Halloween Haunts: On Treats and Tricks
by Christopher Hawkins
Trick or treat. We say the words, but we don’t often give a lot of thought to them. They’ve become generic holiday words, not much more than a tidy slogan written in orange on black napkins or spelled out on window clings amid bats and spiders. For the kids that come to the door, they’re the gateway to getting candy in their bags, like the password spoken at the door of a speakeasy. As adults, we say them with a self-aware little laugh, borrowing a bit of that youthful insistence and making it our own, if only for a night, or maybe a season.
I’ve often thought that we had the words backwards, though. They were originally meant as a threat, after all. Give us something delicious, or we will do bad things to you, and it’s up to you to imagine just how bad those bad things can get. The treat is the protection bribe paid against the dark promise of the trick. If we look at it with strict, computer-program logic, the choice must come first. If not treat, then trick. It’s a clear decision with clear consequences. So, shouldn’t the words be the other way around? Treat or trick. Give them what they want, and you’ll be safe.
But we’re not safe, are we? The bad things are always there, waiting just outside the door. We can feel them out there, this year, maybe more than any other in recent memory. They’re frightening, and they’re big, sometimes too big to get our heads around. Everywhere we turn, terrors real and imagined are being added to the pile. They stalk us on social media. We see them reflected in our neighbors’ faces. It’s easy to get lost in those terrors. It’s easy to give in to the fear, especially when it seems like there’s no other choice.
But there’s always a choice, isn’t there? Trick or treat. Here, I realize that the words were in the right order all along. The trick comes first because the trick is always there, whether we’ve brought it down on ourselves or not. The monsters are always out there, waiting. And yet, we are far from powerless against them. Trick or treat. It’s not a threat. It never was. It’s a choice.
This is the time of year that we’re reminded of that choice, if only we have the ears to listen. Like so many essential truths, it’s the children who show us the way. They come to our doors, dressed to frighten, clothed as the very fears that we seek to master. Trick or treat, they tell us, and we make the choice to hide behind locked doors or to come out and face them. And when we come out to face them, we see that they are the trick. They are the bad things, made small so that we can see their borders. Dripping fake blood from plastic fangs, they jump from the hedges to startle us, and we cannot help but smile.
Trick or treat, they say as they hold out their bags, and we know exactly what to do. Fear has come to our doorstep, and it demands of us no more than what we choose to give it. This is where our choice becomes clear. The trick is there. The fear is staring up at us, waiting. And the fear will wait for us, because we’re the ones with all the power. After all, we’re the ones with the candy.
So, we make our choice. Trick or treat. Deny the fear and let it become more powerful, or give it a token and send it on its way. And time after time, we put the candy in the bag. We smile, because we’re not afraid, and we say “Isn’t that cute” as the fear bounds excitedly away toward the next door. We choose the treat, because it is the only choice. We give what we are willing to give and nothing more. We show that it is we, and not the fear, who are in control.
And those other fears? The ones that follow us the rest of the year? They see us in our doorways with our heads held high. They see, and they take note.
Christopher Hawkins: Born and raised near the shores of Lake Michigan, Christopher Hawkins has been writing and telling stories for as long as he can remember. A dyed-in-the-wool geek, he is an avid collector of books, roleplaying games and curiosities. When he’s not writing, he spends his time exploring old cemeteries, lurking in museums, and searching for a decent cup of tea. For free stories and news about upcoming projects, visit his website, www.christopher-hawkins.com, or follow him on Twitter @chrishawkins.