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Authors: Jonathan Aycliffe

The Matrix

BOOK: The Matrix
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Jonathan Aycliffe
was born in Belfast in 1949. He studied English, Persian, Arabic and Islamic at the universities of Dublin, Edinburgh and Cambridge, and lectured at the universities of Fez in Morocco and Newcastle upon Tyne. The author of nine full-length ghost stories, he lives in the north of England with his wife. He also writes as Daniel Easterman, under which name he has penned several bestselling thrillers. By the same author

 

 

By the same author

writing as Jonathan Aycliffe

Naomi’s Room

Whispers in the Dark

The Vanishment

The Silence of Ghosts

The Lost

The Talisman

A Shadow on the Wall

A Garden Lost in Time

writing as Daniel Easterman

The Seventh Sanctuary

The Ninth Buddha

Brotherhood of the Tomb

Night of the Seventh Darkness

The Last Assassin

THE MATRIX

JONATHAN AYCLIFFE

 

 

 

 

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
www.constablerobinson.com

First published by HarperCollins Publishers, 1994

This edition first published in the UK by Corsair,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2013

Copyright © Jonathan Aycliffe, 1994

The right of Jonathan Aycliffe to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication data is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-47211-120-3 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-47211-267-5 (ebook)

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon

Printed and bound in the UK

Cover by JoeRoberts.co.uk

 

 

To Beth:

With fond memories of my last year in Edinburgh

Acknowledgements

My thanks as always, but with undimmed enthusiasm, to my editor, Patricia Parkin, for the subtle and intelligent deployment of her skills; to Mary-Rose Doherty for her incisive and informed copy-editing; and to my wife Beth, for enjoying the stories, and for being there.

 

 

Who is the third who walks beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded . . .

T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land

‘S an fhàsach iad air seachran chaidh

an ionad falamh fàs;

Is bail’ air bith cha d’fhuaradh leo

gu còmhnuidh ann no tàmh.

Psalm 107:4

ONE

Even now, it seems strange to me that I should be writing this memoir at all. With every day and every week that passes, the whole experience takes on an air of unreality. For a moment, dark wings seem to fold about me, then there is a flutter and they are gone, and the air is clear as if they had never been. And then I listen, and the silence is silence no longer. There are sounds, familiar sounds, sounds that have no right to be there.

My rational side tells me that it was nothing more than the work of my imagination. But then I pause, transfixed by the contradiction: I am not an imaginative man. Quite the reverse. There are those who might say my powers of inventiveness atrophied in late childhood. I am an academic, a sociologist, a late-twentieth-century man of reason; not a dreamer. My approach to the phenomena I study is, as far as possible, that of a scientist: in preparing papers, I take care to censor out anything that seems coloured by personal bias or fancy, anything that derives from speculation rather than tested and testable evidence.

Was that a sound just now? I thought . . . Well, let us say . . . I will admit that I do still hear things from time to time, things no one should hear. They are in my imagination, nowhere else. If not . . .

How can it be that someone like myself, a rational man, is haunted by these nightmares, pursued in the dark hours before dawn by spectres only the most fevered imagination could create? Even in broad daylight I have been startled by sudden shadows thrown across a patch of sunlight over grass, and out of the corner of my eye I have caught sight of curious shapes scuttling away. My reason denies it, my reading and learning dismiss it; but I have seen things that I dare not think about when I am alone. There are sounds which, if I were to hear them again, would drive me mad.

I must be more systematic. If this story is to be told and if I am to attempt an analysis of what I believe I experienced, I must tackle the subject as I would any case history. In distancing myself from events, I will make my readers better able to evaluate what they read, and give myself a better opportunity to come to terms with my own experiences. If, at times, I do not succeed in preserving a detached and scientific style, you must forgive me. It is just that . . . these things are very fresh. And I think it is not over yet; these days without the darkness are just a lull.

My name is Andrew Macleod. I am thirty-three years old, having been born on the fifteenth of July, 1961. My father’s name was Calum, my mother’s Margaret. I am an only child, without brothers or sisters. My father before me was an only child, and his father before that. I understand isolation, I do not fear solitude. Or I did not until these things began.

More facts. I shall set down all the facts, so that you will know none of this is imagination, that I see and hear and think as well and as soundly as you. The facts are what separate us from children and savages. They are our best defence against our innate proneness to exaggerate and fantasize. What you will read here, I assure you, will only be facts, as far as I know them.

