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!
It doesn’t take long for Kt to fall back into her city-walking stride, combat boots carrying her with confidence and authority as she walks down 37th Street. She holds her chin up high to stave off catcalls and anyone else who might threaten or interrupt her — New York’s scarier aspects also fill her with adrenaline — and she only peers down occasionally to check the drying progress of the Red Bull stains on her dress. She’s surprised by how quickly it evaporates in the brisk autumn air, though she’s also glad that she remembered her leather jacket because the moisture makes the chilly night that much colder.
After she crosses 11th Ave, Kt sees the convention center again, lit up like a beacon framed against the New York Harbor. She wonders briefly how much energy they waste by keeping the lights on all night after hours — but of course, that’s a question you could easily apply to the whole of New York City.
As she gets nearer to it, she notices a small crowd gathered outside the main entrance. There’s maybe a hundred fifty people, which she realizes on second thought might not be that small after all. She’s definitely seen bigger lines gathered overnight in San Diego — but at least it’s a little warmer then, and much more welcoming than the constant construction zone around the no-man’s land of mid-westside Manhattan. Some of the convention attendees have pitched tents for the evening, while others huddle close together for warmth, draped in some collective group Elven cloak. Most of them wear some semblance of a costume without regard for warmth. Kt considers the possibility that these cold-catching convention attendees are probably the same ones without regard for hygiene, and realizes that she might actually be witnessing the Ground Zero creation of what is notoriously known as “Con Crud,” the inexplicable and almost unavoidable contagion that works its way around every gathering of geeks like the sniffle-nosed equivalent of a massive zombie outbreak. And considering the fact that her dress is still damp with the dregs of gross artificial energy drinks, it occurs to Kt that she could very well be patient zero for such a sickness.
Even so, she takes a brief detour and crosses the street just to bear witness to dorkdom’s most dedicated disciples. She imagines herself as an anthropological adventurer, satisfying her own curiosity and endless fascination with this strange offshoot of human culture. It’s not her goal to interfere, to interrupt them in their native habitat. Mostly she just wants to revel in their excitement, to see the fervor in the eyes of the most passionate peoples in all of fandom.
The last thing she expects is to hear someone call her name.
“Kt! Hey! Over here!”
Kt looks down and sees a young girl bounding toward her in white zip-up hoodie with a wine red loincloth flowing between her legs like the lower part of Princess Leia’s — oh.
“Hey…” Kt says, trying desperately to remember where she’d seen the girl before. It had to be today, right? There must have been some reason why she’d stand out in Kt’s mind…
Then it hits her. “Wait. Kansas, right?” she says. She’s got that much down, anyway. “And…remind me of your name?”
“Chloe! That’s right. Sorry,” she says. That’s one of the hardest parts of fan interactions — remembering everyone’s name, or feigning that remembrance and sacrificing authenticity. There’s no perfect option as far as Kt is concerned, so she just goes along with it, in hopes that she’ll recover along the way. They talked about…something about her boyfriend? Maybe?
“Oh no, it’s fine,” Chloe says, shying away. “I’m sure you meet like a thousand people at all your signings and stuff.”
Even in the dark of night, the convention center is lit enough that Kt can make out the rosy glow emanating from her cheeks. As if she’s the one who’s nervous; as if Kt isn’t standing here reeking of Red Bull and whiskey and more-than-mildly-inebriated and totally blanking on the name of someone that she played Awkward Hair Salon Girl Time with earlier today.
“Eh, it’s probably closer to a million people.” Kt means it to disarm poor Chloe’s self-defeating attitude, but quickly realizes that it might make her sound like even more of an asshole. People don’t always understand her sense of humor. “So uh, so what’s going on out here?” she asks, hoping to move the conversation forward just in case she did sound like a jerk.
Chloe motions to the gathered crowd and zips her hoodie up closer to her neck. “Everyone’s camping out so they can be first in line to meet Joss Whedon tomorrow,” she says. “I don’t really know much about him. I mean like, I liked Buffy and all but I’m not like — “
“Wait, so you’re just hanging out with everyone here, at night, overnight — just because?” There’s a part of Kt that can’t believe what she’s hearing, and another part of her that finds Chloe’s midwest naivety oddly endearing (but still totally stupid).
Chloe lets her shoulders slump. She stares at the ground as she kicks at the cracking sidewalk with her sandals and says, “Well, remember I told you I was meeting my boyfriend?” She swallows, giving Kt just a passing glance of eye contact before looking back down at the ground. “He, um, he never showed up. I left him a few messages in the MMORPG, but I didn’t want to leave — you know, in case he came by.”
Then, with a forced smile, she adds: “But everyone here has been really nice and welcoming, so it’s totally cool!”
“So you’re out here…all by yourself?” Kt asks.
Chloe zips her jacket all the up to the top, pulls the hood in close around her neck. “I’m not ‘by myself,’ there’s…everyone.” She motions lazily towards Camp Cosplay, then brings her arms back to hug herself around the hips.
Kt can’t decide if she’s impressed with the poor girl’s gusto, or appalled by her idiocy. “Come on, grab your stuff — “
“I don’t have any stuff,” Chloe says. But even through the obvious embarrassment of her circumstances, Kt can still make out the sparkle of excitement in her eye. “Remember, the airport lost my luggage…
“Right. Kansas; airport; boyfriend; right.”
Kt rubs the her furrowed brow for a moment while she tries to talk herself out of what she’s about to do. But even the tired, selfish side of her brain can’t come up with a convincing argument to leave a young girl out in the cold like this — especially when she’s stuck with nothing but a wretched Slave Leia outfit. “Just come with me then, we’ll go back to my hotel and get you set up with a cot or whatever. I can’t just leave out here by yourself. It’s not safe.”
Kt waits with her face screwed up, but Chloe doesn’t elaborate. “Are you asking, ‘Seriously come with me,’ or like ‘seriously it’s not safe?’ Because I guess, both,” she says, uncertain if she herself even parsed the logic of her own response. “Now I’m going to say something and it’s going to sound melodramatic. But this might be the only chance I ever have to do this, so here it goes.”
Kt clears her throat, then takes on a stocky stance with her legs spread wide and shoulders held sharp and broad. She looks down at Chloe with a gruff expression, reaches out her hand and says, “‘Come with me if you want to live.’”
“I’m gonna die?” Chloe asks, her voice squeaking up at the end as the abject terror flushes through her face and wipes away the color. “I didn’t think it was that bad, I thought they were all nice and that if we were all in the group together then we’d — “
“It was a joke, okay? It’s a quote from a movie. It’s nerdy. I thought it’d be funny; figured I’d never have another chance to use it.” Once again, Kt’s multilayered humor flies above the mark. Truly it’s her greatest burden. “But New York City is, well, you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, ya know?”
Shit, did she just make another accidental movie quote?