A Quick Catch Up

A Quick Catch Up

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. At the end of each weekly instalment there will be at least one poll where you will decide what happens next. Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote.


 The Latest Instalment of the Interactive Novel.


If you are new to the interactive novel or want to catch up on the story so far here is a reminder of what has happened in each of the previous instalments.

To read the full instalment click on the link below or read the brief summery.

The First Instalment – Introduces fifteen year old Nigel Briggs and apprentice to Professor Ashcroft debunker of the supernatural. In 1860, Nigel confronts a vampire in a girl’s bedroom, the creature flees and he pursues it to a cemetery. The next morning the local villagers dig up the crypt and burn the coffin containing the creature.

The Second Instalment – Nigel returns to London. There he tells Gertie Stubbs a maid in the household about the vampire. She insists that Nigel tells Professor Ashcroft the truth about what happened, instead Nigel agrees with the Professor that the vampire never existed. The Professor then explains how they have been invited to Moonhurst Hall to disprove accusations of witchcraft directed at a young maid in the household.

The Third Instalment. – Accompanied by Nigel and Gertie the Professor heads to Moonhurst Hall. On route the owner Mr Berwick explains there has been a suspicious death and a young maid has been accused of being a witch. At the hall they split ways with Gertie going to work in the hall to befriend the accused maid while Nigel and the Professor head to a funeral.

The Fourth Instalment – The funeral descends into a chaos as a huge colony of rats invade the church causing all the mourners to flee.

Meanwhile as Gertie walks to the hall she is drawn down a sheep track to a stone circle where she is buffeted and terrified by a mysterious wind.

The Fifth Instalment– Gertie meets Miss Berwick, a strange girl, is informed by Mr Gates the rules of the household and meets the maid accused of witchcraft, a Mary Richards, a shy girl.

Nigel and the Professor return to the church to discover all of the rats are gone. They also go down into the cellar of the church where they find a pentagram. On leaving the cellar Nigel seems a crouched cloaked figure lurking in the shadows.

The Sixth Instalment– Nigel and the Professor reach Moonhurst Hall. Nigel meets Mr Berwick’s daughter Hattie. That night as he is laying in bed he hears somebody sneak into his room.

The Seventh Instalment– Nigel discovers it is Gertie that has snuck into his room. After leaving his room Gertie spots a pair of mysterious blue flames in the garden. She goes to investiage when somebody grabs her shoulder.

Eighth Instalment – It is Mary the maid accused of wichcraft that Gertie finds in the garden. Nigel goes horse riding with Hattie. She takes him to ambandonded lead mine where stories are told that the miners mined deep enough to reach the gates of hell. Nigel and the Professor head to the shed where the gardener was found.

Read the The Latest Instalment and then decide what happens next

 

The Ninth Instalment

The Ninth Instalment

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. At the end of each weekly instalment there will be at least one poll where you will decide what happens next. Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote.


The Ninth Instalment

Professor Ashcroft stopped outside the tool shed. Looking through a nearby gate into the walled garden Nigel spotted a pair of gardeners harvesting apples. He recognised them as pallbearers from the funeral. The Professor circled the shed. Nigel followed examining the red brick building. The tool shed had a heavy wooden door and the only windows were small portholes near the roof for ventilation.

“This is where Mr Neville was discovered,” the Professor said. “Just to remind you of the facts. He was found barricaded inside the building. From our inspection it is safe to say the only other way in and out of the building is via the windows. Yet we both agree that not even a child could fit through them. Now when the door was broken open Mr Neville was found dead. It looked as if had been beaten to death by a mystery assailant. Furthermore, his eyes and tongue were missing and to this day they have not been found. As he was barricaded from the inside it has been assumed that Mr Neville carried out an act of self-mutilation.”

“That seems a little bit unlikely, sir.”

“On the contrary. Inflicted by bouts of madness people can commit the most unbelievable acts. It does not see out of the realms of possibility that Mr Neville inflicted these appalling injuries on himself. Now our job is to go in there and look for any evidence that may have been missed on previous searches.”

With that the Professor pushed open the door. Dust swirled in the beams of light shining down through the small windows. Rows of tools were propped up against the far wall, there was a stack of pots in one corner, and a set of shelves full of miscellaneous gardening equipment.  On one of the walls hung cruel looking traps for moles, rats, and other vermin, there metal jaws looking like the teeth of some prehistoric beast ready to snap shut if anybody drew too close. There was an earthy smell in the air that Nigel found strangely pleasant.

“We will need some more light. There is a candle and lantern in my bag,” the Professor said.

Nigel placed the heavy leather bag down at his feet. He rummaged in the bag pushing aside a role of scalpels, a bone saw, a splattered apron until he found the small lantern and a box of candles. He placed a candle inside the lantern and passed it to the Professor. The Professor produced a match from his breast pocket. Holding the lit lantern up high the Professor stepped inside the shed.

Nigel placed the bag in the doorway and followed him inside. It was just a precaution to stop the door swinging shut and locking them inside, after all the last man that had been trapped inside the shed had been found dead. Cobwebs cluttered the beams above. In the eaves was a discarded bird’s nest with powdery droppings on the floor beneath it. Clumps of mud and dust covered the floor by the walls. The floor in the middle of the room was clean enough to see the blue tiles.

“It’s not very tidy is it?” Nigel muttered looking at the powdery droppings on the floor.

“It is a tool shed, Nigel. What were you expecting? Carpet and oil paintings? Right let us get to work. We know that Mr Neville barricaded himself inside.”

The Professor held the lantern up to the door. There were holes in the frame where nails had been pulled loose. One rusty nail remained bent and twisted where it had been pulled through the timber. The door itself was new. The old door had been smashed to splinters when the men had broken into the tool shed to retrieve the body.

“He nailed the door shut. Seems he did not want to be disturbed in what he had planned.”

Standing inside the tool shed and looking out on to the patch of rhododendrons opposite, Nigel was struck by another thought.  “Sir, what if he barricaded the door to stop something getting in?”

The Professor tutted. “That is obvious, Nigel. He did not want to be stopped from mutilating himself.”

“That’s not what I meant. What if he was hiding from something? What if he barricaded the door because he thought it would make him safe from an evil spirit or some sort of demon conjured up to torment him.”

“A demon that our hoaxer tricked him into believing,” mused the Professor. To his credit he did consider Nigel’s suggestion for second. Then shaking his head, he dismissed it. “Highly improbable. That theory does not explain his injuries. We both agree that nobody could have escaped from this barricaded shed. The windows are far too small for a child to fit through let alone somebody strong enough to beat a full-grown man to death. His injuries are self-inflicted there is no other explanation.”

Nigel nodded. Sometimes it was easier just to agree. The Professor turned his attention to the floor. He scrambled down to his hands and knees to get a closer look.

“You’re blocking my light,” the Professor said. Nigel shifted away from the door. The Professor lowered his nose so that it was inches away from the tiles. “This must have been where he was found. They have washed the tiles down. No doubt to remove the blood and unfortunately for us any evidence.”

The Professor straightened up. Stroking the small strip of hair at the bottom of his chin he looked around the room. “I will search the shelves you have a look through those pots and buckets in the corner.”

Nigel began picking his way through the pots. “What am I looking for, sir?”

“The missing tongue and eyes of course.”

Grimacing Nigel gingerly picked up the next pot. It would be just his luck to find the gruesome appendages. He began to sweat at the thought. He had always struggled with autopsies he had been forced to endure. He hated to admit it, but he had a weak constitution when it came to blood and gore.

He lifted the last pot. Something moved. Groaning he dropped the pot and backed away.

“What have you found?” the Professor said striding over eagerly. He lifted the pot to one side and sighed. A large spider scuttled away from his lantern light. “Really Nigel?  A spider? I despair with you sometimes. Why must you test my patience?”

