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I have a story to tell you, but I beg you not to read it. Please, don't. I know it sounds stupid, but by the time you understand why, it will be too late. I know this will not deter many of you, but without this simple warning to ease my conscience, I may not be able to go through with this. And I desperately need to go through with this. Let me start at the beginning.
I have an old friend, Joe, who I've known since grade school. I'm in my late twenties - so is he - and he's been my friend for at least half of that time. I'd say that we knew each other pretty well after all of that time. This may seem irrelevant and uninteresting, but I have to stress this; I know him, and I know him well. What he did was... it was nothing he ever could have done without some outside influence.
On the night of Friday, January 23, I was driving to his apartment to pick him and his roommate up; we made plans to go out, hit a couple of bars, and generally have a good start to the weekend. When I arrived, there were a number of police cars and ambulances outside the complex. I was, of course, curious, as I, like many people, rarely see such sights. As I got closer, I noticed a body covered in a bag in the street, surrounded by glass and no more than a few feet from a badly dented car.
I'm rather horrified, coming to the conclusion that someone was hit by a car and killed right outside the complex. As I finished gawking, I made my way inside and up the stairs to the third floor. That's where my friend's apartment is, and that's where I found it wasn't a simple accident.
The police were upstairs as well, talking to residents and taping off one of the apartments. My friend's apartment. Panicked, I asked one of the officers what happened, why my friend's apartment was taped off. I told him I was supposed to be meeting them for drinks, and asked if they were okay. The officer told me that it appeared that Joe had butchered his roommate with a kitchen knife and thrown himself through the plate glass sliding door into the street below.
I was a ghost, shaken so badly I could barely answer the simple questions the officer asked me upon finding that I knew the victims. My mind couldn't process it. I knew him. He'd never do such an atrocity. It didn't make sense.
I made my way back to my car in silence and drove home as though on autopilot. I couldn't get the shock of it all out of my head. My wife asked me what happened and I explained it to her. She was shocked as well, but... she didn't know him like I did. I told her I needed a bit of time and went to my room. She let me be. Lost, I found myself at my computer. I'm not really sure why I did it, but I found myself checking his email.
I know the passwords he commonly used, so it was hardly an issue to find the right one. I thought perhaps he had friends online who I needed to tell, or maybe I thought I'd find a window into what caused this. I really don't know. If I knew then what I know now; I would've never done what I did.
I scrolled through his inbox, looking for familiar names. Joe, I, and several friends kept in touch online, and I instantly recognized several of those names in the last few days. The most recently opened email was what looked like a spam email with an attachment and no other information. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened it. The file itself was a picture, named nothing but a seemingly random string of numbers. It was simply a man, seemingly normal at a glance, but the longer I stared at it, the more disturbed I became.
He stood, staring, with a grin, sinister and unsettling, with eyes that were both vacant and focused at the same time. That terrible grin seemed to widen the longer I stared, and for minutes I was fixated at that horrible face, eyes burning as they stared back at me with equal intensity. Finally, I tore my gaze away to find the only other thing in the email: a single word. A word I can't repeat. Not yet. I need to tell my story.
I couldn't take the sight of it anymore. I had to close it. The face was still looking at me; I swear I could still feel his grinning stare. As I went to log out of his email and put that horrid thing out of my mind, I noticed the time it arrived: January 23, 5:35pm. We were supposed to meet at six. He likely saw this less than a half hour before he died.
For the next several days, I tried to get it out of my mind. I attended my friend's funeral. I tried to go on with my life, but I kept feeling uneasy. Every time I closed my eyes, I felt like someone was watching me. At night, I started to have unsettling nightmares. I couldn't remember much of them when I awoke, but they all had the same elements: that horrible grinning man, blood, violence, and death. I couldn't get a good night's sleep. I was struggling at work. I kept feeling tense and on edge. I needed to know what was going on.
It was hard to really know what to look for at first; all I had to go on was that image and the single word that accompanied it. "Grinning man" is hardly a descriptive search and "haunted grinning man" or "cursed grinning man" wasn't really any better. Still, I did what I could with my limited resources.
I actually found a reference to it, or what I thought was it, on a website dedicated to conspiracies and paranormal things and other things I'd normally dismiss as utter bullshit. Still, this wasn't natural, and I was willing to try to open my mind to any explanation, since this seemed to defy anything conventional. What I uncovered about this "grinning man" was that it was an image that seemed to circulate among image boards and forums a few years back. The article said the picture was harmless, if not a bit creepy (though I strongly disagree on the term "a bit"), but it seemed that something about it, when coupled with a key word that was unknown, could trigger extreme psychotic bouts, irritability, nightmares, and hallucinations.
It seemed so utterly stupid - simple text and pixels causing such harm - and yet I was sitting there, realizing that I was experiencing those same nightmares, irritability, and hallucinations. Joe obviously experienced the psychosis, evidenced by his sudden murder-suicide.
I was stunned; I thought it had to be a joke, some kind of bizarre hoax, but I knew there was more to it than that. I knew what I was feeling and I knew my friend. That picture and that word... it had to be the keyword. What triggers everything? Oh, God, was this going to happen to me, too? Was I going to kill my wife and then myself?
I started to panic, but my rational mind won over. If it was just paranoia and hallucinations... those couldn't hurt me, right? They only had power if I gave them power. I decided that I would end this, put it out of my mind, rationalize it away each time I felt it. That would be the end of it all.
As much as my rational brain helped me through the day, it couldn't protect me at night. My dreams continued to degrade, ending in me waking in the middle of the night, cold sweats and heart pounding. I started taking sleeping pills, though I refused to tell my wife - I didn't want her to worry, though I knew she could tell something was wrong with me. The pills did nothing, though; in fact, they seemed to make my dreams more vivid. I could remember everything when I awoke; every horrible, bloody detail, that grinning, inhuman face. I found I started sleepwalking. The first night I woke curled in the bathtub; then in the kitchen. Three days later, with a knife in my hand and the bloodied remains of our black Lab at my feet.
I can't even remember the next things that happened after that. I know I cleaned up our dog, hid him in a trash bag, and said he ran off in the night and got lost. I was terrified. I had no idea what to do. I tried to medicate myself heavily. I locked up all the knives in the house. My wife knew there was something terribly wrong, but I refused to say anything. I don't even know if I could at the time.
The only thing I can still remember clearly was the dreams. I was irate and easily spooked at the littlest of things. I thought it had to just be my nerves from all of this and lack of sleep, but... I remembered my friend, the website. I knew I was getting worse.
The thing I remember most about the dreams, aside from that horrible grinning man, is the emotions. I felt each death that was inflicted in the dream like it was real. Like it was my own hand disemboweling my friends, my family, and random strangers against my own will.
Like each death, each vision of terror he showed me, was not just a vision but my own work. Each horrible death in the dream made him grin a little wider. He wanted me to snap. He wanted me to become exactly what he was showing me. He wanted me to become him.
So, I come here to tell you this because I'm desperate. I need help. You see... I can't bear the thought of harming my wife, the woman I love most in this world. Yet, I know it's inevitable. He's always there, watching and grinning, knowing I'm close to breaking, and nudging me ever closer to the edge. I know what he wants. I can't let him have that. I don't know any other way out.
I'm reaching out to you in hopes that he'll leave me alone. Maybe if you, the careless reader who I warned away, will give him what he wants, he'll let me be. I have to try. I don't know what else to do. I'm so sorry. I hope you can forgive a man for acting in desperation.