The Internet can be a spooky place. Here strange tales and secrets pass to the masses and infest every dark corner of the web, and the lines between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy become blurred as stories are passed on and evolve to take on a life of their own. This wilderness we know of as the Internet is crawling with all manner of the bizarre, the unsettling, the creepy, and indeed inscrutable creatures and entities that lurk in its shadowy recesses. With the help of the Internet at times a piece of this dark, spooky lore can truly catch on with the public consciousness and dig its tendrils deep, pulling itself out of cyber space to slither and ooze into the real world, in a sense to move out from the shadows of its cyber habitat and into the shadows of our reality. These phantoms move out to influence us and take shape beyond anything their humble beginnings may have suggested, and show just how much of a potent force the web has become.
By far the most well-known and widespread tale of a phantom born from the Internet is none other than the very creepy, very unsettling Slenderman. This mysterious entity is most often depicted as a tall, unnaturally thin figure with a vaguely humanoid shape, freakishly long arms, and a face usually described as blank and featureless, all typically garbed in a dark suit and tie. The lore says that Slenderman can shorten or extend his arms at will, and can also produce a variety of physical effects such as nausea, dizziness, memory loss, paranoia, nosebleeds, and intense coughing fits. Other abilities often attributed to it are teleportation and mind reading, and photographs or video of it are said to turn out distorted or warped.
The origins of the creature can be traced to June 8th, 2009, when a blogger calling himself “Victor Surge,” who would eventually be identified as a Florida resident by the name of Eric Knudsen, posted a pair of images he had created onto a thread for the website Something Awful. The name of the thread was “Create Paranormal Images,” and was designed to have contributors photoshop pictures in order to make them appear eery and paranormal, in order to see who could make the best new supernatural creature that could be convincingly passed off as genuine on the Internet. It was in essence a hoax contest. The images that Kudsen posted were two black and white pictures showing groups of children and teenagers with the chilling sight of the Slenderman lurking behind them.
The images were unsettling to say the least, and making them even more disturbing was the fact that they were accompanied by pieces of scrawled text that further added a layer of the bizarre to them. One such piece of text served as a caption to one of the photos, and read: “‘We didn’t want to go, we didn't want to kill them…but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…’ – 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.” On another photo doctored to make it looked burned was a fake library seal that read: “One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as 'The Slender Man'. ... Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.”
These chilling captions made the creepy images even more convincing, and were enough to give the photos an added sense of reality, with some who saw them suspecting that the photos were perhaps even real. Knudsen further added to the mystery and stoked the creation of a legend when he returned to the forum just a few days later to add new pieces of information to the lore, in the form of fake doctor reports telling of examinations of alleged victims of the Slenderman in the 1990s. One of these reports detailed a photo of the gory remains of a victim that were supposedly found by a patient at the fictitious "Woodview Mental Hospital and Psychological Rehabilitation Clinic,” and it was further claimed that 33 patients later mysteriously vanished from this institution.
After these posts the Slenderman legends really started to take off and generate a life of its own. Amongst rumors and whispers that the whole tale was perhaps real, there appeared numerous follow-up posts featuring additional photos of the purported Slenderman, as well as allegedly true sightings and incidents concerning the creature, all which steadily added to the mythology and powered its rise to Internet legend. One of the first of these was an account by a poster who claimed that he had felt compelled to come forth with his own tale after reading Knudsen’s original posts. In this case the poster spun a spooky tale of a group of missing campers that his police officer uncle had investigated, which was of course bolstered with a photo of the Slenderman supposedly given to him by the uncle. The forum continued on with various other tales of mysterious vanishings, sightings, and all around high strangeness, all firmly connected to the Slenderman and further catapulting it into a viral phenomenon. Many commenters came forward with their own frightening encounters with the apparition, where it was typically described as stalking and terrorizing the witness in abandoned places or wilderness, often just on the periphery of vision. Other, more sinister stories told of the Slenderman killing people, or abducting children.
