The attic became Whisper’s next big project. All of her aunt’s belongings had been left up there, and Whisper had to make room for her own books and clothes and other oddities. She felt like it was both a treasure hunt an and an adventure; each item told her of her Aunt Tori, of whom she’d always known so little.
Tori had loved old things. Whisper found a box of antiques on the shelf at the top of the wardrobe, items that Tori had kept after cleaning out the attic. All of her clothes were fine, old-style dresses as well, most of which (to Whisper’s and Mrs. Spring’s delight) fit Whisper perfectly. There was a stack of magazines in the desk drawer all about artifacts from different periods of time. Inside the tower room were lots of low bookshelves ringing the whole room, each stuffed with book—a surprising amount of these were on the occult—and each window was complete with a padded seat. Next to the door was a tightly spiraled iron staircase that led to the uppermost tower room, which had once been a greenhouse of sorts. It took ages to clear away the dead plants and many cobwebs.
“This brings back so many memories,” Mrs. Spring sighed the Saturday before school started. She and Whisper were going through Tori’s jewelry box; Mrs. Spring was holding an old pendant of opal ringed with emeralds and pearls. “I think this was something she found in the attic. Here; you have it.” She passed the pendant to her daughter.
Whisper held it thoughtfully. There was something familiar about the old necklace; it’s weight and shape in her hand, the glitter of green from the emeralds, the way the white gold wire wound its way gracefully about the jewels. “It must be worth a lot of money,” she said, swallowing hard. “Those stones are genuine.”
“Most things in this house are worth a lot of money, Whisp. Go on, put it on. It’ll look wonderful with your eyes.”
Whisper obediently slid the chain over her head, letting the pendant fall between her breasts. It felt as if it belonged around her neck. Mrs. Spring had already moved on to a new jewel. “Oh look, I bought her that pearl ring for her birthday—I found it at the antique shop. You’re built so much like she was; it should fit.”
Whisper took the ring and examined it. “Mom, are you just going to give me all of Aunt Tori’s things? Don’t you want some too?” She was half ecstatic, half stern. Shouldn’t Mrs. Spring have some mementos from her little sister?
But Mrs. Spring only shook her head. “No, Whisper, you can have them. Seeing them is more than enough for me, and I’ve got my locket she gave me years ago—that’s plenty. Besides, all this property is going to be yours someday.”
Whisper opened her mouth and promptly closed it again. She’d never so much as had her own computer or phone. She couldn’t quite comprehend what it meant for her to own all of Faerie Haven. Her stomach seemed to suddenly vanish every time she tried, so she put it out of her mind for now. “But what about Michael?” she finally asked.
Mrs. Spring shrugged. “He says he loves visiting the estate, but he doesn’t want to own it. All he’s asked for is financial help with college—if he needs it. He sounded as though he didn’t expect to. Oh, here we go!” Mrs. Spring produced a tiara from the bottom drawer of the jewelry box. “I wondered if she still had this…Whisper, you’re going to have to go to every dance so you can wear all these fine things!”
Whisper’s jaw dropped; it wasn’t a tiara like she’d first thought, but an elaborate circlet of delicate white gold with emeralds and opals and tiny beads of pearls. It had a teardrop of emerald placed to dangle on the forehead, and strings of pearls going back from the circlet itself to wind in the hair. It was made to match the necklace, she realized, but that wasn’t what had astonished her so. It was the circlet from the painting of that woman who looked like Whisper! She took it reverently, explaining to her mother where she’d seen it.
“Yes, I remember that now you mention it,” Mrs. Spring mused. “I’ll have to go take another look. She’s one of your ancestors, I suppose.” She smiled at Whisper and then checked the grandfather clock Whisper had taken from an upstairs office and hauled into the attic with the help of her dad and Michael. “My goodness, is that really the time? Whisper, I have to start dinner. You should come down and have a sandwich too; you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.”
“You’re right, I haven’t,” Whisper realized. She carefully put the jewels back in their box. “But all the same, I’m not very hungry. I’d rather just keep going until dinner if that’s okay.”
