Read Only a Monster Online

Authors: Vanessa Len

Only a Monster (18 page)

BOOK: Only a Monster
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“You want to break into the Monster Court?” Aaron said.

“Yes, of course,” Joan said.

“You want to steal a device from the King?” Aaron said. “The mythical device that he used to create the kingdom he rules over? The device that—if it existed—he would protect more closely than any object in his possession?”

“I didn't say it would be easy.”

Aaron laughed. “Joan. The Court isn't even
reachable
. It sits outside time. There's no way to get there without an invitation and an escort.”

“Well, maybe that's what the necklace is for,” Joan said. “Maybe it's not exactly a key. Maybe it's an invitation.”

“I don't want to have this stupid conversation,” Aaron said. “Getting in and out isn't even the issue. We'd be executed on the spot if we were even overheard speaking of this. What we need to do is to lie low. Find a safe place to stay and settle down in this time.”

“Settle down in this time?” Joan said, incredulous. She thought about Aaron's list.
Housing. School.

“Yes,” Aaron said. And he was actually being serious about it—Joan couldn't believe it. “Our families were murdered,” he said. “We were nearly killed too. We experienced something truly horrendous. We need to stop and take a breath.”

“Gran gave me this necklace for a reason!” Joan said.

“You don't know that,” Aaron said, sounding as frustrated
as Joan felt. “Dorothy Hunt is a renowned thief! She probably stole it without even knowing what it was.”

“She told me we had to stop the hero!” Joan said. “She gave me that necklace to use it. She knew!”

“And was there a reason why she never told you anything else your whole life?” Aaron said. “Was there a reason she waited until she was dying to tell you anything at all?”

“We're not talking about that,” Joan said. Couldn't he see that they might have found a way to save their families? “We need to make a plan to get into the Monster Court.”

“We're not going to the Monster Court!” Aaron said, just as impatiently. “We're never going to the Court!”

“I'll go without you if I have to!”

“Oh, really? How are you going to do that? How are you even going to find it?
I
wouldn't know where to find it.” Aaron turned to Ruth. “Maybe your family should have actually taught her something. Then she wouldn't have such stupid ideas about things.”

“Will you shut up about that?” Joan snapped.

“No,” Aaron said. “You almost fell out of this time twice yesterday!” To Ruth, he said: “That should never have happened! Your family never even taught her to be safe!”

“Gran wouldn't let us tell her what monsters were,” Ruth blurted, as if surprised into honesty.

“What?” Joan felt as though she'd been punched.

Ruth saw her expression. “Oh, Joan. It's not like we—we just thought you
couldn't
travel. Most monsters can't if they have a human parent. Gran probably thought it would be kinder
if you didn't know. I mean . . .” Her voice gentled. “I suppose she thought it would upset you too much to learn the truth of it.”

“But . . .” Joan blinked, puzzlement overriding hurt for a moment. Gran
had
known that Joan could travel. Gran had known to wait up for Joan the night she'd first traveled. She'd
known
. “Don't the records say I can travel?”

“But that's what I mean,” Ruth said. “The records said you can't.”

“You thought she wasn't a monster,” Aaron said.

“I didn't say that,” Ruth said.

“A person who can't travel isn't a monster.”

“Is that what you say about Olivers who can't?” Ruth sounded disgusted.

“An Oliver who can't travel is an oxymoron,” Aaron said.

“Your family makes me sick,” Ruth said.

Joan found herself standing. Her head was starting to hurt. She needed to think. “Where are you going?” Aaron said suddenly.

“For a walk.”

“A walk where?” Ruth asked.

“I need to think.” And she couldn't do that with all their bickering.

Joan left the monster street and walked until her head started to clear. She needed to figure out how the key worked and where the Court was. Maybe she should go back to the Lius.

The sun was out. She tipped her head up to feel it. She waited for some sniping comment from Aaron about the pause,
but it didn't come. She'd forgotten for a second that she was alone. The silence gave her a strange feeling of relief and, unexpectedly, something closer to loneliness.

There were cafés all along the street. Joan picked an American-style diner with big windows and seats that got a bit of sun. Inside, tired tourists were eating hamburgers and hot dogs and all-day breakfast sausages and eggs.

Joan sorted through her money, carefully separating the monster notes from the human ones. When the waiter came, she ordered a pot of tea. Then she sat there, leaning her head back against the headrest and watching a couple argue over a map the size of a tablecloth. In thirty years, they'd have GPS and nothing to argue over.

The waiter returned with tea. “Thanks,” Joan said as he set it down. Then, to her surprise, he slid into the seat opposite hers.