It was not before long that Slenderman was everywhere, rapidly permeating the Internet and spawning “found footage” videos, video games, fan art, online fiction, films, and an ever growing library of supposedly “real” photos of the monstrosity. It had spiraled out of control from a photoshop project into an all-pervasive, universal boogeyman, and a dramatic example of the collective generation of a genuine piece of modern day folklore created by the crowd, with each person digesting the basic premise to come out with their own extensions and permutations of the mythos. If the traditional appearance of folklore over countless generations of passed-down stories was like the slow crawl of evolution, then this was seeing that evolution rapidly fast forwarded to observe how it spreads and gains its roots, how the change takes place, all with breathtaking speed thanks to the limitless reach of the Internet. One folklorist from Indiana University named Jeff Tolbert said of the rise of Slenderman: “It just exploded. It became a phenomenon that I don't think anybody could have predicted.”
This was perhaps where Slenderman would have stayed, confined to online mythology and spooky unverified tales and sightings, like campfire stories passed around into legend, until the entity in a sense made a very real foray into our own reality. On May 31st, 2014, two 12-year-old girls by the names of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier created a wave of shock throughout the media when they lured 11-year-old Payton Leutner out into the woods near Geyser’s home in Waukesha, Wisconsin and proceeded to stab the girl a total pf 19 times before leaving her for dead. Amazingly, Leutner was able to somehow survive the violent, harrowing ordeal and crawl to safety, after which the two perpetrators were arrested and a bizarre tale began to emerge. It turned out that Geyser and Weier firmly believed that not only did Slenderman exist, but that he had requested they kill someone to please him. Indeed, they believed that they or their families would be seriously harmed if they did not follow through with his commands, and that they would even be allowed to come live with him if they succeeded. After the stabbing the two girls even claimed to have set out on foot to find Slenderman out in a faraway forest, where they thought he would be waiting for them.
The story sparked international interest in Slenderman, and the story became a sensation, showing up on TV and in countless newspapers and tabloids and putting the the dark Internet legend in the mainstream spotlight. There was much talk on the effect of such popular culture on impressionable young minds and debate as to whether the Internet had gone too far this time. For his part, Knudsen himself expressed sadness and remorse about the incident before dropping off the map. In the meantime, Geyser and Weier would be tried as adults and found to be suffering from deep-rooted mental issues, with Geyser actually claiming to be in direct telepathic communication with other characters such as Harry Potter’s Voldemort and the Vulcans from Star Trek. To this day she apparently insists that Slenderman is real. The whole story of this case was covered in the 2016 HBO documentary Beware the Slenderman.
As if one such crime wasn’t bad enough, another similar crime played out barely a week after the Leutner stabbing. On June 9th, 2014, an Ohio mother came home from work to find her teenage daughter standing silently in the kitchen wearing a white mask and holding a kitchen knife. The girl then stabbed her mother and later claimed that she had done it to appease Slenderman. It was later found that the girl had been utterly obsessed with the Slenderman character, writing extensively about it and even creating a world for it to live in within the video game Minecraft. Whether either of these crimes can be blamed on the Slenderman or not, it certainly shows how these urban legends and reality can sometimes intertwine in the strangest, sometimes violent ways. Interestingly, although the origins of Slenderman have been found to be firmly the construct of a human mind there are still alleged sightings of the phantom in the real world. Does this mean it has taken form from constant belief or is it just the echoes of a persistent piece of lore?
Similar in many ways to the enigmatic Slenderman is another mysterious phantom that has come to be called the Rake. Said to be a monstrous creature that varies in description ranging from a misshapen, bald and naked man, to a large, hairless canine beast of some sort, with thin arms ending in abnormally large, taloned hands and glowing eyes. A common feature of reports is that it moves with complete, utter silence, stealthily stalking its prey. The creature first came into prominence when a series of online videos were supposedly posted of it in 2003, during which time it was said to be stalking the wilderness of rural New York. Various accounts began to emerge from all over the northeastern United States telling of this creature silently skulking about the dark wilds, occasionally lurching forth to attack people, and having the unsettling habit of sneaking into people’s houses to torment them at night.
In one such report a woman claimed that she had just returned from a trip to Niagara Falls with her family and had all gone to bed. At some point in the middle of the night, her husband woke up, became distressed, and pulled his feet up to keep them from dangling over the side, wary of some as yet unknown intruder. After a few moments of silence he pointed to the foot of the bed, where there lurked in the darkness a hunched over “hairless dog of some sort” that had an unnatural, twisted body position and movements, as if it had been hit by a car or worse. The creature then reportedly suddenly shambled around the side of the bed to come face to face with the terrified husband, where it merely stared for a bit before scrambling off towards the rooms where their kids slept. The distraught women ran off in pursuit and reportedly found the entity covered in blood after ravaging their young daughter, whose last words were said to be “He is the Rake.” The husband and the daughter would then be claimed to have died in an auto accident while rushing off to the hospital, after which the mother was surprised to do research and find that many others had seen the same evil entity.
