“Was it you who called us?” asked the man at the door.
“Yes, indeed. The smell, you see.”
“Yes, it’s…” Words failed. “Mrs….?”
“Don’t worry; the boys from special sanitation will deal with it.”
“Can I have a word, Sarge?”
The officer came back looking sick and pale. “When did you last see your neighbor alive, Mrs. Partick?”
“Yesterday. She’s dead?”
“The state of decomposition is consistent with Mrs. Lebana having been dead for weeks. I’d like you to accompany me to the station please. You don’t have to say anything, but…”
“‘On the 31st of October, yesterday, I met Mrs. Lebana in the lift. She looked tired and distraught so I asked her in for a cup of tea. She confided in me that she hadn’t slept properly for weeks. She’d go to bed but the moment her head hit the pillow, a series of nightmares would begin to play and replay in her mind. It started apparently with the face of some gypsy from years ago, who’d cursed her. Mrs. Lebana was the midwife who’d delivered her stillborn child. “You’ll never die peaceful in your bed,” she’d said.
“‘After that she would see creatures, creatures of all shapes and sizes, with tentacles, proboscises, some with legs, some not, sightless, wriggling out of her pillow and eating at flakes of her dead skin. But then they’d grow fatter and larger from feeding and try to get into her ears, nose and eyes, and she’d open her mouth to scream but they choke back her screams, armies of them, too many to overcome and she’d wake up on the floor, scratching at her face and neck, drenched in sweat and terrified. Well, you would be.
“‘She complained of a fearful headache. I gave her two painkillers and she thanked me for listening. I never saw her again.’ You are willing to sign this as a true statement?”
“It is the truth.”
“The post mortem found no toxic residues, no sign of foul play, no actual cause of death, My Lord, only advanced decay of tissue, most of which it would appear took place before the woman died.”“So, it is your opinion, Coroner, that this was not murder.”
“As far as I can tell, My Lord, it wasn’t even death as such. The woman simply rotted away from within. One thing, My Lord… We examined the deceased’s pillow for pathogenic indicators.”
“Nothing. It was as if that pillow had never been slept on.”
“A pathological explanation, then?”
“Fear? Insanity? Wouldn’t explain the rate of decay. Perhaps we should call it Spontaneous Human Putrefaction, My Lord, for easy future reference.”