Fantasy Coming of Age Teens & Young Adult

Middle school sucks!

My mom told me not to use that crude word unless it was for emphasis. 

It sucks hard. 

I don’t know if I know what that means exactly, but things went from bad to apocalyptic since Black Friday at my school.  But you are asking, “Kids aren’t in school on Black Friday, Josh” and you would be correct. That is one reason why my story is beyond bizarre. 

Hi! I’m Joshua Carpenter.  I attend Daniel Webster Middle School, in Brunswick, Connecticut, seventh grade.  Go Paladins!  I am a decent student.  I pay attention most of the time.  I really despise being in middle school.  I am not treated like a child nor am I a big time high school man.  I am stuck in the center between childhood and whatever I am going to be.  I am the string on a yo-yo. Yuck.  Barf.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to be or do something.  Dad said I have a gift, I just don’t know what, yet.  I don’t see him much anymore; I think he is in Iraq.  He writes a lot.  I miss him and so does Mom.  Mom keeps telling me to step up to my potential.  Potential of a seventh grader?  I want to step up to my Kynetic.  It’s my new gaming system, my birthday present.  It’s way better graphics than PlayStation and Xbox combined and it travels.  I can take my games with me on my I-phone; when it’s working.  Enough about me,  let’s get back to Black Friday. 

 Scrolling on the internet on Black Friday for Kynetic games was like diving through my Paladins swim team, lots of splash no dash.  Actually, it was more like escaping Webster’s crowded hallways only to be imprisoned in my science class with the infamous, Mr. Rattlehammer.  I’m not kidding, that’s his name.  He actually eats onion sandwiches.  He is notorious for assigning ‘inspiring’ work over long weekends or vacations.  This Thanksgiving did not escape his evil clutches. It’s not that bad, but the Hammer nailed us by paroling us to collect six soil samples from various educational locations and labeling them in some weird contraption called a diorama.  More like diarrhea.  But I digest (or is it digress?)  Either way, let’s continue. 

There I was, ready to click on a beta copy of Nebula 6, the Death of Supernova, when an ad popped up for free cupcakes.  It was a heart-shaped cupcake with a pointed tail.    Everyone loves cupcakes, right?  Not me.  A situation I call  “The Birthday Incident” scarred me for life.  Anyway, strange ads invade social media all the time, but this one was different, ethereal, hypnotic.  So I clicked.  Big mistake. 

Immediately a video played a commercial for ‘Scratch Cupcakes’.  It displayed a cornucopia of various heavenly baked goods in the rainbow colors of unicorn vomit.  The sugary sweet melodic music almost made me hurl (I really don’t like cupcakes).  What caught my attention was the catchphrase at the end.  

“Scratch Cupcakes, so good, you’ll sell your soul.” 

Weird, right? There is no way a cupcake could be that great. 

Next, a box popped up and invited me to put my email address to receive a free cupcake for myself and the entire school.  I am not one to prevent colleagues from getting a delicious treat, but I knew exactly what this was… a scam.  I closed the window and returned to my window shopping and downloading Nebula.  The download had just begun, when it happened.

The cupcake ad popped up again.  I closed it. 

It opened again with flashier colors (or is it more flashy colors?) and louder obnoxious music.

 I closed it again.

It opened again. Flashier. Louder.

I closed it. 

It opened.

 Each time I slammed the door.  It returned with louder flashiness and flashier loudness. The faster I clicked the faster it returned.  The cosmic struggle continued for at least seventeen million clicks (that’s hyperbole; Mrs. Depuy, my English teacher, would be so proud).  I had to end this, so I didn’t close the loudest and flashiest advertisement.  I found a tiny box in the video labeled ‘Comments’.  I clicked on it.  Now was my chance to stop the enticement with a little negative review. 

I punched the ‘thumbs down’ and wrote down my comment about cupcakes.

“Man does not live on cupcakes alone.”


If I ever tell my mom about this, I think she would be happy I remembered something from Sunday School class. 