Another report from 2006 claims that as the witness was driving along Highway 90 they came to what appeared to be a roadblock of some kind, with police patrol cars and military trucks reportedly disgorging heavily armed marines who filed off into the woods. It was also claimed that there were enormous spotlights peering out into the woods as if they were looking for something. The witness said that police told them to turn around and leave. The next day news then hit of something called “The Monster of Berwick,” apparently the Rake, and shortly after that there was a news blackout on the whole thing. Considering that this was one of many reports posted on various forums all over the Internet, it is uncertain if it is based in any reality at all or just further fuel for the legend.
Many witnesses of the weird beast reported feeling intense waves of emotion ranging from profound fear and disorientation, to a sense of childlike wonder upon seeing it, and then suddenly the reports just seemed to cease, as if being covered-up. Interestingly, in 2006 a supposed historical account of the Rake began to take shape. According to the lore, there are supposedly reports from the 12th century onwards that apparently chronicle the terror of the Rake. One such report from a 1691 century ship’s log purportedly says:
He came to me in my sleep. From the foot of my bed I felt a sensation. He took everything. We must return to England. We shall not return here again at the request of the Rake.
There are other old journals and logs out there that supposedly mention the Rake as well, including one from 1880 allegedly translated from Spanish that reads:
I have experience the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I see his eyes when I close mine. They are hollow. Black. They saw me and pierced me. His wet hand. I will not sleep. His voice (unintelligible text).
Adding to all of this spooky lore is a purported suicide not from 1964 which was found inside a wooden box. The note seems to allude to being plagued by the Rake, or at least some sort of similarly strange supernatural presence, which then drove the author to despair and taking his own life. Although it is unclear if the note is referencing the Rake or if it is even real or not, it is certainly spooky, apparently reading:
As I prepare to take my life, I feel it necessary to assuage any guilt or pain I have introduced through this act. It is not the fault of anyone other than him. For once I awoke and felt his presence. And once I awoke and saw his form. Once again I awoke and heard his voice, and looked into his eyes. I cannot sleep without fear of what I might next awake to experience. I cannot ever wake. Goodbye.
If there was a real historical basis for the Rake, it would be intriguing indeed, perhaps showing that this is a real creature that predates the spooky and twisted Internet stories surrounding it. The problem with these supposed “historical accounts” is that there is not a single shred of evidence to show that they ever existed. No one has come forth with the actual log entires or letter, and numerous sites about the Rake always make the vague claim that they have been lost to time or even intentionally covered up. As a matter of fact, the presence of a cover-up is often brought up in relation to the Rake, with claims that videos and reports have a way of vanishing from the web soon after they are posted. Considering that there is nothing to show that these old accounts ever really happened, it is quite possible that they were stories created after the rise of the Rake in Internet lore to make the tale more convincing and give the mythos more credibility and historical weight.
Indeed, looking into most reports of the Rake, historical or modern, one can see that there is very little corroborating evidence at all, names and dates are vague, there is no way to confirm them, and most just sound like mere creepy stories spun by the Internet. With no way to confirm or deny the lore, it is another example of modern folklore in the making, its ties to reality tenuous and unknown. Nevertheless videos continue to come forth purportedly showing the Rake, and reports from people claiming to have seen it or even be attacked by it still pop up to this day, as well as accounts from those insisting that it is real. If this was a genuine entity, what it could be is anyone’s guess. An alien? A ghost? Something from another dimension or even a physical manifestation of so many people’s belief in it? Who knows?
