Sunday, 25 September 2016



One of recurring features of the Creepypasta stories that I’ve covered in this series is that somebody, somewhere, inevitably believed that the events described are true. It’s not just naivety that fuels this belief, the stories are so well written that they touch on a part of our mind that is prepared to believe in their horrors — the part that imagines the monsters of the horror film we’ve just watched might really be the source of that strange noise in the dead of night.
Despite this, these stories are all just that — fanciful tales told to elicit chills and thrills straight from the imagination of their authors.
Except one.
There is one Creepypasta bogeyman who, the writer swears, comes from the real world that we all inhabit. He is among us, even now.
He is the Smiling Man.

The encounter with the Smiling Man first appeared on Creepypasta fans’ radar back on 24 April 2012, on Reddit's r/nosleep subreddit. The story details an encounter that Redditor Blue Tidal had late one evening in a North American city some five years prior to the time of writing.
Something of a night person, the author decides to go on a stroll through the empty streets sometime between one and two a.m one Wednesday. It is while walking near a police patrolled park on this evening that Blue Tidal encountered the Smiling Man.
The author describes turning into a small side street and seeing an odd figure ‘dancing’ steadily closer. Upon closer inspection Blue Tidal noticed that the figure was clearly deranged, a lanky figure in an odd suit, with a painfully wide cartoonish grin and wild eyes cast up towards the sky.
Understandably, Blue Tidal crossed the street to avoid the Smiling Man, but it soon emerges that the Smiling Man is not so easily shaken…

As Creepypasta stories go it is extremely well written, and genuinely unnerving. Ultimately it is a deceptively simple story — a lone protagonist encounters an individual with some form of mental illness and, despite being shaken by incident, emerges safe and unharmed. It’s the sort of story that will be alarming but familiar to most city dwellers (as somebody who works in the heart of London’s Camden Town I’ve come across more than my fair share of lunatics).
This makes it easy to believe (far more so than stories of haunted video games or attacks by pale-skinned humanoid monstrosities), a trait which works very much in its favour, allowing readers to place themselves in the author’s shoes with very little imagination or suspension of disbelief required.
The story cleverly gives us plenty of details with which to form a mental image, but leaves others out, so we are now able fill in the gaps with our imagination to create something all the more frightening to ourselves. Look at the description of the Smiling Man — age; race; hair and eye colour, all of these are left out, encouraging us to paint a picture of a lunatic ourselves.
It was touches like this that saw the story become a huge hit with Creepypasta fans. It went on to receive a staggeringly high approval score among the nosleep community and eventually spread to other Creepypasta sites, such as the Creepypasta wikia where it appeared in September 2013 or Scary For Kids in October of that year. This just served to garner even more fans for the story, and in time fan art popped up on all the usual sites, including DeviantArt and Tumblr.
So big was the demand for the story that eventually filmmaker Michael Evans created a short adaptation of the story titled 2AM: The Smiling Man, which he posted to YouTube on 23 July 2013. Check it out here.

It’s a good short film and remains very faithful to the source material. Evans is clearly a talented director and he could well be a name worth keeping an eye on for horror fans in the year ahead.
If that wasn’t enough, a short while later another, longer student film was created by Benjamin Dizdarevic that expanded on the story. He posted the film to YouTube himself on 28 February 2014. It was filmed in Bosnia, with a Bosnian cast,  and added some nice spooky details, including a large sunflower and the always creepy Tiptoe Thru The Tulips by Tiny Tim, which perfectly matches the sinister Smiling Man. It is also a pretty strong short and well worth eight minutes of your time.

In fact, the impact on The Smiling Man on Reddit is so big that, after its tremendous success at r/nosleep, it actually received its own subreddit: r/TheSmilingMan/, which was first created on 18 November 2012 and aims to actually track down the real Smiling Man.
This is no idle task, as several individuals have claimed to have bumped into Blue Tidal’s assailant and some have even claimed to be him. One such case crops up halfway through this post asking Redditors if they’ve ever read a reddit story which turned out to be about them.
However, this — like all cases in which somebody has claimed to be The Smiling Man has since been discredited by Blue Tidal.

However, r/nosleep is not the Reddit in which the story of The Smiling Man originated. It was actually first published in r/letsnotmeet on 6 April 2012, more than a fortnight before the nosleep post. For those unfamiliar with LetsNotMeet, it is a sub-reddit in which users recount real-life encounters with strangers that weren’t exactly pleasant.
Allow me to emphasise that for you, REAL-LIFE ENCOUNTERS.
That’s right, Blue Tidal says that this isn’t just one of those horror stories that claims to be based on a true story — it IS a true story.

Since achieving a level of celebrity on Reddit, Blue Tidal has since invited users of the r/SmilingMan board to ask questions about the encounter, in which further details about the story have been revealed. That the Smiling Man was middle-aged and Caucasian, and the city in which the incident occurred was Seattle, among them. You can read the post here.

