Ghost in the Cupcakes

It’s been a while since I’ve had a Roy and Cale story on here, so I thought I’d share a lighthearted one with you all.

Ghost in the Cupcakes

By Silas Champion

Cale looked longingly at the frosted cupcakes balanced precariously on the plates he carried. Hopefully there’d be a few left over after the horde of hungry children cleared out of the rec center.

“You can’t have any right now,” Roy said.

“I’m not going to have any,” Cale said. “Just don’t want to drop them.”

“Or maybe you do want to drop them so you can eat one.” Roy hefted two huge bags of candy he carried. “Don’t worry, there will be plenty for all. Unless they get a thousand kids in here, I don’t think they can eat all this.”

“So you’re suggesting we help them out a little?” Cale settled the cupcakes gingerly onto a folding table festooned with a large plastic spider.

“Somebody needs to taste test this stuff to make sure it’s okay,” Roy said.

“Oh, I agree with that.”

“Especially since they have good chocolate. Why waste time eating some soggy goo of a cupcake when you can have some delicious M & M’s?” Roy dropped his treasure trove on another table.

“Soggy goo? You’re crazy,” Cale said. “Who doesn’t like cupcakes? What’s wrong with you?”

“Oh, whatever, it’s just a pile of sugar on top of more sugar.” Roy pulled out a small pack of M & M’s. “Unlike this pinnacle of human endeavor right here.”

The argument might have continued, but Roy’s girlfriend Ally came across the room holding some weird fake cobwebs. She wore little cat ears in her dark brown hair.

“Don’t eat all the candy, Roy,” she said. Cale stifled a laugh. Roy shot a quick look at his friend.

“Just sampling one to make sure they’re good,” he said though a mouthful of candy.

“There’s going to be a lot of kids here,” Ally cautioned. “We have to make sure we have enough.”

“Oh, we’re going to have plenty.” Roy popped the last few M & M’s in his mouth. “What do you need us to do?”

Ally held out the web. “Can you guys hang this up from the ceiling? We want it to be a little bit spooky in here when the kids come.”

“Yeah, I guess. Where do you want it?” Roy took the web from his girlfriend.

“I don’t know. Why do I have to think of everything?” she snapped. “You guys can get it.”

“Yes ma’am.” Roy gave a mock salute as Ally hurried away.

“What’s the deal with her?” Cale muttered.

“Who knows? She’s probably just all stressed out by this. Let’s figure out how to hang this thing.”

“Okay, I guess we will earn our candy.” Cale helped himself to a small candy bar.

After several false starts, they finally figured out a way to drape it from the ceiling fans close to the door of the community center.

“There, that should do it.” Cale wiped the dust from his hands. “Not real spooky, though, is it?”

“No, but that’s the best we can do without a ladder.” Roy shook his head. “Looks kind of pathetic actually.”

“You got it.” Ally arrived.

“We got it, but it’s not very scary,” Roy replied.

“Is there any way you could get it a bit higher?” she asked. “That way it will droop, but the kids can’t reach it.”

“Maybe if we had a ladder,” Roy said.

“If you really want to scare them, you should have somebody in a costume jump out of that closet there.” Cale pointed.

“No, it’s not a haunted house.” Ally looked at him like he’d suggested throwing rocks at the children. “Just get a ladder or something.”

“Maybe you can just stand there, that will be scary enough,” Roy said.

“Oh no, I got to find a ladder.” Cale mocked Ally’s tone. He sauntered off toward the closet, detouring past the snack table for more candy.

The closet was bigger than he expected, but the light didn’t work. Boxes of donated clothes and old detritus of past craft projects almost filled the entire space. Squinting in the dim light, he saw a stepladder wedged in behind some stacked chairs. He edged over to it, carefully eyeing the bulging form of an old blanket perched precariously on a shelf above him.

“Got it.” He brandished the ladder as he returned to Roy, who stood by the door munching a fresh bag of M & M’s.

“Good, then you can climb up there and adjust it.”

“No way, you’re taller than I am. You get up there.” Cale unfolded the ladder. Grumbling, Roy climbed up the ladder and began the slow process of adjusting the web to Cale’s instructions. Finally they had it in some semblance of order as the first children arrived.