Another strange phantom that seems to have been spun from the Internet but has also been tied to supposed historical accounts comes to us from Japan, where in 2003 several Japanese websites featured reports of a very strange entity indeed. The posts were written as first-hand sightings accounts of a specter or demon of some sort referred to as the Kunekune, which is a Japanese onomatopoeia that literally translates to “twist,” “writhe,” or “wiggle.” The creature itself is described as being a long, slender humanoid shape, pale white in color, although it is sometimes reported as being black, and which writhes, wiggles, and shimmers similar to a piece of fabric tossed about by the wind, even if there is no wind, hence its name. The typical account goes that the Kunekune is spotted in the distance of a rural place, usually over an open expanse such as a field or the sea. The story goes that a person will notice the strange figure and wonder what it is, drawing closer to get a better look. This is said to be a mistake, because the closer one gets, and the more detail that is seen of the being’s features, the stranger things get. If the victim is lucky, it will merely drive them insane, usually after making eye contact, but the Kunekune is also said to be not above flat out killing those who get too close to it or make direct contact with it. Since no one has lived or kept their sanity long enough to describe its face, its appearance remains unknown. It is said that the best thing to do is just ignore the Kunekune and it will go away.
Several spooky accounts of run-ins with the Kunekune appeared on the Internet in quick succession by frightened witnesses. One of the first reports to appear was that of a man claiming to have had an encounter with the Kunekune when he was a child. The man, let’s call him Taro, reported that he and his brother had gone to the countryside of the Akita region, in northern Japan. After they arrived they went out to explore the rice fields and open areas, enjoying being out of the big city from which they had come. The day was described as being hot and windless, and at some point Taro noticed that his brother was gazing off into the distance as if studying something on the horizon or lost in thought.
When asked what was wrong, the brother said that he could make out something strange in the distance. When Taro peered out over the vast expanses of the many rice fields of the area, he claimed that he could just barely make out something moving in the distance. It appeared to be a stationary, human-sized white squiggle of some sort flapping about wildly, which was odd considering the area was deserted and there was no wind that day. Taro at first thought it might be a scarecrow, but scarecrows didn’t move like that, especially with no wind. Neither did it appear to be a sheet or piece of clothing.
Curious and wondering what in the world it was, the two boys ran home to retrieve binoculars in order to get a closer look. The brother went first, but when he put the binoculars to his eyes his face reportedly went slack and his color pale, after which he turned to Taro with a look of abject horror on his face. The brother broke out into a sweat and dropped the binoculars to the ground as he repeated “There it is… There it is… There it is…” over and over again in a strange voice that did not seem to be his own. He then began to stalk back to the house without a word or explanation of what was going on or what he had seen through those binoculars, which were still upon the ground. Taro reported that he had picked them up, and even though the strange figure continued to wiggle and flap in the distance he was too afraid to look through them, instead trudging back to the house to see what was going on.
When Taro got to the house he found everyone crying as they watched his brother roll about on the floor laughing and giggling with mad abandon like a lunatic. The frightened parents decided to leave the grandparents’ house and take them back home, with the brother laughing and writhing about in the back seat to the point that he had to be tied down. Eerily, his face was plastered with a wide grin yet his eyes were crying. At some point on the way home, their father stopped the car, took the binoculars, and smashed them upon the ground before continuing on.
Similar stories came in from around Japan with others coming forward with their own tales. Another early report of the Kunekune comes from a man who claimed that when he was a boy lived in a rural coastal village in Chiba prefecture. One day he and his uncle were walking along the sea shore the boy saw something long and white waving about out over the waves in the distance and he asked his uncle what it was. When the uncle looked he froze in his tracks and went wide-eyed and pale before telling his nephew to run for his life. The boy ran, but the uncle was unable to stop staring off into the distance, unable to tear his eyes away from whatever had him under its dark spell.
The boy reached his house and told his grandfather about what had happened, who went pale himself and replied that it was the work of the Kunekune and that his son had been lucky to get away from it. When they went back to retrieve the uncle the man was still glued there to the same spot, mindlessly gazing out at the thing in the distance. They were able to physically pry the uncle away but he reportedly suffered from fits of madness from then on, spending the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions.
Stories such as these started to make the rounds on a variety of Japanese websites, with more and more people reporting experiences that were similar in nature, always involving a mysterious writhing white humanoid in the distance that could cause madness or even death if viewed too carefully or closely. Those who told these tales insisted that this was a phenomenon that had been going on in certain rural areas for centuries, but oddly it was not until these Internet reports that most had had ever heard of the Kunekune. It is certainly not a traditional yōkai (a Japanese spirit or boogeyman), and as a matter of fact I live in Japan and have never met anyone who knows what a Kunekune is. Is this perhaps a localized tale only known in some parts of Japan or is it something new? It is hard to tell if this is a phenomenon with a historical basis or if it was born on the Internet with those original reports, quite likely fictitious, after which it merely spawned imitators much as with the Slenderman or the Rake. The origins of the tale of the Kunekune remain vague, but it is certainly creepy nonetheless.
