When I got to the children’s home, Miss Peregrine took one look at me and knew something was wrong. “What’s happened?” she said, her bloodshot eyes ranging over me.
I told her everything, all the sketchy facts and rumors I’d overheard, and she blanched. She hurried me into the sitting room, where in a panic she gathered all the kids she could find and then stomped off to find a few who had ignored her shouts. The rest were left to stand around, anxious and confused.
Emma and Millard cornered me. “What’s she in such a tiff about?” Millard asked.
I quietly told them about Martin. Millard sucked in his breath and Emma crossed her arms, looking worried.
“Is it really that bad?” I said. “I mean, it can’t have been hollows. They only hunt peculiars, right?”
Emma groaned. “Do you want to tell him, or shall I?”
“Hollows vastly prefer peculiars over common folk,” Millard explained, “but they’ll eat just about anything to sustain themselves, so long as it’s fresh and meaty.”
“It’s one of the ways you know there might be a hollow hanging about,” said Emma. “The bodies pile up. That’s why they’re mostly nomads. If they didn’t move from place to place so often, they’d be simple to track down.”
“How often?” I asked, a shiver tracing my spine. “Do they need to eat, I mean?”
“Oh, pretty often,” said Millard. “Arranging the hollows’ meals is what wights spend most of their time doing. They look for peculiars when they can, but a gobsmacking portion of their energy and effort is spent tracking down common victims for the hollows, animal and human, and then hiding the mess.” His tone was academic, as if discussing the breeding patterns of a mildly interesting species of rodent.
“But don’t the wights get caught?” I said. “I mean, if they’re helping murder people, you’d think—”
“Some do,” Emma said. “Wager you’ve heard of a few, if you follow the news. There was one fellow, they found him with human heads in the icebox and gibletty goodies in a stock pot over a low boil, like he was making Christmas dinner. In your time this wouldn’t have been so very long ago.”
I remembered—vaguely—a sensationalized late-night TV special about a cannibalistic serial killer from Milwaukee who’d been apprehended in similarly gruesome circumstances.
“You mean … Jeffrey Dahmer?”
“I believe that was the gentleman’s name, yes,” said Millard. “Fascinating case. Seems he never lost his taste for the fresh stuff, though he’d not been a hollow for many years.”
“I thought you guys weren’t supposed to know about the future,” I said.
Emma flashed a canny smile. “The bird only keeps good things about the future to herself, but you can bet we hear all the brown-trouser bits.”
Then Miss Peregrine returned, pulling Enoch and Horace behind her by their shirtsleeves. Everyone came to attention.
“We’ve just had word of a new threat,” she announced, giving me an appreciative nod. “A man outside our loop has died under suspicious circumstances. We can’t be certain of the cause or whether it represents a true threat to our security, but we must conduct ourselves as if it did. Until further notice, no one may leave the house, not even to collect vegetables or bring in a goose for the evening meal.”
A collective groan arose, over which Miss Peregrine raised her voice. “This has been a challenging few days for us all. I beg your continued patience.”
Hands shot up around the room, but she rebuffed all questions and marched off to secure the doors. I ran after her in a panic. If there really was something dangerous on the island, it might kill me the minute I set foot outside the loop. But if I stayed here, I’d be leaving my father defenseless, not to mention worried sick about me. Somehow, that seemed even worse.
“I need to go,” I said, catching up to Miss Peregrine.
She pulled me into an empty room and closed the door. “You will keep your voice down,” she commanded, “and you will respect my rules. What I said applies to you as well. No one leaves this house.”
“Thus far I have allowed you an unprecedented measure of autonomy to come and go as you please, out of respect for your unique position. But you may have already been followed here, and that puts my wards’ lives in jeopardy. I will not permit you to endanger them—or yourself—any further.”
“Don’t you understand?” I said angrily. “Boats aren’t running. Those people in town are stuck. My father is stuck. If there really is a wight, and it’s who I think it is, he and my dad have almost gotten into one fight already. If he just fed a total stranger to a hollow, who do you think he’s going after next?”
Her face was like stone. “The welfare of the townspeople is none of my concern,” she said. “I won’t endanger my wards. Not for anyone.”
“It isn’t just townspeople. It’s my father. Do you really think a couple of locked doors will stop me from going?”
“Perhaps not. But if you insist on leaving here, then I insist you never return.”
I was so shocked I had to laugh. “But you need me,” I said.
“Yes, we do,” she replied. “We do very much.”
* * *
I stormed upstairs to Emma’s room. Inside was a tableau of frustration that might’ve been straight out of Norman Rockwell, if Norman Rockwell had painted people doing hard time in jail. Bronwyn stared woodenly out the window. Enoch sat on the floor, whittling a piece of hard clay. Emma was perched on the edge of her bed, elbows on knees, tearing sheets of paper from a notebook and igniting them between her fingers.
“You’re back!” she said when I came in.
“I never left,” I replied. “Miss Peregrine wouldn’t let me.” Everyone listened as I explained my dilemma. “I’m banished if I try to leave.”
Emma’s entire notebook ignited. “She can’t do that!” she cried, oblivious to the flames licking her hand.
“She can do what she likes,” said Bronwyn. “She’s the Bird.”
Emma threw down her book and stamped out the fire.
“I just came to tell you I’m going, whether she wants me to or not. I won’t be held prisoner, and I won’t bury my head in the sand while my own father might be in real danger.”