ExtractRead the first chapters of the novel Virtually

He read the poem through again, hoping it would make things make more sense.

It didn't. The last lines -

Then grant, old Time, to my green mouldering skull,

These songs may keep her memory beautiful.

- they were of a piece with the rest, but had no bearing, didn't register, failed to move him.

Thumbing through the book, he came upon another poem which had once touched him. The Death Rooms.

My soul has many an old decaying room

Hung with a ragged arras of the past

So that was where the image had come from. Clearly the memory of the suicide was a vital part of the whole after all.

He found it incredible. He hadn't read either poem since... ages ago, when he was a student. Twenty years at least. It was astonishing, the things the mind grasped hold of, never to let go. Astonishing, the things of great import, that slipped away and died an easy death. Such as... well, he didn't know, he had forgotten them.

He set the book back in the bookcase then went to check on Mr. Sorensen. A man after his own heart. "Nearly finished?" he inquired, without the least trace of recrimination. The junction box was still an explosion of blackened wires, with just one or two of them replaced and reconnected. In the hour or so he had been at it, he had made almost no progress. But then, his slow plodding way of working was the reason J. kept faith in him. Any other repairman - whap! bang! - in and done and gone in five seconds flat. Not Sorensen. He was an artist. He understood about these things. You needed patience, it took time.

Or anyway, that was one way of looking at it. A very flattering way. Really, he was just a bumbling fool.

"Cup of tea?"

"Love one."

And under Sorensen's faintly mocking eyes - he was doubtless wondering why anyone would choose to do it this way rather than simply whisking up a perfect cuppa at the press of a button - J. boiled the kettle, warmed the pot, let the tea brew, revelling in the luxury of a few minutes wasted.





It continued to gnaw at him, though not in quite the same way: once like a worm, a maggot eating away at the flesh of his mind, gorging itself before it pupated and metamorphosed into... God knew what; now, it was like a disease, riddling his mind with sickness, a disease whose symptoms he had been slow to recognize, never having come across it before, in the flesh. The worst part of it was over, the blind fever of not knowing. He understood it now, could seek a cure. It was a glimpse of what was yet to be, pregnant with foreboding. And the best treatment seemed to be the one he had inadvertently been following all along: simply leave it alone. Resisting the urge to scratch. It only inflamed it, scratching.

It was funny, in a way. Ironic. He had never believed in such things before, astrology and mediums and all that psychic mumbo jumbo and paranormal tripe. Only a few days ago he had verbally savaged just such a pretender, who had accosted him outside the main entrance of Virtual Enterprises with his grubby hand outstretched, expecting his palm to be crossed with plastic, babbling about how he possessed unimaginable powers and could gaze into the vast all-seeing mirror of the unknown. The scientist in him had violently rebelled. It always did. He had no tolerance for charlatans like that. The future these people predicted was always so hackneyed and unspecific: you'll come into money, meet a tall dark stranger, I hear a voice asking for... Mark?... Martin?... Mandy? Even in the midst of a technological era these phoney psychics couldn't be shaken off, indeed seemed, right now, to be flourishing. The more complex the world became, the deeper became the yearning for a simple, mindless solution to man's problems. And what better than the oldest, simplest one of all, the answer to all the mysteries of the world since time immemorial: that somewhere, governing this rock of ours, giving order and meaning to all the impure lumps of carbon and water crawling about on its surface, there was something ineffable, existing beyond the bounds of time and space, call it God, call it Fate, call it what you will. Utter twaddle all of it, peddled by fools, bought by idiots. He had never been taken in.

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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