80% Of A Rat By D. I. Jolly

“And it won’t be the last time, my friend.” He said as he raised a glass toward the poster on the wall. “Or that’s what you used to say, until it was the last time.” Thomas drained his glass and then said more quietly. “I miss you man.”

He signalled to the barman for another round and turned to face into the room. The poster behind him showed 3 young men at the end of adolescents, about to enter the first stage of true adulthood. The hair on their face was still baby soft and their eyes still full of hope, but their shoulders had settled and you could see the foundations of the faces they were destined to mature into. Above them read ‘80% Of A RAT’ and below them, ‘Debut show tonight at 20:00’.

They were still going to make it big back then, still all set to take over the world with their serious music that the establishment wasn’t going to like. Music that was too real for the mainstream but had to be played, so that at least someone in the world was upholding the belief that music could stay genuine and honest and could still truly rock the world.

The poster hung in their favourite bar, the place that had given them their first big break, their chance to show the world their music. The start of history. The beginning of the end.

From left to right the poster showed a young Thomas full of hope and excitement at an actual real-life photoshoot for their band. For him it gave him the feeling of legitimacy that he hadn’t realised was lacking when they spoke about making great music. In the middle was his friend Hank, who had moved away a few months later for university. He met a nice girl and eventually got married, had a couple of children, an affair, and a divorce. He then moved back in with his parents at 40 and spent most of his weekends promising to visit the city for a big boy’s night out, “like the good old days.”

On the right was Ben. Or rather, Benny The Big and The Bold. Benny The Baddest Motherfucker in East Town! Smiling the smile of a man who truly believed that he was on his true path blazing a trail behind him.

Thomas’s new drink arrived and he turned back to the poster. In his head he heard their bad soundcheck crackle and squeak. He heard the feedback as they pulled out cables before switching things off, and he remembered how nervous he felt. It was supposed to be the first day of the rest of their lives. Hank vomited twice, but pulled himself together, Thomas drank one too many beers and had to spent five minutes splashing cold water on his face and giving himself the occasional slap until he felt steady again. But Benny just sat on the stage watching people come in and sit down, order drinks and start conversations. He saw people realise there was going to be a band and decide to stay or leave, or simply not care. And that’s where they found him. Sitting and watching. Then he popped up onto his feet, grabbed the mic and screamed them into their first song.

It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t professional, but it was genuine and it was rock ‘n roll. For the first full minute the crowd simply stared, but by the end they clapped and screamed and cheered for more. Something both Thomas and Hank were keen to give them, but Benny, who owned the room in that moment, smiled and announced.

“In a world of excess and gluttony I’m going to teach you how to embrace the joy of the moment and value what you have while you have it. Now fuck off.”

The crowd lost their minds, and Benny jumped down off the little stage and walked through them with his arms out and his head back, letting the audience bask in his glory as he seemed to drift through them like a dream.

Thomas remembered how in awe he was of his friend in that moment, the rush of adrenalin he felt and the realisation that they had just made their dreams come true. That everything they’d ever said about their music was going to come true. People fucking loved them, and were actively worshiping Benny. It wasn’t just talk anymore; they were going to be rock Gods!

He then downed his drink again, only this time he didn’t look for the barman, he just looked down.

“I wish I knew where you were my friend.”

Benny had walked through the crowd and out of the bar, and other than a few possible sightings of someone vaguely fitting his description, no one had ever seen or heard from him again. He’d walked out into the night and vanished.

“Sixteen years to the day.”

Thomas looked back up and felt his throat get tight, like it always did, felt his guts get watery and his taint shrivel as goosebumps dance over his back shoulders and down his arms. In his head he hoped he’d hear a familiar voice and turn to find his old friend standing in the doorway, and despite the time and the chaos and the questions, it would feel like no time had passed at all. There would be no pain, just the relief at the finding of something precious that was lost.

But no voice came.

Thomas sat for a few more quiet drinks alone with the poster, then paid his tab and walked out the same door he’d watched his future disappear through. He walked into the night, and back into the life he had managed to cobble together for himself, the shade of the life he thought he was going to have, and back to trying to appreciate what he had when he had it.

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