Miss Peregrines Home For Peculiar Children Page 35

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.

’’Jacob?’’

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\ e on the next ferry!’’

’’Dad?’’

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

’’Dad!’’

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\ 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\ e 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\ 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\ 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\ 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\ 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.

’’Jake?’’

’’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\ know how to feel.

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

’’I\m not sure,’’ I said. ’’I don\ 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\ he?’’

I smiled at her. ’’You look like you haven\ aged a day.’’

’’Marvelous!’’ said Millard. ’’There\s your proof.’’

’’Do you always keep this with you?’’ I asked, handing it back to her.

’’Yes. But I don\ need it anymore.’’ She went to the table and took my pen and began to write on the back of the photo. ’’What\s your father\s name?’’

’’Franklin.’’

When she finished writing, she gave it to me. I looked at both sides and then fished my letter from the trash, smoothed it, and left it on the table with the photo.

’’Ready to go?’’ I said.

My friends were standing in the doorway, waiting for me.

’’Only if you are,’’ Emma replied.

We set out for the ridge. At the spot near the crest where I always stopped to see how far I\d come, this time I kept walking. Sometimes it\s better not to look back.

When we reached the cairn, Olive patted the stones like a beloved old pet. ’’Goodbye, old loop,’’ she said. ’’You\ve been such a good loop, and we\ll miss you ever so much.’’ Emma squeezed her shoulder, and they both crouched down and went inside.

In the rear chamber, Emma held her flame to the wall and showed me something I\d never noticed before: a long list of dates and initials carved into the rocks. ’’It\s all the other times people have used this loop,’’ she explained. ’’All the other days the loop\s been looped.’’

Peering at it, I made out a P.M. 3-2-1853 and a J.R.R. 1-4-1797 and a barely-legible X.J. 1580. Near the bottom were some strange markings I couldn\ decipher.

’’Runic inscriptions,’’ Emma said. ’’Quite ancient.’’

Millard searched through the gravel until he found a sharpened stone, and, using another stone as a hammer, he chipped an inscription of his own below the others. It read A.P. 3-9-1940.

’’Who\s AP?’’ asked Olive.

’’Alma Peregrine,’’ said Millard, and then he sighed. ’’It should be her carving this, not me.’’

Olive ran her hand over the rough markings. ’’Do you think another ymbryne will come along to make a loop here someday?’’

’’I hope so,’’ he said. ’’I dearly hope so.’’

* * *

We buried Victor. Bronwyn lifted his whole bed and carried it outside with Victor still in it, and with all the children assembled on the grass she pulled back the sheets and tucked him in, planting one last kiss on his forehead. We boys lifted the corners of his bed like pallbearers and walked him down into the crater that the bomb had made. Then all of us climbed out but Enoch, who took a clay man from his pocket and laid it gently on the boy\s chest.

’’This is my very best man,’’ he said. ’’To keep you company.’’ The clay man sat up and Enoch pushed it back down with his thumb. The man rolled over with one arm under his head and seemed to go to sleep.

When the crater had been filled, Fiona dragged some shrubs and vines over the raw soil and began to grow them. By the time the rest of us had finished packing for the journey, Adam was back in his old spot, only now he was marking Victor\s grave.

Once the children had said goodbye to their house, some taking chips of brick or flowers from the garden as forget-me-nots, we made one last trip across the island: through the smoking charred woods and the flat bog dug with bomb holes, over the ridge and down through the little town hung with peat smoke, where the townspeople lingered on porches and in doorways, so tired and numb with shock that they hardly seemed to notice the small parade of peculiar-looking children passing them by.

We were quiet but excited. The children hadn\ slept, but you wouldn\ have known it to look at them. It was September fourth, and for the first time in a very long time, the days were moving again. Some of them claimed they could feel the difference;the air in their lungs was fuller, the race of blood through their veins faster. They felt more vital, more real.

I did, too.

* * *

I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was. Likewise, I never imagined that home might be something I would miss. Yet as we stood loading our boats in the breaking dawn, on a brand new precipice of Before and After, I thought of everything I was about to leave behind my parents, my town, my once-best-and-only friend and I realized that leaving wouldn\ be like I had imagined, like casting off a weight. Their memory was something tangible and heavy, and I would carry it with me.

And yet my old life was as impossible to return to as the children\s bombed house. The doors had been blown off our cages.

Ten peculiar children and one peculiar bird were made to fit in just three stout rowboats, with much being jettisoned and left behind on the dock. When we\d finished, Emma suggested that one of us say something make a speech to dedicate the journey ahead but no one seemed ready with words. And so Enoch held up Miss Peregrine\s cage and she let out a great screeching cry. We answered with a cry of our own, both a victory yell and a lament, for everything lost and yet to be gained.

Hugh and I rowed the first boat. Enoch sat watching us from the bow, ready to take his turn, while Emma in a sunhat studied the receding island. The sea was a pane of rippled glass spreading endlessly before us. The day was warm, but a cool breeze came off the water, and I could\ve happily rowed for hours. I wondered how such calm could belong to a world at war.

In the next boat, I saw Bronwyn wave and raise Miss Peregrine\s camera to her eye. I smiled back. We\d brought none of the old photo albums with us;maybe this would be the first picture in a brand new one. It was strange to think that one day I might have my own stack of yellowed photos to show skeptical grandchildren and my own fantastic stories to share.

Then Bronwyn lowered the camera and raised her arm, pointing at something beyond us. In the distance, black against the rising sun, a silent procession of battleships punctuated the horizon.

We rowed faster.


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