“Readers troubled by the paranormal or obsessive thoughts should avoid reading this…”
But The Bye Bye Man started off as a genuinely creepy short story.
Published in November 2005, Robert Damon Schneck’s The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America collects together eight different (allegedly true) campfire tales about ghosts, monsters, murderers, and hoaxes. In addition to telling the stories, Schneck attempts to either prove or disprove their validity, and the final story in the book, as well as the most well-known, is titled “The Bridge to Body Island.” This is the story of The Bye Bye Man, and it’s been re-named just that for a reissue of the book titled, well, The Bye Bye Man.
Who/what is The Bye Bye Man? Why does he target anyone who says or even thinks his name? What’s the deal with the coins and the train? And what the hell is that dog-like creature he walks around with? These are questions not answered or even asked by the movie, which as Kalyn noted, has some of the most unclear mythology you’ll ever find in a horror film. The whole thing is incredibly ill-conceived and lazily slapped together, but in “The Bridge to Body Island,” The Bye Bye Man’s story is a whole lot more fleshed out… sadly, none of it made it into the movie.
This particular story is told by Schneck himself, who claims to have a personal connection to it; it was allegedly relayed to him by a friend, who allegedly experienced The Bye Bye Man firsthand. It’s set in the summer of 1990. Three friends in Wisconsin begin playing around with a Ouija board and over the next several weeks they make contact with a series of entities. After some time, the entities tell them about The Bye Bye Man, who has a tragic backstory. Born with albinism in 1920s Louisiana, the so-called Bye Bye Man was relentlessly teased and tormented by his peers, and as he got older, he began to seek revenge by lashing out violently; eventually becoming a full-blown serial killer. The entities tell the friends that The Bye Bye Man traveled around the country by train, carrying out random and brutal killings. But where The Bye Bye Man’s story takes a turn for the bizarrely supernatural is when his eyesight fails and he creates a devilish companion.
That dog-like creature in the film? That’s Gloomsinger, who was literally sewn together from pieces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. Even more bizarre, Gloomsinger is always deteriorating, and The Bye Bye Man has to kill more victims to gather the eyes, tongues, and other parts necessary to restore him. Schneck notes the Gloomsinger plays an “unclear but essential” role in the tale, and it’s the hunting dog’s whistling that usually announces the impending arrival of his master.
The story, as relayed in the book at least, even makes sense of The Bye Bye Man’s ability to appear before anyone who says or thinks his name. At some point, the albino madman developed telepathic abilities, allowing him to sense when people thought or talked about him. With Gloomsinger as his guide, he was able to locate those people and then dispatch of them.
As for The Bye Bye Man’s appearance, he’s described as having long hair, a white face, black glasses, and a tattoo on his wrist. He wears a pea coat and a wide-brimmed hat, and carries around his victim’s organs in a “sack of gore.” Schneck evocatively describes him as being “more strangely hideous than the ugliest abortion.” Alas, in the film, he inspires laughs rather than fear.
The friends, after learning about The Bye Bye Man, began waking up in the middle of the night and having panic attacks, and one of them even reported hearing a woman’s voice outside his door one night. The voice seeemed to be his friend’s, but since she was not in the area at the time, it couldn’t have been her. He never opened the door, believing The Bye Bye Man to be on the other side; he’s apparently either able to mimic voices or has a feminine voice of his own.
And that’s really the whole story. No hallucinations, as in the film, and no lives claimed. Schneck spends much of that section of the book trying to find some logical explanation for the whole thing, tracing The Bye Bye Man’s origins potentially back to a real-life serial killer in the ’30s. Ultimately, he finds himself unable to prove or disprove the legend, which is likely just that.
More than anything, “The Bridge to Body Island” is a fascinating exploration of urban legends as a whole; how they begin and where the different parts come from. The story also digs deep into the Ouija board itself, which is probably best not to be trifled with. It’s altogether compelling and pretty damn creepy… a bummer, considering how dull and laughable the film turned out to be.
The book is always better, as they say.