To Frank, waking up at 9:30 on a Saturday was still waking up too early, so he let the phone ring and tried going back to sleep. Still, the call he received at that time from Gordon (no need to check, Gordon was the only one who ever called him, not even his parents did that) woke him from a troubling dream in which his former third-grade teacher Mrs. Marplethorpe let loose her pet alligator on him for not knowing the future-perfect conjugation of three to the ninth power (that Frank never recalled Mrs. Marplethorpe having a pet crocodile before in his past is neither here nor there), so he grabbed his phone anyway and listened to the voicemail while lying on his back.
—Frank! It’s Gordon, Frank! Frank, pick up if you’re there! Frank, it’s very important!
Frank figured as much. As many past experiences had more often than not proved, the more importance his friend placed on a matter at hand, the less importance it actually deserved.
—Frank?! Frank are you there?! Hm, Maybe you’re not there. I guess I should make sure. Alright, I’ll count to three, and at three, if you’re there, pick up the phone. One two three… Alright. Hm. Maybe you weren’t there a few seconds ago, but you just got home before you heard what I told you to do just then. Okay, Frank, if you’re just getting home, you may have missed this, so I’ll say it again, if you’re at home, I’m going to count to three, and if at three, you’re at your house, pick up the phone… One two three… Hm. Maybe you aren’t home yet after all. I wonder how much more time your machine will give me. Okay. Well, remember, there is something very, very important I have to tell you, so I’ll keep trying and if you happen to get home anytime that I call remember to wait for the count-off and at three make sure you pick up, remember, it’s very important. It’s Gordon, by the way…
It went on from there. In all the message was three minutes long, and at some point the only motivation he had to listen further was the perverse joy in the realization that Gordon apparently forgot that Frank, a famous luddite to the bitter end, had acquired a smartphone months ago and got rid of the old machine.
Frank went back to sleep, and an hour or so past the previous rude awakening he found himself violently shook awake by his friend Gordon. Since his first call Gordon had left four more messages largely similar to the first, and, taking into consideration the sheer number of instances that his friend had failed to respond to his counts to three, decided to wait at his friend’s residence and intercept him when he arrived from wherever he had been all morning (little did he know he would find him right when he arrived).
—Frank! Wake up, it’s very important!
Frank was somewhat happy to be interrupted from another dream (in which Frank was inside the crocodile’s large stomach, and his teacher Mrs. Marplethorpe was beating him through the crocodile’s stomach with an oversized phone receiver, through which Gordon’s voice could be heard begging to be let into the classroom (Mrs. Marplethorpe was not a good person)). Still, no one likes being shaken awake.
—Ah! Jesus, Gordon, what the…
—Oh, Frank! You’re awake, good! I have something very important to tell you!
—Gordon, are you insane?
—If only! I’m afraid it’s much worse. Meet me at the hospital in one hour!
—Wait, Gordon, why don’t you just…
Two hours later than the time agreed upon by his friend, Frank arrived at the St. Donovan’s Memorial Hospital and met a more than eager Gordon waiting by the entrance. The latter ran over to his friend and grasped him by the arms.
—Frank, you finally made it. I was worried you forgot to meet me here, so I left a few messages on your machine.
—Nope. I remembered.
—Well, good, because I have something very important to tell you.
—So I heard.
Gordon took a few deep breaths, suddenly finding it difficult to tell his friend his terrible news. If Frank found the suspense at all too terrible to bear, he did a commendable job of not showing any sign of it whatsoever.
—Alright, here it goes. I was diagnosed with cancer this morning.
Frank took in a breath and said nothing, not sure how to respond.
—Oh, Frank, I know, it’s terrible! I just went to Dr. Ramsay for a regular checkup and…
—What kind of cancer do you have?
—I mean, where do you have it?
Gordon took a moment to think. As much as he did not want to disappoint his friend, he just could not imagine Dr. Ramsay forgetting to inform Gordon the whereabouts of this terrible disease if that information was important to his well-being.
—Gordon, you shook me out of my bed at nine in the morning, you had better be able to tell me exactly where you have, or you think you have cancer, or else you’re going to find yourself with a lot more medical problems real soon!
