A Monster Calls - Part 7

Part 7

"That's what everyone says," Conor said. "As if it means anything."

"I'm sorry," his father said. "I know it seems really unfair, and I wish it was differenta""

"Do you?"

"Of course I do." His father leaned in over the table. "But this way is best. You'll see."

Conor swallowed, still not meeting his eye. Then he swallowed again. "Can we can talk about it more when Mum gets better?"

His father slowly sat back in his chair again. "Of course we can, buddy. That's exactly what we'll do."

Conor looked at him again. "Buddy?"

His father smiled. "Sorry." He lifted his wine gla.s.s and took a drink long enough to drain the whole gla.s.s. He set it down with a small gasp, then he gave Conor a quizzical look. "What was all that you were saying about a tree?"

But the waitress came and silence fell as she put their pizzas in front of them. "Americano," Conor frowned, looking down at his. "If it could talk, I wonder if it would sound like you."

AMERICANS DON'T GET MUCH HOLIDAY "Doesn't look like your grandma's home yet," Conor's father said, pulling up the rental car in front of her house.

"She sometimes goes back to the hospital after I go to bed," Conor said. "The nurses let her sleep in a chair."

His dad nodded. "She may not like me," he said, "but that doesn't mean she's a bad lady."

Conor stared out of the window at her house. "How long are you here for?" he asked. He'd been afraid to ask before now.

His father let out a long breath, the kind of breath that said bad news was coming. "Just a few days, I'm afraid."

Conor turned to him. "That's all?"

"Americans don't get much holiday."

"You're not American."

"But I live there now." He grinned. "You're the one who made fun of my accent all night."

"Why did you come then?" Conor asked. "Why bother coming at all?"

His father waited a moment before answering. "I came because your mum asked me to." He looked like he was going to say more, but he didn't.

Conor didn't say anything either.

"I'll come back, though," his father said. "You know, when I need to." His voice brightened. "And you'll visit us at Christmas! That'll be good fun."

"In your cramped house where there's no room for me," Conor said.


"And then I'll come back here for school."


"Why did you come?" Conor asked again, his voice low.

His father didn't answer. A silence opened up in the car that felt like they were sitting on opposite sides of a canyon. Then his father reached out a hand for Conor's shoulder, but Conor ducked it and pulled on the door handle to get out.

"Conor, wait."

Conor waited but didn't turn around.

"You want me to come in until she gets home?" his father asked. "Keep you company?"

"I'm fine on my own," Conor said, and got out of the car.

The house was quiet when he got inside. Why wouldn't it be?

He was alone.

He slumped on the expensive settee again, listening to it creak as he fell back into it. It was such a satisfying sound that he got up and slumped back down into it again. Then he got back up and jumped on it, the wooden legs moaning as they sc.r.a.ped a few inches across the floor, leaving four identical scratches on the hardwood.

He smiled to himself. That felt good.

He jumped off and gave the settee a kick to push it back even further. He was barely aware that he was breathing heavily. His head felt hot, almost like he had a fever. He raised a foot to kick the settee again.

Then he looked up and saw the clock.

His grandma's precious clock, hanging over the mantelpiece, the pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth, like it was getting on with its own, private life, not caring about Conor at all.

He approached it slowly, his fists clenched. It was only a moment before it would bong bong bong its way to nine o'clock. Conor stood there until the second hand glided around and reached the twelve. The instant the bongs were about to start, he grabbed the pendulum, holding it at the high point of its swing.

He could hear the mechanism of the clock complaining as the first b of the interrupted bong hovered in the air. With his free hand, Conor reached up and pushed the minute and second hands forward from the twelve. They resisted but he pushed harder, hearing a loud click as he did so that didn't sound especially good. The minute and second hands sprung suddenly free from whatever was holding them back, and Conor spun them around, catching up with the hour hand and taking it along, too, hearing more complaining half-bongs and painful clicks from deep inside the wooden case.

He could feel drops of sweat gathering on his forehead and his chest felt like it was glowing with heat.

(a"almost like being in the nightmare, that same feverish blur of the world slipping off its axis, but this time he was the one in control, this time he was the nightmarea") The second hand, the thinnest of the three, suddenly snapped and fell out of the clockface completely, bouncing once on the rug and disappearing into the ashes of the hearth.

