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.
2018 – Tales of the Normal – Twilight Zone-style surreal stories.
2019 – Crime du Jour – Short crime stories.
2023 – Turning Leaves – Middle-grade horror.
Turning Leaves (Working Title): October 31 - Go or Stay.
I am in the basement of Stepdad Dave’s house, which is my mom’s old house from when she was a kid, but I’m not in a real house, I’m in a replacement house, and my mom is not only a witch, but my mom is the witch who killed my dad.
I just asked the replacement version of my dad, the version who just climbed out of a cardboard box, who was the witch who killed him.
And he is pointing at my mom.
Who is being terrorized and controlled by an icky goo monster, standing over her and wrapping its black, black tentacles around her.
I tried to pull the goo monster away from her but it oozed through me and around me.
I tried to tell my mom to run and she couldn’t hear me.
The monster is flowing inside the blanket now, making it puff up. My mom is still crying. I can hear her.
The crying sounds like someone recorded it and is making the recording play slower, and slower, and slower. Deeper and deeper.
Now it is a growl and it sounds like a monster is under that blanket, coming to get me.
On the flickering TV is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only it’s my mom who is in the movie and who has been replaced. The other characters are pulling away from her in horror and revulsion.
Revulsion. I looked that up once because of all the mentions of “horror and revulsion” in horror movies. It came from words that meant a tearing off, a pulling away. It means now a sudden or violent change of feeling.
I know what I have to do.
I wait until the door under the back kitchen opens.
The door to the magic tunnel full of all those cardboard boxes and their replacement people.
It opens and all the replacement people start coming inside.
Crowds and crowds of them.
On the TV screen, the other characters are trying to murder my mom.
On the couch, the goo monster has crawled under the couch with my mom. She is huge.
The blanket is falling off her.
She is standing up.
We are surrounded by replacement people. Fake people.
They raise their hands and point toward the monster underneath the scratchy basement couch blankets.
She is yucky.
And she isn’t just covered in ick.
She is the ick.
She is so huge the basement ceiling bends around her, stretches, then peels apart to make room for her. She is at least twenty feet high and she is growing bigger and bigger.
The bigger she grows, the smaller I feel.
Until I really am shrinking.
Mom’s face is half oozing slime and half her own skin, but the skin is bulging and moving in small lumps like there are bugs underneath it.
Her arms are as big around as kitchen stools and they are covered in black spikes like glistening teeth.
Her legs are as big as the fake pillars in front of the school entrance, covered with scales and spikes and fur, and they end in clawed feet as big as the upstairs bathtub.
I wish Lola were here.
I just want to feel her hand in mine. I just don’t want to feel so alone.
My mom is right there.
But I am alone.
I can’t find Lola and I don’t have Ghost Cat with me.
It’s just my mom and me, and the oozing goo magic that is covering my mom and changing her and making her grow huge and changing her crying to a growl.
I am just a kid.
This isn’t fair.
All the replacement people are pointing at my mom. I want to yell at them that they aren’t being fair, that it isn’t my mom’s fault that my dad died.
She never would have wanted to hurt my dad.
It couldn’t have been on purpose.
Whatever happened, it was an accident.
It had to be an accident.
I have to have faith that my mom won’t hurt me.
I hold open my arms.
And I walk toward her.
Ghost Cat came back.
First the back kitchen only had MY magic in it. I was trying to make it as soft and pink and safe as I could but it kept turning black, twinkling with cold, pink, distant stars.
It wasn’t soft at all.
I was starting to feel smaller and smaller, like all the happiness in the world was being used up and would never come back again, and the longer I stayed in the back kitchen of Stepdad Dave’s house, the more my sparkle was being destroyed.
I thought, I have to get out.
I can’t go.
I have to go.
I stood up and sat down a million times.
Go. Stay. Go. Stay. Go. Stay.
My dragon wrapped herself around my shoulders, she wound herself around my arms, she put her big scaly head against my cheek, and her scales were soft, softer than they looked, smooth too. That helped a lot. She dug her head in my pockets and made me laugh.
In the middle of laughing, Ghost Cat came back.
My magic was black and cold but sparkling one second. But the next it was softer, smokier. I smelled smoke and caramel apples and wet leaves and coldness.
I scooted my chair back at the breakfast nook table and Ghost Cat climbed into my lap.
He was ice cold and shivering and there was shiny black yuck in his fur and he meow’d softly and hoarsely, like he had meowed and meowed and nobody had heard him and he had almost zero meows left. He felt floppy like a scarf, not like a cat at all.
