You Have to Read This!

translated by Marlaine Delargy
An illustration of a figure in shadow typing on a computer
Illustration by Apirak /

Trigger warning for mental health, threats of violence and sexual violence, and suicidal ideation.

Be careful what you wish for—especially online, especially if you’re a woman—in this modern adaptation of W. W. Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw.”

Ellinor Andersson didn’t have a diagnosis, but if she did, she was convinced that it would be depression. She hadn’t dared to seek medical help, because she feared the outcome. Whether she received confirmation that she was depressed, or that she wasn’t, the result would make her feel . . . depressed.

She was twenty-five years old and didn’t believe that she had succeeded in any aspect of her life. She had wanted to become a writer, had started countless projects, but soon got bored. She had posted book reviews on Instagram, acquiring twelve followers at most. Currently she had five, and none of them ever liked her contributions.

She lived in a scruffy sublet bedsit, for which she paid 8,000 kronor a month. In order to earn enough to cover the rent, she worked apathetically within the home-care sector, occasionally helping herself to a couple of hundred extra on the old people’s bank cards when she went shopping for them. So far she hadn’t been caught. 

She no longer had anything to do with her parents, because they just made her feel guilty for not “pulling her socks up” and simply “sitting staring at her computer.” They were both hardworking administrators with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, and their socks were definitely pulled right up to their knees. The very thought of them made Ellinor miserable. 

She had no friends apart from Gina from high school. They met up a few times a year, and Gina talked about nothing but her cat and her chronic fatigue syndrome. It was the tenth of the month, and Ellinor had only 700 kronor in her bank account. She should have done the cleaning two weeks ago.

And that was what Ellinor Andersson’s life looked like on the day when she logged into Facebook as usual. She followed a number of celebrities on both Facebook and Insta, along with ordinary people whose lives had captured her interest. From time to time she would post overenthusiastic comments that were meant to be sarcastic, and occasionally received a thumbs-up in response. No one got the joke. 

The first thing that caught her attention was a slowly pulsating banner. There was an image of a hairy, clawlike hand and the words: “You have to read this! Your life is about to change!”

Ellinor gave a wry smile. She had seen most things—pyramid schemes, letters from Nigeria, the Norwegian presenter Fredrik Skavlan wallowing in his Bitcoin millions. Nowhere more so than on the internet was it important to remember that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. 

A photograph of an insect crawling across a computer keyboard
Photo by ronstik /

Nowhere more so than on the internet was it important to remember that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. 

For example, if the banner had shown a hysterically grinning Zlatan, then Ellinor would have ignored it, but the contrast between the ugly hand and the encouraging words was a little bit different. She could at least check out what kind of scam it was. She clicked and was redirected to a site with the address, which was probably the ugliest page she had ever seen. Plain text against a white background, a search box, plus an image of that hairy hand, which was presumably meant to be a monkey’s paw, given the name of the site. It looked like something from the infancy of the internet. 

She read: “Welcome to themonkeyspaw! You are one of a chosen few who will have three wishes granted! Create an account, type your wish in the search box, and watch as it is granted within one minute!”

Ellinor snorted. This was definitely out of the ordinary. No doubt as soon as she had typed her wish, she would be asked for her credit card details. She had no intention of falling for any of that, but she created an account with the email address she used for sites that might generate spam. Then she typed “I want to die” in the search box. 

She heard a warning signal, then a message in red appeared: “At present we can only grant wishes related to the internet.” Ellinor raised her eyebrows. Wishes related to the internet? She decided to play along. She typed “I want 10,000 followers on Instagram.” A wheel began to spin. After ten seconds there was a ping, and a message in shimmering gold came up: “Congratulations! Your wish has been granted!”

Ellinor shook her head. She still couldn’t work it out—how were they planning to get money out of her? Were they collecting email addresses to resell? She closed down and was surprised not to be bombarded with the usual offers of voluptuous eastern Europeans or a virtual lap dance. Odd.

However, somewhere in the back of her mind there was an obstinate little thought flashing away: what if? It was ridiculous, of course, but simply to get rid of that constant flashing she went into Instagram. Her eyes widened. Under “Followers,” it said “10,000.”

