He lurks in the background of gritty black-and-white photos — a gaunt, too-tall figure with skeletal limbs. Some say he lives in the woods and eats children, a kind of demon descended from eastern European myth. Some say he stalks human prey indiscriminately, wherever he can find it: in basements, outside half-open windows, along lonely streets late at night when only occasional headlights cut across the road.
Some say he has no face. Others, that his face looks different to everyone who sees it. But whatever they say, everyone generally agrees on one point: that Slender Man, perhaps the Internet’s best and scariest legend, is indeed a legend — an invented character who can be traced back, quite linearly, to an obscure forum where in 2009 users Photoshopped old pictures and improvised a back story for their creations.
Tragically — and chillingly — two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin, seem to have missed all of that. On Saturday, according to local news reports, the girls lured a friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in some kind of tribute to Slender Man. The girl they stabbed is hospitalized in stable condition. The perpetrators will be tried as adults.
‘‘Many people do not believe Slender Man is real,’’ one of the girls said, according to the criminal complaint. ‘‘[We] wanted to prove the skeptics wrong.’’
But as dozens of forum posts, newspaper articles and a handful of academic papers show, there’s nothing to prove. Slender Man is a fascinating case study in the creation and codification of Internet myth. And at the end of the day, that’s all it is: a myth.
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