Voting Closes Tomorrow

Voting Closes Tomorrow

Voting to decide what happens next in the interactive novel closes tomorrow Monday 4th May 9am BST. Don’t miss out your chance to take part in deciding what happens next.

Either read – The Fifth Instalment

Watch – Watch the Adbridged Narration of the Latest Instalment

Then  – Cast Your Vote

To find out more information about the Interactive Novel watch – About the Interactive Novel

read the previous instalments at Instalments of the Interactive Novel

or read Other Novels by Dexter Roberts

Other Novels

The Sixth Instalment of the Interactive Novel will be published on Friday 7th of May. In the meantime here are some novels for you to enjoy.

 

The Journals of Nigel Briggs 

 

Book 1

New Cover

The Reaping Shadow

Not long after fifteen year old Nigel Briggs begins his apprenticeship to Professor Ashcroft, debunker of the paranormal, they are invited to investigate a spate of deaths plaguing a factory. The factory workers claim that a wraith is killing all those that have the misfortune of seeing it.

The Professor concludes the deaths are coincidental and that the wraith is the work of an opportunistic hoaxer. Nigel, however, fears there may be more to the claims. His fears come true when he sees the wraith for himself.

Haunted by the wraith, Nigel must find a way to destroy it before he becomes its next victim…

Buy it Here

 

 

Book 2

 

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

 

Book 3

 

DEvil's

The Devil’s Hound 

On the outskirts of London a mysterious beast is killing livestock.

In a nearby workhouse there are rumours of a man transforming into a beast.

Persuaded to investigate Professor Ashcroft insists the rumours are the work of hoaxers, but his assistant Nigel Briggs fears that the beast killing livestock and the rumours from the workhouse are the same creature. A creature with an insatiable hunger to hunt and kill. A creature that needs to be stopped no matter the cost.

Read it Here


The Seventh Treasure

 

boat

 

The Seventh Treasure

When Erik is betrayed and left for dead he is rescued by an unlikely saviour. But there is a cost. He must embark on a quest where he will encounter heroes , fearsome monster and gods! A quest where he must retrieve the Seventh Treasure gods for the sake of the world is in the balance.

 Read it Here

Voting Closes Tomorrow

Voting Closes Tomorrow

Voting to decide what happens next in the interactive novel closes tomorrow Monday 20th April 9am GMT. Don’t miss out your chance to take part in deciding what happens next.

Either read –The Full Latest Instalment

Watch – Watch the Abridged Latest Instalment

Then  – Cast Your Vote

To find out more information about the Interactive Novel watch – About the Interactive Novel

read the previous instalments at Instalments of the Interactive Novel

or read Other Novels by Dexter Roberts

The Fourth Instalment Part 1

The Fourth Instalment Part 1

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. The Interactive Novel follows fifteen-year-old Nigel Briggs, apprentice to Professor Ashcroft, as they investigate supernatural occurrences in Victorian Britain.

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.

At the end of the third instalment the narrative split into two. This is part one of the fourth instalment. The second part will be published on Friday 17th April. If you want to read the previous instalments you can find them Instalments of the Interactive Novel

Voting closes for what happens next for the choices at end of Part 1 is Monday 20th April 2020 9am BST


 

 

The road wound its way down the hill to a small village nestled in the valley. The stone houses and workshops huddled round the river in its centre. A stone humpback bridge just wide enough for a carriage was the only crossing point. On the bank of the river a water mill churned away, smoke and the sound of a hammer against anvil came from the blacksmiths, and a young boy led an old nag along the potholed road. The rest of the activity in the small village was gathered around the churchyard.  Towering over the houses was the steep spired church complete with grinning gargoyles, their grotesque stone faces leering at the mourners below.

With the undertaker’s cart blocking the road, their carriage pulled up outside the village’s only pub. A sign with the chipped and faded picture of a hook beaked crow swung above the door. Given instruction to stow their bags inside Nigel pushed open the door. With its small windows the pub was gloomy, added light was cast by candles and a smouldering fire. The dark oak bar with twisting symbols carved into the wood only added to the gloom. Against the far wall several tables were pushed together. A young girl laying the tables looked up.

“We’re closed.”

“Is the landlord in?” Nigel asked.

