Urban legends are great. I would do more posts on them, but Snopes kinda has me beat no matter what I do in that regard. I’m gonna go ahead with this one today, though, partly to see how it goes and partly because it’s one of my favorite urban legends. The best are the ones that are told as if they could really happen to you. Those are the ones that make it all around the playground at school, get whispered about in church, and, these days, are e-mailed to you by your Great Aunt Cecilia.

“Obama admitted to being a Satanist on last week’s Glenn Beck? I have to tell everyone.

But even better are those that say something about our cultural norms, and more specifically, what our culture fears. For example, the legend about muggers hiding under cars in mall parking lots, slashing women’s (and, apparently, only women’s) ankles. That one used to crop up every Christmas season back in the 80s and 90s, and occasionally you still see it today. But look a little closer at that creepy legend and you see just how much has changed between the time the myth was at its peak and now.

Notice that the story is typically very specific in its mention of shopping mall parking lots. Now, this may not be true where you’re at yet, but in most of the United States, malls are on the decline, with many shuttering their doors one after another. But in the 80s and 90s, malls were booming. Everyone shopped at malls, if they could. People went out of their way to go to the newest and nearest mega-shopping centers, sometimes driving dozens or even hundreds of miles. Now you can’t drive longer than an hour without tossing a $20 bill at a gas pump and, thanks to discount stores and internet shopping, malls seem like near-empty hulls full of overpriced shops and shady looking kiosks. And that’s not even touching the deeper fears you can take from the tale, like “greed/spending is bad for you”, “poor, frail women should always be aware of their surroundings” and “moral corruption runs rampant during what’s supposed to be a joyous holiday season.”

“Wassail this, motherfuckers.”

This is just a very small example taken from a 30 year period. Now think about what legends from centuries ago would be like. More than likely, we wouldn’t even be able to relate to those stories anymore. Our world has changed too much. They would seem strange, maybe quaint, and possibly kinda stupid.

“There’s the one about the demon of the old swamp, the demon of the woods… pretty much it’s all demons.”

That’s what’s interesting about the story of Kuchisake-Onna, the slit-mouthed woman, a legend only found in Japan and parts of South Korea. Kuchisake-Onna is actually two stories, in a way. First, there’s the original story, told several generations ago, which goes something like this: Back in the days of feudal Japan, a jealous samurai had a beautiful wife. (Or concubine, depending on the telling.) When he caught her with another man, he flew into a fit of rage and used a knife to cut her mouth from ear to ear. “No one will find you beautiful, now,” he told her. But the story doesn’t end there.

You see, this woman decided (for some reason that only makes sense in legends) to begin wandering at night with a mask covering her lower face, asking men if they thought she was pretty. If they answered “Yes,” (as they most certainly did), she would lower the mask, revealing her disfigurement, and ask them, “Am I beautiful now?” If they said “No,” she would kill them. (“Butterface!” probably counts, too.) However, if they said yes once again, she would call them a liar and kill them anyway. That’s right, you’re fucked no matter how you answer in that situation.

Sometimes, there is no optimal solution.

But then, there’s also a modern rendition of the tale: Instead of the jealous samurai husband (or john), Kuchisake-Onna had a different origin.. That story goes like this: Not long ago, there was a beautiful woman, but she was very vain. Her face was perfect in every way, but, according to her, it still wasn’t good enough. She refused to concede her own beauty, considering herself flawed no matter how perfect she looked to everyone else. One day, an acquaintance who had grown tired of her vanity told her she should see a plastic surgeon she had met, whom the acquaintance claimed was the best in the whole country. The beautiful woman jumped at the chance and went to the surgeon’s office. But the acquaintance had played a trick on her.

There was no surgeon. She had actually paid a criminal, a former butcher, who had recently escaped from a nearby jail to play the part. The man drugged her and disfigured her horribly. The story is mostly the same from there out, but with a slight difference. The more modern legend says that if you tell Kuchisake-Onna that she’s average or so-so, she’ll become confused long enough for you to run away. (Please note that this does not work on the majority of women.) Not only that, but if you tell her you’re late for an appointment, she’ll actually apologize for her rudeness and leave you alone.

One day, this could save your life.

Notice how it evolved from a warning story about a man who went too far in his anger (though spousal abuse still wasn’t exactly a big concern in feudal Japan) to a modern morality tale about vanity. Since beating your wife wasn’t common practice anymore by the time the modern re-telling came about, that version of the story was alien enough to not really speak to Japanese cultural norms. As women became more liberated though, as they did in the Western world, excessive female vanity became more of a fear to the culture, and the legend changed its tone appropriately, while the fear of being alone at night and getting attacked by a stranger was still there.

