creepy thing that happened to me once” narrative style. Though many creepypasta are no more than a paragraph or two long, often the stories will span many updates and branch off into varying multimedia formats. The term creepypasta itself has likewise expanded, becoming a catch-all phrase to describe the Internet’s weirdest and most terrifying phenomena.
Much like other urban legends, creepypasta reveals modern anxiety over technology, especially in regards to media and forms of communication. These are often malignant sources of evil, much as they are in Japanese horror films like Pulse or Ringu. In some instances, your TV set can be the entity that can turn on you. In others it’s an old computer. Perhaps it’s a video game purchased under mysterious circumstances. Often it’s a single cursed file with no known origin, as if it came from the bowels of hell and not the bowels of the Internet.
Creepypasta also often reveals a sense of deep distortion of reality, the kind of just-slightly-off view of the world that only comes from the collective imagination of 4channers, Something Awful goons, redditors, and others who’ve found themselves glued to their computer at 3am reading about Mothman, Chupacabra, or other modern-day monsters. It seems inevitable, in retrospect, that out of the twisting labyrinth of the Internet, new legends would emerge, entirely fabricated but instantly occupying the status of mythos: a cave with terrifying secrets; a bizarre house that compels its victims to document their own horrifying ends; a normal, everyday photo of children on a playground—with one glaring oddity.
It seems inevitable, in retrospect, that out of the twisting labyrinth of the Internet, new legends would emerge.
These and other stories have galvanized the Internet into creating a wealth of new cultural lore. Often contributors build on to the original version of tales, which often are posted anonymously on Internet forums. The Slender Man mythos alone has spawned a years-long mockumentary project and a truly creepy video game. Other times, creepypasta fans will try their hand at writing their own. And sometimes, the creepypastas themselves become Internet memes.
The Kernel brings you creepypasta classics, the ones every creepypasta fan knows, as well as some of the less well-known ones that are nonetheless prized by the true creepypasta enthusiast. Turn off the lights and kick your Halloween off right with some of the scariest Internet tales around.
7 creepypasta essentials
This unassuming Angelfire website may be the earliest viral example of what we think of as creepypasta. Posted in 2001 and based on a real expedition, the story takes the form of a series of blog posts that describe a normal spelunking that turns weird, then creepy, then downright terrifying when Ted and friends start exploring new parts of the cave. Much like the titular house in Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the cave seems to grow more and more cavernous—and subsequently more and more evil—during the expedition.
Ted’s blogging style set a precedent that countless followers in creepypasta lore would emulate: the creepy setting enhanced by a supernatural entity, an obsessed narrator who continues to return to the scene despite the danger—blogging all the way—and a cliffhanger, ambiguous ending that implies said danger is still out there.
Originally written by Eric Heisserer and posted in 2004, this journal-style mockumentary details a terrifying series of events around a house that possesses anyone who goes near it. Another Danielewski-influenced saga, the drama increases when two friends adopt a “no man left behind” approach; after one obsessed narrator goes missing, the other one picks up the tale.
Whatever happened in those 10 days, it changed him. He wasn’t the same person after that. We all know this. We never talked about it, at least not with me around, but fuck if we didn’t know instantly that the person who came back from that house was not Andrew.
3) Slender Man
Before the Slender Man figured in a shocking pair of teen stabbings this summer, he was an online spook story—perhaps the only purely Internet-born urban legend to transcend his origin and attain the status of myth. Among the myriad parts of the Slender Man mythos are: a popular video game called Slender; a wiki with an alternate reality game; and an epic, ongoing YouTube mockumentary begun in 2009 called Marble Hornets, the story of a student film project gone horribly wrong when the director starts seeing a mysterious figure everywhere—or, as he’s affectionately known on the Internet, Slendy.
Slendy came into the world just a few months before the Marble Hornets project, as a simple Photoshop job on a Something Awful forum thread devoted to spooky stories. The creator, forum user Victor Surge, presented two photographs purporting to be found footage of a group of children who died in 1983 as part of a mysterious library fire. The fictional caption on one photo claimed that the creepy, hypnotic embrace of Slender Man had led the writer to kill the children.
Photo via Victor Surge/SomethingAwful/KnowYourMeme
From there, others contributed to the Photoshopping craze. By the time the first Marble Hornets episode went up, Slender Man was known for his distinctive appearance: abnormally tall, in a black suit with a white shirt, sometimes with long billowing tentacles and sometimes without, and always with a blank face completely free of features. Of all the creepypasta memes to go viral, none are more popular than Slender Man, which in addition to the instances of found footage (the original Something Awful thread where he appeared is still active) has spawned innumerable examples of fanart, cosplay, and creepypasta spinoffs building onto the original world.
Photo via mdl70/Flickr
The Slender Man phenomenon is arguably a major example of the ways in which the Internet has altered how we tell stories. We even recognize his image in other stories. And as we learned to our collective horror in June, sometimes the myth slips offscreen and into real life. After two teenage girls from Wausheka, Wis., stabbed a third girl in an attempt to offer a sacrifice to Slender Man, his creator Eric Knudsen stated that he was “deeply saddened.” Days later a third teen attacked her mother in a copycat, Slender Man-inspired stabbing.
