The Interactive Novel in Under 350 Words!

The Interactive Novel in Under 350 Words!

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.

The next morning Professor Ashcroft requests that Nigel accompanies him to an auction. Going under the hammer is a supposedly cursed artefact (the Amulet of Nergal). When the auction is interrupted by armed robbers, a porter is killed, and the amulet vanishes.
Returning home  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. The arresting officer Detective Moore pockets the amulet. They are later released without charge.

Nigel receives another message from Anne. Professor Ashcroft believing this letter is part of a scam sends Nigel to the Elmwich Asylum. Doctor Downer refuses to allow Nigel to visit 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 only to find Detective Moore has spontaneously combust after being possessed by the cursed amulet.
With the amulet back in police possession, the mystery at the asylum to solve,  Nigel and Gertie discuss what to do next.

You decide what happens

 

 

To read the previous instalments in full go to The Interactive Novel Instalments

The Abridged Seventh Instalment

The Abridged 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 including the full length instalment


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

Walking back from the station my eyes were drawn to a man in a bowler hat. I couldn’t say what made him stand out from the crowd, but some primitive sense warned me to be on my guard.

Turning on to Uxbridge Road I sped up. On the other side of the road was Hyde Park. The man with the bowler hat was thirty paces behind me. I knew then, he had to be following me.

I noticed a short gap in the traffic. I darted out into the road cutting in front of a carriage. All along the road carts and carriages skidded to a standstill. I didn’t stop. I sprinted into Hyde Park.

I looked at the mayhem caused by my sudden dart across the road. There was no sign of the man in the bowler hat. My gambit had worked. I had lost him
I hurried deeper into the park towards home.

****

 A Black Maria was parked outside the Professor’s house.

“We have no time to dawdle,” the Professor called spotting me.

I climbed inside the carriage. Moments later the carriage trundled forward.

“What is going on, sir?”

“There has been a death. There is something unusual about the circumstances.”

On the journey I recounted my trip to the asylum. 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 are being dramatic Nigel. 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 back door opened to reveal a street of terrace houses. At number nineteen a pair of constables stood beside the black door. Without an invite the Professor walked past them and into the house. I hurried after him into a narrow hallway. The kitchen door was open. A dark-haired woman sat at the table, her face buried in her hands, sobbing.

I closed the front door. Drawn by the sound Inspector Finch emerged from the front room.

“I am afraid I am a little in the dark over why I am here,” the Professor said

“The deceased is Detective Moore.”

I had been suspecting something this since he pocketed the amulet. He had become another victim of the curse.

He led us into a homely front room. On the green wallpaper strange symbols had been etched in dark ink. The green paper in the corner of the room was stained black with smoke. I wrinkled my nose at the pungent odour in the air not dissimilar to the smell from the knacker’s yard on Pear Lane.

“What do you think?” Finch asked.

“The symbols all over the wall are some sort of writing,” the Professor said. “Now where is the body. Ahh it certainly is most peculiar.”

 He was looking at the little that was left of Detective Moore, a mound of black ash and a charred hand clutching an amulet with a blood red ruby in the centre.

Tuesday, 25th September Continued

“It’s the amulet of Nergal,” I stated. “Detective Moore is the latest victim of the curse.”

“Nigel,” the Professor hissed. “There are no such thing as curses. We do not even know this is Detective Moore.

“His wife witnessed him spontaneously combust. She is in the kitchen with a neighbour.”

“Nigel will you go talk to Mrs Moore.”

“But sir, what about the amulet?”

“It is police property.,” Finch said

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

I tapped lightly on the kitchen door.

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

The dark-haired woman lifted her head from her hands for the first time.

“I’ll put the kettle on.” The neighbour went outside to fill the kettle with water from the standpipe.

“The strange symbols on the wall. What are they?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Daniel wrote them on the wall in blood. He had a cut on his finger that he used like a pen. He was talking in tongues as he stared at that grotesque piece of jewellery.”

“The amulet.”

“That’s it. At first, I thought he was ill. He would just stare at it for hours on end. He claimed I wanted if for myself. He has never been like that before. He was like a different person.”

I wondered if the amulet had possessed the detective.