I was born on Lewis, the northern half of the island of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. My father taught Gaelic in the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, although he was originally a mainlander from Inverness. He had met my mother, a Lewis woman, while living in Stornoway during a summer vacation from Aberdeen university, where he was studying Gaelic and Irish; they married soon after he took his degree, and he stayed in Stornoway to teach.

It took the natives a long time to accept him. Mainland Scots are foreigners to the islanders, and it did not go down well at first that he had come to teach their children what they held to be their own language. In the end, however, his command of the tongue and of the literature within it, as well as his personal popularity with his pupils, won them over. In time, he occupied an honoured place in Stornoway society.

My upbringing was marked by a curious blend of my father’s scepticism and my mother’s simple faith. As a child, I went with her to church every Sunday. On Lewis, the Free Church of Scotland – the Wee Free as it is popularly known – was the dominant sect, in stark contrast to the Catholicism of Uist to the south. The sparseness of the church building, the Calvinistic fervour of the sermons, and the black clothes worn by both men and women remain to this day etched in my memory.

But it is the singing that haunts my deepest dreams and echoes behind and ahead of me. No one who has not heard it can imagine the eerie sound of that singing, the mournful incantation of the Gaelic metrical psalms. A precentor chants each line in turn and is followed by the congregation in a low, lilting wave of sound, a disharmony of separate voices that achieves its own harmony in the rising and falling of the words as they bind them together. There is no musical accompaniment, no organ, no harpsichord, just the lonely sound of the chanting voices and, in the long dark winters, the cruel wind keening outside, with the desolation of the vast northern seas mirrored in it. It is the music of a people born among mists and endless storms, close to the sea and to death.

I did well at school and, with my father, travelled several times to the mainland in my teens. Once, we all went to London for an entire week. The great city frightened me with its size and bustle; yet it drew me with the promise of unexplored possibilities. I dreamed of its streets and high, many-windowed buildings long after I returned to my island. On a street-map, I would trace with a mesmerized finger the routes we had taken to the sights, seeing them all again in my mind’s eye: the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Harrods. There had been more things in that one store than in all the shops and houses of Harris and Lewis put together.

My father was called on frequently to travel to spots in the Inner and Outer Hebrides, to visit schools, to talk to local institutes, and to consult with colleagues. I sometimes went with him, to North and South Uist, Benbecula, and Barra in a small boat sailed by a local fisherman. On other occasions, we went by McBrayne’s steamer past Skye and the Kyle of Lochalsh, to Mallaig on the west coast of the mainland. The train between Mallaig and Fort William was the first I ever saw.

I shall always remember the last time we made the journey back from Mallaig to Stornoway. We boarded the steamer at ten in the morning, sailing slowly down the Sound of Sleat and up to the Kyle of Lochalsh, where we waited for the afternoon tide. It was December and a bright, crisp day. Soon after we left, evening began to fall. I stood with my father on deck, silent and lost in thought. To the west, the sun was sinking in a golden sky behind the dark shadows of the inner isles of Scalpay, Raasay and Rona, and the purple hills of Skye. To the east, a vast carpet of stars was being unrolled above the mountains of the mainland: Beinn Bhan, Maol Chean-dearg, and Beinn Alligin, and great Beinn Eighe towering above them all. We sailed between them into the night, out into the stormy waters of the North Minch. Hours passed in darkness, the steamer itself a tiny island, ploughing through cold waters into the unknown. And then, out in the distance, a light appeared and was soon followed by others – the lights of Stornoway beckoning to us as if from beyond the world.

It was on those journeys with my father that the other side of my character was formed. He too had been brought up a Presbyterian, in a pious Calvinist family of Inverness, but he had lost his faith early. He thought of himself as a freethinker and a rationalist, and I suppose he was, though in some matters he was far from rational. Through him I learned to use my mind, to question all I was told in school or church. It took me much longer to learn to question what he said as well. By the time I was fifteen, I had joined him in my unfaith, a matter which my mother accepted with resignation. She was a Calvinist, after all, and to her everything was predestined. If I were one of the elect, it would not damn me to abandon my faith; if I were not, no amount of prayers or psalms or sermons would serve to bring me salvation.

I wonder now if I am saved or damned by what I have known. I fear damnation as not even the staunchest elder of my mother’s church could fear it, and I doubt salvation as not even the most surely damned can doubt it. The words have held new meanings for me these three years and more.

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