24 Oct The Candy Man
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"The Candy Man"Written by Pete Zalizniak
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Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
“The Candy Man can ’cause he mixes it with love, and makes the world taste good.”
Every town has its ghost stories. Maybe it’s the haunted house on the other side of the railroad tracks, or the spirit that haunts the tunnel in the woods, but people love talking about things that go bump in the night, and the places that they lurk. My favorites, though, have always been stories based in truth. I don’t mean the “true” stories your friend tells you happened to a cousin of theirs or the ones your drunk uncle tells you around the campfire. I’m talking about the real stories, the ones you can verify through newspaper articles, police reports, and from people who were actually there. Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I’ve always thought that those are the scariest. Those are the ones that become legend. Ever since I was a little boy, I knew that I wanted to be in one of these stories. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that I always wanted to be “the” story. After the things I’ve done tonight, people will be saying my name for years to come. Tonight, on Halloween night, I will become immortal.
Before I get to the good parts, it might be useful to talk a little bit about myself. The real me. When this is all over and I’m long dead, I know the real me will get lost in the story. The human I am will be replaced by a monster that people will remember. It’s not all bad and not completely unexpected, but still, I’d like to be remembered at least somewhat accurately. Maybe this is why I’m doing this. I’m not sure, but I’ll get to that later.
I am a chemist by trade. It’s not always an exciting job, but it paid me well enough to afford a comfortable life and interested me enough to avoid becoming a zombie. I like to make art, though I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I do a little bit of everything, I guess. I paint, I do some sketches and drawings. A couple people told me I was pretty good, but I was never confident enough to make a real go at it. I have no wife or children and I’ve never been married. I’ve had girlfriends from time to time, but things just didn’t work out. It’s not that big a deal. I can afford sex whenever I want it and I don’t have to worry about other people moving my things around. It wasn’t bad to have a “woman’s touch” around my house, but it always ends with them wanting to change things or throw my stuff away. I don’t like change. I like predictability. I like organization. I like science.
I consider chemistry the purest of the sciences for a couple of reasons. It’s a perfect marriage of mathematical abstraction and real-world practicality. It is, by its very nature, pro-active. Sure, there’s an element of discovery and reverse engineering but I’ve been more interested in how to make shit happen. If I mix a little bit of this and add a little of that, then we get this — every time. If I want a different effect, I simply substitute this for that, alter the conditions a little bit, add a pinch of whatever, and voila, we get this! This part is important actually. Not everything I’ve mentioned is, I guess, but this is my story and I get to say whatever I want.
Let’s go back to Halloween for a minute. Some of the reasons I love it so much are likely obvious at this point, but maybe some others are not. I like dressing up in costumes and, though I’m not a huge fan of being around a large group of people, I love seeing others in costume as well. People can get really creative when they’re not at each other’s throats, and some of the women are really hot. Some people complain about how lots of women don’t dress up so much as a character, but rather a sexy whatever… a cat, a nurse, a witch… but always a sexy “that”. Not me. I think it’s great.
A bigger reason I like Halloween is the feel of it. I’ve always been a North Easterner, so the crispness of fall and the changing of the leaves play a role in it. The air smells different. People start having campfire gatherings and telling scary stories. I love the idea that, one night out of the year, the veil between our world in the ones beyond become so thin that things can come and go. The mystery… the unknown… the anticipation. What’s not to love?
Trick-or-treating, while it used to be my favorite part of Halloween, is now only the most important part to me. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but that’s the brush I use to make my life’s masterpiece. The children who came to my house to and took my treats will be the paint. Halloween will be my canvas.
This all sounds new, as if it’s something I’m just enacting now. In actuality, I’ve been planning for this day for a very, very long time. In a practical sense, I started three years ago when I lived in Newburyport, Massachusetts. I started small. At first, I simply injected a concentrated dose of Magnesium Hydroxide into tootsie rolls. For those out there who aren’t chemists, this is the active ingredient in milk of magnesia. It is a laxative and boy oh boy it’s a powerful one. I’ve used it before for pranks and the like, but this was definitely on a larger scale. The mental image of an entire neighborhood full of kids and parents shitting themselves up, down, and sideways still makes me laugh my ass off. All in all, it was a pretty safe start. Things like this basically present as a stomach bug, and it would be a very strange thing for a doctor to test for. Eat some crackers, drink some ginger ale, and just wait for the waterworks to stop.
Last year, I went a lot further. I was nervous but, if I ever was going to make the big leap, I knew I’d have to push the envelope. I could just tell you the “what” here, but I really want to tell you the “how”. I’m especially proud of it, and I want it to be a part of my legend even if it didn’t go exactly to plan. The main ingredient (and the hardest to obtain) was codeine. I bought tablets from co-workers, underwent some unnecessary dental procedures, had an “accidental” fall or two, and before I knew it, I had a respectable supply. Next, I needed some iodine and red phosphorous, both easily obtainable without drawing suspicion. I picked up some paint thinner from the local hardware shop, some gas from the gas station, and managed to steal some hydrochloric acid from work. I’ll spare you the full equation, but if you’ve seen “Breaking Bad”, you have an idea of what the process was like. The end result was a very light, super-concentrated, and very foul-smelling powder. It was my take on a fringe designer drug I heard about on the internet one time: a semi-synthetic opioid called “Krokodil”. I knew that it was going to pack one hell of a punch, but how could I get people to eat it?
