Hollow City / Page 17

Page 17

When all the animals were assembled, Addison cried, “Three cheers for the hollow-killers!” Deirdre brayed and the goat stamped the ground and the owl hooted and the chickens clucked and Grunt grunted his appreciation. And while all this was going on, Bronwyn and Emma kept trading looks—Bronwyn glancing down at her coat, where Miss Peregrine was hiding, and then raising her eyebrows at Emma to ask, Now? and Emma shaking her head in reply: Not quite yet.

Bronwyn laid Claire in a patch of grass beneath a shade tree. She was sweating and shivering, fading in and out of consciousness.

“There’s a special elixir I’ve seen Miss Wren prepare for treating fever,” Addison said. “Foul-tasting but effective.”

“My mom used to make me chicken soup,” I offered.

The chickens squawked with alarm, and Addison shot me a nasty look. “He was joking!” he said. “Only joking, such an absurd joke, ha-ha! There’s no such thing as chicken soup!”

With the help of Grunt and his opposable thumbs, Addison and the emu-raffe went to prepare the elixir. In a little while they returned with a bowl of what looked like dirty dishwater. Once Claire had drunk every drop and fallen back asleep, the animals laid out a modest feast for us: baskets of fresh bread and stewed apples and hard-boiled eggs—of the nonexploding variety—all served straight into our hands, as they had no plates or silverware. I didn’t realize how hungry I’d been until I wolfed down three eggs and a loaf of bread in under five minutes.

When I was done I belched and wiped my mouth and looked up to see all the animals looking back, watching us eagerly, their faces so alive with intelligence that I went a little numb and had to fight an overwhelming sensation that I was dreaming.

Millard was eating next to me, and I turned to him and asked, “Before this, had you ever heard of peculiar animals?”

“Only in children’s stories,” he said through a mouthful of bread. “How strange, then, that it was one such story that led us to them.”

Only Olive seemed unfazed by it all, perhaps because she was still so young—or part of her was, anyway—and the distance between stories and real life did not yet seem so great. “Where are the other animals?” she asked Addison. “In Cuthbert’s tale there were stilt-legged grimbears and two-headed lynxes.”

And just like that, the animals’ jubilant mood wilted. Grunt hid his face in his big hands and Deirdre let out a neighing groan. “Don’t ask, don’t ask,” she said, hanging her long head. But it was too late.

“These children helped us,” Addison said. “They deserve to hear our sad story, if they wish.”

“If you don’t mind telling us,” said Emma.

“I love sad stories,” said Enoch. “Especially ones where princesses get eaten by dragons and everyone dies in the end.”

Addison cleared his throat. “In our case, it’s more that the dragon got eaten by the princess,” he said. “It’s been a rough few years for the likes of us, and it was a rough few centuries prior to that.” The dog paced back and forth, his voice taking on a preacherly kind of grandness. “Once upon a time, this world was full of peculiar animals. In the Aldinn days, there were more peculiar animals on Earth than there were peculiar folk. We came in every shape and size you could imagine: whales that could fly like birds, worms as big as houses, dogs twice as intelligent as I am, if you can believe it. Some had kingdoms all their own, ruled over by animal leaders.” A spark moved behind the dog’s eyes, barely detectable—as if he were old enough to remember the world in such a state—and then he sighed deeply, the spark snuffed, and continued. “But our numbers are not a fraction of what they were. We have fallen into near extinction. Do any of you know what became of the peculiar animals that once roamed the world?”

We chewed silently, ashamed that we didn’t.

“Right, then,” he said. “Come with me and I’ll show you.” And he trotted out into the sun and looked back, waiting for us to follow.

“Please, Addie,” said the emu-raffe. “Not now—our guests are eating!”

“They asked, and now I’m telling them,” said Addison. “Their bread will still be here in a few minutes!”

Reluctantly, we put down our food and followed the dog. Fiona stayed behind to watch Claire, who was still sleeping, and with Grunt and the emu-raffe loping after us, we crossed the plateau to the little patch of woods that grew at the far edge. A gravel path wound through the trees, and we crunched along it toward a clearing. Just before we reached it, Addison said, “May I introduce you to the finest peculiar animals who ever lived!” and the trees parted to reveal a small graveyard filled with neat rows of white headstones.

“Oh, no,” I heard Bronwyn say.

“There are probably more peculiar animals buried here than are currently alive in all of Europe,” Addison said, moving through the graves to reach one in particular, which he leaned on with his forepaws. “This one’s name was Pompey. She was a fine dog, and could heal wounds with a few licks of her tongue. A wonder to behold! And yet this is how she was treated.” Addison clicked his tongue and Grunt scurried forward with a little book in his hands, which he thrust into mine. It was a photo album, opened to a picture of a dog that had been harnessed, like a mule or a horse, to a little wagon. “She was enslaved by carnival folk,” Addison said, “forced to pull fat, spoiled children like some common beast of burden—whipped, even, with riding crops!” His eyes burned with anger. “By the time Miss Wren rescued her, Pompey was so depressed she was nearly dead from it. She lingered on for only a few weeks after she arrived, then was interred here.”

I passed the book around. Everyone who saw the photo sighed or shook their head or muttered bitterly to themselves.

Addison crossed to another grave. “Grander still was Ca’ab Magda,” he said, “an eighteen-tusked wildebeest who roamed the loops of Outer Mongolia. She was terrifying! The ground thundered under her hooves when she ran! They say she even marched over the Alps with Hannibal’s army in 218 BC. Then, some years ago, a hunter shot her.”

Grunt showed us a picture of an older woman who looked like she’d just gotten back from an African safari, seated in a bizarre chair made of horns.

“I don’t understand,” said Emma, peering at the photo. “Where’s

Ca’ab Magda?”

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