ExtractRead the first chapters of the novel Virtually

"This is nice," she said. "If nice is the word. Touching, anyway." She began to recite, her voice hushed, gently poetic, eliciting the emotion the words themselves were meant to elicit, softly sad, enabling the full meaning of the poem to be unlocked:

"When bony Death has chilled her gentle blood,

And dimmed the brightness of her eyes,

And changed her glorious beauty into mud

By his old skill in hateful wizardries."

He listened, dumbstruck. "Good God. That's unbelievable." He took the book from her. Masefield. Collected poems. There it was all right. When Bony Death. "That's been going through my mind all evening. Except I couldn't place it. Incredible." Then he had an idea. He closed the book, relaxed his grip, let the book fall open. When Bony Death. He had had a passion for that poem like no other, ruining the spine of the book in that one place. Not such a coincidence.

"Must be off," she said. And with a further scattering of apologies, she left.

When all the roses that she sowed in me

Have dripped their crimson petals and decayed....

Those were the lines that had most captivated him. Yet he hadn't remembered those, only the ones about death. It was all part of the sly stealthy workings of his subconscious. Softly softly. He knew now what it meant, the memory and the poem that had leaked though and violated the natural order of his thoughts. It wasn't the suicide. He had been right about that. His mind had tried to swindle him, but he wasn't having any of that. The death that he saw was Anne-Yvonne's. The fire, the flesh dripping from the bone: her death.

It made no sense. He told himself, This makes no sense! But it wasn't true. The fact that he had foreseen her death, admittedly, made no sense whatsoever. How? Why? The fact that that was what he had seen, however, made perfect sense. It explained it all. He still couldn't examine it, save a fragment here and there, lacking in detail, couldn't hope to know for certain. All the same, he knew. His heart was a barometer, his budding feelings for Anne-Yvonne predicting what was to come: stormy times and blackness. It wasn't a repressed memory, though he could understand why he had mistaken it for one. It was a fore-memory, a glimpse of something yet to be.

It seemed perfectly natural for it to be there, as if clairvoyant visions popped into his head every second of every day. Maybe they did. Maybe he had simply never noticed them before. Perhaps they had been too diffuse, unspecific, coming to him, say, in the form of a knot of unease as he stepped out onto the street. What's wrong? He hesitates. A car hurtles past, a car that would have struck him, killed him. Is something wrong? Have I left the cooker on? But the danger has passed. The unease can dissipate. There's nothing wrong, he tells himself, and walks on, none the wiser.

... dripped their crimson petals....

What roses had Anne-Yvonne sown in him? Just a fragment of one ruined evening together, and already there were roses there, blossoming in his heart. Perhaps that was the difference. Perhaps that was why this clairvoyant vision, instead of passing through him, had stuck: the potential for love. Potential? Hell, why deny it: he was in love. His repressed memory (not all that repressed, now that he thought about it, because he had remembered Sandra only a few weeks ago, had bumped into an old college friend and reminisced and listened to his platitudes. "Sandra? Yes, wasn't it sad...") - this partially repressed memory may have acted like a photographic plate, something on which to store the image that had popped into his mind from who-knew-where and so stop it from being lost. He had loved Sandra too. But perhaps that was a sheer irrelevance. A coincidence. He didn't know. Questions, questions. What connection did the running version of the 7000 model have? Any? None? Why didn't the prospect of being clairvoyant startle him? Except he had an answer to that last one: because he couldn't alter anything. The future was fixed. He ought to have been devastated by what he saw, and wasn't, because it was as if it had already happened. The future stretched before him just as the past stretched behind, unalterable, inevitable.

Available for purchase now

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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