—Well, I remembered he had some thing strapped to his ears that dangled around his neck, and he checked me with it here, and here, too…
He pointed first to his left armpit, and then other spots on his chest.
—So I guess I’ve got cancer just in this general, uh, right over here.
—Well, gee whiz. Why didn’t you tell me you had ‘cancer of the right over here.’ I mean, that’s one of the leading killers in America. Right up there with cigarettes, and vehicular manslaughter, and Jesus Christ Gordon, I told you not to see that doctor anymore, he’s a quack!
—He’s not a quack! He has a PhD, so I think he knows a thing or two about cancer!
—First of all, Gordon, he has an M.D., not a PhD, second of all, it doesn’t matter what kind of credentials he has, because, since he told you that you have cancer and it’s obvious you don’t, that makes him a quack, and third of all, I’m going home and going back to sleep and you need to never wake me up like this again!
Gordon impeded his way with a tight grasp to his arm.
—Listen, I know this is deeply upsetting to you. I was upset too, at first, but Dr. Ramsay and I talked it over, and I learned to overcome my many defensive mechanisms for grief and come to terms with my illness. I know it’s hard for you to accept that I’ve got cancer, but that’s just the defense mechanisms talking. I’ve got it and there’s no denying it.
—It’s not defense mechanisms, it’s my bullshit detection mechanisms! I’ll prove it to you! I’ll go right up to him and prove that he has no idea what he’s doing!
Frank shook away his friend’s restraints and headed toward the entrance of St. Donovan’s Memorial Hospital.
—Frank, I don’t think Dr. Ramsay takes walk-ins.
—Well, shit, since I’m already up, I’ve got all day to wait, don’t I?
In the examining room of Dr. Ramsay’s office, the doctor, after examining a disrobed Frank underneath his left arm and three spots near his chest area with a cancer-detecting apparatus strapped to both of his ears (the same apparatus previously used to detect the cancer of another patient three hours ago), was now ready to deliver to Frank his professional diagnosis.
—It’s cancer all right. Cancer if I’ve ever seen it.
—Where do I have it?
The doctor hummed to himself and re-examined the four trouble spots where, in his many years as an experienced physician, he most often detected cancer.
—Well, I checked under your arm, so I think there’s a bit there, and over here, and here, and here too, so I’d say a fairly advanced case of cancer in, uh, this general area right here…
—You know, you checked my blood pressure too. Are you sure I don’t have cancer of the blood pressure?
—Well, this appears to be a fairly advanced case, so at this juncture I wouldn’t be surprised if it metastasized into your blood pressure.
—Oh, for Christ’s sake…
Frank started to rise from the examining table when Dr. Ramsay placed a firm, consoling hand upon his shoulder.
—Look, I know this must be a difficult thing to hear. You’ve got cancer and you’ve got it bad, and there’s no denying it. I’m, sorry. This is the worst part of my job.
Dr. Ramsay took his hand off of Frank’s shoulder, stepped away from his patient, and took a moment to squint and press his fist against his mouth so as to stifle some upcoming sympathetic tears.
—Can I put my clothes on now?
—Well, what do you know? I’ve got it too.
Frank slammed the door to his residence, took off his jacket and left it on the floor as Gordon rose and approached him, imbued with a new anxiety upon hearing Frank’s news.
—Yeah, in my blood pressure, of all places.
—Oh, no, this is worse than I thought.
—You see? I told you, your doctor doesn’t know what he’s…
With a gasp Gordon scrambled toward Frank’s kitchen and started to ransack various pantries and shelves, throwing meats and vegetables and non-perishable food items onto the floor like a Viking.
—What are you doing?
—I gave you cancer, Frank! I’m your best friend and I gave you cancer! Oh, Dr. Ramsay warned me to be careful but I just had to tell you as soon as I found out… I can’t ever give it to anyone else again!
—Gordon, you didn’t give me cancer. First of all, cancer is a non-communicable disease, second of all, if it were it wouldn’t matter much, seeing as how you don’t actually have… Could you at least tell me what you’re looking for?
—I need some cotton swabs and hydrogen peroxide! I have to stop the spreading!
—Okay, well, you’re probably not going to find them in my refrigerator.
