A Monster Calls (Page 17)

Conor whirled round. “The parson?”

Yes, said the monster. I flung his roof into the dell below and knocked down every wall of his house with my fists.

The parson’s house was still before them, and Conor saw the yew tree next to it awaken into the monster and set ferociously on the parsonage. With the first blow to the roof, the front door flew open, and the parson and his wife fled in terror. The monster in the scene threw their roof after them, barely missing them as they ran.

“What are you doing?” Conor said. “The Apotho-whatever is the bad guy!”

Is he? asked the real monster behind him.

There was a crash as the second monster knocked down the parsonage’s front wall.

“Of course he is!” Conor shouted. “He refused to help heal the parson’s daughters! And they died!”

The parson refused to believe the Apothecary could help, said the monster. When times were easy, the parson nearly destroyed the Apothecary, but when the going grew tough, he was willing to throw aside every belief if it would save his daughters.

“So?” Conor said. “So would anyone! So would everyone! What did you expect him to do?”

I expected him to give the Apothecary the yew tree when the Apothecary first asked.

This stopped Conor. There were further crashes from the parsonage as another wall fell. “You’d have let yourself be killed?”

I am far more than just one tree, the monster said, but yes, I would have let the yew tree be chopped down. It would have saved the parson’s daughters. And many, many others besides.

“But it would have killed the tree and made him rich!” Conor yelled. “He was evil!”

He was greedy and rude and bitter, but he was still a healer. The parson, though, what was he? He was nothing. Belief is half of all healing. Belief in the cure, belief in the future that awaits. And here was a man who lived on belief, but who sacrificed it at the first challenge, right when he needed it most. He believed selfishly and fearfully. And it took the lives of his daughters.

Conor grew angrier. “You said this was a story without tricks.”

I said this was the story of a man punished for his selfishness. And so it is.

Seething, Conor looked again at the second monster destroying the parsonage. A giant monstrous leg knocked over a staircase with one kick. A giant monstrous arm swung back and demolished the walls to the parson’s bedrooms.

Tell me, Conor O’Malley, the monster behind him asked. Would you like to join in?

“Join in?” Conor said, surprised.

It is most satisfying, I assure you.

The monster stepped forward, joining its second self, and put a giant foot through a settee not unlike Conor’s grandma’s. The monster looked back at Conor, waiting.

What shall I destroy next? it asked, stepping over to the second monster, and in a terrible blurring of the eyes, they merged together, making a single monster who was even bigger.

I await your command, boy, it said.

Conor could feel his breathing growing heavy again. His heart was racing and that feverish feeling had come over him once more. He waited a long moment.

Then he said, “Knock over the fireplace.”

The monster’s fist immediately lashed out and struck the stone hearth from its foundations, the brick chimney tumbling down on top of it in a loud clatter.

Conor’s breath got heavier still, like he was the one doing the destroying.

“Throw away their beds,” he said.

The monster picked up the beds from the two roofless bedrooms and flung them into the air, so hard they seemed to sail nearly to the horizon before crashing to the ground.

“Smash their furniture!” Conor shouted. “Smash everything!”

The monster stomped around the interior of the house, crushing every piece of furniture it could find with satisfying crashes and crunches.

“TEAR THE WHOLE THING DOWN!” Conor roared, and the monster roared in return and pounded at the remaining walls, knocking them to the ground. Conor rushed in to help, picking up a fallen branch and smashing through the windows that hadn’t already been broken.

He was yelling as he did it, so loud he couldn’t hear himself think, disappearing into the frenzy of destruction, just mindlessly smashing and smashing and smashing.

The monster was right. It was very satisfying.

Conor screamed until he was hoarse, smashed until his arms were sore, roared until he was nearly falling down with exhaustion. When he finally stopped, he found the monster watching him quietly from outside the wreckage. Conor panted and leaned on the branch to keep himself balanced.

Now that, said the monster, is how destruction is properly done.

And suddenly they were back in Conor’s grandma’s sitting room.

Conor saw that he had destroyed almost every inch of it.

DESTRUCTION

The settee was shattered into pieces beyond counting. Every wooden leg was broken, the upholstery ripped to shreds, hunks of stuffing strewn across the floor, along with the remains of the clock, flung from the wall and broken to almost unrecognizable bits. So too were the lamps and both small tables that had sat at the ends of the settee, as well as the bookcase under the front window, every book of which was torn from cover to cover. Even the wallpaper had been ripped back in dirty, uneven strips. The only thing left standing was the display cabinet, though its glass doors were smashed and everything inside hurled to the floor.

Conor stood there in shock. He looked down at his hands, which were covered in scratches and blood, his fingernails torn and ragged, aching from the labour.

“Oh, my God,” he whispered.

He turned round to face the monster.

Which was no longer there.

“What did you do?” he shouted into the suddenly too quiet emptiness. He could barely move his feet from all the destroyed rubbish on the floor.

There was no way he could have done all this himself.

No way.

(… was there?)

“Oh, my God,” he said again. “Oh, my God.”

Destruction is very satisfying, he heard, but it was like a voice on the breeze, almost not there at all.

And then he heard his grandma’s car pull into the driveway.

There was nowhere to run. No time to even get out of the back door and go off on his own somehow, somewhere she’d never find him.

But, he thought, not even his father would take him now when he found out what he had done. They’d never allow a boy who could do all this to go and live in a house with a baby–

“Oh, my God,” Conor said again, his heart beating nearly out of his chest.