“I’m telling you people!” Ian insisted. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true! I really was able to change the past in the Sun King’s Court! I recorded it all—every last detail! Just ask Mitch!”
Mitch looked down at the muddy trail. It had started to drizzle, and her sneakers were making sucking sounds as they trekked through the marsh.
“Right Mitch?” Ian pressed. “Tell them—it’s all in the journal!”
“Uh…ya. It’s…definitely all there.”
“See!” Ian exclaimed. “I told you! You can read it for yourselves when we get back.”
“Everything you wrote in the journal…”
“I believe it all happened—I really do—but…”
“I don’t have it.”
“Ow!” Izzie cried. “Holtfield, you can’t just stop in the middle of a march! Keep moving!”
“What do you mean you don’t have it?” Ian growled.
“I mean I don’t have it. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what happened. It was in the satchel when we left the flarefield. But when we got back to 6D, it was gone, just like the rest of my voyage vessel.”
“So you mean to tell me the detailed record I kept of the past seven years of my life is just floating out in space somewhere?”
“The record that could hold the secrets to changing the past?”
“The record that could help us create a better, fairer future?”
A bolt of lightning ripped through the sky, cracking open the clouds. It started to pour. Mitch pulled her hoodie over her head.
“What do you want me to say? I’m sorry okay, but it’s not my fault!”
“Then whose fault is it?” Ian demanded, wiping the rain-soaked curls from his eyes.
“I don’t know!” Mitch cried. “Look, I get it—your precious journal is lost, and you’re mad. But like I said it’s not my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it now, so lay off will you?”
“Holtfield, please,” Oren called from the front of the line. “Mitch is right. You know as well as I do you can’t take anything back to the present from the past. It all dissolves in the timeline.”
“I’m still not talking toyou!” Ian shouted over the thunder.
“Ian—” Graham started.
“For goodness sake!” Oren exclaimed, stopping in his tracks. “Okay, that’s it! Everybody stop! We’re going to clear this up once and for all.”
“I’m all ears,” Ian said nastily.
“Ian, I know you’re angry.”
Another bolt of lightning ripped through the sky.
“And you have every right to be,” Oren continued, his voice unusually full with emotion. “We have committed a terrible crime against you, my boy.”
“Oren—” Graham started, but his brother waived him off.
“No Graham, we have. We should have told him.”
“Confound it, Oren! You know as well as I do why we had to keep it a secret!”
“Why?” Ian challenged. “What reason could there possibly be for you to LIE to me about CLOSING THE CORRIDOR??!!”
“VELLA!” Graham exploded. The name rang out across the swamp.
“What are you talking ab—”
“Vella, Ian! She was working for Zahlamaer all along.”
“We don’t know that, Graham,” Oren interjected. “Why don’t you just stick to what we did know at the time?”
Graham threw his hands up in the air.
“Okay, you want to stick to the facts? Well, here they are! Vella was Zahlamaer’s most trusted viceroy. You, Oren, sent my boy, Ryland, into the Trust thinking he could recruit her to join our side. Instead, she recruited him. After Mitch was born they both came crawling back to Ol’ Cypress, pretending they wanted to be part of our family. We believed them. They lied to us. We found out about it, but we couldn’t tell anyone, especially not the kids, because we knew Vella would have pulled that information by force if necessary.”
Mitch’s face fell. She stood shivering in the rain, looking crushed.
“Graham—” Oren started.
“Instead,” Graham continued, taking no notice of Oren or Mitch. “We found a way to close the Corridor, but we needed to be sure the Trust would be trapped. So we sent our agents—Rosalie, Wesley, and you, Ian—to check on them and make sure they were hooked into moon cycles before we shut it all down for good. But on that same night you left, Wesley’s body was sent back to us, and Rosalie was split in time. Who do you think did it? Eliot! And who do you think tipped him off? Vella! She and Ryland left Mitch with me that morning and never came back!”
Mitch hung her head.
“Graham!” Oren shouted, but Graham ignored the interruption.
“We knew we couldn’t wait until another moon cycle had passed. We needed to close the Corridor before Zahlamaer had time to gather his Trust and retaliate. So we did it, Ian, alright? We did it! We sealed off the Corridor, even though we knew you’d be trapped! Because the MISSION is more important than the AGENT!”
