And then it hit me—I was back. I was in the present again, and I’d crossed into it without the intervention of Miss Peregrine … which was supposed to be impossible.
“Emma?” I said. “How did I get here?”
She kept her eyes trained on the street ahead, always scanning for trouble. “Where, London? On a train, silly.”
“No.” I lowered my voice. “I mean to now. You said Miss Peregrine was the only one who could send me back.”
She turned to glance at me, eyes narrowing. “Yes,” she said slowly. “She was.”
“Or so you thought.”
“No—she was, I’m sure of it. That’s how it works.”
“Then how did I get here?”
She looked lost. “I don’t know, Jacob. Maybe …”
“There!” Addison said excitedly, and we broke off wondering to look. His body was rigid, pointing down the street we’d just turned onto. “I’m picking up dozens of peculiar scent trails now—dozens upon dozens—and they’re fresh!”
“Which means what?” I said.
“Other kidnapped peculiars were brought this way, not just our friends,” said Emma. “The wights’ hideout must be close by.”
“Close by here?” I said. The block was lined with fast food joints and tacky souvenir shops, and we stood framed in the neon-lit window of a greasy diner. “I guess I’d been imagining someplace … eviller.”
“Like a dungeon in some dank castle,” Emma said, nodding.
“Or a concentration camp surrounded by guards and barbed-wire fences,” I said.
“In the snow. Like Horace’s drawing.”
“We may find such a place yet,” said Addison. “Remember, this is likely just the entrance to a loop.”
Across the street, tourists were taking pictures of themselves in front of one of the city’s iconic red phone boxes. Then they noticed us and snapped a picture in our direction.
“Hey!” Emma said. “No photos!”
People were beginning to stare. No longer surrounded by comic conventioneers, we stuck out like sore, bloody thumbs.
“Follow me,” Addison hissed. “All the trails lead this way.”
We hurried after him down the block.
“If only Millard were here,” I said, “he could scout this place without being noticed.”
“Or if Horace were here, he might remember a dream that would help us,” Emma said.
“Or find us new clothes,” I added.
“If we don’t stop, I’ll cry,” Emma said.
We came to a jetty bustling with activity. Sun glinted off the water, a narrow inlet of the murky Thames, and clumps of tourists in visors and fanny packs waddled onto and off of several large boats, each offering more or less identical sightseeing tours of London.
Addison stopped. “They were brought here,” he said. “It would appear they were put onto a boat.”
We followed his nose through the crowd to an empty boat slip. The wights had indeed loaded our friends onto a boat, and now we needed to follow them—but in what? We walked around the jetty looking for a ride.
“This will never do,” Emma grumbled. “These boats are too large and crowded. We need a small one—something we can pilot ourselves.”
“Wait a moment,” said Addison, his snout twitching. He trotted away, nose to the wooden boards. We followed him across the jetty and down a little unmarked ramp that was ignored by the tourists. It led to a lower dock, below the street, just at water level. There was no one around; it was deserted.
Here Addison stopped, wearing a look of deep concentration. “Peculiars have come this way.”
“Our peculiars?” Emma said.
He sniffed the dock again and shook his head. “Not ours. But there are many trails here, new and old, strong and faded, all mixed together. This is an oft-used pathway.”
Ahead of us, the dock narrowed and disappeared beneath the main jetty, where it was swallowed in shadows.
“Oft used by whom?” Emma said, peering anxiously into the dark. “I’ve never heard of any loop entrance underneath a dock in Wapping.”
Addison had no answer. There was nothing to do but forge on and explore, so we did, passing nervously into the shadows. As our eyes adjusted, another jetty resolved into view—one altogether different from the sunny, pleasant one above us. The boards down here were green and rotting, broken in places. A scrum of squeaking rats scampered through a mound of discarded cans, then leapt a short distance from the dock into an ancient-looking skiff, bobbing in the dark water between wooden pylons slimed with moss.
“Well,” Emma said, “I guess that would do in a pinch …”
“But it’s filled with rats!” said Addison, aghast.
“It won’t be for long,” Emma said, igniting a small flame in her hand. “Rats don’t much care for my company.”
Since there didn’t seem to be anyone to stop us, we crossed to the boat, hopscotching around the weakest-looking boards, and began to untie it from the dock.
“STOP!” came a booming voice from inside the boat.
Emma squealed, Addison yelped, and I nearly leapt out of my skin. A man who’d been sitting in the boat—how had we not seen him until now?!—rose slowly to his feet, straightening himself inch by inch until he towered over us. He was seven feet tall at least, his massive frame draped in a cloak and his face hidden beneath a dark hood.