Two candy guest posts in a row. Cause that’s pure gold to me. And it’s Jeff Strand. Who is, by the way, pure awesomeness. (Have you read his stuff? There is no one quite like THE Jeff Strand. No one.)
One of the most mind-boggling moments in my adult life was when I went to a friend’s house shortly after Halloween, and she offered me a piece of candy from her son’s trick-or-treating stash. I declined, because that candy was sacred! She assured me that he wouldn’t care. Candy was no big deal to him.
WTF was wrong with that kid? That certainly wasn’t MY experience at that age!
I’m pleased to report that I’ve reached a level of financial security where if I want a Snickers bar, I can make it happen. That was not always the case. As a child in Fairbanks, Alaska, Halloween was ALL about the candy. Okay, 90% about the candy. Costumes and decorations were fun. But the candy was an essential component of my love of the holiday.
Interior Alaska at the end of October is, of course, quite brisk, and costumes were limited to what could fit over a snowsuit. Inevitably, the master plan to gather enough candy to last us until Christmas would fall apart because one of my trick-or-treat partners would get too cold, and we couldn’t just leave them to die. Still, we always got a pretty significant stash, with a predetermined route that was carefully mapped out for maximum candy acquisition.
(The map was purely based on hitting the most houses using the most efficient route. There were too many variables to do more analysis than that. Do you want to hit houses early, before they’ve started rationing? Or do you want to hit them late, when they’re discovering that they bought way too much candy? No way to predict that.)
We’d get home, have an adult verify that there were no hypodermic needles protruding from the chocolate, and then the trading session began. We took this very seriously. I tended to favor “longer lasting” over “chewy,” so Sweet Tarts had more value to me than a Fun-Sized Milky Way. (“Fun-Sized” would be a five-pound block of chocolate, not these weenie little bites, but that’s a rant for a different day.)
I liked getting Whoppers because they had a high trade value. Whoppers are gross. Whoppers are so gross that even as a kid, if I were given the choice between eating a Whopper and eating nothing, I’d go with nothing. Do you know how bad candy had to be for me to prefer the absence of candy? I’m not saying that I’d rather have eaten a turd, I’m saying that a Whopper is bad enough that I would have declined a piece of candy. I’d eat nasty off-brands all day long, and choke down a Dark Chocolate Hersheys or a Butterfinger, but a Whopper was one step too far.
But others didn’t feel that way. My sister and a couple of my misguided friends loved Whoppers. Loved ’em! They thought those foul things were top-tier treats, which gave me a lot of power at the negotiating table.
In retrospect, as I type this, I realize that I should have pretended that Whoppers were the most delicious candy on the planet, and that to part with a single malted milk ball would cause me intense heartbreak. But then I might have had to eat a Whopper at some point, and my grimace would expose the lie.
The trading went on long into the night. One of my best friends had a particular fondness for Tootsie Rolls, which also worked in my favor, because my trick-or-treat bag always had Tootsie Rolls in abundance, and though they are perfectly fine if you enjoy your chocolate flavor in hard putty form, there’s rarely a reason to eat one when other options are available.
Then… the feast.
The following day was always a queasy one, but if you think I gave any indication of my gastrointestinal distress to my parents, you’re out of your damn fool mind. They would always mention that the pile of candy they’d checked for razor blades and rat poison was notably smaller and suggest that I show some self-control instead of gobbling it down like a feral dog, so “My tummy hurts!” would not be well received.
Soon there would be an effort to make my riches last, but alas, they’d be gone long before Thanksgiving, which had no official candy except maybe those ones in the strawberry wrapping with syrup inside.
And I would mourn until the following year.
Jeff Strand is the author of over forty books, ranging from goofy horror to serious horror to a smut comedy. His short story “The Tipping Point” from his collection Everything Has Teeth won a Splatterpunk Award in 2018, though none of his short stories won a Splatterpunk Award in 2019, and he performed poorly at KillerCon during a trivia contest about the Splatterpunk Awards. You can visit his Gleefully Macabre website here.
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