Sunday, March 20, 2011

Madness in March - The End, The Winner, and a ...Bonus story?

This has been an amazing week. 

First off: Thanks go to all the amazing writers who contributed tales, 

  • Laurita Miller,
  • Richard Godwin
  • Angel Zapata
  • Benjamin Sobieck
  • Sean Patrick Reardon
  • Erin Cole
  • Lily Childs
Each of these stunning writers brought their best work to the theme of "Madness" and, as the comments have shown this week, each of them has a growing (and much deserved) fan base. Well done to all of you.

Secondly: When I announced this event, I mentioned that the winner would receive the promotion of the book of their choice on this blog. I admit that this is a meager prize, but it's what I'm able to do this time around, and in addition to the "space", this writer can count on me to provide a space, a plug, and/or an interview in support of their upcoming work in the weeks to come. 

This was an incredibly difficult decision, as all the stories this week have been absolutely amazing. We saw seven completely different angles on the theme of "Madness", each captivating in their own way. But- there was one story with images that kept haunting me long after I'd finished reading.

The slow decline of the mind of a woman, waking up in an unknown location, with no idea what has happened to her, to the point that she eats and enjoys her own liver was like nothing I'd read before. 

Congratulations, Erin Cole. The top corner of "The Leaky Pencil" belongs to you and your book until the end of April.

I had intended to list runners-up, but choosing one story among seven was tough enough.

Thank you, so much, to all the contributing writers. I am in awe of your talents.

And finally: What if you threw a party, and nobody came? That was my fear as I organized "Madness in March". I've been at this blogging thing for just a little over a year now, and I give my thanks to everyone who submitted, and all of you who showed up to read and comment. Because I was somewhat uncertain of the response, I crafted my own entry for this week, which I didn't end up needing. However, it turned out to be one of my better ones of late, so - if you'll bear this moment of shameless self-indulgence, I'll end the way I began - with a story and humbly invite you to visit with "The Dollmaker and the Rat."

The Dollmaker and the Rat
Chris Allinotte

Gavin chuckled when he heard his cell door open.

"Back again, huh doc?"

When there was no reply, he added, "Think this time'll cure me? Get me outta here?"

The doctor inclined his head, paused, and then said, "You seem to be in a good mood, today. That’s positive."

Gavin squinted against the sunlight flooding in from the window. He studied the doctor carefully. In turn, the doctor remained silent, waiting for his reply.

Gavin burst out laughing.

“You’re not a real doctor, are you?”

The doctor nodded, cleared his throat and continued, “We felt," he said, "that you weren't responding to traditional therapies."

“We?” shouted Gavin, “Who’s we?

“My,” said the sleek-bellied rat, “You are clear today.” It sat back on its haunches and stroked its whiskers.

“It seems a shame to squander this opportunity,” continued the rat doctor. “I’d still like to talk. If you’re willing, that is.”

Sunlight fell through the window onto Gavin’s face. He closed his eyes, and enjoyed the sensation, resting his head against the wall. After a moment more of simple warmth, he said, “Whatever you want, doc.”

"Fine," said the doctor. "How about some word association?”

“You know all the games, don’t you?” replied Gavin, then sighed. “Fine. Whatever you’d like.”

“Excellent,” said the rat, his tone brighter, “Just say whatever comes into your mind first."

They began:










Gavin was starting to breathe hard. The world was starting to swim again. He wanted his special dolly. The one that couldn’t look at him. He’d hold it so tight. He’d stroke its hair. It would be good again.

"Now," the rat continued, "What do you think it is about dolls that unsettles you so?"

"Their eyes. They have those cold blue eyes that won't stop looking at me."

"I see," said the doctor, twitching his tail back and forth. "And what colour were your mother's eyes, Gavin?"

Gavin didn't reply. He picked at the crust of bread and scrap of cheese stuck to his tin plate. There were some potato chips crumbs left, too. That was good.

"Would you please answer me, Gavin?" said the doctor, his tone sharp. Immediate. "What colour were your mother's eyes?"

Gavin knew the answer would just cause trouble, but what could he do? They would keep asking until he told. Merciless bastards. This rat was no different. He was another part of their “Wellness” machine.

"Blue," he mumbled.

"I see," said the doctor, scratching his nose, "We're making some real progress here today, Gavin. I'm very proud of you."

