Daydreaming for hours had been one of her favorite pastimes, but now she sat bored out of her mind in her aunt’s home for the summer.
She hated her parents for leaving her with an eccentric aunt they hadn’t seen in years. It was rumored that Aunt Mame had become more withdrawn since the death of her husband twenty years ago. Her aunt had isolated herself from every relative she had ever known and yet there wasn’t a choice as to who could take her for the summer.
Josie had understood their reasoning when they sat her down one night to explain that they needed time to be alone. Her mom was having a hard time getting over the loss of a child. Josie would have had a sister had she lived.
Aunt Mame lived in a three-story Victorian home that looked like the one in California that Josie had read about. The Winchester house had been built by a lady who had lost her husband and child in an accident and was told by a psychic that their ghosts would leave her alone if she kept building the home. She spent her entire life building on that house. A lot of the rooms and hallways were dead ends, and some of the staircases went on forever.
Her aunt’s home looked just like it, with little nooks and hidden rooms everywhere. There were a lot of places to explore in this old house.
Josie’s room had a Victorian canopy bed that was a little hard to climb into so her aunt had given her a stool to step on. The sheets were silk and the curtains flowed down like angel’s wings. The mattress was one of the softest she had ever laid on, and the room was bigger than her room at her parents’ home. There was an old-fashioned dresser complete with an armoire and a window seat that looked out the back of the house for miles. Her aunt had acres of land with fruit trees and a pigeon coop.
Lying down on the soft sheets, she fell into a deep sleep. Dreaming about her parents hunting an elephant made her smile because seeing them standing next to or damn near one was hysterical. They looked like ants against such massive creatures, and she could not help but smile. Then her dream went from funny to weird. A lady with long, curly red hair and the face of an angel started to sing, and as she sang Josie could see tiny cherubs strumming banjos and other cherubs shooting their arrows into floating hearts. Every now and again they whispered to each other their secrets. All she could hear in the wind was bring me back, bring me back. Confused by this and not sure where to turn or where to go in her dream, she turned around the trunk of a tree and saw a monster ready to grab he so she ran screaming her head off.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” her aunt asked her as she wiped the sweat from Josie’s brow. “I heard you all the way down the hall. What else can I get you? Are you sure you don’t want me to get in touch with your parents? I have their phone number in case there is a problem.”
“No, please don’t bother them. There is no reason to do that and I am old enough to take care of myself. My mom and dad really need this time to be alone. Don’t bother them, okay Aunt Mame?”
“All right, I won’t do that this time, but if you keep screaming you’re going to wake the dead, so cut it out, okay?”
“All right, I promise. I’ll try to keep it down next time, and believe me, there had better not be a next time.”
With that, the lights were turned off and good nights were said by all.
The sound of the rooster and the clattering of dishes woke Josie with such a start that she began to breathe hard and clutching her chest all wild-eyed she looked about the room, not sure where she was. It had been a fitful sleep and rested she was not. She clambered out of bed, put on her slippers and robe, and went to use the bathroom down the hall before heading downstairs.
As she walked down the dark staircase, the smell of sausage permeated her nostrils and smoke hung heavy in the air. She could see her breath as she came downstairs, and the chill of the air hit her arms like she had dived into the icy sea. The morning fire had not been attended to, and for a moment Josie thought it was one of her chores that she had forgotten when her aunt called from the kitchen to say that she had not gotten that far yet and would do it after breakfast.
After breakfast her Aunt Mame had chores in the barn, leaving Josie once again to her own devices. This particular day, she decided it was about time she did some exploring, starting with the house itself. She thought the best thing to do was to start at the top and work her way down to the basement. She had plenty of time to explore in the next two months.
The attic was dusty and so filled with huge spider webs that Josie didn’t know where to begin. To avoid some of the dust, she decided to start in the middle of the room. Seeing a trunk that looked interesting, she slowly lifted the lid and the smell of old moth balls filled the room. The clothes in the trunk were still in good condition and lifting through the slit she found a variety of heirlooms carefully wrapped in silk handkerchiefs and tissue paper. Lifting the tissue off of a garment she stared at a wedding dress complete with veil and matching gloves. She also found medals from the war that her aunt’s dead husband had been in. There were corsages so well preserved they looked alive. And at the bottom of the trunk was a pair of opera glasses still intact after all these years.
