Hollow City / Page 25

Page 25

“Yes, that’s what we are!” Enoch said through the bars. “Now let us go, or we’ll turn your children into warthogs!”

The leader laughed as he walked away down the ramp. Meanwhile, the other Gypsies retreated to a safe distance and began to set up camp, pitching tents and starting cookfires. We sank down into the hay, feeling defeated and depressed.

“Look out,” Horace warned. “There are animal droppings everywhere!”

“Oh, what does it matter, Horace?” Emma said. “No one gives a chuck if your clothes are dirty!”

“I do,” Horace replied.

Emma covered her face with her hands. I sat down next to her and tried to think of something encouraging to say, but came up blank.

Bronwyn opened her coat to give Miss Peregrine some fresh air, and Enoch knelt beside her and cocked his ear, as if listening for something. “Hear that?” he said.

“What?” Bronwyn replied.

“The sound of Miss Peregrine’s life slipping away! Emma, you should’ve burned those Gypsies’ faces off while you had the chance!”

“We were surrounded!” Emma said. “Some of us would’ve gotten hurt in a big fight. Maybe killed. I couldn’t risk that.”

“So you risked Miss Peregrine instead!” said Enoch.

“Enoch, leave her be,” said Bronwyn. “It ain’t easy, deciding for everyone. We can’t take a vote every time there’s a choice to be made.”

“Then maybe you should let me decide for everyone,” Enoch replied.

Hugh snorted. “We would’ve been killed ages ago if you were in charge.”

“Look, it doesn’t matter now,” I said. “We have to get out of this cage and make it to that town. We’re a lot closer now than if we hadn’t hitched a ride in the first place, so there’s no need to cry over milk that hasn’t even spilled yet. We just need to think of a way to escape.”

So we thought, and came up with lots of ideas, but none that seemed workable.

“Maybe Emma can burn through this floor,” Bronwyn suggested. “It’s made of wood.”

Emma swept a clear patch in the hay and knocked on the floor.

“It’s too thick,” she said miserably.

“Wyn, can you bend these bars apart?” I asked.

“Maybe,” she replied, “but not with those Gypsies so close by. They’ll see and come running with their knives again.”

“We need to sneak out, not break out,” said Emma.

Then we heard a whisper from outside the bars. “Did you forget about me?”

“Millard!” Olive exclaimed, nearly floating out of her shoes with excitement. “Where have you been?”

“Getting the lay of the land, as it were. And waiting for things to calm down.”

“Think you can steal the key for us?” said Emma, rattling the cage’s locked door. “I saw the head man put it in his pocket.”

“Prowling and purloinment are my specialty,” he assured us, and with that he slipped away.

* * *

The minutes crawled by. Then a half hour. Then an hour. Hugh paced the length of the cage, an agitated bee circling his head.

“What’s taking him so long?” he grumbled.

“If he doesn’t come back soon, I’m going to start tossing eggs,” said Enoch.

“Do that and you’ll get us all killed,” said Emma. “We’re sitting ducks in here. Once the smoke clears, they’ll flay us alive.”

So we sat and waited more, watching the Gypsies, the Gypsies watching back. Every minute that ticked by felt like another nail in Miss Peregrine’s coffin. I found myself staring at her, as if by looking closely enough I might be able to detect the changes happening to her—to see the still-human spark within her slowly winking out. But she looked the same as she always had, only calmer somehow, asleep in the hay next to Bronwyn, her small, feathered chest rising and falling softly. She seemed to have no awareness of the trouble we were in, or of the countdown that was hanging over her head. Maybe the fact that she could sleep at a time like this was evidence enough that she was changing. The old Miss Peregrine would’ve been having nervous fits.

Then my thoughts strayed to my parents, as they always did when I didn’t keep a tight rein on them. I tried to picture their faces as I’d last seen them. Bits and pieces coalesced in my mind: the thin rim of stubble my dad had developed after a few days on the island; the way my mom, without realizing it, would fiddle with her wedding ring when my dad talked too long about something that disinterested her; my dad’s darting eyes, always checking the horizon on his never-ending search for birds.

Now they’d be searching for me.

As evening settled in, the camp came alive around us. The Gypsies talked and laughed, and when a band of children with battered horns and fiddles struck up a song, they danced. Between songs one of the boys from the band snuck around back of our cage with a bottle in his hands. “It’s for the sick one,” he said, checking behind him nervously.

“Who?” I said, and then he nodded at Hugh, who wilted to the floor in spasms of coughing, right on cue.

The boy slipped the bottle through the bars. I twisted off the cap, gave it a sniff, and nearly fell over. It smelled like turpentine mixed with compost. “What is it?” I said.

“Works, that’s all I know.” He looked behind him again. “All right, I done something for you. Now you owes. So tell me—what crime did you do? You’re thieves, aincha?” Then he lowered his voice and said, “Or didja kill someone?”

“What’s he talking about?” said Bronwyn.

We didn’t kill anyone, I came close to saying, but then an image of Golan’s body tumbling through the air toward a battery of rocks flashed in my mind, and I kept quiet.

Emma said it for me instead. “We didn’t kill anyone!”

“Well, you musta done something,” the boy said. “Why else would they have a reward out for you?”

“There’s a reward?” said Enoch.

“Sure as rain. They’re offering a whole pile of money.”

“Who is?”

The boy shrugged.

“Are you going to turn us in?” Olive asked.

The boy twisted his lip. “Dunno if we will or we won’t. The big shots are chewing it over. Though I’ll say they don’t much trust the sort of people who’s offerin’ the reward. Then again, money’s money, and they don’t much like it that you won’t answer their questions.”

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