Only Addison seemed unsurprised. “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen a bridge head,” he said.
“Go no further!” said the head on our left. “Almost certain death awaits those who cross without permission!”
“Perhaps you should say certain death,” said the head on our right. “Almost sounds wishy-washy.”
“We have permission,” I said, improvising a lie. “I’m a wight, and I’m delivering these two captured peculiars to Caul.”
“No one told us,” the head on the left said irritably.
“Do they look captured to you, Richard?” said the one on the right.
“I couldn’t tell you,” said the left. “Ravens pecked out my eyes weeks ago.”
“Yours, too?” said the right. “Pity.”
“He don’t sound like any wight I know,” said the left. “What’s your name, sirrah?”
“Smith,” I said.
“Ha! We don’t have a Smith!” said the right.
“I just joined up.”
“Nice try. No, I don’t think we’ll let you through.”
“And who’s going to stop us?” I said.
“Obviously not us,” said the left. “We’re just here to forebode.”
“And to inform,” said the right. “Did you know I took a degree in museum studies? I never wanted to be a bridge head …”
“No one wants to be a bridge head,” snapped the left. “No child grows up dreaming of becoming a bloody bridge head, foreboding at people all day and having your eyes pecked out by ravens. But life doesn’t always scatter roses at your feet, does it?”
“Let’s go,” muttered Emma. “All they can do is natter at us.”
We ignored them and continued up the bridge, each head warning us in turn as we passed.
“Step no further!” shouted the fourth.
“Continue at your peril!” wailed the fifth.
“I don’t think they’re listening,” said the sixth.
“Oh, well,” said the seventh airily. “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
The eighth only stuck out his fat green tongue at us. Then we were beyond them and cresting the bridge, and there it came to a sudden end—a yawning, twenty-foot gap in the place where stone should’ve been, and I nearly stepped into it. Emma caught me as I reeled backward, arms pinwheeling.
“They didn’t finish the damned bridge!” I said, my cheeks flushing with adrenaline and embarrassment. I could hear the heads laughing at me, and behind them, the road squatters.
If we’d been going at a run, we wouldn’t have stopped in time and would’ve pitched right over the edge.
“Are you all right?” Emma asked me.
“I’m fine,” I said, “but we’re not. How are we supposed to get Addison across now?”
“This is vexing,” said Addison, pacing along the edge. “I don’t suppose we could jump?”
“No chance,” I said. “It’d be way too far, even at a full run. Even with a pole vault.”
“Huh,” said Emma. She looked behind us. “You just gave me an idea. I’ll be right back.”
Addison and I watched as she marched down the bridge. At the first head she came to, she stopped, wrapped her hands around the pike it was impaled on, and pulled.
The pike came out with ease. As the head protested loudly, she laid it on the ground, planted her foot on its face, and gave a mighty yank. The pike slid free of the head, which went rolling off down the bridge, howling with rage. Emma returned triumphant, stood the pike at the edge of the gap, and let it fall across with a loud metallic clang.
Emma looked at it and frowned. “Well, it isn’t London Bridge.” Twenty feet long by one inch wide and slightly bowed in the middle, it looked like something a circus acrobat might balance on.
“Let’s get a few more,” I suggested.
We ran back and forth, prying up pikes and laying them across the gap. The heads spat and swore and issued empty threats. When the last of them had been pried off and rolled away, we’d made a small metal bridge, roughly a foot wide, slippery with head goo and rattling in the ashy breeze.
“For England!” Addison said, and he shimmied haltingly onto the pikes.
“For Miss Peregrine,” I said, following him.
“For the love of birds, just go,” said Emma, and she stepped on behind me.
Addison slowed us down badly. His little legs kept slipping between the pikes, which made the pikes roll like axles and gave me awful stomach flutters. I tried focusing on where to place my feet without seeing past them into the chasm, but it was impossible; the boiling river attracted my eyes like a magnet, and I found myself wondering whether we were high enough for the fall alone to kill me or whether I’d survive long enough to feel myself cooking to death. Addison, meanwhile, had given up trying to walk altogether and instead laid down, whereupon he began to push himself along the pikes like a slug. In this way we proceeded, inch by undignified inch, to just beyond the halfway point—and then my flutters sharpened and gave way to something else: a knot in my stomach that I’d come to know all too well.
Hollow. I tried to say it aloud but my mouth had gone dry; by the time I’d swallowed and got the word out, the feeling had multiplied tenfold.
“What dreadful luck,” Addison said. “Is it ahead of us or behind?”