The Complete Abridged Novel So Far

If you are new to the Interactive Novel or are just wanting to catch up with the story so far you can find the abridged versions of the previous instalments below. The next instalment is published Monday 19th November

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.


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….

 

Find out what happens next with the fourth instalment published on Monday 19th November

Feed back on the Interactive Novel

Feed back on the Interactive Novel

I would like to thank everybody for taking the time to correspond with me during the writing of the Interactive Novel. I appreciate you making the time and effort to share your feedback.

However, writing can be a lonely habit and no more so than in writing a first draft. Much better author’s than me advise against writing with the door open. And I happen to agree. Positive feedback and I begin to slacken off. Negative feedback and my motivation to finish drops. Therefore I believe in writing a first draft it is one of the those thing best carried out alone.

In writing each instalment of the interactive novel I have to write each instalment in five days and revise it as many times as possible in that period. Each instalment has to link in the with story and lay the foundations of what may happen later without knowing or having any control of what will happen next. It makes it a daunting challenge.

So where does this fit in with regards to your correspondence. During the writing period, I knuckle down and worry only about the story. But once that instalment is published and before the vote closes I do read all of your correspondence. I thank you and value all of the feedback that is given. It means a lot that you have taken the time out of your busy lives to read and take part. I thank you again.

Now I have to get back to writing the fourth instalment and just like you I look forward to finding out what happens next.

Fourth Instalment published Monday 19th November.

 

Decide What Happens Next in the Interactive Novel

Decide What Happens Next in the Interactive Novel

Voting closes on the choices at the end of the third instalment of the interactive novel on Wednesday 8am GMT. The winning vote will decide what happens. If you have missed the third instalment or the previous instalments then catch up with the complete abridge novel so far below.


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….

It is up to you to decide what happens next. To cast your vote click here Cast Your Vote

Votting closes tomorrow Wednesday 14th November at 8am GMT

Don’t Miss Out

Don’t Miss Out

Don’t miss your chance to decide what happens at the end of the latest instalment of the interactive novel. Voting closes on Wednesday 8am GMT Your choices will determine what happens so choose wisely!

To read the latest instalment click The Third Instalment

To read the previous instalments click The Complete Story so Far

Then go to Cast Your Vote

Then find out what you voted for when the fourth instalment is published Monday 19th November.

Abridged Third Instalment

Abridged Third Instalment

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. Catch up on the previous instalments with  The Complete Abridged Novel So Far
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.

 

Vote closes for the Third Instalment on

Wednesday the 14th November at 8am GMT

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….

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.

 

 

Vote closes for the Third Instalment on Wednesday the 14th November at 8am GMT

 

 

The Third Instalment

The Third Instalment

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. If you missed the previous instalments you can find them here The Interactive Novel Instalments or read the The Complete Story so Far
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.

Vote closes for the Third Instalment on

Wednesday the 14th November at 8am GMT

 

Friday, 21 September 1860

 

Clément’s & Willet’s Auction house was a long squat building, built from red brick and terracotta roof tiles. A large dark green sign branding the gold letters “C” and “W” hung above the open door.

I followed the Professor into the bland lobby where a pair of porters in navy uniforms sat behind a desk. Greeting us with a smile one of the porters took our names and address. He passed the Professor a numbered paddle and a catalogue. The Professor thrust these into my hands as the porter directed us to a set of double doors behind him.

“Come along Nigel,” the Professor said marching off. He took hold of the door handle and paused as if struck by a sudden thought. He turned to me. “I want you to watch what you do with your hands in there. Whatever you do, do not start waving them around. No nodding of your head either. Try not to look at the auctioneer and certainly do not make eye contact with him. I do not want you bidding for anything, even by accident. Are we clear?”

Without thinking I nodded. The Professor frowned.

“Sorry sir, it won’t happen again.”

He pushed open the doors and we entered the auditorium. At the far end of the long room was a stage where a stout man stood behind a pulpit. In front of him prospective buyers sat on cream cushioned chairs positioned in rows on either side of a central aisle. The green walls were decorated with pictures of landscapes in golden frames. A pair of chandeliers hung from the white ceiling adorned with plaster flowers and leaves.

Two guards were posted on either side of the stage. Another guard was positioned by the door leading to where the sale items were being stored. Behind us at the doors leading back to the lobby was another guard. He watched us out of the corner of his eye.