“If you’re sure,” Mrs. Spring replied, descending down the stepladder.
Left alone in the attic, Whisper took a minute to look around. Now that it had been cleaned, it seemed much more cheerful. The damaged canopy of the bed had been replaced with bright, gauzy turquoise material to match the original. The layers of peach and white chiffon over the shutters brightened up the deep green of the walls. The few boxes that were left had been pulled from the corner for investigation, and the desk had been cleared out. There were neat stacks of paper and pamphlets and Tori’s old clothes and sorted piles of the other odds and ends. There was still a box she hadn’t inventoried, nor had the bottom two vanity drawers. Whisper put the big, fancy jewelry box back on the desk and turned to the vanity.
The uninvestigated drawers contained more clothes, which must have been very fashionable twenty years ago. Whisper loved all of them and put them aside with the rest to be cleaned. Whisper felt they were precious; once Tori had worn these and loved them….
Those inventoried and sorted for the washing machine, Whisper dragged the last dusty box towards her. Opening it, she found a notebook laid carefully on top of a layer of fabric—dark blue velvet. None of the other boxes had been so neatly and mysteriously packed. Curiosity aroused, Whisper dusted off the notebook and opened it.
It didn’t seem to be written in English…! Whisper guessed it was some kind of made up alphabet or cipher, because it didn’t look like any language she’d ever seen. Whisper flipped through it carefully; it was all written in those strange, elegant symbols—and then she found it. There was a cipher key on the very back page. Whisper had been right; each letter had been substituted for a different symbol. Whisper was caught up with excitement for a moment. She wanted to just start translating the notebook, but she also had to finish going through the box. Sighing slightly, she set it aside for now.
Whisper drew out the blue velvet next, shaking it out. It was a cloak, made for an adult—it was a little too long for Whisper. The generous cascades of rich, night-blue fabric shone in spite of the plague of dust. It had a deep cowl and a silver clasp at the right shoulder to hold it closed. She shook it once more, roughly, so the fabric snapped and dust came off in clouds. Then she laid the cloak down too, turning back to the box.
Underneath the cloak, Whisper found a stack of paper and folders as well as a mahogany chest that she thought might be another jewelry box. She pulled it out carefully. Its heavy weight was reassuring in her hands, and it had a faint, musty odor of roses to it. She found it rather strange. Like the boy, Lance, and like the tiara from the portrait, it seemed familiar in a way she couldn’t comprehend. Surely, she thought, surely I have held this box before. The scent of roses was more haunting still; she’d always felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu coupled with an intense longing she didn’t understand when she’d caught that scent. Here in the Northern end of California, where its scent mingled with that of sea and forest, those sensations were so acute Whisper thought she might actually remember whatever was floating on the edge of her memories.
She sat for a long time just staring at the box, maybe six inches long and four inches wide and about five inches deep, with a clasp on the lid and a keyhole. Then, finally, moving sluggishly as though burdened by a great weight, Whisper tried to undo the clasp and open the box.
Nothing happened. Whisper felt bitter disappointment as she realized it was locked. Desperately putting down the box, she began to pull out all the paper, hunting for the key. She had to know what was in that chest!
Well no, no you don’t, said a dreamy voice in Whisper’s head, one not at all her own—and yet very much hers, as hers might be if she’d been brought up in the high society of England. Not now, you don’t. You aren’t even half ready. You haven’t even remembered how to Dream yet.
Whisper, you’re raving mad, she told herself frankly. She suddenly felt rather oppressed by the attic. Gathering the stack of papers and tucking them securely under one arm, Whisper descended the stepladder cautiously, then went down and down to the first floor so she could spread out in the living room to the comforting sounds of her mother working in the kitchen.
“I still don’t understand why you came down here to do it,” Mrs. Spring informed her daughter with a suspicious glance at the piles of paper. Whisper shrugged.
“It was just too quiet up there, that’s all. Goodness, these papers….” Whisper held one up to the light. “Most of them are photocopies of old documents—from the 1800’s. I wonder why Aunt Tori had them.”