Ian stared at Graham in disbelief. He’d never seen him this upset. He glanced at Mitch, but her eyes were locked on her muddy sneakers.
“You knew what you signed up for, Ian Holtfield!” Graham raged on. “A WAR! You signed up for a war, and in war there are losses. We’ve all suffered them. Now we have to move on and face the future. We’re alive! For how long, who knows, but for now, we’re alive! So let’s stop all this bickering and blaming, get back to Ol’ Cypress, and figure out where to go from here!”
“WHAT?! What do you want to say you old—OH!”
Graham gasped for air, grabbed his heart, and fell to the floor.
“Granddaddy!” Mitch screamed, running to his side. “What’s wrong? Talk to me! Please!”
“Give him room to breathe!” Oren said urgently.
He lifted Graham’s head from the mud and placed it carefully on his lap. The rain fell onto his face, streaming down his wrinkled cheeks.
“Graham—brother—can you hear me?”
Graham’s hands and face began to pulse with light.
“What’s happening to him?!” Mitch cried desperately.
“It’s the magic, honey,” Dora said, pulling Mitch to her side. “It’s leaving him. He’ll be okay though. You just got to give him some space.”
Ian and Reece drew near. Mitch struggled to fight back tears.
“Why’d you make him get so upset?” she demanded, locking eyes with Ian. “What were you trying to do? Huh? Make him feel bad for you? You happy now? Got what you wanted Ian Holtfield?”
“What?” Ian exclaimed incredulously. “Are you serious? This was my fault?”
“Mitch,” Miki interjected. “Please—”
“No!” Mitch sobbed. “I don’t care! He’s been trouble since we met. Now he’s gone and killed my granddaddy!”
“Mitch!” Dora cried. “No one’s killed your granddaddy. He’s going to be just fine—now please—”
“Ohhh,” Graham moaned.
“Granddaddy!” Mitch shrieked, pulling away from Dora. “Oh Granddaddy! Are you okay?”
“Mitch?” Graham blinked several times into the drizzle.
The clouds began to break.
“Yes!” Mitch answered, wiping the water from his eyes with the sleeve of her hoodie. “Yes, granddaddy—I’m here.”
“Mitch—” Graham said again.
Mitch looked down at him expectantly. “Yes?”
Graham’s eyes drifted from Mitch to Ian. “Stop fighting with that boy, will you?”
Mitch frowned. “What?”
Graham struggled to rise. Oren helped him to a sitting position.
“You heard me, baby girl. Stop fighting with that boy. He ain’t killed me. I’m just getting old. My time’s coming, but it ain’t here yet.”
Mitch wiped away the water welling in her own eyes.
“Oh granddaddy, I was so worried.”
“I know,” Graham said, patting her hand. “But I’m okay. Or I will be once I’m out of this stinkin’ mud. Help me up, will you?”
Mitch gave her granddaddy a relieved smile. She and Oren each took an arm and lifted Graham to his feet.
“Alright,” he said, turning to Ian, who was still looking shocked. “I’m sorry I lost my temper there, boy, but the past is filled with a lot of nastiness. It can be hard to talk about without getting worked up. But now you know. It’s all out in the open, so you tell us, Ian Holtfield—are you ready to move on, or you want to break with the Collective?”
Ian frowned as he remembered how angry he had been a few moments ago. Had it really come to this? Was he prepared to leave?
“It’s your choice,” Graham pressed on. “It’s always been your choice. You want to go your separate way, no one’s gonna’ stop you. But before you up and leave, you ought to hear me say what I know you already know. We love you, boy. No matter what’s passed or what’s to come. We love you. You’re part of our family, and we’re happy to have you home.”
Ian swallowed. He looked from Graham to Oren—the two men who had been like fathers to him—his heroes. Then he looked at Mitch. He wasn’t sure he liked her all that much, but she seemed like a good enough kid. His heart softened at the sight of Dora blowing her nose into Miki’s handkerchief and Reece’s wide, wondering eyes.
Izzie approached—his very first friend—and took his hand. She didn’t say a word, but he could read her sparkling green eyes as well as he had when they were kids. Ian squeezed her hand and nodded. The rain stopped.
Izzie smiled and pulled Ian into a tight hug. The rest of the Collective joined in, and Ian finally felt that he was back home.
New chapters of The Secret Corridor will be published every Friday to CorridorCounty.com. Listen at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.