The First 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 there 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 for the First Instalment on Monday the 30th March 9am GMT

Wednesday, 5th September 1860

 

Lying in bed Nigel Briggs watched the window and hoped that Professor Ashcroft was right, and things that go bump in the night were nothing but the imagination of the gullible. But he had seen the marks on the girl’s throat. Thirteen-year-old Rose Harvey had been complaining of night terrors for several weeks. These nights of bad dreams were followed by feeling lethargic and looking pale the following day. The most curious symptom were the two small bumps to her throat. These swollen bumps had a noticeable scab in the middle of them as if caused by a small puncture wound. The bumps would go down, she would sleep well, and then eleven days later she would have another night of terror.

She wasn’t the only one. In an eighteen-mile radius there were ten other girls from the age of eight to seventeen all suffering from the same mysterious symptoms that reoccurred every eleven nights. They all suffered their condition on different nights and had been oblivious to each other’s existence. It had been Nigel that had noticed the pattern and formed a theory that the Professor would only describe as ludicrous.

With the covers pulled up to his nose and a frilly bed cap concealing the top of his head, Nigel wondered if he would be mistaken for Rose Harvey. Rose slept with her mother in her parent’s room, while her father and older brother waited on the other side of the door. Armed with rifles they had assured him that at the first cry for help they would rush to his aid.

There was no curtains and the faint moonlight spilled into the room illuminating the wardrobe and dressing table. The hours passed. His bladder was full, and he regretted the cup of tea before bed. He dared not get up in case the fiend spotted him and realised the trap.

There was a scrapping noise from outside. A hand with long spindly fingers tapped its claws gently against the glass. As expected, it had come. A fiend that was treating Rose and the ten other girls as livestock, feeding on them, letting them regain their strength, then returning to feed again.

Nigel swallowed his rising fear. His heart raced. He focused on steadying his breathing. He was supposed to be asleep, acting as bait, to lure the creature into the room.

The silhouette of a head and shoulders appeared at the window. It was too dark to see its features, yet it was human in shape. It was looking through the window A second story window! The creature had to be clinging to the brick work like a spider.

It remained at the window looking in. It seemed to be taking an age to enter. Did it sense a trap? Did it realise Nigel was not the girl that it had come to prey on? Nigel fought the urge to call out to the men on the other side of the door. If he called out too soon it would flee into the night and they would lose their chance to stop it from attacking again.

There was a creaking noise as the creature lifted the window open. It paused as if it waited to see if the noise had disturbed his sleep. When he didn’t call out the creature slide into the room. It stood with its back hunched and its long arms down by its sides. He could smell something foul, a dampness with the faint odour of rotting meat. It shuffled towards the bed.

Nigel waited as the creature drew nearer. The floorboards creaked at the bottom of the bed. Something pressed down on his thigh.

“Help!” he screamed leaping from the bed.

The creature froze as the door swung open and in rushed Mr Harvey and his son. In the light from their lantern Nigel got his first good look at the demon. It was human with a skeletal face. Its eyes were black. It hissed revealing long pronounced canines.

Mr Harvey didn’t hesitate. The rifle was deafening in the small room and only a few feet away he could not miss. The creature let out a scream. It threw itself at the window, smashing through the glass, and fleeing into the night.

Reloading Mr Harvey raced to the window. He leant outside and fired again.

“It is making a run for it,” he shouted.

He raced from the room, his son following closely behind. Nigel followed them to the front door. He stopped to put on his shoes and by the time he stepped out into the farmyard he could see their lantern bobbing across the field. Dressed in his nightwear he chased after them. Close to the hedge the cows were milling around nervously, clearly spooked. The lantern was at the far end of the field heading further away. The rifle fired again. He sprinted across the field chasing after the bobbing light. The long grass, wet with dew, soaked his bare legs. Nigel reached the fence at the far end of the field and dropped down into a half-ploughed field. He stumbled over the furrows. The light had disappeared, and he suddenly felt very alone and exposed. He was unarmed pursuing a monstrous creature in the moonlight. An owl hooted in the distance. Nigel tripped over and landed hard in the damp soil. He scrambled to his feet and ran to the gate leading on to a narrow country road. He glanced each way and there was no sign of Mr Harvey and his son.

