A/N: Madness Challenge - Theme 1: Manic smile

Yes I started yet another project lmao kill me

It took me ages to get this done. I think this would have worked better as a multi-chapter story, but oh well...

You Don't Smile Enough

Life was so fragile. You would have no idea just how delicate it truly was if you had not yet experienced it shattering. Sometimes you had to learn it the hard way. In order to discover this cruel part of life, it costs the soul of someone you loved. In a blink of an eye, death would seal their hearts, forever. They would be gone and taking part of you with them to the grave. You will never get that part back. They will only leave you a memory of them, as well as wounds that are just too deep. But as you mourn over them, time will heal those soul's injuries, transforming them into scars that would never disappear. You will hold the memory of them close to your heart, never letting go. You will keep hoping that if there existed some sort of afterlife, you would meet again with those loved ones that you lost on your path.

All of this is what Arwen was currently going through.

His mother's funeral had been two days ago. As her coffin had been lowered to the ground, he had felt nothing. He had been completely numb. Arwen had loved his mother so, so much that her death dealt a heavy blow to his psyche. They had been really close to each other; his mother had not only been his parent but a friend as well. They had experienced a lot of things together and made tons of happy memories. And whenever Arwen had faced a rough situation, his mother had always been there for him and supported him. He couldn't possibly ask for a better parent. But now she was gone. Permanently.

Arwen felt devastated. He hadn't cried during the funeral, but afterwards, all the pain and grief came crashing down. The next day he had stayed in his room, spending the whole day weeping alone. Then, on the following day, he decided to somewhat put himself together, and when the evening came, he left his home and went for a long walk.

He wandered around his small hometown. It was autumn, and the evenings were already dark. The street lamps illuminated his way, creating a shadow following him, which was his only company on his lonesome walk. Arwen saw only few people outside, for it was a time for most people to go to their beds already; tomorrow was Monday and people had to rest before going to work. Arwen was similar, he had some work too on the next day. He decided that he would go straight to the bed after he had returned home.

The man chose to take a shortcut through some narrow alley. Little did he know, this decision would cause an unpredictable turn in his life.

Arwen's gaze had drifted down in his feet. So, first he noticed a shadow of some stranger in front of him. This caused him to look up and what he saw, made him to freeze in place.

There stood one man; rather short and was wearing a fancy suit. He would have looked quite an ordinary person, but his face… It was horrifying. He had this horrible, horrible grin. It was tearing his face in half, reaching from one ear to another. Arwen didn't know what this creature thing was, but clearly it wasn't human. He couldn't do anything but stare at this dark being's torn face, horrified.

The silence between them was broken by the laughter of this creature. It caused chills to run down by Arwen's spine.

"Don't be afraid, sweetie", the demonic being said. "I'm here to help you."

"Help… Help how?" Arwen managed to say out loud. He wasn't still sure was this thing malicious or not.

The strange individual nodded for some reason.

"Yes, helping, helping! You know, you don't smile enough", the creature said.

Arwen was incredibly bewildered. He had no idea how to act.

The being began to walk toward him.

"I'm here to help you smile more", the odd thing said. "I know you just lost your mother, but that's only giving you more reason to learn how to smile again!"

"W-wait!" Arwen shouted. "How do you know about my mother?!"

The creature just laughed again. It was now standing right in front of him.

"Boop!" the strange being said as it poked Arwen's forehead. Then, in a blink of an eye, the thing was gone. Poof. It only left a swirl of red smoke behind.

Shocked Arwen didn't move for a while for he was trying to register what had just happened. Was any of it real? Or had he just hallucinated everything? The fading smoke, however, was a sign that something weird had indeed happened.

Arwen shook his head in disbelief. Whatever the case, he couldn't spend the rest of the evening standing in the alley pondering what the hell had just happened. And so, he began his stroll back to his home.

When Arwen had got back to his modest house, his wife Sarah came to greet him as soon as he stepped inside their home. They embraced each other, then Arwen placed a gentle kiss on Sarah's lips.

"I already missed you, honey", Sarah said, smiling happily.

