Peering at it, I made out a P.M. 3-2-1853 and a J.R.R. 1-4-1797 and a barely-legible X.J. 1580. Near the bottom were some strange markings I couldn’t decipher.
“Runic inscriptions,” Emma said. “Quite ancient.”
Millard searched through the gravel until he found a sharpened stone, and, using another stone as a hammer, he chipped an inscription of his own below the others. It read A.P. 3-9-1940.
“Who’s AP?” asked Olive.
“Alma Peregrine,” said Millard, and then he sighed. “It should be her carving this, not me.”
Olive ran her hand over the rough markings. “Do you think another ymbryne will come along to make a loop here someday?”
“I hope so,” he said. “I dearly hope so.”
* * *
We buried Victor. Bronwyn lifted his whole bed and carried it outside with Victor still in it, and with all the children assembled on the grass she pulled back the sheets and tucked him in, planting one last kiss on his forehead. We boys lifted the corners of his bed like pallbearers and walked him down into the crater that the bomb had made. Then all of us climbed out but Enoch, who took a clay man from his pocket and laid it gently on the boy’s chest.
“This is my very best man,” he said. “To keep you company.” The clay man sat up and Enoch pushed it back down with his thumb. The man rolled over with one arm under his head and seemed to go to sleep.
When the crater had been filled, Fiona dragged some shrubs and vines over the raw soil and began to grow them. By the time the rest of us had finished packing for the journey, Adam was back in his old spot, only now he was marking Victor’s grave.
Once the children had said goodbye to their house, some taking chips of brick or flowers from the garden as forget-me-nots, we made one last trip across the island: through the smoking charred woods and the flat bog dug with bomb holes, over the ridge and down through the little town hung with peat smoke, where the townspeople lingered on porches and in doorways, so tired and numb with shock that they hardly seemed to notice the small parade of peculiar-looking children passing them by.
We were quiet but excited. The children hadn’t slept, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at them. It was September fourth, and for the first time in a very long time, the days were moving again. Some of them claimed they could feel the difference; the air in their lungs was fuller, the race of blood through their veins faster. They felt more vital, more real.
I did, too.
* * *
I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was. Likewise, I never imagined that home might be something I would miss. Yet as we stood loading our boats in the breaking dawn, on a brand new precipice of Before and After, I thought of everything I was about to leave behind—my parents, my town, my once-best-and-only friend—and I realized that leaving wouldn’t be like I had imagined, like casting off a weight. Their memory was something tangible and heavy, and I would carry it with me.
And yet my old life was as impossible to return to as the children’s bombed house. The doors had been blown off our cages.
Ten peculiar children and one peculiar bird were made to fit in just three stout rowboats, with much being jettisoned and left behind on the dock. When we’d finished, Emma suggested that one of us say something—make a speech to dedicate the journey ahead—but no one seemed ready with words. And so Enoch held up Miss Peregrine’s cage and she let out a great screeching cry. We answered with a cry of our own, both a victory yell and a lament, for everything lost and yet to be gained.
Hugh and I rowed the first boat. Enoch sat watching us from the bow, ready to take his turn, while Emma in a sunhat studied the receding island. The sea was a pane of rippled glass spreading endlessly before us. The day was warm, but a cool breeze came off the water, and I could’ve happily rowed for hours. I wondered how such calm could belong to a world at war.
In the next boat, I saw Bronwyn wave and raise Miss Peregrine’s camera to her eye. I smiled back. We’d brought none of the old photo albums with us; maybe this would be the first picture in a brand new one. It was strange to think that one day I might have my own stack of yellowed photos to show skeptical grandchildren—and my own fantastic stories to share.
Then Bronwyn lowered the camera and raised her arm, pointing at something beyond us. In the distance, black against the rising sun, a silent procession of battleships punctuated the horizon.
We rowed faster.