A Monster Calls (Page 23)

“You shut up,” Conor said.

And he heard the monster’s voice say it with him.

Harry backed up another step until he was against a window. It felt like the whole school was holding its breath, waiting to see what Conor would do. He could hear a teacher or two calling from outside, finally noticing something was going on.

“But do you know what I see when I look at you, O’Malley?” Harry said.

Conor clenched his hands into fists.

Harry leaned forward, his eyes flashing. “I see nothing,” he said.

Without turning around, Conor asked the monster a question.

“What did you do to help the invisible man?”

And he felt the monster’s voice again, like it was in his own head.

I made them see, it said.

Conor clenched his fists even tighter.

Then the monster leapt forward to make Harry see.

PUNISHMENT

“I don’t even know what to say.” The Headmistress made an exasperated sound and shook her head. “What can I possibly say to you, Conor?”

Conor kept his eyes on the carpet, which was the colour of spilled wine. Miss Kwan was there, too, sitting behind him, as if he might try to escape. He sensed rather than saw the Headmistress lean forward. She was older than Miss Kwan. And somehow twice as scary.

“You put him in hospital, Conor,” she said. “You broke his arm, his nose, and I’ll bet his teeth are never going to look that pretty again. His parents are threatening to sue the school and file charges against you.”

Conor looked up at that.

“They were a little hysterical, Conor,” Miss Kwan said behind him, “and I don’t blame them. I explained what’s been going on, though. That he had been regularly bullying you and that your circumstances were … special.”

Conor winced at the word.

“It was actually the bullying part that scared them off,” Miss Kwan said, scorn in her voice. “Doesn’t look good to prospective universities these days, apparently, accusations of bullying.”

“But that’s not the point!” the Headmistress said, so loud she made both Conor and Miss Kwan jump. “I can’t even make sense of what actually happened.” She looked at some papers on her desk, reports from teachers and other students, Conor guessed. “I’m not even sure how one boy could have caused so much damage by himself.”

Conor had felt what the monster was doing to Harry, felt it in his own hands. When the monster gripped Harry’s shirt, Conor felt the material against his own palms. When the monster struck a blow, Conor felt the sting of it in his own fist. When the monster held Harry’s arm behind his back, Conor had felt Harry’s muscles resisting.

Resisting, but not winning.

Because how could a boy beat a monster?

He remembered all the screaming and running. He remembered the other kids fleeing to get teachers. He remembered the circle around him opening wider and wider as the monster told the story of all that he’d done for the invisible man.

Never invisible again, the monster kept saying as he pummelled Harry. Never invisible again.

There came a point when Harry stopped trying to fight back, when the blows from the monster were too strong, too many, too fast, when he began begging the monster to stop.

Never invisible again, the monster said, finally letting up, its huge branch-like fists curled tight as a clap of thunder.

It turned to Conor.

But there are harder things than being invisible, it said.

And it vanished, leaving Conor standing alone over the shivering, bleeding Harry.

Everyone in the dining hall was staring at Conor now. Everyone could see him, all eyes looking his way. There was silence in the room, too much silence for so many kids, and for a moment, before the teachers broke it up – where had they been? Had the monster kept them from seeing? Or had it really been so short an amount of time? – you could hear the wind rushing in an open window, a wind that dropped a few small, spiky leaves to the floor.

Then there were adult hands on Conor, dragging him away.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” the Headmistress asked.

Conor shrugged.

“I’m going to need more than that,” she said. “You seriously hurt him.”

“It wasn’t me,” Conor mumbled.

“What was that?” she said sharply.

“It wasn’t me,” Conor said, more clearly. “It was the monster who did it.”

“The monster,” the Headmistress said.

“I didn’t even touch Harry.”

The Headmistress made a wedge shape with her fingertips and placed her elbows on her desk. She glanced at Miss Kwan.

“An entire dining hall saw you hitting Harry, Conor,” Miss Kwan said. “They saw you knocking him down. They saw you pushing him over a table. They saw you banging his head against the floor.” Miss Kwan leaned forward. “They heard you yelling about being seen. About not being invisible any more.”

Conor flexed his hands slowly. They were sore again. Just like after the destruction of his grandma’s sitting room.

“I can understand how angry you must be,” Miss Kwan said, her voice getting slightly softer. “I mean, we haven’t even been able to reach any kind of parent or guardian for you.”

“My dad flew back to America,” Conor said. “And my grandma’s started keeping her phone on silent so she won’t wake up Mum.” He scratched the back of his hand. “Grandma’ll probably call you back, though.”

The Headmistress sat back heavily in her chair. “School rules dictate immediate exclusion,” she said.

Conor felt his stomach sink, felt his whole body droop under a tonne of extra weight.

But then he realized it was drooping because the weight had been removed.

Understanding flooded him, relief did, too, so powerful it almost made him cry, right there in the Headmistress’s office.

He was going to be punished. It was finally going to happen. Everything was going to make sense again. She was going to exclude him.

Punishment was coming.

Thank God. Thank God–

“But how could I do that?” the Headmistress said.

Conor froze.

“How could I do that and still call myself a teacher?” she said. “With all that you’re going through.” She frowned. “With all that we know about Harry.” She shook her head slightly. “There will come a day when we’ll talk about this, Conor O’Malley. And we will, believe me.” She started gathering the papers on her desk. “But today is not that day.” She gave him a last look. “You have bigger things to think about.”