Okay… I’ve been pondering this all day.

Let me preface this by saying that I am an extremely sceptical person. I do not believe in God, I do not believe in fairies, I don’t believe in magic and I think stories about “alien abductions” or conspiracy theories are irritating beyond belief because so many people waste their time believing them. My job requires me to think of cases in terms of proof – I am a biologist, and unfortunately I get confronted with all sorts of kooky theories more than I’d like. But I’ve never been able to get a grip on the following story, which has haunted me for years. I’m still not sure what it is, and I never had a name for it until I came across oblique references to the “Slender Man” from a friend who’s interested in cryptozoology (and who forwards me this kind of stuff just to annoy me).

As a kid, I used to live in a rural area that only really got urbanized in the early ‘90s. Apart from the village’s main road and a few smaller roads, the east of the village was a dense, murky forest and the west of the village was bordered by the Scheldt river. Since the Scheldt had been more or less straightened out by engineers a long time before I was born, a lot of its former anabranches had been cut off and had become marshes. Further uphill from the marshes were a number of farms, extensive wheat fields, grassy plains and an abandoned brickyard.

We used to live in one of the oldest houses in the village, so creaky floors, cracks in the walls that produced strangely melodious sounds when it was storming, or generally strange movements and sounds outside the house at night were pretty common, and I was used to them even as a toddler. I slept in a particularly noisy bedroom with a very high ceiling, a very tall door and a large window. One of my only memories of this room is quite a terrifying one. When I was about five years old, I awoke in the middle of the night because my window had been blown open by a strong gust of wind. Now, I probably would’ve gone back to sleep because I was used to the sound and the feeling of the chilly autumn wind, but this time I heard and felt nothing. A very strong sensation of terror gripped me, and I wanted to scream for my parents, but found that I couldn’t speak a word, nor make any sort of movement. At that moment, the door to my bedroom opened with a very loud bang, and in the opening, lit in the back by the dimmed lights from the hallway, stood a vaguely human figure so tall that it easily filled up the available space. The figure looked impossibly slim, and its legs seemed to fade away near the ground, while its arms were flung wide and far. Although I couldn’t discern any sort of feature, I got the dizzying sensation that it was looking at me. Then, I heard its voice, which didn’t seem to emanate from its mouth, nor did it feel like it was directly speaking in my mind – rather, its voice came from all over the room simultaneously, surrounding me. Its sound was very deep and disjointed, as if someone was speaking through a metal tube. The creature thundered the word “Jozef” at me. Jozef used to be a fairly common Dutch name. When the creature then started shrieking at me, I somehow regained control of my voice, closed my eyes and screeched at the top of my lungs. I only opened my eyes again when I heard my parents dashing up the stairs. The creature was gone.

As I came of age, I dismissed this experience as an extremely vivid nightmare, possibly even a hallucination, since I became very ill the next day, and according to my mother, I had an abnormally high fever. The only thing that haunted me about the story, which I couldn’t erase from my mind, was that when my parents were running up the stairs, my door was still wide open, while I knew that it had been shut when I fell asleep.

I nearly forgot about this ordeal until I was about 20 and started inquiring about my family history. I was asking my mother a few questions, purely out of curiosity. This mainly had to do with the peculiar fact that a lot of her male ancestors died at a very young age – she was a baby when her father had died due to stomach cancer, she was a toddler when her uncle died in a car crash, and she’d never known her mother’s father because he’d died in 1947. My great-grandfather’s brother died young as well, in a freak accident while watching a lightning storm from the window of his bedroom – he was struck by lightning and killed on the spot. Another one of her great-uncles drowned in the Scheldt after losing a wager to see who could swim fastest after lunch. Nearly all of them were local villagers and farmers.

Now, as I was asking about my great-grandfather, whose fate piqued my interest, my mother became very dismissive, and told me I wouldn’t want to know the story behind his untimely death, since “it was an ugly mess”. Obviously, her attempts to not speak about it only increased my interest, if only because I had in fact known my great-grandmother for a short period, and she, too had refused to talk about her deceased husband. So eventually, my mother told me the story.

In 1940, Belgium was occupied by Nazi Germany. Because my future great-grandmother, whose name was Agnes, and her husband had a big grocery store on a transit road between two villages, their house was chosen by the Germans as a makeshift garrison. My family hated it. They spoke only very little German, and the soldiers made no effort to learn any Dutch. They treated my family as if they were mentally incapacitated yokels, and ate all of their food. There was one exception, however – a young soldier named Peter, who was actually interested in the village and frequently asked for directions to the best walking routes through the nearby forests and marshes. Grudgingly, my great-grandfather accompanied him, but over the next months, they hesitantly developed some sort of friendship, because it turned out that Peter not only was an adamant trekker who loved being outdoors, he was also an amateur photographer, just like my great-grandfather.

In the late Summer of 1942, something terrible happened. One evening, my great-grandfather and Peter were exploring the marshes and taking a few pictures. A few hours later, well past midnight, my great-grandfather came home, looking like an utter maniac, wide-eyed and sweaty, shaking and unable to utter a coherent word. The other Germans in the house were very alarmed, and while two of them guarded my great-grandfather, the rest went to look for Peter. From what my mother told me (and she heard the story from her own mother, who was about 9 years old at that time), the Germans came back in the early morning with some of Peter’s equipment, visibly shaking and completely silent. The next day, they took my great-grandfather, who was still dazed and alternated between screaming fits and apathy, with them and relocated to another house. My great-grandfather was sent to a German factory where lots of young Belgians were forcibly sent, because he was blamed for Peter’s death*, even though the local commander admitted to Agnes that they knew he hadn’t killed him. The commander hoped that my great-grandfather would “straighten out” again under the heavy routine of the labour there. He was wrong.

In 1946, one year after the war had ended, my great-grandfather came back home. He had obviously been treated very badly at the factory. He was completely emaciated, had a bunch of nasty scars and was deathly exhausted. The worst thing was, he was now completely apathetic to anything. He mostly didn’t eat and slept a lot, stared off into space or went on strange long walks without explaining where he had gone. The day before he died, he destroyed nearly all of his old stuff, and ripped out all pictures of all albums he had collected – he only kept one picture, which he paraded around the house like a lunatic, constantly pointing at it: “It’s him! It’s him!” he kept repeating, until he collapsed on the living room floor and drifted off into a coma. The next day, he died.

My great-grandmother wanted to burn that last picture, but my future grandmother managed to salvage it, and later kept it in her attic. Last year, after she had died, I quietly searched her house for the picture… and I found it. I wish I never had. The horror of my encounter with the terrifying creature, the “Slender Man” as you all call him, came back in full force. You can call me stupid for only making the connection at that moment, but my great-grandfather’s name was Jozef.

I apologize for the bad quality of the picture, but it was pretty wasted when I found it, and my scanner is a piece of junk. I have a higher-resolution image available on request.


* In my village’s official history, Peter’s death was described as an accident. The official explanation was that he had sunk into a pile of gravel while on watchout, and suffocated. This is ostensibly untrue, because there was no need for watchouts in my village in 1942, and no soldier in their right mind would think of a pile of gravel as a good lookout spot.

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