“Right here,” said Nick, pointing, “this is where I woke up.”
The tide had long since washed away the impression his body made, but he could still feel the sand in his mouth and the cold damp seeping into his thin clothes as he lay. The others looked where he pointed: Enoch with his unyielding scowl, Fiona with her curious bright gaze, and Olive with her forever warm eyes. Already he knew them, knew them well enough for the first seed of belonging to start to sprout. Peculiar, like him. The ability to bring mannequins to life, cause dead flowers to spring suddenly into fresh bloom, call forth fire from even the dampest wood. Olive had done that now: she held a lighted piece of driftwood in her gloved hand as a ward against the chilly fog. A faint crackling pricked the air. Fiona winced as the breeze blew smoke into her eyes.
It was just the four of them. The others stayed in the loop, sequestered in the power of Miss Peregrine. And there was that one girl, the one with the hideous mouth in back of her head. Such an innocent little kid, but still a monster, of sorts anyway. Nick kind of wished she had come too.
“I still don’t understand it.” Enoch’s voice was swallowed by the noisy waves. “I mean, you’re definitely peculiar, but you don’t belong here. Even with your ability, whatever it is, you shouldn’t have been able to get through.”
Nick swallowed and glanced at the sea. He hadn’t told them the details about how he had managed to get there. Could he tell them they were characters in a book? That would just make him sound crazy. And he couldn’t risk being sent away. Not now, not when he had escaped so completely from the terror that faced him in the real world.
“He’s not much different from you,” said Olive. She looked shyly but firmly at Enoch. “You both take lives.”
“I’m not like him,” Enoch said. “I give them back.”
“To your weird mannequins,” Nick muttered.
Enoch didn’t respond. That wasn’t like him. He was staring at the line of trees stretching away to his right. His face darkened. “There’s someone watching us,” he whispered.
“Or something,” Olive added. She had already grabbed Enoch’s hand.
Nick glanced around. He felt it too: a tugging straining sensation he couldn’t resist. He felt the same thing when he took the rabbit’s life. It was death. Death was near. And it called him. As panic rose in his stomach, his eye caught on a curled thing lying farther up the beach. Without thinking, he stumbled toward it. As he drew near, he could make out stripped ribs, particles of backbone, a remnant of blood. Wave-washed, the piece of spine had been mostly cleaned, but its freshness weighted Nick’s insides with dread.
“I found…” he began, but then someone grabbed his arm, and he was propelled into a nightmare.
Fiona was pulling him, running faster than he thought possible for a small person like her. The others had sped ahead. Wind whipped their faces and made Nick’s eyes water. The fog seemed to permeate his brain. He didn’t know what was happening.
“Hide!” someone hissed. He thought it was Enoch. Fiona pulled him into a thick copse. He tripped and fell on his face. Before he could struggle to his feet, fierce with fear at their predicament, someone pushed him down again.
“A wight,” Fiona breathed in his ear. “Don’t make a sound.”
A wight. Nick didn’t know what a wight was. The word tickled his memory, as if he had read it years ago in a story he had almost forgotten. “Did it see us?” he whispered.
“I don’t think so.” Enoch’s voice was muffled. “And you’d better hope it doesn’t.”
His question hung unanswered. He turned his gaze out between the trees, searching silently for the danger from which they hid. There, standing with his back to them and watching the ocean, several yards to their right. It looked like a man. It stood like a man. It turned slowly. Nick dropped his head and held his breath. His shudder was so violent he bumped into Olive.
“Quiet,” she whispered.
He heard only a murmur. Intense cold began to overpower him. Numbed and shivering, he could only bury his face in his coat sleeve. In the sudden darkness, he knew the wight had sensed him. He knew his own presence had betrayed them. How could he admit that to the others?
“Get out of here!” he whispered. “You can make it back. Go, before he knows you’re here!”
“What are you doing?” Enoch hissed. “Get down!”
“No.” He begged his body to move. The panic rising in his chest had partly paralyzed him already. “You’re safer without me.” Holding his breath, he maneuvered onto his feet in the cramped copse. Silently, with a skill learned from the past few months running for his life, he crept down the line of trees. He could just see an outcropping far down the beach. Maybe he could hide under that. The wight would sense him and the others could escape.
And then he heard the faint thud of footsteps on sand. His panic rose even higher. Was it the wight? He chanced a look over his shoulder. No, it was Fiona. She was trying to stop him, to save him.
Horrified, he watched as she caught her foot in the sand and fell. He watched as the wight turned and looked. He watched as Fiona realized she’d been seen. Then time sped up again. Enoch screamed. The wight seemed momentarily confused. Nick grabbed Fiona’s hand and dragged her, just as she had dragged him, to the hollow under the rock. Hardly any room. He squeezed in next to her. A second later Enoch scrambled in with them. Then Olive.
“You’re incredibly stupid,” Enoch hissed. “You should’ve stayed with us!” He wiped a sleeve across his forehead. He looked like he wanted to tear out Nick’s heart. He didn’t understand. He didn’t know the truth.
A wave of weakness consumed Nick’s body before he could manage a retort. His stomach churned. His elbows buckled and he slumped against the rock wall of the hollow. They were trapped. He had sealed their fate after all.