“He’s gone to the funeral with most of the village. He will be back later for the wake.”

“I’m with Mr Berwick from Moonhurst Hall. He told me to leave our bags here.”

She looked at him suspiciously. “Mr Berwick, you say?”

“Yes, he is just outside. I can get him if you want.”

“No, you had better put them down by the door. I’ll put them somewhere safe.”

Nigel placed the three bags by the door and when he had straightened up the girl had disappeared into a back room. He wondered why the sudden mention of Mr Berwick’s name had made her so compliant.

By the time Nigel stepped back outside the coach was gone. Without muttering a word to him Berwick and the Professor set off towards the church. Nigel chased after them.

“Busy funeral,” the Professor remarked looking at the crowd of over hundred men and women congregated outside of the church. Half a dozen men were gathered beside the undertaker’s cart. A short plumb man stood beside them giving the final instructions to the pallbearers.

“He was a popular fellow,” Berwick said. “Mr Gates will have allowed most of the staff from the hall to attend the service. There will also be people from the village and local farms. Every year we hold a summer fete at the hall, just a bit of fun to give something back to the local community. The late Mr Neville used to organise the games. Mr Gates will be able to tell you more. Ah talk of the devil, there is Mr Gates now.”

A man in his late fifties was heading towards them. He was a cold looking man with a square face and heavy jaw. He walked with a rigid posture, his back straight, as if he had a pole strapped to his torso. He was impeccably dressed in a long trench coat, a top hat and black leather gloves.

“Good afternoon, sir,” Mr Gates said tipping his hat towards Mr Berwick. “I trust you have had a safe journey?”

“It was pleasant enough,” Berwick said. Speaking to Gates the nervous quiver in his voice had vanished replaced with a brisk sternness. “This is my good friend Professor Arthur Ashcroft and his assistant Master Nigel Briggs.”

Mr Gate made a brief glimpse at Nigel before tipping his hat at the Professor. “It is good to meet you, sir. I hear you are an expert in the supernatural.”

“Debunker of the supernatural,” the Professor corrected. “I assure you there is nothing that cannot be explained with the latest scientific thinking. I will soon have a perfectly rational explanation for what has been happening at Moonhurst Hall.”

“Splendid sir. This poppycock about witchcraft is beginning to interfere with the running of the household. I have already been forced to carry out disciplinary measures due to staff refusing to carry out orders. It needs nipping in the bud. Just let me know whatever you need during your stay at Moonhurst Hall.”

“I will do my good man. After the funeral I will need to have a more in-depth discussion about what has been happening.”

“However, I can be of assistance,” Mr Gates glanced over his shoulder. The pallbearers were removing the coffin from the back of the cart. “I beg your pardon, sir, but we had better get to our places. Mr Berwick you will be at the front with me. Unfortunately, Professor you and your lad will have to find a place at the back of the church.”

“Wait one moment,” Nigel called out. The three men turned to him. “One of our companions is walking to the hall. If you are here who will be there to greet her?”

Mr Gates turned to Professor Ashcroft as if seeking permission whether to answer or ignore Nigel. The Professor pressed a hand to his forehead.

“Of course, Miss Stubbs. I forgot all about her. One of my associates will be working in your household and has been instructed to report to you on arrival. My apprentice here is worried that left to her own devices she will get into trouble.”

“She will be shown to my office to wait. I will be returning to the hall along with all the staff directly after the service. I will make it my first duty on return to seek Miss Stubbs out.”

He gave a curt nod and led Mr Berwick away. They passed the cart and walked into the churchyard. Nigel and the Professor waited out on the road as the pallbearers carried the coffin through the gates and for the mourners to fall into line behind.

“I want you on your best behaviour,” the Professor said. “Remember this is somebody’s funeral. I expect you to show respect, keep quiet, and do not draw attention to yourself. Also keep an eye out for anyone acting in a suspicious manner. Our hoaxer might be here.”

Nigel and the Professor waited until the last of the attendees had entered the church before stepping inside. The church was full. People were crammed into every pew and a small group stood at the back. Above the alter was a stained-glass window depicting the crucifixion, an organ sat beside the pulpit, and large wooden beams supported the steep roof. The plain coffin was laid before the pulpit. The vicar, a jolly looking man, stood beside the lectern waited patiently until the last of the mourners had taken their seats.

