If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:
- Read Chapter One here
- Read Chapter Two here
- Read Chapter Three here
- Read Chapter Four here
- Read Chapter Five here
- Read Chapter Six here
- Read Chapter Seven here
- Read Chapter Eight here
- Read Chapter Nine here
- Read Chapter Ten here
- Read Chapter Eleven here
- Read Chapter Twelve here
- Read Chapter Thirteen here
- Read Chapter Fourteen here
- Read Chapter Fifteen here
- Read Chapter Sixteen here
- Read Chapter Seventeen here
- Read Chapter Eighteen here
- Read Chapter Nineteen here
- Read Chapter Twenty here
- Read Chapter Twenty-One here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Two here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Three here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Four here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Five here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Six here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Seven here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Eight here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Nine here
- Read Chapter Thirty here
- Read Chapter Thirty-One here
One in a Million – Epilogue
Longest. Epilogue. Ever.
Mike Bretz’s involvement in the Castro-New-God-Power-Grab, as it became known in the magical underground, did wonders for his image. He didn’t obtain the god-fire that he tried so desperately to wrest from The Rhonda, but as far as anyone else could tell, it looked like he kept the new Godling contained and busy long enough for her to fail on her own. In the world of the Supernatural, that counts as a win.
Now when Mike attended magical community functions, he found people nodding and saying hello to him. Even Sally Fell, a powerful sorceress that he had lusted after for years, wasn’t avoiding him in disgust. Mike wracked his brain, trying to figure out what it was that made people change their minds about him, but he never could put his finger on it. He did figure out that, whenever asked about his involvement, it was far better to say, “Well, I was just there, and did what I needed to do,” than to say anything else, like what he was really after.
The local peacekeepers of the magical community, The Pentacle, approached him to gauge his interest in joining their ranks. Even Mike understood that was a big deal, a way bigger honor than he ever deserved, so he respectfully declined. He never clued into the fact that it was the selfless act that defined the hero, but he did manage to curtail being a raging asshole to everyone around him. It was a small victory, but for Mike Bretz, it was enough.
Justin Tripp decided it was time to retire. He’d worked so very hard his entire life, even if the last ten or twelve years had been kind of a chemically-altered blur. But after witnessing his stolen property walk in on its own volition, and after the battery of questions (and later, tests) the police subjected him to, he was more than happy to take the court mandated 28-Day rehab program in exchange for a new lease on life.
After rehab, Justin apologized to D.J. for being drunk and high for their entire working relationship. He then surprised the hell out of D.J. by offering to let D.J. buy the store from him.
The deal took a month to work out, but it left Justin with some monthly income, his parents home, free and clear, and nothing better to do with his life than go back to the thing that he used to love: art. Justin started painting again, and while his form was rusty, he found that his color sense was absolutely inspired.
He became a fixture in the Tenderloin scene, a local legend and icon with great stories to tell, the occasional gallery show, and more dumb luck than he knew what to do with. His most recent series of paintings was a man made out of geometric shapes interacting with photo-realistic foreground and background images. The book of the paintings and the documentary behind the work shares the name, “The Golem.” The book will be out in time for Christmas. Sixty-five dollars a pop. Autographed copies will be available at Comix Cubed.
When the police found the abandoned Tech Warehouse van, they found three exhausted, mentally spent young men and a thoroughly destroyed front bucket seat. Sebastian was picked up about a mile from the van, on foot, his right arm a bloody mess, and carrying the box cutter he’d used to free himself. Their feeble story about how they were following the people who smashed the front door of Comix Comix Comix evaporated once the police noticed the glass dust and bits of cinderblock in the van’s interior.
The fire department had to be called to cut out a section of the roof, whereupon they were eventually able to pry and rend the sheet metal from around Jerry’s foot. It took a few hours of swearing and discomfort, after which Jerry was promptly booked for vandalism, breaking and entering, and disrupting the peace.
Tech Warehouse had been looking for a reason to fire Jerry all along, having suspected him of being a large part of their monumental shrink problem. They fired Sebastian, too, but as Seb had priors and didn’t want more jail time, he cheerfully rolled over on Jerry, whom he didn’t really like in the first place. By this time, Jerry’s parents were firmly in the mix, and they came down on his head like a ten ton safe.
After the court fees, the lawyers, and pleading out, along with an extremely lenient judge, Jerry’s sentence was commuted to community service and conditional probation. Five hundred hours of volunteering at senior citizen centers, Planned Parenthood, the boys and girls club, and the public library knocked every last ounce of white entitlement out of Jerry Markham. He railed increasingly against his parents, whom he was living was as part of his probation, for being “part of the problem” and “turning a blind eye to what’s really going on.”
Getting his record cleared took three years, and a lot of money, earned from working for his father’s insurance company. As soon as he was out from under the court’s thumb, he moved out of his parent’s house and into his girlfriend’s place. Amani was half Black, half Mexican, with caramel-colored skin and dreadlocks. His parents hated her, but not, they insisted, because she’s black. Jerry didn’t care. He had a healthy nest egg saved up, seven thousand dollars, that he’d carefully embezzled from his father’s company, and the two of them eloped, using the money to fly Amani, Jerry, and her seven year old girl, Gwendolyn, to Hawaii to get married on the beach.
Jerry eventually found work in social services, working with troubled teenagers, and he never played video games or role-playing games again.
Phong, having brought great shame to his family, was demoted to third in line to take over the restaurant, behind his younger sister. He still plays Call of Duty under the gamertag PLKIKKAH and is highly sought after on pick-up teams for his hand to hand prowess.
Sebastian Palmer didn’t have rich parents to lob tons of cash at his problem. He served six months time at California State Prison in Sacramento. When he got out, he found work as an auto mechanic, and was happy to work on cars until one of them accidentally fell on him, crushing him instantly.
No one knows what became of Stevie Fleckner.
Holly Day and Larry Croft moved in together at the end of the month. Thankfully her place was large enough to accommodate Larry’s gaming table. That was all he cared about, anyway. Everything else could have burned up in a fire.
Larry’s apartment was rented out by a young woman named Tabitha Belder, 23, who had a number of serious character defects, chief among them being sexual addiction. As such, she entertained a number of men, sometimes as many as five a week, often, and loudly. None of this would have been an issue if it weren’t for the microphone Sebastian placed in the windowsill of Larry’s former bedroom, a transmitter that cheerfully broadcast her exploits on a specific channel for the battery life of the unit, about a year and a half. In that time, a number of ham radio operators became intimately acquainted with Ms. Belder’s nocturnal activities, and even went so far as to record and post some of them on the ham radio usenet group.
Only one ham radio operator dared break the fourth wall and got up the nerve to approach her—a feat which, in retrospect, required zero nerve and merely a judicious application of tequila. Thus it was that Charles “CJWBAYAREA” Walton entered the annals of ham radio legend when, in the midst of his encounter with Tabitha, began a series of “shout outs” to his “Hammie Homies,” resulting in not only the interruption of Tabitha’s orgasm, but also the discovery of the microphone. Fortunately for the ham radio community, Tabitha was an exhibitionist, as well, and so she let the mic stay. When the battery died, three months later, Charles came over and replaced the mic for her, no charge.
Holly stared, not for the first time, at her new dining room table, a large, custom-made rectangle, currently laid out with an inset green felt play surface, a rail for holding dice and pencils, and cup holders to keep drinks off of the playing surface. The normal table top, solid wood, was lifted out and stored in the pantry until the guys went home. It was game night tonight, and Holly just shook her head.
