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Rain fell hard and cold onto Donny, and he could feel himself growing sicker with every icy breath. “The world is unfair for so many people,” he thought to himself. He turned to look into the window of a hotel lobby. A peaceful fire burned gas in a massive fireplace. The room was perfectly furnished with large couches and cozy pillows, and warm rugs–and perfectly abandoned as well. “Why can’t the world be unfair to me? Why do I always get exactly what I deserve?” He continued walking down the wet sidewalk as the winter storm began to intensify.
He turned into a dark alleyway to escape the now sideways-blowing rain. Down the alley he saw a group of men huddled in a doorway. They wore baseball caps and hoodies and often looked over their shoulders. Donny watched them from behind a dumpster as he rubbed his freezing hands together. One by one, the men’s faces would light up from a small flame being passed around. A police vehicle turned into the alley from the opposite end and slowly rolled toward the group, its tires crunching over garbage and gravel. A large rat darted in front of the headlights. The car stopped in front of the doorway and shot a bright beam at the group of men. “LEAVE THIS ALLEY IMMEDIATELY,” blared an aggravated voice from the car’s loudspeaker. The men scattered and cursed.
A soon as the police vehicle rolled away, Donny raced over to the doorway where the men had huddled. He dropped to the floor and ran his hands over the ground. His hands worked quickly and independently like large fleshy spiders. He grasped something between his thumb and forefinger and stood up again. “Lucky me,” he thought. Just as he stuck his hand into his coat pocket for his pipe, the door swung open, bathing Donny in fluorescent light. Thomas stepped out of the doorway with a cigarette in his lips. He was in his early twenties, but had a full, thick beard and was wearing a tattered shirt. He gave Donny a nod as he patted his jean pockets searchingly. Donny, unfazed by the sudden intrusion, produced a lighter and handed it to Thomas.
“Mm,” said Thomas, taking the lighter. Behind him, Donny noticed a staircase leading down into a basement. Sounds of distorted guitar and the smell of cheap beer and marijuana wafted up to him.
Thomas handed the lighter back to Donny. “You in a band, or…”
“Yeah,” said Donny, not fully understanding, “I, uh… Yeah.”
Thomas drew in smoke and exhaled it into the rain. “What do you play?”
“I play Guitar. I’m… meeting with a guy so I better…” said Donny, and he pushed past Thomas.
The sounds of ripping guitars and crashing drums grew louder as Donny descended. There seemed to be two songs being played at once, or maybe several. At the bottom, he saw rows of doors with numbers on them. As he passed each door he could hear a separate band thrashing wildly on expensive equipment. “Who knew?” thought Donny as he made his way down the beer-can-littered hallways, “That beneath the city, musicians make loud noises in cramped spaces.” At last, he found a dark, hidden corner where there was a large stack of insulating sheets. He took off his wet jacket and wedged himself between the foam sheets. And there he rested for the night, safe, dry and warm; lulled to sleep by the repetitive, distorted, overlapping band rehearsals.
Most of those winter nights, Donny returned to that same spot. He would wait outside in the evening for someone to enter or exit, pretending to have a smoke break. He spent those long smoke breaks dreaming up his back story. “Diddley Squats.” That was his stage name, he decided. He was in a country band, and he played a mean banjo that went “diddley, diddley, diddley, diddley, diddley…” Just him, and a guy playing a washtub bass, and another guy on the washboard. “For all the washing appliances they use,” said a fantasized journalist, ” They sure are the dirtiest.” Yes sir, they had just gotten back from touring the south, and were due for another tour that summer. On and on Donny dreamed… But nobody ever asked Donny anything. He wondered if maybe everyone was too busy inventing their own musical fantasies to care.
Then, late one night, Donny awoke to a very unusual noise: complete silence. He got up immediately and walked down the hallways. Not a single guitar was tuning, no sounds of coughing and giggling, no rogue drums beating, no clinking of bottles, nothing. He felt an excitement rise in his stomach, and the next moment he found his hand around a doorknob. He went down every hallway jiggling door knobs and pausing now and then whenever he thought he heard something. Frustratingly, he found that every last room was locked. But the opportunity was too great let slip away. He took a few steps back and then lunged at a door, slamming his right foot next to the doorknob. The door swung open, leaving a partially splintered door frame. Just after he busted in, however, Donny heard the distinctive sound of the door to the alley open up. For a moment he froze, believing that he was trapped in this dungeon with nowhere to run. He then grabbed the nearest guitar case in the room, closed the door back up and calmly made his way to the exit. On the stairs, he saw an exterminator putting a plastic suit on. “Hey, you shouldn’t be in here,” he said as Donny passed by.
Outside, it was dark and cool, but it was dry. “It was a good place while it lasted,” thought Donny, “Thankfully winter is over.” He had left the alleyway and was making his way down the street with his new fortune when he suddenly heard someone yelling after him. “Hey!” Donny’s ears twitched back and he felt the hairs on his back begin to rise. He made a quick glance back before sprinting, but when he looked back he saw the friendly young face of Thomas. There was something in his voice, too, that sounded friendly and genuinely surprised to see him. He was standing outside a bar smoking with a group of friends. “Come here!” he shouted.
“Were you just practicing?” Thomas asked when Donny crossed the street.
“Yeah,” said Donny, lifting his new guitar a little.
“Man, you must practice like sixteen hours a day! I see you in there all the time.”
“Yep, yep. My boys and I are going back on tour this summer, so we–”
“Hey, do you want to play in the first song with us?” Thomas interrupted, “We’re up next.”
“Yes! Dude, this is going to be awesome.”
On stage, with his newly stolen guitar strapped to him, Donny found himself strangely eager to perform. There were green lights and fog billowing up all around him. When the drums and bass kicked in and Donny felt his brain vibrating inside his skull. Thomas began strumming frantically, taking on a wild, new persona. Wanting to perform, but not knowing how exactly, Donny began jumping around the stage while holding the guitar. He then started plucking at the strings as fast as he could–what he lacked in musical ability he tried to make up for in speed–diddley-diddley-diddley he began, but he found that his fingers didn’t go as fast as he’d hoped. The band somehow got even faster and more intense and Donny was left with nowhere to go. He then lifted the guitar off of his shoulders and began smashing it against the ground. The crowd cheered loudly, and Donny saw Thomas give him a strange look. The music stopped shortly afterwards, and in the haze and green light Donny saw what he had done. He left the smashed guitar and headed back out to the street.
As he walked down the sidewalk, it seemed to him that it took a very long time for Thomas’s band to start their next song.