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Miss peregrines home for.., p.26
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       Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, p.26

         Part #1 of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs
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  Miss Peregrine leapt from Fiona’s hair and began to race around on the scorched grass, squawking in alarm.

  “Headmistress, what happened?” Olive said. “Why hasn’t the changeover come?”

  Miss Peregrine could only screech in reply. She seemed as confused and frightened as the rest of us.

  “Please turn back!” begged Claire, kneeling before her.

  Miss Peregrine flapped and jumped and seemed to be straining herself, but still couldn’t shift her shape. The children crowded around in concern.

  “Something’s wrong,” Emma said. “If she could turn human, she would’ve done it by now.”

  “Perhaps that’s why the loop slipped,” Enoch suggested. “Remember that old story about Miss Kestrel, when she was thrown from her bicycle in a road accident? She knocked her head and stayed a kestrel for a whole entire week. That’s when her loop slipped.”

  “What’s that got to do with Miss Peregrine?”

  Enoch sighed. “Maybe she’s only injured her head and we just need to wait a week for her to come to her senses.”

  “A speeding lorry’s one thing,” Emma said. “Being abused by wights is quite another. There’s no knowing what that bastard did to Miss Peregrine before we got to her.”

  “Wights? As in plural?”

  “It was wights who took Miss Avocet,” I said.

  “How do you know that?” demanded Enoch.

  “They were working with Golan, weren’t they? And I saw the eyes of the one who shot at us. There’s no question.”

  “Then Miss Avocet’s as good as dead,” said Hugh. “They’ll kill her for sure.”

  “Maybe not,” I replied. “At least not right away.”

  “If there’s one thing I know about wights,” said Enoch, “it’s that they kill peculiars. It’s their nature. It’s what they do.”

  “No, Jacob’s right,” said Emma. “Before that wight died, he told us why they’ve been abducting so many ymbrynes. They’re going to force them to re-create the reaction that made the hollows in the first place—only bigger. Much bigger.”

  I heard someone gasp. Everyone else fell silent. I looked around for Miss Peregrine and saw her perched forlornly on the edge of Adam’s crater.

  “We’ve got to stop them,” Hugh said. “We’ve got to find out where they’re taking the ymbrynes.”

  “How?” said Enoch. “Follow a submarine?”

  Behind me a throat cleared loudly, and we turned to see Horace sitting cross-legged on the ground. “I know where they’re going,” he said quietly.

  “What do you mean, you know?”

  “Never mind how he knows, he knows,” said Emma. “Where are they taking her, Horace?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t know the name,” he said, “but I’ve seen it.”

  “Then draw it,” I said.

  He thought for a moment and then rose stiffly. Looking like a beggar evangelist in his torn black suit, he shuffled to an ash pile that had spilled from the cracked-open house and bent to gather a palm full of soot. Then, in the soft light of the moon, he began to paint on a broken wall with broad strokes.

  We gathered around to watch. He made a row of bold vertical stripes topped with thin loops, like bars and razor wire. To one side was a dark forest. There was snow on the ground, rendered in black. And that was all.

  When it was done, he staggered back and sat down hard in the grass, a dull distant look in his eyes. Emma took him gently by the shoulder and said, “Horace, what more do you know about this place?”

  “It’s somewhere cold.”

  Bronwyn stepped forward to study the marks Horace had made. She held Olive in the crook of her arm, the little girl’s head resting sweetly on her shoulder. “Looks like a jail to me,” said Bronwyn.

  Olive raised her head. “Well?” came her small voice. “When do we go?”

  “Go where?” Enoch said, tossing up his hands. “That’s just a lot of squiggles!”

  “It’s somewhere,” Emma said, turning to face him.

  “We can’t simply go someplace snowy and look for a prison.”

  “And we can’t very well stay here.”

  “Why not?”

  “Look at the state of this place. Look at the headmistress. We had a damn good run here, but it’s over.”

