The Time of the Fireflies, p.1Kimberley Griffiths Little
IN MEMORY OF MY TALENTED, CREATIVE,
AND LIFE-LOVING BROTHER, KENDALL,
AND FOR HIS MARVELOUS READER-BOYS KEITH, KOHNER, AND KYLER,
WHO KNOW THE POWER OF IMAGINATION, FAMILY, AND LOVE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALSO BY KIMBERLEY GRIFFITHS LITTLE
The second day of summer was a flapjack-and-bacon morning with enough sweet cane syrup to make your teeth ache. A glorious, heavenly day when you got no more homework due for three whole months.
It was also the day I got the strangest phone call of my life. Instead of my best friend, Shelby Jayne, there was an unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line. A girl’s voice, breathy and whispery, just like a ghost’s might be.
Nope, I didn’t see no white figures floating up the staircase to the second floor. No moaning or chains rattling. No pockets of cold air that freeze you to the floor.
Just a voice on the phone. I’d never heard of ghosts waltzing around town making phone calls. Then again, I don’t live in a regular house. My parents moved us into the Bayou Bridge Antique Store — a fact I do not brag about. It’s embarrassing to admit I share the same space as musty, mothball-smelly furniture, dusty books, and teacups that dead people once drank from.
But Bayou Bridge Antiques boasts a LOT of telephones. An entire wall of antique telephones, and Daddy is always buying more at garage sales. He spits some shine on them, rewires the cords, and sells them to collectors, or folks who want to decorate their house in the “old-fashioned” style.
We have what’s called “farmhouse” phones, which is a wooden box with a crank that a person had to wind up to make a call. And we have a whole slew of black “candlestick” phones. That’s a phone that sits on a table with a fat tab people used to click with their finger to alert the operator.
We also have a couple dozen rotary phones in burnt orange, firehouse red, lipstick pink, and purple vomit. A rotary phone means there aren’t any buttons. Folks had to stick their finger into a circular dial and push it around to get each number to dial up and connect.
Then there’s also a fancy cluster of pretty Victorian phones, French provincial, Princess phones, and telephones my mamma calls “vintage” sitting on a sideboard with doilies and candlesticks and whatnot.
I never knew there were so many types of telephones floating around the world. You’d think they’d have been buried in a garbage heap long ago. I’d never paid them much attention until I was gulping down the last of my milk and a phone started to ring.
Mamma poked her head into the kitchen and shooed at me. “That isn’t the store phone, Larissa. Must be our private line upstairs.”
“I haven’t finished my breakfast.”
“That’s because you’re dawdling. Now go answer it. Hurry! I’m with a customer.”
I figured by the time I ran up two flights of stairs the answering machine would have gotten it, but strangely, the ringing didn’t stop. It just kept going, on and on and on. A peculiar ring, like a bell, but when I got to the phone sitting on the nightstand in my parents’ room, it was dead silent. I lifted the receiver. Just a regular old dial tone.
But something was ringing. Getting fainter, like it was running out of steam.
I gripped the iron staircase railing and listened, knowing it wasn’t the store phone or our private line. The day was still early. Nobody was currently browsing the second floor, although the sound of voices floated up the circular stairwell, Mamma chatting to a customer about a tea set from early-twentieth-century England.
“Probably a country manor house set.” Her voice drifted upward. “Excellent condition, not a single crack. Look at these miniature painted roses….”
I played a game of Hot and Cold, trying to figure out where the ringing was coming from. It got fainter — colder — when I started down to the first floor, but warmer when I ran back up. And loudest — hotter — the closer I got to the wall of telephones in the back corner.
A big, square walnut box was clearly ringing as I approached. The two bells clanged furiously together, like the phone had gone crazy.
Only problem was, not a single one of those phones was hooked up to an outside line! None of them actually worked. They’re just for show, and most folks buy them strictly for decoration. The metal bells clanged away, and I wondered if my ears were working right.
I didn’t remember Daddy hooking up the phone, but maybe he’d run a line for a picky customer. Somebody was calling this old phone!
A shiver whooshed down my neck as I lifted the receiver and stuck it to my ear. The sound of crackling came through, then silence deader than a graveyard at night.
A prickling rose on my neck. I heard breathing, and I was too scared to say a single word. The safest thing was to just hang up, but I couldn’t get my arm to lift the heavy black receiver back on its hook.
The next moment a girl’s voice softly said, “Hello? Anybody there?”
I was so shocked I dropped the phone. Quickly, I snatched it up again. “Um, hello?”
“Is this working?” the girl said as the murmur of static started up again in the background. “Did I get through?”
“I guess so. I can hear you,” I told her.
“Who is this?”
I blinked in surprise. “Who are you?” After all, she called me. And I was pretty sure ghosts didn’t actually talk. Or have voices. Or breathe. Maybe she wasn’t really a ghost at all….
“Larissa?” the girl asked softly.
I about jumped out of my skin when she said my name. “How do you know who I am?” I glanced behind me, but I was completely alone.
