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Coming of Age Science Fiction Urban Fantasy

Content warning: violence

“And that’s when I apprehended Agent Crow here for attempted murder.”  Mr. Nifty turned his megawatt smile directly towards the news camera as a black-clad villain struggled with police in the background.

The reporter followed Mr. Nifty’s gaze with starry eyes.  “You heard it here first, folks.  Mr. Nifty has saved our city once again!  But we have to ask.  Who is your new sidekick?”

Mr. Nifty stepped aside with a flourish of his cape to reveal a young girl dressed in similar garb, her pint-sized cape fluttering in the breeze.  The girl smiled sweetly at the camera and flexed her noodle arms.  “This is my protege Kid Peachy.”

Welly looked up from the television and called over his shoulder.  “See, Mom, even Mr. Nifty has a kid sidekick!”

Professor Scare sighed heavily from the kitchen.  “We’ve talked about this, Welly.”

“Just look at her!  She can’t be more than twelve.  I’m already thirteen, and I bet I’m way stronger.”  Welly stood up and mirrored Kid Peachy’s pose.  “Yeah, my arms are like twice as big.”

The Professor poked her head around the door frame and smiled dotingly at her son, the tassel on her velvet tam swinging merrily.  “You’re getting stronger every day, too.”

“So why won’t you train me?  I’ve been asking for years and years, and you keep saying it’s not right for kids to be sidekicks.”  Welly crossed his arms, his lower lip sticking out in a decidedly childish pout.  “But Mr. Nifty is a hero, and he has Kid Peachy.  So how can it be wrong?”

Professor Scare walked into the room and sat down on the couch next to her son, muting the television.  “Just because someone is a hero doesn’t mean they always do the right thing.”  She tousled his hair with her one functional hand.

Welly swatted her hand away with a grin.  “I don’t want to be a hero anyway,” he said.  “I want to be YOUR sidekick.”

“Being a villain, Wel, it’s a lonely life.”

“But we have each other.”

“Yes, we do.  And I want to keep it that way.  The best way to make sure we will always have each other is to keep you safe and away from the fighting.”

Professor Scare watched the silent images on the television as the reporter interviewed Kid Peachy.  She shook her head and flexed her good hand.  “It’s just not ethical to have children fight in battles started by adults.”

“But what if that’s what I want?” Welly countered.

“Being a villain isn’t a viable career path, Wel.”

“It was for you!”

The Professor looked down at her useless hand, disfigured and scarred.  “I didn’t have a choice.”

Welly curled his lip into a sneer.  “And that sucks, doesn’t it, Mom? But here you are, not giving me a choice either.”

“Honey, I-”

“Maybe it’s because you’re a villain.  Maybe that’s why you won’t let me do what I want.”  He stood up abruptly, his hands balled into little fists.  “I want to be a sidekick.”

Professor Scare reached for Welly’s hand, but he yanked it away.  “Wel, please.  I want a better life for you than what I have.”

“I even came up with a cool sidekick name,” Welly continued.  “Teaching Assistant Terror!  Please, Mom.  I’m ready.”

The Professor smiled sadly at him.  “That’s a great sidekick name, Wel.  I’d be honored to have you on my team.”

Welly gave her a well-practiced side eye.  “But?”

“But I won’t compromise my ethics and perpetuate this trend of child soldiers.  If you still want to be my sidekick when you turn 18, we’ll discuss it then.”

“I don’t need your permission to be a sidekick.  I can do it myself.”

“Wel, I-”

Welly turned his back to his mom and marched to the door.  “And I’ll be a sidekick to a big, powerful hero, and then you’ll be sorry you ever decided to be a villain.”  He slammed the door to the little apartment and ran down the building’s stairs until he burst outside, tears brimming at the corners of his eyes.

The view of the sky in his part of town was blotted out by billboards, each more garish than the last.  One huge billboard showed kids of all ages in various hero attire.  “Register as a Sidekick Now!” the ad urged.  At the bottom, in bright green Comic Sans, the ad listed the address for the Superhero Registry Office downtown.  He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and started walking.

A dainty bell rang when Welly pushed open the door to the Registry Office.

The registrar looked up as he walked in, greeting him cheerfully.  “Why don’t you have a seat, young man?  I’ll be with you shortly.”  She looked back at the frustrated man standing in front of her desk.

“What have you decided?” she asked.

“Your suggestion sounds so stupid!” the man said.

“You can come up with something different if you like, sir, but Icicle Man is already a registered name.”

“I don’t want to come up with something different!  I’m a man, and I create icicles!  No other name makes sense.”

