It was not your ordinary attic. Its huge windows provided a room of light, which one normally doesn’t associate with musty old books. It was comforting and calming. The room smelled of old books left long ago, mixed with the scent of the patchouli oil Aunt Penny loved to wear.
Jen stood at the windows staring at the pine trees which loomed tall surrounding the home. Memories came flooding back of the days of playing hide and seek with her older brother. She drifted off in thought remembering the pungent odor of the pine and the crackle of pine needles beneath her feet.
“Oh, how I loved to hide behind those trees.” She began to giggle, “I would crouch low to the ground waiting for Jake to yell ‘Ollie Ollie Oxen free’. Often I would laugh so hard that he would find me right away and I would run off screaming and laughing.”
Aunt Penny called a few weeks back inviting them to visit for the Spring break.
Jen loved the house, where she spent nearly every summer and holiday, and she loved her Aunt Penny.
Aunt Penny was a wonderful woman, artistic and creative and seeing things in ways many others didn’t. She was round and jolly these days, moving much slower, with more deliberation than she did in her youth. ‘Hurry up, hurry up’ used to be her mantra, not giving herself much time for flowers and peaceful things. Today, she takes the time to enjoy the things that matter to her most. She is very cuddly and soft and a joy to be around.
Her hair always danced in the wind; she loved to wear it down, with her floppy garden hat adorned with whatever fresh flowers she was clipping. She had light brown hair with curls falling all around her face. These days it is laced with the gray that comes with time and wisdom.
When walking into her home the scent of flowers was very strong. The colors of the latest pruning scattered about, illuminating the paintings on the walls. Jen had never found a place where she felt at home and as comfortable as she did at Aunt Penny’s. There was something very genuine in every corner. Some might call it earthy, because of the flowers, waterfalls, stained glass and all the furniture being decorated in earth toned fabrics. Some might call it an “Elegant Bohemian” style, if there were such a thing. The entry way itself was painted in such an artful way and when entering, it was as if walking into a painting. Painted on the walls were intricate designs of leaves and vines with assorted colorful flowers. There was gold leaf used to accent the highlights that would shimmer in the light, if it hit it just right. The high arches were of lovely Brazilian rosewood and the marble tiles beneath your feet were a deep green as if walking in a meadow, moving in a mosaic of patterns that were breathtaking. Leaving the entry way, the walls were covered in paintings by Monet and Renoir. They were as bright and lovely as the gardens she loves; perhaps that is where she got her inspiration.
In the foyer stood a lovely bronze statue, shining bright for all to see. When Jen was a child she was very embarrassed because it was a naked statue.
“Some say that obscene thing was designed after Aunt Penny, I can’t believe it and I won’t look at it.” She would say as she would run past it. Her brother would say, “Oh, Jen why do you make such a big deal out of everything? It’s just a statue.” As the years moved forward, Jen became enthralled by its beauty. The colors, which seemed to change when looking at it from different angles, danced about, like the flowers in the garden. The shadows of light playing on each rounded curve were romantic and sensual. The very romanticism of the body stood out now that she was older. It comforted her.
Jen’s favorite wall was closest to the kitchen, near the entry to the garden. Oil landscapes of many colors hung there with their deepest oranges and greens dominating the wall. Aunt Penny had painted these particular paintings herself. They were vibrant and full of life. While gazing into them you could hear the waterfall right outside the window. It was captivating.
Everyone was always careful in the parlor because that is where she kept the pottery.
“I have traveled the world over and collected these pieces. See this one? It is from Nepal. Never mind its cost but do look at these lines and colors” Aunt Penny loved to travel and had collected pottery pieces from all around the world.
“Where did you get so many vases of different shapes and sizes? Some are even taller than me!” Jen would ask. She would run her fingers across them and feel the differences of the type of clay used. Aunt Penny would beam with pride and gentle reflection, “Oh that one is from my trip to Milan. See the glass beads? Those are from the island of Murano. I love Murano hand-blown glass.” Aunt Penny pointed to a reddish brown vase on the shelf, “That one there is from Mexico, can you see the difference in the clay?” Aunt Penny made sure that everyone who crossed her path knew all about the clay as well as the paints used in any of the art pieces in her home. She thought it was her place in life to teach others about art, life and beauty. She herself had a pottery studio out back and the children dabbled in ceramics when they were young. The potter’s wheel now stands dusty and unused as no one has touched it in many years.
She loved candles and incense which always filled the house with exotic smells, reminders of her days being an author, painter, designer and even a rock and roll singer.
