Fiction: Mr Madman's House

Ana Vidosavljevic from Serbia, currently lives in Indonesia. She has her work published or forthcoming in Down in the Dirt (Scar Publications), Literary Yard, RYL (Refresh Your Life), The Caterpillar, The Curlew, Eskimo Pie, Coldnoon, Perspectives, Indiana Voice Journal. She worked on a GIEE 2011 project: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers 2011 as a member of the Institute Mihailo Pupin team. She also attended the International Conference “Bullying and Abuse of Power” in November, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic, where she presented her paper: “Cultural intolerance”.

Everyone in Klonville knew him as Mr Madman. His real name was Hank, but rarely anyone knew it.

Mr. Madman was a strange creature. He was probably in his late forties. He was tall and had pretty messy shoulder-length hair, beard that always looked dirty, very thick eyebrows that almost met in the middle above the bridge of the nose and long, broad and upright ears resembling ones of a vampire. He had broad shoulders, strong arms, very big hands that could probably pull up a smaller tree together with its roots. His legs were long and his feet large. His appearance alone was enough to scare not only children but grown-ups as well.

Mr Madman lived alone in the house on the hill not so far from the town's cemetery. That fact even more emphasized his strangeness. And definitely, it provoked people to make up a lot of strange stories about him. However, it was not the only reason for those weird stories. Mr Madman had never got married. No woman wanted to marry such a strange man and he didn't seem interested in getting married and having a family. He had all those strange animals in his house and that was probably enough for him. Older people in Klonville remembered his mother who had been a very nice woman. She had been a writer and had rarely left the house. And when she had left it, she would go to the town's library to borrow some books or buy some groceries in the local shop. She had always wished a good day to everyone with a broad smile and had known everyone's name in the town. She had raised her son alone and no one had known or found out who the father of the child had been.

Mr Madman was the peculiar child. He was an introvert boy who didn't play with the other kids. Instead, he collected animals and played with them. He had the whole menagerie of them. He always had either a frog, a lizard, a snail or a snake in his pocket. And his backpack was a temporary home to mice, squirrels, grasshoppers or crickets. Other kids stayed aways from him but they didn't dare to bully him since he was much taller and stronger than any other boy his age. He didn't talk almost at all. The teachers kept trying again and again to make him talk and answer their questions but every time he was asked about anything, he would just stare at the black board absentmindedly with an incomprehensible facial expression. No one could guess what he was thinking about. However, he loved reading books and he wrote some nice essays, but he would never read those essays aloud in front of the teacher and other kids in the classroom. Once in a while, Mr Madman would bring a frog or a snail into the classroom and let it rest on his desk. The teachers protested and other kids disgustingly frowned. But no reprimands and punishments discouraged him from bringing his pets to the classroom.

After he had finished the elementary school, no high school authorities wanted him as a student. And his schooling ended there. He started working on a local farm planting and picking up fruits and vegetables. This job didn't require talking and interacting with other employees. And Mr Madman was a hard worker, a real asset, so his boss appreciated him.

Mr. Madman led a quiet life. After work, he would go back home, and probably spend time with his animals. No one knew how many of them he had. After his mother had passed away, no one entered his house. There were rumors that he had a room full of snakes, and that he slept with a piton in his bed. And some ladies heard from some other ladies in Klonville that during the night he visited cemetery and holding snakes in his hands, he sat on the tombs and hummed some strange creepy tunes. There were so many other stories about Mr Madman and his house. There was a great deal of speculation about what was in his house. All those strange stories provoked not only children's but grown-ups' imagination as well.

One autumn day, a group of kids, bored with the same games they played every day, made a plan to break into Mr Madman's house while he was at work. There were four of them, all of them ten or eleven years old. Tobby was the only one who didn't like the idea and he tried to persuade the others that this mischief was a bad game. He was not scared of what they might find in Mr Madman's house, but he felt sorry for this man whom everyone either avoided or abhorred. He didn't do anything bad to anyone and he didn't deserve that kind of treatment. Other curious children didn't let Tobby in peace. They teased him and blamed him for being a coward. Finally, Tobby gave in and decided to join them in their mischief.