Her heart stopped. It was Nick.

Thirteen

Nick's hands shot out before Joan could react, clamping around both her wrists. Joan's heart pounded painfully. She heard the catch of her own breath. He looked just the same as he had two nights ago—the night she'd kissed him; the night her family had been murdered. His dark eyes were the same: serious and earnest. Just like when he'd asked her to stay with him.

“Do you remember what I told you the last time I saw you?” he said.

He'd told her he'd kill her if she ever stole time again. A shot of fear went through her. She tested the underside of the table with her knee. It didn't budge, even when she increased the pressure. She glanced at the neighboring table. It was bolted down. She couldn't kick the table over.

Nick looked casually out the window. People were walking past them, dressed for work, in the loose suits of this time. Joan followed his eyes from the window to the security camera above them, to another camera on the other side of the room. “Next time,” he said, still soft, “I'll make sure we're alone.”

“How can you be here?” Joan whispered. But there was
only one way. And like a storm hitting, her shock and fear at seeing him gave way to pure fury. “You're a monster too? After all you did, you're—”

“No!” Nick's jaw tightened. “I'm human.”

“You liar!” Joan said. He was too good at lying. Everything he said was clear-eyed and true. “Only monsters can travel!”

“Only monsters and me. And I travel in a different way.
I
don't steal time.”

“How, then?”

He didn't answer, and Joan shook her head in contempt. She thought about how she'd left Aaron and Ruth back at the market and couldn't believe how cavalier she'd been. If Nick's people found them, they'd be helpless.

Or maybe they were already dead. Maybe everyone at the inn and the market . . . Joan wrenched at her hands. Nick's grip tightened.

“Sorry,” he said. He didn't sound sorry. “I can't let you touch me.”

It was unbearable to be this close to him, to look at his familiar face, his serious eyes. Joan had looked at him so much at the house. She imagined what they must seem like to anyone glancing at them from the outside—a boy holding his girlfriend's hands at lunch. A few days ago, she'd have wanted that so much. Now they both knew that if he loosened his grip, she'd fly for his neck—cameras or not.

One question had been burning in her mind since that night. “Did you know they were my family before you had them killed?”

“No.” Nick's eyes were still clear.

Joan made herself keep going. “Would you have killed them if you'd known?”

Nick didn't hesitate. “Yes.”

It hurt like a physical wound. “We were friends. You and me. We were—” Her voice broke. He'd kissed her. She'd never kissed anyone before. “Why did you have to kill them? Why did you have to?” She could hardly recognize her own voice. The worst of it was that she felt it still—the pull toward him. “I
hate
you,” she said.

This time Nick did hesitate, long enough for Joan to hear his hitched exhale. “I know.”

Joan wanted to kick the table over. She wanted to hurt Nick like he'd hurt her. “You didn't have to kill them!” she said. “You didn't even know them! They were
people
! You're killing
people
!”

“They were stealing time from humans.” His brown eyes were still earnest. “I couldn't allow them to harm anyone else.”

Joan couldn't bear the earnestness. She couldn't bear being on the other side of it. “You killed all those people!” she said. “You didn't even give them a chance!”

And now those solemn eyes hardened. “You're wrong,” he said. “Every monster who died that night had stolen time. Every member of your family. The Olivers. The other families.” His voice went cold. “You know who didn't get a chance? The humans they stole from. All those people on the Tube. The tourists of London. People just walking down the street. Your people prey on them. But not anymore. I won't allow humans to be harmed. We won't be prey.”

He'd never been prey. He'd seemed so vulnerable in the Gilt Room, a boy among monsters, and all that time, he'd been the deadliest thing there.

“Hello,” a cheerful voice said.

Joan jumped, startled. It was a waitress. Joan had almost forgotten that they were in public.

“Ooh, didn't mean to scare you, love.” The waitress had a Welsh accent and kind eyes. She pulled out a notepad and pen. Her name tag was cloud-shaped and said
Donna
. “What would you like?” she said. “We do breakfast all day. Bit of toast? Eggs? Everything on the menu is good except the porridge. Chef did something fancy with grapefruit peel and nutmeg today. I'd avoid it.”

Nick shifted subtly, changing his grip on Joan, making it look more like they were holding hands. His posture changed too, loosening out of dangerous into something gentler. If it hadn't been for the tension in his jaw, the sharpness in his eyes, Joan might have thought he was the Nick she'd known. The volunteer she'd met in the Holland House library. She fought back a pang. That Nick had never existed. Joan was missing someone who'd never been real.

