Madison seems to be out of the loop these days. News travels so fast around school and online, and Madison is the last to know anything. A new online bulletin board called The Wall has captured the attention of Maddie and her friends. On The Wall, anonymous postings about people keep popping up—and they can be pretty mean. When secrets told in confidence appear on the site under a fake screen name that looks like Madison’s, she finds herself in the hot seat. Who could be so deceptive and hurtful? Maddie is determined to find the culprit and give her a taste of her own medicine.
About the Author
Author Laura Dower has a lot in common with Madison Finn: They’re both only children and they both love dogs, the color orange, and books! Laura has written more than ninety kids’ books to date, including twenty-five in the series From the Files of Madison Finn. Her other books include the new Palace Puppies series and For Girls Only, a guide to girl stuff. When she’s not writing, Laura loves to garden, sing (loudly), and volunteer as a scout leader for her daughter and two sons. She and her family live in New York. Want to be keypals? Drop her a note at www.lauradower.com.
Read an Excerpt
Off the Wall
From the Files of Madison Finn, Book 15
By Laura Dower
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Laura Dower
All rights reserved.
The cursor on Madison's classroom computer blinked slowly, and Madison kicked her foot against the bottom of her chair. Sometimes school computers could be really annoying. Her laptop from home worked much faster, with its alternating starburst and rolling arrow cursors.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Wing didn't allow personal laptops in tech lab. So, even though Madison liked to bring her laptop to school, she didn't take it out during class. Madison couldn't very well argue with her favorite teacher in the whole school.
The tech room filled up quickly. Everyone made a beeline for the usual seats. Walter "Egg" Diaz and Drew Maxwell, two of Madison's closest guy friends, shuffled in and sat down at computer terminals on either side of Madison. The three always sat near one another in tech lab—mostly so they could gossip and exchange goofy glances in the middle of class.
Today Egg and Drew chatted about Splat, a new video game from their joint collection. The game was part paint ball and part action-adventure, but it sounded dumb to Madison. She'd much rather have spent time writing or chatting online than hurling virtual paint balls at imaginary bull's-eyes. Bored, she turned away from their conversation, moving her chair to face the desk behind her. She was shocked to discover Lance, another kid in class, power-picking his nose.
Madison's stomach heaved. Sometimes guys in her class could be so disgusting. And the whole experience was made worse by the fact that Madison had sneaking suspicions that maybe Lance liked her—in that way. Lately, he always seemed to show up when she was waiting at the lockers. And he would always wind up in a seat close to hers.
"Howdy," Lance chirped. He obviously didn't know he'd been caught picking.
"Howdy," Madison said, not looking directly at him. He had a piece of toast stuck in his teeth, too. That was what he should have been picking, Madison thought. Poor Lance.
The truth was that Madison didn't like Lance in that way, because he didn't make her heart go pa-ping. Not like Hart Jones, the crush she'd had all year long. Hart was her dreamiest of dream guys. He could pick his nose and Madison wouldn't even mind.
The bell to announce the start of class went off, and everyone settled into his or her seat. But after two minutes, Mrs. Wing still hadn't arrived.
"I wonder where she is," Madison said.
"She's never late, is she?" Egg replied.
"Maybe she got stuck in traffic," Lance said.
"Traffic? What—like in the hallway?" Drew said, raising his eyebrows.
Madison giggled. "Come on, you, Mrs. Wing's probably talking to someone, and she's lost track of time."
But Madison wondered if that really could be true. She gazed up at the clock. A full five minutes had passed. Mrs. Wing was never late.
"Holy cow!" a voice boomed.
Madison jumped as a tall, thin guy wearing thick, red-rimmed glasses bounded into the classroom. "It took me a century to find you cats," he said.
"You cats?" Egg whispered, rolling his eyes.
Madison felt like giggling, but she was too confused. Who was this strange man—and what had he done with Mrs. Wing?
"I'm Freddy Franks," the guy said, introducing himself. He went around the room asking everyone else to volunteer their names. Mr. Franks said he had a picture-perfect, photographic memory. He proved it by reciting back to the class the full name of everyone seated inside the tech lab.
Egg and Drew looked super-impressed. But Madison wasn't. She didn't have time for mind tricks. Not when Mrs. Wing was missing. Wasn't anyone else the least bit curious about her whereabouts?
Madison raised her hand high into the air.
"Um ... yes, Miss Madison Finn," Mr. Franks said, getting her name right on the first try.
"Where is our teacher?" Madison asked. "I mean, is she out sick?"
Mr. Franks lifted his hands. "Haven't a clue," he said. "I just know she's out today and probably for the rest of next week."
"Is she on vacation?" Madison asked.
"As I said, I just don't know," Mr. Franks said. "Sorry."
Madison imagined Mrs. Wing sitting at home, sicker than sick, sneezing and coughing and unable even to move a computer mouse. Something bad must have happened for Mrs. Wing to desert her class like this. Madison's imagination took a flying leap.
She pictured Mrs. Wing alone in a dark trench coat, on a crowded plane, wearing big sunglasses, running from something....
She envisioned Mrs. Wing captured by strange little aliens who came in through the computer....
