The Seventh Instalment

The Seventh Instalment

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.

Voting closes Thursday 13th 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 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 later Doctor Downer from Elmwich 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 Nigel receives another message from Anne asking for his help.
Professor Ashcroft believing this letter is part of a scam sends Nigel to the Elmwich Asylum. Doctor Downer refuses to give Nigel access to see Anne. Instead he gives Nigel a tour of the asylum. Nigel suspects that not all is right at the asylum as the patients move in a mechanical unnatural manner. Furthermore, when Nigel asks about the cursed artefact Doctor Downer lies about every hearing of it. Suspicious Nigel returns to London to find….


Seventh Instalment

Tuesday, 25th September 1860

The train drew into London at little after six. Thick cloud had settled over the city shading the evening in a grey twilight. I followed the crowd out of the station and on to the street. Ignoring the row of hansoms touting for business I set off on foot to the Professor’s house.

Turning the corner, on to Sussex Gardens I looked back over my shoulder. My eyes were drawn to a man in a bowler hat walking beneath the gas lamps. I couldn’t say what made him stand out from the crowd. Perhaps unlike the other men bustling along with their heads lowered focusing on their destination he walked upright his head focused in my direction. Perhaps it was the way that on a warm evening he had his long coat pulled up tight over his mouth as if it was a freezing winter night. Whatever it was some primitive sense warned me to be on guard. Then rationality kicked in and I dismissed him as just another face in the crowd.

I turned my attention back to the amulet. It appeared to be the key to everything. As far as I knew, Detective Moore had pocketed it. If I could get hold of it, I might be able to find out what was going on at the asylum. I couldn’t just ask Detective Moore for the amulet. He would just deny all knowledge of it.

I had the feeling of being watched. I looked behind me. The man in the bowler hat was still behind me. He had closed the distance between us. Nothing to be alarmed about on such a busy road. He just happened to be walking in the same direction. Turning on to Uxbridge Road I sped up.

A steady stream of carriages and carts moved by at a trot along the road. On the other side of the road was Hyde Park. In the dull light the park looked far from welcoming. If it had been the middle of the day I would have cut through the park, but at this time of night it was safer keeping to the busy roads around the park’s perimeter.

I glanced back over my shoulder. The man with the bowler hat was thirty paces behind me. Even though I had sped up he was keeping pace. I knew then, he had to be following me. I swallowed nervously. Was he a ruffian that had spotted me, a boy with a kitbag, leaving the station and thought I was an easy target? Or maybe I had stumbled upon more than I thought at the asylum. Had the man been hired to make me disappear before I uncovered an evil conspiracy?

I kept my head down hoping he had not realised I had spotted him. I sped up into a fast march. Weaving in and out of the crowd I hunted for somewhere to go. I didn’t want to dart down any of the smaller streets. I had to keep amongst the crowd commuting home. Then I noticed a short gap in the traffic. I darted out into the road cutting in front of a carriage pulled by four horses. The driver yanked on the reins. The lead horses missed me by inches as the carriage shuddered to a halt. All along the road there was yells and the frantic tugging of reins as carts and carriages skidded to a standstill. I didn’t stop. I sprinted across the other lane, past a horse dancing in its harness, and into Hyde Park.

I stopped on the other side of the park gates. With my heart racing and panting of breath I looked at the mayhem caused by my sudden dart across the road. After some yelling and cursing amongst the drivers the carriages were slowly starting to move again. There was no sign of the man in the bowler hat. My gambit had worked.

 I didn’t want to linger much longer. I risked the man doubling back on his steps and finding me. I hurried deeper into the park towards home.

****

 I turned on to the Professor’s road and froze. A Black Maria was parked outside the Professor’s house. My initial reaction was to turn and run. The police had come to arrest me for me the murder of Peter Boden.

The front door opened and a constable hurried down the steps accompanied by Professor Ashcroft carrying his case. Looking down the street he spotted me still contemplating where to go.

“Nigel, about time you are back,” the Professor said. “Hurry up we have no time to dawdle.”

Apprehensively I approached them. The constable didn’t seem to be paying me any attention. He had gone to the back of the carriage. The Professor thrust his case into my arms and without another word followed the constable to the back of the carriage.
The constable held open the rear door for the Professor to clamber inside.

“You coming boy?” the constable said.

“Of course, he is,” the Professor answered. “He is my assistant and I may need him to write notes. Stop standing around Nigel and get in.”

I climbed inside the carriage. There was a single lantern hanging from a bracket in the roof and a bench along each side of the carriage. In the floor were brackets where leg irons could be fastened. The Professor gestured for me to take a seat on the bench opposite him. The constable slammed the door and moments later the carriage trundled forward.

“What is going on, sir?”

