As someone who spends a considerable amount of my professional life writing about spooky stuff, you’d think that by this point, there wouldn’t be much that could scare me. However, you would be wrong — because I just got lost in an AskReddit thread about the scariest things that actually exist, and you guys? I think I need a hug. Or at least some cat videos or pictures of puppies. Just…something. Something to shake this feeling of unspeakable dread in which I currently find myself trapped. Please send help.
To be fair, threads like u/SkeletronDOTA’s query asking Redditors, “What is the scariest, most terrifying thing that actually exists?” tend to pop up with some degree of frequency; I’m usually the first in line to read them, too. But what I don’t always do is look up each and every item brought up in the thread… which, incidentally, is exactly what I did this time. All I can say is, the truth really is stranger than fiction — and sometimes, that’s the scariest thing of all.
Here are the 12 entries in the thread that wigged me out the most; there’s plenty more where they came from, though, so if you were looking for a reason not to sleep tonight, head on over to AskReddit. Just… don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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1. The Gympie-Gympie Tree
For anyone who subscribes to the “everything in Australia is trying to kill you” worldview, here’s another point in your favor: One of six stinging-tree species found on the continent, Gympie-Gympie Tree can be downright hazardous to your health. Marina Hurley, who spent three years in Queensland studying the tree and got stung during the course of her studies, described the experience to Australian Geographic as follows:
“Being stung is the worst kind of pain you can imagine — like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time. The allergic reaction developed over time, causing extreme itching and huge hives that eventually required steroid treatment. At that point my doctor advised that I should have no further contact with the plant and I didn’t object.”
The effects of Alzheimer’s aren’t fun to watch happen to someone else, either. Another Redditor likened it to a horror movie, and honestly, they’re not wrong. I’m of the opinion that most good horror is about something — it's a reflection of our world, so to speak — and the 2014 film The Taking Of Deborah Logan nailed this, tackling what it’s like to watch someone you love suffer from dementia. It’s scary enough all on its own without the supernatural elements that come into play later on.
3. Biological Warfare
I mean, all warfare is terrifying, but biological warfare is particularly scary. It’s true that the creation of bio-weapons dates back to antiquity — there’s evidence that a plague of tularemia that struck the Eastern Mediterranean in the 14th century BCE was a form of biological warfare — but in our current age of advancing technology, it’s becoming easier and easier to play god.
4. Brain-Eating Amoeba
6. Tiny, Venomous Jellyfish
True story: If you get stung by an Irukandji jellyfish, you could develop Irukandji syndrome, which scientists have described as “a feeling of impending doom,” according to Science of Us. Australian biologist Lisa Gershwin spoke to ABC radio about the condition in 2007, saying, “Patients believe they’re going to die and they’re so certain of it that they’ll actually beg their doctors to kill them just to get it over with.”
Also: Holy cow, platypus venom exists?
8. The Lone Star Tick
Remember the lone star tick? We got real friendly with it just a few weeks ago. It’s going to ruin your entire summer… by completely rewiring how your body responds to a certain sugar molecule that happens to be abundant in red meat.
Funny how many of these super frightening things are just nature being its brutal, vicious self, isn’t it?
9. Uncaught Serial Killers
The idea of uncaught serial killers is extra horrifying because honestly, we don’t know how many that is. We know that there are about 25 to 50 active serial killers in the United States at any given time, and we know that about half of serial killers are caught within their first year of being active… but we just don’t know how the very complicated math works out otherwise. (There's not, like, a schedule of when serial killers become active or when others retired.) Some serial killers may not ever even be identified as serial killers because they’re good enough not to leave anything that ties them to their victims.
10. Prions & Prion Diseases
For what it’s worth, Johns Hopkins notes that prion diseases are rare; only about 300 cases are reported each year. Still, though — they are terrifying. Oh, and hey, remember that incredibly frightening Wikipedia page I found a little while ago about “fatal insomnia?” That’s a prion disease. Awesome.
11. Student Loan Payments
I mean, you’re not wrong, u/InterruptingKal. According to recent reports, it’s going to take around 20 years for most of us to pay off our student loans. It’s why us Millennials are finding it so much harder to hit the “milestones” previous generations measured their “adultness” by — things like buying houses or planning to retire in our 60s. Also, most of us are really tired of being told that we’re irresponsible with money when what we’re doing is dealing with stagnant wages and rising costs of living and a terrible job market. Avocado toast has nothing to do with it.
I despair for us. Truly, I do.