This is the third part of the interactive novel – a short story with a set of three options at the end of every installment. To take part read the three options then vote for your favorite to decide what happens
Either catch up wih the previous instalments or scrowl down to find the latest options to vote upon
The Story So Far
Not for the first time fourteen-year-old Nigel Briggs felt out of place. Since entering Professor Ashcroft’s, employment as his apprentice it was becoming a recurring theme. Tonight, he stood beside the mantlepiece in the large parlour of the stately home enjoying the warmth of the fire against his back. He scanned the paintings adorning the walls, rather than watching the groups of distinguished men sat deep in discussion. Professor Ashcroft was across the other side of the room, a tumbler of whiskey in his hand, deep in conversation with an elderly bearded man.
Nigel sighed. This was certainly the most boring party he had ever attended. Their host hadn’t even appeared. Instead, he had left his guests, some of the most prominent minds in British science, to amuse themselves. Feeling the need to stretch his legs Nigel left the room. He wandered the hall looking at the paintings. In the dim candlelight he had to squint to make out the finer details in the portraits of family members, biblical and mythical scenes and in one room paintings of black wolf like dogs. He passed pockets of men in small groups so absorbed in their conversation they stood in the middle of the corridors oblivious to his presence. In another large parlour with red walls and furnishings to match he found the wives and mistresses gathered. Feeling even more uncomfortable than with the men he hastily backed out of the room. He passed servants carrying silver trays with food and drink hurrying between the rooms.
He looked down at his pocket watch. Only an hour has passed since their arrival. He wished the Professor had left him at home. He had not wanted to attend, but the Professor had insisted. Their host, a recluse but with a reputation for being a genius in the field of Chemistry, was going to announce a mysterious and in their host’s own words, a monumental discovery that would change the way humanity viewed the world. As some of the world’s best minds would be in attendance the Professor had said it would be an opportunity for Nigel to learn something. However, as expected Nigel had been abandoned to look after himself. He now wandered the corridor ignored and bored. He headed towards the dinning room. At least there was a free buffet.
The room was empty, apart from the large table big enough to sit thirty filled with platters or food. Nigel wandered the length of the table plucking morsels of sliced meats, cheeses and pastry’s as he passed. Nibbling on a pickle and ham tart he stopped by the fireplace. Above the mantel was a painting of a muscular naked man brandishing a flaming torch as he climbed out of a dark hole.
“Prometheus,” said a voice beside him.
Startled Nigel turned to find a girl of a similar age to himself. She was dressed in a dark green ball gown and her brown hair was pulled into a fashionable bun. From her attire she wasn’t a servant, but she was far too young to be a wife or mistress.
“Prometheus?” he repeated his mind preoccupied puzzling over the girl’s identity.
“In Greek myth he stole fire from the underworld and gave it to humanity,” the girl said. She smiled at him, whether it was condescending or not, he was not sure. “It is my father’s favourite myth. He wonders what other secrets of the gods can be stolen from them.”
“Do you just ask questions? My father is your host. He has invited you all here to show off his latest discovery. Most of his guest are boorish old men and then there is you. At first I thought you must be a servant.”
Nigel shook his head. She hadn’t been the only one. On several occasions one of the guests had forced an empty glass into his hand with the expectation that he would replenish their drink.
“Then I thought you must be some sort of child prodigy, but I think I may be mistaken on that too. So why are you here?”
“I’m Professor Ashcroft’s apprentice. He has insisted that I accompany him so that I might learn something.”
“Well you have learned about Greek mythology, so he was right,” she held out her hand. “Eve Crosse.”
“Nigel Briggs. Do you know what your father’s discovery is?”
She gave a bitter laugh. “It is a closely guarded secret. My father keeps to himself. So much so, that I have not seen him in four years and three months. My mother and I live with my grandparents. Considering we have not spoken to Father in such a long time he still sent us an invitation for tonight. Strange don’t you think?”
Nigel shrugged. “He is obviously proud of his discovery and wants you and your mother there to witness that your sacrifice was worth it.”
