Tag Archives: alex mar

In Service of the Slender Man: When Teen Girls Become Murderous

Photo by Julio César Cerletti García (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

To find belonging, teen girls sometimes form obsessive friendships to fend off the isolation that puberty brings at the twilight of their childhood. In this exceptionally well-researched piece at VQR, Alex Mar recalls two real-life events in which teen-girl duos became murderous and why these obsessive friendships devolved into a pact to do evil.

What is occult is synonymous with what is hidden, orphic, veiled—but girls are familiar with that realm. We have the instinct. Girls create their own occult language; it may be one of the first signs of adolescence. This is a language of fantasy, of the desire for things we can’t yet have (we’re too young), of forces we can’t control (loneliness, an unrequited crush, the actions of our family). This invention of a private language, both visual and verbal, shared with only a chosen few, gives shape to our first allegiances; it grants entry into a universe with its own rationale—the warped rationale of fairy tales. Its rules do not bleed over into the realm of the mundane, of parents and teachers and adult consequences.

But in May 2014, the occult universe of two young girls did spill over into the real. And within days of her twelfth birthday, all of Morgan Geyser’s drawings and scribblings—evidence of the world she had built with her new best friend—were confiscated. More than three years later, they are counted among the state’s exhibits in a case of first-degree intentional homicide.

After some time on the swings, Anissa suggests they play hide-and-seek in the suburban woods at the park’s edge. There, just a few feet beyond the tree line, Morgan, on Anissa’s cue, stabs Bella in the chest.

Then she stabs her again, and again, and again—in her arms, in her leg, near her heart. By the time Morgan stops, she has stabbed her nineteen times.

Though they were both a very young, Midwestern twelve, they had been chosen for a dark and unique destiny which none of their junior-high classmates could possibly understand, drawn into the forest in the service of a force much greater and more mysterious than anything in their suburban-American lives. What drew them out there has a name: Slender Man, faceless and pale and impossibly tall. His symbol is the letter X.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Jane Mayer, David Zax, Christopher Glazek, Farah Stockman, and Alex Mar.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…

The Dream of a Perfect Android

A robot produced by Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories on display at the Science Museum in London. (Ben Stansall /AFP/Getty Images)

Hiroshi Ishi­guro has spent a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect robot. He has modeled his creations on those closest to him — his wife, his child, himself — but he admits to feeling lonely while surrounded by his family, both human and inhuman. At Wired, Alex Mar unravels the depths of Ishi­guro’s passion for robots, and what he means when he tries to make them lifelike. However, Mar finds that after a lifetime of considering what it means to be human, Ishi­guro may not truly understand the basics of human interaction himself.

He has spent a lot of time talking to himself through his androids, testing them, imagining their effect on other ­people. Hiroshi (who by now has asked me to call him by his first name) tells me he’d like to record himself saying “I love you” and then program an android to repeat it back to him in a female voice. He is kidding when he says this—but maybe it’s another of his half-jokes. At the very least, he believes the need for such an exchange exists. It would be, he says, “a real conversation.” A conversation with himself.

“A conversation is a kind of illusion,” he says. “I don’t know what is going on in your brain. All I can know is what I’m thinking. Always I am asking questions to myself, but through conversations.” Over the years of operating his androids, communicating through them or with them, he has found that he isn’t really concerned about the other person’s thoughts. “Always I am thinking of myself. I need to understand your intention, but it is not a priority. Before that, I want to make clear something in my brain. Otherwise, what is the motivation to talk?”

In other words, he can only imagine using conversation with others as a means to better understand himself—and nothing is more pressing than that. He turns to the conversation the two of us are having. “We don’t know how much information we are sharing,” he tells me. “I am always guessing, and you are always guessing, and through our conversation patterns, we can believe that we exchange information. But I cannot access your brain directly.

“What is ‘connection’?” he asks. “Other person is just a mirror.”

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What Ever Happened to ‘The Most Liberated Woman in America’?

All Illustrations by Michael Tunk

Alex Mar | Atlas Obscura | June 2016 | 27 minutes (6,812 words)


Atlas ObscuraOur latest Exclusive is a new story by Alex Mar, author of the book Witches of America, co-funded by Longreads Members and published by Atlas Obscura.

I am standing in the living room of a wood-paneled modular house out in the Nevada desert. Alongside me is Barbara Williamson, once called “the most liberated woman in America”; and slinking toward us, across the grayed-out carpeting, is a large, muscular, wild animal.

Now 78, Barbara had driven me here in a massive red pickup. The plan was to make tea and have a good talk in her office (just past the meditation room). But first, she wanted to introduce me to someone.

“Are you ready?” she asked.


I followed Barbara through the kitchen.

Peggy Sue,” she called out gently. “Are you awake? Peggy Sue…”

We turned the corner into the living room, and that’s when I saw her. Her eyes are huge and almond-shaped, her ears point upwards (a signature of the breed), and her paws are striking in their size. Peggy Sue is a Siberian lynx, over 60 pounds, with powerful legs and sharp, two-inch-long canine teeth. She has not been de-clawed. I’d been aware of this fact, but only in this moment does it truly register: Barbara shares her home with what is, more or less, a small tiger.

“I wanted the wildness,” Barbara says. “I have a streak in me that just has a lot of wild desires, and it makes me feel really good to be accepted by a wild animal—I don’t know for what reasons. Back to the old motto: ‘If it feels good, do it!’”

Barbara, with her close-cut, bright-white hair and fuchsia lipstick, in light blue jeans and an ’80s-graphic parachute jacket, strokes the thick fur on the animal’s back and invites me to do the same. As we stand closer, each of us stroking Peggy Sue’s flanks, Barbara tells me they sleep together in the bed at night, sometimes curled up around one another.

Nearer now, the lynx looks a little raggedy, her skin a little loose, her long tail capped with two strange clumps of fur. She recently turned 20 years old—that’s how long ago Barbara retired to the small desert town of Fallon, Nevada, with her husband John. Out here on their 10-acre plot, the two created a spontaneous, guerilla-style sanctuary for “big cats.” Gradually, though, the creatures died of old age: three cougars, four bobcats, two tigers, two Barbary lions, a serval, two lynxes—and finally, three years and one month ago (Barbara keeps count), John himself. And now Barbara lives alone, with a single exotic animal, elderly herself, as her closest companion.

The lynx butts its head up against my legs.

“That’s a love gesture,” Barbara says.

The enormous cat does it again—two, three, four more times. I can feel the size and weight of her skull as she pushes me.

I’m aware that the affection she gives she can take away in a second. Read more…

Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers

The rebels of early Christianity
The rebels of early Christianity, like Melania, Paula, Susan and Jerome. (All Illustrations: Matt Lubchansky)

Alex Mar | Atlas Obscura | January 2016 | 16 minutes (3,902 words)


Atlas ObscuraOur latest Exclusive is a new story by Alex Mar, author of the book Witches of America, co-funded by Longreads Members and published by Atlas Obscura.

Read more…