When I was young, I went to a rural North Carolina elementary school that set far off the main road on a back road that turned from asphalt to red dirt just past the school. Piney woods surrounded the school with old growth hardwoods taking over the deeper you went into them. At recess, all of us boys and girls would run past the playgrounds straight for the woods.
This was the early 60’s. I was in third grade and my teacher didn’t seem to think twice about letting a bunch of children go unattended to play in the woods. We’d climb on low branches, build forts out of fallen limbs, or just find a good shade tree to sit under to cool off. After all, it was a rural school full of farmers’ and mill hands’ children – salt of the earth type people who inhabited a safe community where everyone knew everyone else. We – adults and children alike – were used to unlocked doors and kids running free through forest and field.
That changed suddenly one day in the early winter.
It was almost Christmas and us third-graders were buzzing in anticipation of two weeks off and Santa Claus. The weather was mild, as it has almost always been here in December (I don’t remember ever having a “white Christmas” – usually, it’s sunny and clear around here) but there was still enough of a chilling breeze to keep most of us kids close to the school building when we went out to play. Even so, there were a few who were willing to brave a biting breeze to go out into the woods.
On this particular day, as we all filed back into our classroom after recess, we noticed one chair was empty. It belonged to a girl named Marie. We students noticed her absence before the teacher did, but it didn’t take long for Mrs. Taylor to miss her also. But before we could all react and wonder where she could be, we heard sobbing and shuffling feet out in the hallway.
Marie came shambling into the room, her sweater picked with holes and her face, arms, and legs scratched and bleeding. Tears had left red chapped streaks on her cheeks. She didn’t wait for someone to ask her, she simply volunteered:
“Something was watching me in the woods. Something was following me.”
After that, we were restricted to the playground at recess, and that was still the school policy through my remaining years there.
It’s always haunted me: Exactly what frightened Marie so badly in the woods that day?
Probably everyone who has ever played in the woods as a child – or in a cornfield, or sandlot, or anywhere else outside of the safe surroundings of your parents’ home – has felt that sensation. That something was watching you. That something just on the periphery of your vision – or maybe on the periphery of reality – was stalking you, always within a step of catching you. You know it’s there, but you dare not turn around to look, because then it will get you…
That creepy thing that waits among the bare winter trees or down the alley beside the vacant building near your apartment now has a name: The Slender Man.
I was first introduced to the Slender Man by my son, a teacher of writing and communication. We were chatting on AIM in the wee hours one night when he sent me a link to some of the material he had covered in his class concerning interactive fiction creation on the internet. One of the examples he used was the Slender Man. I’d never heard of it. When I asked him about it, he sent me a few links about, after which he said, “I hate looking at this stuff this late at night.”
The myth began on the forums of the Something Awful website, in a thread devoted to the creation of fake paranormal images. (Here is the link if you wish to go look at the original thread. http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3150591&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=3#post361861415 )
Most of the doctored photos were obvious, far too fake to be the least bit scary, but there were a pair of photos that got it just right: Innocent children. Captions that hinted at a fatal catastrophe. And there, lurking menacingly in the background, a figure that you almost – almost – overlook.
And the myth of the Slender Man was born. A faceless figure in a black suit with – wait… are those… tentacles? Extra arms? What are they…?
Prophetically, the post immediately following the original photos in that thread contained this statement: “You just know a couple of the good ones are going to eventually make it to paranormal websites and be used as genuine.”
Which is exactly what happened.
The result is the birth of not one, but two phenomena – the creation and promotion of a collective fictional creation, and the belief in that fictional creation as real. References to the Slender Man can be found all over internet forums and websites with many people claiming that he’s real, explaining him as some sort of psychic/physical manifestation of our primal fears. He has his own entry in the Mythical Creatures Guide.
And there is a blog dedicated to the investigation of the Slender Man “phenomenon”.
Maybe the most famous Slender Man-related material is the movie, “Marble Hornets,” posted in installments on You Tube. It’s a creepy little amateur film that reminds me of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, yet is somehow both cooler and scarier than either of those (though maybe that’s because I watched it alone in my living room at 3:00 am). The movie purports to be the raw footage shot during the making of a student film a few years ago. The student making the film seems to slowly lose his mind as a mysterious being keeps showing up in the backgrounds of his shots.
So, a new monster has come along to stoke our nightmares, one that may be entirely made up or maybe not. As the author of the Slender Man Chronicles blog says:
He only exists because you think of him. Try not to think of him.