The eyes were wide open, staring blindly towards the arched ceiling of the underpass. Håkan brushed a few dry leaves away revealing the thin pink top Eli usually wore, now discarded on the man's chest. Håkan picked it up, at first intending to hold it up to his nose to smell it, but he stopped when he felt that the top was sticky.
He dropped it back on to the man's chest, then pulled out his hipflask and took three big swallows. The vodka shot down his throat in fiery flames, licking his stomach. The leaves crunched under his rear end as he sat down on the cold stones and looked at the dead man.
There was something wrong with his head.
He dug around in his bag, found his torch. Checked that no one was coming along the path, then turned the light on and directed it towards the man. His face was a pale yellow-white in the beam, the mouth hung half-open as if he was about to say something.
Håkan swallowed. The thought that this man had been allowed closer to his beloved than he ever had revolted him.
His hand fumbled for his flask, wanted to burn away his anguish, but he stopped himself.
There was a wide red mark running around it, like a necklace. Håkan leaned over him and saw the wound Eli had opened in order to get at the blood.
Lips against his skin.
But that didn't explain the neck... lace...
Håkan turned the torch off, drew a deep breath and involuntarily leaned back in the tight space so that the cement walls scraped the bald spot on the back of his head. He clenched his teeth together in response to the stinging pain.
The skin on the man's neck had split because... because the head had been rotated 360 degrees. One full rotation. The spine had snapped.
Håkan closed his eyes, breathed slowly in and out to calm himself and to stop the impulse to get up and run far, far away from all this. The cement wall pressed against his head, the stones underneath him. To the left and right a path where people who would call the police could come walking along. And in front of him...
It is only a dead body.
Yes. But... the head.
He didn't like knowing that the head was loose. It could come off if he lifted the body. He curled up and rested his brow on his knees. His beloved had done this. With bare hands.
He felt a tickle of nausea in the back of his throat when he imagined the sound it had made. The creaking when the head was twisted around. He didn't want to touch this body again. He would sit here. Like Belaqua at the foot of the Mountain of Purgatory, waiting for dawn, waiting for...
A few people came walking from the direction of the subway. Håkan lay down in the leaves, close to the dead man, pressed his forehead against the ice-cold stone.
Why? Why do this... with the head?
The risk of infection. You could not allow it to reach the nervous system. The body had to be turned off. That was all he had been told. He had not understood it then, but he did now.
The steps grew quicker, the voices more distant. They were taking the stairs. Håkan sat up again, glancing at the contours of the dead, gaping face. Did that mean this body would have sat up and brushed the leaves off itself if it hadn't been turned off?
A shrill giggle escaped him, fluttering like birdsong in the underpass. He slapped his hand over his mouth so hard it hurt. The image. Of the corpse rising out of the leaves and sleepily brushing dead leaves from its jacket.
What was he going to do with the body?
Maybe 80 kilos of muscles, fat, bone that had to be disposed of. Ground up. Hacked up. Buried. Burned.
Of course. Carry the body over there, break in and do a little burning on the sly. Or just leave it outside the gate like a foundling and hope that their enthusiasm for burning was so great they would pop it in without bothering to call the police.
No. There was only one way. On his right the path continued on through the forest, towards the hospital and down to the water.
He stuffed the bloody top under the man's coat, slung his bag over his shoulder and pushed his hands under the back and knees of the corpse. Got to his feet, staggered a little, regained his balance. Just as he had expected, the head fell back at an unnatural angle and the jaws shut with an audible click.
How far was it to the water? A few hundred metres maybe. And if someone came by? Nothing to do about that. Then it would be all over. And in a way it would be a relief.
But no one came by and once he was safely down by the shore he crept – his skin steaming with sweat – out along the trunk of a weeping willow that grew almost horizontally over the water. With some rope, he had secured two large stones from the shore around the feet of the corpse.
With a slightly longer rope wound in a noose around the chest of the corpse he dragged it out as far as he could, then untied it.
He stayed there on the tree trunk for a while, his feet dangling slightly above the water, staring down into the black mirror, now less and less frequentlydisturbed by bubbles.
He had done it.
Despite the cold, drops of sweat ran down his forehead and stung his eyes. His whole body ached from the strain but he had done it. The corpse lay right under his feet, hidden from the world. Did not exist. The bubbles had stopped rising to the surface and there was nothing... nothing to show that there was a dead body down there.
A few stars twinkled in the water.
© John Ajvide Linqvist, 2008
'Let the Right One In', trs Ebba Segerberg, is published by Quercus at £7.99
About the author
John Ajvide Lindqvist was born in Stockholm in 1968. A former conjuror and stand-up comedian, he now lives in Rådmansö, Sweden.Reuse content