12 Ways to Die Badly (Ingloriously)
By Benjamin Kane Ethridge
It has been mentioned that my new novel, BOTTLED ABYSS, contains inventive death scenes. As much as I wear this praise as a badge of honor, conjuring up morbid wonder isn’t something I ever purposely set out to accomplish. To be honest, I’m not much of a gore hound. I do feel, however, that you have to be true to the tale and true to the genre; you can’t and mustn’t hold back. Much of my new novel involves Greek mythology, though it’s broadly redefined and adjusted in terms of lore. Countless examples of gruesome and strange deaths are inked on the pages of Greek history and some make up this list I’ve created below. Twelve deaths made the cut, although you probably could go on and on with this sort of thing (see the TV show 1000 Ways to Die).
Anyway. Enjoy, but put prepare your stomach.
1) Being unable to move and then devoured. In 6th century BC Greek wrestler Milo of Croton came upon a tree-trunk split with wedges. Putting his wrestler’s strength to the test, he tried to split it barehanded. The wedges fell and trapped his hands inside the tree. This was embarrassing for a macho man like Milo, but things became much worse when a pack of wolves wandered by and decided to have beefcake for dinner.
2) Scaphism. This Persian form of torture (that ultimately is execution) is probably the most horrendous and humiliating I’ve ever heard of. I need describe little else, for this Wikipedia excerpt says it all: “The intended victim was stripped naked and then firmly fastened within the interior spaces of two narrow rowing boats (or hollowed-out tree trunks), with the head, hands and feet protruding. The condemned was forced to ingest milk and honey to the point of developing severe bowel movement and diarrhea, and more honey would be rubbed on his body to attract insects to the exposed appendages. He would then be left to float on a stagnant pond or be exposed to the sun. The defenseless individual's feces accumulated within the container, attracting more insects, which would eat and breed within his exposed flesh, which—pursuant to interruption of the blood supply by burrowing insects—became increasingly gangrenous. The feeding would be repeated each day in some cases to prolong the torture, so that dehydration or starvation did not kill him. Death, when it eventually occurred, was probably due to a combination of dehydration, starvation and septic shock. Delirium would typically set in after a few days.” The land of milk and honey is paved in skulls, it turns out.
3) Crucified on an inverted cross. St. Peter decided he wasn’t worthy the same death of Christ, which strikes me as peculiar since you can debate that this sacrifice (on a physical level anyway) is much more terrifying and painful. Being crucified is not something one looks forward to, but being crucified upside down is sort of like asking, “Please may I use hydrochloric acid with my Chinese water torture?”
4) Roasted on a BBQ grill. Saint Lawrence of Rome was roasted alive on a giant grill, during the persecution of Valerian. So, yeah, being burned to death would be extremely painful, but that’s ogling the obvious. What about the smell? Cooking baloney. Charred steak. Prime rib of human. These are the smells in your nostrils while your flesh bubbles and crackles and spits—yikes.
5) Poisoning. It goes without saying that symptoms from poisoning are very undesirable, but I’ll take that foaming mouth you see in most movies over what Arius, presbyter of Alexandria, endured. Legend describes that he died of sudden diarrhea followed by bleeding and anal discharge of the intestines while he stumbled across the imperial forum in Constantinople. He may have been poisoned either through chemical or food borne bacteria, so the exact cause is murky. Either way though, holy crap and all that houses it!
6) Being Conched to Death. Another great dose of Greek history. Hypatia of Alexandria, a mathematician, philosopher and last librarian of the Library of Alexandria, was murdered by a Christian mob that ripped off her skin with sharp sea-shells. That isn’t the ocean you hear inside the shell, it’s the roar of a thousand screams!
7) Being clubbed with your prosthetic. Sir Arthur Aston, Royalist commander of the garrison during the Siege of Drogheda, was beaten to death with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers thought concealed golden coins. This one strikes me as sadder than the others. Aston had to live regretting the loss of his leg and then he had to die regretting the loss of his leg. In a fashion, he never really survived that maiming; it came back to claim him in another form.
8) A basketball of lightning to the face. Professor Georg Wilhelm Richmann, became the first recorded person to be killed while performing electrical experiments when he was struck in the face and killed by a globe of lightning. The lesson here is simple: when God passes the ball, be ready.
9) Locomotion. William Huskisson, statesman and financier, was crushed to death by a locomotive (Stephenson's Rocket), at the opening of the world's first mechanical passenger railway. You’ve awaited this moment for a long time and the very thing you’ve devoted all your time and energy into is also your undoing. It’s romantic, but doesn’t mask the fact you’re just as dead as the guy who took a ball of lightning to the head.
10) Slowly, sweetly. In the Boston Molasses Disaster, 21 people were killed when a tank containing as much as 2,300,000 gallons of molasses ruptured and released a flow that traveled at approximately 35 mph through part of Boston. Ever been eating something and get to the point where you say, “Eh, this is too sweet,” and you put it down? Imagine you can’t put it down and you keep eating it until you die. Gulp...
11) Chim-chim-ch-rooed. Actress Sirkka Sari died when she fell down a chimney into a heating boiler. She mistook the chimney for a balcony. Upon making a literal slip-up, you’re now in hot water. Very hot water. So watch your step.
12) Stubborn starvation. This is the one I'm afraid will befall my wife (I'm the cook in our house). I hope she takes note because Kurt Gödel, the famous logician, had something of a problem that landed him dead. Gödel died of starvation when his wife was hospitalized. He suffered from extreme paranoia and refused to eat food prepared by anyone else. I hope for my wife’s sake, I live long enough to keep her well nourished. Then again, looking over entries 1-11, there are worse ways to go.
Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books 2010) and BOTTLED ABYSS (Redrum Horror, 2012). For his master's thesis he wrote, "CAUSES OF UNEASE: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn't writing, reading, videogaming, Benjamin's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.
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