A Fine and Dangerous Season

“October is a fine and dangerous season in America. It is dry and cool and the land is wild with red and gold and crimson, and all the lassitudes of August have seeped out of your blood, and you are full of ambition. It is a wonderful time to begin anything at all. You go to college, and every course in the catalogue looks wonderful. The names of the subjects all seem to lay open the way to a new world. Your arms are full of new, clean notebooks, waiting to be filled. You pass the doors of the library, and the smell of thousands of well-kept books makes your head swim with a clean and subtle pleasure.”

― Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

It started with a challenge…

The good folks at Fyrecon declared October 2023 to be Fyretober: a month of creative prompts, encouraging writers, poets, and artists to share their explorations.

The 31 prompts of Fyretober

I like a good challenge. So I started writing a story a day, just like they suggested. Of course, they meant flash fiction, 1,000 words or less; but I tend to go overboard… I began writing the stories, sending them to my email subscribers, and posting them here.

Then I went a little… crazy…

I started with the prompts. I really did! But things happened:

  • Story 2 involved an editor for the fictional Trans Lunar Injection magazine.
  • Story 3 involved a logician whose only escape from a coma was to see things in a new way.
  • Story 5 involved a writer who has sold a story to Trans Lunar Injection magazine. She perceived things that others couldn’t.
  • Story 6 featured the return of the logician, now cursed to see visitors in mirrors.

And I became convinced that I wasn’t writing stories, I was writing a novel made up of stories. Thus was born…

A Fine and Dangerous Season

This is an ongoing experiment (as of 10/18/2023): Can I write a novel, one chapter per day, discovering the novel as I write? Ray Bradbury was famous for writing a story a day, often from random prompts he found in the world. If he could do it, I could do it.

Bradbury was also famous for setting some of these stories in the mythical town of Green Town, Illinois; and he gathered and merged some of them for his signature novel, Dandelion Wine. Others followed.

The experiment: If Bradbury could do it, could I do it? In a month? Without planning, guided only by the stories themselves and what I learn in them?

17 days in, the answer so far is Yes. I can’t claim to be as successful as Bradbury, but there’s a story here, set in the mythical city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Trust me, the version in these pages is mythical.) Some of the chapters are the stories of editors, authors, and readers of the mythical Trans Lunar Injection magazine. Some are stories that appeared in the magazine. They explore what is seen and unseen, all in the Dangerous Season of October.

Note: In story 5, my protagonist visited Marge’s Donut Den, an excellent bakery in the real Grand Rapids. As the story evolved, more characters visited the bakery, and I had to change details to fit the story. So halfway through the book, it becomes Myra’s Donut Galaxy–and the center of much weirdness one October.

The Stories

Over time, I veered from the prompts as the story shape was revealed. Here are links to the stories.

  • New Neighbors: Free Fiction for Fyretober, Day 1

    Blackheart Hal stood nearly knee-deep in the ocean bottom and stared up through the depths. “Storming up there. It’s going to take one down.”

    Blake looked up as well. It was impossible for normal eyes to see through that much water even in daylight, but their type were hardly normal. Still… “I don’t see it. How to can you tell?”

    Hal looked down to the ocean floor and pointed to the north. “Pete always knows, and he’s coming as fast as he can cut through the muck.”

  • The Slush is Alive: Free Fiction for Fyretober, October 2, 2023

    The slush is alive.

    Maybe you don’t know. Maybe you don’t have the writer disease. Maybe you’re not a writer or an editor like me. Maybe you’ve never met the slush pile: that massive pile of manuscripts submitted for your consideration. Once, long ago, it was a pile of physical manuscripts, paper tossed over the transom and into an office to make a giant pile in front of the door. Like slush fallen off a roof. Maybe you don’t know what the modern equivalent is, the giant electronic submission queue that just sits there. And waits. And stares at you until you feel guilty for not processing every manuscript. Like the stories have eyes…

  • The Halting Problem: Free Fiction for Fyretober, October 3, 2023

    “Mr. Hudson.” I sank down in my auditorium seat and tried to hide behind the tall blonde hair of the woman in front of me. I should’ve remembered her name, I’d seen her before, but it just eluded me.

    And hiding didn’t help. Professor Moorehead looked right past her. “Mr. Hudson, you will now come to the board and present the proof of the Halting Problem.”

    I looked down at my lap. At least I was wearing pants this time. But my feet… They were taloned lizard feet. I knew better than to try to figure that out. It just was.

    As always, there was nothing to do but to play it out. I got up from my chair and squeezed myself around the knees of the other students toward the aisle. At least all of them had lizard feet, too. I wouldn’t stand out.

