The worst thing I’ve ever done in my life happened about twelve years ago, when I was a sixteen year old kid living in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the early fall, when the leaves were just starting to turn orange and the temperatures were starting to fall, hinting at the freezing chill that was only a few months away. School had just started, but it had been going on for about a month now, so all the excitement of going back and reuniting with old friends had been replaced by the realization that we were captives in a place that only wanted to load work upon us. Understandably, me and my friends were all eager to do anything that might remind us of the worry-free, responsibility-free days of summer.
Earlier that year, about the time the last school year had let out, one of my friends from work, (McDonalds, which some people think is lame, but I always had a great time there), had taught me a technique to make yourself pass out with the help of an assistant. It worked something like this: One person would rapidly take ten deep, heavy breaths, and on the tenth, squeeze his eyes shut and hold his breath as tightly as possible while crossing his wrists over his heart. The assistant would then give the person a huge bear hug from behind and squeeze the person’s wrists into his breastbone. Within seconds, the person holding their breath would lose consciousness. The assistant was then in a perfect position to make sure you didn’t totally collapse and crack your skull open on the sidewalk. The effect only lasted for like a second or two–it wasn’t like we were putting ourselves into comas or anything–but it felt like you had been out for hours, and when you came to, the disoriented feeling of not knowing where the hell you were and what you were doing there was awesome.
Now I know some people are like “WTF, are you a fucking retard?” And yeah, I know, we were probably killing about a million brain cells each time we would knock ourselves out, and I think probably my memory has suffered for it. But to a bored-as-hell sixteen-year-old, I thought it was hella cool. All the effect of getting your lights punched out, with none of the pain of getting hit in the face. I’d tell you to try it to see for yourself, but after what happened; I would never recommend it to anyone.
One interesting side-effect of doing this, which was really most of the reason we did it, was that while you were out, you’d have extremely lucid, vivid dreams, which you could always recall upon awaking. (After all, you were only asleep for two seconds). We were good kids, and had never, and would never try drugs, so to us, this was like a poor man’s LSD. These visions, in some way, were usually related to what you were looking at right before you passed out. For example, once I dreamed that I was climbing a mountain. Way up in the Himalayas or something, but there was a hand rail there. Who the hell puts hand rails at 20,000 feet? When I came to and remembered where I was, I realized I had been looking at the staircase at the corner of my girlfriend’s living room. Another time, I had a vision of Fred Flintstone smiling and holding out his hand in front of a mural with the D.A.R.E. logo. (That’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a program cops teach in public schools. You’ve probably seen the bumper stickers). I woke up and saw that my friend Brett had been standing in front of me right before I slipped into dreamland, and that logo was on his shirt. Where Fred Flintstone came from, I have no idea.
The visions were always mundane things like those. Always, until that one day.
Like I said, school had been going on for about a month, and we were already sick of it. We were hanging out one Saturday in “the field,” which was really an easement for the electric company to run their high voltage lines. A few of us were sitting on the metal beams at the bottom of one of the towers. My friend Mike was climbing up to the second tier of beams so he could jump the eight or ten feet to the ground. I thought it was stupid, but hey, I’m the guy who thought it was cool to induce unconsciousness by starving my brain of oxygen.
It was a warm day for October, but the light gray of the sky was slowly getting darker, and in Cleveland, in October, that probably meant that before long, the temperature would soon drop from a comfortable 70 to about 50 in the course of a few minutes, and if we were really unlucky, an ice-cold rain would start to fall. The air was already damp and heavy, and we could hear the quiet buzzing of the high-tension wires above us.
I sure as hell didn’t want to spend the last few moments of a pleasant Saturday afternoon watching this dumbass climb partway up the high-tension tower, jump down, complain about how “that one killed his feet,” only to climb up and do the same stupid thing over again.
“Hey, let’s make ourselves pass out,” I said. By that time, it wasn’t as much fun as it had been in the early summer when we first discovered it, but it was a hell of a lot better than what we were doing. Vince was up for it, so was Richard, but Mike, the guy jumping off the tower, said, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Holy crap, you haven’t been knocked out before?” Vince asked. “No,” was the response. Mike had been at his mom’s house all summer, so he hadn’t been in on all the fun we had been having.
“Dude, you gotta try this. Watch, we’ll show you.”
Vince and I got off the tower, stood in the grass at the center, and I did the customary ten deep breaths. I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath so hard that if they hadn’t been shut, they’d have probably popped out of my head. Then I felt my friend clamp down on my arms in front of my chest, and suddenly, as if there were nothing more natural in the world, there was a giant lobster, climbing around a lobster cage, and I was under the ocean with seaweed growing from the sandy bottom under my feet.
The next thing I remember, I was awake and Vince and Richard were asking me, “Dude! What did you see? What’d you dream?” The back of my head was killing me.
“Fuck, did you let me fall?” I wasn’t really that heavy, but Vince was pretty weak. He just stood there, looking guilty, and Richard told me he had. “What’d you see though?” he asked.
I rubbed my head and said it was a lobster. It was pinching Vince’s head off with its claws.
I turned to Mike, watching from the L-shaped beams above, and said, “See, it’s fuckin’ awesome.”
“Whatever, I don’t trust any of you enough to do that shit to me.”
“Come on man, you gotta try it. It’s no more dangerous than what you’re doing now. I promise I won’t let you fall like this bitch did.”
He squinted in the way people do when they’re trying to decide if what they’re thinking of doing is worth the risk or trouble. He jumped down one last time, got up and said, “Fine, once.”