What the hell . . .

These couldn’t be real followers; she assumed themonkeyspaw had found a way of manipulating the numbers. She clicked on the button and was able to scroll down an apparently endless list of accounts. She opened a few at random and was redirected to Instagram accounts, with photographs and everything. When she returned to her own page, she discovered that her posts had attracted ten, fifteen, twenty comments. 

What the hell . . .

Ellinor closed her laptop and sat for a while staring out of her dirty window, which looked out onto the grubby, gray façade of the building opposite. Her thoughts were chasing around all over the place, like a flock of headless chickens. It just wasn’t possible . . . If themonkeyspaw really had given her ten thousand followers, where was the catch? If something seems too good to be true . . .

She opened up the computer and checked the email address she had given when she created her account. Offers of vibrators, Viagra, funds investing in Asia, and various individuals in the local area looking for no-strings sex, but nothing from themonkeyspaw, not even a welcome message. Had the hairy paw infected her computer, planted a virus? 

The catch, the catch . . .

Ellinor closed her laptop again, rested her hands on the warm metal, and took a deep breath. Okay, so what if she allowed herself to believe for a moment that it was true? That she really was one of a chosen few, and that themonkeyspaw intended to grant her two more wishes? She played with the idea, in the absence of anything else to do.

What could she wish for, and where were the limits on “wishes related to the internet”? A YouTube channel with ten—or why not a hundred—million followers who could generate advertising revenue? A Bitcoin account or an ordinary bank account credited with a sum of money of her choosing? If themonkeyspaw could alter a number on Insta in ten seconds, then maybe it could also add a few zeroes to her paltry 700 kronor. Why not?

A woman drinking a cup of coffee, bathed in blue light from a computer screen.
Photo by blackly /

If themonkeyspaw could alter a number on Insta in ten seconds, then maybe it could also add a few zeroes to her paltry 700 kronor. Why not?

She stared at the building opposite. Most of all she wanted to move away from Bagarmossen. Most of all she wanted a new job—or to not have to work at all. Most of all she would like to be attractive, with a good-looking boyfriend. Most of all she would like her life to change completely. 

Two wishes. If she let herself pretend that she believed in the offer, then it was not to be taken lightly. She needed to give it careful thought, make sure she wished for things that would bring the most extensive positive results. Not that she did believe in it, but still . . .

Ellinor was distracted for the rest of the evening. She ate without tasting her food, she watched Paradise Hotel without groaning at the pettiness of the participants, and she went to bed without feeling the loneliness come crawling up her spine. All she could see was the monkey’s paw and the gifts it could bring her.

When she finally fell asleep, she dreamed that she was a monkey scampering around among the contestants in Paradise Hotel. The pool was filled with gold coins. She dived in and swam around like Scrooge McDuck, while ripped guys and girls with trout-pouts stood around applauding. 

The alarm clock went off at six. Ellinor got up and prepared to face her daily grind. The mere possibility that it might be the last time made the thought more bearable. When she was brushing her teeth and saw her face, puffy with sleep, in the mirror, she thought: You’re fucking desperate, girl. Imagining that a fake website is going to fix your life.

And yet. And yet . . .

She went through her clients at her usual speed. Get them up, get them dressed if necessary, heat up a ready meal in the microwave, clean up the worst of the mess, ignore the siren calls for consolation, human warmth, small talk. There was no time. The care company that Ellinor worked for had cut corners in order to achieve maximum cost effectiveness, and she raced around like a rat in a Skinner box. The shareholders were happy, though. 

By the time she got to Agnes, her favorite client, Ellinor was so far ahead that she allowed herself to sit down over a cup of coffee with the old lady, from whom she hadn’t stolen a single krona. Her legs were aching after several hours on the go, and she let out a groan as she sank down into an armchair. Agnes peered at her and asked: “How are you, Ellinor?”

Agnes was one of the few who asked that kind of thing. Most of the clients just wanted to moan about their own aches and pains. Agnes herself had a whole range of problems and could barely get out of bed on her own, but she rarely complained. Ellinor massaged the back of her neck and said: “Okay, kind of. Agnes—if you could wish for one thing, anything at all, what would you wish for?”

