The Whisper in the Attic
On bleary, cold, rainy days I could always count on finding her in the attic. If I was quiet, and sat still for long enough, I would hear the clop of a hoof, a breathy snort, or the occasional flicking noise of a long-haired tail smacking lightly against some smooth surface. I called her Raindrop, because the smacking of her swishing tail reminded me of the raindrops pattering on the attic window pane.
Raindrop loved the rain. I knew, because whenever the sky broke forth into tears there was always an aura of quiet contentment about her. I can’t see her, of course- she’s invisible. But over time I learned to search for the feeling of her presence, a deep imprint in a cushion, a horseshoe-shaped mark in a layer of dust. Most often I would see a thick book lying open on the old oak desk, its pages turning silently as if blown by some divine wind in a room where not a breath stirred.
Raindrop liked my owner, Lily, because Lily generally left her alone. Sometimes she would buy a book or two, for Raindrop to absorb lovingly before it poofed into a puff of smoke. On holidays, she would leave a treat- a golden, delicate scone dusted with sugar so fine it melted on the tongue like ice.
“She’s an old soul,” Lily would say as she sponged off spaghetti-stained plates. “She’s been here long before we bought this house.” Then she would kiss my cheek and carry me in her arms to brush my shiny Usul fur and tuck me into bed.
Sometimes Lily wasn’t there, preoccupied with school and “homework.”
“What’s homework?” I asked.
“Homework is a torture device used by teachers,” she explained. “We have to do it, or else we kids get punished.”
So I never put it against her.
But sometimes in the night when I missed her chocolate curls and warm embrace I would climb the carpeted stairs to sit with Raindrop. And Raindrop would tell me stories.
Raindrop whinnied and whickered, but she never talked. And yet, when I buried my face into her warm sweet neck and silky mane, I could understand her far better than the most eloquent of speakers. Colorful, vivid images would flash through my mind: fragments of memories, feelings, and thoughts. And so it was in this fashion that I learned of Raindrop’s past.
A radiant, beautiful Uni galloped through a sea of wavering green.
“Catch me if you can!” she laughed, gaining speed until she was but a thundering, blue flash of lightning. Behind her, a pretty girl with long, shiny black hair chased after her, laughing and wheezing.
“Constance!” she cried. “If you run any farther, you’ll run straight into the sun!” She laughed again, a merry tinkle that sparkled like sunlit water.
“Her name was Holly.” The Uni’s voice, now deep and somber, resonated through my mind. “She was beautiful- her face was the morning dew on fragrant rose petals, her smiles a summer’s day. Her deep brown eyes shone like glass in the sunlight. She was my owner. She was everything to me.”
The grassy fields melted in my vision and I reeled to find myself in the kitchen- only I wasn’t. The crisp, cheerful yellow Lily had chosen was now a rich, delicious red.
“Red,” said the voice. “The color of love, of temperamental passion, of fleeting but spirited capriciousness. It was Holly’s favorite color.”
Scattered around the room was a sort of busied mess. Half-filled notebooks littered the counters, as if the person using them had become distracted and had left them there. In one corner, a half-finished acrylic painting of a soaring Eyrie stood on its easel, long dry. Holly herself was cooking something on the stove, stirring a great pot with a wooden spoon. My mouth watered as I drank in the aroma of homemade soup, as real as if I had been standing there by the table with my Raindrop, or “Constance” as they called her. Now that she wasn’t a blur of speed, I took the time to admire her healthy, shiny sky-blue fur; unchipped, polished hooves and clear, hazel eyes as she gracefully ate her plate of spaghetti and meatballs. With a pang I recognized the sautéed mushrooms, the chopped chives and garlic- the same recipe that Lily always used.
“I’ll give one pot of soup for now,” Holly was saying. “The Soup Faerie needs all the help she can get to feed those hungry pets.” She pulled on the arms of the sweater tied around her waist.
“Will you have time to make more soup when you’re traveling?” asked Constance.
“No, I won’t have much time,” sighed Holly. “But don’t worry- I’ll always have time for you, sweetie.” Her arms encircled the Uni’s neck and Constance nuzzled her face. Then the scene of the kitchen flashed away into oblivion.
“Holly was always so talented,” said the voice. “She was a genius. Her art was acknowledged around the entire of Neopia, and she received much acclaim and praise.”
Suddenly I became aware of a great din of applause that crowded my ears and muffled my mind. I was in a great audience of graceful, winged neopets and faeries. I was in Faerieland! The bench beneath me was made of cloud. On a dramatic stage in front of the cheering masses was the slender figure of Holly, her long black hair hanging straight to her waist. She was bowing, again and again and roses and bouquets cascaded around her like the folds of her light blue dress, which was the color of Constance’s hide.
I saw her giving performances around the world, awing Neopets everywhere alike with the inspiring, rich cries of her violin, or the magical, exciting notes flowing from her harp. I saw her place a star-shaped trophy, her face beaming, on the fireplace mantle crowded by much desired and rare trophies.