If only he would have thought a little longer, or just flatly refused.
He repeated the ten deep breaths, with me as the assistant to make sure he didn’t fall. He held his breath and I helped him slip into that other place. It’s something I’ve regretted ever since, that, and when I think back on all the things I wish I had done differently in my teenage years: girls I should have tried for, classes I should have tried harder in, all the things I should and shouldn’t have done, putting him in that bear hug and squeezing him into unconsciousness is the thing I most regret.
I felt the dead weight shift from his feet onto my chest, and he was a pretty big guy, but I made sure to let him down easy and not knock his head against the hard-packed earth. Just as I laid him on the grass, he came back.
He woke up screaming.
“FUCK! HOLY FUCK GET AWAY! GET AWAY! GET AWAY!” he screamed as he leaped up to his feet and flailed his arms around his head. We all jumped back, afraid of being hit in his frenzy, but more afraid, so scared we almost shit our pants, of what we were seeing.
After about five seconds, which is about twice the time it normally takes a person to realize where they’re at and remember what they were doing, he slowed down. “Shit. Shit Holy shit” He was breathing heavily, gasping deep breaths and hunched over at the corner of the tower. It’s a wonder that in his maddened state he didn’t run right into the supports and knock himself out for real. But he just stood there, bent over at the waist, then fell to his knees. With his back turned to us, he started rocking and wringing his hands and muttering to himself.
“Holy mother of fuck,” said Vince. “What the hell did you see?” But Mike didn’t answer. We approached him slowly, and as we drew near we could hear him quietly sobbing. In our macho world, that was normally a crime punishable by death, but at the time of course we didn’t say a word. I reached out a hand to his shoulder. But as soon as I touched him, a touch so tentative and light that he shouldn’t have even been able to feel it, he shrieked and jumped away, clanging his back into the corner of the tower. He pressed up hard against it, staring at us with a look of terror in his eyes so real you’d think we were demons from the pit of hell.
If ever in those few moments I thought that he was “putting on” to fuck with us, that look put all my doubts to rest. That and what happened afterwards of course.
None of us said anything, but after about ten minutes Mike had calmed down enough that Richard was able to coax him to his feet and lead him back to his house. As I had suspected, the temperature had fallen like crazy in just a few minutes and, just as I figured it would, the freezing cold drizzle started to fall. I told Vince I was just gonna go home and I’d see him tomorrow. We always spent the evenings and rainy days playing Mortal Kombat on our SNES, but he didn’t object. I think he probably wanted some time alone to reflect on what horrible thing we had done to our friend, just like I did.
The next day I went to see how Mike was doing, but he and his dad were gone the whole day. I asked him later where he went, but he wouldn’t tell me. I think it must have been to a psychiatrist, because by Tuesday, the next time I saw him, he seemed to be better, if a little zoned out. I figure he got some drugs to calm his nerves, but that’s just a guess. I never really found out. Over the next few days, the four of us hung out, and while Mike was quiet, he didn’t say anything about what had happened. We just talked about stupid, unimportant stuff. Girls we liked, classes at school we hated. I wish we had said something to him now, though I don’t know if it really would have helped, we had no idea what we were facing, and to this day, I still have no clue. But we avoided the subject of what happened that Saturday, and the practice of passing out in general, like it was the plague.
It wasn’t until the following Saturday that he said anything related to what was happening to him.
We were walking down the quiet street of our neighborhood, towards the wooden footbridge that crosses the creek that runs between the houses, separating the development into two halves. I was going on about this hot girl who was a grade above me and who, consequently, wouldn’t give me the time of day, and he, staring at the ground, walked on with his hands in his pockets. Suddenly, out of nowhere and right in the middle of one of my sentences, he says, “I won’t be around much longer.”
“They’ll be coming again tonight, and I don’t think I’ll be able to keep them out this time.”
“Hey. Hey, what are you talking about? Who’s coming tonight?”
“The hands, the voices.”
At this point I was like, “holy shit.” I could feel my breathing get quick and shallow and I felt my face and hands get hot to hear him talk, so matter-of-factly, about some horror that I couldn’t even imagine. But I’ll never forget that conversation. It’s etched into my mind like the stone tablets in The Ten Commandments.
I stammered a few times, then said, stupidly, “What hands?”
“At night, I look at the tree out my window, then it goes black and the hands, dozens, a hundred of them, push in against the glass.”
“And what do you do?”
“I push back. All night. But I’m tired. I can’t keep them out anymore. And the voices say I have to let them in. Little kid voices, and little kid hands.” He lowered his voice to a whisper, but I could tell, in what he said next, that he was struggling to keep the panic at bay. “Sometimes, I see their faces,” he said in a trembling voice.
We had come to the walkway up to his house. He stopped and finally lifted his face to me. “Tell Vince he can have my Super Nintendo. He don’t have one and his mom sure as hell won’t buy him one. Richard can have my CD’s. I know you guys don’t like rap, but he does.”
I started to say something, but he turned and walked up to his house. He went inside and closed the door. How I wish I would have went up and knocked. Told him I would have stayed the night. But we were sixteen, and at that age guys didn’t do that anymore. So I just went home. I didn’t even answer the door for Vince when he came over later. When I went to bed, I didn’t sleep well, and I was constantly listening to every creak and groan that the house made, listening for the voices of a multitude of children. I normally slept with the curtains open, but tonight, I closed them tight.