“We all are gathered here today, with grief in our hearts to remember Mr Philip Neville,” said the vicar in a booming voice. While he spoke, a young boy handed out orders of service. Nigel opened the folded page where the hymns had been handwritten in spiralling text that made it hard to decipher the words.

Nigel scanned the crowd. At the front of the church was the family. The deceased’s widow and fully grown children sat on the left-hand side of the church. Mr Berwick and the senior staff of the hall and estate sat on the right. Around the church most of the attendees were men outnumbering the women by six to four. Except for Mr Berwick and the Professor, they were all from the lower classes. The cut of their suits gave them away. Many wore faded jackets that had been patched in the past. This was a rural community built round sheep farming, coal fields, and lead mining.

The congregation rose on mass. The organ began to bellow out a sombre tune. Led by the vicar the congregation began to sing as one.  Nigel looked down at the order of service in his hand. He tried the first verse but struggling to keep in tune with the others fell silent. Beside him the Professor sang with gusto, unconcerned that he sang like a howling hound. Keeping his mouth moving but not uttering any sound, if anybody looked in his direction then they would think he was singing quietly along, Nigel lifted his head up from the pamphlet. He looked at the congregation, a lot of the mourners had their heads down singing quietly. There was certainly nobody acting suspicious. He found his eyes drifting to the ceiling high above. Where the cross beams of the roofing struts met were hideous carvings of monstrous faces that looked more bestial than man.  Frowning he looked back down at the pulpit. The bible was in a box chained to the lectern in the shape of an eagle with the bible resting on the birds back. Yet the brass eagle had been poorly made as if the sculptor had never seen a bird. The head was elongated more like a serpent and the wings lacked the definition of feathers making them look more like the wings of a bat

Turning away he caught a sudden moment out of the corner of his eye. He turned to the foot of the lectern. There was nothing there. For a second, he could have sworn something small and brown had darted across the front of the church. He looked at the congregation. Nobody else had noticed it. Singing the final verse of the hymn everybody else was looking down at the words.

Nigel was about to dismiss it as his imagination and lack of sleep when he spotted a long pink worm vanishing round the corner of the nearest pew. He leaned forward. A hand fell on his shoulder. He turned to the see the disproval of the Professor.

“Sorry, sir” he mouthed and straightened up.

The hymn came to an end.

“Please be seated,” the vicar commanded. As one the congregation lowered themselves into their seats.

A man started to scream. He jumped from his pew frantically brushing himself off. Those beside him looked startled at his sudden outburst, then they were scrambling to their feet in horror. The vicar fell silent as all eyes turned to the sudden commotion in the middle of the eighth pew.

“Rats!” a woman screamed from the third pew on the right.

All around the church people were climbing on top of the pews desperate to get off the floor. There was screams as people swatted at their legs and patted manically at their clothes as they scrambled out of the pews towards the doors.

Nigel pushed his way against the fleeing people to the nearest row of pews. In the aisle of each pew was a small gridded vent to allow warm air to be pumped through the church. The vent had burst open and out poured scores of brown mangy rats. With matted fur and long worm like tails the vermin writhed over each other.

“Calm down,” the vicar called. “There is no need to…” He broke into a scream as a scabby rat fell from the ceiling on top of him.

Nigel looked up. Rats were scurrying across the oak cross beams. Squirming over each other the smaller rats were knocked from the beams falling on to the heads of those below. The aisle in the middle of the church was a squirming mass of furry bodies as more and more rats poured out of the vents. The rodents were everywhere. The organ began blowing notes as rats crawled over the keys. Rats scurried over the coffin, the pulpit, and a large vicious looking rodent with a malicious twinkle in its eye sat perched on top of the brass eagle head on the lectern.

The congregation broke into a mad panic desperate to escape. They climbed over the pews rather than walk upon the floor. The way the men and women scrambled over each other they were little better than the writhing mass of vermin.

Nigel felt sharp claws pricking against his legs. He looked down to see a filthy rat climbing up his thigh. Screaming with disgust he swatted the body away.  He was pushed aside by a burly man rushing for the door. He barely acknowledged it. There were more rats crawling around his feet. He kicked out at the furry bodies as they scurried over his shoes.

