This month’s story is Cupcakes on the Brain, by C.O. Bonham. To download a printable .pdf file of the story, please click here.
Cupcakes on the Brain
by C.O. Bonham
Hannah tapped the freshly printed pages on the table before stacking them neatly by the snack she had brought. Carrots, celery and homemade hummus.
The door to the library’s meeting room squeaked as it opened. Hannah turned to see Rachel, put together as always, breeze in with a box balanced on top of her submission printouts. The smell coming from the box was heavenly.
“Hi, Rachel. Let me help you with that.” Hannah rushed over and took the box from the top of Rachel’s stack. “What’s in here? It smells amazing.”
“Cupcakes from the new bakery down the block. I know it was your turn to provide the snack, but when I walked past—I just had to stop in and get some. I’ve been thinking about them since I stopped in and tried one yesterday.”
Hannah set the cupcake box down beside her sad-looking hummus platter. “It’s fine. You can never have enough snacks. Mine is really healthy anyway. So it’s a good balance.”
Rachel stacked her submission pages beside Hannah’s, then she slapped a hand to her forehead. “Oh right, you’re diabetic. Hannah, I’m so sorry, I wasn’t even thinking.”
“It’s fine really, I have self-control. It’s not like being in the same room as sugar will kill me.”
“What will kill you?” asked Lauren as she strolled in. She wore a stiff jean skirt, a Tardis blue button down and a dangerously long striped scarf dangled from her neck.
“Nothing. I said that sugar won’t kill me.”
Lauren nodded and stacked her subs on the table. Then she turned to the snacks. “All right, cupcakes! Did you bake these, Hannah? I was afraid we were going to have to eat carrot sticks or some—” Lauren noticed the hummus platter.
“No. I did make the hummus though. It’s pumpkin spice flavored.”
The rest of the Crossed Pens writing group showed up on time—everyone except for Allen, who hadn’t been at a meeting since his publisher sent him on a big signing tour. Everyone pulled a chair into a circle in the middle of the room. They all shared updates on their National Novel Writing Month progress and then started critiquing last week’s submissions. Each person took a turn having their work praised or brutally ripped to shreds by the other writers.
When it was Hannah’s turn, she was surprised at the mixed reactions.
Lauren held up the printout of Hannah’s first chapter. “I loved this. It’s a great start and I really need to know what happens next.”
Hannah could see that Anna’s copy of her printout was riddled with handwritten notes. Anna read from this as she gave her feedback. “I think it is a good start, but I am not really invested in the characters yet. You just have them fighting with no explanation and I just have no connection to them. Like, who even is the good guy?”
Rachel had similar feedback. “Is this a superhero story? Because the good guy should have a good motive. This inner dialogue just sounds like they want to stop this Cranium Captor for selfish reasons.”
This comment hurt Hannah the most because the hero was based on her late father and she could never remember him as a selfish person.
Elisabeth said, “Make sure you google the names of your heroes and villains. You don’t want a copyright issue just because a comic has a hero with the same name.”
Cassie took a moment to get her thoughts in order. “This…is first person. But you never state the name of the primary POV character. It’s just—I.”
Hannah considered the feedback and typed notes directly into her master Google Doc with her phone. This was always the worst part of meetings– getting all the feedback at once meant that she never had time to process it.
Finally, once all of the submissions had been discussed, it was time to get into the snacks. Almost everyone took some of her hummus to be polite, but Hannah couldn’t help but notice how few of them actually ate it. Nearly everyone took a cupcake. Everyone—except poor diabetic Hannah.
The cupcakes were each topped with a perfect spiraled peak of blue and purple swirled icing. The wrappers had actual images from space printed on them.
They looked almost too good to eat, but from the expressions on her friends’ faces, Hannah could tell that the experience of eating the cupcakes was even better. Closed eyes and open mouthed, they all bit into their cakes as one. The other women in the group all had looks of pure pleasure. When the cupcakes were gone, they all had frosting on the tips of their noses and stared down at their empty wrappers with longing.
“Are you sure you don’t want one, Hannah?” Rachel asked.
Elisabeth chimed in. “Yeah, the frosting goes all the way through the cake. It’s like a hostess cake but a million times better.”