“Sorry s…” He fell silent. Something had caught his eye. Ignoring the Professor, he knelt to have a look at the wall. “Sir, I think you had better have a look at this.”

“This better not be a fool’s errand,” the Professor said kneeling beside him. The Professor’s eyes widened. “My goodness you have actually found something.”

The Professor held his lantern closer to the wall. Etched into the brick was an upside-down pentagram no bigger than a watch face. Within the star was a picture of a man. He had a wiggled line for a mouth and each of his eyes.

“The star is definitely upside down,” Nigel said before the Professor could disagree. “What does it mean?”

“I consulted my text on symbology while you were out galivanting with Miss Berwick. An upside-down star is a symbol of the occult. The two points of the star pointing upwards are an affront to the natural order.”

“So a symbol of witchcraft?”

“That is what our hoaxer wants us to believe. I bet this was scrawled into the brickwork after Mr Neville was found. You can see by the lack of dust on the brick and the brightness of the indentations that it is recent.”

“Why would the hoaxer hide it behind the pots? Surely they would wanted it to be found?”

“Found, yes, that is what they desired. But they could not put the mark out in the open, otherwise somebody would have realised it was not there when Mr Neville’s body was found. They hid it behind the pots knowing one day somebody would find the symbol and link it to his death.”

Nigel did not contradict him. There was no point. The Professor would not listen to his conclusion. Nigel suspected the symbol were somehow part of the ritual involved in casting a spell. The pentagram in the church had been used to summon the horde of rats while this small marking had caused a man to beat himself to death after gouging out his own eyes and tongue. He was looking at the mark of a witch.

 

Leaving the shed Professor Ashcroft headed into the walled garden. One half of the garden was an orchard of apple and pear trees. Along one wall were canes of raspberries, gooseberries, and blackberries. The rest of the garden was dedicated to rows of vegetables – or whether it should be. Nigel knew enough about gardening to expect the beds would be full of growing winter vegetables and the last of summer plants, not barren batches of dirt. The two gardeners were plucking apples from the trees. The younger of the pair was upon a stepladder throwing down the apples for the older man to inspect. The baskets at the foot of the ladder were empty and the men were flinging the produce into a heaped wheelbarrow.

“Gentlemen my name is Professor Ashcroft, and this is my assistant Nigel,” the Professor announced as he walked towards the gardeners. “We are here to get to the bottom of these stories of witchcraft. We would like a moment of your time. Your names?”

“David Boyd,” said the elderly of the pair tipping his flat cap towards the Professor. He pointed to the younger man up the ladder. “That is John Johnson. What can we do for you, sir?”

The Professor glanced at the wheelbarrow full of apples. “Are you binning all these apples? What on earth is wrong with them?”

“They’re for the pigs, sir,” said Boyd. He reached up the ladder. “Chuck us one down.”

Johnson plucked an apple from the tree and threw it down to Boyd. Boyd held up the apple for the Professor to see. It’s green skin was peppered with holes. The gardener took a knife from his pocket and cut the apple open. The inside was full of wriggling black and yellow worms.

Nigel gagged at the thought of biting into the apple and feeling the wriggling mass in his mouth. He looked at the wheelbarrow piled high with apples. “Are they all like that?”

“Every single one of them,” Boyd said casting the apple halves into the barrow. “In all my years I have never seen an infestation like it. The pears are the same. Full of worms.”

“That is rotten luck,” the Professor said.

“I wish it was just luck, sir. But the worms are just half of it. You see, all the berries have grown small and shrivelled no matter how much we watered them. We have had to dig up all of the brassicas as they were rotting. The root crops grew plenty of foliage but scrawny thin roots that aren’t worth eating.”

“So every crop has failed?” the Professor said.

“We grew plenty of potatoes. But you wouldn’t want to eat ‘erm, sir.”

“Why not?”

“They bled a dark bitter fluid that looked like blood. There is something going on around here and it ain’t natural.”

“It’s witchcraft,” Johnson called down from the ladder. “A witch has cursed this garden, so nothing grows.”

“There is no such thing as witchcraft,” the Professor said.

“Then what happened to Mr Neville?” Johnson said. Before the Professor could answer, he pressed on. “Mrs Berwick’s illness? The rats at the funeral? All those straw dollies they found? There is witchcraft going on here. Mark my words.”

“What nonsense. It is no wonder that you are just a gardener with such backward views of the world.” the Professor scoffed.

Johnson’s face dropped, clearly offended, but as the Professor was a guest of his employer he could not retaliate. His job was worth more than that.

“If ain’t witchcraft, sir. Perhaps you can enlighten us?” asked Mr Boyd.

“It is all a hoax. Just trickery that you have fallen for.”

“It ain’t a hoax. Its witchcraft,” Johnson said.

Nigel tensed suspecting an argument to break out. To his surprise the Professor pressed a hand to his brow and shook his head.

“On second thoughts, I think I will question Mr Gates further. Nigel you stay here and talk to these two men. I do not have the strength today to listen to such poppycock.”

The Professor marched off leaving Nigel with his bag. He suspected the Professor’s prickly demeanour was due to him struggling to find rational explanations for what was happening on the estate. Nigel waited until the Professor had left the walled garden before apologising.

“I’m sorry for Professor Ashcroft’s behaviour. He didn’t mean to cause offence.”

“None taken,” said Boyd. He looked up the ladder. “Ain’t that so?”

Johnson reluctantly nodded.

Nigel reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his notepad and pencil. “I have a few questions to ask about Mr Neville’s death? Were you both there when they found him?”

Boyd looked grave. “We were the ones that broke into the shed.”

“Did you know he was in there?”

“We hadn’t a clue. We couldn’t get into the tool shed and for the life of us we didn’t know why. We were looking for Phil. He never went home the previous night and his Mrs was worried about him.”

“I checked the tool shed in the morning,” said Johnson. “But the door wouldn’t move. I then went to look elsewhere, and it was only later that we tried to get into the shed.”

“The door wouldn’t open and you didn’t consider he was inside?”

Johnson shook his head. “No, I just thought some tools had fallen oven and blocked the door.”

Scribbling in his pad Nigel thought that it was for the best that the Professor had sauntered off. He certainly would not have been able to stomach the thought of such idiocy.

“So you eventually decided he might be inside?”

“Yes, when we couldn’t find him anywhere else. We had to use axes to smash our way through,” Boyd said. “It was then we found the wooden planks nailed to the frame and the door. While breaking in I spotted Phil lying there. I could tell right away something was wrong.”

“How so?”

“He was laying on the floor not moving in a pool blood.”

“Do you think he barricaded himself inside?”

“He must have done. We found some nails and a hammer inside and if he hadn’t done it then who had.”

“The thing that killed him,” Johnson piped up.

“You think someone killed him?”

“I said thing. He was beaten into a bloody mess. A man doesn’t do that to himself. Also what happened to his eyes and his tongue? You do know they were never found?”

“I have heard the reports. Professor Ashcroft believes his injuries are self-inflicted. The door was barricaded from the inside. It would have been impossible for somebody to have killed Mr Neville and got out of the shed.”

“I said it was thing that killed him,” Johnson repeated. “It was something summoned by the witch. Something that could walk through walls. The witch wanted him dead.”

Nigel looked at each man in turn. They both looked sincere in their belief. “Do you know why this witch would want to kill Mr Neville?”

Boyd shook his head. Johnson began busying himself plucking apples from the tree.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” Nigel prompted.

Johnson continued to pluck the apples from the tree and Boyd wouldn’t meet his eye.

“Don’t make me tell the Professor and Mr Berwick that you are holding information from me. They might assume that you are involved in his death.”

