The Visitor: Kill or Cure

by Mark Lawrence


In the heat and darkness of a small room a woman lies deep in her dreaming. She rolls to her side, something mumbled on her lips. In the next moment her eyes open, alert, wide, and curious. She sits, letting her covers slide, and smiles. Sodium street lighting fingers in beneath the curtains to paint orange rectangles across the rear wall.

The woman’s hands explore her face then stroke down across belly. She looks surprised, patting around as if she has lost something. The hunt moves to the edge of the bed, where she discovers first a small table, then a lamp, then the switch. The light goes on and Tanisha Williams swings her legs to set both feet to the floor. She gazes wonderingly at the bedroom, its crowding units, drawers disgorging crumpled tops, balled up leggings. The curtains are heavy, bright with a crude flower print, and several inches too short.

Tanisha creeps, light-footed to the door. It’s a cheap thing and someone has kicked a dent in its hardboard skin. It creaks as she opens it and she winces at the unexpected noise. She stands in the shabby corridor, staring as if it too were a wonder to her, as worthy of study as the great nave of Notre Dame. When she turns the handle, the door across from hers opens without a whisper, and Tanisha peers in. She’s astonished and delighted. There is a baby in a crib, a sweaty mass of dark, tousled hair, fat cheeks, fast in his slumbers, and across from him a small bed with a pink Barbie duvet where a young girl sleeps with an arm and a leg hanging over the edge as if she might at any moment be carried to the floor.

Tanisha is just about to step into the room when she cocks her head as if hearing some distant sound. She frowns in concentration, biting her lip. A moment later her face becomes a vacancy, waiting to be filled. She stumbles, nearly crashing into the doorframe. She blinks, staring around wildly.

‘What? Where…’

The girl slips from her bed, and still confused her mother stumbles sleepily over to help her back.


Adao Adobaia knows he’s in trouble. The boys on the path ahead run with the Rulahs. Adao had left the youth club on Saville Road with every intention of heading straight home to his mother’s flat, but Devin had been insistent, there’d be girls at the gig down on Briar Lane. Adao wasn’t interested in the acts. None of them sounded that good live. Better to stream them once the studio had worked its magic. And though he’d never admit it, he’d rather listen to Beyoncé than grime and drill rappers shouting about money and guns. But girls, he liked those live – better than anything from the internet. Devin had said Lucy Mills would be there, and Rukia. They weren’t, but the promise had got him down there, kept him weathering the din until way too late.

Adao wouldn’t have cut across the park so late, except it was so late. His mother would wake when he got in, however quiet he was, and the exact time of entry would be the sole topic of conversation for all of the next day. She was desperate to stop him running with the gangs. Which was ironic because he never had, and his repeated refusals to do so were a good part of the reason why seeing three of the Rulahs barring his way past the playground was such bad news.

‘Alright?’ The boy in the middle, the largest of the three, shows his teeth in an approximation of a smile. They’d been lounging on the swings, smoking. This one was the only one to have his knife out, held carelessly at his side, the edge cutting a glimmer from the dark.

‘Hey,’ Adao mumbles. ‘Gotta hurry.’ He glances behind him, back to the park gates. Another boy is leaning against one of the pillars. Adao knows that the fact the gates were even open should have warned him.

‘What you got?’ the boy with the knife asks. Adao knows him by sight. They’re all several years younger than he is, fifteen maybe sixteen. A dangerous age. All of them thinking they’re immortal, immune to blades, to bullets, to the police, to all and any consequences in general. All of them thinking the world is going to open its legs for them. Wetting their blades is part and parcel of establishing their rep. If they were just going to rob him he’d hand over his phone and the few notes in his pocket and be done. But these boys are going to cut him. He can see it in their eyes, see it in the thin line of their smiles. And Adao Adobaia has never been so scared…


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Original Fiction from • Illustrated by John Picacio