Eventually Dr. Spanger chalked the whole thing up to a manic episode, characterized by delusions, triggered by stress, grief, and unresolved grandpa issues. In other words: I’d gone a little nuts, but it was probably a one-time thing and I was feeling much better now, thank you. Still, my parents were on pins and needles. They were waiting for me to crack, do something crazy, run away again—but I was on my best behavior. I played the role of good kid and penitent son like I was out to win an Oscar. I volunteered my help around the house. I rose long before noon and hung out in plain view of my watchful parents. I watched TV with them and ran errands and lingered at the table after meals to participate in the inane discussions they liked to have—about bathroom remodeling, homeowners’ association politics, fad diets, birds. (There was never more than a glancing allusion to my grandfather, the island, or my “episode.”) I was pleasant, kind, patient, and in a hundred ways not quite the son they remembered. They must’ve thought I’d been abducted by aliens and replaced with a clone or something—but they weren’t complaining. And after a few weeks, it was deemed safe to bring the family around, and this uncle or that aunt would drop by for a little coffee and stilted conversation, and so I could demonstrate in person how sane I was.
Weirdly, my dad never mentioned the letter Emma had left for him back on the island, nor the photo of her and Abe tucked inside it. Maybe it was more than he could deal with, or maybe he worried that talking about it with me might trigger a relapse. Whatever the reason, it was like it never happened. As for having actually met Emma and Millard and Olive, I’m sure he’d long ago dismissed that as a bizarre dream.
After a few weeks my parents began to relax. They’d bought my story and Dr. Spanger’s explanations for my behavior. They could’ve probed deeper, probably—asked more questions, gotten a second or third opinion from other psychiatrists—but they really wanted to believe I was doing better. That whatever drugs Dr. Spanger had put me on were working their magic. More than anything, they wanted our lives to return to normal, and the longer I was home, the more that seemed to be happening.
Privately, though, I was struggling to adjust. I was bored and lonely. The days dragged. I had thought, after the hardships of the past few weeks, that the comforts of home would be sweeter, but pretty soon even laundered sheets and Chinese takeout lost their luster. My bed was too soft. My food too rich. There was too much of everything, and it made me feel guilty and decadent. Sometimes, wandering mall aisles on an errand with my parents, I would think about the people I’d seen living on the margins of Devil’s Acre and get angry. Why did we have more than we knew what to do with, while they had less than they needed to stay alive?
I had trouble sleeping. I woke at odd hours, my mind looping scenes from my time with the peculiars. Though I’d given Emma my address and checked the mailbox several times a day, no letters had arrived from her or the others. The longer I went without hearing from them—two weeks, then three—the more abstract and unreal the whole experience began to seem. Had it really happened? Had it all been a delusion? In dark moments, I wondered. What if I was crazy?
So it was much to my relief when, a month after returning home, a letter finally arrived from Emma. It was short and breezy, just filling me in on the rebuilding process and asking me how things were going. The return address was a post office box in London, which Emma explained was close enough to the Devil’s Acre loop entrance that she could sneak into the present fairly often and check it. I wrote back the same day, and pretty soon we were exchanging two or three letters a week. As home grew more suffocating, those letters became a lifeline.
I couldn’t risk my parents finding one, so every day I stalked the mailman and dashed out to meet him as soon as he appeared at the end of our driveway. I suggested to Emma that we trade e-mails instead, which would have been safer and faster, and I filled several pages attempting to explain what the Internet was and how she might find a public Internet café and create an e-mail address—but it was hopeless; she’d never even used a keyboard. The letters were worth the risk, though, and I came to enjoy communicating by hand. There was something sweet about holding a tangible thing that had been touched and marked upon by someone I loved.
In one letter she included a few snapshots. She wrote:
Dear Jacob, things are finally getting interesting around here again. Remember the people on display in the basement, the ones Bentham said were wax models? Well, he was lying. He kidnapped them from different loops and was using Mother Dust’s powder to keep them in suspended animation. We think he’d been trying to power his machine using different types of peculiars as batteries—but nothing worked until your hollowgast. Anyway, Mother Dust confessed to having known about it, which explains why she was acting so strangely. I think Bentham was blackmailing her somehow, or threatening to hurt Reynaldo if she didn’t help him. Anyway, she’s been helping us wake everyone up and return them to their rightful loops. Isn’t that just pure madness?
We’ve also been using the Panloopticon to explore all sorts of places and meet new people. Miss Peregrine says it’s good for us to see how other peculiars live around the world. I found a camera in the house and brought it along on our last excursion, and I’ve included a few of the photos I took. Bronwyn says I’m already getting good!
I miss you like mad. I know I shouldn’t talk like that … it only makes this harder. But sometimes I can’t help it. Maybe you could come visit soon? I’d like that so much. Or maybe