The following is an excerpt from the T rated version of “Sick Day.”
To find out how to get your own copy of the book described as “Clerks” meets “Ready Player One,” click here.
I’m going to tell you a story that changed my life. It must have been eleven or twelve years ago I heard it. I’d just moved to San Diego, so this would have been my first time at Comic Con. Actually, it was my only time at the San Diego Comic Con. These days I set up interviews downtown and chat with the cosplayers without ever actually entering the convention center. Back then, I could stand in line and buy a ticket, but since then it’s gotten so big tickets are basically impossible to. . .
Whatever. That’s not really the point, is it? What’s important here is this story, and I wanted to give you some background on where I heard it.
I was in the main hall when I spotted this gawky kid. Nothing special — like I said, this is Comic Con, right? But something about the way she was moving around the hall – as though she was seeing the world for the first time – caught my attention. She would run a few steps, stop, clasp her hands together, gape at a booth, and make this high pitched “squee” noise. I found the whole thing endearing, probably because she reminded me so much of myself at the time. That’s the thing about a comic book convention: we come from all walks of life, from all over the world, and we are united in our mutual enthusiasm for something everyone else thinks is nerdy.
Okay. Again, this doesn’t have much to do with the story exactly, but for the purpose of background, this was before every movie and TV show could point to a comic book as its source material. This was before video games went mainstream. We were nerds. Geeks. Misfits. And it was awesome. So what if I don’t have the emotional range to squee at stuff? We were still forged from the same adamantium. And one of the things we had in common, if we were being perfectly honest with ourselves, was that we had times when we absolutely lacked the confidence to make it in life. There were times when our love for heroism only amplified our own lack of nerve. And that’s why I’m writing down this story I heard third party.
Yes, this story is based on true events, and yes, I did my own independent research to flesh it out. Still, I’m doing what I can to maintain the spirit of that original telling, because, like I said, it changed my whole life. I was a coward with no self-assurance, and I felt inadequate. I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I was getting there fast. The story of Buster Benjamin changed all of that for me.
So the kid was looking at these trading cards that this vendor had on his table. The guy at the booth was tubby. He was wearing a Captain America t-shirt. If Steve Rodgers had bought a similar shirt before he took the super serum and then put it on afterwards, it would fit him about as well as it did this guy. Only this guy wasn’t muscular. He was like the little tea pot; short and stout. The flabby Cappy finished with one customer and then turned to the kid. He asked if he could help her, and she looked up at him and froze. It was like she thought herself invisible and shocked to discover he could actually see her.
“Um,” she stammered. “Are these all of your Mystic Cards?”
“Those are the cards I let people touch. I’ve got my good ones back here.”
She smiled, putting her hand over her mouth to cover her imperfect teeth. “I’m looking for a Grimdrake.”
“There are Grimdrakes in there.”
“I want the Ginger Grimdrake from series one.”
The vendor grabbed at the hem of his shirt and pulled the fabric until the star-spangled shield was tight against his fluffy chest. He reached under the table and after a few seconds of wheezing and turning red, he placed the card she was seeking in front of her.
When she saw it there, I swear I could see her heart beating hard in her throat. “Do you take trades?” she asked.
“Depends what you’re offering.”
With shaky hands, she placed two of her own cards on the table. The vendor looked them over and stroked his weedy beard. “I think we can make this wor-”
“No way! A Ginger Grimdrake?” A large woman who came dressed as Xena, the warrior princess, leaned in over the gawky girl. “How much do you want for it?”
“It’s my only one, and I just sold it.”
“How much was it going for?”
“Two hundred dollars.”
The gawky girl’s eyes widened. She hadn’t realized just how much the card was worth.
“I’ll give you two twenty-five for it.”
The vendor folded his arms. “I believe the girl still has the better offer.”
“What?” the large woman said, gripping her Chakram. “An Albino Hill Giant and a Silver Serpent-Eater? I have three of each of those in my collection.”
“Even so. We’ve already made the deal.”
The woman stared down at the gawky girl, her eyes burning. “And if she decided to withdraw her offer?”
The gawky girl looked up at the woman and quickly turned away, staring down at the cards on the table. After a heavy moment, she picked her cards up and quietly walked away.
I witnessed all of this from the line I’m standing in. I’d been waiting for over an hour to get an autograph from a venerated veteran of the comic industry. I’m not going to say his name here, but you know the guy. I just don’t want any legal issues, and besides, if we end up turning this book into a movie, I don’t want anyone to get the impression this was just meant to be a cameo.
I wasn’t the only one who was watching this kid get bullied out of her dream card. This comic guru — who again, is someone you’ve most definitely heard of — was keeping tabs too, and when the girl was walking past us, this inventor of so many incredible super heroes said, “Excuse me, miss. You aren’t going to take that lying down, are you?”
The girl looked over both of her shoulders. One at a time, not all at once.
“That’s right, young lady. I’m talking to you. Are you let her get away with that?”
She stared back at him, her chin on her chest.
“Why don’t you step on up over here, and let’s have a little chat.”
She stumbled forward, eyes dead like a zombie’s. Everyone in the line groaned as she cut in front of me. Some of the people behind me vocalized their disapproval with guttural grunts and nasally naysaying, so the comic guru held up his hands. “Calm down. I just want to talk to this precious child a moment and fill her head with wisdom. Alright? ‘Nuff said.” He set aside his Sharpie and prints. “Alright, sweetheart. Why don’t you tell me just what happened?” And then he waited while she swallowed and blinked and her senses slowly returned. “Why did you just walk away like that?”
“She’s bigger than me.”
“Ain’t that the truth!. She’s bigger than me! But if there’s one thing I know, it’s most of life’s obstacles will be bigger than you.”
“What was I supposed to do? I’m just a nerd.”
“Just a nerd? Just a nerd? I’ll have you know no one is just any one thing, and besides, being a nerd is a great and noble thing. Where would the world be without nerds?”
“Look, you come from a long line of important people. Newton was a nerd. Einstein was a nerd. Buster Benjamin was a nerd.”
“Who? Newton? He’s the cookie guy! What kind of nerd doesn’t know who Isaac Newton is?” He got a smile out of her, which perked him up like black coffee.
“No!” she said, finally not shaking. “I mean the last one. Who’s that?”
“Oh. You mean Buster Benjamin?”
“You’ve never heard the legend of Buster Benjamin?”
She shook her head.
“Well, no wonder you’re so lost in the world. You don’t know what you’re capable of.” The comic guru leaned back in his chair and intertwined his fingers behind his head. “Sit back, kid! I’m about to unravel a yarn so spectacular – so incredible – it’ll sweep you away into a world of endless possibilities.”
The sounds of angst and reproach that rose from the line was practically deafening.