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.
Voting closes on Thursday 6th December 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 The Interactive Novel Instalments
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 killed, and the amulet vanishes.
Returning home after the auction Nigel is handed a note by Gertie (a servant in the professor’s house). Gertie believes the note was left by the mysterious Anne Farmer. The note is an address of a property in a slum district of London. Exploring the property, Nigel and Gertie discover the body of one of the robbers from the auction house. In his hand is the cursed amulet.
The police hunting for an escaped patient from Elmwich Asylum raid the property. Nigel and Gertie are arrested. They are later released without charge and Nigel agrees to forget all about the amulet and Anne Farmer. That is until something happens to draw him back into the investigation…
Find out what you chose that to be in the latest instalment below.
The Sixth Instalment
Monday 24th September 1860
It was a clear morning, a rarity for an autumnal day in London. With a slight chill in the air and a blue sky above the buildings the weather was pleasant, and expecting the Professor to be late rising, I made a detour through Hyde Park. The beautiful morning had brought large groups of young men out into the park. I passed one group jogging along the path, another group doing push ups and a third performing star jumps.
Passing the exercising men, I felt guilty. I should be joining them. Not long ago I had been involved in hunting a pack of werewolves stalking the residents of a workhouse. It was another one of those encounters with the supernatural that I had been lucky to escape. Afterwards I had been given advice to train my body so that the next time I encountered such a creature I would possess the strength and endurance to escape it. Except motivating myself to exercise proved to be a lot harder than I had imagined. There was always some excuse no matter how feeble to justify doing nothing.
I suppose I now had little need to get into shape. I had spent Sunday writing my resignation letter. With agreeing to try and forget all about Anne Farmer there was little other reason to remain in the Professor’s employment. I had left the letter in my hidey hole, underneath the loose floor board in my room, waiting for the right moment to hand it in. Yesterday had not seemed like the right time. The Professor had spent the day writing in his study and I had not wanted to disturb him. Today was different. I was determined to hand the letter as soon as he woke. No excuses.
I got back to the Professor’s house at the same time as the postman. Without looking at the letters, there were rarely any for me, I left them on the Professor’s desk alongside the newspapers and went down to the kitchen for breakfast. I ate alone. Gertie was already in the laundry room. I could hear her banging the washing drum. Her punishment for sneaking out was washing all the linen in the house. I considered popping into the laundry room, but Mrs Cooper would be standing over her and would only berate me for being a distraction.
I returned to my room and took my resignation letter from under the floorboard. I reread it and frowned. I wasn’t happy with the prose. It just didn’t read right. Perhaps I should rewrite it.
The Professor rang his bell.
I leapt off my bed, stuffed my resignation letter back under the floorboard, and hurried down to his study.
“Morning Nigel,” the Professor said. He had taken the papers and letters over to the armchair beside the fire. He flicked through the letters as he spoke. “I have been thinking about the spiritual residue we found at that séance the other week. We both know the residue is manmade. I have an idea how to create our own such residue. But first breakfast. Tell Mrs Cooper I would like a pot of tea, a round of toast and a pair of kippers.”
I reached for the door.
“Nigel, this is for you,” the Professor said. He held out a brown envelope.
I took it off him. I rarely received any post, only the odd letter from my parents. As I had yet to write back to them after last week’s letter, I doubted the correspondence was from them. Puzzled I tore open the envelope.
“Tuesday 17th September
It was pleasant meeting you on Thursday. As I expected Professor Ashcroft had little regard for what I had to say. Fortunately, although you are sceptical you at least are willing to believe.
By the time you read this letter I know you and Gertie will have visited Pear Lane. I left the note like you instructed me to and know you will have found it. You have not yet told me what you found at Pear Lane. I wonder if the stolen Amulet of Nergal is now in your possession. If not, you must find it. It is the key to everything.
You will receive this letter on a morning when you are full of doubt. But I need your help more than ever. I am not the only one. Evil is lurking in Elmwich Asylum. If you do not help, then this great evil will spread beyond the asylum grounds. I hear the screams to come, I see the death, I have felt the suffering. You will help me fight against the darkness to come.
I look forward to seeing you again.