“There has been a death. Chief Inspector Finch has requested my opinion. There is something unusual about the circumstances.”

“And the Black Maria?”

“It was the only carriage available to the constable. Now tell me about your trip to the asylum. Did you find what you were looking for?”

I recounted my trip to the Professor. He did not look impressed with my deduction that there was something wrong with the asylum. I then told him about the man that had been following me.

“You really are clutching at straws,” he said. “It is laughable to even consider that Doctor Downer hired the man.”

“Sir, what if I have stumbled on something? If I had not escaped the man, you might have been fishing me out of the Thames.”

“You are being dramatic Nigel. Have you considered that the man had nothing to do with you? He was partaking in his own business?”

I shook my head.

“I thought as much. Your paranoia has turned an innocent man into a threat. You have got to stop letting your imagination run away with you Nigel.”

The carriage shuddered to a halt. The Professor rose to his feet. The back door was opened, and I followed the Professor on to a street of modest terrace houses. The road ended in a building site where further houses were in different stages of being built. This was just one of the many new streets being built in the suburbs of the city. The occupied houses along the street glowed with light in their front rooms and smoke rose for their chimneys. There was the occasional twitching of curtains as one of the curious neighbours looked out on the street.

In front of number nineteen a pair of constables stood to attention beside the black door. Without an invite the Professor walked past them and into the house. Carrying his bag, I hurried after him into a narrow hallway containing a set of stairs, a door leading into the front room on the left and a door into the kitchen on the far wall. The kitchen door was open. A dark-haired woman sat at the table, her face buried in her hands, sobbing. Another woman with brown hair sat with an arm over her shoulders offering comfort.

I closed the front door with a click. The woman with brown hair glanced up at us and then returned to her friend. Drawn by the sound Inspector Finch emerged from the front room.

“Arthur. Good of you to have arrived at such short notice.”

“Always pleased to help. But I am afraid I am a little in the dark over why I am here. The constable only told me that there has been a death and you required my judgement urgently.”

“I think discretion is needed in this matter. The deceased is one of our own. I believe you met Detective Moore.”

I tightened my grip on the handle of the Professor’s bag. I wasn’t surprised. I had been suspecting something like this since he pocketed the amulet. He had become another victim of the curse.

“The detective that arrested Nigel,” the Professor said. “I vaguely remember he did not look well. If he had died of illness you would not be calling me out. I presume there is foul play involved?”

“I think its best if you form your own opinion. Come this way?”

Finch gestured for us to follow him into the front room. I hesitated in the corridor. I took a few deep breaths steading the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I have always struggled with dead bodies and my nerves were beginning to get the better of me at the thought that some gruesome scene awaited.

I could hear the men in the front room talking.

“Professor Ashcroft I would like you to meet Doctor Mellor,” Finch said. “Doctor Mellor is one of our coroners.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” said a wheezy voice. “Perhaps you would like to enlighten me if you have seen anything of this nature before.”

“The symbols all over the wall are some sort of writing,” the Professor said. “They remind me of the ancient texts of the middle east. Or they might be gibberish. Now where is the body. Ahh I see what you mean.”

Knowing that once my absence had been noted, I would only be berated by the Professor for hanging back, I stepped into the doorway.

It was a homely front room with a dresser, a set of comfy chairs and a coffee table. Every surface was cluttered with trinkets, from tea cups and plates to little china figures. An oil painting of Detective Moore and a dark-haired woman hung over the mantle. On the green wallpaper strange symbols had been etched in dark ink. The symbols repeated themselves time and time again and I suspected they were some sort of writing. The green paper in the corner of the room was stained black with smoke. In the same corner a circular black patch from dirty smoke marred the otherwise stainless white ceiling. I wrinkled my nose at the pungent odour in the air. It smelt of burnt flesh, not dissimilar to the smell from the knacker’s yard on Pear Lane.

The three men were between me and the smoke-stained corner of the room. Doctor Mellor, short with a few remaining streaks of black in his silver hair, stood between Finch and the Professor. They were in a semi-circle looking down at something by their feet. I assumed it was the late Detective Moore.

“Well Professor what do you think?” Finch asked.

“It certainly is most peculiar.” The Professor looked over his shoulder at me. “Nigel my equipment.”

I carried over the bag to the three men. Doctor Mellor stepped aside revealing what little was left of Detective Moore, a mound of black ash and half a forearm with a left hand attached. The stub of the forearm was charred where the rest of the body had burnt away. The hand lay palm up its finger clutching an amulet with a blood red ruby in the centre.

“Is that what I think it is?” I gasped.

“Yes Nigel. That is what is left of the detective,” the Professor said as is if explaining to a small child. “The rest of him appears to have burnt away.”

 “I meant what is in his hand. It’s the Amulet of Nergal.”

Tuesday, 25th September Continued

“The amulet of what?” Finch asked.

“It’s the artefact that was stolen from the auction,” I said staring at the amulet. Of course, it would survive a fire that had burnt the rest of the detective to ash.

“And what is it doing in the hand of Detective Moore?”

“I last saw the amulet in the hand of Peter Boden. When we found him already dead,” I quickly added. “I think Detective Moore pocketed the amulet. And now he is the latest victim of the curse.”

“Nigel,” the Professor hissed. “There are no such thing as curses. We do not even know for certain this is Detective Moore. There is little of the body left to identify him.”

“We know it’s Moore,” Finch said. “His wife saw him burst into flames.”

“Did he drop a lantern full of oil on himself?” the Professor asked.

“She says there was no source of the fire. He just went up in flames.”

“She witnessed him spontaneously combust?” the Professor said.
“So, she claims. She is in the kitchen with a neighbour. She is struggling to cope. Quite understandable in the circumstances.”

“Nigel while I examine what is left of Detective Moore will you go talk to Mrs Moore. Try and be tactful with your questions. She has just lost her husband.”

“But sir, what about the amulet?”

“It does not concern you,” Finch said. “It will now be going into police property.”

“I don’t think that is a good idea, sir.”

“Nigel,” the Professor snapped. “Off to the kitchen.”

“Yes, sir,” I muttered heading for the door.

“What amazes me about the fire is that it takes a considerable amount of heat to render down a body,” Doctor Mellor said as I left the room. “Yet the fire seems to be only contained around the body. Apart from smoke damage to the ceiling and wall nothing else appears to have caught alight”

I tapped lightly on the kitchen door. The brown haired women looked at me coldly.

“May I take a seat,” I asked.

Before she could reply I lowered myself into the chair opposite the two women.

“Mrs Moore my name is Nigel Briggs I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.”

“You’re a bit young to be a detective,” the brown-haired woman said.

“I’m not. I’m Professor Ashcroft’s assistant or his apprentice depending on his mood. We investigate the bizarre and unexplained and I have a few questions to ask you.”

“Now’s not the time boy,” the woman said. “Can’t you see she has been through enough today. She has already answered the Chief Inspectors questions.”

“Mrs Moore please just a moment of your time. It might help us stop what happened to your husband happening to somebody else.”

The dark-haired woman lifted her head from her hands for the first time. Her red eyes were bleary with tears. She wiped her eyes with a handkerchief.

“It’s alright Meryl.”

“If you’re sure,” Meryl said. She rose to her feet. “I’ll put the kettle on.”

She picked up the kettle and taking it outside to fill with water from the standpipe left us alone.

“I just have a few questions,” I said placing my note pad on the table. I dipped my pen in the bottle of ink and poised myself ready to write. Not wanting to start with a husband spontaneously combusting I thought I would ask about the writing. “The strange symbols on the wall. What are they?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I have been at my sisters since Sunday morning and I came home to find Daniel writing them on the wall in blood.”

“He wrote them in blood?”

She swallowed and gave me a weak nod. “He had a cut on his finger that he used like a pen. I asked him what he was doing but he ignored me. He was talking in tongues. I don’t think he knew I was there. He was too busy staring at that grotesque piece of jewellery.”

“The amulet.”

“That’s it. He started acting strange from the moment he brought that hideous piece of jewellery home. At first, I thought he was ill. He had a fever, but then he started to obsess about the amulet. He wouldn’t sleep. He would just stare at it for hours on end. I asked him to put it away, but he just yelled at me. Claimed I wanted if for myself. He stormed out of the house. He has never been like that before. He was like a different person.”

I wondered if the amulet had possessed the detective. I had seen its lure when I had looked at the stone in the auction house. The black impurities had almost appeared to be moving. The effect had been hypnotic.

“When did this happen?”

“It was Saturday morning before the break in.”

“You were burgled?”

“I went to the market and when I got back the front door was wide open. Nothing was missing. I guess they didn’t find anything of worth. Made a right mess and broke a couple of cups, but when Daniel got back, he said it was nothing to worry about. He suggested I go to my sisters for a few days. I didn’t want to leave him as I thought he was ill. But he got aggressive. He never had raised his voice before, but he scared me. I thought he might even hit me. I thought if I go to my sisters for a few days things might be better when I got back.”

“And you came back home today?”

“When I came back, I found him writing on the wall. I begged him to stop. But he wouldn’t look up at me. He had that ruddy amulet is his hand. I told him to put it down, but he wouldn’t listen. He just kept staring at the stone. I was going to leave when I noticed wisps of smoke drifting out of his clothes. He looked up at me. His eyes widened, and he looked as if he had just woken from a dream. Then he suddenly went up in flames.”

