“I’m Reynaldo,” said the young man in a crisp French accent, “and this is Mother Dust. I speak for her.”
Mother Dust leaned toward Reynaldo and whispered something in his ear. Reynaldo looked at me and said, “She hopes you are feeling better.”
That’s when I realized where I’d seen her: in my dreams—or what I thought had been dreams—while recovering from my attack.
“Yes, much better,” I said, unnerved.
Bentham skipped the formalities. “Can you heal one of these?” he said, leading Reynaldo and Mother Dust to the laundry cart. “It’s a hollowgast, visible to us only where it’s been painted.”
“She can heal anything with a beating heart,” said Reynaldo.
“Then, please,” Bentham said. “It’s very important that we save this creature’s life.”
Via Reynaldo, Mother Dust issued orders. Take the beast out of the cart, they said, so Emma and I tipped the hollowgast onto the floor. Put it in the sink, they said, so Emma and Sharon helped me lift it and place it in the basin of the long, deep sink. We cleaned its wounds with water from the tap, careful not to wash away too much of the white paint. Next, Mother Dust examined the hollowgast as Reynaldo asked me to identify all the places it was hurt.
“Now, Marion,” Bentham said, addressing Mother Dust informally, “you needn’t heal every last cut and bruise. We don’t want the creature in top health; we only want to keep it alive. You see?”
“Yes, yes,” Reynaldo said dismissively. “We know what we are doing.”
Bentham harrumphed and turned his back, making a show of his unhappiness.
“Now she will make the dust,” Reynaldo said. “Stand back, and be careful not to breathe it in. It will put you to sleep instantly.”
We backed away. Reynaldo strapped a dust mask over his nose and mouth and then untied the shawl that wrapped what was left of Mother Dust’s right arm. The stump beneath was only a few inches long, and it came to an end well above what would have been her elbow.
With her left hand Mother Dust began to rub the stump, which released a fine white powder that hung in the air. Holding his breath, Reynaldo combed the air with one hand and collected the dust. We watched, fascinated and slightly repulsed, until he’d gathered about an ounce of the stuff and the size of Mother Dust’s stump had been reduced by the same amount.
Reynaldo transferred the dust into his mistress’s hand. She leaned over the hollow and blew some of it in its face—as I remembered her doing to me. The hollow inhaled and then jerked suddenly. Everyone but Mother Dust leapt back.
Stay down, stay still, I said, but I needn’t have—it was an automatic reaction to the powder, Reynaldo explained: the body downshifting into lower gear. As Mother Dust sprinkled more into the gash on the hollow’s neck, Reynaldo told us that the powder could heal wounds and induce sleep, depending on how much was used. As he spoke, a white foam developed around the hollow’s wound and began to glow. Mother Dust’s dust, Reynaldo said, was her, and of inherently limited quantity. She wore herself away a little every time she healed someone.
“I hope this doesn’t seem like a rude question,” Emma said, “but why do you do it if it hurts you?”
Mother Dust stopped work on the hollow for a moment, turned so that her good eye could see Emma, and spoke as loudly as we’d ever heard her—in the mushy garble of someone who had no tongue.
Reynaldo translated. “I do it,” he said, “because this is how I was chosen to serve.”
“Then … thank you,” Emma said humbly.
Mother Dust nodded and turned back to her task.
* * *
The hollow’s recovery would not be instantaneous. It was deeply sedated and would wake only after the direst of its wounds had healed, a process that would likely take all night. Because the hollow had to be awake when Bentham “plugged it in” to his machine, phase two of our rescue plan would have to wait several hours. Until then, most of us were stuck in the kitchen: Reynaldo and Mother Dust, who had to reapply her powder to the hollow’s wounds every so often, and Emma and me, because I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the hollow alone, even though it was deeply asleep. The hollow was my responsibility now, the way an unhousebroken pet was the responsibility of whoever brought it home. Emma stayed close, too, because I had in some sense become her responsibility (and she mine), and if I fell asleep she would tickle me awake or tell me stories about the good old days in Miss Peregrine’s house. Bentham checked in occasionally but was mostly off doing security sweeps of the house with Sharon and Nim, paranoid that his brother’s foot soldiers might attack at any time.
As the night wore on, Emma and I talked about what the coming day might hold. Assuming Bentham could get his machine working again, it was possible that in a matter of hours we would find ourselves inside the wights’ fortress. We might see our friends again, and Miss Peregrine.
“If we’re very sneaky, and very, very lucky,” Emma said. “And if …”
She hesitated. We were sitting side by side on a long wooden bench against a wall, and now she shifted so that I couldn’t see her face.
“What?” I said.
She looked back at me, her face pained. “If they’re still alive.”
“No, I’m tired of pretending. By now the wights could’ve harvested their souls for ambrosia. Or realized the ymbrynes are useless and decided to torture them instead, or milk their souls, or made an example of someone for trying to escape …”