“You really do not know my father, but then who does? Did you know that the local villagers believe he is in league with the devil? That he is carrying out inhuman experiments into the occult? That he may have opened a portal to hell?”
A shiver crept down Nigel’s spine. He could not have a night away without tales of the supernatural raising its ugly head. Eve continued not noticing his discomfort,
“If I told the other guests here, they would say the superstitious locals just don’t understand the marvels of modern science. That there is nothing that cannot be explained by rational logical thinking.”
“That sounds familiar.” He had heard those words hundreds of times from Professor Ashcroft.
“But what if science cannot explain it? My father is due to make his announcement at 8 o’clock. I suppose we will then find out who is right…”
“It sounds like you agree with the villagers,” Nigel said. “You don’t honestly believe your father is involved with the occult?”
“All I know is there are two sides to a coin. I have not seen my father since I was ten and before then it was only for fleeting moments. He had no time for Mother and I when we lived here. That is why she took me to live with my grandparents.”
“Yet you came back tonight. Why is that?”
She frowned. “You think yourself quite the detective.”
“Sorry a matter of habit. My apprenticeship to Professor Ashcroft involves explaining the supernatural.”
“You investigate ghosts?”
“Amongst other things,” he said deliberately vague. She would not believe half the things he had seen. He also did not want to talk about it, wanting to forget the things that had terrified him. “It’s rather dull and you wouldn’t be interested.”
“You might not want to talk about it, but I don’t mind telling you why Mother and I came tonight. Afterall, it is nice to talk to somebody, even if it is an interrogation. In the room with all the ladies I was just ignored or berated by Mother for not sitting properly. I had to escape”
Nigel knew the feeling all too well.
“Anyway. Even though Mother cannot stand the sight of Father she insisted that we came tonight. Afterall he did invite us and it was the first time we had heard from him since leaving. I did not want to come but Mother insisted. She wants me to meet Father again. Something about it being important to know where I have come from.”
She tilted her head to one side as if caught by a sudden thought. She looked over his shoulder. Nigel followed her gaze to the Grandfather clock. It was just short of half seven.
“Shall we go look at my old room? I would love to see it. I want to know if it is the same as I remember. We have half an hour before Father’s great announcement. I won’t be missed and neither will you if you are able to stand here staring at paintings.”
Nigel followed Eve out of the dining room and into entrance the lobby. A lone footman stood at the bottom of the curved stairs. The open door opposite revealed a library with more gentlemen gathered. As they approached the stairs the footman stepped in front of them.
“Nobody is allowed up there.”
“This is my Father’s house. I just want to have a look at my bedroom.”
He looked at Nigel behind her, then putting two and two together and reaching seven he gave them a knowing wink.
“Sorry. I still can’t let you go up there. It is not worth my job. I’m under strict orders not to let anyone up there.”
Eve turned and headed off towards the library. Nigel followed in her wake.
“Eve, where are we going?”
“There is more than one way to get upstairs and if I remember correctly… yes there it is.”
Ahead of them a servant carrying a tray emerged from a small side door in the corner of the library. The door had been left open, but if closed the door had been disguised to look like part of a bookcase with spines of false books. As they crossed the library another servant with an empty tray went through the door. Without hesitating Eve darted through the false door. Nigel took a quick glance behind him, the men were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice, then followed her through to find a narrow staircase. On the stairs below, the servant was heading down to the kitchens to replenish her tray. Another set of stairs headed upwards to the dark rooms above. On the third step was an unlit lantern, put aside as if required.
“Look Eve I don’t think we should go wandering around,” Nigel said as she picked up the lantern.
“It will take us ten minutes at the most. I just want a quick look and then we come right back here.” She lit the lantern and then without waiting for him to protest further headed upwards.
“Why me?” he muttered under his breath and then followed. He has misgivings about walking around the hall at night. Not just because it was off limits, but because of the local rumours. If there was the smallest chance there was any truth to them, then this was the height of foolishness. He had had enough encounters with the supernatural to know it wasn’t a wise idea to go wandering round dark creepy building.
Read the three options below then vote for your choice to deciede what happens next
The step creaked beneath his feet. Nigel let out a small gasp. Eve stopped a few steps above him and looked down.
