By: Danie Reynolds
The chickens were clucking, loudly. They were scattering around the small pebbles that were spread across the gravel driveway, waiting for their breakfast.
Parker sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Another day. Another day of feeding the animals, weeding the garden, stacking the hay bales. Another day of fear that someone would find out. She almost lay back down at the thought.
But then she shot up again, a wide grin spreading across her face.
“Today’s the day,” She said. “Today’s the day.” She leapt from the bed, blankets flying off it, and ran down the stairs towards her grandma’s room.
Parker knocked on the door but didn’t wait for a reply before rushing inside.
“Grandma!” She scanned the room, finding a lump beneath her grandmother’s bed covers.
“Grandma?” Parker approached the bed and flung the sheets away.
Several pillows bundled together rested beneath the blankets.
Panic seized her. “Grandma!” Parker yelled, turning around the room, she ran through the house, calling.
When she still heard nothing, Parker ran outside, heart pounding.
“Grandma!” Then she faltered. A figure sat in the middle of the squash patch. Sighing with relief, Parker walked up to the person, squinting from the sunlight.
Shadows stretched from the fading red barn towards Parker, seeming to grasp at her feet and trip her as she walked.
“Grandma? I was looking everywhere for you! Why are you out here?” Parker gasped as the person turned around.
It was a farmhand, the younger boy her grandmother had hired just a few weeks ago.
“Excuse me?” He blinked up at her, then cocked his head as if determining whether she was crazy or not.
“I...Have you seen my grandmother this morning?” Renewed panic began filling her veins.
“I haven’t seen the lady since she was out here watering the flowers last night, miss.” He stood up, wiping the dirt from his hands.
Parker’s breath hitched. “Is anyone else here?”
The boy shook his head. “I’m the only one here. Came early to finish the gardening.”
Parker drew back a couple steps, then walked back towards the farmhouse, mumbling to herself.
“No, no, no.” Today was the day it was supposed to be fixed. They couldn’t have taken her today. “No, no, NO.” She walked into the kitchen, slamming her fist into the table.
“The day it was going to be taken care of, they came for her.” Parker snarled, and slammed the cabinets open from last night shut.
“What’s taken care of?” Parker’s head snapped up as she saw the farmhand, casually resting in the doorframe.
Parker’s cheeks reddened. “Nothing.” She replied cooly.
He raised an eyebrow. “Nothing? From the way you were asking about your grandma, I’d say something bad happened to her. Spill.”
Parker shook her head. “It’s nothing. She probably just went to the market to get a few things or something.”
“Or something.” The boy met her eyes.
Parker sighed in annoyance. “What do you want?” She slid the back door open, grabbed a bucket full of feed for the chickens, then slid past the farmhand and walked back outside.
Scattering the feed from side to side, Parker turned back to face the boy.
“I want to help.”
Parker snorted. “Help with what? You don’t even know what happened to her. I need to find my grandma, and you’re wasting my time.” Rolling her eyes, Parker walked towards the chicken coop in search of fresh eggs.
“I know about the Simult.”
Parker froze. She turned around, meeting the boy's eyes. He looked deadly serious.
“What’s your name?” She asked, her tongue feeling heavy.
Parker glared. “Get inside, Aidan. Sounds like we have things to talk about.”
He shrugged and walked into the small farmhouse, disappearing into the shadows that filled the rooms.
Parker cautiously followed after, keeping both eyes on the stranger she’d just invited into her home.
“Nice place.” He said, looking around the dark rooms.
Parker snorted, then stopped when she realized he was serious. Their fifty-year-old farmhouse, nice?
“Thanks,” She said, voice hollow. “You can sit here.” They both plopped down on the couches in the living room, and once they were seated, Parker said, “What do you know? How do you know?”
Aidan glanced back at her, as if suddenly remembering what it was that they were talking about.
“They took my mom,” He began. “Just showed up when I was gone, and took her. They left a letter, said I could get her back if I gave them the ransom on it. That’s why I got the job here. But the ransom is so high I don’t think I’ll ever pay it off. She’s been gone for months now. I’ve been selling stuff from our house, making money that way. When that ran out, I came here.”
Parker wasn’t sure whether there were tears in his eyes, or if it was just the shadows casting themselves across his face in strange ways.
“I’m sorry.” She said softly. Parker didn’t even know if she trusted him yet, but her heart throbbed in sympathy.
“S’okay,” He said. “Anyways, that’s how I know who they are. As for what I know about them, it’s not much, but I’ve been inspecting the letter they left, and I think I may be on to something. Can I see yours? I need to check something on it.”
“They didn’t leave a letter,” Parker said. “I didn’t see anything when I walked into her room.”
Aidan nodded. “All right. Mind if we check again?”
Parker lead him to her grandmother’s room, and they began flipping through her things, checking for any sign of a note being left.
Then Parker spotted something out of the corner of her eye. The corner of a paper, hidden beneath one of the pillows that was flung off the bed earlier that morning.
“Found something!” She cried, and knelt down to grab the paper. Grasping it so tight her knuckles turned white, Parker scanned the words written on the page. It was in a hand so fine, she almost couldn’t interpret it.
Dear Miss Xanders,
Unfortunately, we have been forced to take custody of your grandmother, as she has yet to respond to the demands we have been sending for months. However, do not worry! We would be perfectly willing to send her back to you for the reasonable price of 100,000 Edolas credits. When you acquire the money, please bring it to the coal mines in Elyt. We will meet you there. If you are unable to comply within the next month, we will have to dispose of your grandmother, so as not to attract attention. Thank you for your cooperation.
Blood was ringing in Parker’s ears. “Next month?” She asked.
Aidan, who’d been reading over her shoulder, said, “You only have a month. That’s bad. They didn’t give me a time limit for my mother. They must be getting more desperate for the money.” Then a thought occurred to him. “They didn’t give me a time limit for my mother, but now they have one for your grandmother.” He said the words slowly.
Parker looked back at him. His eyes were definitely tearing up now.
“I’m really sorry.” She said.
Aidan nodded, and Parker wasn’t sure he could even comprehend her words.
“I’ll help you find your grandmother. To honor my mom.” His words were a little slurred, but Parker’s heart expanded at hearing this.
“Thank you. That means a lot. And I promise we’ll try to find your mom, too. She may not be… gone yet.” Parker said, gratitude warming her body.
Aidan nodded, numb. He didn’t seem to be holding onto any hope that his mom was still alive.
“At least we know where to find them.” He said quietly.
“Yeah, the coal mines in Elyt. But we have to get the money before we go.” She replied.
“No,” He said. “They won’t be at the mines yet. They’ll think you’re still gathering up the money. But we can intercept them before they even leave their headquarters. We can alert the authorities, and we can get your grandmother back.”
Parker shook her head, confused. “We don’t know where their headquarters are.”
Aidan pointed to the red wax stamp at the bottom of the paper, with a symbol of a rose pressed into it, most likely from a ring.
“That was on the letter they left me, too. The rose is the symbol of Kanet. I know where we need to go.”