Archive for September, 2010

(Nearly) Tuesday’s Ten Minute Tale – the result!

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Okey-dokey, here we go.  Thanks to Nicole for “dishwasher” and Gillian for “fret”.  No third word today, sorry.


(c) Martin Livings 29-9-2010

I sit on the darkened stage, waiting for the spotlights to kick in.  I can see the audience shuffling around in front of me, getting into their seats, chatting quietly amongst each other.  My heart is racing, bouncing against my ribs like it wants to break out and run away, hurtle down the aisles and out one of the all-too-distant doors with the green exit signs above them.  I force myself to breathe deeply, calmly.  This is it.  A lifetime of working shitty jobs, a dishwasher in a Nepalese restaurant, a garbage collector for the council, a telephone salesperson for one insurance company or another.  All leading up to this.  The performance of a lifetime.

More people are seated now, the hubbub quietening.  I look down at the guitar in my hands, a beaten-up old Yamaha acoustic I’ve had for as long as I can remember.  It feels familiar in my hands, like an old friend, like a part of my body.  The strings, though, they’re new, new and very special.  Barely played, just carefully tuned.  Ready for this night, this performance.

They’ll never forget it, I guarantee.

The house lights dim, and two spotlights pierce the air, landing right on me.  There is a ripple of polite applause.  I smile at them, but don’t speak, don’t even have a microphone to do so.  All the sound will be from the guitar, amped and ready.  I reach behind my ear and pull out a plastic pick, then, without making a chord, I strum it across the strings, E A D G B E.

The pick falls to pieces in my hand, clatters inside the hollow body of the guitar, sliced by the razor sharp wires pulled taut across the guitar in place of normal strings.  This is it, my magnum opus.  Music should be dangerous, not the safe, soft pap that dominates the airwaves, crowds out the charts with child-friendly, inoffensive melodies and lyrics.  No, it should have an edge.  A razor’s edge, if possible.  Music shouldn’t just affect the listener, but the player as well.  Change them.  Mutilate them.

I place my left hand on the neck of the guitar with some care, then, tentatively, form an A-chord.  I wince as the wires bite into my fingertips as I press them into the frets.  There’s a moment’s resistance, then it gives way, and something wet runs down my hand and arm.

I’m ready.

I drop what’s left of the pick, and strum the strings with my fingers.

The first stroke removes my fingertips cleanly.  The pain is hot and intense, and makes me shiver; there’s a gasp of horror from the audience as they realise what’s happening.  That first strum is soft, but I grit my teeth and strum again, and again, harder and harder.  Each time, more of me is taken away, a sacrificial offering to the music.  I feel bone hit the wires now, which adds a deeper, stronger note to the chords, like using a pick again.  But the wire is industrial grade, diamond-infused, and even the bone can’t withstand it, not for long.

There’s blood all over the guitar now, so much blood, and slices of me run down its body like crimson slugs.  I change chords, to a D, and fresh pain blooms in my left hand.  The gasps of the audience have turned to shrieks, and even with the spotlights and tears in my eyes, I can see people staggering to their feet, trying to get away.  I smile despite the agony.  This is exactly how I’d imagined it.  No comfortable enjoyment, but confrontation, a challenge for both artist and audience.  It’s how music should be.

My fingers are all but gone now, and I’m strumming with the stumps of them.  I change chords again, to a bar chord, a B, then I flinch and slide it up to an E.  The pain is minimal, surprisingly so, but my entire left index finger comes away in six even chunks and rolls off the guitar into my lap.  I shift my remaining fingers to maintain a chord, any chord, but the blood is so slippery, the flesh so spongy and wet, that it’s hard.  It doesn’t matter any more, though.  I’m approaching the big finale.

I stop strumming, hold my ruined right hand above the guitar and let the mangled chord sustain for a few seconds.  Then, with one fluid motion, I hit one last power chord, striking the strings with my wrist.  My hand flies off and hits the boards by my feet with a wet slap, followed by a torrent of blood from the stump of my arm.  I angle my head back, eyes closed, and enjoy the reaction, the screams, the sounds of vomiting, chairs being pushed over and smashed, feet pounding.

It’s music to my ears.

(Almost) Tuesday’s Ten Minute Tale – the setup!

