If you are new to the Interactive Novel or are just wanting to catch up with the story so far you can find the abridged versions of the previous instalments below. The next instalment is published Monday 19th November
Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel.
At the end of each weekly instalment will be at least one poll where you will decide either:
• What happens next
• A setting
• A character to be introduced
Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote.
Wednesday, 19th September 1860
Church house looked more like a prison than a domestic property. The derelict house had not been lived in for years. A nervous looking man greeted us on arrival. He muttered some warnings about the house being haunted. Professor Ashcroft just laughed. Convinced there was no such thing as ghosts he had agreed a wager to spend the night in the house. Of course, that meant I would be joining him.
Inside the house, the musty air felt cold, almost oppressive, as if there was something in the house that wanted to be left alone. I followed the professor into the front room. After lighting the fire and some candles the damp room felt almost habitable.
We sat down to work through our books and did not stop until tea time. Outside night had fallen but as I ate I could see a streak of movement dart past the window. It was too big to be a bird or a bat. My heart pounding, I crossed the room not looking up at the glass out of fear that I would see some demonic face staring back at me. I yanked the curtains shut.
We returned to our books. The house remained eerily silent apart from the crackle of the fire and the scribble of our pens. Suddenly there was a creaking noise from above. It sounded like footsteps.
“Just the floorboards drying out,” the Professor muttered.
The house fell silent only to be interrupted by thuds from the hallway as if somebody was running up stairs followed by the slamming of a door.
“Rats,” the Professor exclaimed without looking up from his book.
I tried and failed to ignore the sounds throughout the house. We were not alone, and it wasn’t just vermin.
Abruptly the Professor picked up a lantern, rose to his feet and announced he was going into the garden to relieve himself. I heard the front door close and I was alone in the haunted house. Moments later the Professor returned without the lantern. He claimed he had dropped it and broken it. He poured himself a large measure of whisky.
The front door banged and then began to rattle.
“The wind, sir,” I suggested.
“Sounds like somebody trying to break in,” he said. He looked grave and troubled as if he was coming to terms with the idea that ghosts did exist.
The rattling of the door ceased only for the sound of somebody tapping against the window.
“Why are you here?” he suddenly asked.
“I am not sure what you mean?”
My response angered him so much that he crushed the glass in his hands slicing his palm open.
But no blood flowed from the wound.
“Nigel! Let me in,” came Professor Ashcroft’s muffled cry from outside the window. If the Professor was outside, then who was in the room with me?
The spectre sat in the chair was an elderly man with sallow skin pulled tight against its skull. It radiated an aura of hate as if it despised me for living. It shot across the room throwing me from my feet. The ghost loomed over me. It reached towards me…
There was a smash of glass and the spectre vanished. The Professor fell into the room.
“You have wet yourself!” the Professor said shaking his head. “I thought you were house trained. I am sure you go to new lengths to test my patience.”
He sat down in his chair. “My seat is damp.”
“Sorry sir I spilt my drink.”
He looked at me suspiciously and changed chair. With a change of clothes, I sat down in the damp chair. The Professor soon fell asleep. Unable to sleep I listened to the sound of the ghost as it ran up down the stairs and slammed doors in anger, but it did not return to our room.
Just after dawn, the Professor woke with a smile. “See no such thing as ghosts. That was the easiest twenty pounds I have ever made.”
Thursday, 20th September 1860
On our return to London I retreated to my room. After a terrifying night I had decided I was no longer cut out to assist the Professor in his investigations into the supernatural. I sat down to write my resignation letter but exhausted I fell asleep after writing only a few words.
I was woken with instructions to head down to the Professor’s study. There was a mysterious guest who needed our help. My letter of resignation would have to wait. I headed to the Professor’s study unknowing that the Professor’s guest had news that would make me question my future like never before…
Thursday, 20th September 1860
I opened the study door. The Professor sat at his desk watching the teenage girl, sat in the chair beside the fire, being fussed over by Mrs Cooper, the housekeeper. Despite the heat in the room the girl was shivering. Her skin was pale. She wore no shoes. Her filthy feet were covered in mud and dried blood as is if she had walked here barefoot.
I stood by the Professor’s desk feeling like a spare part. Reaching a similar conclusion, the Professor rose to his feet.
“Don’t go Arthur,” the girl pleaded.
The Professor frowned. “How do you know my name?”
“Nigel will tell me,” the girl said.
The Professor glanced at me. I shook my head. I had never seen her before in my life.
“Will tell you? You speak in the wrong tense.”
“I spoke in the right tense. Nigel and I are yet to have a conversation, but we will. They are coming for me. Please Professor Ashcroft you must understand I need your help. You won’t believe me, nobody does.”
“Anne Farmer, sir.”
“Well Miss Farmer if I will not believe you then you are wasting my time and yours.”
“Maybe, sir but not Nigel’s. I know he will help me. I have foreseen it.”
“If your claiming to have some sort of prophetic ability, then Nigel is naïve enough to believe you. As for me I will not consider such nonsense, but I do love a good charlatan.”
“There is an evil at Elmwich. It is after something and when it gets hold of it there will be no stopping it.” Anne stiffened. “They are here.”
On que there was a heavy knocking on the front door.
“Get the door, Nigel,” the Professor instructed.
I hurried down the stairs and pulled open the door. A man with a rodent like face stood between two hulking guards.
“My name is Doctor James Downer. I am a doctor from Elmwich Asylum. We are looking for a girl.”
“Nigel let these gentlemen in.” Professor Ashcroft said descending the stairs. “What is your interest in the girl?”
“Miss Anne Farmer is an escaped patient at Elmwich Asylum she is delusional and dangerous.”
“She has treated us to some of her delusions. Please come this way gentlemen.”
He led Doctor Downer up to his study. Seeing Anne, he smiled. Under his instruction Anne was bounded in a straitjacket, gagged and led from the room.
The Professor returned to his desk. “Nigel, will you show the Doctor to the door.”
I followed Doctor Downer to the front door.
“One question Doctor,” I said. “How did you know to find her here?”
“She had carved your name and address into the walls of her room.”
Friday 21st September 1860
Collecting the morning papers the mysterious Anne Farmer was playing on my mind. I kept returning to the same conundrum. How did a patient locked away in an asylum know my name and address?
Returning to the house I found the Professor at this desk eating breakfast. He took the papers off me and I told him my concerns regarding Miss Farmer.
He dismissed my questions showing no interest in the enigma of Anne Farmer. Instructing me to be ready in the hour he dismissed me.
An hour later as we rode in a hansom cab and the Professor told me of our destination.
“Clements’ & Willatt’s Auction House,” he explained. “They specialise in antiques and curiosities that the other auction houses tend to frown upon. Lot number 34 has drawn my attention. It is an artefact with a sinister history. Supposedly it is cursed. A load of nonsense of course. However, I have my winnings from the other night burning a hole in my pocket and it should make a fascinating acquisition to my collection.”
I turned my attention to watching the bustling streets pass by. Little did I know that Lot 34 would be far more than just a little trinket, it would ultimately lead me to Elmwich Asylum…
Friday 21st September 1860
Professor Ashcroft led the way into the auction house. Men and women were sat in cream chairs before a stage. Behind a pulpit an auctioneer was taking the bids for a vase.
“It is probably a fake,” the Professor muttered
“Professor Ashcroft always the cynic,” said a voice behind us.
We turned to see an elderly man with a grey bearded hobbling into the room.
“Professor Elman,” the Professor said coldly. There was certainly no love lost between the two men.
“So tell me Arthur what has caught your interest today?”
“Lot number thirty-four.”
“Are you interested in it’s history or the curse?”
“There are no such things as curses.”
Professor Elman smiled. “The Amulet of Nergal has a long history of misfortune befalling all those that have possessed it.”
“Nothing more than coincidences.”
“There have been far too many deaths linked to the amulet for it to be just a coincidence. You may find you have competition for the piece. I am not the only interested party.”
Professor Elman hobbled off to find a seat.
We made our way down the central aisle and took a pair of seats on the right of the stage. I flicked through the catalogue for Lot 34.
Lot No. 34 – The Amulet of Nergal. Believed to originate in Ancient Mesopotamia, the amulet is cast from gold and contains a large ruby in its centre.
“My goodness they are all coming out of the woodwork,” the Professor muttered.
He was looking at a muscular man in late thirties with long black hair, a thin moustache and crooked nose
“Who is he, sir?”
“Reginald Pearce. A few years back he was caught smuggling artefacts out of China. He fled abandoning his partners to face punishment.”
The auctioneer banged his gavel selling Lot no. 33.
“And now we come to Lot thirty-four,” said the auctioneer. “The Amulet of Nergal.”
A porter stepped on the stage carrying the amulet, a spade shaped piece of dull yellow metal. It had a large red stone set in the centre. The metal had been moulded so it had two raised curves either side of the stone giving the impression of an eye.
“Now the opening bid is twelve pounds?” called out the auctioneer
The Professor raised his hand.
“Will anybody give me thirteen?”
Professor Elman rose his paddle. Pearce bid fourteen, the Professor fifteen, Pearce to sixteen, and Elman up to seventeen. This was turning out to be a three way battle
Elman requested a closer view of the item. I followed the Professor and Pearce to the stage.
The doors to the auditorium flew open.
Six men charged into the hall with scarves and hats concealing their identities.
“Get down on the floor,” yelled one of the men.
A guard moved to intercept him. One of the masked men pulled out a pistol and fired at the guard.
He missed. The porter dropped the tray holding the Amulet of Nergal and fell clutching his stomach
The Professor leapt into action pressing a handkerchief against the wound. The gunman ordered us to lay pass over our possessions to his associates carrying around a kit bag.
One of the robbers holding his kitbag reached us. He had ginger eyebrows and sideburns. I dropped my purse into the bag. The robber moved down the line. He spotted the amulet laying at the side of the stage. He reached out for it.
There was a distant bell ringing.
“Leave the rest,” bellowed the lead gunman gesturing for the others to follow. The robbers fled from the room.
The gunmen had fired one shot into a crowded auditorium hitting the porter holding the Amulet of Nergal. Was it a coincidence that the only person laying in a pool of blood had been in possession of the amulet? Or was he another victim of the curse?
I looked towards the amulet.
It was gone!
The robber must have stolen it. But I couldn’t remember seeing him take it and he wasn’t the only one with the opportunity to steal the amulet.
Reginald Pearce was already marching for the door. He had been next to the amulet. Was he fleeing with the amulet in his pocket?
Or could Professor Elman have taken it? He could have snatched the amulet in the confusion.
I had to forget all about the amulet. It had nothing to do with me. Or so I thought….