Hannah politely shook her head. “No, thank you. I’ve been doing really well with my blood sugar and I don’t want to backslide.” She knew she was doing the right thing, but she still couldn’t help but look at the half-empty box of cupcakes again. “Maybe I could stop in and see if they make Keto cupcakes.”
“Yes!” Lauren was already at the snack table grabbing a second cupcake for herself. “I need to get some of these to take home.”
“You know,” said Anna, directing her comment to Hannah, “if you are taking your medicine regularly then it is probably fine to indulge a little bit.”
“Maybe.” Hannah pulled out her phone and googled, How many carbs in a gourmet cupcake?
The result popped up instantly. Between 31- 63 carbohydrates per cupcake. Hannah balked at that. That’s more than the number of carbs she was allowed to eat for one meal. It was too many. She couldn’t let herself indulge that much, especially when there was no nutritional value to be had.
“No, I’m good. I’ll just have some more hummus.” Hannah got up to refill her own plate. She loaded it with a big spoonful of hummus and about four or five celery sticks. The spicy ginger and the sweet cinnamon made the hummus very satisfying. She was definitely bringing this to family Thanksgiving. Speaking of the holiday…
“I propose we skip Thanksgiving week? I’m sure everyone will have a lot to do.”
Everyone nodded and mumbled their agreement through mouthfuls of cupcake. Hannah scribbled a note to tell the librarian not to expect them. “Okay, see everyone in two weeks then. Don’t forget to take one of each submission home to read over the holiday.”
Elisabeth brought over the submission printouts to pass out to each member. “I’m going to stop at that bakery before going home. I want to get some for my boys.”
Cassie folded her papers and slid them into her messenger bag. “We should just all walk down together. Have a little after the meeting party.”
Everyone nodded and looked at Hannah. “Okay, I’ll come. I did want to ask about a Keto option.” She shrugged on her coat and placed the strap of her bag over her head.
Together the six members of the Crossed Pens writing club walked the two blocks down Main Street and stopped in front of Cupcakes on the Brain.
The name of the shop was a local joke because of the year some kids went up and down main street painting Bs and Rs over all the Ms to create Brain street.
The bell above the door made a pleasant tinkling as the group entered. The sweet smell of baked goods filled the air. Hannah started to salivate.
They were greeted by a gregarious red head. “Well howdy, y’all. Welcome to Cupcakes on the Brain, where all we can think about is cupcakes.” She ended her spiel with a nasal laugh.
Everyone started ogling the various cupcakes in the display case with their colorful frosting and fun designs on the wrappers.
Hannah walked up to her and asked about their nutritional information.
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that, hon. A cute thing like you doesn’t need to watch her weight.”
“Respectfully, I’m not on a diet. I have diabetes and I thought you might have a Keto option or even a low sugar cupcake.”
“Nothing like that. It is made from all-natural ingredients, though. None of that MSG or chemical additives.”
Hannah did not want to keep going back and forth about this. “Well thank you anyway. I’ll just wait for my friends by the door.”
She sighed. This happened a lot. Either people didn’t understand that her diet was super important to her overall health or they overreacted and assumed she would go into a diabetic coma if even one gram of sugar passed her lips.
One by one her friends made their purchases and came to stand by Hannah. Once they were all ready to leave, the shopkeeper waved. “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”
Hannah frowned as everyone got glassy eyes and as one said, “We hear and obey.”
The shopkeeper seemed equally confused. “Wow, did you all rehearse that? Because that was funny. . . and a little creepy.”
Hannah opened the door to go outside. Her friends all blinked and waved to the shopkeeper and then left the building as if nothing weird had happened.
Outside the shop, everyone said their goodbyes and started walking either to their homes or back to the library to get their cars.
Hannah and Lauren actually lived in other cities. Lauren stopped in front of her stormtrooper white SUV. “It will be nice to not have to make the forty-minute drive next week. Save some gas money.”
“True, but I will miss meeting with everyone. It’s worth the drive to have fun, encouraging friends to hang out with.” Hannah opened the door to her galaxy-colored custom painted Escape. “See you in two weeks.”
“Hey, are you sure you don’t want one of these cupcakes? I got a dozen to take back to the folks. They’ve got pirate flags on the wrapper and little parrot sprinkles.”
“No, but thank you anyway. Still playing video games tomorrow?”
“Yeah, see you online.”
Hannah waved. “See you online.” She got in her car and lamented that she and Lauren lived in opposite directions. This small-town writing group was their halfway point.