No one knew much about Aunt Penny’s history or upbringing. It was enough to know that she loved nature, the redwood trees, colors and art. The family knew Aunt Penny had stopped going out to public events suddenly and none of them really knew why. There were whispers, but Jen didn’t pry, she knew her aunt’s life came to an abrupt halt and decided to hide in the trees. She just didn’t know why. Aunt Penny didn’t leave her home very often. Her outings were limited to traveling to the coastal town of Jenner about 30 minutes away. She ventured the trek to get monthly necessities. The closest store was 20 minutes away and it didn’t have much. They just carried the basics for travelers passing through.
When Aunt Penny called she made herself clear, “Jen, you can have anything you like, there are some old books, some jewelry, my journals and countless photos. Feel free to rifle through them and keep what you want.” All of a sudden her voice had changed. She became much more serious and her voice got raspy and deep in a way Jen hadn’t heard since she was very little. “Jen, you must listen to me here. Please leave the boxes under the dragonfly window alone. I need to find a way to dispose of those boxes and I want you to leave them alone.” Jen was so excited about the prospect of all the goodies that she didn’t think twice about agreeing. “Sure, Aunt Penny, anything you want.”
Jen had been so busy at school and caught up in the hustle and bustle of deadlines and duties. She missed the ocean and the trees and the carefree life it offered; it was such a joy to get her aunt’s invitation. It felt great to finally be back at her retreat.
One would think that an attic had to be all wood beamed and closed off from sunlight, but Aunt Penny’s attic was four stories above the ground and completely surrounded by windows. Looking from the floor up, there were regular boxy windows but climbing about halfway up the wall they turned into the most remarkable stained glass art pieces. The stained glass reached far to the tippy top of the towering cathedral ceilings. The feelings of comfort came flooding in like the rainbows created by the sunlight in the stained glass.
Jen’s favorite stained glass panel was an odd one. It started only 3 feet from the ground. She could touch it as a little girl. She would trace her fingers across the lines and feel the glass panels cool to the touch. It had a small green and yellow dragonfly in the center of a diamond of blue; it had red bead eyes and etchings of the finest lines detailing the wings. She had always felt as if it was her very own treasure in the walls of many colors. There was a stack of boxes under the window, just like Aunt Penny had said. Aunt Penny made it clear to Jen to leave those boxes alone, that she wanted to find a way to dispose of them. They looked just like normal boxes to Jen.
Of course, she turned to the boxes stacked away from the dragonfly window, finding many boxes to rifle through. She knelt on the ground, opening a box filled with memorabilia. She gazed at the pictures she found of her shapely and manicured aunt.
“Wow, she was gorgeous.” She thought. Aunt Penny was on stage in a tight fitting black cat suit with thigh high boots, with lights all around, singing with Paul McCartney.
“No way, this can’t be true.” thought Jen. She started to rifle through all kinds of photographs and newspaper clippings, recognizing most everyone. She was amazed by everything she was seeing. There was even one with Aunt Penny and Sting. She knew her aunt had met and even worked with many celebrities but she never talked about it. The boxes were overflowing with back stage passes, playbills, even guitar picks. Jen picked up a pick and started playing air guitar with it. She peered closer and saw it was signed and had a logo imprint that said Led Zeppelin.
Why didn’t Aunt Penny want to keep all this stuff? What did she do? She knows I love Led Zeppelin and for goodness sakes I have been listening to Sting since I was in diapers! I don’t understand.
She then came across a steamer trunk with pictures from the days when her aunt worked in publishing. The pictures were of days of years ago, and again in nearly every photo she was surrounded by famous people.
“It is too bad they were hidden in a trunk in the attic, hidden as if to put her past, even that of her notoriety away.” It just didn’t make sense, thought Jen.
Aunt Penny hob-knobbed with many famous writers and publishers and her literary career was as prestigious her music career. It was due to all of her hard work and dedication that she sold her novels and bought her incredible home in the trees.
The family spoke softly, behind closed doors, about an addiction problem but Jen had never seen her drink, and everyone knew Aunt Penny abhorred drugs. She wouldn’t even take an aspirin.
Sifting through the countless boxes, she found many of Aunt Penny’s manuscripts. Again, not knowing why she quit writing.
