Chapter 7: Revelation at Rover Landing

Mitch was sure the little canoe was going to tip over into the jaws of the alligator leering at them through the rotting leaves. Graham and Oren continued to argue over whether the pirogue was pronounced pee-row or pee-rhuguh.

“You big-city bonehead—it’s pee-row! Everybody knows that.”

“You’ve been butchering words with that lazy tongue all your life, little brother. Why don’t you give it a little effort, eh’? Pee-rhuguh. See, you have to roll the ‘r.’ Now say it with me, Pee-rhuguh.”

“You no good fancy-France clown! I ought to throw you to the gators! What do you know about pirogues anyway? If you say another word about it, so help me I’ll—”

“Why don’t the both of you just concentrate on rowing us around the trees?!”

Graham followed Mitch’s worried gaze to the patch of cypress knees they were about to crash into. He dug his paddle hard into the muddy floor and turned the boat sharply to the left.

“Confound it!” he shouted, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “You stop distracting me, Oren Arlington! I know these bayous like the back of my hand. There’s no reason we should crash this pee-row into the trees just because you can’t keep your old, uppity mouth shut. Why, I—”

As Graham continued to berate his brother, Mitch rolled her eyes and fixed her attention on the strange landscape creeping past.

They had entered a narrow waterway where the moss-covered boughs of the cypress trees had formed a thick canopy overhead. A few golden rays of late afternoon sunlight broke through the branches, but otherwise, the air was dark and heavy with the smells of wet wood and swamp grass. Colossal fanned cypress trunks rose up out of the water, appearing to float on the tangled lilies that bobbed up and down around them. Mitch squinted into the tree hollows. Several pairs of glowing eyes stared back. She could only guess at the creatures they belonged to.

A shiver ran up her spine, and she pulled the arms of her sweater tight. She wondered again how long it would be before they arrived at this place called Ol’ Cypress. The faint flicker of fireflies told her dusk was fast approaching, and she was beginning to feel uneasy in the swamp. She wished they could just zip through a timeshaft and be there already, but her granddaddy had flatly refused the suggestion.

“Too dangerous,” he said. “If the Corridor has really been reopened…” He shot Oren a nasty look. “We don’t want to be stirring up a bunch of energy just yet.”  

Mitch had a feeling she wasn’t going to get anywhere with direct questions, so she settled back in the pirogue and fell silent as her granddaddy and Uncle Oren passed the time by arguing. 

“I’ve already told you, Graham—I’ve only arrived in Corridor County a day ago.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You been living on the other side of the world for seven years—Oren—you just get a sudden itch to go to the carnival?”

“I wanted to check on you, Graham. And my niece.”

Graham set his jaw and clenched the paddle tighter, but he let his brother explain the strange events that had brought him back to Corridor County.

On the night of the last new moon, Oren had been dozing in the parlor of his Paris flat when a sudden flash outside the window had jolted him awake. He rushed out into dark streets and jumped into the nearest timeshaft. Seconds later, he arrived at the thickly-wooded grounds of the old chateau. He found no sign of anyone, but the earth was charged with a familiar electric energy. Oren’s blood had run cold. There was only one possible explanation.  

Not surprisingly, Graham had disagreed.

“It could have been lightning.”

“Simpleton! You know as well as I do there’s a reason I took that apartment in the city.”

“For the champagne and snails? Seems bout’ right for a high-hat upstart like yourself.”

Upstart?! My father was the richest man in New Orleans! Yours was a lowly carpenter—”

“A carpenter who had to rebuild the city your daddy burnt to the ground!”

How dare you?!”

“How dare I?! How dare you?! Bad mouthin’ my daddy when he raised you up like his own. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Oren Arlington! Carrying on with your airs when we were brought up in the same household, by the same mama who taught us all folks was created equal! It’s the greed and the gold that turned this world bad, Oren. You might remember that.”  

Mitch could see her uncle was seething, but the answer he gave was short and icy.

“It wasn’t lightning.”

The conversation had ended there, but the arguing hadn’t. Mitch had never seen her grandfather quarrel with someone so much! And now here they were, hours after they’d set out for Ol’ Cypress, bickering over how to pronounce an old boat.

Mitch decided she’d better interrupt before her grandfather made good on his promise to throw her uncle to the gators.

“Just out of curiosity—” she said loudly. “How long is this little trip going to take? It’s starting to get dark, and I have homework, you know…”

Oren gave Mitch a simpering smile.

“Of course, my dear. You mustn’t neglect your studies.”

He cast a quick look at Mitch’s backpack. The Corridor Atlas was sticking out of the flap. Mitch’s face flushed red. She snatched up her backpack and shoved the book down into the bag.

“Well if the two of you would just explain what’s going on, maybe I wouldn’t have to sneak off and read forbidden books!”

Graham shoved his oar into the mud and leaned heavily on the handle.

“Mitch—” His voice was pleading. “I promise—you will have your explanation—just as soon as we get to Ol’ Cypress. Like I said, there’s just so much to tell, and it’s all so complicated.”

He caught sight of Oren’s smug expression and his face hardened.