"Oh darling", Arwen murmured and gave his wife another kiss.

After her husband took a little distance, it was then when Sarah noticed that he had this odd… essence around him.

"Are you okay?" Sarah asked, being worried.

"Ah, yes… I'm just tired", Arwen answered. He didn't want to tell his wife what had happened in the alley. She probably would have believed him, but still. He decided that it was his secret, for now.

"Better go to the bed, then", Sarah stated. "All three of us."

Sarah touched her stomach, a happy smile on her face. Arwen stepped closer to her and petted her belly. Just a couple of more months and they would finally meet their new family member.

Then the two lovebirds ascended to the second floor of their house and headed to their bedroom. They went straight to the bed, turned off the lights, enjoyed the warmth of each other's bodies and then began to drift to the land of dreams.

Arwen had no idea how awful night awaited him.

What he saw was a night, dominated by darkness. Unfamiliar city unfolded in front of him and a bloodred moon was illuminating the world below. There was not a single soul to be seen. Arwen started to walk around the street of that strange, empty place, trying to investigate the area with his gaze.

After some time, Arwen stopped his wanderings. He had heard something. It was the sound of a motor. No, two motors. Arwen glanced behind him and somewhere in the distance he saw a car. There was something wrong, though. The going looked dangerous, for whoever was controlling that vehicle, was driving pretty much just zigzag. He seemed to stay on the road just barely. The person on the steering wheel was most likely drunk. Then, Arwen looked at the opposite direction, and saw another car coming. Its drive was very similar and wild as the first car's.

This situation would not end well.

Arwen could only watch, horrified and petrified, as the two cars crashed at each other violently from the high speed. Neither of the drivers hadn't had their seat belts on, and thus, both of those flew through their windshields. For some reason, their bodies ignited in the mid-air, and were soon engulfed in flames. As they collided with the ground, the fire started spreading on the ground, quickly gobbling up the cars and everything near them. Arwen took a few steps back just in case the fire would spread to where he was observing the situation, even though it didn't seem like he was in any danger.

Next came the bone-chilling laugh which sounded way too familiar in Arwen's ears.

And just like that, in a poof of smoke, the horribly grinning creature had appeared in the vicinity of the cars. It was laughing manically, not bothered at all by the fact that flames started to crawl toward him. Soon they began to cling its fancy clothes, spreading across its body. And yet, while burning alive, the thing kept laughing.

"My, my look at this!" the demonic being almost screamed. "Aren't these two so very lucky? They are free from all the pain possible! Smile, Arwen, smile, for this is a happy moment!"

Arwen woke up, startled and sweaty. He raised to sitting position, trying to calm down.

It was just a dream.

Or so he was trying to convince himself. What he had just saw was… too vivid to be just a dream. It really felt like he had been carried to that road and what he had witnessed had really happened. It had also felt rather draining for some reason. Was that diabolical creature he had met in the alley be responsible for these visions Arwen had just seen?

Arwen shook his head. Then he looked at the soundly sleeping Sarah next to him. A faint smile creeped on his face. After that, he laid back down and tried to sleep once again. He didn't have to wait for long and soon he fell asleep once more. And this time, he was able to rest in peace.

The next day went normally. Arwen had woken up early and rushed to work. He was working at a nearby office. His work day had proceeded rather smoothly. After job, when he got back home, he spent some good time with Sarah. Only a few times had the memory of that strange dream or whatever crawled to his mind during his day, but he had shoved them into the deepest pits of his mind, not really thinking about it. And when the night came, he and Sarah went to the bed, having no worries. Soon they were fast asleep.

However, in the middle of the night, a strange piercing sound cut the air, waking Arwen up. He raised to sit, all tensed up, his senses ready and sharp.

The strange sound emanated from within the house again. What was causing it? Had someone infiltrated into their home?

A fear tiptoed into Arwen's heart, anxiety making it beat so fast Arwen hadn't experienced anything like that ever before in his peaceful life. He looked at Sarah, who was currently positioned that her back was to Arwen. The man decided that it would be best if she was awake, so he started to shake her in order to wake her up.

