The Adventures of Popeman and Cardinal

Imagine a world completely different from our own. Imagine a world in which a vigilante and his sidekick went around their city, fighting crime with trademarked signature gadgetry. Imagine a world in which a famous and powerful individual had a different life, a life fighting crime.

You would probably think of Batman. Sadly, this is not about Batman. But you are on the right track…

It was night in the small, 800-peopled state of Vatican City. It was a night where the lights of Rome were dampened by the heavy fog from the Mediterranean. It was a night like this when crime was high.

There is a large basement under a well-known building within the tiny city-state. In it is a large array of computer screens and candles. A twenty-year old dressed entirely in red, with a silly hat on, was listening to someone on the other end of a phone line.

After listening, he put down the phone and flicked a switch on the desk next to the phone. A small skylight opened, through which the sky was visible. A large beam of light cast the image of a cross into the sky. easily noticeable against the fog. The man rammed his fist down on a button.

At once, a chute opened in a wall next to a large padded mat. There were many echoing clangs coming from the metal chute, and a muffled yell. Out of the chute popped a cowled man with an even larger and even sillier hat. He had a white cape and body suit, with a red cross on each. This conveyed the image that he was either Swiss or of a medical profession, neither of which were strictly true. On his white cloth belt were assorted signature gadgetry, including a boomerang shaped like a cross, a grappling hook shaped like a cross, shurikens made out of stale sacramental wafers, and the Holy Hand-Grenade of Antioch.

“What is it, Cardinal?” asked Popeman, the white-clad vigilante.

“There was a report of someone who drowned twelve kittens and beat babies to death with their corpses,” said Cardinal, gravely.

“Did he go to confession?”

“Yes.”

“Then what are we after him for?”

“In that case, never mind. I have another call, though.”

“What is it this time?”

Cardinal took a deep breath. This would definitely cause outrage with Popeman.

“He…mumblemumble.”

“Out with it, Cardinal!” said Popeman.

“He didn’t go to Church last Sunday.”

“Get the Popemobile, Cardinal, because it is time to put the ‘vigilantism’ back in ‘repentance’.”

Cardinal made no remark, and instead pulled a lever on the desk. A wall rolled back, exposing the Popemobile. It was a sleek white Ferrari with a bulletproof glass chamber on the back where the trunk would have been on a normal car, into which Popeman climbed. Cardinal then got behind the wheel and flicked a switch on the dashboard. A roof slid into place, and rocket jets came out of the back. The garage door opened to a ramp, and the rocket jets flared. The Popemobile drove off into the night, leaving the Vatican behind.

While Cardinal was driving, Popeman pressed a button on the small dashboard of his compartment. A tray with a wineglass slid out, and a nozzle dispensed wine the color of motor oil. This was no doubt because wine was not meant to be stored in a random tank under the hood of a heavily customized car. Popeman was oblivious to the obvious taint of the wine, and drank a large sip of it before doing a spit-take and spraying the front glass of his compartment with a thick crimson sludge that quickly solidified.

“Cardinal!” yelled Popeman through the intercom in his compartment. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Meaning of what, your Grace?” asked Cardinal through the speaker.

“Don’t call me that!” snapped Popeman. “I am going incognito.”

“Fine then. The meaning of what, Popeman?” said Cardinal, laughing within the confines of his head. He called himself Popeman for Our-Father-Who-Art-In-Heaven’s Sake, and there were so few people in Vatican City that one could practically visit each and every one of them over the course of a few weeks and quickly deduce that Popeman was obviously the Pope. In addition, Popeman insisted on such blatantly devout symbols that there was no one he could be but a very high-placed member of the Church. In light of this, Popeman’s claim of going incognito was laughable.

“In fact, Cardinal, I was just going to say that the wine here is atrocious.”

“May the Lord smite the winemaker for making such garbage.” said Cardinal. What he didn’t say was, “You ask me to leave a large quantity of wine in a random tank of a heavily customized car that runs at 70 degrees Celsius for most of its time on the road and never to replace it until it is all gone i.e. a few months after the fact and then expect it to be at all palatable?”