“I tripped on a step,” he said.
Shaking her head, she turned away. Nigel hurried up the curving staircase after her. He had to keep close to the wall. The spiralling steps were thin in the centre and he feared missing a step in the dark. Eve stopped on a small landing on the second floor with a closed door concealing the staircase from view. The stairs continued to twist upwards towards the attic, where the servant’s rooms would be.
“Did you hear that?” she whispered looking up at the ceiling above.
“I didn’t hear a thing.”
“It sounded like footprints.”
“So? Somebody must be up there.”
Biting her bottom lip, she frowned. “Nobody should be. My father has no servants. They are all hired in for the night. As far as I know, he lives alone with his manservant Fletcher. You heard the man at the bottom of the main stairs, upstairs is entirely off bounds.”
“It is probably somebody like us – going somewhere they shouldn’t be.” He turned to the staircase. “Perhaps we had better go back downstairs.”
Eve shook her head. “Not until I looked at my old room. Besides you never heard the footsteps. I must have imagined the whole thing.”
She pushed against the door. It wouldn’t budge.
“Can you help?”
Nigel pressed his back against the door. Creaking the door opened, the rusty hinges squealing with protest. The door hadn’t been opened in years. After stepping through the door, he pushed it closed behind them. They weren’t supposed to be here and if anybody saw their lantern light, they would be caught trespassing.
Eve led the way along the corridor. The air was musty. Dust covered the floor only broken up by mouse trails. Spider webs hung like gothic bunting off pictures and a grandfather clock, with its hands frozen at a minute past midnight, stood like a sentry.
Eve stopped at each door, some opened easier than others, to shine her lantern into the rooms. Apart from dust, spider webs and moth-eaten linen, the furnished rooms looked recently abandoned. The furniture and beds remained in place, in one room even a hairbrush remained on the dressing table. It was almost as if somebody had shut the door and forgotten the rooms existed for five years.
Towards the middle of the house, Eve found the room she had been looking for, a children’s nursery. There was a sadness about the room that Nigel had not felt in the other rooms. The lantern light reflected in the glass eyes of the bears and dolls on the shelves, and the rocking horse showing its teeth as it bayed all looked forlorn at being forgotten about. He knew they were inanimate objects, but he could not help personifying them. Eve looked at her childhood friends with a glimmer in her eye. These were the possessions she had left behind when she had moved out and leaving the younger years of her childhood behind. She passed Nigel the lantern and moved around the room picking up objects and looking at them. Nigel waited patiently by the door.
She lowered a doll back on to its shelf and turned to him. “Let’s go ba…”
Footprints thudded from the floor above. It sounded like somebody in heavy boots running through the attic. They both looked up. The sound vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.
Without a word they went back out into the corridor. Nigel stopped in midstride as the lantern light faintly revealed the door at the end of the corridor. The door he had closed swung open. The hinges had been too stiff for the door to swing open on its own. Somebody or something had opened it after them…
Keeping in the soft glow of the light from Eve’s lantern, Nigel followed her up the stairs and on to the second-floor corridor. It was a long thin corridor with pictures lining the walls. A long rug covered the floorboards muffling their feet.
“Do you know where we are going?” Nigel asked as they walked past closed doors.
“Yes, it is just down here.” She reached for a door handle. “I think it is this one.”
The door opened with a soft click. She pushed it open to reveal a bedroom dominated by a large four poster bed. In the faint light the dark walls and matching linen were dark crimson, he expected in normal light they would be red.
“Wrong room,” Eve said. “It must be the next one. It has been five years since the last time I was in this house.”
She began to turn away taking the lantern light with her.
“Wait,” Nigel called out. A small movement on the floorboards at the foot of the bed had caught his eye. She turned back to him frowning, but he wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were fixed on the floorboards. There was nothing there.
“What are you looking at?”
“I thought I saw something. A small creature. It’s gone now.”
“Probably was a mouse. It is almost impossible to keep them out of a house like this,” she said. “Come on I want to look at my room.”
“Can I borrow your lantern for a second?” he asked holding out his hand.