Living with Larry was…interesting. In some ways, it was exactly what she’d expected, and in others, it was a new adventure (or at least a vigorous conversation) every day. Larry, to her delight, did seem to have more snap, more fire, and not just in their day-to-day lives, either. Sometimes his grand plans were dismal failures, such as the night he tried to surprise Holly with a Hong Kong movie double feature wherein he cooked all of the Chinese food instead of ordering it in, and nearly set fire to the kitchen and ruined all of the food. But she gave him full points for making the effort, something that very few people in her life had tried to do prior to Larry.
Would it last? Could she marry him? They talked about children, especially after what happened, and they talked about marriage, especially after what happened, but they never sealed the deal. It just didn’t seem right. They were still finding their groove. But it was getting easier, now that Larry was routinely cleaning the bathroom instead of letting the man-funk build up to unacceptable levels.
She didn’t even mind that their guest bathroom medicine cabinet contained a shrine to Stercutus inside. There was no more incidents of Midnight visits, or talking to oneself in the bathroom. Larry eventually showed her what Stercutus meant by “engaging in congress in the accepted sacred fashion,” as well. They only did that on special occasions, though.
Leslie Lieboldt’s brief, torrid affair with Hazel convinced her that she was not bi, merely bi-curious. And now, not that curious. It was different than dating a man, and make no mistake about that. Some things were a thousand times simpler. Others, not so much. It didn’t last long, but it didn’t have to, really. She and Hazel parted on good terms, and it was enough to keep her friendly with Jane Callow, now involved with her friend, D.J. She left her job at the bookstore to work at Comix Comix Comix and brought with her a number of female comic readers. Their sales of Strangers in Paradise doubled.
She and D.J. remained good friends.
Linda Grogan and Burt lasted another six weeks before ending, exactly as she had feared, with Burt being another friend in her stable.
Their breakup, which Burt orchestrated, prompted Linda to take a good, long, hard look at herself, and she came to the conclusion that she did not like who she was, or what she was doing, or anything else about her life. She started doing tantric yoga and went deep into Vedic medicine. She let her armpit hair grow out, and stopped using chemicals on her body. At the end of six months of self-reflection, she was offered the chance to go visit an ashram in India, and she jumped at the opportunity.
Three years later, Linda returned to the Bay Area. Now a full-fledged practitioner of tantric magic, she opened a yoga studio and made tentative contact with her old friends. After a strained reunion with the sisters, she found that the only person she really still liked was Holly. They renewed their friendship with Holly taking the beginning yoga class, and have been thick as thieves ever since.
Rhonda Halsey stayed in a coma for three days. When she opened her eyes, the first person she saw was Fred Terkington. He was asleep in the chair, his head hanging, a line of drool dangling off of his bottom lip. It was the sweetest thing she’d ever seen in her life.
The hospital kept her for a few extra days, running tests, while the police asked her a ton of questions. Rhonda told them she and Fred were hanging out and then the world caved in on them and she didn’t remember anything else. It was technically true in that she was making the deliberate choice not to remember anything, and it was the only reason that the demolished building was written off as an act of God. The irony of the conclusion was not lost on anyone.
While undergoing the battery of tests, everyone was surprised to discover that Rhonda was pregnant. After a brief and frantic discussion with Fred, it was decided that they were going to get married. Six weeks later, that’s exactly what they did. Their friends stood up for them in a simple civil ceremony, with the only other guests being their shell-shocked parents. During the reception, Larry, Burt, and D.J. started a betting pool to determine the length of the marriage. For five dollars you could pick an increment of time in months, or years. Mr. Terkington himself dropped fifty bucks on his son’s chance of screwing the whole thing up.
To date, no one has claimed the money.
Rhonda and Fred’s daughter, Golden Jewel Terkington, was born on November 13th of the same year. Everyone in the delivery room has tried to convince themselves that there wasn’t really a flash of pink light when the baby came out. But Turk has the whole thing on video.
Speaking of video, when the police allowed the renters back into the ruined apartment to claim their possessions, Turk and Rhonda found that most of her furnishings were destroyed. What did manage to survive was the closet full of computing equipment and two dozen cameras. Protected by Rhonda’s magic, the devices were in perfect working order, and managed to capture the entire fight, along with everything else that went down in the apartment that night.