There was a gunshot to his left. Nigel headed for the sound. With a stich in his side and panting for breath he jogged down the road. He turned a bend and spotted the lantern ahead.

The dark shadow of a church rose out of the gloom. The glow of the lantern came from the churchyard beneath a large tree. Nigel slowed to a walk as he passed through the open gate. He followed the twisting church path to when Mr Harvey and his son stood in front of a stone angel. They were looking at the heavy stone slab at the angel’s feet that marked the entrance to a crypt.

“It went in there,” Mr Harvey said pointing his rifle at the slab.

“Are you sure?” Nigel said. The slab was enormous. It would take several men to lift it.

“I was at the church gate and I saw it standing against the angel. Then as I watched, it disappeared. I heard a thud and by the time I got here the creature was gone. It had to go in the crypt. There is nowhere else for it to go.”

“Then we know where to find it,” Nigel said. “We’ll open the crypt in the morning.”

 

Thursday, 6th September 1860

 

 

Around two dozen men were gathered beneath the branches of the large oak tree in the far corner of the churchyard. Fidgeting nervously, they stared down at the crypt with dreaded fascination. This was no normal funeral procession. The men clutched axes, pitchforks and several carried rifles.  Grunting with the effort three of the men were struggling to prise the heavy stone lid off the crypt

Chastising the men, the local reverend was going red in the face with his ignored protests. He looked up and spotted Nigel walking through the churchyard’s gates. The reverend hurried over hoping to find an ally.

“Master Briggs, please come quick you must help,” he gasped. “As a man of science they will listen to you. What they are doing is sacrilegious.”

“I don’t see what help I can be,” Nigel said. “If they won’t listen to you what makes you think that they will listen to me.”

“Because you are a scientist. You can tell that this is superstitious nonsense. You must tell them that they will find nothing but bones. Please you must try and persuade them to put a stop to this madness. They are going to desecrate a grave.”

Nigel held his tongue. Now was not the time to remind him that he was only Professor Ashcroft’s assistant. Or that he had been sent in the Professor place because the Professor had no interest in the reports of a vampire.

“They won’t listen to me. They want to see for themselves. They think that the creature that attacked the girl came from inside that crypt.”

“That is nonsense that crypt has not been open in eight months.”

“Then as you said they will find nothing but bones.”

As Nigel approached, the group of men parted allowing him to walk to the crypt’s edge. The men closed behind him leaving the reverend on the outside of the circle. In this small remote village, Nigel had been greeted with respect. They had not questioned his age or experience they were just happy that somebody was taking their claims that a creature was attacking the women in the region seriously.

In the daylight the stone angel, green from time, looked more like a demon. Its weathered face had twisted into a grotesque mask. Nigel caught the eye of Mr Harvey.

“Who does the crypt belong to?” Nigel asked.

“The Axel family. They used to own all the land round here. Got given it too them for their support in the War of the Roses. The last one of them was a bachelor. Died last winter of a mysterious illness. He had no heirs to pass it to, so all the estate and the family shipping company is now owned by some investment firm from London.”

With a roar of triumph, the men fighting to leverage the crypt lid pulled it to one side to reveal a dark pit. Everybody flinched away as if expecting the creature to leap out of. When nothing happened, they laughed nervously, but nobody moved towards the entrance.

“Are you going down there Master Briggs?” one of the men called out. The group turned to him expectantly. In their eyes he was the monster hunter and it was his duty to go first.

Nigel peered down at the darkness and saw nothing but the brick floor ten feet below. The rest of the crypt was concealed from sight. A sour damp smell rose from the hole. Without looking up he called out. “I need a ladder, a lantern and several volunteers.”

The ladder and lantern were quickly provided. Willing volunteers were another matter. After a few minutes of cajoling three men reluctantly agreed to accompany Nigel down into the crypt below.

