I sent them away into the bone-piles farther down the tunnel, then had them pick up bones with their tongues and toss them to one another: first one at a time, then two, then three and four, piling action upon action until I’d gotten up to six. It was only when I made the hollow upstairs stand and do jumping jacks that the bone-tossers began to miss catches.
I don’t think it would be bragging to say I was very good at this. A natural, even. I could tell that with more time to practice, I had the capacity to become masterful. I could’ve played both sides of an all-hollow basketball game. I could’ve made them dance every role in Swan Lake. But there was no more time to practice; this would have to do. And so I gathered them around me, had the strongest one pick me up and saddle me to its back with a wrapped-around tongue, and one by one my monstrous little army bounded up the chute and into the room above.
* * *
The overhead lights had been turned on in the cluttered room, and in their harsh glow I could see that the only bodies remaining were mannequins and models—the ymbrynes had all been taken out. The glass door to Caul’s observation room was closed. I made the hollows hang back while I approached it alone, save the hollow I was riding, then called out to my friends—this time with my own voice, in English.
“It’s me! It’s Jacob!”
They rushed to the door, Emma’s face circled by the others’.
“Jacob!” Her voice was muffled behind the glass. “You’re alive!” But as she studied me her face turned strange, as if she couldn’t understand what she was seeing. Because I was on the hollow’s back, I realized, it looked to Emma like I was floating above the ground.
“It’s all right,” I said, “I’m riding a hollowgast!” I slapped its shoulder to prove there was something solid and fleshy beneath me. “He’s completely under my control—and so are these.”
I brought the eleven hollows forward, stamping their feet to announce themselves. My friends’ mouths went oval-shaped with wonder.
“Is that really you, Jacob?” Olive asked.
“What do you mean you’re controlling them?” Enoch said.
“You’ve got blood on your shirt!” said Bronwyn.
They opened the glass door just wide enough to talk through. I explained how I fell into the hollows’ pit, was nearly bitten in half, was numbed and put to sleep, and woke up with a dozen of them under my control. As further demonstration I had the hollows pick up Warren, the chair he was tied to and all, and toss him back and forth a few times, the chair flipping end over end until the kids were cheering and Warren was groaning as if he was going to be sick. Finally I had them set him down.
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’d never have believed it,” Enoch said. “Not in a million years!”
“You’re fantastic!” I heard a little voice say, and there was Claire.
“Let me get a look at you!” I said, but when I approached the open door she shrank away. Impressed with my skills though they were, overcoming a peculiar’s natural fear of hollowgast is no easy thing—and the smell probably didn’t help, either.
“It’s safe,” I said, “I promise.”
Olive came right to the door. “I’m not scared.”
“Me, neither,” said Emma, “and me first.”
She stepped through the door and came to meet me. I made the hollow kneel, leaned away from it, and managed somewhat awkwardly to put my arms around Emma. “Sorry, I can’t quite stand up on my own,” I said, my face against her cheek, my closed eyes brushing her soft hair. It wasn’t enough, but for now it would have to be.
“You’re hurt.” She pulled away to look me over. “You’ve got cuts everywhere—and they’re deep.”
“I can’t feel them. I got dust all over me …”
“That could mean you’re only numb, not healed.”
“I’ll worry about it later. How long was I down there?”
“Hours,” she whispered. “We thought you were dead.”
I nudged her forehead with mine. “I made you a promise, remember?”
“I need you to make me a new promise. Quit scaring the hell out of me.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Once this is over, I’ll make any promise you like.”
“I’m going to remember that,” she said.
Miss Peregrine appeared at the door. “You two had better come in here. And leave that beast outside, please!”
“Miss P,” I said, “you’re on your feet!”
“Yes, I’m recovering,” she replied. “I was spared by my late arrival here, and by some nepotistic favoritism on my brother’s part. Not all my fellow ymbrynes were so lucky.”
“I wasn’t sparing you, sister,” said a booming voice from above—Caul again, through the PA system. “I was merely saving the tastiest dish for last!”
“You shut up!” Emma shouted. “When we find you, Jacob’s hollows will eat you for breakfast!”
Caul laughed. “I doubt that,” he said. “You’re more powerful than I imagined, boy, but don’t be fooled. You’re surrounded with no way out. You’ve only delayed the inevitable. But if you give up now, I might consider sparing some of you …”
With a quick flick of their tongues, I made the hollows rip the speakers from the ceiling and smash them on the ground. As wires and parts sprang everywhere, Caul’s voice went dead.