In fact, if anything, that fear became stronger in the intervening years, as back in olden times, you didn’t go out at night unless you absolutely had to. At several points in recent history, stories claiming real-life copycat attackers on the loose have cropped up every few years, leading to wild sensationalism and mass panicking. So far, though, all have turned out to be hoaxes. (You know, just like that story about the kid who found a razor in his apple.)

Kids who eat razor apples grow up to be Kuchisake-Onna. It makes perfect sense.

Er… none. Original research, I guess.


Atmospheric Beasts

We laugh at old-fashioned things now. Our conveniences and scientific advances are so, well, convenient and advanced that it gives us a lofty throne from which to judge things from yesteryear. We can laugh at those olden days, with their strange devices that were meant to make life easier, but seem like stone tools to us.

“Pathetic. My iPod is at least half that size.”

And sometimes, the ideas and beliefs of previous decades seem funny as well. For example: It was once believed (uncommonly, I’ll admit) among paranormal researches that some UFO sightings may have actually been creatures that lived in the atmosphere. They also speculated that, instead of just abducting their victims, the creatures were eating them. (It wasn’t until the 70s and 80s when people started telling stories of being abducted and returned. Before then, it was common to say that you heard a UFO abducted some dude and that motherfucker was never seen again.)

“Oh cool, no more bills for me.”

But there’s a bit more to it than that. Before the term “flying saucer” was even invented, much less “UFO”, folklore told of shit flying around and bugging people and generally scaring the bejesus out of them. But we also didn’t have things like planes back then, so anything that flew around and fucked with folks wasn’t a “flying object”; it was a goddamned monster. In the 1800s, there were legends that claimed that there might be some sort of dragons that lived in the sky and disguised themselves as clouds when they weren’t about to eat motherfuckers.


But after we began putting our own flying shit up there (and the shit we were pretty sure we didn’t put up there started getting called UFOs) the atmospheric beast stories began to die off. It is worth mentioning that atmospheric alien life has been speculated to exist on planets with a different makeup (and far less gravity) than that of Earth by people as bad-ass awesome as Carl Sagan.


These would be silicon-based jellyfish like creatures that could be as large as a mile long and filled with helium or hydrogen. V.S. Tsytovich, in a 2007 study, even discovered that space dust suspended in plasma might be able to take on life, of a sort.

The stories and speculation aren’t completely dead, however. Earth-based atmospheric life has been proposed to have similar traits to those silicon-based whoopee cushions: They’re semi-transparent or even downright invisible, are gas-filled, and that they possibly even migrated here from space. (Interestingly enough, it has been theorized by actual, legitimate scientists that the silicon jellyfish above could put out spores that would survive in space and germinate on other planets. How about that?) They might even be able to change their density and transform between hard, metallic states and cloud-like, invisible states just by contracting and expanding.

One of the most famous atmospheric monster sighting stories is that of the Crawfordsville Monster. (Doesn’t that just sound awesome?) At about 2am on September 5th, 1891, in Crawfordsville, Illinois, two ice delivery men, Bill Gray and Marshall McIntyre, were hitching horses to their wagon when they saw a large, white, rectangular shape flying through the air with fins all up and down its side. They claimed that it wheezed as if in pain and had no head, but that it simply had one large, flaming red eye and a mouth on one end of its body. 

Not pictured: The Crawfordsville Monster

They, however, weren’t the only witnesses that night. Reverend G.W. Switzer and his wife also saw it, describing it as serpent-like. Of course, the standard reaction to such a claim is, “And you had how much to drink?” The people of Crawfordsville were incredulous, to say the least, but boy were their faces red (From embarrassment or from drinking, whichever) when it came back the next night in full view of 100 people. It even swooped so low that a few people claimed to be able to feel its hot breath. (If you’ve ever been on a public bus, you know you have to be pretty close to something to feel its breath.)

Other sightings tell of “living clouds” that spit water like Jim Belushi in Animal House and small, blanket-like masses that are soft to the touch and smell of mildew. (So they’re like laundry you forgot about in the washing machine?) A few people have even claimed to find the bodies of atmospheric beasts, describing them as small, translucent spheres that apparently evaporate within a few minutes of death.

Some even go as far as to say that these semi-visible creatures could be the explanation behind things besides UFO sightings, too. Star jelly, for example, could be their corpses, as described above. (Oh fuck, what if it’s their poop?) And, as with any just about any pseudoscience or legendary creature, paranormal researchers are using the concept to explain that paranormal classic, ghosts. Some cryptozoologists believe that it’s possible that many ghost sightings could actually be sightings of atmospheric life. Atmospheric beasts, the supernatural chameleon.

