The Abridged Interactive Novel So Far

The Abridged Interactive Novel So Far

Foreword

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.

Below is the complete abridged novel so far, if you would prefer to read the full instalments you can finds them here The Interactive Novel Instalments


First Instalment

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…


Second Instalment

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.”

“Well Miss?”

“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…


Third Instalment

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….


Fourth Instalment

Friday, 21 September 1860

I perched on the edge of the stage. The Professor sat beside me with blood stained hands. Behind us lay the steward. Only his legs and feet were visible beneath our jackets.

The auditorium doors opened and in marched a procession of detectives. In charge was Chief Inspector Finch, a hard-looking man with silver hair and goatee. While the other officers began to take statements, he walked along the central aisle towards us.

“What a rotten bit of luck that you got caught up in all of this Arthur,” Finch said.

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 homicide as well as robbery,” Finch said dropping the coat.

“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. Professor Ashcroft shook his head.

“Nigel, it was the bullet that killed him, not a curse,” the Professor snapped.

“This artefact. Where is it?” Finch asked.

The Professor looked around. “It appears to be missing.”

“The robber’s must have taken it,” Finch said. He looked up at one of the constables. “leave a statement and then your free to go.”

* * *

 Returning to the Professor’s house I was instructed to find Mrs Cooper and have a meal sent up to his study.

“Is that blood on your shirt?” Mrs Cooper said in greeting.

“There was a robbery at the auction house. A porter got shot. The Professor and I tried to…” I couldn’t finish my sentence.

“Are you alright?” Gertie asked.

“Its been a long day. Professor Ashcroft would like hot food sent up to his study.”

I retreated to my bedroom. I was just writing about what had happened in the auction house when there was a tap at the door.

Gertie stepped into my room. “Tough day? Do you want to talk about it?”

“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.”

“The porter was holding a supposedly cursed artefact when he was shot.”

“What happened to the artefact?”

“It was stolen.”

“Then you can forget all about it. Would you like another mystery to think about?”
She passed me a torn piece of newspaper.

Brown. 22 Pear Lane.” Were written on the paper

“So, what is the address for?” I asked

“I don’t know, it was wrapped in the folds of the blanket that Anne Farmer wore last night. I bet she left it here for us to find. We need to go to that address and find out why.”

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 will go and check it out in the morning.”

“I’m coming too and don’t tell me no because it might be dangerous.”

 I would never tell her, but I was glad for the company. Not wanting to look relived I signed with resignation. “Very well if you have to come along.”

Saturday 22nd September 1860

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.

“Are you sure you got the right place?” the cab driver asked.

“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.
Lights from candles glowed faintly through the filth entrusted windows of some of the buildings. 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.

Number twenty-two was a narrow two-story property. The downstairs window was boarded up while the upstairs window had a hole in the corner of the smoke blackened glass pane. There was no light inside and the property looked abandoned.

Gertie thumped heavily against the door. The door buckled under the pressure and swung open.

“Hello?” There was no response. “Guess nobody is home. Let’s have a quick look.”

It was almost impossible to see anything in the gloom in the house. I took out a candle from my coat pocket. 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.

Several stained mattresses and rags covered the floor. The other room downstairs was also filled with bedding. With nothing downstairs there was only upstairs to check. I stuck my head up through the hole and froze.

There was a man in the room. He lay on his stomach with his feet pointing towards me.

He didn’t move. Something wasn’t right.

“Hello,” I called out.

The man didn’t respond. There seemed to be something sticking out of his back.

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.

“Is he dead?” Gertie asked climbing into the room.

I moved closer to the man’s head. He had thinning ginger hair. His eyes were open.

“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.

“Anne sent us here to find him,” Gertie said. “She knew about the robbery. She must have foreseen it.”

“I’m not sure she can see the future,” I said with little conviction. “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.

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…


Fifth Instalment

Saturday, 22nd September, continued.

I rushed over to the window. A Black Maria was parked outside the house, a carriage designed for transporting criminals.

“It’s the police,” I whispered.

“What do we do?” Neither of us wanted to have to explain what we were doing beside a dead body with a knife in his back.

The police were still searching the ground floor. We were trapped. If we tried to flee it would only be misinterpreted as an indication of our guilt.

I could only think of one option.

“Up here,” I cried out.

There was shouts from below acknowledging my cry.

A constable cautiously climbed up through the hole.

“Oy you pair stay right there.”

He scrambled up into the room followed by two more constables and a detective. Two of the constables rushed towards me. I was then shoved face first against the wall. One of the constables held my arms while the other patted me down.

“We didn’t do anything,” Gertie said.

“Doesn’t look that way to me,” the detective said. Spotting the amulet he frowned. He reached out for it. “What have we got here?”

The detective prized the amulet for the dead man’s hand. Staring at it as if transfixed he rubbed his index finger along the surface of the amulet. He yelped and withdrew his finger. A sharp edge had torn his finger tip open.