“Well, Tori did love old things!” Mrs. Spring’s voice had lost much of it’s old tenseness when speaking of her long-lost sister. Whisper was suddenly very, very certain it had been entirely right for them to move here and then for Whisper to claim the attic as her room. “I guess she found them interesting.”
“Hang on, this is a death certificate,” Whisper realized suddenly, her eyes widening at the piece of paper. “It says, ‘Issalia Carpenter, missing, presumed dead. Date of death, unknown, cause of death, unknown, body not found.’ Here are two more underneath it…strange, everything is the same except the names. ‘Ilevial Carpenter,’ and ‘Aeldan Bryden.’ How odd…even the names are unusual. Hang on, here’s another one! ‘Larksong of the Valley—that’s a title, not a name. I wonder if she was Native American? Everything else is the same as the others.” Whisper fell silent. Aeldan…that name is so precious somehow, she thought. Once again, a blurry image came to her mind; a young man with long, orange hair in a ponytail and bright silver eyes, smiling joyfully. A man who looked like Lance and yet wasn’t Lance.
Mrs. Spring took a break from her work, interest aroused. She took the papers from Whisper. “That is strange,” she mused. “I recognize the names Issalia and Ilevial. I think they were siblings adopted by Percival’s father—Percival’s sister and brother.”
“That woman in the painting on the second floor,” Whisper exclaimed suddenly, “the one wearing Tori’s tiara, the one who looks like me—that’s Issalia!” She was filled with an odd certainty, convinced she was right.
“You can’t know that,” Mrs. Spring said dismissively. Whisper frowned, her brows drawing together. “Besides, if you’re right, where do you think you get those looks? Issalia and her brother both died—or disappeared, I guess—without any children.”
Whisper didn’t understand it any more than her mother did, and yet Whisper knew she was right. Her eyebrows were drawn down over her big, deep eyes, which had narrowed slightly. The effect on her was rather intense. “But that is who she is, Mom. I know it.”
Mrs. Spring looked worn again. “Whisper,” she said sternly, “there is no possible way to know that. The portrait isn’t labeled; I checked. There isn’t even a signature from the painter.”
Whisper didn’t answer. She knew there was no point arguing with her mother when Whisper didn’t even understand the situation herself. Rather she turned to a different matter which had been bothering her. She let silence prevail for a while, watching intently as her mother calmed back down, then sprung her next question.
“Mom, are you going to start painting again?”
Mrs. Spring turned back to her daughter, bewildered. “Painting? My goodness, Whisper, how do you even know about that? I haven’t painted in years and years…I hadn’t even considered it, Whisper.” She looked thoughtful.
“You should,” Whisper went on enthusiastically. “After all, you don’t have to work anymore if you don’t want to. We’ve got all this family money and Dad’s getting paid nearly twice as much as he was in the city.”
“Maybe I will, Whisper, maybe I will…I used to buy canvases and these really nice paints from the art shop by the docks. I wonder if it’s still there.”
“Other than tryouts and registration, I haven’t been in town much, so I couldn’t tell you.”
“We’ll go Sunday if you want. We’ll go have a big sea food dinner to celebrate the beginning of your first year in high school.”
“Naw, I like your cooking. How about I call Dad and ask him to pick up some crab legs and shrimp?”
“That does sound good,” Mrs. Spring smiled. “There’s a sushi bar at the market, too. Tell him to get us each a sushi roll. Oh—and salmon. We’ll have a feast!”
Whisper bounced out of her seat, scattering paper as she dashed for the phone. “Whisper—” Mrs. Spring tried, half amused and half disapproving, but Whisper was already chattering away to her father.
That night after dinner, Whisper finished packing away everything she knew she wanted stored in the basement. The rest she draped over furniture or stacked on the desk, awaiting further inspection. Then she collapsed on top of the bed, her daily allotment of energy finally spent. Her eyes were heavy and she felt sleep coming almost immediately.
Right before she drifted off, however, Whisper head the same dreamy, bell-like voice in her head as she had before; Time to start the dreaming.
