A Monster Calls (Page 18)

His grandma put her key in the lock and opened the front door.

In the split second after she came around the corner to the sitting room, still fiddling with her handbag, before she registered where Conor was or what had happened, he saw her face, how tired it was, no news on it, good or bad, just the same old night at the hospital with Conor’s mum, the same old night that was wearing them both so thin.

Then she looked up.

“What the–?” she said, stopping herself by reflex from saying “hell” in front of Conor. She froze, still holding her handbag in mid-air. Only her eyes moved, taking in the destruction of the sitting room in disbelief, almost refusing to see what was really there. Conor couldn’t even hear her breathing.

And then she looked at him, her mouth open, her eyes open wide, too. She saw him standing there in the middle of it, his hands bloodied with his work.

Her mouth closed, but it didn’t close into its usual hard shape. It trembled and shook, as if she was fighting back tears, as if she could barely hold the rest of her face together.

And then she groaned, deep in her chest, her mouth still closed.

It was a sound so painful, Conor could barely keep himself from putting his hands over his ears.

She made it again. And again. And then again until it became a single sound, a single ongoing horrible groan. Her handbag fell to the floor. She put her palms over her mouth as if that was all that would hold back the horrible, groaning, moaning, keening sound flooding out of her.

“Grandma?” Conor said, his voice high and tight with terror.

And then she screamed.

She took away her hands, balling them into fists, opened her mouth wide and screamed. Screamed so loudly Conor did put his hands up to his ears. She wasn’t looking at him, she wasn’t looking at anything, just screaming into the air.

Conor had never been so frightened in all his life. It was like standing at the end of the world, almost like being alive and awake in his nightmare, the screaming, the emptiness–

Then she stepped into the room.

She kicked forward through the rubbish almost as if she didn’t even see it. Conor backed away from her quickly, stumbling over the ruins of the settee. He kept a hand up to protect himself, expecting blows to land any moment–

But she wasn’t coming for him.

She walked right past him, her face twisted in tears, the moaning spilling out of her again. She went to the display cabinet, the only thing remaining upright in the room.

And she grabbed it by one side–

And pulled on it hard once–

Twice–

And a third time.

Sending it crashing to the floor with a final-sounding crunch.

She gave a last moan and leant forward to put her hands on her knees, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

She didn’t look at Conor, didn’t look at him once as she stood back up and left the room, leaving her handbag where she’d dropped it, going straight up to her bedroom and quietly shutting the door.

Conor stood there for a while, not knowing whether he should move or not.

After what seemed like forever, he went into his grandma’s kitchen to get some empty bin liners. He worked on the mess late into the night, but there was just too much of it. Dawn was breaking by the time he finally gave up.

He climbed the stairs, not even bothering to wash off the dirt and dried blood. As he passed his grandma’s room, he saw from the light under her door that she was still awake.

He could hear her in there, weeping.

INVISIBLE

Conor stood waiting in the schoolyard.

He’d seen Lily earlier. She was with a group of girls who he knew didn’t really like her and who she didn’t really like either, but there she was, standing silently with them while they chatted away. He found himself trying to catch her eye but she never looked over at him.

Almost as if she could no longer see him.

And so he waited by himself, leaning against a stone wall away from the other kids as they squealed and laughed and looked at their phones as if nothing in the world was wrong, as if nothing in the whole entire universe could ever happen to them.

Then he saw them. Harry and Sully and Anton, walking towards him diagonally across the yard, Harry’s eyes on him, unsmiling but alert, his cronies looking happy in anticipation.

Here they came.

Conor felt weak with relief.

– • –

He’d only slept long enough that morning to have the nightmare, as if things hadn’t been bad enough. There he’d been again, with the horror and the falling, with the terrible, terrible thing that happened at the end. He’d woken up screaming. To a day that hardly seemed any better.

When he’d finally worked up the courage to go downstairs, his father was there in his grandma’s kitchen, making breakfast.

His grandma was nowhere to be seen.

“Scrambled?” his father asked, holding up the pan where the eggs were cooking.

Conor nodded, even though he wasn’t remotely hungry, and sat in a chair at the table. His father finished the eggs and put them on some buttered toast he’d also made, setting down two plates, one for Conor, one for himself. They sat and they ate.

The silence grew so heavy, Conor started to have difficulty breathing.

“That’s quite a mess you made,” his father finally said.

Conor continued to eat, taking the smallest bites of egg possible.

“She called me this morning. Very, very early.”

Conor took another microscopic bite.

“Your mum’s taken a turn, Con,” his father said. Conor looked up quickly. “Your grandma’s gone to the hospital now to talk to the doctors,” his father continued. “I’m going to drop you off at school–”

“School?” Conor said. “I want to see Mum!”

But his father was already shaking his head. “It’s no place for a kid right now. I’ll drop you off at school and go to the hospital, but I’ll pick you up right after and take you to her.” His father looked down at his plate. “I’ll pick you up sooner if … if I need to.”

Conor set down his knife and fork. He didn’t feel like eating any more. Or maybe ever again.

“Hey,” his father said. “Remember what I said about needing you to be brave? Well, now’s the time you’re going to have to do it, son.” He nodded towards the sitting room. “I can see how much this is upsetting you.” He gave a sad smile, which quickly disappeared. “So can your grandma.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Conor said, his heart starting to thump. “I don’t know what happened.”