“Alright, alright. But you didn’t hear this from us,” said Boyd. “They say that the witch is the Richards girl. She is a maid in the house. Mrs Neville is the housekeeper. I’ve heard tales from other member of staff that Mrs Neville is a bit of a tyrant. Doesn’t take fools lightly. Well I heard that the Richards girl and Mrs Neville had a huge fallout.”

“Do you know what about?”

“No idea. We only heard this from Abby.”

“Who?”

“Abby Cartwright. She used to work as a chamber maid, but she left after Phil’s death. Scared that she would be next to suffer the witch’s curse. She thinks that the Richards girl summoned a demon to kill Phil to get revenge on his wife.”

Nigel looked up at Johnson. He was nodding his agreement with every word.

“Look its only what we got told,” Boyd said. He picked up the half an apple covered in wiggling black worms.  “Look at this fruit. I saw you at the church with all the rats. Now you tell me that is not witchcraft.”

It was Nigel’s turn to fall silent.

 

Tuesday 11th of September 1860 Part 4

 

 

With hands wrinkled and red Gertie took the dry sheets from the line. She roughly folded the sheet together. It wasn’t good enough, the sheets would crease, but she was beyond caring. She had spent all day washing sheets, table linen and towels by hand. Her arms ached from churning the washing drum and cranking the stiff handle of the laundry mangle. It was her hands that bothered her most. They were red, raw, and stung. She suspected she was having allergic reaction to the detergent.

She dropped the sheet into the basket and moved on to the next sheet wondering where Mary had got to. She had carried her full basket back to the laundry room at least ten minutes ago. She should have been back by now.

“Gertie.”

She turned to see Nigel walking towards her. He was struggling to carry the Professor’s bag. She turned back to remove the pegs from the sheet.

“Are you having a good day?” he asked dropping the bag with a clunk beside her laundry basket.

“Not as good as yours,” she said keeping her back to him.

“What do you mean?”

“I would rather go out horse riding with her ladyship than washing sheets all day.”

“You saw me going out riding?”

“I was hanging out sheets when you came back. You rode right past me.”

“I didn’t see you.”

She let out a bitter laugh. “Since when does anybody notice the staff. It is our job to be invisible.”

She pulled the sheet from the line without removing the last peg. The peg snapped. She began to fold the sheet.

“Here let me help you,” Nigel said reaching for the bottom of the sheet.

She pulled it away from his grasp. “I don’t need your help. I can do it on my own thank you.”

Nigel stepped back. He looked at her puzzled.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes.”

“That’s good for a moment I thought you were upset.”

She looked at him incredulously. She expected such a complete lack of empathy from the Professor not from Nigel. Oblivious to her anger he continued.

“The Professor told me you saw some mysterious lights in the garden last night. You should have come back and got me.”

She turned away for him to unpeg the last sheet.

“Gertie?”

“I heard you, Nigel.”

“What happened in the garden?”

“The lights were gone.”

Out of the corner of her eye she could see him watching her with a puzzled expression.

“Alright then I better get going.” He picked up the Professor’s bag. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

She spun round. “Of course I’m not bloody alright, Nigel. You’re going off horse riding and larking around with her ladyship. The Professor is getting drunk and then spending all morning sleeping. While I am slaving away from dawn to dusk. My hands are raw and feel like I have stuck them inside a beehive. I am exhausted and I have had enough of being the only one that seems to be trying to solve this mystery.”

“I have been working hard on this investigation.”

“Have you? What did you find at the stone circle?”

Nigel looked up at the sky suddenly fascinated by a crow flying overhead. “Well…erm…”

“You haven’t been yet, have you?”

“I’ve been busy looking at other leads.”

“Going for fun rides more like. Something happened to me down at the stone circle and you can’t even be bothered to go and investigate it.”

“I will do but…”

She didn’t let him finish. “As I thought. I’m the only one doing anything.”

“That’s not fair. I have just been talking to the gardeners.”

“And what did you find out?”

“They think witchcraft is causing the fruit and vegetables to rot.”

“They think witchcraft is involved. What a surprise?”

“They also suggested that Mary is the witch and she summoned a demon to kill Mr Neville in revenge for his wife yelling at her.”

“Mary is not a witch,” Gertie insisted. “Somebody is blaming her, and I bet it is your friend little Miss Perfect.”

Nigel held up his hands. “Alright. I understand that you’re cross. I’m sorry if you got the impression that we are not taking things seriously, but we are. I promise that I will look at the circle. I will get the Professor to go down there tomorrow.”

Gertie picked up her clothes basket. “You better had.”

She walked off leaving him stood beside the Professor’s bag. She knew she was being hard on him, but she felt better for venting some of her anger. It just didn’t feel fair that she was slaving away, especially when she suspected it was a futile exercise and they weren’t.  How did the Professor expect her to find out anything of use by washing sheets?

The laundry lines were on a patch of grass that caught the full sun. Located beside the main drive they were hidden from the hall and the ornamental gardens by a yew hedge. She passed through the arch in the hedge and into the main gardens. She crossed past the back of the garden heading for the door that led down to the laundry. Approaching the corner of the hall she could hear voices from around the side of the building. She paused. She couldn’t make out the words but recognised Mary’s voice. She lowered her basket to the ground. She crept close to the corner of the hall. Pressing her back to the stone wall she peered round the corner to see….

 

What Happens Next Is Up to You. Cast Your Vote To Decide. Whatever Recieves The Most Votes Will Happen Next

 

 

Voting Closed

The Stolen Dead

The Latest Instalment of the Interactive Novel is published on Friday 5th June with a new set of choices to vote on. In the meatime why not read one of the other investigations of Nigel Briggs.

The STOLEN DEAD

The Stolen Dead

London 1860
All over London the dead are being stolen from their graves. With no suspects, the police consult Professor Ashcroft hoping his insight into the supernatural might solve the case. Having little interest Professor Ashcroft delegates the investigation to his assistant Nigel Briggs.
Nigel’s investigation leads to him to a remote country estate where he discovers a conspiracy to profit from the dead. Then something goes wrong – unshackling a horror with an insatiable hunger to devour everything in its path…

Buy it Here

A Quick Catch Up

A Quick Catch Up

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. At the end of each weekly instalment there will be at least one poll where you will decide what happens next. Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote.


 The Latest Instalment of the Interactive Novel.


If you are new to the interactive novel or want to catch up on the story so far here is a reminder of what has happened in each of the previous instalments.

To read the full instalment click on the link below or read the brief summery.

The First Instalment – Introduces fifteen year old Nigel Briggs and apprentice to Professor Ashcroft debunker of the supernatural. In 1860, Nigel confronts a vampire in a girl’s bedroom, the creature flees and he pursues it to a cemetery. The next morning the local villagers dig up the crypt and burn the coffin containing the creature.

The Second Instalment – Nigel returns to London. There he tells Gertie Stubbs a maid in the household about the vampire. She insists that Nigel tells Professor Ashcroft the truth about what happened, instead Nigel agrees with the Professor that the vampire never existed. The Professor then explains how they have been invited to Moonhurst Hall to disprove accusations of witchcraft directed at a young maid in the household.

The Third Instalment. – Accompanied by Nigel and Gertie the Professor heads to Moonhurst Hall. On route the owner Mr Berwick explains there has been a suspicious death and a young maid has been accused of being a witch. At the hall they split ways with Gertie going to work in the hall to befriend the accused maid while Nigel and the Professor head to a funeral.

The Fourth Instalment – The funeral descends into a chaos as a huge colony of rats invade the church causing all the mourners to flee.

Meanwhile as Gertie walks to the hall she is drawn down a sheep track to a stone circle where she is buffeted and terrified by a mysterious wind.

The Fifth Instalment– Gertie meets Miss Berwick, a strange girl, is informed by Mr Gates the rules of the household and meets the maid accused of witchcraft, a Mary Richards, a shy girl.

Nigel and the Professor return to the church to discover all of the rats are gone. They also go down into the cellar of the church where they find a pentagram. On leaving the cellar Nigel seems a crouched cloaked figure lurking in the shadows.

The Sixth Instalment– Nigel and the Professor reach Moonhurst Hall. Nigel meets Mr Berwick’s daughter Hattie. That night as he is laying in bed he hears somebody sneak into his room.

The Seventh Instalment– Nigel discovers it is Gertie that has snuck into his room. After leaving his room Gertie spots a pair of mysterious blue flames in the garden. She goes to investiage when somebody grabs her shoulder.

Read the The Latest Instalment and then decide what happens next

 

Eighth Instalment

Eighth Instalment

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel.

At the end of each weekly instalment there will be at least one poll where you will decide what happens next. Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote. Read all the previous  Instalments of the Interactive Novel


Eighth Instalment

 

 

Gertie sunk her teeth into her lip to stop herself from crying out. Her heart felt as if it was about to burst from her chest. She lurched forward pulling the hand free from her shoulder. She spun round.

“Mary?” she panted. She clutched her thumping heart. “I didn’t know you were there. You made me jump.”

Mary lowered her head to the ground. She looked up at Gertie with large round eyes. “Sorry.”

“What are you doing here?” Gertie asked

“I woke to find your bed empty. I went to look for you in case you were lost. We are not allowed to walk around the house after dark. If Mr Gates caught you, we both will get punished.”

“Why would he punish you?”

She laughed bitterly. “What excuse does he ever need? He would say I am supposed to be showing you the rules of the house.”

“I don’t think that would be enough of reason to punish you.” Mary didn’t reply. She just looked at the ground. Gertie wondered if it was the butler she was terrified of. Struck by a sudden thought Gertie frowned. “How did you know to find me in the gardens?”

“I saw you on the stairs. I was going to call out, but I didn’t want anybody else to hear. Then you went downstairs. I didn’t want you to get in trouble, so I followed you. I thought you were going to kitchens to steal food but then you went outside.”

Gertie suspected she was telling the truth. Wearing just a nightdress and barefoot Mary wasn’t dressed for prowling around the gardens.

Mary fidgeted nervously.

“What are you doing in the gardens anyway?”

Remembering the mysterious lights Gertie turned to the orangery. They were gone. She hurried over to where she had last seen them.. In the moonlight it was hard to be certain but there appeared to be no indentations in the ground from stands or burnt grass. It was as if the bluey green flames had never existed.

“There was a fire here. They looked like burning orbs. Did you see them?” Mary shook her head. “You must have seen them. They had blue flames. It was like no fire I have ever seen before.”

Mary tugged at her arm. She looked even more worried than normal.

“We have to get out of here. We got to get back to the house.”

“Why?”

“Please. It’s not safe.”

Gertie allowed Mary to pull back through the gardens. There seemed little point staying now the flames were gone. She waited until they reached the drive and were in the shadow of the house before questioning Mary further.

“Are you going to explain what you’re scare of now that we are out of the garden?”

“Those were fairy lights you saw. It would be the fairies leading you away. If you had followed the flames, they would have lured you to your death.”

“Fairy lights?”

“Yes, they carry little lanterns to lure people to follow them. It is not safe to be walking around at night. Come on we have to get back to bed.”

They crept back through the house. As they headed up the spiral staircase to the attic Gertie looked out the window. The bluey green flames had returned. There flickering flames reflected in the still pool of water. Fairies or not the flames were a mystery for another day.

 

 

Tuesday 11th of September 1860 Part 1

 

 

Sat in the bright light of the breakfast room Nigel could not help but feel self-conscious about his manners. Eating breakfast with the Berwick family and the Professor was out of his comfort zone. He sat ridged in his seat and used his cutlery with slow careful movements hoping not to bring attention to himself. The lack of conversation did not help. Bleary eyed the Professor picked at his food, his lack of appetite clear to see. On arriving Professor Ashcroft had complained about a migraine. Nigel felt no sympathy for him. Mr Berwick looked just as unwell and it didn’t take a detective to come to the conclusion, they were both suffering with hangovers.

The two women that joined them cast a frosty silence over the room. Hattie looked everywhere but at the woman sat opposite her. For her part Mrs Edith Berwick did nothing to thaw the atmosphere. She was a thin looking woman with a stern face but considering she was supposed to be confined to her sick bed looked quite healthy, certainly better than the two men looking sorry for themselves. When the Professor had remarked that she looked well she had brushed the comment aside by insisting she was having one of her rare good days.

Mr Gates lurked at the back of the room ready to pounce if he was called upon. Nigel was certain the butler was watching his table etiquette with a critical eye. Nigel would have been far happier if he had been eating with the servants. It certainly would have been more relaxed.

“What are your plans for today, Arthur?” Mr Berwick asked dapping the corner of his mouth with his handkerchief. Like the Professor he had touched little of his breakfast.

“I was intending on examining the garden shed where Mr Neville was found, but I have this darn migraine playing havoc,” the Professor said. “I think it might be best if I rest this morning. By the afternoon it should be gone and I will have a clearer mind to examine the evidence.”

“What about you dear?” Mrs Berwick asked.

“I have to business to attend. Mr Gibbs wants me to look at the new tenant farmer contracts.”

Hattie looked up from where she had been staring at her plate.

“You promised to take me riding today.”

“Sorry petal, I have work to do.”

Hattie was not to concede easily. “You employ Mr Gibbs to manage the estate. It’s his job. Why can’t he do it?”

Mr Berwick smiled weakly at the Professor.

“Please excuse Hattie, she does not understand the responsibilities of running an estate.”

The Professor held up his hand. “There is no need to apologise. As I am not feeling hundred percent this morning, Nigel can always accompany her. Of course, only with your consent.”

“I cannot see any problem with that,” Mr Berwick said. “What do you say Hattie? You can show Nigel the estate?”

“Only if he can keep up,” said Hattie.

Nigel wondered if he was invisible. Everybody was being asked what they thought but him.  He cleared his throat.

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

“Oh, please come Nigel,” Hattie said.

He smiled politely at her and turned to the Professor.

“Sir, we are here to investigate the accusations of witchcraft. There is must be something I can look into while you rest.”

The Professor waved his hand. “I will not have you idling the morning away. It will do you good to get some fresh air. It might make you alert for this afternoon.”

“But sir. I don’t know how to ride a horse.”

“Even you can manage it. You just have to sit on it and try not to fall off,” the Professor rose to his feet. “If you would please excuse me, I will retire to my room for a bit.”

Following the Professor’s example Mr and Mrs Berwick made their excuses and left. Mr Gates approached the table.

“I will send word to the stables for your horse to be saddled, Miss Berwick.”

“And tell them to prepare Nelson,” she said with a wicked smile.

To Nigel’s dismay Mr Gates lips curled up in his own smile of approval.

 

Nelson was a chestnut horse with a patch of white on his muzzle. He tugged against the reigns in the stable boy’s hands. Nigel looked warily at the dancing horse and then up at Hattie. She sat upon a black horse watching him in fascination.

“He looks a little frisky,” Nigel commented as Nelson snorted and brayed

“He’s just eager to get out for a ride,” Hattie said.

Nigel took a step towards the prancing horse. “Are you sure he is safe?”

The stable boy would not meet his eye.

“He can just sense your fear,” Hattie said. “You will be perfectly fine. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

He was nervous about riding a horse. The idea of sitting upon something that could think for itself was madness, especially when the animal appeared to be a skittish wreck. It looked as if the slightest noise would send the horse stampeding off.

“Perhaps I could ride another horse? One like yours.”

“Mine?” Hattie laughed. She patted the neck of her black horse. The animal remained as still as a statue seemingly oblivious to the world around it. “If you can’t ride Nelson then you will have no chance with Blossom here.”

