A female college student returns to her dorm room late one evening and discovers her roommate has been murdered.
Of all the horror legends we were asked about in 1997, this was far and away the most frequent one to show up in the snopes.com e-mailbox. Unlike just about every other “classic” horror legend (e.g. The Hook and The Boyfriend’s Death), this one is even now being both told and believed on college campuses.
Examples: [Collected on the Internet, 1997]
Supposedly, at another college in the state, a girl was studying late and went back to her dorm room to get some books or notes. So she wouldn’t disturb her roommate, she didn’t turn on the lights when she got her stuff off of her desk. Later when she went back to her room, she found her roommate dead and a note written in lipstick on the mirror. It said, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?”
A young lady is alone in her apartment. She goes to bed with her dog on the floor beside her. In the middle of the night, she is woken up by a strange sound. She is alarmed, but reaches down to the dog, who licks her hand. She is reassured and goes back to sleep.
In the morning, she finds the dog hung in the shower. Where the dog slept, she picks up a note which reads “Humans can lick too.”
Details vary wildly from version to version — sometimes the survivor comes looking for a sweater instead of her books, or she’s been at a party instead of the library, or she stops by briefly to check on her sick roommate (leaving immediately because she assumes the girl is sleeping). In some versions she returns home to find the police in the process of investigating the murder, and sometimes she’s the one who discovers the body, having awakened the next morning to find both the slashed-throat corpse and the note. Depending on who is telling the story, either the girlfriend, or the dog, or both the girlfriend and the dog are found with their throats cut. (In the “humans can lick too” versions, the dog is often discovered hanging in the bathroom, the blood from its slashed throat dripping onto the tiles, this dripping sound being the odd noise that wakes the girl who lived through the night.)
The “Aren’t you glad . . .” and the “Humans can lick too” versions are so closely related that it is difficult to think of them as separate legends. Once the details are boiled away, the same basic storyline is revealed in both — a young woman is oblivious to a grisly killing taking place in front of her, and just how close the call was is revealed in the chilling comment left by the murderer. Be it dog or roommate which ends up on the slab, the real horror of the moment is focused on the girl who survives. (Murder victims are a dime a dozen — what makes the blood run cold is the thought of the one who just barely got away.)
Proving that even modern legends can have much older roots, the “licked hand” motif shows up in an 11 August 1871 diary entry penned in England by one Dearman Birchall:
Croquet party . . . [One of the guests] told of a clergyman who was aroused in the middle of the night by his wife who said ‘John, dear, I am sure there is a robber under the bed, I hear him moving. Do get up and see.’ John replied, ‘Oh its only the Newfoundland dog. I just put my hand out and he licked it’. Next morning all the jewellery and many other effects had disappeared.”
Though in this 19-century version the grisly murder is missing, once again the lurking miscreant escapes detection by pretending to be the dog by licking the suspicious party’s hand and thus providing reassurement that all is well.
This legend is a hair-raising cautionary tale about the dangers of living away from home, and it plays upon our fears of the murdering madman turning up in our bedrooms one night. We fear becoming the victims of random violence, and we fear being vulnerable in an unsafe world. The more unsafe we perceive the world around us to be, the more tales like this get told.
Look for this tale in 1998’s Urban Legend.