“Come in! Come in!” a boy’s voice shouted over the sound of footsteps thundering down a staircase.
Mitch, Graham, and Oren started back as the door swung open wildly. A boy about Mitch’s age stood in the foyer, covered from head to toe in black soot. He wore enormous goggles with bright blue lenses and a long lab coat that hung from his wiry frame.
“You’re here!” he exclaimed and sprung on his bewildered guests, ushering them in from the porch.
“Oh, I can barely believe it! Mr. Arlington! Mr. Scarlett!” He addressed Oren and Graham with warm familiarity.
“Of course we knew you were coming—but it’s just so exciting, isn’t it?!”
His head swiveled from Oren to Graham to Mitch.
“Mitch!” he exclaimed. “It’s you, right?”
The boy smiled hopefully and stuck out his hand. His long arm was covered in a leather bracer with an assortment of mechanical pieces stuffed into dozens of small compartments.
Mitch gave his sooty hand an uncertain shake.
“And, you are…?” she asked, peering into the giant monocle fitted to the frame of his goggles.
“Reece! Take those absurd things off and go get yourself cleaned up,” Oren ordered.
He cast a look of mild disgust upon the disheveled boy as he pushed past.
“Graham, I’m sure Reece can manage with Mitch. We must move quickly.”
Oren disappeared through a door under the staircase, but Graham lingered behind, staring at the peculiar boy still holding his granddaughter’s hand.
“Reece Rainier…is that you?”
The boy pulled off his goggles and looked at Graham with startling blue eyes.
“Sure is, Mr. Scarlett!” He smiled brightly. “It’s a real pleasure to see you again, sir.”
“Well, I’ll be—” Graham let out an amazed laugh and gathered Reece into a hug.
“How are you, sonny?” he asked, tussling the boy’s untidy black hair. “Just look at how you’ve grown!”
Graham took a step back to take Reece in.
“I’m fine, Mr. Scarlett, just fine,” Reece laughed, pushing the hair from his eyes. “It’s really something though—having you all back here again.”
He glanced at Mitch, who appeared, once again, to be lost. Reece quickly registered the look of frustration on her face.
“Uh, Mr. Scarlett, I know you and Mr. Arlington have important work to do. I’d be happy to show Mitch around until everything’s ready to go down there.”
His eyes darted to the door Oren had disappeared through.
Graham nodded and gave the boy’s shoulder an affectionate shake. He moved to the door and then paused, turning to look at the half-grown kids standing in the foyer of a mansion he had once called home. He could still hear the sound of their tiny footsteps chasing each other up and down the stairs. The two had been such close friends once.
“Reece—” Graham called out. His tone was serious. “I need you to be watchful, son.”
Reece nodded but was entirely unprepared for Graham’s next words.
“She’s a proxy.”
Reece’s mouth dropped open.
“You come and get me right away if it starts to happen, you understand?”
Reece gathered himself and nodded. Graham turned to the door and disappeared down the stairs.
Reece let out a deep breath and turned back to Mitch, who was clearly annoyed at having something else revealed about her that she didn’t yet understand.
“Well,” Reece said, his tone bright and direct. “I suppose you must have some questions.”
“You have no idea.”
The two stared at each other and then broke into laughter.
“Let’s start with an introduction,” Reece said, shoving his hand into the pocket of his coat to retrieve his goggles. He placed the strange device around his head like a crown.
“I’m Reece Rainier—agent of the Collective. I invent things too!” He motioned toward his goggles. “And you’re Mitch—granddaughter and great-niece of our famous founders. We’re old friends—you and me.”
His blue eyes met Mitch’s uncertain amber stare. There was no sign of recognition. Reece sighed, noticeably disappointed.
“You wouldn’t remember, though, would you? Does this place look familiar at all?”
Mitch followed Reece’s gaze around the mansion. An air of decay hung about the large, open rooms, clinging to the worn furnishings and heavy velvet curtains. Plaster peaked out from tears in the wallpaper, and piles of debris lined the splintered baseboards. The iron railings bending and bulging up the staircase were covered in cobwebs and thick layers of dust.
Mitch raised her eyebrows.
“Sorry,” Mitch said. “But I can’t imagine I’d forget a place like this if I’d been here before.”
She remembered the shock she’d had when she’d seen the stately mansion rising up out of the swamp. From a distance, it was a fine-looking estate, with tall marble columns and a wrap-around porch that looked out onto a garden of weeping willows and white rain lilies.
But as they got closer, Mitch could see the house had fallen into a state of ruin. Deep cracks had formed in the columns and some of the floorboards were missing from the porch. A thick layer of green algae had formed along the surface of the pond. When Oren clanged the big brass knocker to announce their arrival, one of the shutters had fallen off its hinge. Her uncle had only rolled his eyes.
“No—I can’t imagine you would either,” Reece agreed. “Unless, of course, someone wanted you to forget…”
His blue eyes danced mysteriously.
“Don’t you start too!” Mitch gave him a warning look. “I’ve had about all the mystery I can take today, Reece Rainier!”
“Come on,” Reece said laughing. He grabbed her hand and pulled her up the stairs. “I’ll explain everything. But first, let me show you around Ol’ Cypress.”
He grinned at Mitch and added slyly, “It’s good to have you back.”
New chapters of The Secret Corridor will be published every Friday to CorridorCounty.com. Listen at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.