The internet can be a scary place — but not all of those scary places are ones that we seek to avoid. A few exist that some of us — those of us who are into ghouls, ghosts, a long-legged beasts — actively seek out. They’ve given rise to some of the creepiest urban legends on the internet, and although it might seem counter-intuitive to seek out scary stories when there’s so much in the real world that’s legitimately frightening all on its own, I think there’s something to be said for experiencing fear in a controlled environment. The monsters we face in fictional situations are often ones we can actually vanquish — which I think helps when considering some of the real-life things that feel too challenging to beat.
Urban legends themselves — you know, classics like “The Hook,” “The Man and the Babysitter Upstairs,” “People Can Lick, Too,” and so on and so forth — are considered to be the modern leg of folklore… which means that although the stories may be relatively recent, their ilk is not. Folklore stretches back throughout history and throughout cultures, leading us eventually to urban legends — what Folklore Thursday describes as “the folk narratives of life in modern society: lurid, humorous, or cautionary tales told to us by trusted sources, which we often accept as true, even if the contents of these stories are just barely on this side of believable.”
And given the broad definition of “folk” as it pertains to folklore, it’s only to be expected that urban legends would begin to evolve over time — and to evolve alongside the development of new methods of communication. As The Geek Anthropoligist notes, Alan Dundes, who is generally regarded as the father of modern folklore, defined “folk as “any group of people whatsoever who share at least one common factor.” The internet, in turn, has given rise to what Simon Bronner called “the folk universe of cyberspace” — and from there, we get creepypasta, collaborative mythologies, and everything else that makes up the weird, wonderful world of internet urban legends.
The nine legends collected here are just scratching the surface of everything there is to explore — but maybe they’ll give you a place to start. Because, I mean, let’s face it: You weren’t planning on sleeping tonight anyway, right?
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Eight Feet Tall
Eight Feet Tall has a similar MO to Slenderman — unnaturally tall and thin, she likes to prey on children — but although she looks an awful lot like she comes from Japanese folklore, she’s actually a creation of 2chan. Her earliest appearance dates back to August of 2008; the version seen there is often translated or adapted, leading to things likethe entry about her on the website Scary for Kids. She also goes by the names “Hachishakusama” or “Hasshaku-sama.” Of note: A“shaku” is a Japanese unit of measure equal to just shy of a foot, while“hachi” is the number eight in Sino-Japanese vocabulary.
Even though she’s quite a recent creation, Eight Feet Tall’s infamy has already spread far and wide: She’s one of the ghosts in the fifth title of the Fatal Frame video game series.
The Black-Eyed Children
If you Google “black-eyed children,” “black-eyed kids,” or even just “BEK,” you’ll pull up pages and pages of accounts of alleged run-ins people have had with these terrifying creatures — but although a huge number of people will swear up, down, left, and right that they’re real, they’re mostly an urban legend born of the internet.
The first account of the black-eyed children was posted to an online newsgroup in 1998 by journalist Brian Bethel (post archived here). Bethel’s post recounted a story in which he was approached in his car by two boys between the ages of 10 and 14. The boys asked for a ride to their mother’s house; they wanted to go see a movie, but said they had left their money at home. As the encounter went on, Bethel noticed that the boys’ eyes were “coal black” — and when the older boy insisted, “WE CAN’T COME IN [THE CAR] UNLESS YOU TELL US IT’S OK,” Bethel decided to GTFO.
Of course, complicating matters is the fact that Bethel swears he didn’t make the story up.
The Elevator Game
One of my favorite genres of spooky online lore is what’s often referred to as “ritual pasta.” They don’t necessarily have a plot; instead, they’re presented as a set of instructions. They’re games, you see — games like the kinds you used to play at sleepovers when you were a kid. They’re just a lot more intense than the ones you probably remember.
The Elevator Game is one such game; in fact, I’d argue that it’s probably the most notorious of modern day ritual pastas. It involves entering an elevator alone in a building of at least 10 stories, then pushing the buttons in a certain order. The “goal,” insofar as there is one, is to transport yourself to another world — a sort of mirror universe or alternate dimension, if you will.
Getting back can be tricky, though. And if a woman enters the elevator at the fifth floor while you’re in the middle of either the journey out or the return trip, do not look at her. Ever.
It’s an eerie little legend — and as far as I’ve been able to tell, it originates on a South Korean web hub called Naver. Voila: Life begins on the internet.
OK, to be fair, I don’t really know that Petscop has been around long enough to have achieved urban legend status. But I think it’s well on its way; an incredibly well-executed piece of digital storytelling, it’s already got a reputation for being the best video game creepypasta since "BEN DROWNED."