“Casper: The Friendly Atmospheric Monster” just doesn’t have the same ring.

The always completely truthful Wikipedia (x2)
“Unexplained!: Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences & Puzzling Physical Phenomena” by Jerome Clark



A lot of people fantasize about having a double that can go around and do shit for them while they do far more awesome stuff. Who wouldn’t want that? I could go sleep or grab a bite to eat instead of typing these posts out. Actually, I kinda like typing these out, so maybe I have a double somewhere doing back-breaking labor while I’m doing this.

My bad.

But doppelgängers aren’t a purposeful double that you can control and ask nicely to do things you don’t want to do. (And if he or she is your exact double, why would he or she want to do it either?) Nor is it about cloning someone for some hot twin/threesome action.

Ladies, your dream boats have arrived.

The actual idea behind a doppelgänger is pretty damn terrifying. According to Germanic lore, your doppelgänger is basically built specifically for evil. His or her job is to go around and do stuff that gets you in trouble, that bastard. In addition, having one seen by a relative or friend is a bad omen. Even worse, seeing your own means you’re probably gonna die. Your doppelgänger is completely independent from you, and presumably you don’t even know he or she exists until you actually see it, and then it’s too late, because you’re pretty well fucked by that point.

Percy Bysse Shelley saw his own several times immediately before his death, and also right before Mary Shelley miscarried their child. Percy Shelley was a bit of a fanciful guy, to be sure, but he wasn’t the only one who saw “himself”- one of his maids also saw what appeared to be Shelley walking into a part of the yard where the only exit was over a 20 foot wall. Then, he approached again from the very same direction as before. And on top of all that, he wasn’t even around in the first place, so neither one was the real him. Apparently he was cool enough to have two doppelgängers.

“We’re available for parties, too.”

Other famous people who’ve seen their own doppelgänger (or that of a relative) include Abraham Lincoln, John Donne, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s story is particularly interesting. He claimed to have been riding on horseback down a dirt road when he saw himself riding the opposite way, toward… uh, himself. He noted his other self wearing a gray coat with gold trim. 8 years later, he was riding down the same path in the opposite direction and suddenly realized that he was wearing the same gray and gold coat his other had been wearing 8 years earlier. Historical celebrities are not alone, however, as even into modern days, it’s not difficult to find someone who has sworn they saw someone they knew, only to find out later that they were all the way on the other side of town, or something along those lines.

I make no claims as to the nature or whereabouts of O.J. Simpson’s doppelgänger.

All this is different, however, from the Norse vardøger, which is said to be a ghostly image that precedes you. So, say you go to a buddy’s house and he says, “Weren’t you just here?” Vardøger. If you’re sitting at home, eating Doritos and watching re-runs of Miami Vice and your buddy calls you up and asks, “Hey, were you just at the at the adult toy emporium with an arm-load of marital aids?” Doppelgänger. (Warning: Do not use your doppelgänger to get out of shit you did. It never works. Trust me.)

By the way, it’s alt + 0228 if you must know.

And what do our party-pooping friends, the scientists, have to say about this? Well, Swiss scientists performed lab tests on a 22 year old epileptic woman, finding that when certain parts of the brain (the left temporo-parietal junction if you’re nasty) were stimulated with a minor electric shock… wait a second, didn’t I do this before? Oh fuck, that damn vardøger!

No, wait, nevermind. It’s just the same experiment that I mentioned in the post about the Third Man Phenomenon. Yeah, that’s right. Scientists think that the Third Man Phenomenon and doppelgängers are due to the exact same mental switch, except without the whole mental stress and isolation thing. Oh, and also the fact that the doppelgänger is usually a living person the individual knows. In fact, they also believe that the mental switch can be used to explain ghost sightings as well.

Scientists: Trying to ruin everyone’s fun since the Renaissance.

And even still, rumors have begun spreading that airport face-scanning machines, intended to catch terrorists and other criminals before they can board planes, have captured images of people who live on entirely different continents, aren’t related, and have never met, yet look exactly the same. A popular urban legend making the rounds claims that one airport screener was shocked to see his own face pop up in a scan, and that upon further inspection, found 10 other men in the FBI database who looked exactly like him.

Some other legends also make similar claims, saying that the shared criminal database of mugshots the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies use has a secret sub-database (called Doppelgänger, of course) of people who look identical to each other, even down to the scars on their faces, but have no actual known connection. Further, it’s said that some of the images in this database are of people who lived and died decades ago, but appear to have duplicates alive and well today.

On a barely-related and less creepy note, The Fall of Troy’s Doppelgänger is fantastic.

Wikipedia (The only infallible source of information, ever)