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!
Given the size of the Saturday crowd, Chad shouldn’t be surprised that he can’t find a private, quiet place to pee. It doesn’t stop him from trying, of course. But his exploration of the vast expanse of the Jacob Javits Center — from the 4th floor on 35th Street all the way to the basement at 39th and 12th — yields no such sacred space. Reluctantly, he sidles into the slow-moving (but at least it’s moving) line to the Men’s Room outside the A-section panel rooms.
Worse than the lack of privacy is the stillness and silence of standing in line, where Chad has nothing else to do but reflect, and check Twitter, and reflect, and check Twitter, and reflect some more. At least his four-block hike was enough to keep his mind distracted from the day’s other failures — from the public embarrassment of Ted’s brash dismissal to, well, whatever the hell just happened with Kt.
Was it pity, or a positive sign when she sold him that page for less than she was asking? He really did want to buy it; after all, her artwork is amazing, he’s never denied that. But he also wanted to make that clear to her, since he always failed at that before. He fucked it up five years ago, when he panicked and choked at the notion that he might feel that kind of real connection to another person, someone who was so much smarter, so much more talented than him. And at least back then, Kt seemed to regard him as a peer, like there was something about him that impressed her, too.
He genuinely meant it when he said that she looked good, too, even if he didn’t come cross quite right. Sure, she was a little chubbier back then, but there was still something irresistibly sexy about her power, and her confidence. He never thought of himself as shallow — and obviously he slept with her then, so he couldn’t have been that shallow. Right?
Unless that’s why he panicked. Unless it’s taken all this time for him to realize that he really was that much of an asshole, that he fucked up everything he had going for himself and shot his confidence in the god damn foot all because he didn’t want to brand himself as a chubby chaser.
As the line slides ahead and the last urinal opens up, it occurs to Chad that he may in fact be a terrible person.
He pushes the thought out of his mind as he walks up to the wall to relieve himself, pissing away his own self-loathing.
Then he hears a familiar voice booming right beside him: “There you are! I’ve been trying to contact you all day. How could you not feel me when I called you earlier?”
Chad screams as he notices Box at the urinal beside him. He’s not actually using it, of course, just kind of…awkwardly hovering near it. “What the — where did you just — “
“I don’t understand why the message wouldn’t have gone through,” he says, scratching his stupid scalp. “I could have sworn the sigil was complete — “
“Why do you show up every time I have my dick in my hand?” Chad says, which draws some awkward stares from the rest of the occupants in the porcelain prison.
Except for Box, that is. Chad’s exasperated reaction doesn’t affect him in the least. “I didn’t want anyone to overhear us, so I tried to contact you through magical channels. But I don’t know how it could have been intercepted.”
Chad closes his eyelids tight and counts to ten, hoping that when he looks again Box will have disappeared.
It doesn’t work. Fuck.
“Look, can you just let me finish?” he says, trying his best to hide the seething contempt he feels swelling inside of him, next to his bladder.
Box throws his hands up, gesticulating wildly as he rambles. “No, of course! I’m a fool! Chad, Night Shift penetrated the walls of reality and fiction. Oh, how could I have missed it! I never sent you a message at all — I contacted the story instead. Confused the artist with the art.”
He gets flustered for a moment before continuing, this time speaking privately, quietly to Chad — as if no one else in the room would notice him after his awkward eruption a moment earlier.
“I was such a huge fan of Night Shift. I never told you this, but I was the only one at my comic book shop who was collecting the series in single issues. And that wait between the last two issues, it was…it was devastating. I was so desperate to read the ending that — Gods, I’m so embarrassed, I’ve never told this to anyone, I —
“Yeah, you made some stupid fuckin’ sigil and jacked off on your hyper sexual blah-di-blah.”
“Yes! How did you know?”
Chad glares at Box, as if his eerily smooth and ambiguous features might possibly reveal if he is kidding about this. But the earnest in Box’s face makes it clear that he’s not trolling Chad at all — he really is this fucking weird.
“No, of course you know,” Box continues, eyes wide with this new revelation. “You were a part of that. All of life is connected, like a web, and our energies shared a moment. There’s a part of me inside of you, Chad. Just like there’s a part of you deep inside of me.”
