October 2023 Fiction Project Turning Leaves - Lola in the Garden

October 2023 Fiction Project: The Witch House – Oct 20

This year’s October fiction project is a short middle-grade horror novel. The working title is “Turning Leaves,” but that will probably change.

Here are the rules (which I am making up as I go along!):

  • Write every day.
  • Write about a thousand words every day.
  • Write words the same day the characters would be writing them, for the most part (that is, Oct 1 words in the story = Oct 1 words in real life).
  • Don’t plan ahead.
  • Don’t quit.

I don’t have an outline or even a plan.

It’s been a while since I wrote middle-grade fiction. This should be fun.

October Fiction Projects to Date:
2017 – October Nights – General flash fiction short horror-ish stories.

2018 – Tales of the Normal – Twilight Zone-style surreal stories.


2019 – Crime du Jour – Short crime stories.


2023 – Turning Leaves – Middle-grade horror.

Website – And sign up for the newsletter to get updates about the final ebook!

Turning Leaves (Working Title): October 20 - Monitored by a Beetle, Marshmallows, the Witch

October 20 – Jayla’s Journal (Fake)

Lola’s dad is still in Ohio and she’s still at our house, but yesterday after school we went to her house for a while. Her dad texted her and asked her to do some chores for him. I went with her. Her little sister Sally is staying with her aunt in Denver, though, and Lola misses her.

Lola doesn’t have any pets. She says that her dad says that he can’t trust her to take care of a pet yet.

I keep thinking about that.

Lola isn’t mean and she isn’t crazy and she does her homework and her chores and doesn’t sass her parents. She doesn’t bully her sister.

I don’t know why her dad doesn’t trust her to take care of a pet.

Cats aren’t hard to take care of. Ghost Cat is easy to take care of.

A mouse would be easy to take care of.

A lizard.

A fish.

I looked all over her house. There are no plants, either, and most of the yard is gravel and wood chips. There is a swingset in the back yard with a deep gouge under one of the swings from being swung on so hard, and a few weeds growing out of the rocks but no grass and no trees and no plants.

Before Mom married Stepdad Dave, I had Ghost Cat. Our yard was full of grass and big trees in the front, and a big garden in the back yard, with lots of flowers. I helped Mom in the garden and Dad with the yard. When he was home he would do all the yard work for Mom and I would help him.

I didn’t hate working with him in the garden.

He was always very careful to take the bugs and worms out of the dirt when he dug the grass out of the flower beds. Sometimes he would chop a worm in half, or kill a beetle. And then he would sigh and say, “Sorry, friend,” and move the pieces out of the way.

One time he put a black beetle on my shoulder. I tried to push it off but he said, “He’s just watching us work. He has to give a report on suspicious activities to his supervisor. It’s better to let him watch so he can be sure we’re not up to anything shady.”

“We’re digging up beetle houses!” I said. I was laughing.

“Well, beetles expect that sort of thing. A little digging here and there, they have to get used to it. Dogs dig all the time. And moles.”

“And earthworms.”

“That’s right. What the beetles are watching out for is chemicals and fire, the things that don’t just dig up their homes and make them move a little, but the things that will kill a lot of beetles, all over the yard.”

“Chemicals are bad.”

“Killing all the beetles would be bad, yes. But chemicals are just chemicals. They are dangerous but they aren’t bad.”

“I think chemicals that kill all the beetles are bad. What good thing are you doing to do with chemicals that kill all the beetles?”

He smiled at me while he shook his head. I remember that he had a short beard that time. Mom wanted him to shave it off I think but he said he couldn’t stay very long and then they got in a fight, and he didn’t shave it.

“You might be right, Jayla,” he said. “Most things are only good or bad because of how we use them, but if we only ever use something for bad things, then maybe we can just say that it’s bad. Or almost always bad.”

I let the beetle ride on my shoulder. I was wearing a purple NASA shirt that day. I didn’t always wear black every day. I always liked to wear black. This was before Dad died, though, so I was still wearing different colors of shirts.

When we were done, Dad blew on my shoulder. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the beetle shake out its wings, then fly away.

October 20 – Jayla’s Journal (Real)

Lola and I went to her house after class yesterday. We went outside the school over by the bus area and Lola called my mom’s new phone and I talked to her. I told her that Lola had some chores to do at her house and I wanted to help so she didn’t have to be at her house alone. Mom said that was okay but to come back before six because she was making chili for supper. Lola yelled, “Will there be marshmallows?!?” into the phone. She was listening to our conversation.

Mom said, “Marshmallows? What do those—what has your father been feeding you?”

Lola tried to explain that eating marshmallows in chili was a family tradition but Mom didn’t believe her.

When I hung up, Lola said, “Really it’s good though. Help me remember to look for marshmallows at my house. We can show your mom.”

I said, “She won’t change her mind, though.”

Lola made a face. “Is she one of those people who make up their minds about whether or not they’ll like something before they try it?”

“Yeah,” I said.

She snorted. “Maybe—” Then she stopped.

We don’t talk about Mom being Fake Mom, or that she seems different than Fake Lola. It’s too complicated, and Lola doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

But really we are both freaking out.

