Read An Extract from The Fearman:

The house stood back from the pavement, behind a low wall with an iron railing on top of it. There was a wrought iron gate between brick pillars. Behind it a thick mulch of rubbish had gathered: sweet wrappers, squashed cans, old take-away cartons, scraps of newspaper, all mingled in a dusty stew. Elsa was standing, gazing intently through the railings.
"What are you looking at?"
"The house," said my sister calmly.
I stared at it with her. I thought I'd rarely seen a house that looked so dead. It was like a road-killed rabbit that someone had kicked into the verge, lying there unburied and slowly sinking into the dirt. I could imagine how damp and dark it would be, in those rooms behind the tree branches. In the front hall there'd be a pile of mouldy junk mail. When you shoved the door open, a chill smell of murk and decay would waft out to meet you. I knew about houses like this. Since Dad died and we'd been on the move, we'd had to take whatever accommodation we could find: hard-to-rent flats with fungus on the kitchen walls, places that were barely habitable. But an empty house always has a kind of promise. I knew that Elsa was thinking the same as me -that we'd like to get inside and spook around the empty rooms, poke in the cupboards; maybe find some treasure or mystery there. However, the house might not even be empty. There was a rag of yellow lace curtain in one upstairs window, and someone had been using the gate recently. You could see the mark it had grooved in the rubbish on the path inside.
" Maybe it's haunted, " I suggested.
" I know it is, Andrei, " answered Elsa, "This is definitely a haunted house."
Elsa wasn't exactly a normal seven year old. The life we'd led had made her into a strange mixture, believing in childish things like ghosts and magic, but somehow not in a childish way. I was never sure how to take it: was she serious or not? I didn't want to encourage her, so I moved over to examine the pillars on either side of the gate. They had been faced with something to make them look like stone. The stuff had flaked away in raggedy scales like cement dandruff. I picked up a sharp-edged piece and started to scrape at the capstone on the left-hand pillar. The way the crust of dirt came off, like a scab from a cut, made me feel slightly sick. But it was something to do.
"What are you poking at?"
"There's some lettering here, I want to find out what it says."
I scraped out an 'R', and part of an 'E' -or maybe an 'L'; and then an 'F'. The rest was gone beyond recall. I moved over to the other post, and had better luck. " N " I said, digging out the grooves. "O.. C..." I suddenly had a feeling that someone in the house was watching me. I looked up. I could have sworn I saw that old lace curtain twitch.
"You shouldn't do that. You might activate something."
The curtain didn't move again. I gave up my excavation, because I'd spotted a rather weird object lying in the grunge. It was a lump about the size of a hen's egg, but fleshy dark pink and slightly nubbly, like a human tongue. It looked like a piece of some animal's insides. Maybe somebody had dropped a raw kidney or a chicken heart here, on the way back from the butcher's. But it looked stranger than that, and even more disgusting. Elsa came to look. " Don't touch it, " she said. "I think that's a guarding device."
"What ?"
"A kind of magic burglar alarm," she explained, as if she knew all about it. "A guarding device is when you make something that keeps watch when you're not there. Don't touch it. You shouldn't even look at it, or you'll set off the alarm."
Sometimes I felt I had to make a stand against Elsa's weirdness. I deliberately poked the chicken-heart egg with the toe of my shoe. It rolled a little, and came to rest against a decayed fragment of hamburger carton. Nothing happened. But I'd leaned against the gate, and it swung open. Elsa and I looked at each other: with the same thought.
"You've done it now, " she whispered. "We might as well go in."
I glanced down the road. Mum and Max were sitting on the bench inside the bus shelter. I couldn't hear but I could see that Max was talking to her. They looked all right... It was getting late. There was a shadow in the daylight: a still, cold, waiting-for-darkness feel in the air. There was nobody in sight, except for Mum and Max. And there was no sign of a bus looming over the horizon. I shrugged.
"Okay, just for a minute."
It was as if the house had invited us.
The dirt on the front steps was caked hard. It didn't give underfoot. I was glad we wouldn't leave footprints. I tried to peer through the windows, but it was too dark in there. I could only see the branches of the tree, reflected in the glass. Elsa inspected the front door. There was a blackened metal number: 2121; and a letterbox, with a brass knocker that had become congealed to the frame. There was a door knob too. I thought of trying it, to see if the door was locked. But of course it must be. "Shall we knock?" I said, joking. The house was surely empty. Close up, it was more dead than ever, and creepy as an abandoned graveyard. The impulse that had brought me through the gate had vanished. But since we were here, I had to do something. I pushed the flap of the letterbox. It gave way, crustily: I bent down and peered in. "What can you see?" demanded Elsa.
There was the gloomy, narrow hall. A pile of junk mail and old newspapers lay festering on the floor, just as I'd imagined it. There was another of those chicken-heart egg things, lying on the damp envelopes. At first I thought I might be mistaken. The hall was pretty gloomy, but I've always had good night vision. I could see the pinkish lump clearly. Then I thought I saw it move... I jumped back. The flap snapped shut.
"What did you see? What did you see ?"
"Nothing. This is stupid." I couldn't believe I'd really seen what I thought I saw. "Come on, out of it, Else. We're trespassing."
She gave me one of her looks -the eye-rolling, disgusted-old-lady expression- and shoved the letterbox open...

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