And mind you, I consider myself an aficionado of terrifying stories.
Whether they be urban legends, classic literature, folk tales, modern horror fiction, or creepypasta… I’ve often said that there is nothing better than a good suspense story.
I thrill at reading anything I can get my hands on that could give me a good scare – and I especially love the weeks leading up to Halloween/Samhain for this exact reason.
But about a week or so ago, I came across this story through The Line-Up, one of the many weekly email post-lists to which I’ve subscribed.
And ever since, especially whenever I’m out walking my dogs in the evening, my mind never fails to wander back to this haunting little tale – the 10th and final entry on this list – from blue_tidal:
The Smiling Man
About five years ago I lived downtown in a major city in the US. I’ve always been a night person, so I would often find myself bored after my roommate, who was decidedly not a night person, went to sleep. To pass the time, I used to go for long walks and spend the time thinking.
I spent four years like that, walking alone at night, and never once had a reason to feel afraid. I always used to joke with my roommate that even the drug dealers in the city were polite. But all of that changed in just a few minutes of one evening.
It was a Wednesday, somewhere between one and two in the morning, and I was walking near a police patrolled park quite a ways from my apartment. It was a quiet night, even for a week night, with very little traffic and almost no one on foot. The park, as it was most nights, was completely empty.
I turned down a short side street in order to loop back to my apartment when I first noticed him. At the far end of the street, on my side, was the silhouette of a man, dancing. It was a strange dance, similar to a waltz, but he finished each “box” with an odd forward stride. I guess you could say he was dance-walking, headed straight for me.
Deciding he was probably drunk, I stepped as close as I could to the road to give him the majority of the sidewalk to pass me by. The closer he got, the more I realized how gracefully he was moving. He was very tall and lanky, and wearing an old suit. He danced closer still, until I could make out his face. His eyes were open wide and wild, head tilted back slightly, looking off at the sky. His mouth was formed in a painfully wide cartoon of a smile. Between the eyes and the smile, I decided to cross the street before he danced any closer.
I took my eyes off of him to cross the empty street. As I reached the other side, I glanced back … and then stopped dead in my tracks. He had stopped dancing and was standing with one foot in the street, perfectly parallel to me. He was facing me but still looking skyward. Smile still wide on his lips.
I was completely and utterly unnerved by this. I started walking again, but kept my eyes on the man. He didn’t move.
Once I had put about half a block between us, I turned away from him for a moment to watch the sidewalk in front of me. The street and sidewalk ahead of me were completely empty. Still unnerved, I looked back to where he had been standing to find him gone. For the briefest of moments I felt relieved until I noticed him. He had crossed the street, and was now slightly crouched down. I couldn’t tell for sure due to the distance and the shadows, but I was certain he was facing me. I had looked away from him for no more than 10 seconds, so it was clear that he had moved fast.
I was so shocked that I stood there for some time, staring at him. And then he started moving toward me again. He took giant, exaggerated tip toed steps, as if he were a cartoon character sneaking up on someone. Except he was moving very, very quickly.
I’d like to say at this point I ran away or pulled out my pepper spray or my cellphone or anything at all, but I didn’t. I just stood there, completely frozen as the smiling man crept toward me.
And then he stopped again, about a car length away from me. Still smiling his smile, still looking to the sky.
When I finally found my voice, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. What I meant to ask was, “What the fuck do you want?!” in an angry, commanding tone. What came out was a whimper, “What the fuu … ?”
Regardless of whether or not humans can smell fear, they can certainly hear it. I heard it in my own voice, and that only made me more afraid. But he didn’t react to it at all. He just stood there, smiling.
And then, after what felt like forever, he turned around, very slowly, and started dance-walking away. Just like that. Not wanting to turn my back to him again, I just watched him go, until he was far enough away to almost be out of sight. And then I realized something. He wasn’t moving away anymore, nor was he dancing. I watched in horror as the distant shape of him grew larger and larger. He was coming back my way. And this time he was running.
I ran too.
I ran until I was off of the side road and back onto a better lit road with sparse traffic. Looking behind me then, he was nowhere to be found. The rest of the way home, I kept glancing over my shoulder, always expecting to see his stupid smile, but he was never there.
