In celebration of the month of October, I’ll be sharing 31 of my favorite spooky, eerie and creepy stories, one per day. The stories will range over an array of genres: horror, suspense, science fiction, mysteries and dark fantasy.
The October Country
…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…
— Ray Bradbury
The Other Town by Steven Millhauser
“The other town, the one that exactly resembles our town, lies just beyond the north woods.”
Many writers are described as being entirely unique. “There’s no one like them” is a common refrain. Mostly this is bull. That’s not a criticism. Plenty of great writers approach the craft of writing from similar territory.
Steven Millhauser, however, really is one of those writers who isn’t like anybody else. A definitive Millhauser story, like The Other Town, is so unlike the work of any other writer, that there is no mistaking it.
The Other Town tells a strange little tale about two towns, exactly alike in nearly every way. They are separated by a small swath of woods, short enough that you can easily walk from one town to the other.
There is the main town, or rather the one in which people live. And then there is the other town, which appears at first blush empty save for the guards and the replicators–individuals whose job it is to make changes to the other town in order to match the main town–although the streets, houses, buildings, lawns, automobiles, etc. are exactly the same.
“In addition, there’s a sense we all have, an elusive but still quite definite sense, which might be called an intuition of absence: the absence of people living in homes, working in stores, conducting the daily life of a town. For of course no one lives in the other town, which exists solely to be visited by us.”
Folks from the main town visit the other town regularly. Usually for no other reason than to wander and spot the differences. These differences are minor, such as a tomato plant in an other town garden bearing tomatoes of a different size than its mirror in the main town.
Where did the other town come from, you ask?
“The origin of the other town remains obscure. Its first appearance in the historical record occurs in 1685, some forty years after the founding of our town, when the building of a new house, ‘and of the same house in the North Towne’ is reported, though the mention is so brief and riddling that is has been subject to conflicting interpretations.”
And who keeps the other town, you ask? The replicators.
“But whereas the original replicators were expected to attend mostly to houses and their furnishings, our present-day replicators are responsible for all elements of decor, from the paving of streets and the renovation of public buildings to the daily adjustment of levels of salt in the saltshakers and the arrangement of forks in the silverware drawers.”
The job of the replicators clearly necessitates “watchers” in the main town, people to record every change and report to the replicators what adjustments must be made.
But all of this leaves us with the most puzzling question of all: why?
“Some say the other town serves as a welcome distraction from the cares of our own town–for them it’s a kind of superior amusement park, where we can forget our worries and take delight in a world of sensations…
“Such arguments, others claim, are suitable only for children. The real value of the town, in their opinion, lies in the way it permits us to see our own town more clearly or completely.”
Millhauser describes too those who believe the other town serves a noble purpose, and others who believe the town is an immoral beacon that ought to be plowed under. But though the arguments for and against have raged for centuries, the other town persists.
A Millhauser story is, as I said, not like the stories of other writers. There is no clear beginning, rising action, climax and denouement. What Millhauser excels at, rather, is raising fascinating and startling questions. For on the surface, The Other Town appears to be little more than whimsy, but in our current digital age in which many of us live entirely separate lives–lives in a digital Other Town–it is perhaps one of the most apt narratives of our lives.
More October Stories
For the month of October, you can download
Tyler Miller’s The Other Side of the Door
In celebration of my favorite month, I’m giving away my collection The Other Side of the Door. These are stories inspired by so many of my favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson.
Stories like the award-winning Til Death Do Us, about a man who believes he’s gotten away with his wife’s murder…at least until her severed finger is delivered to him in a box. Somebody knows the truth…
Or another first-place winner: Not Dead, Not Even Past, the story of a small-town sheriff confronted with a string of suicides he can’t explain. Each of the victims share a disturbing trait: no matter how they died, all of them have lungs full of water.
I loved working on these stories, and I truly believe that you’ll enjoy reading them just as much as I enjoyed writing them. Check them out. For the entire month, they’re free. What have you got to lose?
Except a little sleep…