It’s been a rather hectic week here at JFC, which unfortunately means I haven’t had the opportunity to conjure up a proper post, far less the two I was aiming for.
Every cloud, however, has a silver lining and this particular batch of cumulo-nimbus is no exception. It’s all very well me banging on about writing and marketing and suchlike, but the proof of the pudding is in the reading, if you’ll excuse the mangling of a metaphor. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is and offer up a snippet of my own writing.
So, without further ado, allow me to introduce the beginning of Chapter 1 from Dark Energies – my soon-to-be-self-published first novel:
Why am I writing this? An excellent question. Maybe to try and make sense of the events of the past few months by putting them in some kind of order. Maybe to diminish the fear and confusion by sharing them with someone else. Or maybe just to convince myself that there is still a real, mundane world out there somewhere, by picturing you, my friends, sitting with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine on a comforting sofa, calmly and rationally reading this account. By the way, I hope you’ll allow me the indulgence of calling you friends. Because, right at the moment, I need all the friends I can get.
Another question: How did this start? Before we’re through, there will be a whole lot more. This is where I could opt for the classic opening territory of “Once upon a time…” or “In a land far far way…” If only both of those were true, then my situation would be a lot easier to deal with. Knowing how this all ends would also comfort me greatly. But it isn’t once upon a time, it’s not far away and it certainly hasn’t ended yet. So I’ll go back to where it did begin and ask you to stick with me through this.
It began on the morning I saw myself on the Underground.
Sitting on the Tube, my whole body vibrating queasily from a combination of lack of sleep and a drink-thick head, I felt myself starting to drift. A not wholly unpleasant sensation, allowing me to tune out the incessant screech of the wheels against the tracks and inure myself to the sharply invasive floral scent wafting off the woman to my right. A jolt of the train brought me brutally back to the carriage and straight into a nauseatingly claustrophobic bout of déjà-vu. Sure enough, I’d been on the same journey many times – every working day for almost four years – but this time everything felt different by virtue of being exactly the same.
Every word, every phrase, each nod of the head and tut of disapproval had played themselves out before, in this exact same carriage, in this exact same seat. Complaints about colleagues and workloads, tales of distant relatives and their ailments, inane chatter about the minutiae of daily life all spooled through the compact space of the train, exact replicas of their previous selves. Most unsettling was that I had no sense of how long this would last, at what point the conversations would cease to be echoes of themselves, or indeed, if the experience were destined to carry on eternally and the rest of my life be one long repeat. Attempting to shake off the disorientating sensation, I blinked rapidly a couple of times, snapped my head up sharply and turned to look down the carriage. It was then, with a jarring flash of recognition, that I saw myself.
From my seat at one end of the crowded carriage, as the throng of bodies swayed, parted, then re-formed, I saw the impossible. I was wearing a different jacket, olive-green corduroy, somewhat faded, of a style I knew I had never owned. My hair was longer and fashionably unkempt, sculpted into casual untidiness through the studied application of some kind of gel or wax. The jeans were black, rather than my customary, blending-in blue. But it was undoubtedly, categorically me. The same rectangular face and square chin, the same crook in the long thin nose imparted by an errant tackle in a schoolboy rugby match. He turned the pages of his paperback carefully with what my grandmother had always called my “piano-player’s fingers.”
Déjà-vu had never felt like this. I squinted through the gaps at the not-quite mirror-image for a few seconds longer, then shut my eyes, focusing on the hangover that buzzed like a nest of hornets inside my skull. Normality began to re-assert its painful yet oddly re-assuring presence. The train slowed, the sideways pressure of applied brakes leaving my head and stomach a couple of seats to my left. As the doors hissed open and a tinny smell of hydraulics filled the carriage, I opened my eyes and ventured a swift leftward glance. My alter-ego was no longer in the seat. Of course he wasn’t. He never could have been. Relief welled up inside me, vying with private embarrassment at my own foolishness. Both were shattered as a voice I knew all too well rang out from further down the carriage.
“Excuse me! Mind your backs.”
At the sound of my own voice, my spine froze and I looked up to see him pushing through the crowd at the door, hand in hand with a young woman whose dark hair curled softly down to skim the top of her narrow shoulders. For a moment, even my doppelgänger faded into the scenery until there was nothing left but her. Then they were through the crowd and stepping to the platform. The doors hissed shut. As the train began to pull away I jumped from my seat and craned to get a view through the grimy windows. I saw no-one but an elderly Romany woman in a grubby headscarf pushing a pram filled with carrier bags along the empty platform. The train accelerated and all was lost to the pitch-black maw of the tunnel.
For a long while I thought this sighting was the moment when the subsequent chain of events had been set in motion. I now believe the true genesis was thirty-six hours earlier on that dismal March Monday evening.
To be continued…