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!
Ted clicks the mouse and plays back the message that Chloe left him in the game. Her chipper voice booms from the Bluetooth speakers spread across his studio apartment on the Upper West Side. He lets himself get lost in the surround sound of her voice as he picks up the empty beer cans that he’d strewn across the floor last night. His thoughts begin to wander as he crosses all ten feet to the corner kitchenette.
Ted lets out a heavy sigh as he admires the disgusting pile of dishes rising like a tower from the filthy sink basin. It’s not like him to keep this kind of mess. But Comic-Con week is always hard and — ah, who’s he kidding. He’s been here six months and still treats it like a hotel room. It looks like one, too, with the bland IKEA furniture assembled all around, and not a single sign of the Rebel Alliance outside of his R2-D2 alarm clock. At least he does his best to make the bed every day, but even that has more to do with his compulsive need to sleep under tightly tucked sheets than anything else.
He can’t help but feel he’s failing at the Fully Functioning Adult game, which was the entire reason that he’d moved here after Kathy kicked him out. He was hoping it would make him feel more connected, in the middle of the action like some swinging bachelor. It wasn’t quite the Garden City estate he and Kathy had been saving up for, or even the New Rochelle condo where they were living in the interim. Where Kathy still lives now, with all of Ted’s shit.
It’s not shit, he reminds himself. They’re collector’s items.
A familiar shift in Chloe’s voiceover inflection brings Ted back to reality. For a moment he feels bad about letting his thoughts wander, but by this point he’s listened to her voicemails at least a dozen times and can practically recite them all from memory. “…Anyway, it looks like they’re kicking us out of the convention center right now, but I’ll try to find a cafe or something where there’s WiFi. Hopefully you get this soon.” She pauses, then adds, “Love you.”
It’s the pause that gets him. Is she mad? Because Ted didn’t log on to the stupid game until this morning? How was he supposed to know she’d left a message in the game? In Ted’s defense, he’s been a little busy. He didn’t mean to be neglectful. Besides, he went all the way out to the airport for her, and called at least twelve times.
Of course, none of those efforts mattered to Kathy. Why would Chloe care about them?
He pushes the thought from his head. It’s not fair for Ted to compare the two of them — and it’s really not fair for him to assign Kathy’s flaws to his sweet Chloe. She doesn’t deserve that, he tells himself. She provides different things for him, and it’s a different time in his life. Chloe’s young, and enthusiastic, and so unendingly supportive. Not like bitter old Kathy, where nothing was ever good enough.
Chloe cares for Ted. She believes in him, and that makes him believe in himself. That’s why he’s with her; that’s why he organized this whole crazy weekend for them. He wanted to showoff all the amazing things he does, the things that he can only do because she loves him. And he wanted Chloe to become a part of that, too.
So where is she? And why is everything falling apart?
Kt told him not to call the cops, and Ted’s trying to listen to a woman’s advice about a woman for once. Maybe if he’d done so earlier, it could have saved him some trouble. And a 1980 Boba Fett action figure with launching missile pack.
Ted returns to his laptop and pulls up the village courier system in the game. He feels so stupid sending messages like this through his gruff Tiefling avatar. But if that’s the only way, then it’s what he has to do.
“Hey babe. Just got your messages,” he says. “I should have thought to check earlier. I was trying to call you all day, but obviously you couldn’t — and then I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to log in to the game or even turn on my computer.
“Um. I really hope you’re alright.
“If you get this, please come by the DC Booth. I should be there most times of the day. If I’m not, just ask someone working the booth, they should be able to tell you where I am. Um. Yeah.
“Okay. I love you. Bye.”
Ted plays the message back once. Twice. Three times. It’s not quite right, not perfect yet. But he doesn’t know what else to say.
He checks the time: it’s already ten after nine, and he needs to get to the convention center. It’s not like Ted Thompson to be late for everything, even in a crisis.
Ted hits send, then closes the laptop and heads for the door. At the last second, he turns back and puts the laptop in his messenger bag. Then he’s on his way. Maybe he can at least check his game messages on the Javits’ Wi-Fi, in the middle of everything else he’s doing.