“I think that you will find that the Lord no longer smites people anymore. He simply gives them the illusion of free will so that their lives are filled with needless guilt and torment and then blame them for their predetermined sins by delegating their eternal afterlife to an entity whose existence either proves the Lord’s lack of omnipotence or his total callousness to the dreadful human condition. He then appears on the toast of random people while billions of poor hopeless souls are starving or are being tormented by incurable diseases that the Lord could have left out from the beginning.”

Cardinal was shocked.

“What is the problem, Cardinal?”

“It is just that you sound nothing like a major religious figure.”

“Don’t act so shocked, Cardinal. If I am to maintain a good disguise, I can not merely change my title and my clothing.”

“I am sorry, I was just a bit distracted by the fact that we are speaking American English instead of Latin or even Italian. It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t even know English, much less the American variety.”

“Come off it, Cardinal. It is just the author exercising the natural artistic licence to which we are all allowed in some semblance of moderation. Besides, I would have thought that you would be used to taking insanely contradictory or nonsensical events or ideals for granted without questioning them with any semblance of reason, as they fall apart under even the mildest scrutiny like a fragile soap bubble in a massive thermonuclear explosion.”

“From where would I be used to this?”

“Well, you are in a religious profession, aren’t you?”

“Is that Popeman speaking?”

“You catch on quick, Cardinal.”

The popemobile slowed to a crawl as it approached the lot of an ancient hospital.

“Ah, beutiful Roma,” said Popeman, exiting the bulletproof glass case. Cardinal groaned when he saw the wineglass tipped over the white leather floor and the glass screen. This distracted him from the fact that Popeman was compensating for speaking in English by adding Italian randomly where readers would understand what it meant.

“Shouldn’t that be Roma, considering the whole Latin thing?” said Cardinal, quickly catching up. He neglected to lock the Popemobile.

The two eventually managed to find their way through the hospital to the visitor’s desk, where an old, hunched bald man who would be more appropriate as a janitor or a museum curator welcomed them to the Luna Spada Gelato Allegro General Hospital. Popeman politely requested the name of the man they were going to see.

“I am most sorry to inform you that he passed away last Saturday night. His funeral was held just yesterday.”

“Why didn’t he go to Church on Sunday?” asked Popeman, oblivious to logic.

“He was dead. His priest gave him his Last Rights on Saturday evening, so he is fine with the Lord.”

“He should have gone to Church on Sunday, still. Being dead is no excuse. I remember a few sermons in my time that left the pews looking like a bomb had exploded there. Everyone was fast asleep.” Popeman sighed in nostalgia. “Come, Cardinal. Let’s visit the cemetery and teach him a lesson.”

The distressed hospital staff member watched as the two hurried off down the corridors. They were held up when they mistook the women’s lavatory for the exit, but they eventually left the building to find the Popemobile stolen.

“Come on, Cardinal. It is time that you learned to jog!”

Cardinal started jogging, and Popeman quickly caught up with him, despite being very old. Cardinal was suspicious that Popeman and the Pope were not really as similar as one might expect.

“Do you even know his name?” asked Cardinal, pausing to catch his breath while leaning against the cemetery gate.

“Yes. It is Mario Giovanni Ravioli.”

Cardinal sighed. He then hopped the fence and pulled two shovels out of a small shed. He handed one to Popeman, who was mysteriously behind him. They found the grave, and started digging.

When finished, Popeman dropped the shovel and tried to lift the casket. This was impossible, as he was standing on it. Cardinal did not point this out, as trying to explain basic physics to Popeman was like trying to explain the benefits of a bow and arrow to someone with the nuclear launch codes for all weaponized nations. It was simply that Popeman was too advanced in philosophy, religious denial, and science in general to accept basic intuitive concepts of those subjects. He had gone so far that the intuitive had switched places with the unintuitive. However, the main contributing factor was that Popeman was quite losing his mind, and could not take any criticism gracefully.

