The Man Who Smiled

[I'll just point out this is a horror story posted for the Hallowe'en Horrors scary story meme; it is particularly dark and unpleasant; this is fictional. So don't think I've gone whacko.]

I don’t recall the first time he smiled at me.

I don’t recall it, because in a country of sixty million people it is inconceivable that you would recognise every last one of the people that make up the throngs that surge around you on a daily basis, were you ever to see them again.

Which is why I can’t tell you how many times I had actually seen the hateful visage of the man who smiled before I began to recognise him.

The first time I remember, I was a passenger in a car, gazing idly out of the window while listening to how Amy Winehouse didn’t have time for ‘Rehab’, and generally marking time in rush-hour traffic. We passed a bus stop, and at the end of a bus queue was a fairly nondescript old grey man in an old grey suit, who I would probably not have noticed were it not for the way he smiled at me.

I say ’smiled’, but really it was a very peculiar sort of a smile: he tilted his head slightly to one side, winked and grinned at the same time. In addition, he raised the thumb and finger of his left hand and pointed them in as if a half-cocked pistol. At the time, it just struck me as an odd, faintly ludicrous sort of a grin — the sort you’d see some caricatured cowboy doing while saying “Howdy, pardner!” — back then I didn’t comprehend the malevolence beneath the surface.

But it did strike me as a faintly ludicrous grin — and quite out of keeping with someone who looked the far side of sixty — and it was at this point that I realised I’d seen him before, doing much the same thing. I just couldn’t remember where.

Of course, at the time I just put it down to him being some sort of local “character” or “eccentric”, rather than assuming he was a malevolent supernatural entity hell-bent on destroying my life. Well, it’s not the first thing that would spring to mind, is it?

I need to try and stay calm in order to tell this story: I mustn’t get ahead of myself and I must tell the story chronologically. Telling this story may be the last rational act I am able to do, so I want to make sure I do it right. I want my children to know that the actions I am about to take are not actions I undertake because I have any other choice. It’s the only way I know how to play out the hand that I have been dealt.

And I want my wife to forgive me.

It’s hard therefore for me to disguise my hatred, loathing and even fear of the man who smiles. My blood turns to water when he smiles at me know because I know what it means and if running would do any good I would simply turn and run. But I know I can’t run from this.

The man, when I first saw him, was dressed in a grey suit: the sort of suit that has faded to a paler grey than it originally was and if it’s not quite threadbare it’s at least thread-worn. He was at least in his sixties and possibly older — his face was craggy and thin — squashed almost — and his skin tone looked as though he had only recently been uncovered after years mouldering undisturbed in a long-forgotten library, being itself somewhere between white and grey.

The cut of his suit seemed to strike a dischord too, but I couldn’t hazard a guess as to why — it just felt wrong — and his thinning silvery hair was slicked back officiously across his scalp.

He held a large black umbrella in his right hand, which had made the whole winking/smiling thing even more incongruous, seeing an venerable looking gentleman seemingly becoming Monty Python’s Minister For Silly Grins.

And then…


I don’t think I can do that bit right now: so if you’ll bear with me I’ll skip ahead for now and take you to the end of that same week when I saw the man for a second time, and first realised there was an otherness about him.

It was a friday night, and I’d been out for a few drinks with the lads from work. We’d had a great time — and more than a few drinks, to be honest — and were stumbling along Newcastle’s Quayside beside the river when I saw him again.

He dressed exactly the same. The same grey suit; the same hairstyle: not a thing was out of place, except that he was no longer carrying an umbrella. I stopped in my tracks, unable to believe what I was seeing — and causing my workmates to stutter to a halt alongside me — as the he turned to me, winked, smiled, cocked his fingers and jumped over the fence and into the river.

I saw him being swept downstream; I saw him hit the side of a barrier and go under the water. I didn’t see him come up again. But all the while I saw him, I still saw that smile.

But from what my friends were saying, they hadn’t seen what I had. For a start, they were asking why she had jumped in “when she was so young and pretty”. Was I seeing things?

No. We’d both seen someone jump. The only difference was, they’d not expected it. I had, because of what I’d seen earlier.

Earlier in the week, after the man had smiled at me, he’d continued grinning his rictus grin and as we got nearer to the bus stop, he stepped out parralel to our car — the road being a dual carriageway at this point, with us in the outside lane — and directly into the path of a lorry.

We had had to pull over as the red spray that had coated our windscreens, along with the sight of the head bouncing on my friend’s car bonnet: battered, bloody and still with that smile.

Of course, when we gave witness statements, the police wanted to talk to me for a long time. I was the only person who had described an elderly white gentleman: everyone else had seen an asian schoolboy walk in front of the lorry. I guess they must have just put it down to shock or me not really paying attention, as no-one else claimed to have seen a grin and a wink either.

But I knew I had.

After that, I saw him at least once a week. Not always up close: sometimes I saw him on the news, grinning and winking at me behind the news presenter as he announced in sombre tones that a drink and drugs cocktail had put paid to another rock star. Once I saw him in the background of a breakfast TV outside broadcast: only to find out the following morning that there had been a “horrible accident” the day before.

Every time I saw him, he died. And every time I saw him, I was the only one who saw him. Everyone else saw the teacher who’d just become a father and had everything to live for; the newly-wed husband; the well-to-do barrister or the schoolboy. Everyone else saw someone with no reason to kill themselves.

But they weren’t killing themselves. He was doing it, and I was the only one who could see it.

