In eighth grade, every student had to take an English test at the end of the year to determine which English track we were going to take in high school. I’m not here to talk about my thoughts on tracking students (short version: it’s stupid), but I am here to talk about the practice test, and we sure practiced for this test. We practiced the shit out of that test. And it was not a situation wherein the teacher was given materials for the school year at the beginning and we studied them in a fun and engaging environment that cultivated a love for the English language and literature. No, we did not do that. We had “Test Prep Day” about every week. How the questions are structured. Test rules. Proper pencil use. How to take notes on a story without putting marks in the test book. And finally, the dreaded fiction prompt. We will have to write a short story based on the prompt given, and we were given a rating from one to five.
And it was the same prompt. Every year. Without fail.
“I knew today wouldn’t be like any other day.”
My English teacher (a woman I actually liked) showed us examples of one-rated stories: short, incoherent, and plagued with grammatical errors. Threes had a coherent story but contained interesting spelling choices. Fives were flawless. Then she showed us the end of a few random stories. “It was all a dream.” Another. “I woke up.” Next one. “It turned out to be a dream.” Story after story of some variation of “all that stuff you just read? Yeah, it was a dream. What a twist!” She expressly told us: “Don’t make it all a dream. You’ll lose a point automatically.”
But I had conjured the best ending twist. I was brilliant. I was a goddamn prodigy. An original. An archetype of perfect eighth-grade English fiction prompts.
Turns out, R. L. Stine had already done the same ending in 1997.
Zackie and his best friend and neighbor, Alex, are having a pleasant conversation when they are suddenly attacked by a monster! But not really because it’s only page five and we’re in a Goosebumps novel. He just wrote a story and is reading it aloud to Alex, the aforementioned friend, and Adam, a boy they keep around so Adam can insult them. Zackie is going to be a famous horror writer when he grows up and he needs to practice his cliffhangers five pages into the story.
On the way home, Zackie and Alex stop by a shop that has been destroyed by lightning. Did I say stop by? That implies they were allowed in. No, that’s not right. Zackie barges in and intends to take a typewriter, because, apparently, if a store is destroyed, its inventory belongs to the public. However, blue lighting shocks him as he touches the typewriter because the Lord was all, “Hey, dude, that’s not yours. I don’t care what the laws are in Theftville, Stealiana.”
But the owner shows up! The kids are going to get it now!
As in they’re going to get the typewriter. The owner lets them take the thing. Zackie goes home while remarking:
I didn’t know that carrying the old typewriter home would totally ruin my life.
Yeah, the owner just let you take it, Zackie. What did you expect?
At school the next day, we get some new characters, a set of twins who are just as mean as Adam. Zackie freaks out because there’s a monster on him, but Adam pulls it off him and it turns out it’s just a mouse. Adam, whom Zackie keeps referring to as a “friend,” laughs with the twins because Zackie did “a funny dance” when he thought he was covered with vermin. For some reason, Zackie is called into the principal’s office.
Later that night, while talking to Alex, Zackie declares his intent to make the monster story even scarier and the friends go to the typewriter. The first thing Zackie types is “IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT” in all caps like an old person who doesn’t realize he’s shouting on the internet. (My dad did this on the early days of the internet and my sister and I had to tell him that all caps lock was considered rude unless you’re Billy Mays.) To no one’s surprise except our main characters, a storm starts outside.
Then he types “THE WIND BEGAN TO HOWL” and the wind hits the house.
“You’re not getting very far with the story,” Alex said.
Alex, honey, he’s only written two sentences. Sure, R. L. Stine can have a cliffhanger after two sentences, but what if after “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, / Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-” Poe’s cousin-wife came in and said he hasn’t gotten very far. And where the hell is the titular raven?
The third sentence is “ALEX AND ZACKIE WERE ALONE IN THE DARK HOUSE, LISTENING TO THE STORM.” So this is Friend Fiction. I am intimately aware of using your friends in your stories. Remind me to tell you about my eighth-grade horror novella/Friday the 13th rip-off.
