Tuesday, September 25, 2018
By Daniel Skye
Ronnie would have complained about the accommodations, but, what accommodations? This hotel was the very definition of “no frills.” The unremarkable beige wallpaper that would have looked more at home in his grandma’s living room. The predictable floral patterned carpeting. The acrid stench of bleach that the bedsheets carried.
The bed itself was lumpy and unpleasant. Ronnie laid down on it for two minutes and figured he’d be better off sleeping on the floor. But he wasn’t about to rest his face anywhere near that grimy carpet, so the bed would have to suffice for the evening.
Ronnie didn’t mind the exclusion of a mini-bar. The temptation might have proved to be too overpowering. That was about all he was grateful for.
He’d requested a smoking room and they couldn’t even be troubled to supply him with an ashtray. But that wasn’t going to stop Ronnie Wright from smoking. So he resorted to using the bathroom sink.
Of course, Ronnie Wright was just a stage name, a pseudonym. Ronald Dawes was the loving handle his parents gave him. But Ronnie Wright was the name he preferred. Ronald Dawes was a nobody who would’ve been stuck working minimum wage jobs to pay the bills. Ronnie Wright was a rock star, a legend, a God (in his own words).
Ronnie stood in the bathroom, taking drags from his cigarette and flicking the ash into the sink. His family and friends had begged him to quit smoking. But smoking was the least of Ronnie’s issues.
He’d clashed with addiction for most of his life. It came with the music industry. If you could smoke it, snort it, shoot it, or swallow it, Ronnie used to do it back in the day. Coke. Crack. Heroin. Ecstasy. Painkillers. Speed.
Meth was the bitch of the bunch. One bump was all it took to reel him in like a live fish. But the drugs carried him through the gigs, kept him going onstage, and kept him on the road 250 days out of the year.
At the height of his career, Ronnie took everything he could get his hands on. He played guitar on acid, high on coke, tweaked out of his mind on meth. He smoked joints after the shows or took painkillers just to sleep. In fact, Ronnie hardly even remembered the height of his career. So many gigs, so many venues, so many faces, so many faded memories.
But he’d cleaned up his act over the years. Caffeine and nicotine were his only vices now. No more drinking, no more drugs. But he needed the caffeine to perform onstage. Uppers were out of the question. Caffeine and sugar were his only options.
He extinguished his cigarette under the faucet, washed his hands, and dried them off with a coarse towel that also reeked of bleach.
Harry, you cheap bastard, Ronnie thought. You couldn’t have found a Marriot or a Best Western? I’d settle for a Motel 6 at this point.
He consulted the Magic 8-Ball in his duffel bag.
“Will the show go off without a hitch tonight?” he asked and give it a shake. Yes, was the 8-Balls reply.
“Will I be bringing a groupie back to my room tonight?” Most likely.
“Should Harry Fletcher go eat a bowl of dicks?” Without a doubt, the 8-Ball replied.
Ronnie set the 8-Ball down on the bed and went back to his bag. Ravensville was a small town in Pennsylvania with only one gas station on your way in and out. He’d stopped off for a pack of smokes and to load up on coffee and sugary drinks. The shelves of the fridge were stocked with off-brand cola. No Coca-Cola or Pepsi. No name brands. They didn’t have Sprite, but they had Spirit. No Dr. Pepper, but they had Dr. Spice. Instead of Mountain Dew, they had Mountain Rain. No Coke, but they had Jazz Cola.
The label boasted that Jazz Cola carried three times the caffeine of regular sodas. It was also not approved by the FDA. Go figure.
He popped the top on the can, sat on the bed, and flipped through the TV channels–all twelve of them. The rest were scrambled or you could barely make out the picture. There were a few adult films available for rent, which Ronnie considered purchasing and sticking Harry Fletcher with the bill.
The news was on channel four, which is what he settled for, but Ronnie was half listening. To Ronnie, no news was good news. Terrorist attacks, nuclear weaponry, school shootings. Bad news waiting around every corner. You don’t even have time to digest one story before they hit you with the next.
He waited for the bubbles in the can to settle and then he took a taste test. It wasn’t Coke or Pepsi. It wasn’t even Royal Crown. But it had a sweet aftertaste that Ronnie couldn’t deny. He took another sip and found it was even better the second time around. He took a bigger gulp and fished out another cigarette from his pack. He lit it and held it between his coarse, calloused fingers.
Guitar strings are not very kind to your fingers. And he vehemently refused to use a pick. The day he used a pick, he’d trade in his man card. Picks are for sissies, Ronnie thought. Actually, sissies wasn’t the word he was thinking of, but you get the drift. A real guitarist plays with his fingers. That was his belief.
He took one last swig of his soda and encountered some residue at the bottom of the can. The viscous substance slid down his throat before he even had a chance to react. He managed to spit up only a drop of the grayish sludge. He retched and gagged from the taste. He tried to force it back up, but this slimy substance wouldn’t budge.
The cigarette slipped from his fingers. Still choking on whatever he had accidentally ingested, Ronnie had enough sense to stomp it out with his shoe before it set the carpet ablaze. He scratched at his suddenly itchy throat. The unknown substance kicked around in his stomach, wreaking havoc on his insides.
He finally managed to catch his breath and set himself down at the foot of the bed again. “Am I going to be okay?” he asked, shaking the Magic 8-Ball. Very doubtful.
Unsatisfied with the answer, Ronnie tried again. “Am I going to be alright?” Ask again later.
Frustrated, he tossed the 8-Ball on the floor, and then plunged to his knees beside it. His clutched at his stomach, the pain excruciating and indescribable.
He could feel this substance, this thing, shifting around in the pit of stomach, twisting, turning, tearing at his insides. It was moving, growing. As malignant as a tumor.
It was spreading through him like a cancer. It wasn’t just confined to his stomach anymore. It was everywhere. He could feel it binding with his blood, ripping at his flesh, eating through his bones like corrosive acid.
Doubled over in pain, he managed to crawl his way past the useless 8-Ball, towards his duffel bag, where his phone was. He needed immediate medical attention.
Come on, you’re almost there, Ronnie said, trying to will himself on. The pain was insufferable. He was getting weaker, losing the fight. You’re so close. Just a few more feet. Just a few more–
Harry Fletcher arrived an hour before the gig to protect his investment. As both his agent and manager, he had a vested interest in Ronnie’s performances. And he knew how unreliable musicians could be. Harry was a veteran in the music industry. He’d dealt with the best and he’d dealt with the worst. He still wasn’t sure where Ronnie ranked.
Room 14. That’s where they told Harry he could find Ronnie. He knocked once, waited a moment, then knocked again.
“Ronnie, it’s me,” Harry shouted. “Open up. You don’t want to be late. Promoters hate that shit.”
He tried the knob. The door wasn’t locked, but something stopped him from going in. He watched as a gray puddle seeped out from under the door, slimy and viscous. An undetectable substance, unlike anything Harry had ever seen.
Harry wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to see what was on the other side. But he drew a deep breath, braced himself, and grabbed hold of the doorknob…