The auction was already under away and about a hundred buyers were gathered in the hall. The majority were men and from their dress I suspected most of them were antique dealers hunting for bargains to sell in their shops. There were a few women amongst the bidders, clearly from affluent backgrounds, looking for trinkets to take home.

Off to one side was a beautiful blond-haired woman. The long-nosed gentleman beside her was dressed more like a servant than a husband. As if she could sense I was looking at her she looked over at me. I met her eye and for a moment I had a sense of déjà vu, as if we had met before, then worried she had caught me staring I looked away. When I looked back, she had returned to watching the auction.

“I have sixty pounds. Sixty – five?” the auctioneer called out. He scanned the room hunting for any prospective bids. There was a flicker of a paddle being raised. The auctioneer pointed his gavel to the left-hand side of the stage. “Yes, sir, sixty five pounds. Do I have seventy? Seventy anywhere?”

His eyes swept over me. I dropped my gaze to the porter on the stage beside him. The porter held a rusty brown vase decorated with cartoonish men throwing spears. Rather than risk the auctioneer think I was interested, I flicked through the catalogue. It was Lot No. sixteen, a vase from ancient Crete.

“It is probably a fake or perhaps stolen,” the Professor said looking over my shoulder. “Whatever it is, it will have a dubious history. If it was genuine, I would expect it to go through Sotheby’s instead of this auction house”

“Professor Ashcroft always the cynic,” said a voice behind us.

We turned to see an elderly man with a thick white bearded hobbling into the room. He stopped beside us and leant on his walking stick, a dark polished wooden pole embellished with a golden dog’s head on the handle. His cheeks were blemished from broken blood vessels giving a red glow to his face. A pair of wiry spectacles balanced on the end of his upturned nose.

“Professor Elman, what a pleasant surprise,” the Professor muttered sounding anything but happy to see the man.

“Likewise,” said Elman with equal warmth. He looked at me. “Is this young man your son?”

“Certainly not,” the Professor said offended. “This is my assistant, Nigel. Nigel, I would like you to meet Professor Daniel Elman. He is a fellow member of the Noscere society, lectures in psychology, and is a firm believer in the supernatural. As you can imagine we rarely see eye to eye.”

“Your master has a rather blinked view of the world.”

“And for a highly educated man, Professor Elman is prone to making some rather amateur deductions.”

There was certainly no love lost between the two men.

“So tell me Arthur what has caught your interest today?”

The Professor looked in two minds whether to tell him or not.

“Lot number thirty-four,” he eventually said.

“Ahh an interesting piece with an interesting history. What draws you to the item? It’s history or the curse?”

“It’s history. There are no such things as curses.”

Professor Elman smiled. “There you go as usual jumping to conclusions without evaluating the evidence. The Amulet of Nergal has a long history of misfortune befalling all those that have possessed it.”

“Nothing more than coincidences and tragic accidents.”

“There have been far too many deaths linked to the amulet for it to be just a coincidence. Perhaps if you are successful in your bidding you may discover more than you bargained for. Although I fear you may find you have fierce competition for the piece.”

“You too are interested in the amulet?” the Professor said. “And why would any believer in the curse wish to purchase such a deadly item?”

“Like you, academic curiosity. But I am not the only interested party. I have heard from Mr Willett himself that has had a lot of enquiries about the piece. He suspects it to sell for double its guide price. Now you must excuse me gentlemen. A man of my age can only spend so long standing before he must rest. Good luck.”

Professor Elman hobbled over to join the left-hand rows of chairs and gingerly lowered himself into an aisle seat.

“Insufferable man,” the Professor muttered. “You cannot take anything he says seriously. Come along Nigel let us find a seat.

On the stage the auctioneer was auctioning a small sculpture of a fat naked woman. According to the catalogue it was an ancient mother goddess from a lost tribe.

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 to find out what the mysterious Lot No. 34 was.

Lot No. 34 – The Amulet of Nergal. At for auction for the first time. This is your chance to own a piece of history. Believed to originate in Ancient Mesopotamia, the amulet is great piece that will be at home in any collection of antiquities. The Amulet of Nergal is cast from gold and contains a large ruby in its centre. Symbols that some scholars deem to be a lost language adorn the piece.