After a lot of consideration, I settled on black licorice. The stuff is absolutely putrid, but the taste is overpowering and, somehow, some people actually like it. Plus, the idea of a deadly, black candy is just so fucking perfect I could die. I was confident that I could mask the smell long enough to get it to the subject’s mouth, I just needed to get them to swallow. I added a trace of wax to the heated compound, added concentrated licorice extract, and cut the strips into small, bite-sized squares. YouTube helped me throw together a couple other contrasting flavors- lemon, lime, orange, and cherry. I cut them into tiny squares too, threw them into wrapped little packages, and called it a day. I’d hoped the sweet, citrusy flavors would offset the black ones enough to do the trick. It turns out I was mostly correct.
The hardest part of that year was trying to find ways to distribute the candy to various locations to avoid any easily identifiable, central source. I’m not going to make it easier on anyone who reads this and let you know how I did it but, I’ll tell you this for nothing, it was a monumental pain in the ass. My skills are in science, not logistics, and that Halloween was an hours-long demonstration of the fact. However, I was able to fudge it enough to relax a little and enjoy the evening. I sat up all night listening to the news and passing out “real” Halloween candy to the kids in my neighborhood. I decided to dress up like a spooky chef, which I still think is hilarious, and I spent most of the night pacing around in nervous anticipation. News started trickling in around 10 PM, began to heat up throughout the night and peaked nicely the next afternoon. You can read about it in the Newburyport News, front page, 11/2/18. The article is called “The Newburyport Nightmare – Krokodil-laced Halloween Candy Sends Town into Panic”. It’s a cool title but, all in all, I consider it a total failure in every way but one: at least I wasn’t caught.
In the end, 13 people were sent to the hospital, varying in age from 6 to 17. In retrospect, the main problem was that I concentrated the powder too much, and the effects of eating the candy were pretty much instant. The subject would ingest it, start power-vomiting immediately (thereby releasing the odor and deterring further consumption), and the intoxicating effects happened right after that. One kid got into serious condition once as the caustic nature of the compound nearly destroyed her esophagus completely, but sadly she survived. Other than that, there were a couple of skin lesions, three cases of skin deterioration and scarring, a bunch of people getting super high unexpectedly, and a big cloud of disappointment. It caused some panic and alarm, but it was definitely not what I envisioned. Needless to say, this pissed me off.
Although I wasn’t caught, I was considered a person of interest for a time. However, having no criminal record, no history of mental health problems, and rehearsing for just such a possibility all came in pretty handy. So, I never had to sweat too much. At this point, though, it was obvious that I had to leave town once the coast cleared. No legends are written about a man who made the kids and parents of Rupert A. Nock Middle school shit themselves or projectile vomit, and I couldn’t achieve my dream here. I needed bigger, and now I had a taste for it. In a move that was just of throwing a dart at the Eastern seaboard, I found myself in Baltimore, Maryland. Even though I am a scientist, I’ve always had a poet’s weakness for symbols. Baltimore. Drugs? A city in decay? Edgar Allan Poe? I don’t know, I thought it was cool. His stories were always my favorite, and that’s where he wrote most of them. Maybe this is where I was meant to write mine too.
This brings me to today. My magnum opus. My life’s work. My masterpiece.
Once I’d settled on the primary ingredient, the rest of the plan just fell right into place-almost like it was destined to happen. This time, the active ingredient was methylenedioxypyrovalerone. It’s a cool word to say, a bear to spell but more importantly, just so happens to be the active ingredient in what’s commonly known as “bath salts”. Due to the limitless beauty of the internet, I was able to stockpile the stuff bit by bit throughout the year. Then, I purchased a shit ton of bite-sized pretzels, melted down a mix of rich chocolate, dark fudge, a little bit of caramel (while saving some to drizzle on top), and put my artistic skills to use. The sweetness of the chocolate and the saltiness of the pretzels were more than enough to mask the bitter taste of the salts. I coated the pretzels in the chocolate mixture, drizzled them with caramel and, when they solidified, packaged them in adorable little Halloween wrappers. It’s funny, but I’ve actually gotten kind of good at this candy making thing! Rachel Ray would be proud.
So, here we are. It’s now 1:30 AM, October 31st, 2019. My pretzel bags have been dispersed from my common, non-descript suburban house on my non-descript suburban street in boring old suburban Baltimore. I had a good number of trick-or-treaters (I’d say 60 or 70 at least), and now… I just wait. I can hardly sit still, my heart is pounding, and I can’t catch my breath. There’s no chance I get out of this alive; I know what I’m going to have to do, I just don’t know how to do it. I guess I hoped writing this down would make me come up with something. I have some ideas, but I really can’t fuck this up. I’m so scared, but it’s way too late for second-guessing.
