“You’ll have to wait,” Addison growled. “No one leaves until the ymbrynes do.”
Finally they unclasped their hands and broke their circle.
“That’s it?” Emma said.
“That’s it!” Miss Peregrine replied, hurrying toward us. “Let’s be on our way. We don’t want to be here fifty-four seconds from now!”
Where the ymbrynes had been standing a crack was splitting open in the ground, the clay falling away into a quickly widening sinkhole from which a loud, almost mechanical buzz issued forth. The collapse had begun.
In spite of exhaustion and broken bodies and faltering steps, we ran, pushed faster by terror and awful, apocalyptic noises—and by the giant, lumbering shadow that fell across our path. We ran over ground that was splitting open, down ancient stairways that crumbled beneath our feet, back into the first house we’d exited from, choked with red dust from pulverizing walls, and finally into the passageway that led back to Caul’s tower.
Miss Peregrine herded us through, the passageway disintegrating around us, and then out the other side, into the tower. I looked back to see the passage cave in behind us, a giant fist smashing down through its roof.
Miss Peregrine, frantic: “Where’s the door gone? We must close it, or the collapse may spread beyond this loop!”
“Bronwyn kicked it in!” Enoch tattled. “It’s broken!”
She’d been the first to reach it and, for Brownyn, kicking down the door had been faster than turning its knob. “I’m sorry!” she cried. “Have I doomed us all?”
The loop’s shaking had begun to spread to the tower. It swayed, spilling us from one side of the hall to the other.
“Not if we can escape the tower,” Miss Peregrine said.
“We’re too high!” cried Miss Wren. “We’ll never make it to the bottom in time!”
“There’s an open deck just above us,” I said. Though I wasn’t sure why I said it, because leaping to our deaths seemed no better than being crushed in a collapsing tower.
“Yes!” cried Olive. “We’ll jump!”
“Absolutely not!” Miss Wren said. “We ymbrynes would be just fine, but you children …”
“I can float us!” Olive said. “I’m strong enough!”
“No way!” Enoch said. “You’re tiny, and there are too many of us!”
The tower rocked sickeningly. Ceiling tiles crashed down around us and cracks spidered through the floor.
“Fine, then!” Olive said. “Stay behind!”
She started upstairs. It took the rest of us only a moment, and one more wobble of the tower, to decide that Olive was our only hope.
Our lives were now in the dainty hands of our smallest member. Bird help us.
We ran up the sloping hallway, then out into open air and what remained of the day. Below us spread a commanding view of Devil’s Acre: the compound and its pale walls, the misty chasm and its hollow-gapped bridge, the black tinders of Smoking Street and the packed tenements beyond—and then the Ditch, snaking along the loop’s edge like a ring of scum. Whatever happened next, whether we lived or died, I’d be happy at least to see the last of this place.
We bellied up to the circular railing. Emma gripped my hand. “Don’t look down, eh?”
One by one the ymbrynes turned to birds and perched on the rail, ready to help however they could. Olive took hold of the railing with both hands and slipped out of her shoes. Her feet bobbed upward until she was doing a weightless headstand on the rail, her heels aimed at the sky.
“Bronwyn, take my feet!” she said. “We’ll make a chain. Emma grabs Bronwyn’s legs, and Jacob Emma’s legs, and Horace Emma’s, and Horace Hugh’s …”
“My left leg’s hurt!” Hugh said.
“Then Horace will grab your right one!” Olive said.
“This is madness!” said Sharon. “We’ll be much too heavy!”
Olive started to argue, but a sudden tremor shook the tower so hard that we had to cling to the rail or be shaken off.
It was Olive’s way or nothing.
“You get the idea!” Miss Peregrine shouted. “Do as Olive says and, most importantly, don’t let go until we reach the ground!”
Little Olive bent her knees, kicked one foot down toward Bronwyn, and offered it to her. Bronwyn took Olive’s foot, then reached up and grabbed the other one. Olive let go of the rail and stood up in Bronwyn’s hands, pushing toward the sky like a swimmer kicking off the wall of a pool.
Bronwyn was lifted off her feet. Emma quickly grabbed hold of Bronwyn’s legs, and then she was lifted, too, as Olive strained upward, gritting her teeth, willing herself higher. Then it was my turn—but Olive, it seemed, was running out of lift power. She struggled and groaned, dog-paddling toward the sky, but she was out of juice. That’s when Miss Peregrine turned into a bird, flapped into the air, hooked her talons through the back of Olive’s dress, and lifted.
My feet came off the ground. Hugh grabbed onto my legs and Horace onto his legs and Enoch onto his and so on, until even Perplexus and Addison and Sharon and his cousins had caught a ride. We strung out into the air like a strange, wiggling kite, Millard its invisible tail. The other, smaller ymbrynes hooked into our clothes here and there and flapped furiously, adding what lift they could.
The last of us had only just left the tower when the whole thing began to crumble. I looked down in time to see it fall. It happened quickly, tumbling in on itself, the top section seeming to implode as if it had been sucked into the collapsing loop. After that the rest just went, tipping over in one section before breaking in the middle and slumping into a huge cloud of dust and debris, the sound like a million bricks being poured into a quarry. By then Miss Peregrine’s strength was flagging and we were falling slowly toward the ground, the ymbrynes pulling us hard to one side for a soft landing away from the wreckage.