I held him up to my face and Pink Dragon rubbed her face on him too. We breathed on him and held him and cleaned his fur until he felt heavier and a little warmer. Still cold, but not ice cold.
Then he climbed down off my shoulder and onto the table. He lifted his head, and the room
C H A N G E D
A wall grew around the edges until it filled up the space between the regular kitchen and the back kitchen. All the light turned gray and the lamps went out. The window stopped showing Stepdad Dave’s back yard and started showing the passageway with all the boxes in it, the ones with all the replacement people inside.
The boxes were all open and the replacement people were moving toward the window.
As they got closer they sank down and went into the basement.
All the little hairs prickled on the back of my neck and my arms popped out with goosebumps.
But that wasn’t all.
The table shrank into a little-kid table made of red plastic and the chairs were yellow plastic. I stood up because it scared me. Underneath me, on the little yellow chair, was the word BUTT.
Everything looked newer.
The smeared green letters on the wall had become clearer, too. They said:
RENEE IS A WITCH
At least I’m not a bitch
It was mean. It was mean to call someone a witch like it was a bad name. It was mean to take magic and make it something that a bully would call you on the playground in elementary school.
I didn’t know who Renee was. But at least she was not a bitch.
When the room had finished changing, Ghost Cat hopped off the table and Pink Dragon and I—that is her name now, I guess, I wanted a cooler name but she only wants that one—followed him out of the door from the back kitchen into the regular kitchen.
The regular kitchen looked old-fashioned. The white floor tiles were covered with gunk, too, yucky and sticky and black and smelling like vomit.
We walked through the kitchen and into the hallway, then stopped at the door to the basement.
Ghost Cat meowed and I opened the door.
The smell of vomit was bad.
But okay. It was just vomit.
I gagged a little and went downstairs.
Mom is a giant standing above me, looking down at me. I hold out my arms to hug her.
I want her to
I am sad. I get to be sad. I get to cry and be sad.
I reached out to hug my mom but it didn’t work.
It didn’t change anything.
She looked down at me and didn’t reach back for me.
She growled and whipped an arm at me like she was going to hit me.
When her arm was about to hit me, I changed.
I couldn’t be Jayla anymore.
I couldn’t be my mom’s daughter anymore.
I had to be a witch, a witch so big that my mom couldn’t hurt me. I was too big to hurt.
The spikes and the muscles and the bones went through me like smoke.
Because I am a witch.
Except it did hurt. My heart hurts. I am still crying. I don’t know how to stop crying.
My mom’s arm went through me. She tried to claw at me, to kick me, to bite me. Her whole body was poisoned with the goo and she tried to hurt me.
I tried to hold her but she only tried to hurt me more.
I couldn’t be Jayla anymore. I love my mom. But I couldn’t be her Jayla anymore.
Behind me, Lola said, “Jayla?”
I was crying.
I didn’t want to let go.
But my mom was getting angrier and angrier, and the replacement people all around us were walking toward her like zombies.
They were getting sucked into her body.
As her body grew, it pulled the couch inside it, one big lump that got stuck on her leg, then moved upward to her belly and disappeared in the black ooze.
The floor pulled after it.
I was getting smaller and smaller, too.
I looked back.
At the bottom of the stairs was Lola, looking like a grown up person, reaching her hand out. Ghost Cat was there, and a pink dragon, too, its snake-head sticking out from between curls of her pink hair.
I wanted to take her hand.
But if I did, I’d have to let my mom go.
“Jayla,” Lola said. “You don’t have to stay here. You don’t have to be small anymore. You can grow.”
I watched my mom suck the TV into her other leg. I watched Stepdad Dave and my dad turn into flakes and get absorbed. I watched a bunch of people get sucked in. The rest were turning blurry and becoming flakes and dust.
The walls were twisting and breaking.
The house was coming to pieces.
I stepped back from my mom and she screamed at me.
At least I’m not a bitch!
I wanted my mom to stop hurting. I wanted her to stop hurting so I could stop hurting and being afraid. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that someone hurt my mom and made her like this. It’s not fair that I have to know that my mom is like this. My mom should be better.
She couldn’t be better.
Not now. Maybe not ever.
Everything was broken and maybe never would be fixed.
But I couldn’t stay there and let mom hurt me. I didn’t want to get so hurt that I hurt people, too.
So I turned and walked back toward the stairs.
Then I bent down and picked up Ghost Cat.
I took Lola’s hand and started crying harder.
We walked up the stairs.
Lola went out the door.
I looked back.
“When you’re ready, Mom,” I said.
I couldn’t say anything else. My throat choked.
I rubbed my face in Ghost Cat’s fur.
Then I went out.