Thirty minutes later, Hannah pulled into the driveway of the small house she shared with her mom.
Inside she hung her bag on a kitchen chair and slid the leftover hummus into the fridge. “Mom, are you home?”
“In here, dear!” came a shout from the living room.
Hannah went through the dining room and stopped when she saw her mom sitting on the couch … Four galaxy swirled cupcakes sat on a platter on the coffee table. A fifth cupcake was in her mom’s hand, half eaten. “Sweetie, you need to try one of these. Someone brought some to share and left them in the breakroom. They were so good I just had to stop and pick up a half dozen after work.”
“Mom, what are you doing? You know I can’t eat those.”
“Right, of course. That reminds me, I need to call Wendy.”
Well, that was an odd change of subject. “Why do you have to call Wendy?”
Mom stopped to think about it. “Well, because of the cupcakes. Because . . .”
Hannah thought back to her own friends earlier that day. “Did the shop girl tell you something before you left the bakery?”
Mom snapped her fingers. “That’s it exactly. She said to tell my friends about the cupcake shop.”
“Mom, how many of those have you had today?”
“Two.” Her mom looked down at the unfinished cupcake in her hand, “and a half.” She shoved the rest in her mouth and mumbled, “Three.”
“There is something wrong with these cupcakes.” Hannah picked up the platter. “I won’t throw them away, yet. But you need to promise me you won’t have any more until I get to the bottom of this.”
Her mom frowned. “Hannah, what’s this…” Before she could finish her thought, her eyes glazed over and she said, “I hear and obey.” Then just as suddenly her mom snapped out of it. “I guess you’re right. I’ve had too many today. I should probably go for a run or something.”
Mom looked at the front door and before Hannah could stop her, she had it open and was running out in the chilly November evening.
Back in the kitchen, Hannah pulled the box for the cupcakes out of the trash. It was time to do some research.
After an hour searching online, the only thing Hannah knew about Cupcakes on the Brain was that the owner’s name was Beatrice Calloway and she hoped her cupcakes brought people joy and fond memories. Not super enlightening.
She finally heard her mom come back in and went downstairs to talk to her. A series of short little coughs met her at the bottom of the stairs. Was mom sobbing? “Mom, are you okay?”
“It’s nothing, sweetheart. I just need to learn better self-control. Your dad would have freaked out if I brought those cupcakes within six feet of him.”
Hannah smiled at that. It’s true that she had inherited her diabetes from her father. But dad would not have been able to resist the sweet, colorful cakes. “Mom, you never talk about Dad. I was starting to worry that you’d forgotten him.”
Mom nodded. “It just hurts, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. But it hurts not to, too.”
“Yes, now let’s throw out those cupcakes before I lose self-control again.”
The next day after work, Hannah went back to the cupcake shop. The red headed southern belle, Beatrice, was behind the counter again and recognized her. “You’re that girl on the diet, right? Decided to take a cheat day?”
“No, I’m afraid you can’t take a cheat day from being diabetic.”
Beatrice’s face fell a little. “I’m so sorry, I’ve been really insensitive. I should have thought about that instead of assumin’.”
Hannah shrugged. “I’m used to it.” The unexpected apology had stolen a lot of the righteous fury she had been prepared to unleash on the shop owner. “I was wondering if you’d be willing to let me look at your recipe. A lot of times it’s a very minor tweak to make something Keto or diabetic friendly.”
Beatrice’s eyes went wide. “Oh I’m sorry hon, but it’s an old family secret. I could never share it with anyone.”
That answer was what Hannah had been expecting, but the terror in Beatrice’ eyes was a twist. “I thought it might be something like that. I’m sorry for bothering you.” On a whim, she handed Beatrice her author card. “If you change your mind, going no, or even low sugar, could open up a new customer base for you.”
The shop owner nodded. “I’ll think about it.”
Before Hannah left the shop, her entire writing group entered. “What are you—of course you all just had a feeling that you had to come back.”
They all nodded and looked at each other with a, wait, you too? expression.
Hannah looked at Beatrice who looked both shocked and ashamed.
“Since we’re all here, why don’t we go out to dinner?” Hannah suggested.
Everyone readily agreed, but Anna did look back longingly at the cake counter. “I just want a Special-tea cupcake.”