She started to wonder, “Why, with so much excitement going on, would Aunt Penny quit? Is it humility? Is she being modest? “
Jen enjoyed going through the boxes and found jewelry, books and novelties. She found some earrings that must have been throwbacks from the sixties. They were giant silver peace signs, about 3 inches long. She grabbed some baubles and placed them on her neck. She relished in playing dress up like she did when she was a little girl, only now she was dancing around the room pretending to be a rock star singing with Paul McCartney. There were countless books of every genre and she made sure to grab them all. She even found a rotary dial phone and some phonographic records. She had heard of many of the bands she saw on the covers of the records but wasn’t sure that she could find a record player to listen to them and wasn’t certain that it would be worth her time. She stacked those in a separate pile from the things she wanted to keep. The keep pile was getting quite large.
“I truly hope she meant that I was to take anything that I wanted,” She thought.
Her journey through the boxes led her to her favorite dragonfly window. She traced her fingers along the dragonfly as she had done often as a little girl. It was her own little secret, a treasure she would always come to when visiting her aunt. How did she go from day dreaming and looking out of her favorite window, to doing the very thing she was asked not to do?
“I just found myself sitting in front of them; I found myself with the boxes of wires.” She would later say.
“Why would Aunt Penny keep the wires? And why would they be so hard to get rid of?” There were many boxes of wires but she had sat in front of one with its cardboard flaps bulging to reveal the wires tucked inside. She opened the box carefully to reveal the countless colored wires. They were little tiny wires, coated in a plastic coating. They looked like plain old phone wires but a bit heavier. She picked one up and started playing with it. You could bend them and mold them but she was told specifically to leave the boxes alone.
Looking up at her dragonfly, she thought, “Maybe Aunt Penny confused the boxes. She couldn’t have meant this silly box of wires. Could she?”
Jake yelled out, “Jen hurry, and come down here.” She was startled “What? I am coming!” she yelled. Picking herself up from the floor, throwing the wire she was playing with back in the box, she ran down the stairs.
It was hard not to giggle inside when she saw him standing there at the bottom of the stairs, eating a banana. He finally arrived to join them for the holiday. He was as goofy as a brother can be and still as handsome as ever. He was calm and unaware that she was secretly thankful that he had rescued her from herself. She wanted to go back to the wires.
“They were just wires.”
Jake’s hair was blonde with many highlights and streaks, just like hers, but unlike hers, his was curly and fun, much like Aunt Penny’s. Jen’s hair was straight and fine and couldn’t seem to do anything with it but pull it back in the ever present ponytail. He stood about 6’2’’ and weighing nearly 170 pounds. He was an athlete all throughout high school and college. He finished school last year but was still as active as ever. Many say that sports is what kept the two of them going during High School. Their parents died in a plane crash when Jen was only fourteen and Jake was sixteen. Jake pretty much took over as the parent with the help of Aunt Penny at every turn. They spent every spring break, summer and holiday at Aunt Penny’s house. Jake made certain that Jen attended all of his athletic events and kept her active throughout high school. She was happy to tag along because he was always very popular and fun to be around. It was a very painful time for both of them, but they had each other and that helped them through the hardest parts of it all.
“Hey Jen, I want to go surfing and the time is perfect right now. Aunt Penny has some boards in the garage. Ya wanna go?” He asked. What she really wanted to do was go back upstairs and play with the wires. That was just insane thinking. “I mean really, they were just wires.” “Sure Jake, I would love too!”
Surrounded by redwoods, they took off in Jake’s old school V.W. Bug with the surf boards sticking out the back seat. It was a red convertible, with a black top. They loved to drive with the top down, jamming to the classic oldies blaring from the CD player. The sights and sounds and even the smell of the ride was intoxicating. The ocean was just moments away.
They spent most of their youth playing at the beach and all of their teen years surfing. They didn’t have much time now since Jen left last year for college and Jake started working. Jen moved away from the ocean and moved to the farm town of Fresno to go to State there.
They were headed towards her favorite place in the world, but her mind kept wandering to the box of wires.
“Jake, you know Aunt Penny’s attic full of boxes of treasures? She asked me to go through them and grab what I wanted.” “Yeah, better you than me. I don’t have the time. You’re the ‘artsy fartsy’ one.” He laughed, “You didn’t happen to see a football or anything up there did you?” Jen’s laugher went well with the music from their favorite band blaring through the speakers. Jake was never one for art, or writing. He didn’t even like to read, but he loved surfing, football and anything athletic.
“No Jake, you know Aunt Penny doesn’t even know which end is up on a football!” Now they both laughed.
She hesitated, not sure how to approach the subject; “Jake, I found boxes of wires up there and Aunt Penny doesn’t want me to touch them. They are very pretty, made of hundreds of colors and I can’t seem to get my mind off of them.”
“Wires?” he asked. “Who cares about some old wires?” He was right, of course. They spent the rest of the day laughing, playing and surfing until they were too exhausted to move.
