My salvaged loot.

My salvaged loot. And a pumpkin.

In many ways, Central Pennsylvania is much like the rest of the United States. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, dogs chase cats, birds perch on telephone wires, and human adults feed their young by regurgitating half-digested food directly into their mouths.

Oops. Sorry. That last one is birds, too. Except in some neighborhoods near Three Mile Island.

But there’s one we do differently here. And that’s Halloween.

In the rest of the United States, kids put on costumes and go trick or treating on Halloween night, which is October 31. We don’t do that here. For reasons that are lost to history, kids here go door to door and beg for candy on the Thursday before Halloween.

Why? Nobody seems to know. One theory I’ve heard is that the Powers That Be worried that when Halloween fell on Friday, trick or treating would interfere with the region’s secular religion, high school football. I’m not quite clear on the reasoning, since few high school kids still trick or treat. Maybe the feeling was, given the choice between candy or concussions, most adults would turn off their porch lights and head to a game, leaving children throughout the region sweet-deprived. It’s as good a theory as any.

To make things worse, there’s also an officially mandated time to trick or treat—6:00 to 8:00 p.m. No earlier, no later. Talk about government overreach!

In any event, even though today is the day before Halloween, here in Central PA it’s the day after trick or treating. When I went walking this morning, I found the evidence of last night’s activities scattered all over the sidewalks. Not just candy wrappers—by the time I got home, the pouch of my official Red Sox hoodie was bulging with a load of candy I had picked up along the way. I found Snickers, Butterfingers, Reese’s, Kit Kats, Jolly Ranchers, and even a packet of pretzels from some do-gooder’s house. (Seriously, dude. Next year buy some candy.)

When I was a kid, there was no way I would have been so careless with my sugary loot. Getting the maximum amount of candy possible was job one. My friends and I headed out with a clearly defined strategy so we could cover as much territory as humanly possible on Halloween night, and then we established base camp so we could resume our quest for candy at first light in the morning. Trick or treating was serious business, and we operated under the policy of “no candy left behind.” There was just no way we would leave a Snickers bar on the sidewalk. It was unthinkable.

This was also back when some people still handed out apples or even home-cooked desserts, like cupcakes. Imagine that! Then we started hearing stories about kids finding pins and razor blades in their apples, and people lacing cupcakes with drugs. Such stories soon reached the point of mass hysteria. Some local police stations offered to let people screen their candy through X-ray machines or metal detectors. I think anyone handing out apples today would soon find a SWAT team at the door.

Well, times change.

Nonetheless, I was amazed by the amount of abandoned candy this morning. There was one stretch of sidewalk where I recovered a goodie every 50 feet or so. It was strange. It made me think that something must have happened, something like this:

It’s 8:00. “Let’s keep going!” Johnny insists to his chums.

“Gee, Johnny, my parents said I had to come back at eight.”

“Yeah, Johnny. I have homework. Besides, I don’t need any more candy.”

“What? You don’t need more candy! What are you talking about? Come on, you sissies! I’m not quitting at 8:00! I’m going to trick or treat until I drop! Even if I have to do it alone!”

And so he does, stubbornly ringing doorbells, even at houses where the porch lights have been switched off. “Trick or treat, you idiots!” he sneers. As time passes, Johnny begins to see faces peering fearfully from around drawn curtains. “Go home!” people shriek from behind closed doors. “Go home before it’s too late!”

“Jerks!” Johnny hisses from behind his Jason hockey mask. “I’ll trick or treat as long as I want! Nothing’s going to stop me! Not even the devil himself!”

And then, after he leaves the porch of one darkened house and begins dragging his candy-laden pillowcase down the sidewalk, Johnny senses . . . something . . . behind him. He feels the hairs rise on the back of his neck. He wheels around, trying to peer through the eyeholes in his hockey mask. Was that a movement in the shadows? Something not quite . . . human? He walks a little faster. Maybe it’s time to head home, he thinks. I’ll tell the sissies I stayed out until 10!

What was that? Johnny wheels around again. “Who’s there?” he demands, unable to keep the fear out of his voice. He’s pretty sure he sees a form lurking in the darkness—something tall and—he doesn’t want to think of the word—slender. He reaches into his bag with shaking hands and pulls out a Butterfinger, which he hurls into the darkness. “Take that!” he yells. “And leave me alone!” He thinks he sees the shadowy figure pause by the piece of candy. He reaches into his bag and pulls out some peanut M&Ms. He pauses. No, not that. No need to waste peanut M&Ms. He grabs a bag of pretzels instead. Better. He throws that into the darkness and then he begins to run, pulling out pieces of candy from the bag and tossing them one by one over his shoulder to slow his pursuer. He hears soft footpads behind him, getting closer and closer, and the harsh panting breath of something that doesn’t sound quite human . . .

That’s what I imagined must have happened, anyway. Whatever it was, it provided me with a little motherlode of candy. I followed the trail of sweets down the sidewalk until I had to step around a big puddle of what appeared to be cherry Kool Aid. After that I didn’t find any more candy. Weird.

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