Avery F. Wells


The rookeries and factories of the East End were a fetid morass of wretched humanity, riddled with crime, disease, poverty and despair that few ever escaped. Nigel Barrington wove his way through this rat’s warren, jostled about by the press of too many bodies in too confined an area. His nostrils were assaulted by the miasma of unwashed bodies, stale gin and urine, mingled with the reek of industrial effluvia wafting from the Thames.

Dear God, I hate this bloody place. A questing hand plucked at his coat pocket. He pulled a life preserver out and slapped the hand with the lead-filled leather sack.  The things I do for a story. Now, where is that bloody, damned street?

He craned his neck about until he saw it; a cast iron sign, enameled in white with black lettering that said ‘Wellington Str.’. Nigel sighed with relief and, breasting the tide of pedestrians and dodging hansom cabs, fought his way into the less crowded street. The few lamps that were lit here gave off a wan and fitful light through their soot-stained panes,  leaving much of the street in darkness. He tucked his life preserver away, but kept a firm grip on it. Bloody hell. I’m going to get my throat cut here.

As Nigel reached Bloom Hart Street, a man appeared from around the corner and stepped directly into his path. Nigel stopped, gripping his meager weapon even tighter.

“I beg your pardon,” the man said, in a conciliatory voice. He did not, however, move aside.

“Quite all right, quite all right,” Nigel replied, licking his lips while his eyes darted to and fro.

Still, the man did not move.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll just be on my way, my good man,” Nigel ventured, shuffling his feet.

The gentleman, for such was his manner of dress, produced a calling card with a flourish and presented it to him. “My name is… Mister Brightly.”

Nigel took the card and strained to read it in the dim gaslight. The card was of white stock, with plain, black lettering upon it. Just the name. No address. No professional appellation. No clue as to who this person was.

“I see. And what do you do, Mister Brightly?” he asked, looking at the man again. He was tall and of slender build. Dark hair was slicked back with macassar oil beneath a top hat of expensive quality. His features were in shadow, being back-lit by the lamp at the end of the street.

“Whatever is required,” Mister Brightly said. Nigel could just make out the slight upturning of the corners of his mouth.

“What do you mean? Whatever I require?”

The grin became more pronounced, with a hint of very white teeth. “Possibly.” The dark gentleman’s right arm darted upward, a slender knife held in his gloved hand.

When did he draw it? Nigel had time enough to wonder, before he felt the cold length of steel slide into his left side, just beneath the ribs and angling upward. He opened his mouth to cry for help, but it came out as a weak croak as his lung collapsed.

Mister Brightly stepped forward and lowered Nigel to the filthy cobbles. “Gently, gently,” he whispered to the stricken man.

Nigel rolled his eyes around, desperately looking for help. All he could see were indistinct forms that were too far away. Why isn’t anyone shouting for the peelers? Don’t they see what’s happening? He stared up at his killer, his bloodstained lips soundlessly working. Why?

Mister Brightly removed the stiletto with care and wiped it clean on a white cloth as he regarded his victim. The smile was gone now. His mouth was turned down at the corners and his eyes bleak. “My apologies,” he said, tucking the blade away. “Someone decided you were becoming a bother. I have been paid to insure this is no longer the case.” He squatted down and straightened the lapels of Nigel’s coat. “Sadly, I was required to insure your death was a lingering one, but it does afford a certain… opportunity.”

Nigel blinked at him. Opportunity? What’s he blathering about? I’m bloody dying! He tried to shake his head, but the movement was barely noticeable. He could feel his life’s blood streaming from the wound. Shock and blood loss made him light-headed and nearly insensible.

“I cannot renege on a contract, once it has been agreed upon, but I can accept a reciprocal contract.”

This elicited a frown from Nigel as he struggled to make sense of it.

“Let me explain. For the sum of money in your pocket, I will undertake to repay your enemy in kind,” Mister Brightly said. “Do you find that agreeable?”

Nigel glared up at his attacker and his mouth formed one word.

Mister Brightly smiled.




“Good evening, sir,” the footman said, opening the carriage door with a short bow.