It was later that evening, she snuck back into the attic, rifling through the wires and creating things with them. She made some rings and some bracelets, adding one at a time to her body like a child playing dress-up with her mother’s make-up.
At first she felt a calming, nice relaxing feeling and then euphoric, almost as if it was an out of body experience, yet still fully enjoying her surroundings. The room was brilliantly colored and the windows of glass seemed almost like they were water filled. Jen enjoyed the feelings and thought it was because she had surfed all day and then returning to the comfort of the attic of her youth surrounded by all the treasures. She was flying all around the attic, feeling more creative than she ever had. It was as if Aunt Penny’s spirit was flying with her all around the room on her lovely dragonfly. The feeling would subside some and she would want it to come back, it didn’t last long at all and she would try to get it back frantically. She started making more jewelry, playing with the wires and her creative juices were just flowing out of control. She spent the night obsessed with all the designs she was creating and the need to recapture the euphoria.
“I must put these on my fingers and my toes. Oh! Look at the pretty blue one! I will dangle that from my ears.” She wanted the wire to adorn every part of her body, but she only covered her hands and lower arms before she got too drowsy and even somewhat dizzy and ran downstairs to bed and passed out.
She woke up the next morning rubbing her fingers. She had twisted the wires so tightly that she could feel her skin puffing up between the wires. Thinking about the day ahead, she was afraid to get out of bed and face her aunt. She lay there for awhile, wondering why she even opened the boxes in the attic.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Jake yelling. “Jeeeeeen, Aunt Penny is taking off to the village. Do you want anything?”
She put her head in her hands, relieved to find that her aunt would be gone for the day. It took hours for her aunt to do her monthly errands, sometimes it took the whole day.
“No thanks Jake!” she replied. She climbed out of bed, a bit worn out and drained, and then she slipped into some soft fuzzy slippers and went downstairs. Jake was having coffee at the sun terrace and she slowly approached him. She loved the flowers in this garden; it was their peaceful place. How Aunt Penny got anything to grow in the canopy of redwood trees is beyond anyone’s guess, but she did so masterfully. Jen was drawn to the singing of the birds when Jake said in disgust,
“Shit, Jen! You got into those wires! My God, why do you have them all over you?” Her arms were the only thing he could see through her robe and you couldn’t see any skin except the bits trying to escape through the wires. She really didn’t know how to answer and pulled a ring out from her robe pocket.
“Here, I made this ring for you.” It was a ring made of blue and yellow wires, braided and tightly wound. He was intrigued and touched by her gesture.
“You know, I don’t know what the big deal is with these wires Jen, but you can’t even see your arms. Doesn’t that hurt?”
He put the ring on his finger. Rubbing his hands together, he frantically started fidgeting with the ring. It was like he was having an allergic reaction. His head became dizzy but more alert at the same time. Hyper aware of his surroundings, he started to freak out, pacing back and forth, his coffee sloshing about and splashing every few steps, spilling all over the deck.
“What is this Jen? Did you put something in my coffee?” It frightened her to see him like this. She had never seen him act like this. He twitched and turned and his face became a flushed pink.
Beads of sweat starting to form on her forehead, Jen asked, “What’s wrong Jake?” He growled back, “Nothing’s wrong, where the hell are the boxes of wires?”
His tone was frightening. “Hurry up!”
She ran upstairs and grabbed a box of wires and brought them back to him. He started making all kinds of things, obsessed and with a fury.
“Jake you need to stop now, please Jake.” Jen started to cry.
Jake was making arm bands that he wrapped so tightly around his arm that you could see the skin turning purple and bubbling up. He even made toe rings of any which color and started wrapping them on every toe. He ran upstairs and started grabbing every box of wires he could find and threw them down the stairs into the parlor breaking one of Aunt Penny’s precious vases.
“Jake, please stop! You just broke Aunt Penny’s Vase! Jake please!” She screamed. Jen was becoming very frightened and started to pick up the pieces of the shattered vase.
He grabbed the phone and it fell from his hands, he snapped “Jen, get the guys here!” Jake was still trying to grab wires from the boxes and twisting them all over his body. She was too afraid to move and even started to remove the wires from her hands and arms. He grabbed the phone from the floor and started to call his friends.
“Josh, dude, there is a party over at my Aunt’s house. You have to check this shit out! Call Tom, Mary and the whole gang.” When Jen heard this she became even more frightened.
It was only moments, or so it seemed, that cars started pulling up to the house. Jake had always been popular and they knew wherever he was, there would be a party and when he had a party it was always a good one. They weren’t in town much these days, and their friends grabbed the chance to have some fun. They started to arrive by the car loads.
