ExtractRead the first chapters of the novel Virtually



A knot of darkness was all it was at first, a tangle of diffuse images and impressions, like an unpleasant memory balled up and shunted far back in his brain. He strived to call it forth and it eeled away from him; he strived to forget and it edged forwards, darkening his thoughts.

What was it? Where did it spring from? How he wished he knew. He did his best to puzzle it out, plucking answers from his mind that seemed at one moment to fit, seemed the next wholly spurious. A rogue fantasy? A buried memory? Whatever it was, it lay far out of reach, beyond all conscious recall, now bobbing to the surface of his mind, now sinking back down into the deeps, offering mere glimpses, tantalizing glimpses.

Until he slept. Until dreams came. When at last, it awoke.

He dreamt he was in a house, the house of his soul. He opened the windows, two windows, letting in the light of reason. It was glorious. Such brilliance! But something was wrong. He found himself shunning the light, drifting away from it, deep into darkness. He had to find something, somewhere in this house of himself.

Stumbling along the corridors of memory, he came upon a locked and boarded up room. There was a sign at the door: Do Not Enter. He crept closer, an indefinable fear coursing ticklishly through his veins, filling him with a strangely pleasurable dread. Without meaning to, without even trying, he found himself peering inside. Through the gnarled slats of the door he glimpsed, and only glimpsed, what lay within. Appropriately enough, it took the shape of a nightmare, frozen in paint on a canvas. Under a sky pregnant with fire agonized figures were writhing, scrabbing at waxy flesh-dripping faces, exposing the bone, red toothy grins, mouths sagging wide as they screamed silent screams....

Suddenly, he was cold. Chilled through to the bone. The boarded-up nightmare room flooded with light, blinding white. As consciousness came and the dark grisly dream-images scattered and fled, he reached out for them, groping, grasping, desperate to catch hold of them. Just as in his waking hours, they eluded him, leaving him with... nothing. Almost nothing. Simply an impression of something being wrong, slightly off, a feeling of being somewhere else. Somewhen else. Then it was gone. All of it: gone. Only reality remained, stark, sterile, safe.

And so damned cold. As J. rolled back the covers, the skin on his arms pricked and prickled with gooseflesh. His vision was hazy, his eyes clogged by a gummy rheum. He blinked it away. His vision was still hazy. My God, he thought, seized by an irrational moment of panic, am I going blind?

But it was just frost on the windowpane, making the outside world a smear of blue and white. He yawned, exhaled in short puffs, and his breath condensed on the air in cold plumes of vapour.

Bloody heating system, he thought. Packed in again. Only just fixed, too. "Won't have any problems with that, inside of five years," the repairman had assured him, stowing away a spanner and piece of copper tubing in his toolbox. J. took up the spanner. The repairman's grin melted away, his look changing first to one of bemusement, then horror, as the heavy chunky spanner was raised aloft and brought crunchingly down on -

- not fully awake. Drifting off. He sat up, shook his head. What was he thinking? Oh yes, the repairman. Like to cave his face in. Mental note: call him up, get him to do the job properly. Tricky though. Done on the sly, cash-in-hand. No guarantee for the work done. Probably have to pay him again, he thought, the sodding sod.

He wondered what the time was. The digital clock was wired up to the mains along with the heating system, except not wired up very well, jury-rigged - he had done it himself. The clock must have gone off with the heating system, sometime in the middle of the night. By the strength of the sun he guessed it was fairly late, well past time for him to be up and out and at work.

Psyching himself for the wrench of leaving the snug warmth of his covers, he dashed out of bed and over to the wardrobe, shivering as he pulled freezing clothes over his nice-and-warm body.

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Buy the e-book version of Virtually online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

The paperback version is available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk and in North America from Amazon.com.


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