Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. This winter the interactive novel returns as a novella.
There will be three options published each week. Each instalment will be no longer than a 1000 words. Read the options , then vote for your favourite or what you would like to happen. Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens.
Read the First Instalment Below and Cast Your Vote
Option 1 – All at Sea
Fourteen-year-old Nigel Briggs leant over the rail and retched into the frothing sea below. Nothing came out of his empty stomach. He pulled himself upright and wiped the tendril of saliva away with his handkerchief. Sweating in the cold sea air he tried to watch the horizon. The thin band of land, no more than a hazy blur, pitched up and down wildly as ship the rolled in the rough waves. Feeling dizzy and miserable he consoled himself that at least the French coast was growing larger.
Only a few hours earlier he had stood on the dock in Dover looking at the small sailing ship with excitement. He had never been on a ship before or to a foreign country. With their destination Paris he had been about to embark on an exciting adventure to explore the French capital. He had been reading The Three Musketeers and had felt like D’Artagnan swept up into a great adventure. Perhaps the best news of all was that Professor Ashcroft had been invited to speak at a conference, so with no chance of being terrorised by a supernatural entity, it had been an adventure to look forward to. Except D’Artagnan would not be incapacitated by sea sickness.
He’s stomach heaved again, and he dry retched into the sea. He straightened up and clung to the rails on weak legs. Why was it always him? The Professor was down in his cabin reading. The man had the constitution of a fisherman.
Somebody was laughing behind him, no doubt at his expense. He had already been the butt of the sailors’ jokes. They appeared to take pleasure in seeing a land lover being sick over the side of the ship. They ran along the pitching deck, attending the sails, swabbing the decks and whatever else sailors did without any indication the ship was bobbing crazily from side to side. He heard the laugh again. He would have ignored it, but it was clearly a woman laughing. He glanced over his shoulder towards the prow of the boat.
A pair of young women, a few years older than himself, were holding on to the prow of the boat laughing with glee as the ship pitched up and down. They were treating the stomach-churning journey as a fairground ride. A few paces away their minder stood watching them. He was a large solid man, a rectangle on legs. Nigel was glad to see that for all he tried to keep a calm face he had a pale green pallor. At least Nigel wasn’t the only one suffering.
Apart from the two women and their minder the only other passenger had been a pock faced man with thinning ginger hair. Nigel had watched him board the ship without saying a word to anyone and then disappear below deck. But since leaving the harbour Nigel had spent most of his time with his head over the edge of the ship, the man could have stood beside him and Nigel would have been none the wiser.
He looked beyond the prow carving into the waves. The French Coast looked clearer on the horizon. In a few hours he would have solid unmoving ground beneath his feet. If a bit of sea sickness was the worst thing he had to put up with, then he had nothing to complain about. Except unknown to Nigel he could not be further from the truth…
Option 2 – The Knight’s Folly
The carriage trundled down the road with only the rocking light of the swaying lanterns guiding its way. The driver huddled in his seat, his frozen hands clutching the reigns as he guided the horses forward. The heavy rain ran down his saturated coat in little rivers that pooled on the seat around him. The road was deserted. It was no surprise at this late hour in such heavy rain. The right wheel dropped into a pothole shaking the carriage. There was an audible curse from within. Cold, wet and miserable the driver was beyond caring for the comfort of his passengers ridding in the dry carriage.
There was a tap on the grate behind him. No doubt his passengers moaning about the rough journey. Well how was he supposed to see every hole in the road at night in the middle of the storm? There was another knock against the grate. The driver tugged on the reigns halting the horses in the middle of the road. Sliding open the grate he was surprised to see the face of the boy looking back at him.
“Professor Ashcroft is wondering if we can stop for the night?” the boy said.
“Of course,” the driver said through gritted teeth. For the past two hours he had asked that question at every inn they passed. Then he had been told to carry on. Now it had suddenly dawned on the Professor that they would not be reaching their destination that night.
“Is there a problem?” the boy asked shrewdly.
