Hollow City / Page 39

Page 39


Miss Peregrine wasn’t inside. I had a mini heart attack.

“My bird!” Bronwyn cried. “Where’s my bird?!”

“Calm down, it’s right here,” said the conductor, and he pointed above our heads. Miss Peregrine was perched on a luggage rack, fast asleep.

Bronwyn stumbled back against the wall, so relieved she nearly fainted. “How did she get up there?”

The conductor raised an eyebrow. “It’s a very lifelike toy.” He turned and went to the door, then stopped and said, “By the way, where can I get one? My daughter would just love it.”

“I’m afraid she’s one of a kind,” Bronwyn said, and she took Miss Peregrine down and hugged her to her chest.

* * *

After all we’d been through over the past few days—not to mention the past few hours—the luxury of the first-class cabin came as a shock. Our car had plush leather couches, a dining table, and wide picture windows. It looked like a rich man’s living room, and we had it all to ourselves.

We took turns washing up in the wood-paneled bathroom, then availed ourselves of the dining menu. “Order anything you like,” Enoch said, picking up a telephone that was attached to the arm of a reclining chair. “Hello, do you have goose liver pâté? I should like all of it. Yes, all that you have. And toast triangles.”

No one said anything about what had happened. It was too much, too awful, and for now we just wanted to recover and forget. There was so much else to be done, so many more dangers left to reckon with.

We settled in for the journey. Outside, Porthmadog’s squat houses shrank away and Miss Wren’s mountain came into view, rising grayly above the hills. While the others drifted into conversations, my nose stayed glued to the window, and the endless unfolding thereness of 1940 beyond it—1940 being a place that had until recently been merely pocket-sized in my experience, no wider than a tiny island, and a place I could leave any time I wished by passing through the dark belly of Cairnholm’s cairn. Since leaving the island, though, it had become a world, a whole world of marshy forests and smoke-wreathed towns and valleys crisscrossed with shining rivers; and of people and things that looked old but weren’t yet, like props and extras in some elaborately staged but plotless period movie—all of it flashing by and by and by out my window like a dream without end.

I fell asleep and woke, fell asleep and woke, the train’s rhythm hypnotizing me into a hazy state in which it was easy to forget that I was more than just a passive viewer, my window more than just a movie screen; that out there was every bit as real as in here. Then, slowly, I remembered how I’d come to be part of this: my grandfather; the island; the children. The pretty, flint-eyed girl next to me, her hand resting atop mine.

“Am I really here?” I asked her.

“Go back to sleep,” she said.

“Do you think we’ll be all right?”

She kissed me on the tip of my nose.

“Go back to sleep.”

7

More terrible dreams, all mixed up, fading in and out of one another. Snippets of horrors from recent days: the steel eye of a gun barrel staring me down from close range; a road strewn with fallen horses; a hollowgast’s tongues straining toward me across a chasm; that awful, grinning wight and his empty eyes.

Then this: I’m back home again, but I’m a ghost. I drift down my street, through my front door, into my house. I find my father asleep at the kitchen table, a cordless phone clutched to his chest.

I’m not dead, I say, but my words don’t make sound.

I find my mother sitting on the edge of her bed, still in night-clothes, staring out the window at a pale afternoon. She’s gaunt, wrung out from crying. I reach out to touch her shoulder, but my hand passes right through it.

Then I’m at my own funeral, looking up from my grave at a rectangle of gray sky.

My three uncles peer down, their fat necks bulging from starched white collars.

Uncle Les: What a pity. Right?

Uncle Jack: You really gotta feel for Frank and Maryann right now.

Uncle Les: Yeah. What’re people gonna think? Uncle Bobby: They’ll think the kid had a screw loose. Which he did.

Uncle Jack: I knew it, though. That he’d pull something like this one day. He had that look, you know? Just a little …

Uncle Bobby: Screwy.

Uncle Les: That comes from his dad’s side of the family, not ours.

Uncle Jack: Still. Terrible.

Uncle Bobby: Yeah.

Uncle Jack: …

Uncle Les: …

Uncle Bobby: Buffet?

My uncles shuffle away. Ricky comes along, his green hair extra spiked for the occasion.

Bro. Now that you’re dead, can I have your bike?

I try to shout: I’m not dead!

I am just far away I’m sorry

But the words echo back at me, trapped inside my head.

The minister peers down. It’s Golan, holding a Bible, dressed in robes. He grins.

We’re waiting for you, Jacob.

A shovelful of dirt rains down on me.

We’re waiting.

* * *

I bolted upright, suddenly awake, my mouth dry as paper. Emma was next to me, hands on my shoulders. “Jacob! Thank God—you gave us a scare!”

“I did?”

“You were having a nightmare,” said Millard. He was seated across from us, looking like an empty suit of clothes starched into position. “Talking in your sleep, too.”

“I was?”

Emma dabbed sweat from my forehead with one of the first-class napkins. (Real cloth!) “You were,” she said. “But it sounded like gobbledygook. I couldn’t understand a word.”

I looked around self-consciously, but no else seemed to have noticed. The other children were spread throughout the car, catnapping, daydreaming out the window, or playing cards.

I sincerely hoped I was not starting to lose it.

“Do you often have nightmares?” asked Millard. “You should describe them to Horace. He’s good at sussing hidden meanings from dreams.”

Emma rubbed my arm. “You sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine,” I said, and because I don’t like being fussed over, I changed the subject. Seeing that Millard had the Tales of the Peculiar open in his lap, I said, “Doing some light reading?”

“Studying,” he replied. “And to think I once dismissed these as just stories for children. They are, in fact, extraordinarily complex—cunning, even—in the way they conceal secret information about peculiardom. It would take me years, probably, to decode them all.”


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