The best part of sleepovers came late at night, when everyone had settled down in their sleeping bags, or claimed a pile of pillows, or corner of a couch, shut off the TV, shut off the lights, and started telling stories: weird things that happened to them, or to a friend of a friend. Local legends. Spooky stories that were in the post-midnight dark entirely plausible.
You don’t need to wait for a sleepover for these scares nowadays. The internet is a wonderful, terrifying place, and if you want that never going to close my eyes again fear on demand, might I introduce you to Creepypasta?
Its origin lies in urban legends, whose short, this-could-be-your-town format opens up the possibility for all kinds of terrifying spin-offs. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to learn that stories like this were traded around in ‘zines and through snail mail before the internet exploded into glorious being, but email and forums and social media make it even more accessible to anyone looking for a good scare. If you want a place to start, my first encounter with creepypasta was the story “White With Red.” (If you go looking, come back and share your favorites in the comments!)
Creepypasta also began appearing in chain letters, but of a different sort than the ones your new-to-email relatives tend to send along. Rather than “forward this to ten people and something good will happen to you,” these darker letters warn of dire consequences if you don’t pass them along: death, maiming, horrors (sometimes supernatural ones) visited upon your loved ones. Often they come with examples of the fates that befell others who didn’t heed the warnings. You can find creepypasta stories about pop-culture franchises that are Easter Egg hunts gone terribly, terribly wrong: MARIO by M A R I O, Sonic.exe, and even Pokemon.
There are whole websites dedicated to it, where you can lose hours scaring the hell out of yourself. It’s like an evil version of TV Tropes. (Which, speaking of, has its own section chronicling and finding the tropes within creepypastas.) Will Wiles wrote an article for Aeon Magazine in December 2013 that goes into creepypasta’s history and is well worth the read.
Creepypasta has, of course, sprouted perhaps its most famous nightmare character with Slender Man. Started on the Something Awful message boards, this long-limbed, shadowy figure has had hundreds of stories told about him, and has spawned several series on youtube documenting peoples’ experiences with him. Marble Hornets is not only a series but also an Alternate Reality Game, where viewers participate in the story, search for clues in the videos and other materials, and interact and theorize with one another. If you dig found footage films like The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity franchise, you might dig these.
Are there other examples of creepypasta we shouldn’t miss? Has fear of Slender Man kept you awake at night? Let us know!