The first thing Turk decided to do was take all of the raw footage of the battle and edit it together into a five minute movie that looked for all the world like a Star Wars fan film. Flashing lights, acrobatics, columns of fire, and flying people turned “Snow Cone Girl’s Last Stand” into a viral internet sensation.
The film was enough to generate some interest in Turk’s new company, Big Turk Productions, and soon he and Rhonda were shooting videos, commercials, and even small movies for people with more money than sense. Rhonda did what she could until her pregnancy was too far along, and they took some time off. They weren’t doing it because they needed the money. Rhonda was worth approximately fourteen million dollars after taxes. But the production company gave Turk something to do, so he didn’t feel like a kept man.
No one thought they would last. But they fooled everyone, even if it did cost Rhonda a few relationships. After the baby was born, they moved out of Turk’s apartment and found a Victorian two-story for sale in Pacific Heights. They spent the money to have the house professionally restored and fully upgraded for their digital lifestyle. Sno-Cone-Girl-dot-com was no more, but Rhonda was Internet-famous. While they still could, Turk edited together their consummation into a thirty minute feature called “Rhonda’s Big Night” and accidentally uploaded it to a public server. When it went viral, too, they pulled the video off, claimed it was an anniversary present, and expressed regret that the video was out there…until they got the offer to release it officially through adult video distribution.
The money that movie generated became known as “Golden’s College Fund.”
It was a weird relationship, and none of their friends knew what to make of it, but it worked. Rhonda’s crazy was the perfect match for Turk’s obsessiveness. They fit well together. And they beat the odds in a game where the deck was clearly stacked against them. Each had what the other needed. Rhonda had Turk’s devotion, and Turk had Rhonda’s misplaced sense of needing to be in charge of something. That and the enormous tallywhacker.
Burt and Turk stopped hanging out after Turk left college. Burt finished his degree plan and went to work for Renaissance Technical Systems, the same place where Larry worked. While they were in different departments, it was still nice to have lunch with a friend, which they did. On Wednesdays, they made the comic shop run, and occasionally double dated when Burt was seeing someone new and needed the conversational wing man. That never lasted long, of course, and Burt eventually stopped trying altogether. It wasn’t until he was well into his thirties that he came out to his friends, starting with Larry. Now head of the I.T. department, Burt and Larry (who had long ago left the company) were eating lunch when Burt looked up from his pasta salad and said, “Larry, I’m gay.”
Larry said, without missing a beat, “No shit,” as he munched on his angel hair pasta.
“That’s it?” Burt asked. “Don’t you want to know anything else?”
“What’s to know, Burt?” Larry put his fork down. “You’re one of my oldest, closest friends. The fact that you’re telling me this is great, but it’s nothing I didn’t figure out a long time ago. And it sure as shit doesn’t change our relationship. Wait, you’re not in love with me, are you?”
“No, not hardly,” laughed Burt.
“Then there you go,” Larry said, picking up his fork again. “What else you got for me?”
“You’re the first person I’ve told,” said Burt. “Is it cool if I tell Deej we’re in love on Wednesday?”
Larry laughed. “Yeah, go for it.”
Burt smiled and they returned to their meal.
D.J. McGuiness was literally living in a dream world. It was one thing to be offered, out of the fucking blue, a fully-functioning comic book shop for your very own, but a hot vampire girlfriend, too? And then there was that one night, early in the relationship, when a very drunk Leslie and Hazel walked in on the two of them making out, and, well, never mind what happened next. Deej learned that if you talk about it, if you name it, you take away its power. D.J. was a vault of secrets. And so, he was also awash with power.
Jane and Hazel told him everything. It was a lot to take in at first. His world opening up to allow for the existence (or in Jane’s case, the former existence) of vampires, not to mention floating sorcerers, godlings in human form, possession, and whatever else went down that night, would have tried the patience of any rational man. Fortunately for D.J. he’d experienced some of these things before, and he also read enough comics to make the average person’s skull throb with regret. Consequently, these weren’t huge leaps he had to make.
