The Chicago skyline loomed in the distance like some ominous, silent giant. Watching, ever waiting, it taunted and tantalized with a presence close enough to see but too far to touch.
Kris Garboski stared out the window at the steel behemoths, as he had every day for the past year, while manning his post behind the beaten countertop of Comixy, Rosemont’s local comic book shop. He leaned a chubby arm on the scratchy wood and squinted through his horn-rimmed glasses, yearning for something—anything—besides what he had now: a dead end job in a small town just out of reach of the bustling city.
With a sigh, Kris returned to his daily regimen of sweeping, dusting, and organizing. A new shipment of Captain Star Lazor had made it in last night. Perhaps the only perk of Kris’s grueling day job was the opportunity he got to read comics before their official release on Wednesdays. Something about being surrounded by the colorful art, unique stories, and glossy pages made the grind worth it—sometimes, anyway.
Kris had spent the morning lining the shelves just the way Mr. Trivilidis—his boss—liked: bestsellers at eye level, graphic novels near the window (spines exposed), slush and junk in rubber banded piles in the crates near the back. Trivilidis had left at noon, as he did every day, to score some lunch and weed. Kris checked his watch. He had a solid ten minutes before his boss would return.
The impossible-to-get-rid-of dust motes swirled in the streaming sunlight as Kris moved around the counter toward the white cardboard box near Trivilidis’s “office,” which was nothing more than a stuffy, glorified broom closet, complete with a naked bulb and a desk fan. Kris fished a box cutter from his cargo shorts and nearly dropped it between his pudgy fingers. He cut through the plastic straps and removed the box’s lid.
Gingerly, he reached inside and picked up issue eighty-seven of Captain Star Lazor. The cover depicted the hero for which the comic was named with two scantily clad, impossibly proportioned women clinging to his arms. The half-man, half-cyborg sported a cheeky grin and a powerful laser pistol. Kris glanced over his shoulder to make sure he was alone before carefully placing the comic into his olive green messenger bag. He’d stolen an issue every week since Trivilidis proved what a selfish blowhard he was, which was pretty much the day he hired Kris. The man never noticed the missing issues. Kris figured he was too high to count to a hundred multiple times a week to make sure he wasn’t being shorted. His loss.
Kris placed the lid back on, threw the plastic strap away, and perused the shelves for more comics. He’d read them all—the good ones, at least: Moontree, Dragonoria, Arctic Crumb. Mr. Trivilidis refused to carry Marvel or DC comics for some inexplicable reason, which meant independent and small-name publishers made up most of Comixy’s stock. Kris wondered how this place stayed in business. He hadn’t seen a customer since last Thursday. That’s what you get when you open a comic shop in town with a population 4,000 and one of the country’s greatest cities is a thirty-minute drive away.
Kris pulled an old issue of Rising Depths from the shelf and moved back to the counter. The story wasn’t any good, but the art was phenomenal and easy to mimic. Kris found a chewed pencil and crumpled notebook in his bag. He thumbed through the pages, looking for a blank space amongst the myriad of doodles. Finding one, he started replicating the comic’s cover: a red submarine in the grips of a giant octopus’s slithering tentacles.
The drawing was half done when Kris heard the familiar bell as the shop’s door opened and shut. “Hey, Mr. Trivilidis,” he mumbled, without looking up.
“Um, hi?” came a voice, one belonging not to a middle-aged burnout but a young woman.
Kris recoiled when he saw her, knocking his notebook to the floor. “Hi,” he almost shouted. “W-welcome to Comixy.” He tried to move around the counter for his notebook, but the girl beat him to it. She tucked a strand of her blond, stick-straight hair behind her ear and flipped through the stained and crumpled pages. She blinked with lids covered in too much eyeliner—her only makeup— at a few of the drawings. After what felt like an eternity, she handed the scribblings back with a smile. Kris snatched them out of her hand and clutched them to his chest.
“This your comic shop?” she said, looking around the claustrophobic space. She blew air into one of her cheeks, teetered on her heels, and gave Kris a quizzical look.
“No, no,” Kris answered. “It’s my boss’s. Uh, Mr. Trivilidis.” Pages from the battered notebook started to fall from his grasp. He nabbed them before they dropped to the ground and hurried back behind the counter to shove the embarrassing drawings away into his bag. “Uh, is there something I can help you with? I mean, are you looking for anything in particular?” He adjusted the frames that had slid down his pug nose.
The girl was already fingering though issues of Red-5. “I’ve never even heard of these series,” she said.
