Hollow City / Page 8

Page 8


I began to shiver. “You’re cold,” Emma said. “Let me finish what I started.” She picked up my other arm and kissed with her breath the whole length of it. It was almost more than I could handle. When she reached my shoulder, instead of placing the arm in my lap, she hung it around her neck. I lifted my other arm to join it, and she put her arms around me, too, and our foreheads nodded together.

Speaking very quietly, Emma said, “I hope you don’t regret the choice you made. I’m so glad you’re here with us. I don’t know what I’d do if you left. I fear I wouldn’t be all right at all.”

I thought about going back. For a moment I really tried to play it out in my head, how it would be if I could somehow row one of our boats back to the island again, and go back home.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t imagine.

I whispered: “How could I?”

“When Miss Peregrine turns human again, she’ll be able to send you back. If you want to go.”

My question hadn’t been about logistics. I had meant, simply: How could I leave you? But those words were unsayable, couldn’t find their way past my lips. So I held them inside, and instead I kissed her.

This time it was Emma whose breath caught short. Her hands rose to my cheeks but stopped just shy of making contact. Heat radiated from them in waves.

“Touch me,” I said.

“I don’t want to burn you,” she said, but a sudden shower of sparks inside my chest said I don’t care, so I took her fingers and raked them along my cheek, and both of us gasped. It was hot but I didn’t pull away. Dared not, for fear she’d stop touching me. And then our lips met again and we were kissing again, and her extraordinary warmth surged through me.

My eyes fell closed. The world faded away.

If my body was cold in the night mist, I didn’t feel it. If the sea roared in my ears, I didn’t hear it. If the rock I sat on was sharp and jagged, I hardly noticed. Everything outside the two of us was a distraction.

And then a great crash echoed in the dark, but I thought nothing of it—could not take myself away from Emma—until the sound doubled and was joined by an awful shriek of metal, and a blinding light swept over us, and finally I couldn’t shut it out anymore.

The lighthouse, I thought. The lighthouse is falling into the sea. But the lighthouse was a pinpoint in the distance, not a sun-bright flash, and its light only traveled in one direction, not back and forth, searching.

It wasn’t a lighthouse at all. It was a searchlight—and it was coming from the water close to shore.

It was the searchlight of a submarine.

* * *

Brief second of terror in which brain and legs were disconnected. My eyes and ears registered the submarine not far from shore: metal beast rising from the sea, water rushing from its sides, men bursting onto its deck from open hatches, shouting, training cannons of light at us. And then the stimulus reached my legs and we slid, fell, and pitched ourselves down from the rocks and ran like hell.

The spotlight threw our pistoning shadows across the beach, ten feet tall and freakish. Bullets pocked the sand and buzzed the air.

A voice boomed from a loudspeaker. “STOP! DO NOT RUN!”

We burst into the cave—They’re coming, they’re here, get up, get up—but the children had heard the commotion and were already on their feet—all but Bronwyn, who had so exhausted herself at sea that she had fallen asleep against the cave wall and couldn’t be roused. We shook her and shouted in her face, but she only moaned and brushed us away with a sweep of her arm. Finally we had to hoist her up by the waist, which was like lifting a tower of bricks, but once her feet touched the ground, her red-rimmed eyelids split open and she took her own weight.

We grabbed up our things, thankful now that they were so small and so few. Emma scooped Miss Peregrine into her arms. We tore outside. As we ran into the dunes, I saw behind us a gang of silhouetted men splashing the last few feet to shore. In their hands, held above their heads to keep them dry, were guns.

We sprinted through a stand of windblown trees and into the trackless forest. Darkness enveloped us. What moon wasn’t already hidden behind clouds was blotted out now by trees, branches filtering its pale light to nil. There was no time for our eyes to adjust or to feel our way carefully or to do anything other than run in a gasping, stumbling herd with arms outstretched, dodging trunks that seemed to coalesce suddenly in the air just inches from us.

After a few minutes we stopped, chests heaving, to listen. The voices were still behind us, only now they were joined by another sound: dogs barking.

We ran on.

3

We tumbled through the black woods for what seemed like hours, no moon or movement of stars by which to judge the passing time. The sound of men shouting and dogs barking wheeled around us as we ran, menacing us from everywhere and nowhere. To throw the dogs off our scent, we waded into an icy stream and followed it until our feet went numb, and when we crossed out of it again, it felt like I was stumbling along on prickling stumps.

After a time we began to fail. Someone moaned in the dark. Olive and Claire started to fall behind, so Bronwyn hefted them into her arms, but then she couldn’t keep up, either. Finally, when Horace tripped over a root and fell to the ground and then lay there begging for a rest, we all stopped. “Up, you lazy sod!” Enoch hissed at him, but he was wheezing, too, and then he leaned against a tree to catch his breath and the fight seemed to go out of him.

We were reaching the limit of our endurance. We had to stop.

“It’s no use running circles in the dark like this, anyway,” said Emma. “We could just as easily end up right back where we started.”

“We’ll be able to make better sense of this forest in the light of day,” said Millard.

“Provided we live that long,” said Enoch.

A light rain hissed down. Fiona made a shelter for us by coaxing a ring of trees to bend their lower branches together, petting their bark and whispering to their trunks until the branches meshed to form a watertight roof of leaves just high enough for us to sit beneath. We crawled in and lay listening to the rain and the distant barking of dogs. Somewhere in the forest, men with guns were still hunting us. Alone with our thoughts, I’m sure each of us was wondering the same thing—what might happen to us if we were caught.

Claire began to cry, softly at first but then louder and louder, until both of her mouths were bawling and she could hardly catch a breath between sobs.

“Get ahold of yourself!” Enoch said. “They’ll hear you—and then we’ll all have something to cry about!”


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