A Monster Calls (Page 21)

“How long will you stay?” Conor finally asked.

“For as long as I can.”

“And then you’ll go back.”

“I have to. I’ve got–”

“Another family there,” Conor finished.

His father tried to reach out a hand again, but Conor was already heading back towards the hospital.

Because no, it would work, it would, that was the whole reason the monster had come walking. It had to be. If the monster was real at all then that had to be the reason.

Conor looked at the clock on the front of the hospital as he went back inside.

Eight more hours until 12.07.

NO TALE

“Can you heal her?” Conor asked.

The yew is a healing tree, the monster said. It is the form I choose most to walk in.

Conor frowned. “That’s not really an answer.”

The monster just gave him that evil grin.

Conor’s grandma had driven him back to her house when his mum had fallen asleep after not eating her dinner. His grandma still hadn’t spoken to him about the destruction of her sitting room. She’d barely spoken to him at all.

“I’m going back,” she said, as he got out of the car. “Fix yourself something to eat. I know you can at least do that.”

“Do you think Dad’s at the airport by now?” Conor asked.

All his grandma did in response was sigh impatiently. He shut the door and she drove away. After he’d gone inside, the clock – the cheap, battery-operated one in the kitchen, which was all they had now – had crept towards midnight without her returning or calling. He thought about calling her himself, but she’d already yelled at him once when her ringtone had woken up his mum.

It didn’t matter. In fact, it made it easier. He hadn’t had to pretend to go to bed. He’d waited until the clock read 12.07. Then he went outside and said, “Where are you?”

And the monster said, I am here and stepped over his grandma’s office shed in one easy motion.

“Can you heal her?” Conor asked again, more firmly.

The monster looked down at him. It is not up to me.

“Why not?” Conor asked. “You tear down houses and rescue witches. You say every bit of you can heal if only people would use it.”

If your mother can be healed, the monster said, then the yew tree will do it.

Conor crossed his arms. “Is that a yes?”

Then the monster did something it hadn’t done until now.

It sat down.

It placed its entire great weight on top of his grandma’s office. Conor could hear the wood groan and saw the roof sag. His heart leapt in his throat. If he destroyed her office, too, there’s no telling what she’d do to him. Probably ship him off to prison. Or worse, boarding school.

You still do not know why you called me, do you? the monster asked. You still do not know why I have come walking. It is not as if I do this every day, Conor O’Malley.

“I didn’t call you,” Conor said. “Unless it was in a dream or something. And even if I did, it was obviously for my mum.”

Was it?

“Well, why else?” Conor said, his voice rising. “It wasn’t just to hear terrible stories that make no sense.”

Are you forgetting your grandmother’s sitting room?

Conor couldn’t quite suppress a small smile.

As I thought, said the monster.

“I’m being serious,” Conor said.

So am I. But we are not yet ready for the third and final story. That will be soon. And after that you will tell me your story, Conor O’Malley. You will tell me your truth. The monster leaned forward. And you know of what I speak.

The mist surrounded them again suddenly and his grandma’s garden faded away. The world changed to grey and emptiness, and Conor knew exactly where he was, exactly what the world had changed into.

He was inside the nightmare.

– • –

This is what it felt like, this is what it looked like, the edges of the world crumbling away and Conor holding on to her hands, feeling them slip from his grasp, feeling her fall–

“No!” he cried out. “No! Not this!”

The mist retreated and he was back in his grandma’s garden again, the monster still sitting on her office roof.

“That’s not my truth,” Conor said, his voice shaking. “That’s just a nightmare.”

Nevertheless, the monster said, standing, the roof beams of his grandma’s office seeming to sigh with relief, that is what will happen after the third tale.

“Great,” Conor said, “another story when there are more important things going on.”

Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.

“Life writing,” Conor said, sourly, under his breath.

The monster looked surprised. Indeed, it said. It turned to go, but glanced back at Conor. Look for me soon.

“I want to know what’s going to happen with my mum,” Conor said.

The monster paused. Do you not know already?

“You said you were a tree of healing,” Conor said. “Well, I need you to heal!”

And so I shall, the monster said.

And with a gust of wind, it was gone.

I NO LONGER SEE YOU

“I want to go to the hospital, too,” Conor said the next morning in the car with his grandma. “I don’t want to go to school today.”

His grandma just drove. It was quite possible she was never going to speak to him again.

“How was she last night?” he asked. He’d waited up for a long time after the monster left, but had still fallen asleep before his grandma came back.

“Much the same,” she said, tersely, keeping her eyes firmly on the road.

“Is the new medicine helping?”

She didn’t answer this one for so long, he thought she wasn’t going to and was on the verge of asking again when she said, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Conor let a few streets go by, then he asked, “When is she going to come home?”

This one his grandma didn’t answer, even though it was another half hour before they got to school.

– • –

There was no hope of paying attention in lessons. Which, once again, didn’t matter because none of the teachers asked him a question anyway. Neither did his classmates. By the time lunch break came around, he’d passed another morning not having said a word to anyone.

He sat alone at the far edge of the dining hall, his food uneaten in front of him. The room was unbelievably loud, roaring with the sounds of his classmates and all their screaming and yelling and fighting and laughing. Conor did his best to ignore it.