From striking new voice Simon P. Clark comes Tell the Story to Its End; richly atmospheric, moving, unsettling, and told in gorgeous prose, it is a modern classic in the making.
"Tell the story to its end," says Eren with a grin.
His yellow eyes are glowing like embers in the night.
"When I reach the end," I say, "what happens? You'll have the whole story."
"Hmm," he says, looking at me and licking his lips with a dry, grey tongue. "What happens then? Why don't we find out?"
People are keeping secrets from Oli. His mum has brought him to stay with his aunt and uncle in the countryside, but nobody will tell him why his dad isn't there, too. Why hasn't he come with them? Has something happened? Why won't anyone talk about it? Oli has a hundred questions, and only an old, empty house in the middle of an ancient forest for answers. But then he finds a secret of his own: there is a creature that lives in the attic...
Eren is not human.
Eren is hungry for stories.
Eren has been waiting for him.
With Eren to listen, Oli starts to make sense of what's happening. But Eren is powerful, and though he's willing to help Oli, he's not willing to do it for free; he wants something in return. Oli must make a choice: he can learn the truth -- but to do so he must abandon himself to Eren's world, forever.
“Savvy readers and would-be writers will love this exploration of story as an art form, a panacea, and an endless part of life.” - Kirkus Reviews
“Clark does an admirable job of conveying Oli’s wonder, confusion, and frustration as he strays farther and farther from reality... Adeptly mixes fantasy with reality.” - Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Simon P. Clark is a founding member of We Are One Four bringing together UK&US authors with MG/YA debuts, in order to promote one another's work and spread awareness. He grew up in England, has taught English in Japan, and now lives in New Jersey. Tell the Story to Its End is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
Tell the Story to Its End
By Simon P. Clark, Ellie Denwood
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Simon P. Clark
All rights reserved.
'Tell the story to its end,' says Eren with a grin. His yellow eyes are glowing like embers in the night.
'When I reach the end,' I say, 'what happens? You'll have the whole story.'
'Pff!' he laughs. 'Have it? Have it and own it? Boy,' he says, 'I am the whole story.'
'Then what happens if I tell you the last bit?'
'When you tell me, you mean. What happens then?'
I nod. He's huge. There's no attic now, no window, no lights. Just Eren. Eren, and nothing after that.
He's thinking about something and he smiles. 'Hmm,' he says, looking at me and licking his lips with a dry, grey tongue. 'What happens then? Why don't we find out?'
Somewhere in my stomach I feel cold and sad. I'm lonely, but the story goes on.
'There were things you missed,' he says. 'Eh? Weren't there? Stick with those feelings. The sadness. The hunger. The bump, bump, bump of confusions and hurtings! Oh, boy! Oh, yes. Stick with them. They're good. I like those ones. The dark ones. The real ones. Let me hear those. Tell me 'bout that.'
I nod. 'Dark ones?'
'Tell me.' He leans forward, eager, like a child that can't hold back.
I think there's a way out of here. I'm not sure yet. I have an idea, a flicker of something there in my mind.
Well, what's left of my mind.
I think there might be a way. Eren would never tell me, but if you go into a room, there has to be a door, right? Maybe I can leave. Maybe Eren knows that.
He needs me more than he says.
I start to talk, and I hear my voice in the blackness. What am I saying? I hear my voice. 'I remember the moon. It was bright and slim. It looked like a knife in the sky ...'
He licks his lips and laughs and listens.
The moon was bright and slim as a knife, a scratch of light in the sky. It glinted off the water on the road. Clump, clump, clump. Another jolt, another bump. I reached forward to squeeze Mum's hand. 'What a ride!'
She smiled and nodded. She didn't want to talk. 'Yeah. Quite a ride. Can't be long now, though. There soon, I'm sure. There soon.'
I fogged the window with my breath. Moonlight was shining off the branches of the trees outside. Mum always hated travelling. Anything was better than this road, all rocks and grass and puddles and nothing like London. She was clinging to the seat so hard that her knuckles had turned white. The forest went on and on. It was huge, black, all pine trees and shadows stretching up from the road and rolling over the horizon, crashing into the sky.
'Not long now,' she said again.
'Not that either,' said our driver, and he slowed the car right down. Mr Pugh smelled of smoke and sang songs while he drove, all under his breath with a grin spread wide on his face. I heard him muttering in his croaky voice, 'Easy, now! Whoa, whoa! Steady, gal,' talking to the car like it was a horse.
I looked back out the window, searching around. The trees were clearing away and I could make out the lights of a village ahead. Ever seen the way light catches on fish when they splash and jump in water? They looked like that, the houses and everything, all sitting in the valley, shining out, blinking at the night sky.
'We're on the last stretch now, ma'am,' said Mr Pugh, 'so I'd think, eh, ten minutes, give or take. Should be less bumpy from now.'
'Thank you, Mr Pugh,' said Mum, and she sighed with relief. Her cheeks were flushing red. She turned in her seat to face me, smiled again and winked. 'Soon there, he said! Better get your scarf on, Oli, it's a cold night. Can you believe it's July? If it gets much worse it'll kill the poor flowers.'
I pressed my nose against the glass. I made myself not think of London, not think of everything I'd miss. I stared into the night, just stared and stared and waited. I could feel every flinch of Mum's hands.
'There's, like, no buildings,' I said.
'Ha! No tall buildings, perhaps. You're spoiled in the city, Oli. Coxborough is big enough. And you get to meet Rob at last. And see how the house looks.'
My Uncle Rob and his tiny country town. I'd never been here, never met him before, never even heard his voice on the phone, but suddenly here we were, on the way to my grandmother's house. Our new home, Mum had said. For now. I'd heard about the fun she'd had there growing up, about the games and the food and the light, and then about Gran's sickness, and the quiet and the dust and the sadness. It'd been empty for years, but Uncle Rob had moved back in, to build a life and make things better.
'Ah, it's been too long! I really wish we'd brought you out here before. If only your father would just —' She stopped and tutted and looked away.
'When's Dad coming?'
Mum sucked in her breath and sat up. 'Soon! Honestly, where's your spirit of adventure?'
I knew I was supposed to be excited. I sat back again and let my mind wander.
* * *
I jumped out of the car as soon as we stopped. Mr Pugh got out slowly and walked around to Mum's side, nodding a little as he gave her his hand to climb out. He winked at me and touched his hat. 'Ey up, little master!' he said. The wind whipped around us, and for a moment we all just stood and stared up at the house. It was huge. Three floors of wood and stone, black sets of windows covering the front, small, smoking chimneys jutting out of the top. I raised my eyebrows as I craned my neck right back.
Mum laughed, then shivered. 'Just as I remember. The same door – my word, the same paint! Nothing changes.' The front door was red, a fantastic, mad red, with a faded silver knocker shaped like a cat in the centre. She looked down at me with a smile.
'Well, come on then, inside with us! Mr Pugh, could you get the first bags?' She pulled her shawl over her shoulders as we walked up the front steps. Mum tapped the door with the back of her hand three times. She stamped her feet on the mat. 'Can't make his own family wait too long, can he?'
There was a sound from inside, a rush of paws and a small, excited bark, then a thump on the inside of the door. Mum sighed. 'He's still got that thing, then.'
'I like dogs,' I said. The dog barked and scratched at the other side of the door.
'Jasper!' came a deep, sudden shout. 'Jasper, down, boy! No clawing!' More noise, of tapping feet and a small scuffle nearby, and then with a tiny creak the door opened wide. The man standing in the hallway was holding the door with one hand, and gripping the dog with the other.
'Judy!' he beamed, smiling at Mum as he pulled Jasper back.
'Robert, it's been so long,' she said, kissing him on the cheek and bending forward to look at the dog. 'Still keeping bad company, I see.'
The man grinned and rubbed his head with his free hand. He was taller than Mum, but with the same dark hair, the same brown eyes. 'You know how it is, I get attached. And this ...!' he said, turning his eyes to me, 'this is my nephew! It must be. He looks just like me, but much more handsome. Oli, right?'
'Nice to meet you, Uncle Robert,' I said. He shook my hand and laughed loudly as Jasper pulled against his collar, trying to lick us. Mum rolled her eyes and stepped into the house.
'Don't make us wait out here in the cold, Rob.'
'I've done enough waiting of my own, you know,' he said. 'But you're both welcome here for as long as —'
'As long as we can,' said Mum. 'Busy days, you know how it is ...'
'Well,' said Rob. 'All back together again, now.'
'Together. Yes ...' said Mum. She snapped her head up. 'Mr Pugh's getting the bags. Help him, would you, Rob?'
'Certainly, ma'am!' said Uncle Robert, clicking his heels together and saluting at a funny angle.
As soon as he was free Jasper jumped up at Mum, crouched down, sniffed her skirt. 'Come on, Oli,' she said, calling me in. She laid her hand on my shoulder and led me down the corridor. 'Let me show you your bedroom.'
* * *
That first night was hard. The dreams were rough. I faded in and out of sleep, running from shadows and noise. I heard Mum's voice drifting through the house, and a telephone ring, and a sob, and raised voices. It was later that Uncle Rob looked round the door, and stood for a moment when he thought I was asleep. 'Poor lad,' he said, 'and bad times.'
I frowned and ignored him and fell back asleep. I dreamed, and something shifted, maybe, somewhere in the dark.CHAPTER 2
He laughed the first time I told him that nobody believes in fairy tales.
'You think stories are lies?' he asked.
'They're not, then?'
'Ha! Spittle-mouse. Shows what you know.'
We looked at each other, me and Eren. He grinned and rustled his wings. 'I'm hungry,' he said. 'I need a story.'
'Tell me one then.'
He cocked his head to one side and chuckled. 'That's not how I work. I'm hungry. Behave!'
I shivered in the wind. The open window showed the town below, and the forest that stretched over the hills. The moon was the yellow of butter. 'I don't know any good stories, still,' I said.
He smiled, let his eyebrows jump up and down on his forehead, clicked his teeth. 'I can wait.'
'Till the end,' he said. 'What did you think? Till the end, of course.'
A knock on the door woke me up the next day. I groaned, annoyed at being disturbed. I rubbed my eyes and peered out from under the duvet. Aunt Bekah came in, carrying a mug of tea. 'Morning, slugger,' she whispered, moving over to the bed and putting the tea down on the side table. 'Thought you'd need this. How're you doing? Good sleep?'
We'd met briefly the evening before. She was pretty, I guess, for an aunt. She had black hair pulled back in a ponytail and she smiled even when she wasn't talking. I liked her. Rob had introduced us with a big grin on his face. 'My pride and joy, my angel!' he'd said. 'The only sane one here!'
I sat up in bed and stretched my legs out. 'Morning.'
'Best not sleep in too long. Your mum needs you around right now.'
'Why, what's up?' I said. 'She sick?' Mum really hated travelling. It always did this to her.
'Sick? No, no – I just meant, 'cause your dad isn't here.'
We stared at each other for just a second.
I bent my wrist back and forth and sat up more. The leaves outside rustled and hissed in the breeze. 'He had to stay in London. He had something to sort out at work. He's coming soon, though,' I said.
She tilted her head to one side. She was playing with her hair, twisting it round her fingers. I could smell her shampoo. It smelled good.
'Yes, your mum said as much. So, he's staying. Right.'
'For a bit,' I said.
She smiled again, showing more teeth, and walked out. I fell back into the pillows.
Uncle Rob was waiting at breakfast. Bowls of steaming porridge were already on the table. 'Oli!' he said, clearing his throat with a fist to his mouth.
I wasn't in a talking mood. I sat down.
'I know everything is new, right now,' said Rob. 'You'll be back in London before you know it. Just think of this as a holiday.'
I stopped staring at my bowl and looked at him. A treat, Mum had called it. She said it would be fun. We just took off. I never even told my mates.
'We had to leave pretty quickly,' I said. 'I didn't bring much stuff.' I stirred the porridge with my spoon.
'Whatever clothes or books you need, we can buy them here. It's not such a dead place, Oli!'
Neither of us spoke for a bit. Uncle Robert drank coffee. It smelled bitter and strong. I ate some porridge, and nibbled at a sausage. At home Mum normally gave me cereal.
'Do you know when Dad's coming?' I asked.
Rob frowned. 'No,' he said. 'But you mustn't upset your mother by being sad that he's not here. Right?'
I looked at him. 'Sure,' I said.
'Hey, you're going to be fine,' he said. 'Lots of things to do. Explore the town, if you want. You saw the forest on the drive up here? There's a good place for a lad to roam around. The house is in pretty good order. Not like in your gran's day, but ... yes, it's going well. It's good to have a youngster around again.'
He pushed his chair out and picked up the papers. 'And I'm here if ... well. Yes. I'm just here.'
That was how it was done. I was part of the house now, with Mum, and Bekah, and Jasper the badly trained dog. We unpacked our cases, fitting clothes into the wardrobes Rob could spare. Our toothbrushes went in a cup in the bathroom. Mum's books lay on the tables, spilling down the stairs and into the hall. Our stuff reached out and filled the house.
* * *
Mum was with Bekah in the garden, sipping tea, feeding breadcrumbs to birds, chatting about Bekah's paintings. After a while she sat back, humming in the sunlight, resting like some giant cat.