Whisper was standing on a small, handsome ship, pitching restlessly over the harbor. She could see the shoreline—from a distance it looked a soft, fuzzy green with poufs of silver mist crowning the hills. “There, are you satisfied with the ship?” someone called out to her; Whisper turned to see two men grinning like children at her. One looked very much like Michael, but taller and with hair growing down past his collar, and he wore informal clothes from the mid 1850’s. The other had shorter hair, platinum blonde, and brown eyes with a triangular jaw that reminded Whisper of her mother’s. He also seemed to be a good nineteen or twenty years older than the other.
“It’s brilliant!” Whisper replied, leaning out over the rail and feeling the wind whip through her hair. She wore a dress of powder blue and white, and her hair was in a cascade of loose brown curls down her back. She was holding a bonnet in her hands. “You’re going to have to take me out every day!”
“Oh dear, I knew she’d say that!”
“Aye, I daresay we’re stuck with her now.”
Whisper grinned at them. “Yes, well, be that as it may, I do need to get back to shore,” she replied dryly. The others laughed.
“Of course, no time for a new toy with your lover awaiting on the dock! I think that Irish lad is quite jealous, you know—the Gallagher one.”
Whisper frowned at him. “It’s not funny, Percy. Levi, stop laughing! Oh, just take me back. You’re both loons!”
The two laughed all the harder, turning their sailboat around and heading back towards the shore. Then mist seemed to cover them and the scene disappeared; when Whisper could see again, she was somewhere else entirely. I’m back in the present, she thought, or nearly so. She was standing in front of Siren Manor but the house didn’t look like it had ever been abandoned.
The front door opened, and someone came spilling out onto the front lawn. Whisper felt her heart quicken. “Aunt Tori!” she spluttered, recognizing the girl with the long black hair and almost Asian features. To Whisper’s surprise, Tori turned towards her, seeming to hear her call. Whisper’s eyes widened, and a smile broke over Tori's face. She moved towards Whisper quickly, with a furtive glance over her shoulder.
“Whisper! You are Whisper, aren’t you? You look just like that portrait in the hallway!” She took Whisper’s hand and Whisper was shocked to find her solid and warm and real. “We can’t talk out here. They already think I’m crazy!” She pulled Whisper away into the trees, her old-fashioned gown of white rustling softly. As soon as the trees swallowed the sight of the house Tori stopped and turned back to Whisper, smiling brightly. “Oh I am so glad to see you!”
“But how do you see me?” Whisper asked blankly. "I’m dreaming, and you’re dead.”
“But of course you’re dreaming!” Tori beamed. “That’s what you do. But…when do I die?” A troubled look crossed her face. “Never mind, don’t answer. I’m not supposed to ask questions about my own future. I’m sorry for pulling you away from your Dreaming, but I have something to give you.” Tori bowed her pretty head of thick, shining black hair, lifting a long chain from around her neck. A tarnished, old, bronze skeleton key emerged, dangling at the end of the chain. “Here, take this.” She held it out to Whisper, who took it.
“But…what is it for? Is it for the music box I found?”
Tori smiled again. “No, it isn’t for the music box. I’m surprised you know that’s what it is--most people thought it was just a jewelry box. I don’t think you’re ready for that yet—this is for something else. No, don’t ask! I can’t tell you. You aren’t ready yet. You’ll just have to figure it out on your own.”
Whisper felt confused as she stood there, clutching the key. “But this is just a dream, isn’t it?”
“Whisper, to you there is no such thing as 'just a dream!' Just trust me—and trust yourself, girl! Now you keep that key safe with you. You’ll understand everything when the time comes.” Mist was beginning to cloud Whisper’s vision again and she new her dream was ending.
“Wait, no—I have some much I want to ask you!” she called.
But there was nothing Whisper could do. The dream had ended.
Whisper woke up, her pajamas sticking to her skin and the bedclothes tangled up in her legs. For a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was, or what she was doing—and then her dream came flooding back to her. At the same moment, Whisper realized she was holding something in her hand. She held it up to her face—and sat bolt upright in bed.
Dangling from a chain in her hand was the key Tori had given her in the dream.