Having seen enough Nigel pushed his way into the crowd fighting to get out of the church. Men pressed against him crushing his arms against his sides. He tried to shove his elbows out to make room, but he couldn’t move the bodies around him.  Rats continued to drop from the ceiling adding to the panic. In the crush he was helpless. It was like being caught in a current as he was pushed and shoved by the crowd funnelling through the doors. He hoped nobody fell, if so they would be trampled in the hysteria. Approaching the doors, the pressure increased against him. He couldn’t breathe. A flailing limb smashed painfully into his chest. He stumbled forward and fearing he was about to fall, hit the back of the man in front of him. He was propped up and pushed out through the doors.

He felt the warm sun on his skin and the bright light in his eyes as he was carried out into the churchyard. Immediately the pressure of the crowd disappeared as they fanned out. Wheezing for breath Nigel staggered for the gates. His body was aching and throbbing from the crush at the doors. Around him men and women were frantically swatting at themselves. Some were in a state of undress as they tried to rid the rats that had climbed into their clothes. Others were rolling on the floor trying to dislodge the rodents that clung to them. The fallen rodents darted over shoes and around legs before disappearing into the graveyard.

The Professor stood by the gates chomping furiously on his pipe as watched the chaos in front of him. He stepped aside as a group of crying women ran from the churchyard. Nigel knew he would be struggling to explain what had just happened. The service had been just interrupted by hundreds of brown rats; how could he explain it. He hated being confronted by anything he didn’t understand.

“Are you ok sir?” Nigel asked. The Professor didn’t answer. He was watching a shaken Mr Berwick emerge from the hall alongside Mr Gates who appeared oblivious to the large rat swinging by its teeth from his top hat. “I have never seen so many rats. They will have to call the Pied Piper.”

The Professor rounded on him. Nigel shrunk back.

“Now is not the time for your feeble humour,” the Professor growled through gritted teeth. “Make yourself useful and suggest how this could happen.”

Nigel felt silent. The one suggestion he could make would not be appreciated. But how else to explain it. It had to be witchcraft.

 

What happens next is up to You!

 

The choices with the most votes will decides what happens next, so choose wisely.

 

 

Vote Closes Monday 20th April 9am BST

Fourth Instalment Part 2 Published Friday 17th April

Voting Closes Tomorrow

Voting Closes Tomorrow

Voting to decide what happens next in the interactive novel closes tomorrow Monday 13th April 9am GMT. Don’t miss out your chance to take part in deciding what happens next.

Either read – The Third Instalment.

Watch – Abridged Narrative of Third Instalment

Then  – Cast Your Vote

To find out more information about the Interactive Novel watch – About the Interactive Novel

read the previous instalments at Instalments of the Interactive Novel

or read Other Novels by Dexter Roberts

It Doesn’t Cost a Penny

It Doesn’t Cost a Penny

It maybe difficult to believe but there is no obligation to take part in the Interactive Novel. It is completely free, there is no data collection, there is absolutely no obligation required by anybody that wants to take part. All you have to do is read the instalments and then cast your vote on what you would like to happen next.

Either read the full first  The First Instalment

Listen to the abridge version here Abridged First Instalment

And  Cast Your Vote

Voting Has Already Closed on the First Instalment.

Second Instalment published Friday 3rd of April 2020

Voting Closes Tomorrow

Voting to decide what happens next in the interactive novel closes tomorrow Monday 6th April 9am GMT. Don’t miss out your chance to take part in deciding what happens next.

Either read – The Second Instalment

Watch – Abridged Second Instalment Video

Then  – Cast Your Vote

To find out more information about the Interactive Novel watch – About the Interactive Novel

Time is Ticking to Cast Your Vote

Time is Ticking to Cast Your Vote

Voting to decide what happens next in the interactive novel closes on Monday 6th April 9am GMT. Don’t miss out your chance to take part in deciding what happens next.

Either read – The Second Instalment

Watch – Abridged Second Instalment Video

Then  – Cast Your Vote

To find out more information about the Interactive Novel watch – About the Interactive Novel

What Happens Next?

What Happens Next?