  • Slow Answers: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 4, 2023
    Myra was careful not to scuff her boots in the red-yellow leaves. Who knew what artifacts meant lie just beneath the thick cover? Archaeology was slow. Slow answers to slow questions. If you don’t take your time, you’re doing it wrong. She carefully lifted one foot at a time, and then lowered it cautiously, waiting for the beep that would indicate that the boot radar had picked up something solid under the dead leaves. They weren’t really leaves, of course. These weren’t things that grew on Earth trees. Here on Wotan-7, the native life had no connection to that of Earth. Not even DNA, which was common on more than half of the life-bearing planets that humanity had diskovered. Initial analysis showed that the genetic material on this planet was transmitted in complex folded scaffolds, like tiny sheets of mica with chemical factories trapped within.
  • On the Doorstep: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 5, 2023

    Paula Winn settled back in the uncomfortable vinyl seat of the delivery van, and she let out along sigh. She looked at her dispatching app on her phone. It told her she had a whole thirty-seven seconds to catch her breath before she had to leave for the next stop. Paula was just tired enough and just jaded enough that thirty-seven seconds sounded like practically a freaking vacation.

    And she was going to take every second of it. Even a tiny break from the stress of delivering package after package to door after door was a blessed relief. She had to work to pay the bills, but sometimes she wondered if a nervous breakdown would be less work.

    Her last job had been less stressful, working for a smarter organization who planned their deliveries better, with more margin for error. But that had been seasonal work, and Big Company hadn’t hired her on at the end. Maybe this Christmas… In the meantime, she made good money working for Meyerink. And at least all the driving gave her plenty of time for dictation.

  • Reflections on Custard: Free Fiction for Fyretober, Day 6

    Wendy pulled the van into the extra wide handicapped parking spot at Marge’s Donut Den. I tried for a joke. “Parking’s easier now.”

    But the joke wasn’t that good, and Wendy didn’t have her sense of humor back yet. “There’s nothing easy about this, Wayne.”

    I sighed. “I know. It was my accident, remember? I just… I had to say something. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped.” I looked around, but all I could add was, “So here we are, back again.”

  • Above the Cemetery World: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 7, 2023
    Myra leaned back in her chair, almost falling over in the process. The gravity had shifted again. “Carlin!” “I’m on it, Myra,” the station engineer called from below. “I don’t want you ‘on it,’ I want it fixed!” “Hold on!” That’s literally what she did, gripping the console and wrapping her feet around the footrest. The survey division had picked up this station on the discount market, and it showed. Systems constantly broke down, and Carlin was constantly repairing it. How much had it really saved them?
  • Dear Editor: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 8, 2023
    The slush is… tamed. Not defeated. My late mentor Paul Miller used to say, “The slush is never defeated. You can hold it at bay, but it always come back at you as long as you keep the doors open.” His late mentor, Leonard Sims, had taught him that back when they were editing Far Pioneers magazine. In the age of electronic submissions, it was even more true at Trans Lunar Injection. Leonard was gone. And now Paul is gone, too. I was next.
  • Reflecting the Unseen: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 9, 2023
    The kittens were gone, and Luanna was furious! But not foolish. She waited not a moment before diving to her left, rolling into a ball, springing forward into a corner, and cloaking herself in the wind. No physical attack would get through that, and magic other than hers was supposed to be abjured within her den. Unless her foe was much more powerful than her. Or unless her watchers had let her down. Neither was a comforting thought.
  • Carol and the Skëlëtön Crüe: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 10, 2023

    Excerpted from the Skëlëtön Crüe Writing Forum, October 1.

    Carol Scott: Hey, Crüe, has anybody heard anything from Emil lately? He hasn’t pinged me in a while.

    Kelly Goyer: Has he gone dark? Sorry, I’ve been nose down in my novel, so I haven’t been online a lot lately.

    Max Cook: I’ve been off a bit, too, trying to catch up on my thesis. The last I remember seeing him was… two weeks ago, maybe?

    Phillip Lawrence: That sounds right. Maybe he’s dug in to his own novel?

