I've been rather busy lately, for which I apologise. Uni work's been trying to run me down and has, in a way, succeeded. Thanks to a mixture of stress, chilly winds and open jackets I've got a cold. Hardly astounding or worth sympathy, I know, but it's certainly made everything a lot more frustrating and difficult. But enough of my pathetic whittering - let's get on to this story that I'm 'sick' of.
"Ahead" is a sci-fi short story I've been working on for a while now and let's just say I've had a rather hot-and-cold relationship with it. Essentially it's the tale of a 1970s Glam-rock group ("White and the Beamers" - I know: inspired...:P) and a particularly memorable gig for them. I won't say anymore. I guess you could say that it's to get you to read on, but it's more because I'm sulking at the thought of even displaying it here. Although its on its eighth draft (this tends to be the point when I put the pen down and walk away) I still feel like its rough and stolid. It feels like I'm throwing a lump of coal onto a conveyor belt of relatively-shiny diamonds, and it makes me squirm.
Then again, this is just the writer talking. The writer who has been staring at the same three pages of narrative for well over a month and a half. You, the reader, may have a different opinion. In fact, I kinda hope that you do.
Anyway, enough of this perpetual self-sabotaging; time to lay it on the line. Please be gentle.
"Chrissakes, Fobbers! Put it away!" Wyatt squirmed and wafted his hands.
"Not until you admit it!"
"Alright, alright. Your armpit hair does have a quiff!"
And it did. There was a distinct curl at the tip of the red hairy clump, glistening with flecks of sweat. Everyone at home knew Eric Fobeson for his insane pride in his body hair. What little drumming skill he had paled in comparison.
He lowered his flabby arm and grinned.
"I had a quiff a couple of years back." Jez chimed in, from behind a thick plume of cigarette smoke, "Looked nothing like that."
At the other corner of the room, Nick strummed on his guitar absentmindedly. It was a tune he'd been composing for over three months now. He hadn’t bothered to write it down though yet.
"Shouldn't we be getting ready or something?" He mumbled without looking up. He was wearing shades on account of feeling ' a little light-headed'.
"Yeah." Wyatt replied, getting up, "Norm will be along in a bit to pick us up."
He moved towards the mirror, shuffling along in flared trousers that were an inch too long. He'd tripped up on them three times since arriving, but he didn't care. It was all part of his 'look'.
Gazing into the mirror, Wyatt started to adjust his hair. His silver locks were looking a little too droopy at one side. Nothing a little hairspray couldn't fix though. And what about his make-up? The mascara was starting to run down his right cheek. It looked quite good actually; it made him seem angry and misunderstood. He smudged the other side for a similar effect. A risky last-minute move, but he could pull it off. After all, he was ‘White’ of ‘White and the Beamers’: lead singer, sex god, fashion extraordinaire. Tugging the hem of his sparkly white jacket down across his waist he winked and clicked at his reflection.
"You done preening yourself, White?" Jez inquired, approaching him, "Good. Some of us need to the use the mirror too, you know."
"Says Jez the pretty boy!" Fobbers snorted, "Anymore lipstick on yer face and they'll cart you off for being a poof!"
"Oh, get your head out of the trough, porky!"
"Porky?" Fobbers jumped to his feet. "I eat bloody pigs for breakfast!"
"You could never tell." The lead guitarist added more blush. "Porky."
Wide-eyed, Fobbers jumped up towards him and stumbled over the corner of the table. Jez let out a nasal cackle. Nick raised his shades and peeked out with one blood-shot eye. Before Fobbers could land a punch, Wyatt stepped in.
"Alright, lads! I know we're all feeling anxious and a bit narky about the room, but let's not fight, eh?"
Still glaring at each other Fobbers and Jez moved back to their places; Fobbers carefully resting his aching foot on the glass table.
"What is it with this place, anyway?" Jez grumbled, "It's got nothing in it. Not much of a dressing room."
"Probably all that’s available." Wyatt remarked, "They did book us in at the last minute."
“Still, it was nice of them to drive us here.” Fobbers added, “Funny looking minibus though. Did you notice how all the windows were blacked out?”
