“It’s the giant from the story!” said Claire, pointing from her place in Bronwyn’s arms. “It’s Cuthbert!”
Bronwyn stroked her head. “Shh, honey, you’ve got fever.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Enoch. “It’s just a rock.”
But it wasn’t. Though wind and rain had worn its features some, it looked just like a giant who’d sunk up to its neck in the lake. You could see clearly that it had a head and a neck and a nose and even an Adam’s apple, and some scrubby trees were growing atop it like a crown of wild hair. But what was really uncanny was the position of its head—thrown back with its mouth open, as if, like the giant in the story we’d heard just last night, it had turned to stone while crying out to its friends on the mountaintop.
“And look!” said Olive, pointing at a rocky bluff rising in the distance. “That must be Cuthbert’s mountain!”
“Giants are real,” Claire murmured, her voice weak but full of wonder. “And so are the Tales!”
“Let’s not jump to absurd conclusions,” said Enoch. “What’s more likely? That the writer of the tale we read last night was inspired by a rock that just happened to be shaped like a giant head, or that this head-shaped rock was really a giant?”
“You take the fun out of everything,” said Olive. “I believe in giants, even if you don’t!”
“The Tales are just tales and nothing more,” Enoch grumbled.
“Funny,” I said, “that’s exactly what I thought all of you were, before I met you.”
Olive laughed. “Jacob, you’re silly. You really thought we were made up?”
“Of course. And even after I met you I still did, for a while. Like maybe I was losing my mind.”
“Real or not, it’s an incredible coincidence,” said Millard. “To have been reading that story just last night, and then happen upon the very bit of geography that inspired it the next morning? What are the chances?”
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Emma said. “Miss Peregrine opened the book herself, remember? She must’ve chosen that story on purpose.”
Bronwyn turned to look at the bird on her shoulder and said, “Is that right, Miss P? Why?”
“Because it means something,” said Emma.
“Absolutely,” said Enoch. “It means we should go and climb that bluff. Then maybe we’ll see a way out of this forest!”
“I mean the tale means something,” said Emma. “In the story, what was it the giant wanted? That he asked for over and over again?”
“Someone to talk to!” Olive answered like an eager student.
“Exactly,” said Emma. “So if he wants to talk, let’s hear what he has to say.” And with that, she waded into the lake.
We watched her go, slightly perplexed.
“Where’s she heading?” said Millard. He seemed to be asking me. I shook my head.
“We’ve got wights chasing us!” Enoch shouted after her. “We’re desperately lost! What on bird’s green earth are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking peculiarly!” Emma shouted back. She sloshed through the shallows to the base of the rock, then climbed up to its jaw and peered into its open mouth.
“Well?” I called. “What do you see?”
“Don’t know!” she replied. “Looks like it goes down a long way, though. I’d better get a closer look!”
Emma hoisted herself into the giant’s stone mouth.
“You’d better come down from there before you get hurt!” shouted Horace. “You’re making everyone anxious!”
“Everything makes you anxious,” Hugh said.
Emma tossed a rock down the giant’s throat, listening for whatever sound came back. She started to say “I think it might be a …” but then slipped on loose gravel, and her last word was lost as she scrambled and caught herself before she could fall.
“Be careful!” I shouted, my heart racing. “Wait, I’m coming, too!”
I splashed into the lake after her.
“It might be a what?” called Enoch.
“Only one way to find out!” Emma said excitedly, and climbed farther into the giant’s mouth.
“Oh, Lord,” said Horace. “There she goes …”
“Wait!” I shouted again—but she was gone already, disappeared down the giant’s throat.
* * *
The giant appeared even larger up close than it had from the shore, and peering down into its dark throat, I swore I could almost hear old Cuthbert breathing. I cupped my hands and called Emma’s name. My own voice came echoing back. The others were wading into the lake now, too, but I couldn’t wait for them—what if she was in trouble down there?—so I gritted my teeth, lowered my legs into the dark, and let go.
I fell for a long time. A full second. Then splash—a plunge into water so cold it made me gasp, all my muscles constricting at once. I had to remind myself to tread water or sink. I was in a dim, narrow chamber filled with water, with no way back up the giant’s long, smooth throat; no rope, no ladder, no footholds. I shouted for Emma, but she was nowhere around.
Oh God, I thought. She’s drowned!
But then something tickled my arms, and bubbles began breaking all around me, and a moment later Emma broke the surface, gasping for breath.
She looked okay by the pale light. “What are you waiting for?” she said slapping the water with her hand like she wanted me to dive down with her. “Come on!”
“Are you insane?” I said. “We’re trapped in here!”
“Of course we’re not!” she said.
Bronwyn’s voice called from above. “Hellooooo, I hear you down there! What have you found?”
“I think it’s a loop entrance!” Emma called back. “Tell everyone to jump in and don’t be afraid—Jacob and I will meet you on the other side!”
And then she took my hand, and though I didn’t quite understand what was going on, I drew a deep breath and let her pull me underwater. We flipped and scissor-kicked downward toward a person-sized hole in the rock through which a gleam of daylight was visible. She pushed me inside and then came after, and we swam through a shaft about ten feet long and then out into the lake. Above us I could see its rippling surface, and above that the blue, refracted sky, and as we rose toward it the water warmed dramatically. Then we broke into the air and gasped for breath, and instantly I could feel that the weather had changed: it was hot and muggy now, and the light had changed to that of a golden afternoon. The depth of the lake had changed, too—now it came all the way to the giant’s chin.