Flash Fiction: “The Man with the Broken Smile, Part II”

If you’ve enjoyed my “Man with the Broken Smile” story, then you might find this spiritual sequel just as fascinating. It’s another side of the macabre tale, no less chilling than the original, but maybe a little more sympathetic.

(And before you ask, no, this story is not a reflection of my feelings about the results of Election Night. It was written long before this week, I can assure you.)


The Man with the Broken Smile, Part II, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 519

Hello, my name is Martin Bloom. If my smile upsets you, I’m sorry, but I can’t help it. It wasn’t my choice. I earned it.

No, really. I earned it from Them. They, who are eternal and bound to the darkness behind the stars, chose me for Their mighty vessel, to perceive and have power over all of space and time. Until there is no time left, They told me. Until skies burn and until seas boil, until all lie moaning and broken upon the soil from whence they came, Their nightly chant goes. And, you know, for a moment or two, I was okay with that. I’d never had someone who believed in me before. So what if I was to be the last man alive? A monument of flesh and blood and bone on a lifeless world spinning through a cold void?

At least, for once, I’d be someone important.

Except it didn’t work. Whatever They did, whatever process They used… it didn’t work. And so They threw me out, cast me back to the earth with my broken smile and broken thoughts. They found someone else, someone better to carry out the final act of humanity’s brief, flickering story.

Now I sit here in town, always a step out of time from my neighbors. I try to be friendly, you know. But then I try to tell someone “Good morning,” and what comes out instead is a ghastly tale of ritual cannibalism or some natural disaster. A disaster that, to your mortal sense of time, hasn’t happened yet. But it will. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen how your story ends. I’ve seen everyone’s ending, but like Cassandra of Troy, no one believes me. It’s a terrible thing to be discarded by powers beyond your understanding. It’s so lonely.

But like everyone else here, I make do. I keep busy. I work online, counseling mental health patients who never have to look at my horrible smiling face. I have a garden. On some weekends, I go fishing. It’s not much of a life, but it’s mine. Or, at least, it will be until the Hour of Calamity is ordained by They Who Dwell in Endless Shadow, for black and terrible is Their Will.

People ask me why I don’t try to stop them, be a hero for once. I tell them I can’t. I’ve already seen it. I can’t stop power on that magnitude. But maybe, at the opportune moment, I can delay them, give us another day or two to avoid the Hour of the Shattered Earth. In fact, I’m seeing this happen right now. Oh, but it feels so good. Really good. Maybe this… this is why I’m always smiling at you. I hope that’s why. Oh, I sure hope so. I’ll give that new Apostle of Endless Night a black eye, let me tell you. I’m doing it. Already did it. Will do it, maybe soon, maybe later.

I do it for you, my old hometown. I’m not your hero, though. I’m just your neighbor.

It’s Martin Bloom, by the way. Sorry to intrude.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “The Man with the Broken Smile”

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?

Surely not.

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.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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