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Literature / The Bad Box

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Little Benny isn’t very good at taking tests. It’s not that he’s a stupid kid or doesn’t pay attention in class. It’s just that he’s absolutely terrified of failure. It doesn’t matter how hard he studies. He gets so nervous that he freezes up and his mind goes blank, rarely even answering a single question before the time is up. This is especially difficult now that he’s in Mrs. Gustafson’s fifth grade class, where the punishment for failure is to draw a curse from the bad box—a magical device that permanently mutates children into horrific monsters.

The Bad Box is a Bizarro Fiction novella by Carlton Mellick III.


This work contains examples of:

  • Albinos Are Freaks: Inverted. Tracy is an albino, but she's not only the most popular girl in her class, but the only truly good and moral person in the story.
  • Blessed with Suck: Tracy is not happy with her laundry list of superpowers, since they make everything too easy and make it hard to relate to other people. It also doesn't help that for every power she's received, her feelings have become a bit more muted.
  • Cursed with Awesome:
    • Mika makes the most of being turned into a living blob of acidic slime. For one thing, it makes her nearly unkillable - no matter how hard she's hit, she just reassembles.
    • Benny's curses are less useful, but some of them still come in handy. His slug fingers are bad at gripping things but can sense vibrations really well, making him great at cracking safes. Also, like Mika he turns out to be very hard to kill, simply as a Required Secondary Power to even survive things like being permanently full of living crickets.
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  • Deconstruction: Of the use of The Gift as a mark of heroism in superhero stories, and of villains being driven by jealousy of heroes being smarter and better than them.
  • Hope Spot: Despite difficulties brought on by his curses, Benny manages to answer every question on a test and it looks like he'll finally get to rid himself of a curse. But then it turns out that while he did get a perfect score, Mrs. Gustafson thinks that means he must have cheated, and he gets another curse forced on him instead. At the same time, Mika discovers that it doesn't matter how hard she studies for a test, she can't actually do well on one since her touch dissolves the paper, meaning that she, too, can never rid herself of any curses by honest means.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Mrs. Gustafson. She looks human, but she's got weird powers, including the fact that she's got a ton of different bodies. When one gets killed, it turns out to contain "a creamy goo that emits a strong odor of banana and bacon grease."
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Mrs. Gustafson is the sole source of superpowers in the world. Since she's in every single fifth grade class in the world, though, that's still going to result in a lot of superheroes and supervillains.
  • Only I Can Make It Go: The good box and bad box only work when Mrs. Gustafson is around to make them work.
  • Parental Neglect: Benny's parents didn't much care for him even before he turned into a deformed mutant by the bad box.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mrs. Gustafson, who punishes bad grades by subjecting students to Body Horror curses.
  • Superpower Lottery: The good box hands out random gifts. Tracy has won the Lottery several times over, gaining amazing powers like Super Speed and Mind Reading, but it's also possible to get flashy but useless ones like shooting rainbows from your fingers or Boring, but Practical ones like suddenly being fluent in Cantonese.
  • Tautological Templar: Mrs. Gustafson wants to make the line between good and evil clearer. However, her definition of "evil" includes stupidity, timidity and even bad luck, since she thinks anyone who's doing badly in life will inevitably turn to evil. Conversely, she considers cheating to be perfectly okay as long as you can get away with it, since it shows cleverness and creativity.
  • That Man Is Dead: When saying goodbye to Benny for the last time, Tracy sadly tells him to call her by her superhero name "Cupid," because that's who she's going to have to be from now on.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: At the end of the story, Benny decides that after all the injustices he's suffered, he's fine with becoming an evil supervillain, at least if that's the only way he can keep his only friend. Mika has shades of this too, but she seems to have been pretty bad right from the start.
  • Winged Humanoid: One of Tracy's blessings is a set of working angelic wings.