  Enoch and Emma went back and forth for a while. People took sides. Enoch’s argued that they’d been too long out of the world, that they’d get snared in the war or caught by hollows if they left, that it was better to take their chances here, where at least they knew the territory. The others insisted that the war and the hollows had come to them now, and they had no choice. The hollows and wights would return for Miss Peregrine, and in ever-greater numbers. And there was Miss Peregrine herself to consider.

  “We’ll find another ymbryne,” Emma suggested. “If anyone will know how to help the headmistress, it’ll be one of her friends.”

  “But what if all the other loops have slipped too?” said Hugh. “What if all the ymbrynes have already been kidnapped?”

  “We can’t think that way. There must be some left.”

  “Emma’s right,” Millard said, lying on the ground with a chunk of broken masonry under his head for a pillow. “If the alternative is to wait and just hope—that no more hollows come, that the headmistress gets better—I say that’s no alternative at all.”

  The dissenters were finally shamed into agreement. The house would be abandoned. Belongings would be packed. A few boats would be requisitioned from the harbor and pressed into service, and in the morning everyone would go.

  I asked Emma how they were going to navigate. After all, none the children had been off the island in nearly eighty years, and Miss Peregrine couldn’t speak or fly.

  “There’s a map,” she told me, turning her head slowly to look at the smoking house. “If it hasn’t burned, that is.”

  I volunteered to help her find it. Wrapping wet cloths over our faces, we ventured into the house, entering through the collapsed wall. The windows were shattered, the air hung with smoke, but by the bright light of Emma’s hand-flame we found our way to the study. All the shelves had fallen like dominoes, but we shoved them aside and searched through the books spilled across the floor, crouching low. As luck would have it, the book was easy to find: it was the largest one in the library. Emma yelped with joy and held it up.

  On the way out, we found alcohol and Laudanum and proper bandages for Millard. Once we’d helped clean and dress his wound, we sat down to examine the book. It was more atlas than map, bound in quilted leather dyed a deep burgundy, each page drawn carefully on what looked like parchment. It was very fine and very old, and big enough to fill Emma’s lap.

  “It’s called the Map of Days,” she said. “It’s got every loop ever known to exist.” The page she’d opened to appeared to be a map of Turkey, though no roads were marked and no borders indicated. Instead, the map was scattered with tiny spirals, which I took to be the location of loops. At the center of each was a unique symbol that corresponded to a legend at the bottom of the page, where the symbols reappeared next to a list of numbers separated by dashes. I pointed to one that read 29-3-316 / ?-?-399 and said, “What is this, some kind of code?”

  Emma traced it with her finger. “This loop was the twenty-ninth of March, 316 A.D. It existed until sometime in the year 399, though the day and month are unknown.”

  “What happened in 399?”

  She shrugged. “It doesn’t say.”

  I reached across her and turned to a map of Greece, even more clustered with spirals and numbers. “But what’s the point of listing all these?” I said. “How would you even get to these ancient loops?”

  “By leapfrogging,” said Millard. “It’s a highly complex and dangerous undertaking, but by leapfrogging from one loop to another—a day fifty years in the past, for instance—then you’ll find you have access to a whole range of loops that have ceased to exist in the last fifty years. Should you have the
wherewithal to travel to them, within those you’ll find still other loops, and so on exponentially.”

  “That’s time travel,” I said, astonished. “Real time travel.”

  “I suppose so, yes.”

  “So this place,” I said, pointing to Horace’s ash painting on the wall. “We wouldn’t just have to figure out where it is, but when, too?”

  “I’m afraid so. And if Miss Avocet is indeed being held by wights, who are notoriously adept at leapfrogging, then it’s extremely likely that the place she and the other ymbrynes are being taken is somewhere in the past. That will make them all the more difficult to find, and getting there all the more dangerous. The locations of historical loops are well known to our enemies, who tend to lurk near the entrances.”

