We made for the lighthouse in a dead run. When we reached the cliffs overlooking it, we found the rest of the children in a thick patch of sawgrass near the edge.
“Get down!” Millard hissed.
We dropped to our knees and crawled over to them. They were crouched in a loose huddle behind the grass, taking turns peeking at the lighthouse. They looked shell-shocked—the younger ones especially—as if they hadn’t fully grasped the unfolding nightmare. That we’d just survived a nightmare of our own barely registered.
I crawled through the grass to the edge of the cliff and peered out. Past where the shipwreck lay submerged I could see Emma’s canoe tied to the rocks. Golan and the ymbrynes were out of sight.
“What’s he doing out there?” I said.
“It’s anyone’s guess,” Millard answered. “Waiting for someone to pick him up, or for the tide to settle so he can row out.”
“In my little boat?” Emma said doubtfully.
“As I said, we don’t know.”
Three deafening cracks sounded in quick succession, and we all ducked as the sky flashed orange.
“Do any bombs fall ’round here, Millard?” asked Emma.
“My research concerns only the behavior of humans and animals,” he replied. “Not bombs.”
“Fat lot of good that does us now,” said Enoch.
“Do you have any more boats hidden around here?” I asked Emma.
“I’m afraid not,” she said. “We’ll just have to swim across.”
“Swim across and what?” said Millard. “Get shot to pieces?”
“We’ll figure something out,” she replied.
Millard sighed. “Oh, lovely. Improvised suicide.”
“Well?” Emma looked at each of us. “Does anyone have a better idea?”
“If I had my soldiers …” Enoch began.
“They’d fall to bits in the water,” said Millard.
Enoch hung his head. The others were quiet.
“Then it’s decided,” said Emma. “Who’s in?”
I raised my hand. So did Bronwyn. “You’ll need someone the wight can’t see,” Millard said. “Take me along, if you must.”
“Four’s enough,” Emma said. “Hope you’re all strong swimmers.”
There was no time for second thoughts or long goodbyes. The others wished us luck, and we were on our way.
We shed our black coats and loped through the grass, doubled-over like commandos, until we came to the path that led to the beach. We slid down on our behinds, little avalanches of sand pouring around our feet and down our pants.
Suddenly, there was a noise like fifty chainsaws over our heads, and we ducked as a plane roared by, the wind whipping our hair and blowing up a sandstorm. I clenched my teeth, waiting for a bomb blast to tear us apart. None came.
We kept moving. When we hit the beach, Emma gathered us in a tight huddle.
“There’s a shipwreck between here and the lighthouse,” she said. “Follow me out to it. Stay low in the water. Don’t let him see you. When we reach the wreck, we’ll look for our man and decide what’s next.”
“Let’s get our ymbrynes back,” Bronwyn said.
We crawled down to the surf and slid into the cold water on our bellies. It was easy going at first, but the farther we swam from shore, the more the current tried to push us back. Another plane buzzed overhead, kicking up a stinging spray of water.
We were breathing hard by the time we reached the shipwreck. Clinging to its rusted hull, just our heads poking out of the water, we stared at the lighthouse and the barren little island that anchored it, but saw no sign of my wayward therapist. A full moon hovered low in the sky, breaking through reefs of bomb smoke now and then to shine like the lighthouse’s ghostly double.
We pushed ourselves along the wreck until we reached the end, just a fifty-yard swim in open water to the lighthouse rocks.
“Here’s what I reckon we should do,” Emma said. “He’s seen how strong Wyn is, so she’s in the most danger. Jacob and I find Golan and get his attention while Wyn sneaks up from behind and gives him a belter over the head. Meantime, Millard makes a grab for the birdcage. Any objections?”
As if in answer, a shot rang out. At first we didn’t realize what it was—it didn’t sound like the gunshots we’d been hearing, distant and powerful. This was small caliber—a pop rather than a bang—and it wasn’t until we heard a second one, accompanied by a nearby splash, that we knew it was Golan.
“Fall back!” Emma shouted, and we stood out of the water and sprinted across the hull until it dropped out from beneath us, then dove into the open water beyond it. A moment later we all came up in a cluster, panting for air.
“So much for getting the drop on him!” Millard said.
Golan had stopped shooting, but we could see him standing guard by the lighthouse door, gun in hand.
“He may be an evil bastard, but he ain’t stupid,” Bronwyn said. “He knew we’d come after him.”
“Not now we can’t!” Emma said, slapping the water. “He’ll shoot us to bits!”
Millard stepped up onto the wreck. “He can’t shoot what he can’t see. I’ll go.”
“You’re not invisible in the ocean, dummy,” Emma said, and it was true—a torso-shaped negative space bobbed in the water where he stood.
“More than you are,” he replied. “Anyhow, I followed him all the way across the island and he was none the wiser. I think I can manage a few hundred meters more.”
It was difficult to argue, since our only remaining options were either giving up or running into a hail of gunfire.
“Fine,” Emma said. “If you really think you can make it.”
“Someone’s got to be the hero,” he replied, and walked off across the hull.
“Famous last words,” I muttered.
In the smoky distance, I saw Golan in the lighthouse doorway kneel down and take aim, leveling his arm across a railing.
“Look out!” I shouted, but it was too late.
A shot rang out. Millard screamed.
We all clambered onto the wreck and raced toward him. I felt absolutely certain I was about to be shot, and for a moment I thought the splashes of our feet in the water were bullets raining down on us. But then the shooting stopped—reloading, I thought—and we had a brief window of time.
Millard was kneeling in the water, dazed, blood running down his torso. For the first time I could see the true shape of his body, painted red.