The children were, of course, not scared at all and went straight to the candy. Roy and Cale retired to their respective stations. Roy helped Ally at the pin the broom on the witch game, while Cale helped her sorority sister, Stephanie, at the snack table. Stephanie was a no-nonsense kind of gal, which made Cale’s job easier.

He’d just returned from cleaning up spilled lemonade when Ally approached the table. Her cat ears were crooked and her face was red.

“Why didn’t you put the ladder away? The kids are playing with it.”

“I’m manning the snack table,” Cale said. “The kids showed up and Stephanie needed help.”

“Well, get it put away, before someone gets hurt.” Ally rushed off before Cale could answer.

“Yes, boss,” Cale muttered and Stephanie giggled.

“That’s why Ally will never be sorority president,” she whispered. Cale decided that Stephanie was all right.

He walked across the room and rescued the stepladder from a child just before he hit another child with it. Cale burrowed into the closet and jammed the ladder behind the chairs, but it wouldn’t fit. Grumbling he leaned forward to move the chairs.

His foot slipped and he slumped hard against the shelf. The precariously perched sheet tumbled down. Unfurling as it fell, it draped right over Cale’s head. Startled and swearing, he staggered back. He tripped over a box of discarded magazines and careened through the closet door with a loud crash, still covered in the sheet.

Every head in the room turned toward the closet, and a gaggle of sugar-addled children screamed as a bellowing ghostly figure exploded into the room.  They raced toward the front door almost as one, followed a moment later by parents and volunteers.

Cale noticed none of this because just as he’d regained his balance, he tripped over a running child and fell headfirst onto the cupcake table. The cupcakes could indeed now be described as soggy goo, and most of it covered him.

Sputtering and gasping, he at last clawed the sheet from his head, only to see the remaining people in the room all staring at him. Red-faced, he clambered slowly to his feet and stood in the scattered remains of the cupcakes. Stephanie shook her head and handed him a wad of napkins.

“What in the world are you doing?” Ally shouted.

“Sorry, it was an accident,” Cale stammered. “I tripped.”

“Whatever, you just wanted to scare the kids.”

“I really don’t think Cale would destroy cupcakes on purpose. He’s just clumsy,” Roy offered.

“Whatever.” Ally swept away. “You ruined everything.”

“Nice job,” Roy said, trying to stifle a grin.

“You better go wash that off.” Stephanie handed him more napkins. “Then we can clean up.” Ever the practical one, that Stephanie.

Cale muttered another apology before finding the kitchen, where he did his best to remove icing from his pants. At least the sheet had kept it off of his shirt mostly. He didn’t care if Ally was mad at him, but she’d probably be grouchy at Roy for a while. Hopefully none of the kids were too traumatized.

When he returned from the kitchen, all the children had returned and played the games with more gusto than ever. They laughed about the ghost and how funny it was. Many of the older children assured those who would listen that they’d not been scared at all.

“Looks like you didn’t ruin the party after all,” Stephanie said. “Your little stunt made everything more fun.”

“Yeah, too bad I didn’t mean to do it.” Cale shrugged. “Ruined the cupcakes too.”

“They weren’t that good anyway,” Stephanie said. “Just stick with M & M’s.” She handed him a bag. Yeah, Stephanie was indeed all right.

********************************************

If you like Roy and Cale there will be a big development with them coming soon. Hopefully by the first of the year. Stay tuned…

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Summer

By the time you read this, school will have probably started or will be about to start wherever you live. Even if you aren’t in school or have kids enrolled somehow the beginning of school marks the end of summer.

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Caesar’s Head State Park, South Carolina

In many ways, summer is a microcosm of life. When it begins it stretches out forever in front of you. You anticipate all the things you will do, all the places you will go. The days are long and warm. The next thing you know though, it’s August and the kids are back in school and it’s over. How does it go so fast?

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National Mall, Washington D. C.

So here’s to you, summer. See you next year. 