"Ohhhhh, Mad-i-son!" Mr. Franks's singsong voice interrupted Madison's daydream. She looked around and saw her classmates staring back at her.
Egg and Drew cracked up. The rest of the class followed. Soon everyone was laughing heartily—at Madison's expense. She turned purple, like Charlie Brown in a Peanuts cartoon.
"Madison, could you help walk the class through the school website?" Mr. Franks asked. "I have notes from your teacher, Mrs. Wing. She says you're the expert around here."
Madison felt her cheeks, hot and still blushing.
Steadily, she braced herself and opened the Far Hills Junior High home page on her computer screen. As her classmates and their substitute teacher gathered around Madison's monitor, she slowly explained how she updated the website. The class worked together to download photos from the recent bake and book sale. They also posted midseason sports team schedules on the site.
By the time the end-of-class bell rang, Madison's blush had finally faded, and the rest of the class seemed to have forgotten her mega-embarrassment.
Of course, she hadn't.
Madison wanted out of that room right away! She headed straight for the door, bypassing Egg, Drew, and Lance on her way.
"Wait! Hey! Aren't you going to lunch, Maddie?" Drew yelled out after her.
"Yeah," Egg teased. "You're an expert at that, too."
Madison sighed. Couldn't the boys just let her make a clean getaway?
She playfully put up her fists. "Wanna take this outside?" she joked.
"Get out of here," Egg cracked. "I would whomp you."
Madison giggled. Egg would tease her forever. It was useless to fight it. So she and the boys headed for the lunchroom together. As per the usual routine, their group would meet up with other friends at the big orange table at the back of the cafeteria.
Once inside the lunchroom, Madison grabbed a hot, just-washed tray and tossed a banana and a carton of chocolate milk onto it. Gilda Z, the lunch lady, served her an overflowing cup of "Amazing Orzo Soup." It didn't look so amazing, though. It had little red and green things floating on top.
"Hey, Maddie!" Aimee Gillespie cried from the front of the lunch line. She hustled toward Madison with an apple in one hand and a pear in the other. Aimee, dancer extraordinaire and Madison's BFF, always ate fruit or granola or something equally healthful for her lunch.
Walking behind Aimee was Fiona Waters, Madison's other BFF in seventh grade. Fiona, unlike Aimee, rarely ate health food. Her lunch tray was piled high with lasagna, vegetables, two packages of pretzels, a slice of chocolate cake, a yogurt cup, and a bottle of water.
"Hey, Maddie," Fiona said.
"You won't believe what happened in technology lab!" Madison cried. "Mrs. Wing blew off class. She never showed up."
"Whoa," Fiona said. "So you got a free period?"
Aimee made a face. "That's impossible. We never get to miss class around here. I bet you had some dorky substitute. Right, Maddie?"
"We did! And the sub said Mrs. Wing would be gone all next week. Something is wrong, I know it," Madison said.
"HEY, SIS!" Chet Waters pounced on Fiona and shoulder-checked her, nearly knocking the food off her tray.
"Hey, yourself!" Fiona growled. "Now, back off, before I dump this on your head."
Madison and Aimee loved watching battles between the Waters twins. Fiona and Chet were always arguing about something.
Egg, Drew, and Hart stood in line after Chet, grumbling about the hot-lunch selection. Within minutes, the group had all gotten their food and were seated together at the back of the room, picking at their lunches and whispering about other classmates. Madison was convinced that boys liked to gossip even more than girls did. Egg certainly liked to.
"Hey, Maddie," Drew cried. "Did you hear about the new page on TweenBlurt.com?"
TweenBlurt.com was the most popular website with Madison and her friends. It had chat rooms, a fortune-telling blowfish, and all sorts of cool surveys.
Madison nodded. The site had recently added a new section called Trend Talk, where kids could post messages to each other.
"That's nothing!" Egg said. "I know a way cooler site, called The Wall. My sister told me about it."
According to Egg, The Wall was a giant bulletin board where kids could post ideas, comments, and gossip of all kinds. It was a little bit like Facebook, but more anonymous and only for younger kids. Madison thought she knew about most of the new websites, but she hadn't heard anything about The Wall.
"The Wall is way better than TweenBlurt.com," Egg said. "That has too many moderators. It's so babyish. The Wall has cooler bulletin boards. You really should check it out."
"Hmmm," Madison said, intrigued.
"Don't do it!" Someone shrieked across the lunchroom. Madison glanced over and saw Ivy Daly seated a few tables away. Poison Ivy had been Madison's mortal enemy for the past few years. She was laughing out loud—really loud—with her drones "Phony" Joanie and Rose "Thorn." No matter where she was in school, Madison always seemed to cross paths with Ivy. Today was no exception.
Ivy caught Madison staring. She mouthed the words, "What's your problem?"
Madison looked back down at her food. Ivy had the unique ability to leave Madison speechless.
Meanwhile, Madison's friends continued to blab about The Wall, soccer, chocolate cake, flying monkeys, and anything else that happened to pop into their heads.