The gavel banged down. I looked up from the catalogue. The auctioneer was pointing at a man in the third row, the new owner of the sculpture. “Sold to the gentlemen, number forty-eight.”

“My goodness they are all coming out of the woodwork,” the Professor suddenly muttered.

I followed his gaze to the entrance of the auditorium. He was looking at a muscular man in late thirties that had just walked in. The man’s long black hair was slicked back exposing a prominent windows peak. Except for a thin moustache he was clean shaven. His nose was crooked as if had been broken in the past and then not correctly reset.

“Who is he, sir?”

“His name is Reginald Pearce. His is the son of a lord but has been disowned by the family. By all accounts he has a reputation for being a bit of a rogue. A few years back he was caught smuggling artefacts out of China. He only just managed to escape the country. He abandoned his partners to face the penalty. I believe they were executed. He is proof that the saying is true. There is no honour amongst thieves.”

The Professor reached over and snatched the catalogue from my hand. “I wonder what he is after?” he mused flicking through the pages.

“You don’t suppose he is also after the amulet as well?” I suggested.

He shook his head. “I doubt it somehow. By all accounts Pearce is always interested in making a quick buck. I bet he is selling some ill got gains rather than buying.”

Reginald Pearce took a position a few rows in front of us. His long black hair had been slicked backwards in a poor attempt to hide a thinning crown. He sat fidgeting in his seat as if impatiently waiting for an item to be auctioned off.

Slowly one by one the various lots were brought up on to the stage. I kept my hands on my knees. After the Professor’s warning I was paranoid about accidently making a bid. Not all the items met their guide price and therefore failed to sell. Other Lots went for what I deemed an extortionate amount of money. A year’s wages on a vase. Some people had money to burn.

The Professor sat next to me giving his own running commentary on the items. Most he deemed were fakes or far too expensive. He gave his most derision for a set of spoons that had once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.

“What a waste of money for those,” he chortled quietly beside me.

Gradually the hall began to fill up, until there were only a few empty chairs dotted around the auditorium. There was movement at the front of the hall. The beautiful woman rose to her feet. Having seen enough she made her way up the aisle followed by her servant. As she passed, she caught my eye. There was a flicker of a smile and then she walked past. I turned my head and watched her leave. I was sure I recognised her from somewhere.

“And now we come to Lot thirty-four,” said the auctioneer. He paused for effect. “The Amulet of Nergal.”

A hushed silence fell across the room. The item’s notorious reputation was well known amongst the prospective buyers.

A porter stepped on to the stage carrying a black velvet tray. I sat upright in my chair and craned my neck forward. I wasn’t the only one. With a morbid fascination the audience leaned forward wanting to get a glimpse of an item that had supposedly caused so much misery. The porter angled the tray so that everybody could see the amulet resting upon it.

I was disappointed. I had expected some shinny golden trinket that glistened and sparkled in the light, instead the Amulet of Nergal was a spade shaped piece of dull yellow metal. It had a large red stone, a ruby according to the catalogue, set in the centre. The metal had been moulded so it had two raised curves either side of the stone. I was sat too far back to make out exactly what they were, but the curves appeared to have created the impression of a socket with the ruby in the middle acting as an eye.

“Gentleman I present you the Amulet of Nergal,” the auctioneer said consulting his notes. “This fabulous item is a must for any collector of antiquities. It is believed to have originated in Ancient Sumeria, but this cannot be verified. Now I am sure many of you have heard of the rumoured curse that have befallen many of its previous owners. This rumour accounts for the very low list price for an item of such value. Now Clément’s & Willet’s Auction House has had the Amulet of Nergal in our possession for the past week and we can reassure you we have not had any ill fortune befall us…yet.” His attempt at a joke was met with stony silence. He fidgeted uncomfortably. “We will continue then. What I can assure you, is that somebody today will be walking away with a bargain. Now the opening bid is twelve pounds?”

The Professor lifted his hand.

“I have twelve pounds, twelve pounds, will anybody give me thirteen?”

A few rows away Professor Elman rose his paddle. The Professor scowled. Before he could make a bid for fourteen pounds, Reginald Pearce entered the race with a curt nod of his head. The Professor took it to fifteen, Pearce to sixteen, and Elman up to seventeen. This was turning out to be a three-way battle that neither party was intent on losing.

