Before Facebook, it was an email chain forwarded by your mom. (“I don’t know if this is true, but just in case… be careful!”) And before that, a campfire story that made you lie awake in your tent. These are ghost stories, myths, and sometimes just cautionary tales wrapped in a story.
The person it happened to is always a friend of a friend of a friend. Or someone in a friend’s very small town. Close enough to be a credible threat, and vague enough that you could discount it, or even dismiss it.
But… do you dare?
Remember this one? The girl—your sister’s college roommate’s cousin, maybe—driving home late at night, discovers she’s being followed. With each turn, it becomes more ominous; the pickup truck behind her has been there for miles, and it’s turned everywhere that she has. And then… it starts to flash its lights! Intermittently. She keeps driving (this story originated before mobile phones, so she couldn’t call the police), and the truck is basically tailgating her…
How the next part unfolds varies a bit; but essentially, the girl arrives home and runs from the car. The tailgating stranger emerges from the pickup, with a gun. The girl’s father (and/or police, depending on the version of the story) has a gun on the pickup driver, who tells them he’s not the bad guy they’re looking for. He urges them to check the backseat of the girl’s car.
And there, hiding in the backseat, is an ax-wielding… well, ax murderer. (Clearly.) The tailgating pickup driver explains that he’d seen the guy get into the car, and as he followed to try to help her, the ax murderer would periodically raise the ax behind her head to attack, so he’d flash his lights to intervene.
Don’t flash your lights!
If you’re driving at night and see an oncoming driver without their lights on… it’s customary to flash your lights as a gentle reminder. But a lot of us still pause, remembering this tale, which has been going around for years.
The story, mostly forwarded around as an email, was framed as a local or state police bulletin.
It warned drivers not to flash their lights if they saw a car driving at night with no headlights. And often it also advised not to honk, or signal in any way.
The explanation was that as part of a gang initiation, a local aspiring gang member would drive around with their lights off until they elicited a flash from another driver. Then, that driver would become the target, and the gang member in question would chase the unsuspecting motorist, and shoot at their car with the intent to kill everyone in it.
This one—unlike most urban legends—was actually investigated. Living in Los Angeles, where freeway shootings were not unheard of, Judy Miller, a journalism professor at USC, just had to check it out.
In her investigation, Professor Miller started out by inquiring to a police officer, who “let out a huge sigh and said, ‘oh, not that one again.’”
Apparently, this urban legend started circulating back in the late ‘90s. Back then, it was framed around the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. And it’s gone international, circulating through the US, Canada, and even across the pond to London.
So Professor Miller concluded that this was a baseless myth. But not before she saw a notice for, and attended, a news conference held by a member of the Bloods street gang. Who was angry about the (fake) advisory going around, and thought it was the police slandering his gang. . He was relieved to hear that it had been around for years.
But not all urban legends are nightmare-inducing. Some are just pervasive stories, where something extraordinary—and a little unbelievable—has happened. Here are a couple that you can read and still be able to fall asleep tonight.
The $50 Corvette
This tale has a lot of variations. Sometimes it’s a Porsche, sometimes a Mustang or a Ferrari. Sometimes $1, or $50 or even $100. But the basic story is the same.
A woman discovers her husband has been having an affair. He leaves her (apparently—and unwisely—leaving his prized sports car and the keys to it at the house), and she discovers she also has the title to the car.
She lists it for sale at an egregiously low price, and a lucky new owner drives away, title in hand, for the price of a meal.
It’s unclear exactly how selling a desirable car for such a trifling amount is really sticking it to the cheating husband—simply selling the car would do that. And it seems like it would be even more of a win if she sold it for a higher sum, since she’s pocketing the money anyway. But we don’t write these things.
And this one has always been good for a laugh:
If you read this one back when I did—even though it was usually presented as a news story from the venerable Arkansas Democrat-Gazette—you probably suspected it might not be true. But you so hoped it was.
A couple of good ol’ Arkansas boys (well, grown men in their thirties), go out at night giggin’ frogs. (This is a Southern pastime that basically entails spearing unsuspecting frogs with a sharp stick. You sneak up, and you gig ‘em. This is done for the purpose of ultimately cooking and eating them.)
Their names are Thurston Poole and Billy Ray Wallis. Because of course they are.
As they drive, one of the headlights in their pickup truck goes out. It isn’t the bulb responsible for the outage, they surmise, but a fuse. Not having a replacement fuse, they discover—rather ingeniously, it seems to them—that a 22-caliber bullet fits perfectly into the fuse slot in the steering column. Sure enough, the headlight starts working again.
Problem solved, they continue on their journey. After a little while, the bullet heats up, more and more, until it discharges… straight into Poole’s right testicle. This causes him to swerve, ahem, “sharply to the right.”
The boys plow into a tree, and fortunately suffer only minor injuries (aside from the initial one.)
The best part of this story is the quotes and reactions, which not only lend it credibility, but are pretty hilarious:
“Thank God we weren’t on that bridge when Thurston shot his nuts off, or we might’ve been dead,” stated Wallis.
“I’ve been a trooper for 10 years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can’t believe that those two would admit how the accident happened,” said Woodruff County Deputy Dovey Snyder.
Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia, Poole’s wife, asked how many frogs the boys had caught.