David Pembroke Norton heaved his considerable bulk out of the carriage and shrugged his shoulders to settle his cape. His massive size wasn’t due to corpulence, but rather a certain… blockiness of form. He paused to regard the edifice of his home with a smug twist to his features. Though shrouded by rising fog, the baroque structure exuded wealth and, in David’s mind, was a fitting monument to his success. You’ve done well for yourself, Davey, old bloke. Better than any other nobbler from Shoreditch, for damn sure.

“Good evening, Robert,” he replied, not bothering to look at the man.

A sudden chill in the air made David shudder. Like someone stepped on my grave. He whipped his head about, staring wide-eyed.

“Are you quite all right, sir?” the footman asked.

David took a deep breath and waved his hand in dismissal. “Yes, yes. Be about your business. I won’t be needing you for the rest of the night.” He drew his cloak tighter around himself. Must be this damned weather. Too chilly and damp, and I’m not getting any younger.

Still disquieted, he hastened his steps to the door, where his butler waited with the patience that all his kind seemed to possess.

“Good evening, sir. I trust your evening was enjoyable?”

David’s mood lifted as memories of the evening’s events dispelled his momentary fear. He smiled as he gave the butler his top hat and white, kid-skin gloves. “Indeed it was, Gregory. I daresay I haven’t enjoyed such an evening in some time.”

“Very good to hear, sir.” Gregory took David’s cloak and folded it over his arm.

“I’m expecting a late caller tonight. Let me know when he arrives. I’ll be in my study.”

“Yes, sir.”

David closed the door to his study and poured himself a drink from a nondescript bottle among the dozen or so on the sideboard. He took a generous swallow, grimacing at the raw taste, and barked a short laugh.

Let all those bloody swells and lords have their scotch, port, and brandy, he scoffed to himself. He held up the glass and stared at the black liquor inside. Rum’s the drink for me. David took a smaller mouthful and settled himself behind his desk. The chair creaked beneath his considerable weight as he leaned back with a sigh.

The house was quiet at this hour. From outside he could hear the sounds of carriages rattling past, punctuated by the measured clopping of hooves. The chimes of Big Ben rang out the half hour, echoing across the city and beyond.

“Good evening, Mister Norton,” came a voice, seemingly from nowhere.

David’s eyes widened and he swiftly reached for the small pistol in the pocket of his waistcoat.

One of the window drapes twitched aside and Mister Brightly stepped forward. “Do not be alarmed. It is only I.”

David slumped in his chair with a loud sigh. “Bloody hell. Gave me a turn, you did.”

“My apologies.”

“Why didn’t you come to the bloody door instead? I told my man to expect you.”

“A mysterious caller at this hour? After the events of earlier this evening? I thought it prudent not to draw attention to myself.” Mister Brightly smiled. “Tongues do wag, after all.”

“So it’s done?”

“Indeed. And, as specified, it was not swift, nor painless.”

David gazed at Mister Brightly, noting his calm demeanor. It was as though he were commenting on the weather. He looked down at the gun in his hand. A small weapon, with only a single shot. Should I? Mysterious intruder in my home. It’d be self-defense.

He looked up at Mister Brightly again, who was regarding him with a faint smile and knowing eyes. He has to be armed, but his hands are empty. Not even carrying a walking stick. Even so, I’d better not chance it. Besides, I might need his services again. He set the pistol on his desk blotter and picked up his drink. “Bloody journalist trying to drag my name through the muck.” David paused to take a drink and loosen his collar. For some reason the room felt stuffy. “I didn’t get where I am by letting some pigeon-livered mandrake cross me without being done down.”

“Your reasons do not interest me. Nor do your questionable business practices, of which the late Mister Barrington was so critical,” Mister Brightly said. “Only the remainder of my fee is pertinent.”

“Right, right,” David said, rubbing his forehead with a shaking hand. He opened his wallet with fumbling fingers. Coins tumbled out onto the desk with small clinking sounds. A few rolled away and rattled to the floor. “Bloody hell, what’s wrong with me?” he muttered, feeling his heart thudding in his chest. He was panting heavily now, unable to catch his breath.

Mister Brightly produced a gold pocket watch and snapped it open. “That would be the poison I put in your bottle of rum,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. He watched the comprehension dawn on Mister Norton’s reddening face and smiled.

“Bastard!” David rasped, reaching for his pistol. He misjudged and sent the weapon sliding across the desk. He clawed at the collar of his shirt with his left hand, while still trying to lean forward enough to reach the gun.

