Hollow City / Page 26

Page 26

“Where we come from,” Emma said haughtily, “you don’t question people who come to you asking for help.”

“And you don’t put ’em in cages, either!” said Olive.

Just then a tremendous bang went off in the middle of the camp. The Gypsy boy lost his balance and fell off the ramp into the grass, and the rest of us ducked as pots and pans went flying through the air away from a cookfire. The Gypsy woman who’d been tending it sped off screaming bloody murder, her dress on fire, and she might’ve run all the way to the ocean if someone hadn’t picked up a horse’s drinking bucket and doused her with it.

A moment later we heard the footsteps of an invisible boy pounding up the ramp outside our cage. “That’s what happens when you try and make an omelet from a peculiar chicken egg!” said Millard, out of breath and laughing.

“You did that?” said Horace.

“Everything was too orderly and quiet … bad weather for pickpocketing! So I slipped one of our eggs in with theirs, et voilà!” Millard made a key appear out of thin air. “People are much less likely to notice my hand in their pockets when dinner’s just exploded in their faces.”

“Took you long enough,” said Enoch. “Now let us out of here!”

But before Millard could get the key in the door, the Gypsy boy stood up and shouted, “Help! They’re trying to get away!”

The boy had heard everything—but in the confusion following the blast, hardly anyone noticed his shouts.

Millard twisted the key in the lock. The door wouldn’t open.

“Oh, drat,” he said. “Perhaps I stole the wrong key?”

“Ahhhh!” the boy screamed, pointing at the space Millard’s voice emanated from. “A ghost!”

“Will someone please shut him up!” said Enoch.

Bronwyn obliged, reaching through the cage to grab the boy’s arms, then pulling him off his feet and up against the bars.

“Haaaaalp!” he screamed. “They’ve got mmmfff—”

She slapped a hand over his mouth, but she’d silenced him too late. “Galbi!” a woman shouted. “Let him go, you savages!”

And suddenly, without really meaning to, we’d taken a hostage. Gypsy men rushed at us, knives flashing in the failing light.

“What are you doing?” cried Millard. “Let that boy go before they murder us!”

“No, don’t!” Emma said, and then she screamed, “Free us or the boy dies!”

The Gypsies surrounded us, shouting threats. “If you harm him in any way,” the leader yelled, “I’ll kill every last one of you with my bare hands!”

“Stay back!” Emma said. “Just let us go and we won’t hurt anyone.”

One of the men made a run at the cage, and instinctively, Emma flicked out her hands and sparked a roaring fireball between them. The crowd gasped and the man skidded to a stop.

“Now you’ve done it!” hissed Enoch. “They’ll hang us for being witches!”

“I’ll burn the first one that tries!” Emma shouted, widening the space between her palms to make the fireball even larger. “Come on, let’s show them who they’re messing with!”

It was time to put on a show. Bronwyn went first: with one hand she raised the boy even higher, his feet kicking in the air, and with the other she grabbed one of the roof bars and began to bend it. Horace stuck his face between the bars and shot a line of bees from his open mouth, and then Millard, who’d sprinted away from the cage the moment the boy had noticed him, shouted from somewhere behind the crowd, “And if you think you can contend with them, you haven’t met me!” and launched an egg into the air. It arced above their heads and landed in a nearby clearing with a huge bang, scattering dirt as high as the treetops.

As the smoke cleared, there was a breathless moment in which no one moved or spoke. I thought at first that our display had paralyzed the Gypsies with awe—but then, when the ringing in my ears had faded, I realized they were listening for something. Then I was, too.

From the darkening road came the sound of an engine. A pair of headlights flickered into view beyond the trees, along the road. Everyone, Gypsy and peculiar, watched as the lights passed the turnoff to our clearing—then slowed, then came back. A canvas-topped military vehicle rumbled toward us. From inside it, the sounds of angry voices shouting and dogs, their throats hoarse from barking but unable to stop now that they’d caught our scent again.

It was the wights who’d been hunting us—and here we were inside a cage, unable even to run.

Emma extinguished her flame with a clap of her hands. Bronwyn dropped the boy and he stumbled away. The Gypsies fled back to their wagons or into the woods. In moments we were left alone, seemingly forgotten.

Their leader strode toward us.

“Open the cage!” Emma begged him.

She was ignored. “Hide yourselves under the hay and don’t make a sound!” the man said. “And no magic tricks—unless you’d rather go with them.”

There was no time for more questions. The last thing we saw before everything went black were two Gypsy men running at us with a tarp in their hands. They flipped it over the top of our cage.

Instant night.

* * *

Boots tromped by outside the cage, heavy and thudding, as if the wights sought to punish the very ground they walked upon. We did as instructed and dug ourselves into the stinking hay.

Nearby, I heard a wight talking to the Gypsy leader. “A group of children were seen along the road this morning,” the wight said, his voice clipped, accent obscure—not quite English, not quite German. “There’s a reward for their capture.”

“We haven’t run across anyone all day, sir,” the leader said.

“Don’t let their innocent faces fool you. They’re traitors to the war effort. Spies for Germany. The penalty for hiding them …”

“We aren’t hiding anything,” the leader said gruffly. “See for yourself.”

“I’ll do that,” said the wight. “And if we find them here, I’ll cut your tongue out and feed it to my dog.” The wight stomped away.

“Don’t. Even. Breathe,” the leader hissed at us, and then his footsteps trailed away, too.

I wondered why he would lie for us, given the harm these wights could cause his people. Maybe it was out of pride, or some deep-rooted disdain for authority—or, I thought with a cringe, maybe the Gypsies just wanted the satisfaction of killing us themselves.

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