The Life and Evolution of the Creepypasta

I spent a lot of my teenage years trawling through creepypasta.com because, as is apparent to anyone who reads this blog, I’ve always been a huge nerd. Plus, a broke teenager loves free content.

As the years wore on, I started getting my horror from different sources, like my ever-expanding library of scary books, Netflix shows, and podcast binging. Thus, it’s been a while since I’ve read any of my old favorite creepypastas. A nostalgia trip, during which I dug up all the links, got me thinking about how important internet writing communities were for me as a teenager—and still are. (But, horrific as it may be, I’m not doing a blog dedicated to my early fanfiction. If we’ve learned anything from zombie films, it’s that some stuff should stay dead and buried.)

A few genres lend themselves to forming bustling online communities; horror is one, erotica is another, fanfiction (at least of works still shrouded beyond the public domain) leads the pack. Unlike printed work, this format allows communities to form, authors and readers to interact with each other, collaborations to flourish, and aficionados to make their own rules.

Without being burdened by editors trying to package their work into marketable content, writers on creepypasta.com, reddit /nosleep, and thousands of other online message boards are free to come up with some really amazing horror content. Sure, the stories are often uncut gems that could do with a copy  edit or two, but many of these pieces are good—better, I’d venture to say than half of the horror films on the marquee every year, mostly because they don’t “have” to follow the tropes that make movies sell—they can be overly long or frustratingly short and can mess with taboo topics, because no one’s investment is riding on them.

man and woman standing in the middle of forestSome of these stories have evolved past their simple, online origins. Slenderman, born on the Something Awful forms, has a self-titled major motion picture to his name (never mind the fact that it’s pretty terrible). The game (Slender: The Eight Pages) is still downloadable/playable, by the way—I tried it a few months ago.

In the interest of not turning this into an exploration of true crime, I’ll only passingly mention the real-life attacks Slenderman is credited with inspiring several adolescents to carry out. These incidents were absolutely terrible, and they gave me, a horror fan and writer, quite a bit of pause. I won’t claim to understand the psychology behind the events, but I think they point to the importance of taking an interest in what your kids are reading and watching—not because you have to be 18 to safely enjoy a scary story, but because young people sometimes need guidance and help processing. We use horror to explore the dark parts of ourselves and the world—but we also (even and especially kids and teenagers) need adequate mental health care and communication.

On a happier (that feels like a weird word to use for this next one) note, Penpal had its genesis on reddit /nosleep, and is now a novel. Dathan Auerbach, then writing as redditor 1000vultures, detailed a boy stalked well into his adulthood. You might remember the first story (I do—vaguely), entitled “Footsteps.” The full book was published in 2012, and Auerbach came back and hit us with another missing-persons thriller called Bad Man in 2018.

One of my favorite humor/horror sagas of all time, Tales From the Gas Station originated, to the best of my knowledge, on reddit /nosleep. Now, you can buy three volumes of the stories, with a fourth (and final, to my dismay) in the works. Meanwhile, there are even more in-universe stories on the website, and it turns out Jerry has an Instagram.

If you want to hear your pastas—old and new—read in a melodious voice, look no further that CreepyPod, which is part of the Bloody Disgusting podcast network. Similarly, see last month’s “Quaint and Curious Volumes” recommendation of The SCP Archives podcast for more online horror gone audible.

And, if you still just want to read your horror online, creepypasta and /nosleep are still hubs of activity. So is r/twosentencehorror, if you don’t have a ton of time for your scares.

To wrap things up, here are my favorite vintage creepypastas with some (as spoiler-free as I can manage) summaries to accompany them.

“I Am the Apocalypse”

Zombies.

“An Egg”

A modern creation myth.

“Candle Cove”

Do you remember this incredibly disturbing children’s TV show?

“Psychosis”

Reality, perceptions of reality, effects of isolation, and a much disputed ending (would it be better without the last few paragraphs? My vote has always been no, but read for yourself and decide)—this is a story practically made for the Pandemic era.

“Goatman”

This one is great for reading aloud. I highly recommend it as a campfire tale.

Drop your favorite creepypastas, urban legends, and other gems in the comments!

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