'So how long we here for?' I asked.
'Not now, Oli, love. Not now.'
Back inside, Uncle Rob was playing the piano. The misty notes rose up, gliding through the air, dissolving away. I found a pack of cards and built a flimsy house on the rough carpet. The jacks were all missing, and the queen of hearts.
Mum came in. She watched me.
'It's a beautiful day!' she said. 'The air's so fresh compared to London. Want to head to the park?'
'Who with? I don't know anyone here.'
'Oh, Oli ...' A clock rang out for eleven o'clock. From a window by the piano I could see the garden and the wind chimes that rustled and shone.
'You mustn't mope,' said Mum. 'It's not all about just you.'
'How come we never came here before?'
'Oh, Oli, for goodness' sake. You know how busy your father and I are. We haven't had time. Now we do. You should be glad to get to know Rob. It took guts to move back here. Lots of memories. By the end, your gran was ... she was weak. Rob did lots of caring for her. You give him time, OK?'
'It's not him,' I said. 'He's cool. But I'm bored. This —'
'No,' she said, cutting me off. 'No complaining. Grow up a bit, Oli, and just ... just cope, for now, OK? Just ... for me,' she added softly. I opened my mouth, stopped, and nodded.
'We're here for a holiday in the countryside,' she said. 'A nice, relaxing break.'
* * *
I explored. Downstairs the rooms were busy and small, filled with books and photos and tables and junk, bits and pieces from other people's lives; old, dull plates and mad, colourful paintings. Uncle Rob had given them names: the music room, the drawing room, the library, mostly as jokes to amuse himself. He kept one room without a name. The nothing room. It was dusty and empty and unheated, left without any stuff in. 'I never draw in my drawing room,' he said, 'but sometimes I do do nothing in my nothing room. It's really quite relaxing.'
Upstairs only had four rooms: Robert and Bekah's, Mum's, mine and a spare. Mine was the smallest, but it still beat what I was used to in London. That was good at least. Out of the window, which was tall and thin, like a glass pillar set into the wall, I could see the forest. The hills went up, away from the town, so the pine trees came to a peak far up in the sky and looked like a wave ready to break and crush the house. On that first night I'd kept the curtains pulled open wide and sat with my head on the glass, just staring up at the stars. In London you can't really see stars any more – all the city lights wash them away like paint being dipped in water – but the stars in that window were huge and clear, crowded together above me, flickering like candles, on and off, on and off, all night. I felt almost impossibly small.
The house had a third floor as well.
That was where I found him.
Uncle Robert showed me how to get up to the attic. You had to open a hatch cut out in the ceiling of my bedroom with a special hooked stick, then draw down a ladder. 'Good for catching beasties!' he laughed, pulling a face like a gargoyle.
Mum was standing in the doorway, watching and resting her hand on Jasper. 'I still don't see why you're going up,' she said, scratching at Jasper's forehead. He looked happy with that.
'Come on, Judy, the boy wants to explore! It's a good house for that. You must remember when we were littler.'
'Younger, perhaps,' said Mum. 'There's nothing up there, though. Nothing but dust and cobwebs, I'll bet. Seems like a lot of hassle. Messy hassle.'
'A lot of hassle? Heavens above, Judy. How old're you, Oli?'
'Twelve,' I said. I watched him hook the ladder.
Uncle Robert nodded triumphantly and patted my shoulder. 'Exactly. Twelve-year-old boys must explore the attic of any house they're in. It's a rule. Like, trousers should have their knees worn out within a single year. Or ... brushing your teeth is important, but only when other people tell you to.'
'Rob,' sighed Mum, and she scratched Jasper harder. He looked like he liked that, too.
'It's fine, Mum,' I said. 'I promise to brush my teeth. Uncle Robert said that from up here you can look out and see the road stretching down to London. Said you used to do it all the time when —'
Uncle Robert coughed nervously, the stick in his hands hanging in the air. His back went tense, and he turned to Mum. She looked at him coldly. 'It's just a saying, eh, Oli,' said Rob. 'You'd not really be able to see London.'
'I know,' I said, 'I'm not stupid. I just —'
'No one needs anything from London, for now,' said Mum, patting Jasper away with the back of her hand. 'The road doesn't need watching.'
'I know,' I said again. 'I just want to see what's there.'
Excerpted from Tell the Story to Its End by Simon P. Clark, Ellie Denwood. Copyright © 2014 Simon P. Clark. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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