I know the first thing people are going to ask when this all comes out is “why”? Why would anyone do such a thing? I can’t say that I know for sure. Science teaches you a lot of things. One of the main things it teaches you is the absolute insignificance of the human being. When you’re able to glimpse the larger design of math and the sciences, the hidden codes of the cosmos, the little ant trails we walk are shown for what they are. Shakespeare called them “brief candles”, and that we all “strut and fret our hours about the stage” then are heard from no more. I don’t want to be lost to history. I want to be remembered. If one is remembered, they never truly die. This is as close to a reason I can muster right now. I honestly can’t think.
Think of it. Once this comes out, it will be the panic of a lifetime. Parents everywhere will fear for their children and trick-or-treating will take on the spirit it was meant to have in the beginning. There has been far too much treat; it was high time for trick. I am confident that I’ve done an admirable job in that regard.
I’ve said about all there is to say on the subject. I hope that those who read this will tell my story over a family campfire or as an excuse to “test” your kid’s candy after a nice trick-or-treating haul. For now, I’m going to tuck this letter away, drink until I can’t see straight, and watch the local news. I hope I make it long enough to see some action. So, in conclusion, I simply want to wish the reader a very scary Halloween and to remind them to never, ever, take candy from a stranger, even one that you think you know. And so… goodbye.
Post-Script: Excerpts from: The Baltimore Sun, “Halloween Massacre in Tarrytown”, 11/1/2019.
The City of Baltimore was rocked to its core this Halloween, as a rash of drug-infused candy was discovered in the quiet suburb of Tarrytown. The candy, which appeared to be homemade, was distributed to trick-or-treaters then ingested by several in the neighborhood. The effects were catastrophic. At the time of this writing, reports are that there are at least seven dead, fifteen wounded, and that the numbers are still climbing. Forensic analysis shows that the drug in question is what’s commonly known on the street as “bath salts”. Once ingested, the subject experiences such effects as: paranoia, delusions, extreme agitation, and psychosis. The effects are similar in both children and adults, and led to a series of deadly incidents throughout the night.
Twelve-year-old Sally Walker stabbed her eight-year-old brother Ethan Walker in the head twelve times, killing him instantly before attacking her infant sister. After lacerating the baby across the mouth with a steak knife, she proceeded to bite the child’s nose and lips, eating chunks of flesh from her face. When her father Robert heard the commotion, he attempted to intervene. Sally turned and stabbed him in the stomach before he was finally able to subdue the child. The father is in critical condition, and the child is in custody at a local psychiatric facility.
Later in the article: “Damon Medbury, a 9th grader at Newburyport High School, was trick-or-treating with his friends when he inexplicably started scratching at the skin on his face. According to a witness, his scratching became more frantic and forceful as the child emitted shrieks of anger. By the time police arrived on the scene, the child’s face was covered in blood and one of his eyes was pulled free from the socket, dangling from the optic nerve. The boy remains in critical condition at Anna Jaques Hospital and doctors are not confident that he will ever see again.”
Still Later: “Megan Ruiz, a single mother of three, was having a Halloween party in her home when, inexplicably, she grabbed young Dylan Martin, 4, into the kitchen, pushing him into the oven with a batch of sugar cookies. Though attempts were made to subdue her, by the time the boy was released, he had third-degree burns on nearly every part of his body. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.”
“This rash of tragic events has been traced to homemade Halloween candy,” Police chief Maynard Avery says. He urges citizens of Baltimore to avoid any and all sweets gathered on Halloween night. While he reports that not all candy in the city is tainted, but that the risks are simply too large to take a chance. “We have a couple leads in the case,” Avery said as he left the podium, “and we will catch the perpetrator if it’s the last thing I do.”
Post Post-Script. “The Black Candy Killer Found” The Baltimore Sun November 3rd, 2019
Police have reported that the perpetrator behind the Black Candy Massacre has been identified as Robert F Bullock, a forty-three-year-old chemist from upstate NY. The subject was found dead by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Inside, officers reported a scene only imaginable in a horror movie. “It was terrible,” said Sargent Maynard Avery of the Baltimore P.D. “In thirty years of service I’ve never seen anything like it.” Police discovered an elaborate chemistry lab, a warehouse full of dangerous ingredients, and even something more disturbing. Investigators say that the perpetrator was wearing an elaborately crafted, scary chef costume, and a note was placed beneath Bullock’s bleeding head. When the police moved the body, they saw that the bloody sign read “Bon Appétit.”
“While we were investigating the scene, we heard a strange ticking from under the floor,” he said. Avery went on to say, “I remember reading some story like this once, and we thought we’d check around.” Reports indicate that an old, tin heart-shaped box was found beneath the floorboards. We are told that, among the items inside, were a bunch of newspaper clippings and a sort of manifesto, seemingly written by Bullock himself. “Apparently, this wasn’t the first time he did something like this,” Avery said. No information was given regarding the contents of the manifesto as officials stated they contained sensitive information regarding the incident, and possibly other incidents besides. When asked about what citizens should expect in the next couple days, Avery offered some advice. “The best things folks can do now,” he says, “is to look through your kids’ candy before you let them eat it… I mean, really look at it. Smell it. It might be the only chance they got.”
Credit: Pete Zalizniak
Edited by Craig Groshek
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