You know his name. You know his "face." You know he came from the Internet. You might know about something called the "Slender Man stabbings." But despite starring in his own feature length Slender Man movie this year, these vagaries may be all you know about the first Internet urban legend, Slender Man -- or, Slenderman as he's also known.
The expression-less, business-formal monster has appeared in grainy black and white photos in online forums and "found" film footage on YouTube. He stands at the edges of children's playgrounds. He hides in the woods, amongst the trees. He peers in at third-story windows of hospitals. He's an inter-dimensional legend for a cross-media generation.
"At first, she could only see an inky blackness and somehow [it] seemed to swirl in itself," the author of Slenderman writes. "When she blinked in surprise, the void melted away. She wished it hadn't. In its place, there stood what she could only guess was once a man. The limbs were long and inhumanly awkward, with bulky joints branching off into several arms, not unlike the branches of a tree. The creature was drap[ed] in a black suit, somehow ma[king] the thing more nightmarish to her. The icing on the proverbial cake, however, was what passed as the hellish thing's face. It was as though her mind blurred the ghastly visage to spare itself further shock and horror."
Stories like this one, posted anonymously to Creepypasta.com on January 10, 2010, helped mythologize something that began as little more than a prank, instigated on a thread in the SomethingAwful forums. "Creating paranormal images has been a hobby of mine for quite some time," a user named Gerogerigege posted on June 8th, 2009. "Occasionally, I stumble upon odd websites showcasing strange photos, and I always wondered if it were possible to get one of my chops in a book, documentary, or website just be casually leaking it out into the web [...] So, let's make a shitload?"
By adding a filter and inserting blurry shapes that could be mistaken for supernatural entities, contributors to the thread found they conjure up "evidence" of the paranormal convincing enough to terrify anyone who wasn't aware of the source, like the shadow creatures cast by clever hand arrangements behind a campfire. User Victor Surge (real name: Eric Knudsen) created and posted two altered photos, coining the name "Slender Man" to describe the child-napping figure hiding the backgrounds.
Slender Man is no different than the scary stories we tell each other on dark nights in the woods. He's no different from the Bogeyman, Freddy Krueger or The Grudge curse. Because of his digital origin -- and one that is a well-documented forgery at that -- it's easy for outsiders to be sniffy about the idea of anyone believing he could be real, even for a moment. But most of us have felt a shiver of dread at the sudden noise coming from the bushes as a friend holds a torch under their chin, mid-ghost story. Or felt their pulse quicken by a mysteriously creaking floorboard from somewhere in our house in the middle of the night. Or walked just a little bit faster home from the movie theater after watching the latest jump-scare flick. If that's ever been you, you're no different than that teenager, up past their bedtime in 2010, scrolling through images of Slender Man "sightings," feeling that same shiver of dread as they read captions like: "'We didn't want to go, we didn't want to kill them, but it's persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time...' -- 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead."