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

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One in a Million – Chapter 16

16. It’s all a lot of Simple Tricks and Nonsense

Rhonda walked down 19th Street, enjoying the sun and the stares that followed her. They couldn’t help themselves. There was just something about her. Something magnetic. Like she came with her own internal light source. The women stared, even the straight ones. Her skin was perfect; peach colored with a hint of freckles. Healthy looking. Flawless. The men stared too, but for entirely different reasons. It was hard for them to concentrate on which set of sexual characteristics was more appealing to them. Everything was noticeable in its own sublime buoyancy.

No one noticed that Rhonda’s high heel boots weren’t actually touching the sidewalk. They hovered, about two inches above the pavement and lent a smooth glide to Rhonda’s normally affected sashay. Rhonda herself didn’t seem to notice much, or if she did, she didn’t care one bit. The day was too perfect to dwell on such incongruities. The sun was out, and yet she never moved out of dappled, partly cloudy light. Just enough to make her sparkle, but not burn.

Today was a shopping day for Rhonda. She needed food, beverages, and due to the recent phenomenal influx of cash from the website, whatever else she fancied, as well. New books, new shoes, whatever. She could now afford it. She also could have driven to her various destinations, but if she did that, who would be able to see her? Not nearly as many people, that’s for sure. And Rhonda was all about being seen these days.

At Sanchez’s Grocery, one of the stock boys followed her around, pushing a cart, and loaded it up with whatever Rhonda indicated she’d like. At the checkout counter, he waved her off. “I’ve got this,” he said.

“Well, thank you,” she replied. “Can you deliver it to my apartment, too?”

“No problem,” he assured her. “I get off work at 6 PM.”

“That’ll be fine,” she told him. “Here’s my address.” She handed him one of her business cards, the ink rearranging itself into her address as she did so.

“You’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever seen in my life,” he blurted out, his face reddening.

Rhonda smiled, cocked her hip, and threw him one of her Gil Elvgren Cheesecake poses.

“You’re the sweetest thing, I swear you are.” She blew him a kiss and left.

At the Beanery Coffee Shop, where she regularly caffeinated herself, the line was long and the counter understaffed. As she walked up, she could actually feel the agitation from the people who were waiting on coffee.

Under her breath, she said, “I am NOT waiting in line for coffee. The least you can all do is be accommodating to me.” Before she even found the end of the line, it began to part for her. Everyone turned, and with great deference and bowed heads, stepped one way or the other, peeling right down the middle like a living banana. Rhonda walked straight up to the counter where Simone, the tatted and pierced lesbian who always flirted shamelessly with her stood waiting. “Hey Simone,” she said.

“Ruh-Ruh-Ruh-Rhonda…” Simone answered, visibly agitated.

“Honey, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“What do you want, Rhonda?” Simone refused to look her in the eyes.

“My usual, to go, please.”

“Vanilla latte, extra shot, soy milk,” Simone called out.

Rhonda reached out a hand to put a dollar in the tip jar, and Simone flinched. She looked terrified.

“You should switch to decaf,” Rhonda said, smirking.

“Here you go, Rhon,” said Simone. “Four dollars even.”

Rhonda dropped a five dollar bill on the counter. “You keep the change. So nice.”

“I love you,” Simone said, her expression pained. “I have for a year, now.”

“I know.” Rhonda said. “See you later.”

She glanced back at the line of people as she left. It had coalesced back together already, as if she’d never been there.

Rhonda paused outside of Night Owl Books. She could see Leslie at the front counter, talking to a customer and loading her up with paperbacks. They were laughing. Rhonda really wanted to go inside, but she knew what would happen, and she didn’t want it to happen to Leslie.

She walked on, her thoughts momentariliy dark, and when she came to Comix Comix Comix five blocks later, she did the same thing. Then it occurred to her that she didn’t have to go in and risk seeing D.J. The very next person that stepped out of the store was a heavyset man wearing sweatpants and a Firefly t-shirt.

“Hey there,” she said, walking straight up to him and flashing her best smile.

“Oh my god,” he said, dropping his sack of comics. “You’re her. The Sno-Cone girl…”

She looked at him and in the second that their eyes made contact, she saw him: JDP111213.

Real name, John David Pilson. Thirty-five years old, unmarried. He joined the site two weeks ago and had been online every night since. Lurking. His apartment was dirty and smelled of parmesan cheese. He collected old Playboys and Hot Wheels in addition to comics. The walls of his home were covered in metal cars and magazines. His parents were dead and he lived in their home. His cat was named Lovecraft, and after the comic store, he was on his way to buy food for the week. He wanted ground beef and Cakensteins…

She looked away. The information was still there, hovering in front of him. She pushed through it, as he was staring at her in an uncomfortable way now. “Does this mean I win?” he asked. There was a note of menace in his tone of voice.

