FACE IT. THE ICONS OF HALLOWEEN aren't scary AT ALL. Pumpkin is a pie ingredient, black cats purr and roll around on their backs in the sun, and brooms are made for sweeping up dust bunnies. Whoever came up with these underachieving symbols for the only holiday dedicated to all things fearful and dead should be forced to spend the rest of their miserable life eating candy bars with razor blades in them. The thing is, as we all know, there is plenty to be frightened of: pregnancy tests, George W. Bush, the cast from the now completely dead Almost Live, E. coli-infested Jack in the Box hamburgers, Ricky Martin, the Experience Music Project building. So, we at The Stranger have put together a short list of truly scary NEW icons for Halloween, along with costumes that can be rendered easily from commonly found household items. Let's see, which do you find more terrifying, a woman in a pointy hat or a fucking urethral swab? We thought so.

Urethral Swabs
by David Schmader

Like a whisper it comes, an angel's whisper, delicately gliding -- fragile, fragile! -- through the pinhole ear of a daffodil, where it murmurs the words all life aches to hear: What you are is good. But it is not a whisper, it is a cold metallic swab. And that's no angel, but a harried health-care worker who devilishly rams said swab straight through the pinhole eye of your penis and up into your urethra, where it screams like a chainsaw through sheet metal the words that greet the damned in Hell: YOU DESERVE THIS. I speak, of course, of the urethral swab, the single most terrifying thing in the entire world.

The urethral swab is part of the oxidase screening test for a small variety of sexually transmitted diseases. In the test, a tiny, chemical-soaked swab is briefly inserted a few centimeters into a man's urethra to obtain a sample of his urethral discharge. My single experience with urethral swabbing came as part of the routine physical examination given to sexually active adults. And while the results of my screening revealed that I was in perfect health, the test itself made me wish I were dead.

What makes the urethral swab so terrifying? Chalk it up to what experts call perceived body insult -- a phenomenon in which the body receives no actual injury, but knows that it is experiencing something horribly, horribly wrong. Never mind that the intrusion of the swab is only a few centimeters, and of such short duration; when it comes to the urethra, centimeters are miles and seconds are years. Add to these terrors the urethral swab's inherent punitive and moralistic overtones (like a storybook witch who terrorizes only naughty children), and you have a Halloween horror that will lodge itself in your psyche for years.

P.S. Don't even say the word "catheter."

Wiener Dogs
by Wm. Steven Humphrey

Ask any Yankee; when naming some of the all-time scary places to grow up, Alabama tops the list. As a child of the deep South, I agree there's something chilling about a dark, boggy swamp, Ku Klux Klan members strolling down a city street, or the sharp, whirring blades of farm machinery. However, now I'm an adult -- and nothing scares me. Except, of course, the wiener dog.

At age eight, the shortest distance between two points was through someone's backyard, and kids in Alabama roamed freely. One day, while on Kraut patrol with my trusted BB gun, I paused in my neighbor's yard. There was Rusty, their 10-year old wiener dog. To me, Rusty was just another dachshund... waitasecond... but a dachshund... is also... a Kraut! And since I was on Kraut patrol, it was my duty to take Rusty prisoner.

"Awright, ya stinkin' Aryan rat, you know what to do," I said to Rusty, nodding toward my imaginary POW camp across the street. "Start goose-steppin'!" Defeat filled his eyes, and I laughed as he turned on those ridiculously short little legs. How easily he was captured! How very stupid he looked! How... ow, OW, OWWWW!! The little shit bit my leg!!

"Retreat!" I screamed, limping for safety, as Rusty barked "RAP! RAP! RAP!" in hot pursuit. Fortunately he stopped at his property line, as I sat in a ditch, tearfully examining my bloody war wound.

"I HATE you, Rusty!" I screamed, ineffectually throwing a dirt clod when I could have easily shot him with my BB gun. "I HATE YOU!!" Rusty just stared -- and with a quick scratch! scratch! of his back feet on the earth, waddled away.

