Slenderman by Kathleen Hale: Featured Excerpt

Kathleen Hale's Slenderman is the first full account of the Slenderman stabbing, a true crime narrative of mental illness, the American judicial system, the trials of adolescence, and the power of the internet. Slenderman is available now from Grove Press—start reading an excerpt below.

The party kicked off at Skateland, where the neon marquee regularly malfunctioned, so that it read SKAT or ATE. The roller rink sat at the eastern edge of Waukesha, Wisconsin, a city of 70,000 people, with an average income of $70,000, and a murder rate of about one person per year. 

In Skateland’s carpeted lobby, an employee greeted 12-year-old Morgan Geyser, her father, Matt Geyser, and Morgan’s friends Bella and Anissa, through a hole in the Plexiglas. For a few dollars more than the usual entry fee, Skateland offered party packages that included ice cream, a song dedication, and balloons. But birthday upgrades required a minimum of eight skaters, and Morgan did not have enough friends to qualify. 

Inside, kids skated between banquet-sized picnic tables, tripping over each other in their haste to patronize the flashing arcade games. At the rental counter, Morgan, Anissa, and Bella were offered a choice between rollerblades (preferred by boys because they looked like hockey skates) and classic blond leather lace-ups with a toe stop and orange wheels (feminine throwbacks to a time when poodle skirts were big). The three girls opted for the latter and hobbled to the rink giggling, while Matt watched from one of the picnic tables, where other people’s balloons swayed between half-demolished cakes. 

When the girls were finished skating, Matt drove them back to the Geysers’ condo, where Morgan opened her birthday presents: a Star Trek mug from Anissa, and a stuffed banana, a Nerf gun, and gummy bear–print duct tape from Bella. The girls crowded in front of the Geyser family’s Dell computer to play The Sims, a video game that allowed users to create characters, put them in houses, and make them interact, like a virtual dollhouse. Morgan made a Sims family with lots of cats, a character named Bitch the Clown, and a businessman, whose name would be forgotten. When Morgan decided it was time for bed, the three girls headed upstairs and squeezed into Morgan’s twin-sized loft bed, snacking on cheese puffs that Morgan’s mom, Angie, would later find scattered in the sheets. They played on their devices in the dark. Anissa punched in the password on her iPad: ALEXANDRITE, an allusion to her middle name, Alexandria, and the name of a purple gemstone thought to bring luck, love, and self-esteem. Morgan’s gerbil and guinea pigs, Tulip, Thor, and Loki, rustled in their cages below. When Bella got tired, she lay down with her stuffed animal cat. 

Bella and Anissa fell asleep quickly, stretched out head-to-foot. But Morgan stayed alert, gripped by insomnia, a symptom of her mounting psychosis, which had yet to be diagnosed. Feeling restless, she climbed down the ladder and burrowed deep into the pile of blankets waiting for her on the carpet. 

Since discovering Slenderman, a fourteen-foot tall, multi-tentacled demon, Morgan had slept this way: in a makeshift fort underneath her bed. Lying close to her guinea pigs felt safer at night. Seven months earlier, Anissa had introduced Morgan to horror stories on Creepypasta.com, a site where amateur writers could trade fan fiction about Slenderman and other crowd-sourced murderers and monsters. 

Like every character on Creepypasta, Slenderman was born online. He first emerged from a 2009 “paranormal pictures” photoshop contest, held on a message board for horror enthusiasts. The two winning pictures showed a handful of children innocently going about their days, oblivious to the tall, thin, faceless man stalking them from a distance. The first pictures of Slenderman inspired more photoshopped pictures. Soon, there were Slenderman horror stories, fan art, and “sightings” of him on YouTube. He was cast as a modern-day Pied Piper, luring children to their deaths, or hypnotizing them to kill at his will. 

When Morgan came across Slenderman on Creepypasta.com, she recognized him immediately. Slenderman eerily resembled one of Morgan’s scariest childhood hallucinations: a shadowy, lanky figure that loomed behind her whenever she looked into the bathroom mirror. Though the figure had eventually gone away, Morgan dreaded its return. The adults in her life dismissed her stories. But when Morgan told Anissa that Slenderman had once stalked her as a child, Anissa believed her. Together they decided that Slenderman now wanted to kill Morgan and Anissa and their families. During bus rides to and from school, they came up with a plan: to survive Slenderman’s wrath, they would kill in his name, just like people sometimes did in Slenderman stories. 

Both girls would later give very different accounts of what happened next, each blaming the other for choosing their specific target. But here is what is known: together they decided that their victim needed someone Morgan loved.

