You Shouldn’t Take Candy From Strangers
**Trigger Warning: The following fictional work contains school violence, bullying, and murder.
Halloween is my favorite time of year. October is the only month out of the entire year that I feel like I can be myself. The other 11 months of the year, wearing black nail polish and obsessing over the latest season of American Horror Story makes you a weirdo. But for one month out of the whole year, people don’t stare at me when I walk through the hallways at school.
The football players don’t seem to care what time of year it is; they make up stupid nicknames for me. Nicknames like “the Queen of the Damned,” “The Princess of Darkness,” and “Satan’s whore.” They never leave me alone. One time, a petite little Haitian girl named Rachel stuck up for me. She was on the cheerleading squad. I thought she was my friend. One day she even helped me do my hair, and she was going to invite me to a slumber party at her house. I thought we were starting to become friends, so when she asked me to help her with a midterm for a history class that she was bombing, I said I’d be glad to help. She just stole mine, put her name on the top, and our history teacher was too stupid to notice. I got a zero for not turning in my European History midterm.
A few weeks later, some douchebag from the football team took my copy of Girl Next Door and threw it in the toilet. Then I went to the principal, all they did was call my mother and give me a suspension for three days because I had reading material which they considered to be inappropriate for school.
When my mother came to pick me, up she didn’t protest the suspension. In fact, she pretended to be a little upset with me. She told the principal how she would talk to me about it later. She told the principal, a short bald man, who always looks like he had been in the sun a little too long, by the name of Mr. Cunningham, that she would talk to me about respecting school policies.
She told him that, when she got home from work, we would sit down together and read the “successful student handbook.”
But on the way home, my mom brought me to McDonald’s. I ordered my usual: a Big Mac and a sweet tea. She even bought me an apple pie for dessert. I knew that was my mom’s way of apologizing. I watched her dip her salty french fries into a strawberry milkshake. Something about this seemingly everyday action bothered me. She acted like it was a normal day. I wanted to ask why it is that she was always so eager to please people and never make a scene. I wanted to tell her that I was angry because for the millionth time she put my feelings on the back burner and ignored the fact that I was being bullied. I wanted to ask why she always put on a show for the principal. I wanted to ask why she always wanted to suck up the other moms at school. There was one mom in particular, a bleach blond named Brianna. “Bitchie Brianna’s mom,” I called her when no one was paying attention, always seemed to wear too much makeup and she was always adorned with costume jewelry that she would say she got at some fancy boutique in Boston that she was sure none of us had ever heard of.
The other moms would always get together and have fancy coffees. One day, during a coffee date, my mom told the other moms that she saw Brianna buying her newest ring at a local Kmart. The ring cost a whole $5.
My mom went on to tell Brianna how very beautiful her new turquoise vintage one-of-a-kind ring was. Even though she knew Brianna was a total liar.
When my mom got home that night, she knocked on my door. I put my pencil down and closed my algebra book. I was honestly wondering if this was going to be the one time she actually made me read the “success student handbook.” She threw a copy of The Girl Next Door onto my bed, along with a bottle of soda and a turkey sandwich.
“I figured you want to hang out for a while,” she said as she sat down on the bed next to me. She grabbed my pillow and hugged it to her chest.
“Cassie, I just don’t what we’re gonna’ do with you.” She sounded a little like she was going to cry.
“I honestly don’t think you’re doing anything wrong.” She breathed through her nose as she spoke, “at least not intentionally, but we’re not in the position to pay for private school. Maybe we can try homeschooling, okay?” Her voice sounded more normal now. “It’s something we can talk about over Thanksgiving break. We can do some research.”
I nodded. “I’ve got to get back to my homework.” She stole a piece of onion that had fallen off of my sandwich and walked out of my bedroom.
After my brief hiatus from school, I felt a little bit better. I felt like my mother was trying to understand how bad my situation actually had gotten.
As I carried my tray full of chicken nuggets across the lunchroom, some idiot tripped me, and before I could get up, ketchup was all over me.
“It looks like you killed someone,” someone shouted and began to laugh.
