As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the current spat of cuts and economic butchery have put Sedgwick very much in the firing line. Some of the baser tabloids, I have noticed, have even given his recent legislation the sickly moniker ‘the Pensioner Plagues’. Although his politics lean to the right (even stumble dangerously in that direction), I have always found him an agreeable, level-headed chap whenever we engaged, albeit always briefly, in conversation.
Sedgwick has been my neighbour for three years now (this property being his home away from home, of course) and I have only seen him to speak to when either he (or I) was leaving or entering his (or my) house. We have stopped to pass the time and chew the fat once or twice but one of us has invariably been dashing somewhere on each fleeting occasion. So, conversations between us have been brief, cheerful and, it has to be said, rather insipid.
However, this very night (at approximately twenty-past eleven) there came a knocking at my door. I answered it to find Sedgwick standing in a state of great distress. His skin was a sickening, greenish colour and his pupils were so dilated that I thought him certainly under the influence of some narcotic or other. His clothes were damp with what I took to be rain (for it was pouring outside) but, from the smell of the man, I realised soon enough was that it something altogether more sinister. There was a black, tarry sheen to the liquid and I could not place it; nor the spoiled odour it gave off.
I ushered him into my recently redecorated study and poured a brandy or two down him. When he came to and his shivering had abated, he began to speak. His usual mannered rhetoric – a habit he couldn’t shake after years in parliament even when passing the time on his front path – was gone. His voice wavered and broke as he recounted his uncanny account.
“He w-was on the bed,” he sputtered. “On my b-bed. My o-o-own bed”. He began to jabber some more and nothing of sense was coming forth so I advised him to begin from the point when he entered his house this evening. Which he did, after several stammering false starts.
According to Sedgwick, he returned home at approximately 10.15pm after being lambasted at a televised press conference. His office had sent him for a few hours rest before an early start the next morning. Reluctantly, the politician had obeyed.
As he entered his house, so the now-broken man recounted, there was a dampness to the air. A cold, withering sensation overtook him. He assumed the onset of a small cold or fever and, after fixing himself a hot linctus spiked with scotch, retired immediately to bed.
But as he ascended the stairs a queer feeling seemed to penetrate to the core of him. It was a sensation he could not shake and, from nowhere at all, came a desperate, terrible fear of entering his own bedroom. He tried fervently to shake off the silly emotion and, on reaching the door, told himself, aloud, not to be a fool. But the tenseness lingered and, as he stared at the bedroom door, he knew, somehow, that something untold and odious awaited him on the other side. Still, a man of extreme reason, he pushed through the panic and edged his way, tentatively into the room.
The moonlight, breaking through the old oak outside, lit the space dimly. He felt for the light switch but found it to be of no use. A duff bulb, he told himself (and who wouldn’t?). There was a heavy, musty smell which got on the man’s chest and seemed to creep about his airways. Another symptom of his new fever, he surmised.
He took a step towards the bed and allowed his pupils to soak up the darkness, letting them swell and adjust to the dull light. And then he saw what he had dreaded he might, even as he ascended the stairs moments before.
There, in the centre of his bed, sat a man.
An old man. A wizened and gnarled man who was slumped forward, wearing the remains of a tattered, antique suit. His neck was craned and his back hunched at a horrible, violent angle. Yet his eyes, his terrible, wrinkled eyes, looked upwards from under his ancient brow accusingly at Sedgwick. He wheezed into the darkness. The politician knew not who the man was.
Suddenly, from the back of the old man’s throat came a groan. This transformed, steadily, into a loud and fearful rattle and it grew evermore in volume. It rose and rose. It trembled with depth and then, without warning, became a throttled scream that forced a gruesome shudder in the politician as he stood at the foot of his usurped bed.
Sedgwick was frozen in horror. The old man stopped screaming, lifted his head and groaned again, tightly. As he did so, his jaw loosened and dropped to his chest with a nauseating, gristly crack. His mouth, now wider than any human mouth could conceivably stretch to, revealing horrid, yellowed teeth, then emitted the terrible screaming noise once more.
The old man’s eyes bulged and throbbed and his skin began to flex and contract. A dark water came to the surface of the his taut skin and dripped from his pores. He began to crawl forward on the bed. A jerky, jagged movement; his joints popping and creaking as he edged closer, closer, towards Sedgwick …
As Sedgwick recounted this to me he yelped and twitched at the memory. I did my best to soothe his temper.
“My name!'” Sedgwick said. “It was s-saying my name. ‘SEDGWICK!’ I ran. I escaped its clutches and I ran from the room. ‘SEDGWICK!’ He’s still in there! ‘YOU! YOU DID THIS!’ He’s still there! Still in my home!”
At this, the politician fell from his seat. His brandy glass shattered under him and I rushed over to assist the poor, frightened man. I found him to be stone still and, when I checked for a pulse, I found none.
And that, I swear to each of you, before almighty God himself, is how Sedgwick’s corpse came to be on my study floor.