Morgan didn’t love that many people, other than her parents, and Bella, with whom Morgan had been best friends since fourth grade. Anissa was a newer friend. By the time they decided to kill Bella as a blood sacrifice to Slenderman, she and Morgan had known each other for less than a year. They decided to carry out what they referred to as “the deed” at Morgan’s slumber party. 

Bella’s gift of gummy bear Duct Tape was a stroke of luck. Anissa’s plan had been to Duct Tape Bella’s mouth shut and stab her in the neck until she died. The problem was: Anissa had forgotten to bring Duct Tape, an oversight that no longer mattered, since Bella had provided the Duct Tape herself.  

~

At Anissa’s behest, Morgan set an alarm on her Kindle. At 2AM, after they planned to kill Bella and escape to Slenderman’s mansion. Morgan and Anissa had decided that Slenderman resided in the Nicolet National Forest, 300 miles north of Morgan’s house. They planned to walk there.

At 1:30 A.M., thirty minutes before Morgan’s alarm was set to ring, Anissa woke in the dark. As far as Anissa was concerned, it was time to stab Bella and start their walk to “Slender Mansion.” But the hike would require great stamina—something Anissa, who later described herself to the police as “not very athletic,” lacked even under the best of circumstances. So Morgan urged Anissa to go back to bed and get some more rest, promising to wake her at the agreed-upon time. 

As Bella and Anissa slept, Morgan plugged her headphones into the Kindle and scrolled through her music library. Her favorite band, Owl City, sang a song about lying awake and missing someone you loved. By then Morgan had resigned herself to killing Bella in “whichever way would be the most logical.” (“If there’s any logic in killing people,” she later mused, “which I don’t think there is, actually.”) But as Morgan lay awake ,anticipating “the deed,” she likely anticipated missing Bella, too; once they moved in with Slenderman, Morgan and Anissa could never come back. Morgan and Bella would never have sleepovers again. 

Sometime before the alarm was set to ring, Morgan decided not to wake Anissa as planned. She wanted to give Bella one more morning. 

As Morgan later told police: “I wanted to see if I could put it off forever.”

~

When Morgan finally woke Anissa at 5:30 A.M., Anissa was angry at Morgan for letting her sleep in, and gestured impatiently at Bella’s sleeping form.

“Why don’t we do it now?” she demanded.

But just as quickly, Anissa had another idea: she and Morgan should go downstairs and take quizzes on Quotev.com. Quotev was one of their favorite sites. It had quizzes like “Are You Really Best Friends?” and “Does My Best Friend Like Me?” and “Is Your Best Friend a Good Friend?” 

After Morgan and Anissa bounded downstairs to take quizzes, Bella woke to find herself alone. When she discovered Morgan and Anissa pressed together like best friends in front of the computer, she became unhappy. Bella wasn’t having any fun and considered going home. So Anissa tried to include her in the game. She told Bella she had a special question for her, which Anissa pretended to read from Quotev.

“What would you do if someone were to come up to you and stab you?”

“I’d probably scream,” Bella said.

~

At breakfast, Morgan’s mom, Angie, set out strawberries and homemade doughnuts. After eating, Morgan, Anissa, and Bella played dress-up. Bella wore a pink princess costume. Anissa wore a mishmash of clothing and called herself a “prosti-troll” (half prostitute, half troll). Morgan dressed as the character Data from Star Trek, a sentient android who likes cats.

When Bella disappeared into the bathroom to change back into her normal clothes, Anissa turned to Morgan and said, “We should do it today, at the park.”

“Okay,” Morgan said.

When it was Morgan’s turn to change, she wanted privacy, but Anissa followed her into the bathroom, so Morgan undressed in the shower. She cast aside the Data costume and put on jeans and an Owl City concert T-shirt, as well as long, fingerless black lace gloves, which her aunt had given to her as a present. At 9:30 A.M., Morgan took a knife with a six-inch blade from a drawer in the kitchen. Anissa would later describe it as the sort of knife used for cutting carrots. Morgan asked her parents if she and Anissa and Bella could go to the park. 

Matt and Angie had let Morgan walk to the park only one or two times before. But they felt her birthday marked a special occasion. Besides, everyone knows that girls are safer in a group.

Before leaving, Morgan shrugged on a winter coat and the getaway bag. She hugged and kissed her mom goodbye.

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you, too,” Angie said.

She would not touch her daughter again for five months.

