A Monster Calls
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
Conor was awake when it came.
He'd had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare.
The one he'd been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on.
The one that always ended with -
"Go away," Conor whispered into the darkness of his bedroom, trying to push the nightmare back, not let it follow him into the world of waking. "Go away now."
He glanced over at the clock his mum had put on his bedside table. 12:07. Seven minutes past midnight. Which was late for a school night, late for a Sunday, certainly.
He'd told no one about the nightmare. Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fortnightly (or so) phone call, definitely not his grandma, and no one at school. Absolutely not.
What happened in the nightmare was something no one else ever needed to know.
Conor blinked groggily at his room, then he frowned. There was something he was missing. He sat up in his bed, waking a bit more. The nightmare was slipping from him, but there was something he couldn't put his finger on, something different, something -
He listened, straining against the silence, but all he could hear was the quiet house around him, the occasional tick from the empty downstairs or a rustle of bedding from his mum's room next door.
And then something. Something he realized was the thing that had woken him.
Someone was calling his name.
He felt a rush of panic, his guts twisting. Had it followed him? Had it somehow stepped out of the nightmare and - ?
"Don't be stupid," he told himself. "You're too old for monsters."
And he was. He'd turned thirteen just last month. Monsters were for babies. Monsters were for bedwetters. Monsters were for -
There it was again. Conor swallowed. It had been an unusually warm October, and his window was still open. Maybe the curtains shushing each other in the small breeze could have sounded like -
All right, it wasn't the wind. It was definitely a voice, but not one he recognized. It wasn't his mother's, that was for sure. It wasn't a woman's voice at all, and he wondered for a crazy moment if his dad had somehow made a surprise trip from America and arrived too late to phone and -
No. Not his dad. This voice had a quality to it, a monstrous quality, wild and untamed.
Then he heard a heavy creak of wood outside, as if something gigantic was stepping across a timber floor.
He didn't want to go and look. But at the same time, a part of him wanted to look more than anything.
Wide awake now, he pushed back the covers, got out of bed, and went over to the window. In the pale half-light of the moon, he could clearly see the church tower up on the small hill behind his house, the one with the train tracks curving beside it, two hard steel lines glowing dully in the night. The moon shone, too, on the graveyard attached to the church, filled with tombstones you could hardly read anymore.
Conor could also see the great yew tree that rose from the center of the graveyard, a tree so ancient it almost seemed to be made of the same stone as the church. He only knew it was a yew because his mother had told him, first when he was little to make sure he didn't eat the berries, which were poisonous, and again this past year, when she'd started staring out of their kitchen window with a funny look on her face and saying, "That's a yew tree, you know."
And then he heard his name again.
A MONSTER CALLS. Text copyright © 2011 by Patrick Ness. From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Jim Kay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.
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