True Believers is a full-length novel by Thom Dunn, based on his play of the same name. It’s a satirical tale of star-crossed lovers, aspiring comic book creators, crazed fanboys, cybernetically enhanced humans, women in refrigerators, real-life superheroes, and girls who dress like Slave Leia as their lives intertwine over a whirlwind weekend at a comic book convention in the early 2010s.
The book will be serialized on Medium throughout the month of April 2020. Here is the first chapter. Check back every day for more chapters!
Comic conventions are synonymous with standing in line. That’s part of the experience, something you learn to accept. But then you find yourself queueing up on line to use the bathroom, and it’s only then that you truly understand the abject torture of stupid people en masse. Nine times out of ten, the holdup is caused by a cosplayer who previously neglected to factor in an easy escape route in his elaborate outfit, which leads to a slow, tedious process of disassembling and re-assembling whatever plastic armor crap they’re wearing, and then having to fix themselves in the mirror like a night out at the nerd club.
That’s why it’s always worth it for Chad to find the most remote bathroom possible. It doesn’t matter that he has to walk up three floors and half a mile out of his way while also fighting through floods of people who overpack the aisles. As long as he keeps moving, it’s usually enough to hold off nature’s call for just that little bit longer until he reaches the freedom of wait-free porcelain.
And every time, it’s worth it, just for that glorious moment when he pushes through the swinging door and walks into the gleaming, pristine bathroom, the scent of lemon-fresh chemical cleaner spritzing through the air and the serene and welcoming wonder of brand new rolls of toilet paper hanging front-side-paper-down on the holder (Chad is a firm believer that TP should come over the top of the roll — never, ever, ever around the back).
Sure, the time it takes for Chad to travel through four square blocks of convention center just to take a piss is about the same amount of time it would take for him to wait in line and achieve the same end. But it’s the principle of the thing.
Simply put, Chad enjoys his privacy, especially when it comes to private parts. He’s a strict adherent to the unwritten rules of Men’s Bathroom Etiquette: eyes forward, elbows in, skip a stall when possible, and absolutely no conversation while one’s junk is one’s hand. If anyone has ever done a scientific study on such a thing, Chad’s sure that it would show that comic book conventions have a significantly increased likelihood of someone breaking one of these unwritten rules. There’s always some Chewbacca rubbing arms with you, whether it’s a cosplayer, a hairy guy, or Peter Mayhew himself (who, as far as Chad is aware, makes the bulk of his income these days signing autographs on the convention circuit anyway).
This is why it’s both disheartening and sadly unsurprising when Chad hears a familiar voice speaking to him right when he steps up to the urinal, but just too late to stop the flow.
“Hey, Chad? It’s me, Box. From before, at the panel? I wrote — “
“Yeah, I know who you are,” Chad says, doing his best not to cringe for fear of spraying down his pants. He focuses on a small rust stain on the wall in front of him, refusing to turn his head and acknowledge the weirdo behind him. If it were up to Chad, he’d never have to see the bald bastard again. That it has to happen in the Men’s Bathroom of all places just adds insult to Chad’s already-egregious-emotional-injuries.
“Box is really just my character name. My mom calls me Christopher,” Box says, and Chad can feel his presence just over his left shoulder, like a mystical Middle Eastern Mr. Clean. “I heard you still live with your mom, too, is that — “
“Do you mind?” Chad turns his head slightly, to make clear that he’s addressing Box. Not that there’s anyone else in the bathroom. But he hopes it works for emphasis, to drive the point home: please leave me alone while I’m holding my god damn dick.
Box slaps Chad on the back of the shoulder, sending unsanitary shivers through his skin. “Oh! Oh yeah, totally. Don’t let me stop you. I just wanted to say from before, when you were all ‘Shut the fuck up?’ At the panel? That was really awesome. I mean, seriously, it was brilliant.”
Eyes forward. Eyes forward. Eyes fucking forward! Chad tells himself. He means it like a spell, as if he could conjure Box away if he thinks hard enough about it.
And maybe that would have worked, too, if Chad’s concentration wasn’t broken by Box’s form filling in the edge of his peripheral vision as he walks up to the stall to Chad’s right and begins to adjust himself.
“So I was thinking, maybe you and me, we can start like a feud between us, these two rival creators. You know, on message boards, or toss it in an interview, ‘Oh I hate that jerk, Chad Mailer!’ ‘Oh that Box, he’s a pretentious prick.’ Think about it. I think it’d be really great marketing. Obviously we could be friends outside of — “
“Can you back off a bit? Give me some space here? Thanks.” That’s twice that Chad’s broken his own no-talking rule. But as far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t have a choice. As he speaks, he pushes harder, feels the warm, forceful flow speed up and out his system.
That waterfall of relief is the only thing keeping Chad from losing his cool.