“Your horse looks calm.”

“Don’t let appearances fall you.  Climb on up Nigel or are you just going to waste the morning.”

Nigel reached his hand on to the saddle. He put his foot into the stirrup and hoisted himself up as he had seen Hattie do. He failed in his first attempt to swing his leg over. On the second attempt he sat down and managed to slide his foot into the other stirrup. He reached down for the reigns.

“Good luck, sir,” the stable boy said passing the reigns over.

The animal beneath him pranced wildly on the cobble stones. Nigel yanked on the reigns shouting whoa. He caught Hattie’s eye. She gave him a wicked smile then digging her feet into the side of her horse urged Blossom on. She cantered underneath the clock tower and out of the yard. Seeing the other horse leave, Nelson brayed loudly and galloped after her. Thrown around in the saddle Nigel clung on for dear life. No matter how he hard he pulled on the reigns or shouted commands the horse didn’t listen. All he could do was hang on and hope that he would not fall off and break his neck.

Ahead Hattie looked over her shoulder. Seeing Nigel galloping after her she grinned and urged her horse into a gallop. They hurtled down the drive, over the bridge and just before they reached the gates, Hattie turned her horse on to a cart track heading up into the hills. Without any guidance from Nigel, Nelson followed. He was no more than a rag doll at the mercy of the horse beneath him. They galloped up the track winding their way towards the stone ridge behind the hall. There was no bridge to pass the stream a second time. Hattie’s horse splashed through the shallow ford while to Nigel’s horror, Nelson leapt over it. As the horse landed, he was lifted in the saddle and for a split second he thought he was about to go over the top of the horse’s neck, then he bounced back down on to the horse’s back.

Hattie slowed her horse down to a canter and to Nigel’s relief Nelson followed. They reached the stone ridge behind the hall at little more than a trot. The sheer sided cliff rose over them. Beneath them was the hall and further down in the valley Nigel could just make out the church steeple.

“You’re getting the hang of riding at last,” Hattie said. She pulled her horse to a stop. Nigel tugged on the reigns and to his surprise Nelson also drew to a halt.

Nelson’s coat glistened with sweat and his large chest heaved with the exertion. His energy burnt from the mad gallop had made the horse somewhat compliant to Nigel’s wishes.

“You knew I had never ridden a horse before,” Nigel said. He thought about climbing down, but for the moment Nelson was behaving and he didn’t want to upset the status quo. “And you give me this wild beast.”

Hattie laughed. Her face was flushed with exhilaration. “You got to start somewhere. I do not know what you are upset about. You did not fall off.”

“I could have done.”

“But you didn’t. You have to admit that you did enjoy it.”

“Not for one moment. And now I have a sore bottom from all that bouncing around.”

“But look at the view. Surly it was worth it?”

They could see for miles looking over the hall and the village in the valley below. Grudgingly he had to admit it was the worth journey.

“Perhaps if we had come up here a bit slower, I could appreciate it more.”

“When would the fun be in that? It is good to get the heart racing. Feel alive. Take a little risk.”

“I don’t see you sitting on this mad stallion.”

“He’s a gelding. And you have seen to have tamed him.” She laughed. “For now.”

Clicking her tongue against the top of her mouth she urged her horse on. Nigel copied and Nelson obeyed. He couldn’t help feeling pleased with himself. She was right perhaps he was getting the hang of horse riding after all. Although after being bounced up and down in the saddle and being terrified for his life he struggled to find any appeal to horse riding.

They followed the track down into the valley and into a wood of hawthorn, oak and beech trees. When they came across the stream Nigel wondered if she was taking to him the stone circle Gertie had spoken about. The cart track they were taking followed the stream. With sunlight dappling through the leaves, the chorus of birds and the slow meandering of the horses Nigel hated to admit it, but he was enjoying himself. The only shadow was the fear that at any moment Nelson would decide to go on another manic gallop.

They reached an abandoned water mill on the bank of the stream. The stone walls were smothered in ivy and there was a gaping hole in the roof. The two workshops that accompanied the mill had fared little better from the accroaching forest. Samplings and ferns grew in small pockets where dirt had acuminated on the stone walls. A fallen tree split one of the workshops in half.  They reached a folk in the track with the left path overgrown with ferns and saplings. Hattie led the horses along the overgrown path. A minute later they reached a cliff of grey rock. A cave at the foot of the cliff was boarded up. Beads of water ran down the planks. Mould and mushrooms grew on the decaying wood.

“That used to be an old lead mine. The locals say this place is haunted,” Hattie said. “But father says it is just tales. He says that the mill was abandoned because the mine became unprofitable.”

Nigel looked at the ominous looking hole at the base of the cliff.

“Haunted by what?”

“The story is that they dug so deep into the ground that they reached the gates of hell. An evil was unleashed that stalked the mine killing all those it came across. A brave group of miners prevented the evil from escaping by caving the mine in on top of themselves. A dozen men lost their lives. Since then people have heard the voices of the killed miners crying for help.”

“Perhaps we should listen for them?” Nigel joked cupping his ear towards the cave.

“It’s not a wise idea to stay here for long. There is talk that some of the evil escaped the mine and it stalks these woods looking for another victim.”

Nelson neighed and fidgeted nervously. Was it Nigel’s imagination or had a stillness settled on the world? He could no longer hear bird song. He glanced at Hattie. She wore a serious expression on her face. Then she laughed and the chilling moment was lost.

“It’s just a story. We better get moving on, otherwise we are not going to get back in time for lunch.”

She urged her horse away from the mine. Nigel hesitated. Why had she brought him here? Was she hinting at something that might be responsible for the tales of witchcraft? He took a long look at the boarded-up mine. He shook his head. The miners had dug deep enough to reach the gates of hell seemed a little farfetched. It was all just a ghost story.

Or was it?

 

 

Tuesday 11th of September 1860 Part 2

 

 

Gertie stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. She was paying the price for her night-time excursions. It did not help that the footman had woken her with a rap against their door at the crack of dawn. After hurriedly dressing Mary and herself had reported to the kitchens. Before the Berwick family and their guests woke there were a range of jobs to carry out. The ovens were lit for the cook to bake bread, fireplaces throughout the hall need lighting to take the chill off the morning, and water need fetching from the well for cooking and to heat for the family’s toilet routine.

After the family had eaten, they had a breakfast in the servants’ mess room. All members of the household sat at their allocated spaces. Mr Gates sat at the head of the table. The opposite end was still empty waiting for Mrs Neville to return from her leave of absence. There were eight empty places around the table that Gertie suspected would normally have been filled. The household only retained one footman, a cook, two lady’s maids, Mr Berwick’s valet, a parlour maid, Mary and herself.  At mealtimes and under the watchful gaze of Mr Gates nobody was allowed to talk. They sat in an uncomfortable silence eating a breakfast of porridge and toast with a pot of strawberry jam to smear over the burnt bread. Once Mr Gates had finished his cup of tea, he dismissed the rest of the staff with the exception of Mary and Gertie.

“The weather is good this morning,” he stated. “As you know we are short of a scullery maid, so I want you in the kitchen washing dishes. As we have also lost our laundry maid there is laundry for you to tend to. There are sheets to be washed and in this fine weather they will quickly dry. Miss Richards, the kitchens to help the cook. Miss Stubbs follow me.”

Expecting instant obedience, he spun on his heels and marched out of the room. Fearing she was in trouble Gertie followed slowly behind. She wondered if he had somehow found out about her night-time prowling. She doubted it, he would have summoned Mary as well. He must have found fault in some of her work. That would be nothing out of the usual, back in London Mrs Copper scolded her at least once a day on being slap dash in her duties.

Mr Gates stopped at his office. He opened the door and gestured for her to step inside in front of him. Professor Ashcroft sat at Mr Gate’s desk holding his head in his hand. He looked up at her with bleary eyes.