~

A paved path led from Sunset Homes to an elm tree shading the sidewalk on East Garfield Avenue. Just across the road sat David’s Park, five idyllic acres of flat green land, interrupted in places by trees, playground equipment, and a sandy baseball diamond. It was 75 degrees outside, but like Morgan, Anissa was dressed for the cold; anticipating what she called “gross” or “marshy” terrain in the Nicolet National Forest, she’d worn the closest thing she owned to hiking shoes: insulated snow boots. As they walked to David’s Park, Morgan and Anissa would have felt sweaty and uncomfortable. Bella asked Morgan why she had brought along a big bag. Morgan told Bella that the bag was full of snacks “in case we get hungry,” which was sort of true: to survive in the wild forever, Morgan and Anissa had packed seven M&M’s-flavored Kudos bars and a box of peanut butter cereal bars. But when Bella wasn’t looking, Morgan opened her coat and flashed the knife at Anissa.

“Dear God, it’s really happening,” Anissa thought.

Anissa had decided to kill Bella in the park’s public restroom. (As she would explain to the police, “There was a drain for the blood to go down.”) After stabbing Bella, Anissa planned to prop Bella’s body so that it was sitting on the toilet. She and Morgan would lock the bathroom stall door from the inside and crawl out from under the stall. Anissa thought nobody would notice Bella was dead for a long time, because it would look like she was peeing, and the toilet would catch most of the blood. This would give them a head start to Slender Mansion. 

But first, according to police reports, Morgan, Anissa, and Bella spent some time climbing the playground equipment “like normal kids.”

After a while, Morgan and Anissa decided it was time. So Anissa told Morgan to go sing, and Morgan disappeared into the public restroom, where she paced the stalls, singing Owl City songs. When Morgan felt finished with singing, she called for Anissa and Bella to join her in the bathroom. She claimed she had something to show them—“some vandalism” inside one of the toilet bowls. Bella did not believe Morgan about the vandalism. But part of her wanted to see if it was true. So she followed Anissa inside, Morgan led them into one of the bathroom stalls, locking the door behind her.

“It wasn’t really true about the vandalism,” Morgan announced. 

She started lecturing Bella about Slenderman. She instructed Bella to sit on the floor in the corner of the stall. 

But just because it was Morgan’s birthday didn’t mean Bella had to do exactly what Morgan said. So Bella sat on the floor, but not in the corner. 

As soon as Bella’s butt touched the floor, Morgan crouched behind her and pulled Bella’s arms behind her back. But when Anissa did not immediately stab Bella, Morgan dropped Bella’s arms.

“I need to talk to you in the next stall,” Morgan sait to Anissa. “Alone.”

As Morgan and Anissa disappeared into another stall without her, Bella thought she heard Morgan whispering to Anissa, “I thought we agreed you would do this.” When they returned to Bella’s stall, Bella felt Anissa tug her hands behind her back, just as Morgan had done. Bella’s eyes darted to Morgan, who was staring at her strangely. 

Anissa instructed Bella, “Shut your eyes, go to sleep.”

“No,” Bella said. She did not understand this game. “I’m not tired. I can’t do that.”

Thwarted again, Morgan crossed to the sinks and called Anissa over to where she was standing, leaving Bella sitting alone and confused with her back to the wall.

“I can’t do this,” Morgan whispered to Anissa. “You have to do it, I’m too scared.”

Anissa hugged her.

(“She stabbed apples,” Anissa later told the police, “but she never actually cut a flesh wound into somebody.”)

When Anissa would not agree to stab Bella, Morgan asked, “Can you try to knock her out?” 

“I can try.”

As the girls returned to Bella’s stall, Bella noticed funny looks on their faces, like maybe they’d just planned a prank. She was starting to feel angry again when Anissa hit ger in the forehead—but it was a weak punch, more of a slow push, and Bella remained conscious, albeit angry.

“Excuse you!” she snapped.

“Sorry. I got bored and I needed something to do,” Anissa said, “plus my hands got really finicky.”

As far as Bella was concerned, it was a tired excuse. At school, Anissa was always punching people and blaming it on feeling bored or hungry. 

Bella wanted to call her mother. She told Morgan she was going to leave the bathroom.

“Just go out on the playground and just play,” Morgan said dismissively.

Bella did.

Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Anissa and Morgan huddled together, planning their next move. Morgan decided the concrete bathroom had too much of an echo to muffle Bella’s screams and suggested they take a walk. Anissa agreed, and the two reemerged from the bathroom to find Bella obediently playing by herself. When Morgan and Anissa told her that they wanted to go for a walk on Big Bend Road, Bella led the way without a fuss. Morgan and Anissa lagged behind, conferencing in hushed tones about what to do next. In the distance, a sign with a big red X marked the dead end on Big Bend Road. Behind it was a wooded area. 

Anissa pointed out the forest, still whispering to Morgan. “We can take her in there and do the deed.” Anissa reminded Morgan that they needed to be discreet and “should do it there, quietly.” Then, in a louder voice so that Bella could hear, Anissa said, “We should play hide-and-seek.”

The new and final plan, at that point, was to lure Bella into the woods, set her loose, and hunt her down—“like lionesses,” Anissa, the wild animal lover, said. “Like lionesses chasing down a zebra.”

When Bella didn’t respond to Anissa’s hide-and-seek suggestion, Morgan caught up to Bella and asked if she wanted to go bird-watching in the woods. 

“We can document some birds,” Morgan offered.

But Bella was not in a good mood. 

“Whatever.”

“Everybody loves hide-and-seek,” Morgan promised.

“No, I don’t want to play.”

“We can do what you want to do next.”

Bella believed in fairness. The compromise suited her. 

“Okay.”

~

The woods along Big Bend Road were overgrown and contained no trails. To follow Morgan and Anissa inside, Bella would have had to lift her legs over prickly thickets and brambles, pushing aside branches that thwacked together in her wake. Under the shade of overhanging boughs, Bella turned to her best friend, ready to play.

“People that trust you,” Morgan later said, “are very gullible.”

According to police records, Morgan, Anissa, and Bella played one game of hide-and-seek “the normal way.” But when Morgan left to count again, Anissa led Bella through the trees into a small clearing, which she later described to police as having “one really big rock, and four medium rocks, covered in moss.”

Hoping to make it easier for Morgan to stab Bella, Anissa instructed Bella to lie on her back in the dirt “stomach up.” (“So that I could sit on her chest,” she later clarified, “so that I could pin her down and get it done and over with, and then we could leave.”)

“I’m not lying in dirt,” Bella protested. “It’s all squishy and there are twigs and sharp rocks everywhere.” Bella could be very understanding about many things, but she drew the line at getting dirty. Her yellow capri pants looked better when they were clean. She started to

pick flowers instead.

Frustrated by Bella’s disobedience, Anissa shoved Bella to the ground and sat on her.

“Ow! I can’t breathe!” Bella yelled. When Anissa wouldn’t move, Bella screamed, “Ow ow ow ow ow!” until Anissa got up.

Anissa hated screaming. She would later tell the police, “It’s the one thing I can’t handle.”

When Anissa spotted Morgan watching them from across the clearing, she complained to Morgan that Bella wasn’t lying down. 

Anyone who studied Slenderman knew that toying with his patience was a dangerous game. It would have been easy to picture him sitting in his mansion, drumming his long, bone-white fingers on a counter, waiting for news of Bella’s demise.

Morgan’s gaze shifted to Bella, who’d gone back to picking flowers. For months, Morgan had been drawing pictures of herself with whiskers and cat ears, holding a knife that dripped blood. Anissa called Morgan “Kitty.” Morgan had even created her own “killer catchphrase.”

Don’t worry, I’m just a little kitty cat.

But now, Morgan wasn’t so sure she could go through with it. 

Noticing that Morgan looked freaked-out, Anissa hugged her again.

“I can’t do it,” Morgan whispered. “You know where all the soft spots are.”

Anissa did know where the soft spots were. She had watched Doomsday Preppers on YouTube. According to the videos, something as simple as a lollipop stick, or “sucker,” could do serious damage if you aimed for the stomach or the neck. (“A sucker being an actual lollipop, not, like, code words or anything,” Anissa later clarified.)

But Anissa wanted Morgan to stab Bella. 

“You have to do it,” Anissa whispered. “Go ballistic.”

“When?”

Anissa seemed exasperated. 

“Whenever you want!”

“I’m doing it when you want me to.”

“Go ballistic,” Anissa insisted.

“Okay, I’ll go ballistic. When you say you want me to.”

“I don’t care when you do it!”

Whatever.”

Anissa did not like Morgan’s sullen tone. 

“Screw it,” she thought. “I’m scared, I want to go home and act like this never happened.” 

Anissa walked away from Morgan, and for a moment it seemed like nothing else would happen. 

But then Anissa turned back around, and said: “Kitty, now.”

 

Copyright © 2022 by Kathleen Hale. All rights reserved.

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