  “Well then,” I said, “it’s a good thing I’m coming with you.”

  Emma spun to look at me. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” she cried, and hugged me. “Are you certain?”

  I told her I was. Tired as they were, the children whistled and clapped. Some embraced me. Even Enoch shook my hand. But when I looked at Emma again, her smile had faded.

  “What’s the matter?” I said.

  She shifted uncomfortably. “There’s something you should know,” she said, “and I’m afraid it’ll make you not want to come with us.”

  “It won’t,” I assured her.

  “When we leave here, this loop will close behind us. It’s possible you may never be able to return to the time you came from. At least, not easily.”

  “There’s nothing for me there,” I said quickly. “Even if I could go back, I’m not sure I’d want to.”

  “You say that now. I need you to be sure.”

  I nodded, then stood.

  “Where are you going?” she asked.

  “For a walk.”

  I didn’t go far, just around the perimeter of the neat yard in a slow shuffle, watching the sky, clear now, a billion stars spread across it. Stars, too, were time travelers. How many of those ancient points of light were the last echoes of suns now dead? How many had been born but their light not yet come this far? If all the suns but ours collapsed tonight, how many lifetimes would it take us to realize that we were alone? I had always known the sky was full of mysteries—but not until now had I realized how full of them the earth was.

  I came to the place where the path emerged from the woods. In one direction lay home and everything I knew, unmysterious and ordinary and safe.

  Except it wasn’t. Not really. Not any more. The monsters had murdered Grandpa Portman, and they had come after me. Sooner or later, they would again. Would I come home one day to find my dad bleeding to death on the floor? My mom? In the other direction, the children were gathering in excited little knots, plotting and planning, for the first time any of them could remember, for the future.

  I walked back to Emma, still poring over her massive book. Miss Peregrine was perched next to her, tapping with her beak here and there on the map. Emma looked up as I approached.

  “I’m sure,” I said.

  She smiled. “I’m glad.”

  “There’s just one thing I have to do before I go.”

  * * *

  I made it back to town just before dawn. The rain had finally eased, and the beginning of a blue day was percolating on the horizon. The main path looked like an arm with the veins stripped out, long slashes where flooding had washed the gravel away.

  I walked into the pub and through the empty bar and up to our rooms. The shades were drawn and my father’s door was closed, which was a relief because I hadn’t yet figured out how to say what I needed to tell him. Instead I sat down with pen and paper and wrote him a letter.

  I tried to explain everything. I wrote about the peculiar children and the hollows and how all of Grandpa Portman’s stories had turned out to be true. I told him what had happened to Miss Peregrine and Miss Avocet and tried to make him understand why I had to go. I begged him not to worry.

  Then I stopped and read over what I’d written. It was no good. He would never believe it. He’d think I’d lost my mind the way Grandpa had, or that I’d run away or been abducted or taken a nosedive off the cliffs. Either way, I was about to ruin his life. I wadded up the paper and threw it in the trash.


  I turned to see my father leaning in the doorjamb, bleary-eyed, hair tangled, dressed in a mud-splashed shirt and jeans.

  “Hi, Dad.”

  “I’m going to ask you a simple, straightforward question,” he said, “and I’d like a simple, straightforward answer. Where were you last night?” I could tell he was struggling to maintain his composure.

  I decided I was done lying. “I’m fine, Dad. I was with my friends.”

  It was like I’d pulled the pin on a grenade.

  “YOUR FRIENDS ARE IMAGINARY!” he shouted. He came toward me, his face turning red. “I wish your mother and I had never let that crackpot therapist talk us into bringing you out here, because it has been an unmitigated disaster! You just lied to me for the last time! Now get in your room and start packing. We’re on the next ferry!”


  “And when we get home, you’re not leaving the house until we find a psychiatrist who’s not a complete jackass!”


  I wondered for a moment if I would have to run from him. I pictured my dad holding me down, calling for help, loading me onto the ferry with my arms locked in a straightjacket.