The next day, we learned someone had broken into Mike’s house. A police car was there in his driveway, and I about shit a brick when I saw it. Later, my worst fears were confirmed when I learned that it was Mike’s bedroom window that had been broken into. He was missing, was all they told us. The cops asked all three of us a ton of questions, and people from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children came and asked us more. I’m sure I looked as guilty as shit, but when I said I didn’t know what happened; it was, after all, halfway true. They were looking for some pervert that had abducted Mike. So no matter how hard they grilled me, they couldn’t get any information relating to that, of course, so finally they gave up. He was on milk cartons and missing children TV shows, but to this day, his is still an unsolved case.
After it was all over, I went to the library to research what the fuck happened, because in those days, while the internet was a research tool, it was only for rocket scientists or people who could afford a $5000 computer. I didn’t find much. The closest thing that I think is related is something I only discovered later, in my Junior class on World History. Apparently, Egyptian priests used to seal themselves in coffins for just long enough a time to almost die. They would then be resuscitated so they could relate the things they saw in the netherworld while dead to the other priests. I can only figure that perhaps the electricity in the air, or the weather, made Mike go under deeper than we ever had and gave him an experience something like what the Egyptian priests had. But Vince knocked me out too, in almost the same spot where Mike was standing when I did it to him. Could he have just been more receptive to the call of that other place? Or had knocking my head on the ground somehow jostled me free of their hold? I don’t know, and I don’t think I ever will, but sometimes it still makes me shiver.
Get in the creepy Halloween spirit!
“New York, September 30 CP FLASH
“Ambassador Holliwell died here today. The end came suddenly as the ambassador was alone in his study….”
There is something ungodly about these night wire jobs. You sit up here on the top floor of a skyscraper and listen in to the whispers of a civilization. New York, London, Calcutta, Bombay, Singapore — they’re your next-door neighbors after the streetlights go dim and the world has gone to sleep.
Alone in the quiet hours between two and four, the receiving operators doze over their sounders and the news comes in. Fires and disasters and suicides. Murders, crowds, catastrophes. Sometimes an earthquake with a casualty list as long as your arm. The night wire man takes it down almost in his sleep, picking it off on his typewriter with one finger.
Once in a long time you prick up your ears and listen. You’ve heard of some one you knew in Singapore, Halifax or Paris, long ago. Maybe they’ve been promoted, but more probably they’ve been murdered or drowned. Perhaps they just decided to quit and took some bizarre way out. Made it interesting enough to get in the news.
But that doesn’t happen often. Most of the time you sit and doze and tap, tap on your typewriter and wish you were home in bed.
Sometimes, though, queer things happen. One did the other night, and I haven’t got over it yet. I wish I could.
You see, I handle the night manager’s desk in a western seaport town; what the name is, doesn’t matter.
There is, or rather was, only one night operator on my staff, a fellow named John Morgan, about forty years of age, I should say, and a sober, hard-working sort.
He was one of the best operators I ever knew, what is known as a “double” man. That means he could handle two instruments at once and type the stories on different typewriters at the same time. He was one of the three men I ever knew who could do it consistently, hour after hour, and never make a mistake.
Generally, we used only one wire at night, but sometimes, when it was late and the news was coming fast, the Chicago and Denver stations would open a second wire, and then Morgan would do his stuff. He was a wizard, a mechanical automatic wizard which functioned marvelously but was without imagination.
On the night of the sixteenth he complained of feeling tired. It was the first and last time I had ever heard him say a word about himself, and I had known him for three years.
It was just three o’clock and we were running only one wire. I was nodding over the reports at my desk and not paying much attention to him, when he spoke.
“Jim,” he said, “does it feel close in here to you?”
“Why, no, John,” I answered, “but I’ll open a window if you like.”
“Never mind,” he said. “I reckon I’m just a little tired.”
That was all that was said, and I went on working. Every ten minutes or so I would walk over and take a pile of copy that had stacked up neatly beside the typewriter as the messages were printed out in triplicate.
It must have been twenty minutes after he spoke that I noticed he had opened up the other wire and was using both typewriters. I thought it was a little unusual, as there was nothing very “hot” coming in. On my next trip I picked up the copy from both machines and took it back to my desk to sort out the duplicates.
The first wire was running out the usual sort of stuff and I just looked over it hurridly. Then I turned to the second pile of copy. I remembered it particularly because the story was from a town I had never heard of: “Xebico.” Here is the dispatch. I saved a duplicate of it from our files:
“Xebico, Sept 16 CP BULLETIN
“The heaviest mist in the history of the city settled over the town at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. All traffic has stopped and the mist hangs like a pall over everything. Lights of ordinary intensity fail to pierce the fog, which is constantly growing heavier.
“Scientists here are unable to agree as to the cause, and the local weather bureau states that the like has never occurred before in the history of the city.
“At 7 P.M. last night the municipal authorities… (more)” That was all there was. Nothing out of the ordinary at a bureau headquarters, but, as I say, I noticed the story because of the name of the town.
It must have been fifteen minutes later that I went over for another batch of copy. Morgan was slumped down in his chair and had switched his green electric light shade so that the gleam missed his eyes and hit only the top of the two typewriters.
Only the usual stuff was in the righthand pile, but the lefthand batch carried another story from Xebico. All press dispatches come in “takes,” meaning that parts of many different stories are strung along together, perhaps with but a few paragraphs of each coming through at a time. This second story was marked “add fog.” Here is the copy:
“At 7 P.M. the fog had increased noticeably. All lights were now invisible and the town was shrouded in pitch darkness.