  • A Package for the Editor: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 11, 2023
    Paula Winn grumbled as she passed the old Victorian. Try as she might, she couldn’t not stare at it now. It was all she could do to keep her eyes on the road instead of looking for someone or something at the house. That compulsion wasn’t part of the writer disease. Most people, maybe everybody, had trouble letting go of an idea once it set in. “Don’t think of an elephant!” never works. But it felt like an occupational disease of writers. Just when you on an idea with a deadline, another idea would take over your brain and demand your attention. There had to be a thousand memes about that on writers’ social media.
  • The Sexton: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 12, 2023
    Myra paced around her cell, fuming with every step and plotting her escape. Officially it wasn’t a cell. Oh, no, it was The Office of the Archaeological Liaison for Project Gnat. And officially Myra was that liaison, the senior and most powerful archaeologist in the entire Wotan system as well as all the space within two parsecs. She had final say in every archaeological decision. But who would she say it to? The first thing the military had done after arriving in system was to declare a communications embargo for all personnel in and around Wotan. They had enforced that one that by physically removing the ansible from the station, storing the pieces in one of there ships. Without the ansible, communications was limited to light speed and inverse r-squared power. Messages would take 600 years to reach Earth and be undetectable when they arrived.
  • Rendezvous, with Donuts: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 13, 2013
    Wayne Hudson worked the latch of the passenger door of the van, this time with hardly any pain is at all. Then he swung the door open. That was a little worse, but it was still a small victory. He would take every one of those he could get. Brutus the physical therapist – Wayne had trouble remembering the man’s real name, but Brutus was accurate – had said Wayne was progressing exceptionally quickly considering the extent of his shoulder injuries. He Wayne still shouldn’t leverage himself out of the van, but that Wayne was getting more mobility in his arms every day. Maybe faster. And Wayne’s legs were practically normal now, bruised but functional. As Myra wheeled the new chair around the van, Wayne took a chance. “Screw Brutus!” Gripping a safety bars in each hand, he swung his legs out.
  • A Death in Grand Rapids: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 14, 2023
    Excerpted from the Skëlëtön Crüe Writing Forum, October 14. Carol Scott: Guys, Grand Rapids is weird. Max Cook: Well, of course. Emil lives there. Phillip Lawrence: Would he live someplace that wasn’t weird? Carol Scott: Ha, ha. Go for the easy joke, why don’t you? Max Cook: Somebody has to, and Emil hasn’t been around to do it…
  • Cognitive Logic and the Mathematics of Influence: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 15, 2023
    Myra felt the crush of déjà vu as she paced around her new office. It was more spacious and better furnished than her office aboard the Wotan-7 observation satellite had been, and the gravity was natural. There were subtle ways you could tell. But a cell is a cell is a cell. And she was just as much a prisoner here as she’d been at Wotan-7. As soon as the Fleet ship had left the Wotan system, they had sped to this unidentified world, and Myra had entered PQR: Protective Quarantine Relocation. She was free to go anywhere and do anything, as long as she didn’t try to leave the relocation world and didn’t try to communicate with anyone on any other world.
  • Meet Me at the Galaxy: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 17, 2023
    Paula Winn pulled her old green Chevy off of 28th St. and into the front parking lot of Myra’s Donut Galaxy. She usually parked out back, where it was less crowded, but not today. She wasn’t sure Kevin can take the walk. She looked over at editor Kevin Fenton. The man looked pale, frail, and shaky. She had been surprised that she was even able to get him out of the house when she showed up to take him out for coffee and donuts. Just like her first visit, he had taken forever to undo all the chains and unlatch all the deadbolts on his door, and then had peered closely at her as if he didn’t recognize her. Finally he glanced over his shoulder. He seemed more on edge than the last time, and the last time had been enough to worry her.
  • MVA: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 17, 2023
    Wayne winced, giving out an involuntary cry of pain as his shoulders felt like he was a chicken being deboned. The door swung wide, practically dumping him to the ground. Fortunately, Wanda was there to catch him. Always Wanda. What had he done to deserve her? “Wayne, you ass! You should’ve waited for me.” Wayne smiled up at her face as she leaned over him, lifting him back onto his feet. “I love you, too, Wanda. Now help me in.”
  • A Message from Carol: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 18, 2023
    Excerpted from the Skëlëtön Crüe Writing Forum, October 15. Kelly Goyer: Guys, has anyone heard from Carol? Max Cook: No, and I’m beginning to get frantic. Phillip Lawrence: I’ve started pricing flights to Michigan. Kelly Goyer: Take a breath. It’s not that bad. I contacted her hubs, and he says she’s all right. She just has limited connectivity. But I was hoping somebody heard something more. Max Cook: Limited connectivity? What does that mean? Kelly Goyer: He didn’t say, but you know, it is a hospital. She was in a wreck. She might have more important things to worry about than checking in with us. Phillip Lawrence: How rude!