“Please sit Gertie.” He pointed to the chair opposite.

“Can I get you anything, sir?” Mr Gates said through gritted teeth. He was clearly put out by the Professor commandeering his office.

“Just that pot of tea.”

Mr Gates nodded and shut the door behind him.

“Are you well, sir?” Gertie asked.

“It is nothing. Just a migraine. Must be from all that traveling yesterday. Give me a few hours and I will be right as rain. It does not help with Nigel waking me this morning and badgering me to talk to you. The poor lad has been beside himself with worry about your wellbeing. He insisted I spoke to you this morning. Told me it could not wait as we had not seen you since yesterday. So, here you are as I expected, fighting fit. Do you have anything to report?”

Gertie marshalled her thoughts. Nigel had not told the Professor about her visiting him in the night. As far as the Professor knew this was the first time, she had spoken to anyone. She decided there was no point mentioning the stone circle and mysterious wind. He would not believe a word of it. She could trust Nigel to get the Professor to investigate the circle.

“I am working alongside Mary Richards, sir.” The Professor looked puzzled. “The maid accused of witchcraft.”

“Of course. This blinking migraine is just slowing my thoughts. You will have to bear with me. What is your opinion on Miss Richards?”

“She seems nice. She is very shy, and I think she is scared of something.”

“The poor lamb is bound to be frightened. She has been accused of witchcraft. Now I am certain that some deviant individual is playing a hoax on the estate, they may even be a murderer. In your opinion do you think that Miss Richards is involved?”

Gertie hesitated. She knew they could not discount anyone, but her gut instinct told her Mary was innocent. She shook her head.

“My thoughts entirely. A shy young girl would make the perfect scapegoat for our hoaxer. Nigel and I will be looking into the ground staff today that worked with the late Mr Neville. I want you to keep your eyes open for anything out of the usual.”

“There was something strange last night, sir.”

“Proceed.”

“I woke up in the middle of the night and I struggled to get back to sleep, so I thought I would just stretch my legs. I was just climbing the stairs when I looked out into the gardens and I spotted a pair of burning flames by the orangery. They were burning a bluey green flame.”

“Interesting,” the Professor mused stroking his chin. “The coloured flame can easily be explained by the burning of copper. I suspect somebody added copper dust to a fire to create the effect.”

“The hoaxer you mean?”

“Precisely, I suspect to add another mysterious supernatural phenomenon for somebody to witness and assume witchcraft was involved.”

Gertie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She wondered how he would feel about her finding a flaw in his theory.

“Sir,” she said with trepidation. “The hoaxer didn’t know that I would be looking out of the window. It would mean they were tending the fires on the off chance that somebody would spot them.”

“True. I suspect that they have been lighting the fires for a few nights and hoping that somebody would see. I can think of no other explanation.”

There was a light tap against the door and Mr Gates returned with a pot of tea and a cup for the Professor. Failing to hide his displeasure he placed the tray on the table and left the room.

The Professor gestured to the pot of tea with a wave of his hand. Gertie understood immediately. He was perfectly capable of pouring his own drink but was either too idle or too conditioned into expecting somebody to wait on him.

“I don’t think he is very happy about you using his office,” Gertie said pouring him a cup of tea.

“He is just a butler. They are all like that. Mr Pickles, my brother’s butler, has served my family for nearly forty years and constantly wears a frown that could curdle milk. Trust me butlers take their role very seriously. Now where were we?”

“We were talking about the flames I saw. I went out into the gardens, to get a better look, sir.”

“You did?” the Professor said startled enough to spill some tea down his chin. He dapped at it with his handkerchief. “You are made of stern stuff. You have the courage of a lion, Miss Stubbs. We had better not tell Nigel he will only have kittens at the idea. Did you find anyone in the garden?”

“No, sir, but as I approached the flames they vanished and when I got to where they had been, there was no sign that they had ever been there.”

“Well do you think that you may have dreamed the whole thing.”

“No sir. I mentioned what I saw to Mary this morning and she called them fairy lights.”

“Ignis Fatuus or fool’s fire if you prefer,” the Professor said with a smile. Gertie looked at him blankly. Professor Ashcroft liked nothing more than lecturing, or as he saw it sharing his knowledge, and for a moment his headache was forgotten about. “Also known as the will-‘o-the-wisp. Supposedly the mystical fires are lit by fairies, pixies or some other magical being to lure people off the road. Most of the time the unsuspecting traveller ends up falling in a bog, lost in the woods, or lured to the edge of the cliff. Sometimes the traveller is led to hidden treasure. Ignis Fatuus do exist but I am certain you didn’t see them last night.”

Gertie frowned, unsure whether he was playing some sort of joke on her. The Professor dismissed all notions of the supernatural as fanciful, it surly wasn’t possible that he believed in fairies?

“You think fairies exist?”

“Of course not. Fairies are just superstitious nonsense. Ignis Fatuus has a perfectly rational explanation that we do not need to result to tales of little winged people. Ignis Fatuus is caused by the combustion of gas emitted from decomposing organic matter. The phenomenon occurs in marshes, bogs or swamps where you can get a build up of rotting material. Precisely for that reason I can be certain that is not what you saw. We are in the rocky hills not in some fetid swamp. Trust me the flames you saw were made by our hoaxer.”

Professor Ashcroft rose to his feet. He stumbled and grabbed hold of the desk to steady himself.

“Just a little unsteady on my feet. It is this blasted migraine. Nothing to worry about,” he said noticing her look of concern. “I think I will have a little lie down and get my strength back. Keep vigilant Miss Stubbs and we will talk again tomorrow.”

 

Tuesday 11th of September 1860 Part 3

 

 

Professor Ashcroft strode along the garden path like a man on a mission. Nigel followed wearily behind. His arm ached from carrying the Professor’s heavy bag. The contents jangled together with every step.

“Hurry up, Nigel. We do not have all day,” the Professor called over his shoulder without stopping. A morning’s rest had rejuvenated him. His hangover was forgotten about and he was determined to make up for the missed morning. It didn’t help that Nigel and Hattie had been late returning from their morning ride and the Professor was determined not to let him forget the fact

“You may be treating this like a holiday. Galivanting around with Miss Berwick,” the Professor said. “But we have serious work to do.”

“Sir, it was your idea for me to go riding with Hattie.”

“That is no excuse for wasting most of the day. Really, Nigel you have to start taking responsibility for your own actions. I think you should try to be like Gertie she is making real progress in our investigation.”

“You have seen her?”

“Nigel, I do listen to your whinging. I had a meeting with her this morning while you were off on your fun ride. She has seen evidence of the hoaxer at work.”

“When?”

“Last night she saw some mysterious flames in the garden. The girl has courage. She even went out to investigate, but they were gone.”

Nigel shook his head annoyed. He had asked her not to take risks and at the first opportunity she ignored him. He thought she would have learnt the dangers after what happened at the circle. She must have gone out in the garden after leaving his room. She could have come back and got him. Marching ahead the Professor was oblivious to his frustration.

“She has informed me the flames burnt blue. This can be achieved by adding copper to the fire. The fact the flames were gone by the time she reached them only proves we are dealing with a hoaxer. Perhaps if you knuckle down and focus on the investigation you might also come up with some interesting leads.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Professor stopped outside the tool shed. Nigel looked through a nearby gate into the walled garden. A pair of gardeners were working amongst the rows of vegetables. Nigel recognised them as pallbearers from the funeral. The Professor circled the shed. Nigel followed examining the red brick building. It had a heavy wooden door and the only windows were small portholes near the roof for ventilation.