“As a peculiarity of the phenomenon, the fog is accompanied by a sickly odor, comparable to nothing yet experienced here.”
Below that in customary press fashion was the hour, 3:27, and the initials of the operator, JM.
There was only one other story in the pile from the second wire. Here it is:
“2nd add Xebico Fog.
“Accounts as to the origin of the mist differ greatly. Among the most unusual is that of the sexton of the local church, who groped his way to headquarters in a hysterical condition and declared that the fog originated in the village churchyard.
“‘It was first visible as a soft gray blanket clinging to the earth above the graves,’ he stated. ‘Then it began to rise, higher and higher. A subterranean breeze seemed to blow it in billows, which split up and then joined together again.
“‘Fog phantoms, writhing in anguish, twisted the mist into queer forms and figures. And then, in the very thick midst of the mass, something moved.
“‘I turned and ran from the accursed spot. Behind me I heard screams coming from the houses bordering on the graveyard.’
“Although the sexton’s story is generally discredited, a party has left to investigate. Immediately after telling his story, the sexton collapsed and is now in a local hospital, unconscious.”
Queer story, wasn’t it. Not that we aren’t used to it, for a lot of unusual stories come in over the wire. But for some reason or other, perhaps because it was so quiet that night, the report of the fog made a great impression on me.
It was almost with dread that I went over to the waiting piles of copy. Morgan did not move, and the only sound in the room was the tap-tap of the sounders. It was ominous, nerve- racking.
There was another story from Xebico in the pile of copy. I seized on it anxiously.
“New Lead Xebico Fog CP
“The rescue party which went out at 11 P.M. to investigate a weird story of the origin of a fog which, since late yesterday, has shrouded the city in darkness has failed to return. Another and larger party has been dispatched.
“Meanwhile, the fog has, if possible, grown heavier. It seeps through the cracks in the doors and fills the atmosphere with a depressing odor of decay. It is oppressive, terrifying, bearing with it a subtle impression of things long dead.
“Residents of the city have left their homes and gathered in the local church, where the priests are holding services of prayer. The scene is beyond description. Grown folk and children are alike terrified and many are almost beside themselves with fear.
“Amid the whisps of vapor which partly veil the church auditorium, an old priest is praying for the welfare of his flock. They alternately wail and cross themselves.
“From the outskirts of the city may be heard cries of unknown voices. They echo through the fog in queer uncadenced minor keys. The sounds resemble nothing so much as wind whistling through a gigantic tunnel. But the night is calm and there is no wind. The second rescue party… (more)”
I am a calm man and never in a dozen years spent with the wires, have I been known to become excited, but despite myself I rose from my chair and walked to the window. Could I be mistaken, or far down in the canyons of the city beneath me did I see a faint trace of fog? Pshaw! It was all imagination.
In the pressroom the click of the sounders seemed to have raised the tempo of their tune. Morgan alone had not stirred from his chair. His head sunk between his shoulders, he tapped the dispatches out on the typewriters with one finger of each hand.
He looked asleep, but no; endlessly, efficiently, the two machines rattled off line after line, as relentlessly and effortlessly as death itself. There was something about the monotonous movement of the typewriter keys that fascinated me. I walked over and stood behind his chair, reading over his shoulder the type as it came into being, word by word.
Ah, here was another:
“Flash Xebico CP
“There will be no more bulletins from this office. The impossible has happened. No messages have come into this room for twenty minutes. We are cut off from the outside and even the streets below us.
“I will stay with the wire until the end.
“It is the end, indeed. Since 4 P.M. yesterday the fog has hung over the city. Following reports from the sexton of the local church, two rescue parties were sent out to investigate conditions on the outskirts of the city. Neither party has ever returned nor was any word received from them. It is quite certain now that they will never return.
“From my instrument I can gaze down on the city beneath me. From the position of this room on the thirteenth floor, nearly the entire city can be seen. Now I can see only a thick blanket of blackness where customarily are lights and life.
“I fear greatly that the wailing cries heard constantly from the outskirts of the city are the death cries of the inhabitants. They are constantly increasing in volume and are approaching the center of the city.
“The fog yet hangs over everything. If possible, it is even heavier than before, but the conditions have changed. Instead of an opaque, impenetrable wall of odorous vapor, there now swirls and writhes a shapeless mass in contortions of almost human agony. Now and again the mass parts and I catch a brief glimpse of the streets below.
“People are running to and fro, screaming in despair. A vast bedlam of sound flies up to my window, and above all is the immense whistling of unseen and unfelt winds.
“The fog has again swept over the city and the whistling is coming closer and closer.
“It is now directly beneath me.
“God! An instant ago the mist opened and I caught a glimpse of the streets below.
“The fog is not simply vapor — it lives! By the side of each moaning and weeping human is a companion figure, an aura of strange and vari-colored hues. How the shapes cling! Each to a living thing!
“The men and women are down. Flat on their faces. The fog figures caress them lovingly. They are kneeling beside them. They are — but I dare not tell it.
“The prone and writhing bodies have been stripped of their clothing. They are being consumed — piecemeal.
“A merciful wall of hot, steaming vapor has swept over the whole scene. I can see no more.
“Beneath me the wall of vapor is changing colors. It seems to be lighted by internal fires. No, it isn’t. I have made a mistake. The colors are from above, reflections from the sky.
“Look up! Look up! The whole sky is in flames. Colors as yet unseen by man or demon. The flames are moving; they have started to intermix; the colors are rearranging themselves. They are so brilliant that my eyes burn, they they are a long way off.