Blue Tidal was also kind enough to speak with The House about the Smiling Man. However, as helpful as this redditor was, Blue Tidal is still very much a private person, even declining to confirm gender during our conversation, stating: ‘I’m not particular on the gender pronoun usage. I've been referred to as both, and I think the fact that no one knows anything about me is a good thing (for personal reasons, and for the good of the story). I like that men tend to think I'm a man, while women tend to think I'm a woman. Rather, they tend to insert themselves into the story. At least that's what I think happens, and part of what helped the story reach its quasi-urban legend status (which is more or less what creepypasta is, I suppose).’

That such a private individual was prepared to speak with me just makes the very rare interview that follows all the more exciting and insightful.

HICKEY'S HOUSE OF HORRORS: Thanks so much for speaking with me.
What convinced you to tell your story on Reddit? And what inspired you to submit it to Nosleep later?
BLUE TIDAL: I can't remember exactly how I first came upon LetsNotMeet (the place I originally posted the story), but I loved the idea of a place for people to share true encounters that left them rattled or creeped out. The problem, I found, was that most writers simply recounted the events that happened, rather than attempt to make the reader experience what they felt. So I told my story with that in mind. I wanted people to put themselves in my shoes. Regarding NoSleep, several people on LetsNotMeet recommended that I cross post the story there. I hadn't heard of it before that point, so I didn't think much of it at the time.

HHoH: Have you returned to the scene of the incident since your encounter? And have you ever seen this particular individual again?
BT: I have returned, mostly during daylight hours, but I haven't seen the smiling man since. Unless dreams count. I actually moved out of the city (and the country, in fact) for several years, but I moved back 5 or so years ago.

HHoH: Has anybody ever contacted you claiming to have also encountered the smiling man or to have any idea as to his identity? If so, have any of these accounts been convincing?
BT: Plenty of people have contacted me claiming to be the smiling man. I actually did something sneaky before posting the story, though. I changed a few minor, but important, details. So until the day comes when I'm accurately corrected, I will remain unconvinced. I can't really imagine him sitting in front of a computer reading short stories, though. Beyond that, I get messages every now and then (much less frequently than a few years back) from people claiming to have seen someone who was behaving similarly, or their cousin had, or their friend's friend. It has a very "Sasquatch" feel to it. There used to be small communities dedicated to trying to track sightings of the smiling man. It was very surreal.

HHoH: There's a fair bit of online discussion over the validity of the story. It's certainly the most convincing creepypasta story I've read. How do you feel about the debate surrounding your story?
BT: I'm in favor of skepticism, so I have no problem with the debate. If you remove the storytelling, the core of what happened is simple. Someone behaved in an bizarre, aggressive way, and it was frightening. I'm not a believer in the supernatural, so I don't see it as anything much deeper than that. Honestly, it you've spent any amount of time in a city, particularly in the middle of the night, you'll be aware that people are much more terrifying than monsters or apparitions. And they're everywhere, all around you. At all times.

HHoH: Your writing is excellent and really brings the story to life. Have you considered writing and/or publishing horror fiction under your Reddit username?
BT: Thank you. I actually have posted one fictional short called Outside, but removed it after it raised some confusion. It was an odd story where I took elements of something strange that actually happened to me and layered it with fictional elements. I like the idea of doing that, as it allows me to keep my personal life personal while continuing to tell stories based on my experiences. I've been playing with the idea of a collection of horror short stories in that vein. At the same time, however, I don't want to give the aforementioned skeptics any undue cause to doubt The Smiling Man. So who knows.

HHoH: I've seen plenty of examples of fan art, with two pretty polished short films and dozens of portraits of The Smiling Man. Have any of these impressed you? And do you feel any are especially good representations of your story?
BT: I can't say that any of the videos I've seen have been particularly accurate, but they get pieces right here and there. I feel that this story is best suited for the imagination, where the reader can make the smiling man look exactly like whatever it is that frightens them the most. Hence my minimalist description. If I went into detail about the size of his shoes or the length of his hair, I think it would detract from the telling. Honestly, my favorite videos and stories related to The Smiling Man are reaction videos. They're not very common these days, but at the height of its popularity there was an adorable video of two little girls reading the story on the bus on their way to school. And my personal favorite Reddit reply was from a kid who was so scared after reading the story that they woke their little sister up, made her read the story, and then watched cartoons with her when they were both too scared to go back to bed. Honestly, that's the most ringing endorsement I could have ever hoped for.

HHoH: Finally do you have any other stories like The Smiling Man that you might post one day? I'm sure I'm not the only fan who'd like to read more!
BT: I originally had three different personal experiences that I was considering sharing, but that was before The Smiling Man caught on. I'm definitely writing more stories, but I don't know if I'll do so under the name Blue Tidal. I'm in no hurry, either way.

The Smiling Man proves that the telling of a story is every bit as important as the tale itself in cultivating an atmosphere of dread and genuine fear. With writers as talented as some of those currently gracing the Creepypasta community, such as Blue Tidal, it’s easy to see why its popularity is going from strength to strength.

Next time I’ll be looking at the work of another skilled storyteller. Until then, keep smiling.

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