“Like I said, sir, Icicle_Man is available as is IcicleMan123.”

“Ugh, those are ridiculous!”

“My apologies, sir.  As long as ‘Icicle Man’ is registered to a living hero, the name will remain unavailable.”

A sinister grin spread slowly over the man’s face.  “As long as he’s living, eh?  Thank you for that information.”

As the man stalked out of the office, he fixed his grin on Welly.  “Good luck, kid,” he hissed, the bright-sounding bell over the door a direct contrast to the man’s rapidly darkening aura.

Welly approached the registrar’s desk feeling slightly nauseated.

She slipped on a tiny pair of glasses that were dangling on a beaded chain around her neck.  “How can I help you today?”

“Did you see that?” he asked her, his breaths hitching as he calmed his rapidly beating heart.  “I think that man’s going to become a villain!”

“Heroes can’t be heroes without an equal number of villains,” she explained dryly.  “Lately, we’ve had an influx of hero registrations, so we’ve updated our policies to discourage new enrollment.  This has the desired effect of angering would-be heroes enough that they choose a different path.”

“That’s horrible,” Welly whispered.

The registrar gave Welly a wan smile and quickly changed the subject.  “So tell me, young man.  Are you here to register for the Child Sidekick Program?”

He straightened his back and squared his shoulders to look bigger.  “That’s right.”

“Excellent!” Her cheerful demeanor returned as she handed him a stack of papers and a pen capped with a huge artificial flower.  “Sign these forms, and then we’ll get you on your way to sidekick super stardom!”

The papers were printed with very small text, and Welly found himself squinting to read it properly.  The vocabulary wasn’t entirely familiar as his 7th grade education did not include contractual agreements.  He was about to simply sign the documents rather than give himself a headache trying to read them all when a paragraph caught his attention:

By signing, I hereby assume all risks of being a child sidekick including, but not limited to, any risks that may arise from negligence or carelessness on the part of my assigned hero or his/her/their associated partners, from dangerous situations that may arise with or without provocation on the part of my assigned hero, or from the use of unsafe or defective equipment or property owned or maintained by my assigned hero.  I acknowledge that neither I, nor my family, is entitled to any compensation in the event of my injury, dismemberment, and/or demise as a result of my child sidekick responsibilities, and I further acknowledge and accept that all rights to an attorney or other representation have been waived.

Welly frowned, and his pen stalled above the signature line.  He hadn’t considered that he might get hurt or even die as a child sidekick.  If he was working with a hero, surely they would never put their sidekicks in harm’s way.  Then he thought back to his mom and her ruined hand.  She had never told him the whole story, but she had alluded once that she had been a sidekick for a hero in her early years.

He stood up and brought his stack of papers back to the registrar.  “I’d like to think about this some more before I sign.  Maybe talk to my mom.”

The registrar peered at him over her tiny spectacles.  “You’re Professor Scare’s boy, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

“She won’t let you be her sidekick?”

Welly clenched his teeth.  “No.”

The registrar took the stack of unsigned papers and slid them into a cubby on her desk.  “She must love you very much, then.”

Welly scowled at her and strode to the door.  “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he grumbled as the bell jangled happily over his head.

As he walked down the street away from the Superhero Registry Office, he saw a silver-clad hero land in front of an unmarked storefront with windows painted solid black.  In the hero’s arms lay a small boy in a matching silver outfit.  The child appeared to be unconscious, and he was covered in blood.

A panel slid open in one of the windows, and the silver hero unceremoniously shoved the child into the portal before quickly taking flight and disappearing behind the tall buildings.  The whole exchange piqued Welly’s curiosity, and he jogged towards the blacked-out windows.

The panel was seamlessly integrated into the window, and Welly wasn’t able to detect the edges.  As he ran his fingers along the painted glass, he tapped lightly, testing for weaknesses.  The panel slid open so abruptly that Welly gasped and took a step back.

A nurse’s frazzled face peered out at him.  “Are you hurt, sidekick?” the nurse asked.

“I’m not-” Welly began.

“This clinic is for injured or maimed child sidekicks only.  Please move along.”

Before the nurse could slide the panel back into place, Welly got a view of a bustling clinic housed behind the painted windows.  Several children in heroic costumes were hooked up to life-saving medical equipment.  Others were lying in bloody beds and moaning.  Still more children sat in folding chairs, some with missing limbs, and many with the thousand yard stare of the broken.  The child in silver lay crumpled on the floor, unmoving, as blood puddled underneath him.