“No, no, of course not. If I remember correctly there is a small hamlet about a mile away. It has an inn. Should be able to get a bed for the night there.”
“One moment.” The boy disappeared back into the carriage. There was a murmur of voices as he relayed the conversation to the Professor. Moments later he reappeared at the grate. “The Professor say’s we will stop there.”
“Yes, sir,” the driver said sliding the grate shut.
Fourteen-year-old Nigel Briggs sat back down as the carriage lurched forward. He watched the shadows cast by the lantern dance around the carriage. He had drawn the carriage curtains across the window rather than look outside. Who knew what lurked in the dark along deserted country roads? Better to hide the darkness away than let his imagination run away with him. On the seat opposite Professor Ashcroft continued to read only stopping to grumble about the rocking journey.
“I swear that driver is aiming for every rut and pothole he can find,” muttered the Professor. “He should slow down. We are not in a race.”
“Yes, sir,” Nigel agreed with little conviction. It would not do to remind the Professor that it was he who had urged the driver to proceed with haste. They were heading to investigate a poltergeist. The Professor believing there was no such thing as the supernatural planned to disprove this as a hoax. They had always known they were supposed to stop for the night, but the Professor had been determined to push on as far as they could.
The carriage shuddered to a halt. There was a creaking as the driver climbed down from his seat. Nigel leaned over and pulled back the curtains. They were parked outside a dingy looking inn. Water poured down from the thatched roof. Even in the dim lantern light the white painted walls were stained and flaking. The faded sign swung gently in the wind. The image was of a beast with a head and neck of a snake, the body of a leopard and the legs of a deer. Beneath the monster were the words “The Knight’s Folly.”
“Should suffice for the night,” the Professor said. He looked past the shabby exterior to the warm glow of the fire in the windows.
“Are you sure, sir?” Nigel asked. For some strange reason he had feeling of unease. “It looks a bit shabby, perhaps we would find a better inn further down the road.”
“It is always good to rough it with the common man from time to time. Keeps one’s feet on the ground. Ahh here comes the driver.”
The driver opened the carriage door. His wet hair was plastered to his head. He looked sodden and drenched. No wonder he had raced the horses sat out in such rain.
“They have beds for the night and stables for the horses. I will see that your trunk is taken to your room, sir.”
“Excellent,” the Professor said springing to his feet. He pulled his coat up round his neck. “What a foul night. Not fit for a dog to be out in it. Come along Nigel, and don’t forget my bag.”
“Yes, sir.” Nigel gave the driver a meek smile, picked up the Professor’s heavy leather case, clambered down into the rain and stepped promptly into a puddle. A small stream ran down the side of the road parting as it forked around the carriage wheels.
His foot squelching in his shoe he followed the Professor through the door and into the pub. The sudden blast of heat certainly felt welcoming. The interior of the pub was well lit and with wooden beams cosey. A large fire roared in the huge brick fireplace against the far wall. Working men from the surrounding farms were huddled in groups drinking bitter. There were several mangy dogs, and a harried looking couple were busy serving behind the bar. Nigel closed the door behind him with a bang. Instantly conversation ceased replaced with an uncomfortable silence as all eyes turned to stare at them. Even the dogs eyed them with suspicion.
Nigel swallowed uncomfortably. He had a bad feeling about this inn. It was as if some primitive urge was warning him, telling him to leave. He considered telling the Professor, but knew it was pointless. The Professor would only scoff at him, mock him for being foolish. Better to keep silent and hope that his apprehension was just his imagination…
Option 3 – The Great Discovery
Not for the first time fourteen-year-old Nigel Briggs felt out of place. Since entering Professor Ashcroft’s, employment as his apprentice it was becoming a recurring theme. Tonight, he stood beside the mantlepiece in the large parlour of the stately home enjoying the warmth of the fire against his back. He scanned the paintings adorning the walls, rather than watching the groups of distinguished men sat deep in discussion. Professor Ashcroft was across the other side of the room, a tumbler of whiskey in his hand, deep in conversation with an elderly bearded man.