Popeman, as it turned out, was not trying to lift the casket, but instead attaching a screw-on hook that he could attach his cross-shaped grapnel to in order to utilize a pulley system to both escape and bring it up to ground level. He then fired the other end of the grapnel with a cross-shaped launcher. It swung around a branch of a conveniently located tree. Popeman then ascended the leading rope, leaving Cardinal to wonder how Popeman had just managed to solve a problem without help or debate.

“Come on, Cardinal! It is a long trek back to HQ, and we haven’t any means of transportation.”

“So,” said Cardinal, ascending the rope, “How are we going to lug a casket around in the streets of Rome and enter the Vatican undetected?”

“Ah! A brilliant point. Fortunately, I have a brilliant answer. We simply use the Helipoper to fly undetected and enter the HQ from the special landing pad by the Vatican.”

“How can you hide a helipad by the Vatican?”

“Don’t bring that up! The readers were taking it for granted until you questioned how the system works! Now I have to provide a believable explanation!”

Cardinal sighed. Sometimes Popeman pretended that they were living inside of a short story written by a teenager living in New York City. His strange ideas were so laughable, but you had to hold the laughter within for the sake of not igniting his reserve tanks of righteous fury.

“Fine,” he said. “I will call down the Helipoper with the Two Way Radio.”

Popeman drew a cross-shaped two-way radio from his belt and handed it to Cardinal, who started speaking into it.

“Could you send over the Helipoper?”

Cardinal waited a few minutes while Popeman adjusted the pulley system and brought the casket up from the ground. It did not help that the nails on the coffin were not the highest quality, resulting in the lid flying off, leaving the actual casket and the body inside of the grave. Popeman then built a sling out of bark and plant fiber, which he used to haul the corpse up to ground level. Then came the sound of the rotors of the Helipoper.

Because the rotors were shaped in a cross, they were completely off balance, and it was a miracle of the Helipoper didn’t crash while trying to take off. It likewise landed awkwardly. The rotors slowed down while the pilot left the cockpit and helped Popeman carry the corpse of Mario Giovanni Ravioli into the Helipoper. Cardinal then entered the copilot’s seat, and waited for the pilot to re-enter. They lifted off, and Popeman admired the lights of Rome all the way to the Vatican.

***

After landing on the mysteriously concealed Helipopad, the Helipoper started shaking rapidly. The entire crew immediately exited, with Popeman dragging Mario’s corpse out of the small cabin. They all ran behind a large steel door and tried to simultaneously look through a small plexiglass window.

The Helipoper shook as its heavier rotor blade swung round. Eventually, the rotors slowed down without the Helipoper exploding as the last three had. The collective group sighed, but Mario did not, because he was dead.

They then went to a series of desks, on which clerks in clerical attire handled ancient computers and modern telephones.

One of them, after pausing his game of Pong, looked up at Popeman and handed him a telephone receiver.

“Hello?” he said. “How do you know my number?”

“Do not question the narrative imperative. Anyway, I thought I would give you a call.”

“Let me guess. You are Doctor Satin, the famous supervillain of the general area of Rome.”

“No! It is spelled Doctor Satan. It is written on my medical license.”

“I thought that all supervillains whose name began with Doctor were not, in fact, actual doctors. Besides, what kind of family has the last name Satan?”

“The Satan family, of course.”

“Clearly you are either a joker or dead serious. Now, why did you call me?”

“I just wanted to give you a head’s up. There is a new villain coming to fair Rome, known as Auntie Christ. She looks like a harmless old lady but is in fact so goddamn annoying that anyone with whom she talks for at least fifteen minutes commits suicide or pierces their eardrums at the very least. She is unstoppable. I don’t want anyone coming in on my turf, so I decided that I would let you know this so that we could work together to stop her and drive her back to the hellhole she came from.”

“Why should I help someone who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for passing his medical final?”

“That is not true! I sold my soul to the devil during my medical final in exchange for a pencil that would not break nor run out of lead nor require sharpening or refilling because my pencil broke and was unusable.”

