The Backrooms is a relatively recent example of internet folklore that is still expanding its scope and mythology.
Essentially, the backrooms posit the existence of a ‘place’ that people can slip (or ‘noclip’) into and become lost or trapped. An unreality behind or parallel to this reality, The Backrooms are not inherently sinister on first viewing, as they appear to be simply unoccupied office space of banal manilla walls, long corridors and ugly carpets.
The terrifying element comes with the idea of finding yourself there unable to escape. Trapped in a labyrinth of these corridors that is unending and eternal, meaning that there is no exit and that anyone finding themselves in this other dimension will be confined there perpetually. There is also the added detail that there are ‘others’ or other ‘things’ of an apparently malevolent nature in this environment with you and that every moment you remain inside, you run the risk of encountering one of these denizens of the other place.
The Backrooms Origins
Like many creepypasta notions or ideas, The Backrooms mythos evolved from an ekphrastic exercise, that is it was a response to a piece of ‘art’ inspired by a single image.
This is a common occurrence in the creepypasta community with notable creepypasta stories such as Slenderman, The Rake and even the Russian Sleep finding their origins in a disturbing image for which a fictional backstory was then proposed.
On May 12th of 2019 the original ‘backrooms’ image of a corridor with an oppressively bright strip light, manilla walls and no furniture was posted in 4chans/x/ paranormal board in response to a request for images that were ‘unsettling’ or which just felt ‘a bit off’. The image had initially been posted on a 4chan discussion about ‘cursed images’ anonymously, almost a year earlier (April 21st 2018) with no accompanying text. This is the first known posting of the image itself.
Neither the identity of question poser or the person who responded with this image in the 2019 posting is known, but we do know that it was from this posting that the ‘backrooms’ mythos was born as it was on this posting that the image was first paired with brief explanatory text.
The text which read
“If you’re not careful and you noclip out of reality in the wrong areas, you’ll end up in the Backrooms, where it’s nothing but the stink of old moist carpet, the madness of mono-yellow, the endless background noise of fluorescent lights at maximum hum-buzz, and approximately six hundred million square miles of randomly segmented empty rooms to be trapped in.
God save you if you hear something wandering around nearby because it sure as hell has heard you”
created in those few short sentences enough background and suggestion to kickstart other creators into using ‘The Backroooms’ as a setting for their own stories or as the starting point for an exercise in world/mythos building.
The initial pairing of text with the image is interesting in a number of ways. Firstly, it claims knowledge not only of the dimensions but the features of this ‘place’. It also suggests the idea that ‘something’ in this setting would hear you, giving the impression that you are not alone.
Following the meeting of the image with text, the idea of The Backrooms quickly spread, appearing first in another thread on /x/ with the text and image combined (on May 14th of the same year) then in /r/ Greentext where it was proclaimed to be worse than ‘any creepypasta out there’ and gained a great deal of visibility and acclaim. By May 18th a creepypasta based upon the concept had been posted by yourdndguy with twitter users posting animations of wandering through the infinite backrooms.
The Backrooms Creepypasta
It was approximately 12:15 when I entered the Johnson County Community Health Clinic. I was there for an appointment I had set up weeks ago, just a routine checkup. It wasn’t a new place for me; I had been there a couple of times before. However, the place had an odd nostalgic feel to it, as if it were a location from my childhood or something, and I could never pinpoint exactly what this feeling was, or where it came from.
As I walked in, an overwhelming feeling of deja vu swept over me. The hum of the flickering fluorescent lights, the white tile flooring, the muted beige paint that colored the walls. I noticed that there was a TV mounted in the corner, a smaller flatscreen, that was playing a short PowerPoint slideshow on a loop of ads and events that were being held by the clinic. I passed the empty waiting area— a small area of the main room with magazines, children’s playthings and blue cushioned chairs— and approached the woman at the front desk. She was sitting in her blueish gray office chair, looking at a spreadsheet on the same Windows XP desktop they’ve had since 2008. There was a sign-in sheet on the counter in front of me.
“I have an appointment with Dr. Pebins?” I asked.
“12:30,” I replied.
She began typing something into her keyboard.
“Ah, yes,” she responded. “Gary Johnston?”
“Yes, I’ll tell the doctor. Please fill this out.”
She handed me a clipboard which held a simple fill-out form. I walked back to the waiting area, took a seat, and began to fill out the form.
