Halloween Contest 2023

Spirit by Allison Roark

The last time I reached down into a jack-o-lantern to light the candle that damn tiny flame licked up and burned the tip of my finger. I dropped the match in disgust and it fell into the cavity. I watched it burn its way into the pumpkin wall for a moment, then inhaled, and blew it out.

I stopped using the real thing after that. My son was getting older anyway, curious, opening and closing and wrapping his tiny toddler fists around anything he could grab. Best to stick to batteries, plastic flickering tea lights that light up with the anticlimactic sliding of a small black switch from left to right.

We would walk the neighborhood each year, something always flying around him, a cape, a plastic sword held aloft, and that one year, a stuffed parrot he had crafted onto the end of a broom stick, the perfect pirate companion. He would run and I would chase. We always got into the spirit of things.

Tonight I am having trouble getting the match to light in the wind. I strike one, then another. Another, and I curse out loud, look up at the family walking by in apology. They don’t stop to say trick or treat.

For a few years I set a bowl out on the front porch, filled and waiting for any hopeful goblin or princess to come and choose a treat. We always returned to an empty dish. I was satisfied with my contribution, unable to stay home and hand out candy if I wanted to be sure to walk the block with my son. I was satisfied, that is, until he became old enough and brave enough to point out that it was probably being stolen by a group of punk kids, looting the bowl and leaving none for anyone else. How stupid could I be.

The next year he would not dress up. The year after that he refused to let me come with him, choosing instead a small band of boys carting pillowcases, apparently too cool to carry anything that might have a handle or appear remotely practical.

I stayed behind, jumping every time the doorbell rang, handing out candy bars to the greedy children in their wrinkled stinking costumes. I did not like that.

Who even uses matches anymore? I curse and drop another, resist the urge to slam the pumpkin into the wall. Life is changing and I cannot catch my breath.

The lock is new this year, it slides right over his door, left to right, with a satisfying clang. Two years ago, he got out the window, but the bars fixed that. He can go with me or not at all.
I walk out to the lawn and hold the glowing pumpkin up, smiling. He watches from behind the bars, his face blank.
He looks so foolish. If only he would put on that mask I gave him, just get into the spirit of things.