It was my time’s technology and standard of living that amazed them most. Our houses were air-conditioned. They’d heard of televisions but had never seen one and were shocked to learn that my family had a talking-picture box in almost every room. Air travel was as common and affordable to us as train travel was to them. Our army fought with remote-controlled drones. We carried telephone-computers that fit in our pockets, and even though mine didn’t work here (nothing electronic seemed to), I pulled it out just to show them its sleek, mirrored enclosure.
It was edging toward sunset when we finally started back. Emma stuck to me like glue, the back of her hand brushing mine as we walked. Passing an apple tree on the outskirts of town, she stopped to pick one, but even on tiptoes the lowest fruit was out of reach, so I did what any gentleman would do and gave her a boost, wrapping my arms around her waist and trying not to groan as I lifted, her white arm outstretched, wet hair glinting in the sun. When I let her down she gave me a little kiss on the cheek and handed me the apple.
“Here,” she said, “you earned it.”
“The apple or the kiss?”
She laughed and ran off to catch up with the others. I didn’t know what to call it, what was happening between us, but I liked it. It felt silly and fragile and good. I put the apple in my pocket and ran after her.
When we came to the bog and I said I had to go home, she pretended to pout. “At least let me escort you,” she said, so we waved goodbye to the others and crossed over to the cairn, me doing my best to memorize the placement of her feet as we went.
When we got there I said, “Come with me to the other side a minute.”
“I shouldn’t. I’ve got to get back or the Bird will suspect us.”
“Suspect us of what?”
She smiled coyly. “Of … something.”
“She’s always on the lookout for something,” she said, laughing.
I changed tactics. “Then why don’t you come see me tomorrow instead?”
“See you? Over there?”
“Why not? Miss Peregrine won’t be around to watch us. You could even meet my dad. We won’t tell him who you are, obviously. And then maybe he’ll ease up a little about where I’m going and what I’m doing all the time. Me hanging out with a hot girl? That’s like his fondest dad-dream wish.”
I thought she might smile at the hot girl thing, but instead she turned serious. “The Bird only allows us to go over for a few minutes at a time, just to keep the loop open, you know.”
“So tell her that’s what you’re doing!”
She sighed. “I want to. I do. But it’s a bad idea.”
“She’s got you on a pretty short leash.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said with a scowl. “And thanks for comparing me to a dog. That was brilliant.”
I wondered how we’d gone from flirting to fighting so quickly. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“It’s not that I wouldn’t like to,” she said. “I just can’t.”
“Okay, I’ll make you a deal. Forget coming for the whole day. Just come over for a minute, right now.”
“One minute? What can we do in one minute?”
I grinned. “You’d be surprised.”
“Tell me!” she said, pushing me.
“Take your picture.”
Her smile disappeared. “I’m not exactly at my most fetching,” she said doubtfully.
“No, you’re great. Really.”
“Just one minute? Promise?”
I let her go into the cairn first. When we came out again the world was misty and cold, though thankfully the rain had stopped. I pulled out my phone and was happy to see that my theory was right. On this side of the loop, electronic things worked fine.
“Where’s your camera?” she said, shivering. “Let’s get this over with!”
I held up the phone and took her picture. She just shook her head, as if nothing about my bizarre world could surprise her anymore. Then she dodged away, and I had to chase her around the cairn, both of us laughing, Emma ducking out of view only to pop up again and vamp for the camera. A minute later I’d taken so many pictures that my phone had nearly run out of memory.
Emma ran to the mouth of the cairn and blew me an air-kiss. “See you tomorrow, future boy!”
I lifted my hand to wave goodbye, and she ducked into the stone tunnel.
* * *
I skipped back to town freezing and wet and grinning like an idiot. I was still blocks away from the pub when I heard a strange sound rising above the hum of generators—someone calling my name. Following the voice, I found my father standing in the street in a soggy sweater, breath pluming before him like muffler exhaust on a cold morning.
“Jacob! I’ve been looking for you!”
“You said be back by dinner, so here I am!”
“Forget dinner. Come with me.”
My father never skipped dinner. Something was most definitely amiss.
“What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain on the way,” he said, marching me toward the pub. Then he got a good look at me. “You’re all wet!” he exclaimed. “For God’s sake, did you lose your other jacket, too?”
“I, uh …”
“And why is your face red? You look sunburned.”
Crap. A whole afternoon at the beach without sunblock. “I’m all hot from running,” I said, though the skin on my arms was pimpled from cold. “What’s happening? Did someone die, or what?”
“No, no, no,” he said. “Well, sort of. Some sheep.”
“What’s that got to do with us?”
“They think it was kids who did it. Like a vandalism thing.”
“They who? The sheep police?”
“The farmers,” he said. “They’ve interrogated everyone under the age of twenty. Naturally, they’re pretty interested in where you’ve been all day.”
My stomach sank. I didn’t exactly have a watertight cover story, and I raced to think of one as we approached the Priest Hole.
Outside the pub, a small crowd was gathered around a quorum of very pissed-off-looking sheep farmers. One wore muddy coveralls and leaned threateningly on a pitchfork. Another had Worm by the collar. Worm was dressed in neon track pants and a shirt that read I LOVE IT WHEN THEY CALL ME BIG POPPA. He’d been crying, snot bubbling on his upper lip.