“It was just a mouse,” she said exasperated.
“It didn’t look like any mouse I have ever seen before. I just want a quick look to see if it is still there.”
Reluctantly she passed him the lantern. Nigel adjusted the shutters, so the bulk of light was focused forward then approached the bed. He rested a hand on the spring mattress and lowered himself to the floor to peer beneath. Something shimmed at the back of the bed reflecting the light back at him. He frowned. It looked like a small ball covered in tiny mirrors.
“Do you see anything?” Eve asked impatiently from the door.
He didn’t answer. He lowered himself on to his stomach. Reaching under the bed he stretched his hand towards the mysterious object.
It began to move!
He withdrew his arm as quick as if he had put it into a fire. He had nearly touched the thing. Wide eyed he watched at the object unfurled itself into some sort of mouse sized creature. Its rear legs were slightly larger than its forelegs. It had a small stubby tail, a short stocky head, and no noticeable ears. The strangest thing about the creature was its mirror like scales that reflected the light. It looked as if the creature was made from crystal.
Disturbed the creature scurried away. It fled along the wall. Nigel jumped to his feet. He darted around the side of the bed, hoping to catch once last glance at the creature.
There was no trace of it. The creature was gone.
“Did you find anything?” Eve asked from the door.
Lost for words he stared back at her dumbly. He had just seen a creature unknown to science. A creature that did not fit into any known genus. Not just a new species but whole new branch of life…
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Nigel muttered under his breath as he followed Eve up the stairs. What was he thinking? He had only met the girl a few minutes ago and now he was following her as she acted upon a whim. If he had any sense he should turn around and go back to standing by the fire. Being bored was better than ending up in trouble.
“Where is your sense of adventure?” Eve whispered back. He had not thought she had heard him. “If you’re scared why don’t you stay here. I will go on my own.”
“I’m not scared. I just don’t we should be trespassing.”
“It’s not trespassing if it is your own home.”
Nigel held his tongue. He did not think it would do him any favours to remind her that this was no longer her home.
At the top of the stair Eve opened a door revealing a long corridor. Nigel pushed the door closed behind them, before following her along the corridor. It was not very homely. The walls were bare along with the floorboards. Unlike the noticeable opulence in the floor below everything had been stripped from the upper floor. The lantern light even showed faded patches where pictures had once hung.
“This is not how I remember it,” Eve said. “It is empty. Where is everything? There used to be a grandfather clock here.”
“Perhaps your father put it in storage. Do you know which room used to be yours?”
“I think it is this one,” she said stopping outside a door no different from any other along the corridor. She turned the handle and pushed open the door. “What has happened to my room?”
Nigel stepped past her to see what she meant. They were looking into not one small bedroom but a massive chamber that ran the whole length of the upper floor of the house. The walls separating the rooms had been replaced with the occasional pillar supporting the roof of the house. The ceiling had been also removed along with the attic rooms to allow space for the tall machines that filled the room.
“Looks like your father wanted space for his lab.” Nigel said. There was a candle holder on nearby bench. Lighting the candle, he explored the room. Curious he walked amongst the machines trying to figure out their purpose. Large metal cables suspended from the room ran round the room seeming to originate from a large metal drum that looked as if it could spin. At the back of the drum a large belt ran down through the floor. He suspected he would find an engine that powered the belt in the room below. He passed work benches with beakers and vials arranged in neat rows, cabinets full of liquids and powders, and a large gas burner.
“Nigel, come and look at this?”
He hurried over to where Eve stood in front of a large, curved arch positioned inside a tray full of dark liquid. The heavy cables running through the room were attached to the top of the arch. The arch was a few inches in diameter. Metal wires ran around its frame and down into the liquid. He circled the arch until he was looking back through it at Eve on the other side.
“What do you think it is?” Eve asked.
“I have no idea. I have never seen anything like this before. I guess it has something to do with your father’s discovery.”
He knelt down to take a closer look at the liquid in the tray.
“Don’t touch that!” a man bellowed.
Nigel nearly dropped his candle in fright. He looked up to find out who had found them trespassing….