“I found him writing on the wall. He had that ruddy amulet is his hand. I was going to leave when I noticed wisps of smoke drifting out of his clothes. Then he suddenly went up in flames.”

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

She shook her head. “He just burst into flames.”

The door opened, and the neighbour returned with a kettle of water and an envelope.

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

“Who gave it to you?”

“Some urchin child just now at the standpipe.”

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. Finch was already gone. My heart sank.

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

*****

 I sat down in the front room to update my journal. Gertie dropped into the chair opposite.

“Detective Moore is dead?” I informed her

“Somebody kill him for the amulet?”

“According to his wife he spontaneously combusted.”

“Where is the amulet now?”

“The police confiscated it.”

“Then that is the end of it all.”

“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.

“I have no idea. A colour, perhaps a name, maybe even a place. All I keep coming back to is Elmwich Asylum. Somehow it is connected to the amulet.”

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

“I don’t know,” I admitted.

“We could get you institutionalised.”

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.

“What I meant to say was inside the asylum you may be confined to a cell with no chance of escape. We have other options. 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. 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

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

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

Abridged Sixth Instalment

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. This is the abridged version of the latest instalment to read the full instalment click Sixth Instalment of the Interactive 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 on Thursday 6th 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 latter a doctor from an 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 happens to draw him back into the investigation…
Find out what you chose that to be in the latest instalment below.


The Abridged  Sixth Instalment

 

Monday 24th September 1860

I had spent Sunday writing my resignation letter. I  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.  “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  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”
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 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?”

“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

Tall elm trees grew beside the road to the asylum. Their branches stretched and interlocked above creating a gloomy tunnel.  I had the creeping feeling that I wasn’t alone. I have had that creeping feeling enough times to know that perhaps there was more to it than my imagination.

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.

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.
A guard led me to a small office. Doctor Downer sat 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.”

“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. Something about the women  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.”

Struck by a sudden thought of something Anne had mentioned in her letter.  I called after him.

“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 looked at the buildings around me as I left. Something wasn’t right at Elmwich Asylum. Downer had lied to me. He had heard of the amulet. 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

 

Voting closes on Thursday 6th December at 8am GMT

Sixth Instalment of the Interactive Novel

Sixth Instalment of the Interactive Novel

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 on Thursday 6th 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 The Interactive Novel Instalments

 

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 latter a doctor from an 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 happens to draw him back into the investigation…
Find out what you chose that to be in the latest instalment below.


The Sixth Instalment

Monday 24th September 1860

It was a clear morning, a rarity for an autumnal day in London. With a slight chill in the air and a blue sky above the buildings the weather was pleasant, and expecting the Professor to be late rising, I made a detour through Hyde Park. The beautiful morning had brought large groups of young men out into the park. I passed one group jogging along the path, another group doing push ups and a third performing star jumps.

Passing the exercising men, I felt guilty. I should be joining them. Not long ago I had been involved in hunting a pack of werewolves stalking the residents of a workhouse. It was another one of those encounters with the supernatural that I had been lucky to escape. Afterwards I had been given advice to train my body so that the next time I encountered such a creature I would possess the strength and endurance to escape it. Except motivating myself to exercise proved to be a lot harder than I had imagined. There was always some excuse no matter how feeble to justify doing nothing.

I suppose I now had little need to get into shape. I had spent Sunday writing my resignation letter. With agreeing to try and forget all about Anne Farmer there was little other reason to remain in the Professor’s employment. I had left the letter in my hidey hole, underneath the loose floor board in my room, waiting for the right moment to hand it in. Yesterday had not seemed like the right time. The Professor had spent the day writing in his study and I had not wanted to disturb him. Today was different. I was determined to hand the letter as soon as he woke. No excuses.

I got back to the Professor’s house at the same time as the postman. Without looking at the letters, there were rarely any for me, I left them on the Professor’s desk alongside the newspapers and went down to the kitchen for breakfast. I ate alone. Gertie was already in the laundry room. I could hear her banging the washing drum. Her punishment for sneaking out was washing all the linen in the house. I considered popping into the laundry room, but Mrs Cooper would be standing over her and would only berate me for being a distraction.

I returned to my room and took my resignation letter from under the floorboard. I reread it and frowned. I wasn’t happy with the prose. It just didn’t read right. Perhaps I should rewrite it.

The Professor rang his bell.

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

“Morning Nigel,” the Professor said. He had taken the papers and letters over to the armchair beside the fire. He flicked through the letters as he spoke. “I have been thinking about the spiritual residue we found at that séance the other week. We both know the residue is manmade. I have an idea how to create our own such residue. But first breakfast. Tell Mrs Cooper I would like a pot of tea, a round of toast and a pair of kippers.”

I reached for the door.

“Nigel, this is for you,” the Professor said. He held out a brown envelope.

I took it off him. I rarely received any post, only the odd letter from my parents. As I had yet to write back to them after last week’s letter, I doubted the correspondence was from them. Puzzled I tore open the envelope.

“Tuesday 17th September
Dear Nigel
It was pleasant meeting you on Thursday. As I expected Professor Ashcroft had little regard for what I had to say. Fortunately, although you are sceptical you at least are willing to believe.
By the time you read this letter I know you and Gertie will have visited Pear Lane. I left the note like you instructed me to and know you will have found it. You have not yet told me what you found at Pear Lane. 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.
You will receive this letter on a morning when you are full of doubt. But I need your help more than ever. I am not the only one. Evil is lurking in Elmwich Asylum. If you do not help, then this great evil will spread beyond the asylum grounds. I hear the screams to come, I see the death, I have felt the suffering. You will help me fight against the darkness to come.

I look forward to seeing you again.
Anne”

I reread the letter, struggling to comprehend what I was reading.  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?

“Nigel, my breakfast,” the Professor said. I didn’t move. I reread the letter for a third time. The Professor clapped his hands. “Chop, chop.”

I looked up. “Sir?”

“Spit it out, Nigel,” the Professor said without trying to hide the exasperation in his voice.

“I have just had word from…” I paused. I thought about lying, claiming the letter was bad news from home, but for once I wanted his opinion. I passed the letter across to the Professor. He quickly scanned through the letter, folder it up and handed it back to me with a wry smile.

“The letter is a hoax,” the Professor said.

“It is? Are you sure?”

“Of course, the letter is dated for last week, yet she describes events that were yet to happen at the supposedly time of writing. It is a poor attempt to try to convince you of her prophetic ability by back dating the letter. I suspect the letter was really written over the weekend.”

“How did she know about our trip to Pear Lane?”

“She left the note for you to find, she even says so in the letter.”

“What about the amulet?”

The Professor frowned and stroked the small tuft of hair at the bottom of his chin. “That is rather troubling. The letter implies that Anne knew of the amulet being stolen and knew of Pear Lane. 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?”

“That I cannot say. If I was to hazard a guess it is part of some scam. She obliviously sees you as a gullible victim. I suppose there is one way to find out. I think you should go and ask her how she wants you to help.”

“Sorry sir?” I was convinced I had misheard him. The last thing I had been expecting was him considering investigating this further.

“She obviously wants you to go to Elmwich Asylum. This nonsense about evil and only you can help her is an attempt to lure you in. Well let us trigger her trap and force her to reveal her hand. It may be the only way to help the police in finding the robbers.”

“I will book two train tickets. When do you want to leave, sir?”

“I am not going anywhere Nigel. Miss Farmer clearly asks for you. I expect you back tomorrow evening.” He reached for the morning paper. “Besides I am far too busy to waste a couple of days on a fool’s errand.”

****

 I left the Professor’s house with a kitbag full of clothes and with what little money I had left. Even though it was the Professor’s idea to send me, he had declined to pay my expenses. Instead he would just deduct what I spent off the dept I owed him. Wanting to save some money I walked to Paddington Station. With the state of London’s traffic, it would have probably taken just as longer if I had hired a cab.

I bought a return ticket and made my way to the platform where the locomotive was puffing away. I climbed into the steerage class carriage at the back of the train. Being mid-afternoon on a Monday the train wasn’t busy, and I managed to have a window seat to myself. I just settled down with my book, when the whistle blew, and the train lurched forward. In no time the bustling streets of London gave way to the English countryside.