“Get them both down to the station,” he mumbled sucking on the cut.

Climbing down the ladder I took one last look in the room. The detective was sucking his bleeding finger while he continued to stare at the amulet in his hand.

* * * *

 At the police station Gertie and I were separated. I was taken to an interrogation room. The door opened and in walked the detective that had arrested us. He had a bandage over his finger. Accompanying him was Chief Inspector Finch.

“Well if this isn’t a turn up for the books?” Finch glanced down at his notes for my name.

“Well, Nigel, do you know the identity of the deceased?”

“No sir, but I suspect he was one of the robbers from the auction house. He was clutching an artefact that had been stolen from the auction.”

Finch frowned and looked over at Moore. “I didn’t think we found any stolen items in the property?”

“Not that I have heard of, sir,” Moore said. Subconsciously his hand moved to rest on his jacket pocket.

Moore glared at me almost willing me to contradict him. His face had gone pale and sweat was beading on his forehead. Was he worried I would give him away for stealing the amulet.

“We have nothing to connect the deceased with yesterday’s robbers. The deceased is a Mr Peter Boden. He was an escaped patient from Elmwich Asylum..”

“Sorry, sir, but you did say Elmwich Asylum?”

Finch scowled. “Is there any relevance for your interruption?”

“On Thursday evening an escaped patient from Elmwich Asylum arrived at the Professor’s house demanding help. Yesterday Gertie found a note left by Miss Farmer. It was an address for the house where you found us.”

“I have another theory,” Moore said. He was sweating heavily. He didn’t look well at all.

“You believed that Mr Boden was a robber from the auction. You found out where he lived and went to confront him unaware you got the wrong man. When he could not hand over the stolen item you stabbed him in the back, didn’t you?”

“No, it didn’t happen like that. Ask Gertie.”

Finch rose out of his chair. Moore staggered to his feet. He swayed slightly as if standing was an effort.

“Make yourself comfortable Nigel,” Finch said. “We are going to talk to Miss Stubbs and make some further enquiries.”

* * * *

 It was early evening when Detective Moore returned. If anything his condition had worsened. He was sweating profusely, and his speech was slurred as he stated I was free to go. Staggering he led me to the reception where Professor Ashcroft was talking to Finch.

“Right young man you are free to go,” Finch said. “Professor Ashcroft here has vouched for you.”

Without a word the Professor spun on his heels. Gertie and I followed him into the cab. It was an uncomfortable journey back to the Professor’s house.

“Nigel my study,” the Professor said. He dropped his coat and hat into my arms. “Miss Stubbs, I believe Mrs Cooper would like to have a word with you.”

Expecting me to hang his coat before following, he marched up the stairs.

“Looks like we are both in for it,” I said to Gertie.

“Nigel, I’ve been thinking about the note Anne left.”

“Now is not the time.”

“What if Anne knew where to find the dead man and the amulet because you will tell her.”

“You’re suggesting that at some point in the future I will tell a patient at an asylum to leave a message that takes me to Pear Lane. Why would I do that?”

“You don’t know yet.”

I smiled and shook my head. “I’ve got to see the Professor. Good luck with Mrs Cooper.”

“I’m going to need it. I didn’t ask for permission to go out.”

I made my way up to his study. The Professor sat behind his desk. From the floor below there was the muffled shouts of Mrs Cooper. Gertie was certainly getting an earful.

“You and Miss Stubbs are developing a worrying habit of getting into trouble,” the Professor said. “Mrs Cooper thinks it is Miss Stubbs who is the ringleader.”

“It was me, sir. I asked Gertie to accompany me to the house.”

“I am glad you are finally taking responsibility for your actions. I want to know everything. No keeping secrets.”

I told the Professor about Gertie finding the note, visiting 22 Pear Lane and my suspicion that Peter Boden was involved in the robbery.

“The police do not think the late Mr Boden was one of the robbers. They did not find any missing possessions.”

“He had the Amulet of Nergal in his hand when we found him. I saw Detective Moore pick the amulet up. I think he stole it.”

“Those are serious allegations to make. Do you have any proof he took the amulet?”

“No, sir. That is why I did not tell Inspector Finch.”

“So, you are capable of prudent thought. Let us forget all about the amulet, the robbery and Miss Farmer. Now are we in agreement to put this ghastly business behind us?”

“Yes sir.” I said with every intention to comply.

Except unknown to me at that moment, circumstances beyond my control were conspiring to draw Elmwich Asylum and the cursed artefact back into my life.


Sixth Instalment

Monday 24th September 1860

I had spent Sunday writing my resignation letter. I was determined to hand the letter in this morning as soon as the Professor woke. No excuses.

After collecting the morning papers, I left them on the Professor’s desk alongside the post. I returned to my room and took my resignation letter from under the floorboard. I reread it and frowned. It just didn’t read right. Perhaps I should rewrite it.