Agnes didn’t hesitate for a second. “To be young. And healthy. Like you.”

Her words played on Ellinor’s mind when she was finally able to drag herself home at four o’clock. She hadn’t told Agnes that she suffered from depression, as she hadn’t undergone any kind of clinical assessment, but apart from that she was pretty much young and healthy, even if that wasn’t part of her self-image. Apart from the odd aching joint and a slightly stiff neck from time to time, there wasn’t actually anything wrong with her, and she was undeniably “only” twenty-five years old. Maybe she was just ungrateful?

Fuck that. 

Agnes was ninety years old, and judging by the stories she told, she had lived a full life. Ellinor felt as if her own life hadn’t even started, so yes, fuck that. She was going to sit down and make those wishes. First of all, plenty of extra zeroes on the contents of her bank account. If that worked, against all expectations, then she would think long and hard about her final wish—something really life-changing. And if the whole thing turned out to be a bluff, which it surely had to be, then at least she had acquired ten thousand extra followers on Instagram.

When she arrived home, she made herself a cup of tea. While it was brewing, she opened up Instagram. She still had exactly 10,000 followers, which was strange in itself. Accounts with a lot of followers usually grew on their own. She hovered over her review of Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery, which had attracted 114 comments. She clicked.

At first she found it difficult to read the comments, because they contained so many grammatical peculiarities and misspelled words. The latest post said: “Fucking disgusstin need bag on hed if i was gonna fuck her.” Ellinor scrolled down; it got worse. She was informed that she was going to be raped with a broken bottle, violently fucked as a punishment, whipped, and burned. It was as if all the worst haters online had found a meeting point on her Instagram. Virtually every comment involved threats of violence and murder, all because of a review of Little Beach Street Bakery, which she had given 3/5.

A photograph of a coffee cup on a table from above
Photo by Ezra Jeffrey-Comea

Virtually every comment involved threats of violence and murder, all because of a review of Little Beach Street Bakery, which she had given 3/5.

Her fingers trembled as she clicked on a follower calling himself lordofflies, who was apparently keen to attach jumper leads to her nipples and “turn the power up to 1000 volts.” Lordofflies’ Insta featured mainly pictures of dead animals and rusty metal objects. Other users had chaotic drawings that screamed angst, self-portraits with horror masks, images of weapons.

The most unpleasant of all was possibly sunnysideup, who had provided an extremely detailed description of how the rape with the broken bottle was going to unfold. That particular Insta page was filled with countless pictures of photoshop-perfect sunsets. 

Her heart pounding, Ellinor spent ten minutes blocking the most extreme haters. Then she drank her lukewarm tea with some difficulty, because her throat had closed up. How could people summon up so much rage over a seven-line book review? Maybe it was more about the fact that she was a woman and had dared to stick her head above the parapet and express an opinion.

An illustration of a loading widget that is 2/3rds complete
Illustration by Apirak /

Maybe it was more about the fact that she was a woman and had dared to stick her head above the parapet and express an opinion.

But so many. It couldn’t be a coincidence. Themonkeyspaw had trawled through the sludge at the bottom of the internet and tipped out its catch onto her Insta. Maybe that was where the scam lay? Was she going to have to pay in order to get rid of her followers? She checked her email—still nothing from the hairy paw.

Ellinor’s heart rate had begun to return to normal when she went into Facebook. It shot up again, and she had to put down her cup in order to avoid spilling her tea, because her hands were shaking so much. The Messenger icon showed twenty-three new messages. Idiot. She had the same username on both Insta and Facebook. 

She hesitated for quite some time, but her curiosity got the better of her and she clicked, then wished she hadn’t. The messages dropping onto her screen were if possible even more vicious than the ones on Insta, and came from users she had just blocked. The general tone was: “Dont u dare block me bitch gonna slit u open from ur pussy to ur double chin.” All twenty-three messages contained overt or veiled death threats as a punishment for blocking the users. 

Ellinor let out a sob. Wasn’t her life bad enough already? Was she going to have to live in constant fear of being attacked or raped by some psycho? Without too much thought she logged into themonkeyspaw and typed in the search box: “I want zero followers on Instagram.” 