Kris groaned. He pulled his dirty trucker cap off his shaggy brown hair and ran his fingers through it. “Yeah, my boss, he doesn’t carry name brands, and he’s pretty stingy about what he carries, and—”
“No, it’s great!” the girl exclaimed. “There’s so much new stuff to read!” With a pile of comics in one hand, she disappeared behind another shelf and continued adding to the stack. “So what’s your favorite?” she said.
“Oh, well, I, uh, I read Captain Star Lazor.”
The girl leaned out from behind a shelf so she could see Kris. She squinted. “What was that?” she called.
Kris gulped. “Uh, Star Lazor. Captain Star Lazor? I like that one.”
She nodded, then vanished again. Kris never felt so sloppy in his life wearing khaki shorts, a grease-stained green t-shirt, and his two-year-old Nike tennis shoes complete with tube socks. She, on the other hand, wore a red, plaid skirt with dark leggings that disappeared into her black, high-top Chuck Taylors. Her top was a solid gray sweatshirt that would have been big even on Kris’s bulky frame. He ran his hands over the dark beard that covered his chins—both of them—in an attempt to get out any lose fuzz and crumbs. He tried to tuck his shirt in but gave up when the fabric wouldn’t stretch over his beer belly. He practically jumped when the girl rounded the corner, a mountain of comics in her arms.
She grunted as she set them on the counter. “Is this the one?” She held up an issue of Captain Star Lazor. Issue sixty-eight. A classic.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Kris said, nodding like an idiot.
“I gave it a look. It seems pretty violent and lewd.” She clicked her tongue and shoved it into her cheek.
Kris felt his stomach drop.
She grinned, her blue eyes sparkling like the stars of a moonless night. “But I’m into that, so long as it makes sense within the story, ya know?”
“Right! O-of course,” Kris stammered. He made a noise that halfway resembled a cough into his fist.
“I hate starting narrative-based series at random arcs. I get confused. Do you have the first issue?”
“Um, no, we don’t,” Kris admitted with regret. It didn’t help him feel any better when the girl’s smile disappeared. “I could order it for you, though,” he suggested. “It only takes about a week for them to come in.”
“Well, to be honest, I’m only passing though,” the girl said. She chewed her lip. “I live in Chicago. I don’t make it out here very often.”
Cute and from the city? Kris could hardly contain his nerves. He scratched the back of his head. “Well, I mean, I have every issue. I’ve read them all. I could just, ya know, give you mine, if you want.”
The girl lit up. “You’d do that?”
“Well, sure,” Kris shrugged.
“That’s very sweet, but who knows if I’d even like it? And who am I to take a first issue comic from a loyal fan? You keep it.”
The girl set Captain Star Lazor aside and shuffled through the other comics she had. “What about these?” she asked.
The pile consisted of mostly debut issues of recent comics with a few random graphic novels thrown in. None of them came from the dreaded junk piles.
“Yeah, those are good,” Kris said.
“I’ll take them all!” the girl exclaimed. She swung her backpack from her shoulders and began rifling through it for some cash. Kris stated checking the items out and placing them into a generic plastic bag. “So, what’s your name?” she asked as she pulled crumbled bills and tarnished coins from her bag.
“Uh, Kris. Kris Garboski.”
“I’m Sky.” She extended a hand over the counter. Kris hesitated before giving it a quick shake. “Nice to meet you. So, what’s there to do around here? Do you go to the city a lot?”
“No, not really,” Kris confessed.
“Um, I can’t really afford it.”
“Aw. That’s too bad. To be honest, I came out here ‘cause I needed to get away, ya know? Too much noise over there. Your town seems nice. Quaint.”
Kris finished ringing up the comics. “Uh, your total is fifty-three ten.”
“Shit,” Sky said reaching into her pack for more change. “I’m short, like, ten bucks.”
Kris looked out the window. Trivilidis was nowhere to be seen. “Let’s make it an even forty,” he said.
Sky’s eyes widened. “Really?” She dropped her voice. “You sure that’s okay?”
“Yeah. I forgot you get a discount when you buy in bulk,” Kris lied.
“Awesome.” Sky handed Kris two twenties. “Hey, have you even been to Anime Midwest?”
Kris shook his head. “Uh-uh.”
“You watch anime, right? It’s next week. Tickets are sold out, but you should totally go next year! This time I’m cosplaying as Misa Amane.”
She cosplayed too? Kris tugged at his collar. “W-who’s that?” he asked, feigning ignorance.
“You know, that dumb bitch from Death Note. Hate her guts, but she’s so easy to cosplay, and I’m feeling lazy this year. I won’t even need a wig.” She smiled and pulled the bag of comics off the counter. “Well, I better get going. Take care!” She spun on her heel and headed toward the door. Before she got to it, Mr. Trivilidis strolled inside, right on time. But he seemed even more burnt out than usual.
That’s because he was dead.