I adore urban legends. I particularly loved them when I was a young teen because they were outrageous or scandalous stories with elements that hit close to home. My very favorite one is a little gross, so bear with me. (I loved scary stories as a kid, and was an early adopter of Stephen King books.)
A young babysitter had to babysit overnight while there was a killer on the loose in the area. She was afraid, but the parents told her not to worry because their dog was a good watch dog, and would sleep beneath her bed. If she got worried, she could just hang her hand off the bed and the dog would lick it to reassure her. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Overnight she woke up several times and the dog did, indeed, lick her hand, and she went back to sleep. But when she woke up in the morning she found the dog hanged in the bathroom, and the words Humans Can Lick Too written in blood on the mirror. Terrifying, right? I really loved the money I made from babysitting, but I was always super paranoid–making sure doors and windows were locked, and the curtains and blinds closed. Fortunately, I didn’t have to babysit overnight until I was an adult, except that one time when I was twelve and the parents apparently got really drunk and didn’t bother to call and say they’d be late. My mother came over to relieve me around two a.m.
For years my DH and I kept copies of Jan Harold Brunvand’s Urban Legend books in our home library, but I think my daughter read the covers off of them when she was in middle school. Of course, now all you have to do is type “urban legends” into Google and you will get all the urban legends you can stand. There’s also a more contemporary category of urban legends called Creepypasta that focuses on Internet and video stories (i.e. Slenderman). Read all about it here.
Don’t laugh, but I actually fell for, well, two urban legends recently. It’s so embarrassing.
For the past couple of years I have assiduously washed the tops of soda cans AND canned goods before I opened them. Why? I had read a story about a mother and a son who were sickened when they went on a picnic and drank ginger ale directly from cans. They both had to be hospitalized and subsequently died. It was discovered that the tops of the cans they drank from were covered with bacteria from rat urine, and they died from Leptospirosis. I was horrified. We don’t drink much soda in our house, but I do open cans rather frequently, and if rats were scampering over cans at the soda factory, then how much worse must it be in food factories? (Hey, I’ve read The Jungle.) Finally, not more than two weeks ago, as I washed the tops of the four cans of light red kidney beans and the single can of tomato sauce I was using to make chili, I thought, “Maybe I’ve taken this whole rat pee thing too far.” The canned goods always look perfectly clean, and I cook the food inside them thoroughly. Or maybe I was just feeling lazy. But I stopped cleaning the tops of cans.
THEN THIS HEADLINE HAPPENED TODAY: “Bacterial infection linked to rat urine in NYC.” There doesn’t appear to be food involved, and the illnesses happened in one badly-infested place. It’s actual tragedy that has nothing to do with soda cans.
Curious, after reading this story, I did a search and learned that the tale of the woman and her son is bogus. It appears to have started as an email hoax way back in 2002. Snopes.com is another good place to find the details of such hoaxes.
The second urban legend I fell for was also about a mother and a son who were sickened by mold in out-of-date pancake mix. The son died. This one had me scouring out my flour bucket before every refill, and pitching out one-month-out-of-date brownie mixes. It sounds logical, doesn’t it? Bread gets moldy quickly, so why shouldn’t flour? Except it doesn’t happen that way. There was a real nineteen-year-old boy who died from an allergic reaction to mold in pancake mix: but it was his allergy that killed him. And mold spores in flour are apparently very rare, and don’t occur when the stuff is safely stored. I confess I still feel wary about this one. It’s going to take me a while before I use out-of-date pancake mix, just in case.
I did find both of these stories on the Internet, but I definitely recall reading them as news stories–not as stories on some random website that would also give my computer a virus. These stories spread for a reason: they seem so strangely plausible. (Okay, the dog/hand-licking thing is weird and over the top. But it’s also quite old.) And they touch me way down in my mother’s heart. No way do I want my kids exposed to rat pee and pancake mold.
Your turn to ‘fess up–What’s the most outrageous story you’ve fallen for?
February 15th Words
Journal: 450 words
Long fiction: (edited 5 chapters)
Short fiction: 0
Non-fiction: 0 words
Blogging: 907 words
Exercise: 30 minutes treadmill, 5 minutes abs