“Now they have begun to swirl, to circle in and out, twisting in intricate designs and patterns. The lights are racing each with each, a kaleidoscope of unearthly brilliance.
“I have made a discovery. There is nothing harmful in the lights. They radiate force and friendliness, almost cheeriness. But by their very strength, they hurt.
“As I look, they are swinging closer and closer, a million miles at each jump. Millions of miles with the speed of light. Aye, it is light of quintessence of all light. Beneath it the fog melts into a jeweled mist radiant, rainbow-colored of a thousand varied spectra.
“I can see the streets. Why, they are filled with people! The lights are coming closer. They are all around me. I am enveloped. I…”
The message stopped abruptly. The wire to Xebico was dead. Beneath my eyes in the narrow circle of light from under the green lamp-shade, the black printing no longer spun itself, letter by letter, across the page. The room seemed filled with a solemn quiet, a silence vaguely impressive, powerful. I looked down at Morgan. His hands had dropped nervelessly at his sides, while his body had hunched over peculiarly. I turned the lamp-shade back, throwing light squarely in his face. His eyes were staring, fixed.
Filled with a sudden foreboding, I stepped beside him and called Chicago on the wire. After a second the sounder clicked its answer. Why? But there was something wrong. Chicago was reporting that Wire Two had not been used throughout the evening.
“Morgan!” I shouted. “Morgan! Wake up, it isn’t true. Some one has been hoaxing us. Why…” In my eagerness I grasped him by the shoulder.
His body was quite cold. Morgan had been dead for hours. Could it be that his sensitized brain and automatic fingers had continued to record impressions even after the end?
I shall never know, for I shall never again handle the night shift. Search in a world atlas discloses no town of Xebico. Whatever it was that killed John Morgan will forever remain a mystery.
I first met in person with Mary E. in the summer of 2007. I had arranged with her husband of fifteen years, Terence, to see her for an interview. Mary had initially agreed, since I was not a newsman but rather an amateur writer gathering information for a few early college assignments and, if all went according to plan, some pieces of fiction. We scheduled the interview for a particular weekend when I was in Chicago on unrelated business, but at the last moment Mary changed her mind and locked herself in the couple’s bedroom, refusing to meet with me. For half an hour I sat with Terence as we camped outside the bedroom door, I listening and taking notes while he attempted fruitlessly to calm his wife.
The things Mary said made little sense but fit with the pattern I was expecting: though I could not see her, I could tell from her voice that she was crying, and more often than not her objections to speaking with me centered around an incoherent diatribe on her dreams — her nightmares. Terence apologized profusely when we ceased the exercise, and I did my best to take it in stride; recall that I wasn’t a reporter in search of a story, but merely a curious young man in search of information. Besides, I thought at the time, I could perhaps find another, similar case if I put my mind and resources to it.
Mary E. was the sysop for a small Chicago-based Bulletin Board System in 1992 when she first encountered smile.jpg and her life changed forever. She and Terence had been married for only five months. Mary was one of an estimated 400 people who saw the image when it was posted as a hyperlink on the BBS, though she is the only one who has spoken openly about the experience. The rest have remained anonymous, or are perhaps dead.
In 2005, when I was only in tenth grade, smile.jpg was first brought to my attention by my burgeoning interest in web-based phenomena; Mary was the most often cited victim of what is sometimes referred to as “Smile.dog,” the being smile.jpg is reputed to display. What caught my interest (other than the obvious macabre elements of the cyber-legend and my proclivity toward such things) was the sheer lack of information, usually to the point that people don’t believe it even exists other than as a rumor or hoax.
It is unique because, though the entire phenomenon centers on a picture file, that file is nowhere
to be found on the internet; certainly many photomanipulated simulacra litter the web, showing up with the most frequency on sites such as the imageboard 4chan, particularly the /x/-focused paranormal subboard. It is suspected these are fakes because they do not have the effect the true smile.jpg is believed to have, namely sudden onset temporal lobe epilepsy and acute anxiety.
This purported reaction in the viewer is one of the reasons the phantom-like smile.jpg is regarded with such disdain, since it is patently absurd, though depending on whom you ask the reluctance to acknowledge smile.jpg’s existence might be just as much out of fear as it is out of disbelief. Neither smile.jpg nor Smile.dog is mentioned anywhere on Wikipedia, though the website features articles on such other, perhaps more scandalous shocksites as ****** (hello.jpg) or 2girls1cup; any attempt to create a page pertaining to smile.jpg is summarily deleted by any of the encyclopedia’s many admins.
Encounters with smile.jpg are the stuff of internet legend. Mary E.’s story is not unique; there are unverified rumors of smile.jpg showing up in the early days of Usenet and even one persistent tale that in 2002 a hacker flooded the forums of humor and satire website Something Awful with a deluge of Smile.dog pictures, rendering almost half the forum’s users at the time epileptic.It is also said that in the mid-to-late 90s that smile.jpg circulated on usenet and as an attachment of a chain email with the subject line “SMILE!! GOD LOVES YOU!” Yet despite the huge exposure these stunts would generate, there are very few people who admit to having experienced any of them and no trace of the file or any link has ever been discovered.
Those who claim to have seen smile.jpg often weakly joke that they were far too busy to save a copy of the picture to their hard drive. However, all alleged victims offer the same description of the photo: A dog-like creature (usually described as appearing similar to a Siberian husky), illuminated by the flash of the camera, sits in a dim room, the only background detail that is visible being a human hand extending from the darkness near the left side of the frame. The hand is empty, but is usually described as “beckoning.” Of course, most attention is given to the dog (or dog-creature, as some victims are more certain than others about what they claim to have seen). The muzzle of the beast is reputedly split in a wide grin, revealing two rows of very white, very straight, very sharp, very human-looking teeth.