With one hand holding the lantern, Nigel climbed slowly to the brick floor. He stepped into a puddle with a small splash. The air was cooler and the smell stronger within the crypt. The sunlight from above grew dim. For a heart stopping moment Nigel feared the men were placing the lid back over the crypt locking him inside as a sacrifice to the creature.  He looked up. It was only one of the men climbing down.

Nigel held the lantern up to the darkness. The crypt was a large brick chamber deep enough for the far wall to still be concealed in shadow. The brick walls glistened with moisture and strands of yellow fungi appeared to ooze from the brickwork. Along each wall were two rows of shelves. Each shelf had been designed to house a coffin and at one time they had been bricked up sealing the occupant inside, except the brick work had been smashed and the coffins dragged from the shelves. The floor was littered with rotting wood, stone and brick rubble, and all that remained of the bodies was shards of broken bone.

Trying not stand on the smashed bones, Nigel crouched down and picked up one of the bone fragments. He held it up to the lantern lights. The ends of the bone had been broken off and small pockmarks and scratches marred the bone as if some animal had been gnawing on it. He gently placed the bone back on the ground.

The last of the men climbed down the ladder. He took one look at the carnage and swore. One of the other men was uttering a prayer under his breath while the other was pale faced and sweating in the cool damp air.  Nigel led them deeper into the crypt. Shards of bones crunched under their feet. It was an impossible task to avoid stepping on all that remained of the former occupiers. The darkness retreated from the lantern. A coffin leaned propped up against the far wall with its lid cast aside revealing the occupier inside.

Nigel flinched away expecting the creature within the coffin to lunge at him. It didn’t move. It lay with its arms folded across its chest its clawed fingertips resting on its shoulders. Dressed in its best suit, now torn and grubby, the creature looked in the same state of preservation as it would have been when it was buried eight months previously. The creature was gaunt the bones in its face pronounced enough to the see the ridges and lines in the skull. The open eyes were completely black and reflected the flickering flame from the candle. Yet it did not move or make any indication that it was aware of them. It seemed to be asleep or in some sort of stasis

“Now what do we do?” one of the men gasped.

“One of you go back to the ladder and get them to bring down rope and chains,” Nigel said keeping his voice low so not to wake the thing in the coffin. “The rest of us will put the lid back on the coffin.”

The man closest to the ladder hurried away. Nigel passed the lantern to one of the men. Without taking his eyes off the creature he crouched down and lifted the discarded coffin lid. It was heavier than expected.

“Give me a hand,” he hissed. Both men shared a look hoping the other would volunteer.

The man without a lantern reluctantly crouched down to help. Together they managed to push the lid into place. Nigel looked at the clasps to seal the coffin. They were bent and smashed, no doubt from when the creature had first escaped. He had no choice but to hold the lid in place while he waited for the man to return with rope and chains. Nigel pressed his hands against the lid fearing that at any moment he would feel the pressure of somebody pushing back.

The man returned dragging a thick chain behind him and holding coils of rope over his shoulders. While Nigel held the lid shut two of the men wrapped the rope around the coffin and tied it shut. They then wrapped the chain around the coffin and fastened it with a heavy lock.

“We just going to leave it chained up?” the man holding the lantern asked.

“No, we are taking it out of here. Everybody grab a corner.”

Struggling with the weight they carried the coffin to the entrance. The men above threw a pair of ropes down into the crypt. Nigel looped the ropes under the coffin. Grunting with the strain the men above hoisted the coffin out of the crypt. The coffin with its monstrous contents was placed beneath the stone angle. The men huddled around it holding their weapons tightly in their hands

“We got it trapped in the coffin,” explained the man that had held the lantern.

“What is it?” asked one of the men with an axe in his hand.

“It’s one of those vampire things. You should see what it did to the rest of the bodies down there. It ate all the flesh from the bones and the marrow inside.”

“What we going to do with it?” one of the men asked.

“We have to destroy it,” the reverend said stepping forward. His doubt has been cast aside and now a fervent passion filled his face.

“You can’t do that,” Nigel protested.

“It has to be destroyed. It is the devil’s creation. An abomination that cannot be allowed to survive. We will use fire to purge this evil from our land.”

The men murmured their approval.

