A Monster Calls (Page 28)

You must.

“I can’t,” Conor said again.

You can, said the monster, and there was a change in its voice. A note of something.

Of kindness.

Conor’s eyes were filling now. Tears were tumbling down his cheeks and he couldn’t stop them, couldn’t even wipe them away because the nightmare’s tendrils were binding him now, had nearly taken him over completely.

“Please don’t make me,” Conor said. “Please don’t make me say it.”

You let her go, the monster said.

Conor shook his head. “Please–”

You let her go, the monster said again.

Conor closed his eyes tightly.

But then he nodded.

You could have held on for longer, the monster said, but you let her fall. You loosened your grip and let the nightmare take her.

Conor nodded again, his face scrunched up with pain and weeping.

You wanted her to fall.

“No,” Conor said through thick tears.

You wanted her to go.

“No!”

You must speak the truth and you must speak it now, Conor O’Malley. Say it. You must.

Conor shook his head again, his mouth clamped shut tight, but he could feel a burning in his chest, like a fire someone had lit there, a miniature sun, blazing away and burning him from the inside.

“It’ll kill me if I do,” he gasped.

It will kill you if you do not, the monster said. You must say it.

“I can’t.”

You let her go. Why?

The blackness was wrapping itself around Conor’s eyes now, plugging his nose and overwhelming his mouth. He was gasping for breath and not getting it. It was suffocating him. It was killing him–

Why, Conor? the monster said fiercely. Tell me WHY! Before it is too late!

And the fire in Conor’s chest suddenly blazed, suddenly burned like it would eat him alive. It was the truth, he knew it was. A moan started in his throat, a moan that rose into a cry and then a loud wordless yell and he opened his mouth and the fire came blazing out, blazing out to consume everything, bursting over the blackness, over the yew tree, too, setting it ablaze along with the rest of the world, burning it back as Conor yelled and yelled and yelled, in pain and grief–

And he spoke the words.

He spoke the truth.

He told the rest of the fourth tale.

“I can’t stand it any more!” he cried out as the fire raged around him. “I can’t stand knowing that she’ll go! I just want it to be over! I want it to be finished!”

And then the fire ate the world, wiping away everything, wiping him away with it.

He welcomed it with relief, because it was, at last, the punishment he deserved.

LIFE AFTER DEATH

Conor opened his eyes. He was lying on the grass on the hill above his house.

He was still alive.

Which was the worst thing that could have happened.

“Why didn’t it kill me?” he groaned, holding his face in his hands. “I deserve the worst.”

Do you? the monster asked, standing above him.

“I’ve been thinking it for the longest time,” Conor said slowly, painfully, struggling to get the words out. “I’ve known forever she wasn’t going to make it, almost from the beginning. She said she was getting better because that’s what I wanted to hear. And I believed her. Except I didn’t.”

No, the monster said.

Conor swallowed, still struggling. “And I started to think how much I wanted it to be over. How much I just wanted to stop having to think about it. How I couldn’t stand the waiting any more. I couldn’t stand how alone it made me feel.”

He really began to cry now, more than he thought he’d ever done, more even than when he found out his mum was ill.

And a part of you wished it would just end, said the monster, even if it meant losing her.

Conor nodded, barely able to speak.

And the nightmare began. The nightmare that always ended with–

“I let her go,” Conor choked out. “I could have held on but I let her go.”

And that, the monster said, is the truth.

“I didn’t mean it, though!” Conor said, his voice rising. “I didn’t mean to let her go! And now it’s for real! Now she’s going to die and it’s my fault!”

And that, the monster said, is not the truth at all.

Conor’s grief was a physical thing, gripping him like a clamp, clenching him tight as a muscle. He could barely breathe from the sheer effort of it, and he sank to the ground again, wishing it would just take him, once and for all.

He faintly felt the huge hands of the monster pick him up, forming a little nest to hold him. He was only vaguely aware of the leaves and branches twisting around him, softening and widening to let him lie back.

“It’s my fault,” Conor said. “I let her go. It’s my fault.”

It is not your fault, the monster said, its voice floating in the air around him like a breeze.

“It is.”

You were merely wishing for the end of pain, the monster said. Your own pain. An end to how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all.

“I didn’t mean it,” Conor said.

You did, the monster said, but you also did not.

Conor sniffed and looked up to its face, which was as big as a wall in front of him. “How can both be true?”

Because humans are complicated beasts, the monster said. How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a parson be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen?

“I don’t know,” Conor shrugged, exhausted. “Your stories never made any sense to me.”

The answer is that it does not matter what you think, the monster said, because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.

“But how do you fight it?” Conor asked, his voice rough. “How do you fight all the different stuff inside?”

By speaking the truth, the monster said. As you spoke it just now.

Conor thought again of his mother’s hands, of the grip as he let go–

Stop this, Conor O’Malley, the monster said, gently. This is why I came walking, to tell you this so that you may heal. You must listen.

Conor swallowed again. “I’m listening.”