This is, of course, not a description given immediately after viewing the picture, but rather a recollection of the victims, who claim to have seen the picture endlessly repeated in their mind’s eye during the time they are, in reality, having epileptic fits. These fits are reported to continue indeterminably, often while the victims sleep, resulting in very vivid and disturbing nightmares. These may be treated with medication, though in someses it is more effective than others.
Mary E., I assumed, was not on effective medication. That was why after my visit to her apartment in 2007 I sent out feelers to several folklore- and urban legend-oriented newsgroups, websites, and mailing lists, hoping to find the name of a supposed victim of smile.jpg who felt more interested in talking about his experiences. For a time nothing happened and at length I forgot completely about my pursuits, since I had begun my freshman year of college and was quite busy. Mary contacted me via email, however, near the beginning of March 2008. To: jml@****.com
Subj: Last summer’s interview
Dear Mr. L.,
I am incredibly sorry about my behavior last summer when you came to interview me. I hope you understand that it was no fault of yours, but rather my own problems that led me to act out as I did. I realized that I could have handled the situation more decorously; however, I hope you will forgive me. At the time, I was afraid.
You see, for fifteen years I have been haunted by smile.jpg. Smile.dog comes to me in my sleep every night. I know that sounds silly, but it is true. There is an ineffable quality about my dreams, my nightmares, that makes them completely unlike any real dreams I have ever had. I do not move and do not speak. I simply look ahead, and the only thing ahead of me is the scene from that horrible picture. I see the beckoning hand, and I see Smile.dog. It talks to me.
It is not a dog, of course, though I am not quite sure what it really is. It tells me it will leave me alone if only I do as it asks. All I must do, it says, is “spread the word.” That is how it phrases its demands. And I know exactly what it means: it wants me to show it to someone else.
And I could. The week after my incident I received in the mail a manila envelope with no return address. Inside was only a 3 ½ -inch floppy diskette. Without having to check, I knew precisely what was on it.
I thought for a long time about my options. I could show it to a stranger, a coworker… I could even show it to Terence, as much as the idea disgusted me. And what would happen then? Well, if Smile.dog kept its word I could sleep. Yet if it lied, what would I do? And who was to say something worse would not come for me if I did as the creature asked?
So I did nothing for fifteen years, though I kept the diskette hidden amongst my things. Every night for fifteen years Smile.dog has come to me in my sleep and demanded that I spread the word. For fifteen years I have stood strong, though there have been hard times. Many of my fellow victims on the BBS board where I first encountered smile.jpg stopped posting; I heard some of them committed suicide. Others remained completely silent, simply disappearing off the face of the web. They are the ones I worry about the most.
I sincerely hope you will forgive me, Mr. L., but last summer when you contacted me and my husband about an interview I was near the breaking point. I decided I was going to give you the floppy diskette. I did not care if Smile.dog was lying or not, I wanted it to end. You were a stranger, someone I had no connection with, and I thought I would not feel sorrow when you took the diskette as part of your research and sealed your fate.
Before you arrived I realized what I was doing: was plotting to ruin your life. I could not stand the thought, and in fact I still cannot. I am ashamed, Mr. L., and I hope that this warning will dissuade you from further investigation of smile.jpg. You may in time encounter someone who is, if not weaker than I, then wholly more depraved, someone who will not hesitate to follow Smile.dog’s orders.
Stop while you are still whole.
Terence contacted me later that month with the news that his wife had killed herself. While cleaning up the various things she’d left behind, closing email accounts and the like, he happened upon the above message. He was a man in shambles; he wept as he told me to listen to his wife’s advice. He’d found the diskette, he revealed, and burned it until it was nothing but a stinking pile of blackened plastic. The part that most disturbed him, however, was how the diskette had hissed as it melted. Like some sort of animal, he said.
I will admit that I was a little uncertain about how to respond to this. At first I thought perhaps it was a joke, with the couple belatedly playing with the situation in order to get a rise out of me. A quick check of several Chicago newspapers’ online obituaries, however, proved that Mary E. was indeed dead. There was, of course, no mention of suicide in the article. I decided that, for a time at least, I would not further pursue the subject of smile.jpg, especially since I had finals coming up at the end of May.
But the world has odd ways of testing us. Almost a full year after I’d returned from my disastrous interview with Mary E., I received another email:
I found your e-mail adress thru a mailing list your profile said you are interested in smiledog. I have saw it it is not as bad as every one says I have sent it to you here. Just spreading the word.
The final line chilled me to the bone.
According to my email client there was one file attachment called, naturally, smile.jpg. I considered downloading it for some time. It was mostly likely a fake, I imagined, and even if it weren’t I was never wholly convinced of smile.jpg’s peculiar powers. Mary E.’s account had shaken me, yes, but she was probably mentally unbalanced anyway. After all, how could a simple image do what smile.jpg was said to accomplish? What sort of creature was it that could break one’s mind with only the power of the eye?
And if such things were patently absurd, then why did the legend exist at all?
If I downloaded the image, if I looked at it, and if Mary turned out to be correct, if Smile.dog came to me in my dreams demanding I spread the word, what would I do? Would I live my life as Mary had, fighting against the urge to give in until I died? Or would I simply spread the word, eager to be put to rest? And if I chose the latter route, how could I do it? Whom would I burden in turn?
