“She’s there!” Bronwyn insisted. “The rope!”
Then I saw what she was pointing at: not a flailing girl in the water but a fat thread of woven hemp trailing up from it, barely visible in all the chaos. A strand of taut brown rope extended up from the water and disappeared into the fog. Olive must’ve been attached to the other end, unseen.
We paddled to the rope and Bronwyn reeled it down, and after a minute Olive appeared from the fog above our heads, one end of the rope knotted around her waist. Her shoes had fallen off when her boat flipped, but Bronwyn had already tied Olive to the anchor line, the other end of which was resting on the seafloor. If not for that, she surely would’ve been lost in the clouds by now.
Olive threw her arms around Bronwyn’s neck and crowed, “You saved me, you saved me!”
They embraced. The sight of them put a lump in my throat.
“We ain’t out of danger yet,” said Bronwyn. “We still got to reach shore before nightfall, or our troubles have only just begun.”
* * *
The storm had weakened some and the sea’s violent chop died down, but the idea of rowing another stroke, even in a perfectly calm sea, was unimaginable now. We hadn’t made it even halfway to the mainland and already I was hopelessly exhausted. My hands throbbed. My arms felt heavy as tree trunks. Not only that, but the endless diagonal rocking of the boat was having an undeniable effect on my stomach—and judging from the greenish color of the faces around me, I wasn’t alone.
“We’ll rest awhile,” Emma said, trying to sound encouraging. “We’ll rest and bail out the boats until the fog clears …”
“Fog like this has a mind of its own,” said Enoch. “It can go days without breaking. It’ll be dark in a few hours, and then we’ll have to hope we can last until morning without the wights finding us. We’ll be utterly defenseless.”
“And without water,” said Hugh.
“Or food,” added Millard.
Olive raised both hands in the air and said, “I know where it is!”
“Where what is?” said Emma.
“Land. I saw it when I was up at the end of that rope.” Olive had risen above the fog, she explained, and briefly caught a clear view of the mainland.
“Fat lot of good that does,” grumbled Enoch. “We’ve circled back on ourselves a half-dozen times since you were dangling up there.”
“Then let me up again.”
“Are you certain?” Emma asked her. “It’s dangerous. What if a wind catches you, or the rope snaps?”
Olive’s face went steely. “Reel me up,” she repeated.
“When she gets like this, there’s no arguing,” said Emma. “Fetch the rope, Bronwyn.”
“You’re the bravest little girl I ever knew,” Bronwyn said, then set to working. She pulled the anchor out of the water and up into our boat, and with the extra length of rope it gave us we lashed together our two remaining boats so they couldn’t be separated again, then reeled Olive back up through the fog and into the sky.
There was an odd quiet moment when we were all staring at a rope in the clouds, heads thrown back—waiting for a sign from heaven.
Enoch broke the silence. “Well?” he called, impatient.
“I can see it!” came the reply, Olive’s voice barely a squeak over the white noise of waves. “Straight ahead!”
“Good enough for me!” Bronwyn said, and while the rest of us clutched our stomachs and slumped uselessly in our seats, she clambered into the lead boat and took the oars and began to row, guided only by Olive’s tiny voice, an unseen angel in the sky.
“Left … more left … not that much!”
And like that we slowly made our way toward land, the fog pursuing us always, its long, gray tendrils like the ghostly fingers of some phantom hand, ever trying to draw us back.
As if the island couldn’t quite let us go, either.
Our twin hulls ground to a halt in the rocky shallows. We hove up onto shore just as the sun was dimming behind acres of gray clouds, perhaps an hour left until full dark. The beach was a stony spit clogged with low-tide sea wrack, but it was beautiful to me, more beautiful than any champagne-white tourist beach back home. It meant we had made it. What it meant to the others I could hardly imagine; most of them hadn’t been off Cairnholm in a lifetime, and now they gazed around in wonder, bewildered to still be alive and wondering what on earth to do about it.
We staggered from our boats with legs made of rubber. Fiona scooped a handful of slimy pebbles into her mouth and rolled them over her tongue, as if she needed all five senses to convince herself she wasn’t dreaming—which was just how I’d felt about being in Miss Peregrine’s loop, at first. I had never, in all my life, so distrusted my own eyes. Bronwyn groaned and sank to the ground, exhausted beyond words. She was surrounded and fussed over and showered with thanks for all she’d done, but it was awkward; our debt was too great and the words thank you too small, and she tried to wave us away but was so tired she could barely raise her hand. Meanwhile, Emma and the boys reeled Olive down from the clouds.
“You’re positively blue!” Emma exclaimed when Olive appeared through the fog, and she leapt up to pull the little girl into her arms. Olive was soaked and frozen, her teeth chattering. There were no blankets, nor even a stitch of dry clothing to give her, so Emma ran her ever-hot hands around Olive’s body until the worst of her shudders subsided, then sent Fiona and Horace away to gather driftwood for a fire. While waiting for their return, we gathered round the boats to take stock of all we’d lost at sea. It was a grim tally. Nearly everything we’d brought now littered the seafloor.
What we had left were the clothes on our backs, a small amount of food in rusty tins, and Bronwyn’s tank-sized steamer trunk, indestructible and apparently unsinkable—and so absurdly heavy that only Bronwyn herself could ever hope to carry it. We tore open its metal latches, eager to find something useful, or better yet, edible, but all it held was a three-volume collection of stories called Tales of the Peculiar, the pages spongy with seawater, and a fancy bath mat embroidered with the letters ALP, Miss Peregrine’s initials.
“Oh, thank heavens! Someone remembered the bath mat,” Enoch deadpanned. “We are saved.”
Everything else was gone, including both our maps—the small one Emma had used to navigate us across the channel and the massive leather-bound loop atlas that had been Millard’s prized possession, the Map of Days. When Millard realized it was gone he began to hyperventilate. “That was one of only five extant copies!” he moaned. “It was of incalculable value! Not to mention it contained years of my personal notes and annotations!”