Have you read Dear David lately?
In 2017, comic artist and former Buzzfeeder Adam Ellis began a viral horror story that introduced thousands of readers to the narrative potential of Twitter. That's not to say that Twitter fiction is anything new; since 2012, published authors and poets have embraced the concision and unique form of a Tweet to challenge themselves to create poetic and interactive pieces of literature in 280-character (originally 140-character) increments.
But within the horror genre, Twitter's interactive abilities—with readers contributing to the story's thread with suggestions, guesses, or poll responses—create a new type of fiction experience. Sometimes called Twitterature, at other times Twitter terror, what began with the Dear David story about a child ghost terrorizing a man's life has inspired other well-crafted, multimedia, meta, and microblogged tales of mysterious environmental disasters, the inherent creepiness of log cabins, and strange happenings in darkened woods.
If you haven't been reading creepy Twitter fiction, here's a short reading list to disturb your sleep:
If for some reason you're unfamiliar with Ellis' thread (turned movie deal), the story is beautifully simple: A young man has a dream warning him that the spirit of a dead child is disturbed by his presence. He's told that he can stay safe if he abides by a few rules: David only appears to people at midnight; you may speak to him as long as you begin by addressing him as “Dear David"; you may ask no more than two questions. If you ever ask him more than two questions, then David will haunt you until he finally takes your life.
Why do we love the Dear David mythos? Amidst Adam's candid photos, video clips, and audio recordings, the story has all the familiar tropes. Midnight, known in folklore as “the witching hour," has long been associated with the devil and the time when the barrier between realms is the thinnest. The notion has been around since the 1700s, originally described in Shakespeare's Hamlet as a moment suspended from reality, caught between day and night, yesterday and the present; Hamlet stalks around warning, “'Tis now the very witching time of night / When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out / Contagion to this world…"
And then there's our almost preternatural anxiety over the number three. Sure, we love to create superstitions around numbers, but three is somehow embedded in our collective consciousness as a symbol of supernatural forces. In Chinese tradition the number is associated with luck, and across world religions the number is loaded with great significance: The Christian Holy Trinity honors the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Hinduism has its own Holy Trinity of sorts, honoring Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer); Islam has three primary holy sites; and pagan traditions celebrate the trinity of land, sea and air that comprise Earth. But more fickle superstitions (mostly in the west) have warned that bad luck comes in threes, and plenty of conjurings and invocations call for repeating a name or spell three times to imbue it with supernatural power.
So it aligns with our deepest fears that asking Dear David three questions means he kills you. There's also the fact that children are inherently creepy. After all, Dear David is just another iteration of the beloved Spooky Boy® trope.
For other stories that tap into our innate fears—of the dark, of nature's wilderness, of governmental experimentation gone awry—there's always more Twitter horror to keep us awake.
The Creepy Log Cabin
The Greg Thread
The Sun Vanished
TheSunVanished (@TheSunVanished) | Twitter twitter.com
Ready to try it out yourself? You can always resurrect the summer hashtag twist on the six-word story (a flash fiction exercise often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but sources suggest the idea predates him).