  • What’s in the Box? Free Fiction for Fyretober October 19, 2023
    Paula was distracted throughout her entire delivery route the next day. She missed five turns, putting her behind schedule from the first hour, and getting worse throughout the day. They were small things, but she was better than that, damn it! And these incidents would give Ben Schaefer an excuse to write her up for poor performance. But part of her didn’t give a damn about Schaefer and his write ups. There was something weird, something impossible happening in the world, and she was somehow in the middle of it. She wished she could tell somebody about it, but she didn’t know how. If she took it to Evan…
  • They Do It with Mirrors
    Wayne couldn’t stop grinning. Even if Wanda had to work and couldn’t be with him, he was determined to have his best day ever at his favorite place ever: the American Museum of Magic in Marshall. Though if he were to be honest, visiting the museum would be a little easier without Wanda. He loved her dearly, but she hated the museum. She only went to humor him; and she couldn’t help making snarky remarks about the exhibits going back through more than a century of American magic. Some even farther than that. To her, it was the same thing every time. After all, Wayne had to admit, the museum wasn’t very large: just a historical storefront in downtown Marshall, one of the six museums in the small town they called Museum CityThere was the Honolulu house, built by a Justice of the State Supreme Court. There was the old Governor’s Mansion. There were the Capitol Hill School Museum, the United States Postal Museum, the Gasoline Museum, and the Grand Army of the Republic Museum. The Calhoun County Fairgrounds had its own museum. And there was the Cronin house, which author John Bellairs had immortalized as The House with a Clock in Its Walls. But most important to Wayne was the American Museum of magic, a relic from the days when Marshall was a major stop for magicians across the Midwest. And he was especially obsessed with its Houdini collection. To the public, Harry Houdini was a famous illusionist and escape artist. But Wayne was fascinated by Houdini’s other passion: debunking spiritualists and psychics. Wayne knew the old saying: It takes a thief to catch a thief. In Wayne’s view, it took an expert magician (or a trained cognitive logician) to spot the tricks used to deceive the eye and the mind. And Houdini had been the greatest of them of the debunkers.
  • Organized Chaos
    The annoying nurse, Wanda, was at Carol’s door. “Carol, you have a visitor.” Carol resisted the urge to snap back. She really had no evidence that Wanda was connected to her accident, but she couldn’t shake the feeling. Wanda in the donut galaxy, Wanda at the crash site, Wanda in the hospital. Three times is enemy action. But she bit her tongue. “Who would come visit me?”
  • Worlds Collide
    Hubs pulled the black Rogue up to the curb between 2011 Resnick and 2015. “There ain’t nothin’ here, Wubs.” “There’s something here,” Carol insisted. “Emil thought this address was important enough to leave it as a clue.” “It’s just an empty stretch of road. There’s not even… There’s nothin’.” Carol looked at her husband. “Why did you say it like that?” “Like what?” “‘There’s not even…’ And then you paused. Like you wanted to say something else. “Ye’re gonna think I’m daft.”
  • Three Attackers: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 23, 2023
    Carol looked at the gravestone. “I wonder where they buried Gil.” Then she shook her head. “No, that’s not right, the authorities found his body.” Wayne asked, “Gil?” Wanda gripped his shoulder. “I’m sorry, hon, I forgot to tell you. He drowned in a fishing accident while you were in the coma.” “Yeah,” Carol said. “Fishing accident.” She squeezed past Paula, brushed back the autumn olive bushes, and knelt to read the headstone…
  • Sanctuary: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 24, 2023
    Kevin was still blinking the red flash out of his eyes when he heard Paula moaning. He turned back toward the house and tried to make out where her voice was coming from. He saw something moving in the bushes to the right of the porch, and he rushed over. “Paula, are you okay?” She sat up on her elbows, looked at Kevin, and said, “Did somebody get the number of that pooka?” Kevin grinned. “If you can joke, that’s a good sign. Here.” He reached out his hand, clasped hers, and helped her to her feet. Paula looked groggily look around. “Where’d they go? The pucks?”
  • Decision Time: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 25, 2023
    Everyone stared at the now empty chair – everyone save Wayne. He looked around at all of the faces with their mix of shock and fear, and he said, “So what are we going to do?” His wife looked up at him. “Do?” “About the pucks, of course! How we going to stop them?” Kevin paced over and gently touched the chair where Harvey had sat. “Who says it’s our job to do anything about them?” Getting frustrated, Wayne said, “Well, somebody has to.” “But why us?” Wanda asked. “We didn’t ask for any of this. How is this our problem?”
  • Lost in the Graveyard: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 26, 2023