Though Rusty's long dead, I still sense his hatred for me, deeply embedded inside the genes of all wiener dogs, and I can tell what they're thinking. They stare at me as I pass, smelling and enjoying my fear, thinking, "Go on, motherfucker... make fun of my short legs..." and imagine licking my blood from their teeth.

Surface Light Rail
by Dan Savage

OH MY GOD! Street-level light rail! EEEEEEE!

Here's a joke: What's a pre-light rail Seattle Transit expert? Someone who thinks other people should take the bus. What's a post-light rail Seattle Transit expert? Someone who thinks other people should take the bus to a light rail station, then ride light rail to a station near the airport, then take another bus to the airport. I'm from a subway city -- Chicago -- where you don't need a car to get around, and consequently have never learned to drive. I ride public transportation in this town, and I can tell you that IT FUCKING SUCKS! And you know what? After we spend half a billion dollars on light rail, IT'S STILL GONNA FUCKING SUCK! Jim Compton calls the light rail plan a "spine" -- I call it one lousy line. With much of our light rail running at street-level, it's going to be one slow train ride, folks. And that scares me. Once voters have seen their money wasted on a crappy, go-nowhere, get-there-slowly system, we're never gonna have real, sane, RAPID public transportation in this town. "Rapid transit," in case any of you transit wonk geniuses are reading this, DOES NOT MEAN EXPRESS BUSES OR DEDICATED BUS LANES. It means subways and elevated trains, something that lifts commuters out of traffic, and gets them places faster than driving.

You know why people in Chicago, New York City, London, and Berlin ride subways and elevated trains? Not because it's virtuous, you fucking morons. They ride because it's faster. At noon on a weekday, a cab from lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side takes 45 minutes. The subway takes 15. I'm scared of our light rail plan, and I hope it never gets built. If we do build our proposed light rail system -- one that isn't gonna work -- we won't ever build one that does.

Sliced Eyeballs
by Jennifer Vogel

There's a good reason why horror movies rely on knives, needles, and hatchets rather than guns or even nooses. A gunshot can be administered from a distance. It's often associated with good guys and bad guys and the settling of a score. But the use of a hunting knife, a hypodermic, or a razor blade is the sure sign of a sick mind. These weapons produce the type of wounds that can only be inflicted at close range. And they take time. The perpetrator might have to stab you 12 or 13 times. He might painstakingly peel off your skin and stitch it into a housedress, as Wisconsin "scientist" Ed Gein was fond of doing. The puncture of flesh dredges up a special kind of repulsion, the realization that our skin amounts to little more than the thin paper covering on a bulging juice box.

I'm reluctant to describe the following scenario, since something tells me that once I've put it to paper, it might actually happen. But here it is anyway. When I dig for what's most frightening, I see a shiny new razor blade with a fresh, paper-thin edge. And I see my eyeball -- innocent and blinking. The razor blade leaps toward the delicate flesh of its round, white target (women who shave under their arms, which requires close visual supervision, know that the idea of blade meeting eyeball isn't reserved merely for art film opening sequences), and I am all the more terrified since I am inherently unable to look away. The blade makes contact toward the top of my eyeball, and I watch it slice slowly downward with a back and forth motion until it has cut a flap about the size and thickness of a contact lens. Everything goes black as my eye socket fills with tears and blood. My eyeball throbs and stings, but not so much that I can't feel the flap of eyeball skin fold over onto itself and softly come to rest on my bottom eyelid. I faint, of course, which is convenient for whoever is slicing me to bits, because now they have plenty of time to make a housedress.

Rejection
by Erin Franzman

Getting dumped sucks. Getting fired sucks. But rejection from humans and animals is small potatoes compared to the slow and constant cosmic rejection we suffer everyday from the inanimate objects that populate our world.

There's no respite from rejection by inanimate objects. Your jeans don't fit. You trip on a crack in the pavement. You drop a full wine glass on your new sofa. You don't honestly believe that these are just coincidences, do you? This is systematic, highly organized, cosmic rejection intended to scare you into submission.