"Wake up, Sarah! Wake up!" Arwen said, trying to keep his voice down. His gaze shifted to their bedroom's door as he heard the chilling, piercing sound again.

"What is it, honey?" Sarah asked.

Arwen looked again at her – and froze with fear.

She wasn't that Sarah which he knew and loved. Her face had been replaced with that torn and ugly mess which that demonic thing in the alley had had.

That horrible thing that mocked his wife laughed at Arwen.

"What's wrong, my dear?" the being asked tauntingly. Then it laughed at him again.

Arwen tried to make some distance from this monster in his bed. He was completely terrified, having no idea how he should act.

"Oh, I know!" the creature yelled. "I'll let you meet our baby! That will cheer you up!"

What happened next caused Arwen to want to vomit.

The diabolical being raised its shirt, exposing its stomach. First Arwen heard gross, squishy sound. Then it seemed like that something was moving under the stomach's skin. It didn't take long that some spawn of malevolence began to tear through abdominal area. It was horrifying sight, and Arwen couldn't look away. The thing that was supposed to be the fruit of their love, was instead this abomination that crawled its way out of the womb. It had unnatural dark skin and white eyes and its cry was horrendous. Its tiny hands tried to reach for Arwen for an unknown reason. Witnessing this happening was utterly terrible.

"Smile, Arwen, smile!" the creature said. "Aren't you happy for meeting your child for the first time?"

The torn-faced monster reached its hands toward Arwen, grapping him by the shoulders. At the same time the baby tried to do the same, crying dreadfully. Arwen screamed, trying desperately to escape from the grip of the creature.

"Arwen! Arwen!"

The man continued screaming and trying to escape.

"Arwen! Wake up!"

It took him a while to register these words and the situation he was in. He stopped screaming, perplexed about what had just happened. In front of him was Sarah – the real Sarah. And there was no baby monster coming out of her stomach. His wife looked worried, caressing Arwen's cheek with her hand.

"Are you okay Arwen?" Sarah asked, concerned.

"I… I think so", Arwen replied. "I just saw a bad dream."

A faint smile visited Sarah's face as she proceeded to place a kiss on her husband's forehead.

"Let's just go back to sleep", she said.

Arwen nodded in agreement. Just like earlier, this dream had also felt too real and draining; it had left him rather exhausted for some reason. A good sleep would really be welcomed. Then both of them laid down and closed their eyes. The rest of the night went peacefully and Arwen was completely free from nightmares.

The next day was simply ordinary. Arwen had almost waited for something to occur because of the strange, vivid dreams he had seen. But nothing weird happened during the day. He had, however, somehow managed to develop a headache. Throughout the whole day he had suffered from it and as the evening came, he hoped that it would cease in his sleep for painkillers had failed to get rid of it. He also hoped that he wouldn't see nightmares this night.

But of course, he wasn't that lucky.

This time he had got thrown into an old castle. Through the murky atmosphere he could hear some cheerful medieval music playing and noises of a crowd. However, what was happening outside didn't match with this gleeful party or whatever was going on inside the castle; there was a dark night lurking beyond the walls, rain whipping the windows and thunders splitting the sky for a blink of an eye. Because the darkness dominated the outdoors, there was rather dim on the inside as well – even though the halls were illuminated by the torches.

Arwen stared at the hall in front of him. Somehow he was aware that this wasn't real – this was just another dream.

"Wake up, Arwen", he mumbled to himself and slapped himself to his cheeks. Then he shook his head.

He felt trapped. He wandered back and forth for a while, trying to figure out what should he do. However, it seemed that he had no other choice but to go to where the noises were coming from. It felt like that this dream wanted him to experience it. And so, with uncertain steps, he began his mission to join the party.

Two grand doors greeted him. Just for a little while Arwen stood there, listening to the cheery racket. Judging by those sounds, maybe there was a possibility that this dream wasn't as horrible as those previous ones. And so, with that, Arwen began to push the doors open.

The music stopped.

The room was dim, just like the halls. Every now and then lightnings illuminated the room for milliseconds. Arwen stared at the crowd and the crowd – about fifty people – stared back at him.