The Professor took the biding to eighteen pounds. In response Elman climbed to his feet and requested to have an inspection of the item. Trying to hide his glee at how well the bidding was going the auctioneer invited him and any other interested parties up to the stage. Out of curiosity I followed the Professor and Reginald Pearce to the front of the room.

The porter held the tray out so that the three competitors could examine the amulet in more detail. Up close the stone in the middle was a dirty red, like dried blood in colour, with black flecks of impurities speckled through it. The curves and lines moulded in the metal managed to create the effect of an eye looking up at you. It was a hideous piece of work. Not one that anybody would wear with pride.

Mr Elman reached out with his hand. “May I?”

The porter glanced up at the auctioneer. The stout man gestured for the two guards on either side of the stage to stand beside us before nodding his consent. The porter held the tray out and Mr Elman plucked the amulet into his palm. With his nose an inch above the amulet he studied it meticulously in his hands. Satisfied he passed it back to the porter. Reginald Pearce was next to examine the amulet, followed by the Professor who upon finishing his examination passed it to me.

The amulet was surprisingly heavy. Strangely it felt warm against my skin. I gently ran my thumb over the surface. It was spiked and pitted, in places sharp edged, like running my fingers over the blade of a saw. I turned the amulet over in my hand. The back of the amulet was covered in strange marks which had to be the writing mentioned in the catalogue. I flipped it back over. My eyes were drawn to the red stone in the middle. It certainly looked like an eye. I had the strangest sensation that something was looking at me. I focused entirely on the stone. The black impurities were beginning to…

“Nigel,” barked the Professor.

I snapped my head up. He was looking at me impatiently. Beside him his competitors were also watching me. That explained the sensation of being looked at.

“Pass the amulet back to the porter,” instructed the Professor.

I placed the amulet back upon the tray.

The doors to the auditorium flew open.

Six men charged into the hall. They had scarves pulled up beneath their eyes and bowler hats lowered down over their heads, leaving just their eyes and the hair around their ears exposed.

“Get down on the floor,” yelled one of the men. His voice partially muffed by the scarf.

The guard on the door moved forward to intercept them. He was hit over the head with a short club by one of the men, bludgeoned to the ground for his act of bravery. The two guards stood either side of us rushed to his aide.

“I said everybody down on the floor,” repeated the man. He tore open his coat and pulled out a pistol tucked into the waist band of his trousers. He pointed the pistol at the guards rushing towards him and without hesitation pulled the trigger.

The thunderous bang echoed around the hall. The two guards skidded to a halt with their hands up. The expression of surprise on their faces would have been amusing in a less grave situation. They had been only six feet away, yet the gunman had missed.

A women two rows to my left screamed and pressed her hand against her face.

I turned to the stage behind me. The porter had dropped the tray holding the Amulet of Nergal and was clutching his stomach. The blood soaking up through his clothes was beginning to trickle between his fingers. He staggered backwards and collapsed against the pulpit.

Only the Professor leapt into action. Without hesitation or any concern for his own safety he clambered on to the stage and rushed to the fallen porter. He gently lifted the porter’s blood-soaked fingers from his stomach and removing a handkerchief from his waistcoat pressed it against the wound.

The gunman stepped through the cloud of smoke emitted by the pistol. Casually reloading his weapon, he studied the room. Behind him three of his companions held pistols of their own. Patrolling the room, they pointed their weapons at the frightened audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the lead gunman shouted. “I suggest for your own safety you do exactly what you are told, or you will suffer the consequences. Now everybody lay on the ground with your hands-on top of your heads where we can see them.” There was slight moment of hesitation. “I said now.”

With a scraping of chairs, the men and women lowered themselves to the ground and placed their hands over their heads. I lay down on my stomach with my chin resting on the wooden floor, so I could still see what was happening. Beside me Professor Elman was struggling to lower himself to the ground while Reginald Pearce lay with his face pressed into the wooden floorboards.

“Are you deaf?” one of the gunmen bellowed.

The Professor remained knelt over the fallen porter with his hands pressed against the blood-soaked cloth. He looked up at the gunman defiantly.

“If I take this way he will die. Keeping him alive might be the only thing that keeps you from the gallows.”