“Let’s not be too hasty,” Nigel said. “It is sealed away in that coffin. It’s not going anywhere. Let me take it back to London.”

“What do you want with it, boy?” the blacksmith called out.

Nigel did not miss the fact that he had been called boy. It seemed now that he disagreed with the consensus the respect he had earned was forgotten and he was again just fifteen-year-old Nigel Briggs, Professor Ashcroft’s assistant.

“That thing in the coffin needs to be studied. You must understand the significance of what we have got here. That creature could rewrite our understanding of the world.”

Selfishly Nigel wanted to place the vampire in front of the Professor and let him try to explain the creature as a hoax.

“And it could also escape to kill and torment others,” the reverend cried. “The foul fiend needs to be destroyed. It is our duty as Christians to carry out God’s will and destroy the creature.”

Nigel could only watch as the coffin was carried from the churchyard. It was loaded on to the back of a cart and followed by the procession of armed men taken to a field nearby. While half the men began to gather wood to build a pyre the other performed an armed vigil as if they expected the demon to escape at any moment. While the fire was built the reverend prayed over the coffin stopping only to dowse it in holy water.

Word of the creature in the coffin spread and villagers that had not been in the churchyard began to appear. By the time the pyre was finished the field was full of men, women and children all having arrived to watch the spectacle.

After the reverend led the whole village in the Lord’s prayer six men lifted the coffin on to the pyre. A torch was lit and handed to the reverend. Nigel felt like he had gone back in time to some medieval witch burning. The reverend pressed the flaming torch to the straw at the bottom of the pyre. The bonfire caught light immediately. The flames spread though the dry timber and started to lick at the coffin. Suddenly the coffin began to rock. The lid strained against the chains and rope. Everybody watched wide eyed as the thing in the coffin desperately fought to break free. The flames spread up and over the coffin. Screams pierced the air.

Unable to watch anymore Nigel looked at the crowd. He wasn’t the only one struggling with the brutality of burning the creature. Uncomfortable eyes turned from the fire and mothers began to pull their fascinated children away. There was a gasp from the crowd. Nigel couldn’t help but to look up. An arm had punched through the flaming walls of the coffin. Its clawed fingers grasped at the air in one last move of defiance. Then it fell still. The screams ceased leaving only the sound of the crackling of the fire.

The crowds began to depart. The show was over, and life continued. Nigel stood watching the flames until it was only the reverend and himself left.

“This was only the way,” the reverend said.

“You burnt it alive.”

“It was a demon it needed to be destroyed.”

“But it could have told us so much.”

“The devil’s teachings are lessons man does not need. The fire has rid us of the creature and purged the evil from the poor soul. He too can rest. Something that you never would have given him in London.”

“But without evidence how will anybody ever believe this ever happened?”

“Who needs to believe? Your Professor? Or perhaps you doubt what you saw? Gain solace in the fact that it is over. To question any further is the path to madness.”

The reverend walked away leaving Nigel to watch the fire burn down. He felt dejected. He knew he should feel elated. Thanks to his efforts the demon preying on the girls was destroyed. They could sleep soundly in their beds without fear of it stalking into their rooms. But he felt empty, it had been a hollow victory.

Yet again he had faced a supernatural creature and could provide no evidence for its existence. He would have to walk into the Professor’s study and agree that it was all a lot of nonsense.  It was at times like this that he felt he must be going crazy. He had witnessed the dead return to life, men turning into beasts and now a vampire but without evidence the Professor would not even contemplate that such things existed.

There was nothing left for him here. It was time to return to London. Nigel walked away from the fire unknowing that events were about to unfold that would make him question his sanity like never before…

What happens next is up to You!

The choices with the most votes will decides what happens next, so choose wisely.

 

 

 

The choice with the most votes will decide what happens next in The Interactive Novel,

So choose wisely!

To cast your vote, go to

http://www.theinteractivenovel.com

 

Vote Closes 30 March 9am GMT

Second Instalment published Friday 3rd April

If you want to read the other investigations of Nigel Briggs then go to http://www.theinteractivenovel.com to find out more.

 

 

16 responses

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