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. The Interactive Novel follows fifteen-year-old Nigel Briggs, apprentice to Professor Ashcroft, as they investigate supernatural occurrences in Victorian Britain.

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.

Voting closes for the Second Instalment on Monday the 6th April 9am GMT

There are two ways to find out what is happening in the Interactive Novel. You can either read the latest instalment –The Second Instalment

Or you can watch an abridged narration of the first instalment – abridged 2nd instalment

Then don’t forget to cast your vote on what happens next – Cast Your Vote

If you want to find out more about the interactive novel watch the following video –Interactive Novel Information

The Second Instalment

The Second Instalment

Foreword

Welcome to The Interactive Novel, the novel that allows you the reader to decide what happens during the novel. The Interactive Novel follows fifteen year old Nigel Briggs, apprentice to Professor Ashcroft, as they investigate supernatural occurrences in Victorian Britain.

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.

Voting closes for the Second Instalment on Monday the 6th April 9am GMT


 

Sunday 9th of September 1860

 

Gertrude Stubbs sat cross legged on the floor, the tip of her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. Concentrating she tried to sound out the word in front of her. Nigel waited, knowing that she would not utter a syllable until she was certain she was right.

“Do you want me to help you?” he asked.

She looked up from the page. “No, I can figure it out. It’s just a bigger word than I have ever read before.”

“That’s the idea. I thought I would test you.”

Gertie was a maid in Professor Ashcroft’s house and for her assistance in a previous investigation the Professor had promised to provide her with an education. Of course, this meant Professor Ashcroft had delegated Nigel as her tutor. At fifteen years of age Gertie had spent the previous ten years of her life working in a pottery factory and could not read and write. Nigel had not known where to start. He had no previous experience in teaching and had improvised his lessons sometimes pushing her too hard and other times patronising her. Fortunately, Gertie was a keen student with a hunger to learn and she accepted his teaching methods as just another challenge to work through.

Nigel enjoyed teaching Gertie. Not only did teaching Gertie allow him to escape the monotony of recording the Professor’s notes it gave him the perfect excuse to spend time with her. She was Nigel’s confidant and the only person he could tell the truth about what had happened in Rose Harvey’s bedroom and at the churchyard. They had had shared several terrifying experiences together. They had seen dead men walk and been hunted by a murderous wraith. After experiences like that she did not doubt his encounter with a vampire.

“Is the word, beeeecause?” Gertie said.

“Excellent,” he beamed. “I didn’t think you would get that word. Shall we call it a day?”

“It’s not even lunch time yet. If Mrs Cooper suspects I’m not learning she will make me do the laundry. Or perhaps I should sneak out the house and get some fresh air. What do you think?”

“I will leave you some work to do. The Professor will be up soon, and I will have to report to him.” Nigel had returned late the previous night and had missed seeing the Professor. Professor Ashcroft had been at his usual haunt, the Noscere Society, where learned gentlemen discuss their big ideas until the early hours. He would rise late morning, early afternoon, and even though Sunday was Nigel’s day off, the Professor would still expect to hear his report.

“Are you going to tell him the truth this time?” Gertie asked.

“Sort of,” he said uncomfortably.

“You’re going to tell him it was a vampire? Like from that story you showed me.”

Nigel had shown Gertie the story Varney the Vampire. He had seen the parallels between the creature in the girl’s bedroom and a vampire from a penny dreadful story published several decades earlier. Surprisingly he had found the story published in book form in Professor Ashcroft bookcase full of novels. Amongst the works by Dickens, Shakespeare and Brontë were Frankenstein, several anthologies of ghost stories and Varney the Vampire. It appeared that even though the Professor disputed the existence of the supernatural he did enjoy a good ghost story.

“I’m going to tell him that the superstitious locals believed it was a vampire, broke into a crypt, and set fire to a body.”

“What about when you confronted the vampire in the bedroom?”

“That is just a minor detail I will omit from my report.”

“You have to tell him the truth.”

“And have him lecture me how I let my vivid imagination run away with me or tell me that I dreamt it all. I could do without his disproval for once. He will be happy to know that the locals are pleased they burnt a vampire and it is all over.”

A bell rang from the floor above. Professor Ashcroft was awake. Nigel rose to his feet.

