Conor and his father go for pizza at a restaurant. Conor is confused when his father, Liam, refers to him as “champ.” He tells his father that his voice gets funnier every time they talk. Liam says American English is almost an entirely different language. The two discuss Conor meeting his American half-sister at Christmas. Conor rambles quickly about the tree that’s been visiting him until he suddenly says he doesn’t want to live with Grandma. He says he’d rather live in America with Liam. Liam says there isn’t much space at his house; plus Conor has friends here. Liam says he knows it sounds unfair but Conor is going to have to be brave. They agree to talk about again once Conor’s mother is better.
Upon returning to Grandma’s, Liam says he is only staying a few days because Americans don’t get much holiday time. Liam says they’ll see each other again when Conor visits for Christmas though. Conor angrily leaves the car and enters the quiet house. Inside he pushes the expensive settee and is satisfied when it gouges the floor. He spots the clock over the mantlepiece and grabs the swinging pendulum, stalling the mechanism. Drops of sweat gather on his forehead, and he is reminded of his nightmare. The clock breaks and Conor’s stomach seizes as he realizes what he’s done. Then he notices the hands are stopped at 12:07. He spins around to see the monster stuffed into the sitting room. The monster says the destruction is the sort it would expect from a boy. It says it is there to tell the second tale, which is about a man who thought only of himself and was very, very badly punished.
The monster says that one hundred and fifty years ago the country was a place of industry: factories grew like weeds on the landscape and the rivers and sky turned black with pollution. People lived on the earth rather than within it. The monster fills the sitting room with mist that transports Conor and the monster to a green field overlooking a valley of metal and brick. An Apothecary lived on the edge of the green. The Apothecary grew bitter as the landscape became more industrial because he needed to walk further to find the leaves and herbs for his ancient medicines and rash treatments. The Apothecary had always been bitter and charged more than most could afford to pay. Villagers began to seek modern remedies.
The monster says a parson (i.e. a Protestant clergy member) lived with his two daughters in the village. The girls would run around the trunk of the yew tree in their yard, which is the same yard as Conor’s. The Apothecary wanted the yew tree because it is an important healing tree that lives for thousands of years. The leaves, bark, berries, sap, pulp, and wood burn and twist with life, and these materials in the hands of the right Apothecary can cure any ailment. But the parson did not allow the Apothecary anywhere near the tree, and he preached against the Apothecary's use of old, backward ways, making the Apothecary lose more business.
Then an infection swept the countryside. When prayers and modern remedies did nothing, the parson’s daughters wasted away and approached death. The parson told the Apothecary he would give him the yew tree and preach sermons in the Apothecary’s favor if the Apothecary would save his daughters. The Apothecary said if the parson would give up everything he believed in, there was nothing he could do to help. Conor is shocked to hear the story’s turn of events. The monster says that night the parson’s daughters died and the yew tree went walking: it tore the parson’s home from its foundations. The monster flung his roof into the valley and knocked the walls down with its fists. Conor angrily tells the monster that the Apothecary was the bad guy for refusing to help heal the parson’s daughters. The monster says the parson was willing to destroy the Apothecary when times were easy but was willing to throw aside all of his beliefs if it would save his daughters.
Conor asks what the monster expected the parson to do and the monster says it expected the parson to give the Apothecary the yew tree when he first asked. Even though the yew tree would have been chopped down, the tree would have saved the parson’s daughters and many other villagers. As greedy as the Apothecary was, he was a healer, whereas the parson was nothing: for a man who lived on belief, he was willing to sacrifice all belief at the first challenge. His selfish and fearful form of belief took the lives of his daughters. The monster asks if Conor would like to join in the destruction of the parson’s house. The monster steps into the scene and takes commands from Conor in knocking over parts of the house’s furniture until the structure is torn down. The monster says that is how destruction is properly done. Suddenly they are back in Grandma’s sitting room. Conor sees that he has destroyed every inch of the room.