It was horrible.

All of them were monsters – just like the demonic being in the alley. Every single one of them; otherwise resembling humans but they all had this torn, rotten face. And all of them were smiling wicked, ugly smile.

The doors closed behind him all by itself, shutting him in with these abominations. Arwen could only stand there, paralyzed.

Then one of those monsters started clapping and stepped forward.

"Glad to see you Arwen!" it spoke. "It's such an honor that you're joining our celebration!"

Few of these horrific individuals let out a soft laughter. Arwen couldn't still move a muscle. With everyone's eyes on him, he felt really pressurized.

"Don't be afraid, Arwen!" the same monster uttered. "You have to smile! Smile! For we are free from the fear of death! Dying wasn't pleasant, that's true, but we don't have to do that ever again! So, let's celebrate together!"

Followed by that, cheerful noises filled the air. But Arwen could only feel horror – especially because some of the demonic beings had started to slowly get closer to him, which gave him even more distress. He tried to back off, but felt too soon the doors on his back. The crowd of monsters just kept coming closer to him. Arwen turned around, started to beat the doors in panic, but he couldn't get them open. He was trapped.

He turned again to face these beings with rotten faces. He was completely cornered by them, there was nowhere he could run. Their hands outstretched, the closest ones began to cling at him. Arwen tried to shake them off, but in vain. There just was too many of them. Some of them grasped his arms, some went down to hold his legs. He couldn't move as few of those beings began to claw his face. Arwen screamed as his skin got torn off. Blood began to pour down as his face got shredded to pieces. The pain was unspeakable.

The laughter of those monsters filled the air.

"Arwen! Arwen!"

They shouted it as if he were their hero or something.

But then…

"Arwen! Arwen!"

He heard a different voice, one that was trying to penetrate through the sounds of the crowd.

"Oh, please Arwen, wake up!"

Arwen opened up his eyes. And when he did, the first thing he saw was Sarah's worried face. He was back in his bedroom. It was like his wife had brought him back into reality.

"You had a bad dream again, didn't you?" Sarah stated.

"Yeah…" Arwen mumbled. "A real nasty one…"

"Now, I'm not a therapist or anything, but are you seeing bad dreams because of your mother's passing?" Sarah asked.

Arwen pondered these words for a little while.

Then he said: "No, I don't think so."

He decided that it was time to tell about that monster in the alley. Arwen took a deep breath and opened up to his wife. He told her everything, from the very first meeting with this creature to describing the nightmares he had seen, and how it kept commanding him to smile in various situations. And also how exhausted these weird dreams had made him feel and how vivid and real they have felt like.

"Maybe you shouldn't go to work tomorrow", Sarah suggested. "At least I think you should rest a bit."

"Because of what?" Arwen let out a half-hearted chuckle. "Because of nightmares? That's not a valid reason."

"I'm just… I'm just worried about you", Sarah spoke softly. She hugged her husband.

"I'll be fine", Arwen tried to reassure his wife – even though he really didn't believe those words himself. He had just lost his mother and now he was being haunted by something that seemed pretty malevolent. At this rate he would get a nervous breakdown or something.

"I'll keep my eye on you", Sarah said. "Just let me know if something happens, okay? You don't have to experience this shit alone."

"Yeah, thanks honey", Arwen consented. "Let's go to sleep now."

They kissed each other and ended their embrace. Then they laid down once more and waited for sleep to come. However, Arwen couldn't really catch a dream. Even after few hours he was still wide awake, being thoroughly tired but was unable to sleep.

And his headache hadn't gone anywhere, either.

Eventually the morning came. Arwen hadn't been able to sleep almost at all. Still, he forced himself out of the bed and went to work. He knew that this day would feel like hell because he was so tired and still suffered from the headache. However, he had no idea that something else was also going to mess with his head.

After the long day at work, Arwen was walking toward his home. But this wasn't going to be a peaceful walk in the daylight, no.


Somebody was yelling his name.

He stopped and looked around him, trying to figure out where this voice was coming from.

