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Verse in a Time of Virus

A Piece of Flash Fiction Coloured by Covid

It’s hard to write anything when our heads are full of the Coronavirus currently rampaging the globe, so here’s a short piece of Flash Fiction (under 500 words) inspired not only by the virus but, more importantly, literature. It’s constructed from the openings of a number of (very famous) books. How many can you spot referenced here?


If only this were a book that could be replaced upon the shelf. If only this were the best of times instead of the worst of times. If only things were normal, the way they are in Privet Drive. If only this remarkable incident could stay 20,000 leagues under the sea. Instead, it lurks around the corner of a street that – on TV – looks just like yours or mine. Suddenly, Jane Eyre is not the only person being told there is no possibility of taking a walk today.

Out in the backwaters of our unregarded yellow sun, the world has changed into a place where the clock striking thirteen no longer strikes us strange. Where grandmothers can explode without comment. The invisible man has come to a town near you, near me, carrying that little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand.  We wonder at what’s inside. To open it is to open Pandora’s Box.

Perhaps you believe that if Eustace Clarence Scrubb almost deserved it then, probably, so did the rest of us. Perhaps you believe it was inevitable. And perhaps we will wake tomorrow and discover that we have all been transformed into gigantic insects. Nothing seems sure anymore.

But one thing remains true. The past is a different country, where things were, indeed, done differently. Go between home and shop to see just what panic has made of us. Our supermarket-selves will determine whether we sit on the balcony with Dr Robert Laing – eating the dog – or if we can still become the hero of our own lives. And just as the pages of David Copperfield will show the answer, so will time.

Yet, if this were a book, those of you interested in stories with happy endings, might do as Lemony Snicket advises and simply read some other book, this one replaced upon the shelf, its message lost. Remember this: that stories can be re-written; that opening lines are just the beginning. And though we may be full of nightmares now, we can still dream of Manderlay again. After all, it is only once upon a time.

Read last month’s post The Ides of March and Whether you Should Beware here.

This month’s OFF THE SHELF book review is THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS: LETTERS FROM A SENIOR TO A JUNIOR DEVIL. If you are looking for something different to read, click the review here.

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