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Dead Man's Chest
About the Author: Michael Kelly is the former Series Editor for the Year's Best Weird Fiction. He’s a Shirley Jackson Award and British Fantasy Award-winning editor, and a two-time World Fantasy Award nominee. His fiction has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Black Static, Nightmare Magazine, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 & 24, Postscripts, PseudoPod, Weird Fiction Review, and has been previously collected in Scratching the Surface & Undertow & Other Laments.

Fog twisted around the two men, Keller and Hayes, as they walked along the dark, cobbled street.

“Blast it all, Keller,” Hayes said. “Can we hurry along a bit quicker?”

Keller, to Hayes’s immense displeasure, slowed, turned to his friend, removed his cigarillo. “Whatever for? It seems a decidedly nice evening for a stroll.”

“If you hadn’t noticed, Benedict, it’s frightfully cold.”

Plumes of cold breath issued from Keller’s mouth. “Hmmm ... you’re right, John, I hadn’t noticed.”

Hayes glowered, trembled. “We should have taken a carriage, as I’d suggested.”

Keller smiled, continued his leisurely pace.

“This damp will be the death of me, Keller. Just you wait and see.”

“Hmmm, yes,” Keller muttered.

Hayes noticed, with some chagrin, that Keller hadn’t even bothered to fasten his coat properly.

Cold sheets of mist sheathed the streets. The mist hung crystalline in the yellow glow of the gaslights, coating the lampposts and streets in a greasy sheen.

Keller and Hayes were returning, unhurriedly, from an evening of conviviality at The Dragon Pub. Benedict Keller nursed his cigarillo and John Hayes nursed a growing headache, perhaps brought on by one too many snifters of brandy. The street was still but for the occasional call of a tomcat, and both men were quiet now, seemingly lost in their own thoughts, when a high, shrill scream pierced the night.

Keller was immediately alert. He took his cigarillo from his mouth, tamped it out and put it in his pocket. Another scream rent the thick night air and Keller gestured with a nod of his head. “This way, Hayes. Around the corner. From the sounds of it, I believe there’s a lady in some distress.”

Coat flapping wildly, Keller bolted up the street. Hayes hurried after Keller. The narrow street was lined with terraced townhomes with neat hedgerows of shrubbery. A small crowd began to gather outside one of the townhomes. The front door of the home was open and meagre lamplight silhouetted a young boy standing in the doorway. Keller strode through the crowd, up the walkway and a few stairs, to the door.

Hayes turned to the crowd. “Please, I beg you to go back to your comfortable beds. Benedict Keller is on the matter. The less distraction, the better. Please, go home.”

Someone from the crowd asked, “Who in blazes is Benedict Keller?”

“Private investigator,” Hayes answered. “The world’s foremost detective, I’d reckon.”

“We’d best call on some real coppers,” someone said. Muffled murmurs arose from the crowd, then they turned and dispersed.

Hayes turned and went up the pathway and into the foyer of the home, where Keller was speaking with the young boy. The boy was fair, freckled, and blue-eyed. His thick red hair was a jumble of tangles.

Keller turned to Hayes, and indicating the boy, said, “This, Hayes, is Wendell Oliver, a young man who lives here with his mother. Wendell was about to depart and fetch the police.”

Hayes addressed the boy. “What folly, my boy, would send you out into the damp night in search of the constabulary?”

“Murder, sir.”


Keller stamped his feet, like an impatient stallion. Hayes thought he caught a glimpse of a grin passing over Keller’s normally implacable features. He couldn’t quite reconcile the fact that he thought his friend Keller seemed to actually enjoy his macabre endeavours a little too much. Sometimes Hayes saw beneath Keller’s veneer, and he didn’t always like what he saw.

“My Lord, Hayes,” Keller said, “how much Brandy did you imbibe? Your complexion has taken on an altogether unpleasant ruddiness. Like the devil himself.”

Hayes knew that Keller was having him on and was pleased to see his friend back to his familiar jesting mockery.

“The weather,” Hayes said. “It is rather cold. As I’ve mentioned.”

Keller’s eyes sparkled. “Ah, yes, the weather. A convenient explanation.”

“Nonetheless, it is the truth.”

“Well then,” Keller said, nodding at a closed wooden door off the main foyer, “shall we investigate?” He clasped the young man’s shoulder. “I’ve assured the young master of my credentials. We’ll send him to the police once I’ve concluded the investigation to my satisfaction.”

This story appears in our OCT 2021 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Short and sweet!!!! Loved it!!! I enjoyed Keller and Hayes!!! Bravo!
By Tina

Relatable characters with time period accuracy.
By Well done and fast moving.

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