He offered a ring, then a bracelet, then other pieces of wired jewelry to the friends. Jen was too frightened and wished it would all come to an end.
Why was everyone acting so crazy? It was only wire! By now she had removed all the wire from her body but couldn’t dare take the wires from Jake and now his friends, who were twisting the wire around their bodies. They started to take off their clothes and wrapping wire around every part of their bodies, tighter and tighter. It became frenzy like, no one could get enough. People were tripping over each other to get to the wires. There stood a lovely girl with long red hair; who then grabbed the wire off another girl, with no care of how she was hurting her.
“Give me that!” She yelled. She ripped the wire off the girl leaving marks and bruises, slicing the skin with her force, and then she started wrapping it around herself and finally collapsed all curled up in the corner of the room. Jake was covering his arms and his legs in the wire and he couldn’t get enough. He started to wrap the wire around his neck and it couldn’t get tight enough for him, he pulled tighter and tighter. It was as if he was going to choke himself and didn’t seem to matter.
Jen tried to stop him. “Jake this has gone on too far. Everyone is going crazy. Please, I need your help.” Vases were crashing all over the place.
“Jake they are tearing up Aunt Penny’s house, breaking everything.” He was in a trance so deep he didn’t hear a word she said.
The front door opened, Aunt Penny in her sunny disposition came home excited to see her niece and nephew. She saw so many cars parked outside, she knew something was up. They always had such fun parties. Little did she know the chaos that had transpired in her home while she was gone. Pieces of wire were all over the floor, bodies were everywhere. One girl had all her clothes off but made undergarments of the wires; she hung over the TV in a trance. Just a few feet from her were a group of men wrapping wires around each other; they were wearing nothing at all. They all seemed “doped out.” The house was filled with people in a heroin like trance or frenzy to grab more.
As she walked into her parlor, all her vases were broken in bits and pieces and strewn all over the floor, Aunt Penny’s sunny disposition immediately turned into rage; she knew this scene, and it was all too familiar to her.
“What the hell is going on?” She came unglued. She screamed and shouted and demanded everyone remove the wire. The anger and hostility of the crowd grew wild, no longer subdued and trancelike. She started grabbing people and trying to remove their wires.
She yelled “Everyone, Stop! Please listen! The plastic coating on the wire creates a chemical reaction to human skin that is hundreds times more potent and addicting than heroin. Please remove it now! It can kill you.” No one would listen, they couldn’t really hear. Jen ran to her Aunt and huddled up close to her body.
“Stop them Aunt Penny, please. I am so scared. I am so sorry I got into the boxes. Oh My God what is happening?” “It’s ok, Jen, everything will be alright.” She tried to calm her, but she knew better.
Twenty years earlier Aunt Penny found out the hard way. She had lost her best friends in a scene just like this. She kept it a secret, like most things in her attic. She thought if she kept everything hidden no one could get hurt. She was afraid to get rid of the wires, thinking someone might find them. That is exactly what happened to her. She found the boxes on the beach and thought they would be a perfect addition to her artistic endeavors. It all started as something so fun and turned into something so awful. After the death of her best friend Mariah, she stopped using the wires, never touching one again.
“Why didn’t I get rid of the wires? I should have explained the dangers to the children, Oh Lord, please, please help me now.” She couldn’t believe she was seeing the same thing happening again.
In the same instant, they both saw him, limp, unable to move. Aunt Penny ran to Jake, Jen felt paralyzed, he stopped breathing.
The hospital was very quiet compared to the chaos they left just hours ago. They thought for certain they had lost him, yet the emergency staff was able to revive him, enough to where his heart was beating, yet he had no brain activity.
“Jake, you will make it, you just have to.” She barely whispered. “I am so sorry.” She cried as she laid her head on his pillow. She knew he couldn’t hear her, although they say that comatose people probably hear what loved ones whisper in their ears. The doctors say that he has a chance and she held on to that with all her might.
Will he remember any of this? Will he blame me? I do. Aunt Penny had to stay behind and help their friends and answer questions from the police and all the families.
I still don’t know why she kept the wires, I do not understand what happened to Jake, I do not know if any of our friends are going to make it or not. Why did it affect everyone so differently? The questions attacked her mind.
Why had I opened the box? Why hadn’t I listened? Why? I dragged everyone in with me. It was just wire.
She touched her cheek to his as a teardrop fell.
“I love you Jake,” she whispered.
He is alive was the thought that drowned out the rest. We will deal with the rest later.