I reread the letter, struggling to comprehend what I was reading. Dated two days before our first meeting, yet Anne knew of our trip to Pear Lane, claimed I instructed her to leave the note, and knew of the Amulet of Nergal. Did that mean Gertie was right and she could see the future?
“Nigel, my breakfast,” the Professor said. I didn’t move. I reread the letter for a third time. The Professor clapped his hands. “Chop, chop.”
I looked up. “Sir?”
“Spit it out, Nigel,” the Professor said without trying to hide the exasperation in his voice.
“I have just had word from…” I paused. I thought about lying, claiming the letter was bad news from home, but for once I wanted his opinion. I passed the letter across to the Professor. He quickly scanned through the letter, folder it up and handed it back to me with a wry smile.
“The letter is a hoax,” the Professor said.
“It is? Are you sure?”
“Of course, the letter is dated for last week, yet she describes events that were yet to happen at the supposedly time of writing. It is a poor attempt to try to convince you of her prophetic ability by back dating the letter. I suspect the letter was really written over the weekend.”
“How did she know about our trip to Pear Lane?”
“She left the note for you to find, she even says so in the letter.”
“What about the amulet?”
The Professor frowned and stroked the small tuft of hair at the bottom of his chin. “That is rather troubling. The letter implies that Anne knew of the amulet being stolen and knew of Pear Lane. I can only deduce that she was part of the scheme to rob the auction house. We will have to share this with the police.”
“But why is she writing to me?”
“That I cannot say. If I was to hazard a guess it is part of some scam. She obliviously sees you as a gullible victim. I suppose there is one way to find out. I think you should go and ask her how she wants you to help.”
“Sorry sir?” I was convinced I had misheard him. The last thing I had been expecting was him considering investigating this further.
“She obviously wants you to go to Elmwich Asylum. This nonsense about evil and only you can help her is an attempt to lure you in. Well let us trigger her trap and force her to reveal her hand. It may be the only way to help the police in finding the robbers.”
“I will book two train tickets. When do you want to leave, sir?”
“I am not going anywhere Nigel. Miss Farmer clearly asks for you. I expect you back tomorrow evening.” He reached for the morning paper. “Besides I am far too busy to waste a couple of days on a fool’s errand.”
I left the Professor’s house with a kitbag full of clothes and with what little money I had left. Even though it was the Professor’s idea to send me, he had declined to pay my expenses. Instead he would just deduct what I spent off the dept I owed him. Wanting to save some money I walked to Paddington Station. With the state of London’s traffic, it would have probably taken just as longer if I had hired a cab.
I bought a return ticket and made my way to the platform where the locomotive was puffing away. I climbed into the steerage class carriage at the back of the train. Being mid-afternoon on a Monday the train wasn’t busy, and I managed to have a window seat to myself. I just settled down with my book, when the whistle blew, and the train lurched forward. In no time the bustling streets of London gave way to the English countryside.
It was early afternoon when the train pulled into the town of Andover. I picked up the kitbag back at my feet and climbed down on to the platform. With a whistle and a cloud of steam the train pulled out of the station. Looking at the map, the village of Elmwich was a good seven mile walk from Andover. If I left now, I would not reach the village until early evening. Far too late in the day for a visit. I needed to find a room for the night, then I could set off for the asylum at first light, make my visit and get back to the station to catch the 4.30pm train back to London.
Not far from the station I found an inn. A round face woman with curly hair sat on the front desk. After paying for board and lodgings for the night, she showed me to a small single room just big enough for a bed and chair. Instructing me to make my way to the bar for seven she left me in the room. I threw my kitbag on the chair. I sat on the edge of the bed I took Anne’s letter from my pocket.
I reread the letter trying to come to some conclusion. Convinced the letter was a hoax, the Professor had read a hidden meaning into the letter. He did not believe in prophetic ability and had concluded that Anne was involved in an armed robbery that left a man dead. Gertie on the hand, would have taken the letter on face value and fully believed that an evil force did exist at Elmwich Asylum. I didn’t know what to believe. All I knew was investigating armed robbers or a mysterious evil would only meant the same thing. Yet again I was potentially putting myself in danger.
