Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beware the black bubblegum - a cautionary Halloween story

Many years ago, my town hired a professional storyteller to share spooky stories at the Halloween bonfire on the beach. She was magnificent, and my children still talk about her stories.  One in particular stuck in their minds, a story of  a piece of black bubblegum, a cautionary tale about a child who chances a piece of Halloween candy before it is checked by an adult, with alarming, if not terrifying, repercussions. 

In looking for stories to share with kids this year, I thought back to the black bubblegum story.  Knowing that storytellers do not necessarily share or write down their stories, I thought I would scour the web for any version I could find.  Imagine my surprise when I found that the original author of this oft-adapted story, formally known as "The Affair at 7 Rue de M — " was none other than John Steinbeck! 

Steinbeck tells of the terrifying "affair," in the classic style of Edgar Allen Poe's short mysteries,

     My child manfully tried to disengage the gum from his jaws. "It won't let me go," he sputtered.
     "Open up," I said and then inserting my fingers in his mouth I seized hold of the large lump of gum and after a struggle in which my fingers slipped again and again, managed to drag it forth and to deposit the ugly blob on my desk on top of a pile of white manuscript paper.
     For a moment it seemed to shudder there on the paper then with an easy slowness it began to undulate, to swell and recede with the exact motion of being chewed while my son and I regarded it with popping eyes.
     For a long time we watched it while I drove through my mind for some kind of explanation.  Either I was dreaming or some principle as yet unknown had taken its seat in the pulsing bubble gum on the desk.  I am not unintelligent.  While I considered the indecent thing, a hundred little thoughts and glimmerings of understanding raced through my brain.  At last I asked, "How long has it been chewing you?"
     "Since last night," he replied.
...
If you're looking for an unusual spooky story to share with older children this year, if you're a teacher looking for a fun way to illustrate writing styles, if you're a teacher focusing on Edgar Allen Poe or John Steinbeck, pull out this short story and have some frightful fun!

"The Affair at 7 Rue de M — " originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar (1955).  I found it in The Portable Steinbeck, Revised and Enlarged Edition (1971, Viking).

2 comments:

  1. Wow, who would have expected such a story from John Steinbeck of all people. Sounds great, though.

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  2. My grandmother was a storyteller, the most amazing one I've ever known. She traveled and did radio shows; I wonder if she was the one to visit your town. In any event, she used to tell this story (and many others) and I am so happy to have found it again. Thank you for locating it so I can share it with my children. The details faded from my memory, but the story stuck :)

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