Midnight Caller - By Diane Burke Page 0,1

have stemmed from the thought of having a whole afternoon to play with Amy, Carol’s daughter. Best of friends just like their moms, they had fewer play dates due to crazy work schedules now that the hospital was transitioning to the new building.

Or maybe he was excited because he loved picnics.

Either way, Erin had to admit she was looking forward to the event herself. She’d been antsy lately. Feeling unsettled. Wary. And not sure why. Probably because winter had clung longer than normal to Florida this year.

Or maybe she felt unsettled because she hadn’t been sleeping well lately because of prank calls throughout the night.

Erin’s gaze fell upon the small walker beside her son’s chair and her heart clenched. No matter how tired she was or how inviting a relaxing day at home might be she knew she couldn’t let her son down. After all, asking to go on an Easter egg hunt wasn’t unreasonable. She glanced at her watch. If they hurried, they’d be just in time for the parade.

“Finish your milk and we’ll go,” Erin said.

Jack reached for his glass and knocked it over.

Erin grabbed a dish towel and started to sop up the liquid.

“I’ll get Jack changed,” Tess said.

Erin nodded. “Thanks, Tess. Don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“Never mind that,” she said, but blushed beneath the compliment. She shooed Jack toward the bedroom.

Erin glanced at the empty doorway and thought about how lucky she was that Tess had moved in to help after Erin’s father, Tess’s brother, had died. It had taken years for her father and Erin to reconcile but she had been devastated when he was killed. She didn’t think she would have made it through without Tess and her newfound faith to comfort her.

The phone rang.

Lost in thought, the trilling sound startled her. It rang a second time. She stood perfectly still, staring at the instrument like it was a dagger poised to strike. Please, God, not another one.

She hugged her arms to her body. Uneasiness crept up her spine. She was surprised she was letting a few anonymous telephone calls make her this jittery. It had to be that boy down the street. He had harassed the neighborhood for days last year until his father discovered what he was doing. He was probably up to his old tricks. She needed to get a hold of herself. And she needed to go have a chat with the boy’s dad.

Erin grabbed the phone on the fourth ring.




No reply. She’d answered at least a dozen calls over the past three days, half of them waking her in the middle of the night.

“I know you’re there.” Erin pressed the phone tightly against her ear. Straining to hear something. Anything. The breathing grew heavier, but still, no one spoke.

“Quit calling here or I’m going to call the police.” She slammed the phone in the cradle. Yep, it had to be a bored teenager playing a prank. Absently rubbing her arms, she continued to stare at the instrument. But it didn’t feel like a prank. She didn’t hear muffled giggles on the end of the line. She heard—She didn’t know what she heard. She only knew that her instincts blared an inner warning that something was wrong and she had learned through the school of hard knocks to trust those instincts.

“Ready, Mom?” Jack rolled his walker across the room and grinned up at her, wearing his favorite green-striped shirt with the dinosaur logo and a pair of jeans.

Shaking off her anxiety as the result of lack of sleep, she leaned down and hugged him. “You bet. Let’s go.”

Less than an hour later, while they waited by the side of the parade route, Erin’s sense of uneasiness returned. Crazy as it was, she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching them. Goose bumps shivered along her arms. Glancing over her shoulder, her eyes roamed the crowd. Children and adults formed two lines up and down the parade route. Some of the parents had brought folding chairs. Others stood. Children sat cross-legged in the grass. A young couple chased a laughing toddler bent on escape.

Nothing sinister. Nothing ominous. Why couldn’t she shake this feeling?

Erin recognized many of her coworkers from the hospital. She couldn’t identify everyone by name, but she’d passed them in the halls or had ridden with them on an elevator. She waved to the ones she did know and nodded to others. It seemed like half the hospital staff came. Dr. Clark and his family. Shelley