The kids waited Mr Madman to go to work. They were hiding in the bushes no that far from the house. Tobby reluctantly agreed to do his duty but he told them he would just take a look inside the house and leave. The kids made a plan to break the window and enter through it. The one overlooking the front porch was the easiest target. When they were sure that Mr Madman had left the house and turned around the corner, they waited another five minutes just to make sure he was far and couldn't hear the window breaking. Then, they cautiously emerged from their hiding place and approached the house. The tallest boy, Fabian, grabbed a rock and threw it at the window. And when all of them started cleaning the window pane from the broken glass pieces and getting ready to jump inside, they heard the fallen leaves rustling and someone's footsteps. They turned around and what they saw left them totally flabbergasted. It was Mr Madman holding a big snake and standing still just a few steps far from them. He must have heard the window breaking! But that snake he was holding! The huge man and scary snake were the terrifying scene.

The kids started running toward the bushes they had been hiding in previously. Only Tobby remained standing not sure what to do. Mr Madman didn't approach him. Instead, he slowly headed toward the front door of his house dragging his feet as if he had been very tired. He waved Tobby signaling to follow him.

Tobby was not scared. He recognized in Mr Madman's gestures the signs of friendliness. Tobby was overwhelmed by the burst of excitement, anxiety and curiosity. And that curiosity didn't leave room for fear. He followed Mr Madman to the inside of the house. When he entered the living room, Tobby's jaw dropped. He was so surprised by what he had found there that he couldn't speak. In the middle of the room, there was a big aquarium full of colorful fish. Small in size, those beautiful fish swarmed all over the aquarium. Their swimming and moving graciously through the water was so beautiful that Tobby thought he could sit and watch them for hours. However, there were so many other distractions in the room, so Tobby couldn't just sit and watch the fish. In one corner of the living room, there was a small terrarium with three lizards. Two of them were green and the third one was black with white spots. There was moss, pebbles, small plants and soil inside their home. It looked cozy and comfortable for the lizards. Then, next to the lizards' terrarium, there was another one, almost the same size. This terrarium was a home to many insects. Tobby recognized springtails and millipedes, but there were some other insects he had never seen before. Few meters far from the insects' terrarium, there was a huge bowl with tiny turtles. There were at least dozens of turtles. They seemed pretty happy swimming around water grass in their big home. Finally, after Tobby moved from the turtles' aquarium, he spotted the last glass container which was the biggest one, and it was empty. He turned around and looked at Mr Madman who was standing in one corner of the living room still holding the big brown snake. Its body was wrapped around Mr Madman's right hand. Mr Madman nodded approvingly showing that that terrarium belonged to the snake and he said “Jo” revealing the snake's name. Then, he approached this big terrarium and placed Jo inside.

Mr Madman retreated to the kitchen. It was a small room with no animals inside but there were a lot of books and magazines on the kitchen table. He didn't talk. Except introducing Jo to Tobby he didn't say a word the whole time. He put the kettle on the stove and obviously wanted to make tea.

Tobby sat in one of the kitchen's chairs and waited patiently. After a couple of minutes, Mr Madman placed a cup of mint tea in front of Tobby. An increasingly strong mint fragrance filled the kitchen. Tobby's nostrils opened up with pleasure breathing in and letting the alluring scent fill his lungs.

The friendliness and hospitality of Mr Madman made him feel ashamed of what he and his friends had done and attempted to do. Tobby felt the need to apologize for the mischief.

“I am really sorry for everything. Actually, I have never liked the idea of breaking into your house.

I'm sorry.” Tobby said.

Mr Madman could read the sincere look in Tobby's eyes. He just nodded his head in acknowledgment. He didn't say anything.

After a few minutes, when he finished sipping his tea, Tobby asked Mr Madman if he could again take a look around the living room. Mr Madman again nodded.

