Death is scary no matter what — but it gets even scarier once your imagination, and all your most insane phobias, begin to take hold. We white-knuckled our way through this list of the most terrifying ways to die. (Got a scarier one? Share it in the comments. Nightmares for everyone!)
10. You’re exploring a cave deep underground. You discover a tunnel. You decide to crawl into the tunnel to see where it leads. The tunnel narrows unexpectedly. You become stuck and soon you are trapped. You die, slowly, of starvation and dehydration, while steadily losing your mind due to intense claustrophobia.
9. You dive into a swimming pool and swim to touch the bottom, not noticing the broken drain until it’s too late. Your hand becomes caught, and as you thrash around trying to free your fingers before you run out of breath, you notice something very large and toothy darting rapidly in your direction: a shark. There’s a shark in the pool with you! The shark wrestles you from the drain and saves you from drowning, but then it eats you for lunch.
8. You visit the reptile house at the zoo against your better judgment, because much like Indiana Jones, you really hate snakes. But hey, they’re locked up in aquariums, right? Yeah. Until a giant earthquake happens and you become barricaded in the room where the zoo happens to display all of its snakes — the giant squeezey ones and the deadly venomous ones, too. When all of the glass breaks, they wriggle free to conduct a pissed-off, fangs-out inspection of this human in their midst. But not before they slither all over you first.
7. Your nemesis doses you with a poison that slows your breathing and heartbeat to barely perceptible levels; everyone, including medical professionals, thinks you’ve kicked the bucket. At your funeral, which you’re able to fully witness in your immobilized state, your nemesis leans over your living corpse and whispers all of his or her plans to ruin the lives of all the grieving loved ones you’ve left behind. In a Quentin Tarantino movie, you’d be able to break your way out of the grave and get sweet revenge. But this is real life, and since you can’t die of a rage overdose, you slowly suffocate in the subterranean darkness of your coffin instead.
6. You’re at an amusement park that’s much-loved for its main attraction: a roller coaster that’s been operating continuously since the 1920s. Since you’re afraid of heights, roller coasters in general make you uneasy — especially rickety old wooden ones. Plus, you’ve seen the entire Final Destination series. But you climb aboard anyway. You’re seated in the last car, so you are fully aware of what’s happening when the ride suffers a sky-high, top-speed derailment. The hysterical scream you hear in your final moments as you plunge to the earth… is your own.
5. Here’s another one about falling, because YIKES. You’re taking a hot-air balloon ride. It should be a fantastic, idyllic experience. But something goes awry, and the balloon runs into power lines and catches fire; it soon becomes obvious that you’re going to either burn to death or drop from a fatal elevation. Or both at the same time.
Not only did this actually happen last year — tragically killing the pilot and both passengers — video shot from a horrified onlooker went viral, which makes the accident all the more terrifying. No imagination needed for this one.
4. Quicksand. Even the stark and simple warning sign is enough to give you nightmares.
3. This recent and excellent New York Times feature about people who die alone — and the police, medical examiners, etc. who diligently work to piece their unremarkable yet mysterious lives together — contained a truly scary anecdote. Though the deceased subject of the Times article was a hoarder who lived amid filthy clutter, the investigators working his case had seen worse:
An apartment so swollen with belongings that the tenant, a woman, died standing up, unable to collapse to the floor.
Of course, there’s not much worse than New York’s notorious Collyer brothers, whose rat-gnawn corpses were found inside their brownstone in 1947, along with the 140 tons of random garbage they’d been cramming into their lives since going into seclusion in 1909.
2. You fall into an enormous vat of poisonous spiders. And you’re alive long enough to really, truly feel the sensation of being covered in thousands and thousands of hairy, creepy-crawly legs — and thousands and thousands of deadly little puncture wounds.
1. You fall into an enormous vat of poisonous spiders. AND THEN a deranged clown tumbles in beside you.
Top image: Detectives Joe Whitmore, left, and John Loughery bend over to examine the body of Langley Collyer, 61-year-old recluse, which was discovered April 8, 1947, in the same room of the rubbish-cluttered mansion in which the body of his blind brother, Homer, 65, was found on March 21. Police believed that he was the victim of one of his own booby traps. (AP Photo by John Lindsay)