Saturday, October 22, 2022
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Spook-tober Shorts. A couple of weeks ago I introduced some new character-friends, the Pumpkin Hat Girls. They’re back for some more Twilight Zone-ish fun.
BASED ON COMMENTS, I REVISED THE STORY TO INCLUDE AN EPILOGUE.
Haunted Halloween Holiday is a delightful story by Robbie and Michael Cheadle. I mentioned it back on August 20. When I found out about Robbie’s story, it reminded me that every year, I kept forgetting to do a Halloween story until it was too late. So, I got busy writing A Peril in Ectoplasm. My latest novella has nothing to do with Robbie’s new book. Neither does the short story below, but it was inspired by her fun promo image and many of her fondant characters. I’ve used her photos of some of them as illustrations for my story.
Autumn leaves leapt into flight as Penny’s car sailed down forgotten country roads.
“Penny, I think you can slow down now,” I suggested. “I’ve been keeping an eye out behind us, and I haven’t seen another car for a long time. Nobody’s following us from that October Spooktacular carnival.”
Maudie blew a raspberry from the back seat.
“Maybe I should keep the pedal to the metal,” Penny replied. “We need to leave that Game of Sinful Delights as far behind as possible. Right, Ursula?”
Ninety-year-old Ursula rolled her eyes and shrugged.
“Who can say whether that evil place is far or near?” Ursula began. “We got lost as soon as we left the parking lot. Now we’re so lost there’s no way to know.”
“We weren’t lost,” Penny snapped. “And we’re not lost now either… I just don’t know exactly where we are.”
Maudie tried to mumble a response around a mouthful of sugar cookies. She had already eaten half a package of them. I couldn’t blame her for “emotional eating” considering the circumstances. The woman really had a sweet tooth though.
Abruptly an ominous clanging rang from somewhere under the seats. I gulped. That couldn’t be good. Then the car started moving slower.
“That sounds very bad,” Ursula said worriedly.
“No wonder, with all that crazy-ass driving you were doing back there,” Maudie admonished.
“Would you rather I left you back with that evil carnival barker. It seemed like something was about to have you for lunch!” Penny told Maudie.
“Nobody asked me if I wanted to be rescued,” Maudie countered. “That was one sexy man. If he wanted to have me for lunch—”
“Come off it, Maudie,” I muttered. “You were as scared as the rest of us. First, we need to look for a garage. And based on that loud clanking noise, we better hope there’s some kind of hotel.”
“Yes Sargent Pepper!” the Pumpkin Hat Girls chimed together before starting the chorus from the Beatles song.
“Oh, stop calling me that,” I grumbled, but then I joined the song.
After all, it was the Beatles.
So ended the day for the Pumpkin Hat Girls, that’s what we called ourselves. Aged 50 through 90, all of us wore pumpkin-orange hats in a roundish shape, which generally suggested a pumpkin — if you used a little imagination.
Penny started the group. She said we would keep taking new members until we had ladies whose first initials spelled out the word pumpkin. So far, we had Penny, Ursula, Maudie, and Pepper — that was me.
Throughout each autumn season we went on adventures small or grand. This one had begun at a strange amusement park. However, it looked like it might end in the middle of nowhere.
Fortune smiled on us, and I spotted a sign just ahead. I read it aloud and gave a shiver.
“Bakersville. Established 1876. Population 666.”
Ursula, the local historian of the group remarked that it was odd that she didn’t remember hearing of the town. Penny voiced her hope for a garage. Maudie’s first thought was for a bakery in Bakersville.
All I could think about was the population number.
Penny was so busy looking for a garage sign that she missed the little street. However, there was another road a few yards later. It seemed to be a service alley. Penny’s car slowly clanged along the road.
“Look at that cool vintage travel trailer,” I commented. “It’s one of those teardrop shaped ones.”
“What trailer,” Maudie joked. “All I see is a gorgeous man walking to it.”
I blinked my eyes. It must be a trick of the evening light and shadows. For a moment there the man seemed to glitter.
Maudie wasted no time in sticking her head out of the car window and asking if he could point us to a garage. Penny slowed to a stop. Maudie was out of the car before it stopped moving.
The rest of us I got out of the car, following Maudie. To my astonishment, the man was bowing gallantly over Maudie’s hand. I shook my head. I didn’t know what was going on with my vision, but he glittered again.
I was about to get scared, but then I saw similar shimmers across the front of Maudie’s orange plaid sweater. Then I realized granules of sugar were catching the light. However, that couldn’t be true of the man. When my eyes went back to him, the odd effect was gone again.
“You smell enticingly sweet,” he murmured to Maudie.
Ursula grinned. Penny and I raised eyebrows and exchanged a wry look. Then we shook our heads.
“Is there a bed and breakfast, or some kind of motel nearby?” Penny asked. “I doubt any garage could get us back on the road tonight.”
There was a garage, and there was a small inn. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Well, three of us did. Maudie’s sigh didn’t have anything to do with getting the car repaired.
