Spontaneous Human Combustion

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Bedtime Stories.”

What was your favorite book as a child?

Anything macabre was good with me, I’m remembering. Yes, macabre. I like that word and I’m sticking with it. Macabre covers ‘scary’ but also the likes of Roald Dahl’s collection of otherworldly tales, such as the one about the poker player who goes to India to train with a reclusive yogi to see through cards and ultimately also levitate, which I loved. He fears his wayward use of the clairvoyant power will result in his death, which indeed it may have, you discover at the end. ‘The Book of the Unexplained’ was another- it was a big encyclopedia-sized hardcover thing, hundreds of pages thick, crammed with text and black and white photos. How it got to be in the house was a mystery to me. It was just there, downstairs in the little study room. There was no telling where it had come from as far as I was concerned. That made for a great experience reading it. One image in particular really spooked me- a small, grainy photo of a living room. You had to hold your face close to the book to make out the detail- but there on the carpet, in front of an electric fire, lay a pair of stocking-ed human lower legs- all that remained of an isolated pensioner who had spontaneously combusted.


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35 thoughts on “Spontaneous Human Combustion

  1. My love for macabre also began as a child. The fire was doused due to the incorrect connotations of the word. That is until I discovered Edgar Allan Poe, and his work set a flame within me that has been unmatched within myself.

  2. It’s funny – I read the title and the first thing to come to mind was this photograph that I was obsessed with as a child. We had really similar tastes in gruesome reading material! My book of choice was “Mysteries of the Unknown” by TIME LIFE books, and there were actually two photos that I’d go back to time and time again. The first was a photo of a chair, all burned to bits, with one leg/foot (still wearing a slipper) in front of it. The other was a photo of a frozen mummy from Franklin’s failed exhibition of the arctic. It’s amazing what one photo can teach you. I learned about arctic exploration, rigor mortis, lead poisoning from tinned food, and scurvy all from reading about one poor dead sailor.

  3. I remember first learning about spontaneous human combustion as a kid….spent the whole year utterly paranoid that I was about to burst into flame. Seriously. Freaked me right out. Loved it, though. I think I got it from the Guinness Book of World Records – it had some weird bits.

  4. Mary Reeser. The case is one of the best documented of SHC (I recommend the book “Fire From Heaven” by Michael Harrison if it’s still available anywhere). I saw that photo as a child too — I can’t think where, as I was a big fan of Frank Edwards and his “Stranger Than…” books but those were all mass market paperbacks without pictures. It gave me the jeebies. Swollen legs, by the way, can come from kidney failure OR congestive heart failure, or in people of any age, a baffling affliction called lymphedema in which return through the lymphatic vessels is curtailed. (In the arms it is usually a sequel of mastectomy but spontaneous cases in the legs frustrate explanation.) DVT usually affects only one leg, is acute and emergent, and may or may not cause swelling and discoloration; it’s an indication for immediate hospital treatment with anticoagulants. You’re welcome. 😀

    • Hi, well in 2010 the coroner in Galway Ireland recorded a death as due to spontaneous combustion. But I was reading about the wick effect and that sounds plausible. Thank you for the extensive medical info, im gonna try and commit it to memory. Are you a doctor or something? I didnt follow you randomly btw, am actually interested in what you have to say!

      • Massage therapist. But we have to know this stuff. I have seen two DVTs in my practice, missed one actually because the symptoms weren’t typical (there was pain in the leg, but she’d twisted her ankle so how about that — everything came out OK), caught the other and that guy’s doctor sent him right to hospital.

        I love your blog title.

      • Hurray! Don’t feel obliged to, you wouldn’t be missing too much to be fair, but just thought it weird for you to comment and complement but not. Peace sister!

  5. This post brought me back to my childhood. I had (still have, really) the same taste in reading material. I think a little of the unexplained or unknown adds a certain sparkle to everyday life.

    • Hi, yeah I still like that stuff too. If you’re after a proper straight forward frightening ghost story I would recommend Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. About an expedition to the arctic. Had me jerking my head round at sounds, kind of thing! Nice blog, glad to meet you.

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