Trick or Treat

The branches of the trees are black against a cold gray sky. It is a cold, damp late October day and I am outside, playing alone. A new road is being cut into our community and I am digging in the side of a small hill; the raw cut exposed by the passing of a bull dozer a few days earlier. My digging has no purpose and I think I am bored as I aimlessly pull at exposed rocks and clods of clay. As I tug at one particularly stubborn bit, a large section of earth breaks away and slides down to the new roadbed. Looking at the hill, I see that the lower portion of a leg has been exposed; mainly the calf of the leg, a woman’s leg. It is white with red patches. I reach up and touch the leg and the flesh begins to separate. And I wake up.

It is the earliest dream I can remember and it is recurrent and unvarying. Its occurrence was more frequent when I was a child, coming once or twice a week. It has been less frequent since I reached adulthood and disturbs my sleep only occasionally as other concerns take precedence. At times I think that it has left me for good, only to have it replay. When it starts, I know what is to happen and seek vainly to change it, to change its direction, to wake up before its completion. The attempts are in vain, the dream must have its way, must watch me reach up to that cold leg, must see the flesh began to part. My wakening from it is always quite sudden and I reach out to my sleeping wife, inevitably wakening her. “Bad dream?” she will murmur. “Yes,” I reply, “another nightmare. ”

Although it was a frequent intruder when I was growing up, I viewed it as more an an annoyance that anything else. After all, I had no reason to believe otherwise, nothing to believe that it was other than a dream, a bad dream. Only as an adult did I begin the question the reason for its persistence. Questions to my parents over the years elicited noncommittal comments. I was put off and, in a parent/child relationship that was shaky at best, I never pressed the point. I learned from a direct question to my older brother that he remembered the event. It seems I had accidentally discovered the body of a neighbor woman. The husband had told the neighbors that his wife had left him and it seems the story had been accepted. The War had ended but a year before and, with the return of our fighting forces, such disruptions of family life were common; common enough to believe the husband.

My discovery changed all of that and, according to what I have been able to learn, put our house into turmoil. I remember snatches of that. I remember that that year, trick or treating was cancelled in our neighborhood. I remember the dark evening as parents milled about outside, talking. I remember police cars on the street. And I know that I have hated Halloween ever since.

Other than the dream, I remember nothing of the discovery. The gray skies and the coldness of the day, I know from the dream and it is possible that the dream, and its frequency, have merged with reality so that I can I can no longer tell one from the other. Other than my brother, no other relatives who would have been old enough to know of it have admitted to knowing of the event. “Your mother and father were very private people,” I would be told, “and troubles within the family were never talked about. If it happened, your mother would never have told anyone.” Apparently, that included me.

Halloween is coming and the dream paid a visit the other night as it usually does at this time of year. Chances are, given its history, it will replay again in the next few days before becoming dormant. In defense, I will retreat to my workshop on Halloween and avoid the little ones who, with parents in tow, enact the age-old ritual, yelling “Trick or Treat!” as the door is opened. For me, the trick of Halloween is not a treat.