“You’re behind the inn right now,” the man explained and pointed. “Next door, and the source of that delicious aroma is Sugar Fiends Bakery. My mother owns both. We’re still open. Be sure to take a look at the Halloween display of fondant characters.”
“Isn’t he just the most handsome man you’ve ever seen?” Maudie gushed as he got into the little trailer.
“Maudie, you cougar,” Penny snorted. “You’re at least twenty years older than him.”
“How cares about age,” Ursula piped up. “My husband was 18 years younger than me. God rest his soul.”
None of us could argue with that.
We rolled into the garage just as they were closing. About twenty minutes later Penny had made arrangements for the mechanic to take a look at the car the next day. Then he drove us to the bed and breakfast.
I looked at the wooden sign. Ambrogio Guesthouse, it read. Absently fiddling with the pompon on my orange cloche hat, I pondered.
“I feel like I should know that name,” I remarked to no one in particular.
Maudie shrugged and dusted off her drapey orange metropolitan style hat before putting it back onto her head. Penny shook her head. Ursula drew in a sharp breath. We all looked askance.
“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s silly of me, I’m sure. Ambrogio was supposed to be the name of one of the first vampires,” Ursula replied.
As we walked inside the little inn, we saw that it adjoined the bakery. The door between the two establishments was open. I heard voices. One sounded like the man we had spoken to in the alley. Penny was about to ring the bell at the reception desk, but I motioned for her to wait. Then we all eavesdropped.
“Mom, you promised not to cry,” he said. “We both know I can’t stay here forever. The trailer is almost street-worthy. I’ll stay until the new batch is ready.”
A muffled female voice spoke, but we couldn’t hear her clearly. Finally, the group of us exchanged guilty looks. We started talking normally, pretending we had just entered the inn, and had most certainly not been trying to listen to their conversation.
I heard someone go out a back door in the bakery. The woman called to us.
“Welcome to the Ambrogio Guesthouse! Come on in and pick a treat so you can have a snack. With car trouble, I’m sure you must be hungry,” invited a woman I assumed was Mrs. Ambrogio. “Besides, I want to show off my Halloween display before you check in.”
The woman honestly didn’t look that much older than the handsome man, who was apparently her son. Although he had left, I was sure it was his voice I had heard.
The woman wore a pleated chef’s hat and an apron with a Halloween motif. She waved her hand toward a table that was decorated with an assortment of little figures. There were a dozen characters, animals and monsters. Something they all had in common was fangs. There were vampires, a very toothy black cat, and other adorable ghouls. Behind the fondant figures was a dragon made from cupcakes with fondant scales.
“Meet my fondant Sugar Fiends,” she told us happily.
All of us Pumpkin Hat Girls made ooh-and-ah sounds. The figures really were extraordinary.
“Ouch!” Maudie suddenly cried and bent to rub her ankle. “Something stuck me.”
Not far from her feet was a little fondant vampire. The woman rushed from behind her counter. She knelt on the floor and daubed Maudie’s ankle with a paper napkin. She had quickly applied a tiny Band-Aid before anyone could even speak.
“It’s just a prick,” Mrs. Ambrogio said in a nervous voice as she retrieved the fondant vampire from the floor. “It must have been from the sharp corner on his cape.”
She put the sugary little monster and the napkin behind the counter. I noticed that an area where she was making more of the characters. I supposed that was what the man meant when he mentioned “the new batch.”
Half a dozen of them sat in a semicircle. They wore little headphones, with tubes that ran to a container. When I stretched it looked to be filled with syrup. I shrugged, since I didn’t know the first thing about fondants. Maybe it was all part of another scene the woman was making.
“It must be quite time consuming to make the fondant figures,” I commented.
“Yes, but they are like my children. I love creating them,” she replied.
We booked only two rooms, since we had not made reservations. Mrs. Ambrogio insisted that she could get more rooms ready, but no one wanted to put her to the time or trouble. Besides, all of us except Maudie had gotten an uneasy feeling. So, Ursula and Penny shared one room, while Maudie and I took the other.
The two rooms shared a generous bathroom which was placed between the rooms.
All of Bakersville seemed to close at sundown. We were too tired to care. Everyone turned in early. However, I awoke during the night because I heard voices outside on the veranda below. There was enough light that I could see Maudie’s empty bed. The voices belonged to her and the attractive man.
Exhausted from the stress of first the freakish amusement park, and then the worry of car trouble, I went back to sleep. Several hours later a sting woke me. I sat up in bed and slapped my neck. I muttered about mosquitoes, without thinking that the weather was too cool for the pests.
A small pattering sound came to my ears. It seemed to go toward the door. It looked like Maudie had left our door ajar when she went outside. I sat up, trying to find a light. I wanted to know what had made the sound. Something had surely been in the room.
Then I heard a commotion from the other bedroom. Penny shrieked. Ursula was trying to calm her. I heard several more of the tiny pattering feet.
“It’s probably only a mouse,” Ursula was saying. “Get over here to the light so I can see. Ah. Just a little bite. Not even a mouse would make a mark that small.”