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Here we go yet again, and still not quite on a Tuesday!  The first three people to post with a word, phrase, topic, theme, name, or whatever, dictate the direction of the story. I’ll endeavour to incorporate all three suggestions, and write it within ten minutes of receiving the third post, work allowing. Then I’ll post the result.  Hilarity ensues.  Or not.

I Am Legend (Shrimp) – or, up yours, China Mieville…

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

At his Hugo Award acceptance speech at Worldcon in Melbourne recently, China Mieville stated, and I paraphrase only slightly, that Sea Monkeys are shit.

I choose to stand against such vile and hateful assertions.  To whit, I give you:

This is Brian.  Brian Shrimp.  And he is the sole survivor of my most recent – and, tragically, least successful – colony of Sea Monkeys.  All the others perished, but Brian has survived.  And not just for a day or two, but for weeks and weeks after the others have met their maker (possibly Harold von Braunhut).

My God, if there was but a surviving female as well, imagine the new breed of super Sea Monkey that would arise from the ashes of this lost civilisation.  But sadly, Brian is the last of his kind, surrounded by the corpses of his fellow brine shrimp.

If he survives long enough, I might start a new colony, raise it for a while, then introduce Brian into them.  Brian Shrimp, a God mixing with mere mortals, an Apollo amongst Artemia.  What a sight to behold.

Sea Monkeys are not shit, China.  Brian Shrimp is living proof.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday’s Ten Minute Tale – the result!

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Okey-dokey, here we go.  Thanks to Kathryn for “speakeasy”, Tehani for “zombie”, and Ben for “James Elroy”.

“Murder By Inadequacy”

(c) Martin Livings 22-9-2010

It was a typical Spring day in the city that never slept, but occasionally blacked out in fits of caffiene-induced narcolepsy.  The sun shone from a impersonal distance, shedding light but little warmth, and the air was cool, the usual stench of broken dreams kept to a minimum by a pleasant breeze that danced through the streets and alleys, whispering sweet lies in our ears, giving the millions of city dwellers the false hope that, yes, it was all going to be okay.

I knew it wasn’t.  So did the stiff lying in the gutter.  He knew it was definitely not all going to be okay.

“Asswipe,” the patrolman behind me muttered.

I turned and faced him, quick anger staining my cheeks.  “What the fuck?” I snapped.

He shied away like I’d grown horns and a tail.  It wasn’t even that time of the month for me.  I felt offended.

“Asswipe, ma’am,” he said again, and pointed to the corpse.  “That guy.  He was an asswipe.”

“How the hell would you know that?”

“He’s a card-carrying member.”  And with that, the beat cop held out a bloodied cardboard rectangle.  I took it from him and looked at it.

The Australian Society of Speculative Writers, Illustrators, Publishers and Editors

“Ahh,” I said with a smile, a smile that held a tinge of contempt.  “He’s a specky.”

The cop nodded.  “Yep.  Sad, hey?  You’d think he could do better.  Romance, maybe, or crime.  Hell, even porn would be an improvement!”

I couldn’t argue that.  Sure, the stiff was a writer.  Everyone in Literopolis was.  I worked on my historical novel set in the middle ages in Eastern Europe whenever I got a chance, between homicides and cats stuck up trees.  And I knew the patrolman here was chipping away at his treatise on 1920’s speakeasies.  But to sink so low as to write spec-fic… that was just pathetic.  Like painting with your own shit.  Might as well just give up, get the hell out of Dodge.  Move to one of the other towns, where you could collect garbage or lick stamps all day.  Give someone else a chance here.

“Damn, I hate the speckies,” the patrolman was saying, his upper lip curled in disgust.

“You’re clearly not alone,” I observed.  I knelt beside the body.  A single bullet wound to the chest, fired at close range judging by the powder burns to his cheap checked shirt.  There was some burnt paper visible around the hole in his shirt, stained with blood.  “What’s this, then?”


I reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a folded manuscript, no more than a few pages.  I unfolded it, wiping the blood away as much as I could, and looked at it closely.

“Dead Men Don’t Charleston”
By Ma…

The rest of the name was obscured by blood.  I scanned through some of the text, eyes becoming wider.  Then I spun around and faced the cop.  And his gun, which was free of its holster and pointed straight at me.

“You?” I asked.  “Why?  Why the hell?”