Before Frank could either hinder his friend’s ransacking efforts, or otherwise direct his efforts toward a more fruitful conclusion, Gordon immediately ceased upon a strange feeling in his abdomen. It’s too late, he thought in terror, it’ll be any minute before the cancer comes out of my stomach, it’ll be just like that movie where the alien comes out except instead of an alien it’ll be cancer so it thankfully won’t have as much corrosive blood or as many teeth or indeed as many sets of mouths but it’ll still kill me anyway…
—It’s too late! I have to quarantine myself, I have to stop this thing before it kills you too, Frank!
Gordon ran into Frank’s bedroom, and shut himself inside with a loud slam of the door.
—Gordon, open up! You can’t quarantine yourself in my room!
It was at this point that Gordon went into a full cancer attack. Frank found that the attack kept Gordon from barricading the door to his bedroom, so he easily opened the door and went inside, where he found his friend on the floor, shaking as if struck by lightning, looking for something to brace his mouth so as to not swallow his own tongue, a danger, as Dr. Ramsay warned him, that was all too real during a cancer attack.
—What the hell are you doing?
—I’m having a cancer attack! You’ve got to call 911! Hurry, I could die!
—Gordon, you can’t call 911 unless you actually have an emergency. They get angry otherwise. They can be pretty abusive.
—It is an emergency! Please, my life is in your hands!
With a sigh Frank took out his phone and dialed the three numbers so dear to his ailing friend. He waited for two rings before the potentially abusive receptionist answered.
—Yes, I need an ambulance sent to my apartment right away, my friend has cancer… Yeah, I know. That’s not the emergency… He’s, having a cancer attack… Yes, I know there’s no such thing… What was I supposed to do?! He’s hysterical, he’s twitching all over my bedroom floor, he said his life was in my hands… No, I don’t just do whatever my friends tell me to do… Yes, I know how to make my own decisions… Alright, if it’ll end this conversation any faster, then yes, if all my friends jumped off a bridge I suppose I would too! Jesus, what are you, my mother? Can you get me an ambulance or not?! Alright, fine, it doesn’t have to be an ambulance, I just want him out of my apartment… I mean, maybe you could send a cab, and drop him off at a Motel 6 for a while… Hello? You see, Gordon? You see how abusive they can get?
Now, more than ever, people are getting cancer. Even worse, there’s no telling how you or one of your loved ones could get this terrible disease next: you could get it from the food you eat, the soaps and shampoos you use to clean yourself, the clothes you wear, you could get it from being out in the sun, or even from not being out in the sun enough. The possibilities are endless.
If you suspect you or a loved one might have cancer, here are some warning signs to look out for…
This and several other pamphlets like this one were strewn about the magazine rack in the waiting room, all written by Dr. Ramsay himself, a leading figure and true authority in the field of oncology. But before he could muster the stomach to continue reading the one he had in his hand, a nurse called Frank’s name and led him deep into the halls of St. Donovan’s Memorial Hospital.
The next thing Gordon knew he was lying on a hospital bed, surrounded by Dr. Ramsay, several nurses, and, to represent Gordon’s friends and family, Frank. Gordon started to rise up from the bed but Dr. Ramsay quickly restrained him.
—Whoa, easy there! No sudden movements, or the cancer attack might come back. You’re very lucky you know. If you had gotten here any later the cancer might have spread throughout your entire bloodstream. Of course, your friend here should have really called an ambulance, but anyway, thanks to his quick thinking, you’re going to be all right… for now, at least.
—Wait. What do you mean, for now?
Dr. Ramsay sighed and looked at his sterile booty-covered feet, and with an understanding nod the others left the room. When the others had left the room, Dr. Ramsay sat beside Gordon and placed a firm, consoling hand upon his shoulder. Gordon, having recognized this firm, consoling grasp of his shoulder from the previous unfortunate diagnosis, anticipated the worst.
Frank, meanwhile, had stopped paying attention long ago, and instead he and Gordon’s elderly hospital-bed-mate were quite engaged in a televised small-claims legal dispute.
—It’s, difficult for me to say this, but after this recent attack…
—Well, of course she has to pay the rent back, she was there for half of April!
The elderly hospital-bed-mate mumbled something that sounded like “mashed potatoes.”
