The internet is just the place to make all your nightmares come true. Though creepypasta.com was first registered as a domain name in 2008, the images and stories collected there may have started as chain e-mails stretching back to the early 1990s. Like all great ghost stories, the tales on Creepypasta inhabit that terrifying gray area between fact and fiction.
Creepypasta’s best-known creation is most likely Slender Man, also known as Slenderman. The fictional character dates back to 2009, when Eric Knudsen (under the online name Victor Surge) posted a pair of doctored images to a scary photo contest on Something Awful. Each image featured a group of children at play—but lurking in the background was slender, spectral figure dressed in a black suit.
Inherent to the Slender Man myth is the mystery surrounding the character itself: Is Slender Man a malevolent creature that preys upon people, or a sinister yet strangely comforting presence that lords over children? Could it be both? In some images, Slender Man stalks through the woods; in others, it appears as a monstrous friend hand-in-hand with a little girl. This shapeshifting quality is part of the reason why Slender Man caught the imagination of so many—it has gone on to inspire everything from internet shows to films, video games, and books. It's also how, in a few tragic cases, the character seeped into reality.
In 2014, Slender Man made the jump from the world wide web to the nightly news when two girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin repeatedly stabbed their schoolmate, claiming that they carried out the attack in the name of Slender Man. A small number of incidents connected in various ways to the Slender Man myth followed in its wake. In December 2017, one of the two Waukesha attackers was committed to state mental care for 25 years; in February 2018, the second attacker was ordered to spend 40 years in a mental hospital.
Something about Slender Man's combination of eerie imagery, a sense of the unknown, and his truly creepy design has made him the outsized star of the creepypasta world. But the faceless man isn't the only thing out there...These nine creepypastas are so terrifying that they invaded our cultural consciousness, inspiring television series, movies, and books. Be careful: These stories may keep you up all night.
Drawing on the television shows that terrified us as kids, Candle Cove is the story of a group of now adult message board users reflecting on a show from their childhood, Candle Cove. Using the online forum as a storytelling tactic, it becomes obvious that Candle Cove was no Sesame Street, featuring, among other horrifying details, a pirate character who wears clothing made out of children’s skin. Candle Cove was so popular that the SyFy network took notice, adapting it and other creepypasta stories for their series, Channel Zero. As of February 2017, the series has just been renewed for a third and fourth season.
Related: Binge-worthy: Channel Zero is Black Mirror Meets Creepypasta
Jeff the Killer
The image of Jeff the Killer is pretty much synonymous with terror. If you haven’t seen him, consider yourself lucky. The uncanny image harkens back to creepypasta’s beginnings as an online collection of strange or unexplained images just calling out for a narrative. In this one, Jeff the Killer is a serial killer who tells his victims “go to sleep,” before murdering the entire household. Legend says Jeff’s face was burned off with acid. But what’s even more horrifying is that the source of Jeff’s image seems to be a photoshopped image of a girl who committed suicide after being bullied by 4chan for her appearance.
Writer Dathan Auerbach recognized creepypasta’s potential as a storytelling platform and initially planned Penpal as a series of short stories posted to Reddit’s “NoSleep” sub, the birthplace of many a creepypasta. A young boy attaches a message to a balloon hoping for a response. And, boy, does he get one. Auerbach’s stories were so popular he collected them into a book, entitled Penpal, published in 2012. Though the film rights were optioned soon after its publication, fans have yet to see a movie version in the works.
Related: 9 Underrated Horror Books That Have Been Waiting to Fuel Your Nightmares
Russian Sleep Experiment
In this disturbing creepypasta, five prisoners in a Soviet camp are given the option of taking part in a sleep study: 30 days of sleep deprivation, in exchange for their freedom. But who can survive 30 days of sleep deprivation? (According to Scientific American, no one. The longest anyone’s gone under medical supervision is 11 days.) The terrifying story, which, in the early days of the viral Internet, seemed entirely plausible, made this creepypasta an enduring fan favorite, leading to a short film adaptation in 2015.
With its very real web address—go ahead, click it!—this creepypasta image has haunted our dreams for years. According to the webpage, a patient claims she sees this man’s face in her dreams, though she has no idea who he is and has never encountered him in real life. At least 2,000 others, according to the legend, have experienced the same meeting. Since his appearance on the web in 2000, “this man” has supposedly turned up in movies and his face has even been a recurring theme on The X-Files.
One of creepypasta’s most popular stories, Doors captures exactly what’s so effective about this genre. A first person narrative, Doors harkens back to the thrilling mystery installments of an earlier age. It’s easy to see Doors’ influence on modern, twist-ending horror movies like the work of M. Night Shyamalan. We don’t want to give this one away, so it’s best just to read it. Do yourself a favor, though–turn on all the lights first.
Related: 9 Terrifying Horror Stories You Need to Read Tonight
Like Doors, Psychosis is a first-person narrative that lets you in on its terrifying secrets little by little. Fans of early mysteries and classic television shows like The Twilight Zone will revel in this story. Psychosis was so popular online that its author, Matt Dymerski, published a collection of his short fiction with 12 other terrifying tales for fans.
The ultimate haunted house story, NoEnd House claims that no one has ever made it to the end of the titular manse. David is determined to make it out and win the $500 cash prize, but as soon as he’s reached the third room it becomes painfully obvious that NoEnd House lives up to its name. SyFy’s creepypasta-inspired series, Channel Zero, capitalized on NoEnd House’s popularity, adapting the story for its second season. James Greybey, at Inverse Entertainment, called the series “the best horror on TV.”
The dangers of Googling oneself are at the heart of this Creepypasta, about a figure skater who is determined to embellish her online presence. It starts out innocently enough, but thanks to the real world signifiers like YouTube and Wiki, this creepypasta will leave you wondering if Annora Petrova’s story could be a true one. Whether or not this terrifying tale is based in reality, you might think twice before taking liberties with your Wikipedia entry.
Related: These 9 Strange and Creepy Wikipedia Articles Will Give You the Chills