Over the course of the next two months, he must have accounted for at least thirteen deaths. I didn’t even consider the possibility I was no longer entirely sane: I’d stopped mentioning him so other people didn’t think I was mad, but other people had remarked on the spate of suicides, so he was definitely there, pulling on the strings.

I only saw him show fear once. It was the time he threw himself in front of a Metro train during rush hour. I didn’t even think he’d planned to do it at first: he’d been walking along the platform past someone who hadn’t been watching where they were going and they’d bumped into his shoulder, sending him to the edge of the platform, where he seemed to dangle in the air: serene and unsmiling, but somehow fundamentally at peace. And then as someone reached out to grab him and haul him safely back to the platform I saw him briefly looking terrified as they reached out to him.

And when they’d hauled him safely back to the platform his face contorted with fury — like he’d been cheated — and the grin he gave as he turned, smiled and winked at me again and then stepped under the arriving train seemed almost half-hearted.

Why? Why does he do it? How does he do it? And what was going on there?

And why does he target me?

I know he targets me because it’s always people I see. I either see the suicide; see them prior to the suicide or witness the aftermath. It can’t be coincidence.

It’s now six months after I first recognised him, and he’s been speeding up. By my count he’s up to fifty-six deaths now. I was scared because I don’t know why he was targetting me. Now I think I know why but I wish I didn’t. I’d rather have died in ignorance than in disgrace, but I have to stop him. I just don’t know if I can.

He’s taken three of the people from work, including one from my own office. I watched Ted’s face change: their features seemed to melt and run, colour drained from their skin and their face became blurred, as though they were out of focus. Of course, when the focus came back seconds later, they had morphed into the man who smiled. Officially, Ted killed himself that same night, but I know it wasn’t suicide, it was murder.

I don’t know how long he would have been content to toy with me, killing people who were near to me and watching me suffer, but I think I annoyed him when I started to keep a scrapbook: looking for proof, looking for a way to stop him. I’d even been in contact with someone I’d found on the internet who reckoned that suicides were murder by demonic possession — a guy I would have described as a total nutjob months earlier now making a great deal of sense to me.

I guess he must have realised I was trying to track him down because when I came home from work ton–

I’m sorry. Give me a moment…

I know he knows that I see him. I don’t know what game he’s trying to play with me.

But I have some ideas. I think it’s partly because he’s realised that I see him as he really is that has sparked his interest and destroyed my life. But while I hate him — I couldn’t possibly hate anyone more, knowing what he’s done to me — I also pity him. He’s murdering people left right and centre but I don’t think he actually means to.

When I came home from work tonight, he winked at me, grinned, pointed his fingers like usual and then he kissed me on the cheek, helped me bathe our children and put them to bed and now he’s lying upstairs in our bed, somehow superimposed over the body of my wife.

I hate him for doing this to me, but I think I understand him, and God help me I even pity him, but that doesn’t stop me despising him for the corner he’s backed me into.

He doesn’t want to murder anyone: he’s looking for it to end. But it doesn’t ever end for him, because when he kills himself he appears in someone else. That’s why when he nearly accidentally fell under a train, he looked so serene. Because he thought that might just do it. And that’s why he looked so angry when he was saved, despite continually throwing himself to his death.

And now he’s going to make my wife kill herself. And I can’t stop that. Or rather, I can’t prevent that outcome.

But maybe I can make it into an ending.

I’ve got a butcher knife in front of me. If I can go upstairs while she/he’s sleeping, I can — God help me — slice through my own wife’s throat. I can end her life. I can murder the love of my life in that hateful guise of the smiling man, freeing her, and possibly even him from the pain.

And then I can phone for someone to come and get the children. It’s not right that they should wake up to that.

And then I can either look forward to a life sentence and being hated by my own children; or I can open my own veins and be together with my wife again.

Forgive me.

[Ed: I didn't really want the story to turn out as dark as this -- I ended up in tears finishing it off as I think it's really sad :-( -- but that was just how it turned out in the end. Sorry!]

9 Responses to “The Man Who Smiled”

  1. Sara responds:

    I think it’s great.

    This was a very fun game, and I have enjoyed reading everyone’s entries very much. Thank you for starting it!

  2. Mike Cherim responds:

    Well done, Jack. Thoroughly entertaining. Loved the Monty Python reference. Ministry of Silly Grins indeed. The ending didn’t sadden me so, but with you writing it and having to soak in it so to speak, I do understand. Killing the wife and all is bit morbid I suppose, buy hey, cheer up, it’s Halloween :)

  3. Sara responds:

    You know, I tried to comment on this earlier, but my comment seems to have been eaten. I think this is great, though. It’s what I tried to say before, oh, and also that I thought this whole game was great fun.


  4. JackP responds:

    @Sara, Mike, glad you enjoyed it - the story as well as the game.

    I’ve not had a proper chance to read the other entries yet, so will be doing that tonight.

    @Sara: yes, my spam filter ate you. I have restored both comments however!

  5. The Goldfish responds:

    That was really rather scary, even reading on a sunny Thursday morning… Well done and thanks for suggesting this; it has been great fun.

  6. Jess responds:

    Great story! This had me looking over my shoulder a lot as I read. :)

    Thanks again– this was fun. And it got me writing something for a change! Just the kick up the bum I needed.

  7. Steve responds:

    Great stuff. I especially liked your description of ‘the man’.

  8. LuAn responds:

    A very nice piece of word.

    Glad to see that you’re still around to respond to comments. ;-)

  9. LuAn responds:

    Word? Work.
    Ah what the hock. On dog ill lean too tipe pooper. #-)

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