—Well, before I estimated you had about four months left to live, and now, it is my professional opinion, that, with an advanced case such as yours…
—God, who in their right mind would ever let a room to her?
—Um, well, I think a closer estimate would be probably, about, two weeks.
Dr. Ramsay took his hand off of Gordon’s shoulder, stepped away from his patient, and took a moment to squint and press his fist against his mouth so as to stifle some upcoming sympathetic tears. Gordon recognized this same attempt of his doctor to stifle upcoming sympathetic tears from his prior diagnosis, and was at once saddened by the immutability of the Doctor’s news.
—That doesn’t make any sense at all!
—This is, the worst part of my job…
—And if it doesn’t make sense it’s probably not true!
—If, there’s anything I can do…
—I know a good hospice I could refer you to…
The elderly hospital-bed-mate’s machinery went off, interrupting all conversations regarding terminal illness, small-claims litigation, and mashed potatoes. Topographically speaking, while the elderly hospital-bed-mate’s machine earlier projected a quaint Appalachian hillside at a steady fifty beats per minute, it was now drawing out a jagged, tumultuous Rocky Mountain range
Several nurses swarmed into the room, prepared to dispense the customary medical accoutrement, when a mysterious man, about ten years too young to be, unlike the hospital-bed-mate, classified as “elderly” in full compliance of AARP regulations (but nonetheless, again topographically speaking, well beyond “the hill” men are commonly known to surpass), fairly short and stout with not a few of the preliminary lines about his face and thinning, scattered gray hairs that showed the true age of a man, wearing, despite being a balmy mid-afternoon in the month of July, a wide-brimmed fedora, a black suit and tie and a beige overcoat, entered the room. He was joined by three other similarly-dressed men, and motioned to them to attend to the elderly hospital-bed-mate.
The three men, apparently subservient to the older man due to not only to their willingness to follow his commands but also to the strange fact that they were each physically indiscernible from the other, went to the hospital-bed-mate. One man held the elderly woman’s mouth open while another, placing an attaché case upon the foot of her bed and carefully opening it, produced from the case a large bowl of mashed potatoes. The third man placed two rubber gloves on his hands, took handfuls of the potato, milk and butter concoction and placed them into her mouth.
With the aid of the man in control of her mouth, the elderly hospital-bed-mate chewed and swallowed several handfuls of mashed potatoes before her machinery, once again topographically speaking, with Christ-like faith moved the jagged Rocky Mountain range elsewhere and left a level, plain grassland in its place.
Their work done, they looked to the older man, who gave them a stern nod, which was apparently the signal to pack up their equipment and leave the room, a signal which the three men followed to the letter. Having sufficiently attended to the elderly woman, the older man diverted his attention to Gordon,flashing a small laminated card in his face.
—I’m Rytek. And what’s your name, young man?
Rytek offered Gordon his hand and shook it. Dr. Ramsay rose to his feet from Gordon’s side in surprise.
—Wait! You have no idea how much of the cancer spread to his hand…
—Don’t worry, doctor. I’m fairly experienced in matters such as these.
—All the same, I think I know a thing or two about cancer.
—All the same, Doctor, my tenure as the director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation…
—The Make-A-Wish Foundation. We make things happen. We grant the final, dying wish of anyone afflicted with any terminal illness, no matter what the wish may be. We were just on our way to this room to fulfill the wish of one of our clients, who you just saw three of my associates attend to, when we overheard your case.
—So, it’s true then. I’m really going to die in three weeks.
—Two weeks, two minutes, however long a client has left to live, we at the Make-A-Wish Foundation can guarantee anything you need to make those last moments truly worthwhile. Most of our clients are children, of course, and most of them usually ask for a trip to Disneyland, or the Grand Canyon, or the moon, but of course you’re not limited to any of these locations, or even limited to a trip, in fact. Anything you need, we make it happen.
—Anything I need?
—Never mind that. We have the resources and the capabilities to grant literally anything that anyone can come up with in the final throes of death. And believe me, the final throes of death can make some people come up with some real doozies. So, what’ll it be?
Gordon though long and hard.
—Are you sure you can give me anything?
—Alright then. I want… to be a superhero.