Everyone agreed that they could always come back for dessert and together they walked down to the small diner on the corner.
It was still pretty early so they had the diner to themselves. They ordered a variety of sandwiches and a salad for Hannah.
While they waited for their food, Hannah related the strange events surrounding the cupcakes, and how people who ate them seemed to be losing their free will.
Elisabeth was the first to comment. “It’s so unbelievable, like something out of a dystopian novel. But my boys were strangely willing to get ready for bed last night. Even after eating a whole cupcake each.”
“Yeah,” said Lauren, “My brother actually did the dishes when my mother asked him to, it was super weird.”
Rachel looked hesitant. “My husband is always wonderful, but yes, there was something odd about the way he was helpful. It was almost robotic.”
Everyone nodded in agreement. Robotic was exactly the way to describe it. And the more cupcakes they had eaten, the more robotic their loved ones had been.
The food came and the conversation turned back to writing. Everyone felt really good about their current works in progress but collectively realized they hadn’t gotten any writing done today because they had been obsessed with returning to the cupcake shop. Even Hannah, who hadn’t eaten a cupcake, had been too absorbed in the mystery to work on her novel.
Cassie set down her hamburger. “This thing with the cupcakes is like something out of a superhero story.”
“Yeah, it’s too weird to be real,” Lauren added.
Elisabeth started talking as she pulled up an article on her phone. “Do any of you remember real superheroes?” She turned the phone to show them all the screen. It was a conspiracy theory site called Mandela or Memory. Under it was a headline that read CAPTAIN GALAXY: THE HERO YOU WILL NEVER REMEMBER!
“Apparently, twelve years ago there was a real superhero who could fly and everything. He died saving the world from some villain named Brain Drain. The reason no one remembers him is that Brain Drain used a mind-altering drug and mass suggestion to make the world forget he was real.”
“Oh please,” said Cassie. “You can’t trust anything you read on those kinds of websites. How could someone make the whole world forget real superheroes?”
“Also how did the author of the article remember him?” Anna asked.
“Because I wrote it,” said Hannah. She took a deep breath. It was so hard to open up after all these years. Worse, what if they all thought she was crazy? “I was there when it happened. I think Dad shielded me from the mind control waves.” Okay big confession time. “That superhero novel I’m writing is my fictionalized memoir. My Dad died to save everyone, and no one remembers him. I — sometimes I’m afraid that I’m forgetting too. So I started writing so that people would know it, even if they only thought it was a story.”
The women around the table looked at each other, then back at her. The silence was giving Hannah doubt about telling them anything.
Finally, Lauren asked, “So, do you have powers?”
Hannah smiled. “Do you want to see them?”
Everyone nodded eagerly. They finished their food and paid the check.
Once outside, Hannah led everyone down to the public park. Thankfully, the cold weather meant it wouldn’t be full of people. Hannah took a deep breath. It had been so long since she had done this. She summoned a plasma ball into her right hand and allowed it to hover there for a moment. Then just when her friend’s mouths were open in amazement, she let it go, and it shot into the sky before bursting into a series of rings and dissipating.
She closed her eyes and asked gravity to fall away from her. Once she heard the gasps, she opened her eyes and saw her writing group far below her. They all looked up at her with craned necks. she slowly descended again.
Everyone started talking at once, but the most repeated question was why she wasn’t an active superhero.
Hannah sighed. “It’s a lot of reasons. Mostly, after Dad died, my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I missed him, and the fact that people had forgotten him made me resentful. Then adulting just kind of caught up with me. Being a superhero doesn’t pay the bills. Lastly, there didn’t seem to be a need for me anymore. Without the memory of superheroes there were fewer villains vying to take them on. And the ones that did pop up normal people proved perfectly capable of taking them down.”
Hannah looked down at her hands. The right one still glowed faintly from the plasma ball she had released. “After I started college, I just wanted to be normal. School, job, boyfriend. But superheroing kept interfering. Now I have that normal life and I would give it all to have Dad back.” She felt a pearl of moisture roll down her cheek. “Well, everything except friends like you guys.”
That night Hannah went back to the bakery. The lights were still on despite the late hour and sounds of weeping were coming from the kitchen in the back. She tried the door and was surprised to find it unlocked. The bell above the door made her wince.
The weeping stopped. A curse and then the bang of a pan hitting the floor. Footsteps came closer.