Formatted as a series of “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube, Petscop follows a guy named Paul as he explores an allegedly unfinished Playstation game he stumbled upon. (How Paul found the game hasn’t been explained.) The game, called Petscop, looks at first like the sort of thing that might appeal to Pokemon fans; the goal is to wander around a place called the “Gift Plane” and collect pets. It quickly turns quite dark, though, as Paul uncovers layer after hidden layer, leading many to suspect that we’re dealing with a haunted game.
The whole thing is masterfully done — and, honestly, it really makes me wish Petscop actually existed. Start with the video embedded here, then work through the rest of them chronologically here.
The Blind Maiden Website
If you go to the URL www.blindmaiden.com, most of the time, you’ll just encounter an unclaimed, unoccupied domain. If, however, you visit the website under a specific set of conditions — at midnight precisely, during a new moon or on a Thursday depending on which version of the tale you’re following, when you are alone in your house with every source of light besides your computer turned off — it’s said that you’ll encounter something… different. Something terrible. Something often referred to as “the ultimate horror.”
If you manage to successfully access the site, you mightreceive the following message:
This website will take you to a whole new level of horror. A horror that will use all five of your senses. You must be very careful not to click on anything by accident. You will be faced with a real experience of absolute horror. Click the accept button to engage actively in the experience.
If you click the accept button, you might see something inyour monitor. It might be a figure; maybe it belongs to a woman. She might begin to walk closer. There’s no escaping her; she will eventually arrive. She’s after your eyes. And if you’re a thrill seeker, then your last moments will be the most thrilling of your life.
The Blind Maiden is at least six years old; I’ve been able to date it back to 2011, although of course it’s possible that it’s older than that. It seems to hail from Spain — and to me, it looks kind of like an update of Bloody Mary for the digital age. Maybe that’s just me, though. In any event, though, it’s just a legend, no matter how many folks insist it’s real.
(...Or is it...?)
Remember the first season of Channel Zero? Despite what many may have thought, Candle Cove — the malevolent children’s television show the season’s story centered around — wasn’t actually a real show; it was originally a particularly well-written creepypasta from the early days of the “lost episodes” genre.
Written by Kris Straub, the original “Candle Cove” story was particularly effective in its format. Designed to look like a series of posts on a web forum, it revolved around a bunch of strangers on the internet coming together to recall the details of a show they all remembered watching as kids — only to end up with the freakiest kicker ever right at the very end. It’s old at this point, too; it dates back to around 2009, according to Know Your Meme. But it’s just as freaky now as it was eight years ago, proving just how persistent a good urban legend can be.
There’s a particular subgenre of creepypasta that’s hell-bent on destroying everything you love about video games — and Polybius is the granddaddy of everything included in that subgenre. It first appeared on the internet around 1998, when video game database Coin Op uploaded a page about the mythical game... and the story has been circulating ever since.
The tale describes a cabinet that appeared in a small group of arcades in Portland, Ore. in 1981 that looked kind of like a game called Tempest… except that it really, really wasn’t Tempest. Players of Polybius reported everything from nausea to nightmares, with many who played it later suffering terrible fates. Weirdest of all were the alleged reports of men in black suits coming to the arcades where Polybius was located and downloading the data from the cabinets. Then, the cabinets all vanished, never to be seen again.
Polybius in its original form never existed, of course; it’s one heck of a story, though — so much so that many fans have created ROMS alleging to be the mysterious game over the years. One developer even made a VR version which looks like it’s an absolute trip.
For what it’s worth, though, the story might be at least somewhat rooted in truth: According to Skeptoid, at least two people in Portland, Ore. got sick from playing video games in 1981. Spooky.
The SCP Foundation
Somewhere, deep in the… well, somewhere (the information is redacted), there’s a shadowy government facility. It houses a shadowy government agency whose main goals are curiously stated right there in its name: To secure, contain, and protect the world from a seemingly endless array of “artifacts” which might do everything from cause a mild headache to destroy the world if they got out. The agency is called the SCP Foundation. Its artifacts, too, are called SCPs. Some are innocuous, like a toaster that must always be referred to in the first person. Some are... not innocuous, like this staircase that goes on forever and houses something you don’t want to be stuck alone with in the dark.
None of this actually exists, of course — although perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it originated from a very specific place on the internet: 4chan. (I know, I know — things of an untroll-like nature can emerge from 4chan? Surely not!) According to the Daily Dot, the very first SCP —what’s now known as SCP-173, a horrifying statue that functions similarly to the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who — was first posted to the /x/ paranormal board in 2007 — and now, a mind-blowing 10 years later, it’s an internet-wide fiction project full of all sorts of strange and unusual goodness.