It was this declaration that made Frank finally divert his attention away from the televised small-claims dispute.
—Well… That is definitely not the direction I thought this was going to take.
—I was looking at some Reader’s Digest magazines before my appointment yesterday, and I read an article about these kids who are real-life superheroes. So I thought if they could do it…
—No, Gordon, when they say “real-life superheroes,” they mean like kids in wheelchairs who learn how to jump rope and become double-dutch champions. They don’t literally mean…
—Yes, I want to be a real-life superhero, like the ones from my favorite comic books I used to read as a kid. Like Superman. Or like the uncle in that recent biography. Remember him, Frank?
—Not really, Gordon.
—He used to ride upon a cheetah?
—Doesn’t ring a bell.
—He had superhuman strength, and he could shoot lasers out of his eyes. Remember when he escaped from the lair of Professor Thanatos by squeezing a boulder into a diamond, and then melting the diamond into the shape of a bicycle with his laser vision, and pedaling his way out?
—Yeah, I never really read those. In fact, I think you’re making it up right now…
—He’s just such a powerful example of how we can make the world a better place, you know? I mean, I can really relate to him. The way I see it, people have been good to me, so I want to do some good for them. Maybe if I could do that, and I could maybe do it with my best friend Frank by my side, then I could die content.
Rytek and Dr. Ramsay nodded to each other, impressed by the good-naturedness Gordon displayed to make such an unselfish request.
—No problem. If that’s what you want, then so be it. We can set you up as a hero as soon as in a few hours. And as for your friend, Frank, I assume…
—Yeah, this all sounds fantastic, but, as much as I’d like to make it my problem, I actually don’t.
Then, while walking out of the room and before he shut the door behind him with a loud slam, he also had this to say:
—I’m leaving, so you might want to reconsider your request and ask for a ride home.
Frank, fully expecting to place himself inside his own car upon leaving St. Donovan’s Memorial Hospital, instead found himself forcibly seized by two out of the three men who alleviated the elderly hospital-bed-mate’s deathbed cravings for mashed potatoes, and thrown into a van for Easy Steve’s and Sons Lawn and Landscaping Company, parked a few yards away from the main entrance. The three men climbed inside the van and shut the door behind them. Rytek was seated in the van, which was equipped with what appeared to be state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, or so Frank guessed for all he knew about surveillance.
—So, you don’t want to help your best friend fulfill his dying wish.
—Okay, first of all, it’s a stupid as hell wish. Second of all, he’s not dying! His doctor is mistaken, he thinks Gordon has cancer and for some reason Gordon believes him.
—Really? Then why is the Make-A-Wish Foundation involved in his case?
—How the hell should I know? It’s not like anyone asked you guys to come along. Maybe you know as much about cancer as that quack doctor of his! To be honest, this is all very offensive! You know, there are people who are really terminally ill out there, and instead of acknowledging their struggle and pain we’re sitting here, indulging in the whims of this quack doctor and this poor young man, who just… believes everything that everyone tells him, no matter what…
—And so you must be some kind of cancer expert, is that right?
—Well, no, but I can tell that he doesn’t.
—How do you know? Do you have a Cancer PhD?
—No! You don’t get PhD’s for cancer, you get a medical degree!
—So you admit you don’t have a Cancer PhD then?!
—Of course I don’t have one! No one does, they don’t exist!
—I guess that settles that then, doesn’t it?
Rytek motioned to one of his men, who placed an attaché case by Frank and carefully opened it up.
—So while your friend is being a hero, he’s going to need a good old fashioned villain to fight against. And seeing as how you’ve been so diametrically opposed to his well-being so far…
—I am not diametrically… Jesus, I drove him to the hospital, didn’t I?
—We figured you’d be perfect for him to fight against. Now, first we have to set you up with a costume. We were thinking you could be the evil mad scientist type, you know, to contrast against his superhuman strength.
Before Frank could retort that Gordon had no superhuman strength to speak of, one of Rytek’s man brought Frank to his feet and placed a white laboratory coat on his back.
—Okay, not bad so far. This name, Frank, though, it’s just not very mad-sciencey. Let’s see if we can find a better one.
—You know, I think my name is perfectly fine…
—How about, Dr. Karolus von Diabolous. What do you think, guys?