  “I’m not coming with you,” I said.

  His eyes narrowed and he cocked his head, as if he hasn’t heard properly. I was about to repeat myself when there was a knock at the door.

  “Go away!” my dad shouted.

  The knock came again, more insistent this time. He stormed over and flung it open, and there at the top of the stairs stood Emma, a tiny ball of blue flame dancing above her hand. Next to her was Olive.

  “Hullo,” Olive said. “We’re here to see Jacob.”

  He stared at them, baffled. “What is this …”

  The girls edged past him into the room.

  “What are you doing here?” I hissed at them.

  “We only wanted to introduce ourselves,” Emma replied, flashing a big smile at my dad. “We’ve come to know your son rather well of late, so we thought it only proper that we should pay a friendly call.”

  “Okay,” my father said, his eyes darting between them.

  “He’s really a fine boy,” said Olive. “So brave!”

  “And handsome!” Emma added, winking at me. She began to roll the flame between her hands like a toy. My father stared at it, hypnotized.

  “Y-yes,” he stammered. “He sure is.”

  “Do you mind if I slip off my shoes?” Olive asked, and without waiting for an answer she did, and promptly floated to the ceiling. “Thanks. That’s much more comfortable!”

  “These are my friends, Dad. The ones I was telling you about. This is Emma, and that’s Olive, on the ceiling.”

  He staggered back a step. “I’m still sleeping,” he said vaguely. “I’m so tired …”

  A chair lifted off the floor and floated over to him, followed by an expertly wrapped medical bandage bobbing through the air. “Then please, have a seat,” Millard said.

  “Okay,” my dad replied, and he did.

  “What are you doing here?” I whispered to Millard. “Shouldn’t you be lying down?”

  “I was in the neighborhood.” He held up a modern-looking pill bottle. “I must say, they make some marvelously effective pain tablets in the future!”

  “Dad, this is Millard,” I said. “You can’t see him because he’s invisible.”

  “Nice to meet you.”

  “Likewise,” said Millard.

  I went over to my father and knelt down beside his chair. His head bobbed slightly. “I’m going away, Dad. You might not see me for a while.”

  “Oh, yeah? Where are you going?”

  “On a trip.”

  “A trip,
he repeated. “When will you be back?”

  “I don’t really know.”

  He shook his head. “Just like your grandfather.” Millard ran tap water into a glass and brought it to him, and Dad reached out and took it, as though floating glasses weren’t at all unusual. I guess he really thought he was dreaming. “Well, goodnight,” he said and then stood up, steadied himself on the chair, and stumbled back into his bedroom. Stopping at the door, he turned to face me.


  “Yeah, Dad?”

  “Be careful, okay?”

  I nodded. He closed the door. A moment later I heard him fall into bed.

  I sat down and rubbed my face. I didn’t know how to feel.

  “Did we help?” Olive asked from her perch on the ceiling.

  “I’m not sure,” I said. “I don’t think so. He’ll just wake up later thinking he dreamed all of you.”

  “You could write a letter,” Millard suggested. “Tell him anything you like—it’s not as if he’ll be able to follow us.”

  “I did write a letter. But it’s not proof.”

  “Ah,” he replied. “Yes, I see your problem.”

  “Nice problem to have,” said Olive. “Wish my mum and dad had loved me enough to worry when I left home.”

  Emma reached up and squeezed her hand. Then she said, “I might have proof.”

  She pulled a small wallet from the waistband of her dress and took out a snapshot. She handed it to me. It was a picture of her and my grandfather when my grandfather was young. All her attention was focused on him, but he seemed elsewhere. It was sad and beautiful and encapsulated what little I knew about their relationship.

  “It was taken just before Abe left for the war,” Emma said. “Your dad’ll recognize me, won’t he?”

  I smiled at her. “You look like you haven’t aged a day.”

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