The girl said, “Doesn’t matter how I know, but I need your help.”
My voice wobbled. “Can’t help you if I don’t know who you are.”
“Actually, Larissa —” She hesitated. “You need my help.”
Nerves sizzled along my arms. There was something about her voice that was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. “Is this a joke?”
“No!” she said quickly. “Never. This is completely serious. I need you to do something very important. And —” She paused. “It’s a matter of life and death.”
I let out a big breath, finally figuring out who it must be. My archenemy. “Alyson Granger, you are sick. Or stupid. I’m onto you. Don’t know how you pulled this off, but I recognize your voice.”
Touching the scar on my face with my free hand, I was about to hang up for real when the girl pleaded, “Oh, Lordy, girl. I am not Alyson Granger, I promise! Larissa, listen to me. You have to listen. Please, I’m begging you.”
Her voice sounded like the big sister I never had. Cajoling, pleading, but st
I ran a finger along the edge of the white line of the scar I got last year. The year I hated myself. Hated my life. Hated every single kid in this town. “Just leave me alone,” I finally choked out.
“Larissa, please don’t hang up! I can’t tell you who I am, but you’ll probably figure it out eventually. Right now, I’m afraid that if I told you, I’d lose you forever, and it was the biggest pain to get this phone to work. Because — because I have to be able to call you again.”
She got the phone to work? What does that mean? I couldn’t help being awfully curious, so I played along with her, imagining the revenge I’d wreak on Alyson if it was a huge joke she and Tara were playing to mess with my head. “Okay,” I finally said. “I’m listening.”
“I don’t have much time, but —” She dropped her voice. “But remember this: Find the fireflies.”
“What in the heck are you talking about?” I spat out.
She started talking faster. “Find the fireflies. Trust the fireflies. You’ll know what I mean when —”
Her voice was suddenly gone. Cut off. Disappeared into nothing.
I clicked the receiver tab over and over, but the phone was deader than a doornail. I willed her to come back, clanging on the bell with my fingernails to get it to ring again, but she was gone.
The second floor of the sprawling store was shadowy. Not many windows up here. The place was packed with stuff. An old blackened iron stove. Suitcases filled with dirt where I was planning on planting fresh flowers like I did last year. Shelby Jayne loved my daisy-and-petunia-garden suitcases. Only times they sold were to customers from out of state, like California or Vermont.
I didn’t usually venture into the dark, creepy corners of the store, but across from the couches and desks, a rectangle of yellow fell through one of the small windows. Jumping around a bookcase, I ran over to gaze down on to the back of the house. Nobody was messing with the phone wires — or running down the dirt road playing a trick on me.
Returning to the wall of phones, I willed the metal bell to ring again. Not a peep. The only fingerprints in the dust were mine.
I lifted the long, frayed cord to the wooden schoolhouse telephone I’d been speaking into not three minutes earlier. It dangled in my hands.
I’d just received a call from a phone that wasn’t hooked up — with a cord that went absolutely nowhere.
Next morning, I dreaded going downstairs. My stomach jumped in a squirmy, nasty way. Like I had grasshoppers swarming my gut. Or tarantulas with furry legs.
I stood in front of the round window overlooking the bayou, wishing I didn’t have to leave my bedroom. Summertime meant no homework and no school. But it usually meant moving, too, and I was determined not to move again.
“I’ll go live with Shelby Jayne in the swamp,” I whispered to the window. “Or Grandma Kat in Baton Rouge.”
Even though I was the peculiar girl at school living in an antique store, I had the best bedroom ever on the top floor — a bedroom created out of the domed cupola, painted sunshine yellow. Daddy had redone my furniture in pristine white, and yellow curtains fluttered at the window, showing off a view of the cypress. I could see all the way down the muddy Bayou Teche until it curved and disappeared.
Why couldn’t my parents work at a bank or the post office? I’d attended five different schools and next year would be my sixth — just in time for seventh grade — if my parents didn’t decide to move again. Especially after what happened last year. Mamma still couldn’t talk about it without shaking with anger.
I’d never figured out why my parents uprooted us over and over again. Who knew what grown-ups were thinking? Didn’t seem sane half the time. Parents could change up the rules on the spot when they didn’t like how you’d dressed that day or if you had plans with your best friend.
“Breakfast, Larissa!” Mamma called up the stairs, her voice faint and tired. She was always tired these days. A condition like hers will do that to you.
I stood there, not budging. Thinking about the phone call and what the girl had told me.
“Now!” Mamma shouted again.
I touched a finger to the window as morning light filtered through the curtain’s swirl of lace scallops. My bed was rumpled with pillows, blankets flung over in a heap, but I didn’t want to make it. Fortunately, my mother almost never climbed the stairs all the way up here. Least, not recently.
“Girls who don’t eat breakfast don’t get no lunch, either,” Mamma added.
“All right already,” I muttered as I clumped down each step. There were fifteen to the second-story landing and another fifteen to the first floor.