—It’s good. I like the exotic Dutch flavor, and I noticed you Latinized it a little.
—Yes, that’s what I thought. Great. I’ll just hack into your records and permanently change your identity to Dr. Karolus von Diabolous. Now, those glasses. Not evil.
Before another word was spoken, Rytek’s man snatched Frank’s eyewear from his face. The man carefully placed the glasses on the floor and lifted his foot, placing his sole directly over them.
—I’d really rather you didn’t…
Unfortunately, the man brought his foot down and smashed the glasses into several pieces. Another of Rytek’s men produced a small monocle, forced Frank’s right eye wide open with his fingers, and placed the monocle inside.
—Ah, much better! Very evil!
—And now I can only see out of one eye. Great.
As he said this the monocle fell out of his eye. After many attempts he found it difficult to set back into its former place, and so from that point on he simply decided to hold it in front of his eye whenever he needed to see.
—Now, then, there’s still something missing… Ah! I know just the thing!
Rytek searched through the attaché case until he produced a set of red devil horns fastened to a small plastic tiara. He slapped the horns onto Frank’s head.
—Oh, I get it. It’s the whole devil thing, because his name’s Diabolous. It’s very… diabolical.
—Yes, that’s exactly what I thought! Diabolical!
—Okay, there’s no way in hell I’m going out like this! And you owe me new glasses!
—Sorry, we can’t help you there. If you had a terminal illness on the other hand, maybe. But right now you’ve got other things to worry about, Dr. Karolus von Diabolous.
—You know what, don’t call me…
—Well, time to go, Dr. von Diabolous. It looks like Captain Super Incredible Man is out and about, and I think he’s looking to foil your nefarious scheme.
A Make-A-Wish Foundation agent opened the door to Easy Steve’s and Sons van and shoved Frank out, who landed on his back onto the hard pavement with a grunt.
—Ah ha! We meet at last, Dr. Karolus von Diabolous!
Frank anxiously rose to his feet, smarting from the fall from the Easy Steve’s and Sons van to the pavement, and saw his friend Gordon, wearing a skintight suit with red white and blue stars and stripes, a cape of like colors and design, and a domino mask upon his face, also of like colors and design. On the right side of his chest was an insignia embroidered to his suit with the letters CSIM.
—You thought you could get away with your nefarious scheme, didn’t you, von Diabolous? Or were you not expecting the swift retribution of… Captain Super Incredible Man!
—Alright, look. I don’t know what’s going on, Gordon, but…
—Gordon?! Who is this Gordon?! I am Captain Super Incredible Man!
—Alright, listen to me, Gordon. You’re not…
A Make-A-Wish agent suddenly appeared behind him, holding the barrel of a firearm to the back of his head. Feeling the hard metal of the barrel, Frank stopped his statement mid-sentence and attempted another, hoping to appease his assailant.
—You’re not… lying, at all. Yes, it is, I, Dr. von… You know, that evil sounding name of mine that you just said a few seconds ago.
The agent holstered his firearm and withdrew so fast it seemed as though he disappeared from thin air.
—But, hey, the funny thing is, as a matter of fact I actually don’t have a scheme planned at the moment. I was just on my way home, back to my secret lab.
—Hah! A likely story! You won’t escape justice today, Dr. von Diabolous! No, not after you get a taste of the Super Incredible Baseball Bat of Justice!
Gordon produced a large aluminum baseball bat, and when he swung it in the air it gave a whistling sound. Frank backed away from his friend, suddenly afraid of his threats of just retribution.
—Alright, there’s really no need for… Look, Gordon, I mean, Captain, Super, guy, thing, man, I’ll just leave, and there won’t be any trouble…
Frank could not make good on his promise, or indeed finish his promise, because Gordon point ran up to his friend and swung the bat as hard as he could into Frank’s chest.
After Gordon had successfully thwarted his nefarious scheme, Frank headed back to his apartment where he hoped to catch up on some pleasant, Mrs.-Marplethorpe-free dreams he had missed out on while taking care of his friend’s troubles. He was very surprised, then, upon entering his apartment, to find Rytek and several more of his men present, who had removed all his furnishings and replaced them with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, or so Frank assumed for all he knew about surveillance.
