“Do the wights know we’re coming?” Bronwyn asked, talking low for fear she’d be overheard by a normal—or worse yet, a wight. They had ears everywhere in the city, or so we’d been led to believe.
“We killed every one of them that might’ve known where we were going,” Hugh said proudly. “Or rather, I did.”
“Which means they’ll be looking for us even harder,” Millard said. “And they’ll want more than the bird now—they’ll want revenge.”
“Which is why we can’t stand here much longer,” Emma said, tapping me on the leg. “Are you almost finished?”
My focus slipped. I lost my place in the crowd. Began again.
“One more minute,” I said.
Personally, it wasn’t wights that concerned me most, but hollows. I’d killed two of them now, and each encounter had nearly been the end of me. My luck, if that’s what had been keeping me alive thus far, had to be running out. That’s why I was determined never to be surprised by another hollow. I would do everything in my power to sense them from a distance and avoid contact altogether. There was less glory in running away from a fight, sure, but I didn’t care about glory. I just wanted to survive.
The real danger, then, wasn’t the figures on the platform, but the shadows that lay between and beyond them; the darkness at the margins. That’s where I focused my attention. It gave me an out-of-body sort of feeling, to cast my sense out into a crowd this way, prodding distant corners for traces of danger. It wasn’t something I could’ve done a few days ago. My ability to direct it like a spotlight—this was new.
What else, I wondered, was left to discover about myself?
“We’re okay,” I said, stepping down from the trunk. “No hollows.”
“I could’ve told you that,” grumbled Enoch. “If there had been, they’d have eaten us by now!”
Emma took me aside. “If we’re to have a fighting chance here, you’ve got to be faster.”
It was like asking someone who’d just learned to swim to compete in the Olympics. “I’m doing my best,” I said.
Emma nodded. “I know you are.” She turned to the others and snapped her fingers for attention. “Let’s head for that phone box,” she said, pointing to a tall, red phone booth across the platform, just visible through the surging crowd.
“Who are we calling?” Hugh asked.
“The peculiar dog said that all of London’s loops had been raided and their ymbrynes kidnapped,” Emma said, “but we can’t simply take his word for it, can we?”
“You can call a time loop?” I said, flabbergasted. “On the phone?”
Millard explained that the Council of Ymbrynes maintained a phone exchange, though it could be used only within the boundaries of the city. “Quite ingenious how it works, given all the time differences,” he said. “Just because we live in time loops doesn’t mean we’re stuck in the Stone Age!”
Emma took my hand and told the others to join hands, too.
“It’s crucial we stay together,” she said. “London is vast, and there’s no lost and found here for peculiar children.”
We waded into the crowd, hands linked, our snaking line slightly parabolic in the middle where Olive buoyed up like an astronaut walking on the moon.
“You losing weight?” Bronwyn asked her. “You need heavier shoes, little magpie.”
“I get feathery when I ain’t had proper meals,” Olive said.
“Proper meals? We just ate like kings!”
“Not me,” said Olive. “They didn’t have any meat pies.”
“You’re awfully picky for a refugee,” said Enoch. “Anyway, since Horace wasted all our money, the only way we’re getting more food is if we steal it, or find a not-kidnapped ymbryne who’ll cook us some.”
“We still have money,” Horace said defensively, jingling the coins in his pocket. “Though not enough for meat pies. We could perhaps afford a jacket potato.”
“If I have another jacket potato, I’ll turn into a jacket potato,” Olive whined.
“That’s impossible, dear,” said Bronwyn.
“Why? Miss Peregrine can turn into a bird!”
A boy we were passing turned to stare. Bronwyn shushed Olive angrily. Telling our secrets in front of normals was strictly forbidden, even if they were so fantastic-sounding no one would believe them.
We shouldered through one last knot of children to arrive at the phone booth. It was only large enough to hold three, so Emma, Millard, and Horace squeezed inside while the rest of us crowded around the door. Emma worked the phone, Horace fished our last few coins from his pocket, and Millard paged through a chunky phone book that dangled from a cord.
“Are you kidding?” I said, leaning into the booth. “There are ymbrynes in the phone book?”
“The addresses listed are fakes,” said Millard, “and the calls won’t connect unless you whistle the right passcode.” He tore out a listing and handed it to Emma. “Give this one a go. Millicent Thrush.”
Horace fed a coin into the slot and Emma dialed the number. Then Millard took the phone, whistled a bird call into the receiver, and handed it back to Emma. She listened for a moment, then frowned. “It just rings,” she said. “No one’s picking up.”
“No bother!” Millard said. “That was just one of many. Let me find another …”
Outside the booth, the crowd that had been flowing around us slowed to a stop, bottlenecking somewhere out of sight. The train platform was reaching capacity. There were normal children on every side of us, chattering to one another, shouting, shoving—and one, who stood right next to Olive, was crying bitterly. She had pigtails and puffy red eyes, and she carried a blanket in one hand and a raggedy cardboard suitcase in the other. Pinned to her blouse was a tag with words and numbers stenciled in large print:
London → Sheffield
Olive watched the girl cry until her own eyes began to shimmer with tears. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and asked what the matter was. The girl looked away, pretending not to have heard.
Olive didn’t take the hint. “What’s the matter?” she asked again. “Are you crying because you’ve been sold?” She pointed to the tag on the girl’s blouse. “Was that your price?”