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Stars Are Born

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" 'Scuse me, watch your head, comin' through!" Hellboy called in a steady stream as he thundered past people. Most of them had already stopped in their tracks to watch the werewolf bolt by, and now they looked doubly startled to see Hellboy follow hot on its furry heels.

Many of the spectators were wearing headsets and were dressed in all black. A troop of little girls in spangly costumes shrieked; several of them recovered fast enough to shout encouragement after Hellboy.

"Ah, Red!" Abe shouted, woefully far behind. Put him in the water and he could race a sailfish, but on land, he would never be the fastest runner. "Red!"

John Myers, on the other hand, was relatively light on his feet, but even he was no match for the werewolf and a very determined Hellboy. "Oh my God," he groaned, slowing to a stop and momentarily raising his hands to his head. Then he lowered his hands and peered at the people standing around them, who were, in turn, gaping at Abe. "...Great costume, huh?" Myers asked weakly.

Abe helpfully raised an inhumanly long-fingered hand and waved.

The little girls chorused: "Oooooh."

"That line sounds lamer every time I use it," Myers muttered to Abe. "He's gonna get me fired."

"If he can, probably," Abe agreed, and Myers groaned again, shooting a thoroughly fake smile at the crowd gathered around the two of them.

"Liz?" Myers said quietly into the tiny microphone at his collar, trying to do it without being noticed or heard. "We've got a problem."



"My God," said one of the three judges seated up front. "It sounds like a herd of elephants back there." He raised his voice. "Can we have some professionalism backstage, please! We have a bloody television program to put on!"

Four stagehands carried on pushing a digital screen across the enormous stage. One worker followed along behind them, keeping an eye on trailing electrical wires. Just as the screen reached its place, a huge shaggy gray werewolf entered, stage left. Hellboy burst onstage a half a second behind.

There was a very long moment in which no one moved and no one said a word.

Hellboy and the werewolf stared out at the audience. Three-thousand four-hundred and one audience members -- and three judges -- stared back at them.

Then someone shrieked, and the werewolf lunged for the front row seats. A stagehand in a baseball cap stepped directly into its path, threw her hands up, and hurled a burst of flame into the werewolf's face. The wolf howled, arresting its momentum mid-leap, and recoiled backward -- straight into Hellboy's stone fist, which put it right through the large glittery AMERICAN PERFORMERS sign.

Eerie silence fell again, the werewolf lying crumpled in an unmoving heap of teeth, claws, mangy gray fur, and glitter. The slight stagehand slowly started backing up, toward Hellboy and stage left.

The female judge rose from her seat and began to clap. "I don't know what that was," she said, "but it was brilliant!" A few uncertain audience members followed her lead, slowly bringing their hands together, and then it rippled through the crowd until the entire theater was exploding with applause, the walls and ceilings ringing with it.

Hellboy cracked a huge smile, cupping his left hand over his ear, miming that he couldn't hear them. The audience roared all the louder, whistling and screaming their approval, and the stagehand threw off her baseball cap (revealing long black hair), stomped the last few steps over to Hellboy and started hauling him offstage as he protested all the way. Hellboy grabbed the werewolf by its back leg and dragged it along. With his free hand, even as Liz yanked on his coat, he gestured up, up, up and the crowd gave one final burst of hair-raising standing ovation, as the werewolf's lolling tongue left a long, thin trail of slobber behind them.

"Those special effects were incredible!" one of the judges said to the other two, and they both immediately voiced their agreement.

"Somebody get their tapes!" Myers hollered backstage.