Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
In many communities, urban legends are a right of passage. Most of us have grown up with some form of tall tale. Whether it was something as ridiculous as growing watermelon in your stomach because you ate its seeds. Or downright terrifying, like being taken by a demonic woman because you said her name three times in a mirror.
Though they may not have much in common on the surface, their significance goes beyond the tales themselves. Urban legends provide children with their first real test of critical thinking. Even if every kid in your class is adamant that some miraculous claim is valid, you’re never too sure. In your own growing curiosity, you ask questions, do research, and piece together information from your own understanding of the world.
To us adults, it may seem insignificant to determine that a watermelon actually won’t grow in your stomach or that Slenderman didn’t actually steal the kid who’s been out sick. But in reality, it’s the process of logical thinking and finding the truth with verifiable evidence that becomes so valuable later on in life.
And it’s for these exact reasons that the tale of the Earwig strikes a deep-seated dread into every person living in my town.
The Earwig is a creature born of collective fear, as the story goes. A human-sized bug that waits in the darkness, fixing its body into the tiniest corner so that it can observe you from afar. Long antenna sense the slightest movement. Quick legs and a flexible body allow it to squeeze into every nook and cranny to evade your eye.
Unsure of your surroundings, you search but to no avail. Only when you think you’ve checked every corner possible, do you reluctantly accept that you’re alone. Little do you know that the moment you’ve let your guard down is the moment it glides silently towards you to inject a paralyzing neurotoxin into your neck.
The debilitating pain is unbearable, and you thrash around in a desperate attempt to fight back, but a tough exoskeleton protects it from anything you could hope would hurt it. As your body begins to tire and as your muscles start to seize, fleshy tentacles emerge from an undulating thorax and shoot a sticky material to hold you in place. At the same time, a flexible proboscis pierces your abdomen. It excretes a substance to turn your insides into a soup and happily slurps it up. Once it’s had its fill, a second appendage quickly injects thousands of maggots into what will now serve as a petrified cacoon.
Horrifying behavior aside, the story for the Earwig isn’t simply one of a formidable predator. It’s one of a creature who, by some unknown means, has conquered the very concept of uncertainty itself.
What happens when a being finds a way to always potentially exist? Not just when you finally decide to open your eyes and turn around. But under your bed. In your closet. In every dark place, you never thought to check. Until you know for a fact that something is or isn’t there, the answer to what fills that space is… Unknown… And in that uncertainty, the Earwig finds a home.
The more people think about the possibility of its existence, the more it has a chance to find its way into our reality.
At first, the kids couldn’t possibly understand the ramifications of the tale. For them, it was just a stupid thing they’d say to scare each other. “Don’t think about the earwig, or it’ll already be too late.” They’d say.
When one was mad at a classmate or a teacher, they’d shout the name three times or draw them a picture of it to make sure that the target of their ire kept the beast in mind.
Others would play the long game. Finding a victim and making mention of the Earwig to them every single day.
For most, it was supposed to be harmless kid fun. A dumb myth like any other. As they grew older, they’d forget and laugh when their friends brought it up as adults.
But one day, the laughs stopped when a girl was found dead in her room. Her body had seemingly petrified overnight, and what looked like maggots were crawling in and out of her nose.
Nobody could figure out what had led to her death. Had she simply stopped breathing? An abnormal medical condition, perhaps? There were no signs of foul play, just a few marks that looked like she had been stuck by a hypodermic needle. But there was no break-in, and the parents surely didn’t harm her. So what had led to that tragedy?
Sad and confused, the town’s children did their best to cope with the event. At first, there was genuine mourning for the young girl. But in a short amount of time, they attached her death to the only thing that made sense in their underdeveloped minds. Soon, the Earwig had become synonymous with taking the young girl’s life. In the minds of the children, she was its first official kill.
Almost as if the universe wanted to confirm their suspicions, soon after, another person was found dead. This time, a grown man. A teacher who, in all fairness, was hated by much of his class. Like the girl, his body was found petrified with maggots crawling out of every orifice. Needle marks were found on his neck, and some unidentifiable mucus-like substance stuck him to his bed. But unlike the girl, he had a more direct connection to the creature.
Drawings of what appeared to be an imposing bug filled his mailbox. Papers he was grading had “Earwig” written all over it with more crude pictures of a similar-looking beast drawn on the back.
While the local police couldn’t take this as any more than coincidence, and while none of the kids involved faced punishment, it certainly raised the eyebrows of the townsfolk. All the while, word of the Earwig was going from urban legend to something that people truly began to fear.
As time went on, more deaths came in the exact same manner. Never an overwhelming amount, but a concerning number nonetheless. While some seemed completely unrelated to the creature, most undeniably had some sort of connection to it.
