I’m delighted to be joining the blogtour for John Marrs’ latest book Keep It In The Family, which I was lucky enough to read in it’s earliest stages last year. You can read my thoughts here.
Below is an exclusive extract to tempt you..
THIRTY-NINE YEARS EARLIER
I pluck up the courage to make my move and begin my ascent of the staircase. I know this route well so I avoid every creaky floorboard.
Keeping an arm’s length from the door I’ve been approaching, I lower myself to my knees and freeze when they crack like the snapping of dry twigs. If I’ve been heard and the handle turns, I’m done for. Such a violation of the rules could place me inside the room next time.
Even knowing the stakes, I can’t stop myself from wanting to be out here, close to the action.
When I’ve convinced myself it’s safe, I lie my whole body down before the door. My warm cheek presses against the cold floorboards until eventually I hear him. His voice is more muffled and muted than it was this morning. Then, he was banging on the floor with his fists and feet, his screams and pleas to be set free bouncing off the walls and ceiling. This didn’t last for long, as he rapidly fell silent when they stormed up the stairs to confront him.
Now I’m squinting so hard at the gap under the door that my eyes burn. It’s daylight outside but shadowy in there, so the curtains must be drawn. A pointless precaution, as no other structures look down upon this one. Outside lies only a private, walled garden and a modest orchard of cooking-apple trees. A disused farmyard separates us from the nearest neighbour a quarter of a mile up the road.
Eventually, I make out a pair of bare feet. His soles are arched but they’re not connecting with the floor, so he must be standing on his tiptoes. He is likely being held upright by the rope attached to the ceiling hook. They must’ve loosened his gag, as I can just about make out words such as ‘home’ and ‘let me go’. His desperation will delight them.
He isn’t the first to be caught in their web and he won’t be the last. Most of them beg for mercy but they are all wasting their time. There will be no change of heart because there never is. No one under this roof believes in compassion. Empathy is an alien emotion here.
My thoughts drift from him to them. Theirs is a mismatched partnership, yet they’re made for one another. Only together can they be their true selves. Outside in the real world, where they have no control over their environment, they are forced to adapt and perform. They are quiet and unassuming and I expect most people forget who they are soon after crossing paths with them. They get away with what they do by hiding in plain sight and by being ordinary. Nobody sees in them what I see because they have no reason to look. Only I notice the hollowness of their eyes.
A dry cough within the room jolts me back to attention, swiftly followed by desperate, choking gasps for air. Then a shaft of light appears inside and my previously splintered view coheres: he’s balancing on the tips of his toenails. But even in the face of certainty, he doesn’t give up. ‘Please,’ he pants. ‘Don’t do this.’ He is more persistent than I gave him credit for.
Like those before him, he holds on to the hope of a miracle. He doesn’t realise that to them, he is not human. He is an everyday, ten-a-penny object. And it doesn’t really matter how carelessly you treat an everyday object, because if it breaks, it is easily replaced. That’s what will happen to him. It might take them weeks or months, but eventually, another one just like him will come along. One always does.
The rustling of a plastic bag tells me they have all but finished playing with him. Then in one swift manoeuvre, his feet leave the floor and vanish upwards, as if the angels have carried him away to heaven. They haven’t, of course. This is a place even angels avoid. A violently thrashing sound follows, accompanied by more rustling and muffled cries, before the room falls silent.
Now all that remains is a thin veil of cigarette smoke seeping under the door.
It’s my cue to leave. I rise as slowly and silently as I arrived, pad along the corridor until I reach my room, and close the door behind me. I’m lying on my bed with an open book in my hands when, soon after, they approach my door.
She is the first to speak, a sing-song inflection in her voice. ‘You can come out now,’ she chirps. She is only ever this upbeat in the aftermath.
When I don’t reply, the footsteps stop. My door slowly opens and both are standing in the doorway. His hair is ruffled and there’s a deep-red lipstick mark on his neck. She wears the same satisfied expression as when she has taken the first puff from a cigarette. ‘Did you hear me?’ she asks.
‘Yes,’ I reply and muster a disingenuous smile. ‘Sorry.’
She regards me for a moment before they move on, leaving the door ajar, and I return to the book I’m not reading.
Once I am sure they have returned to the ground floor, my morbid curiosity urges me to return to the room. It wants me to look under the door again and locate his body because I’ve never seen what they do when they have no more use for them. I’ve imagined it though. Frequently. However, I talk myself out of going. No, I think, I’ve pushed my luck enough today and the reward isn’t worth the risk or retribution.
It won’t be long until this latest disappearance is made public. It might remain in the newspapers or on the television for a few days, or even a week. Then something fresher and more pressing will replace him. Everyone except their families soon forgets about a missing child. And me. I remember every one of them.
Because I am the bait that lures them here.