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.