I laughed, and Enoch scowled at me. “What’s so funny?”
“You made a joke.”
“You are a bit thick, aren’t you?” he said. “Look here.” He grabbed one of the soldiers and stripped off its clothes. Then with both hands he cracked it down the middle and removed from its sticky chest a tiny, convulsing heart. The soldier instantly went limp. Enoch held the heart between his thumb and forefinger for me to see.
“It’s from a mouse,” he explained. “That’s what I can do—take the life of one thing and give it to another, either clay like this or something that used to be alive but ain’t anymore.” He tucked the stilled heart into his overalls. “Soon as I figger out how to train ’em up proper, I’ll have a whole army like this. Only they’ll be massive.” And he raised an arm up over his head to show me just how massive.
“What can you do?” he said.
“Me? Nothing, really. I mean, nothing special like you.”
“Pity,” he replied. “Are you going to come live with us anyway?” He didn’t say it like he wanted me to, exactly; he just seemed curious.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I hadn’t thought about it.” That was a lie, of course. I had thought about it, but mostly in a daydreaming sort of way.
He looked at me suspiciously. “But don’t you want to?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Narrowing his eyes, he nodded slowly, as if he’d just figured me out.
Then he leaned in and said under his breath, “Emma told you about Raid the Village, didn’t she?”
“Raid the what?”
He looked away. “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a game some of us play.”
I got the distinct feeling I was being set up. “She didn’t tell me,” I said.
Enoch scooted toward me on the stump. “I bet she didn’t,” he said. “I bet there’s a lot of things about this place she wouldn’t like you to know.”
“Oh yeah? Why?”
“Cause then you’ll see it’s not as great as everybody wants you to think, and you won’t stay.”
“What kinds of things?” I asked.
“Can’t tell,” he said, flashing me a devilish smile. “I could get in big trouble.”
“Whatever,” I said. “You brought it up.”
I stood to go. “Wait!” he cried, grabbing my sleeve.
“Why should I if you’re not going to tell me anything?”
He rubbed his chin judiciously. “It’s true, I ain’t allowed to say anything … but I reckon I couldn’t stop you if you was to go upstairs and have a look in the room at the end of the hall.”
“Why?” I said. “What’s in there?”
“My friend Victor. He wants to meet you. Go up and have a chat.”
“Fine,” I said. “I will.”
I started toward the house and then heard Enoch whistle. He mimed running a hand along the top of a door. The key, he mouthed.
“What do I need a key for if someone’s in there?”
He turned away, pretending not to hear.
* * *
I sauntered into the house and up the stairs like I had business there and didn’t care who knew it. Reaching the second floor unobserved, I crept to the room at end of the hall and tried the door. It was locked. I knocked, but there was no answer. Glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, I ran my hand along the top of the doorframe. Sure enough, I found a key.
I unlocked the door and slipped inside. It was like any other bedroom in the house—there was a dresser, a wardrobe, a vase of flowers on a nightstand. Late-morning sun shone through drawn curtains the color of mustard, throwing such yellow light everywhere that the whole room seemed encased in amber. Only then did I notice a young man lying in the bed, his eyes closed and mouth slightly open, half-hidden behind a lace curtain.
I froze, afraid I’d wake him. I recognized him from Miss Peregrine’s album, though I hadn’t seen him at meals or around the house, and we’d never been introduced. In the picture he’d been asleep in bed, just as he was now. Had he been quarantined, infected with some sleeping sickness? Was Enoch trying to get me sick, too?
“Hello?” I whispered. “Are you awake?”
He didn’t move. I put a hand on his arm and shook him gently. His head lolled to one side.
Then something terrible occurred to me. To test a theory, I held my hand in front of his mouth. I couldn’t feel his breath. My finger brushed his lips, which were cold as ice. Shocked, I pulled my hand away.
Then I heard footsteps and spun around to see Bronwyn in the doorway. “You ain’t supposed to be in here!” she hissed.
“He’s dead,” I said.
Bronwyn’s eyes went to the boy and her face puckered. “That’s Victor.”
Suddenly it came to me, where I’d seen his face. He was the boy lifting the boulder in my grandfather’s pictures. Victor was Bronwyn’s brother. There was no telling how long he might’ve been dead; as long as the loop kept looping, it could be fifty years and only look like a day.
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“Maybe I’ll wake old Victor up,” came a voice from behind us, “and you can ask him yourself.” It was Enoch. He came in and shut the door.
Bronwyn beamed at him through welling tears. “Would you wake him? Oh please, Enoch.”
“I shouldn’t,” he said. “I’m running low on hearts as it is, and it takes a right lot of ’em to rise up a human being, even for just a minute.”
Bronwyn crossed to the dead boy and began to smooth his hair with her fingers. “Please,” she begged, “it’s been ages since we talked to Victor.”
“Well, I do have some cow hearts pickling in the basement,” he said, pretending to consider it. “But I hate to use inferior ingredients. Fresh is always better!”
Bronwyn began to cry in earnest. One of her tears fell onto the boy’s jacket, and she hurried to wipe it away with her sleeve.
“Don’t get so choked,” Enoch said, “you know I can’t stand it. Anyway, it’s cruel, waking Victor. He likes it where he is.”
“And where’s that?” I said.
“Who knows? But whenever we rouse him for a chat he seems in a dreadful hurry to get back.”
“What’s cruel is you toying with Bronwyn like that, and tricking me,” I said. “And if Victor’s dead, why don’t you just bury him?”