If I went through with my earlier intention to write a short article about smile.jpg, I decided, I could attach it as evidence. And anyone who read the article, anyone who took interest, would be affected. And even assuming the smile.jpg attached to the email was genuine, would I be capricious enough to save myself in that manner?
Could I spread the word?
Yes, yes I could.
Sometime during the night of August 16th, 1952, the small town of Ashley, Kansas ceased to exist. At 3:28am on August 17th, 1952, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake was measured by the United States Geological Survey. The earthquake itself was felt throughout the state and most of the midwest. The epicenter was determined to be directly under Ashley, Kansas. When state law enforcement arrived at what should have been the outskirts of the farming community, they found a smoldering, burning fissure in the earth measuring 1000 yards in length and approximately 500 yards in width. The depth of the fissure was never determined. After twelve days, the state-wide and local search for the missing 679 residents of Ashley, Kansas, was called off by the Kansas State Government at 9:15pm on the night of August 29th, 1952. All 679 residents were assumed to be dead. At 2:27am on August 30th, 1952, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake was measured by the United States Geological Survey. The epicenter was situated under what used to be the location of Ashley, Kansas. When law enforcement investigated at 5:32am, they reported that the fissure in the Earth had closed.
In the eight days leading up to the disappearance of the town and its 679 residents, bizarre and unexplainable events were reported by dozens of residents in Ashley, Kansas and law enforcement from the surrounding area.
On the evening of August 8th, 1952, at 7:13pm, a resident by the name of Gabriel Johnathan reported a strange sight in the sky above Ashley. The town itself, having no official branch of law enforcement, called into the police station of the neighboring town of Hays. Gabriel reported what appeared to be a “small, black opening in the sky.” Within the next fifteen minutes, the Hays police station became overwhelmed with dozens of phone calls all reporting the same phenomenon. The phenomenon was never reported by any neighboring communities. A decision was made to send of a trooper to Ashley to investigate the matter the following morning.
At 7:54 am on the morning of August 9th, 1952, Hays Police Officer Allan Mace radioed the Hays Police Station. He reported that, despite following the one way road leading into Ashley, he had become lost. According to his report, the road “continued along its normal path, but somehow ended up back in Hays.” Officer Mace went on to add that the road never curved, or bent in any direction. At 9:15am, seven of the town’s 10 police cars were sent to investigate the situation, and all members of the team came to the same conclusion. The only road leading into Ashley stopped leading into Ashley, but instead led back to Hays. Phone calls continued to pour into the Hays Police Station, all reporting that the black opening in the sky continued to grow in size. All callers were advised to remain inside, and to not travel outside unless absolutely necessary. At 8:17pm, Mrs. Elaine Kantor
reported her neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Milton, and their two children, Jeffery and Brooke, missing. According to Mrs. Kantor’s phone call, the Miltons attempted to leave town in their family car earlier in the evening. They never returned. Law enforcement officals from Hays never reported the car, or individuals, coming up the one way road.
At 7:38am on the morning of August 10th, 1952, phone calls from Ashley into the Hays Police Station reported that the town was in total darkness. The sun had never risen. At 10:15am, at the request of Hays Law Enforcement, a helicopter from Topeka, Kansas flew over the region in which Ashley, Kansas stood. The town was never observed from air.
At 12:43pm on the afternoon of August 11th, 1952, Ms. Phoebe Danielewski called into the Hays Police Station. She reported that her daugter Erica had begun to have conversations with her father, who died three years prior in a drunk driving accident. To add to her concern, Ms. Danielewski reported that Erica was attempting to go
outside into the dark, to “join them.” Over the course of the next twelve hours, a reported 329 phone calls were placed into the Hays Police Station all describing similar phenomenon with the children of the town.
The following morning of August 12th, 1952, the sitation became dire. During the middle of the night, all 217 children in the town of Ashley, Kansas disappeared. A reported 421 phone calls were placed into the Hays Police Department. Unable to be of any useful assistance, Hays Law Enforcement instructed all callers to
remain inside and to avoid any and all attempts at finding the missing children.
At 5:19pm on the evening August 13th, 1952, Ashley elderly man Scott Luntz reporting a growing, distant fire to the south. According to his description, the fire seemed to turn the distant black into “bright red and orange [that] seemed to extend high into the sky.” Throughout the rest of the day, calls continued in, stating that the fire, in addition to moving north, now seemed to “come out of the black sky.” No fire was ever witnessed by any of the neighboring communities or law enforcement officials.
The reports continued until 12:09am on the morning of August 14th, 1952. The last phone call, placed by a Mr. Benjamin Endicott, reported that the fire in the sky had grown so intense that it began to appear as daytime over the town. The phone call ended abruptly:
(FROM THE PHONECALL PLACED BY BENJAMIN SHERMAN ENDICOTT)
Benjamin: Just hold on….wait…
Benjamin (con’t): Yeah, yeah I see something. It’s to the south. It looks like-
The next phone call wouldn’t be placed until the following evening.
The following is the entire transcript of the final phonecall to be received by the Hays Police Department out of the town of Ashley, Kansas. It was placed at 9:46pm on the evening of August 15th, 1952. In this recorded phonecall, the officer on duty is Officer Peter Welsch. The caller has been identified as Ms. April Foster.
Officer Welsch: Hays Police Department.
Officer Welsch: Hello?
Foster: YES…yes, hello?
Officer Welsch: Ma’am, who am I speaking with.
Foster: My name is April, April Foster. (Coughs) Please, sir. Please help me.
