“He began disappearing a few months ago,” the woman explained. “First just his toes. Then his heels. Finally the rest, both feet. Nothing I’ve given him—no tincture, no tonic—has had the slightest effect in curing him.”
So he had feet, after all—invisible ones.
“We don’t know what to do,” said Bekhir. “But I thought, perhaps there’s a healer among you …”
“There’s no healing what he’s got,” said Millard, and at the sound of his voice in the empty air the boy’s head jerked up. “We’re alike, he and I. It was just the same for me when I was young. I wasn’t born invisible; it happened a little at a time.”
“Who’s speaking?” the boy said.
Millard picked up a scarf that lay on the edge of the bed and wrapped it around his face, revealing the shape of his nose, his forehead, his mouth. “Here I am,” he said, moving across the floor toward the boy. “Don’t be frightened.”
As the rest of us watched, the boy reached up his hand and touched Millard’s cheek, then his forehead, then his hair—the color and style of which it had never occurred to me to imagine—and even pulled a little hank of it, gently, as if testing its realness.
“You’re there,” the boy said, his eyes sparkling with wonder. “You’re really there!”
“And you’ll be, too, even after the rest of you goes,” said Millard. “You’ll see. It doesn’t hurt.”
The boy smiled, and when he did, the woman’s knees wobbled and she had to steady herself against Bekhir. “Bless you,” she said to Millard, near tears. “Bless you.”
Millard sat down at Radi’s disappeared feet. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, my boy. In fact, once you adjust to invisibility, I think you’ll find it has many advantages …”
And as he began to list them, Bekhir went to the door and nodded at Emma and me. “Let’s let them be,” he said. “I’m sure they have a lot to talk about.”
We left Millard alone with the boy and his mother. Returning to the campfire, we found nearly everyone, peculiar and Gypsy alike, gathered around Horace. He was standing on a tree stump before the astounded fortune teller, his eyes closed and one hand atop her head, and seemed to be narrating a dream as it came to him: “… and your grandson’s grandson will pilot a giant ship that shuttles between the Earth and the moon like an omnibus, and on the moon he’ll have a very small house, and he’ll fall behind on the mortgage and have to take in lodgers, and one of those lodgers will be a beautiful woman with whom he’ll fall very deeply in moon-love, which isn’t quite the same as Earth-love because of the difference in gravity there …”
We watched from the edge of the crowd. “Is he for real?” I asked Emma.
“Might be,” she replied. “Or he might just be having a bit of fun with her.”
“Why can’t he tell our futures like that?”
Emma shrugged. “Horace’s ability can be maddeningly useless. He’ll reel off lifetimes of predictions for strangers, but with us he’s almost totally blocked. It’s as if the more he cares about someone, the less he can see. Emotion clouds his vision.”
“Doesn’t it all of us,” came a voice from behind us, and we turned to see Enoch standing there. “And on that tip, I hope you aren’t distracting the American too much, Emma dear. It’s hard to keep a lookout for hollowgast when there’s a young lady’s tongue in your ear.”
“Don’t be disgusting!” Emma said.
“I couldn’t ignore the Feeling if I wanted to,” I said, though I did wish I could ignore the icky feeling that Enoch was jealous of me.
“So, tell me about your secret meeting,” Enoch said. “Did the Gypsies really protect us because of some dusty old alliance none of us have heard of?”
“The leader and his wife have a peculiar son,” said Emma. “They hoped we could help him.”
“That’s madness,” said Enoch. “They nearly let themselves be filleted alive by those soldiers for the sake of one boy? Talk about emotion clouding vision! I figured they wanted to enslave us for our abilities, or at the very least sell us at auction—but then I’m always overestimating people.”
“Oh, go find a dead animal to play with,” said Emma.
“I’ll never understand ninety-nine percent of humanity,” said Enoch, and he went away shaking his head.
“Sometimes I think that boy is part machine,” Emma said. “Flesh on the outside, metal on the inside.”
I laughed, but secretly I wondered if Enoch was right. Was it crazy, what Bekhir had risked for his son? Because if Bekhir was crazy, then certainly I was. How much had I given up for the sake of just one girl? Despite my curiosity, despite my grandfather, despite the debts we owed Miss Peregrine, ultimately I was here—now—for one reason alone: because from the day I met Emma I’d known I wanted to be part of any world she belonged to. Did that make me crazy? Or was my heart too easily conquered?
Maybe I could use a little metal on the inside, I thought. If I’d kept my heart better armored, where would I be now?
Easy—I’d be at home, medicating myself into a monotone. Drowning my sorrows in video games. Working shifts at Smart Aid. Dying inside, day by day, from regret.
You coward. You weak, pathetic child. You threw your chance away.
But I hadn’t. In reaching toward Emma, I’d risked everything—was risking it again, every day—but in doing so I had grasped and pulled myself into a world once unimaginable to me, where I lived among people who were more alive than anyone I’d known, did things I’d never dreamed I could do, survived things I’d never dreamed I could survive. All because I’d let myself feel something for one peculiar girl.
Despite all the trouble and danger we found ourselves in, and despite the fact that this strange new world had started to crumble the moment I’d discovered it, I was profoundly glad I was here. Despite everything, this peculiar life was what I’d always wanted. Strange, I thought, how you can be living your dreams and your nightmares at the very same time.
“What is it?” Emma said. “You’re staring at me.”
“I wanted to thank you,” I said.
She wrinkled her nose and squinted like I’d said something funny. “Thank me for what?” she said.