The House of Mystery
The Community Spirit
by Starsky Hutch 76
Cain tells the story of a young hippie couple that tries to practice what they preach by creating a commune. But as they quickly discover, the house has an extra feature they didn’t bargain for!
A long-nosed, bespectacled man looked up from his book. He ran a hand through his wild hair, which came up in points on either side, and then stroked his full muttonchops, pondering what he was reading, when he suddenly noticed his visitor.
“Oh! You startled me,” he said apologetically, rising from his chair and bowing. “I didn’t see you standing there. I was quite engrossed in this tale. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Cain. I am sure you are wondering what had me so enthralled that I failed to notice your entrance. Allow me to share it with you. It is the story of a young couple in love during one of the most turbulent times in our nation, visitors to the House of Mystery like yourself. But in this case, their visit was quite unintentional. It is a story I like to call, ‘The Community Spirit’…”
Like most couples in the ’60s, Jacob and Rainbow were free spirits. And like most young people of their generation, they thought they could change the world. The old rules of the establishment went out the window, and they worked to put new ones in their place, based on the ideals of peace and love. To do this, they felt it was important to lead by example, so they decided to found a commune.
After much searching, they thought they had found the perfect place for it — an old house on the outside of town that they bought for a song. They couldn’t believe their luck. The house was roomy and had a quaint old quality, having once been a hotel back in the early 1900s.
At first the commune consisted of merely Rainbow, Jacob, and three of their closest friends. Recruiting students from around their university town was turning out to be harder than they thought. The realtor had left out one very important fact. The house was rumored to be haunted.
“What’s the point?” Rainbow sighed as they walked about town, passing out fliers. “When people see where the commune is, they look at us like we’re nuts! How could we let ourselves be suckered like that?”
“Don’t worry about it, baby,” Jake said. “We’ve always tried to have one foot in the spiritual world, anyway. This is just the next step. When the ghosts feel our karma, everything’s gonna be groovy. We shouldn’t be trying to hide the fact that there are spirits there. We should be celebrating it!”
“Wow… heavy!” Rainbow said, beaming at her boyfriend, caught up in Jake’s enthusiasm. “I guess you’re right!”
“Of course I am,” he said, grabbing the sides of her tie-dyed parka and pulling her to him. “Let’s go back to the pad and crash.”
As harebrained as Jacob’s plan might sound to you and I, it actually worked. Students from the university Jacob and Rainbow attended were soon flocking to their commune to commune with the spirit world. Countless hours were spent trying to communicate with the spirits that were supposed to be dwelling there… countless hours and countless psychedelics.
It was one such night that Jacob, Rainbow, and a group of their friends burned incense and sat cross-legged in a circle on the shag carpet of their living room, as they held hands and chanted in hopes of communicating with the spirits. After an hour of futility, they gave up.
“I don’t get it,” Rainbow’s friend Moonrise said. “Doors have been slamming all over the house, and I hear footsteps all the time, so I know they’re here!”
“Be patient,” Jacob said. “They’ll let us know when they’re ready.”
“I hope it’s soon,” Rainbow said. “All this chanting is really drying out my throat.”
“Well, I guess we can take a break,” Jake said.
“Good,” Rainbow said, rising on legs that ached from sitting in one posture too long. “I’m gonna go get some juice.” With a swing of her waist-length hair and a twirl of her enormous bell bottoms, she headed toward the kitchen.
Rainbow’s bare feet slapped against the linoleum floor as she headed to the refrigerator. She poured herself a glass of carrot juice in her favorite mug. It was special to her, because it was the first that she’d made herself on her own pottery wheel. As she stood there by the sink, her thoughts drifted to the spirits. Would they ever be able to commune with them?
Suddenly, she saw her boyfriend standing outside in the snow looking downward. He was wearing all black, something Jacob never did, and his long hair was matted down around his face. Jacob had been wearing his back in a ponytail for the last few weeks, because he had to do a lot of leaning over when working at the flower shop. He had gotten into the habit of leaving it that way all the time.
“Jacob?” she mouthed questioningly.
His head suddenly raised up and his eyes locked on hers. His stare was that of a madman. His grin was pure evil. He let forth a laugh that shook her to the core. Even though he was on the other side of glass, she could hear it vividly.
Rainbow dropped the mug as she raised her hands to her ears, trying to blot it out. It shattered into several clay pieces on the kitchen floor, splattering her hand-painted jeans with carrot juice. She ran back into the living room with tears in her eyes.
“What’s the matter?!” Jacob exclaimed, seeing his usually serene lady so worked up.
“You… you…” It suddenly dawned on her that there was no way for Jacob to have gone through the kitchen to the back door without rattling the beads hanging from the doorway and letting her know he was there. And there was no way he could have used the front door without her hearing its loud creaking.
That weekend, it happened a few more times. Once, when she was brushing her teeth, she saw him standing behind her with the same malevolent grin. She nearly choked on her toothbrush. She found Jacob asleep in their macramé hammock in their bedroom. The second time she saw him walking across the hallway, turning to her and giving the same evil laugh. The third time she peered over her shoulder while throwing a pot and thought she saw him walk in the door with a few of their fellow commune dwellers when she could hear him upstairs in the shower. When she turned and looked again, he was gone.