Much like the most iconic horror images of the past, Slender Man has transcended his fictional origins and become a true part of our cultural landscape—for better and for worse.
Many creepypasta, especially on contribute-your-own sites, are short and not exactly the highest of quality. One hilariously exaggerated parody of these became an instant Internet meme when it was posted to 4chan in 2008:
So ur with ur honey and yur making out wen the phone rigns. U anser it n the vioce is “wut r u doing wit my daughter?” U tell ur girl n she say “my dad is ded”. THEN WHO WAS PHONE?
In addition to the full paragraph being the quintessential example of hilari-bad creepypasta, the catchphrase, “THEN WHO WAS PHONE?” became the perfect response to any un-dealt-with plot device or awkward cliffhanger ending.
Both of these memes involve the simplest way to creep someone out on the Internet: a picture of something incongruously creepy. In the case of Smile.Dog, that’s a puppy who should be cute looking at you with a terrifying grin.
Smile.Dog, often referred to by the filename, Smile.jpg, is a malevolent husky fabled to have existed since the early days of the Internet. The lore holds that the file is a cursed remnant of Usenet who found his way onto 4chan. In reality, this tale of a bizarre photo that drives everyone mad showed up on 4chan’s /x/ forum around 2009 and has been a meme ever since. It’s a creepy photo that has nonetheless garnered its share of fans.
Much like other urban legends, creepypasta reveals modern anxiety over technology, especially in regards to media and forms of communication.
Jeff the Killer is likewise known for his maniacal grin, but unlike Smile.Dog he also comes with his own creepypasta origin story. It appeared on the Internet in August 2008, courtesy of Newgrounds user “killerjeff,” who uploaded an image of the noseless “Jeff” with the dubious assurance that “I’m a nice guy.” The Internet soon produced long and short variants of a creepypasta that tells of a terrifying killer urging his victims to go to sleep while smiling creepily at them—the last thing they ever see. On YouTube, user Sesseur gave us this happy video:
Five Nights at Freddy’s fans may find the up-close-and-demented image strangely familiar…
6) Candle Cove
Written by Kris Straub, creator of short horror and creepypasta site Ichor Falls, Candle Cove taps into a recurring fear for many of us: inexplicably bizarre children’s television. The fabricated conversations between adults recalling the macabre, ultimately terrifying variety show they used to watch as kids struck a chord with so many people that today some people think “Candle Cove” was a real ‘70s television show.
After you’ve read Straub’s story, cap it off with this monstrous film version of the final “scene.”
7) Black-Eyed Kids
Are they aliens? That creepy kid from The Grudge? According to some, Black-Eyed Children, or BEK for short, are a real-world paranormal phenomenon in line with “Shadow People” and other creepy non-human entities.
Actually, they’re a creepypasta written by a Texas reporter, Brian Bethel. In 1998, Bethel was a member of Usenet’s alt.folklore.ghost-stories, where he posted this chilling tale of a mysterious encounter with two malevolent children whose eyes were all black:
“C’mon, mister. Let us in. We can’t get in your car until you do, you know,” the spokesman said soothingly. “Just let us in, and we’ll be gone before you know it. We’ll go to our mother’s house.”
We locked eyes.
They were coal black. No pupil. No iris. Just two staring orbs reflecting the red and white light of the marquee.
Bethel posted dozens of similar ghost stories during his time on the Usenet group and even posted an even creepier follow-up to the original BEK story. But his original tale hit the collective imagination so hard that Bethel had to write a BEK FAQ just to keep up with demand for more info about the new urban legend.
“Do I believe something unnatural was at work? Yes, most likely,” he wrote on the FAQ, now archived. “The fear is what keeps haunting me, that unexpected sensation of being sized up, somehow unconsciously manipulated and in danger of life and limb.”
Since Bethel’s original story, hundreds of people have reported similar BEK sightings.
Check out the Daily Dot’s list of 13 frightening creepypasta tales for true aficionados.
Still not satisfied? The main creepypasta sites, Creepypasta.com, the Creepypasta Wiki, Creepypasta Index, and the Slenderman Wiki all offer a bottomless supply of contributions to existing lore as well as new stories for your perusal.
Reddit’s No Sleep forum encourages the cream of the creepypasta crop through monthly contests to choose the most insomnia-inducing story of the bunch. Read the past monthly winners, download their ebook compendiums, check out the monthly No Sleep podcast, and check out subreddits similar to this one.
Tumblr’s creepypasta tag brings you highlights from around the Internet, as well as lots and lots of creepypasta fanart. TV Tropes has a subcategory devoted to their favorites, while Creepypasta.com has a directory of sites and YouTube channels to keep you busy. KnowYourMeme’s Creepypasta series is also impressive.
Finally, the Creepypasta Survival Guide will help you stay alert and alive during all the reading sessions that await you.
Just don’t blame us when you can’t sleep.
A version of this story was originally published on the Daily Dot Oct. 31, 2012.
Illustration by Max Fleishman