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Acadia National Park, Maine

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Get Thee to a Community

One of the many tiresome things to come out of the last tiresome election cycle is the constant talk about living in bubbles. Mostly it is used as a charge to levy at one’s political enemies in order to accuse them of being out of touch. I’m not interested in visiting that discussion. This blog is not a political one and will never be a political one.

At the heart of this charge, though, is a true fact about modern life. We have sorted ourselves into likeminded communities and in many cases isolated ourselves from people more than ever. The Internet and social media have exacerbated this problem and we often gather in tribes online as well.

Now it’s not all bad, for example it can be good and invigorating to find people who like things you like and the Internet can remove geographic barriers to this kind of interaction. That in and of itself is a good thing.

On the other hand, sometimes we stop doing things with people around us. We do not interact with neighbors or people in our town. We never talk to people who hold views different than ours. Perhaps only at our jobs and maybe family reunions are we forced into groups we might not choose. I’m not sure that this is a good thing.

Recently I attended a small-town production of the musical Oklahoma in Missouri. It was done far better than I expected and I was struck by the number and variety of people involved the production. There were old folks, high school kids, and people in between. There were farmers, hippies, teachers, etc. all taking a part in bringing the musical to life. Apparently the community theater is a big part of the identity of the town and they work hard to keep it going. That showed in the quality of the work.

Watching that musical inspired me to seek out offline community. To log off and look for ways to do things together. I’m not talking about some great conference where everyone makes speeches or congratulates themselves on how much they are coming together. There is value in those kind of things, but I think so much could be accomplished simply by doing things together.

So log off, go outside, find somebody to do something with. Better yet, find several somebodies. Yeah, there may be some awkward moments. Perhaps you won’t always know what to say. Some of them might even be irritating and annoying, but that’s community. Our would and our society might be a little better if we took some time to do stuff together.

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Starswept by Mary Fan

It’s cover reveal day for Starswept by

Mary Fan! This sweeping YA sci-fi romance will be released on August 29 by Snowy Wings Publishing. The

cover features photography by Roberto

Falck, with graphic design by Streetlight Graphics.

Starswept-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

Title: Starswept

Author: Mary Fan

Release Date: August 29, 2017

Publisher: Snowy Wings

Publishing

Some melodies reach across the stars.

In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A

century later, 15-year- old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a

prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless,

Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get

hired, and competition is fierce.

A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about

him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the

only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to

her.

When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of

backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she

discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds

herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.

But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from

her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world

to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien

allies that shatter everything she knows.

Preorder the hardback on Amazon

Preorder the e-book on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo, or iBooks

 

Add it on Goodreads

Mary Fan author pic small

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.”

As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions.

Now, she tells them through books. She is the author of the Jane Colt space opera

trilogy, the Firedragon YA dystopia/fantasy novellas, and the Fated Stars YA high

fantasy novellas. She’s also the co-editor of the Brave New Girls YA sci-fi

anthologies, which are dedicated to encouraging girls to enter STEM careers and

raising money for the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.

Find her online at www.MaryFan.com.

Twitter: @astralcolt

Instagram: @astralcolt

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Sharing Stories

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All of us humans are storytellers. Most people won’t write a novel, but everyone shares a story at some time. Perhaps it’s a family memory, or a tale of the glory days of high school, but we all tell stories at least sometimes.

Recently I attended a talk by some veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. The organizers of the event encouraged them to share what their Christmas was like during that battle. Each of them took turns talking about their experiences. As I listened, I was struck by two observations.

First, I was struck by their humility. All of them were humble about their role in one of the greatest battles in history. They didn’t brag about exploits or try to make themselves look brave. They all spoke far more about their comrades’ actions than their own.

Second, they spoke very little about the actual fighting itself and spent more time sharing tiny moments of humanity. When they did mention the fighting it was only to honor fallen friends or mention that it was terrible. Perhaps they would rather not think about the horrors of war, and who could blame them? Perhaps, too, they recognized that we could not truly grasp what it was like since we weren’t there.

All of them shared small moments of happiness and humor. For example, one man shared his experience of finding wine in an abandoned boxcar and drinking it out of his helmet. Another man told of the time he parachuted through a thatched roof of a country cottage and the lady of the house took after him with a broom.