I lived in that city for six months after that night, and I never went out for another walk. There was something about his face that always haunted me. He didn’t look drunk, he didn’t look high. He looked completely and utterly insane. And that’s a very, very scary thing to see.*
– from user blue_tidal on Occult Museum
Perhaps I felt haunted by this, as I have the same habit as blue_tidal: I’ve long been known for my habit of going for long walks at night – whether out of boredom or sheer restlessness – and despite the enduring nature of this quirk of mine, I’d completely lost my desire to go out walking alone after dark.
* However, after sharing this piece with a close friend of mine, she asked if it would help any if I reframed my fear by thinking of the Smiling Man as Loki.
I had to laugh.
Hence that is where the Mindfuck portion of this post’s title comes from – because I can definitely see Loki as having an aspect to Him wherein He might mess with someone’s head in a hauntingly similar and relentless manner.
You know — just because He can.
On Saturday night, my family and I attended a lovely wedding held on a beach in St. Petersberg, FL.
We arrived a bit early, so to pass the time before the ceremony began, we looked for shells on the beach.
Almost immediately, my husband V found this shell, and thought to save it for me, as he pointed out that there was a rune on it.
I thought that Othala was rather fitting, as we were attending a wedding, and Othala strikes me as a rune of family and heritage, of community and ancestral/spiritual wealth.
I thought it appropriate since a wedding is a family event, that involves communion between two families, wherein often guests (of perhaps several generations) gather to celebrate. (We briefly considered giving the shell to the couple and explaining its delightful appropriateness in regards to us finding it on the day of their wedding, but then I recalled that the couple were rather devout Christians who may not have appreciated runes as being significant -let alone a spiritual/ancestral blessing – upon their union.)
It was a pleasant and surprising thing, and upon arriving home, I posted a picture of the shell, asking others what rune they saw.
While most agreed with me that it definitely looked like Othala, one friend mentioned that she’d initially seen Gebo a moment before she noticed that it was Othala. When I told her about the circumstances in which the shell was found, she agreed even more so that the seashell was a sign of blessing of the ancestors upon the wedding — and truly a gift from the sea.❤
This post has been knocking around in my head all day.
The other day, someone – whom I would have considered a friend, unfortunately – made some rather pointed commentary about ‘the feminist struggle’ as it concerned her daughter’s experience with men. And in her comments, she relied on a rather tired joke about marriage that concerned how men -including her own husband – were hopeless and/or helpless to perform certain household chores without assistance or intervention from the women in their lives.
She considers herself a feminist, she says.
She believes in gender equality, she insists.
She loves and respects her husband, she claims.
And yet, she doesn’t see how this belief that she holds about men’s ‘inherent incompetence’ could be seen as an unhealthy, if not disrespectful belief about men.
This is not to say that I have never found myself engaging in thoughts and behavior that play into traditional marital stereotypes – hell, I’m living what is essentially a marital stereotype – but I felt a bit dismayed to consider that she believed that her husband needed her in ways that she didn’t need him, and that, she believed, was the essence that made their relationship such a healthy, stable marriage.
Her husband was emotionally dependent on her, she said, and that was the secret to their happy marriage. She wants him in her life, but he needs her in his, and she prefers him that way. Dependent. Terrified to be without her. Checking in constantly to make sure that he’d done something right.
And then to encourage her daughter to seek such a man for a husband.
I find that a bit disturbing.
I wondered if she’d ever considered that feminism might be a belief that both genders deserve respectful treatment. That we – as a society of human beings – need to recognize that there are imbalances in the current society that are reinforced by attitudes regarding gender, and that both genders will benefit from any changes made to those attitudes. That a change in society begins with a change in attitude. Change the attitude, change the belief, change the world.
But her attitude – that men are essentially helpless or hopeless – is exactly the sort of limiting attitude that, if turned about, would likely be deemed misogyny.
Meanwhile, I found her encouragement to her daughter to find a ‘needy’ man disturbing in that the very qualities that she valued in her ‘happy marriage’ could also be applied to a dysfunctional, if not emotionally abusive marriage.
Misandry. It’s a thing.
Perhaps this bothers me so much because I am the mother of two sons.
Or even more so, I am fighting against my own upbringing and my own issues with being emotionally abused that I cannot stomach someone glorifying such unhealthy qualities in a marriage as ‘happy’, when if the roles were reversed, those same ‘feminist’ friends of hers would be moving heaven and earth to convince her to get the fsck out.