I had lived my life happily until early this week having never heard the name Slender Man.
But I found myself drawn to this fictional character as I searched for the reason why two 12-year-old girls would stab their 12-year-old friend 19 times in an effort to please this horror story villain.
News of the vicious attack hit the mass media like a firestorm this week, raging on every 24-hour television station and screaming from 40 point headlines online that read "Two Wisconsin girls stab friend, hoping to curry favor with 'Slender Man.'"
"Who?" I thought.
From what I could gather, Slender Man is a fictional character that pops up in online horror websites. He wears a dark suit, has unusually long arms and legs and no face. He also has tentacles protruding from his back and induces feelings of paranoia when people are in close proximity to him. His victims in these horror stories are often children.
Slender Man, it appears, is a sort of new-age folklore, a myth that is incorporated into stories and films online, the latest version of the age-old boogeyman.
But as I continued to read the developing news stories about these girls from Wisconsin and learned of the months they spent planning their brutal attack, how they schemed to stab their friend then run off to the Nicolet National Forest to be with Slender Man - who is said to reside in those woods - I became more and more intrigued with the myth.
I began to understand why Slender Man became so ubiquitous in online horror fiction so quickly.
It's because he's malleable, able to shift and change, morphing into whatever horrifies us the most. And following last week's stabbing, Slender Man became a modern-day Frankenstein's monster, a fictional creation who forces society to realize something horrific about itself: that we create our own monsters.
But added on to this old tale of societal shortcomings are the as-yet uncharted waters of the Internet age.
Slender Man is not just the boogeyman who goes bump in the night. He is the loss of a sense of reality online. He is the blurred line between fiction and truth. He is a symbol of what happens when we forget about moral fortitude once our fingertips hit the keyboard, and a warning on just how easy it really is to toss morality aside in a faceless world where we "post" instead of talk, where we "comment" instead of engage in meaningful dialogue. And how easy it is to fall into that hole in real life.
He's teaching us that the Internet is not just a tool to help us live our lives better - just look at the comments section of any news website. It's a place where we can expose our darkest desires and thoughts without the societal repercussions that come with saying to a real person that you hate all people of a certain race, that you'd like to "teach a lesson" to a female blogger writing about her distaste for catcalling, or that you are planning to stab your friend to death.
Slender Man is a fable, showcasing the terrible truth of our online behavior with his most notable characteristic - the fact that he has no face.
Case in point? Take a look at what was posted on the @OfficSlenderMan Twitter feed after another user tweeted a link to a news story about the two girls from Wisconsin and the terrible thing they did.
"You are of no use to me if it takes 19+ stab wounds and your victim STILL survives.. useless children."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Chocolay Township resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.