Hollow City / Page 38

Page 38


Then, from outside, a chorus of panicked screams. I jumped up and rushed to the shattered window, where a knot of Gypsies and peculiars were already gathered, peering out.

At first I didn’t see the soldiers at all—just a giant, swirling mass of insects, so dense it was opaque, about fifty feet down the footpath.

The screams were coming from inside it.

Then, one by one, the screamers fell silent. When it was all over, the cloud of bees began to spread and scatter, unveiling the bodies of Mr. White and his men. They lay clustered in the low grass, dead or nearly so.

Twenty seconds later, their killers were gone, their monstrous hum fading as they settled back into the fields. In their wake fell a strange and bucolic calm, as if it were just another summer day, and nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Emma counted the soldiers’ bodies on her fingers. “Six. That’s all of them,” she said. “It’s over.”

I put my arms around her, shaking with gratitude and disbelief.

“Which of you are hurt?” said Bronwyn, looking around frantically. Those last moments had been crazy—countless bees, gunfire in the dark. We checked ourselves for holes. Horace was dazed but conscious, a trickle of blood running from his temple. Bekhir’s stab wound was deep but would heal. The rest of us were shaken but unhurt—and miraculously, not a single one of us was bee-stung.

“When you broke the window,” I said to Bekhir, “how did you know the bees wouldn’t attack us?”

“I didn’t,” he said. “Luckily, your friend’s power is strong.”

Our friend …

Emma pulled away from me suddenly. “Oh my God!” she gasped. “Hugh!”

In all the chaos, we’d forgotten about him. He was probably bleeding to death right now, somewhere in the tall grass. But just as we were about to tear outside and look for him, he appeared in the doorway—bedraggled and grass-stained, but smiling.

“Hugh!” Olive cried, rushing to him. “You’re alive!”

“I am!” he said heartily. “Are all of you?”

“Thanks to you we are!” Bronwyn said. “Three cheers for

Hugh!”

“You’re our man in a pinch, Hugh!” cried Horace.

“Nowhere am I deadlier than in a field of wildflowers,” Hugh said, enjoying the attention.

“Sorry about all the times I made fun of your peculiarity,” said Enoch. “I suppose it’s not so useless.”

“Additionally,” said Millard, “I’d like to compliment Hugh on his impeccable timing. Really, if you’d arrived just a few seconds later …”

Hugh explained how he’d evaded capture at the depot by slipping down between the train and the platform—just like I’d thought.

He’d sent one of his bees trailing after us, which allowed him to follow from a careful distance. “Then it was just a matter of finding the perfect time to strike,” he said proudly, as if victory had been assured from the moment he decided to save us.

“And if you hadn’t accidentally stumbled across a field packed with bees?” Enoch said.

Hugh dug something from his pocket and held it up: a peculiar chicken egg. “Plan B,” he said.

Bekhir hobbled to Hugh and shook his hand. “Young man,” he said, “we owe you our lives.”

“What about your peculiar boy?” Millard asked Bekhir.

“He managed to escape with two of my men, thank God. We lost three fine animals today, but no people.” Bekhir bowed to Hugh, and I thought for a moment he might even take Hugh’s hand and kiss it. “You must allow us to repay you!”

Hugh blushed. “There’s no need, I assure you—”

“And no time, either,” said Emma, pushing Hugh out the door.

“We have a train to catch!”

Those of us who hadn’t yet realized Miss Peregrine was gone went pale.

“We’ll take their jeep,” said Millard. “If we’re lucky—and if that wight was correct—we might just be able to catch the train during its stopover in Porthmadog.”

“I know a shortcut,” Bekhir said, and he drew a simple map in the dirt with his shoe.

We thanked the Gyspies. I told Bekhir we were sorry we’d caused them so much trouble, and he unleashed a big, booming laugh and waved us on down the path. “We’ll meet again, syndrigasti,” he said. “I’m certain of it!”

* * *

We squeezed into the wights’ jeep, eight kids packed like sardines into a vehicle built for three. Because I was the only one who’d driven a car before, I took the wheel. I spent way too long figuring out how to start the damn thing—not with a key, it turned out, but by pushing a button on the floor—and then there was the matter of shifting gears; I’d only driven a manual transmission a few times, and always with my dad coaching me from the passenger seat. Despite all that, after a minute or two we were—bumpily, jerkily, somewhat hesitatingly—on our way.

I stomped the accelerator and drove as fast as the overloaded jeep would take us, while Millard shouted directions and everyone else held on for dear life. We reached the town of Porthmadog twenty minutes later, the train’s whistle blowing as we sped down the main street toward the station. We came to a skidding stop by the depot and tumbled out. I didn’t even bother to kill the engine. Racing through the station like cheetahs after a gazelle, we leapt on board the last car of the train just as it was pulling out of the station.

We stood doubled over and panting in the aisle while astonished passengers pretended not to stare. Sweating, dirty, and disheveled—we must’ve been a sight.

“We made it,” Emma gasped. “I can’t believe we made it.”

“I can’t believe I drove stick,” I said.

The conductor appeared. “You’re back,” he said with a beleaguered sigh. “I trust you still have your tickets?”

Horace fished them from his pocket in a wad.

“This way to your cabin,” said the conductor.

“Our trunk!” Bronwyn said, clutching at the conductor’s elbow. “Is it still there?”

The conductor pried his arm away. “I tried taking it to lost and found. Couldn’t move the blessed thing an inch.”

We ran from car to car until we reached the first-class cabin, where we found Bronwyn’s trunk sitting just where she’d left it. She rushed to it and threw open the latches, then the lid.


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