And talking about some things means having to think about all the things that are going wrong right now, so we don’t.

But that also means that we don’t talk about things that we need to talk about.

I don’t want to stop talking.

When I think about losing the ability to talk, I think about Mom sitting on the couch in the basement, wrapped in a blanket. I am scared that whatever happened to her will happen to me, too, if I let myself keep silent.

“Maybe,” I said, “Fake Mom will try something new even if Real Mom won’t.”

Lola started crying. I felt so bad that it felt like I was floating and being crushed at the same time, not just for making Lola cry but for all of it.

“We should go,” I said. “Stepdad Dave might know something, and if we make him wait too long, he might leave.”

She gave me a hug. Then we left school and started walking. It was still pretty warm out, and I had to take off my hoodie and tie it around my waist. I had a bunch of books in my backpack, too, because Miss Emma had given me a bunch of books to read, Beloved by Toni Morrison and Kindred by Octavia Butler and White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, and I don’t want to read them now because I don’t understand what Miss Emma is trying to do.

I went into the library and there were trails of darkness and smoke there, and some of the kids had tendrils of it curled around their necks.


Stepdad Dave was waiting for us in Lola’s basement.

When Lola came inside her house she said “Helloooooo.”

Stepdad Dave answered her. “Down here, girls.”

We went downstairs, past Lola’s dad’s office area and into the laundry room where the three boxes were. The air was dark with the black smoke, oozing around everywhere.

Stepdad Dave was crouched down beside them, wearing a flannel shirt and blue jeans. He said, “Lola, think hard for me. Where’s the other box?”

Lola blinked at him. “What other box?”

“You have a sister, Lola. A little girl named Sally. Where is her box?”

Lola started crying, tears sparkling underneath her glasses. “I don’t know. I didn’t know I had a sister until you said that. I’m scared.”

“You’re not really scared,” Stepdad Dave said. “You have to realize that you’re a copy and you don’t have feelings. You just do what you’re programmed to do.”

Lola cried harder. She crouched down in a ball and put her fists over her eyes. I’ve seen her cry before, but not like that.

I said, “Don’t be mean to Lola!”

Stepdad Dave said, “She has to get used to being a monster. Or else she won’t be able to stop herself from doing something terrible. We copies have to be careful and watch ourselves all the time, or we’ll lose control of ourselves.”

“Are you a copy?”

“This one is,” he said.

I walked closer to him, then put my hand on his arm.

It was cold through the sleeve of his shirt. I touched his hand and it was cold, too.

Like Ghost Cat.

Then I went back to Lola and crouched down beside her and touched her hand.

It was warm.

I said, “This Lola is the real Lola.”

Stepdad Dave frowned at me. He looked like one of the boys from my class, thinking, stupid girl. He said, “This is the one you took out of the box, isn’t it?”

“You read my journal, didn’t you?”

He nodded. I couldn’t even be mad.

“Yes, this is the same Lola I took out of the box” I said. “And when I took her out she was light. She only got heavy when we got back to our house. But I would have noticed if she was cold.”

He shook his head. “That’s not right. Copies are cold.”

“Sometimes you’re cold, and sometimes you’re not.”

He sat back so he was balanced on the heels of his steel-toed boots. “My real self is still around. Sometimes you see him and sometimes only me.”

Lola said, “What’s going on, sir?”

He stared at her. I guess he was wondering whether she was the copy or not, but maybe he was only deciding whether to lie or not.

“We are getting trapped inside something like a nightmare,” he said finally. “A thing—a witch—is preying on us, trying to kill us off so it can build a nest here. A sort of nest of ideas. We copies are ideas. If our real selves are still alive and are strong enough, then the copy can obey the real self, not the witch. My real self is still alive and strong, so I can still control myself. For now.”

I don’t know if I believe him. But I don’t know if I don’t believe him, either.

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” I said. “Ideas are just ideas, right?”

He shook his head.

“Jayla. You know that’s not true. That girl from your last school, the one who bullied you until you pulled that note out of her pocket. She used ideas to hurt you. She would have done even worse if you hadn’t defended yourself. And she wasn’t even a witch.”

I knew he had read my journal but it still made my skin burn all over to hear him to talk about Paige.

“Witches are worse,” he added. “Witch ideas don’t just replace people with copies. They replace the world around them with a copy, and anything they don’t agree with gets erased.”

“Unalived?” I asked.

“At first,” he said. “Or they get their memories and personalities changed. Sometimes they’re replaced by a copy. Sometimes they’re just silenced or mocked. But their threat is always neutralized. And eventually, when the witch gets powerful enough, they control everything. The air. Streets. The stars. Time. Everything. It all becomes part of their nest.”

I felt like throwing up.

“I don’t care if I’m a copy or not,” Lola said suddenly. “Where are my parents? Where is my sister?”

“I don’t know,” Stepdad Dave admitted. “They should be here, in the boxes. Or at least somewhere nearby.”

“And why is Mom different?” I asked.

“Your Mom was supposed to be immune to all this,” Stepdad Dave said. “Just like you. Because your mom is a witch.”

October 2023 Fiction Project Turning Leaves - image of a perfect neighborhood

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