by Russ

Sid sat staring into the void of the dressing room, a column of ash rested between his fingers where a cigarette used to be. Thin, mole-pocked skin stretched taut over his bones and veins; an effigy of a dying man fabricated from fallen leaves and broken twigs. He broke the silence with a rattling cough, but nobody was there to hear.

It had been thirteen years since Sid had last sung, before the unpleasantness. Back then, the dressing room was never empty: groupies, dealers, hangers-on, most importantly, the band always shared. The actual performance was just punctuation in an ongoing party. Things were very different now. The new band were practically infants and Sid couldn’t bear sitting in the middle of them while they tapped away at phones. He’d told them he needed privacy to ‘find his mojo’, which one of them had immediately Googled to explain to another. Really, it was just that he felt less lonely on his own.

He’d reached out to the guys, of course, but he knew their excuses before he got them. It didn’t matter that Sid had been innocent, nobody wanted to step back into that shadow. So instead he’d collected fresh bodies to reanimate the life he’d once had.

Sid sucked in a breath until it felt like a stone in his chest.

A knock at the door was followed by a voice.

‘Mr Wolf,’ it said without recognition. ‘It’s time. The band are waiting for you onstage.’

Sid let out his breath and rose with a creak.

‘Mr Wolf?’

He opened the door and looked expressionlessly at the stage manager.

The low rumble of the drums and bass rolling through the entrance riff drowned any sound from the crowd. Bridlington Spa was a far cry from Wembley Arena. Nobody was chanting for the Wolf King. Nobody was chanting anything.

Sid sucked himself together and strode onto the stage, arms raised, trying to find a bounce in his step. The band lifted the volume to cover the lack of roar. Sid looked out. It was full, mostly, but felt like a photocopy of what it had been before. He crouched and the beat stopped. A pair of single claps echoed off the roof before the bass drum started again. Sid spread his arms and bobbed in rhythm, rising a little more with each bar as the tempo and volume built towards a crescendo. The big opening. The moment which declared the show was well and truly on. The giant fibreglass wolf which leapt from behind the drums to hang over the front of the stage, stopping just short of diving into the belly of the crowd. Sid hit his full height, every band member struck a single final beat, sparks shot up at either side of the stage, Sid leapt into the air, and…. nothing.

As the emptiness contracted around Sid’s skull, a voice from the back of the stage rang out.

‘Which fucking idiot let the hydraulics battery run flat?’ drifted with perfect clarity into the auditorium. Followed by a limp, ‘Sorry, Sid!’

Sid closed his eyes and waited an eternity for the children behind him to start the first song.