I woke up slowly, my head foggy and every bone in my body aching as if I'd been knocked out and dropped down a three metre hole. There was something heavy around my neck - the necklace, which someone must have placed there. But why? Around me everything was blissfully dark. I reached out around me, my fingers fumbling as I located my backpack a metre away from me and searched for the torch that would hopefully have survived the fall from the barely visible hole in the ceiling. Luckily whoever had thrown me down here hadn't seen enough sense to take my whole backpack of me.
Light pierced the darkness as I found the torch's switch. My head pounded, and I had to close my eyes against the brightness. Slowly they adjusted to the light and I dared to look around me. The beam swept over cold, damp stone walls. No way out except for the hole in the ceiling that I had presumably been thrown down. I continued to search the small stone dungeon, hoping to find something that would get me out of here before whoever had thrown me down here.
A piece of paper in the corner of the room caught my eye. I was old and thick, folded into quarters and tucked partially into a niche in the stone. I smoothed it out. On the reverse was a child's script; the rough, curling handwriting of a teenage girl. Being a detective gave you an eye for things like that. There were only a few lines of writing, and a date at the bottom. I pulled my dictionary out of my backpack and began to try to translate the message.
21st October, 1971 - I write this so that if anyone ever finds it, they will know how I died. The monster was too real, too frightening for the people not to do anything about it. I'm scared... I don't want to die. But they told me that I had to, for the sake of the town. I tried to escape them, but it was a whole town against me. They plan to leave me in the woods to buy peace for the village. My life for theirs. Like Hans Peter's sister before me. It is so cold and so alone here. I wish I could escape this fate... But it is too late now.
Marianne Wechsler... Related to Karl Wechsler? Someone in his family? What did this mean? Had the town left this girl in the forest for the monster? Had they meant to buy the monster's peace with the life of a girl? Did someone now plan to do the same with me? It was all slipping into place. The note I had found urging the recipient to find a girl to cast as victim - that note was referring to me. Someone had chosen me to be the next girl left in the woods, at the mercy of this mythical monster. How long had this been going on? How many girls had been sacrificed out of folklore and superstition?
At least I would have less the fear in the woods than in the castle. For the monsters here existed in broad daylight. They were the people who had believed this enough to send innocent girls to their deaths. Was this what Savannah Woodham had discovered in a German castle that had scared her off ghost hunting forever? The realisation that people were the only monsters that were real?
My mind was reeling with shock and disgust at what I had pieced together. I had to find a way out. Frustrated, I swung my torch around again. There had to be something, somewhere. Please, please let me find something, I prayed. And there it was. Symbols carved into stones in the wall, symbols that seemed familiar somehow... It didn't take me long to figure out that they matched the legend pages I'd found all around the place. The door groaned open and another locking mechanism presented itself. Letter and lines. Think, Nancy, think. It took me half an hour to figure out how it worked, but when I finally finished the puzzle another door slid open and I found myself back in the passages. I kept going until I reached the steps I knew lead back to the main dungeon. My foot hit something bulky - a bag, with a monster costume and a book about the castle's legend. A costume? What did this mean?
As soon as I had entered the dungeon again I heard the door from the glass shop creaking open and footsteps approaching, and whispered snatches of conversation. I whirled around to face the dungeon and found myself face to face with Karl, Anja and a man I supposed was Markus.
"Well, look what we have here," Markus - my suspicions confirmed by his voice - said menacingly. "The girl in the necklace seems to think she can escape from her fate." He crossed his arms.
Next to him, Anja smirked. "Well, she won't get away that easily. Don't you see, Nancy? We have no choice in this. Either you go to your fate willingly or we take you by force. Your choice."
They were mad. I turned, eyes pleading, to Karl, who seemed a little nervous about the whole matter. "Karl, how can you stand here and let them do this? I know about Marianne. She was your sister, wasn't she? You would only have been Lukas' age when she disappeared, and you never saw her again. Only she didn't disappear. She was locked down here and then brought into the forest and left there, to pacify the monster. How could you stand here and let that happen to another girl?"
I could see that Karl had begun to shake, but his face remained resolute. "We had no choice, Nancy! My parents were responsible for the safety of the town. The monster was terrorising the whole town, killing everyone's livestock, burning down our houses! And now it is back and there is nothing we can do to stop it except to try and pacify it!"
Anja scoffed. "You really still believe that, Karl? You are a truly a much more stupid man that I ever thought! There is no monster, it was all just one giant publicity stunt. And it worked, didn't it? What does it matter if one detective tragically goes missing? Nancy fit the picture perfectly, and she was too nosy. And now that she knows what happened to your sister, Karl, we can hardly let her live to tell the tale."
Karl's face had turned white. "What are you saying, Anja! I saw the monster! I know it is real! How can you say it is all some sort of bad joke?" he stuttered.
Everything was fitting together now, the whole sinister plan. "It's all true what Anja said, Karl" I answered. "The monster I saw and took a photo of for you was just Markus in disguise. I found the costume in the passages under the castle. It's all just a stunt, and now they want to kill me just because I found out!"
Karl's face turned from disbelief to comprehension, then to anguish. He began to back away, horrified at what he had found out. But Markus had had enough. "Very clever, Nancy Drew. I see that I was right to 'hire' you. But sadly you won't live to tell the tale. Auf wiedersehen." He lunged towards me, but I was one step ahead of him. In an instant I turned the necklace which I had fitted into its socket on the wall behind my back to the side, and Markus went tumbling into the dungeon, landing with a muffled thump and a distinctive crack, followed by a load moan.
"Markus!" Anja flew to the side of the trapdoor, dropping to her knees. "Markus, can you hear me? Please, Markus!" She turned on me, eyes blazing. "You. This is all your fault! He could be injured down there! You've ruined everything!" Just as she was about to go for me a figure tackled her to the ground. Karl!
"You'll pay for this, Nancy Drew!" Anja hissed.
Together, Karl and I managed to reveal the whole truth about what had been going on at Castle Finster. We told the German police everything. Markus and Anja were sentenced to jail for fabricating the monster sightings and attempted murder. He had been motivated only by greed for fame and fortune, while it seemed that Anja had never gotten over him and hoped that by helping him, she could gain his love back once and for all. But the whole story was far more disturbing than the faked monster sightings.
Archives about the castle's history had revealed that from the fourteenth century, the castle's inhabitants had been so terrorised by the monster, that whenever it appeared, they kidnapped a young girl and intentionally left her deep in the woods, bound and gagged, as prey for the monster. None of the girls had ever been seen again, but each time the monster sightings had stopped. The last occurrence had been in the seventies, when a group of men had secretly kidnapped Karl's older sister. the girl who had written the note I found, as a final victim, leaving the family to grieve over her disappearance. To think that people in the twentieth century could be motivated by fear and superstition to such a degree that they would sacrifice the life on an innocent girl.
Castle Finster has been shut down and closed to the public pending investigations. I almost wish that I had never stumbled across the mystery and the castle's secrets. I don't know how I am meant to deal with the fact that the people in this small German town were so afraid of a legendary monster than they didn't realise what monsters they had become themselves.
I'm on my way home now, leaving Karl to come to terms with the fact of his sister's murder. He's thrown himself completely into new board game ideas, and before I left, mentioned that he was planning to write a history of the castle and it's dark past, so that nothing like what had happened for seven hundred years could ever happen again.