Arden quickly assessed his options. One, wait her out then get what he came for. Two, hope she isn’t blocking the door, and make a run for it. Three, move now, demand the token, and take whatever comes. Brave or foolish or both? As he stumbled over the thought, something grabbed his foot and yanked.
“Catch a tiger by the toe!” Nedda yelled.
She dragged him toward the fireplace. Arden stabbed the floor and held on tight. The sudden stop threw Nedda off balance; pink fuzzy slippers in the air.
Arden raced to the end table by the bed. He scooped up the intricately-carved wooden box and tucked it like a football in one arm. From the corner of his eye, he could see Nedda rolling to her feet as he jumped over the bed. When he landed on the other side, he turned to look. She wasn’t there.
A slam turned his attention forward. It was the bedroom door. All the lights went out. Arden stopped. Maybe his heart did too.
He took a step toward the door. Nothing happened. Another step.
“That’s not where the box goes.” Nedda’s voice was close…too close…right at his ear. He felt her warm breath on his neck.
“Oh, this box?” he said, trying his best to act non-threatening, despite the knives in his belt. “I’m just going to take a quick peek inside.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” she said. The old woman snatched the box from him and disappeared into the darkness. He breathed heavily, unsure of what to do. Then, the lamp came on.
Nedda was sitting under the light in a rocking chair with the box squarely in her lap. “I raised you better than this, boy. Where are your manners? All you had to do was ask. But you, you break into my home, and roll around on the floor like a commando.”
His head quirked to the side like a dog when it hears an odd sound, even if the oddness was that she seemed sane. “I…um.”
“You’ve come for a token,” she said more to herself than to him. She nodded to the air above her head. “Yes, obviously. She’ll need to stop the harvest.”
“The harvest?” Arden repeated.
“Ah, did you forget? Distracted by the big picture? The big picture is constant. It’s the details that get us every time. And what a good student, I thought you were. Pity.”
“Nedda, please focus. Stay with me. Will the Empress re-invoke the harvest?”
“She must. Not a real Empress without one. But then again, she’s not really a mogdoc anyway, not wholly. Wholly. Wholly. Wholly. Quite a funny word. A workout for the entire mouth. I love the way it makes my tongue feel. Wholly. Wholly. Wholly,” she giggled as she over exaggerated the pronunciation of the word.
After the twentieth “wholly” Arden grew impatient. “Please, may I borrow your Atlantis token for the child of sun and moon?”
“Alright. Here it is, grumbly pants.”
She reached into the box and tossed the token to him. He caught it by the long, thin chain on which it was attached. He stared at it and smiled, realizing that no matter how insane she had become, she was still helping him, looking out for him.
“Thank you, Nedda.”
“Borrow and steal are cats and dogs.”
“Uhh, right,” he replied hesitantly, thinking it was best to just go with his instinct on this one. “I promise I will bring this back in proper condition.”
“Better not come back. I don’t think her mind is right,” Nedda said.
She made a clicking noise with her tongue and closed the box. He put the chain around his neck for safekeeping, and started to leave. He stopped when he reached the doorway. She shuffled close behind, probably making sure that he was actually leaving.
“Nedda,” he turned to her and reached out to touch her wrinkled hands. She ushered him into the hallway. Her eyes, bright as those of a curious child, looked into his as he continued, “If there’s ever anything that you need, or if you would just want someone to talk to…”
“The harvest, the five, and the fall,” she whispered.
She smacked a button hidden within the wallpaper pattern. Glass partitions sprang from the wall and sectioned Arden off from her. He pounded on the glass, but she just waved. With a whoosh of air, he was ejected from Nedda’s home, landing on the beach shoeless and with a token still safe around his neck.