A Monster Calls (Page 27)

“No,” Conor whispered to himself. He pulled himself forward some more, but she was too far, too far to reach in time, and he felt so heavy–

There was a low sound from below the cliff. A rumbling, booming noise.

Like something big was moving down below.

Something bigger than the world.

And it was climbing up the cliff face.

“Conor?” his mum asked, looking back at him.

But Conor knew. It was too late.

The real monster was coming.

“Mum!” Conor shouted, forcing himself to his feet, pushing against the invisible weight pressing down on him. “MUM!”

“Conor!” his mum shouted, backing away from the cliff’s edge.

But the booming was getting louder. And louder. And louder still.

“MUM!”

He knew he wouldn’t get there in time.

Because with a roar, a cloud of burning darkness lifted two giant fists over the clifftop. They hovered in the air for a long moment, over his mum as she tried to scramble back.

But she was too weak, much too weak–

And the fists rushed down together in a violent pounce and grabbed her, pulling her over the edge of the cliff.

And at last, Conor could run. With a shout, he broke across the clearing, running so fast he nearly toppled over, and he threw himself towards her, towards her out-reaching hands as the dark fists pulled her over the edge.

And his hands caught hers.

This was the nightmare. This was the nightmare that woke him up screaming every night. This was it happening, right now, right here.

He was on the cliff edge, bracing himself, holding onto his mother’s hands with all his strength, trying to keep her from being pulled down into the blackness, pulled down by the creature below the cliff.

Who he could see all of now.

The real monster, the one he was properly afraid of, the one he’d expected to see when the yew tree first showed up, the real, nightmare monster, formed of cloud and ash and dark flames, but with real muscle, real strength, real red eyes that glared back at him and flashing teeth that would eat his mother alive. I’ve seen worse, Conor had told the yew tree that first night.

And here was the worse thing.

“Help me, Conor!” his mum yelled. “Don’t let go!”

“I won’t!” Conor yelled back. “I promise!”

The nightmare monster gave a roar and pulled harder, its fists straining around his mother’s body.

And she began to slip from Conor’s grasp.

“No!” he called.

His mum screamed in terror. “Please, Conor! Hold on to me!”

“I will!” Conor yelled. He turned back to the yew tree, standing there, not moving. “Help me! I can’t hold on to her!”

But it just stood there, watching.

“Conor!” his mum yelled.

And her hands were slipping.

“Conor!” she yelled again.

“Mum!” he cried, gripping tighter.

But they were slipping from his grasp, and she was getting heavier and heavier, the nightmare monster pulling harder and harder.

“I’m slipping!” his mum yelled.

“NO!” he cried.

He fell forward onto his chest from the weight of her and the nightmare’s fists pulling on her.

She screamed again.

And again.

And she was so heavy, impossibly so.

“Please,” Conor whispered to himself. “Please.”

And here, he heard the yew tree say behind him, is the fourth tale.

“Shut up!” Conor shouted. “Help me!”

Here is the truth of Conor O’Malley.

And his mother was screaming.

And she was slipping.

It was so hard to hold on to her.

It is now or never, the yew tree said. You must speak the truth.

“No!” Conor said, his voice breaking.

You must.

“No!” Conor said again, looking down into his mother’s face–

As the truth came all of a sudden–

As the nightmare reached its most perfect moment–

“No!” Conor screamed one more time–

And his mother fell.

THE REST OF THE FOURTH TALE

This was the moment when he usually woke up. When she fell, screaming, out of his grasp, into the abyss, taken by the nightmare, lost forever, this was where he usually sat up in his bed, covered in sweat, his heart beating so fast he thought he might die.

But he didn’t wake up.

The nightmare still surrounded him. The yew tree still stood behind him.

The tale is not yet told, it said.

“Take me out of here,” Conor said, getting shakily to his feet. “I need to see my mum.”

She is no longer here, Conor, his original monster said. You let her go.

“This is just a nightmare,” Conor said, panting hard. “This isn’t the truth.”

It is the truth, said the monster. You know it is. You let her go.

“She fell,” Conor said. “I couldn’t hold on to her any more. She got so heavy.”

And so you let her go.

“She fell!” Conor said, his voice rising, almost in desperation. The filth and ash that had taken his mum was returning up the cliff face in tendrils of smoke, smoke that he couldn’t help but breathe in. It entered his mouth and his nose like air, filling him up, choking him. He had to fight to even breathe.

You let her go, said the monster.

“I didn’t let her go!” Conor shouted, his voice cracking. “She fell!”

You must tell the truth or you will never leave this nightmare, the monster said, looming dangerously over him now, its voice scarier than Conor had ever heard it. You will be trapped here alone for the rest of your life.

“Please let me go!” Conor yelled, trying to back away. He called out in terror when he saw that the tendrils of the nightmare had wrapped themselves around his legs. They tripped him to the ground and started wrapping themselves around his arms, too. “Help me!”

Speak the truth! the monster said, its voice stern and terrifying now. Speak the truth or stay here forever.

“What truth?” Conor yelled, desperately fighting the tendrils. “I don’t know what you mean!”

The monster’s face suddenly surged out of the blackness, inches away from Conor’s.

You do know, it said, low and threatening.

And there was a sudden quiet.

Because, yes, Conor knew.

He had always known.

The truth.

The real truth. The truth from the nightmare.

“No,” he said, quietly, as the blackness started wrapping itself around his neck. “No, I can’t.”