We’re stopped at an intersection. I’m peering into the car next to us, seeing a featureless face of blue.
‘There’s a blue man,’ I say.
Jasmine leans over the passenger seat, eyes wide. ‘What do you mean blue? How is he blue?’
A car horn blares and we both yelp. The traffic light has flashed green. I slam the accelerator, and the blue man is lost behind us.
‘Don’t worry, it was just a guy in a skin suit. There’ll be plenty more where that comes from.’ A goofy grin inches over my face. My quiet anticipation has begun to bubble out in raw excitement.
Jasmine reflects my smile, braces glinting. Nervous energy oozes from her. She’s never experienced an event like this, never knew it existed, until she was adopted into my group of weirdos. She has no idea what to expect.
Armageddon. Not the end of the world (though it could be, depending on your perspective). It’s a gathering of geeks. We come in our thousands, from all over Auckland and beyond. Decked out in cosplay, bursting with enthusiasm, joining forces to celebrate what we love.
And Jasmine and I are slogging through the traffic in my tiny car. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel and glance over at her. She swipes sweaty palms along her jeans. Fiddles with a loose thread from her t-shirt. This fledgling nerd wasn’t keen on cosplay, but I went all out. After hours of shopping and dyeing and cutting and stitching and complaining, I am now Rey: the badass lead character of the new Star Wars films. The force is strong with me today.
We watch the footpaths. The clusters of people are growing thicker. There’s a Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, and Poison Ivy strutting along with arms linked. A pair of girls ahead of them with shimmery pink hair. A skeleton, touching up his face paint at a bus stop. Kids bouncing along next to struggling parents; backpacks bulging with water bottles and snacks, trying to manoeuvre push chairs through groups of Hogwarts students.
The makeshift gravel car park is nearly full when we finally rattle in. We climb out into the sharp wind and I shiver in Rey’s scavenger clothes. It’s an overcast day, but at least it’s not raining. That would mean everyone squeezing into the expo hall with its sticky, sweaty air. I open the boot of the car and retrieve my staff. A tall pipe, covered in screws, duct tape, and bits of cloth. It completes the living-on-a-dessert-planet look. Also, without it my friends would lose my hobbit-sized self.
We merge into the crowded footpaths, those passing in cars now looking at us. Adrenalin is buzzing. I’m craning my neck, scanning for any familiar faces.
‘Woah, look at those transformers!’ Jasmine points out a group marching into the entry line. They’re covered head to toe in rugged armour, bulky weapons in hand.
‘Those are awesome. They’re not transformers though,’ I reply, ‘they’re from Halo, a video game.’
We tag on to the end of the line, snaking through a half-empty car park. Goose bumps tingle along my arms. There’s a guy wearing a Star Wars tee that I also own. A girl rocking a Star Wars jacket I almost bought a couple weeks ago. The goofy grin won’t leave my face, but I’m channelling my inner Rey while interacting with others.
‘How’s Luke Skywalker doing?’ asks a Doctor Strange.
The line picks up speed. My ticket is taken, my legs are moving, my staff is pounding the concrete. We swarm through the gate.
I’m snapping photos of cosplayers and people are snapping photos of me. Jasmine is pointing at everything and asking, ‘what is that?!’ I’m posing with R2-D2 when I spot my friend Eliza, dressed as a character from Marvel’s Agent Carter. We fist bump and she squeals about how she’s going to meet one of the celebrity guests here today. We continue through the marketplace together. Looking over an array of overpriced t-shirts, insanely detailed figurines, and the hordes of swords, daggers, and other replica weapons from movies and TV shows. Eliza and I reminisce about the time her ex-boyfriend bought a samurai sword, and preceded to take a ‘look’ at it, nearly slicing our necks in the process.
I prepare my wallet for the butchering it’s about to receive and empty it out at various stalls, buying a lot of awesome merchandise that I absolutely need. As I turn to ask Jasmine whether there’s anything she wants, I notice a blue figure amongst the stream of people.
‘Look Jasmine, there’s the blue man,’ I say.
Jasmine is gone, swallowed up by the crowd. I falter a step, and get wacked by a large paper bag. I try to retrace my steps, but I’m against the flow. The blue man flickers in and out of my vision. I’m getting poked, prodded, bumped. I’m donking people on the head with my staff and it’s getting hard to breath. ‘You shall not pass!’ is boomed by a grumpy Gandalf. ‘Hey Rey!’ calls a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man as he thwips past. I spin, trying to stay rooted to one spot. What was Jasmine wearing? All around me are bow-ties and spiky wigs and poofy dresses.
I fall back into the rushing tide. It carries me along until I wash up at a big pirate ship display. ‘Magic: The Gathering’ the sign declares – my brother’s favourite trading card game. Sure enough, he’s hunched over a table with cards splayed out in front of him. I rush over and leap onto his table. Ignoring the yells, I scan the crowd. To the right is a group of Ricks chanting “wubba lubba dub dub!” and there’s some sort of dance party happening to the left, with more dabbing then should ever be allowed.
‘This is not okay,’ my brother is saying when I clamber back down.
‘Have you seen Jasmine?’
‘Seriously? She’s right there,’ he points over my shoulder.
Jasmine is amongst the chanting Ricks with a smile plastered over her face. I heave a sigh, which turns into a snort as she begins to chant along. Eliza appears behind her, and the two of them push through towards me. I wrap my arms around Jasmine. She’s bright red and full of laughter.
‘How about we get some lunch?’ I suggest. Making sure to stay close together this time, we head outside to the food carts.
Jasmine gasps, and pulls me back a step. ‘Hey,’ she says, ‘I saw the blue man!’
This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are: