Hollow City / Page 20

Page 20

“Everything happens for a reason,” I said.

I couldn’t believe those words had come out of my mouth, but as soon as they were spoken I felt the truth of them, resonating in me loud as a bell.

I was here for a reason. There was something I was meant not simply to be, but to do—and it wasn’t to run or hide or give up the minute things seemed terrifying and impossible.

“I thought you didn’t believe in destiny,” said Emma, assessing me skeptically.

I didn’t—not exactly—but I wasn’t quite sure how to explain what I did believe, either. I thought back to the stories my grandfather used to tell me. They were filled with wonder and adventure, but something deeper ran through them, as well—a sense of abiding gratitude. As a kid I’d focused on Grandpa Portman’s descriptions of a magical-sounding island and peculiar children with fantastic powers, but at heart his stories were about Miss Peregrine, and how, in a time of great need, she had helped him. When he arrived in Wales, my grandfather had been a young, frightened boy who didn’t speak the language, a boy hunted by two kinds of monsters: one that would eventually kill most of his family, and the other, cartoonishly grotesque and invisible to all but him, which must’ve seemed lifted directly from his nightmares. In the face of all this, Miss Peregrine had hidden him, given him a home, and helped him discover who he really was—she had saved his life, and in doing so had enabled my father’s life, and by extension, my own. My parents had birthed and raised and loved me, and for that I owed them a debt. But I would never have been born in the first place if not for the great and selfless kindness Miss Peregrine had shown my grandfather. I was coming to believe I had been sent here to repay that debt—my own, my father’s, and my grandfather’s, too.

I tried my best to explain. “It’s not about destiny,” I said, “but I do think there’s balance in the world, and sometimes forces we don’t understand intervene to tip the scales the right way. Miss Peregrine saved my grandfather—and now I’m here to help save her.”

Emma narrowed her eyes and nodded slowly. I couldn’t tell if she was agreeing with me or thinking of a polite way to tell me I’d lost my mind.

Then she hugged me.

I didn’t need to explain any further. She understood.

She owed Miss Peregrine her life, too.

“We’ve got three days,” I said. “We’ll go to London, free one of the ymbrynes, and fix Miss Peregrine. It’s not hopeless. We’ll save her, Emma—or we’ll die trying.” The words sounded so brave and resolute that for a moment I wondered if it was really me who’d said them.

Emma surprised me by laughing, as if this struck her as funny somehow, and then she looked away for a moment. When she looked back again her jaw was set and her eyes shone; her old confidence was returning. “Sometimes I can’t decide whether you’re completely mad or some sort of miracle,” she said. “Though I’m starting to think it’s the latter.”

She put her arms around me again and we held each other for a long moment, her head on my shoulder, breath warm on my neck, and suddenly I wanted nothing more than to close all the little gaps that existed between our bodies, to collapse into one being. But then she pulled away and kissed my forehead and started back toward the others. I was too dazed to follow right away, because there was something new happening, a wheel inside my heart I’d never noticed before, and it was spinning so fast it made me dizzy. And the farther away she got, the faster it spun, like there was an invisible cord unreeling from it that stretched between us, and if she went too far it would snap—and kill me.

I wondered if this strange, sweet pain was love.

* * *

The others were clustered together beneath the shade tree, children and animals together. Emma and I strode toward them. I had an impulse to link arms with her, and nearly did before something caught me and I thought better of it. I was suddenly aware—as Enoch turned to look at us with that certain suspicion he always reserved for me and now, increasingly, for both of us—that Emma and I were becoming a unit apart from the others, a private alliance with its own secrets and promises.

Bronwyn stood as we approached. “Are you allright, Miss Emma?”

“Yes, yes,” Emma said quickly, “had something caught in my eye, was all. Now, everyone gather your things. We must go to London at once, and see about making Miss Peregrine whole again!”

“We’re thrilled you agree,” Enoch said with an eye roll. “We came to the same conclusion several minutes ago, while you two were over there whispering.”

Emma flushed, but she declined to take Enoch’s bait. There were more important things to attend to now than petty conflicts—namely, the many exotic dangers of the journey we were about to undertake. “As I’m sure you’re all aware,” Emma said, “this is by most standards a very poor plan with little hope of success.” She laid out some of the reasons why. London was far away—not by the standards of the present-day world, maybe, when we might’ve GPSed our way to the nearest train station and caught an express that would’ve whisked us to the city center in a few hours. In 1940, though, in a Britain convulsed by war, London was a world away: the roads and rails might be clogged by refugees, or ruined by bombs, or monopolized by military convoys, any of which would cost us time Miss Peregrine didn’t have to spare. Worse, we would be hunted—and even more intensely than we had already been, now that nearly all the other ymbrynes had been captured.

“Forget the journey!” said Addison. “That’s the least of your worries! Perhaps I was not sufficiently dissuasive when we discussed this earlier. Perhaps you do not fully understand the circumstances of the ymbrynes’ incarceration.” He enunciated each syllable as if we were hard of hearing. “Haven’t any of you read about the punishment loops in your peculiar history books?”

“Of course we have,” said Emma.

“Then you’ll know that attempting to breach them is tantamount to suicide. They’re death traps, every one of them, containing the very bloodiest episodes from London’s history—the Great Fire of 1666; the exceedingly lethal Viking Siege of 842; the pestilent height of the terrible Plague! They don’t publish temporal maps of these places, for obvious reasons. So unless one of you has a working knowledge of the secretest parts of peculiardom …”

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