It ultimately reached the point where even the most hardcore skeptics wouldn’t dare say its name for fear of bringing a plague upon someone else’s home or, worse, their own.
A young boy played out in his front yard on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Two neighborhood kids the same age were walking by and stopped to talk with him for a second.
A quick exchange of pocket cash was made, the young boy disappeared into his house and then soon reemerged with a piece of chalk. He casually walked over to the sidewalk and began to draw something as the two boys stood over him and giggled.
He didn’t even finish half the word before his father came rushing out of the house like it was on fire. The man scooped his son up with one arm while punt kicking the fallen piece of chalk across the street.
Mr. Ned, as the kids called him, was one of the calmest individuals in town. A delightfully happy religious man who never raised his voice even was now beat-red. He screamed at the two neighborhood boys to get the hell away from his house before turning his attention to his son and yelled, “You will never fucking do that again! Do you understand me?” He had been shouting with so much force that others couldn’t help but peek out their windows to see what the commotion was.
One woman even stepped outside to inquire about what was going on. Mr. Ned met her confused gaze with a snarl. With nearly the same level of force he had spoken to his son with, he screamed at her to go inside before marching back into his home with a vice grip on his son’s arm.
From that day forward, the young boy wasn’t allowed out of his house for anything except school until he was ready to leave for college. Supposedly, the two boys who had thought it would be funny to pay the kid to draw the creature’s name in public met an even harsher punishment at home.
Quickly, word of the Earwig wasn’t that of legend to the townspeople. They were fact. Just as the sun rose in the sky, so too did the Earwig descend in the dark.
For them, talk of anything even resembling the creature was taboo. And any slip-ups were met with zero tolerance and swift retribution. There were even instances of police coming to arrest people they heard were spreading the creature’s name. False charges were quickly applied, and people were more than willing to lie in court to shut someone up for good.
Though it may seem like a mighty overreaction from the outside, it’s important to remember what fear does to people. Especially when that fear had been justified by years of evidence. When your life and the lives of your loved ones are put in danger because of mere thoughts, it would seem appropriate that people go to extreme measures to prevent those thoughts from ever forming. And when the Earwig was off of the minds of the people, life was good.
The hope was that like all things not acknowledged, the legend would fade into irrelevance. And eventually non-existence. But scattered whispers and an irrefutable feeling of constantly walking on eggshells kept the thoughts alive. And by extension, the Earwig still ate.
Evey now and again, another death would surface. The townsfolk would play it off as natural causes or a particularly gruesome homicide. But deep down, they knew the truth.
As a kid, my friends and I were bolder with the legend. Though we didn’t dare speak of the Earwig to the degree previous generations had, we played with the concept enough that we put ourselves in real danger of retaliation.
Strange as it was, it felt like we were carrying on a tradition. For us, the idea of playing with something so sinister felt fun. In our minds, we were invincible. It felt like we could touch the edge of death, but our youth and hubris would always pull us back onto safe ground.
As we got older, the frequency of the story faded until, eventually, we had gone years without speaking of it. I was seventeen and in my last year of high school when it ultimately came up again.
My friends and I were hanging out before school when we were approached by a kid named Dean Mendez. Dean always had a passion for the macabre and would tell anyone who’d listen about the creepy things he found on the internet.
Usually, he’d be excited to tell people about the various things he’d find, but that day, he seemed… Spooked. His eyes were puffy and red, and his hair was a tangled mess.
I saw him walking towards us, and as he got close, I went to say hello, but he approached me first.
“I need to speak with you. Alone,” Dean said, placing his hand on my shoulder a little too tightly.
My immediate impulse was to tell him to let go and take a few steps back as I was hit with an odor that no doubt resulted from skipping the shower for the past few days.
But despite my initial reservations, I also got the strong sense that Dean needed help. Whatever led him to this condition was obviously pretty severe. And if he needed to talk to me about something that would help him, then so be it.
I checked the time and saw I still had quite a bit before my first-period class, so I told my friends I’d catch up with them later and walked off with Dean.
As we walked, I tried to ask him what was up, but he insisted that we get away from where other people could hear because he was scared they’d judge him.
At this point, I’m a little concerned about my own safety. Still, I felt comfortable escaping a confrontation by evaluating the difference in our size and playing with the swiss army knife I keep in my front pocket for self-defense.
Once he felt we were far enough from prying ears, he stopped and started to cry. “I messed up really bad, man. I messed up really, really, bad.” He said with his face buried in his hands.
I tried to tell him that whatever it was, he’d be okay and that I was here for him regardless.
“You don’t understand.” He told me. “I went too far. I went way too far.”
It took a minute before I could get him to calm down, and only when he stopped crying could I get him to actually explain himself.
“What happened?” I asked.
There was a pause. Dean looked around a moment before taking a step towards me and wrapping his hands around my shoulders again. “I summoned the god damn Earwig.” He stated. “I was so curious about the legends. If they were true. For the past month, I committed myself to making sure that it was real… I… I had to see it. I needed proof. That’s what curious people do, right? They investigate things. See if they can find the craziness in our world, and I freaking found it. But I didn’t know it’d be like this!”
For a moment, I was confused, but then my mind suddenly flashed back to all the childhood stories and made connections between the strange deaths and weird behavior around the name. But as far as I remembered, the Earwig always killed its victims. Left them nothing but a corpse filled with its children. And yet, Dean looked perfectly healthy.
I asked him how it was possible. If he had indeed summoned the Earwig, then how was he still alive? And why was he talking to me about it?
He shrugged. All Dean knew was that it wanted him to speak to a few of the people he knew in exchange for his life. Remind them that it was still here. It gave him a list of people, and he’d been struggling with what it would mean to follow its instructions since that day. But ultimately, Dean had to choose life.
I wanted to be angry for what he’d done to me. I wanted to scream and tell him to get far away and never look in my direction again, but I knew it wouldn’t help. I could see the fear in his eyes, and his physical condition showed a kid who clearly didn’t want to be doing what he was doing. But he had no choice.
For half the day, I existed in a strange stupor. All I could think about was how I’d get myself out. It wasn’t until a conversation I had with my friends about how they were stressing about school did I realize I couldn’t contribute to the intrusive thoughts. I needed to take my mind elsewhere.
It was hell to try. I did everything possible to distract myself over the coming days. But no matter what I did, the intrusive thoughts found their way in. Drugs, music, conversations, picking up new interests, laser focusing on my other stressors. Nothing mattered. Even my then-girlfriend got annoyed by how much I wanted to hear about what was on her mind instead of speaking on my own thoughts. The worst part was that I couldn’t reach out to others to explain and call for help without dragging them in.
Every day felt like a challenge to keep my mind preoccupied. And I dreaded the moment night hit. Taking sleeping pills early in the evening became routine as I couldn’t risk being alone with my thoughts in the dark for any period of time.
To my horror, my parents had told me they were going on a surprise honeymoon vacation and would be gone for the weekend. When I explained how much I didn’t want them to leave, they were shocked. A teenage boy gets the house all to himself for a weekend, and he’s not stoked? Unfathomable.
Finally, it was just me and the dark.
It all came to a head the same Friday when I couldn’t get to sleep. The sleeping pills weren’t working like I had hoped, and I was tossing and turning with the same questions replaying in my mind. “Why him? Why me? What does it want?” The questions swirled in my brain. I couldn’t help but visualize the thing perched on my ceiling, watching me as I struggled.
Every sound in the dark was magnified. Was it coming from me? Was it something else? Was it real at all? A tingling sensation shot down my spine, and I shot up in a cold sweat, staring into the void before me, waiting for the creature to lunge forward in the dark.
Minutes passed as I sat there paralyzed in fear. The darkness in my room perfectly reflected the uncertainty of my mind. It felt as though I could put my hand out and the odds of feeling something were equal to the odds of feeling nothing.
I couldn’t take it. I sprang up from my bed and made a mad dash for light, flicking it on and seeing… Nothing. Just my room as I had left it.
I breathed a massive sigh of relief and went to sit on my bed, content to stay up all night until the sun came up. I reached for my phone, and the screen read, 1 A.M. I’d have to stay up quite a while, but it was worth it.
I figured I’d need some coffee and slowly began to make my way to the kitchen. Walking down the hall, I turned on the light to the living room, and sitting on the wall between it and the kitchen was a massive black bug.
My body felt like it was made of stone. I dared not move as its long antenna searched the air, sensing for the slightest vibrations. I tried thinking of an exit plan, but there weren’t any good options. The two I immediately settled on were running back to my room or making a dash for the front door. I figured that at least with the second option, I wouldn’t be trapped with the thing bearing down on me.
A single turn of my foot sent its antenna into a frenzy. In the blink of an eye, the thing was skittering down the wall and across the floor towards me.
I moved towards the front door, hoping I could reach it in time, but it cut me off and shot a sticky substance at my feet. I jumped back just as it hit the ground and turned on a dime towards my room but only got a couple feet before I could feel something solid on my back. I was yanked backward, and from the moment I hit the ground, it became impossible to stand back up. Just like that… I was caught.
The Earwig slowly approached me, crawling over me as if it were pacing, trying to decide what to do. Eventually, it settled on standing in front of me, clasping its mandibles together in front of my face. An eel-like tongue slithered out and licked me.