I was about halfway done with filling in my information when I slumped back in my chair. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night prior, and I was exhausted. As I slumped back, I noticed something very peculiar— my head never hit the wall. In fact, it felt like it went in. I got up, quite frightened, and looked at the wall.
Not a single hole, or dent, had been made in the wall by my head.
So, I reached to touch the wall.
And my fingers went through it.
I recoiled in shock. “What the hell was that?” I thought, as I reached to touch the wall again, only to find my fingers clipped through once more.
Then, suddenly, I lost my balance, tripped, and fell directly through the wall. I fell face-first onto some dirty tan carpeting. Upon getting back up, I realized that I was in a completely different room. Well, not really a room, per se— more so a set of rooms, all of which connected by openings. The walls were covered in gross tan patterned wallpaper. There was also an overwhelming stench of moist carpet.
I turned back around and tried to put my hand back through the wall, and it wouldn’t go through. “Okay, what the fuck?” I muttered. I looked back into the room. There were no windows, no doors, nothing on the walls— other than that disgusting wallpaper, of course— it was completely empty, aside from a singular plastic blue school chair. At this point, the only thing going through my mind was fear, and the repeating thought of “I need to leave” on loop in my head. I started running through the rooms, desperately trying to find an exit, but to no avail. There was no exit.
Was this my permanent location until I died? No, there had to be a way out! I wasn’t just going to be left here, right? Eventually, someone would notice that I was gone!
But, nobody did.
Then, in the distance, I heard footsteps, but not those of a human’s— at least not a normal human. Alongside the footsteps was a gurgling snarl, like that of an angry animal.
I began to run. I ran as fast as I could from whatever the hell was approaching me. I didn’t want anything to do with it.
I ran for what seemed like forever, but I was always back in the same room I started in. At least, it looked like the same room. Not that I could tell them apart.
So, I sat down, defeated. A feeling of dread filled my body, as I started to cry. I was going to die here.
I’m still there. I haven’t left. I’ve accepted my fate.
In fact, I can actually hear footsteps. I wonder who that is?
Publisher’s Note: This pasta was inspired by a post from the /x/ board on 4chan.
Development of the backrooms mythos
As the concept of the backrooms has developed, so too have perspectives and opinions about precisely what ‘the Backrooms’ are, their nature, structure and their occupants.
Despite only being in its infancy as an idea, the Backrooms has already fractured into different camps, that operates almost like denominations of a religion, with contributors clustering around or agreeing to parameters that meet with their own particular definition or ‘belief’ in what the Backrooms are, how they work and what the role of the collaborative community of myth builders should be to them. These ‘denominations’ can be divided into three broad camps.
For example, the subreddit Truebackrooms come across as orthodox purists concerned less with the potential for mythbuilding provided by the concept and more with the feeling of unease associated with the initial image and text combination.
In their mind creating additional ‘levels’ or explaining the various rooms or possible inhabitants of the backrooms makes things far too explicit, complex and unwieldy, especially as there would be no quality control upon who contributes a level or an ‘entity’ dwelling in this group’s shared fictional space.
To this end, their discussions and posts center around the notion that there are no ‘levels’ ; there are simply The Backrooms (which at six hundred million square miles you would think are quite spacious enough without having to add extra levels and structures). The images and ideas they post are intended to recreate the same sense of unease as the first post.
To these contributors it is the unending uniformity, the unimaginable scale and the inexplicable existence of the backrooms that is terrifying in itself, the other additions being superfluous embellishments. There is an argument to be made here, as there is a consistent dilemma within the world of horror literature and cinema surrounding exactly how much or how little of the malevolent entity or idea should be shown in order for a story to be most effective.
Whilst creature features and gore fest movies make the horrific element explicit and expose everything, many argue that the most affecting horror creations are those that are simply suggested or about which the details are sparse allowing the reader to fill in the blanks.
There is certainly an element of this in the initial post with the unexplained ‘madness of mono yellow” being reminiscent of Lovecraft’s wording whilst the infinite and unimaginable scale of the backrooms gives a huge nod to his concept of cosmic horror and man’s insignificance in this Eldritch location. The use of the suggestive word ‘something’ rather than any specified or clearly described thing meanwhile, leaves the possibilities wide open in a style akin to the work of M.R.James.
