THE FAD • by James Cato

Pleased to meet you. As you know, we start the interview with some standard bureaucratic questions. Do you remember Witchcaps?

Right. I remember they were initially designed for edgy supermodels, so their popularity in elementary schools came as a surprise. The wire cylinder sat on the scalp like any other hat. When switched on, the WitchCap built up an electric charge that urged the hair beneath to rise up in a particular “mold,” shocked out like jellyfish tentacles or dandelion fuzz. The first models only worked on relatively short hair and cost more than any child’s plaything should. They offered two molds, factory preset, ‘Doo Ocean™ and Static Blast!™, the former of which gained universal popularity with kids.

When was the first time you saw one?

In my class, only the richest, most in-the-know student had one at first: Brody Morris. I remember Brody perched on his hard-backed chair like a prince, new friends crowding around his ‘Doo Ocean WitchCap, which sent hair ripples crashing toward his bangs. I guarantee this situation pleased Brody on a basic mammal level. He’d hoist his battery pack to cries of “No! Don’t turn it off!” The motion was fascinating — his hair pirouetted and frothed like real liquid. More fun could be had by sticking your hand in the magnetic field, with Brody’s permission, to watch your knuckle hair whirl around with a tickling sensation. It was fun, personal, classroom-sized. We had no clue what it was doing to us.

What were you like? Did you want a Witchcap?

Yes, of course! WitchCaps were 4th grade social mania. I was desperately envious of Brody’s fame, but also cautious of sticking out like Andy Liu, who hunted bugs at recess and used a strange cartoon lunch box instead of a brown bag. I knew that some deviant actions elevated status, like Brody’s WitchCap, and that others led to exile, like Andy’s homemade tie-dye shorts, but I was clueless as to predicting which would do what. My parents wouldn’t buy me a WitchCap. Too expensive.

How did the technology progress? Sorry, just being thorough.

I understand. A flood of updates arrived, targeting children with adjustable sizes, a range of wire colors, and most importantly, BRAND NEW MOLDS! Colorful ads popped up on our favorite websites, dissecting the audience into online cookie-gathered gender binaries — pony-molds for girls and dragon-molds for boys — but also social cohorts — “cool” sports figures and “nerdy” fantasy creatures. My own ads landed on the Bear-mold “YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL!” even though they only offered Lion, Bear, or Lizard. I remember that Brody snuck onto Andy’s school-issued tablet and saw a commercial for the Lizard, beginning the Andy-is-an-insectivore rumor. Targeted ads screwed Andy over. Weeks later he sat alone on the playground with his lizard cap, unaware.

Does the word “Capper” mean anything to you?

You guys are thorough. “Cappers” could alter a WitchCap to any 3D image and set up shop in malls, mostly. Brody spearheaded this trend too, sauntering into math one morning with his modified WitchCap depicting the Lion mold attacking a humanoid. The lion swatted the human on Brody’s head to a neat part before consuming it, which then repeated like a GIF. A few kids whined about the violence, but most thought it made Brody even cooler. I can still picture the halls abuzz with writhing creatures fixed parasitically on scalps. Everyone grew their hair out.

Your cover letter mentions that your passion for discipline in public schools started with WitchCaps.

Absolutely. Our school banned WitchCaps in class, banned modified WitchCaps altogether. The crackdown backfired, just like always. Cappers simply added a switch to flip between the modified and original mold, rendering illegal WitchCaps invisible; plus, the newest models collapsed tent-like to fit in a pocket. It didn’t help that Principal Anderson called WitchCaps “Dancing Hair Machines” in assembly. Sneaking modified caps around became the zeitgeist. I was lucky. My parents distrusted bandwagons, compared caps to cancer-causing trends like smoking. My math teacher sent home an announcement urging parents to work on their children’s attentional discipline at home with psychological exercises, warning them that our class was struggling to keep up with the syllabus. I thought my classmates were just having a hard time memorizing their times tables.

How long did all this go on? Again, being thorough. Can’t have you blanking on the job.

Hmmm. A whole year after Brody Morris brought in his first WitchCap, the obsession was still kicking. Cappers found ways to stream AI from virtual pets into the mold animations, allowing for cute, trainable Witchcaps. This led to dedicated customization apps. Most Cappers closed shop, obsolete, but some became exclusively illicit. I learned about the concept of blowjobs from a depraved highschooler’s modified WitchCap that made sinister use of a bun and a braid. By then I’d risen to the top of my class. We still didn’t know.

Final bit about WitchCaps, then we’ll start discussing the Vice Principal position. Describe the fallout, please.

In college I learned that we store memories as chemical changes between brain cells, dependent on activation from neuronal electrical signals. I don’t understand exactly how WitchCaps disrupted long-term memory storage, but memory loss from such a formative age had traumatic compounding effects. About 11 percent of my year finished high school. Saddest thing the country’s ever seen. Brody and Andy are probably sitting in their childhood rooms watching cartoons right now.

Now I can check the box, ‘Applicant proves recall and cognitive capacity beyond a doubt,’ and ‘Applicant has had no exposure to WitchCaps’ as if we can’t tell that right off the bat. Let’s talk discipline. How will you earn the respect of hormonal middle-schoolers who associate people our age with low I.Q.s or who care for dependent people our age at home?

James Cato writes with a pen he stole in kindergarten and his novel, Litter of the Waste, is in orbit. He has previous publications in The Molotov Cocktail, Gone Lawn, Litro, Atticus Review, The Colored Lens, and Brilliant Flash Fiction, among others. He tweets humbly @the_sour_potato and his work lives on

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