“I…”  The policeman swallowed, hard.  His eyes filled with tears.  “You don’t understand, ma’am!  I’ve been writing my book for thirteen years.  Thirteen years!” he screamed, and the muzzle of the gun shivered in the air.  I shivered in sympathy myself.  “Then this little shit writes a stupid story about a zombie in a speakeasy, sends it off to some small press publisher, and you know what?  It gets picked up.  It gets published!

It was my turn to shy away from  him now.  “Jesus, pal, don’t be an idiot.  he’s a goddamn specky!

“A published specky!” he yelled.  “Thirteen years, and not a credit to my name, and this guy is published! Well, I’ll show him.  They’ll be lining up around the block for my book now!”  He grinned, and I saw his finger tighten on the trigger.  “If I can’t be famous, I’ll be infamous.”

I flinched.  This couldn’t be how it ended, gunned down like a third string character in a James Elroy novel.  But unless a miracle happened, that was what I’d be.  A footnote in his autobiography.  Bragging rights in the Big House.

Then a miracle happened.

A tiny hole appeared in the middle of the cop’s forehead. A thin tendril of smoke emerged, and his expression changed from furious glee to one of odd confusion.  He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but didn’t manage any words other than “buh?”.

He collapsed to the ground, dead.

In the alleyway behind him, I caught a glimpse of a short woman in a trenchcoat.  She was putting away a weapon that was all silver and curved and like nothing I’d ever seen before.  Her eyes found mine, and she smiled and waved, then, inexplicably, she pixellated and vanished.

I was left there, alone in the street, with two dead men at my feet and a blood-stained business card in my hand.  I looked at it again.


A strange smile played at the corner of my mouth.  It seemed the speckies looked after their own.

I wondered how I could become a member.

Tuesday’s… no, wait, Wednesday’s Ten Minute Tale – the setup!

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Here we go yet again, and getting closer to the legendary Tuesday!  The first three people to post with a word, phrase, topic, theme, name, or whatever, dictate the direction of the story. I’ll endeavour to incorporate all three suggestions, and write it within ten minutes of receiving the third post, work allowing. Then I’ll post the result.

Great review of Grants Pass on Albedo One

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Thanks to Mark Deniz for pointing this one out… Albedo One reviews Grants Pass here:

Lots of stories get really nice mentions in this very very positive review, including mine:

“Martin Living’s “Ascension” however takes us beyond the Earth and is a great tale about astronauts stranded in the International Space Station, removed from the plagues and safe from it, but unable to return home.”

If you haven’t bought this book yet… why not???  Go get it!

Thursday’s Ten Minute Tale – the result!

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Okey-dokey, here we go.  Thanks to Andrew for “malaise”, rabbit1080 for “marketing plan”, and David for “free climbing”

“Working Hell”

(c) Martin Livings 16-9-2010

Another day, another day less to live.  That’s about the only comfort I have at the moment.  I sit in my office alone, dealing with thirty thousand tiny problems every day, a never-ending stream of malaise-inducing minutiae which passes through me like a double-chili burrito, leaving me feeling empty and sore and sickened.  I don’t know why I’m here, apart from the obvious; work equals money, money equals security, security equals… what, exactly?  Nobody ever seems to follow the equation through, expand it to its logical conclusion.

We all know what the conclusion is.  Death.  So what’s the point exactly?

My phone rings.  There’s a student computer out of order in one of the upstairs labs in building ten, seems a bright spark spilled Coca Cola all over it, creating another bright spark then a whole lot of smoke.  I sigh, grab the trolley from the storeroom, and head out of my office, all open space and exposed, nothing to offer solace of shelter to the soul.  This place I spend over a third of my life, and it has all the vitality and comfort and humanity of a block of black perspex, one by four by nine.  All the creativity and artistry of a corporate marketing plan, designed by committee and implemented by faceless drones to create more faceless drones.  I hate it.

My office is on the second floor of a building with no elevator.  It was clearly built back when the university didn’t give a damn about accessibility.  You can’t handle stairs? it seems to ask.  Up yours.  Try free climbing the goddamn walls instead, retard. But there’s a walkway to the next building, which does have a lift.  I cross it, the wan spring sunshine doing nothing to remove the chill from my heart.  It’s Thursday.  Not the worst day of the week, not Monday, and not the second worst either, Wednesday, that awful half-way mark where you can no longer remember the previous weekend nor imagine the next.  But Thursday is pretty awful, the cock-tease day, dangling Friday in front of your nose, still out of reach though.  The walkway is mercifully short, and I’m plunged back into the gloomy half-light of the building opposite mine.  There’s the lift, which looks old enough to be steam powered.  Thankfully it’s already on this floor, as it’s possibly the slowest lift in the universe.  I climb in and press the button for the ground floor.

