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
"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
"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."
"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
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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