The pop-up disappeared.  Nebula returned with the download complete.  I believe the clouds parted and immaculate sunshine flooded my room and doves soared across my window.  I was so overjoyed about my victory, I decided to head to the kitchen for a healthy snack.  Mom just got some apples.  I opened my bedroom door and stepped into the hall.  I took maybe six steps and then…”


 I was no longer in my house, but in my school’s cafeteria.  I stood in front of a large colorful display on wheels (I can’t remember the word, you know, the little booths at the mall that sell sunglasses and other stuff). ‘Scratch Cupcakes’ read the neon sign.  A man in a white three-piece suit leaned against the cart loaded with every imaginable cupcake.  He stared at his I-phone.  I noticed the iconic symbol was not quite the same.  Behind the apple was a beautifully engraved tree.  Odd.  When he spoke, he sounded like my father, but sweeter and harsher at the same time.

“Joshua Carpenter, seventh grader, Daniel Webster Middle School, Mrs. Horton’s homeroom.”

“Yes sir, that’s me.  Who are you and how did I get here?”

“I go by many names.  My friends call me Lou.  My employees call me Mr. Cipher.  You can call me, Mr. Scratch.”

“Mr. Scratch, sir, how did…”

“Josh, may I call you Josh? Good.  Listen. When I get a negative review and comment, I take a hands-on approach in dealing with the problem.”

“Sir, I didn’t mean to cause any…”

“Josh, do you know how many negative reviews, out of trillions, I’ve had since starting Scratch Cupcakes?”

“I would imagine at least a dozen. I really couldn’t say…”

Mr. Scratch held up his middle finger. 

“Only one?” I was shocked. “Hey, did you just flip me off?”

“Sorry, bad habit.  Actually.  Technically two.” The entrepreneur explained. “You and another guy, but I already crossed him out.”   

“Oh. Sorry, but I really don’t like cupcakes.”

“Birthday Incident of 2010.” Mr. Scratch said and showed me a picture of that horrific day.

“How did you…?”

“Listen kid, I don’t like negative press. Your one little comment could lead to a whole cascade of negative people falsely communicating more negative comments about my wonderful product.  This could lead to people, my employees, losing jobs, money, homes, etc.  You wouldn’t want that would you, Josh?”

“No, but…”

“Good.  So, what’s it going to take to change you to a thumb’s up and a positive comment?” His black nails rattled against the cupcake counter.

“What do you mean?” I asked. 

“What do you want Josh? Your deepest desire? What do you want most?” 

“I don’t know.”

“Ok, this is what I’ll do.  I will name a few things you may like, and if you agree to whatever, your review disappears.  Win-Win.  Ready?”


Mr. Scratch cracked his back and stretched his neck back and forth. 


“Pass. Just downloaded.”

“Becoming president of your seventh grade class.”


“Your swim team wins the state championship.”

“My team?”

“Right.”  The businessman looked down the hallway.  “A date with the prettiest girl in school.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Ms. Gloria Rivera, the young hot Spanish teacher.  Muy caliente. You like her.  She likes you. ”

“No es verdad. That 's illegal.”

“Sorry, I thought I was in France.”

“Honest mistake.”  

“The eighth grade girl, Hallie Coleman.  She just broke up with her boyfriend.”

“Rebound relationship.”

“A new car for your mom.  The one she is lusting over.”

“The Lexus SUV?”

“Yes, that’s the one.” The negotiator rubbed his hands together.

“No.  She prefers to walk.  You know, she works at this school.  We live two blocks away.”

“Yeah, yeah.  Let me think.” He ran his spindly fingers through his raven hair. “I know, your father.”

“What about Dad?”

“How would you like to see him all the time?  At home? Eating dinner together? Watching movies? Him cheering you on at your swim meets? Your family together again?”

I told you it was strange.

“How could you do that?” I asked and pondered his offer. 

“Don’t worry about the details.  I’ll handle that.  Your father for the review. Deal?”

“Mr. Scratch, may I call you Lou. Thanks.  Lou, this is great.  It really is what I want, “but I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request.”

“What did you say?” Lou reacted.

“It means...” 

“I know what it means!  I wrote it.”

 It’s my favorite line from the Pirates of the Caribbean.

“Why?” Lou's face turned crimson.

“First,” I replied, “You way over-promised on every offer.  Second, everything you said about my father is a double entendre (Huzzah! Mrs. Depuy!).  I read The Monkey’s Paw.  Third,  I am content with my life; It’s not perfect, but it’s mine.  Final answer: I will not change my review. Ever.”

