“So I’ve been thinking about how you got here,” Emma said. “How you got back to the present.”

“Okay,” I said. “What do you think?”

“There’s only one explanation that makes any sense—though not bloody much. When we were in the underground tunnels with all those wights, and we crossed back into the present, the reason you came with us instead of continuing on in eighteen-whatever-it-was, suddenly alone, was that Miss Peregrine was there somehow, nearby, and helped you cross without anyone knowing it.”

“I don’t know, Emma, that seems …” I hesitated, not wanting to be harsh. “You think she was hiding in the tunnel?”

“I’m saying it’s possible. We’ve no idea where she was.”

“The wights have her. Caul admitted it!”

“Since when do you believe anything the wights say?”

“You’ve got me there,” I said. “But since Caul was boasting about having her, I figured he was probably telling the truth.”

“Maybe … or he said it to crush our spirits and make us want to give up. He was trying to convince us to surrender to his soldiers, remember?”

“True,” I said, frowning. My brain was starting to kink from all the possibilities. “Okay. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Miss P was with us in the tunnel. Why would she have gone to the trouble of sending me back to the present as a captive of the wights? We were on our way to have our second souls sucked out. I would’ve been better off stuck in that loop.”

For a moment Emma looked genuinely stumped. Then her face lit up and she said, “Unless you and I are supposed to rescue everyone else. Maybe it was all part of her plan.”

“But how could she have known we would escape the wights?”

Emma cast a sidelong glance at Addison. “Maybe she had help,” she whispered.

“Em, this hypothetical chain of events is getting really unlikely.” I took a breath, choosing my words carefully. “I know you want to believe Miss Peregrine is out there somewhere, free, watching over us. I do, too …”

“I want that so badly, it hurts,” she said.

“But if she were free, wouldn’t she have contacted us somehow? And if he were involved,” I said quietly, nodding toward Addison, “wouldn’t he have mentioned it by now?”

“Not if he’s sworn to secrecy. Perhaps it’s too dangerous to tell anyone, even us. If we knew Miss Peregrine’s whereabouts, and someone knew we knew, we might break under torture …”

“And he wouldn’t?” I said a little too loudly, and the dog looked up at us, his cheeks ballooning and tongue flapping ridiculously as the wind caught them. “Ho, there!” he cried. “I’ve counted fifty-six fish already, though one or two might’ve been bits of half-submerged rubbish. What are you two whispering about?”

“Oh, nothing,” said Emma.

“Somehow I doubt that,” he muttered, but his suspicion was quickly overwhelmed by his instincts, and a second later he yelped, “Fish!” and his attention lasered back to the water. “Fish … fish … rubbish … fish …”

Emma laughed darkly. “It’s a completely mad idea, I know. But my brain is a hope-making engine.”

“I’m so glad,” I said. “Mine is a worst-case-scenario generator.”

“We need each other, then.”

“Yes. But we already knew that, I think.”

The boat’s steady heaving pushed us together and apart, together and apart.

“Sure you wouldn’t rather go on the romantic cruise?” Sharon said. “It isn’t too late.”

“Very sure,” I said. “We’re on a mission.”

“Then I suggest you open the box you’re sitting on. You’re going to need what’s inside when we cross over.”

We opened the bench’s hinged top to find a large canvas tarp.

“What’s this for?” I said.

“Cowering beneath,” Sharon replied, and he turned the boat down an even narrower canal lined with new, expensive-looking condos. “I’ve been able to keep you hidden from view thus far, but the protection I can offer doesn’t work inside the Acre—and unsavory characters tend to keep watch for easy prey ’round the entrance. And you are most certainly easy prey.”

“I knew you were up to something,” I said. “Not a single tourist so much as glanced at us.”

“It’s safer to watch historical atrocities being committed when the participants aren’t able to watch you back,” he said. “Can’t have my customers being carried off by Viking raiders, can I? Imagine the user reviews!”

We were fast approaching a sort of tunnel—a bridged-over stretch of canal, perhaps a hundred feet long, atop which hulked a building like a warehouse or an old mill. From the far end shone a half circle of blue sky and sparkling water. Between here and there was only darkness. It looked as much like a loop entrance as anyplace I’d seen.

We heaved out the enormous tarp, which filled half the boat. Emma lay down beside me and we wriggled beneath it, drawing the edge up to our chins like bedsheets. As the boat glided beneath the bridge into shadow, Sharon cut the motor and hid it beneath another, smaller tarp. Then he stood and extended a collapsible staff, plunged it into the water until it touched bottom, and began poling us forward in long, silent strokes.