Bursting into tears she pressed her head back between her hands and began to sob.

“And you saw no sign of where the fire came from?”

She shook her head. “He just burst into flames. I tried to help him, but I just couldn’t get near. The fire was too hot. Oh God, I had to leave him to…”

The door opened, and Meryl returned with a kettle of water and an envelope. Seeing Mrs Moore back in tears she scowled at me. I rose to my feet.

“Thank you, Mrs Moore. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I reached the kitchen door when Meryl called out to me. “Did you say your name was Nigel?”

“Yes,” I said cautiously.

“I was told to give this you,” she said handing me the envelope.

It was a folded piece of paper sealed with a blob of yellowy cream wax.

“Who gave it to you?”

“Some urchin child. He handed it to me when I was at the standpipe, told me to pass it to Nigel.”

I broke the seal with my index finger.

Nigel
Take the amulet and destroy it before it is too late. Don’t let anyone else take it out of the house. Find Brown
Anne

I raced to the front room. The Professor was knelt collecting a sample of ash. Doctor Mellor and Finch were already gone. My heart sank. I hurried over to the Professor and looked over his shoulder. Just as I feared.

The hand and the amulet were gone!

“Where is it, sir?”

“What has got in to you now?”

“The amulet, sir. Where is it?”

“Inspector Finch has taken it as evidence.”

I was too late. The amulet was gone. But too late for what? Only Anne knew.

*****

 With a pot of tea, I sat down in the front room to update my journal. Busy scribbling way I didn’t hear the door open.

“It’s a bit cold in here, you should light a fire,” Gertie said dropping into the chair opposite. Startled I dripped ink all over the page. She leant over and looked at the blotted paper. “Look at the mess you just made.”

“I had noticed,” I said. I put my pen down beside my pot of ink. “Are you still in the dog house?”

“I hope not. I had washed all the sheets, towels and even table cloths that never get used. You should have seen my hands yesterday. They were all shrivelled and wrinkled, looked like I was a hundred. Anyway, I saw you get dragged away by the police. Thought you might be in jail. But then you’re back here and you still got all your clothes, so I guess they just released you.”

“Very funny. Detective Moore is dead?”

Gertie’s eyes widened. “Somebody kill him for the amulet?”

“According to his wife he spontaneously combusted. But he was holding the amulet at the time. All that was left was a pile of ash and the hand still clutching the undamaged amulet.”

“What did the Professor say?”

“Nothing yet. He doesn’t know what to make of it, but he is fascinated. All the way home he was speculating on how a body bursts into flames. I guarantee that until Christmas we will be experimenting on how to get a body to burst into flames and burn away without the rest of a house catching fire.”

“You had better keep some buckets of water handy. Where is the amulet now?”

“The police confiscated it as evidence.”

“Then that is the end of it all.”

I shook my head.

“I had another letter from Anne. Somehow she knew I would be at the detective’s house.”

I took the letter and reread it to her.

“What is brown?” she asked. “She also wrote that on the note she left in the Professor’s study.”

“I have no idea. A colour, perhaps a name, maybe even a place. I suppose I should try and figure it out, but I wouldn’t know where to start. All I keep coming back to is Elmwich Asylum. Somehow it is connected to the amulet.”

Gertie sat back in her chair looking far from convinced.

I hurried on with my theory. “Doctor Downer knew of the amulet. One of the robbers from the auction happened to be an escaped patient. We find him dead only after Anne writes a letter telling us where to go. It is all connected, it has to be.”

“So what are we going to do about it?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted.

“We could get you institutionalised.”

“Please Gertie serious suggestions,” I said. I met her eye. She had meant every word. “It wouldn’t work. Doctor Downer knows who I am.”

“They don’t know me,” she said.

“No. I am not letting you go in that asylum. I forbid it.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Gertie stiffened. She set her jaw defiantly.

“Nobody forbids me to do anything,” she said coldly. “I can look after myself. And it’s not your decision to make.”

I held up my hands. “Sorry Gertie, I didn’t mean to say it like that. What I meant to say was that it is too much a risk to take. Inside the asylum you may be confined to a cell with no chance of escape. I don’t think we should even consider it. We have other options.”

“Such as?”

“I could ask the Professor to write to the asylum for permission to see Anne. If not we have to find out how Anne is able to send messages from inside the asylum. She sent one to me by post and knew I would be at Detective Moore’s house tonight. If we find out how she is managing to do that we might find a way into the asylum. There is also figuring what brown is? One way or another we will figure this out.”

“And if we get nowhere?”

“Then we have to do something a bit more drastic.”

 

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 13th December at 8am GMT

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