“Oh yeah, sure. Sorry,” Box says. He takes three steps back from the urinal then stops. It doesn’t do much to give Chad space, but at least it’s better than literally rubbing elbows, which as far as Chad is concerned as the same as rubbing dicks through conduction. “I don’t really believe in personal space anyway, I think our souls are all intertwined so what’s the difference. But yeah, you and me, we can stay in touch by e-mail or whatever, really try to coordinate this. I’ve got this group of Chaos Magicians I hang out with on Thursdays. They actually helped me get this new gig with DC. They made a magical sigil of all of my creative output and masturbated while concentrating their hypersexual energies on shifting the elements and it’s kind of a complicated ritual, I don’t have to explain it all right now — but I just figured — “
“No, go ahead, just say it.” Chad gives his manhood a rigorous shake and lets the last bits of liquid plop into the porcelain basin before he zips up.
When he turns around, Chad sees Box shrinking away from him. It’s more nervousness than the kind of embarrassment or shame that Chad reserves for bathroom interactions. It’s like DC Comics’ new star rookie feels timid, or intimidated, even. Chad can actually see him steeling up his nerves with clenched teeth and fists and a full-body shake like a strange dancing child before he answers.
“Well, all press is good press, right?” Box says. “So I figured, with the New Horizons forum, and this new deal, it just made sense — ”
But Chad doesn’t need to hear anymore. That was more than enough for him to understand the ruse, to know what Box is going for. “You and your shiny new exclusive fucking contract. How’s that going for you?”
“Um. Well we just signed it but — “
“I’ve been busting my ass for years in this industry, but you just jack off on some comic books, and whoopdy-fuckin-doo, you’re a star. So now you go and rub it in the face of the guy who deserves it? Fuck. Off.”
Chad storms past Box and stomps out of the bathroom. As the door swings shut behind him, he can barely make out Box’s hurt and tender voice calling after him to wash his hands.
The day wanes on as the convention continues to whirlwind around Chloe, all alone at the eye of the storm. From her vantage point beside the central staircase — where the wi-fi signal and electrical outlets are both readily available — the world rushes past like a technicolor time-lapse film, beautiful blurs of cartoons and creatures and comic book creations in their gleaming flesh. At one point a group of high schoolers gathers nearby to play networked games alone together on their PSPs. She watches them with envy, wishing she had brought hers as well. Even if she did, she knows she wouldn’t have the courage to ask if she could play.
Soon the endless Starbucks line is gone and the autumn’s evening dusk casts a calming auburn glow on the lobby through the skylights of the convention center. And Chloe still sits there. Alone. Waiting for her man.
She signs one more time into Revenant’s Revenge and refreshes her message screen. But there’s still no word from ReturnOfTheTEDi.
There’s always the possibility that he didn’t see any of her last five messages. After all, he’s busy, right? Her Ted’ums is important; or at least, that’s what he told her. She never had a reason not to believe him. Right?
Chloe begins to compose a new message, her sixth since arriving at the convention center, not counting the ones she’d sent from the airport.
“Hey, it’s me again,” she says into the lapel mic on her headphones, keeping her voice down to avoid attention now that her loneliness can’t be hidden by the bustle of activity around her. “I was hoping you checked your computer. I know you’re busy, but it’s late now, and I’m getting kind of nervous. You probably went all the way out to the airport, and then I wasn’t there, and I’m guessing you’re pretty mad about that. I thought it’d be nice if I surprised you, and didn’t make you go all the way out there. But, clearly, that didn’t work so well. Anyway — “
Then she’s interrupted by a man’s voice above her. “‘Scuse me, miss?”
At first, the sight of a man with a dark complexion standing above her gives Chloe hope. Then she notices the security guard outfit.
“Building’s closing down for the night,” he says, with a lackadaisical motion toward the doors, where another man in similar garb holds open the one door left unchained.
Chloe swallows. Where is she going to go? And what will she do without Internet access? “But I’m supposed to be waiting for — “
“If you’re waiting for the forum tomorrow morning, there’s already a line forming outside. You can stand with them.”
Chloe tries to protest, hoping they’ll at least let her look up a nearby cafe with wi-fi or something. But the security guard won’t have it; he shakes his head and scoots closer toward her, pointing his thumb at the door with greater urgency than he did before, making the message that much clearer.
“Excuse me! Hey! Building’s closed! Out!” he shouts at someone at the other end of the hall as Chloe scrambles to pack her laptop and charger.
“…it’s getting pretty late so I’m starting to get nervous,” Ted says into his cellphone as he steps out into the mostly-vacant lobby of the Javits Center, watching the security guards wrap chains around the doors. “Please call me back, let me know you’re alright. Love you.”
Ted hangs up just as a security guard near the central staircase shouts at him. “Excuse me! Hey! Building’s closed! Out!” he says, as some spooked young girl scrambles to collect her things behind him.
As much as it hurts him, Ted might have to admit that he was stiffed by his sweet Chloe, left alone and fooled by a woman once again.