Something Wicked

Something Wicked

humor by Alex Cohen, age 16

Halloween is terrifying. At least, I used to think it was, but that was before I was tall enough to ring a doorbell. Still, I went out every year like a reluctant family to Christmas mass. I know that this was because, amidst all the darkness, homes seemed to ward away the spirits. Every time a dry, fake-cobweb door would noticeably creak open, my insides would warm up like apple pies and spicy chili that drifted by in scents like ghosts, starting in the backyard and making a slow progression over fancy tiles to the door.

And every home was the same: hundreds of homes with their lights on, a few houses with the lights off, a few older people wearing Flintstones loincloths, a few younger people dressed as a “slutty swine-flu virus,” and—most importantly—hordes of children.

Halloween used to be one of my favorite holidays: after all, I got to see all of my friends dress up like complete idiots. I guess that it still is, to an extent. People throw the best parties on Halloween, and I am not one to complain about the evolution of my female colleagues’ costumes (though wearing red lingerie and calling yourself a firefighter is a bit too far). Also, now that I am older, I can eat all of the leftover candy when we buy in excess.

But this year, we had too much leftover candy.

Twelve. Exactly twelve. Twelve rings of the doorbell, and twelve prepubescent calls of “trick-or-treat.” Out of the Valley of Sun rode ten-thousand children. But where? Did the sexy Ben Franklin finally get them, or was it something else? I see two possible solutions.

The first solution I thought of is for people who turn in around midnight each Halloween: maybe our house was void of eager children precisely because there were no eager children. Maybe this neighborhood where we have lived so long and started a family is also the place many others started their families. At the same time. As all of the children grew up, the candy bowls grew increasingly empty, golden wrapped Twix giving way to illicit golden drinks in red plastic cups. This is the way that it is, and this is the way that it will be Halloween after Halloween, until the end of time. And the adults speak sotto voce to their spouses like they speak of crops, “Do you think more will turn up next year? This place isn’t what it used to be, is it?” It actually is scary. What reminds us of our own mortality more than youth’s physical disappearance from the streets, after all? I do not like this solution: it is too apocalyptic for my tastes.

My second solution is the one I subscribe to. Maybe this is scarier than the former theory. I’m not entirely sure. Even as I type away on my laptop, I think about how utterly crippled I would be without technology. Crippled. Last year I went out with a bang; my final trick-or-treating year went pretty well, except I was not too attentive. I had my champagne gold iPhone 5s out, and the flashes from my screen seduced me away from the smells I used to love, haunting spirits turning to murky memories. We—yes, we—will spend too much of our time carving simulated pumpkins on a six-inch screen. We are becoming Halloween ghouls: eyes red, skin pale, and life empty.

And now there are smart watches and smart windows and smart ovens and smart pictures and smart dog leashes. Dumb people, though. Why do we delegate the responsibility of living to handheld devices? Is it because we are star-struck by fancy new fingerprint scanners? Is it because we would legitimately rather live-stream Orange is the New Black on Netflix than walk around for free candy?

I do not think so. Letting the technology keep us from maximizing the potential of our lives is foolish. Are our brains shrinking? In the oddly-appropriate words of Willy Wonka, “Are the flames of hell a-blowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? Yes!” Except now, the flames and reaper come for our minds. Is it too late to stop it? I would argue not: being cognizant of the danger that technology poses allows us to reform ourselves.

I am not suggesting that we should all give up solid food and go to an Amish community in Pennsylvania, though. I only want my children to know what trick-or-treating is, what a jack-o-lantern looks like in a window, and how disappointed you are when someone gives you pretzels instead of candy. I mean, I guess the sexy genre of costumes is still going strong (I point you to the sexy Ebola nurse and sexy corn costumes available anywhere online). I just want a little bit more from Halloween: the devoted grasp of candy bags, the terrible costumes, the teeth saturated with sugar. If we give it another chance and lock our phones for the night, I think houses would start to fill up quickly with the laughter of children and the smell of five-layer eyeball and guacamole dip.

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Silver Key

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