My shower clearly finds me repugnant, as evidenced by its repeatedly running ice-cold water on me in the middle of a hot shower. I try turning the water hotter, but it still runs cold every four minutes, and, just to show me who's master, my shower will go scaldingly hot immediately afterward. Eventually I discovered that my shower makes a secret gurgle of malicious anticipation before running cold, so now I huddle in the far corner of the shower, as far out of the stream as possible, when I hear that sound. But my protean shower has not yet humbled me enough, and when it runs cold it also runs slightly more aggressively. So even when I think I might've escaped the stream, it redoubles its strength to reach me mid-calf. And really, the way I feel when I'm nearly fetal in the shower, squeezing my eyes shut to protect them from the rivulets of shampoo running down my forehead to my shivering body, is much scarier than anything a mere mortal could do to me.

This is not to mention the rejection I've suffered from my car, from various audio-visual equipment, and from take-out coffee lids on two continents. Rejection is scarier than ghosts or witches or any of that stupid shit, because it's a real, identifiable, and unstoppable way for the universe to remind you how unwelcome you are.

Immigration Officers
by Charles Mudede

Ever since I can remember, I have been scared of American immigration officers. They have been the subject of numerous demented nightmares, appearing at that awful moment when I'm trying to enter somewhere safe, calm, sunny, and just beyond the iron gates. Wearing a yellow badge, a white shirt, dark blue pants, and sunglasses, the immigration officer demands to see my papers! But for some inexplicable reason, I fail to find them; all my pockets are filled with blue confetti. I plea and beg, but the immigration officer will have none of it. He becomes louder and larger and more demanding until at some unbearable point I wake, the lights of a lost car rippling through my dark room.

My association of horror and death with immigration officers is by no means hysterical. Have you ever seen the immigration building on Airport Way, which looms menacingly over the International District? Is there a more sepulchral-looking building in Seattle? It's like a hologram projected from one's worst fears, as it stands there alone, a long line of desperate people waiting for hours to be consumed by the monsters within. I have waited in that line many times (in the rain, in the snow) while overhead, on the third or fourth floor of the building, incarcerated Mexicans moaned in something that wasn't Spanish.

The visits are always the same. Once inside this haunted house of pain, you are directed to the door of your immigration officer, who has total power over you because she is not beholden to the American voting public. After knocking, you enter the nightmare. She orders you to close the door behind you, and then to stand in the middle of the room. She pulls out a big-ass monkey wrench from her desk drawer, and really, what can you say to her? You must submit to her every whim. "So you want to become an American, Mr. Mudede?"

"...."

"I want to teach you a game I like to play with those applying for visas and green cards. It is a game my father taught me. It is called the Dark Closet. Would you like to learn this new game, Mr. Mudede?"

"...."

"Would you like to play this game with me, Mr. Mudede?"

"...."

"Excellent, excellent! Let us play then, you and I."

Apples
by Kathleen Wilson

Now, I'm the first to admit I've got some pretty silly neuroses, so I'm not ashamed to say that I'm afraid of apples. In fact, the thought of biting into one sends shivers right down my spine and makes my fingers curl, ever since the fall of 1974 when little Summer Rogers went missing. Summer had disappeared while playing in the apple orchard behind my childhood home, and for weeks the newspaper was filled with stories about the little girl. Being a nosy fifth-grader who dreamed of being a detective, I was enthralled with the story and pored over every macabre word, much to my mother's disapproval. "You'll get nightmares," she warned. They never found Summer's body, but several months later, the police did find her head shoved into a paint can on a shelf in somebody's abandoned trailer. But that's not the detail that scared me the most. What terrified me to the point of nightmares was the apple the police found in the orchard that had been bitten into by Summer, a fact verified by photos of the girl's distinctly fucked-up teeth. The paper ran a picture of the rotten apple that clearly showed the teeth marks, and to this day the image of the rotten apple and a little girl's head in a can overtakes me every time someone offers me an apple -- which is why I'm strictly a pear girl.

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