It was then when Arwen realized that there was something really odd going on. On the opposite of the street, there was a graveyard. The thing was that it hadn't been there ever before. It was crazy. How could an area like that just appear out of nowhere within a day? And how no one else was paying attention to it? This had to be the doing of that demonic being.

And there it was standing on the other side of the iron fence, waving at Arwen.

"Hello, Arwen, my friend", the torn-faced monster shouted. "You still haven't smiled for me."

Arwen tried his best to ignore this being. He precipitated his pace in order to get away from that freak as soon as possible.

The monster still bellowed at him: "Would you be happy if you met your mother again?"

This caused Arwen to stop momentarily. But soon he shook his head and continued walking. The thing was just trying to get to him, so he had to try to ignore it as much as he could. He slipped away from that location, the monster's laughter escorting him.

Arwen was happy and relieved when he got back home. As Sarah came to welcome him, she noticed immediately that something was off.

"What happened?" Sarah asked. "Is it that demon thing again?"

"Yeah", Arwen replied. After taking his coat and shoes off, he wandered to the living room.

"I think you need some tea", Sarah said. "I'll make you some."

"Thanks", Arwen thanked.

In a moment they both were sitting on the couch, drinking some tea. Arwen told his wife what he had seen before coming back home. It was rather strange occurrence, for so far he had met that being only in his dreams, except for the first time. Did it really happen or had he started to see things? It really felt real, though.

"I don't know what to say", Sarah spoke. "This situation is certainly odd. I feel helpless… I wish I could do something to help you."

"Don't worry, darling, I'm sure it will resolve itself soon", Arwen stated.

But he himself didn't believe those words at all.

When the evening came and Arwen and Sarah went to bed, Arwen was expecting to see weird nightmares again. But the longer he waited, it became apparent that this wouldn't be the case – especially and mainly because he couldn't drift to sleep. He kept turning from side to side on the bed but the dreams didn't come to catch him. His painful headache didn't help either. As the night proceeded, Arwen managed to develop some other unpleasant crap to suffer from: a head-piercing ringing started to play in his ears. He didn't understand what that was but it sure as hell didn't improve his condition. It made it impossible to sleep.

Arwen gave up approximately three in the morning. He left Sarah to sleep alone and wandered down to the kitchen. Arwen made some tea for himself and then walked to the living room to watch TV. Maybe it would help him to relax a bit and also get his mind off all the strange things that had happened to him.

The hours passed and Arwen grew more and more tired and in pain. And the ringing just wouldn't stop. He felt like he was about to go insane. However, seven in the morning, Sarah came down. Just seeing her eased his suffering a little. She walked to him and gave him a gentle kiss on his lips.

"Well, you're up early", Sarah stated, smiling a little.

"Yeah, couldn't really sleep", Arwen responded. Then he strolled to the kitchen once again to fetch some bread for a breakfast. After this deed, he returned to the living room to watch TV for a little while. Sarah accompanied him.

A little bit later, Arwen was about to go to work. He got prepared and was going to make his leave, but as soon as he opened the door, he got petrified.

The whole city was burning. Everything was in pure chaos; corpses filled the streets and those who were still alive were screaming and panicking or had become brutal monsters that were hunting for those poor bastards. There was so much blood that it seemed like the city itself was bleeding. Cars were all crashed and broken and in disarray. The sky was pitch-black, as if the sun itself couldn't bear to watch the madness below. Flames were increasingly engulfing everything.

The sight was something of a sheer horror. All of this… this inferno, madness and violence – this mayhem was horrifying to look at. But Arwen couldn't help it… No matter how atrocious state had devoured this city – his hometown – he was seeing something beautiful in all of this havoc. It was dark and magnificent. It was making him feel blissful. And so, the ringing in his ears joined in with the chorus of screams, and his mind burst open in order to help him get merged with all this insanity.

This was interrupted by Sarah.

"Honey, what's wrong?" Sarah asked in a worried voice.

Arwen shifted his gaze away from the burning outside world and looked at his wife. A manic smile sneaked onto his face and there was mad gleam in his eyes; this wasn't the man Sarah had been familiar with anymore.

"You know…" Arwen chuckled. "You don't smile enough."