Tuesday, 25th September 1860
I left the inn with the sunrise. With my kit bag over my shoulder I took the road out of town. Rain over night had turned the road tacky. The grey sky threatened to rain again. There was a cleanness to the air, a contrast to the dirty smog of London that usually accompanied my morning walk. At this hour, cows were being taken in to be milked and the birds were chirping in the trees. The first leaves were yellowing, and the wheat fields were barren stubble. It felt good to be out of the city.
A little after nine I reached the village of Elmwich. Comprising of a small church, a blacksmith, and a scattering of houses, Elmwich was little more than a hamlet. I stopped at the blacksmith’s and asked a man with arms bigger than my legs for directions to the asylum. Looking at me if I was mad, he pointed with his hammer to a road beside the church. Thanking him I headed towards the church. I looked over my shoulder. The blacksmith stood in his yard watching me go. There was something sombre in his expression, as if watching a funeral procession. A feeling of unease crept over me.
The road to the asylum was rutted and full of puddles. Tall hedges grew on either side of the road blocking the fields from view. Five minutes after leaving the village tall elm trees grew beside the road. Their branches stretched and interlocked above creating a gloomy tunnel. The birds had stopped singing and all I could hear was the soft pad of my feet and my own breathing. I had the creeping feeling that I wasn’t alone. I tensed my body, alert and ready for anything. I have had that creeping feeling enough times to know that perhaps there was more to it than my imagination.
The road came to an end at a set of wrought iron gates beside a small gate house. Candles flickered in the window and a small tendril of smoke rose up from the chimney. I knocked on the door.
A gatekeeper dressed in a dark blue uniform opened the door. He was thin and in his early sixties with a grey beard and little hair.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“My name is Nigel Briggs. I would like to see Doctor James Downer.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
The gatekeeper held up his hand. “I can’t let you in without an appointment. Write to the doctor and make an appointment before you come back.”
“Can you send a message to Doctor Downer? Tell him that I have urgent business with regards to the two escaped patients, Peter Boden and Anne Farmer.”
The gatekeeper stuck his head back into the house and whistled. A woman of similar age appeared.
“What is it?” she grumbled. In her hand she held a pair of trousers with a patch half sewn on to the knee.
“Go up to the house and tell Doctor Selby a Nigel Briggs is here for Doctor Downer. It’s about Peter Boden and Anne Farmer.”
“Why don’t you go?”
“I ain’t got a dog to do my own barking. Now go woman.”
Grumbling to herself she disappeared from view. A minute later she reappeared leaving the house from a back door on the other side of the gates. Still muttering she marched off along the drive, turning a bend and disappeared behind the trees.
“You wait here,” the gatekeeper said. He slammed the door in my face.
I looked at the large elm trees along the road. There was no sound of birds or animals rustling in the undergrowth. There was no wind swaying the branches just the eerie stillness. On either side of the gate was a six-foot-high metal fence. The top of the fence was barbed to stop anybody climbing over. I suspected the fence ran all around the property. A reminded that in many ways Elmwich Asylum was a prison. Its patients locked away for their own safety and that of everybody else for that matter.
The sound of hooves broke the eerie stillness. A chestnut horse pulling a single axle cart came into view. The gatekeeper’s wife sat next to a burly looking guard on the driver’s seat. The gatehouse door open and the gatekeeper hurried over to them. After a brief conversation the gatekeeper headed towards me. He reached into his pocket and took out a large key.
“Doctor Downer has agreed to meet you in his office,” the gatekeeper said. He pointed towards the guard sat on the cart. “This is Ray. He will take you there. Please do as Ray says. This is for you own safety. There are a lot of dangerous patients in the asylum.”
The gatekeeper locked the gates behind me as I climbed into the cart. Ray replied to my hello with a surly grunt. No sooner had I sat down beside him Ray snapped on the reigns urging the horse forward.
The drive twisted its way around a woodland trail dominated by large elm trees. The woodland suddenly gave way to a large expanse of parkland. The guard forced the cart through a herd of cows ambling across the drive. In the distance a flock of sheep were grazing. The scene would have been one of tranquil beauty if not for the asylum in the centre. My first impression was of looking at a fortress. A red bricked wall ran around the perimeter of the buildings. At ten foot in height the wall hid all but the upper stories of the buildings from view. It looked as if the asylum had once been a large manor house that had been extended with two extra wings built on either side. The main part of the house was built from faded grey stone. The façade had stone pillars in resemblance to a Greek temple. In comparison the extensions looked out of place. Built from the same red brick as the surrounding walls they were larger than the original house. Rows of small windows ran down the side of the extensions. As we drew closer, I could see bars on these windows.
