Tuesday, August 30, 2011


A Short Story
L.J. Holmes
August 30, 2011

Music, coming from the attic?

Brenna frowned and tried to remember if the interim owners warned her of strange music coming from the attic. They'd told her about the iffy sump pump, and the transient functioning of the central air. Brenna believed both...after all, her father installed them many years ago, and the last thing her father believed in was doing it right.

Still, none of that explained the music drifting down in varying cadences from the attic now.

Back in her childhood years, the attic had indeed been haunted, by annoying beasties with clicking nails, long tails and rodent-like whiskers a-twitching. Some had wings she'd feared would get entangled in her hair and suck her blood dry. She'd always had an active imagination.

Not that there hadn't been musical treasures for an avidly eager, but timidly alert young mind to unearth.

The guitar, older by far than any guitar her brothers twanged through the house during their "ain't nothing but a hound dog" days lay buried inside a chest the young Brenna felt certain belonged to some ancient pirate dangling precariously, and only mentioned in hushed tones, from one of her family tree's spindly branches. Of course the stuffed parrot sitting atop it was a dead giveaway of origins too.

The truth was much better. The fancy instrument belonged to the General, the grandfather Brenna never met. The same grandfather who convinced the shaman's daughter to leave her tribe and spend her Forever in the arms of the man who adored her...his.

On the other side of the open beamed attic, young Brenna found a dresser bureau dovetailed so well, she suspected a master cabinet maker created it during the Civil War era. In the second drawer and beneath the genuine gypsy costume she spent her childhood hankering to don on any Halloween, little Brenna found a leather box, this long and only that wide. She opened it.

She thought it a flute made of pure silver, but her mother quickly corrected that assumption. She never confirmed the silver part, but the flute was a piccolo.

"Who did it belong to," Brenna asked her Mom.

Shrugging her shoulders and shaking her dark head, Brenna's mom admitted she'd never learned who in the family played the really ancient woodwind instrument.

"I suspect Thomas J. Grayson owned it, " her mother continued. A logical assumption. Little Tommy Grayson played the flute for General Arthur St.Clair of the Continental Army.

Looking at her ceiling, the music a cry of pain, Brenna pondered the wrenching sounds that switched to a clicking so fast and furious she felt rage to the very center of her marrow.

Castanets! She'd found them in the bottom drawer of that old bureau and always suspected the gypsy costume belonged to some impudent side of her family lineage and the castanets belonged to the same cousin. Did the Romany people spend time in Spain?

Some say castanets originated in around one thousand B.C. with the Phoenicians, a very commercial people who thrived in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy and Spain. That would fit.

A deep, pain filled wail from above, brought a lump to Brenna's throat and a stab of hurt to her heart.

The violin. She'd never been able to play it in her youth, the strings on the bow long frayed and broken. But she'd recognized, even as a kid, the beautiful instrument in the steamer trunk beneath her Grandmother's tissue wrapped wedding gown had not been made by someone with the first name Bubba, but by a true maestro?

None of her brothers could be bothered to learn to play an instrument, and although she sat for long hours beside her Grandmother before the Concord Mission Upright Piano, her fingers never created the hauntingly beautiful tones her Grandmother's did. Brenna wasn't so much tone deaf, as finger deaf.

The ceiling seemed to vibrate as the music in the attic swelled.

All the instruments were long gone. After Brenna's mother died, her father pillaged through the years of family history, pawning it here and there before going one step further, dumping the house on the first willing buyer to come along.


It's taken Brenna years to make her name and fortune. No overnight success for author B.J. Hellings. Finally, only three weeks ago, she'd signed the closing papers, accepted the keys to her former childhood home and began moving back.

The neighborhood changed in the intervening years...oh, not on the surface, but beneath it. The Garmichaels, Kaltons, Liversons, Rowtons, and even the Kittricks, descendants of the Founding Father were all gone, some just names on headstones, others scattered to the many winds.

The music pitched.

Did she have a ghost?

Could it be her Grandmother, unhappy that her treasures, treasures given to her by the man who claimed her love and loyalty right up till her own death, thirty years after the General's passing has returned?

If Nan haunted this house, Brenna could not blame her, especially the attic, so voluminously empty of all signs the General and the Indian Shamaness loved this way.