“A pity you had to be so vindictive. While I did ensure that Mister Barrington perished, it left enough time for him to retain my services for his own revenge. Your death will be as lingering as his, but alas, you will not be awake for the full experience.”

Dear God! It can’t end like this. I’m bloody Davey Norton— .

Mister Brightly watched David’s eyes rolled up and his body slumped sideways in the chair. What skin was visible was flushed a bright red, with the face darkening toward a deeper crimson. As soon as his feeble struggles ceased, Mister Brightly stepped forward. He pushed aside a few coins with a gloved finger to separate out three made of gold; guineas.  “A pleasure doing business with you, Mister Norton,” he murmured, flashing a smile. “I will see myself out, if you do not mind.”




Edward Starling walked across the street with short, quick strides, hands jammed into his coat pockets and shoulders hunched. Ahead of him walked two constables, wearing their cockscomb helmets and dark blue coats.

Across the street a knot of people were standing outside the gates of a townhouse that was decorated in a tasteless style over a hundred years out of date.

“Push on through,” Edward ordered the two constables.

“Yes, sir,” the man on the left acknowledged.

“All right you lot, push off,” ordered the constable on the right, raising his voice.

Both men drew their truncheons and began shoving people aside, allowing Edward to continue onward. They broke free of the press of onlookers and entered the gate. A sergeant and four other constables were there, keeping the crowd of spectators at bay.

Edward paused to lift his bowler and smooth his hair as the sergeant approached.

“Evening, Inspector.”

“What’ve we got?” Edward asked, without preamble.

“Body, sir.”

“Mhmm. Who found it?”

“Butler, sir.” He gestured to the open door of the townhouse.

Edward nodded and strode toward it. “Let’s have a look, then.”

The inside of the house matched the outside; expensive but ostentatious. Gilt furniture, lush fabrics, clashing carpeting, and crystal chandeliers.

Somebody wants people to know how rich he is.

He could see a parlor to the left, where the domestic staff were gathered. The chambermaids were all chattering like geese, their voices high-pitched and speech rapid. The butler stood near the door, eyes lowered and his mouth turned down at the corners.

“You there,” Edward said, pointing at the butler, “come with me.”

The butler glanced back into the parlor before following the inspector and the sergeant to the study.

A constable stood on either side of the door. Both straightened noticeably as Edward approached. He gave them both a nod as he passed and stopped just inside the doorway. He surveyed the room from where he stood, taking in the first impression of the crime scene.

No sign of a struggle, he noted to himself. Gun on the desk. He was expecting trouble. Whiskey glass is almost empty and his face and lips have a blue pallor. Edward saw the decanter on the floor, on its side, with a pool of black liquid spread out before it. He wrinkled his nose at the smell. Rum? Not the usual drink for swells. And why did someone pour it out?

Once he’d gleaned what he could from his first observation, the inspector circled the room, counterclockwise. “What’s your name?” he asked the butler.

“Adams, sir. Gregory Adams.”

“When did you find the body, Gregory?”

“A little after two in the morning, sir.”

“He’s still dressed in evening clothes. When did he arrive home?”

“About a quarter past midnight, sir.”

“Was he alone?”

“Yes, sir.” The butler hesitated. “But he did say he was expecting someone.”

“Did this visitor ever arrive?”

“No, sir.” He glanced at the body. “Not that I saw or heard, at least.”

The inspector nodded at the dead man. “Look at his skin color. Only a few things do that to a man.” He glanced at the butler. “Any odd smells when you came into the room? Headache or dizziness?”

“No, sir. Just the smell of rum, with a hint of almonds.”

Edward paused to sniff the air again. “Yes, I’m getting that too, now. Looks like he was poisoned. Bet you a shilling it was cyanide.”

“Oh dear,” the butler whispered, lowering his head.

“Was your master upset when he came home? Did he have any business troubles, perhaps?”

“No, sir. In fact, he seemed in quite a convivial mood when he came home.”

“Probably not suicide, then. Any idea who’d want to do your master in?” Edward asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Mister Norton was… not well-liked, I’m afraid. He was rather aggressive when it came to business.”