We stopped at a solid wooden gate in the middle of the wall. A guard on the top of the wall shouted out a command. The gates creaked open. Without needing a signal from the driver, the horse pulled the cart into the asylum. With a sense of forbidding I looked over my shoulder and watched the gates close behind us. I couldn’t shake off the sense of unease, something wasn’t right here.
Inside of the perimeter walls were well maintained lawns with the odd specimen tree. There were no hedges, formal gardens or undergrowth for anyone to use to hide. From their vantage point on top of the wall the patrolling guards could see everything going within the grounds. If felt like stepping into a prison.
Ray stopped the cart outside the front door of the manor house. He grunted at me and waved for me to follow into the house. We passed another guard stationed beside the doors and into the main lobby. Over the past year I have stepped into several stately homes and they all shared the same grandeur, the display of opulence broadcasting the owner’s affluence like a peacock flashes its feathers. The asylum was different. All of the opulence had been stripped from the building. The chandelier that hung was functional rather than gaudy, the plaster work plain, and the room bare of furniture.
The silence surprised me the most. This was supposed to be a working asylum, yet it was deathly quiet. The tapping of our feet on the tiles the only noise. It felt as if we were the only ones inside the building.
“It’s quieter than I thought,” I said to the guard.
Ray just grunted in reply. Taking out a ring of keys he opened a door at the right of the lobby to reveal a narrow dark corridor lit by a single window at the far end. It must have once been a servant’s corridor allowing the staff to move around the house unseen by the family. Ray took me along the corridor, passing doors on either side to a narrow winding staircase. We climbed up to the second floor and along another corridor. The closed doors on either side of the corridor were labelled with plaques for the different offices.
Knocking first Ray opened a door to a small office. With the high ceiling the room was taller that it was wide. The cabinets, bookcases and desk made the room feel smaller. Nearly every surface was cluttered with trinkets and ornaments. Doctor Downer sat at his desk writing. He chewed on the unlit stem of his pipe like the rodent he looked like. He gestured for me to take a seat and waved Ray away.
“Master Briggs what a pleasant surprise,” he said putting down his pen. He took a tobacco tin out from the top draw of his desk. “Do you mind?”
I shook my head. He took the chewed pipe from his mouth and filled the bowl with tobacco. He lit the pipe and took a deep draw.
“Well Master Briggs welcome to Elmwich Asylum. I must admit I wasn’t expecting to see you again and so soon. Where is Professor Ashcroft?”
“He could not get away from London. He’s very busy at the moment and had to send me in his place.”
“Most bizarre to send a boy in his stead, he must think highly of you. We do not normally take guests without prior appointment, but as you have travelled all this way, I trust your business is urgent.”
“Peter Boden was found dead last week.”
“So, I have heard. I received a letter this morning from a Detective Moore. I understand he was stabbed in the back during an altercation. I’m afraid if you have come all this way to tell me this then you have come a long way for nothing.”
“I have a few questions regarding some of your patients.”
“I will have to stop you there. We have strict rules on patient confidentiality. I am not at liberty to discuss our patients with you.”
“It may help catch Peter Boden’s killer.”
Downer didn’t look convinced.
“On what grounds have you come here Nigel? I find Professor Ashcroft’s interest in the murder of a petty criminal rather puzzling. I have read one of his papers on the mind. His thesis that supernatural experiences are nothing, but delusions provided fascinating insight into the minds of some of our patients.”
“That is the other reason why I am here,” I said changing tact. “Professor Ashcroft is writing a new paper. He has sent me to interview Anne Farmer.”
“Has he now?” Downer said sceptically.
Having committed to the lie I had to continue. I dared not tell him that I wanted to see Anne because I believed she maybe able to predict the future. He might end up locking me up in a cell of my own.
“Miss Farmer’s claims she can foresee the future fascinate him. He has sent me to request that we carry out an interview with her, perform a round of tests and then confront her with the evidence proving she has no power of premonition. We can then record the lengths she goes to convince herself of her powers even contrary to the evidence. The Professor thinks she make the perfect case study.”
