Spontaneous Human Combustion

(science fiction / horror)

In this sci-fi novelette, a journal from one hundred years ago prompts the new investigation into a curious phenomenon.


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Spontaneous Combustion


‘Two years ago I became involved with the now defunct Hudson Historical Society, and so began my sojourn into the unknown and mysterious. Under a privately funded fellowship, I was assigned to research the phenomenon known as Spontaneous Combustion. Before accepting the position I was interviewed by Mrs George Penelope Walters, the recently widowed and very wealthy matron of the Society. I found her to be an assertive woman of some fifty years, and her half century of life had given her the appearance of shrewd intelligence. After reading excellent letters of reference, she queried about my former occupations.

‘I had recently finished a position as a biological researcher, involved in the classification of over two thousand separate microbes. Mrs Walters seemed well pleased by my scientific background, but questioned how I came to quit the position. I explained that the immense task of categorizing all known microbes had been completed in less than six months, and that the pharmaceutical firm had given leave to all their researchers. Her face could scarcely mask her displeasure, and so I hastened to add that my primary experience was gained while classifying War documents for the Smithsonian, over a period of five years.

‘It was my own face that betrayed emotion when Mrs Walters explained the position more fully. It entailed the scientific inquiry of an historical phenomenon. A shocked expression must have crossed my visage as I slowly realized the preposterousness of what she was seriously proposing. I had assumed she meant spontaneous combustion to be the physical action occurring when cotton rag or paper burst into flames under certain chemical conditions. She corrected me by repeatedly stating, People, Mr Norton, not old rags and paper.

‘My own mind reeled with the image of everyday folk bursting into flames while inside some over-sized bell jar. I was, of course, confusing abiogenesis, or rather mixing the two concepts incorrectly, and using human fodder

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