Mr. Scratch looked at me with anger then respect, I think.  Then he smiled.  It was not a nice smile.  It was the evil Grinch smile.  I  shivered and wet myself (a little). 

“Joshua Carpenter,” He started, “I like your style.  I have a new deal for you.  Since you are so upright and noble, if you can get at least four more persons to sign and agree with your pathetic review before noon on Monday, then I will remove my wares and never return to Webster Middle School.”

“What happens at noon on Monday?” I asked.

“I will start selling my Scratch cupcakes right here to your friends, your teachers, and your mother.  Everyone loves cupcakes.  So good, you’ll sell your soul.” 

“But I never entered my email address.”

“Technically you did, when you sent your little review.  The devil is in the details, my friend.” 

“What if I don’t collect all the signatures by noon?”

Mr. Scratch grinched again.

“Well, my dear boy, I will collect your righteous delicious soul and place you in my trophy room.  Forever.”

“What about the school and Mom?”

“I promise no harm will come to them.  Do we have an accord?” He stuck out his spider- like hand. 

“My soul for all of their freedom?”

“Yes.  Do we have a deal?”

My skin crawled and my hand trembled, but I reached out and made the deal.


I woke up in my bed on Monday morning at 8:13 am.  I am over an hour late to school.  I am still wearing the same clothes from Friday.  Where did the weekend go?  I stumble to the bathroom and then get changed into my regular school wear.  I trip over my Converse and slip them on.  I’ll grab an apple and Pop-Tart before I leave.  Where’s my coat?  I feel like I’m forgetting something.  I never did the diorama.  Mom pinned a classic note on my door.

 I read it. 

“Josh, honey, I am sorry you felt sick all weekend and didn’t leave your room.  I made some soup for you, when you are feeling better.  Stay home and recover.  I’ll be home this afternoon.  I will bring home a free cupcake, which you won for the whole school.  That was such a mature and selfless act.  I am proud of you.  Love, Mom.” 

 I yelled, “No you won’t bring me a cupcake.”

I ran out of the room.  I grabbed my coat and my snacks from the kitchen.  I zipped out the front door.  I hustled down the street to face the devil, my doom, and the fate of Daniel Webster Middle School. 

To sum up; middle school sucks.

November 30, 2023 21:47

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Ja'zaria Walker
13:23 Jan 25, 2024



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Michał Przywara
21:56 Dec 07, 2023

An amusing take on the prompt :) I think the voice is right on, sounding like the put-upon seventh grader. But although he makes a show of disliking school, he does keep demonstrating he has been learning stuff all along, which is a nice touch too. “Mr. Scratch held up his middle finger.” Ha! It feels like it ends too soon, more like the beginning of a bigger story. Naturally we want to find out if he makes his noon deadline, and knocking him out for the weekend was a nasty - and appropriate - trick from Mr. Lou Cipher. Fun read, thank...


Keith Menendez
16:38 Dec 08, 2023

Thanks Michal. I love all the comments. Thanks for noticing the details. O' Scratch had to do at least one nefarious thing to Josh.


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Tamarin Butcher
18:31 Dec 07, 2023

So much fun! I can see Joshua having a lot of 'sucky' adventures and would love to read about them all.


Keith Menendez
19:59 Dec 07, 2023

Thanks. This my first story featuring Josh. Middle school is quite an adventurous place. Thanks for the encouragement.


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01:44 Dec 06, 2023

Wow. Loved it. I like how you narrate your story in a similar way to Rick Riordan, and I pretty much like that.


Keith Menendez
10:14 Dec 07, 2023

Thanks. It was fun to write. I appreciate the comments.


23:36 Dec 19, 2023

Hey, I just purchased your book "The doors between". Thrilled to read it.


Keith Menendez
02:31 Dec 20, 2023

Thanks so much. I hope you enjoy it. Any questions about the book, let me know. Have a Merry Christmas!


13:57 Dec 21, 2023

Yes sir . Merry Christmas to you too.


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Kailani B.
03:12 Dec 05, 2023

What a fun story! And I agree with Joshua about cupcakes.


Keith Menendez
17:13 Dec 05, 2023

Thanks. Although, I do like a cupcake now and then.


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