TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 43 — Not a Hoax! Not a Dream!

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!

Paralysis washes over Ted for the second time today as the small, sweet, innocent girl he’d fallen for dances out the door and out of his life. He is frozen and alone in the center of the crowd, overwhelmed by embarrassment in the wake of his mounting failures.

For all the influence he has in his own little world — and over the fates of so many intellectual properties, careers, and other important narratives — there are still some parts of Ted’s own story that he cannot control.

A voice in Ted’s head tells him to run after Chloe. To chase her down and prove to her just want kind of man he is. The man that he could be, for her. But the assembled mob fills in the gaps and closes the path behind her, and that little voice of conscience is drowned out by another familiar frustration.

Chad Mailer.

“Look, Ted…”

Ted doesn’t look. He just says, “Fuck you.”

“Okay then. Sure. It’s my fault, you’re right.” Chad starts to circle around him. “It’s my fault your wife left you, it’s my fault you were preying on a 20- year-old girl as a rebound.”

Chad counts each of these failures out on his fingers, and stops right in the center of Ted’s line of vision to articulate the third. “Hell, I even stole your fucking Han-Solo-in-Carbonite-Coffee-Table. That was all me, too!”

“Shut up, Chad!” Spittle flies from Ted’s trembling lips and he can feel the humid air against his bared gums. “I have put my ass out on the line for you time and time again, and I am sick of it. I just don’t want to hear it anymore. Not your apologies, or your stupid pitches, or none of it.”

“Ever.” He pushes Chad back into the crowd.

“Again!” He gives another shove.

He waits for Chad to regain his footing and opens himself up for Chad to hit him back.

But Chad just shakes his head. “See, I’m not even talking about that right now, man. You fuck things up with this girl you think you love, and you bitch me out over comic books? Maybe that’s your problem, Ted. You think you’re so damn cool with your hotshot job, but you don’t give a shit anybody else unless you think they’ll put you in the black for the next corporate quarterly.”

Ted takes a deep, slow breath, eyes unblinking and trained on the selfish, ungrateful bastard standing before him. He unloads the only ammunition volley he has left:

“You’re never working for DC Comics again.”

Ted pushes his way past Chad, shoulders swinging like cutlasses as he elbows through the densely packed onlookers and out to the street, where the cool autumn air does nothing to mitigate the enmity that mounts inside of him.

The blogs are going to have a fucking field day with this tomorrow, he thinks. Then he starts to make his way home for a head start on the day’s damage control for work.

For perhaps the first time in his life, Chad is caught without a clever comeback. He stands there stunned and silent and alone in the cleared-out center of the crowded Omni Hotel bar, watching as Ted walks out the door — and dragging Chad’s creative dreams along with him.

Fifteen minutes ago, he felt like he was on top of the world. Like he was finally getting somewhere, moving forwarded and figuring himself out. But one dumb moment tore it all away. Best case scenario, Chloe won’t make him sound like a total asshat when she tells Kt about her explosive breakup, and Kt herself won’t instantly remember what a shithead Chad has always been.

Chad doesn’t even want to imagine the worst case scenario, but he’s confident it involves the end of his career — which is the only thing he has to begin with, and isn’t much to show for anyway.

Chad loosens his pink tie undoes the top button on his shirt to cool off from the thick, hot air in the room, as he waits for the assembled audience to lose their collective interest in his little public pity party.

It doesn’t take long, of course, which makes him feel even worse.

He scans the crowd, hoping to find some familiar face to seek his solace — preferably one that didn’t just witness his calamity, or is already too drunk to care. His eyes stop on a lanky stranger who’s just entered the bar. There’s something recognizable about his awkward strut, but Chad can’t quite place the face.

Then the stranger sees Chad looking his way. He stops, forces a smile, and waves.

Chad returns the greeting, eyes squinting in hopes of spotting some small distinction that might jog his memory. The stranger takes this affection as a welcoming sign and starts to walk toward him, and Chad’s heart starts to pound in anticipation of another public embarrassment.

But as the stranger gets closer, Chad notices the royal blue spandex peeking out from under his ill-fitting dress shirt. “Avenger?”

“Oh, yeah. Hey, Chad,” he answers, even more delightfully awkward than usual.

“Sorry, it took me a second there.” Chad indicates Avenger’s odd attire. “I didn’t recognize you with the … without your … you know. Like a normal person.”

Maybe it wasn’t the best response to make, because Avenger immediately covers his arms across his chest as if he’s just realized that he’s naked. He flounders for a response. “I, um, I thought I’d have a night on the town, you know, so…”

“Hey, relax, Avenger. I’m just playing around.”

“Oh. Right.”

Avenger drops his arms back down to his side. His eyes seem to follow, focused on the polished marble floor.

“You know, I’m sorry about this but I — I don’t think I ever got your real name,” Chad says. “I mean, if it’s a secret identity kinda thing, I totally understand.”

Avenger smiles, and finally looks back at Chad. “It’s fine. I’m Calvin. Calvin Elder,” dangled arms dancing at his side, unsure of what to do.

So Chad extends his hand for a shake, and Calvin meets it with his own. “I’m Chad Mailer. Nice to meet you, Calvin.”

“Yeah, we’ve already — “

“Ah! I met Avenger. But I’m introducing myself to Calvin this time.”

“Oh. Right. Hi.” And just like that, Calvin’s arms are limp at his side, eyes trained on his feet. Chad reminds himself to maybe not treat the poor kid like an idiot — which he also realizes is easier said than done.

But when a superhero shows up in your time of need, you may as well make the best of it. “Walk with me,” he says, as he looks for a quiet corner of the bar.

Writer of fiction, article, songs, and more. Enjoys quantum physics, Oxford Commas, & romantic clichés, esp. when they involve whiskey. HATES Journey.

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