After school, Aimee and Fiona headed toward their after-school activities, while Madison headed home. She had a plan: to check out The Wall. So, as soon as she arrived, Madison said her hellos to Phin, her adorable pug, clicked on her laptop, and went online.
Egg had given Madison the link to get onto The Wall, so she typed it in. The home page came up right away. Madison saw a flashing purple banner that read:
WELCOME TO THE WALL!
POST YOUR DEEP THOUGHTS NOW!
Then, in smaller print (almost unreadable as far as Madison was concerned, since she had to lean so close to the screen to make out the words), were the comments:
For your safety and to keep the bulletin board fun, please DO NOT: swear, flood the message board, give out personal info, exchange photos, post other people's addresses, or use false screen addresses. Above all, do not be disrespectful to others on The Wall. These boards are reserved for 9- to 14-year-olds only.
Madison scanned the rules and clicked a flashing blue square that said "Let's Go!" The monitor went dark for a second. Then it started to glow around the edges.
READY TO BREAK IT DOWN?
A sound like shattered glass blared out of Madison's computer speakers, and even Phinnie jumped. Madison lowered the volume and watched as a multicolored, brick "wall" on the screen broke apart to reveal a long list of bulletin-board topics.
Madison immediately clicked on GOSSIP. It was the one Egg had recommended. Another long list of postings came up on the screen, which showed a general posting, "Name," and the number of responses it had received.
HOT TOPICS: GOSSIP
What should I do??? 3
Angry grrrl 25
Pet peeve 13
Believe THIS 9
Help help help 10
Is this place confusin 15
pretty in pink 5
jokes on u 22
Madison was about to click on one of the subtopics when Mom walked into her room, arms crossed over her chest.
"Are you doing your homework?" Mom asked.
Madison hit a key that made the screen go blue. Her new zebra-and-wildebeest screen saver flashed on. Madison always had wild and endangered animals on her screen savers.
"You look guilty," Mom said, tapping her foot. "Where are your books? Didn't we have a conversation about Internet use being allowed only after the homework is finished?"
"Yeah," Madison said. She bent over and grabbed Phinnie, pulling the dog into her lap. She stroked his ears so she wouldn't have to look up.
"Dinner will be ready in about half an hour. And I want you to get some homework done before then," Mom said sternly. "None of this staying up late to work on book reports, okay?"
As soon as Mom had left the room, however, Madison immediately clicked back on to The Wall. The Gossip screen came into view. Then a separate window appeared up in the corner of the screen. This was fancier than TweenBlurt, for sure.
Aimee was online.
Ever since Aimee and Madison had gotten their family dogs a few years earlier, they'd talked about how much fun it would be to breed them together. Madison always thought that Blossom, Aimee's basset hound, would be the best match for her pug, Phineas T. Finn.
Madison stopped typing. She stared at the screen.
Breeder? Love connection? Another basset hound? What was Aimee talking about?
Phin wriggled around by Madison's feet, trying to get comfortable on the rug. Madison patted the top of his head and whispered in his ear.
"Oh, Phinnie, I'm so sorry," Madison said, as if Phin knew that he'd just been cut from the father-to-be list.
Madison didn't know what to write to Aimee. So instead of typing a quick response like I gotta run or C u l8r, Madison abruptly ended her conversation and headed back to investigate The Wall.
It was way better to read someone else's gossip than to worry about her own feelings—at least for right now.CHAPTER 2
Phin kicked Madison in his sleep. Hard.
He'd curled up near the top of Madison's pillows, and his little paws were jerking as if he had been dreaming he was running a race.
Madison's mind raced, too, as she lay there in the half-dark, waiting for her alarm clock to buzz. She had set it to wake up on the early side, even though it was Saturday. Madison had thought a night's sleep would make all her icky feelings about Aimee and the puppies-to-be go away....
But it hadn't.
The sun shone in through Madison's bedroom window, but it was still cold in her room, so she snuggled further under the covers.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
She punched off the alarm button and stared up at her ceiling. She saw things she'd never noticed before. Peeling paint, a dusty cobweb in the corner ...
A groggy Madison fell out of bed and pressed her nose up to the window. Was there a delivery truck parked in the driveway? Had Dad come over to visit early today? She saw only Mom's car parked there. Who could be ringing the—?
Madison heard a bark. She caught her breath. It was Aimee at the door—she knew it. That was Blossom's bark.
Phin knew, too. The moment he recognized his doggy friend's hello, Phinnie began to prance around the room.
"Maddie!" Mom's voice called out from the upstairs hallway. "Are you dressed? I just got out of the shower. Can you get the door, please?"
"Oh, Mom." Madison groaned. "Do I have to? I'm still in bed." Her heart thumped. She couldn't face Aimee. Not after what had happened the night before.
Mom came to the doorway of Madison's room in a bathrobe and slippers, a wet towel wrapped around her head.
"Honestly, Maddie, I don't know what's gotten into you these days. I'm dripping wet. I need you to get the door."
"Mom, please. PLEASE," Madison pleaded. "I think it's Aimee."
"So? All the more reason for you just to answer it. She's your best friend, Maddie ..."
Excerpted from Off the Wall by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2004 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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