Later she would dust some of this stuff off so she could play with it. Looking up from the trunk for a moment she saw a weird shiny pattern across the room on the wall. Going over to investigate, she lifted a piece of material sitting on a table and noticed a section of the table that seemed to glow orange in color as the sun hit it. Tracing the glow with her fingertips she felt the edge indent just a little and pushing aside the rest of the wood she managed to open it. The drawer was built into the table, completely hidden from sight.
In this drawer she found puzzle pieces enclosed in an embossed velvet pouch. There wasn’t a picture of what the pieces were supposed to be about so Josie figured this was a chance to find some amusement. She loved a good mystery.
Spotting a table with a lamp on it she took the pouch to the table and dumping the pieces onto it, she separated the corners from the flat-edged outside pieces. Slowly putting the outside of the puzzle in place, she soon realized that several hours had gone by. Tired of sneezing from the dust, she took a break, leaving the finished pieces intact. No one had been up here for years so it was a sure thing that no one would disturb it but the attic critters that roamed the room in the darkness.
The next day she returned to the attic to figure out where the next section of the puzzle went and much to her amazement it took several hours of her time. This was partly because she had to continuously take breaks to stifle her sneezes.
Aunt Mame was not aware of the trips to the attic or the whereabouts of her niece, nor did she seem to care. Josie was only called for dinner and breakfast. Her aunt had her own chores and agenda for the day and Josie did not care about her whereabouts either.
As the puzzle progressed, it resembled a face that seemed familiar to Josie and yet she could not place it. The face was angelic and beautiful with long, curly, red hair. The young lady’s eyes seemed to follow her around the room. It looked as if the eyes had been crying for they were the clearest emerald-colored glass you had ever seen. It looked as if her soul were reaching through the picture.
Looking about the attic, Josie searched for photo albums, but to her dismay did not find any. The next day she asked her aunt, who told Josie to search the library. There was a greater chance the albums were there because albums were considered books, after all, her aunt had told her.
Walking down the hallway, Josie searched for the library and finally finding it she went in and looked around. Taking a few albums off the shelf, she looked inside them page by page. Not finding any pictures resembling the face in the puzzle, Josie became more and more discouraged. She recognized some of the relatives she saw in the photos, but none of them even remotely resembled the face in the puzzle.
When she was almost finished going through all the albums she could find, Josie was about to give up when she spied a huge book lying on a stool in one corner. The cover was heavily embossed and almost looked like a Bible but was not. Flipping to the middle of the album she found the face she was looking for. Next to the face she found a locket of red hair and a baby’s booty with no explanation. Once again she was at a dead end. She left the room and went to bed to think.
Falling into a deep sleep, her dreams once again whispered in her ears and she again woke up screaming. Looking about the room and breathing heavily as if she had been running in her sleep, she started to realize the lady in the puzzle was trying to speak to her through her dreams and she knew she had to ask her aunt who she was. Her dreams had cherubs, floating hearts and the most beautiful woman she had ever seen singing in a voice that would make a grown man cry. Maybe the dreams were trying to tell her something. If only she knew what it all meant. She was tired of waking up to the sounds of her own screams. Trying to make sense of her dreams and the puzzle was beginning to take a toll on her beauty sleep.
Getting dressed she glanced at the clock and seeing that it was time for breakfast she went downstairs to look for her aunt. Aunt Mame was in the basement tending the fire in the stove. The smell of bacon in the air made Josie’s stomach growl.