Rainbow felt as if she were going insane. She asked her friend Windsong, who fancied himself something of a shaman, about it. He told her it was Jacob’s spirit arriving before he did or doing an act before he did it. She started to lose her temper. “But that doesn’t explain anything to me, because things such as that never happened! It doesn’t explain the evil grin or the fact that his eyes were dark red when Jacob’s eyes are green!”
Windsong looked at her with his mouth hanging open at her uncharacteristic outburst. She’d surprised herself, even. She immediately apologized to him. Windsong could be very sensitive.
Even though these encounters with Jacob’s double were driving her crazy, they were also making her the envy of the commune. Everyone respected her ability to commune with the spirits. Some were even highly jealous and accused her of holding out during nightly meditation and keeping him to herself. They could have him, as far as she was concerned.
Why was the spirit doing this to her? Why did he insist on making himself look like her boyfriend? On the final visit, he did something that would later make her think she’d found her answer.
The outside light was on when she saw him one late night in the window to the front porch. He was standing there with the usual wild look in his eyes. She thought the phantom was wearing his usual black, but on closer inspection, he was dressed much like Jacob was usually dressed, even wearing a copy of his army surplus coat minus Make Love Not War in balloon letters, the peace symbol, or the dove it had sported. It looked black because it was stained with dirt, as if he’d been to Hell and back.
Almost against her will, her eyes were drawn to his, and she dreaded seeing what she usually saw there. The mania was still there, but it was different. It was a look of pain and horror. His face was broken out in a wide grin as always, but his chest was rising and falling as if he himself wanted to scream.
“What? What is it?” she said to him desperately. “What is it you want to tell me?!”
He raised his hands up and held them out to her. They were covered in blood. When she saw them, she ran screaming from the room. His horrible laugh followed her as she ran. But this time, she recognized it as not the laugh of a demonic spirit, but that of a spirit driven hopelessly insane.
Her sleep that night was torturous. What did it all mean? She’d wanted answers and had just ended up with more questions.
The next afternoon, Rainbow was sitting against her beanbag in the living room, strumming listlessly on her mandolin when Jacob walked in. His expression was sad and lost.
“What is it, babe?” she asked.
“My father… he’s dead,” he said with hurt disbelief.
“Oh, babe, I’m so sorry…” she said, rising up and taking him in her arms.
“It was a heart attack.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“That’s not all. My mom told me his insurance wasn’t enough for her to get by on and put me through school. I’m going to have to drop out.”
Rainbow let out a horrified gasp. “You can’t! The draft!”
“I know, but what can I do?” Jacob said with resignation. “The money’s not there. I don’t have it. I don’t get paid that much at the flower shop.”
It suddenly hit her what the spirit was trying to tell her. “You can’t go to war!” Rainbow said. “You’re a pacifist! It’ll destroy you! Drive you mad! That’s what it was telling me! Showing me what it’ll do to you! You’ve got to go to Canada!”
“You think so?” Jacob said, dumbfounded.
“What else could it be?” she said, holding him even tighter.
Later that night, everyone in the commune met, and they agreed with Rainbow on the meaning of the spirit’s message to her. They also agreed that there was too much the spirit could teach them for her to leave at that time. Once Jacob was established in Canada, she would join him at a later date.
He never made it. On the way to Canada, there was a sudden rainstorm that seemed to pop up all at once. He could barely see two feet in front of him. He lost control of his van as he swerved to miss a hitchhiker.
When Rainbow got the news, she begged and screamed in anguish to the spirit to explain what had happened. It never appeared.
All of the commune joined Rainbow and Jacob’s mother at the funeral. For most of these students, it was their first encounter with death. As the Vietnam War progressed, they would have all too many of them.
Rainbow and his mother now shared a bond in sorrow and shared loss, being the two people in the world who had loved Jacob the most. Rainbow listened as she talked about him. For at least a few moments, it was like having him close again.
“Pacifism wasn’t just a fad with Jacob,” his mother said. “He hadn’t raised his fist to anyone since he was a child.”
“Really?” Rainbow said. Jacob always had had strong convictions. But to have reached them that early…
“No, he just couldn’t,” she said, then suddenly looked down with sadness. “Not since the incident… with his brother.”
“His brother?!” Rainbow suddenly exclaimed, stunned by the revelation. “He had a brother? He never told me!”
“Jonathan, his twin. They were so competitive. Always trying to outdo one another. Oooh, they’d fight like cats and dogs,” she continued. “One day, they really got into it and ended up tussling in the back yard. Jacob always did have a violent temper back then. You should’ve seen the notes I used to get from teachers. He… he’d slammed Jonathan to the ground and didn’t realize there was a rock behind him. Jonathan hit his head and died. Jacob was beside himself. He swore he’d never raise his hand to another soul as long as he lived.”
Rainbow was astounded. It didn’t sound like the Jacob she’d known in adulthood, but it did explain the sadness she’d seen in his eyes at times.
She looked down at her hands, and then her gaze drifted over the old woman’s shoulder at the mirror hanging on the wall. Her mouth fell open, and she tried to form a scream, but it would not come. In its reflective surface appeared the image of what looked like her boyfriend. But it wasn’t Jacob. It was Jonathan. He threw back his head in laughter — the laughter of a soul who had finally had his revenge.