The panel once again blocked all view of the secret clinic, and the storefront returned to its unremarkable state.  Welly stood in shock on the sidewalk, trying to process the scene he had witnessed.  

He needed to get home and apologize to his mom, realizing she must have been trying to protect him from this world.  For the first time, he wondered if the child sidekick industry wasn’t as broken as some of the bodies he had seen in the clinic.  The guilt he felt at having said such horrible things to Professor Scare quickened his pace, and he was in a full run by the time he arrived back at the apartment.

Welly heard a crashing noise inside the apartment as he unlocked the door.  The muted voices he heard became more distinct as he quietly swung the door open and looked in.

Mr. Nifty’s imposing, cape-clad figure loomed over Professor Scare who was lying prone on the area rug in the living room.  The television was still broadcasting the news, showing what looked like slow motion reruns of Mr. Nifty’s earlier heroics against Agent Crow.

Kid Peachy stood awkwardly next to Mr. Nifty and fidgeted with the hem of her cape.

“Do it, then,” Mr. Nifty instructed his protege.

Kid Peachy looked up with huge, imploring eyes.  “I don’t want to,” she whispered.

Welly couldn’t see Mr. Nifty’s face, but his tone had turned low and dangerous.  “Professor Scare is a villain, Kid Peachy.  A villain.  If you want to be a hero, you must vanquish villains.  Now do it.”

Kid Peachy took a small step forward, her hands glowing with wicked light.  “Can’t we just arrest her?”

“Why are you so weak?” Mr. Nifty smacked a meaty hand against the back of Kid Peachy’s head, knocking her eye mask askew.  “Do it, or I’ll request a new sidekick from the Registry Office.”

Fat tears ran down Kid Peachy’s face, but she pressed her hands against Professor Scare’s head.  The glow intensified until the light burned Welly’s eyes, and then Professor Scare started screaming.

“Mom!” Welly ran straight towards the light, but as he reached the center, Mr. Nifty and Kid Peachy were nowhere to be seen.  His mom lay on the floor, wheezing, her body covered in horrific burns.

“Welly...” she croaked.

“Mom, I am so sorry!” He grabbed Professor Scare’s good hand and held it to his face.  “Please get up,”’ he begged.

“I love you, Wel.”  Her eyes closed, and Welly watched as her life faded from her body.

He didn’t know how long he sat there, cradling his mom’s head in his arms, but it was dark and his tears had long dried when he finally stood up.  Welly carefully removed her red and black doctoral robe and pulled it over his own head.  The hem pooled around his feet.

Mr. Nifty had to be stopped.  The program to recruit child sidekicks had to end.

Welly placed Professor Scare’s tam and tassel on his head.  Like the robe, the hat was too large for him.

But he’d grow into it.

September 18, 2021 00:07

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10 comments

Keya Jadav
13:32 Sep 27, 2021

The plot was amazing! Intertwined with a great fantasy. I liked your concept of 'show don't tell' and how the protagonist on his own realised his mistake and his tries to amend it. The take on prompt is really nice, great job!

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Fawn Marshall
13:55 Sep 27, 2021

Thank you so much! I really appreciate your comments. I felt so bad for Welly.

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12:39 Sep 27, 2021

I enjoyed reading about the world you created here, characters are great and I would love to read more. The only thing I would suggest is that you introduce Professor Scare as a villain a little earlier? I know the name might suggest that she's a villain but it was unclear to me. Also a brief description of her non-functional hand (so we know it's burned) when its introduced would be good. Great work

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Fawn Marshall
13:56 Sep 27, 2021

Thank you for your comments, Danielle. I have been planning to rework the story to make it stronger, and I really appreciate your feedback. That will give me some direction on how to improve!

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16:07 Sep 29, 2021

Of course!

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Kathleen `Woods
08:15 Sep 24, 2021

This was an interesting read, the costumes were specific enough for the medium, and the physical descriptions were within necessity. I liked the comic-book logic of the SHRO, and the very plain opposition of Professor Scare to the fairly internally consistent social order of their world. Thanks for Writing!

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Fawn Marshall
13:57 Sep 27, 2021

Thank you for your comments, Kathleen! I would love to dive more into why the Professor is a villain and how that fits into the world.

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Kathleen `Woods
14:00 Sep 27, 2021

You played fairly well with just implications, to that effect. Though now I'm all curious about it. :)

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Angel {Readsy}
07:56 Oct 15, 2021

Please comment my story it is just a research work I will edit it

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Angel {Readsy}
07:55 Oct 15, 2021

Perfect story it's structure , a language , syntax and morphology semantics , imagery, idea, construction, 5 stars to every word

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