Donna looked at their clasped hands and smiled as if they looked sweet sitting there together. “What can I get you?” she said.

Joan made herself smile back. “Might need a bit longer.” Donna's neck was bare. Joan found herself hunching, wanting to cover her own neck in sympathy. But Donna didn't know
that monsters were real, that another London existed within her own. She didn't know that people could steal life from her just by touching her neck—and that this sweet-seeming boy was capable of a massacre.

“Sorry,” Nick said to Donna apologetically. “I need a minute too.” Sandwiched out of Donna's view, one of his hands had clamped down harder on Joan's wrists, grinding down, almost painful. He thought he was protecting Donna from her, Joan realized, and a wave of anger hit her again.

“All right, then,” Donna said, still cheerful, “I'll be over there. Just give me a yell.”

They watched her walk back to the counter.

“If you touch anyone in this room,” Nick murmured, “I'll risk the cameras.”

Joan dropped all pretense of smiling. “I'm not the one responsible for a massacre.”

Now that Joan had seen a glimpse of the old Nick again, she could see something of him still in this new incarnation. The two Nicks shared a kind of serious quality, a calmness that Joan had found peaceful at the house.

She'd been on a school excursion once to a chapel built in the first century. They'd all been allowed to touch the rough stone wall of it—two thousand years old and still standing. Utterly solid, while everything around it had fallen. Joan had imagined its foundation stretching miles down into the earth. When she'd first met Nick, she'd been oddly reminded of that wall. This new Nick had that quality too, but in him it just felt
like implacability. Now she knew why. He had a mission, and nothing would alter it. He wouldn't stop hunting monsters until every one was dead.

“If you're not here to kill me, then what do you want?” Joan gritted out.

Nick's eyes traveled down her neck. Joan flushed. “That's a nice necklace,” he said.

Joan wrenched at her hands, but it was like tugging at a wall. Nick adjusted his grip so that he was holding her wrists with one hand and then slipped a finger under the chain. He tugged until the pendant slipped out from under Joan's shirt. He made a sound that wasn't quite amused, just a soft huff of air.

“I looked for this at the house,” he said. And Joan remembered the audit he'd been doing—cataloging every object in every room. Joan thought about how Gran had given her the necklace with the last of her strength. She thought about Ying's widening eyes when he'd seen it. “You were looking for this all along,” she said.

“And you had it all along,” Nick said. “I'd never have guessed.” He turned the pendant. His knuckles brushed against Joan's throat. She swallowed involuntarily, and knew he'd felt it when he lifted his eyes to hers. “I never guessed you were a monster,” he said. “I watched over you at the house. I thought I was keeping you safe.” He ran his thumb over the little pendant and his forehead creased. “I never thought you were one of them.”

It hurt unexpectedly. She hadn't even known what monsters
were until that last day with him. “Was it hard killing all those people?” she asked. “Did you feel anything?”

“I did what had to be done,” Nick said. And he was the new Nick completely when he said it, his gaze hard. Dangerous.

“Is that what you tell yourself to sleep at night?” Joan said.

Something flickered over Nick's face.

“Oh, you don't sleep?” she said. “I haven't much either since that night.”

“Where did you find the necklace?” he said.

“What is it?” Joan countered.

He shrugged. “A gold necklace with a charming alphyn pendant. Made in the mid-nineteenth century, I'd guess.”

“What's at the Monster Court?”

His posture stiffened. He pulled the chain gently until he found the clasp. His fingers worked, and then the chain and pendant were in his palm. They disappeared into his pocket. When he pulled his hand out again, he had a knife.

Joan's breath caught.

“I told you,” Nick said. “I won't kill you here.”

“You should,” Joan whispered.

Nick tilted his head.

“I'm going to come after you,” Joan promised. “I'm going to stop you from killing anyone else. I'm going to kill
you
.” She'd never imagined she'd say those words to anyone—let alone Nick. She'd never imagined they could be true. She felt as though she were squeezing her own heart in her fist.

Nick's hand tightened for a moment over Joan's wrists. Then
he released her, slowly. He stood, knife ready if she attacked. When she didn't, he stepped back.

Joan gripped the edge of the table so that she wouldn't be tempted to try anything now.

“I mean it,” she said. “You're dead.”

He gave her his familiar solemn smile, the one that he'd given her all the time at the house. “Aren't we all,” he said. “Somewhere on the timeline.”

BOOK: Only a Monster
12.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Devilish Montague by Rice, Patricia
The Proposal by Lori Wick
Certainty by Eileen Sharp
Punk Like Me by JD Glass