“What the hell for?” he growled when I told him where I wanted to go. “Nothing over there but bogland and barmy weather.”
I explained about my grandfather and the children’s home. He frowned at me, then leaned over the counter to cast a doubtful glance at my shoes.
“I s’pose Dylan ain’t too busy to take you,” he said, pointing his cleaver at a kid about my age who was arranging fish in a freezer case, “but you’ll be wantin’ proper footwear. Wouldn’t do to let you go in them trainers—mud’ll suck ’em right off!”
“Really?” I said. “Are you sure?”
“Dylan! Fetch our man here a pair of Wellingtons!”
The kid groaned and made a big show of slowly closing the freezer case and cleaning his hands before slouching over to a wall of shelves packed with dry goods.
“Just so happens we’ve got some good sturdy boots on offer,” the fishmonger said. “Buy one get none free!” He burst out laughing and slammed his cleaver on a salmon, its head shooting across the blood-slicked counter to land perfectly in a little guillotine bucket.
I fished the emergency money Dad had given me from my pocket, figuring that a little extortion was a small price to pay to find the woman I’d crossed the Atlantic to meet.
I left the shop wearing a pair of rubber boots so large my sneakers fit inside and so heavy it was difficult to keep up with my begrudging guide.
“So, do you go to school on the island?” I asked Dylan, scurrying to catch up. I was genuinely curious—what was living here like for someone my age?
He muttered the name of a town on the mainland.
“What is that, an hour each way by ferry?”
And that was it. He responded to further attempts at conversation with even fewer syllables—which is to say, none—so finally I just gave up and followed him. On the way out of town we ran into one of his friends, an older boy wearing a blinding yellow track suit and fake gold chains. He couldn’t have looked more out of place on Cairnholm if he’d been dressed like an astronaut. He gave Dylan a fist-bump and introduced himself as Worm.
“It’s his stage name,” Dylan explained.
“We’re the sickest rapping duo in Wales,” Worm said. “I’m MC Worm, and this is the Sturgeon Surgeon, aka Emcee Dirty Dylan, aka Emcee Dirty Bizniss, Cairnholm’s number one beat-boxer. Wanna show this Yank how we do, Dirty D?”
Dylan looked annoyed. “Now?”
“Drop some next-level beats, son!”
Dylan rolled his eyes but did as he was asked. At first I thought he was choking on his tongue, except there was a rhythm to his sputtering coughs,—puhh, puh-CHAH, puh-puhhh, puh-CHAH—over which Worm began to rap.
“I likes to get wrecked up down at the Priest Hole / Your dad’s always there ’cause he’s on the dole / My rhymes is tight, yeah I make it look easy / Dylan’s beats are hot like chicken jalfrezi!”
Dylan stopped. “That don’t even make sense,” he said. “And it’s your dad who’s on the dole.”
“Oh shit, Dirty D let the beat drop!” Worm started beat-boxing while doing a passable robot, his sneakers twisting holes in the gravel. “Take the mic, D!”
Dylan seemed embarrassed but let the rhymes fly anyway. “I met a tight bird and her name was Sharon / She was keen on my tracksuit and the trainers I was wearin’ / I showed her the time, like Doctor Who / I thunk up this rhyme while I was in the loo!”
Worm shook his head. “The loo?”
“I wasn’t ready!”
They turned to me and asked what I thought. Considering that they didn’t even like each other’s rapping, I wasn’t sure what to say.
“I guess I’m more into music with, like, singing and guitars and stuff.”
Worm dismissed me with a wave of his hand. “He wouldn’t know a dope rhyme if it bit him in the bollocks,” he muttered.
Dylan laughed and they exchanged a series of complex, multistage handshake-fist-bump-high-fives.
“Can we go now?” I said.
They grumbled and dawdled a while longer, but pretty soon we were on our way, this time with Worm tagging along.
I took up the rear, trying to figure out what I would say to Miss Peregrine when I met her. I was expecting to be introduced to a proper Welsh lady and sip tea in the parlor and make polite small talk until the time seemed right to break the bad news. I’m Abraham Portman’s grandson, I would say. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but he’s been taken from us. Then, once she’d finished quietly dabbing away tears, I would ply her with questions.
I followed Dylan and Worm along a path that wound through pastures of grazing sheep before a lung-busting ascent up a ridge. At the top hovered an embankment of rolling, snaking fog so dense it was like stepping into another world. It was truly biblical; a fog I could imagine God, in one of his lesser wraths, cursing the Egyptians with. As we descended the other side it only seemed to thicken. The sun faded to a pale white bloom. Moisture clung to everything, beading on my skin and dampening my clothes. The temperature dropped. I lost Worm and Dylan for a moment and then the path flattened and I came upon them just standing, waiting for me.
“Yank boy!” Dylan called. “This way!”
I followed obediently. We abandoned the path to plow through a field of marshy grass. Sheep stared at us with big leaky eyes, their wool soggy and tails drooping. A small house appeared out of the mist. It was all boarded up.
“You sure this is it?” I said. “It looks empty.”
“Empty? No way, there’s loads of shit in there,” Worm replied.
“Go on,” said Dylan. “Have a look.”
I had a feeling it was a trick but stepped up to the door and knocked anyway. It was unlatched and opened a little at my touch. It was too dark to see inside, so I took a step through—and, to my surprise, down—into what looked like a dirt floor but, I quickly realized, was in fact a shin-deep ocean of excrement. This tenantless hovel, so innocent looking from the outside, was really a makeshift sheep stable. Quite literally a shithole.
“Oh my God!” I squealed in disgust.
Peals of laughter exploded from outside. I stumbled backward through the door before the smell could knock me unconscious and found the boys doubled over, holding their stomachs.
“You guys are assholes,” I said, stomping the muck off my boots.