“Aunt Mame,” Josie said, “I’ve been having a dream I can’t explain. I have a hunch it has something to do with what I found in the attic. A couple of weeks ago, I found a puzzle in a secret drawer and when I put it together it was the most beautiful face I have ever seen with long, curly red hair and when I looked in the library I found her picture in the last book I looked in. Beside her picture was a locket of red hair and a baby’s booty with no explanation. Do I know her? She seems familiar and she was in my dreams before I found the puzzle in the drawer. Who is she? And what happened to her? She was singing in my dream and there were little cherubs strumming banjos, shooting their arrows into floating hears and they kept whispering to each other to bring me back, bring me back. Why do I keep dreaming about someone I do not know and can’t remember?”
“Wow, you certainly have a lot of questions,” her aunt said as she thought about what Josie had asked her. “I don’t know why you would be dreaming of her. She died a long time ago and no one has spoken of her since. Why don’t you go eat your breakfast and I’ll explain when you’re done, okay?”
“Okay”, Josie said as she sat down at the table. Contemplating her aunts words, she wondered what was coming next.
After breakfast Aunt Mame took Josie to the library. Gathering the dusty embossed album in her arms, her aunt walked behind two columned bookcases filled with romance novels and poetry books. Along the walls of the long hallway leading to a hidden room were pictures of ancestors framed in gold. It reminded Josie of a museum. Every other picture had an oil lamp hanging alongside it and was lit with the light coming from the end of the hallway.
Reaching the end of the hallway, her aunt paused for a brief moment as she lifted the plastic sheet off the window seat. The light in the hallway had some from the sun filtering in from a huge window that looked out onto the family graveyard which was now covered in rose bushes and ivy.
Sitting down on the cushion, she gestured for Josie to sit beside her. Josie waited patiently for her to speak.
“Jane was thirteen years old when she died giving birth. Her baby was also born dead. She had taught herself to crochet to pass the time on the farm she lived on and had made booties and a matching gown in anticipation of her new arrival. She had the voice of an angel and would often sing to her unborn child. The same fate had befallen her mother who had also died giving birth.”
” Her father despised Jane for killing his wife, and he often left her for days. She sang to keep herself company. At thirteen she got pregnant and none of us were sure who the father was. She was too far away to check on every day and there weren’t many close neighbors.”
“As she grew nearer the end of her pregnancy she went into labor and lying down in the barn with horses she attempted to give birth. We all think the baby was breach because when we found her the baby’s legs were sticking out of her body. The baby was too small to breathe on its own and there was no one to turn the baby in the womb so it could get air. Neither of them survived.”
“The puzzle was made by her father because even though he despised her, he loved the sound of her voice. He often told others that despite his resentment, he thought she was the most beautiful person on earth. She looked so much like her mother that it was like looking in a mirror and that is why he stayed away. He became a drunk after her death and ended up in a mental institution, where he hung himself a couple of years later. We were so ashamed of the incident that we tried to bury the past. None of their names were uttered again in this house. The puzzle was hidden so that no one would speak of it again.”
“The only reason I even know about it is that my grandparents used to tell us stories of the ghosts they saw at night in this house. We thought they were making up the stories to scare us until your mom went digging in the attic one day just as you did and discovered the family secret. Our grandparents were telling us the truth and passing down the tales as ghost stories.”
“I don’t know what your dreams mean, but I could probably venture a guess if you want me to?”
Josie nodded. “I would like to know what those dreams mean. I keep waking up screaming, and the dreams are so weird that it is keeping me up at night. So it would be nice to know if you have an explanation, ” Josie said.
“Well, perhaps the elephants signify the exaggeration of the story over the years and the whispering cherubs shooting floating hearts could mean that we have broken a lot of hearts over the years because we have not loved people for who they are. We have mistaken the sins of others for the people they remind us of. It was a mistake to forget she even existed.”
“Josie, I should have been paying more attention to you instead of wallowing in my own grief. My husband died twenty years ago and your mother lost a child. I’m sorry. We should call your mother, I haven’t really talked to her in years and I know we have grown apart. Do you think she needs me?”
“I think it’s time to bury the ghosts of our past and to move on, don’t you, Aunt Mame?”
“I agree. Let’s phone your mom, shall we?”