Anyway, after the third sentence, Zackie wills his father into nonexistence and they finally figure out that whatever Zackie writes is what happens. Zackie is still incredulous, so he writes in a mysterious door knock. That’s a great idea. You should have just written in a slice of delicious strawberry cream cake or universal healthcare in America – something that harms no one. But no, go ahead, mysterious knocking.
And no one is there. So they add that Adam is standing there drenched in rain. Of course, Adam shows up.
Finally, Zackie writes that the storm suddenly stops. Adam doesn’t believe what is going on, so he steals the typewriter and writes that a blob monster is in the basement. They hear thuds from the basement.
Don’t worry, it’s just Zackie’s father, back from his trip in oblivion.
The next day as Zackie is at the store buying tuna, Adam and the twins play a prank on him by moaning “Fresh meat” at him. Zackie, honey, cut this toxic boy out of your life. You already have a great friend in Alex. Stop involving this future co-ed predator.
Zackie goes home angry and heads straight to his magic typewriter and writes that a blob is eating everyone. There’s no way this could backfire!
But it does backfire! Zackie goes outside and there’s a blob that’s eating everyone! How could Zackie have seen this coming?
The blob eats some cops, which is fine, but then the blob follows Zackie home, which is not fine. The blob eats Adam, which is fine because he’s a terrible friend, but then the blob is coming for Zackie and Alex, which is not fine. Zackie gets a hold of his typewriter, which is fine, but then the blob eats the typewriter, which is not fine.
Zackie gets an idea.
“Alex – remember when Adam typed something on my story? And it didn’t come true?”
She nodded, keeping her eyes on the gurgling Blob Monster. “Yes, I remember. But so what?”
“Well,” I continued, “Maybe that’s because it’s me that has the power. Maybe the power isn’t in the typewriter or the pen. Maybe I got the power that night in that antique shop when I was zapped by that electrical shock.”
So, Zackie has the power and he thinks the monster away. And then they laugh. And laugh. And laugh. Half the town is eaten, but they’re alive, so they laugh and laugh and laugh some more.
You think it’s the end? Well, you’d be wrong. We get a brand new chapter after all that laughing. And finally, we’ve circled back to my original eighth-grade ending. The ending I thought was so brilliant.
“Well? Did you like my story?”
The pink Blob Monster neated the pages he had just read and set them down on the desk. He turned to his friend, a green-skinned Blob Monster.
“Did you just write that?” the green monster asked.
“I did,” his friend replied. “Thank you for reading it to me. It’s very exciting. Very well written. What do you call it?”
“I call it ‘Attack of the Humans’,” the Blob Monster replied.
“But I have just one problem with your story.”
The pink Blob Monster bobbed up and down. The veins on the top of his head turned a darker purple. “A problem with my story? What is it?”
“Well…” his green friend replied. “Why did you give it such an unhappy ending? I hated it when the human shut his eyes, and the Blob Monster disappeared. That was so sad.”
The Blob Monster changes the ending and instead the blob eats everyone.
See? Twist ending! It was actually a story written by a Blob Monster! And my story from eighth grade? Well, the main character, who has been hounded by aliens, wakes up and says they had the craziest dream that they were humans! Twist! Get it! Twist! It was a dream, but it was a dream from an alien! Thirteen-year-old me thought she was a genius. She would have loved this twist. Thirty-year-old me feels differently.
Zackie had the power within him the whole time. That’s a fine twist for this book. I wish there was a little more to the end than Zackie thinking really hard, but that’s basically every scene with Professor Xavier in X-Men, and I seem to love those comic books. Clearly, I have no business criticizing focused thought. However, the whole story being the manifestation of a Blob Monster writing about humans is a little too much. A twist recontextualizes the rest of the story. There’s no recontextualization with a Blob Monster writer.
Unless R. L. Stine is trying to tell us something. Hey, does anyone know if Stine sometimes gets up from a chair and there’s just goo on the seat? I should get in touch with some conspiracy theory idiots, I’m sure they can figure out some convoluted non-logic that proves that R. L. Stine is actually a Blob Monster.