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Extract - The Visitors by Catherine Burns

The time is nearly here ... The Visitors is out on 3rd October.

Like a white bird, the scream flew up from the depths of the cellar, then became trapped inside Marion’s head. As it flapped its wings against the inside of her skull, she wondered how it had got through three floors of the big strong house to her dusty little room in the attic? If the scream managed to reach her, surely it could find a way to someone else: Judith next door or old Mr Weinberg opposite, who liked to walk his little Pomeranian dog along Grange Road in the small hours. 

Lying on her side made her hip bone ache, so she turned onto her back, but this position strained her knees. The sheets had wriggled to the bottom of the bed, so the woollen blankets scratched her skin, but when she pushed the blankets off, she was freezing cold. She tried to stop herself from wondering what had caused the person to scream and what it might be like down in the cellar in the middle of the night. Don’t think about it, she warned herself, or you’ll go mad, just like Great Aunt Phyllis. They’ll send you to one of those places with bars on the windows, and you’ll have to eat your dinner with
a plastic spoon. 

Then she heard Mother’s voice: John is doing what is best for them; you have to trust him—he is your brother and a very clever person, an Oxford graduate, no less. If you can’t trust John, your only living family, then who can you trust? But what if Judith or Mr. Weinberg did hear the scream? What if someone called the police and they came to the house in the night? Would they bang on the door and wait for
someone to answer, or just knock it down and come right in? Would they be dragged from their beds? You heard people say that sometimes: “They dragged them from their beds in the middle of the night.” But surely the police allowed a person time to get up and get dressed, didn’t they? Perhaps you ought to have something decent ready just in case, suggested Mother. Those baggy black trousers with
the jam stain on the knee and that scruffy brown jumper you dropped on the floor before getting into bed would hardly do. 

While she and her brother were taken off to the police cells, the home she had lived in all her life would be ripped apart in search of evidence. The thought of strangers running around the house horrified her. What would they think of all the mess? The mould on the bathroom wall, all those broken appliances that John refused to let her throw away, yet never got round to repairing, the tins of food piled in the kitchen, and years and years of newspapers blocking the hall? And that Tupperware container on the top shelf of the fridge, the one full of black slime and greenyblue fur; she wasn’t even sure what it had in it to begin with, and now she was too frightened to open it. If I weren’t already dead, I would die from shame that you let things get into such a state, added Mother. 

She saw herself on the front page of a newspaper (Marion had never taken a good photo; even in her eighteenth-birthday portrait she looked like a matron of forty), that frizzy brown hair sticking out in all directions like a madwoman’s, all the world judging her. What would Judith say? That she had always thought Marion and her brother were odd? And Lydia? The shame of Lydia finding out about all of this would be too much to bear.

“It won’t happen, Marion. Nobody heard the scream. Nobody’s coming. Who’d be looking for them anyway?” said Neil, holding her in his arms and stroking the hysterical hair. 

“But they will, if not tonight, then another night,” replied Marion.“And no one will understand that John only wants to help them.”
 

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