CHAPTER TWO – The Midnight Caller

Holly had a wonderful time skating with her friends that day and returned home from Murphy’s Hollow before dark, just as her mother had told her to. Twilight was wrapping around the old farmhouse as Holly hung her skates on the nail outside the kitchen door and removed her boots. Her sock feet slipped sideways on the hardwood floor as she walked into the kitchen to begin preparing dinner for her family.

“Cole!” she yelled. “Come in here and help me.”

A moment later her little brother scurried into the kitchen and gave her leg his impression of a bear hug. She ran her fingers through his soft, blonde hair and patted his back.

“What do you need me to do?” he asked.

“I need someone to go into the pantry and find me a can of green beans. They should be on the middle shelf, and there will be a picture of green beans on the can. Do you know anyone who could do that for me?”

“I know what green beans look like,” Cold answered.

“Well, it sounds like you’re just the man for the job.”

Cole rushed across the kitchen floor and disappeared inside the pantry. A moment later he was back at Holly’s side and offering her the can.

“Great job! Thank you, kind sir,” Holly said, smiling down at him, even though the can contained asparagus.

“What else do you need?”

“I think that’s it for now. You can go watch TV. Supper will be ready in a few minutes.”

“Okay. But if you need anything else, I can do it for you.”

“I know you can.” Holly nodded as she opened the can and poured the asparagus into a sauce pan and placed it on the stove.

Everything was ready and waiting when her father came home from work that evening. She called Cole to the table, and she fixed a tray for her mother, as she did every night before eating her own supper.

When Holly carried the tray upstairs she was a bit surprised that her mother’s bedroom was dark. “Mama?” Holly whispered as she walked toward the bed. “Are you asleep?”

“I was,” her mother answered.

“Well, wake up, sleepyhead. It’s supper time.” Holly set the tray on the night table and pressed the switch on the lamp.

“I’m sorry you went to all this trouble. I’m not very hungry tonight, sweetheart,” her mother said as she struggled to sit up in bed.

Holly couldn’t help noticing how thin and pale her mother looked – even more so than the day before. She seemed to be getting worse with each passing day, and Holly hoped the medicine would start helping before long. “Did you take your pills?” she asked.

Her mother picked up a tissue and coughed into it as she nodded.

“At least try to eat a little, Mama. Won’t you? The doctor told us that you need to eat, and it might make you feel better. I’ll be back later to get the tray.”

Her mother told her she would try, and Holly went back downstairs. After dinner, Holly shooed Cole off to bed and began cleaning the kitchen. After she had washed and dried the dishes and told her father goodnight, she climbed the stairs to her mother’s room to get the tray and to see if she needed an extra blanket to keep her warm.

Holly was surprised again when she entered the room. Her mother usually stayed awake after supper until Holly picked up the tray and kissed her goodnight. But her lamp was turned off, and she was sleeping again.

She tiptoed quietly to the bed and picked up the tray, and she took it back downstairs to the kitchen. A few moments later, as she was heading up the stairs for bed, she stopped. A smile crossed her face as she whispered, “That’s it! If it’s really true that something wonderful and magical can happen, maybe Mama will get well. Maybe there really is such a thing as magic, and maybe that’s what this whole thing is all about.” Her heart sang as she thought about what might happen because of the golden box.

There was a spring in her step as she hurried the rest of the way up the stairs and to her bedroom at the end of the hall. When she flipped on the small lamp on her night table its golden glow chased the shadows from her room. Since she was anxious to read the note again, she didn’t spend as much time brushing her teeth as she usually did, and she only ran the hairbrush through her long, brown hair fifty times instead of one hundred, as she usually did. After putting on her pajamas she removed the golden box from the pocket of her jeans. Her bare feet hurried across the cold, hardwood floor, and she snuggled in under the thick covers.

Holly’s excitement increased as she read the note again. After carefully folding the note and placing it back inside, she set the box on her night table and crossed the room to open her window. She had to work at it a little because the windows in the farmhouse were old, and they had a tendency to stick. “Oh, come on,” she whispered, pushing as hard as she could.

When she finally managed to get it loose she shoved the window up as far as it would go. The cold breath of winter came rushing through the opening and into her bedroom. She hurried back to her bed, wiggled her way beneath the soft covers, and turned off her lamp. It was exciting, but just a little bit scary, not knowing what was going to happen or what to expect.

As her curtains waltzed in the night wind, Holly worried about the frigid air blowing through her window and the extra money it would cost for the heating bill. She hoped the chill didn’t sneak under her bedroom door and into her mother’s room and make her even colder than she usually was. That worry pressed so hard on her mind that Holly turned on her lamp again. She got out of bed, removed her bedspread, and rolled it up. She carried it across the room and pushed it against the bottom of the door so the cold air couldn’t escape and find its way to her mother’s bedroom. A moment later she was back in bed and snuggled beneath the sheet and wool blanket.

As she lay there, a pesky reality kept creeping into her head. She tried to push it away but it was persistent, and she began to doubt that any visitor was going to show up on such a cold winter night. Shivering and miserable from the cold, she started thinking again that the whole thing was a silly joke someone was playing, and she considered closing the window. But, despite her doubt, she decided to leave the window open – just in case.

Shortly after their old grandfather clock in the living room struck ten, Holly’s eyelids became so heavy she couldn’t keep them open any longer, and she drifted off to sleep.

Two hours later, when the grandfather clock began striking the twelve chimes for midnight, a soft voice whispered in her ear, “Holly.”