A worldwide hunt has been launched for the words in a short story after a screenwriter handwrote an extra tale in the first 1,000 copies of his debut novel — adding a single word to each edition.

The Apparition Phase was written by Will Maclean, an Emmy award-winning writer, who has worked on TV comedies including Shaun the Sheep. It follows twins obsessed with the paranormal growing up in the 1970s. They forge a ghost photograph and unwittingly release a malevolent power.

For 1,000 readers who ordered the book through a first edition club, there is a second tale in its pages — a short story written word by word into numbered editions, which can only be read when all 1,000 copies are compiled. “I wanted to do something that made those first 1,000 copies special,” Maclean said. “I spend a lot of time in second-hand bookshops and I see a lot of books that have fallen by the wayside. So I thought — what would make these special?”

So far 131 of the words have been compiled by eager readers on social media, and Maclean didn’t expect the hidden story to come together so quickly. “I thought it would be [found] but maybe 100 years after I’ve died,” he said. “I thought nobody would care.”

The short story ties into the plot of the novel and contains another clue to something in the book — though Maclean would not be drawn on the clue. “The book is a ghost story,” he said. “But it’s also a mystery and there are unanswered questions in it. So I wanted to address some of those questions elsewhere but I didn’t expect people to go this nuts for it, which is great. It’s lovely to have that happen. If you bought the book it wouldn’t matter if you’ve read this but it picks up a couple of loose ends.”

“I spend a lot of time in second-hand bookshops and I see a lot of books that have fallen by the wayside. So I thought—what would make these special?”

Each edition is numbered and the number corresponds to the order of the words in the story. A note inside the book explained that the words would look meaningless on their own but could be pieced back together again. Despite the hints, the words found so far give away little of what the story might be. The story begins with “my” and concludes with “worth having”. So far the longest phrase compiled reads “instruments of superstition”.

Maclean added: “There’s the word ‘awful’ in it somewhere, so someone has a book with ‘awful’ written in it too.”

The books were sent out to club members in America, Australia and elsewhere by Goldsboro Bookshop in Covent Garden, central London. David Headley, the club’s managing director, said that he hadn’t expected anyone to put the story together. “I thought it would be too much,” he said. “But the determination has boosted it. It’s brought readers together.”

The tale so far …

1 my; 37 for; 50 ahead; 51 to; 57 tentatively; 65 a; 91 quarter; 109 application; 113 period; 126 quarters; 127 I; 151 will; 153 directed; 155 that; 173 of; 187 I; 195 I; 221 forced; 222 to; 227 school; 242 which; 246 incarnated; 262 I; 266 I; 272 an; 278 hard; 294 I; 301 the; 325 a; 342 instruments; 343 of; 344 superstition; 347 I; 366 very; 368 like; 379 sure; 380 but; 382 think; 389 determine; 390 the; 394 for; 402 be; 405 vanguard; 406 of; 414 to; 419 affairs; 452 British; 459 my; 468 my; 492 trips; 504 such; 515 to; 528 work; 561 myself; 562 probably; 571 over; 585 do; 587 in; 588 my; 590 give; 597 the; 624 played; 632 like; 633 the; 650 English; 654 the; 666 words; 673 in; 676 burial; 690 of; 698 that; 705 to; 708 new; 716 it; 742 live; 743 on; 746 I; 748 provoke; 765 continue; 775 moist; 777 incandescent; 785 available; 802 said; 804 simple; 805 facts; 818 lives; 834 t’ward; 840 I; 847 it; 849 fun; 868 aren’t; 895 I; 900 describe; 907 when; 909 glance; 911 ugly; 912 branches; 913 of; 922 on; 924 television; 939 and; 953 them; 959 my; 963 that; 970 in; 972 woods; 974 the; 977 is; 986 sometimes; 996 the; 999 worth; 1,000 having.