Devils roam the streets while bands of ax murderers go house to house.
Normally, this would be a bad thing.
Tonight it's par for the course, as America observes its yearly celebration of death and chocolate, also known as Halloween.
For generations, Oct. 31 has been part of life's autumnal rhythms, like football games and falling leaves.
But, gradually, trick-or-treating is turning into a political statement, with churches, schools and bookstores becoming fierce battlegrounds in the fight over what Halloween means.
In a recent "special report," Costa Mesa's conservative Citizens for Excellence in Education proclaims Halloween nothing less than anti-Christian.
"When the roots of this holiday are traced," the report contends, "nothing but deadly evil is unearthed."
In Howard County, Md., Spotsylvania, Va., and Des Moines, elementary schools are replacing their customary Halloween parties with less scary fall festivals because of parental concerns about the holiday's religious roots.
In Denver, one of the city's largest bookstores this week bowed to community pressure and scrapped a scheduled reading of works about witchcraft. (The bookstore later reversed itself and allowed the Halloween reading to proceed.)
In few places has the battle for Halloween's soul been more pitched than in Orange County, where churches and fundamentalist Christian groups are scaring the wits out of parents who thought the only danger Halloween posed to children was a wicked sugar high.
In a popular video called "Halloween: Trick or Treat," the leader of Santa Ana's 30,000-member Calvary Chapel contends that Halloween is nothing less than a heyday for bloodthirsty Satanists.
"A public-school teacher recently asked her 9-year-old students how they would most like to celebrate Halloween," Pastor Chuck Smith's video declares. "Shockingly, 80% said they would like to kill someone!"
Clerks at the Calvary Chapel gift shop say Smith's Halloween video is their most popular item, with more than 100 copies selling in the past few days.
"There is a kind of amazing concern for the demonic world among Christians these days," says Newton Malony, a psychology professor at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. "A lot of people believe very strongly that there are demons, and to participate in Halloween is to encourage the demons."
Among this group, Malony includes several of his seminary colleagues.
Still, while growing numbers of conservative Christians decry Halloween, others insist wearily that the holiday is simply good, clean fun.
"Like so much now, it's just been taken too seriously," said Diane Brown, a mother of three shopping for costumes at Santa Ana's enormous Halloween Club, where business has been down this year. "People get offended by this and that. They don't seem to laugh anymore."
Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist of religion and the author of "The Spirit of Community," says the crackdown on Halloween means children are being made to suffer for the anxiety of adults.
"It indicates how susceptible we are to devil theories in our collective mind, an almost unlimited paranoia," he said. "You can come up with the most crazy ideas and then hang them on innocent children with little costumes."
Others say the anti-Halloween movement is a sign that conservative Christians, expected to be a significant force in the upcoming presidential election, are testing their political muscle.
"When you're in range of power, then symbolism becomes more important," said Martin Marty, a religion historian at the University of Chicago.
Like America itself, Halloween has evolved over time into something that barely resembles its origins.
Even those who enjoy the holiday can't deny that, viewed in a historical context, it seems an incongruous occasion in a nation founded by witch-phobic Puritans.
Dating back to ancient Britain and Ireland, Halloween was once called Samhain, a Gaelic word meaning "end of summer."
On this holiest of Celtic holidays, celebrants marked the final day of their calendar year as well as the conclusion of the summer harvest.
While lowing herds returned from pasture, hilltop bonfires were lit and the souls of the dead drew near. For a brief moment, borders between the real world and the spirit world became permeable, and ghosts and demons were thought to roam about.
Much of the holiday's demonic and supernatural power has faded since its adoption by Christianity more than 1,000 years ago. But a growing number of Americans cling to those ancient ways, as covens of modern witches and fellowships of Druids report a sharp upturn in interest this time each year.
"The neopagan movement as a whole is humongous," says Isaac Bonewits, a New Jersey writer who serves as arch-druid of a nationwide pagan fellowship. "There's somewhere between 50,000 and 300,000 pagans in the United States."
So great is the interest in neopaganism that Bonewits finds the need to maintain an 800 number.
Not every caller is a convert, however.