It was early afternoon when the train pulled into the town of Andover. I picked up the kitbag back at my feet and climbed down on to the platform. With a whistle and a cloud of steam the train pulled out of the station. Looking at the map, the village of Elmwich was a good seven mile walk from Andover. If I left now, I would not reach the village until early evening. Far too late in the day for a visit. I needed to find a room for the night, then I could set off for the asylum at first light, make my visit and get back to the station to catch the 4.30pm train back to London.

Not far from the station I found an inn. A round face woman with curly hair sat on the front desk. After paying for board and lodgings for the night, she showed me to a small single room just big enough for a bed and chair. Instructing me to make my way to the bar for seven she left me in the room. I threw my kitbag on the chair. I sat on the edge of the bed I took Anne’s letter from my pocket.

I reread the letter trying to come to some conclusion. Convinced the letter was a hoax, the Professor had read a hidden meaning into the letter. He did not believe in prophetic ability and had concluded that Anne was involved in an armed robbery that left a man dead. Gertie on the hand, would have taken the letter on face value and fully believed that an evil force did exist at Elmwich Asylum. I didn’t know what to believe. All I knew was investigating armed robbers or a mysterious evil would only meant the same thing. Yet again I was potentially putting myself in danger.

 

Tuesday, 25th September 1860

 

I left the inn with the sunrise. With my kit bag over my shoulder I took the road out of town. Rain over night had turned the road tacky. The grey sky threatened to rain again. There was a cleanness to the air, a contrast to the dirty smog of London that usually accompanied my morning walk. At this hour, cows were being taken in to be milked and the birds were chirping in the trees. The first leaves were yellowing, and the wheat fields were barren stubble. It felt good to be out of the city.

A little after nine  I reached the village of Elmwich. Comprising of a small church, a blacksmith, and a scattering of houses, Elmwich was little more than a hamlet. I stopped at the blacksmith’s and asked a man with arms bigger than my legs for directions to the asylum. Looking at me if I was mad, he pointed with his hammer to a road beside the church. Thanking him I headed towards the church. I looked over my shoulder. The blacksmith stood in his yard watching me go. There was something sombre in his expression, as if watching a funeral procession. A feeling of unease crept over me.

The road to the asylum was rutted and full of puddles. Tall hedges grew on either side of the road blocking the fields from view. Five minutes after leaving the village 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, 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. Candles flickered in the window and a small tendril of smoke rose up from the chimney. I knocked on the door.

A gatekeeper dressed in a dark blue uniform opened the door. He was thin and in his early sixties with a grey beard and little hair.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“My name is Nigel Briggs. I would like to see Doctor James Downer.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, but…”

The gatekeeper held up his hand. “I can’t let you in without an appointment. Write to the doctor and make an appointment before you come back.”

“Can you send a message to Doctor Downer? Tell him that I have urgent business with regards to the two escaped patients, Peter Boden and Anne Farmer.”

The gatekeeper stuck his head back into the house and whistled. A woman of similar age appeared.

“What is it?” she grumbled. In her hand she held a pair of trousers with a patch half sewn on to the knee.

“Go up to the house and tell Doctor Selby a Nigel Briggs is here for Doctor Downer. It’s about Peter Boden and Anne Farmer.”

“Why don’t you go?”

“I ain’t got a dog to do my own barking. Now go woman.”

Grumbling to herself she disappeared from  view. A minute later she reappeared leaving the house from a back door on the other side of the gates. Still muttering she marched off along the drive, turning a bend and disappeared behind the trees.

“You wait here,” the gatekeeper said. He slammed the door in my face.

I looked at the large elm trees along the road. There was no sound of birds or animals rustling in the undergrowth. There was no wind swaying the branches just the eerie stillness. On either side of the gate was a six-foot-high metal fence. The top of the fence was barbed to stop anybody climbing over. I suspected the fence ran all around the property. A reminded that in many ways Elmwich Asylum was a prison. Its patients locked away for their own safety and that of everybody else for that matter.

The sound of hooves broke the eerie stillness. A chestnut horse pulling a single axle cart came into view. The gatekeeper’s wife sat next to a burly looking guard on the driver’s seat. The gatehouse door open and the gatekeeper hurried over to them. After a brief conversation the gatekeeper headed towards me. He reached into his pocket and took out a large key.

