Mark A Davis
Grandpa Anarchy, world's oldest hero, awoke in the dark of a cold bedroom. He'd gone to sleep on Christmas Eve. Red numbers from a digital clock read 12:01 AM -- so technically it was Christmas morning.
Something moved in the darkness. He heard chains being drug across the floor, and smelled the decay of death. "Crap, this again?" Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed. "How many times does one man have to be taught the meaning of Christmas anyway? Look, I give to the Orphans of Heroes Fund, I support homeless sidekicks through the Temporary Superfriends Outreach program, I give to Larry's Kids -- you know, Larry Warburton, he was the Masked Mammal back in the sixties...."
"Is this a common occurrance?" asked a voice from the darkness.
"Only about every five years or so, like clockwork," Grandpa muttered. "I think it'd happen more often if I wasn't out saving Christmas every holiday season...."
"Do you remember me, Grandpa Anarchy?" said the voice. "I was your sidekick for... well, about seventeen hours I think...."
"You and about a hundred other spandex-clad waifs," Grandpa Anarchy muttered. "Here, let me get the light on...."
Grandpa flipped a switch, illuminating the room. He was dressed in gray flannel pajamas with black stripes. In the center of the room, wrapped in chains, was a young boy in a brown and yellow spandex outfit. On his chest was a stylized image of a stalk of wheat. He was not, however, a living boy. He stared from sunken sockets. Rotting flesh dripped from his cheekbones. He appeared to have been dead for some time.
"Why, if it isn't the ghost of Whole Grain Kid!" Grandpa exclaimed. "How long has it been? Something like Ten or twelve years...."
He took two quick steps forward and shoved his hand at the center of the dead boy. His hand passed right through, as if stabbing at mist.
"Sorry," said Grandpa. "Just checking. You never know when the League of Former Sidekicks is going to try an fool me again...."
"I was entrusted into your care," the dead boy said accusingly, "and you let me die!"
"Hey, you jumped in front of the Holy Terror's Disenfractulation Gun," Grandpa said. "I mean heroism's one thing, Kid, but that's just plain suicide. I made sure they put that on your death certificate too -- death by heroic suicide."
"I was just a fifteen-year-old kid! I didn't know any better! You didn't train me!"
"There's only so much training one can manage in seventeen hours," Grandpa replied. "You were lucky to learn how not to don your body suit backwards."
"And you paid me nothing for my service!" the ghost wailed.
"If we could just circle back to the part where you worked for me all of seventeen hours...." Grandpa said.
"Nice try, but you don't pay any of your sidekicks," the dead boy replied. "You're famous for it! You've never paid a single sidekick one red cent...."
"Hey, the job pays in experience," Grandpa Anarchy exclaimed. "Lots of my former sidekicks go on to become famous heroes! Working for me is an honor...."
"Honor doesn't pay the bills, Mr. Anarchy!" the ghost yelled.
"I give free room and board," Grandpa countered. "Look, I got a nice inheritance from the Gentleman Brawler, which includes this mansion. But being a superhero pays surprisingly little. You think anyone is paying me to do my job? Heck no! If I were to run about handing out money nilly-willy, I'd be in the poor house in no time!"
"That excuse has worn thin, Mr. Anarchy," said the Ghost of the Whole Grain Kid. "In the past twenty years your personal wealth has expanded significantly, thanks investments and licensing contracts drawn up by your demonic lawyer...."
Grandpa smirked. "Yeah, Mal does a good job. I pay him well for it, too."
"Why, your take from the most recent Grandpa Anarchy movie alone was several million dollars," said the ghost, "and that's before we figure in licensing money from all of the toys and games...."
"Yeah, yeah, you've made your point," said Grandpa. "I'm a lot wealthier than I used to be, it's true."
"I'm glad you admit it," said the ghost. He shook his chains in what a manner more perfunctory than menacing. "Beware! I have come to warn you, Theodore Harold "Paul" Smith! This evening you will be visited by three ghosts...."
"Yeah, yeah, let's just cut to the chase, why don't we?" Grandpa exclaimed. "Follow me down to the Anarchy Cave, why don't you?" And he strolled out of the room.
"Wait! I must give my warning!" the ghost exclaimed, hurrying after with a clink and rattle of iron.
Grandpa Anarchy and the ghost took the elevator down to the Anarchy Cave below -- which was more of a very large concrete warehouse than an actual cavern. "Annie Two!" Grandpa exclaimed, striding across the room toward the large screen on the wall, which represented the Anarchy Computer Mark II. "What's minimum wage these days? $2.50?"
The screen flickered to life. A young woman appeared on it, dressed like a 19th century librarian with black hair wound tightly into a bun and wearing reading glasses.
"Good morning, Mr. Anarchy," Annie Two said. "The national minimum wage as set by US labor law is $7.25 per hour."
"That much? Dang! I'm in the wrong business!"
The computer took in the young, decaying ghost behind Grandpa. "Another of your Christmas ghost encounters, Mr. Anarchy?" she asked.
"Got it in one," Grandpa said. "Well, okay, let's make it $8.00 an hour, that way nobody can complain that I'm only paying minimum wage. That good enough for ya?" He turned to face the ghost.
"I'm sorry?" the ghost asked.
"I'm proposing I pay my sidekicks $8.00 an hour from this point forward," Grandpa Anarchy said. "For -- let's call it a twelve hour work day, six days a week. I mean it's mostly not very hard work, just monitor duty and such. I make them do the laundry and vacuum the hallway too. Wait, better make that $12.00 an hour, 8 hours a day, five days a week. Wouldn't want to get accused of overworking the little super tykes."
"Duly noted," said Annie. "I will pay your sidekicks thusly henceforth. Although you do tend to keep them on alert twenty-four hours a day."
"Yeah, well, evil never sleeps, we can't either," Grandpa said. "But that ought to be a living wage. How about it? That satisfy you, ghost of Whole Grain Kid, or are we still going to have to do the whole three ghosts rigamarole?"
"That... sounds very generous of you," said the ghost meekly. "A very Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Anarchy."
"Yeah, same to you," Grandpa muttered, as the ghost faded from view.
Grandpa's current sidekick, a young woman known as the Koosh Ball Avenger, stared at the check in her hands.
"Why thank you, Grandpa," she said. "That's very unexpected!"
"Merry Christmas, and all that," Grandpa said. "Thought it was about time I started paying you guys."
"I appreciate it," she said. "Although you know, I mostly took this job for the experience...."
Grandpa snapped his fingers. "There, you see? That's what I keep telling them...."