Conor stepped back quickly, letting go of the pendulum. It dropped to its centre point but didn't start swinging again. Nor did the clock make any of the whirring, ticking sounds it usually made as it ran, its hands now frozen solidly in place.


Conor's stomach started squeezing as he realized what he'd done.

Oh, no, he thought.

Oh, no.

He'd broken it.

A clock that was probably worth more than his mum's whole beaten-up car.

His grandma was going to kill him, maybe actually, literally kill hima"

Then he noticed.

The hour and minute hands had stopped at a specific time.


As destruction goes, the monster said behind him, this is all remarkably pitiful.

Conor whirled around. Somehow, some way, the monster was in his grandma's sitting room. It was far too big, of course, having to bend down very, very low to fit under the ceiling, its branches and leaves twisting together tighter and tighter to make it smaller, but here it was, filling up every corner.

It is the kind of destruction I would expect from a boy, it said, its breath blowing back Conor's hair.

"What are you doing here?" Conor asked. He felt a sudden surge of hope. "Am I asleep? Is this a dream? Like when you broke my bedroom window and I woke up anda""

I have come to tell you the second tale, the monster said.

Conor made an exasperated sound and looked back at the broken clock. "Is it going to be as bad as the last one?" he asked, distractedly.

It ends in proper destruction, if that is what you mean.

Conor turned back to the monster. Its face had rearranged itself into the expression Conor recognized as the evil grin.

"Is it a cheating story?" Conor asked. "Does it sound like it's going to be one way and then it's a total other way?"

No, said the monster. It is about a man who thought only of himself. The monster smiled again, looking even more wicked. And he gets punished very, very badly indeed.

Conor stood breathing for a second, thinking about the broken clock, about the scratches on the hardwood, about the poisonous berries dropping from the monster onto his grandma's clean floor.

He thought about his father.

"I'm listening," Conor said.


One hundred and fifty years ago, the monster began, this country had become a place of industry. Factories grew on the landscape like weeds. Trees fell, fields were up-ended, rivers blackened. The sky choked on smoke and ash, and the people did, too, spending their days coughing and itching, their eyes turned forever towards the ground. Villages grew into towns, towns into cities. And people began to live on the earth rather than within it.

But there was still green, if you knew where to look.

(The monster opened its hands again, and a mist rolled through his grandma's sitting room. When it cleared, Conor and the monster stood on a field of green, overlooking a valley of metal and brick.) ("So I am asleep," Conor said.) (Quiet, said the monster. Here he comes. And Conor saw a sour-looking man with heavy black clothes and a deep, deep frown climbing the hill towards them.) Along the edge of this green lived a man. His name is not important, as no one ever used it. The villagers only ever called him the Apothecary.

("The what?" Conor asked.) (The Apothecary, said the monster.) ("The what?") Apothecary was an old-fashioned name, even then, for a chemist.

("Oh," Conor said. "Why didn't you just say?") But the name was well-earned, because apothecaries were ancient, dealing in the old ways of medicine, too. Of herbs and barks, of concoctions brewed from berries and leaves.

("Dad's new wife does that," Conor said as they watched the man dig up a root. "She owns a shop that sells crystals.") (The monster frowned. It is not remotely the same.) Many a day the Apothecary went walking to collect the herbs and leaves of the surrounding green. But as the years pa.s.sed, his walks became longer and longer as the factories and roads sprawled out of town like one of the rashes he was so effective in treating. Where he used to be able to collect paxsfoil and bella rosa before morning tea, it began to take him the entire day.

The world was changing, and the Apothecary grew bitter. Or rather, more bitter, for he had always been an unpleasant man. He was greedy and charged too much for his cures, often taking more than the patient could afford to pay. Nevertheless, he was surprised at how unloved he was by the villagers, thinking they should treat him with far more respect. And because his att.i.tude was poor, their att.i.tude towards him was also poor, until, as time went on, his patients began seeking other, more modern remedies from other, more modern healers. Which only, of course, made the Apothecary even more bitter.