"Sure," said Gavin. “Great. He ran his finger around the edge of the plate, gathering up potato chip crumbs. Closing his eyes, he sucked the salt off of his fingers.

“Tell me about the buttons, Gavin," said the doctor.

"What?" said Gavin. He'd thought they were going to talk about the Bitch.

He'd spilled mother's cup on the living room floor.

Mother asked him to please meet her in the guest bedroom, that sterile, not-for-you chamber where her china doll collection resided. Row upon row of baby-doll eyes watched. His screams fell upon dozens of uncaring ears, and one that was inhuman.

Gavin stood up and looked out the window. At least the view here was all right. Warm yellow sunshine painted the expansive lawn a violent, vibrant green. The sight cheered him, and brought him back to now, where the “doctor” was growing impatient.

“It seems we lost you for a minute there,” said the doctor.  While Gavin had been lost in thought, the rat had climbed the vinyl padding on the wall and now sat perched on the windowsill. Seeing the rat mere inches from his face made Gavin retreat.

Unfazed, the rat continued, “What were you thinking about just now, Gavin? Was it your mother?”


Gavin, turned away.

“Would you like to talk about it?”


“Alright then.  Let’s continue talking about the buttons.”

"The doctor last week knew all this stuff," said Gavin. He hated the sulky tone he heard in his own voice.

"Enlighten me," said the doctor. Cold and condescending, he added "Tell... me ... about...the...buttons...Please."

The words were dull spikes being pounded in Gavin’s ears. It was enough. Enough questions, enough tests. Gavin screamed and lunged at the doctor. He meant to rip the doctor’s tiny throat out with his teeth if he could.

The rat doctor squealed, jumped off the windowsill, then darted to the door.

Gavin's momentum carried him face first into the wall. He cried and sat down hard.

Cowering by the door, the doctor stared at Gavin with his queer black eyes and said, "That was unnecessary.”

Rubbing his throbbing and bleeding nose, Gavin said, “You were bullying me. I hate bullies.”

His voice still high and panicked, the doctor tried to regain composure, saying, "You might have simply told me that."

Gavin shook his head and smiled. “That was more fun.”

The doctor crept along the wall. "What do you suggest we do?" It stopped. "Sooner or later, you have to think about what you did."

Images spun in Gavin's mind: matted hair, wet, choked screams, and his blade pushing past resisting skin and flicking those eyes. Blue. Hard press of the needle. Nice, quiet button eyes. His dollies. His dollies were the perfect playmates. No more blue. No more nasty eyes. Quiet, pliable, lovely dollies. He made sure to hug them all goodnight before he left them propped up against the pillows.
No dollies now. No more. Only this cell. This window. This rat.

"I don’t know, Doc. Maybe I should just off myself?”

The Doctor nodded, "That is an interesting suggestion."

Gavin snorted. “That’s not very doctor-like of you, is it? Aren’t you supposed to be trying to save me?”

The Doctor made a small clicking sound in his throat, then cleared it with a tiny but perfectly human “ahem”. Coming to the middle of the floor, it looked up and said, "I’m saying, Gavin, that if you refuse to discuss your crimes, you aren’t going to get any better, and you’ll stay here until you die.”

Gavin didn’t answer. He couldn’t. Bizarre as this whole thing was, the rodent was right.

“And if that’s the case,” continued the rat doctor “Today is as good a day to die as ten years from now, isn’t it?”

Scratching his right bicep, where the white jackets always jabbed their damned “calm-down” needles, Gavin considered, then said, “So, what, you’ve got a better idea?"

"I do," said the rat. “Go with it. Talk to me.” It walked closer, and nosed by his foot a little before continuing, “We were already making progress, weren’t we?”

Gavin remained silent.

He looked down at the doctor rat. “Progress?”  he asked.

“Oh, yes. Lots of progress, really,” the rat said.

The rat paused to clean a forepaw. It made an unpleasant, moist licking sound. "Anyway," it continued, "What have you got to lose? This can only help," it finished, sounding almost cheerful.

"It'll help. Maybe. Except now, I'm talking to rats."

"We've all got problems,” said the rat with a shrug, “I've got delusions that I’m a psychiatrist in an insane asylum."

A long minute passed between them. The rat’s final words hung between them like a gossamer brick.

Fuck it, he thought, just go with it.

“Alright,” he said, with a laugh, “Let’s talk.”

"Excellent," said the rat, scuttling over to the remains of Gavin's lunch. “My first question is the most important.”

