The House of Mystery
A Little Compassion
by Starsky Hutch 76
In this tale narrated by Cain, a young couple has to put up with neighbors who are overheard constantly fighting with each other. But when tragedy strikes, a haunting begins, and only one elusive thing can bring peace to this troubled soul.
The long-nosed, bespectacled man sat in the leather chair before the fireplace, engrossed in a book that rested on his knees. One hand flipped a page as the other toyed with his wild hair that was swept up into points. This and the muttonchops that adorned his face gave him an owlish appearance.
“Oh, excuse me,” he said, looking up from his book. “I didn’t realize I had company. My name is Cain… I am caretaker of this house. Please, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the chair opposite him.
“I was just reading the story of a young couple, dwellers in the House of Mystery as are you. When they move into a new home, they quickly discover that while you can choose your friends, you can’t always choose your neighbors. And sometimes, those very neighbors can be full of surprises. It’s a tale I like to call, ‘A Little Compassion’…”
John and Martha Kendall moved into an apartment complex in one of the poorer areas of the city. The couple was childless, but they planned to change that someday, once they had saved enough to buy a house. They realized this wasn’t the best of neighborhoods, not the place to think of starting a family. So this move would just be temporary.
Over time, they became acquainted with the couple who lived in the apartment above them, Sara and Tom. They were a nice-looking couple, and they put on a pleasant façade to the outside world. But from the sounds coming through John and Martha’s ceiling, it was obvious that their marriage was a volatile one.
The couple fought constantly. Usually, it was Sara tearing into her husband — he didn’t bring home enough money; he wasn’t a man, just a boy; he was a mama’s boy and not man enough to tell his mother to quit butting in; she could have had any man she wanted, and it was a crying shame she hadn’t gone with one of them.
“Why doesn’t he just walk out?” Martha said testily, listening to the fight above them.
“I guess she’s got him so beaten down he can’t even think of leaving,” John said, shrugging.
From time to time, when the arguments became particularly heated, shots would ring out from the .38 special the man owned. Martha was shocked to find that most of the neighbors had gotten used to it. “He ought to lock that thing up,” the old woman who lived next door said when Martha mentioned it. “She’s a drinker.”
“There they go again!” Martha said after it happened for the third time. “I’m calling the police.”
“What good will it do?” John said. “We’ve been through this before. They’ll both just claim the gun just went off accidentally.”
“This isn’t going to end well,” Martha said. “Mark my words.”
One night, the thing Martha had feared would happen for months finally did. The couple got into one of their usual heated arguments. But this time, it ended when the woman shot Tom with his own gun. After staggering to their apartment, Tom collapsed on John and Martha’s porch before their front door. He had obviously been coming to them for help.
Martha was the one to find the dying man. “John! John! Call 9-1-1!”
After a lengthy interrogation, Sara was allowed to go. No charges were brought against her after she pleaded self-defense.
Less than a week after Tom’s death, Martha noticed that her neighbor began to behave irrationally… or, at least, more irrationally than usual. She became jittery and claimed to have seen Tom in her bedroom on several occasions.
Sara described to Martha an incident she had experienced one rainy night. She had heard a scratching coming from outside. When she threw the windowsill open to peer outside, she saw a form climbing up the wall below her bedroom window. With a boom of thunder and lightning, he was illuminated, and she saw her husband’s glaring, rain-spattered face clear as day. Shortly after that, the woman packed up and moved out of the apartment. No one ever saw her again.
Then, one night about six weeks after Tom’s death, Martha and John were entertaining friends and family. Their reverie was interrupted as a fierce thunderstorm moved in with flashes of lightning, high winds, and pouring rain. The storm lasted for more than twenty minutes. The festive mood seemed to leave with the storm, and everyone began preparing to leave for home.
John and Martha walked to the door with their guests. Martha was the first to reach the doorway, only to find that something was blocking the screen door. But she couldn’t see anything that could be obstructing it. After shoving hard a few times, the door finally opened, and she stepped out onto the rain-drenched porch and saw something unusual.
Even though the entire porch was soaking wet, the area in front of their doorway was bone dry. Even stranger was the fact that the dry spot was in the shape of a human being. And it was lying in the fetal position, the way Tom had fallen after his wife shot him.
When Martha pointed it out, most of them tried to dismiss it, even her own husband. No one wanted to believe it could be anything more than an amazing coincidence.
That night, Martha and John had their first big argument. Martha was furious at John for denying the evidence that was right before his eyes. John thought Martha was letting her imagination run away with her.
Things seemed to go into a downward spiral from there. Martha began to see the shape of a man from the corner of her eye, repeatedly, when she knew John was nowhere in the apartment. Sometimes, when she looked in the mirror, for a split second she thought she saw someone standing behind her. When she’d turn around, no one was there.
“I wish we could move away from here like Sara,” Martha sighed.
“You know we can’t do that,” John said. “We’re trying to save for the downpayment on a house. We can’t throw all that away because you’ve let yourself get spooked.” And that was when the fighting would start again.
Martha began to worry about the strife this was causing their marriage. Would they go the way of Sara and Tom? At least John didn’t own a gun.
One night, Sara was awoken by a scratching noise. She looked over at her sleeping husband. He could sleep through an earthquake, she thought to herself.
She slipped on her housecoat and walked out of her bedroom and down the hallway toward the scratching noise. It seemed to be coming from the other side of the front door.
Against her better judgment, she opened the front door. What she saw made her let out a gasp.
At the foot of the doorway lay Tom, on his side in the fetal position, just as she had found him the night he died. He held up his hand up toward her, and his eyes held a pleading expression.
Her legs almost seemed to move on their own as she knelt down toward him. She cradled his head in her hands, and tears filled her eyes. She began to stroke his head and spoke in soothing tones. “It’s going to be OK. I’m here now. You’ll be all right.”
Tom turned to look up at her, his eyes now calm and at rest. “Thank you.” And then he disappeared. That was all he had been looking for: compassion and understanding. It had been denied to him in his marriage and in his death. He had it now, and he was at peace.
Martha turned to see a stunned John standing behind her. He held out his hand to help her up. “L-l-let’s go back to bed now.”
After that, the fighting between Martha and John stopped. They were back to their old selves. Eventually, they had enough money for the downpayment on a house in a nice suburban neighborhood. Just in time, too, since Martha was pregnant.
Several months later, a baby boy was born. As the nurse handed the baby to Martha, she looked up at John and said, “I’d like to name him Tom.”
“That sounds like a good idea to me,” John agreed, smiling down at his wife and their new son.