“Yeah.” Jez lit up a second cigarette. “And what about those noises it made? Kind of a whoosh, a bing and ‘We’ve landed!’”
“It was quite quick, wasn’t it? Almost as if we never moved.” Wyatt found himself staring thoughtfully off into the distance. He shook himself back to reality. “Anyway, we’re here now and that’s all that matters. So what if the room is a little empty? Things could be a lot worse.”
"What the hell is this thing?" Jez picked up a light blue rocket-shaped crystal and held it in a dainty grip.
"Whoa! Funky lemon juicer!" Fobbers snatched it. "Far out!"
Entrapped in his sausage-like fingers, the crystal began to glow faintly.
Resting his bass guitar on the table Nick lowered his shades. "Should it be doing that?"
"Sure!" Fobbers laughed, "It's probably some sort of lava-lamp thing too!"
Wyatt pried the crystal from the drummer's hands and stared at it.
"Nah, that can't be right!" He brought it closer to his eyes. "What is it?"
"Please put that back on the table!" A gaunt pair of hands reached out for the crystal and lowered it down onto the glass surface. The rest of the figure was thin and squat, including its pale sharp-featured face.
"Norm!" Wyatt beamed. "My main man!"
Norm was the events manager; a strange yet stable figure who only ever dressed in one particular manner, it seemed. He looked virtually no different from when he had visited backstage at the end of their previous gig; formal and rigid as ever. Maybe it was the suit; it was the exact same style, the exact same shade of grey.
That night Norm came round to compliment them on their ‘rhythmically diverse’ performance and to offer them a slot at an upcoming event at his club. He had told them outright that they were ‘destined for significant future popularity’ and, with an almost sly thin-lipped smile, he then gave Wyatt his card. Shortly afterwards he disappeared and did not return till a few days later. None of them had ever seen him before, not even whilst performing that night.
"I apologise for the abruptness of my actions but the crystal must never leave the table.” He continued with a neutral but resonating tone, “If it were to be disconnected from its place for longer than thirty seconds the room would immediately collapse inward."
"Yeah, yeah.” Wyatt nodded. “Feng Shui and all that. So, how're things?"
"Yeah, cool. Look, uh, we have a little complaint to make about the room. It seems a bit sparse, y’know, not quite what we expected."
Norm's head made a very gradual 180 degree turn before returning to Wyatt.
"It appears that the Chrono-Environ Translation Device is not working to full capacity. On initial observation it appears that there is fault with the syn-fi link. Further analysis is required. I will notify the appropriate technicians and they will fix it immediately. I apologise for the inconvenience."
"Cool. Don't worry about it. So when're we on?"
Norm tilted his head slowly.
"Y'know, the gig?"
His black eyes glimmered with a slight spark of silver.
"Ah yes. The 'gig'.” Norm repeated the phrase like a harsh echo. “Your slot in tonight's proceedings will begin imminently. The current act, ‘Lady Nettles’, will be finishing in approximately two minutes and fifty four seconds. I will lead you to the stage."
Wyatt looked to the others. "You ready, boys?"
Wyatt looked to the others. "You ready, boys?"
"Always!" Fobbers roared, slapping his hands together. The other two grumbled but stood up anyway and approached the door.
"Right then! Let's get out there!"
Norm slid swiftly and silently out of the room. With considerably more noise 'White and the Beamers' followed.
"So what kind of crowd are we playing to tonight, then?" Wyatt asked, trying to keep up with Norm.
"During my last observation of the audience I counted eighty five members: 70% humanoid, 25% automaton and 5% 'other'."
"Sounds better than our last gig." Jez remarked from behind.
"Where was that again?" Nick mumbled.
"That pub, 'The Nobleman's Cape'."
"Well that's probably 'cos you were completely out of your head; especially during the second half. You suddenly decided that it would be great idea to ride your guitar off the stage. Ended up falling on some girl, spraining her arm."
"Oh yeah. Paige." Nick smiled through streams of straggly hair. "I remember her. I think."
"How far is it now?" Fobbers groaned, "Feels like we've walked for ages."
Jez turned back to him. "We've only just reached the end of the corridor."
"My feet weren't made for this much walking."
"Then what were they made for?" Jez looked down on him from behind his hook nose. "Filling boots?"
