#3. The Headless Lover
A pregnant woman tells her spouse the baby's not his and, in a rational and well-considered move, the husband chops off her lover's head and brings it to her in the maternity ward. It comes in many forms but the moral of the story is always clear; stay the hell away from that Brazilian pool boy, ladies.
Sgt. Stephen Schap and Diane Schap, an army couple stationed in Germany, found out in 1993 that they were about to be blessed with new bundle of joy, which would have great news if not for the minor fact that Stephen had gotten a vasectomy the year prior. Whoops. In a "This Week on Jerry Springer!" moment Diane was forced to admit she had been having an affair with Stephen's best friend Gregory Glover and, unfortunately, Stephen would respond with something much worse than a few thrown chairs.
On a cold December day the pregnant Diane lay in a hospital bed talking on the phone to Gregory when the line, and for that matter Gregory himself, suddenly went dead. Diane wouldn't have to wait long to find out what happened as around half an hour later her husband burst into the room, pulled Gregory's freshly liberated head from a gym bag. He shoved it in her face and according to Diane unleashed a line so cheesy it has to be true.
"Look, Diane - Glover's here! He'll sleep with you every night now. Only you won't sleep, because all you'll see is this." Stephen then plopped the bloody head down on the bedside table so it faced his wife. Say what you will Sgt. Schap's mental stability, the certainly guy had a flair for the dramatic.
#2. The Not-So-Death Defying Escapist
Demonstrating why guidance counselors rarely recommend this line of work, an escape artist fails to follow through on his name and dies in front of a live audience. Rumors like these are often spread by the escapists themselves to up the element of danger (after all, why do we watch if not for the off chance we might see David Blaine die?).
Despite the illusion of danger, escape artists rarely die or even get injured performing a stunt. Most sensible people are going to take every damned possible safety precaution when they're straight-jacketed and lowered into a shark tank wearing a meat codpiece. But Joseph "Amazing Joe" Burrus wasn't most people.
Ironically, given what would take place, Burrus' stunt was to involve him escaping from his own grave. Amazing Joe was shackled in a clear plastic coffin, lowered into a seven foot-deep grave. Three feet of soil was shoveled on him and then as icing on this cake of idiocy, the rest of the hole was filled with wet concrete. All seemed to be going well until, in a result absolutely anyone could have predicted, the plastic coffin collapsed, crushing Joe for good.
While you have to commend Burrus for saving a gravedigger the work of digging a new hole for him, there was some evidence he knew the trick wouldn't work. His accident took place on the anniversary of his idol, the Great Houdini's death, suggesting he may have killed himself on purpose. In which case it was awful decent of him to do it at "Blackbeard's Family Fun Center" in front of as many kids as possible, including his own.
#1. The Living Severed Head
Your head remains aware even after it's severed from your shoulders (giving you just enough time to reflect on how stupid you were to stand up on that roller coaster).
The legend says severed heads have been known to blink, react to stimulus and yes, even try to talk.
Death by decapitation has been assumed to be instant and painless throughout most of history (the guillotine was designed as a humane execution method, the fact that it looked freakin' cool was just a bonus) but there's much evidence that your brain remains aware anywhere from several seconds to a minute after your head gets lopped off.
One of the earliest and best-known proofs of this came from a Dr. Beaurieux, who conducted an experiment on a French murderer named Languille. After he was guillotined, Languille's eyes and mouth continued to move for five to six seconds, at which point he appeared to pass on. But then when Beaurieux shouted the subject's name, Languille's eyes popped open.
In Beaurieux's own words: "Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine, the pupils focusing themselves," and the good doctor continued to get similar results for up to 30 seconds (at which point Languille possibly just got tired of playing decapitation peek-a-boo).
There are plenty of other guillotine-related stories, but how about we bring the horror into modern day, where we can all relate to and be nauseated by it? Here we find a first hand account of the aftermath of an accident, in which one of the men in the car lost his head.
"My friend's head came to rest face up, and (from my angle) upside-down. As I watched, his mouth opened and closed no less than two times. The facial expressions he displayed were first of shock or confusion, followed by terror or grief. I cannot exaggerate and say that he was looking all around, but he did display ocular movement in that his eyes moved from me, to his body, and back to me."
Yes, that does seem to indicate that there was a long moment of awareness where the dude's living head had time to look and see his own body, complete with the red hole where his head used to be attached.
Pretty chilling stuff, so let's leave you on a lighter note.
In Africa, there have been certain tribes who will tie your head to a springy sapling before chopping it off, so that your head is then catapulted into the distance after the final blow. Thus your last few moments of awareness are of your head sailing breezily through the air. Seriously, if you have to die, that has to be like one of the top five ways.
If you missed last year's installment, don't stop till you get enough with The 5 Creepiest Urban Legends (That Happen to Be True). Or see how terrifying rock candy can be with The 9 Most Shameless Attempts to Cash in on Election Hype. Or if you're not sufficiently creeped out, we'll let Japan take it from here with The 35 Most Insane Halloween Costumes from Around the World.
Nathan Birch also writes the still disgustingly cute webcomic Zoology.