—What the hell is this?
—Ah, welcome back to your secret base, Dr. von Diabolous.
—You all need to leave right now. This is my apartment!
—Not anymore it isn’t. As long as your friend is alive he’s going to be a hero, and you’re going to be the one he fights against. So we have to stay here and make sure you do a good job.
—You know, I really don’t need you in my apartment watching me…
—I disagree. We were watching during your last encounter, and, let’s be honest, you didn’t put forth much of an effort.
—He swung a metal bat at my chest! What the hell do you expect from me?!
—Maybe you just need to be shown the right way to do it. Hey guys, what are some schemes we could have Dr. von Diabolous come up with?
—You could steal a nuke, maybe.
—Not bad. Classic nefarious.
—Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to be stealing any nukes.
—You could build one.
—Yes! You could hire the most brilliant of evil nuclear physicists and they could build your own for you. I’m sure Captain Super Incredible Man would love to combat a threat like that. Of course, those physicists don’t come cheap. You better start knocking off a few banks, raise some funds, Dr. von Diabolous.
—Okay. You know what, I’m not knocking off any…
Before Frank could finish Rytek grabbed his wrist and put a toy gun in his hand.
—Here, you’re going to need your Von Diabolator Eradicator Blaster of Death. Well, time’s a wastin’. Those evil nuclear physicists aren’t going to hire themselves, are they?
Rytek turned Frank around and shoved him out of his front door, forcibly compelled and ill-equipped to knock off a few banks and raise some funds.
—Hello, welcome to Morton Burger! What Super Incredible Morton Value Combo can I get for you today?
The strangely-dressed customer, a scientist of some sort (due to his white lab coat), had certain trouble with his sight, as evidenced by a cumbersome monocle the customer attempted to brace in his eye a few times before finally deciding to hold the small lens over his right eye, and so the friendly Morton’s employee offered to assist the customer by reading off several choice items on the menu. However, the customer broke off his dictation by pointing a toy gun at him.
—Gimme everything in the register.
—I’m sorry, sir, we don’t actually offer an “everything in the register” meal here.
—Goddamn it, this is a robbery! I’m not dicking around, gimme the money, now!
—A robbery, sir?
—SHHH! Keep your voice down!
The customer bent closer to the employee and pointed the toy gun closer to his face.
—Gosh, sir, I’m sorry, but we just don’t offer robberies here at Morton Burgers. Could I interest you in one of our delicious Super Incredible Morton Value Combos…
—No! I don’t want a combo! I just want…
—But I’m sure I could interest you in one. For example, did you know that if you purchase a Super Incredible Triple Morton Burger Combo in a large size, you’d be getting a better value for just fifty cents more that the medium size and you’d be eligible for free refills for your drink and fries…
—For Christ sake, don’t you know who I am?! I’m Karolus von Diabolous! I’ve got a, eradicator, death, blast, thing, pointed right at your face! Don’t you value your life?! Can’t you follow simple directions?! The money! In bags! In my hand! Right goddamned now! Or else I eradicate the shit out of you!
—Hm… I think I have to get my manager for this.
After a moment the employee returned with a manager, who unlocked the register with a bundle of keys and showed the customer a drawer utterly devoid of currency.
—I’m sorry to inform you that we simply cannot participate in robberies at this juncture. Unfortunately, one Professor Thanatos already forcibly confiscated all our available revenues just five minutes ago.
The manager then pointed behind Frank, who turned around and saw a man, dressed in a similar white lab coat, tying a large sack full of money shut. When the man finished, he slung the sack over his shoulder and headed toward the exit, not before noticing the similarly-dressed customer staring at him.
—Let me guess, Make-A-Wish Foundation?
—I apologize for the inconvenience, sir. Perhaps we could offer you a free Super Incredible Triple Morton Burger Combo…
Frank left the Morton Burgers Inc. location in a huff, von Diabolator Eradicator Blaster of Death, but no bags of money sufficient to hire evil nuclear physicists who could build him a nuclear weapon, in hand. He passed by a little boy, on his way to the same Morton Burgers location, with, unlike Frank, a resealable plastic bag of money, but no von Diabolator Eradicator Blaster of Death, in hand.
