If you don’t know what is going on by now…

If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:

One in a Million – Chapter 15

In the Middle of the Night

After game night, Larry dropped D.J. off, despite their relative proximity, and then drove to Holly’s apartment. Their greeting was strained, pregnant with unanswered questions and unfounded fears. They made small talk, caught up on each other’s day, and then Holly turned in early, as she had a busy week and needed her sleep. Larry stayed up late watching BBC America and eating leftover pasta primavera.
It was the pasta that did it.

Larry sat upright in the bed. He looked at the time: 3:25 AM. His stomach was a Gordian knot. He ran for Holly’s bathroom, it being the closest available toilet. They had designated the guest bathroom to be Larry’s bathroom, and it was the first shared home decision they’d followed through on: Larry’s toiletries and sundries were neatly stored, out of sight, in the cabinets. The only thing that Larry neglected to move into Holly’s home was a small shrine to Stercutus, now mostly forgotten, behind his bathroom mirror.

None of that mattered now as Larry shut the bathroom door behind him as quietly as he could and flopped down on the toilet, still groggy with sleep.

Nothing happened. His Gordian knot continued to constrict. Now it was really starting to hurt. Larry bore down, but nothing would come out. Larry looked around for something to take his mind off of his gastrointestinal trouble. The only thing Holly had in her bathroom to read was an old issue of Cosmopolitan. He looked up over the sink at her medicine cabinet, and for half a second, he saw his old shrine to Stercutus framed in the mirror. He closed his eyes and blinked rapidly. Sleepy, he thought. Can’t be right.

He looked up, and it was there in the mirror again. Larry stood up, his eyes locked on the shrine: the candle in the center, burning merrily away, and the message in Latin he’d used when Stercutus first came to him, written in grease pencil on the mirror behind the candle. An old Cakenstein wrapper, a handful of dice, including his black and silver D20, and his badge from MagicCon completed the shrine. It was humble, but it was all fraught with meaning. And it was all wrong, backwards. The dice should be on the hand corner, not the right. And the name badge was hanging from the center, but it was backwards and turned around. Almost as if—

Larry started. He was looking at his shrine from the back of it. Looking into his own bathroom from the back mirror of his medicine cabinet, which he hadn’t ever realized was a one-way mirror.
“You are being watched,” said a voice behind him.

Larry turned, and he stared. He was looking at himself. He was heavier, fatter, and wore his blue jean jacket with buttons festooned across the front. He smiled, remembering that jacket. He’d retired it once he had his first date with Holly. But he missed the buttons. Some of them were pretty funny.

His twin wore his old fedora, pulled low across his vast forehead. The brim, coupled with his naturally caveman-like cranium, sent his eyes into deep shadow. He looked pale, haggard, and haunted. He was dripping wet.

“Beware, Larry Croft,” said his twin. “You are being watched.”

“Watched? By who?” Larry whispered.

Other Larry sighed. “Your enemy. Your opposite number. The player across the game board.”

“I don’t understand,” said Larry. “Who are you? Why do you look like me?”

The Other Larry tilted his head, and his eyes cut through the shadow, glowing like blue ice. “You see me, and yet you know me not?”

The Gordian knot unraveled in his stomach, and he barely made it to the toilet in time. “Stercutus!”
Other Larry nodded. “In this form, you will know me best. And so. I have need of you, Larry Croft. You must be my champion.”

Larry took a deep breath and regretted it. “Too funky for myself,” he said. When he looked back up, Stercutus was in the medicine cabinet mirror. “How can I help you?”

“My power is being usurped,” he said. “An impudent upstart, with designs on godhood.”

“How can someone steal your power?”

“You must save me, Larry Croft,” said Stercutus. “Or all that I have done will come undone.”

Larry gasped and grabbed his stomach. His more or less flat, somewhat muscular, navel-less stomach. Stercutus did that to him. He gave Larry the greatest gift anyone ever gave him: a working metabolism. Whatever was chemically out of whack when he was possessed by Stercutus was somehow restored after Stercutus left him. And despite a woeful lack of prayer to the Roman god of manure, Larry’s metabolism has worked like a charm ever since.

“Help me, Larry Croft,” said Stercutus. “Help me retain my meager hold on the Radcliffe Hotel.”
“What? What can I do?”

But Stercutus was fading in the mirror. “Save me, Larry, as I once saved you.”

