Prized Collection (Flash Fiction)

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” ~ An old Klingon proverb

Throughout SpiralConXIII, from the registration tables to the dealer hall, a congregation of geeks gave homage to their respective pantheons. The major religions (Star Trek and Star Wars) were well-represented. As were newer flavors of geek chic, from Firefly to Stargate to the newest incarnation of Battlestar Galactica. I even spied a couple of fans kicking it old style, wearing the Colonial Viper pilot outfits from the ’78 series.

And there were superheroes. God help me, they were everywhere. It was like walking into a spandex factory. Ever since Tobey Maguire had suited up in Spider-Man, superhero cosplay had slowly taken over conventions.

Once home to only the nerdiest of the über-nerds, sci-fi and fantasy conventions used to host masquerade competitions featuring Tom Baker lookalikes, space troopers, elves, and dwarfs (back when The Lord of the Rings was a book, not a movie).

Over the past couple of decades, cosplay had morphed into a cross between a fashion show and a fetish porn website. Girls and guys who looked more likely to be hanging out at the gym or the beach rather than a comic book store paraded around in outfits that showed off their boobs and/or butt-cleavage. I resented the hell out of them.

The pre-registration line was already long. I tried to be patient, but I had waited all year for SpiralCon. I had a roll of hundred dollar bills in my pocket and an entire room filled with memorabilia just waiting to join my collection.

Last year, I had been on a quest for a 1974 Mego 8″ Superman action figure. They were rare and I hadn’t seen one since I was kid. I heard through a friend that a vendor had one still mint in its original window box. But another SpiralCon regular — decked out in full-on Iron Man armor — refused to let it go. Every time I raised my offer ten bucks, he went up twenty. It was frustrating as hell. In the end, he raised the price to a place where even my sizable discretionary spending could not boldly go. I walked away humiliated and without my prize, determined to do better next year.

I finally made my way to the front of the pre-registration line, grabbed my lanyard with all-access pass, and made a beeline for the dealer hall. Every inch of the hall that wasn’t filled with foot traffic was lined with tables and booths hocking every kind of collectible prized by fans. There were books and comic books, new and rare; DVDs, vintage videotapes, and bootlegs; action figures and vehicles; t-shirts and costumes; and original artwork. I could have blown my entire wad (of cash) before getting five feet into the hall.

Everywhere I looked were a variety of fanboys and hardcore collectors. I pitied the fanboys, who came to the con with fifty bucks or so, hoping to buy that one rare comic for their collection or a limited edition action figure. When it came to the real deal — the vintage, high-dollar memorabilia — they could look but could never touch.

I used to be one of them, forever wanting and never buying. But after my failed marriage last year, I decided to forget about keeping up with the Joneses. Instead of buying a big house, a new car, and two-week vacations in tropical paradises, I saved my pennies for this opportunity to reclaim a piece of my childhood.

I Jedi-Forced my way through the shifting crowd, even as a variety of geek treasures caught my eye. Here was a vintage Star Trek lunchbox.  There was a Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin action figure — mint in box! I paused at an original signed Alex Ross painting of the Justice League. But I steeled my resolve and forced my way to the far north corner where this year’s coveted prize awaited me.

The vendor who had been selling the Superman figure last year promised me a special treat. He had secured an exceedingly rare Star Wars Boba Fett action figure prototype.

Originally, the Boba Fett figure was supposed to have a rocket that fired from its jet pack. Before it went to mass production, it had been redesigned because it had been deemed unsafe for children. I was one of the millions of kids who pre-ordered it by mail only to find the rocket was firmly secured into Boba Fett’s jet pack. As a kid, it had been a huge disappointment. But now, as an adult, I was on the verge of scoring the real thing.

I found the vendor’s booth nestled into a corner. Not a great spot for drive-by traffic, but plenty of room to showcase his one-of-a-kind merchandise. I re-introduced myself and asked him if he brought the Boba Fett prototype.

“Sure thing,” he said, sizing me up. “But it’s not going to come cheap.”

He went behind a make-shift wall and returned with a small box no bigger than his hand. He carefully opened the end and slid out a small, gray figure in a plastic bag. I may have involuntarily moaned.

“The real deal,” said the vendor. “Working rocket-firing mechanism. You push in the little projectile, click the lever on the back and POW! — the thing shoots out your kid sister’s eye.”

“It’s a beauty,” I said. “I’ve heard prototypes exist, but I’ve never seen one. This is like … ”

“Nerdvana?” he offered.

I nodded in reverent silence, and was about to ask him how much he wanted. I would have sold my car to own the damn thing, but I didn’t want to tell him that.

“Is that a Boba Fett prototype figure?” I heard someone ask from behind. The vendor looked up and nodded, going into his spiel again.

I looked over my shoulder and saw Iron Man. Not just any guy in Iron Man armor, but the same SpiralCon regular who had outbid me for the Superman figure last year. I felt my stomach drop, knowing that this guy would likely do it again.

“How much?” asked Iron Man. He pushed his way through the crowd and was now standing by my side. Somewhere in the pit of bowels, something gurgled.

“I can’t sell it to you,” said the vendor. “This guy’s buying it.”

Iron Man turned and contemplated my existence for the first time. He didn’t remember me from the Superman bidding war.

Dismissing me out of hand, Iron Man turned back to the vendor and said, “I’ll give you five thousand for it. Right now.”

The vendor seemed tempted, but I could easily see he wanted to sell it to me. I had been hoping to score the figure for less than three thousand. Five was out of my price range. There had to be a way we could both win here.

“Five thousand seems fair,” I said, giving the vendor a conspiratorial wink. “I could go that high.”

The vendor cocked his head, ever so slightly to the side, like Cmdr. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation trying to process some new piece of information.

“I’ll give you six,” said Iron Man.

“Seven,” I said.

“Eight.”

“Nine.”

Iron Man turned to me and growled. “You’re killing me, fanboy. This is my entire stash for the convention. I blow this here, now, and I’m done for the year.”

“The offer is nine,” said the vendor.

“Ten,” said Iron Man, and from the hushed crowd surrounding the booth came a collective gasp.

“Too rich for my blood,” I said. “I can’t go higher.”

The vendor walked off with Iron Man to work out the particulars for payment and the crowds dispersed. I made my way to the next table, feigning interest in a mint set of all 12 issues of the Watchmen mini-series. When Iron Man left, I walked over to the vendor.

“I know I promised it to you,” he said. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t turn down that kind of money.”

“I understand. It’s business. I didn’t want it that bad.”

“You drove up the price, though. That was pretty mean. What do you have against that guy?”

I told the vendor about the Superman action figure and last year’s bidding war.

“Oh, yeah. I remember that! That was you?”

He went back behind the wall to his hidden stash and returned with a bag.

“This is for you,” he said. “No charge.”

I peeked inside the bag and saw a vintage 1974 Mego 8″ Superman action figure staring back up at me through its windowed box. A little piece of my childhood, coming home with me.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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