by The Occult Museum
Memes can be a lot of fun, from images of grump cat to RickRoll-ing your friends with videos of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” These cultural phenomena spread from person to person much like chain letters of the past and other viral content. Even though they can be entertaining, memes can also be terrifying, as evidenced by the contemporary legends listed below. Before reading on, be sure that you leave the light on, and check that you locked the front and back doors. Otherwise, you may find yourself frightened of stories that we all know aren’t real – Right?
Creepypasta Scary Stories
Many of the nightmares that follow started on the website Creepypasta, whose name derives from the practice of copypasta or copying and pasting stories on message boards and in email. The focus of this website, though, is scary stories and terrifying legends to be shared with fellow Internet users. As such, these tales tend to be brief and may rely mainly upon a single image with text. At the same time, they have many of the same characteristics as traditional ghost stories and urban legends. Some of the more popular creepypasta include the Russian Sleep Experiment on a sleep deprivation experiment in war time and the Candle Cove tale of a creepy 1970s kid show. For the most part, they are seen has having had their heyday in 2010, when The New York Times focused on their viral presence.
The most popular scary meme is undoubtedly this creepy creature resembling a tall man with a featureless face and an odd suit. The story starts with a 2009 Something Awful Photoshop contest to create creepy photographs of the paranormal. The most successful was a pair of pictures of children with a slim and unnaturally tall man in the shadows behind them. Tales quickly arose of children disappearing the same day as the photographs were taken, while both the image and the narrative spread across the Internet.
From there, the mythos grew primarily through additional memes and video games depicting characters interacting with him. His powers soon grew to include tentacles in his back, teleportation, photographic or video distortion, and disruption of memory, sleep, and sanity. You can now find songs, films, television show episodes, and much more on Slenderman and his adventures in torturing humans unwise enough to seek him out. Some children have even believed the figure to be real and harmed one another in his name, as in the 2014 Slenderman Stabbing in Wisconsin.
Similar to Slenderman, the Rake first appeared as part of a drive to create stories to scare fellow horror lovers on the site 4chan. It is also an incredibly tall humanoid creature with pale skin, although its large eyes and small mouth set this monster apart. The Rake’s characteristic qualities are a mouth that opens on a hinge going all the way down to its neckline and a tendency to linger in suburban communities. More importantly, it will merely stare until threatened, at which point the Rake will attack and use the hundreds of dull teeth inside its gaping maw to consume you.
Authors will often claim that there used to be stories of this creature dating to the 12thcentury, but they have conveniently disappeared. Like Slenderman, the Rake has taken on a life of its own, with many variations and even a tumblr dedicated to this suburban creature.
Another popular Creepypasta figure is this mannequin-like creature that reportedly attacked a male physician in June of 1972. Arriving in Los Angeles, California’s Cedar Senai Hospital in a bloodied gown, the creature initially seemed to be an unstable woman wearing too much makeup. However, as the story goes, she crushed a kitten in her mouth after entering the hospital and splattered blood all over herself and her fellow patients. After collapsing, she was taken to a hospital room and cleaned up. Hospital staff began noticing odd qualities about her, including a lack of eyebrows, expressionless face, and generally strange flexibility. The Expressionless became violent when they attempted to sedate her, although she spotted and smiled at a male physician with her mouth of spike-like teeth. When asked what she was, the creature replied, “I…am…god” before ripping out the doctor’s throat and fleeing. According to the story, a surviving female doctor named her.
Ted the Caver
This early Internet meme started as a man named Ted’s caving journals in 2001. From his Angelfire page, he documented he and his friends’ exploration of a cave that they had found near his house. His extensive posts detailed their investigation of the cave, as well as their reflections after each trip. This included increasingly terrifying images of the caves and the odd clues that the friends’ found in those mysterious caverns. However, after three weeks during which all three friends suffered sleepless nights of nightmares and visual hallucinations during the day, they agreed to return one more time with weapons to resolve their ordeal. After describing their plans on May 19th, 2001, Ted never posted again – at least until he challenged Thomas Lera’s similar story “The Fear of Darkness” and admitted that he’d embellished his story for dramatic effect.
Jeff the Killer
This meme is a distinctly creepy one, albeit not for the intended reasons. Jeff was created in 2008 and cut from the same pattern as the Joker. In particular, his creepypasta tells that he was once a mild-mannered brother, lover, and friend who decided to clean his bathtub with a vat of acid. In moving it, he accidentally dipped his face in the acid, removing his nose, turning his skin white, and transforming himself into a murderer with a ghastly smile. Jeff commonly pops up with the phrase “go to sleep” in red, and his image has spawned stories, videogames, and entire fandoms.
However, there is more to him than meets the eye. Many meme-lovers believe that his image is actually an altered photograph of a young girl named Katy Robinson, who was tragically harassed by 4chan users in 2008 until she committed suicide. If there is truth behind this deduction, then the Internet – and the people who harassed Robinson to death – may just be haunted by one of its casualties.
This image of a dog with an eerily human grin is an early creepypasta, whose story warns that downloading this image will mean giving your soul to the pictured, demonic dog. Although the image’s origins are relatively unclear, the story that comes with the snapshot has followed it from the start. Supposedly, a college student was researching stories of people dying because of an image called Smile.dog when he came across a woman named Mary. She had seen the image on a Chicago-based board in the 1990s and experienced seizures, anxiety, and the desire to share the image ever since. Although the student had initially gotten Mary to agree to an interview, she went mad and took her own life. Of the several hundred others who have seen the image, only the author remains, and, by the end of the story, he shares the image in hopes of ridding his dreams of the demon dog.
Dunrobin Class of 1924
This image of an Australian school’s students is often used to unsettle fellow users. In particular, this meme’s story goes that people used to place dead students in class photos, much as they would in other professional contexts to help remember the deceased. They will then point to the girl in the top row on the far right, with her rigid posture and morose expression. Sometimes, the image of the same group of students from 1922 will be posted for comparison, as it shows the children involved smiling and cheerful. The only problem, of course, is that due to technological improvements, taking photographs of the dead was no longer common by the 20th century.
The Lavender Town Suicides
This meme appears as a video with the sinister soundtrack of a Lavender level in the 1996 Japanese version of Pokemon Red and Green. According to legend, the oddly high-pitched music caused a wave of suicides among children from 7 to 12 years of age. Only individuals with un-developed ears could hear the “lavender” tone that led to migraines, irritability, and suicidal tendencies. After hearing the music repeatedly, children would hang themselves or leap to their deaths. This phenomenon was labelled the Lavender Town Syndrome or Suicides, after the graveyard-oriented gameplay. Whether or not children ever killed themselves en masse for Pokemon may not matter, though, as Nintendo changed the music in the American and later editions of Red and Green.
Altogether, these stories show the vibrant storytelling community on the Internet and the potential for using memes to create new tales online. At the same time, you should always take these stories with a grain of salt – much like the chain letters and letters that preceded them. You can of course still enjoy these scary stories for what they are – creative and well-crafted tales to send tingles down your spine – hopefully without keeping you from getting sleep at night.
[Article originally appeared on www.theoccultmuseum.com, republished here with permission.]