Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

Skinsongs by Martin Livings

To: Tracey Holland <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
From: Skinsong Corporation <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject: Invitation

Dear Tracey,

Your name has been randomly selected to receive this invitation. As you may be aware, the Skinsong Corporation holds regular public auditions, in order to discover new talent for our skinsong recording line. This process gives everybody a chance to be a skinsongs star, whatever their walk of life. But here at Skinsong, we also believe in giving this opportunity to people who may not normally apply, and for this reason we periodically send out invitations such as this.

Normally, members of the public who apply will be assigned a time, day and location for their auditions, but this email, and the application voucher attached, allows the recipient to audition at any Skinsong centre, on any date, at any time. The voucher is valid for one month from today.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our audition centres, and who knows? Perhaps you, Tracey Holland, will be a star!

The Skinsong Corporation

I just stared at the screen, wondering if this was some kind of joke. And, if so, who would have played it.


Noni wandered into my study. She hadn't been awake for long, and wore an oversized t-shirt that read “CHOOSE LIFE” that came to her knees. “What?”

“Did you send me this?” I asked with a frown.

“Send you what?”

I looked at her face. Noni was a hopeless liar, and would have made a terrible poker player. Anything she was thinking or feeling ended up on her expressive face. At that moment, though, all that was showing there was confusion. It wasn't her.

“This email,” I explained. “Take a look.”

Noni leaned forward and squinted. She hadn’t put her contacts in yet. Then she laughed, just once, a snort. “What’s that all about?” she asked.

“It wasn’t you?”

“Shit no. ” Noni looked at me, a little anxiously. “Are you going to do it?”

I read through the email again. It seemed legitimate. “I don’t know, ” I answered, but a growing excitement in my gut told me otherwise. "Maybe, ” I added, which was closer to the truth.

“It sounds bloody dodgy to me,” Noni grumbled, ever the voice of wisdom. But I didn’t really hear her. I was fixated on one sentence from the email.

Perhaps you, Tracey Holland, will be a star!

“Gah,” I said, and switched my email program to the background, bringing back the video player window. I had to distract myself from this. It was nonsense, I knew it, but at the same time I wanted it to be legitimate. I knew it could change my life. Of course, at the time, I had no idea how true that could be. Anyway, I had work to do. It could wait. I started up the video of the scanner accident scene at the Face2Face clinic, and continued to watch.

Noni stood behind me for a while longer, not saying anything, just radiating disapproval, then turned and left.

I went through the rest of the video in normal speed. There were no inconsistencies, no time code glitches, nothing. I watched patient Margaret Chaffey being put into the scanner by the Face2Face assistants at the plastic-surgery clinic, and felt a little queasy as she lay there, the machine burning into her under the plastic hood, transforming her from a middle-aged woman into a monster. Her arms and legs flailed wildly as it happened, for those two short minutes, those two long minutes. I was profoundly grateful that the video didn’t have any sound. I could only imagine the screams. Mercifully, she seemed to pass out before it finished, went so limp that, if I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought she was dead. Nobody touched the scanner during that entire period, nor was there anything untoward before that. I looked away when Mrs Chaffey was removed from the scanner at the end of the scan, unable to stomach that sight again. I glanced back to make sure the woman had been removed from the room, and then continued to watch.

There was the expected buzz of activity in the room after the accident, people checking the scanner to make sure it was alright, hoping to find some simple reason for this horrible event. Then I saw the receptionist I’d talked to standing in the middle of the room, looking around, and his shoulders fell. I felt a sudden rush of sympathy for this man, who had turned up to work that morning thinking it was just an ordinary day, and instead was faced with the most awful crisis he could possibly have imagined. I could see the realisation settling in that he'd have to get outside help, and what that implied. He knew that, one way or another, his career, such as it was, was probably over. It was almost as horrible to watch as the surgical accident that had caused it. It was a small, simple man's life being destroyed. I felt bad about how I’d treated him when I’d been there a few days earlier. I didn’t even know his name.

He left the room, and it stayed empty for a very long time. I paused the video and got myself a cup of tea and some biscuits, then returned and continued watching. No one else entered the room, and I sighed, knowing I had nearly four hours of this to go through. I’d watched this section in fast-forward already, and it had never changed, but perhaps someone had gone in very quickly, too fast to be seen.

I shook my head. That was ludicrous. I had to face the fact; nobody entered the room between the incident and my arrival four hours later. Which meant the blank spot in the logs was just a coincidence, and the accident was some kind of unexplained technical glitch, perhaps hardware related rather than software. I was in a dark room looking for a black cat that wasn't there. I put the video back into fast-forward and swapped back to my email again, composing a message to the head of the technical department at Face2Face to let them know my conclusions. They’d have to take the scanner out of service, strip it down to its components and go through each of them one by one. It was unlikely it would ever see the light of day again. The risk wasn’t worth it.

Movement in the video window caught my eye. I swapped back again, to see myself having a high-speed conversation with the receptionist. I changed the speed back to normal, just as the receptionist left the room to call the security company. I watched myself look around cagily—I thought I’d been more discreet than that!—and then climb into the scanner myself. My shoes were a few feet away from the end of the couch; clearly it was designed to fit people much taller than I was. I looked tiny and fragile lying there, vulnerable. Who knows what could have happened? I should never have climbed into that death trap, that mutilation machine. What was I thinking?

I almost laughed at how silly that question was. I was thinking about skinsongs, of course. They’d only been around for five years or so, coming out of nowhere with that first skinsong, “Sky Blue” by a young woman, Cheri Jax. It didn't make that much of an impact, except in certain circles that were hungry for something new. I guess I was in one of those circles. The combination of organicism and technology really intrigued me, and I found the music enticing, almost addictive. I bought every single skinsong that was released, read the specialist magazines, took part in the online forums. Slowly, it began to grow in popularity in the mainstream. Within two or three years, skinsongs had broken into the mainstream charts, and nowadays it dominated them, regular music becoming harder and harder to find there. I didn’t mind that one bit, but Noni was outraged; she still preferred her songs to be performed by human beings playing instruments with their hands. She claimed she was old-fashioned that way. I, on the other hand, was willing to try new things.

And what could be newer than going to an audition?

I opened up the email from the Skinsong Corporation again, then double-clicked the attached file. It was a more formal invitation, with my name and the expiry date on it, along with a list of Skinsong Centre locations. With a happy grin, I printed it out.


© Martin Livings

Additional Info

  • Written by: Martin Livings
  • Country: Australia
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