Tobby went back to the living room and moved from one glass container to the other investigating their inhabitants curiously and admiring them. He spent half an hour inspecting the animals in this magical room and then he heard Mr Madman approaching him. Mr Madman carried his working uniform indicating that he had to go to work. Tobby realized he had to leave. He reluctantly headed to the door and while leaving the porch he turned around and asked Mr Madman if he could come back again the next day. Mr Madman again just nodded his head “yes”. Tobby smiled and finally left.

That afternoon, unfortunately, a bunch of policemen invaded Mr Madman's house and everything changed for Mr Madman and his animals. Tobby would learn that evening that his visit to Mr Madman's house would not be possible the following day.

When Tobby's friends ran away that same day from Mr Madman's yard, they went directly to the police station. They yelled and cried and told the whole story to the officers. The officers first didn't believe them. They called their parents and they also called Tobby's parents who was missing,by the way, and they realized that the kids' story might be true, since they reported that Mr Madman had captured their friend Tobby and had probably tortured him. After a couple hours of writing the report and investigating the frightened kids, four policemen, armed with guns, went to check Mr Madman's property. After they had checked the front yard and made sure no one was there they knocked on the door and found no answer. They broke in. There was no one inside except the animals in the living room. And all their glass homes and all those creatures shocked the policemen. Especially Jo, who was a big guy. The policemen called the special unit and some other animal experts and they confiscated all the animals. Some of the animals were released while Jo, the turtles, and the fish ended up in the capital's zoo. That same afternoon, some strange governmental officers came to the farm where Mr Madman worked and took him to the mental asylum. He would never again see his animals or his house.

When Tobby came back home after spending some time in Mr Madman's house, he found his grandmother immersed in worry. When she saw him safe and sound, she hugged him and started crying. Immediately, she called his parents who were in the police station being investigated about their son who had gone missing. Once they arrived home accompanied with the police officer, Tobby told them the whole truth skipping the part about the animals. The grown-ups didn't seem convinced. The other kids' story was so dramatic that they suspected Mr Madman had drugged him and threatened him not to tell the truth. They sent him to the hospital for medical check-up. Tobby protested but to no avail.

Later that day, the doctors confirmed that there were no traces of any drugs in Tobby's body. There were no signs of any violence on his body either. He was released from hospital but still no one seemed to believe his story. He was repeating that Mr Madman was a harmless sort of man and that he seemed a nice person but no one heard what he was saying. The grown-ups seemed so engaged in the drama spread all around Klonville that they didn't want to hear the truth. The drama was more interesting and they tended to keep it going until it reached its culmination. The animals just proved them that Mr Madman was insane and that he needed to be in a special institution, locked and under supervision.

The kids' story, exaggerated and with the key facts misstated, brought too much attention. Not only local newspapers, but national also, covered the story. And all of those stories had Mr Madman as an anti-hero, villain and wrongdoer. What did he do to carry those titles? Everyone in Klonville had an opinion about it. And Tobby was probably the only one who knew him more than the others, even though, he spent only a couple of hours with him. But he couldn't help him. He was taken away, confined in some tiny depressive room, maybe he was even put in shackles. All those thoughts roamed Tobby's mind. But he was only ten years old and no one listened to him. No one believed him. He was only a kid.

As the weeks and months went by, people in Klonville started forgetting the whole episode with Mr Madman and his animals. His house was abandoned and its walls and roof were slowly crumbling. Many things disappeared from the house. The cutlery, furniture, TV, stove, radio. Only books and magazines remained. And they were being heavily damaged by humidity and neglect. Tobby managed to save few of them. A couple of times, he sneaked out and went there carefully not to be seen by anyone. He was sad to see Mr Madman's house in the state of dilapidation. And he wanted to have some memory of him. So, he took few of his books. He was afraid he would forget him the same way the other people in Klonville had done during the time. After the last visit to Mr Madman's house remnants, he got an idea how to keep him in his memory forever. He went home.

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