Part Two

Part Two

Welcome to The Interactive Novel where you the reader gets to chose what happens. Read the three options and then vote to decide what happens in the story.

Below is the story so far to refresh your memory or scroll down to find the options to vote upon.

The Story so Far

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.”

“Your father?”

“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…”

To decide what happens next read the three options below and then cast your vote

Option 1 – The Cellar

“Master Briggs,” a voice called out interrupting her.

Nigel glanced towards the door at the far end of the room. An agitated looking footman hurried into the dining room. He looked expectantly at Nigel.

“Master Briggs?”

“Yes?” Nigel said. He frowned. Why would anybody send a footman to find him? Then his heart sunk. It had to be the Professor. Nobody else knew that he was here. What could the Professor possibly want now? Probably wanted him to write notes or listen to some boring lecture.

“Thank goodness I found you Master Briggs,” the footman said. He ran a hand through his hair in a nervous gesture. “You must come with me urgently.”

“What’s so urgent?” It was typical. He had finally found somebody to talk too and now the Professor was summoning him.

“I would rather not say, sir.”

Nigel glanced at Eve. She gave him a small smile.

“You will have to excuse me,” Nigel said.

“Of course, you have urgent business to attend too. Well if you need any more lessons on mythology later, find me out.”

Nigel gave her a quick nod and followed the footman out of the dining hall. To his surprise the footman led him to a side door off the main hall. The door opened on to a set of stairs leading down into the cellar. The staircase was lit by sporadic lanterns.

Nigel hesitated at the top of the stairs. He looked over his shoulder and through the open door of the parlour at the other guests. He then looked back down at the dimly lit stairwell leading into the dark depths of the hall. He assumed the stairs lead to the servants’ quarters. Why would the footman want to take him down there? Something wasn’t right.

“Please, sir you must follow me,” insisted the footman.

“You want me to go down there?”

“Yes, this is where I was instructed to take you,” noticing his reluctance the footman added, “by Professor Ashcroft.”

Nigel swallowed nervously. “In that case.”

He stepped onto the stairs. Thoughts of the local rumours swirled through his mind. Messing with the occult, a gateway to hell, just superstitious nonsense he told himself as he descended into the darkness.

At the bottom of the stairs was a low-ceilinged corridor. The brick walls were painted in flaking grubby white paint. Plain tiles covered the floor. It had none of the opulence of the hallway above. A damp unpleasant aroma lingered in the air.

“This way,” the footman said picking up a lantern.

Nigel followed him along the corridor. His unease growing with every step. The corridor was empty apart from the echo of their feet on the tiles. Where were the other servants? The corridor should be busy with servants running back and forth bring food and drink from the kitchens to the guests. Yet it was deserted. In the candlelight he noticed a thick layer of dust on the floor and cobwebs in the corners. This corridor had obviously not been used in a while.

The footman stopped beside a door. He pushed it open to reveal a brightly lit room. The two men in the room looked up at him. One was a grouchy looking old man with long silver hair. The other was knelt on the floor.

“Nigel there you are. What took you so long?” Professor Ashcroft said. He waved his hand dismissively. “Never mind. It is not important. Come and have a look at this.”

Professor Ashcroft stepped aside to reveal a body lying on the floor…

Option 2 – Upstairs

“It sounds like you agree with the villagers,” Nigel said. “You don’t honestly believe your father is involved with the occult?”

“All I know is there are two sides to a coin. I have not seen my father since I was ten and before then it was only for fleeting moments. He had no time for Mother and I when we lived here. That is why she took me to live with my grandparents.”

“Yet you came back tonight. Why is that?”

She frowned. “You think yourself quite the detective.”

“Sorry a matter of habit. My apprenticeship to Professor Ashcroft involves explaining the supernatural.”

“You investigate ghosts?”

“Amongst other things,” he said deliberately vague. She would not believe half the things he had seen. He also did not want to talk about it, wanting to forget the things that had terrified him. “It’s rather dull and you wouldn’t be interested.”

“You might not want to talk about it, but I don’t mind telling you why Mother and I came tonight. Afterall, it is nice to talk to somebody, even if it is an interrogation. In the room with all the ladies I was just ignored or berated by Mother for not sitting properly. I had to escape”

Nigel knew the feeling all too well.

“Anyway. Even though Mother cannot stand the sight of Father she insisted that we came tonight. Afterall he did invite us and it was the first time we had heard from him since leaving. I did not want to come but Mother insisted. She wants me to meet Father again. Something about it being important to know where I have come from.”

She tilted her head to one side as if caught by a sudden thought. She looked over his shoulder. Nigel followed her gaze to the Grandfather clock. It was just short of half seven.

“Shall we go look at my old room? I would love to see it. I want to know if it is the same as I remember. We have half an hour before Father’s great announcement. I won’t be missed and neither will you if you are able to stand here staring at paintings.”

Nigel followed Eve out of the dining room and into entrance the lobby. A lone footman stood at the bottom of the curved stairs. The open door opposite revealed a library with more gentlemen gathered. As they approached the stairs the footman stepped in front of them.

“Nobody is allowed up there.”