Once more a wail of soul deep mourning permeated the rafters, gripping Brenna's spine and squeezing till she also howled.

"What are you trying to tell me, Nan?" she asked the wooden ceiling. The piano keys created a litany of anguish, despair and loss; the castanets clicked with a fiery rage. "I don't understand."

From somewhere above her, it drifted down. Bending from her waist, Brenna lifted it to her eyes and blinked back the tears. "Oh Nan!"

The photo in her hand, Brenna never saw it in all the boxes of pictures she'd happily scoured as a child. It showed a dapper man with white hair as pure as a new blanket of snow in his form fitting beribboned uniform and a beautiful long haired, high cheeked woman in a gown of imported lace both seated at the piano Brenna spent her childhood trying to learn how to play. Behind them was a wall of instruments, all classics, displayed with pride...a violin so well crafted it gleamed despite the black and white patina of the photograph; a piccolo back draped by an early, early American flag, a guitar finer than anything her brothers twanged during their "ain't nothing but a hound dog" days, and castanets she did not doubt for a moment were crafted in the days of some impudent Romany temptress.

The truth hit her.

"You want it all back," Brenna said out loud. "You want your treasures back."

The music crescendoed, joy replacing the haunting laments of anguish and loss.

"I promise, "Brenna swore, her gaze on the ceiling above her, "I will find them and bring them back."

A light trill from the piccolo, and an airy tinkling of piano keys, blended with the lighthearted click of the castanets.

Turning towards the door, she grabbed her purse and keys. She had some antique shops to visit, but before she closed the door on her exit, her eyes were drawn to the sparkling motes in the sun streaming through the picture window...just for a moment...could it be?

The General and Nan, right there in wavering flesh, looked back at her with happiness and a love so deep and unconditional aimed, could it be, at HER, Brenna felt complete. Long after the motes shifted, Brenna smiled and thanked the Fates for bringing her home!


gail roughton branan said...

Yes, it is for such stories the Maltese Falconess and I begged you to forego the pictures so that the words could shine alone!

Tanja said...

Oh, Lin, this is sensational. It's just gone 7.00am, here, and I know I will be thinking about the nuances and implications of this story all day. NOW you know what I mean by "Treasure Chest".

Mary said...

Lin, thank you for sharing your lovley story. Usually on a morning, I make my coffee and sit at the laptop and work, work, work. This morning I opened your story and got lost in the attic.

Mary C.

Lin said...

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I wrote this last night, right here, so have no idea how many words it is. I started writing it at 8:15 and finished the last word at 8:47. I went back and checked it for mistakes...though I always miss a few...the scars across my eyes create distortions that no longer allow me crystal clear vision, and then I found the one and only pic I have decided to use on my Lin's Little Words entries. I am really pleased you like my story.

lionmother said...

I loved the images you wrote here and it was pretty creepy. It's bright sunshine outside and the middle of the afternoon and I'm glad I read it now instead of at night! You are good! Get going on a mystery/ghost story :) You are so talented!!!

Lin said...

I don't think I meant it to be scary...more a grieving process for the treasures we accumulate during life, that other devalue and cast out into the world of the avaricious. An antique to a collector is a piece of one's soul-life to another. Which is more valuable?

Diana DeCameron said...

Ahhhhhhh, yes. The attic. I definitely connected with this story. I remember being 10 or 11 when my mother decided to move my collection of unused toys to the attic. It bothered me (still does) that they were "up there" ... all alone. (sighs) Yep! This story got to me.

Lin said...

When I was a girl, I was given one of the dolls that allegedly walks with you and turns her head this way and that. Don't know who manufactured the one my parents gave me, but the first time she moved her head, it popped clean off leaving this sharp rod coming out of the rest of her. My parents put her on the top shelf of their bedroom closet.

I couldn't understand why my doll was now off limits. I'd go into the closet, look up at the broken pieces of her and feel so sad because she was up there on that shelf and I was down here so wanting to love her.

She remained up there. Somehow once they'd put her there so I wouldnt' get hurt until they'd had her fixed, she got forgotten by all but me. She never was fixed.

She was still there eighteen years later when my own daughter was born...of course, now I understood why she had to be taken away...still, it would have been niced if the parents had really bothered getting her fixed.

Not an attic post script, but no less lamentable for it being the top shelf of a closet I was not allowed to retrieve from.