Hollow City / Page 44

Page 44

The girl tried to scoot away but was blocked by a wall of people.

“I would buy you and set you free,” Olive went on, “but I fear we’ve spent all our money on train tickets and haven’t enough even for meat pies, much less a slave. I’m awfully sorry.”

The girl spun to face Olive. “I’m not for sale!” she said, stamping her foot.

“Are you certain?”

“Yes!” the girl shouted, and in a fit of frustration she ripped the tag off her blouse and threw it away. “I just don’t want to go and live in the stupid country, that’s all.”

“I didn’t want to leave my home, either, but we had to,” Olive said. “It got smashed by a bomb.”

The girl’s face softened. “Mine did, too.” She put down her suitcase and held out her hand. “Sorry I got cross. My name is Jessica.”

“I’m Olive.”

The two little girls shook hands like gentlemen.

“I like your blouse,” Olive said.

“Thanks,” said Jessica. “And I like your—the—the whatsit on your head.”

“My tiara!” Olive reached up to touch it. “It isn’t real silver, though.”

“That’s okay. It’s pretty.”

Olive smiled as wide as I’d ever seen her smile, and then a loud whistle blew and a booming voice crackled over a loudspeaker. “All children onto the trains!” it said. “Nice and orderly now!”

The crowd began to flow around us again. Here and there, adults herded the children along, and I heard one say, “Don’t worry, you’ll see your mummies and daddies again soon!”

That’s when I realized why there were so many children here. They were being evacuated. Of all the many hundreds of kids in the train station this morning, my friends and I were the only ones arriving. The rest were leaving, being shuttled out of the city for their own safety—and from the look of the winter coats and overstuffed cases some of them carried, maybe for a long time.

“I have to go,” Jessica said, and Olive had hardly begun to say goodbye when her new friend was borne away by the crowd toward a waiting train. Just that quickly, Olive made and lost the only normal friend she’d ever had.

Jessica looked back as she was boarding. Her grim expression seemed to say: What will become of me?

We watched her go and wondered the same about ourselves.

* * *

Inside the phone box, Emma scowled at the receiver. “No one’s answering,” she said. “All the numbers just ring and ring.”

“Last one,” said Millard, handing her another ripped-out page.

“Cross your fingers.”

I was focused on Emma as she dialed, but then a commotion broke out behind me and I turned to see a crimson-faced man waving an umbrella at us. “What are you dallying about for?” he said.

“Vacate that phone box and board your train at once!”

“We just got off one,” said Hugh. “We ain’t about to get on another!”

“And what have you done with your tag numbers?” the man shouted, flecks of spittle flying from his lips. “Produce them at once or by God I’ll have you shipped somewhere a great deal less pleasant than Wales!”

“Piss off this instant,” said Enoch, “or we’ll have you shipped straight to Hell!”

The man’s face went so purple I thought he’d burst a blood vessel in his neck. Clearly, he wasn’t used to being spoken to this way by children.

“I said get out of that phone box!” he roared, and raising the umbrella over his head like an executioner’s ax, he brought it down on the cable that stretched between the top of the booth and the wall, snapping it in half with a loud thwack!

The phone went dead. Emma looked up from the receiver, boiling with quiet rage. “If he wants to use the phone so badly,” she said, “then let’s give it to him.”

As she, Millard, and Horace squeezed out of the booth, Bronwyn grabbed the man’s hands and pinned them behind his back.

“Stop!” he screamed. “Unhand me!”

“Oh, I’ll unhand you,” said Bronwyn, and then she picked him up, stuffed him headfirst into the booth, and barred the door shut with his umbrella. The man screamed and banged on the glass, jumping up and down like a fat fly trapped in a bottle. Although it would’ve been fun to stick around and laugh at him, the man had drawn too much attention, and now adults were converging on us from all across the station. It was time to go.

We linked hands and raced off toward the turnstiles, leaving behind us a wake of tripped and flailing normals. A train whistle screeched and was echoed inside Bronwyn’s trunk, where Miss Peregrine was being tossed around like laundry in the wash. Too light on her feet to run, Olive clung to Bronwyn’s neck, trailing behind her like a half-deflated balloon on a string.

Some of the adults were closer to the exit than we were, and rather than running around them, we tried to barrel straight through.

This didn’t work.

The first to intercept us was a big woman who smacked Enoch upside the head with her purse, then tackled him. When Emma tried to pull her off, two men grabbed her by the arms and wrestled her to the floor. I was about to jump in and help her when a third man grabbed my arms.

“Someone do something!” Brownyn cried. We all knew what she meant, but it wasn’t clear which of us was free to act. Then a bee whizzed past Enoch’s nose and buried its stinger in the haunches of the woman sitting astride him, and she squealed and leapt up.

“Yes!” Enoch shouted. “More bees!”

“They’re tired!” Hugh shouted back. “They only just got to sleep after saving you the last time!” But he could see that there was no other way—Emma’s arms were pinned, Bronwyn was busy protecting both her trunk and Olive from a trio of angry train conductors, and there were more adults on the way—so Hugh began pounding his chest as if trying to dislodge a piece of stuck food. A moment later he let out a reverberating belch, and ten or so bees flew out of his mouth. They did a few circles overhead, then got their bearings and began stinging every adult in sight.

The men holding Emma dropped her and fled. The one holding me got stung right on the tip of his nose, and he hollered and flapped his arms as if possessed by demons. Soon all the adults were running, trying to defend themselves from tiny, stinging attackers with spastic dance moves, to the delight of all the children still on the platform, who laughed and cheered and threw their arms in the air in imitation of their ridiculous elders.

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