“Anyway, I guess that I will trust you, since this Auntie Christ sounds like one tough character. Where shall I meet you?”

“The Vatican Gift Shop. I am sure that you will be inconspicuous amidst the ranks of brain-dead tourists who decided that going to the Vatican would be fun and found it so boring that their brains atrophied. Anyway, meet me there in one hour.”

Popeman hung up, and beckoned to Cardinal.

“We are meeting Doctor Satan, an actual villain, in the Vatican Gift Shop in one hour. That gives us plenty of time to prepare for the encounter.” said Popeman.

“Why not just lock him up in the dungeons?”

“Because that is a too convenient ending. We should really be going now. We have to get to the Vatican Gift Shop before it closes.”

“How is Doctor Satan going to enter after hours?”

“If he is a villain, he is unconcerned with laws, both of man and of physics.”
Cardinal paid this no heed, as with most things Popeman said. They exited the subterranean headquarters via a hidden staircase and left the courtyard for the Vatican Gift Shop.

***

After waiting about fifty minutes, Popeman and Cardinal were standing in the relative darkness of the empty Vatican Gift Shop. Popeman had hidden behind a large ornamental cross while the shopkeepers walked by, whereas Cardinal stood still in a pose, pretending to be one of the wooden models of the Congress of Cardinals limited-edition life-sized diorama. For some reason, Popeman had decided to lug around the corpse of the late Mario Giovanni Ravioli. Cardinal could never comprehend the strange man’s motives, but somehow everything always turned out right. Cardinal’s inherent cynicism with regard to Popeman’s ability to resolve any problem was always refuted with the facts. Nevertheless, there was always a first time for everything.

They regrouped and waited for Doctor Satan to arrive. The noise of a disembodied choir slowly flooded the room, playing one of the more lively satanic tunes, Beelzebub Is Coming To Town.

“Oh, you better watch out, you had better pray, the Prince of Darkness will spoil your day, Beelzebub is coming to town. He’s making a list of all who will lose, and burn in hell with the muslims and jews, Beelzebub is coming to town. He sees you when your sinning, in Hell you all will bake. If you commit a single sin then your soul is his to take. Oh, you better watch out, the horned man in red, is coming along on his fiery sled, Beelzebub is coming to town. And to Hell he’ll drag all of us down.”

The recording ended, and Doctor Satan emerged from the shadows of the room. He was dressed in a red shirt and lab coat, had a surgical mask with a motif of fangs, wore red-tinted sunglasses, and had upon his head a horned helmet resembling that worn by those who attempt to emulate the appearance of a viking.

“Hello, Popeman.” said Doctor Satan.

“Hello,” said Popeman, stepping out from behind the cross. Cardinal walked over to the corpse of Mario and dragged it towards Popeman’s moving figure.

“I would shake your hand, but doing so would probably cause us to annihilate explosively in the manner of matter and anti-matter. Even so, I will get to the point. Auntie Christ is currently at the Cafe de Calzini Puzzolenti. I have decided that the best course of action would be to lure her out. She especially likes knitting and cats, so I have a ruse that will work. We will pretend to be travelling merchants selling yarn and kittens, so she will be forced to come out and admire our wares. In the mean time, you shall pray a holy incantation over my pencil to bless it, and I will run it through her black, shrivelled heart.”

“And if she is not in fact a demonic being, and simply a royal pain in the ass?”

“Then we will be doing the world a great favor, and it will be my sin, not yours. I have already killed so many that God could not damn me to any further pit of hell. If he tried, I would probably end up in the highest echelon of heaven, assuming a toroidal universe as has been observed by astrophysicists and astronomers.”

“Fine then. Take us to the Cafe de Calzini Puzzolenti.”

Doctor Satan nodded quickly and then etched a pentagram on the floor with his pencil.

“Anikham kse sued, Anikham kse sued, Anikham kse sued,” said Doctor Satan.

They teleported magically to the middle of the street across from the cafe.

