“Oh, and you’ll need these,” he said, fetching a pair of oil lamps from a cabinet. “The generators stop running at ten since petrol’s so bloody expensive to ship out, so either you get to bed early or you learn to love candles and kerosene.” He grinned. “Hope it ain’t too medieval for ya!”
We assured Kev that outhouses and kerosene would be just fine, sounded like fun, in fact—a little adventure, yessir—and then he led us downstairs for the finalleg of our tour. “You’re welcome to take your meals here,” he said, “and I expect you will, on account of there’s nowhere else to eat. If you need to make a call, we got a phone box in the corner there. Sometimes there’s a bit of a queue for it, though, since we get doodly for mobile reception out here and you’re looking at the only land-line on the island. That’s right, we got it all—only food, only bed, only phone!” And he leaned back and laughed, long and loud.
The only phone on the island. I looked over at it—it was the kind that had a door you could pull shut for privacy, like the ones you see in old movies—and realized with dawning horror that this was the Grecian orgy, this was the raging frat party I had been connected to when I called the island a few weeks ago. This was the piss hole.
Kev handed my dad the keys to our rooms. “Any questions,” he said, “you know where to find me.”
“I have a question,” I said. “What’s a piss—I mean, a priest hole?”
The men at the bar burst into laughter. “Why, it’s a hole for priests, of course!” one said, which made the rest of them laugh even harder.
Kev walked over to an uneven patch of floorboards next to the fireplace, where a mangy dog lay sleeping. “Right here,” he said, tapping what appeared to be a door in the floor with his shoe. “Ages ago, when just being a Catholic could get you hung from a tree, clergyfolk came here seeking refuge. If Queen Elizabeth’s crew of thugs come chasing after, we hid whoever needed hiding in snug little spots like this—priest holes.” It struck me the way he said we, as if he’d known those long-dead islanders personally.
“Snug indeed!” one of the drinkers said. “Bet they were warm as toast and tight as drums down there!”
“I’d take warm and snug to strung up by priest killers any day,” said another.
“Here, here!” the first man said. “To Cairnholm—may she always be our rock of refuge!”
“To Cairnholm!” they chorused, and raised their glasses together.
* * *
Jet-lagged and exhausted, we went to sleep early—or rather we went to our beds and lay in them with pillows covering our heads to block out the thumping cacophony that issued through the floorboards, which grew so loud that at one point I thought surely the revelers had invaded my room. Then the clock must’ve struck ten because all at once the buzzing generators outside sputtered and died, as did the music from downstairs and the streetlight that had been shining through my window. Suddenly I was cocooned in silent, blissful darkness, with only the whisper of distant waves to remind me where I was.
For the first time in months, I fell into a deep, nightmare-free slumber. I dreamed instead about my grandfather as a boy, about his first night here, a stranger in a strange land, under a strange roof, owing his life to people who spoke a strange tongue. When I awoke, sun streaming through my window, I realized it wasn’t just my grandfather’s life that Miss Peregrine had saved, but mine, too, and my father’s. Today, with any luck, I would finally get to thank her.
I went downstairs to find my dad already bellied up to a table, slurping coffee and polishing his fancy binoculars. Just as I sat down, Kev appeared bearing two plates loaded with mystery meat and fried toast. “I didn’t know you could fry toast,” I remarked, to which Kev replied that there wasn’t a food he was aware of that couldn’t be improved by frying.
Over breakfast, Dad and I discussed our plan for the day. It was to be a kind of scout, to familiarize ourselves with the island. We’d scope out my dad’s bird-watching spots first and then find the children’s home. I scarfed my food, anxious to get started.
Well fortified with grease, we left the pub and walked through town, dodging tractors and shouting to each other over the din of generators until the streets gave way to fields and the noise faded behind us. It was a crisp and blustery day—the sun hiding behind giant cloudbanks only to burst out moments later and dapple the hills with spectacular rays of light—and I felt energized and hopeful. We were heading for a rocky beach where my dad had spotted a bunch of birds from the ferry. I wasn’t sure how we would reach it, though—the island was slightly bowl shaped, with hills that climbed toward its edges only to drop off at precarious seaside cliffs—but at this particular spot the edge had been rounded off and a path led down to a minor spit of sand along the water.
We picked our way down to the beach, where what seemed to be an entire civilization of birds were flapping and screeching and fishing in tide pools. I watched my father’s eyes widen. “Fascinating,” he muttered, scraping at some petrified guano with the stubby end of his pen. “I’m going to need some time here. Is that all right?”
I’d seen this look on his face before, and I knew exactly what “some time” meant: hours and hours. “Then I’ll go find the house by myself,” I said.
“Not alone, you aren’t. You promised.”
“Then I’ll find a person who can take me.”
“Kev will know someone.”
My dad looked out to sea, where a big rusted lighthouse jutted up from a pile of rocks. “You know what the answer would be if your mom were here,” he said.
My parents had differing theories about how much parenting I required. Mom was the enforcer, always hovering, but Dad hung back a little. He thought it was important that I make my own mistakes now and then. Also, letting me go would free him to play with guano all day.
“Okay,” he said, “but make sure you leave me the number of whoever you go with.”
“Dad, nobody here has phones.”
He sighed. “Right. Well, as long as they’re reliable.”
* * *
Kev was out running an errand, and because asking one of his drunken regulars to chaperone me seemed like a bad idea, I went into the nearest shop to ask someone who was at least gainfully employed. The door read FISHMONGER. I pushed it open to find myself cowering before a bearded giant in a blood-soaked apron. He left off decapitating fish to glare at me, dripping cleaver in hand, and I vowed never again to discriminate against the intoxicated.