I’ve been catching up on episodes of Welcome to Night Vale this summer (and in case you missed it, I wrote a short meditation on the show). Enthralled as I am by its macabre style, I had to jot down this little haunting tale because it carries some of the dread and terror that I think most of us can appreciate.
The Man with the Broken Smile, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 526
A newcomer enters the town. He’s a well-dressed young man, with wavy black hair and impeccable wingtip shoes. He’s been spotted eating pie at the diner, taking strolls along the town square, and even checking out a book at the public library. Children stop and stare whenever he passes. Grandmothers cross themselves and whisper in quiet horror at his approach. But no one’s learned his name yet. They just call him the Man with the Broken Smile.
His smile is… well, it’s broken. There’s no other way to explain it. But it doesn’t match his eyes. His gentle, loving, rapturous eyes. Looking into them, you feel your guard drop. Everything seems to be okay for once in your life. Nothing scares or confuses or upsets you anymore. It’s all, finally, okay.
But then the stranger speaks with his broken smile. His lips don’t fully open or close. You catch a glimpse of yellowed teeth behind those lips, and occasionally signs of a blood-red tongue marked with terrible spots. The Man with the Broken Smile speaks so softly, so very softly, and you never quite catch every word he says, but the longer he talks, the deeper he gets hold of you. The more you hear, the more your body refuses to obey. Why would you disobey? Why, when your new best friend is right here? Could you even imagine a time before this conversation with your best friend began?
The Man with the Broken Smile tells you things that can’t possibly be true. He talks casually about the weather and the storm of emeralds that will be coming next week. He lists off the names of football players who will meet with terrible accidents the night before the next big game on Sunday, and adds the names of their loved ones who will miss them the most.
He tells you a joke (at least, he says it’s a joke) about a man being dragged from his home in the middle of the night by faceless men in white. They strip him naked in an unmarked van, drive him out to an unlisted warehouse, and force him into a vat of dough and butter. The Man with the Broken Smile is positively giggling when he gets to the punchline about the man being “a little overcooked on the bottom” when he’s yanked out from the furnace, baked and burnt to a screaming crisp before a dreadful feast begins. You ask who this man was, and the Man with the Broken Smile shrugs and says, “It doesn’t matter. No one loved him anyway.”
That night, you return to your home. Your stomach churns at the sight of baked goods in your fridge and your pantry. Even as you dump them all into the garbage can outside, you can still hear the Man with the Broken Smile giggling to himself.
And it’s with a creeping sense of dread that you suddenly remember that you made plans to meet with the Broken Smiling Man. To meet him for dinner.
At his place.
As you look around your quiet, empty house, you wonder if anyone will miss you either.
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