“I’m sorry, we’re closed, I just forgot to lock the—” Beatrice stopped when she saw Hannah standing there. Her brows furrowed. “You again!”
Hannah hadn’t been able to fit into her old costume, but she had come prepared for a fight. “I don’t blame you for not remembering me. It’s been twelve years and neither of us are wearing masks. Brain Child.”
Beatrice’s eyes widened. “How do you know that name?”
A bright purple plasma ball formed in Hannah’s hand. “It took a while to recall, but Brad Calloway was the real name of Brain Drain. He killed my father.”
“Galaxy Girl! You’re still alive? No one heard from you after the accident. I just assumed it killed you too.”
“No one remembered me. It was a good time to disappear.” Hannah let the plasma ball fizzle and go out. “Look, I’m not here to fight. I just want to know why. Why are you making addictive cupcakes that make people suggestable?”
Beatrice started to say something but stopped herself. Tears began pooling in her already red eyes. “Because my dad killed yours and made everyone forget it. Because he wasn’t a very good dad anyway and ended up drinking himself to death. Because I inherited his old notes and realized that I could fix what he did, but now it’s all going wrong and…and I’m just glad I decided to use cupcakes instead of pouring it into the water supply like dad would have done.”
Before she could stop herself, Hannah used her powers to hop over the counter and land beside Beatrice. She wrapped the startled girl in a tight hug. “Thank you. It’s working.” She released Beatrice and took her hands. “My friends were open to hearing about Captain Galaxy. And today when I got home, my mom and I had a long talk about dad without her getting confused or forgetful. Whatever formula you’re using, it’s working. We just have to fix the brainwashing issue.”
Beatrice looked befuddled. “You mean, you actually want to help me?”
“I know it’s selfish of me. I can’t bring my dad back. But I would really love to bring back his memory.”
Beatrice nodded and smiled. “Okay then, I’ll show you my recipe.”
Hannah and Beatrice sat at one of the small cafe tables for guests. Cups of coffee in their hands and papers spread on the table between them.
Beatrice had a pen in one hand and a sheet of chemical formulas in the other. “So I think the thing making them addictive is the sugar. Your keto suggestion might be just what I need to fix this.”
Hannah nodded. “Makes sense, sugar is the most addictive drug known to man.”
Beatrice narrowed her eyes. “Are you even really diabetic?”
Hannah felt her face flush. “Yes. I am type two diabetic but not for the same reason as full humans.”
Beatrice sat back. “Interesting word choice. So the rumors are true then.”
“Yeah, Dad was from a different planet. Carbs, specifically carbs from sugar, do not occur naturally on Ouacca. They are unique to Earth. So my body is not set up to process them right. If my blood sugar gets too high, it wreaks havoc with my powers.”
“Whoa, Halloween must have sucked for you growing up.”
“It was fine, mostly mom ate my candy, or I gave it to friends. Let me tell you about this one year I went trick or treating as Galaxy Girl…”
© 2023 C.O. Bonham. All rights reserved.
Cupcakes on the Brain might seem like a weird story for November, so it might help to know that November is Diabetes Awareness Month.
I, like Hannah, am a type 2 diabetic, which means we developed the condition later in life. I manage it with regular medication and a healthy diet. A diet without cupcakes in it.
November is also National Novel Writing Month. Aka: NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short. NaNo is when crazy writers everywhere attempt the immense task of writing a 50k word novel in only one month. These insane few often form support groups to help encourage one another in their ridiculous attempt at productivity during the busiest season of the year.
Two other popular holidays influenced this story. All Saints’ Day on November 1st is when the Christian Church honors and remembers all those who have died. Much like Hannah seeks to remember her father through her writing.
And of course Thanksgiving. When Americans set aside time for overeating, overspending and for being thankful for friends, family and things like mind-altering cupcakes.
A special thank you to the IronSharpeners writing group for helping to make my writing stronger than it would be on its own.
C.O. Bonham is the pen name for a commonly misspelled first name. She loves stories of all kinds, but really likes the ones that are weird, and outside the norm. A certified book geek, when she isn’t writing stories of her own she is busy reading stories by others. A homeschool graduate with a degree in creative writing, her goal is to create stories that make people think, feel, and have fun.
Her debut novel Runaway Lyrics, a steampunk fantasy retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, released in 2021.
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