Written by Jonathan Wojcik


Today's spooky theme music: Seriously Scary Skeletons

   I have no idea exactly how universal these "wiggling bug" doo-dads are, but I swear I've seen them at least once in every American state I have ever set foot in, counting brief gas-station stops on long road trips. As far as I know, they are a ubiquitous category of cheap, corny, hand-made souvenir, and if you've never had the privilege to own one, I'm sure the opportunity will present itself soon enough. I love these things. I don't know what kind of person wouldn't love these things. I have a hard time accepting that there might be people in the world who would throw one of these in the garbage or grimace in disappointment to obtain one. If you're out there, reading this, please don't even tell me. Just walk away. You don't want this to get ugly.

   As adorable as they are, though, wiggly-bug-nuts, or whatever they're supposed to be called, have seldom displayed any major innovations. They're virtually always the same size and shape, a colorful little beetle or spider concealed in a simple, unmarked wooden box vaguely modeled after a walnut. Cute, but maybe a little redundant after a while. Maybe even a little milquetoast. Certainly, it's not an item that we can reasonably expect to show much of an edge...until now.

   ...Or, I guess, until 1996, because that's when "Grave Bugs" were apparently concocted by a company called "R-U-nuts" and originally sold on their long dead website, Bugs Online. Fortunately for us, even a fallen master couldn't keep these bugs in their graves, as they seem to have returned with a vengeance just in time for Halloween 2013, rising from their dark slumber like a true legion of the living dead!

  That is to say, a massive supply of the things apparently sat unsold for nearly two decades before somebody raided the old warehouse and started selling them off online. Search them on Ebay and you'll find plenty of listings, most at only five bucks a piece with completely free shipping...unless you want a wholesale case of several hundred, which is running for something like a thousand bucks.

So, just what exactly is a "Grave Bug?" Is it really as wonderful as it looks?

   Oh yes. It is everything you could have hoped and then some. First, the traditional wooden walnut has been replaced with a black coffin. It's made of extremely cheap, flimsy plastic that could easily tear or wear out its ability to stay shut, but even a crummy black coffin is still an awesome black coffin. Show me anything, anywhere shaped like a black coffin that has ever not been cool. Right off the bat, Grave Bugs are a solid A+, because we already know this is a black coffin with some sort of bug inside. There's simply no going wrong, here. It could be the most un-Halloween bug on the entire planet, like a pink butterfly with Valentine heart wings or a ladybug in a Santa hat, and the sheer grace of coming to us in a black coffin would just make that all the more precious.

   These are not, however, butterflies. The jury is still out on ladybugs, since there's no telling what twisted paths the polka-dotted demons may evolve along, but these are sure as hell not your grandma's ladybugs.

Behold, frail beings of flesh, the cold visage of your ultimate fate.

  Can you believe how cool this is? Calling these "bugs" isn't even the half of it. The "bug" is there, sure, with the usual six wiggling legs, but its body is a human skull, and not just any human skull either, but a bleeding human skull. A bleeding human skull with insect legs, which are also bloody. The rest of the skeleton is represented by a simple piece of cardboard, but it's an overall delightful effect, and for the icing on the cake, there's an orange spider web, with spider, printed on a piece of transparent plastic and glued in at an angle, so it almost looks like it's actually stretching between the coffin and the corpse!

   Jack Skellington might have been wrong after all. THIS is Halloween. This. Right here. This is all of Halloween, in one tiny package. Halloween Squared. It's a bloody, spider-infested skeleton whose head is also a giant insect, which stirs to unholy life when we breach the only thing previously sealing it off from the realm of the living. What fools we are.

   I was excited enough when I found these that I immediately ordered two of them, not even knowing I would get two different Grave Bugs. The back says "collect them all," which should indicate more than two styles, but so far, I'm only aware of the two I've received, the second differentiated by a more circular skull and more copious, grotesquely dribbling clots of eye-blood!

   Our original question, however, still stands, perhaps more pressing than ever; what are the Grave Bugs? Are they wearing human skulls as a hermit crab would wear a snail's shell, or are the skulls themselves their actual bodies? In that case, were they insects that evolved some uncanny resemblance to a human skull, or were they human skulls perverted by some blasphemous process into scrabbling, six-legged monsters?

Maybe they're the product of some dark funerary ritual, intended to booby-trap the dead against grave robbers.

Maybe they're cranial parasites from a world between worlds, usurping their host's skulls as new vessels long after the flesh has rotted away.

Maybe they're just an exotic, undocumented breed of vampire, the head alone awakening every night to feed from the living like a pale, osseous bedbug, which would certainly explain the blood.

  I'll leave it to you to decide. If you can think of a story you like better than mine, leave it in the comments! These things are almost limitless fodder for role-playing-game monsters and horror antagonists. And if you want some of your own, don't forget to search "grave bugs" on ebay or similar sites; they're bound to come up for relatively cheap, but supplies can't possibly last forever!