Flash Fiction: “The Night Before the Madness”

(February 4, 2013)

The following is a flash fiction submission for a contest hosted by the Loft Literary Center. I was looking for an exercise to keep me busy since, when the semester starts, my creative writing (basically) stops. The mystery genre is worlds removed from my comfort zone but, having thought more about the prompt, I decided to take it in a direction that I hope you enjoy. The entry is due tonight (February 4 @ midnight) so if you have any comments, I’ll be listening until then.

Lit nerds: Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” of writing played heavily into my thinking and because of that may require two readings. 

Contest Details: March Madness

What if March madness really happened? In 800 words or less, write a story that solves the mystery of how most residents of a town lost their minds in March.

About the Judge

Ellen Hart is the author of 28 mysteries in two different series, and is currently published by St. Martin’s Press, Random House, and Bella Books. She is a three-time Minnesota Book Award winner, a five-time Lambda Literary Award winner, and a founding member of Minnesota Crime Wave.

[More information at https://www.loft.org/about/opportunities/contests/]


(February 19, 2013)

Dear Joshua,

Thank you so much for taking the time to submit “The Night Before the Madness” to the Loft’s Spring Writing Contest, facilitated by Minnesota Premier Publications! We received nearly 100 entries—many more than we were expecting for our first mystery-focused writing contest. Our panel had a fantastic time reading the talented work of those who submitted. It was difficult selecting finalists, and surely even more difficult for our judge to select a winner.

Ellen Hart has reviewed all of the entries, and yours, unfortunately, was not selected as the contest winner. However, your piece was selected as one of the TOP TWENTY FINALISTS. Congratulations!

The winning piece will be announced next week and published in an upcoming edition of The Journal and Minnesota Good Age.

Please keep an eye out for our future writing contest opportunities. We would love for you to submit again! The Loft is so fortunate to be connected to such a talented group of writers who want to show their work to the world.

Thank you again (and again and again) for participating in our contest. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

The Loft Literary Center


The Night Before The Madness

Ely was four when he started asking his mother why the town was acting so funny. He did not mind much the knocked over garbage cans and old ladies handing out flowers meant to “keep the dirt away.” He even enjoyed the man who once went door-to-door asking, “Why does the faucet drip-drop and not drop-drip? Or drap, drep, drup, or – sometimes – dryp?”

Ely’s mother, Crystal, knew this day would come and recalled the story her grandfather had once told her. Jennifer, Ely’s older sister, had already heard the story and, sighing, left the room.

“It happened long before you were born, Ely. First, in the streets, there were outbursts and reports of people falling to the ground speaking gibberish. On the corners, others could be found standing perfectly still. Son, really awful things happened.” Crystal had to choose her words carefully – there are some stories you do not tell a child. “It was only happening in our town, but one day it stopped. It took us months to … try to understand what happened.”

“Why did it happen?”

“Nobody knows, Ely. It just … did. We checked the water. We studied the air. We couldn’t find a cause and so we just tried to forget about it. But it happened again the following March. It happens every March – on the minute – but I don’t want you to worry. It doesn’t seem to affect everyone so Daddy and I will be here to keep you safe.”

“What about Chloe?”

Oh, yes, she thought.

The cat.


Doing as his mother asked Ely took two cans of soup off the shelf and, into his child-sized cart, placed them. Crystal could not remember if they had enough pasta but grabbed some anyway.

“Crystal! Jennifer! Ely!” Mrs. Garrett, across her face a smile, pushed her cart up. “Waiting until the last minute, huh?”

“You never know what’ll happen and it’s never bad to have too much,” said Crystal.

“Oh, I know, Henry and I still have a basement full from last year.” Mrs. Garrett turned to Ely, “And I hear you’re five now? You’re practically all grown up!”

Ely did not recognize her at first, and when he did his eyes widened. “You aren’t going to try and eat Chloe again, are you?”

“Of course not!” Mrs. Garrett looked to Crystal and blushed. “But be sure to watch over her because you know what they say.”

Winter showers inspire March howlers?”


Crystal loaded a bulk-sized can of mixed vegetables into her cart when her phone went off. It was a text from her husband: “DON’T FORGET THE LOCKS.”


Frank’s face lit up, “You’re getting ready for March Madness, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, the wife and kids are out right now. We’re ready for it but you never know what’ll happen. Some folks get really into it.”

“I hear you. I went out and bought a new plasma screen for it – 1,049,088 beautiful pixels to keep me entertained when it comes.”

“Seems a bit wasteful, doesn’t it?”

“The plasma?”


“Prepare yourself, Tom, ‘cause when the madness comes I’ll be damned if I have to leave the house for anything.”

“Where do you get the money for this?”


He looked at his watch: 11:59pm. His wife had already reinstalled the deadbolts, hasps, and second latch. The worn metal and rusted hinges would not withstand a well-orchestrated attack, but judging by their crookedness Jennifer must have helped. And that is what really matters.

Tom, like everyone else, had set their phone alarms for this moment – and now here it was: March 1st. Joining his wife on the couch he hugged her as crashing came from Ely’s room. Across the street came Frank’s screams and the sound of a million pixels flying out the window and hitting pavement. Try as she might to resist, lying in bed, Mrs. Garrett could only think about the taste of housecat.

But Tom knew Frank overdid it every year. Ely, having stayed up all night watching his clock – his first Madness – within minutes had tired himself out and was fast asleep. Mrs. Garrett concluded that even if forced to eat cat, she would not be able to do so on principle.

“Did Jennifer help you with the locks?”

Her head in his lap, Crystal was falling asleep. “Yeah.”

“I thought she was ‘too grown up’ for March Madness?”

“She wanted to help.”

Tom smiled at the thought – she was so adamant only a few days ago. “Well, honey, it’s late. I need to be up early to put the cat out for Mrs. Garrett.”

“Don’t forget the bag of fake cat hair in the closet,” she yawned.

Lifting her up, he kissed her on the forehead. “I haven’t yet,” he said, carrying her off to bed.

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