Updated: Sep 7, 2020
The circumstances in which we found Ms. Kerry were unpleasant.
She had been dead for just over a week by the time we were called out, though how much of the smell came from her decomposing body and how much was from the house she had lived in was difficult to determine.
It was unclear how long she had been sitting on that damn sofa, though the odd man she lived with thought that it might have been as much as five years. She had eventually become too large to get off it.
Nevertheless, it was long enough for her to have become part of the thing, with the sores on her legs and buttocks having opened and then closed around the material. Woman and Couch, one being for years on end until she died on it.
Disturbingly, this wasn’t the first time I or my fellow paramedics had seen something like this, but it was certainly the worst case. The look of the house, the smell of it, the sight of her skin and the cloth of the couch merging together was such an overwhelming experience that at first none of us noticed her hair.
It had grown long over the years, clumped strands of it trapped between her back and the cushions. As we levered her off the sofa it grew tight, pulling her head back and it was only then that we realised that it, too, had worked its way in between the threads of the material. I assumed that it would come out with a good tug but it was apparently worked well in. When we pulled on Ms. Kerry, the hair stayed put and her scalp threatened to come away instead.
In the end I grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen and cut her loose.
The rest of the call out was no easier. The coroners didn’t have a body bag to fit her, the trolley barely took her weight and it took both us and a few police officers had to help them get her into the van. The suspension fared little better.
Whilst my colleagues spoke to the officers and they to Ms. Kerry’s strange partner (there would be questions for him later about possible negligence and as to why he had waited so long to notify us of her death), I wandered back into the living room to take another look at that grotesque sofa.
There was now a large patch of missing material where she had been sitting, exposing the stinking, discoloured padding underneath. I shook my head, feeling a little disgusted but more sad than anything else. Another tragic case.
And then something caught my eye.
I thought I saw something move within the cushion. I took a step closer and peered down. What was it? An insect? But all I could now see was a tendril of hair, lying across the padding.
I hesitated, my eyes narrowing as I focussed on the hair. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but it looked like it was moving, being pulled down into the cushion…
A sudden hand on my arm made me cry out with alarm. I turned and was surprised to see Ms Kerry’s partner staring at me with wild eyes.
‘You can’t take it,’ he gasped.
‘Take what?’ I said, thinking that he was probably referring to the body. I was about to gently explain that we had to, when instead he pointed at the couch behind me.
‘That! You can’t take it. It’s what I have left of her.’
To be honest, I had no idea whether he would get to keep the sofa or not. It seemed like a biohazard to me.
‘I’m sure someone will be along to talk to you about it,’ I said, patting his hand reassuringly.
He shook his head. ‘They can’t have it. Not whilst she’s still inside it.’
That was quite enough for me. I smiled at him and then made my excuses to return to the outside where there was a little more fresh air and sanity.
I wonder, though, if madness isn’t a little catching? His words stayed with me and the sight of that strange hair, moving or not, kept on coming back to me over the following days. I told my wife, who has endured many disturbing stories over the years, about the couch and the hair and the strange man. She hugged me and suggested that maybe this time I should actually go and speak to a counsellor. I said I would, knowing I probably wouldn’t and went to bed, where I slept badly and dreamt about hair.
Over the following week, I tried to put it out of my mind and get on with my job but through every call out – from simple accidents to serious injuries – I kept finding my attention drawn back to Ms. Kerry’s couch.
Which was how I found myself standing outside of her house, telling myself that I was just being a good Samaritan. I was there to check on her partner. I was certainly not craving another look at that goddamn sofa.
I knocked on the door and waited. No response. I knocked again. Still nothing. A little concerned but mostly impatient, I tried the door and found it unlocked.
I probably didn’t hesitate for as long as I should have before I went in.
I called out, ‘Sir?’ as I walked through the hallway. I could hear no sounds and he wasn’t to be seen in the kitchen ahead of me.
If he’s here, I thought, he’ll probably be in the lounge. So I went straight in.
The room looked exactly as I’d left it, it even smelled the same. There was the sofa, discoloured and exposed. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I walked up to it and looked down at the cushions. The hair that I had seen before was gone. I peered closer, though I don’t know what I expected to see. There was nothing there.
And then I looked up at the part of the couch she would have rested on, where her back would have been pressed, her hair trapped between… and saw a pulse. It was a gentle movement, small enough to go unseen by someone not looking for it.
As if in a daze, I reached out and poked it. Something like a shudder passed over the cushion.
The scissors I had used to cut Ms. Kerry free were sitting on the coffee table. I picked them up and, with a mouth as dry as bone, cut into the cushion. I snipped a line across and then with my bare hands I took hold of the material and ripped it open.
The hair inside seemed to shrink away from the sudden light but there was so much of it that it had nowhere to go. It was twisted into the threads of the cloth and buried deep into the padding, thickly matted. I could hear it as it moved against itself, against the material.
I stared at it for a moment and then started making cuts in the other cushions, tearing at them to see inside.
The hair was everywhere.
But this was impossible. Even over that length of time, surely she couldn’t have grown and lost so much hair? And how could it have worked its way so deeply inside the couch?
My brain seemed to be trying to ignore the fact that it was moving.
Suddenly, I felt something prick at my wrist and looked down.
There was a hair.
But it wasn’t mine and it wasn’t just lying on me. The end was against my skin and I could see it twisting and moving as it tried to push its way inside, a small dot of blood appearing where it pressed against me. I cried out and pulled it away. Part of the filament snapped off, but there was still a fragment left, wriggling desperately.
Without hesitation, I snatched up the scissors again and sliced into myself, cutting away a layer of skin and the hair with it, my horror and fear easily overriding the pain. I flung them away from me and stared at the couch in terror.
And that was when, no longer blinded by my curiosity and compulsion, I saw a foot poking out from behind the sofa.
My breath caught in my throat and I swallowed hard. Then I moved carefully forward, not getting too close, and peered behind that wretched piece of furniture.
To this day I don’t know the man’s name, but there was the late Ms. Kerry’s partner lying on the ground behind the couch, pressed against the back of it. Hair covered him nearly completely, wrapping around his body, growing into his skin.
His eyes were open, hair boring into them even as he stared at me with terrified desperation. I took a step closer but, as if sensing that I’d found him, the hair tightened around his body, penetrating deeper into him, pulling him even closer against the sofa.
I knew that it was too late for him, that there was nothing I could do to help at this point, even if I was brave enough to try.
But I had to do something…
A few days later, a colleague asked me if I’d heard about the fire at Ms. Kerry’s house. Of course I said that I hadn’t, and asked what had happened.
No one was sure, he said. A real tragedy as her partner had been found in the remains, burnt beyond recognition. Nothing much was left but no surprise there – the place had been a fire hazard for years and the flames had spread quickly, consumed everything.
I asked about the couch.
He chuckled. Totally gone, he confirmed, and good riddance eh?
I agreed, scratching my wrist.
Maybe I’ll try that counselling after all.