(The mist surrounded them again and the scene changed. They were now standing on a lawn atop a small hillock. A parsonage sat to one side and a great yew tree stood in the middle of a few new headstones.) In the Apothecary's village there also lived a parsona"

("This is the hill behind my house," Conor interrupted. He looked around, but there was no railway line yet, no rows of houses, just a few footpaths and a mucky riverbed.) The parson had two daughters, the monster went on, who were the light of his life.

(Two young girls came screaming out of the parsonage, giggling and laughing and trying to hit each other with handfuls of gra.s.s. They ran around the trunk of the yew tree, hiding from one another.) ("That's you," Conor said, pointing at the tree, which for the moment was just a tree.) Yes, fine, on the parsonage grounds, there also grew a yew tree.

(And a very handsome yew tree it was, said the monster.) ("If you say so yourself," Conor said.) Now, the Apothecary wanted the yew tree very badly.

("He did?" Conor asked. "Why?") (The monster looked surprised. The yew tree is the most important of all the healing trees, it said. It lives for thousands of years. Its berries, its bark, its leaves, its sap, its pulp, its wood, they all thrum and burn and twist with life. It can cure almost any ailment man suffers from, mixed and treated by the right apothecary.) (Conor furrowed his forehead. "You're making that up.") (The monster's face went stormy. You dare to question me, boy?) ("No," Conor said, stepping back at the monster's anger. "I'd just never heard that before.") (The monster frowned angrily for a moment longer, then got on with the story.) In order to harvest these things from the tree, the Apothecary would have had to cut it down. And this the parson would not allow. The yew had stood on this ground long before it was set aside for the church. A graveyard was already starting to be used and a new church building was in the planning stages. The yew would protect the church from the heavy rains and the harshest weather, and the parson a" no matter how often the Apothecary asked, for he did ask very often a" would not allow the Apothecary anywhere near the tree.

Now, the parson was an enlightened man, and a kind one. He wanted the very best for his congregation, to take them out of the dark ages of superst.i.tion and witchery. He preached against the Apothecary's use of the old ways, and the Apothecary's foul temper and greed made certain these sermons fell on eager ears. His business shrank even further.

But then one day, the parson's daughters fell sick. First the one, and then the other, with an infection that swept the countryside.

(The sky darkened, and Conor could hear the coughing of the daughters within the parsonage, could also hear the loud praying of the parson and the tears of the parson's wife.) Nothing the parson did helped. No prayer, no cure from the modern doctor two towns over, no remedies of the field offered shyly and secretly by his parishioners. Nothing. The daughters wasted away and approached death. Finally, there was no other option but to approach the Apothecary. The parson swallowed his pride and went to beg the Apothecary's forgiveness.

"Won't you help my daughters?" the parson asked, down on his knees at the Apothecary's front door. "If not for me, then for my two innocent girls."

"Why should I?" the Apothecary asked. "You have driven away my business with your preachings. You have refused me the yew tree, my best source of healing. You have turned this village against me."

"You may have the yew tree," the parson said. "I will preach sermons in your favour. I will send my parishioners to you for their every ailment. You may have anything you like, if you would only save my daughters."

The Apothecary was surprised. "You would give up everything you believed in?"

"If it would save my daughters," the parson said. "I'd give up everything."

"Then," the Apothecary said, shutting his door on the parson, "there is nothing I can do to help you."

("What?" Conor said.) That very night, both of the parson's daughters died.

("What?" Conor said again, the nightmare feeling taking hold of his guts.) And that very night, I came walking.

("Good!" Conor shouted. "That stupid git deserves all the punishment he gets.") (I thought so, too, said the monster.) It was shortly after midnight that I tore the parson's home from its very foundations.


Conor whirled round. "The parson?"

Yes, said the monster. I flung his roof into the dell below and knocked down every wall of his house with my fists.

The parson's house was still before them, and Conor saw the yew tree next to it awaken into the monster and set ferociously on the parsonage. With the first blow to the roof, the front door flew open, and the parson and his wife fled in terror. The monster in the scene threw their roof after them, barely missing them as they ran.

"What are you doing?" Conor said. "The Apotho-whatever is the bad guy!"

Is he? asked the real monster behind him.

There was a crash as the second monster knocked down the parsonage's front wall.

"Of course he is!" Conor shouted. "He refused to help heal the parson's daughters! And they died!"