“Stercutus! Come back! What must I do?” Larry felt a sense of panic and dread unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. “Stercutus!”

Outside the bathroom door, Holly stood in the darkness, her hand over her mouth, listening to Larry talking to himself in the bathroom.

***

Turk’s right hand was numb and cramped. To give it a break, he hopped online. The clock in the corner of his computer said 3:25 AM. He refreshed his screen, and sure enough, she was there.

THERhonda: I wondered what had happened to you.

TrancersFan: I’ve been working. On your offering.

THERhonda: Can I see it yet?

Pleeeeeeze?

TrancersFan: You understand, I’m doing this by hand, right? Not only have I written every word, but I’ve even bound it myself.

THERhonda: Wow. I am impressed. I didn’t know you could do bookbinding.

TrancersFan: There’s a lot about me you don’t know.

THERonda: Not as much as you think…Turk.

TrancersFan:

TrancersFan:

TrancersFan:

TrancersFan: How long have you known?

THERhonda: I knew it was you from the first day you signed up as TrancersFan.

TrancersFan: Why didn’t you say anything? I feel like an asshole now.

THERhonda: I figured you didn’t want me to know it was you. I respected that decision.

TrancersFan: Is it weird that you know me? I mean, know me?

THERhonda: GOD NO. It’s nice. I like it. I like you. I like this. More than you can possibly know.
TrancersFan: So what about the contest?

THERhonda: The contest is still on—but Turk, honestly, have you seen some of the pathetic offerings I’ve received?

TrancersFan: That one guy who is writing a song a day and posting them on YouTube is pretty good.
THERhonda: Yeah, some of the songs are pretty good. But others just suck. He’s really reaching for it the last couple of days. Tonight’s song sucked.

THERhonda: No one else is writing me a book full of devotion and thoughts and stories and poems. That’s frankly amazing. Rhonda is impressed.

TrancersFan: Don’t say that until you’ve seen it. You may hate it when it’s done.

THERhonda: Impossible.

THERhonda: if what’s in the book is half as good as what you drop on me when we’re cybering, then I will need a week just to recover.

TrancersFan: Flatterer.

THERhonda: You are my high priest.

TrancersFan: You are my Goddess.

THERhonda: The contest is over soon.

TrancersFan: How are my chances?

THERhonda: over half a million people are competing for a Night with Rhonda.

TrancersFan: wow. That’s impressive.

THERhonda: Think how impressive it’ll be if you beat them all. Would you like that?

TrancersFan: More than anything in this world.

THERhonda: prove it. Show me.

TrancersFan: Then I’m going to go back to work.

THERhonda: (pout)

TrancersFan: You can’t have it both ways, my Goddess.

THERhonda: I’ll have you both ways.

TrancersFan: Soon. Very soon.

THERhonda: Good night, Turk.

TrancerFan: XOXOX Rhonda.

Turk logged off and returned to the book. It was a large and ungainly thing, made of cowhide and burned with a leather carving tool. Stamped into the leather was the title:
THE BOOK OF RHONDA

A full ream of copy paper was meticulously punched and bound between the thick leather sheets, which were written on in Turk’s own sprawling hand. On some pages, there were poems and drawings, but for the most part, the book was more than half full of densely written paragraphs about Rhonda. Some of the stories were made up and some of the passages were recollections. All were written down, stream of consciousness style, and by and large it was brilliant and inspired. Turk was writing about five words ahead of his pen, his mind making strange connections between thought and image that read like lyrics.

He had written three hundred pages so far. Two hundred more to go. His right hand ached and his thumb was sore. But at the end of the book, there was a woman waiting for him, with dark red hair, a great rack, generous hips, and a perky smile. She was going to be his first. “I love you, Rhonda,” he whispered as his pen flew over the page.

Turk resumed writing and didn’t even slow down when his nosebleed started. It was the third time this week. A few drops fell on the page and Turk paused only long enough to shape them into hearts before the blood soaked through. Then he resumed writing, the ink in his pen mingling with the blood, until his nose stopped running and he could no longer see the page in front of his face.

The Author

Mark Finn

Mark Finn

Mark Finn is an award-winning author, playwright and essayist who is active in Robert E Howard studies. His biography, Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E Howard was nominated for a World Fantasy award, and will be re-released in an updated second printing later this month. His comic books SCOUTS! Premeires in March from Ape Entertainment.

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