Chloe Long dreams of drifting on the sea, a boat without a captain heading blindly toward the horizon and letting the gentle rocking of the waves lull her to a peaceful slumber. A lone dark cloud floats above her, the only eyesore in an endless canvas of blue and white brush strokes. The cloud cracks in half with a thunderous voice, causing the choppy waters beneath to churn and churn until the a single bolt of lightning splits the world in half.
“Comparing you to a rock would be an insult to rocks,” speaks a voice beyond the black and breaking cloud. “Seriously, are you narcoleptic? Are you dead? Do I have to call the cops and explain why there’s a dead hooker dressed as Slave Leia sprawled out in a cot in my hotel room?”
That’s about when the blank canvas covering her life starts to dissipate and fade into reality, and Chloe realizes she’s been sleeping on a lumpy white cot wedged between the main bed and door of a boutique New York hotel room that’s less than twice the size of the closet in her apartment back in Kansas.
Chloe rubs her eyes, cleaning off the crust of sleep as her eyes adjust to the sight of her savior standing before her. Ohmygod that’s Kt Watts, she thinks, as the asymmetrical side-part curls finally come into focus. I can’t believe I crashed in Kt Watts’ hotel last night. I slept with a celebrity — not like a “slept with” but like —
“Your is mouth is moving and it’s really weird,” Kt says. Chloe bites down on her lips and sits upright, hoping that her teeth might stop her from accidentally saying something stupid.
And yet, somehow that small motion is enough to satisfy Kt, who nods as she walks over to the wooden wardrobe-closet installed by the door and takes out her leather jacket. “I gotta head to the convention,” she says. “I have a panel at 10, and I should probably spend at least three minutes at my Artist’s Alley booth, considering I paid for it already. You’re welcome to stay here and sleep, shower, watch TV, whatever. Take as long as you need. I feel fairly confident that you’re not gonna steal something or run up my room service charge or anything like that. I mean if you have to eat obviously it’s cool but, you know. Don’t get all fucked up on Lagavulin and leave me with the bill, especially if you’re not gonna save me a shot.” She squints her eyes and looks sideways at Chloe. “That was a joke. Mostly. I need a coffee. You good?”
“‘Mgood,” Chloe says with a nod.
“Good.” Kt slips her arms the rest of the way into her jacket, then in one slick motion that looks like it was ripped right out of some James Dean flick that Chloe watched in middle school, flips the collar of her jacket up-and-down to smooth it out and cocks her head toward the computer on the sleek-Ikea hotel dresser. “You were making noises all last night, and then again this morning. I considered answering, pretending I was you, but figured that I’d end up threatening to hang your guy with a noose made from his own scrotum just for ditching you last night, and that might not be in your best interest.
“Or it might, depending…
“Also you don’t strike me as the type to makes threats about weapons made from genitals, so he’d probably figure out it wasn’t you.” Kt shrugs, then opens the door out to the main hallway. “Come found me in Artist’s Alley whenever you wake up. I should be there after 12, and if not…I don’t know, leave a note or something, we’ll figure it out. You need anything else?”
Chloe’s teeth are still holding back her lips from making regrettable shapes so she shakes her head “no.” The motion alone is enough to make the rolling bed frame squeak beneath her, inspiring Kt to make a funny face like Chloe just did something inappropriate. Chloe can’t help but admire her ability to make a joke out of all those awkward moments.
“Kt?” she says, just before her benefactor has made it all the way out the door. “Thanks.”
Kt winks and makes a clicking sound with her mouth. “No problem, kiddo. Later.” The door slams shut behind her, punctuating her departure as if her incomparable coolness was its own force of nature.
Alone in the room, Chloe is tempted to sleep some more, to fall back into the calming embrace of her ocean dreams. But she can’t resist the call of her computer, sitting there seductively right across the room and waiting for her to make a move — to hide herself in the game again, just like she always does. It’s her only source of digital solace, even if it is the thing that brought her here to New York City and left her alone.
She logs into the game, and of course she checks her messages before she embarks on a brand new quest. And sure enough, she hears the sound of Ted’ums voice compressed to stream through the small, bass-less speakers. His apology pops through the tin can crackle, and somehow that filtered tone is enough to make her forget about last night’s threat of sleeping on the street.