'No. You’re just kind of red.'


'Does it hurt?' asked Jay.

'What have I been saying for the past eight blocks?'

'It’s only a little farther,' said Jay.

'Actually, that’s what you’ve been saying for the past eight blocks.'

It was the first day of Comic-Con International, a four-day event in San Diego and the largest comic book and pop-culture convention in America. A building like a shopping mall with fins housed acres of elaborate booths with Jumbo-Tron displays and life-size sculptures of superheroes and signings with actual comics artists and creators. All right next to game-playing stations where you could try out next year’s video games and talk to the programmers and then mosey over to the seller’s area with its hundreds upon hundreds of long boxes packed with hard-to-find-issues and action figures — but who has time for action figures when you have to rush to make the eleven o’clock panel discussion with the creator and stars of Nebula-Bravo followed by a nap-inducing lunch in the food courts where you were forced to eat soft pretzels and pizza because they didn’t sell anything else.

Doug was really going to miss the soft pretzels and pizza.

'Ow. I’m going to have to drink someone soon,' he told Jay, and realized he was slurring his speech. Was this what it felt like to be drunk? 'I’ve got the shakes. And I was totally getting somewhere with that girl last night, too.'

'Sorry,' said Jay, for maybe the thirtieth time. Doug’s gut twisted. He hadn’t meant to squeeze another apology out of Jay. He hadn’t meant to give the impression that they’d only been thrown out of the party because of Jay’s monopoly of the hall bathroom, either, but somehow he had.

'What happened after the panda hit you?' asked Jay. 'Can you remember now?'

'No. I can remember everything up to — Well, I noticed the camera, and it’s looking at me, and then it looks down at this little pink thing next to the panda, so I look, too, and it’s this tiny animal.'

'Baby Shuan Shuan,' said Jay. 'You’re so lucky.'

'I feel lucky. So I’m looking down at this tiny hairless panda when I hear footsteps, and a door bursts in, and these uniformed guys with metal poles start tasering me. And you know what doesn’t work when people are tasering you? It’s shouting ‘Stop tasering me.’ If they’re tasering you already, they won’t stop because you ask them to.'

'No,' said Jay.

'The Tasers aren’t working so well on me, maybe because I’m a vampire, but they really, really hurt, so I back up, trying to get away from the guards, and I guess I get too close to Baby Ching Chong because that’s when the panda punches me in the head.'


'Then there’s a scene missing, because the next thing I know I’m back out in the zoo, in the bushes, without any clothes on. So you gotta figure that’s one hell of a missing scene.'


'And then I go to find you, but you’re not where I left you—'

'I said we should meet by—'

'—but you are by the exit, and the exit is by the T-shirt stand, so I don’t have to drive home naked. So that’s fine. Ow.'

Jay looked glum.

'We should have left money on the stand,' he said. 'What we did…it was bad enough without stealing a T- shirt.'

Doug sighed. 'Yeah.'

They crossed the train tracks to the convention center.

'But it was a stupid shirt,' Doug added. 'They can’t expect anybody to actually pay for a shirt that says, ‘I (picture of an elephant) the San Diego Zoo.’ What does that even mean?'

'Oh, man,' said Jay. 'Look at that line.'

Doug looked up, but his glasses went foggy from the smoke suddenly rising off his cheeks.

'AAH! Dammit!'


It was still ten minutes until the doors opened, but they walked to the front of a grumbling line of fanboys, cosplayers, furries, goths, and a smattering of girlfriends that were there out of curiosity, or there to be supportive of their boyfriends, or maybe there because they had assumed they’d be a singularity — the only queen in the anthill, with all the power that implied. This last type was easy to spot, dressed in clothes so brazenly revealing they could pass for Halloween costumes. Doug knew there would be a lot of girls here who genuinely liked comics, too, though they never seemed to like the same kind he did. Still, it gave him hope that he’d eventually get lucky. He’d be at his local comic shop or maybe (why not?) even at this very convention. He and some beautiful girl would reach for the same back issue of Young X-Men at the same time. They’d have a laugh about it. They’d get to talking and discover they shared a great love of anime and customized action figures. Then they’d have sex on the fucking Batmobile or something.

'No cutting!' shouted Doctor Doom, or someone dressed just like him.

'That’s a really good Doctor Doom costume,' said Jay. 'Look at those rivets.'

'Movie or comics version?' asked Doug.


'Hold on,' said a large bald man whose costume was a simple black T-shirt that said his job (or name or personal motto) was Security. 'Are you an exhibitor?'


'Do you have an exhibitor’s badge?'

They didn’t.

'Back of the line, then.'

'My friend can’t stand out in the sun like that,' said Jay. 'He has really sensitive skin. See?'

Jay lifted the hood of Doug’s poncho just slightly.

'Christ,' whispered the man. He lifted a walkie-talkie to his mouth. 'This is Craig at D stop. I got a situation.'

The walkie-talkie squawked something only Craig could understand. He said, 'Copy' and returned it to its holster, all the while staring fixedly at Jay.

'It’ll just be a minute.'

'Okay,' said Jay. 'Thanks.'

Craig nodded. 'So…he likes comics?'


'He speaks English, too,' said Doug.

Craig was joined by another big man in identical clothing, apart from a black baseball cap that said HEAD. Doug thought it seemed awfully literal.

The man said, 'I’m head of security, boys.'


'What’s the problem?'

'These two want in early,' said Craig, 'on account of this kid can’t be out in the sun.'

'Oh, yeah,' said the head of security, looking under Doug’s poncho. 'He’s got some kind of skin thing, right? They can wait in the lobby.'

'You’re not surprised?' said Craig.

'Surprised? Hell, no. This is the big comic book weekend. If the freakin’ boy in the bubble rolled up here, I wouldn’t be surprised. Hey, watch this.'

He called out to the queue. 'Anyone lose an inhaler?'

About one in ten checked his pockets.

'See?' said Head, loud enough for anyone to hear. 'Look at that lineup. It’s like all the kids picked last for every kickball game in America.'

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