Oct. 31, 8:01 p.m.


A high, clear shriek rends the stillness of the night, as a chill wind settles over Dunning Lane. Though an occasional wail is to be expected on a night such as this—wily tricksters finding their marks during schemes long in the making—this one seems unusual. Icy. Panicked. Urgent.

Now another. Farther off, but no less curdling.

A third, and final; this one drawn out before ending in an uneasy silence.

Danger is close.

Neighbors, not quite having closed their blinds and turned out the lights before going to bed, begin poking their heads out of doors. Some stand on their front lawns, looking about for signs of distress but seeing nothing. Concerned murmurs break out.

Suddenly, a flash of red and blue, as a passing police cruiser takes notice of commotion from a block or two away and speeds to the scene. Curious people follow, eager to arrive at the cause of such frightful noises.

Arriving at the scene, the cautious officer steps out of his car and shines a spotlight upon a small crowd gathered on the side of the street. They were speaking with clipped, angry voices at two smaller figures, who were dressed in strange garb.

“I heard screams,” explains the officer. “What’s going on over here?”

A man steps forward, clearly perturbed by some misfortune. “Officer, these two were caught ringing our doorbells, in the dead of night, dressed in these unusual outfits! They scared my wife senseless. Look at them. It isn’t natural, none of it!”

The man jabbed his finger in the pair’s direction, a boy and a girl. Both appeared to be in their early teens. He was wearing a red and gold bodysuit made of plastic panels, with a glowing blue circle over the chest that looked straight out of a comic book; she wore a black leotard with a sort of makeshift utility belt, and a wig with long, red hair. The officer thought the clothing seemed vaguely familiar, but couldn’t place it.

“Why are you two dressed like this and ringing people’s doors? Do you have any idea what time it is?” he asked them, not wanting hijinks at this time of night.

“Officer, it’s Halloween. We’re out trick-or-treating. What’s the problem; it isn’t late,” the boy explained, obviously confused at this turn of events.

The gathered crowd, now getting bigger, didn’t appreciate this answer. The officer glanced at his watch.

It’s 8:05 at night, kid. It isn’t Halloween anymore. Trick-or-treating is illegal. How old are you?”

“We’re thirteen, sir.”

The crowd gasped. Burned by this new indignity, the man who caught them roared: “So, you’re thirteen and trick-or-treating after eight o’clock? Both are misdemeanors. You can go to jail for six months! Don’t you understand how wrong this is?”

“But it’s Halloween!” said the girl. “Everyone our age is out tonight. Officer, this doesn’t make any sen—”

“Might be harsh, but rules are the rules, miss,” said the officer, eager for his shift to end. “Kids your age trick-or-treating isn’t going to fly in Chesapeake. We’re going have to take you in. You can call your parents once we get to the precinct.”

“But, it’s just candy…” offers the boy, to no avail.

They’re led off to the police car, while the crowd—which has grown quite large—breathes a collective sigh as the cruiser ferries off the perpetrators, now out of sight. Hooligans, some thought, turning towards home.

A last gust of wind kicks up the leaves as the crowd dies down. Normalcy returns to Dunning Lane.

Author’s note: While this short story is a work of satire, the crimes described within it are real. According to Chesapeake’s city code, it is a misdemeanor for 1) those over the age of 12 to “engage in the activity commonly known as ‘trick or treat,'” and 2) to trick-or-treat after 8:00 p.m. Both are punishable with a fine and/or jail confinement.

Right on Crime believes that overcriminalization is a widespread problem across the country. We have too many criminal laws, with too many resulting in potential arrest, fines, or both. Chesapeake’s ordinances criminalizing “trick-or-treat” are a prime example.