“Stop it,” I said. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“By the time we get there it’ll have been forty-eight hours, at least. And a lot of awful things can happen in forty-eight hours.”
“We don’t have to imagine every single one of them. You sound like Horace with all these worst-case scenarios. There’s no use tormenting ourselves until we know for sure what’s happened.”
“Yes, there is,” she insisted. “There’s a perfectly good reason to torment ourselves. If we’ve considered all the worst possibilities and one turns out to be true, we won’t be completely unprepared for it.”
“I don’t think I could ever prepare myself for those kinds of things.”
She put her head in her hands and let out a shaky sigh. It was all too much to think about.
I wanted to tell her then that I loved her. I thought that might help, by grounding us in something we were sure about rather than everything we weren’t—but we hadn’t said the words to each other many times, and I couldn’t bring myself to say them now in front of two perfect strangers.
The more I thought about loving Emma, the shakier and sicker it made me feel, precisely because our future was so uncertain. I needed to imagine a future for myself with Emma in it, but it was impossible to picture our lives even a day from now. It was a constant struggle for me, having no idea what tomorrow held. I’m cautious by nature, a planner—someone who likes to know what’s around the next corner and the corner after that—and this entire experience, from the moment I ventured into the abandoned shell of Miss Peregrine’s house to now, had been one long free-fall into the void. To survive it I’d had to become a new person, someone flexible and sure footed and brave. Someone my grandfather would’ve been proud of. But my transformation had not been total. This new Jacob was grafted onto the old one, and I still had moments—plenty of them—of abject terror and wishing I’d never heard of any damned Miss Peregrine and needing very badly for the world to stop spinning so I could just hang on to something for a few minutes. I wondered, with a sinking ache, which Jacob loved Emma. Was it the new one, who was ready for anything, or the old one, who just needed something to hang on to?
I decided that I didn’t want to think about it right now—a distinctly old-Jacob way of handling things—and focused instead on the distraction nearest at hand: the hollow, and what would happen when it woke. I would have to give him up, it seemed.
“I wish I could take him with us,” I said. “He would make it so easy to smash anyone who got in our way. But I guess he has to stay behind to keep the machine running.”
“So it’s a him now.” She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t get too attached. Remember, if you gave that thing half a chance, it would eat you alive.”
“I know, I know,” I said, sighing.
“And maybe it wouldn’t be so easy to smash everything. I’m sure the wights know how to handle hollows. After all, they used to be hollows.”
“It’s a unique gift you have,” said Reynaldo, speaking to us for the first time in over an hour. He had taken a break from monitoring the hollow’s wound to rummage through Bentham’s cabinets for food, and now he and Mother Dust were seated at a small table, sharing a block of blue-veined cheese.
“It’s a strange gift, though,” I said. I’d been thinking about how strange it was for a while but hadn’t quite been able to articulate it until now. “In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any hollows. And if there weren’t any hollows, my special sight would have nothing to see, and no one would understand the weird language I can speak. You wouldn’t even know I had a peculiar ability.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re here now,” Emma said.
“Yeah, but … doesn’t it seem almost too random? I could’ve been born anytime. My grandfather, too. Hollows have existed for only the last hundred years or so, but it just so happens that we were both born now, right when we were needed. Why?”
“I guess it was meant to be,” Emma said. “Or maybe there have always been people who can do what you do, only they never knew it. Maybe lots of people go through life never knowing they’re peculiar.”
Mother Dust leaned toward Reynaldo and whispered.
“She says it’s neither,” said Reynaldo. “Your true gift probably isn’t manipulating hollowgast—that’s just its most obvious application.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “What else could it be?”
Mother Dust whispered again.
“It’s simpler than that,” said Reynaldo. “Just as someone who’s a gifted cellist wasn’t born with an aptitude for only that instrument but for music in general, you weren’t born only to manipulate hollows. Nor you,” he said to Emma, “to make fire.”
Emma frowned. “I’m over a hundred years old. I think I know my own peculiar ability by now—and I definitely can’t manipulate water, or air, or dirt. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t,” Reynaldo said. “Early in life we recognize certain talents in ourselves, and we focus on those to the exclusion of others. It’s not that nothing else is possible, but that nothing else was nurtured.”
“It’s an interesting theory,” I said.
“The point is, it’s not so impossibly random that you have a talent for hollowgast manipulation. Your gift developed in that direction because that’s what was needed.”