The front door slams, the house shivers and its inhabitants freeze.
“They’re back,” says Daughter, and her face quickly crumples as tears well.
“Don’t you dare cry,” hisses Mother. “They’ll hear us.”
The family falls silent and listens. A series of thuds and rattles comes from the floor below. Cupboard doors are opened and closed, opened and closed, over and over. Then there’s a short yell, a moment of quiet, and the soft wail of a miserable child.
Daughter whimpers. Mother glares at her.
“It’s okay,” says Father. He reaches out towards Daughter, although he knows the gesture is futile. “We’re up here in the bedroom, they’re down there. And we’re safe as long as we stick together.”
“How is this happening again? Already?” Mother looks at her husband and her voice chokes with hopelessness. “The last lot have only just left. I thought our house was finally safe.”
Daughter wraps her arms around her knees. She can’t bear the thought of going through it all again— the daily torture, the mind games, the fear of coming face to face with a strange, looming figure every time she tiptoes down the hallway.
“It might be okay,” says Father. “They might not stick around for long.”
“That’s what you said last time,” snaps Mother. “And look what happened.”
“They might be different. And if they’re not, we won’t wait for them to leave this time. We’ll drive them out.”
Mother gives a bitter laugh. “Like an exorcism? Does that work for people like us?”
Another slam of the front door sends the family into silence once more. They can’t stand to live like this — cringing at every noise, creeping around their own home for fear of angering their unwanted lodgers.
Mother dashes to the window. “I see them,” she whispers. “Clear as day. Three of them.”
Father and Daughter join her and the family look down into the street below at three figures which are so much like themselves — it’s a mum, a dad and a son.
The young boy runs up and down the pavement, pulling a silver balloon on a string along behind him, giggling. His parents stretch their arms out towards him each time he passes them, playing at snatching his balloon.
Mother is first to spot the disaster waiting to happen. The boy’s shoelace is loose.
He trips. He tumbles over. Time seems to slow to a crawl as the child falls toward the road. There’s a car coming. It’s heading straight for him.
Mother, Father and Daughter hold their breath and brace themselves for a horror scene. They can’t tear their eyes away.
Then it all moves fast. The mum grabs the back of the boy’s shirt. She drags him back to the safety of the pavement. The car passes without incident. The boy is smothered with fierce hugs from his thankful parents.
Mother lets out a sob. Daughter laughs with relief. Father strokes the top of his child’s head, but his hand passes straight through her as if she’s nothing but smoke and air.
“Do you remember when we could hold each other?” he asks his wife.
“Sometimes,” says Mother softly. She has spent too long being haunted by those who are still breathing to recall how it felt to touch and to hold and to take breaths of her own.
Daughter watches the living things outside. The boy has lost hold of his balloon and it is drifting up into the sky. As he tracks its swift route towards the clouds his eyes skim past the window of his new house where three strange, translucent faces peer out at him. He smiles at them and waves.
Daughter waves back. “I think these ones might be friendly,” she says. “Can we let them stay, Mummy?”
Mother nods. “We’ll see how it goes.”