Night’s bright shadow completes the man

By day, who could be more respectable than I? Sitting just a rung or two below the Prime Minister, I am a well-regarded man, a benefactor of hospitals, an advocate for the improvement of the masses.

But I am also more. The gentleman of the daytime blends into the man of the night. Late night sittings in Parliament keep me away from the safe environs of my home, and I can indulge my other self in the inns and alleyways of our capital. To roam from the licentious streets of Whitechapel to the exotic dens of ill-repute in Limehouse – these provide an entry to the range of pleasures that cannot be spoken of amongst those worthy men and women content to live only half a life.

My pleasures are not of the ordinary kind. Though I drink and laugh and gamble with friends who dabble at the foothills of vice, their simple and innocent vice bores me. The beast within demands more.

At midnight the streets of East London throng with the drunk and dissipated, gentlemen adventurers, students learning the necessary secrets of manhood, as well as the lonely, desperate and deformed. There are singers, tricksters, jugglers, actors and actresses – all looking for a way up in the world as instead they sink to the bottom.

And there in the depths is my Anya, my exotic angel of pain, for whom nothing is too much to endure.

To discover the deepest pinnacles of vice, you need to roam those streets and alleyways that the gaslight does not reach; where tall tenements keep the sun from ever penetrating the shadows; where church bells are only heard as muffled echoes through the fog.

The smells of this vital wasteland excite my soul: the foul miasma of the river, the whiff of an opium den as a door quickly opens and shuts, the cheap perfume of the streetwalkers as they pursue you with lewd shouts and gestures.

I have ventured through all their tricks and secrets. Yet always I craved further exaltation in degradation. Until I found my Anya, who so captured me with her art – the only woman to dominate me so completely. She is my saint, my harlot; my most complete, perfect and terrible woman.

I was happy to shower her with gifts, to set her up with a finer life. Yet her demands increased – for her ‘sick brother’. But this brother was a fraud: in reality her lover, husband, daemon, pimp – a wastrel of huge appetites and cunning.

He – Petrovsky by name – took all I gave her and more. Then, one ill-starred night, they drugged me with opium. They entrapped me in intimate poses with chains and whips, embracing every kind of monstrous creature from the gutter. Exploiting my stupor, Petrovsky took photographs of it all. Then blackmailed me with ever increasing demands.

Yet it was all too plain to see that Anya was not prospering from the money I gave. For Petrovsky was addicted both to narcotics and gambling.

Then one day in Limehouse, I chanced to see Anya entering a pawn shop. I waited in the shadows and went in after she left. The pawnbroker showed me the silver necklace she had pawned. It was nothing of great value, but one I knew Anya treasured greatly, a parting gift from her mother.

Still the demands for money kept coming, and the threats of exposure. One morning I saw these words scrawled on the wall outside my home: “The world will know who you are!”. The writing was indeed on the wall – but for them, not me. It was time to unleash my other self and end this.

In Stepney I hired two ruffians. We went to Petrovsky’s grim and foul-smelling lodgings. I offered a final payment, demanding in return the photographic plates and all prints in their possession. When they refused, I had my ruffians bind Petrovsky and hold a razor to his throat.

Anya had a choice to make: Petrovsky’s life for the photographic plates and prints. It disappointed me a little how eagerly she accepted the trade. We went through the darkest alleys to the home of her friend where they were kept. She assured me there were no others, and I believed her.

Returning to her lodgings, I had the ruffians take Petrovsky to a certain dockyard and wait for me. Meanwhile, I would have my last moments of exhilaration with Anya.

I cannot describe the ferocity of our passion. From deep within, an ancient memory stirred: my inner reptilian self emerged, cold-blooded and predatory, like the great lizards of prehistory, savage and tyrannical. When the frenzy passed, I saw her broken and mutilated body. The passion that had enslaved me was gone. A few strokes of a knife, and people would believe her to be the latest of the Ripper killings.

And Petrovsky? I paid the ruffians off, then cut his throat and dropped him in the Thames. Another victim of the opium gangs, it would seem.

I burned the prints. As I studied the photographic plates, I saw myself in negative, and was for a time fascinated. The outer edges of the plates were white, where the darkness of the night was in negative rendered bright. Conversely, the wicked acts in the centre image appeared darker on the plate, where in life they had been briefly illuminated by the flare of a magnesium lamp.

I broke the plates and crushed them underfoot, before consigning the shards of my entrapment to the fire.

Some may think I have sold my soul to the devil. That is not so – I have merely lent it to him. I use my wealth and power to do much good, and overwhelm my peers with the generosity of my donations. Thus I will redeem my soul, as if from that very same pawn shop where Anya parted with her cross.

But not yet – for there is so much more I have still to taste.

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