On Tuesday night, most of what I thought I understood about myself had turned out to be wrong. On Sunday morning, my dad and I were supposed to pack our things and go home. I had just a few days to decide what to do. Stay or go—neither option seemed good. How could I possibly stay here and leave behind everthing I’d known? But after all I’d learned, how could I go home?
Even worse, there was no one I could talk to about it. Dad was out of the question. Emma made frequent and passionate arguments as to why I should stay, none of which acknowledged the life I would be abandoning (however meager it seemed), or how the sudden inexplicable disappearance of their only child might affect my parents, or the stifling suffocation that Emma herself had admitted feeling inside the loop. She would only say, “With you here, it’ll be better.”
Miss Peregrine was even less helpful. Her only answer was that she couldn’t make such a decision for me, even though I only wanted to talk it through. Still, it was obvious she wanted me to stay; beyond my own safety, my presence in the loop would make everyone else safer. But I didn’t relish the idea of spending my life as their watchdog. (I was beginning to suspect my grandfather had felt the same way, and it was part of the reason he’d refused to return after the war.)
Joining the peculiar children would also mean I wouldn’t finish high school or go to college or do any of the normal growing-up things people do. Then again, I had to keep reminding myself, I wasn’t normal; and as long as hollows were hunting me, any life lived outside the loop would almost certainly be cut short. I’d spend the rest of my days living in fear, looking over my shoulder, tormented by nightmares, waiting for them to finally come back and punch my ticket. That sounded a lot worse than missing out on college.
Then I thought: Isn’t there a third option? Couldn’t I be like Grandpa Portman, who for fifty years had lived and thrived and fended off hollows outside the loop? That’s when the self-deprecating voice in my head kicked in.
He was military-trained, dummy. A stone-cold badass. He had a walk-in closet full of sawed-off shotguns. The man was Rambo compared to you.
I could sign up for a class at the gun range, the optimistic part of me would think. Take Karate. Work out.
Are you joking? You couldn’t even protect yourself in high school! You had to bribe that redneck to be your bodyguard. And you’d wet your pants if you so much as pointed a real gun at anyone.
No, I wouldn’t.
You’re weak. You’re a loser. That’s why he never told you who you really were. He knew you couldn’t handle it.
Shut up. Shut up.
For days I went back and forth like this. Stay or go. I obsessed constantly without resolution. Meanwhile, Dad completely lost steam on his book. The less he worked, the more discouraged he got, and the more discouraged he got, the more time he spent in the bar. I’d never seen him drink that way—six, seven beers a night—and I didn’t want to be around him when he was like that. He was dark, and when he wasn’t sulking in silence he would tell me things I really didn’t want to know.
“One of these days your mother’s gonna leave me,” he said one night. “If I don’t make something happen pretty soon, I really think she might.”
I started avoiding him. I’m not sure he even noticed. It became depressingly easy to lie about my comings and goings.
Meanwhile, at the home for peculiar children, Miss Peregrine instituted a near-lockdown. It was like martial law had been declared: The smaller kids couldn’t go anywhere without an escort, the older ones traveled in pairs, and Miss Peregrine had to know where everyone was at all times. Just getting permission to go outside was an ordeal.
Sentries were drafted into rotating shifts to watch the front and rear of the house. At all times of the day and most of the night you could see bored faces peeping out of windows. If they spotted someone approaching, they yanked a pull-chain that rang a bell in Miss Peregrine’s room, which meant that whenever I arrived she’d be waiting inside the door to interrogate me. What was happening outside the loop? Had I seen anything strange? Was I sure I hadn’t been followed?
Not surprisingly, the kids began to go a little nuts. The little ones got rambunctious while the older ones moped, complaining about the new rules in voices just loud enough to be overheard. Dramatic sighs erupted out of thin air, often the only cue that Millard had wandered into a room. Hugh’s insects swarmed and stung people until they were banished from the house, after which Hugh spent all his time at the window, his bees screening the other side of the glass.
Olive, claiming she had misplaced her leaden shoes, took to crawling around the ceiling like a fly, dropping grains of rice on people’s heads until they looked up and noticed her, at which point she’d burst into laughter so all-consuming that her levitation would falter and she’d have to grab onto a chandelier or curtain rod just to keep from falling. Strangest of all was Enoch, who disappeared into his basement laboratory to perform experimental surgeries on his clay soldiers that would’ve made Dr. Frankenstein cringe: amputating the limbs from two to make a hideous spider-man of a third, or cramming four chicken hearts into a single chest cavity in an attempt to create a super-clay-man who would never run out of energy. One by one their little gray bodies failed under the strain, and the basement came to resemble a Civil War field hospital.
For her part, Miss Peregrine remained in a constant state of motion, chain-smoking pipes while limping from room to room to check on the children, as if they might disappear the moment they left her sight. Miss Avocet stayed on, emerging from her torpor now and then to wander the halls, calling out forlornly for her poor abandoned wards before slumping into someone’s arms to betaken back to bed. There followed a great deal of paranoid speculation about Miss Avocet’s tragic ordeal and why hollows would want to kidnap ymbrynes, with theories ranging from the bizarre (to create the biggest time loop in history, large enough to swallow the whole planet) to the ridiculously optimistic (to keep the hollows company; being a horrible soul-eating monster can get pretty lonely).
Eventually, a morbid quiet settled over the house. Two days of confinement had made everyone lethargic. Believing that routine was the best defense against depression, Miss Peregrine tried to keep everyone interested in her daily lessons, in preparing the daily meals, and in keeping the house spic and span. But whenever they weren’t under direct orders to do something, the children sank heavily into chairs, stared listlessly out locked windows, paged through dog-eared books they’d read a hundred times before, or slept.