I wait.  The “1” light disappears, but it moves so slowly that I can barely tell that it’s moving at all.  Then the “G” lights up, and I prepare to leave the lift.

It doesn’t stop.

I frown as the “G” light turns off again.  I can still feel it moving, almost imperceptible, but definitely still descending.  It rumbles and trembles, and more time passes.  I press the “G” button a few more times, uselessly but irresistibly.  The lift keeps on falling.

Then finally it stops.  The doors don’t open.  I can hear noises from beyond them, though.  Voices crying out.  At first I think maybe I’ve gone to one of the performance studios by accident, that maybe there’s a secret basement area used by the drama academy for practicing their choir pieces.  But if this is a choir piece, it’s like none I’ve ever heard before.  Discordant and arrhythmic, it’s less like music, and more like…

Like torture.  Like souls crying out in torment.  My blood freezes in my veins.  There’s a smell in the lift, seeping through the tiny cracks in its walls and door, a smell of sulfur and pain.  I get closer to the metal doors and sniff.  It’s much stronger, and the wailing voices louder.  I put my ear to the doors…

Pain!  I stagger backwards, and clap one hand to my burnt ear.  The doors are red hot.  I look at them warily.  They start to open, and I flinch from the inevitable inferno that must lie beyond them.

There’s a puff of smoke that enters the lift, stinking of brimstone and pus, but apart from that, all I see is a beige corridor stretching out before me.  There are no doors on either side.  I hesitate, press the “G” button a couple more times, but nothing happens.  So I step out of the elevator, leaving the trolley behind.

The doors immediately close behind me, sharply, viciously, like metal teeth clacking shut.  I spin, and notice that there’s no call button here.  No way back.

Only forward.

I walk down the corridor for what seems like hours.  I check my iPhone to see what time it is, but it doesn’t seem to want to turn on.  Its screen isn’t black, though, it’s beige, like the walls around me.  I sigh and continue.  My legs are aching, but more than that, my soul itself hurts.  I look back, to see the exact same thing as I see before me, an endless putty-coloured corridor.  I continue.  My eyes are watering and sore, from the lack of detail.  It’s as if I’m blind.

Then, ahead, something new.  As I approach, I see it’s the end of the corridor, and a door, a slightly darker brown than the walls around it.  It gets larger and larger, until I’m standing before it.  It has a tiny sign on it.

welcome to hell

I don’t hesitate.  I open the door and step through.

It’s my fucking office.  The open plan layout, my desk facing the door, the others arranged around the large room.  I blink, and look back over my shoulder.  The beige corridor is gone.  Instead it’s the ordinary hallway outside my office.  I’m back where I started.

My phone is ringing on my desk.  I walk over unsteadily and answer it.  It demands to know why I haven’t been to get the broken computer in the student lab yet, the person’s been waiting there for almost half an hour.

Half an hour?  I look at my iPhone.  It’s working again, and yes, it’s been just over thirty minutes since I stepped into the elevator.  I shake my head, apologise to the irate voice on the phone, and hang up.  I’ve clearly been working too hard.  I pull myself together, try to shake the visions from my head, and get ready to collect the computer.  One more tiny job in an unending series of tiny jobs.  Like an infinite beige corridor.

But for the life of me, I can’t find the trolley.

Tuesday’s… uh, Thursday’s Ten Minute Tale – the setup!

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Here we go yet again, but on a different day and, yes, from a different site!  But the rules are the same, the first three people to post with a word, phrase, topic, theme, name, or whatever, dictate the direction of the story. I’ll endeavour to incorporate all three suggestions, and write it within ten minutes of receiving the third post, work allowing. Then I’ll post the result.

Can’t promise much in the way of quality today, but in the words of Pink Floyd, “gotta try and wake up, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise”.

So this is WordPress?

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Okay, so here I am, giving WordPress a try.  Let’s see how it goes.  I know the theme is cheesy for the moment, I’ll try and work something better out as I go.  😉




September 2010
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