Summer is the time of urban legends. It seems it was always hot and muggy when we sat around and told these stories. Maybe we were hoping that a few shivers up and down our spines would cool us off.
I was a skeptic even then, and believed none of what I heard. The other kids would spread the stories like a virus and soon the whole town was talking about incidents that never happened as if they happened to them. What would start out as my best friend's sister telling us something she heard on the radio would come back to me later from a cousin who swore that it really happened to her neighbor's uncle. And it's amazing how many of these stories have survived all these years, almost unchanged. And how many of them were later made into major motion pictures starring screaming, underdressed girls.
The urban legends of my youth:
the hook man: One of the first babysitter stories I ever heard. You know the drill; a teenage girl is babysitting. Isn't that how they all start? In this one she is upstairs getting a baby ready for bed while the other two kids are downstairs watching tv. She hears one of the kids yelling something, and she thinks he is saying the phone is off the hook. She checks the upstairs phone but they are all fine. Too late, she realizes that the kid was screaming about a man with a hook and she turns to see some hideous guy standing in the doorway of the bedroom, a little girl's head lodged on the end of his hook hand.
out of gas: Two young lovers out for a joyride run out of gas on a deserted road. The girl stays in the car while the boy goes out in search of help. Soon the girl hears a noise outside that she assumes is branches of a tree moving against the top of the car. swish, swish, swish. The sound begins to annoy her so she gets out of the car to move the branch only to discover that the swishing sound was being made by her boyfriend's sneakers dragging across the roof of the car. He was hanging from the tree, a dead young man swaying in the breeze. variation
kidnapped: I still hear this one today, with variations on the theme. Everyone who tells this story insists it is really, really true and it happened just yesterday and they know a person who was there. A mother and her young daughter are shopping in a department store. The mother turns her back for a second and the kid disappears. She frantically runs through the store calling the girl's name and when she can't find her she alerts security. Security shuts all the doors and searches the store. They eventually find the poor, frightened girl with a strange man in the men's room. The girl's hair has been cut short and she has been dressed in boy's clothing. variation
the man in the car: Another one still making the rounds. A woman pulls into a gas station and asks the attendent to fill her car up. She pays with a credit card and the attendent tells her to please step out of the car, that there is a problem with her card. She argues with him until he persuades her to come into the office. There, he tells her that a man with a crowbar is crouched in the backseat of her car. variation
the hippie ate my baby! This was a favorite of mine. A couple goes out for a night on the town, leaving a teenage girl and her boyfriend in charge of their small children. They instruct the girl to cook a turkey for dinner. As soon as the couple leaves, the two teenagers begin smoking marijuana cigarettes! After they are good and stoned, they cook dinner, but forget about it and leave it in the oven. Eventually the couple comes home from their night out and smell something burning. They see the two hippie teenagers, obviously stoned, sleeping on the couch. And the turkey is still on the table, uncooked. What could possible be in the oven?? Oh no! It's the baby! variation
I could go on. There's the kid playing in a box that is picked up by garbagemen and put in a crusher. The pop rocks and soda thing. Bubble Yum is made from spider eggs. Oh, and that story that made the rounds when I was in junior high that had to do with Rod Stewart, Elton John, oral sex and stomach pumping.
I'm sure my kids will be telling me stories just like these as if they are the truth. And it will be my job, as it has always been, to dispel the myths and take the fun out of scary summer stories.
What's your favorite urban legend?