Sometimes it takes a long time before we realize that things are not what they seem. David Castle’s neighbor Olivia Madison left and returned every day at exactly the same time as he did. For David, this had become a regular occurrence. But a situation he encountered one night made him wonder if this was really the case.
One day David was coming home very late, it was about 02:30 on the clock. By chance, he saw Mrs. Madison sleeping soundly in her car. David wondered why the woman had fallen asleep in the car. At that moment the thought struck him, he had never seen Mrs. Madison directly behind the wheel, not once. The thought made David uncomfortable. He walked over to the old Ford and looked inside.
In the front passenger seat, his neighbor was sleeping under a thick blanket. The back seat was occupied by boxes of provisions and household items. Everything was neatly arranged. David realized: the car served for 79-year-old Mrs. Madison as her home. Except the reason was unclear. After all, his neighbor had her own two-story Victorian-style house. Unfortunately, when Mr. Madison passed away, the house fell into disrepair within three years.
David rushed home and woke his wife. “Lydia, wake up. I think Mrs. Madison lives in the car. Please get the guest room ready. I want to invite the old lady over.”
Out of surprise, Lydia jumped up from the bed. “What are you saying, David? You mean our neighbor Mrs. Madison?” she asked excitedly. “She’s about ninety years old, after all.”
“I’m aware of that,” her husband replied sullenly to Lydia. “I never thought anyone among my acquaintances would be living on the street. I’ll go after her.”
“Be careful, David, don’t scare her,” Lydia asked.
“Don’t worry, dear. The nights are cold now, and I won’t let Mrs. Madison sleep outside again,” David replied.
He left the house and headed for Mrs. Madison’s Ford. David tapped quietly on the glass so as not to frighten the old lady. When she opened her eyes, David said: “Mrs. Madison, I’m your neighbor, David Castle.”
The sleep-deprived woman looked at David warily at first. But seeing his open smile, she calmed down. “Mrs. Madison, come into our home. My wife has prepared a cup of hot chocolate and a warm bed for you.”
“David, I’m fine. No need to worry,” the old lady assured him.
“I’m not going anywhere without you,” David insisted. His insistence worked, Mrs. Madison climbed out of her lodging. The man covered her with plaid, and they went into the house together.
Lydia had already prepared the promised chocolate and was welcoming the late visitor. Taking a sip, the old woman said with tears in her eyes: “I used to make chocolate like this for my husband Charlie, he was working the night shift then.”
“Mrs. Madison, can I ask you a question? Why did you spend the night in the car?”, Lydia asked cautiously.
Olivia squinted. “You see, I can’t go home. After Charlie-” Mrs. Madison couldn’t speak any further.
“So you mean you haven’t been in the house since your husband passed away?” inquired David.
The woman could no longer hold back her tears and wept quietly. “At first I stopped by. And then… I was uncomfortable with the ringing silence. Every thing, item in the house reminded me of him.”
“It was hard for me to be in a place where just a short time ago we were together. I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing him in our house again. One night I grabbed a plaid and climbed into the car. By the way, I hadn’t slept so soundly in a long time.”
“At first I only slept in the car. Then it got harder and harder for me to get back in the house. I shut everything off and went to live in the car. And lived like that for two years until you noticed me, David.”
“But how did you get along without a bathroom?” asked Lydia.
“It’s been ten years since I’ve been in a sports group for the elderly. The two of us started going there with Charlie,” Olivia replied. “It’s where I can take a shower and do the things I need to do. That’s how I get around.”
“Mrs. Madison, what do you think about selling the house and changing your residence?” asked David.
The woman’s face flooded with the color of embarrassment. “The thought had crossed my mind before, but the house is so neglected.”
“Get some rest, Mrs. Madison. I’ll take a look at it myself tomorrow morning, all right?” said David, smiling. “If you agree, I’ll put the house in order, and you can put it up for sale.”
Gratitude overwhelmed the woman. She hugged the couple and said: “I am so grateful to you! You have given me hope.”
The next morning David got down to business. He called an acquaintance who restored old houses and asked him to come and look at Mrs. Madison’s home together. Upon entering the house, the men were dumbfounded by what they saw.
There was a thick layer of dust all around, cobwebs hanging everywhere, but the most frightening thing was the black slime covering the walls. “Outside now!” commanded David’s buddy and literally pushed him out of the house.
He retrieved two masks and several glass flasks from his car. Then the men re-entered the house, and David’s friend began collecting samples of the slime covering the walls. According to him, it was mold. From the look on his comrade’s face, David knew something was wrong. “Buddy, this is bad,” David’s friend pronounced. “I’ll send the samples to the lab, wait for the result. But I’m guessing the news won’t be good.”
“Okay,” David agreed. “But we can call in a cleaning service, right? A little dust and mold isn’t the end of it.”
But David’s buddy was adamant. “If my fears are confirmed, this house will never be clean and safe again.”
“Safe?” repeated David. “What do you mean?”
“If it turns out to be poisonous mold, there’s no use fighting it. It penetrates everywhere. There isn’t a single place it hasn’t seeped into. And if your neighbor continued to live here, she would have been sick a long time ago.”
The test results came back three days later. It turned out to be a very dangerous Stachybotrys mold, which experts had never encountered before. They called it an exceptional case and advised them to get rid of all the spores.
David told Mrs. Madison about the situation, and they decided to contact the fire department for help. From what the fire department expert said, it was clear that the only option was to burn the house down to prevent the mold from spreading to other houses. If they simply demolished the house, the mold spores would rise into the air and spread throughout the neighborhood.
Mrs. Madison had no choice but to accept the firemen’s offer. She watched with tears in her eyes as the fire ignited and consumed her old house. David gently held the woman close to him and said: “Our home is your home, Mrs. Madison. And you can stay here as long as you want.”
The old woman nodded her head in agreement. “Thank you for your concern, David. But I’d like my own little corner.”
A good idea occurred to David, but he didn’t voice it. The next day he gathered all the neighbors together. “I think you know that Mrs. Madison sacrificed her house and burned it down to keep the toxic mold from spreading through the neighborhood and harming all of us.”
“I suggest we all work together to help the elderly woman. Any suggestions?”
Among those present, someone said: “I work in real estate. Mrs. Madison has a pretty big lot, even bigger than any of us. There’s one developer in mind who might be interested in this offer.”
Fortunately, the developer was indeed interested in the lot. David, acting on behalf of Mrs. Madison, signed a contract with him. The firm was in the business of building a series of cottages for the elderly. As part of the lucrative deal, Mrs. Madison was given the opportunity to live the rest of her life in one of the developer’s finest homes.
David’s kindness and caring helped Mrs. Madison to get a great deal on her lot and a small detached home in her home neighborhood, where her best friends David and Lydia Castle were still neighbors.