I could feel it in that moment. I could feel blind rage. My cheeks were flushed, and red-hot anger boiled up inside of me.
I walked right out the cafeteria doors without signing their little book. I set my backpack down on the couch and ran up to my bathroom. I slipped out of my ketchup-stained clothes. The smell of vinegar hitting my nose as I pulled my t-shirt over my head was enough to make me want to vomit.
I was able to relax a little bit when the steam started filling the bathroom and the hot water cascaded over my tight muscles. I slipped into my favorite pair of faded grey sweatpants and my South Park t-shirt. It was old; Kenny’s face was fading away and I loved it. I made my way into bed and turned on my radio.
I woke up when I heard the door slam. My mother was calling my name and walking up the stairs.
“You’re home early?” She looked me up and down. “Now, please be honest with me,” she said in a serious tone. “Did you go to school today?”
I said nothing. I simply I burst into tears and told her what happened. She just left the room.
I slid open my bedside table and pulled a half-empty bottle of blueberry flavored vodka from the small cabinet.
I woke up to my head spinning and the sun burning my eyes. I looked over the glowing numbers on my cell phone, which told me that it was almost noon. I was surprised my mother hadn’t tried to wake me up. I turned on the radio and flipped open my brand new copy of The Girl Next Door.
My mom came bursting through the door of my bedroom a few hours later. “I have great news,” she said with smile across her face was so big that it almost creeped me out. She picked me up off the floor and gave me a hug. “If we can get your community service hours done, you can start homeschooling programs at the church. Okay, are you willing to try that?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Okay, well we have to be up early tomorrow, so finish that chapter of your book and go to bed!”
My mom practically skipped to her bedroom.
I was up before my alarm the next morning. I fixed myself a cup of hazelnut coffee with cream and sugar. I sat down on a chair at the kitchen table. The house was silent as I sipped my coffee. The coffee burned my tongue as I scoured many sheets of paper that my mom had pinned to the fridge. I was looking for some clue as to what my mother had signed me up for. I knew she was doing this for my benefit, but I hate surprises and I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of my potential classmates.
I was about to give up hope and then a sheet of bright green paper caught my eye. There was a circle around a section. “CASSIE” was written above the circled part.
I read the words aloud, “Monster Mash Halloween Fun Teens Night Food Prep.”
“Was she crazy?” I thought. Mom always said I ate my cereal dry because I couldn’t pour milk into the bowl without making a mess. She was kind of right.
I started up my computer looking for Halloween candy ideas. As I scrolled through pages of Pinterest and Google, I got distracted. I found an interesting story about a man who poisoned his son. A man gave his little boy poisoned sugar treats to collect on life insurance policy.
Before I had the chance to stop myself, the gears started turning in my head.
“Poison in the place of sugar, that’s all I have to do.”
I got to work.
I dusted donuts with a white sparkly powder. It wasn’t baking sugar. I added sugar and black and orange sprinkles to take off the bitter edge. I knew that those football idiots would eat these treats too quickly to really taste them.
The following Monday was a bright sunny day. I put on my favorite pair of faded blue jeans and my favorite bright orange t-shirt. I walked up to the pretty little Haitian girl. She was sitting with the guy who covered me in ketchup.
I set the box of donuts down on the picnic table between the two of them.
“Peace offering!” I declared. “I know you guys are far too busy to do your homework. I shouldn’t have gotten so mad that I got a zero on my midterm. After all, I still have a 3.8 without it. I’m sorry,” I said, pushing the box of treats toward Rachel.
As I predicted, they worked on the treats too quickly to realize there was something different about them. I sat back in the bushes watching the wonderful outcomes of my handiwork. Rachel looked at me as if she were searching for something. Some sign that I hadn’t done what she knew I had.
“You shouldn’t take candy from strangers. Didn’t your parents ever tell you that?” I laughed. As I walked away, I saw the van for the county coroner pulling into the school’s parking lot.
A policeman stopped me as I was walking home. He asked me if I was a student of Jefferson High. I confirmed that I was, but I was on my way home so I could start preparing snacks for the bake sale at church later that night.