I check my car before getting into it at night.
I don't even think about it. I can be exhausted, chattering on the phone, late for a very important date, but I always automatically check the back seat, the floors, and in the case of my husband's "sport wagon," the trunk space. If I'm feeling particularly high strung, I'll peek under the car.
I don't do this because of the copious frantic DANGER! DANGER! EVERYTHING IS DANGER! emails my mother sends me, but because of two urban legends that have combined in my brain into one big paranoid nightmare.
For those of you have never read "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" (Stop reading this now and go read them! GO!) or did not spend your adolescence huddled around flashlights and Ouija boards, here's a quick rundown of those particular urban legends.
A woman gets into her car late at night. As she's driving down the highway the car behind her starts flashing its high beams at her intermittently, following her every move closely. At first she is annoyed, but then she is scared. What does this beam flasher want? Getting more and more frightened, she is relieved to see a gas station or some sort of safe, pull-over zone up ahead.
The woman pulls over, and so does her pursuer. She gets out of her car and either confronts the other driver or runs to find help, depending on the version of the story. Also depending on the version of the story, the man who was following her either goes to her and tells her to call 911 because there is a man hiding in the backseat of her car, or he goes straight to her car and kicks some escaped psychopath (aren't they always?) ass. Sometimes they mention that he had a crazed expression and a knife.
Either way, the man explains to the woman that he saw the murderous psychopath sneak into the backseat of her car, but she drove away before he could stop her. So he followed her, and every time Ol' Stabby reared up to attack, he would shine his brights, and the killer would shrink down so as not to be seen.
That's the main thing I'm afraid of, a backseat marauder. But somehow this urban legend got smooshed together with yet another story about a criminally insane escaped psychopath, et voila! Cars are scary!
You know the one, the one about the hook?
Two teenage lovebirds are doing what teenage lovebirds do in a car out in the middle of the woods (BTW, I would never and will never get busy in a car in the middle of nowhere, this legend and the Zodiac killer have ruined car romance for me).
Suddenly the music on radio is interrupted with the warning that there is an escaped, criminally insane, murder-man on the loose in the area, and that all teenagers making out in cars should go home and lock the doors. (Unless the call is coming from inside the house! Haaaaa!)
The defining characteristic of the murder-man is a hook instead of one of his hands.
The girl freaks out and tells her boyfriend to take her home. As the boyfriend tucks his boner between his legs and starts the car, the girl asks, "Did you hear that? It sounds like there's a scratching at the door?"
The boyfriend tells her she's just hearing things and drives away. Again, depending on which version of the story, sometimes the couple feel the car go over a bump ("It's just a tree root!"), or sometimes they hear something yelp and scamper away.
Anyway, when they get home, Blue Balls goes to the passenger side of the car to let his sweetheart out, but there, hanging on the car's door handle is -- Great Mothman's Ghost! -- A BLOODY HOOOK!
So yeah, somehow I'm convinced that the Murder Gang has taken up residence in and around my car and while one of them hides in my back seat, the other has left his hook hand as a creepy calling card on my car door???
I don't even know what my childhood trauma is anymore.
Urban legends scare me more than most "real life" ghost stories. I don't know if it's the twisted nature of the tales, or that the victim is always so blessedly doubting.
What gets me every time is the idea that these legends are grounded in reality. Sure the story is inflated and exaggerated over the years, but there's that tiny grain of "it could happen" that really sets my imagination reeling. Maybe there is even a ghost or goblin involved, but the basis for WHY that spooky critter is there is because of a real life murder or tragedy.
The newest one I've heard that has sent a chill down my spine is a Japanese legend, Kuchisake-onna, or "the slit-mouthed woman".
Children take heed, because if a woman in a mask (in Japan) approaches you and asks you if you think she's beautiful, don't say "yes" because she'll then reveal her face, which is slit in a permanent smile from the sides of her mouth to her ears. She'll then say, "Do you still think I'm beautiful?" and then cut your mouth like hers. Don't say "no" either because she'll still cut you.
The only way to escape Kuchisake-onna is to ask her the question, "Do you think that I'M beautiful?" or say, "I don't know," which confuses her so you can run away. Depending on which version you're hearing, she may still hunt you down and cut you, no matter what.
The origin of this story has been said to originate from feudal Japan in which a samurai suspected his vain wife was cheating on him. In a rage, he slit her mouth from ear to ear, and then said something like, "Who will think you're beautiful now?"
In the 1970s there was actually supposed to be a slit-mouthed woman running around a few villages in Japan, killing people. Police believed her to be a woman using the Kuchisake-onna legend as the inspiration for her killings, but she was never found. The killings stopped abruptly in 1979.
Horror springs from real life. Imagine that?
So what's your favorite urban legend? Bloody Mary? "THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!"? The murderer who licked his victim's roommate's hand, pretending to be the dog, then wrote in the mirror, "People can lick, too..."?
Any new ones to keep us sleepless tonight?