Sometimes when you’re a kid, you dream shit that you don’t tell your parents. And it’s not because what you dreamt was so bad, but because you have no words to explain what the fuck it was you dreamt.
Add that I’d had the dream the night before Halloween. Add that on Halloween night, we’d be treated to the added excitement of a bustling movie shoot on our street. And not just any movie, but a scary one aptly named, Halloween.
But when the strange elements of my dream started playing out for real, albeit in different ways, I’d wonder why I hadn’t tried doing something. The only person I shared my dream with was Ricky- who after Halloween would stop being my friend.
As if all this wasn’t enough, add that Halloween 1978 marked the night that mute Old Greg cracked.
Like all weird dreams do, mine started normally. Ricky and I were riding our bikes on Meridian Street. And just so you know, Ricky was a girl. But she was different from the other girls in my fourth-grade class. In fact, it wouldn’t occur to me that she was a girl until we were in middle school. By then her family had moved to a prestigious neighborhood where the estates were old, where the houses weren’t houses but mansions, and Ricky would become a cheerleader and continue pretending she didn’t know me.
In the dream, Ricky rode next to me in her much too cool, 16-spoked, decal loaded, spoiler-framed BMX bike. I remember how she turned and squinted her big-lashed brown eyes at me and said, “We should be dead siblings for Halloween.”
Dead what? I had no idea what a sibling was, but I remember thinking: I’ll ask my mom. Right after saying that, Ricky dipped down onto one of the steepest streets I’d ever seen. So steep, the thought of joining her scared me, but I gathered all my wits and dipped the nose of my cheap Sears stingray on the precipice, and followed.
The entire ride down felt like a free fall, like the tires of my bike were no longer touching the ground, and the sick feeling of all my organs lifting and crowding into my upper torso overcame me.
At the bottom of the hill was old man Gregory, who wore no pants, but had a Star-Trek shirt on, you know, the kind Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk wore. His wrinkled cock and droopy balls looked nothing like my own boy parts, so I sort of stared.
If that wasn’t weird enough, Old Greg, as we called him, had a surgeon’s mask over his mouth and nose. Miraculously, and as happens in dreams, we were no longer on our bikes, but walking and following him into his house.
Once inside his house, I remember it being extremely cold, as if we’d entered a freezer. Old Greg’s living room was hazy with frosty air, and instead of the regular furniture you’d find in a living room, there was a makeshift operating room.
There was a sheet covered operating bed in the center of the room, with shiny steel tables on either side. On the tables were scalpels, scissors, trays and other grisly instruments that glinted in the little light. The table had leather restraint straps to keep patients held down.
When I glanced toward Old Greg, he had managed to grab Ricky from behind with her arms prone at her sides and was lifting her onto the table. Her legs, arms, and even her head stuck out stiffly, just like a mannequin’s.
I remember running over and screaming- but in the skewed way dreams can lapse time- Ricky was already tied down when I got to her. Except she wasn’t struggling or trying to free herself, she was stiff and smiling up at the ceiling in an expectant way, as if she knew and accepted what would come next. The thing was, I had no idea what that thing was.
“Son, you stay away from her.” Old Greg said, which didn’t make sense because everyone knew he was a mute.
He held a large butcher knife up to my face, and I stepped back. This pissed him off and he came at me jabbing it mid-air and in my direction, “You want your sister fixed, don’t you?”
In the sudden way that a regular dream state can transform into a lucid dream, I realized I had the power to act, and so, I backed away and sped out of Old Greg’s house, feeling like a coward for leaving my best friend behind.
When I woke up, the excitement of it being Halloween helped deposit the dream into whatever recesses are reserved in a kid’s brain for such nightmares. But the tone of the dream, the dreaded sense of it, would linger a long time.
It was a school day, so right after my mom helped me get my zombie costume on I raced out to meet up with Ricky. She was waiting in front of her own modest house, wearing a ripped up soiled dress and the same white face paint I had, except her mom had darkened the areas under her eyes, giving her a macabre look my face lacked.
As we walked I got straight to my dream, telling her every detail of it, except the part where I left her behind with Old Greg. It was then that it occurred to me to ask, “What’s a sibling?”
“Brother and sister,” Ricky said without much interest, “By the way, I got us fake blood.”
“Why do we need fake blood?”
“Because, zombie boy and girl are murdered.” Ricky said the word ‘murdered’ in the most ghastly way she could, drawing out the r’s for effect.
“There’s no way we can put it on now, remember Mrs. Shackle said, ‘No blood, no gore.’”