The little wheel spun, and then came the response in shimmering gold letters: “Congratulations! Your wish has been granted!”

Ellinor managed to force a mouthful of cold tea down her dry throat before she switched to Instagram. “Followers: 0.” The vile comments had disappeared, too. She allowed her tense shoulders to drop and took a couple of deep breaths. All she had to do was pretend nothing had happened and concentrate on her remaining wish. 

She paced around the room, the dust bunnies swirling around her feet. Could she maybe wish for the completed manuscript of a best-selling novel to drop into her inbox? A cheap, attractive rental agreement? The offer of a top job on TV? No, in the end the easiest option was to ask for money. If she had money she could sign up for a writing course, buy an apartment. She might not have to work at all.

How much should she go for? It hadn’t escaped her notice that themonkeyspaw was perfectly capable of playing a nasty trick on her, but what possible downside could there be if she requested the addition of, say, four zeros to her 700 kronor? Seven million. So why not seventy million? Seven hundred million?

These last two sums seemed astronomical, unreal. She had never fantasized about having that kind of money, not even in her wildest dreams about becoming a best-selling author and going on tour. But then again—surely Jenny Colgan must have seventy million, or more?

No. There was something about asking for too much—it would come back to bite her. Seven million was enough to sort out her life. Then again, she didn’t have to stick with the number seven just because she had 700 in her account. Ten million. Perfect. 

Ellinor was about to log into themonkeyspaw again when she decided to check that the haters had also vanished from Facebook. She stared at the Messenger icon, and for a second everything went black before her eyes. She had over a thousand new messages. Not only her fingers, but also her chin trembled when she clicked. 

The messages were of exactly the same character as the previous ones, and they kept on dropping in as she watched. Threats of violence because of what she had done. Themonkeyspaw had removed her followers on Insta by blocking all ten thousand. Now they were out for blood. 

The haters had had a while to stir one another up, and among other things they had shared Ellinor’s address. She wasn’t hard to find using a search engine, because she had given her real name and her age. 

A new message with an accompanying image popped up on Messenger. The picture showed a hand clutching a large kitchen knife with the words: “On my way round to yours with my pal for a bit of fisting and stabbing, you whore.” 

Did I lock the front door?

Ellinor had been so eager to start her new life when she got home that she couldn’t be sure she’d locked up, and the door felt like a dark, threatening presence ten feet behind her back. She would check in a minute, but there was one thing she had to take care of immediately. 

She couldn’t help sobbing in frustration as she opened up themonkeyspaw and typed in the search box: “I want my name and address removed from the internet.” 

She hesitated, her finger hovering over the return key. Seven million. Which wouldn’t be worth anything when she knew that there were ten thousand people who wanted to harm her, even if only a tiny percentage might possibly be capable of turning their threats into reality. Ellinor sobbed again and pressed return. 

The warning signal sounded, and a message in red popped up: “Unfortunately you have already used your wishes.”

What the hell . . .

As if she were engaged in a conversation rather than dealing with an automated function, Ellinor typed: “No, I haven’t! I’ve only made two wishes!”

The wheel spun for a few seconds, then those shimmering gold letters appeared.

“Congratulations! Our terms and conditions have been changed, and we are now able to grant your first wish!”

Ellinor stared at the words, which didn’t make sense to her. She shook her head and typed: “What was my first wish?”

The wheel spun for a couple of seconds, then four words that turned her stomach to ice filled the search box: “I want to die.” Ellinor stopped breathing. 

Behind her she heard the sound of the front door opening. 

Translation from the Swedish

Photo of John Ajvide Lindqvist /

John Ajvide Lindqvist is the author of the international best-selling horror novel Let the Right One In, which has been adapted to film in Sweden and the US. In addition to writing other novels, he has written for film and theater. His most recent novel available in English is The Kindness, translated by Marlaine Delargy.

Marlaine Delargy lives in Shropshire in the United Kingdom. She was a teacher for over twenty years. She has translated novels by many authors, including Kristina Ohlsson, Viveca Sten, Johan Theorin (with whom she won the Crime Writers’ Association International Dagger in 2010), and Henning Mankell (with whom she won the CWA International Dagger in 2018).