Whereas the line between reality and fantasy might be blurred in many of the cases so far, some Internet phantoms have been proven to be hoaxes, and yet it is testament to the alluring power they hold over us that people still believe in them and report on them as if they are real. One persistent specter that simply won’t seem to die no matter if it has been debunked is the story of what has come to be known as simply “This Man.” According to the lore, in January of 2006, a patient of a respected psychiatrist in New York allegedly drew the face of a man that she said had been repeatedly visiting her in her dreams, a man she was sure she had never seen before in real, waking life. The man was reported as knowing a great deal about her private life and even giving her advice on personal problems.
The story goes that this hand-drawn portrait sat their on the psychiatrist’s desk and another patient noticed it and began saying that he too had been seeing that same man in his dreams on numerous occasions. This is an intriguing enough coincidence that the psychiatrist decides to show the picture to some colleagues with patients that suffer from recurring dreams, and several of them come forward to claim that they have seen the very same man haunting their dreams, with none of them having ever met him in real life and whom all of them refer to as merely “This Man.” The story went viral on the Internet, spreading to numerous blogs, forums, and news sites, even spawning its own site dedicated to dealing with the phenomenon.
People began to come out of the woodwork claiming to have repeatedly seen the very same man in their own dreams, and allegedly there were thousands of such reports that deluged blogs and forums on the matter, coming from all over the world. The strange phenomenon stirred up a variety of theories, including that it was some sort of specter or echo of the collective subconsciousness, an archetype that reverberates within us, some sort of dream-haunting ghost, a person with the ability to enter dreams, the power of suggestion, a mass delusion, people simply projecting the face they have seen onto a man they saw in their dreams after the fact, or even God Himself. There was no evidence at all of who the unidentified man in the original picture could be or why his image would worm its way into the dreams of so many disparate people. This Man became a legitimate Internet mystery that baffled everyone.
In the meantime, some people were understandably skeptical of the whole tale and began to dig deeper, focusing mostly on the official This Man website, which seemed to be ground zero for the reports and the original description of the phantom’s history. There were already red flags with the whole tale, including the fact that the alleged psychiatrist was never named, nor were the patients. There is also no evidence to show that such a picture was ever drawn by a patient and it is not even clear when the whole thing really took place. With further investigation it turned out that the site was the creation of a man named Andrea Natella, also known as Luther Blissett, an Italian journalist, sociologist and media marketer who runs the company Guerriglia Marketing, which is known for creating sophisticated subversive media hoaxes and weird art projects. Further damning the credibility of the site was the fact that it was at one point acquired by Ghost House Pictures, a horror production company, who used it to promote the movie based on the spooky phenomenon, called This Man. Natella would even eventually admit that the whole thing had been a hoax, so it seemed to be fairly definitively debunked; dead as dead.
Yet despite the fact that This Man was the proven brain-child of a viral marketer and known hoaxer there are still people coming forward to adamantly insist that they have indeed dreamt the man in the picture. How could this be? The obvious answer seems to be that these people are being subliminally influenced by the deep, spooky lore surrounding the picture, and are either incorporating that image into their dreams through the potent power of suggestion or waking up to remember their dream figures as having that face, totally unaware that this recollection is false. In a sense, the hoax itself could be serving to perpetuate a phenomenon similar to what was claimed in the first place; a curious example of life imitating art. Another obvious possibility is that they are all simply lying and telling tall tales. It is amazing to see how far-reaching a hoax can be, how it can work its roots down so deep into the human psyche so as to be immovable and immune to even the most complete debunking. That in and of itself is a pretty strange phenomenon.
It is clear that the Internet has had an influence on us and our reality that we never could have fathomed. In looking at these phantoms of the web it is often hard to tell where reality begins and fantasy begins, at times difficult to find the seams between cyberspace and the real world. Are these purely the effects of potent constructs and lore influencing the human mind? Are they tales that have some historical basis in fact and merely use the Internet as a way to spread themselves? Is this the creation of modern folklore in action or is there something more to any of it? Whatever one may think, these stories we have looked at here show at the very least that the Internet can be a frightening place, and that the human mind is perhaps even more so.