Ricky rolled her eyes, “It’s for when we trick or treat, duh.”
Like I said, the movie Halloween was being shot on our street and for two days prior, all we noticed were a lot of white trucks, and a few people. But, by the time school let out on Halloween and Ricky and me walked home, the street had been closed to traffic, it was buzzing with hundreds of people running in and out of the Van der Veldt’s white Victorian. The house where all the bad stuff was supposed to happen.
Since we didn’t know what the movie was about, we approached a couple of crewmembers who were talking by a wardrobe truck.
Since Ricky was bolder than me, I let her do the asking, “What’s your movie about?” The lady and the man who’d been talking, smiled down at us. The lady was pretty with brownish hair and a smart-looking face that softened when she smiled and tousled my hair. “Oh gosh…I don’t know if we should tell you, your mom might not want you guys to know.” She smiled and tousled my hair again, but the guy with her laughed.
Ricky, though, was pissed. “We’re not brother and sister.”
“So what kind of monster is in your movie?” I cut in, because that’s really all I wanted to know.
The guy chuckled and reached into the wardrobe truck and pulled out a plastic mask and said, “Well, if you think Captain Kirk is a monster… you’d be right.” When he held up the mask, we could see that indeed he held a Captain Kirk mask.
Confused and feeling a little cheated by his answer, we walked off, but Ricky suddenly stopped, grabbed my arm with her hand and said, “Oh, my god.”
“What?” I said, yanking my arm away from her hard kung fu grip.
“In your dream, didn’t I say we should dress up as siblings? And didn’t Old Greg think we were brother and sister?” Ricky lowered her voice conspiratorially.
“Yeah, so? Everybody thinks we’re brother and sister.”
“And… Old Greg who was a dentist was wearing a doctor’s mask, and a Star-Trek shirt.” Ricky added looking genuinely scared.
None of what she said made any sense to me, not yet anyway, which frustrated her. “Wait, that crazy old guy was a dentist?”
“Oh my god, you didn’t know?” Ricky’s eyes got even bigger and she looked genuinely frightened.
“What? Being a dentist is bad?”
“No, what’s bad is his son killed his own sister. Old Greg tried to save her, but she bled to death.”
“No way.” This was juicy stuff and I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before.
“Yeah well, everybody knows about it, Kyle. It’s why he stopped talking.” All fear and wonder had left her face and she was back to the task at hand: deciphering my weird dream. “Anyway… just now, that lady thought we were brother and sister, and the mask the guy had was a Captain Kirk mask. It’s a lot like your dream.”
Ricky was right, none of it was exactly like my dream, but it was out of the ordinary that those things had matched up. Still, it wasn’t enough; these things could easily fall into the realm of coincidence. Again, I hadn’t told Ricky about ditching her in the dream, either.
There were a lot of things we wouldn’t know until later. Later we’d learn that Mike Myer’s mask in the movie was actually a plastic store-bought Captain Kirk mask with eyes cut out and spray painted white. And what neither Ricky or me would know until we were old enough to see Halloween – and no longer on speaking terms – was that the lady we met, the lady who’d messed up my hair, was Jamie Lee Curtis.
That was the happy part of the day. Neither one us had any idea that the real prophetic part of the evening was yet to come.
In those days, parents let kids roam the streets freely on Halloween. Since we were in third grade, both our parents allowed us to trick or treat on our own, after we promised to remain within a four-block radius.
Since Ricky had brought the blood, she got to put it on first.
Using the ineffective brush it came with, she slathered it on her light grey dress, while I stood waiting in the alley behind our houses.
“Leave some for me.” I said, as I watched the small bottle emptied out more and more.
By the time she finished with the bottle, there was enough to rub on my face, and not much more.
After I dumped the empty bottle into a nearby trashcan, we set off to begin the candy hoarding ritual, carrying our hopeful collection sacks at our sides.
Time has no meaning to eight year olds, so looking back it’s hard to say when we ended up back at the movie shoot, or whose idea it was. But, before getting there, I remember going from house to house, being greeted by moms, dads, and even kids who filled our bags with all kinds of candy.
It was dark that night and the Santa Ana winds, or so they’re called, had begun to blow. Ricky and me stood in a crowd of onlookers, in front of the now ghoulishly lit Victorian, with the hot wind blowing leaves, loose hair and casting eerie shadows over the windows of the house. The surreal effect of hot winds blowing at night added to the already surreal experience of watching a film shoot.
When a crewmember hollered, “Quiet on the set… We are shooting!” followed by, “Action!” The street died, no one moved, coughed or turned their heads, but the wind, oblivious to man’s silly creations grew stronger and howled, sending a chill up my back.
