Hollow City
“We peculiars stick together.”
    Fiona’s hand drifted up. She’d been so quiet, I’d nearly forgotten she was sitting with us.
    “Fee, you can’t!” said Hugh. He looked hurt, as if by volunteering to stay behind she was rejecting him. She looked at him with big, sad eyes, but her hand stayed in the air.
    “Thank you, Fiona,” said Emma. “With any luck, we’ll see you both again in just a few days.”
    “Bird willing,” said Bronwyn.
    “Bird willing,” echoed the others.
    *   *   *
    Afternoon was slipping toward evening. In an hour the animals’ loop would be dark, and finding our way down the mountain would be much more dangerous. As we made preparations to leave, the animals kindly outfitted us with stores of fresh food and sweaters spun from the wool of peculiar sheep, which Deirdre swore had some peculiar property, though what exactly it was she couldn’t quite remember. “Impervious to fire, I think—or perhaps water. Yes, they never sink in water, like fluffy little lifejackets. Or maybe—oh, I don’t know, they’re warm in any case!”
    We thanked her and folded them into Bronwyn’s trunk. Then Grunt came loping forward holding a package wrapped up with paper and twine. “A gift from the chickens,” Deirdre explained, winking as Grunt pressed it into my hands. “Don’t drop it.”
    A smarter person than I might’ve thought twice about bringing explosives along on our trip, but we were feeling vulnerable, and both the dog and emu-raffe swore that if we were gentle with the eggs they wouldn’t go off, so we nestled them carefully between the sweaters in Bronwyn’s trunk. Now at least we wouldn’t have to face men with guns without weapons of our own.
    Then we were nearly ready, except for one thing: when we left the animals’ loop, we’d be just as lost as when we’d come in. We needed directions.
    “I can show you the way out of the forest,” said Addison. “Meet me at the top of Miss Wren’s tower.”
    The space up top was so small that only two of us could fit at a time, so Emma and I went, climbing its railroad ties like the rungs of a giant ladder. Grunt monkeyed his way up in half the time, delivering Addison to the top under one arm.
    The view from the top was amazing. To the east, forested slopes stretched away to a vast, barren plain. To the west, you could see all the way to the ocean, where an old-looking ship rigged with giant, complicated sails glided down the coast. I’d never asked what year it was here—1492? 1750?—though to the animals I guess it hardly mattered. This was a safe place apart from the world of people, and only in the world of people did the year make any difference.
    “You’ll head north,” Addison said, jabbing his pipe in the direction of a road, just visible, tracing through the trees below like a faint, pencil-drawn line. “Down that road is a town, and in that town—in your time, anyway—is a train station. Your medium of inter-loop travel is when—1940?”
    “That’s right,” Emma replied.
    Though I only vaguely understood what they were talking about, I’d never been afraid to ask dumb questions. “Why can’t we just go out into this world?” I asked. “Travel to London through whatever year it is here?”
    “The only way is by horse and carriage,” said Addison, “whichtakes several days … and causes considerable chafing, in my experience. I’m afraid you don’t have that much time to spare.” He turned and nosed open the door to the tower’s little shack. “Please,” he said, “there’s one more thing I’d like to show you.”
    We followed him inside. The shack was modest and tiny, a far cry from Miss Peregrine’s queenly setup. The entirety of its furniture was a small bed, a wardrobe, and a rolltop desk. A telescope sat mounted on a tripod, aimed out the window: Miss Wren’s lookout station, where she watched for trouble, and the comings and goings of her spy pigeons.
    Addison went to the desk.

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