Let the weirdness commence.

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

One in a Million – Chapter 21

An Untimely Reunion

Larry and Holly ate take out from the Chinese restaurant on the corner in a silence pregnant with tension and secrets. Larry wasn’t even tasting his chicken and broccoli. She was mad at him, he just knew it. Or maybe she was just having second thoughts, now that they were so close to moving in together. Either way, it couldn’t be good. He was losing her, he knew it. And to make matters worse, he was receiving nightly visits from Stercutus. Dreams, visions, whatever you want to call them. He didn’t know what any of it meant. His stomach groaned in protest. It was going to be one of those nights.

Holly sat primly on the couch, picking at her fried rice. Larry ate over the coffee table, his head down, as some terrible made-for-SciFiNetwork movie played in the background. She could see that he was slipping away from her, becoming more sullen, withdrawn and quiet. It was just like the day they first met. He refused to make eye contact with her. The rift of things unspoken between them was a vice on her heart. In her back pocket was the letter she’d written. She had to start the conversation with him.

Unable to eat anything else, Holly finally closed up her container and lobbed it onto the coffee table. “Oh, fuck it,” she said. She stood up, dug out a folded slip of paper, and handed it to Larry. “Here. Read this. I’m going to get a drink.”

Larry looked at the note and his expression hardened. “Right,” he said, taking it from her.
Holly traipsed into the kitchen where she took a healthy slug of vodka right out of the bottle in the freezer. That done, she opened her fridge for something else, and found only some of Larry’s Mountain Dew. She poured herself a glass, and then as an afterthought, added some of the vodka and took a sip. “Well, it doesn’t taste any worse,” she said.

Holly walked back into the living room and found Larry standing up, his expression severe. “You think I’m crazy?” he said to her.

“Lar, Honey, look at it from my point of view,” Holly said. “I can’t sleep at night for your waking nightmares. You’ve never told me about Stercutus, not really, and now, you’re talking to him in your sleep. What am I supposed to think?”

“I’m not crazy,” said Larry. “I’m…just not. Okay?”

“But how is it you can be one way, like the day we first met, and then some other way an hour later?” Holly crossed to him. “That first kiss was…wow. And I’ve never seen you like that since.”

Larry laughed, a short, mournful chuckle. “Stercutus. That’s why you wanted to go out with me.”
“Well, yes, Lar. Your passion, your energy…I dunno. It was intoxicating.”

Larry looked away and said, “I’m going to regret this, but…Holly, that was never me. It was Stercutus.”

“Larry, for once, please just tell me what the fuck that means!”

“I was fucking possessed, okay?” Larry roared with such force that Holly flinched. “Taken over! You know, possessed? It wasn’t me, Holly! It never was. I don’t remember our first kiss because it was Stercutus, not me, who kissed you.”

Holly backed up a step. “You’re serious,” she said softly.

“Yes, I’m fucking serious, and the reason I didn’t want to say anything to you, ever, is because of the way you’re looking at me right fucking now. Like I’m crazy.”

Holly set her drink down. “Um, okay, I don’t know really where to start with this, Larry.” She shook her head. “I mean, I was ready for just about anything to come out of your mouth, but…”
“You don’t believe me?” Larry was aghast. “Why? What purpose could I have in making this up?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Schizophrenics see and hear things that aren’t really there all the time. Maybe it’s like Russell Crowe in A Brilliant Mind. You’ve got a friend only you can see.” Holly was talking more to reassure herself than anything else.

Larry said “What if I can prove it?”

Holly looked up at him. “Prove the existence of your imaginary friend?”

“Stercutus,” he said, “is not an imaginary friend. He’s the god of manure.”

“What?”

“The god of manure.”

“What god?”

“The Romans had a lot of gods,” said Larry with a shrug.

“Perfect,” said Holly. “Outstanding. Exactly what I was wanting for the rest of my life; to be married to the Roman god of shit.”

“You want to get married?” asked Larry.

Holly threw her hands up and wailed, “Well, it was on the table, Lar, yeah, but now this…”

“Look, just come with me,” Larry took her hand. “Let me prove it to you.”

Holly stood up. “Where are we going?”

“My apartment. My bathroom.”

Holly let go of his hand. “Larry? I don’t know about this. I feel like none of this is going to help you. Why don’t we…”

“Do you love me?” he asked.

“What?” Holly was taken aback. “Yes, of course. I do love you, Larry.”

“Then come with me. If I can prove it to you, well, then, we’ll talk about what next. But if I can’t prove it to you…we’ll…we’ll do whatever you think is best. Okay?”

Holly stared at him. He had a small smile on his face. She thought about the last year. All of her questions. All of their ups and downs. No matter where they ended up, if there was a chance Larry could make all of this make sense, then she was going to give it to him.

“Okay. One chance, Lar.”

They left her apartment holding hands, looking for all the world like a young couple out on an evening’s adventure.