It wasn’t until I heard the harrowing series of screams coming from inside the house, that I turned my head and noticed that Ricky was gone.
No longer next to me chewing at her caramel noisily, Ricky was gone.
Weaving through the adults crowded on the street watching the filming, I kept my eyes focused, watching for her grey dress and teased out blonde hair… but nothing.
The actress inside the house set off another peel screams, again sending a cold shiver up my back.
When I got away from the crowd, I looked up heavily treed Meridian to see the dark forms of costumed kids. Some walked, some dashed under streetlights, interrupting the dancing shadows of leaves that shook in the hot breeze.
As I passed these kids on my way north and away from the glare of the filming location, I caught snippets of their conversations.
“Mom’s not gonna let you eat that.”
“…Snickers are way better…” “….don’t do that, it’s mine.” That last voice was familiar – it was Casey, Ricky’s friend from gymnastics class.
“Casey, stop!” I aimed my voice in the direction of the Mary Poppins costume.
“Who’s that?” Casey asked.
“Kyle… have you seen Ricky? I can’t find her.”
Casey replied, “Not since I saw her with you.” She turned and ran off to join her group who raced up the lawn of a nearby house.
Here was when panic set in, rifling through my body and setting off the next course of events.
With determination, I headed to Old Greg’s house, not knowing what I thought I’d do once there. What I did know, was that since Ricky pointed out how similar my dream had been to some of the events of the day, it was the logical place to go.
Old Greg lived two blocks away, so I ran towards it, ignoring all the dark shadows of kids in costumes that I passed or bumped into on the way.
When I got to his tall and unkempt yellow house, he was sitting on a lawn chair on his yard, a huge plastic Jack o’lantern filled with candy at his side.
Old Greg looked up at me without smiling. Our eyes met, and I took in the clouded, cataract frankness of his glance. I stood my ground on the concrete path leading to his house, when I remembered that Old Greg didn’t speak.
“My friend Ricky, have you seen her?” What I really wanted to say was, “You have her, don’t you?” but I didn’t have the nerve to.
The old man shook his head.
“She’s dressed like me, but in a dress… with blood.”
His hard focused look shook me, there was something wrong with this man; there was an intensity about him, like he was boiling inside and ready to burst.
“Can I look?”
He stood from his chair, stretched and looked back at his front door, hunched his shoulders to indicate his lack of concern, so I walked toward the porch climbed the steps and stood at wide open door.
That his living room wasn’t made up to look like an operating room didn’t faze me, but even so it was the same room. The walls, the windows, the fireplace and the mantel, where all set in the same location as in the dream.
It was then that I heard the wooden floor creak directly behind me and I turned.
Old Greg stood right behind me. He stood much too close, staring into my eyes as if he knew me. From the corner of my eye, I could see that both his hands were shaking at his sides and that he was getting ready to speak.
“You can search high and low, but I ain’t lettin’ you hurt your sister.” He looked around the room before turning and heading back outside.
The guy was crazy and I needed to leave. By now it hit me that Ricky was out getting more candy than I’d ever get, while I stood in crazy Old Greg’s house.
Immobilized by fear and frozen in place, there was a split moment before I could bolt the fuck out of his house that I looked toward his dimly-lit den to see what looked like a Star Trek poster on the wall, but even to this day, I can’t be sure.
As soon as I saw him sit back down in his lawn chair, I sprinted out of there, running past Old Greg and the group of costumed kids walking up the path.
When I got home, and in the excitement of dumping all my candy onto the floor, I forgot to mention Ricky’s disappearance to my mom. It wasn’t until she walked in from the kitchen after taking a phone call that the old worry came back.
“Kyle, that was Ricky’s mom, she said Ricky hasn’t come home yet…do you think she might’ve gone somewhere else?”
I shook my head, not knowing how to explain how she’d disappeared.
“Kyle, did you see her go home?”
My heart was pounding and I knew I had to come clean, “We were watching the movie, and she was next to me the whole time… until…”
“Until what, Kyle?” My mom’s face was stern now.
“Until after the lady screamed, and Ricky was gone.”
“I went looking for her. I asked Casey, and she didn’t know either.”
After I was sent to bed, I heard my mom talking on the phone for the rest of the night. Over the course of my sleep, I’d waken when our phone rang, but sink right back to sleep soon after. Hours later, I woke up in a drenched sweat and headed for my mother’s room. She was up and sitting on the edge of her bed when I opened the door. “Has she come home?”