“It means, you walk back into the store and buy me the latest issues of Catwoman, Red Racer, and Love and Rockets, and we’ll see.” John turned around and ran back into the store like he was on fire and D.J. had the last glass of water.

He was back not five minutes later. He was breathing heavily as he handed her the sack of comics. “Okay, so, do I win?”

“Contest isn’t over yet, Sweetie,” said Rhonda. “Wait and see.” She continued walking.
“Hey!” He barked.

Rhonda turned around. “What?” she snapped.

“That’s not good enough.” He started walking towards her.

For just a second, Rhonda’s confidence faltered. What was wrong? Why wasn’t it working on him? She took a step back and then her feet touched the ground. The impact was jarring, and it startled her.

“Son of a bitch,” she said. Now John was closer to her, and he was reaching out for her arm. No, she thought. This was not going to happen. Not here. And certainly not with him.

“No,” she said out loud, and John froze in his tracks. His eyes widened.

“What the fuck?”

“You dare?” Rhonda said. “You dare reach for me?” John was suddenly lifted off of the ground, all 250 pounds of him, and he dangled in mid-air like a rag doll. “You don’t get to touch me without my permission. Do you know who I am? I’m RHONDA.”

“Please…” John whispered. “I didn’t know.”

“You son-of-a-bitch. You are not worthy to kiss my feet, let alone put your hands on me. I am not a prize to be taken at your whim!”

“…I didn’t know,” he said again.

“Now you fucking well know, don’t you?” said Rhonda. She was hovering again, now looking him in the eyes. “I know you, John David Pilson. I know your life. I know your habits. I know all about your sordid existence. Do not fuck with me.”

“Please…no…I won’t…”

Rhonda dropped him on the sidewalk. He landed badly, rolled his ankle, and went down in an ungainly heap, yowling. The sight of him on the ground, crawling away from her, filled her with anger she didn’t realize she had: all of the rejections, the bad decisions, the doubts, fears, and criticism, every horrible thing her step-father ever said to her, and every horrible time her mother never defended her daughter or herself, every sneering boss, every shitty boyfriend, every bill she couldn’t pay, every class she couldn’t pass…it came roaring up inside her like a firehose. She flicked her head, and John went sailing out into the street. He slammed against a white convertible that was double parked on the other side and rolled off like a wet lasagna noodle, crying loudly.

Rhonda took a deep breath. That felt good! She raised her voice. “You will apologize to me. On the website. Tonight. Or I’ll cut you off and then I’ll cut you…off.” She arched her eyebrow, and then her back, turning on her heel (in mid-air) and gliding off down the street. There was more to do before she returned to her apartment and the glory of her subjects.

She was so caught up in her world of divine retribution that she didn’t notice the average looking, compactly built man watching her intently from the doorway of the comic shop. He trailed after her as she walked up the street, his black-rimmed glasses fogging slightly. He took them off, wiped the condensation on his shirt, and then squinted at John in the street and the dented car. His dented car.

“Cocksucker,” said John, who was now sitting up.

The average-looking guy walked over, putting his glasses on as he did. “Get out of the street,” he said to John.

“Man, I’ve been fucking assaulted,” he said.

“No, you got what was coming to you.”

“What?” said John.

“Never mind,” the other man said. “Who was that?”

John swallowed. “Sno Cone Girl.”

“Huh,” the other man said. He gestured with his hand, and the dent in the right front panel of the car popped out like hard rubber. The drop of blood John had left there went flying.
This was about all that John could take. He crawled, staggered, and then hobbled back across the street to his dropped bag of comics as fast as he was able.

“What’s wrong with you?” the other man said. “Aside from the ankle?”

John opened and closed his mouth, but nothing came out.

“Listen, I’m not going to destroy you. It wasn’t your fault she threw you into my car. Are you okay?”

“No,” said John.

The man waved his hand again, and suddenly, John’s ankle felt brand new. No longer sore or tender. He almost laughed.

“How about now?” the other man asked.

“That was amazing!” John said.

“I know,” said the other man, getting into his car. He rolled the windows down.

“Who are you?” John asked.

“Bretz. Mike Bretz.” The convertible roared to life and as John watched, it faded from sight as Mike Bretz drove silently down the street in the direction Rhonda was walking.

John turned around and promptly threw up.


About Author

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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