But then it gave me some space. Instead of doing what it had done to so many others, it reared up onto its rear legs and revealed a hole with what looked like teeth surrounding it. A mucus-covered lumpy mass emerged slowly from the hole until it stuck out a few inches. From that mass, two small slits peeled away to reveal milky white eyes. Even though the eyes looked blind, they searched around the room before finally landing on me. Once they had locked onto my location, an awful wet tearing sound followed. And just a few inches under the eyes, a mouth had now formed, with long rotten teeth protruding from puffy gums.
To my shock, the face embedded in this abominable creature was capable of speech. “No need for fear today. You will not die today. Not by me.” It hissed in a deep buzzy voice. “I require your assistance. In return, I will no longer hunt you or your family. This is a fair deal.”
All I could manage to stammer out was a weak “W-w-what?”
The creature took a couple steps forward, and the face extended out slightly to come closer to mine. “Life in exchange for a service. Easily understood. Easily fulfilled.”
“W-what do you want from me?” I continued to stammer while fighting back tears. “I just want to go back to bed, please…”
The corners of its nonexistent lips slightly curled into what I think was supposed to be its version of a smile. The face slightly retracted into the hole before coming out again and speaking, “You must plant my seed. I will give you time to figure out how. But eventually, you must find a way to bring my tale to the masses so that they know my name. Forever.”
I remember thinking it was like a virus. A virus whose host is thought itself. And with the number of hosts in our town dwindling, it was using me as a way of branching out. Doing what it wanted would put so many people in danger but even so, with this satanic spawn bearing over me, the only thing I could say was… “Yes. It’ll be done.”
Seemingly satisfied, the creature’s face began to retract back inside the hole, but a part of me wouldn’t let it go. I shouted for it to stop and to my surprise… It did.
“Why?” I blurted out. “Why do this? If you’re intelligent, you must understand what kind of pain you cause us. Why not co-exist?”
My question seemed to baffle the creature. For a moment, the corners of its mouth drooped low, and its eyes excreted puss from the corners before returning to a neutral expression.
“Why does the spider eat the fly? Why does the lion hunt the antelope? Why do the humans slaughter the pigs? The fish? Each other? It’s in their nature.” It flashed its pseudo-smile again.
“Aren’t our lives more important than nature?” I cried out. “When we kill, it’s only to preserve ourselves. What you do to us is beyond that.”
It paused again and spit towards me before speaking. “How selfish to think self-preservation is only for you. I feed to sustain myself. You shift ecosystems and make entire species go extinct to sustain vanity. Surely you understand the pain you cause as well as I.” The creature began to wrap its body around me. Dozens of sharp legs poked into my skin. “The difference is, this time, you’re the ones being hunted. You should be thankful I haven’t yet decided to eat much more than my fill.”
I could feel the tingle of a stinger softly being pressed against my neck. I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing for a painful injection, but as soon as it had come, it was gone. I reluctantly opened my eyes, and luckily, I was completely alone when I did. Not only that, but I had gained my freedom of movement back. Still, I didn’t feel free. And I most certainly didn’t feel safe.
The only thing I felt comfortable doing at that moment was contemplating. For the first time in a long time, I knew I wouldn’t be in danger because of my thoughts. But that fear for myself was replaced with a concern for others.
Little did I know that that contemplation would take years. Not knowing what the ethical decision was, how long I had to make it, or why I had to be the one to make it has been hard… Some days I’d be so sure I was about to do the right thing, and others, I couldn’t be more uncertain.
It wasn’t until I started writing more seriously that I finally found my answer. I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer or storyteller, but at the very least, I think learning how to communicate an idea is a skill you can build on over time.
As I’ve grown as a writer, so too has my ability to communicate a message. Thinking back to my high school days, there was rarely a time when I wasn’t thinking up stories. Either showing them to my friends and family or posting them anonymously online. Not only that, but I had always dreamed of getting out of the town I was in. Branching out, so to speak.
I think that’s what the Earwig saw. Someone who could communicate an idea to an audience outside of the idea’s birth.
And in the end, I did choose to communicate the story of the Earwig. My safety and the safety of those I care about are far too important to risk by not doing it. And for those who will inevitably be impacted, I am so sorry. If there was any other way to do this, I would.
But before I am judged for my actions, I at least want a chance to be understood. This decision hasn’t come easy. But ultimately, I believe the Earwig always knew what I would do. I think it chose people it knew would always choose to cling to life. In that way, its spread was… is… inevitable. But the degree to which it spreads doesn’t have to be. In making my choice, I figured if I could communicate its message, why can’t I communicate mine as well?
Who’s to say that I don’t warn you now? Who’s to say that I don’t tell you to do everything you can to ignore the Earwig. So I am. Ignore the intrusive thoughts. Find distractions, find other interests, find reasons to convince yourselves it’s nothing more than legend. Because if its existence is never a possibility, then neither are the consequences.
And maybe, together, we can keep a tall tale just that. A tale.
Credit : Bryan A Young
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