“And the truth is I need more than some sleepy OLD GOAT claiming he’s seen a flash in the sky before I’m sure there’s even anything worth telling!”

Oren gave his brother an exasperated look.

“Graham, for once in your life, think reasonably. Why do you think we’ve both been called back to Ol’ Cypress? Now? After all these years? Surely there’s a connection between what I saw that night and our summons.”

Graham pulled his oar out of the mud and began to paddle slowly. He stared straight ahead, jaw clenched tight. As they made their way deeper into the canopied waterway, the cypress trees seemed to be closing in tighter around them. An unusual silence hung in the air. The noisy cicadas had stopped their rattling and the croaking frogs had fallen quiet. The only sound to be heard was the steady rhythm of Graham’s paddle dipping into the mossy water. 

“Maybe,” Graham said finally, breaking the heavy silence. “But that doesn’t explain why you’ve been hanging around these parts for the last month.”

He looked at Oren accusingly.

“You say you just got here, but I know it’s a lie. You been watching us for some time. Now you tell me right now what game you’re playing.”

Oren’s eyes narrowed into angry slits.

“It’s hardly a game, Graham. That is one thing you know as well as I.”

Mitch’s skin prickled at the menace in her uncle’s words, but Graham was unmoved. He stared hard at his brother.

“Why are you really here, Oren? Why have you come back to Corridor County?”

Oren stared back defiantly, determined not to let his brother into his head, but at that moment Mitch’s own mind filled to bursting with a single word.


It felt vicious and hollow. Mitch’s vision tilted as the dark tunnel of trees closed in around her, tighter and tighter. The green shades of the forest began to bleed together, and the swamp started to spin. Mitch sensed herself shrinking as the emptiness of the word—Zahlamaer—continued to fill her head. Struggling to breathe against her constricted lungs, she tried to focus her vision, but the green of the swirling tunnel darkened until everything turned to black. As the sharp smell of blood swelled in her nose, Mitch opened her mouth to scream. A hot blast of air rushed down her throat, filling the remaining particles of space in her body. Then she felt nothing at all. 

It was Oren who sensed something was terribly wrong. Dropping his eyes from Graham’s, he looked at Mitch staring blankly out into the bayou.

“Graham—her eyes!” he shouted, kneeling down in the boat next to Mitch. “It’s happening!”

Graham dropped to his knees beside Oren and stared into Mitch’s wide eyes, which had turned from amber to black. A blue flame flickered where the pupils should be.

“Mitch!” Graham cried, grabbing his granddaughter by the shoulders. When she didn’t respond, he looked wildly at Oren.

“Are you doing this?!”

“What?! Of course not! Graham, you know what’s happening—she’s a proxy! You have to stop him!”

Graham looked back at Mitch, searching her face for any sign of the low-level hypnotism he knew Oren could perform. Tiny stars had started to form around the flames in her eyes. In another second those stars would start to spiral, and then it would be too late.

“GRAHAM!” Oren cried. “DO IT!”

 Graham shot his brother a warning look. He would never forgive himself if this was one of Oren’s deceptions, but he had no choice. He pressed his forehead hard against Mitch’s and said the ancient word he had whispered over her as she lay sleeping in her small bed the night her parents had disappeared.


Almost immediately, the black pools in Mitch’s eyes receded and the flames went out.

Graham let out a heavy sigh of relief and looked to his brother, but Oren’s eyes were fixed on Mitch.

“So simple,” he said with a mix of wonder and amusement.

Graham dropped his hands from Mitch’s head and turned swiftly, grabbing Oren hard by the collar and pulling his face close.

“So help me, you devil, if you pass this through the channels, I’ll—” 

“Granddaddy—” Mitch called out softly. She blinked her eyes and looked around disoriented and confused.

Graham released his grip on Oren and turned back to Mitch. He studied her face and then gathered her up in a protective hug.

“Mitch! Oh are you alright?” He choked back tears. “What happened? Where’d you go just now? What’d you see?”


“Graham! For goodness sake, release the girl so she can speak!”

Graham eyed his brother furiously. He softened his hold on Mitch, but only a bit.

“Oh baby girl—I’m sorry. Please—can you tell me what you saw just now? Can you tell me what happened?”   

Mitch collapsed onto the bench. She felt wobbly, but looking around she saw they were no longer floating down the bayou. The little pirogue had run aground.

Along the trail leading away from the muddy river bank were several crudely cut wooden crosses sticking out at all angles from the forest shade. Mitch remembered reading about a swamp cemetery in The Corridor Atlas. If this was it, then they had arrived at Rover Landing, and those headstones were marking the graves of the settlers who lost their lives in the great hurricane of the last century.

Behind the new growth, Mitch could see the devastated landscape. Trees ripped out of the earth or snapped in two by ferocious winds. Piles of rubble and tangled swamp grass where there used to be homes. A dark and vicious energy hung over the earth. It felt familiar to Mitch now.

“Zahlamaer,” she said looking from her grandfather to her uncle.

Graham let out a sharp breath and crumpled into a defeated heap on the bench next to her. Oren only nodded.

Mitch closed her eyes and swallowed hard, trying to clear the metallic taste of blood from her throat.

It was Zahlamaer.

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