The antique store wasn’t a regular store in a strip mall, but a ratty, tumbling-down, three-story house — contents included. With a leaky roof. And a wraparound porch with a caved-in step so you had to hop to one side and be careful your foot didn’t fall through.
We had piles of old furniture, paintings and pictures, ceramics and figurines. Crates of dusty, yellowing books. Old farming equipment. Clocks. Toys. Garden tools. Games, playing cards, boxes of dice.
“You name it, we got it!” was my daddy’s slogan.
While we ate breakfast, Mamma would jump up for easy access when the bell rang with an early-morning customer.
“Very convenient,” she told me the first time the bacon burned.
“Saves rent,” Daddy added, pulling his LSU baseball cap down over his eyes and chewing on the end of his unlit pipe. He’d quit smoking but had to chew on something. A toothpick wasn’t near big enough.
We’d only been here a few months when I started suspecting the store was even stranger than I first thought. Broken junk was one thing. Haunted was something else.
Daddy said it was merely inconsiderate customers. Each night after closing out the cash register, he and I would walk through the store to straighten up (and check that nobody was hiding in the restrooms) before we climbed the stairs to bed. I took mental notes that everything was in its proper place, on its shelf or in its box. It was part of the ritual.
Next morning, a set of glass angel figurines would be sitting on a sofa. A rag doll hiding behind a stack of dishes. Or a stuffed bear sitting inside a rolltop desk.
I wondered what kind of game the ghost was playing. Mostly, I wondered what she wanted.
Ghosts always want something, right? Or they wouldn’t be roaming around getting into trouble, or scaring folks.
I didn’t know why Daddy didn’t believe me when I told him that stuff got moved. He just shrugged. “Must have missed it last night. I was tired.” Or, “It was dark. The lights were already off in this corner.” Or just: “I do believe you were dreaming, Larissa.”
Except I was pretty sure I knew when I was dreaming and when I was awake!
“Who lived in the antique store before we did?” I asked my mamma as I slurped down my grits filled with a puddle of butter.
Her hair fell across her face as she bent over the skillet on the stove, blue gas flames licking at the bottom of the pan. “Don’t know. Place was empty for a year when we bought it.”
“Before that,” I prodded.
She shrugged and turned on the water in the sink. “Doesn’t matter, Larissa. Now finish eating so we can unpack the boxes that just came in.”
But someone had reached out to me. I’d heard her voice with my own ears.
Find the fireflies. Trust the fireflies.” The words ran through my mind all day. Along with the bizarre fact that I heard a voice on a broken phone.
Grits never filled me up and lunch was only half a sandwich, so my stomach growled the whole afternoon as I fetched things for customers, and Mamma and I drew up For Sale signs and price stickers. I was pretty sure hunger could do peculiar things to your mind, so maybe I’d just been dreaming that whole telephone call.
That evening, the nightly routine with Daddy got even spookier.
Dusk had settled into the corners of the yard. Customers finally stopped peeking in the
“Let’s start downstairs,” Daddy suggested, taking off his LSU cap and smoothing down his hair.
“All that smoothing didn’t help,” I told him.
“What are you talking about, shar?”
“Your hair is all sweaty and clumpy.”
“I had the proud honor of hauling several of our fine couches in and out of a truck, and then in and out of a house today for a new customer.”
“Guess your weird hair was worth it.”
“You got that right. If the summer stays as busy as today, maybe we can stay in the black this year.” Daddy turned the OPEN sign to CLOSED and we set off, skirting the spiral staircase. “Make sure the restroom lights are off and it’s got paper towels.”
After I wiped down the bathroom sinks, took out the trash, and restocked paper products, we worked our way around the furniture, putting magazines back, dusting shelves, picking up toys and books and glass figurines that people had moved in their search for treasure.
The smell of okra curled out from the kitchen, and my stomach grumbled for the thousandth time today. “I’m starving.”
“Got the upstairs still,” Daddy reminded me.
I didn’t need any reminding. I wanted to avoid that wall of phones. Especially when Daddy kept turning off lights.
He held my hand as we walked up the staircase, and then set me loose. “You go left and I’ll go right and I’ll beat you to supper.”
“No fair! You got longer legs than me!”
I tried not to let go of his fingers, but he had already pulled away and was off, laughing.
“Daddy!” I said.
But he just laughed again. “I’m gonna get there first!” he threw over his shoulder.
“Don’t turn off the lights until I’m done!” I yelled. I was twelve now, but I still hated the dark. Daddy made a sound like an evil mad scientist and disappeared into a far corner.
Everything appeared fine, just the normal chaos, dishes out of whack, some books upside down.
Through the far windows, night turned black as pitch. I tugged on the chain of a fake Tiffany lamp as I approached the wall of telephones and the lightbulb blinked on. The very next moment I turned off the lamp. If anyone was standing below the house where the meadow sloped toward the bayou, they’d be able to see me through the glass. I wished Mamma had put up some blinds. I felt exposed. What was more scary — spying creeps or haunted telephones?
The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes