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.
Vote closes for the Fourth Instalment on Thursday 22nd November at 8am GMT
If your new to the interactive novel or what a refresher what has happened previously find a quick reminder below or read all the other instalments at http://www.theinteractivenovel.com
Previously in the Interactive Novel
After a terrifying encounter in a haunted house Nigel Briggs, assistant to Professor Ashcroft debunker of the supernatural, decides to resign. Before he can write his resignation letter he is summoned to the professor’s study where a girl, Anne Farmer, who hints she can foresee the future, requests his help. Moments latter a doctor from an asylum restrains her and takes her away. On leaving Nigel asked how the doctor managed to find her. The doctor reveals Anne had caved Nigel’s name and address into the walls of her cell.
The next morning Professor Ashcroft requests that Nigel accompany him to an auction. Going under the hammer is a supposedly cursed artefact (the amulet of Nergal). However, the auction is interrupted by some armed robbers. During their robbery a porter is shot and the amulet vanishes…
Friday, 21 September 1860
I perched on the edge of the stage, my legs dangling a few inches for the floor. The Professor sat beside me smoking the pipe he held in blood stained hands. Behind us lay the steward. Only his legs and feet were visible beneath our jackets. We had tried in vain to save his life, pressing clothes against the wound in a pitiful attempt to halt the bleeding. The Professor suspected the bullet had penetrated his stomach. The porter’s last few moments had been harrowing to watch. In agony he screamed and prayed to God. We forced a hip flask of whisky down his throat to help with the pain and then all we could do was try and comfort him. It didn’t help that the rest of the auditorium watched on with grisly fascination as if attending a gruesome stage production. When it finally came to an end the Professor closed his eyes and we covered him in our jackets. We had then sat down in contemplation at the edge of the stage to wait for the MET to take charge.
To take my mind off the porter’s death I looked around the auditorium. A pair of constables stood by the doors. They had arrived within minutes of the robbers fleeing. Their first course of action was to seal off the auditorium and wait for detectives from the MET to arrive. At first there was anger from a few of the patrons, but then realising their protests were falling on deaf ears they had sat down in resignation.
The auditorium doors opened and in marched a procession of detectives and constables. In charge was Chief Inspector Finch, a hard-looking man with silver hair and a goatee fastidiously cut to enhance his square jawline. He didn’t need to call for attention as all eyes were already upon him.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Chief Inspector Finch bellowed like a drill sergeant. “My fellow officers will be taking statements. Nobody leaves here until everybody has made a statement.”
He turned to the officers behind them and pointing his finger conducted them to begin their enquiries in different parts of the auditorium. Once they all started scuttling off to carry out his orders, he walked along the central aisle towards us.
“Good afternoon Arthur,” he said greeting the Professor. The Professor and Finch got on like peas in a pod. Publicly they both shared the same view that any supernatural or paranormal incident were the work of hoaxers or the fantasies of the delusional. Finch offered his hand, caught sight of the Professor’s bloody hands and withdrew it. He looked at me and grunted, “Boy.”
I gave a curt nod in response. I had first met Chief Inspector Finch in a cemetery when we have been investigating a spate of body snatching. I had taken a disliking to the man on that occasion. Recently my disliking had turned to suspicion that he was covering up for a secret society using occult powers to influence and dictate the direction of the country. Like the other prominent businessmen and politicians that were involved I had no evidence just my own suspicions.
“What a rotten bit of luck that you got caught up in all of this,” Finch said. “They take anything of yours?”
“No. I think they took something of Nigel’s.”
“My purse,” I said, although Finch wasn’t listening, he was clambering up on to the stage. He knelt by the porter’s head and lifted the corner of my jacket off the man’s face.
“So, we are dealing with a murder as well as robbery,” Finch said dropping the coat.
Always one to share his opinion, the Professor added, “From the placement of the wound I suspect that the bullet wedged in his stomach. I tried to stanch the bleeding, but it was to no avail. He was going to die the second the gun was fired.”
“And they fired just one shot,” mused Finch. “Unlucky sod that it happened to hit him.”
“It wasn’t just bad luck,” I piped up. “He was holding a cursed artefact at the time.”
Both men looked at me with disproval.
“It might be important,” I insisted defensively. “What if it was the curse that killed him?”
“Nigel, it was the bullet that killed him,” the Professor snapped. “This is no time for any of your nonsense.”
“This artefact. What is it?” Finch asked.
“It’s an amulet from ancient Mesopotamia. Rumours are it is cursed. I was hoping of purchasing it today,” the Professor said. He looked around the stage. “But it appears to be missing.”
“The robber’s must have taken it,” Finch said. He looked up at one of the constables and waved him over to us. “I need to speak to the auctioneer now. If you could leave a statement with my colleague here and then your free to go.”
* * *
It was early evening by the time we returned to the Professor’s house. Although we had been the first to be given permission to leave the auction house the Professor had been adamant to stay while the MET carried out their investigation. We were not being included with their enquires so the Professor carried out his own investigation. I followed him around the auditorium as he looked for clues to identify the masked gunmen. I suspected his motivation was because an innocent man had died and as he had not been able to save the porter, he somehow felt like he had to make amends by bringing the culprits to justice.
I was not surprised we found no clue to the masked men’s identities. From what I eavesdropped from the police they also were no closer to discovering who the robbers were either.
Returning to the Professor’s house I was instructed to find Mrs Cooper and have a meal sent up to his study. He was planning on cleaning himself up, having a quick bite to eat, before heading out to the Noscere Society. I on the other hand had been dismissed for the night.
I found Mrs Cooper in the kitchen rolling out pastry. Gertie was at the sink washing dishes.
“Is that blood on your shirt?” Mrs Cooper said in greeting. For the first time I glanced at my suit. I had dark stains on my shirt and several patches on my jacket. Taking off my jacket I found brown stains on the cuffs of my shirt.
Mrs Cooper took one look at the stains and shook her head. “I won’t get those stains out?”
That was my best suit ruined.
“That’s not your blood is it?” Gertie asked.
“There was a robbery at the auction house. A porter got shot. The Professor and I tried to…” I couldn’t finish my sentence. I was feeling exhausted. The day had taken its toll.
“Are you alright?” Gertie asked.
“Its been a long day. Is it alright if we give your lessons a miss tonight?”
With disappointment she nodded. Gertie was desperate to learn how to read and write. It was the only reason she persevered with working in the Professor’s house.
“I am going to call it a night. Professor Ashcroft would like hot food sent up to his study.”
I retreated to my bedroom. The attic rooms in the Professor’s house had no fireplace. The chimney from the study and the Professor’s bedroom rose up through my room and some of the heat radiated through the brick work but not enough to warm the room. On an autumn evening the room was bearable. I wasn’t looking forward to winter. I changed my clothes and wrapping a blanket over my shoulders I sat down on the edge of the bed to write in my journal.
I was just writing about what happened in the auction house when there was a tap at the door.
Gertie stepped into my room carrying a plate with cold meat, cheese and a few slices of bread in one hand and a pot of tea in the other.
“I thought you might be hungry.”
She placed the plate on my bed. “Tough day? Do you want to talk about it?”
I had misread her disappointment earlier as concern about my wellbeing.
“I saw a man die today.” It wasn’t the first time I had seen a man die. It wasn’t even the first time I had seen a man shot. But watching somebody die had not gotten any easier.
“The robbery went wrong,” I explained. “I don’t think the robbers meant to shoot him. He just happened to be unlucky or…Do you believe in curses?”
“Nigel, we have seen the dead come back to life. There is nothing in this world I don’t believe in. So, what has a curse got to do with the porter?”
“He was holding a supposedly cursed artefact when he was shot. The Professor was trying to buy it.”
“Then we had a lucky escape.” Gertie said. “What happened to the artefact?”
“It was stolen.”
“Then you can forget all about it. Would you like another mystery to think about instead? It will take your mind off robbers and curses.”
I frowned at her. She reached into her right shoe and pulled out a folded piece of paper. She passed it to me. One side had a ragged edge where it had been torn from the page of a newspaper. Printed on the page was an advert for a pawn shop. Written in black ink over the advert was.
Brown. 22 Pear Lane.
“It’s an address?” Gertie said. “I am right, aren’t I?”
“Yes. Can you read it?”
“I thought we weren’t having lessons tonight,” she said taking the piece of paper off me.
Frowning with concentration she held the piece of paper up to the candle light. “Br-rr-ow- n. Brow – n. Brown. What does the colour brown mean?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. What does this bit say?”
“Twenty two. Pp- e- a-r. Per.”
“Try again,” I said. “Think of a fruit.”
“Pear,” she said looking please with herself. I nodded and pointed to the next word.
“L-l-a – la-n,e. Lane. The note says Brown. Twenty-two Pear Lane.”
“Very good,” I said. “So, what is the address for?”
“I don’t know. That is why I have brought it to you. Do you know where Pear Lane is?”
I shook my head. “Where did you find it?”
“That is the curious thing,” she said with a smile. “Mrs Cooper asked me to tidy up the Professor’s study. I was folding up a blanket and this note fell out. It had been in the folds of the cloth. The blanket was the one wrapped around the girl from last night.”
With the events of the day I had forgotten all about the mysterious girl that had been in the Professor’s study.
“You think this has something to do with Anne Farmer?” I asked.
“Who else? Its not yours or the Professor’s handwriting. I bet she left the note here for us to find. We need to go to that address and find out why.”
“We don’t need to do anything, Gertie. For all we know it is just a scrap piece of paper floating around the Professor’s study.”
“It’s not his handwriting. It came from Anne. Don’t tell me you’re not a little bit curious about her. What is at Pear Lane? It must be important otherwise she wouldn’t have left this note behind. If you won’t come with me Nigel, I will go on own.”
She was determined to find out what was at Pear Lane either with or without me if needed be.
“Tomorrow is Saturday. The Professor is going out tonight. He won’t be up until late. I will go and check it out in the morning.”
“I’m coming too and don’t tell me no because it might be dangerous.” She had that stubborn look in her eye which meant I had as much chance of telling the sun not to rise as convincing her to change her mind.
I would never tell her, but I was glad for the company. The idea of turning up at an unknown address with no idea what to expect on my own was unsettling. Not wanting to look relived I signed with resignation.
“Very well if you have to come along.”
Saturday 22nd September 1860
Somehow Gertie managed to persuade Mrs Cooper to let her off her duties for the morning. Well that is what she told me. I didn’t put it past Gertie just to sneak out of the house and then deal with the consequences when she got back. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
Not having the faintest idea where Pear Lane was, we walked to the corner of the road and waved down a passing cab. I climbed up into the seat and asked the driver to take us to the address. After a brief look of surprise, he nodded and tugged on the reigns.
The reason for his surprise soon became apparent as the cab turned on to Saffron Hill, a narrow road of slum housing with a reputation for being home to thieves and paupers. Halfway down the road the cab drew to a halt at the entrance to Pear Lane. Marked down as part of the slum clearances for the construction of the new underground railway, Pear Lane was mixture of dilapidated buildings and boarded up workshops. The street ended at a knacker’s yard. Thick plumes of foul-smelling smoke rose from its chimney filling the air with the stench of burnt flesh from rendering down horses. A group of barefoot street urchins were playing in the puddled-up gutters along the side of the street. Beside an old brick kiln a woman was arguing with a man, her voice piercing the air with expletives, while he struggled to stand in his drunkenness.
“Are you sure you got the right place?” the cab driver asked.
I looked down the street in two minds about getting out. Perhaps it would be better to mention it to the Professor and return with him. However, Gertie took the decision away from me.
“This is it,” Gertie said scrambling down from the cab.
With no choice but to follow, I paid the driver and clambered down on to the street. The driver gave us a look of concern then urged the horses on.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I asked.
“No,” Gertie admitted. “But we are here now. Let’s take a quick look at number twenty-two and then we leave.”
This was not an area of London you could walk down without being on your guard. It was a den full of thieves and the desperate. Lights from candles glowed faintly through the filth entrusted windows of some of the buildings. A few of the buildings had holes in their roofs and on one property the chimney lay in the road as pile of mossy rubble. We passed a mangy looking cat. It gave us a baleful glance then returned to watching a scrawny pig snuffle through a pile of rubbish, hoping a startled mouse or rat would be disturbed. The argument between the man and woman had ended, with her storming off and the man stumbling after her. Their argument had been replaced by the cries of a baby and the barking of the dog. There was yelling of a man’s voice, several expletives, and a loud yelp before the dog fell silent.
We reached the urchins playing in the blocked gutter. The water smelt stagnant with the slight whiff of sewage. Splashing water, they raced over to us. They thrust out their grubby hands.
“’ave you got any money,” they begged circling us. Weaving in and out of each other and rotating around us meant keeping track of their thieving hands was an almost impossible task.
“All we have is a shilling,” Gertie said. “We will give it to you if you go off and play.”
“You got more than that,” said a boy of five with a runny nose.
“That is all we have. Nigel pass them our only coin.”
Holding my jacket tightly around me I reached inside my pocket. I fingered the coins in my pocket. Certain I had a shilling I pulled it out and handed it to Gertie. She dropped the shilling into the hands of a girl. The children ran off squabbling amongst themselves.
Number twenty-two was a narrow two-story property next to an abandoned workshop. The downstairs window was boarded up while the upstairs window had a hole in the corner of the smoke blackened glass. The side of the wall was damp and growing out of a clump of debris and moss on the roof was a sorry looking sampling. There was no light inside and the property looked abandoned.
“What do we now?” Gertie asked.
“I guess we see if anyone is home.” I gave the door a light rap with my knuckles.
Gertie pushed past me. “That is not knocking. Nobody would hear that.”
She thumped heavily against the door. The door buckled under the pressure and swung open revealing a long dark corridor. Gertie glanced at me. I shrugged. Rolling her eyes, she stuck her head into the house.
“Hello? Is anybody there? Hello?” There was no response. “Guess nobody is home.” She looked down the street. Now the urchin children were gone it was deserted. “Come on let’s have a quick look, nobody is watching.”
Just because the street was empty didn’t mean that we were not being observed. Who knew who was lurking behind the filthy windows of the other properties. Before I could say this to Gertie, she entered the house.
I groaned. Why did she have to be so headstrong with no regard for her own safety? Worse why did I keep following her into danger?
The inside of the house smelt musty and of smoke. It was almost impossible to see anything in the gloom. I took out a candle and match from my coat pocket. After the incident in the Potteries where I had first met Gertie, I had gotten into the habit of carrying a source of light with me everywhere I went. Holding the tallow candle between my lips I struck the match. I lit the candle and then held it between my fingers, so any wax dripped on to the floor.
In the orange light the corridor ended with a ladder going up through a hole in the ceiling to the second floor above. There were two doors leading into the downstairs rooms. The first door we reached had a hole kicked through the rotting timber and the handle missing. I pushed open the door with my foot.
Several stained mattresses and nests made of rotting rags covered the floor. The burnt out remains of a fire was in the hearth. Waxy puddles that had once been candles were on the mantlepiece and sill of the boarded-up window. Beer and gin bottles littered the floor. Gertie moved into the room. I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder stopping her. The rags were probably crawling with fleas, lice, and who knew what else.
The other room downstairs was also filled with bedding and empty bottles. One of the nests of rags ruffled. A large rat its beady eyes reflecting the candle light emerged from the bedding. It looked at us as if we were intruding upon it. Gertie picked up a bottle and flung it at the rat. She missed, and the rat scurried away through a hole in the wall.
“I hate them,” she said. “They used to sneak in the store at the china factory and eat the candles.”
With finding nothing downstairs there was only upstairs to check. As I held the candle I went first. I climbed the ladder one handed with the rungs creaking. I stuck my head up through the hole and froze.
There was a man in the room.
Enough daylight penetrated the smoke-stained glassed window to provide a dimness to the room beyond my candle flame. The room was a full of bedding, rubbish and a pile of clothes. The man lay on his stomach with his feet pointing towards me. He didn’t move. Something wasn’t right.
“What is the matter?” Gertie asked impatiently.
“There is somebody in the room,” I whispered back down to her.
“Are they asleep?” she hissed back.
I shook my head. The man was laying on top of what looked like a dark blanket.
“Hello,” I called out.
The man didn’t respond. There seemed to be something sticking out of his back. I frowned. There were dark streaks on the floorboards leading from the ladder to the man’s feet. I placed the candle on to the floorboards and reached out towards the nearest dark streak. It was tacky to my touch. I held my finger up to the candle light. My stomach lurched. It was blood.
Expecting the worse I climbed up through the hole in the floor. With the candle in my hand I approached the man. It was the hilt of a knife sticking out of his back. What I had mistaken for a dark blanket was in fact a puddle of blood. One of the man’s hand was thrust out in front of him as if he had died while trying to crawl across the room.
There was a gasp behind me.
“Is he dead?” Gertie asked climbing into the room.
“I think so. He’s been knifed in the back.”
I moved closer to the man’s head. He had thinning ginger hair. His eyes were open. The glazed expression was full of accusation as if he blamed me for his death.
“Nigel, he’s got something in his hand,” Gertie said. She was standing over his outstretched hand.
“Don’t touch anything,” I said.
I was too late. Using the tip of her shoe she pushed the arm turning it over to reveal his clenched fist. The man held the last thing I had been expecting.
He clutched the Amulet of Nergal.
Saturday, 22nd September, continued.
“He’s one of the robbers,” I said.
“Are you sure?” Gertie asked. “I thought you said they wore masks.”
“The robber that took my purse had ginger hair. He has also got the missing amulet. He must have snatched it from the stage before fleeing. It is the only explanation.”
Gertie knelt over the amulet. “It doesn’t look very pretty. Who would want to buy this thing?”
“The Professor wanted it.” I looked down at the body. This was another person dead that had been in the possession of the amulet. There had to be a curse.
“Anne sent us here to find him,” Gertie said. “She knew about the robbery and his murder. She must have foreseen it.”
“I’m not sure she can see the future,” I said with little conviction. She had carved my name and the Professor’s address in the walls of her cell. An address that she claimed to know because I was going to give it to her in the future.
“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
“Alright, let’s pretend she can predict the future,” I conceded. “Why would she send us here?”
“To find the amulet. We have to take it.”
“It stays here. It is not ours to take. Even if it was do you really want that thing?
Everybody that has it ends up dead.”
She looked at the amulet warily as if it might leap up and strike her.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“We have to report this to the police. They might be able to identify him and find his killers.”
“And when they ask how we happened to find the body what do we tell them?”
The front door crashed open, hitting the wall with a thud. There were voices from the floor beneath us. We looked at each other in fear. We were no longer alone in the house…
What happens next is up to You!
The choices with the most votes will decide what happens next, so choose wisely from the options below.
Voting closes for the Fourth Instalment on
Thursday 22nd November at 8am GMT