“Now, how will we pose as cat/yarn merchants?” asked Cardinal, the only sane one besides Mario Giovanni Ravioli.

“Good morning Rome! We are the travelling kitten and yarn merchants, here for one day only! Come one, come all, for we have the best cats and yarn for miles. You cannot get a better deal. It takes only one easy payment. You can use the cats to clean up spills of milk on your floor. It works much better than ordinary paper towels, and they are reusable! They do not need to be machine washed, they clean themselves every day, while you wait! Don’t bother with any other offers, for we have the best deal you could hope for. Come within five minutes and we will give you three kittens for the price of one! Also, you can combine the yarn and the kittens and make a kitten with yarn! They love yarn! You can also knit them sweaters so that they are not cold in winter!”

There was a brief silence. Then, the door opposite creaked open, slowly and loudly. An old, smiling woman exited, resting on a wooden cane and wearing her white hair in a bun.

“Hello, dearies,” she chirped, cheerfully.

“Hello there! I believe that you are Auntie Christ,” said Popeman.

“Ah, so someone here has heard of me. Now, about those darling sweet kittens and yarn, I was wondering how much they are.”

“Oh, they are the best price,” said Popeman, as Cardinal and Doctor Satan propped up Mario Giovanni Ravioli behind a makeshift counter. Due to rigor mortis, he was easy to keep standing.

“Now, just talk to our cashier, Mario,” said Popeman, concluding his pitch.

Auntie Christ walked over to Mario. “I was wondering about your price for kittens. You know, I just love kittens and want to fill my house with them. I live here in Rome, I just moved here, and the people are just darling, except they strangely are very suicidal. I don’t really know why. Here, let me help you sell kittens, I love kittens, and I can surely assist you with sales. As a matter of fact, I have lots of kittens and yarn, and can give you some for free, as long as you give me discounts whenever you are in town.”

“Oh, we are travelling all of Europe, and we will never be back,” said Doctor Satan, chipping in.

“Oh, that’s fine,” said Auntie Christ. She then turned to Mario. “Do iguanas like kittens? I don’t know. Maybe I should get some iguanas and they can play with the kittens. Maybe iguanas like sweaters, I can make some sweaters out of yarn. I adore yarn. And kittens. Maybe iguanas too. I also like football, though it is called soccer in America and the readers of this will be primarily American so they would need a hint. Anyway, I want to bring some kitten-iguanas in sweaters to the stadium and cheer with the crowds of drunks and hooligans.”

“What the hell is going on here? No pun intended,” whispered Cardinal to Doctor Satan.

“Actually, she is subliminally including an evil satanic curse into her speech. It is entirely subconscious and unless she is talking directly to you, it does not work. In fact, it is so cleverly concealed that it is impossible to detect.’”

“But you have seen people kill themselves due to her rants, right?”

“No, but I have heard a great many stories of her.”

“Perhaps you could have thought to confirm these rumors before attempting to murder an old lady?”

“Listen, anyone who can eat the food at that cafe is probably an immortal other-worldy demonic creature, and no one should be that enthusiastic about kittens.”

Before Cardinal could stop him, Doctor Satan signalled Popeman, who tackled Auntie Christ. He got up, while Doctor Satan drew a steel pencil with a perfectly honed diamond tip filled with graphite. He extended a length of the unbreakable graphite, and ran the pencil through Auntie Christ’s back, piercing her black heart.

Auntie Christ gave an otherworldly shriek, and disintegrated into a pile of yellowish dust.

Cardinal walked over to Doctor Satan. “I guess that God will reward you for destroying a demonic creature plaguing the earth.”

“I hope so.”

“Come off it, Cardinal,” said Popeman. “ That bastard is too arbitrary for logic like that! You need to think like a madman in order to understand his intentions.”

Cardinal glanced briefly at the smiling, masked face of the most influential person in all Catholicism. “I will take your word for it.”

Peter Duchovni
Age 14, Grade 10
Stuyvesant High School
Silver Key

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