"Well, if anyone would know, it’d be you, princess."
"Come on, lads." Wyatt peered over his shoulder. "Keep it together. We're nearly there now. Isn't that right, Norm? Or is it Mr. Fort-fief?"
"‘Norm’ will be sufficient. And yes, we will be approximately four metres away from the staging area when we turn the next corner."
Already they could hear the muffled sounds of lively conversation, stumbling footsteps and drinking glasses clanking down harshly on creaky tables. Wyatt grinned. Familiar sounds. Welcoming.
Norm reached for one velvet curtain and pulled it open. Striding through he approached the microphone.
"Thank you for your courteous show of approval.” He announced, “The previous act was the genuine 1964 rock band 'Lady Nettles', consisting of…"
"Blimey," Nick muttered, "Not much of a show-man, is he?"
"It's probably just the crowd." Wyatt suggested, "They probably don't like the usual introductory stuff we're used to."
“I hate stiff-lipped toffs.” Fobbers growled, "I bet they’re as dull as anything."
"Nah." Wyatt smiled, "This is just a change for us, a step-up. Face it, lads, we've arrived!"
"Ssh, listen!" Jez whispered, "He's introducing us!"
"The following act of 'Nostalgia Night' will be the 1976 'glam rock' band, entitled 'White and the Beamers'. Please show your continued appreciation through further rapid physical hand movement as they ascend to their appropriate positions in the staging area."
"Our cue!" Wyatt leaped out through the curtain and made a bee-line for the microphone. Still somewhat dubious, the rest followed.
"Woo!" 'White' assumed his role energetically. "Evening, everybody! Are you ready? Are you ready to be blown away?"
"I told him that line was shit." Jez muttered, tuning up his guitar.
"I said, are you ready?"
As the stage-lights lowered in brightness, 'White' froze up. He just stood there staring; his mouth shrinking and his eyes widening. Noticing the lead singer’s unexpected pause, 'The Beamers' followed his gaze. They froze too.
True to White's predictions, the audience was different to their usual crowd. Surprisingly different. For one thing their usual crowd wasn't as big as this, and certainly nowhere near as quiet.
They didn't look like the typical glam rock crowd at all. Although they were dressed in the most intricate and shiniest outfits the band had ever seen, these punters did not look at all like typical rockers from home. And it wasn’t just the humans. The robots and alien humanoids looked just as out of place; varying in colour, shapes and even sizes. They looked nothing like they did in the B-Movies. No zippers, no tin foil. All real. Rows and rows of impossible things watched the stage intently.
"Far out.” Fobbers mouthed.
Inside his head, Wyatt screamed. Where the hell were they?
He’d suspected from the start that there was something a bit off about this entire situation: the oddly-shaped minibus, the empty white dressing room. Now Wyatt was staring into an audience of people who might well have been from ‘the future’. There were no more attempts at positive spins; his head was too sore. Instead he turned to Norm at the side of the stage, hoping for answers and perhaps some sort of reassurance.
Come to think of it, Norm didn't look quite right either. The event manager’s fingers moved with unusual dexterity and his eyelids shut in a movement similar to a camera lens. How hadn’t he noticed that before? Gazing at his grey jacket, Wyatt read something on the lapel; something that he’d overlooked. 'NORM-45', in big blue capital letters. So not ‘Fort-fief’ then. He must be a robot too. Impossible, surely. Norm looked too much like the real deal. He had no antennae, no silvery parts. He looked human. He was human. Wasn’t he?
Wyatt glimpsed something in the distant corner: a gigantic computer screen. He’d never seen anything like that before either. It had the date and time on it. He focused on the date. February 29th 6791. 6791. The future. The distant future. The very very distant future. Oh.
Wyatt moved his attention back towards the audience and continued to gawk at them through streaming sweat. Every pair of eyes, eyestalk and visor lens were trained on his face, waiting patiently for him to continue. There were no words.
And that's it. Wow, I thought it would've hurt a lot more than that.
And that's it. Wow, I thought it would've hurt a lot more than that.
Once again, please feel free to comment; even if its nasty. Then again, scratch that. I'm too highly-strung right now. Time to lie down...
Thanks for reading,