“Okay yeah I’m gonna leave.” Chad zips himself up and tries to elbow his way past Box. “Feel free to hang out and — “
But Box steps in front of him, hands wide and fingers waggling like he’s about to break into a dance routine with Chad trapped in the corner of the bathroom. “It’s symbolism, Chad! Symbology! Don’t you understand that? Our literature. Our connection.” He touches his own chest with one hand, then grabs Chad’s with the other. Chad realizes it’s the first time he’s seen Box touch anybody, but he’s too in-shock by the whole experience to do anything about it.
“Every symbol we create becomes a God within the hyperstructure of the universe,” Box says. “It’s incredible, we create something and it inhabits a life, an immortality, far beyond us. Like Frankenstein’s monster. And he exists, too! Just like Punisher, and the Flash, and all these memetic symbols that we thrust into existence, manifesting as — “
“No, seriously. Get out of my way,” Chad says, pulling himself tightly into his shoulders, as if he could somehow make himself small enough to slip past Box’s barricade.
“Shelley understood this, Chad! When she created the Monster, she wasn’t just giving life to a fictional creature.”
“Box, I am telling you: Back. The Fuck. Off.” Chad can feel the rage within him, blinding him from the rest of the room where he’s sure that the crowd must be staring and laughing at his sad existence. Shit, this whole weird encounter is probably on Twitter already.
But Box doesn’t stop, even as Chad tries to shoulder his way through like a football player against an impossible defensive line. “She was cultivating Gods. The creation always overcomes the creator. That’s what they don’t realize!”
Chad backs up from Box and tries to get control of himself one last time. “I’m not even kidding, fucking move right now!”
“That’s what happened right here, with us! Don’t you see? What began — “
Chad can feel the fury pulsing through his skin.
The room goes black.
Without thinking — almost without knowing, until it’s over — his fist flies into Box’s face, knuckles crunching sharply against his dense skull. He can hear his fingers cracking on the bone but he can’t feel the pain. Even if he could, it wouldn’t stop him from the follow-through, shoving his way past Box’s crumpled figure, stepping over him as he falls to the floor.
He makes it all of three steps before he’s stopped by security, and he still doesn’t return to reality until he feels them twist his arm around his back.
The towering displays of the DC Comics Booth intimidate Chloe almost as much as the idea of confronting and meeting her star-crossed lover. Thick foam-core cutouts of the Justice League in every imaginable illustration style explode from the tops of the corporate-branded backdrops like four-color protectors looking over their adoring masses.
At least, Chloe’s pretty sure it’s the Justice League. She knows they’re DC, knows that Teddy worked on some of their comics. She recognizes the obvious three — Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman — plus the guy with the abs from that TV show. Less familiar to her are the green-skinned alien-looking one, or the bird couple, or Big Red Hermes.
Chloe paces around the outside of the booth, her nimble size helping her slip through the overflowing clusters of other fans eager to get a look at the models in the big glass display cases, or the cartoon promos playing on the bat-shaped flat-screen TVs overhead. An anxious line has formed on one side of the square, doubling back around the backdrop and snaking through the stanchions. She laps them once, twice, five times before she works up the courage to step into the square and face the man she came to meet.
Except that as she follows the shuffle-steps of the costumed crowd, she realizes that she’s not sure where to go. She makes her way to the center of the booth, but as her frantic eyes dart around, she doesn’t recognize anyone resembling her Ted’ums — at least, not the man who was pictured in the photos that he sent.
It’s here at the DC Comics Booth that Chloe first considers the possibility that she’s been duped.
She maneuvers her way up to one of the countertops where they’re handing out posters and stickers and “Bat-strong” bracelets. “Excuse me?” she says to the pretty blonde girl behind the counter. “Hi, I’m looking for Ted Thompson? Do you know where I could find him?”
The girl answers without even acknowledging Chloe’s presence. “Sorry, I’m just working the booth for the day,” she says, as she continues handing out promotional materials to the flutter of eager, grabbing hands.
Chloe moves up closer to the counter and uses it to push herself up on her toes. This time she’ll make sure the girl is paying attention to her. “He works for DC? He said he’d be here all day — “
“I’m just event staff,” the girl says, short but sympathetically. “I don’t really know anyone who works for the company. Sorry.”
Chloe waits for a minute as the girl turns her attention back to her mindless task at hand. For a minute she hopes that it’s a joke, that Ted will pop out from underneath the counter and she’ll scream and they’ll embrace and everything will be just perfect. But once she’s nearly trampled by a cosplay stampede, she accepts the tragic truth: it’s time for her to leave.