We are not strangers to urban legends. Since our elementary days, many of us have unconsciously looked for them; from persuading ourselves to say, “bloody mary,” three times while facing the grimy bathroom mirror in our grade school, to wishing you’d never be anywhere near Balete Drive, wherever the hell that was. (As a child I never knew, but it scared me shitless nonetheless). Between reading K-Zone and W.I.T.C.H., I reached for another thrill: copies of True Philippine Ghost Stories passed around in school. My fevered reading of Sweeney Todd-esque bulalo places in those pages made my meandering into the world of creepypasta seem like a natural trajectory.
“Have you ever heard of Marble Hornets?” was the question that marked my first foray into creepypasta. My blockmate grinned when I said no, and began telling me about Slenderman. That was nine years ago, before the B-rated movie, before the stabbings that produced headlines, before the jumpscare laden game iterations. In my freshman year of college, Slenderman was just a hazy jpeg, and found footage was still something that caused us to flinch. I was curious enough to look for it on YouTube, and after viewing one particular episode with considerable Slenderman screen time, I didn’t sleep for three nights straight. And because there is something wrong with how I process emotion, I got hooked.
The appeal of creepypasta to me lies in my ability to control what scares me, and how easily I can access stories in that genre and eat them like candy. Trick and treat. The narratives are seasoned using a language and images that make sense to a generation that grew out of their awkward screen names. Some of the most well-known stories are formatted like email exchanges, captured as screenshots of Facebook messages, some looped as Youtube videos. To navigate them, you must have already swapped the glow of campfires for white-lit computer screens. Creepypasta speaks our language: the language of the internet.
As someone who’s had very vivid nightmares since the age of six, being able to scare myself out of my own volition is something I cherish. It sounds sadistic, but hear me out (please). It’s about having control. What came first: the nightmares of blood thirsty cats, or my reading horror stories? It’s a chicken and egg situation, but at least I can decide how I want my eggs fried and when I eat them. To be able to determine when you want to be scared, to me, is power. I can rake through r/nosleep, or scavenge for wiki pages of bygone 4chan iterations, and decide if I want to feel the dread of a woman counting down to my doom in the dark at 2 a.m. or in broad daylight in a coffee shop. Being able to submerge yourself into a dangerous setting and have every power to wrench yourself out at any given time unscathed is addicting. And as someone who rarely has a firm grip on her emotions, this experience is thrilling.
Unlike the stories I normally consume, I don’t expect creepypasta to make sense of whatever it is currently going on in my life. I’m not projecting my own baggage into the plot material. And there’s comfort in that. I can’t relate at all to a caver pawing his way into a crevice, the scream of something unearthly rattling his bones. I don’t navigate life using horror. Creepypasta to me is a necessary pit stop, a place to stretch out my limbs in dark corners, inviting the darkness to massage my temples for five minutes or thirty.
The horrors of creepypasta — while they do illustrate the fears of our time, just honest to god want to scare the reader. I appreciate that frankness, one that can’t rely on sudden booming audio, or a screaming head. When written well, you, as a reader, are willing to suspend disbelief, wanting to believe that there is a lost episode of Spongebob, or finding yourself twitching your finger at the last number of a possibly deadly phone call. In a skewed way, the suspension of disbelief allowed by creepypasta sometimes looks like wonder.
Creepypasta is grounds where anything can be real, and simultaneously, where everything can be explained as a hoax. Beginnings and sources are elusive, even O.P. is just a screen name. While new images are made, found and shared, archived links and videos die simultaneously, leaving the reader with nothing but hearsay. And you know what? As an aging adult with enough external anxieties brought about by the world as it is, if horror allows me to feel like a kid again (albeit a very scared one, but a kid nonetheless), then I’ll take it. In those few hours and minutes, I can be 10 again, reading the adult version of Goosebumps, choosing my own adventure.
Header image via The Something Awful Forums
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