The monster stood not a tongue’s length away, eyes fixed on our throats, shriveled brain crowded with fantasies of murder. Its hunger for us charged the air. Hollows are born lusting after the souls of peculiars, and here we were arrayed before it like a buffet: bite-sized Addison bravely standing his ground at my feet, tail at attention; Emma moored against me for support, still too dazed from the impact to make more than a match flame; our backs laddered against the wrecked phone booth. Beyond our grim circle, the underground station looked like the aftermath of a nightclub bombing. Steam from burst pipes shrieked forth in ghostly curtains. Splintered monitors swung broken-necked from the ceiling. A sea of shattered glass spread all the way to the tracks, flashing in the hysterical strobe of red emergency lights like an acre-wide disco ball. We were boxed in, a wall hard to one side and glass shin-deep on the other, two strides from a creature whose only natural instinct was to disassemble us—and yet it made no move to close the gap. It seemed rooted to the floor, swaying on its heels like a drunk or a sleepwalker, death’s head drooping, its tongues a nest of snakes I’d charmed to sleep.
Me. I’d done that. Jacob Portman, boy nothing from Nowhere, Florida. It was not currently murdering us—this horror made of gathered dark and nightmares harvested from sleeping children—because I had asked it not to. Told it in no uncertain terms to unwrap its tongue from around my neck. Back off, I’d said. Stand, I’d said—in a language made of sounds I hadn’t known a human mouth could make—and miraculously it had, eyes challenging me while its body obeyed. Somehow I had tamed the nightmare, cast a spell over it. But sleeping things wake and spells wear off, especially those cast by accident, and beneath its placid surface I could feel the hollow boiling.
Addison nudged my calf with his nose. “More wights will be coming. Will the beast let us pass?”
“Talk to it again,” Emma said, her voice woozy and vague. “Tell it to sod off.”
I searched for the words, but they’d gotten shy. “I don’t know how.”
“You did a minute ago,” Addison said. “It sounded like there was a demon inside you.”
A minute ago, before I’d known I could do it, the words had been right there on my tongue, just waiting to be spoken. Now that I wanted them back, it was like trying to catch fish with bare hands. Every time I touched one, it slipped out of my grasp.
Go away! I shouted.
The words came in English. The hollow didn’t move. I stiffened my back, glared into its inkpot eyes, and tried again.
Get out of here! Leave us alone!
English again. The hollow tilted its head like a curious dog but was otherwise a statue.
“Is he gone?” Addison asked.
The others couldn’t tell for sure; only I could see it. “Still there,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong.”
I felt silly and deflated. Had my gift vanished so quickly?
“Never mind,” Emma said. “Hollows aren’t meant to be reasoned with, anyway.” She stuck out a hand and tried to light a flame, but it fizzled. The effort seemed to sap her. I tightened my grip around her waist lest she topple over.
“Save your strength, matchstick,” said Addison. “I’m sure we’ll need it.”
“I’ll fight it with cold hands if I have to,” said Emma. “All that matters is we find the others before it’s too late.”
The others. I could see them still, their afterimage fading by the tracks: Horace’s fine clothes a mess; Bronwyn’s strength no match for the wights’ guns; Enoch dizzy from the blast; Hugh using the chaos to pull off Olive’s heavy shoes and float her away; Olive caught by the heel and yanked down before she could rise out of reach. All of them weeping in terror, kicked onto the train at gunpoint, gone. Gone with the ymbryne we’d nearly killed ourselves to find, hurtling now through London’s guts toward a fate worse than death. It’s already too late, I thought. It was too late the moment Caul’s soldiers stormed Miss Wren’s frozen hideout. It was too late the night we mistook Miss Peregrine’s wicked brother for our beloved ymbryne. But I swore to myself that we’d find our friends and our ymbryne, no matter the cost, even if there were only bodies to recover—even if it meant adding our own to the pile.
So, then: somewhere in the flashing dark was an escape to the street. A door, a staircase, an escalator, way off against the far wall. But how to reach them?
Get the hell out of our way! I shouted at the hollow, giving it one last try.
English, naturally. The hollow grunted like a cow but didn’t move. It was no use. The words were gone.
“Plan B,” I said. “It won’t listen to me, so we go around it, hope it stays put.”
“Go around it where?” said Emma.
To give it a wide berth, we’d have to wade through heaps of glass—but the shards would slice Emma’s bare calves and Addison’s paws to ribbons. I considered alternatives: I could carry the dog, but that still left Emma. I could find a swordlike piece of glass and stab the thing in the eyes—a technique that had served me well in the past—but if I didn’t manage to kill it with the first strike, it would surely snap awake and kill us instead. The only other way around it was through a small, glass-free gap between the hollow and the wall. It was narrow, though—a foot, maybe a foot and a half wide. A tight squeeze even if we flattened our backs to the wall. I worried that getting so close to the hollow, or worse, touching it by accident, would break the fragile trance holding it in check. Short of growing wings and flying over its head, though, it seemed like our only option.