“What is his paper on?”
“Erm…” I racked my brain trying to think of a title. Downer raised his brows. “The paper has not got an official title yet, but it’s on…erm… self-delusion.”
Downer took the chewed pipe from his mouth and rose to his feet.
“As I have feared you have come along way for nothing. We don’t just offer access to our patients for anyone off the street. Now of course if Professor Ashcroft writes to us requesting a visit it may be granted. It will be discussed by myself and the other doctors and if he provides adequate reasons, we will consider his request Now please allow me to accompany you to the front door.”
Instead of retracing the guard’s steps we followed the corridor deeper into the asylum. At the end of the corridor we stepped out on to a balcony over looking the main staircase for the manor house. The grand staircase descended down to a large lounge, decorated with red carpet, curtains and walls. Female patients dressed in ankle length grey dresses were sat on the red chairs and loungers. In silence they sat reading, knitting or staring out of the barred windows. I searched their number for Anne. She was not in the room.
“We try to encourage all of our patients to develop a hobby or a passion to ease their mind,” Downer explained. “For our low risk patients, we try to give them as much freedom as possible. It is better for their wellbeing. We are a hospital not a prison.”
We walked through the middle of the room without any of the women acknowledging our existence as if we were invisible. Something about the women felt wrong. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realised it was the way they moved. The small movements of their heads and limbs were short and sharp almost unnatural. The women knitting moved their needles in perfect time with each other. The synchronisation was mechanical.
Downer took a ring of keys from his pocket. He fumbled through the keys.
“As you can see, we take security very seriously,” he said unlocking the door. “I think it is impossible for a patient to escape.”
“Mr Boden and Miss Farmer both escaped.”
“They were assisted by the same guard. He has since been dismissed from service.”
“Did you know Mr Boden was involved in an armed robbery.”
Downer shrugged. “That does not surprise me. He had a history of violence. His treatment was not complete. I would only expect him to fall back into previous patterns.”
The next room had been cleared for men to exercise on the wooden floor. In disciplined ranks they were performing star jumps, each man jumping in perfect unison. We walked past the front of the them and not one man glanced at us. I looked at their glazed eyes. They did not even appear to blink.
“We believe that physical fitness can be just as important as mental fitness. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind.”
“Do you exercise all your patients?” I asked, making conversation rather than out of interest.
“Oh no. The patients you see are our low risk patients. These are men and women we can trust to behave themselves. Our higher risk patients are kept in solitude for their own safety. In time we hope even these patients can be granted the same level of trust. As you can see, here at Elmwich, patient care is our number one priority. We aim to rehabilitate and get every patient back into society as a contributing citizen.”
Downer was deliberately taking me on a tour of the asylum. I suspected he was showing me how good the asylum was. Well it wasn’t working. In fact, it had the opposite effect. The mechanical actions of the patients and the silence that they moved in felt unsettling. Their behaviour too good to be true.
Our tour came to an end in the lobby. The guard called Ray was stood by the front door waiting for us.
“Ray will take you back to the front gates. I suggest you instruct Professor Ashcroft in future he follows the proper procedures. Now I must get back to work. Good bye Master Briggs.”
It had been a waste of a journey. That must have been why the Professor hadn’t come.
He must have sent me so that I could hit a dead end and then on my return to London I would be willing to forget about the whole thing. Dismissed I headed for the door. I was struck by a sudden thought of something Anne had mentioned in her letter.
“One last thing Doctor,” I called after him.
Downer tuned to me.
“Peter Boden had stolen an ancient artefact from an auction house. Does the Amulet of Nergal mean anything to you?”
“Never heard of it,” Downer snapped his abruptness catching me by surprise. “Have a safe journey Nigel.”
I followed Ray down the front steps and onto the cart. He pulled on the reigns and the cart trundled forward. I looked at the buildings around me. Something wasn’t right at Elmwich Asylum. Downer had confirmed it when he had lied to me. He had heard of the Amulet of Nergal. But why deny it? I looked over my shoulder.
Doctor Downer stood at the window watching me leave. I couldn’t be certain through the barred windows, but I swore he had a look of concern upon his face.
I had stumbled upon something. Anne was right. The Amulet of Nergal was the key to the matter.
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 on Thursday 6th December at 8am GMT