“You didn’t come from the present?” Melina said, confused.
“From 1940, like he said,” Emma replied. “It’s raining bombs out there, though. You might want to stay behind.”
“Nice try,” said Melina, “you ain’t getting rid of me that easy. It’s got to be worse in the present—wights everywhere! That’s why I never left Miss Thrush’s loop.”
Emma stepped forward and pulled me with her. “Fine! We’ll go first!”
I stuck out my free arm, feeling blindly in the dark. “But I can’t see a thing!”
The elder echolocator said, “It’s just twenty paces ahead there, you—”
“Can’t miss it,” said the younger.
So we plodded ahead, waving our hands in front of us. I kicked something with my foot and stumbled. My left shoulder scraped the wall.
“Keep it straight!” Emma said, pulling me to the right.
My stomach lurched. I could feel it: the hollows had made it down the well shaft. Now, even if they couldn’t sense us, there was a fifty-fifty chance they’d choose the right spur of the tunnel and find us anyway.
The time for sneaking around was over. We had to run.
“Screw it,” I said. “Emma, give me a light!”
“Gladly!” She let my hand go and made a flame so large I felt the hair on the right side of my head singe.
I saw the transition point right away. It was just ahead of us, marked by a vertical line painted on the tunnel wall. We took off running for it in a mob.
The moment we passed it, I felt a pressure in my ears. We were back in 1940.
We bolted through the catacombs, Emma’s fire casting manic shadows across the walls, the blind boys clicking loudly with their tongues and shouting out “Left!” or “Right!” when we came to splits in the tunnel.
We passed the stack of coffins, the landslide of bones. Finally we returned to the dead end and the ladder to the crypt. I shoved Horace up ahead of me, then Enoch, and then Olive took off her shoes and floated up.
“We’re taking too long!” I shouted.
Down the passage I could feel them coming. Could hear their tongues pounding the stone floor, propelling them forward. Could picture their jaws beginning to drip black goo in anticipation of a kill.
Then I saw them. A blur of dark motion in the distance.
I screamed, “Go!” and leapt onto the ladder, the last one to climb it. When I was near the top, Bronwyn reached down her arm and yanked me up the last few rungs, and then I was in the crypt with everyone else.
Groaning loudly, Bronwyn picked up the stone slab that topped Christopher Wren’s tomb and dropped it back in place. Not two seconds later, something slammed violently against the underside of it, making the heavy slab leap. It wouldn’t hold the hollows for long—not two of them.
They were so close. Alarms blared inside me, my stomach aching like I’d drunk acid. We dashed up the spiral staircase and into the nave. The cathedral was dark now, the only illumination a weird orange glow eking through the stained-glass windows. I thought for a moment it was the last strains of sunset, but then, as we dashed toward the exit, I caught a glimpse of the sky through the broken roof.
Night had fallen. The bombs were falling still, thudding like an irregular heartbeat.
We ran outside.
From where we stood, arrested in awe on the cathedral steps, it looked as if the whole city had caught fire. The sky was a panorama of orange flame bright enough to read by. The square where we’d chased pigeons was a smoking hole in the cobblestones. The sirens droned on, a soprano counterpoint to the bombs’ relentless bass, their pitch so eerily human it sounded like every soul in London had taken to their rooftops to cry out collective despair. Then awe gave way to fear and the urgency of self-preservation, and we rushed down the debris-strewn steps into the street—past the ruined square, around a double-decker bus that looked like it had been crushed in the fist of an angry giant—running I knew not where, nor cared, so long as it was away from the Feeling that grew stronger and sicker inside me with each passing moment.
I looked back at the telekinetic girl, pulling the blind brothers along by their hands while they clicked with their tongues. I thought of telling her to let the pigeon go so we could follow it—but what use would it be to find Miss Wren now, while hollows were chasing us? We’d reach her only to be slaughtered at her doorstep, and we’d put her life in danger, too. No, we had to lose the hollows first. Or better yet, kill them.
A man in a metal hat stuck his head out of a doorway and shouted, “You are advised to take cover!” then ducked back inside.
Sure, I thought, but where? Maybe we could hide in the debris and the chaos around us, and with so much noise and distraction everywhere, the hollows would pass us by. But we were still too close to them, our trail too fresh. I warned my friends not to use their abilities, no matter what, and Emma and I led them zigzagging through the streets, hoping this would make us harder to track.
Still, I could feel them coming. They were out in the open now, out of the cathedral, lurching after us, invisible to all but me. I wondered if even I would be able to see them here, in the dark: shadow creatures in a shadow city.
We ran until my lungs burned. Until Olive couldn’t keep up anymore and Bronwyn had to scoop her into her arms. Down long blocks of blacked-out windows staring like lidless eyes. Past a bombed library snowing ash and burning papers. Through a bombed cemetery, long-forgotten Londoners unearthed and flung into trees, grinning in rotted formal wear. A curlicued swing set in a cratered playground. The horrors piled up, incomprehensible, the bombers now and then dropping flares to light it all with the pure, shining white of a thousand camera flashes. As if to say: Look. Look what we made.
Nightmares come to life, all of it. Like the hollows themselves.
Don’t look don’t look don’t look …
I envied the blind brothers, navigating a mercifully detail-free topography; the world in wireframe. I wondered, briefly, what their dreams looked like—or if they dreamt at all.
Emma jogged alongside me, her wavy, powder-coated hair flowing behind her. “Everyone’s knackered,” she said. “We can’t keep going like this!”
She was right. Even the fittest of us were flagging now, and soon the hollows would catch up to us and we’d have to face them in the middle of the street. And that would be a bloodbath. We had to find cover.
I steered us toward a row of houses. Because bomber pilots were more likely to target a cheerfully lit house than another smudge in the dark, every house was blacked out—every porch light dark, every window opaque. An empty house would be safest for us, but blacked out like this, there was no way to tell which houses were occupied and which weren’t. We’d have to pick one at random.