The Professor rang his bell.

I stuffed my resignation letter back under the floorboard and hurried down to his study.

“Morning Nigel,” the Professor said flicking through the post as he spoke. “Nigel, this is for you”.

He held out a brown envelope.

Puzzled I tore open the envelope.

Tuesday 17th September
Dear Nigel
By the time you read this letter I know you and Gertie will have visited Pear Lane. I left the note like you instructed. 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.
I need your help more than ever. Evil is lurking in Elmwich Asylum. I hear the screams to come, I see the death, I have felt the suffering.
Anne

The letter was 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?

I passed the letter across to the Professor. I wanted his opinion.

“The letter is a hoax. In a poor attempt to convince you of her prophetic ability she has back dated letter. I suspect the letter was really written over the weekend.”

“What about the amulet?”

“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?”

“If I was to hazard a guess it is part of some scam. She obliviously sees you as a gullible victim . I think you should go and ask her how she wants you to help. She obviously wants you to go to Elmwich Asylum. Well let us trigger her trap and force her to reveal her hand.”

“When do you want to leave, sir?”

 “I am not going anywhere Nigel. Miss Farmer clearly asks for you.” He reached for the morning paper. “Besides I am far too busy.”

****

It was early afternoon when the train pulled into the town of Andover. The village of Elmwich was a good seven mile walk from Andover. I would not reach the village until early evening. Far too late in the day for a visit.

 Not far from the station I found an inn. For a night I had a room just big enough for a bed and chair. I took Anne’s letter from my pocket.

 Convinced the letter was a hoax, the Professor had concluded that Anne was involved in an armed robbery that left a man dead. Gertie would fully believe that an evil force did exist at Elmwich Asylum. I didn’t know what to believe. All I knew investigating armed robbers or a mysterious evil would only lead to the same thing. Yet again I was potentially putting myself in danger.

Tuesday, 25th September 1860

 It was little after nine when I reached the village of Elmwich. I stopped at the blacksmith’s and asked for directions to the asylum. He pointed with his hammer to a road beside the church. I looked over my shoulder. The blacksmith stood in his yard watching me go. A feeling of unease crept over me.

 The road to the asylum was rutted and full of puddles. 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. I was 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. A gatekeeper dressed in a dark blue uniform opened the door.

 “Can I help you?” he asked.

 “My name is Nigel Briggs. I would like to see Doctor James Downer. Tell him that I have urgent business with regards to the two escaped patients, Peter Boden and Anne Farmer.

 A cart was summoned

 The gatekeeper opened the gate. 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.”

 My first impression of the asylum was looking at a fortress. A red bricked wall ran around the perimeter of the buildings. 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. In comparison the extensions were larger than the original house.

 After passing through a gateway in the wall, Ray stopped the cart outside the front door of the manor house. 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. What surprised me most of all was the silence. It felt as if we were the only ones inside the building.

 Ray took me opened a door to a small office. Doctor Downer was at his desk writing. He chewed on the unlit stem of his pipe like the rodent he looked like.

 “Master Briggs welcome to Elmwich Asylum. 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. I have a few questions regarding some of your patients.”

 “We have strict rules on patient confidentiality. I am not at liberty to discuss our patients with you.”

 “Professor Ashcroft is writing a new paper. He has sent me to interview Anne Farmer.”

 “As I have feared you have come along way here for nothing. If Professor Ashcroft writes to us requesting a visit it may be granted. 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 overlooking the main staircase for the manor house. The grand staircase descended down to a large lounge where female patients sat reading, knitting or staring out of the barred windows. I searched their number for Anne. She was not in the room.

 We walked through the middle of the room without any of the women acknowledging our existence. There was something about the women that felt wrong. 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.

 The next room was full of men in disciplined ranks 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.

 Downer was deliberately taking me on a tour of the asylum. I suspected he was trying to show me how good the asylum was. Well it wasn’t working. In fact, it was having the opposite effect. The mechanical actions of the patients and the silence that they moved in felt unsettling.

 Our tour came to an end in the lobby.

 “Now I must get back to work. Good bye Master Briggs.”

 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.

 I followed Ray down the front steps and onto the cart. 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. I looked over my shoulder .Doctor Downer stood at the window a look of concern upon his face.

 I had stumbled upon something and 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

What happens on Nigel’s return to London?

Detective Moore is found dead as another victim of the curse
Gertie has disappeared after receiving her own letter from Anne
Gertie has been kidnapped. The kidnappers demand the amulet as a ransom
Nigel continuing his own investigation leads him to question Professor Elman about the amulet.
Walking home from the station he is approached by one of the robbers from the auction house asking for help
Walking home from the station he is attacked by a masked assailant

Cast your vote here Cast Your Vote

Voting closes on Thursday 6th December at 8am GMT

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