“Something was in here!” Penny demanded. “Look, Ursula! There’s a tiny spot of blood on your wrist too.”
By then, Mrs. Ambrogio, her handsome son, and Maudie had bounded up the stairs. The woman apologized profusely, complaining about how terrible the mosquitoes were in Bakersville.
I waited to see if anyone else would mention the tiny pattering sound. No one mentioned any strange noises.
Slumber illuded me for the rest of the night. Maudie was too wired for sleep.
“He asked me to take a road trip with him, in that cute little camper,” Maudie confessed.
I didn’t know what to say. Although, the situation was classic Maudie. While I tried to find words, she spoke into the silence.
“You know… he’s older than you think. She’s not his birth mother,” she added.
“Are you going?” I asked simply.
“Maybe. I’ve gotten a… taste for the idea,” Maudie answered in an odd tone.
I finally dozed off to slumberland, but I still woke early the next morning. I saw a note on Maudie’s pillow. She was leaving for a trip with a man she had just met.
Thinking that I should at least go through the motions of trying to talk some sense into her, I threw on my clothes and hurried downstairs and out the back door.
It wasn’t full light yet. Shadows clung to the alley, but I could tell it was empty. The vintage trailer was gone.
I turned to go back inside the guesthouse. A wan light came from the back window of the bakery. Seeing movement, I carefully approached the window. Inside, I saw a dozen little fondant creatures moving back into their places on the display.
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Based on comments, it seemed an epilogue was warranted.
Penny had a temper, but it was muted by the fact that she was upset and confused. I was worried — no matter which way I looked at the situation. Ursula was cool, matter-of-fact, and frankly she was formidable.
Mrs. Ambrogio caved when faced with a barrage of questions from the phenomenon which was Ursula. She explained that the pesky little fondant creatures were just that, pests.
“My babies really aren’t harmful,” the baker began in a contrite voice. “They don’t drink any more blood than an insect does. You would never have known about them if the door had stayed closed. Or garlic. If you take a garlic supplement they won’t come near.”
A sheepish expression came to Maudie’s face, and she looked down at the floor. The handsome man took her hand and patted it reassuringly.
“The fondants are only interested in humans when a person has recently eaten sweets. Actually, they’re helpful,” Mrs. Ambrogio went on when Ursula leaned close and frowned. “They eat ants. You won’t find an ant problem anywhere in Bakersville.”
“And this is your stepson?” I asked motioning to the man. “His father was…” I couldn’t make the word come out of my mouth.
“Ambrogio Junior was born when Mr. Ambrogio had a fling with a sugarplum fairy,” the woman said, blushing. “That happened before we ever met. But I love him as if he was my own son.”
“And he’s a… a…” I still couldn’t spit out the word.
“Oh, don’t worry. He would never hurt anyone! Because of his fairy mother, he turned out to be a sugar vampire. The only thing that’s in danger from him is a doughnut shop,” she insisted, and his eyes lit up at the word doughnut.
So, Maudie left for a romantic adventure of indeterminate duration. She mentioned something about a coast-to-coast tour of Krispy Kream shops. I figured she’d be back when they got tired of each other. Penny made a face.
“We’ve lost a Pumpkin Hat Girl before we even got enough members to spell out pumpkin,” our group’s founder complained. “I hope Maudie will be okay.”
I wasn’t concerned. Maudie knew how to take care of herself. Plus, she was resilient and knew more about romance than any of us. However, between her and the sugar vampire, I was worried about the country’s supply of sugar.
“I really am sorry you had a fright,” Mrs. Ambrogio told us as Maddie and her stepson drove away into the rising sun, with the vintage trailer behind his truck. “Won’t you stay another night so I can make it up to you?”
Abruptly, Ursula eyed the baker astutely.
“What about your husband, Mrs. Ambrogio?” our oldest member asked in a suspicious voice. “Does he come around very often? Are you two still together?”
“Oh yes!” the baker cried innocently. “Of course, we’re still married. Ambrogio had been on a business trip. He should be back tonight. Around sunset.”
We politely declined the offer of a free stay. If the garage couldn’t have the car ready, Penny said she would abandon the thing and get a rental.
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Haunted Halloween Holiday
Robbie and Michael Cheadle
Count Sugular is delighted when the Sugarpop Bats invites his family to a Halloween party at the Haunted House. He and his wife, Witch Honey, decide to hire a caravan and enjoy a weekend away with their family. Includes some fun limericks to introduce the various characters. Find out more about Robbie’s story — including her video, and all the purchase links here:
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A Peril in Ectoplasm
As many of you know, on Wednesday I was at Teri Polen’s Bad Moon Rising event with “A Peril in Ectoplasm.” We had fun conversations that you’re still welcome to join in comments. Here’s the link to Teri’s post:
“A Peril in Ectoplasm: Just Once More” is now available.
Universal Purchase Links:
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Wishing you a wonderful weekend. I love to hear from you, so friendly comments are encouraged. Hugs on the wing!
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This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2022 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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