Officer Welsch: What is happening, ma’am?
Foster: Last night….last night they came back.
Officer Welsch: Ma’am, I’m going to need you to -
Foster: LAST NIGHT THEY CAME BACK! (Cries)
Officer Welsch: Ma’am, I’m going to need you to calm down, and speak clearly. What happened? Who came back?
Foster: (Sobbing). Everyone.
Officer Welsch: Everyone?
Foster: They all came in the fire.
Officer Welsch: What do you mean everyone?
Foster: My son…..I saw my son last night. He was walking… he was walking down the street. He was burned. Jesus Christ HE WAS BURNED.
Officer Welsch: Ma’am I -
Foster: He died last year. I raised him since he was a baby….it was just me and him. I told him to watch for cars when he rode his bike. But he never wanted to listen.
Officer Welsch: Ma’am, what you’re saying isn’t making any sense. You said everyone came back?
Foster: ARE YOU FUCKING LISTENING TO ME? EVERYONE. Everyone came back. Everyone who died, or went missing, they’re back. And they’re looking for US! (Cries). He…he said: “Mommy, I’m okay now! See, I can walk again! Where are you, Mommy? I want to see you!”(Sobs).
Officer Welsch: ….Ma’am, where are you now? Are you safe?
Foster: I’m hiding. Just like everyone else. We saw them coming through the fields….and….some people opened their doors from them. God, the SCREAMING. (Pause). I don’t know what happened to them. But their houses caught fire and they….caved in. I have my curtains drawn. I’m hiding in the closet right now and- (Silence).
Officer Welsch: Ma’am, is everything alright, are you okay?
Officer Welsh: Ma’am?
Foster: (Glass Breaking). Oh…oh my God.
Officer Welsh: Ma’am?
Foster: Something just came in. (Muffled cries).
Officer Welsch: Ma’am, stay as quiet as you can. Don’t make a sound.
Foster: (Muffled: “Mommy…..mommy?”). (Sobbing). He came inside.
Officer Welsch: Stay absolutely still. Don’t leave.
Foster: (Sound of muffled footsteps. Muffled: “Mommy? Mommy, where are you hiding?”)
Officer Welsch: Stay quiet.
Foster: (Sound of heavy footsteps. Laughter. Muffled: “I found you, MOMMY!”) (Indiscernable screaming and noise).
Officer Welsch: Ma’am? MA’AM??
The following morning, at 6:55am, the law enforcement officals of the Hays Police Department arrived at the location of Ashley, Kansas. A smoldering, burning fissure in the Earth was all that remained.
There was a young girl that was very fond of piano music. She pestered her parents into giving her piano class lessons. She often stays up late at night practicing piano notes on a sheet of paper with piano keys she made.
One day, the girl was strolling along the town with her parents and noticed a grand piano in a small shop. The piano looked old and worn out, but it also looked very antique. The girl begged her parents to buy the piano so she could play the piano at home, and finally her parents gave in and asked the shopkeeper how much the piano costs.
The shopkeeper was a old woman and she said it was only a hundred dollars. The girl’s parents agreed to buy her the piano, and the piano was delivered to their house for free.
As soon as the piano arrived, the girl wanted to play it right away. Her parents invited their relatives to come and watch her. She sat in front of the piano and started to play. But halfway into her music, she felt a sharp pain in her fingers. It felt like a small jab with a needle.
The girl’s parents didn’t want to disappoint their relatives and ordered the girl to continue playing. Eventually, after the visit was over and the relatives left, the girl was very worn out and passed out on her bed.
Over the next few weeks, the girl continued playing the piano about thirty minutes a day. She kept feeling the sharp pains and discomfort each time she played, and on some occasions she even collapsed out of exhaustion. But she kept playing and keeping on.
One day, while playing the piano, the girl notices one of the critical keys were jammed. She and her parents brought it to the old woman, and the woman offered to fix it for no cost. She did however ask the parents to leave the store, because the repair might not work if the curtains weren’t drawn.
Soon, the woman came back and said the piano was fixed. The parents brought it back home, and the girl continued playing. Over the next few weeks, she got very skinny. Her arms and body were almost skeletal, and her cheeks were sunken. Again one of the keys were jammed, and again the girl’s parents brought it for repairs to the old woman. She once again drew the curtains and began her repairment.
The father, curiously, moved one curtain aside and peeked inside. What he saw shocked him. The old woman had lifted the cover of the piano and reached in. She took out a large jar full of red liquid, and greedily drank down the liquid. The parents realized it was blood, and immediately called the police, but the woman was nowhere to be found when the police came.
The father disassembled the piano and, being a somewhat experienced mechanic, discovered what happens. The piano’s keyboards had very tiny, microscopic needles on them. The needles were hollow, and every time the girl played the piano, the keys would draw some blood from her fingers. The blood were then drawn through pipes into a special glass jar that keeps the blood cells alive, and once the jar is full, the piano jams a key, and the old woman secretly drinks the blood and places the jar back to “fix” the piano.
The girl’s parents quickly sold the piano online for fifty dollars. The girl suffered major blood loss, and doctors discovered the needles also contained a chemical that weakens the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood. The old woman replaces this chemical during every fix, and the chemical is injected into the girl’s bloodstream by the same hollow needles.
The girl suffered permanent bone damage, and died a few days later from an infection. Her weakened bone marrows were unable to produce any more white blood cells to battle the bacteria.
The old woman was still never found. The girl was buried in an church graveyard in the center of the city.