Nigel sighed. This was certainly the most boring party he had ever attended. Their host hadn’t even appeared. Instead he had left his guests, some of the most prominent minds in British science, to amuse themselves. Feeling the need to stretch his legs Nigel left the room. He wandered the hall looking at the paintings. In the dim candlelight he had to squint to make out the finer details in the portraits of family members, biblical and mythical scenes and in one room paintings of black wolf like dogs. He passed pockets of men in small groups so absorbed in their conversation they stood in the middle of the corridors oblivious to his presence. In another large parlour with red walls and furnishings to match he found the wives and mistresses gathered. Feeling even more uncomfortable than with the men he hastily backed out of the room. He passed servants carrying silver trays with food and drink hurrying between the rooms.
He looked down at his pocket watch. Only an hour has passed since their arrival. He wished the Professor had left him at home. He had not wanted to attend, but the Professor had insisted. Their host, a recluse but with a reputation for being a genius in the field of Chemistry, was going to announce a mysterious and in their host’s own words, a monumental discovery that would change the way humanity viewed the world. As some of the world’s best minds would be in attendance the Professor had said it would be an opportunity for Nigel to learn something. However, as expected Nigel had been abandoned to look after himself. He now wandered the corridor ignored and bored. He headed towards the dinning room. At least there was a free buffet.
The room was empty, apart from the large table big enough to sit thirty filled with platters or food. Nigel wandered the length of the table plucking morsels of sliced meats, cheeses and pastry’s as he passed. Nibbling on a pickle and ham tart he stopped by the fireplace. Above the mantel was a painting of a muscular naked man brandishing a flaming torch as he climbed out of a dark hole.
“Prometheus,” said a voice beside him.
Startled Nigel turned to find a girl of a similar age to himself. She was dressed in a dark green ball gown and her brown hair was pulled into a fashionable bun. From her attire she wasn’t a servant, but she was far too young to be a wife or mistress.
“Prometheus?” he repeated his mind preoccupied puzzling over the girl’s identity.
“In Greek myth he stole fire from the underworld and gave it to humanity,” the girl said. She smiled at him, whether it was condescending or not, he was not sure. “It is my father’s favourite myth. He wonders what other secrets of the gods can be stolen from them.”
“Do you just ask questions? My father is your host. He has invited you all here to show off his latest discovery. Most of his guest are boorish old men and then there is you. At first I thought you must be a servant.”
Nigel shook his head. She hadn’t been the only one. On several occasions one of the guests had forced an empty glass into his hand with the expectation that he would replenish their drink.
“Then I thought you must be some sort of child prodigy, but I think I may be mistaken on that too. So why are you here?”
“I’m Professor Ashcroft’s apprentice. He has insisted that I accompany him so that I might learn something.”
“Well you have learned about Greek mythology, so he was right,” she held out her hand. “Eve Crosse.”
“Nigel Briggs. Do you know what your father’s discovery is?”
She gave a bitter laugh. “It is a closely guarded secret. My father keeps to himself. So much so, that I have not seen him in four years and three months. My mother and I live with my grandparents. Considering we have not spoken to Father in such a long time he still sent us an invitation for tonight. Strange don’t you think?”
Nigel shrugged. “He is obviously proud of his discovery and wants you and your mother there to witness that your sacrifice was worth it.”
“You really do not know my father, but then who does? Did you know that the local villagers believe he is in league with the devil? That he is carrying out inhuman experiments into the occult? That he may have opened a portal to hell?”
A shiver crept down Nigel’s spine. He could not have a night away without tales of the supernatural raising its ugly head. Eve continued not noticing his discomfort,
“If I told the other guests here, they would say the superstitious locals just don’t understand the marvels of modern science. That there is nothing that cannot be explained by rational logical thinking.”
“That sounds familiar.” He had heard those words hundreds of times from Professor Ashcroft.
“But what if science cannot explain it? My father is due to make his announcement at 8 o’clock. I suppose we will then find out who is right…”