“Doctor Downer has agreed to meet you in his office,” the gatekeeper said. 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.”
The gatekeeper locked the gates behind me as I climbed into the cart. Ray replied to my hello with a surly grunt. No sooner had I sat down beside him Ray snapped on the reigns urging the horse forward.

The drive twisted its way around a woodland trail dominated by large elm trees. The woodland suddenly gave way to a large expanse of parkland. The guard forced the cart through a herd of cows ambling across the drive. In the distance a flock of sheep were grazing. The scene would have been one of tranquil beauty if not for the asylum in the centre. My first impression was of looking at a fortress. A red bricked wall ran around the perimeter of the buildings. At ten foot in height the wall hid all but the upper stories of the buildings from view. It looked as if 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. The façade had stone pillars in resemblance to a Greek temple. In comparison the extensions looked out of place. Built from the same red brick as the surrounding walls they were larger than the original house. Rows of small windows ran down the side of the extensions. As we drew closer, I could see bars on these windows.

We stopped at a solid wooden gate in the middle of the wall. A guard on the top of the wall shouted out a command. The gates creaked open. Without needing a signal from the driver, the horse pulled the cart into the asylum. With a sense of forbidding I looked over my shoulder and watched the gates close behind us. I couldn’t shake off the sense of unease, something wasn’t right here.

Inside of the perimeter walls were well maintained lawns with the odd specimen tree. There were no hedges, formal gardens or undergrowth for anyone to use to hide.  From their vantage point on top of the wall the patrolling guards could see everything going within the grounds. If felt like stepping into a prison.

Ray stopped the cart outside the front door of the manor house. He grunted at me and waved for me to follow into the house. We passed another guard stationed beside the doors and into the main lobby. Over the past year I have stepped into several stately homes and they all shared the same grandeur, the display of opulence broadcasting the owner’s affluence like a peacock flashes its feathers. The asylum was different. 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.

The silence surprised me the most. This was supposed to be a working asylum, yet it was deathly quiet.  The tapping of our feet on the tiles the only noise. It felt as if we were the only ones inside the building.

“It’s quieter than I thought,” I said to the guard.

Ray just grunted in reply. Taking out a ring of keys he opened a door at the right of the lobby to reveal a narrow dark corridor lit by a single window at the far end. It must have once been a servant’s corridor allowing the staff to move around the house unseen by the family. Ray took me along the corridor, passing doors on either side to a narrow winding staircase. We climbed up to the second floor and along another corridor. The closed doors on either side of the corridor were labelled with plaques for the different offices.

Knocking first Ray opened a door to a small office. With the high ceiling the room was taller that it was wide. The cabinets, bookcases and desk made the room feel smaller. Nearly every surface was cluttered with trinkets and ornaments. Doctor Downer sat at his desk writing. He chewed on the unlit stem of his pipe like the rodent he looked like. He gestured for me to take a seat and waved Ray away.

“Master Briggs what a pleasant surprise,” he said putting down his pen. He took a tobacco tin out from the top draw of his desk. “Do you mind?”

I shook my head. He took the chewed pipe from his mouth and filled the bowl with tobacco. He lit the pipe and took a deep draw.

“Well Master Briggs welcome to Elmwich Asylum. I must admit I wasn’t expecting to see you again and so soon. 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.”

“Most bizarre to send a boy in his stead, he must think highly of you. We do not normally take guests without prior appointment, but as you have travelled all this way, I trust your business is urgent.”

“Peter Boden was found dead last week.”

“So, I have heard. I received a letter this morning from a Detective Moore. I understand he was stabbed in the back during an altercation. I’m afraid if you have come all this way to tell me this then you have come a long way for nothing.”

“I have a few questions regarding some of your patients.”

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

“It may help catch Peter Boden’s killer.”

Downer didn’t look convinced.

“On what grounds have you come here Nigel? I find Professor Ashcroft’s interest in the murder of a petty criminal rather puzzling. I have read one of his papers on the mind. His thesis that supernatural experiences are nothing, but delusions provided fascinating insight into the minds of some of our patients.”