Then all these images and the roar of the applause drained away, and I found myself standing in a much quieter place. I opened my eyes and found myself in a delightful garden, overflowing with blooms and eclectic fountains. A golden fountain spewing hot chocolate piped to my right, while Holly and Constance lay in the buttercups nearby. Holly, dressed in a white nightgown, was weaving a crown of daisies to match the ones entwined in Constance’s mane. A pleasant breeze carried the scent of exotic flowers.
“Where do you go when you’re in the ‘other world’?” asked Constance, as Holly finished the wreath and placed it around her head. “What do you do? What’s it like? And why do you always go back?”
Holly frowned as she began braiding the Uni’s snowy mane, contemplating her answer.
“The other place is what we call the ‘real world,’” she explained. “It’s where our family, our friends are. We go to school there, and do homework. I don’t mind- I like school. I do well and always get golden stickers.” She looked alarmed at the Uni’s sad gaze. “Oh, Constance!” she cried. “Don’t worry. You’re as real to my as my own family. Even if I disappeared for awhile or a long time, I would always come back! I would never leave you.” She flung her arms round Constance’s neck.
“You promise?” said the Uni.
“Yeah,” said Holly. “I promise.”
“Over the years, I watched her grow. She matured from a fine young girl into a teenager- crazy with mood swings, sometimes sleep deprived, and always with an aura of being rushed, or busy. I got the feeling that she saw our world as an escape from hers- one where she could be free, one with new adventures still, and sometimes, perhaps, one in which she could just rest. I saw her often, staring at the sky, as if she wished could just sprout white wings and soar away.”
The space around me darkened as if ash had filled the sky, and nondescript shapes formed into a room. The place seemed grey and disheveled. A mess of clothes, books and items lay strewn across the living room floor, and Holly was pacing up and down. She was wearing eyeliner, and her girlish gown had been replaced by tight fitting skinny jeans, a fashionable top, and layers of necklaces and black nail polish.
“How can he do this to me?” she was saying, her black hair streaming behind her in her agitated walk. “He ditches me because of Samantha? I thought we were friends!” She kicked a tin can (a prize from Tombola) out of her way and resumed muttering to herself. Constance stood silently in the doorway. I felt a burst of both anger and sadness as I saw the state Constance was in. Even in the muted light I could see she wasn’t what she used to be- her brittle tail hairs, her tangled mane; her coat had lost its luster as had her soulful eyes and spirit.
“Would you like to go to Mystery Island, Holly?” she asked meekly. “It could help cheer you up.”
“No, Constance,” said Holly. “My life is a train wreck. I can’t, I don’t- I’m not happy and I won’t be! Can’t you see?” She curled into a ball on the floor and wept.
The dull tones of this scene ran together like ink on a page. When Raindrop’s voice spoke again, it felt heavy, like a dead weight.
“It was like this for a few years. Gradually, she started logging in less and less. Then, I only saw her once every few months. I missed her terribly at first, and my spirit would ring as empty as a beggar’s bowl in hard times. But then I would remember the memories we shared together, and her promise, and I would be full and content with the soup of hope.”
“Then one night as I slept, I dreamt blurrily of Holly. The dark, smudgy outline of her hair and face hovered above me, and I imagined that I felt her hand caress my head. When I woke, I found the key to Holly’s bank account and a note.”
Once again, my surroundings became a blinding light and I felt pulled into another world. I blinked to find myself standing in a familiar room- my room! Constance was huddled in her blanket, staring at the two items lying on her dresser: a small, folded piece of paper, and a shining key. She unfolded the paper. It read:
I’m sorry I must leave in this way. Constance, everything I own in Neopia is now yours. Go see the world- Be happy. Maybe in the future, I’ll see you again.
I love you.
Time passed. Constance traveled the world, wide-eyed and amazed. But she always came back to her little house, just in case Holly decided to visit. Yet more time elapsed, and Constance stopped traveling. She spent more time reading in the attic, where Holly had spent so many mornings perusing Neopian knowledge, stories, and maps. She stopped going out. Her blue coat turned grey, and eventually turned invisible, for there was no one to see her. Her voice disappeared with lack of use. She remained in her attic, waiting patiently, day after day, month after month, for the return of her owner.
It was an ordinary night. After a dinner of chicken wings, peas, and mashed potatoes, Lily combed my fur and carried me upstairs to my room. As she leant to tuck the covers under my chin, I gazed upwards at her chocolate curls and mild green eyes. I looked at her modest Go!Go!Go! trophy, of which she had been so proud, gleaming dully on my bookshelf where she had decided to place it.
“Lily?” I asked.
“Will you always stay with me? On Neopets?”
She heaved a sigh.
“Yes, I don’t suppose I’ll be bored of Neopets any time soon.”
“What if you leave? Or if you grow up?”
Lily’s eyes crinkled merrily.
“I’m already sixteen,” she said. “I’m already growing up.”
“But when you’re older,” I insisted. “When you’re an adult.”
“Then I’ll have a kid and we’ll play Neopets together,” she said. “He’ll have his own account.”
“You promise?” I asked.
“Yes, Holly,” she said. “I promise.”