The stories showed us that even in one of history’s darkest moments, humanity and laughter can be found. Maybe that’s one reason why we tell stories. They teach us that humanity can survive in war, laughter can be found in suffering and light can be found in darkness. When we face these things, these stories give us heart. These stories give us hope.

Those men are not novelists, they are not professionals, but in those stories we see the best and worst of humanity on display. From them we take heart and courage to face our own struggles with hope and dignity. Tell your story.

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The Ballad of Mercy Wong

Recently I read a book by Stacey Lee called Outrun the Moon. It is set during the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake and is a great story of friendship, love, and survival. Inspired by this  I decided to write a poem about the main character, Mercy Wong. This is not the first time Stacey’s writing has inspired me. While the last time I was going for a cowboy poem feel, this time I tried to capture a late Victorian sentiment. I guess you can judge whether I pulled it off or not. Either way you should read the book, it’s awesome. I make no such guarantee for the poem.

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The Ballad of Mercy Wong

一    One early spring morning death came to town

Shaking the city and knocking it down.

And hell followed after billowing fire

Turning the city into a pyre

The people looked up to the smoke-filled skies

And all over town you could hear their cries

For Mercy

二   Gold Mountain was gone sifted to dust

The hard work of so many turned into rust.

When the earth turns against you there’s no place to stand

All you can do is stretch out your hand

For Mercy

Mercy comes on sore, tired feet

Mercy will bring you something to eat

Mercy is found in unexpected places

Mercy comes with all kinds of faces

三    The earth came for Mercy but let her escape

Alas, her family did not share her fate.

so with tears in her eyes and a heart full of grief

She turned to her neighbors and provided relief

with Mercy

四    They had passed laws to keep out her kind

But when she handed them food didn’t nobody mind

The color of her skin or the shape of her eyes

They only knew that she’d answered their cries

For Mercy

Mercy comes on sore, tired feet

Mercy will bring you something to eat

Mercy is found in unexpected places

Mercy comes with all kinds of faces

Check out Stacey’s writing here.

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Country Roads

I always find it fascinating how music can instantly transport you to another place and time in your life. It’s like a time machine, a TARDIS you can dance to. The other day I was streaming some music when John Denver’s classic hit “Country Roads” came on. Immediately I was swept away to Chongqing.

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A scene from the Three Gorges, just downriver from Chongqing.

Many of you may be scratching your head because Chongqing is not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Country Roads.” In fact, you may be asking, What and where is a Chongqing? I’ll save you a trip to Google. Chongqing is a city in China’s Sichuan province that sits on the Yangtze river. It is about as far as you can get from West Virginia, yet it always comes to mind when I hear “Country Roads.”

As a younger man I spent a little over a year living in China. During that year I took a solo trip around the country to see the sites. One of these sites included the famous Three Gorges of the Yangtze River. I’ve blogged a bit about this before. The boat to sail down the river left from the city of Chongqing. I had almost a full day to kill before the boat left, but I didn’t wander too far from the docks. This was mainly because my limited Chinese vocabulary did not include the word docks, so if I got lost it would be a disaster.

In my aimless wandering I stumbled on a tea cafe. It was decorated like a forest. Even the plastic chairs and tables were made to look like tree stumps. Not in the mood for tea, I ordered a Coke and settled gently onto the flimsy plastic stump. The girl behind the counter took out the CD of Chinese pop music and replaced it with the CD of English standards that seemed to be in every karaoke machine in China. One of those standards was “Country Roads.”

As I sat there listening to John Denver singing, it struck me how far I was from the very country roads that I grew up on. This was not really a bout of homesickness, though, more like amazement and appreciation for the chance I had to roam so far and see so many new things. In the moment I recognized that this was an experience to be treasured. I guess that’s why it has stuck with me this long.

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My own country roads

Songs help us retrieve experiences we have stored away in our mind. Perhaps that’s why we’re always nostalgic for the music of our youth. The great thing about life, though, is there are always more experiences and there is always new music. Go out and make some new memories. Do something fun. Listen to some new music. You’ll thank yourself later.

Here’s a link to the song for those of you who’ve never heard it.

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