***

Larry opened the door to his apartment. Most of his stuff was packed in boxes, piled up everywhere. Only the furniture and larger items were intact. His gaming table, for example was piled with loose papers, dice, and lead miniatures.

Holly was about to comment when Larry took her hand again and said “here,” towing her down the short hall and into the bathroom. It was clean only from a lack of relative use. A thin layer of man-funk was present, but nothing overly-horrific.

“Stand here,” said Larry. He opened his medicine cabinet up and Holly did a double take.
“Is that a Milagro Cabinet to…to…Stercutus?”

Larry nodded. “Stercutus,” he said, his face close to the mirror.

Holly cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t you have to say it three times fast?” she chuckled. “Stercutus Stercutus Stercutus!”

Larry looked at her. “Not funny, Holly.”

“I’m sorry, Lar, but this is bullshit—”

Something splashed in the toilet.

Holly screamed. “My god, there’s a rat in there!”

Larry took a deep breath. “No, not a rat.” He flipped open the lid.

A column of water rose up like a translucent snake, some six feet in the air. At the end of the column was a mouth composed of cascading water, formed in a perpetual, renewing divot. “Larry Croft,” the water said, its voice low and tremulous, “I need you.”

Larry said, “I am Larry. Who are you?”

“I am Stercutus,” said the column. “You know me, Larry Croft. Once you were my champion. I need you again.”

Larry turned to Holly. She had gone pale and was leaning against the door. “Do we agree that I’m not crazy now?”

Holly nodded. “I take it all back,” she said faintly.

“Ah, Cloacina!” said the column wavering to the side in order to see around Larry. “Her living vassal. You have done well in my absence, Larry Croft. Stercutus is pleased!”

“Thanks,” said Holly. Hey, a compliment was a compliment.

“Why do you need me?” asked Larry. “Can’t you get someone else to do it?”

“I am tied to where we first met. No one here believes in me. I need that belief. My energy is being stolen.”

“Stolen?”

“That which gives me life is being taken from me by The Rhonda.”

“What?” Holly said. “My Rhonda? Rhonda Halsey?”

“She is as wise as she is beautiful,” said Stercutus. “Have you engaged in congress in the accepted sacred fashion yet?”

“Er, not yet,” said Larry.

“What does he mean?” asked Holly.

“We’ll discuss it later.” To Stercutus, Larry said, “I want to help you, but does that mean we have to…uh, do you have to take over…me…again?”

“By entering your vessel, my godhood is protected from The Rhonda.”

“What the fuck is he talking about, Larry?” Holly said.

Larry turned to Holly and put his hand on her shoulder. “I didn’t want to say anything, because of how weird and fucked-up it was, but somehow or another all of the people Rhonda has been picking up on her website are, kinda, um, worshipping her.”

“There is one who leads them all,” said Stercutus. “The Turk.”

Now it was Larry’s turn. “What?”

“Oh boy,” said Holly. “So you’re saying that Rhonda is bleeding off your…godlieness…I guess, and what happens if she takes it all?”

“I will cease to be, and The Rhonda will become the Goddess of the Castro.”

“Sweet Baby Jesus.” Holly sat down on the floor.

“Will you help me, Larry Croft? The ritual is about to occur. When it is over, if I am not protected, I will die. And The Rhonda will have control of a vast power she does not understand, and cannot control. Chaos will ensue and many lives will be lost.”

Larry stared at the column of water, and then at his dazed and confused girlfriend.
“What is this ritual?” Holly asked. “Can we stop it?”

“Blood has already been spilled. All that remains now is the virgin sacrifice, and then The Rhonda will have her powers.”

Larry started. “Virgin sacrif–, oh, bloody hell.” He almost laughed. “This sacrifice…is it a fertility ritual?”

“Yes, Larry Croft.”

“I can’t believe it. Turk’s finally about to lose his virginity and we’re going to cock block him.”

Holly laughed, in spite of herself. “So, what do we do?” Her eyes widened. “Wait a minute. You’re not going to help the talking water fountain?”

Larry smiled at her. “Don’t be scared. But yes, I am going to help Stercutus. I owe him. And, kinda, so do you.” He turned back to Stercutus and said, “I will help you, but on one condition.”

“Name your terms, quickly.”

“I want a driver’s seat this time. You can’t take over completely. You’ll need me for this, and I want to remember what I did.”

“Agreed,” said the water spout.

“And, you leave when it’s over. Right? We’re done after this?”

“Upon my sacred word, I shall trouble you no further.”

“Okay,” said Larry. “Let’s do this.”

The water spout dropped back down into the toilet.

Larry offered a hand to Holly and pulled her up. “Hey, could you wait outside for this next part?” Before he could answer, he nudged her out the door and closed it in her face.

Holly put her ear to the door. She heard Larry’s pants hit the floor, and her mouth flew open. Then she heard him say something she would never forget as long as she lived: “Stercutus, accept my waste so that you may live again.”

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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