    The drive got progressively more tense as they went. Wayne admired his companions for their discipline: not a one spoke of what they saw and heard during the drive to the Galaxy. But Wayne could tell they were holding back. There were occasional sharp intakes of breath, muttered curses, and halting conversation starts the went nowhere. They jittered in their seats as if threatened by something they wanted to escape. At the traffic light to turn on the 28th Street, Kevin finally lost it. He unbuckled and opened the van door before Wanda put a halt to his escape in her own inimitable style: From the seat behind him, she put him in a headlock. “Stop it, Kevin!” “But the –” “Stop it. You’re in the van, Wayne’s driving, and I’ve got a chokehold on your neck. I’ll put you out if I have to, but we really need you lucid.”
  • Cemetery World II: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 27, 2023
    Wayne rolled to avoid getting stepped on by the Pushmi-Pullyu, but he failed. One of the rubber hooves caught him in the ribs, and he cried out. The people in the costume didn’t seem to notice. Then, worse, the other end of the Pushmi-Pullyu kicked his left crutch, sending it skidding under the doughnut case. “No!” Wayne cried out. He turned to grab his right crutch so he could walk as far as the doughnut case. But as if dragged by an invisible hand, the right crutch slid across the floor and into the dining area, far beyond Wayne’s reach. He fell back on the floor in despair. Without his crutches, he would never reach the Comet.
  • Pursuing the Wayfaring Cats: Free Fiction for Fyretober November 28, 2023
    Crawling on his arms, his shoulders burning with the pain, Wayne struggled between the feet of the partiers, none of whom seemed to notice him. Of course they didn’t. Somewhere a puck was blinding them with the Mathematics of Influence. He could clear their fogged brains, but only if he could stand up, look them in their eyes, distract them with the proper gestures, and tell them the proper words. Face down here on the floor, he was helpless. He needed his crutches. So he slid along the edge of the crowd of costumed feet, taking shelter under the handicap table. It was solidly bolted to the floor by a single middle pillar. He grasped that, pulled himself to a sitting position, and rested. He just had to cross a few feet to the donut case, where his crutch – Wayne’s eyes popped open as he stared under the donut case. The crutch was gone.
  • Emil’s Last Words: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 29, 2023
    Wayne peered out at Myra from under the table. “You haven’t… seen my crutches?” Myra shook her head. “Nope. Were they part of your costume? A mummy on crutches?” Wayne shook his head, grabbed the table top, and slid out from under the table. “No, just…” He looked around. “Just a bad joke. On me.” He pulled himself to his feet, the only pain being twinges in his shoulder. He’d been so confident in his Cognitive Logic and his ability to see through any illusion. Confident? Hell, arrogant! The pucks had mastered Cognitive Logic and the Mathematics of Influence centuries before his birth. He could see through obvious frauds, but he been tripped up by us a pedestrian illusion. It made sense that he would need crutches, so he needed them. He tried to remember back to when that happened. In the sanctuary? Probably. And none of his companions had noticed the deception, either.
  • Saddle Up: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 30, 2023
    Wayne dropped the bag of stirrups next to Wanda. Then he started pulling his other friends up near her, laying them one practically on top of another. If he could get them talking, he might hear clues to their nightmares; and if he used the Mathematics of Influence upon them, he might insinuate himself into their visions and lead them out. Finally he raised them to sitting positions, all in a circle, each learning forward. He placed their hands loosely within each other’s around the circle. Then he said, “Wanda…” She groaned a little, so he leaned closer. “Wanda, where are you?” Her lips barely parting, Wanda said, “I’m in Hell…”
  • Caladbolg: Free Fiction for Fyretober October 31, 2023
    Wayne and Sean tore their eyes away from the scene before them. Wanda had recovered her composure to go try to care for Kevin; but once she got there, she just shook her head and looked at them. Wayne looked at Sean. “So that’s it? The red devil gets away, and this all starts over again tomorrow? That’s what the legends say, right?” But Sean’s eyes showed need to despair. They were practically on fire. “Fuck the legends!” He stuck the fingers of his left hand in his mouth and blew a loud whistle that pierced the night for blocks. “Wubs!”
  • Hallowmas: Free Fiction for Fyretober November 1, 2023
    The headless horse tumbled to a halt right in front of Wayne and Wanda in the middle of 28th St. As they watched, it became a headless red devil, a seven foot tall wooden statue in the middle of the road. That was no match for 28th St. traffic. An SUV and a Prius swerved madly around it, almost colliding with a red Mazda that passed them. But the semi that spread behind them had no chance to avoid the obstacle. It crunched right over top the figure, all eighteen wheels crushing it, kicking up splinters that flew everywhere. The driver screeched to a halt as fast as he could, but he had a full load. It took nearly a block before the truck and trailer halted.
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