“No, honey, but the police are looking for her.” My mom patted the bed next to her, so I joined her.
“They should check Old Greg’s house!” I spat out.
“The old man? Why are you saying this, Kyle?” My mom faced me, and I didn’t need to look up at her to know her face was serious and drawn.
I didn’t answer, I couldn’t. What was there to say? I’d had a dream? That I’d gone over myself and checked his house? The thing was, even though I’d gone over there and hadn’t seen anything, I kept remembering what he’d said about not hurting my sister and the strange lifeless look in his eyes.
“Honey, you need to tell me what you know. You won’t get in trouble.” My mom faced me on the bed and gripped my arms with both her hands, he face was drawn and scared. “You need to tell us what you know! Did you see her go there, Kyle?”
“Yes,” I lied. I had to.
In a few minutes, I’d hear the deep male voices of policemen downstairs and when my mom called me down, I knew I had to maintain my lie. All of hit home when I saw the tall men in the dark blue uniforms standing in our living room, making the biggest room in our house, look like a dollhouse miniature.
“Son, it’s important that we get an eye witness… no judge will let us into Dr. Gregory’s home without a warrant, and to get that, we need a witness….”
This was when Ricky’s mom and dad walked in, without knocking and joined all the adults who waited for me to speak.
“What does he know?” Ricky’s mom was frantic, her red-rimmed eyes looked wild. She came at me, grabbed my arms and shook me much harder than my mom ever had, and pleaded, “Kyle what do you know?”
“I saw her go into his house… into Old Greg’s house.”
Those words set off a series of actions. It was like when Captain Kirk gave a command and everyone on the starship enterprise jumped to. The big cop turned and spoke into his radio with grave tones, the crackly response was quick and final.
“We’ve got two guys over there now…” He turned to leave, and his partner the smaller cop, said the only kind thing I heard that night, “You did good kid” before he went out through our screen door to join his partner.
Ricky’s parents glared at me, and even then, even as little kid, I felt their hatred and resentment. Ricky’s mom stood to leave, but before she did she looked down at me and said, “Why’d you wait all night to say something? She could be dead by now.”
When they left, my mom seemed too preoccupied to speak, she sat by the phone and took up smoking again, all while I trembled in silence.
It was a gamble to do what I did. I knew even then that dreams didn’t reflect what was real, but when the police searched Mr. Gregory’s house, it wouldn’t take long to locate Ricky; they’d find her a crudely dug basement bunker. What they’d find would baffle everyone, but me, and maybe Ricky, but I don’t know since we never spoke again.
In the bunker, Old Greg had set up his old dental chair and had trays with surgical tools lined up: clean, gleaming and at the ready for surgery. Ricky was duct-taped to the chair, bound and gagged; her dress had been cut at the abdomen to expose her belly. Of the ten stitches Old Greg had intended six had been completed. Six futile stitches on an otherwise healthy abdomen.
Apparently, when he’d come out to watch the filming, Old Greg had seen Ricky in her blood-soaked dress and something had clicked in the old guy. In his deluded mind, Ricky became his dying daughter and this time he wasn’t going to let her die.
When they cuffed Old Greg, they said he’d cried like a child, while repeating that, “The boy is bad…”
I shivered, recalling how he’d believed me to be his son. The whole time I’d been standing in his house, Ricky had been down in the dark bunker, tied up with useless stitches pulling her skin tightly over a nonexistent stab wound, while the only thing in Old Greg’s unstable mind was to protect her from me.
Although Ricky would undoubtedly be scarred for life, she recovered. Like I said, we’d never speak again. Sure I’d want to talk to her, sure I’d want to ask why she hadn’t told anyone about my dream, because had if she had, her parents wouldn’t have blamed me for waiting so long to disclose what I knew.
But then, I figured Ricky had been through enough, so I respected her need to pretend I didn’t exist.
Years later, when I finally watched Halloween, it struck me as even more bizarre that its storyline was so similar to the events in Old Greg’s life; how much the story of a kid who stabbed his older sister matched the horror of Old Greg’s real-life circumstances.
As I sat watching the movie as an adult, I would recall the last Halloween I’d spent with Ricky. Each time the camera panned across the eerie Victorian looming on the tree-lined street, each time Jamie Lee Curtis pealed out a scream, I’d know that somewhere, behind all the cameras, stood two innocent kids whose young lives would be altered forever.
When ordinary people are faced with the unusual and the ugly, some repel, others attempt to set matters straight, while others choose to sting. Sting is a collection of short stories where the mundane and the extraordinary collide.
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