Can’t wait to read The Forgotten Dead by Tove Alsterdal? Neither can we! Read on for a sneak preview:
Please let this be a nightmare, thought Terese Wallner when she awoke, lying on the beach. Let me wake up again, but for real this time, and in my own bed.
Slowly she sat up, a terrible pounding inside her skull. The sea was in motion, darkly surging towards her. A flock of slumbering gulls stood in a pool left by the receding tide. Otherwise the shore was deserted.
She closed her eyes, then opened them again, trying to comprehend what had happened. There was nothing around her, that much was true. He was gone.
Her white capri trousers were filthy, and the sequinned camisole and cardigan offered no protection from the cold. The wind cut right through them. Her mouth was as dry as a desert and filled with sand. She spat, cleared her throat, and tried to rub away the sand with her fingers, but it had settled under her tongue and seeped way down her throat. She would need a giant bottle of water, at the very least, to rinse it all away. But where was her purse?
Terese dug her hands into the sand around her. It was hard to see in the dim light. A dark-greyish dusk intermittently pierced by flashes that hurt her eyes, coming from the lighthouse beam. She knew it was out there on an island. Isla de las Palomas, island of the doves. Off limits to tourists. A military area. Reached by a causeway, but with signs posted at the gates. The waves slammed against the rocks out there, spraying high into the air.
Then she caught sight of her purse, and her heart leaped. It was lying half-buried in the sand, less than a metre from the dent where her head had lain. She grabbed it. Everything was still inside: her wallet and hotel room key, her mobile and make-up bag, even her good-luck charm, which was a tiny frog on a keychain. And the bottle of water, thank God. She always carried water with her when she went out, since the tap water tasted so terrible in Spain. There was still a little left in the bottle. First she rinsed her mouth and spat out the water. Then she drank the rest of it, wishing there was much more. She picked up her wallet and opened it, her heart racing. The banknotes were gone. She’d had almost a hundred euros when she’d gone out for the evening. She couldn’t possibly have spent that much on drinks. What about her passport? She rummaged through her bag, but it wasn’t there. Terese was positive she’d brought her passport, as she always did, even though everyone said it wasn’t necessary.
Her shoes were also gone. She stared at her feet. They were suntanned, but white around the edges, with sand clinging between her toes. She looked all around, but the ballet flats she’d worn were nowhere to be seen. When had she taken them off? Before or after? She rubbed the palms of her hands against her forehead to stop the uproar inside.
I need to think clearly. I need to remember.
Had she been barefoot as she ran across the sand with him holding her hand, urging her down towards the sea, both of them laughing loudly into the wind, wondering if their laughter would be blown away?
She pictured his tousled, sun-bleached hair, his eyes gleaming as he looked at her. His arms were hard and sinewy, muscles taut from working out. His shirt fluttered open so she could see his brown abdomen, not a scrap of fat anywhere. She couldn’t believe she was the one he’d taken by the hand as they closed up the Blue Heaven Bar. He’d whispered in her ear that they should move on to someplace else. ‘You can’t go home yet,’ he’d said. ‘Not when I’ve just found you.’
Terese ran her hand lightly over the sand next to her. It was cold. Was there a slight indentation, an impression that his body had left behind, a trace of warmth? But that might simply be her imagination, because the wind blew more steadily in Tarifa than anywhere else on earth, wiping away all tracks in an instant.
No one needs to know what happened, she thought. Nothing did happen. Not if I don’t tell anyone.
The whole beach swayed as she stood up. She leaned forward with her hands on her knees and stayed like that until things stopped moving, swallowing over and over to keep herself from throwing up and having to smell everything that spewed out of her. She couldn’t bear to be so disgusting. That was why she staggered down to the water. It wasn’t far, maybe twenty metres.
She moved slowly, setting her feet down carefully, so as not to step on anything unpleasant. The sand felt cold under her feet, and she was surprised when the first wave reached her. The water was almost lukewarm and silky smooth. She waded out a few steps to meet the next wave. When it broke, she caught the foamy water in her hands and splashed it over her face. It was refreshing and made her think a little more clearly.
To her left a low, black ridge rose from the sea, a jetty of large rocks that extended at least ten metres out into the water. It looked like a big prehistoric animal resting on the shoreline, the spine of a slumbering brontosaurus. She waded towards it, thinking that she would climb up and sit on the rocks at the very end. Let the sea wash over her wrists for a while. That usually helped against nausea. If she did throw up, the vomit would vanish into the water in seconds and be forgotten.
The water surged over her ankles. The wind from the sea picked up force. She’d thought the jetty would be hard and sharp, but when she set her foot on the first rock to clamber up, it felt soft and slippery and slid away.
She shrieked and fell forwards onto the rocks, striking her shoulder. She hauled herself up onto the jetty, quickly drawing her feet out of the water. Then she leaned forward and peered down. She had to find out what sort of revolting fish she’d stepped on.
The waves receded and the sea prepared to send in the next onslaught. Terese stared, the roaring sound growing inside her head.
It wasn’t a fish. A hand was sticking up out of the water, attached to an arm below the surface. For a long moment she stared at the place where the arm transitioned into a shoulder and then became an entire body. A person was lying there, wedged between the rocks. A black person.
She whimpered when she realized that was where she’d placed her foot. She’d stepped on a corpse. On the chest or stomach. She didn’t want to know where. She sobbed and stammered and slid backwards up onto the ridge, scraping her soles hard against the rough surface, trying to get rid of that soft and slippery feeling on the bottom of her foot.
But she couldn’t resist taking another look. It was a man lying down there. That much she could clearly see. His skin was black and shiny with water. Like a fish, an eel, something slimy that lived in the sea. He was naked. She thought she could make out an animal creeping along his shoulder, and against her better judgement, she leaned forward. The next wave struck the rocks and the shore, spraying up into her face and then receded, the water foaming and roiling around the body. It looked as if it were moving. For an instant she thought the black man would rise up, grab hold of her ankle, and pull her down into the water. What if he was alive?
At that moment the first traces of morning light appeared beyond the mountains, and the colour of the sea changed to green. She was looking directly into the face of the dead man. His eyes were closed, but his mouth was wide open, as if uttering an inaudible drowned scream, his teeth gleaming white and swaying under the water.
Dear God in heaven, thought Terese. Papa, please help me. I’m all alone here.
Then her stomach heaved, and she pressed her hand to her mouth as she made her way across the rocks and tumbled down the other side. She was still throwing up as she ran, staggering, away from the scene.
Intrigued? The Forgotten Dead will be out in paperback on 10th August. Pre-order your copy now!