And then I heard my name. “Jacob,” softly spoken in the dark, a few feet away.
I turned to look, and there on the floor, lying amidst a pile of parts, was Miss Peregrine. Bruised, tied, struggling to speak through a haze of pain or drugs, but there nonetheless and gazing at me with those piercing green eyes.
“Don’t,” she said softly. “Don’t do that.” Her voice barely audible, barely there.
I lowered the vial, corked it, scrambled on my hands to where she lay. This second mother of mine, this peculiar saint. Fallen, hurt. Dying, perhaps.
“Tell me you’re okay,” I said.
“Put that down,” she said. “You don’t need it.”
“Yes, I do. I’m not like he was.”
We both knew who I meant: my grandfather.
“Yes, you are,” she said. “Everything you need is inside you already. Put it down and take that instead.” She nodded at something lying between us: a jagged stake of wood from a broken chair.
“I can’t. It’s not enough.”
“It is,” she assured me. “Just aim for the eyes.”
“I can’t,” I said, but I did. I put down the vial and took the stake.
“Good lad,” she whispered. “Now, go and do something gruesome with it.”
“I will,” I said, and she smiled, her head sinking back to the floor.
I stood up, determined now, the wooden stake gripped in my hand. Across the room, Addison had his teeth clamped deep into one of the hollow’s tongues and was riding it like a rodeo cowboy, clinging valiantly and snarling as the hollow whipped him back and forth. Emma had cut down Miss Wren from the rope where she’d been hanging and was standing guard over her, swinging her flaming hands blindly.
The hollow smacked Addison into a pole, and the dog was flung loose.
I started toward the hollow, running as fast as I could through an obstacle course of scattered limbs. But like a moth to flame, the creature seemed more interested in Emma. It was starting to close in on her, and so I shouted at it, first in English—“Hey! Over here!”—and then in Hollow: Come and get me, you bastard!
I picked up the closest thing at hand—which happened to be a hand—and threw it. It bounced off the hollow’s back, and the thing turned around to face me.
Come and get me come and get me
For a moment the hollow was confused, which was just enough time for me to get close to it without getting caught up in its tongues. I stabbed it with the stake, once, twice in the chest. It reacted as if it’d been stung by a bee—no worse than that—and then knocked me to the ground with a tongue.
Stop, stop, stop, I shouted in Hollow, desperate for something to get through, but the beast seemed bulletproof, totally inoculated against my suggestions. And then I remembered the finger, the little chalk-stub of dust in my pocket. As I reached for it, a tongue wrapped around me and hoisted me into the air. I could hear Emma shouting at it to put me down—and Caul, too. “Don’t you eat him!” he screeched over the PA. “He’s mine!”
As I drew Mother Dust’s finger from my pocket, the hollow dropped me into its open jaws.
I was trapped in its mouth from knees to chest, its teeth pinning me in place, starting to cut into my flesh, its jaws quickly expanding to swallow me.
This would be my last act. My last moment. I crushed the finger in my hand and shoved it down what I hoped was the hollow’s throat. Emma was beating it, burning it—and then, just before it could close its jaws and saw me in half with its teeth, the creature began to choke. It stumbled away from Emma, burned and gagging, retreating toward the grate in the floor from which it had crawled. Bounding back to its nest, where it would have all the time it wanted to devour me.
I tried to stop it, to shout (Let me go!) but it was biting down and the pain was so blacking that I couldn’t think—and then we were there, at the grate, slipping down into it. Its mouth so full of me that it couldn’t catch hold of the rungs on the wall and it was falling, falling and choking, and I was still, somehow, alive.
When we hit bottom, it was with a great, bone-breaking crack that flattened our lungs and sent all the sedative dust I’d shoved down the hollow’s gullet blowing into the air around us. As it snowed down I could feel it working, numbing my pain and dulling my brain, and it must’ve been doing the same to the hollow because it was hardly biting me at all now, its jaws slackening.
As we lay in a stunned and tranquilized pile, racing toward sleep, I could see forming before me, through all those billowing white particles, a dank and lightless tunnel heaped with bones. The last thing I saw before the dust took me was a throng of hollows, hunched and curious, shuffling forward.
I woke up. That in itself is worthy of note, I think, given the circumstances.
I was in the hollows’ burrow, and piled around me were the bodies of many hollowgast. They might’ve been dead, but it was likelier they’d breathed what remained of Mother Dust’s pinky finger, and the result was tangled in a spaghetti of stinking, snoring, mostly unconscious hollowflesh.
I gave a silent prayer of thanks for Mother Dust and then wondered, with rising alarm, how long I’d been down here. An hour? A day? What had happened to everyone above?
I had to go. A few of the hollows were beginning to stir from sleep, like me, but they were still woozy. With great effort, I stood. Apparently my wounds were not so grave, my bones not so broken. I swayed, dizzy, then caught my balance and began to move through the enmeshed hollows.