“And that is?”

“Are you going to eat this?”


  1. Thanks Chris, so much for hosting MIM. As you say, every story is a dark joy to read, especially with the variation in styles.

    Congratulations to Erin! I have to confess, Still Alive freaked me out big time - to the point of dreaming of it two nights running. Now any fiction that can do that to you has to be exceptional.

    Chris, I really enjoyed The Dollmaker and the Rat too and am glad you took a "moment of shameless self-indulgence". There was a real Burroughs feel to this piece, and the image of the mother's china dolls' silent yet judgemental eyes was chilling.

  2. Not just madness, but layers of madness. I would say that this is the perfect way to end the week.
    Great pick with Erin's story. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since the first reading.

    Thanks for a fantastic week, Chris. Same time next year?

  3. Big time congrats to Erin, well deserved for an entertaining as Hell story. I'll never look at zombie' the same way again.

    Chris- First, thanks a million for hosting such a way cool event and along with all the great stories, I found out about some new writers, who I'll surely be following closely in the future.

    Your story was excellent. I have a huge phobia of rats and this story certianly did not help matters. It was very well written and the combination of the rat and dolls was perfect. Great work and I felt like I was reading an episode of Tales from the Crypt.

  4. It's been a mad, mad, mad, mad WEEK. I love these blitzes between Erin's 13 Days, Lily's FFF, and Chris's March Madness. Did these writer's bring on their crazy freak or what?

    Erin's zombie, Leona, was so human, even when it was chomping on it's liver and wanting to talk to the docs before she ate them. Manners. Now there's a zombie with class. Congrats, Erin!

    Chris, the rat doc is a real original. Gavin is thoroughly sympathetic, until the jolt you give us through the word association, and then how you lead us to the dollies, the abuse, the murders, The ending is classic and fun. This is at the top of my list of Chris A. favs (along with Kidnapping Miss October)

    All these stories were winners in my mind this week. I absolutely, thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. Now back into your straight jackets! Time for your meds! Where's my butterfly net and bubbles?

  5. It was a win for me in that I got to discover a pile of new authors I know I'll enjoy again. Thanks for hosting this week, Chris, it was great fun.

  6. I am taken back. Of all the fabulous pieces here in MM, I am thrilled to have my story chosen as one of the most insane! Really, a great compliment. I truly enjoyed every story in the Madness of March and delighted in all the great support everyone gave to one another.

    Thank you, Lily – to give you nightmares is one of the best compliments ever, because you are a true master of horror.

    Thanks for all your support, Laurita and Sean. I enjoyed both of your stories much.

    Jodi, I’m so glad you attended this event and really appreciate your support and all your wonderful, fun comments. I guess I connect a little too well with zombies, but it’s kind of hard not to with three of them running circles around me.

    Ben, your story was terrific and I look forward to reading more work from you.

    Okay, Chris – I loved your story, The Dollmaker and the Rat! Yes, it is one of your finer ones. I enjoyed the little twist in the beginning with the Dr. as the rat, and how normal that rat sounded would definitely make one feel crazy, especially when the rat himself thinks he’s crazy. Then to find out more about Gavin, the dollmaker, and the subtle backstory with the dolls, his mother, and the button eyes was just fantastic. I also loved the shift to a lighter note at the finish – it made the story too real. Excellent penning! Thanks for a fantastic week of madness.

  7. Thanks, one more time, to everyone who wrote for "Madness in March", and everyone that stopped by to read and comment.

    Laurita: Set the mood for the week like no other

    Richard: The most provocative discussion of the week, and a dynamite story to boot.

    Angel: Mad Dash was a terrifying glimpse behind the mask of the serial killer.

    Benjamin: Brought the crazy from a whole different angle. Fresh style, and a wonderful voice.

    Sean: Showed us all the madness that we all have within us, and the lengths we'll go to for the ones we love.

    Erin: What can I say - the images and plotting of this tale caught me completely off guard, and stayed with me for days. That doesn't happen very often.

    Lily:I loved your story. It had everything: innocence, evil, and hidden secrets (even a happy ending!)

    I'll be running this again next year, so keep that little coal of crazy burning.

    Tomorrow... we dance.

  8. Chris, fantastic story that capped off a fantastic week. Congrats to Erin on her win. Apologies for my lateness in commenting on a few, busy as usual.

    I'll certainly be sending something you way for next years.

    Great week, mate!