“That is the other reason why I am here,” I said changing tact. “Professor Ashcroft is writing a new paper. He has sent me to interview Anne Farmer.”

“Has he now?” Downer said sceptically.

Having committed to the lie I had to continue. I dared not tell him that I wanted to see Anne because I believed she maybe able to predict the future. He might end up locking me up in a cell of my own.

“Miss Farmer’s claims she can foresee the future fascinate him. He has sent me to request that we carry out an interview with her, perform a round of tests and then confront her with the evidence proving she has no power of premonition. We can then record the lengths she goes to convince herself of her powers even contrary to the evidence. The Professor thinks she make the perfect case study.”

“What is his paper on?”

“Erm…” I racked my brain trying to think of a title. Downer raised his brows. “The paper has not got an official title yet, but it’s on…erm… self-delusion.”

Downer took the chewed pipe from his mouth and rose to his feet.

“As I have feared you have come along way for nothing. We don’t just offer access to our patients for anyone off the street. Now of course if Professor Ashcroft writes to us requesting a visit it may be granted. It will be discussed by myself and the other doctors and if he provides adequate reasons, we will consider his request 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 over looking the main staircase for the manor house. The grand staircase descended down to a large lounge, decorated with red carpet, curtains and walls. Female patients dressed in ankle length grey dresses were sat on the red chairs and loungers. In silence they sat reading, knitting or staring out of the barred windows. I searched their number for Anne. She was not in the room.

“We try to encourage all of our patients to develop a hobby or a passion to ease their mind,” Downer explained. “For our low risk patients, we try to give them as much freedom as possible. It is better for their wellbeing. We are a hospital not a prison.”

We walked through the middle of the room without any of the women acknowledging our existence as if we were invisible.  Something about the women felt wrong. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realised 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.

Downer took a ring of keys from his pocket. He fumbled through the keys.

“As you can see, we take security very seriously,” he said unlocking the door. “I think it is impossible for a patient to escape.”

“Mr Boden and Miss Farmer both escaped.”

“They were assisted by the same guard. He has since been dismissed from service.”

“Did you know Mr Boden was involved in an armed robbery.”

Downer shrugged. “That does not surprise me. He had a history of violence. His treatment was not complete. I would only expect him to fall back into previous patterns.”

The next room had been cleared for men to exercise on the wooden floor. In disciplined ranks they were 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.

“We believe that physical fitness can be just as important as mental fitness. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind.”

“Do you exercise all your patients?” I asked, making conversation rather than out of interest.

“Oh no. The patients you see are our low risk patients. These are men and women we can trust to behave themselves. Our higher risk patients are kept in solitude for their own safety. In time we hope even these patients can be granted the same level of trust. As you can see, here at Elmwich, patient care is our number one priority. We aim to rehabilitate and get every patient back into society as a contributing citizen.”

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

Our tour came to an end in the lobby. The guard called Ray was stood by the front door waiting for us.

“Ray will take you back to the front gates. I suggest you instruct Professor Ashcroft in future he follows the proper procedures. Now I must get back to work. Good bye Master Briggs.”

It had been a waste of a journey. That must have been why the Professor hadn’t come.

He must have sent me so that I could hit a dead end and then on my return to London I would be willing to forget about the whole thing. Dismissed I headed for the door. 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. “Have a safe journey Nigel.”

I followed Ray down the front steps and onto the cart. He pulled on the reigns and the cart trundled forward. 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. But why deny it? I looked over my shoulder.

Doctor Downer stood at the window watching me leave. I couldn’t be certain through the barred windows, but I swore he had a look of concern upon his face.

I had stumbled upon something. 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

 

Voting closes on Thursday 6th December at 8am GMT

 

 

 

 

Abridged Fifth Instalment

Abridged Fifth 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
  • Acharacter to be introduced

Whatever option receives the most votesdecides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote.

Voting closes for the choices at the end of the Fifth Instalment on Thursday 29th November 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 latter a doctor from an 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.  Suddenly the door burst open and somebody enters the property…

Find out what you voted for with the next instalment below.


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.

What happens next is up to You!

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