“This is where Mr Neville was discovered,” the Professor said. “Just to remind you of the facts. He was found barricaded inside the building. From our inspection it is safe to say the only other way in and out of the building is via the windows. Yet we both agree that not even a child could fit through them. Now when the door was broken open Mr Neville was found dead. It looked as if had been beaten to death by a mystery assailant. Furthermore his eyes and tongue were missing and to this day they have not been found. As he was barricaded from the inside it has been assumed that Mr Neville carried out self-mutilation.”

“That seems a little bit unlikely, sir.”

“On the contrary. Inflicted by bouts of madness people can commit the most unbelievable acts. It does not see out of the realms of possibility that Mr Neville inflicted these appalling injuries on himself. Now our job is to go in there and look for anything may have been missed on previous searches.”

With that the Professor pushed open the door.

 

What Happens Next Is Up to You. Cast Your Vote To Decide. Whatever Recieves The Most Votes Will Happen Next

 

 

Voting Closes Monday 25th May 2020 

Eighth Instalment Published Friday 29 May 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief Summery of the Story

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. At the end of each weekly instalment there will be at least one poll where you will decide what happens next. Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote.


 The Latest Instalment of the Interactive Novel.


If you are new to the interactive novel or want to catch up on the story so far here is a reminder of what has happened in each of the previous instalments.

To read the full instalment click on the link below or read the brief summery.

The First Instalment – Introduces fifteen year old Nigel Briggs and apprentice to Professor Ashcroft debunker of the supernatural. In 1860, Nigel confronts a vampire in a girl’s bedroom, the creature flees and he pursues it to a cemetery. The next morning the local villagers dig up the crypt and burn the coffin containing the creature.

The Second Instalment – Nigel returns to London. There he tells Gertie Stubbs a maid in the household about the vampire. She insists that Nigel tells Professor Ashcroft the truth about what happened, instead Nigel agrees with the Professor that the vampire never existed. The Professor then explains how they have been invited to Moonhurst Hall to disprove accusations of witchcraft directed at a young maid in the household.

The Third Instalment. – Accompanied by Nigel and Gertie the Professor heads to Moonhurst Hall. On route the owner Mr Berwick explains there has been a suspicious death and a young maid has been accused of being a witch. At the hall they split ways with Gertie going to work in the hall to befriend the accused maid while Nigel and the Professor head to a funeral.

The Fourth Instalment – The funeral descends into a chaos as a huge colony of rats invade the church causing all the mourners to flee.

Meanwhile as Gertie walks to the hall she is drawn down a sheep track to a stone circle where she is buffeted and terrified by a mysterious wind.

The Fifth Instalment– Gertie meets Miss Berwick, a strange girl, is informed by Mr Gates the rules of the household and meets the maid accused of witchcraft, a Mary Richards, a shy girl.

Nigel and the Professor return to the church to discover all of the rats are gone. They also go down into the cellar of the church where they find a pentagram. On leaving the cellar Nigel seems a crouched cloaked figure lurking in the shadows.

The Sixth Instalment– Nigel and the Professor reach Moonhurst Hall. Nigel meets Mr Berwick’s daughter Hattie. That night as he is laying in bed he hears somebody sneak into his room.

Read the The Latest Instalment and then decide what happens next

 

The Seventh Chapter

The Seventh Chapter

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel.

At the end of each weekly instalment there will be at least one poll where you will decide what happens next. Whatever option receives the most votes decides what happens. To take part, read the instalment below and then make your vote. Read all the previous  Instalments of the Interactive Novel


Seventh Instalment

From out in the hallway a floorboard creaked louder than before. Nigel’s eyes snapped open. He had been dozing off. Breathing rapidly his eyes darted from side to side. He could not see anything beyond the curtains surrounding the bed. The floorboard creaked again. Nigel flinched. He told himself it was just the creaking of an old house. Then the hinges to his bedroom door groaned followed by the gentle rap of his door being softly closed. Somebody or something was in his room.

Nigel brought the blanket up to his neck. He clutched it tightly as if it was a shield. What if it was the cloaked figure from the church cellar now lurking in his bedroom? He trembled at the thought.

“Nigel?” a voice hissed from the darkness. “Nigel are you awake?”

“W-who is it?” his quivering voice betraying his fear.

There was a flick of flame as a candle burst into life providing an orange ball glowing through the curtain. The curtains were yanked apart from around his bed. Blinking against the light he looked up at Gertie smiling down at him. Her hair hung loose over her shoulders and she wore just a night dress.

“I didn’t scare you, did I?”

“No.”

“It doesn’t look that way to me. It looks like you were hiding under the covers.”

“I was just cold,” he said dropping the covers away from his neck. “Anyway, what are you doing here?”

“I thought I was supposed to report to somebody, but neither you nor the Professor have asked to see me.”

“I tried several times, but Mr Gates always said you were busy.” He glanced at the door. “You know you shouldn’t be here. If anyone finds out, you will get into trouble.”

“Nobody is going to find out. The door to your room is shut and so are the curtains. There is no way that anyone can know that I’m here.”

Nigel didn’t look convinced. She put her lantern on the bedside table.

“What are you doing?” he asked. Without answering she climbed on to his bed. Nigel tensed as she leant over him to draw the curtains. She then sat back against the footboard opposite him. “There is that better?”

In the orange glow of the candle he could see her wry smile.

“What if somebody saw you coming here?”

“I was careful. It’s the middle of the night. Everybody is asleep or in their rooms. Do you always worry this much?”

“It is just being cautious. You didn’t go into anyone else’s room by mistake?”

She groaned. “You are like a little old lady sometimes. Stop worrying. I’m not stupid. I knew what room you were in. I made your bed today, along with all the other jobs I have had to do. While you are being treated like royalty, Mr Gates is working me like a dog. He’s just like Mr Pilliwink, a little dictator.”

“He doesn’t like me questioning him either.”

“I bet he’s hiding something.”

Nigel shrugged. “Could be, but I suspect it is just a way of him trying to remain in control. He’s not used to anyone questioning him or having anyone looking at how he runs the household, especially those he believes are beneath him. “

“Well I don’t like him.”

“Have you met the maid accused of witchcraft?”

“Her name is Mary Richards. Mr Gates has assigned me to work alongside her until I find my feet. She is quiet and shy. I have tried to talk with her, but I don’t think she has said more than two words to me.”

“Do you think she is involved?”

“No, she doesn’t seem the type. I think she is terrified of something. I’ve tried to be friendly, but she is that timid she wouldn’t scare a mouse. But if you do want to know someone that is creepy and strange then it is Mr Berwick’s daughter.”

“Hattie?”

Gertie frowned. “I didn’t know you were on first name bases with her ladyship. You really are going up in the world.”

“Hattie is not creepy. She seems nice. Although I don’t think she gets on well with her father. I have found out that Mrs Berwick is her stepmother, so that might be the cause of the tension between them.”

“And the fact that she is strange. I met Miss Berwick this afternoon and she gave me the creeps. She was too friendly, it was like a big act, almost as if she was up to something.”

“She is just lonely. She spends all her time locked in this house. She never has any guests, so she’s just a little bit rusty at making friends.”

“Since when does the lady of the house make friends with the servants?” She gave him chance to respond but he didn’t answer. “Something is not right with her. She is up to something. Trust me on this. You be careful around her.”

Nigel laughed. “And now who is the worrier? You took a dislike to her and are jumping to conclusions. Hattie is just lonely. Have you ever thought that Mary might be put off by your attempts at being her friend? That she might think you have ulterior motives?”

“I do have ulterior motives. It’s my job to prove that she is not guilty of witchcraft,” Gertie said defensively. “You let me worry about my job and I will let you worry about yours. Just be careful there is something going strange on here.”

“You’re right about that. You should have been at the funeral.” Nigel proceeded to tell her about the horde of rats that interrupted the service, finding the pentagram in the church cellar and the cloaked figure he had seen. He didn’t self-edit for Gertie. He could trust her to believe him. She looked horrified by his account especially about the rats.