The gunman pointed his pistol at the Professor.

“Leave him,” grunted the lead gunman to his companion. “Get the bags ready.”

The gunman leapt down from the stage and sauntered to the back of the room. Happy the auditorium was under control the lead gunman walked down the aisle. He passed within a few feet of me, close enough for me to see his blue eyes, a small scar above his left brow, and the dirty blond hair not concealed by his hat and scarf.

The gunman clambered up on to the stage. He held his pistol pointed towards the floor as he stood over the Professor and the injured porter.

“Keep the pressure tight,” the gunman grunted. “But if you move away from his side, I will shoot you myself.”

The gunman leant around the pulpit. “Going somewhere?”

The auctioneer had been slithering backwards on his stomach.

“No, I was just…” the auctioneer said his voice quivering. “Please take whatever you want.”

“We intend to. Now stay where you are.”

Kneeling the gunmen plucked the Amulet of Nergal from where it lay on the stage. He studied it for a few moments before lifting the amulet up above his head.

“Gentleman it appears you all have far too much money if you are willing to buy rubbish like this.” He threw the amulet. There was a dull thud where it landed at the edge of the stage. “Listen carefully, you fail to do as you are told, you will be shot. Make no mistake we will leave you here to die. Now I am certain you all want to live, so one by one you will all stand up slowly and as my associates pass, you will reach into your pockets and remove those bulging purses of yours. Drop them into my associates’ bags along anything else of value. You will then lay back down on the floor with your hands on your head. You comply, and you will be safe. You have my word.”

Starting at the back of the auditorium two or the robbers worked their way along the rows. Purses, wallets and jewellery were snatched from hands and dropped into the bags. They worked quickly and efficiently. The other gunmen patrolled the room looking for any signs of rebellion. When an elderly man refused to hand over his purse, one of these gunmen hurried over and punched him in the mouth. From then on, nobody else refused to hand over their valuables. On the stage the lead gunman paced back and forth impatiently checking his pocket watch.

One of the robbers holding a kitbag reached us. He had ginger eyebrows and sideburns. Elman, Pearce, and I were ordered to our feet. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the Amulet of Nergal laying a few feet away at the edge of the stage.

“Hand over whatever you got,” the robber grunted holding open a kitbag full of purses, watches and jewellery.

Reluctantly I took my purse containing a handful of shillings from my inside jacket pocket and dropped it into the kitbag. The robber moved down the line. After taking Reginald Pearce’s purse and watch he spotted the amulet laying at the side of the stage. He reached out for it.

There was a distant bell ringing. The robbers instinctively glanced towards the doors. The sound of the bell was growing steadily louder.

“Leave the rest,” bellowed the lead gunman jumping from the stage.

He waved his arm gesturing for the others to follow. The kit bags were snatched shut as the men ran from the room. The doors clattered behind them and they were gone.

For a moment nobody moved. Everybody was frozen as is they expected the gunmen to return. Then a woman began to sob, and the spell was broken. Slowly everybody climbed to their feet dazed. We looked at each other in stunned silence. Beside me Professor Elman was panting. He leant on his stick shaking. He wasn’t the only one that looked traumatised by the robbery. A few of the men had collapsed in chairs their wobbly legs unable to support their weight, others clutched at their racing hearts.

“Nigel come and give me a hand,” the Professor shouted. He was still knelt over the wounded porter applying pressure to his wound with a handkerchief saturated in blood.

I placed my hands on the stage to hoist myself up. I paused.

The gunmen had fired one shot into a crowded auditorium. He had missed his targets, yet the bullet still struck someone. The porter on the stage 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 at the amulet on the edge of the stage.

It was gone!

The robber must have snatched it before fleeing. He had been reaching for it when the alarm had been raised. 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. He could easily have grabbed the amulet in the confusion. Was he fleeing with the amulet in his pocket?

Or perhaps Professor Elman had taken it. He still leant on his stick beside the stage, but he too had been next to the amulet. He could have easily snatched the amulet while we were all distracted watching the gunman flee.

“Quickly Nigel!” the Professor snapped.

I threw myself on the stage. I had to forget all about the amulet. It had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t my responsibility if it had been stolen. Or so I thought….

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.

 

 

 

Vote closes for the Third Instalment on

Wednesday the 14th November at 8am GMT