Home > Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(14)

Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(14)
Author: Ransom Riggs

The spectacle of a human speaking kestrel incited a flurry of chittering in the trees, and then Ymeene heard a flap of wings. After a few moments, a young woman showed herself from behind a tree trunk. She had dark, smooth skin and close-cropped hair, a tall, finely boned frame that was distinctly birdlike, and she wore furs and leathers to protect against the cold.

“Can you understand me?” Ymeene asked her in English.

The young woman gave a tentative nod. A little, she seemed to say.

“Can you speak human?” said Ymeene.

“Sí, un poco,” replied the young woman.

Ymeene recognized the language as human but couldn’t understand the words. Perhaps the young woman was from a migratory clan, and had picked them up elsewhere.

“My name is Ymeene,” she said, indicating herself. “What’s yours?”

The young woman cleared her throat and made a loud cry in kestrel-ese.

“Perhaps we’ll just call you Miss Kestrel for now,” said Ymeene. “Miss Kestrel, I’ve an important question for you. Have you ever made something happen . . . more than once?”

She drew a large circle in the air with her finger, hoping the young woman would understand.

Miss Kestrel came forward a few paces, her eyes widening. Just then a clump of snow fell from a tree branch, and with a flourish of her arms, Miss Kestrel made it disappear from the ground and fall from the tree a second time.

“Yes!” Ymeene cried. “You can do it, too!” And then she waved her arm and repeated the snowfall, too, and Miss Kestrel’s jaw fell open with astonishment.

They ran to each other, laughing, and clasped hands and shouted and then hugged, each chattering excitedly in a language the other could hardly understand. The kestrels in the trees were jubilant, too, and sensing that Ymeene was a friend, they flew down from their branches and fluttered around the two women, twittering with excitement.

The relief Ymeene felt was indescribable. Though she was peculiar even among peculiars, now she knew she was not alone. There were more like her, which meant that—perhaps—peculiar society could be made a safer, saner place, no longer ruled by the shortsighted whims of prideful men. She had only an inkling of what form that society might take, but she knew that finding Miss Kestrel had been an important breakthrough. They spoke, in their halting way, for nearly an hour, and by the end of it Miss Kestrel had agreed to follow Ymeene back to the loop.

The rest, as they say, is history. Miss Kestrel came to live with the peculiars. Ymeene taught her everything she knew about loops, and soon Miss Kestrel was skilled enough to keep their loop going by herself. This allowed Ymeene to embark on long-distance expeditions to find more time-looping birdwomen like themselves—which she did, bringing their number to five—and when the new arrivals had been trained, and the hard, hungry winter had thawed into spring, they divided the peculiars among them and set out across the land to establish five new, permanent loops.

They were regarded as safe havens of sanity and order, and word of them spread quickly. Peculiars who had survived the purges traveled from all across Britain to seek refuge in them, though in order to be admitted they had to agree to live under the rules of the birdwomen. The women became known as ymeenes, to honor the first of their kind (though with the passage of time and the gradual shifting of tongues in Britain the word became ymbryne).

The ymbrynes held council twice a year to trade wisdom and collaborate. For many years Ymeene herself oversaw the proceedings, watching with pride as their network of ymbrynes and loops increased, and the number of peculiars they were able to protect grew to many hundreds. She lived to the ripe and happy age of one hundred and fifty-seven. For all those years she and Englebert shared a house (but never a room), for they loved each other in a steady, companionable way. It was the Black Plague, on one of its pitiless sweeps through Europe, that finally took her. When she was gone, all the peculiars she had saved who were still living, and all their children and grandchildren, risked their lives to cross hostile territory and carry her in a grand procession to the forest and, to the best of Englebert’s reckoning, to the very tree in which she had been born, and they buried her there among its roots.9

The Woman Who Befriended Ghosts

There was once a peculiar woman named Hildy. She had a high laughing voice and dark brown skin, and she could see ghosts. She wasn’t frightened by them at all. Her twin sister drowned when they were children, and when Hildy was growing up, her sister’s ghost was her closest friend. They did everything together: ran through the poppy fields that surrounded their house, played stick-a-whack on the village green, and stayed up late telling each other scary stories about living people. The ghost of Hildy’s sister even came to school with her. She would entertain Hildy by making rude faces at the teacher that no one else could see, and help her on examinations by looking at other students’ answers and whispering them into Hildy’s ear. (She could have shouted them and no one but Hildy would have heard, but it seemed prudent to whisper, just in case.)

On Hildy’s eighteenth birthday, her sister got called away on ghost business.

“When will you be back?” Hildy asked, distraught. They hadn’t been apart a single day since her sister died.

“Not for years,” replied her sister. “I’ll miss you terribly.”

“Not more than I’ll miss you,” Hildy said miserably.

Hildy’s sister hugged her, ghostly tears standing in her eyes. “Try to make some friends,” she said, then vanished.

Hildy tried to take her sister’s advice, but she had never had a living friend. She accepted an invitation to a party but couldn’t bring herself to speak to anyone. Her father arranged a tea for Hildy with the daughter of a coworker, but Hildy was stiff and awkward, and the only thing she could think of to say was, “Have you ever played stick-a-whack?”

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