Hollow City / Page 45

Page 45


With everyone thus distracted, we picked ourselves up, bolted for the turnstiles, and ran out into a bustling London afternoon.

* * *

We became lost in the chaos of the streets. It felt like we’d been plunged into a jar of stirred liquid, racing with particles: gentlemen, ladies, laborers, soldiers, street kids, and beggars all rushing purposefully in every direction, weaving around tiny, sputtering cars and cart vendors crying their wares and buskers blowing horns and buses blowing horns and shuddering to stops to spill more people onto the teeming sidewalks. Containing all this was a canyon of column-fronted buildings that stretched to vanishing down a street half in shadow, the afternoon sun low and muted, reduced by the smokes of London to a murky glow, a lantern winking through fog.

Dizzy from it, I half closed my eyes and let Emma pull me along while with my free hand I reached into my pocket to touch the cold glass of my phone. I found this strangely calming. My phone was a useless relic of the future but an object which retained some power nevertheless—that of a long, thin filament connecting this baffling world to the sane and recognizable one I’d once belonged to; a thing that said to me as I touched it, You are here and this is real and you are not dreaming and you are still you, and somehow that made everything around me vibrate a little less quickly.

Enoch had spent his formative years in London and claimed to still know its streets, so he led. We stuck mostly to alleys and back lanes, which made the city seem at first like a maze of gray walls and gutter pipes, its grandness revealed in glimpses as we dashed across wide boulevards and back to the safety of shadows. We made a game of it, laughing, racing one another between alleys. Horace pretended to trip over a curb, then bounced up nimbly and bowed like a dancer, tipping his hat. We laughed like mad, strangely giddy, half in disbelief that we’d made it this far—across the water, through the woods, past snarling hollows and death squads of wights, all the way to London.

We put a good long way between us and the train station and then stopped in an alley by some trash cans to catch our breath. Bronwyn set down her trunk and lifted Miss Peregrine out, and she wobbled drunkenly across the cobblestones. Horace and Millard broke out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” said Bronwyn. “It ain’t Miss P’s fault she’s dizzy.”

Horace swept his arms out grandly. “Welcome to beautiful London!” he said. “It’s ever so much grander than you described it, Enoch. And oh, did you describe it! For seventy-five years: London, London, London! The greatest city on Earth!”

Millard picked up a trash-can lid. “London! The finest refuse available anywhere!”

Horace doffed his hat. “London! Where even the rats wear top hats!”

“Oh, I didn’t go on about it that much,” Enoch said.

“You did!” said Olive. “ ‘Well, that’s not how they do things in London,’ you’d say. Or, ‘In London, the food is much finer!’ ”

“Obviously, we’re not on a grand tour of the city right now!” Enoch said defensively. “Would you rather walk through alleys or be spotted by wights?”

Horace ignored him. “London: where every day’s a holiday … for the trash man!”

He broke down laughing, and his laughter was infectious. Soon nearly all of us were giggling—even Enoch. “I suppose I did glamorize it a bit,” he admitted.

“I don’t see what’s so amusing about London,” Olive said with a frown. “It’s dirty and smelly and full of cruel, nasty people who make children cry and I hate it!” She scrunched her face into a scowl and added, “And I’m becoming quite peckish!”—which made us all laugh harder.

“Those people in the station were nasty,” said Millard. “But they got what they deserved! I’ll never forget that man’s face when Bronwyn stuffed him into the phone box.”

“Or that horrible woman when she got stung in the bum by a bee!” said Enoch. “I’d pay money to see that again.”

I glanced at Hugh, expecting him to chime in, but his back was to us, his shoulders trembling.

“Hugh?” I said. “You all right?”

He shied away. “No one gives a whit,” he said. “Don’t bother checking on old Hugh, he’s just here to save everyone’s hindquarters with no word of thanks from anybody!”

Shamed, we offered him our thanks and apologies.

“Sorry, Hugh.”

“Thanks again, Hugh.”

“You’re our man in a pinch, Hugh.”

He turned to face us. “They were my friends, you know.”

“We still are!” said Olive.

“Not you—my bees! They can only sting once, and then it’s lights out, the big hive in the sky. And now I’ve only Henry left, and he can’t fly ’cause he’s missing a wing.” He put out his hand and slowly opened the fingers, and there in his palm was Henry, waving his only wing at us.

“C’mon, mate,” Hugh whispered to it. “Time to go home.” He stuck out his tongue, set the bee upon it, and closed his mouth.

Enoch patted him on the shoulder. “I’d bring them back to life for you, but I’m not sure it would work on creatures so small.”

“Thanks anyway,” Hugh said, and then he cleared his throat and wiped his cheeks roughly, as if annoyed at his tears for exposing him.

“We’ll find you more just as soon as we get Miss P fixed up,” said Bronwyn.

“Speaking of which,” Enoch said to Emma, “did you manage to get through to any ymbrynes on that phone?”

“Not a one,” Emma replied, then sat down on an overturned trash can, her shoulders slumping. “I was really hoping we might catch a bit of good luck for once. But no.”

“Then it seems the dog was correct,” said Horace. “The great loops of London have fallen to our enemies.” He bowed his head solemnly. “The worst has come to pass. All our ymbrynes have been kidnapped.”

We all bowed our heads, our giddy mood gone.

“In that case,” said Enoch, “Millard, you’d better tell us all you know about the punishment loops. If that’s where the ymbrynes are, we’re going to have to stage a rescue.”

“No,” said Millard. “No, no, no.”

“What do you mean, no?” said Emma.

Millard made a strangled noise in his throat and started breathing weirdly. “I mean … we can’t …”


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