“Nigel, tell him the truth. One of these days the Professor will underestimate the dangers you face and one of you will get hurt.”

“I need evidence. Without proof he won’t believe me. Even if I had managed to have brought back the vampire there in no saying he would accept it as genuine. The Professor won’t accept anything he can’t explain. Once I can prove to him, without a shadow of doubt that he can’t dispute the evidence, I will tell him the truth, until then it is better to keep quiet. Now I must report to him. Why don’t you work on your letter formation?”

Nigel made his way up the stairs. He passed Mrs Cooper, the housekeeper, on the second-floor corridor. “The Professor wants you to wait in his study while he dresses. He wants you to brief him while he eats his breakfast. Now where is Gertie?”

“Working on her writing.”

Mrs Cooper gave him a sour look. She would have to fetch the Professor’s breakfast herself. She thought that Gertie’s education was just an excuse to avoid work and at times it was.

Mrs Cooper had already lit a fire in the Professor’s study. It was a cool damp day but still September and dressed for the weather Nigel found the room sweltering. He stood by the window to wait for the Professor. Looking out on the quiet street he considered opening the window.

“Do not even think about it, Nigel,” the Professor said entering the room. He was dressed in a thin shirt. “I do not pay good money to burn coal for you to let all the heat out. If you are hot, take off your jacket. You are dressed as if you are embarking on an expedition to find the North West Passage.”

“Yes, sir.”

Professor Ashcroft lowered himself down into his armchair beside the fire. He scratched his chin, smoothing down his fashionable rim beard that framed his face. In his mid-thirties the Professor did not have a single grey hair, yet his skin was pale from his lifestyle spent indoors and he had begun to develop a stomach pushing against his shirt.

“So how did you get on?” asked the Professor gesturing for Nigel to sit on the hard-wooden stool in front of him.

“The locals believed a vampire was responsible for attacking Miss Harvey.”

“I hope you told them that the girls night terrors were nothing more than nightmares.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was that all that happened then?”

Nigel took a deep breath. “While I was there the locals broke into a crypt, they removed a coffin and set fire to it.”

“Did they? Why on Earth did they do that?”

“They believed the body in the coffin was a vampire and was attacking the girl.”

The Professor laughed. “What a load of nonsense. Really, it makes you despair what the uneducated will foolishly believe. I hope you told them that vampires do not exist.  What made them pick this body? Let me guess the deceased was a lone individual more likely despised when alive.”

“Supposedly the vampire was seen in Miss Harvey’s room. It was chased away and fled into the crypt. When they opened the crypt, they found the vampire in its coffin and recognised it as the same creature that had been in the girl’s room”

“My goodness you could not make this up. And you observed all this?”

Nigel shifted uncomfortably on the stool. “Just the removing of the coffin and the burning of it, sir.”

The Professor frowned. He opened his mouth as if to question Nigel further but then deciding he didn’t want to know fell quiet.

“Can we assume that burning the coffin has placated the superstitious locals and has put all this nonsense of vampires to rest?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, good. You know Nigel, I think you may turn out to be a valuable apprentice after all.”

Nigel gave a small smile in reply. Pleased the Professor clapped his hands together. “Now shall we discuss more pressing matters?”

The Professor rose to his feet, crossed over to his desk, and returned with a small package wrapped in brown paper. He passed the package to Nigel. The package was star shaped and the paper was loosely wrapped as if it had been opened on multiple occasions. It had been tied shut with some string pulled into a tight knot.

“Tell me what you make of this?” the Professor asked sitting back down.

Nigel pulled at the knot trying to open a loop to pull the string free. He pulled at the string to no avail. He lifted the knot to his mouth.

“Really, Nigel? Must you make a meal of everything. I loosely tied that knot myself. Pass it here.” Nigel passed the package over. The Professor pulled at the knot. He shook his head. “You have made a right mess of this. I tied the knot loose so it would be easy to open, and you have gone and tightened it. Go and get some scissors.”

Knowing it was best not to object Nigel fetched some scissors from the Professor’s desk. The Professor cut the string, unwrapped the paper, and then passed him a tightly wound bundle of black straw. At first Nigel thought it was a misshapen straw star then turning over he realised it was a straw man with his straw arms and legs splayed out.