Keeping up with Jane proved to be another matter entirely. Her schedule was such that she wasn’t home for more than one or two weekends at a time. The rest of her days (make that nights) were spent dealing with offers from Hollywood, signings and conventions, and avoiding sunlight whenever possible. Between D.J.’s newfound responsibilities required he be at the shop seven days a week, come rain or shine. He suddenly had a modicum of sympathy for Justin and his need to have a bed in the back. As a result, he and Jane saw one another only once a month, give or take, and that allowed the relationship to progress at its own speed. Of course, there was email and phone calls. Lots of email and phone calls. For all of his social awkwardness in person, D.J. was pretty brilliant and suave when it came to writing letters. He wooed Jane Callow, in a way that he never knew he had in him, in a way that Jane secretly knew she’d one day be wooed.
After Jane wrote her third book, she sold the film rights to the entire trilogy. With the money she raked in, she bought Comix Comix Comix and made D.J. the God-Emperor of the store for life. They cleaned out the disgusting back room and made a proper receiving area and employee break room, along with two cozy offices that shared a hidden door, allowing them to go back and forth and interrupt the other person with smooches or other goofiness.
Now that they saw one another more often, and D.J. was finally, after all this time, loosening up and becoming her one true dark horse man, her knight in shining denim and t-shirts, Jane was mortified to realize that she wanted to settle down and have a husband and wife dynamic. She was even more mortified to learn, via Hazel, that D.J. intended to propose to her, with a Green Lantern replica power ring, no less. So Jane did the only suitable thing she could think of: she beat him to the punch one night during a commercial break while watching Lost.
“Deej, will you do me the honor of being my eternal boyfriend-slash-common law husband until such time as you get too old to satisfy me sexually, whereupon you’ll become my personal valet and attend to me in my grief?”
“That’s…the coolest thing anyone has ever asked me to do,” said D.J. “Yes, Jane. I’ll be your…all of that.”
They ended up getting married anyway, in Saturday afternoon ceremony, three years later. Yes, I said afternoon. For you see, Jane finally figured out what to do with all of that extra energy she’d siphoned off of Rhonda. She never really liked being a vampire anyway, and so she gradually, over a long period of time, shaped her thoughts about the energy into a life force, a healing essence, that acted as a spiritual antennae, collecting fragments of souls, until she had enough to make herself another one. The act used up all of the energy, but it reversed Jane’s “other monthly curse,” as she called it, and left her (and Hazel) plain, ordinary, fabulous, and very much alive.
She still wears black to her personal appearances, though. Come on, she’s Jane Callow. We mustn’t let standards slip.
And what of Larry Croft? We end this story as we began it, with Larry, looking into his mirror. He’s older now, and a bit on the husky side, as age often hangs on a man. He and Holly have been together eight years now, in fact, and are doing well. They have a dog named Conan and a cat named Lovecraft. And they are happy and content, the four of them.
Larry now works with Holly’s company and helps with database programming and the initial coding and building of data input modules. On the side, Larry started a role-playing game company called Croftworks Games. His game, Heist!, won best new RPG at Origins two years ago. He has a small stable of freelancers all over the country who write and draw for the company. It’s not a moneymaker, per se, but it keeps them in groceries. Most of what Larry makes, he socks back. Holly’s company makes the real money in the house.
He still sees the guys, of course. They game every week, schedules permitting. Even Turk shows up, and everyone agrees not to ask him what’s new, because odds are pretty good he’ll tell them and no one wants to hear him recount the shared weirdness that is Turk and Rhonda.
Larry looked out his living room window and smiled. A good woman, great friends, and the freedom to do what you want in life. Is there anything better? The doorbell rang. Game time. Larry put on his old battered fedora, for old time’s sake, and went to answer the door, his dog Conan following along, just in case they brought food for him.