Incidentally, the use of yellow as an ominous color is a common theme in literature with the most notable example being The King in Yellow by Chambers, The Yellow wallpaper by Gillman, and the idea of a wicked ‘yellow book’ turning up in Arebours and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Interestingly, this group also seems to be against the addition of ‘entities’, almost because to name, identify or categorize the presence hinted in the initial post would be to rob it of its impact.
Another school of thought on The Backrooms suggests the idea of levels within this realm and that ending up on a specific level can give anyone unfortunate enough to end up there an entirely different experience. Though even those positing the idea of levels disagree as to exactly how many and the nature of them.
One school of thought, the ‘Three-level system’ operates on the assumption that, just as the name implies, there are three levels to the backrooms, with the famous, ‘endless corridors’ of mono yellow featured in the initial picture is only one of them.
A post to r/backrooms in June of 2019 explained the nature of the other two levels (increasingly industrial with the third being the most dangerous) and this was then adapted to a visual guide posted to Deviantart later the same month.
Then there are those that adhere to the anything-goes ‘extended lore’ system which runs with the idea that the backrooms being infinite means there is an infinite number of levels, with the contents of the space and those levels being limited only by the contributor’s imaginations. It is naturally in this third category that the widest expansion of the mythos, including various entities and groups of entities, monsters and exploratory organizations have been added to the lore.
There are of course many sites on which ‘backrooms’ mythology is accepted irrespective of partisan views on what does or does not constitute cannon, with the fiction/images being accepted no matter which school the contributor happens to belong to, though the interaction between these three views and the endless possibilities makes the backrooms mythos an unwieldy thing to pin down, which some might argue is perfectly fitting.
The Backrooms Influences
In addition to the above-mentioned literary influences that can be seen in the first snatch of text attached to the image, various other influences and considerations such be noted.
The concept of a labyrinth, inhabited by a creature or thing that means harm can be found as far back as Greek myth with the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, in which King Minos builds a gigantic labyrinth (designed by Daedalus, father of the unfortunate Icarus from that other famous myth) in which to house the half man half bull creature the Minotaur. Brave warriors would enter the labyrinth, become lost, and eventually be hunted and killed by the creature.
The haunting nature of corridors that go on forever and the strangely unsettling nature of corporate or uniform buildings such as hotels is one exploited by Stephen King, famously in The Shining and also in 1408.
The ever continuing or shifting location with no way out can also be seen in The Matrix films (which also features a reality outside of our own) and the Blair Witch Project, with the characters seemingly repeating loops in the same area over and over.
The larger concept of a place parallel to or outside of time into which human beings can be condemned has obviously been a feature of major religions for centuries and the ‘levels’ idea bears some resemblance to the idea of hell having several levels.
However, the closest equivalent to the original idea posited by the ‘backrooms’ photo is that of purgatory or limbo. A place that is neither heaven nor hell, but a stage in between. A place of nothingness that was part of Catholic doctrine for many centuries (and was said to be where the unbaptized go after death) this state that is not in and of itself threatening but which is menacing in its extent (the fact that it goes on forever and there is no escape) is similar to the concept of limbo but presents it in a very modern way.
It is worth noting that the location from which the initial photo was taken has not yet been convincingly identified, which is a testament to its bland, inoffensive, cookie cutter uniformity. Some have suggested that it shows a location in Montana, whilst others have argued that it is not an actual real life location at all, but rather an image created using a computer algorithm.
Speaking of computers, it is worth mentioning that the verb ‘noclip’, first used by John Carmack comes from computer games and is essentially a process by which the collision detection in a game is bypassed meaning a character can ‘walk through walls and objects’ that would usually be solid, meaning they can move between levels in a game without having to complete their current level in a conventional way.
In the case of The Backrooms the idea would be that a human could ‘noclip’ from their perceived reality and into this other dimension, which considering the idea that some physicists believe there are multiple or even infinite dimensions with some even arguing that our reality might itself be a simulation, is a terrifying thought which has great potential as a storytelling device.
Finally, it is worth considering, as some have suggested, that the original image posted in response to a call for unsettling images could have been meant ironically or as a representation of a wasted life.
The idea behind this depressing suggestion being that the poster uploaded the image of this banal and nondescript location in response to a request for images that were ‘unsettling’ or a ‘bit off’ because it depicted a life of boredom and monotony in a joyless corporate environment that because of its repetitive nature seems like a prison that goes on and on forever. What could be more unsettling than that?
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