“It’s a corn dolly, sir?” Nigel said failing to see the importance of it. In the village where he had grown up it was common practice to weave little straw figures at harvest time. He held his left hand up. It was covered in black soot from where he had touched the corn dolly. “Where has it been? Up a chimney?”

“Precisely. You are right on both counts,” the Professor said with surprise. “Perhaps we have better stop there while you are winning. Now do you know the significance of finding a corn dolly in a chimney?”

“Stops a draft coming down the chimney in summertime?”

“I should have known your new-found insight would not last. This is no ordinary corn dolly. It is a poppet.”

Nigel turned the figure in his hand. It was rather crudely made, he even though he might be able to make a better figure himself, and he failed to see what made it different from any other corn dolly.

“I don’t know what a poppet is sir?”

“It is a certain kind of doll that can be made from straw, roots, hair, reeds, and so on. A poppet is used in sorcery or witchcraft. It is hidden within in a house often up a chimney. Depending on the motivations of the caster a poppet can be a force of good to protect the household or can be used to cast curses on the occupiers. The poppet in your hands is believed to be the later.”

Startled Nigel dropped the poppet to the floor. “It’s cursed?”

“Stop being ridiculous and pick it back up.”

Under the Professor’s disproving gaze, he cautiously picked up the little straw man by his fingertips. He held it out to the Professor, who made no attempt to take off it him, leaving Nigel to hold on to it. He half expected the little straw figure to writhe in his hands. He held it as far from himself as he could without risking the Professor’s disproval. Oblivious to his discomfort the Professor continued

“There is no such thing as witchcraft, but there are those that still believe in the superstitious nonsense that has blighted history with its intolerance. The belief in witchcraft is an evil that has condemned many innocent souls to death. In primitive parts of the world women are still accused and murdered for witchcraft. It was only 170 years ago that women were being put to death in America. The crimes committed in the heinous belief of witchcraft is one of the reasons why I have made it my life’s work to disprove any notion of the supernatural. I will not sit by and tolerate any person’s life being ruined by clearly false accusations of possessing impossible powers.”

The sudden passion in the Professor’s voice took Nigel by surprise.

“But sir I fail to see the significance of this poppet thing. If witchcraft is not real, why are you showing it to me?”

“The poppet you are holding in your hands was discovered by a good friend of mine, Thomas Berwick. He owns Moonhurst Estate in Yorkshire. The poppet was found last week in a chimney in Moonhurst Hall. It was not the only poppet discovered. There was a poppet in every chimney in the hall, over two dozen in total. Now a horde of little straw dollies on their own is not a lot to worry about. However, there has been other strange occurrences at the hall.”

Not liking where this was going Nigel swallowed nervously. “What sort of things?”

“Many are mundane and can be easily explained by the imaginations of uneducated servants. Such as doors opening and closing on their own, phantom voices, spontaneous writing and things going bump. What is more serious is several animals on the estate have been found killed in a ritualistic manor.”

“There is more, isn’t there?” Nigel said. He knew the Professor well enough to know that what he had just heard was not enough to spark the Professor’s interest in the matter.

“You are getting better at this. My teaching is not going to waste,” the Professor said. “I have known Thomas since we were boys. We went to school together and I have never met a more rational mind than Thomas. He is well read and does not take fools lightly. Of course, he does not believe that witchcraft exists. However, his wife has been inflicted by a mysterious illness that is draining the energy from her body. She has unexplained pains that come and go as if almost at someone’s whim. Doctors are puzzled about the cause. Then the poppets were discovered and now accusations of witchcraft are causing severe disruption in the household. False beliefs are like a virus and easily spread. The rumours of witchcraft at Moonhurst hall are being spread in the local village. There is a danger it could begin to affect his business interests. He has asked me to disprove all this nonsense, especially as things have taken a serious turn for the worse.”

The Professor hesitated. For a moment he looked lost for words, an occurrence that Nigel had not believed possible.

“What is the matter, sir?” Nigel prompted.

The Professor exhaled deeply. “There has been…”

 

 

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The choice with the most votes will decide what happens next in The Interactive Novel,

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Vote Closes 6th April 9am GMT

Third Instalment Published Friday 10th April