Conor looks at his scratched and bloodied hands. Every object is broken and splintered. Conor considers running to somewhere Grandma could never find him. He thinks his father will never allow him to live in a home with a baby after he learns what Conor has done. Just then Conor hears Grandma’s key in the lock. She takes in the destruction and then groans—“a single ongoing horrible groan”—before screaming in a way that frightens Conor more than he has ever been frightened.
She steps into the room and grabs the display cabinet, the only thing still upright in the room. She tips it over and the cabinet crashes to the floor. She doesn’t look at Conor as she goes straight to her bedroom and quietly shuts the door. Conor works through the night moving the mess into trash bags. At dawn he gives up. As he passes Grandma’s room, he sees light under the door and hears her weeping.
Conor stands alone in the schoolyard as other kids go about their lives as though nothing is wrong. Lily avoids eye contact with Conor. When Harry, Sully, and Anton walk over, Conor feels weak with relief. The narrator comments that earlier that morning Conor’s father was at Grandma’s house and made him breakfast. Liam explained that Grandma is at the hospital because Conor’s mother had taken a turn for the worse, and that he would pick Conor up after school and take him to see her. Conor did not have an appetite, and he apologized for destroying the sitting room. Liam said they were going to pretend it never happened because other things were going on. Conor was confused that he wasn’t going to be punished. Liam asks what could be the point in punishing him.
At school, no teachers told Conor off for not participating. Classmates kept their distance. Now, finally, Harry is here, and Conor feels normal. But Harry doesn’t punch Conor, even when Conor tells him to just do it. The bell rings and Miss Kwan walks across the schoolyard. The boys go inside, leaving Conor alone against the wall. Only Harry looks back at Conor, and Conor feels like he is invisible to the rest of the world.
During Conor and his father’s awkward reunion conversation at the pizza restaurant, Ness provides further context to Conor’s isolation: Because Conor’s father has been living abroad for six years and has started a new family, Conor does not feel a strong connection to his father and so is unable to share his grief. However, the conversation is significant because Ness shows the first hint that Conor understands his mother is going to die when Conor asks his father if he can live with him. Until this point, Conor has refused to accept that he might have to live with anyone other than his mother.
By showing this momentary break in Conor’s denial, Ness introduces the theme of cognitive dissonance—i.e. a psychological state of having inconsistent beliefs, attitudes, or thoughts. Conor is able to uphold the belief that his mother is going to get better while simultaneously knowing the deeper truth that tells him she will not survive. The theme will gain greater relevance toward the end of the novel when the monster makes Conor confront his seemingly contradictory thoughts and explains to Conor that his apparently inconsistent attitudes are perfectly understandable.
The theme of anger arises abruptly when Conor reacts to his father’s unwillingness to include Conor in his new life in America. Conor takes out his anger on his grandmother’s sitting room, attacking the hands of an antique clock. In this moment, Ness plays with the established motif of the monster’s arrival time by revealing the clock's hands have stopped on 12:07. On cue, the monster appears in the room to tell the second tale. Coincidentally, the tale—an allegory about selfishness—also involves destruction.
Like the first tale, the monster sets up Conor to sympathize with the apparently good parson and resent the selfish Apothecary. However, the monster again subverts Conor’s expectations by revealing that the selfish man who deserves punishment is in fact the parson. As in the first tale, the story’s twist perplexes Conor, prompting the monster to explain that the parson selfishly pilloried the Apothecary in his sermons and then was willing to sacrifice everything he claimed to believe when he needed the Apothecary’s help. Building on the theme of characters being somewhere between good and bad, the monster tells Conor that the Apothecary was at least an effective healer, even if he was bitter and greedy.
Although Conor is skeptical of the monster’s lesson, he finds satisfaction in directing the monster to destroy the parson’s house. But in an instance of situational irony, Conor realizes he has destroyed his grandmother’s sitting room in the process. The irony continues as Conor receives no punishment from his grandmother or father, who believe it would be needlessly cruel to punish him when he is already dealing with the grim spectacle of watching his mother die. The lack of punishment, however, leads Conor to feel even more isolated. He feels invisible at school; ironically, the only person who sees him is his bully.