“Looks like someone else was even more aggressive.” The inspector gestured at the desk. “Robbery wasn’t the motive. His wallet is there and money’s scattered about.” He saw the corner of a calling card protruding from the wallet. Something about it aroused his suspicions. Edward tugged off his glove and, using his thumb and forefinger, extracted it.

“Oh, bloody hell,” he swore, after reading the card.

“Problem, sir?” asked the waiting sergeant.

“You could say that.” Edward handed the card to him.

He took it from the inspector and read it. “Mister… Brightly, sir?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Bloody phantom,” Edward said, shaking his head.

“I’ve heard the name before, but I didn’t think he was a real person. The other blokes talk about him like he’s some kind of bogeyman.”

“Because nobody knows who he is. People claim to have seen him, but no one can say for sure what he looks like. We’ve made inquiries, but the only person we turned up has been dead for fifteen bloody years.” Edward scowled down at the body. “This is the second bloke we’ve found tonight who’s had one of these cards, and I bloody well don’t believe in coincidence.”




Abney Park Cemetery was located in the northern part of London, in Hackney. It was a sprawling, park-like place, with gentle hills, gardens, and even an arboretum. Grave markers were arranged in ranks, and ran the gamut from simple stone slabs with names and dates carved into them, to more elaborate monuments, statues and mausoleums.

At this hour it was shrouded with heavy fog that drifted with the faint breeze blowing from the south. Barely perceptible in this gray, otherworldly landscape, a lone figure stood before three graves, head bowed and hands in his coat pockets. The two on the left shared a headstone; a columned arch that joined them together. One bore the name of Elizabeth Marie Brightly, Wife and Mother; the other was George Yeates Brightly, Husband and Father. The dates of their passing were identical; January 17, 1860.

It was the third plot that held the solitary figure’s attention, however. An empty swath of green, where another grave should be.

“Mister Brightly,” a deep, cultured voice said, drawing out the word ‘Mister’ in a sibilant hiss. It was the sort of voice that sent shivers down one’s spine.

“I should not think you would be welcome here,” Mister Brightly said, without turning.

The voice responded with a throaty chuckle. “Oh there are ways, if one knows how.”

There was a swishing in the grass as someone approached. “Mourning the fate of your daughter? Does it gnaw at your soul to know she is buried on unhallowed ground, instead of by your side?”

Mister Brightly turned around to see a young woman in a worn, green evening dress walking toward him. Her complexion was very pale, emphasizing her red-painted lips and black eye makeup. Well, this is unexpected.

The woman smiled, running her fingers through her long, chestnut hair hanging over slender shoulders. “Isn’t she lovely?” she inquired, her voice deep and masculine.

“Why are you in that unfortunate girl’s body?”

“So I can walk upon this… consecrated ground.” Her lips twisted in distaste as she waved a slender hand at the surrounding graveyard.

“I thought possession was beneath someone of your stature?”

Her smile broadened as she regarded him with a half-lidded, seductive air. She slid her hands over her hips and stomach, leaning forward to display a modest cleavage. “Oh I am rather enjoying the novelty. Would you care to sample her charms?”

Mister Brightly frowned and shook his head.

“Pity. She has so little time, after all.” She raised her chin to show him a series of dark bruises around her neck. “The gentleman who was… inside her… before me, was not inclined to pay for what he took.”

“You’re possessing a murdered prostitute on the edge of death?”

“An ideal vessel. The taint of evil is so fresh it was child’s play for me to invigorate her, if only for a short time.” She put her hands on her hips and frowned. “Long enough to deal with you, at least. You have overstepped yourself this time.”

“Really? How have I done so?”

“You killed the man who contracted your services. David Pembroke Norton. Have you forgotten the terms of our pact?” She stalked closer to Mister Brightly. “You swore to me to do whatever is required— “

“Whatever is required to free my daughter’s soul from Purgatory, yes,” Mister Brightly interrupted. He smiled. “But nothing was said about only doing what is required.”

The girl stopped and tilted her head to one side as she regarded him. She twirled a lock of hair around her right index finger while she pondered Mister Brightly’s words.

“The man was a blight upon the world,” Mister Brightly continued. “He fed off the misery of others and promulgated that suffering to everything he touched.”

“Exactly. Misery and suffering make people desperate, and desperate people abandon hope. They act without thinking, performing acts that can set them on the road to Hell.” She sighed. “Still, I will concede that your insubordinate action was well-played. In truth, I am still the winner. I gain Mister Norton’s soul sooner than expected, and there is a very good chance that whoever succeeds him will be just as callous and grasping as he was, thus prolonging the suffering of those who were at his mercy.”

“I am so glad you are pleased with my efforts,” Mister Brightly said, in a facetious tone.

She narrowed her eyes as they flared with foxfire light from within. “You are playing a dangerous game,” she hissed. “One where your own soul is already forfeit. Do you really want to wager the soul of your dear, darling, departed daughter?” She stabbed a finger at the third grave, behind him.

“I have not broken the pact,” Mister Brightly said through clenched teeth.

“You have come perilously close to it. On more than one occasion. If you want your daughter’s soul to be released you will do as you are told, for as long as you are told, until you have earned that release.” Her eyes slid to the side, toward the grave next to his. “Or perhaps I should release you from our pact. Offer a similar one to… someone else. Do you think your wife would be as willing to save your daughter’s soul?”

Mister Brightly became very still. “You would not dare. She is beyond your reach.”

“So were you, and yet here we are.” She slowly licked her lips as she walked around him with an exaggerated sway of her hips. Her voice, while still masculine, became a silken purr. “I am sure she would be more pliant to my wishes. Certainly she would be more entertaining. Imagine what I could demand of her, for the promise of salvation for her daughter.”


“Is it?” she snarled, contorting her features into a vicious mask. ” Should I elaborate, or have I sufficiently enlightened you to the possible consequences of your foolish actions?”


“Yes, what?” she said in a sweet voice. “Please be clear. I want no misunderstandings.”

“I understand your warning,” he said, keeping his voice level and his expression immobile.

“That’s better.” She raised her left hand and gestured toward the shared headstone above Mister Brightly’s grave, and that of his wife.  “This should remind you that there is no promise of Heaven for you.”

There was a sharp cracking of stone. Mister Brightly looked up at the monument. A fissure had appeared on the left column, breaking its connection to the arch above. He turned to face the young woman again, his face twisted into a scowl. “You have no right!”

“I have whatever right I choose. If you continue to undermine my works through your rebelliousness, I will break you. And when you fall, your daughter’s soul will also be mine.” She stepped back from the three graves and stared at Mister Brightly. “Remember; you are only a spirit inhabiting a vessel and it is through my agency alone that you remain here. When the time comes for you to depart this mortal plane, I will be waiting to greet you at Hell’s gates, and I will visit such— ” The woman’s eyes rolled upward as the infernal entity animating her lost his hold. She collapsed to the damp ground in a limp heap.

Mister Brightly looked down on the unfortunate girl, his eyes bleak. “We’re all spirits in a mortal shell,” he said, in a soft voice. He thought he saw tears ooze from her eyes as her life expired, but then again, it could have been dew from the wet grass.

He picked her up and walked some distance from his family’s graves. He laid her on a granite slab decorated with intricate carvings of vines, birds and a cross, arranging her with tender care.

Back at his family’s plot, he stared down at his daughter’s grave, reading the inscription again; the date of her death was only two weeks older than those of Mister Brightly and his wife. There was no aching in his heart, which no longer beat, nor tears in his eyes. Only a yawning void of sorrow.

Mister Brightly raised his eyes to stare into the immobile face of the angel that marked the empty grave. He reached out and caressed the marbled cheek. “Dear, sweet Penelope. Why could you not endure? Why did you try to follow your mother and I? Why couldn’t you live?”

There was no answer. In fifteen years there never had been.

A subtle change in the air made him turn his head and look toward the east. A sense of anticipation of which all creatures of the darkness were aware. Dawn was coming.

Mister Brightly stretched himself out on top of his grave and closed his eyes. “To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – aye, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come.”

There was a sensation of falling, followed by a vague sense of claustrophobia. He opened his eyes, and even in the utter darkness of his coffin, saw the wooden lid only a few inches in front of him. Mister Brightly closed his eyes again as the torpor of the grave seeped into him. Night would come again, and again he would rise to fulfill his purpose. If he had been breathing, he would have sighed. “There are no dreams for the dead and the damned. Only oblivion.”