“Of course, the Professor thinks this is proof of a hoaxer, but he is yet to explain how the rats mysteriously appeared and disappeared,” said Nigel. “What about you? Have you seen anything unusual?”

Gertie her arms tightly around herself, drawing her knees up into a ball.

“Something happened that I can’t explain. Halfway down the drive there is a bridge crossing a stream. Beside the stream is a path leading to a small wood. I went down the path. I couldn’t help myself. It was as if something was calling me, something I couldn’t refuse.”

She paused as she marshalled her thoughts.

“What happened?” Nigel prompted.

“The path took me to a stone circle. I didn’t want to go anywhere near the circle, but I couldn’t help myself. The moment I stepped inside a wind started blowing. A wind that was only inside the dusty circle. It pushed and pulled me towards its centre.  There was a voice in the air. It was chanting a language I didn’t understand, and it sounded as if somebody else was laughing. I managed to crawl out of the circle. The moment I escaped the wind stopped as if had never been blowing. I ran back to the bridge. But do you know what the strangest thing was?”

Nigel shook his head. He struggled to meet her eye. He felt guilty that something had happened to her. He had known they should have never left her to walk up the drive alone.

“As soon as I got back to the bridge, I wanted to go back to the circle again. The voice in my head tempting me to return was promising it would be different if I went again.”

“Did you go?”

“Hell no. I ran across the bridge and the voice went quiet. When you go to the circle, don’t go alone. It’s not safe. Take the Professor with you.”

“I will think of some pretence to get him there,” Nigel said. He took a deep breath knowing she was not going to like what he was about to say. “Perhaps if I talk to the Professor, I could get him to send you back to London.”

“No, you will not. It’s not your choice whether I stay or go. It’s up to me.”

“Gertie it is not safe.”

“It’s late. I better get going.” She pulled open the curtain, jumped from the bed and snatched up her lantern. “I have been gone from my room for too long and you have covers to hide back under. Goodnight.”

“Gertie wait,” he called out. She stopped at the door. “Just be careful and if anything, suspicious happens let me know.”

She nodded.

“Do you want me to walk back to your room?”

She gave him a fiery look, hot enough to melt steel. He held up his hands sheepishly. She slipped out the door closing it quietly behind her. Nigel collapsed back against his pillow. His mind was whirling like the mysterious tempest. He doubted he would ever fall asleep.

 

Gertie crept along the dark corridor silently furious. She knew Nigel was only looking out for her wellbeing, but the hypocrisy riled her. Why could he face the dangers and not her? He was the one constantly terrified, the one cowering in his bed like a small child scared of the dark. It was her choice, nobodies else whether she stayed or not.

Part of her wanted him to talk to the Professor, just to see him squirm as he tried to persuade the Professor that witchcraft was real. The only reason she hadn’t challenged him was the fear that he would succeed, and she would find herself on the next train home. For the first time in her life she felt like she was doing something important. She had a purpose that could make a real difference in somebody’s life, unlike working as a maid or making delicate china flowers. The fate of Mary Richards depended on her uncovering the truth about was happening at the hall. This was something that she would not walk away from just to placate Nigel’s worries.

She left the main corridor through a doorway to the servants’ stairwell. This narrow winding staircase ran from the cellar to the attic allowing the staff to move around the hall unseen by the household. Gertie quickly opened the shutter on her lantern giving her enough time to see the first step and handrail. She closed the shutter as a precaution from anybody spotting her light. Nigel was right. It had been a risk going to his room and she would have a lot of explaining to do if anybody caught her walking around the house at night.

Using the handrail for guidance she carefully climbed the stairs feeling gingerly for the next step in the dark. She glanced out of a window overlooking the gardens. She paused. The elaborate gardens were bathed in the silvery light of the moon. At the far end of the gardens a pair of bluish green lights flickered like burning orbs. The mysterious lights were like nothing she had ever seen before. She bit her bottom lip, unsure whether to ignore them and continue to her room or investigate further.

She headed down the stairs. She was here to do a job. She paused on the landing of the second floor. For a moment she thought about going back to Nigel’s room and asking him to accompany her, but she instantly dismissed the idea. The lights might be gone by the time they returned and he might think that she could not succeed without him. She hadn’t seen any sign of life in the gardens and what danger could a couple of flicking flames be?

Continuing down the stairs she looked out each window she passed. The lights were still flickering their strange bluish green light. She hurried down into the servants’ quarters. She crept along the corridor daring not to breath as she passed Mr Gates’s room.  She reached the door at the end of the corridor. The key was in it. She opened the door and stepped out into the night.

The moon cast enough light for her to see. Dressed in just a night dress she shivered in the cold air. Leaving her lantern at the foot of the steps she wrapped her arms tightly around herself. Having second thoughts she considered heading back inside. She was barefoot and was hardly dressed for wandering around the gardens on a September night. However, the thought of proving to Nigel that she could look after herself spurred on. She had come this far. She could not turn back now.

The hard-stone drive was numbingly cold against her feet.  She winced every time she stepped on a loose stone. She made her way around the side of the house to the gardens. The nearly round moon was reflected in the rectangular pool in the middle of the garden. The topiary and shrubs took on sinister shapes in the moonlight. Somewhere in the distance an owl called. At the far end of the pool the strange flames still burned. She hunted for any indication that somebody was tending to the mysterious lights. The gardens appeared deserted.

Gertie stepped off the path winding its way through the garden. The gravel was too painful to walk on. The cold damp grass was a relief in comparison. Keeping to the lawns she made her way through the gardens. Except for the odd occasion when a tree or shrub blocked her view, she kept her eyes on the strange lights. She had the creeping suspicion that she was not alone. She made a few quick glances around then stopped. There were too many hiding places in the dark garden. She could walk within a couple of feet of somebody and not know they were there. She to ignore the feeling telling herself she was being paranoid rather than feed her growing suspicion.

She walked on past a flowerbed full of dahlias that looked black in the moonlight. She lost sight of the flames obscured by a large yew tree shaped like a sphere. Something rustled amongst the flowers. She warily stepped away from the flowerbed towards the garden path. Just a hedgehog hunting she told herself, or perhaps a cat on the prowl. Yet she tensed ready to run if needs be. It wasn’t a hedgehog or a cat that emerged, but a large, mangey brute of a rat. Its beady eyes blazed in the moonlight. It looked at her with not a trace of fear. She was reminded of Nigel’s description of the nasty rat that had perched upon the lectern in the church.

Gertie hated rats. Every time she saw a rat, she remembered the warm summer morning when she had been six years old. The sun had just risen over the roofs of the terraced house and bottle kilns. She had woken, her bladder bursting, and had hurried to the privy shared by the half a dozen households at her end of the street. She had been about to sit when she heard a scratching noise beneath her. Holding her nose against the smell she had looked down into the dark hole. A large rat scrambled out of the privy causing her to scream so loud that half the street had run from their houses.

She shuddered at the memory. The rat continued to watch her from the flowerbed. She pretended to lunge at the rodent. Unafraid the rat stood its ground. She plucked a handful of stones from the path. The first stone she threw passed above the rodent’s head. The rat did not flee. It stared at her balefully baring its large teeth. She took her time with her second shot, checking her aim. She pulled back her hand and threw the stone as hard as she could. The stone struck the rat in the back. The rat squealed and fled back into the flowers. She waited a few moments ready if the vermin reappeared, then happy she had driven it away she threw the remaining stones back on the path.

She hurried on rounding the large yew tree.  The flickering bluish green orbs were slowly moving away from her towards the orangery. There was nobody illuminated by their light. They appeared to be levitating flames that moved with their own fruition.

She took a step towards them when a hand grabbed her shoulder….

 

Voting Closes Monday 18th May 2020 

Eighth Instalment Published Friday 22nd May 2020