“The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer” by John Ajvide Lindqvist
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012
A father moves himself and his son into a small house as part of his efforts to help them get over the death of his wife, the boy’s mother, lost to a car accident several months before. The boy, 11, is retreating into the world of violent video games, and the father is desperate to make a connection with him. That connection comes in the form of a piano, the only thing they have left that belonged to the boy’s mother. When the boy grudgingly agrees to take lessons, the father is relieved – until he discovers that the connection being made is not between father and son, but between the boy and something malevolent that still calls this house its home.
John Ajvide Lindqvist is the author of the novel Let the Right One In, which has been adapted twice for film (as Let the Right One In in Sweden and, in America, as Let Me In). As in that story, a palpable sense of isolation comes to life here, an isolation realized not only in the depiction of the brutal winter enveloping this small house, but in the very real season of loneliness these characters are trudging through. There’s a brief moment of hope when the father first listens to his son’s tentative plinking at the piano, but its quickly snuffed out as both of them realize the music is coming from a place deeper and darker than they can possibly understand.
Although Lindqvist’s story isn’t the most original idea in the world – it is, after all, a take on the concept of “you got a great deal on this house because something BAD happened in it” – his execution of the idea is all that matters. This story is truly scary, the kind that makes you turn on an extra light or two as you’re reading it (and, maybe, you’ll leave those lights on when you go to bed). It’s that rare piece of writing that doesn’t just present a situation in which the characters feel fear; the reader feels it too, and quite strongly. That’s the strongest compliment I can give a piece of horror fiction, making this another standout story in a collection that continues to top itself.