“This is my Father’s house. I just want to have a look at my bedroom.”

He looked at Nigel behind her, then putting two and two together and reaching seven he gave them a knowing wink.

“Sorry. I still can’t let you go up there. It is not worth my job. I’m under strict orders not to let anyone up there.”

Eve turned and headed off towards the library. Nigel followed in her wake.

“Eve, where are we going?”

“There is more than one way to get upstairs and if I remember correctly… yes there it is.”

Ahead of them a servant carrying a tray emerged from a small side door in the corner of the library. The door had been left open, but if closed the door had been disguised to look like part of a bookcase with spines of false books. As they crossed the library another servant with an empty tray went through the door. Without hesitating Eve darted through the false door. Nigel took a quick glance behind him, the men were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice, then followed her through to find a narrow staircase. On the stairs below, the servant was heading down to the kitchens to replenish her tray. Another set of stairs headed upwards to the dark rooms above. On the third step was an unlit lantern, put aside as if required.

“Look Eve I don’t think we should go wandering around,” Nigel said as she picked up the lantern.

“It will take us ten minutes at the most. I just want a quick look and then we come right back here.” She lit the lantern and then without waiting for him to protest further headed upwards.

“Why me?” he muttered under his breath and then followed. He has misgivings about walking around the hall at night. Not just because it was off limits, but because of the local rumours. If there was the smallest chance there was any truth to them, then this was the height of foolishness.  He had had enough encounters with the supernatural to know it wasn’t a wise idea to go wandering round dark creepy buildings… 

Option 3 – The Ballroom

An awkward silence fell between them. Nigel knew he should say something but could think of nothing that would alleviate her fears. Or his for that matter. His mind was going haywire jumping from conclusion to conclusion. There had to be a supernatural element to their host’s discovery, why else would he invite the Professor? They were there to attempt to disprove it as a hoax and in failing to do so would prove its reality. And over the past few months he had learnt anything involving the supernatural usually ended in a terrifying experience.

He gave a weak smile. Then it dawned on him that perhaps Eve was hoping that her father’s announcement would reveal that he was in league with the devil. It would be easier to dislike a man who had abandoned her for committing evil rather than one that had sacrificed their relationship for an honourable cause.

She looked at him expectantly. He still had to say something. Or perhaps excuse himself. They both couldn’t stand here awkwardly for much longer. He was saved from making a decision by a waiter entering the room. Hearing his footsteps, they both looked up.

“Sir, Madam, everyone is to gather in the ballroom for Mr Crosse’s announcement.” The waiter spun on his heels to hunt for others to summon.

“Time to find out what Father has been up to,” Eve said. “Follow me.”

Nigel followed a few steps behind her. In the lobby men were pouring out of the other rooms. Many walked still in deep conversation. Professor Ashcroft was one of them. Too engaged in talking to his companion he struck the doorframe with his shoulder sloshing his drink over himself. Blushing he carried on walking as if no one would notice his mishap.

Entering the ballroom Eve slipped off to find her mother. Nigel made his way over to the Professor. Already the large room was filling with people. There had to be nearly two hundred guests in attendance. They all took positions in front of a stage at the far end of the room.

“Nigel there you are,” Professor Ashcroft said. “This is a wonderful event. I hope you are learning lots.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Professor had a strong smell of whiskey about him. Nigel looked at the wet patch on his waistcoat from where he had spilt his drink.

“Accident, sir?”

The Professor looked down his waistcoat then pressed his fingers again the damp material. “Oh this. It is nothing just a spilt drink. A clumsy waiter bumped into me that is all.”

The Professor turned away and start talking to the man on his left about cholera. Nigel tuned out when the conversation turned to civil engineering and the building of sewers. Looking around the room he spotted Eve standing beside a furious looking woman. It had to be her mother and she looked as if this was the last place she wanted to be.

The last of the guests entered the room. Even though this was the largest room in the house it felt small with the number of guests crammed inside. The drone of conversations filled the air and nobody seemed to be paying attention as their host walked on to the stage. Unlike the guests that were as well preened as birds on the hunt for a mate he was a dishevelled mess. His long lank grey hair hung down over his shoulders. He wore a faded suit several sizes too big. It may have fitted him once but with his prominent cheek bones and hollow face it was clear he had lost a lot of weight. His eyes were ringed with dark bags. He stood in the middle of the stage fidgeting as if unsure how to summon their attention. Seeing his apprehension, a second man in uniform walked on to the stage.

“Gentlemen and ladies,” the uniform man barked. He sounded like a drill sergeant and Nigel suspected the butler was an ex-military man. “Attention please.”

Silence fell upon the room as the gathered guests looked up at the stage. The butler gave his master a nod then left the stage. Mr Crosse took a deep breath and then looking at his feet addressed the room.

“Thank you for coming tonight.”

Nigel had to strain his ears to hear him.

“It has been a long time since I have been in company and I did not expect so many too answer my invite. For those that have come you will not be disappointed. For I have a discovery to announce. A discovery so important that it will alter the way we view the world. After years of research and development I can announce that I have….

Voting Closes Midday 30th November.

Part 3 published Friday 4th December

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