—Hey, you! What do you have there? Some lunch money? How much?
—Five dollars. I’m going to buy a Super Incredible Triple Morton Burger Value Combo.
—Not anymore! Give it to me!
The boy backed away and held the bag of money closer. Frank, not to be deterred, drew his von Diabolator Eradicator Blaster of Death and pointed it at the boy.
—Goddamn it! I said give me your money! Don’t you know who I am, I’m Karolus von Diabolous! I’ve got an Eradicator thing pointed at you!
—So, we meet again, Dr. von Diabolous!
Frank quickly rose to his feet and saw Captain Super Incredible Man, once again brandishing his Super Incredible Baseball Bat of Justice in the air.
—I’m not, Dr. von,… You’ve got the wrong guy.
—Oh, really? Well, you sure look like him!
—Oh, yeah, here’s the thing though. I’m just wearing his costume. I’m a big fan of his character. I collect the comics, you know?
—He’s lying. He just said, to me, don’t you know who I am, I’m Karolus von Diabolous! He was trying to steal my lunch money from me!
—So, you were trying to steal a little boy’s lunch money, were you?
—No, no I wasn’t. I was, just joking around.
—No you weren’t! You were going to eradicate me with your von Diabolator Eradicator Blaster of Death! Go on, get him, Captain Super Incredible Man!
—What, this old thing? Heh heh, this, this is, it’s fake obviously. I’d never carry a real eradicator with me.
—Come on, Captain Super Incredible Man! Who are you going to believe, me, an innocent little boy, or a guy wearing devil horns?
—I have to say, this is a new low even for you, Dr. von Diabolous! Prepare yourself, then, for the Super Incredible Baseball Bat of Justice!
Captain Super Incredible Man pointed the Super Incredible Baseball Bat of Justice at Frank like a Medieval jouster and uttered a furious war cry. He charged Frank and smote him in the chest with an ample helping of aluminum justice. During the smiting the Captain also permanently destroyed the von Diabolator Eradicator Blaster of Death, permanently ensuring the world’s safety from eradication by blasting. The boy, doing his patriotic duty to help thwart nefarious schemes wherever he may see them, aided Captain Super Incredible Man by repeatedly kicking Frank in his shins.
—Alright, that does it! I quit! Forever!
Frank stormed into his recently-converted secret base and slammed the door shut. Clutching his chest and walking the best he could with his recently-boy-battered shins, he sat down on a nearby chair, ignoring the rest of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Foundation abruptly stopped their work and surrounded Frank.
—You can’t quit.
—Oh yeah, well you can’t make me not quit.
—Oh, can’t we now?
Rytek nodded to a Foundationman, who closed the Venetian blinds in the room, dimmed the lights and locked the door. Rytek let out a sigh of disappointment, pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his overcoat pocket and lit one for himself in one swift motion.
—There are some things you don’t understand about our organization. From the dawn of civilization we have existed with the authorization to grant the final wish of anyone with a terminal illness. We have no government ties and unlimited resources. If you see someone dying, and getting what they want, we are the cause. Every corner of the world is under our surveillance. If you do it, we see it. Always. And no matter what anyone wishes for, we make it happen. No, matter, what!
Rytek blew smoke in Frank’s face and paced back and forth around the secret base.
—If John F. Kennedy gets syphilis and doesn’t realize it until it’s too late to treat it, and he wants Lyndon Johnson to succeed him, we make it happen. If a few dying alien defectors want to spend their last days in the American Alien Life-Form Resort and Hotel, at Roswell, Arizona, we make it happen. Oh yes, we do have jurisdiction outside the atmosphere. What did you think the space race was for, fun and games?! No, Buzz Aldrin had testicular cancer and wanted to walk on the moon! And what do you think we did?!
—You made it happen?
—We made it happen!
—But Buzz Aldrin is still alive…
—I know, right? Most disappointing case we’ve ever done. Now, your friend made a wish for us, and you’re making it very difficult for us to make it happen. So, I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing stopping us from getting cancer, maybe, and then wishing to make you cooperate. Maybe we’ll wish to have your testicles cauterized off with a soldering iron?
An agent opened an attaché case and produced from it the very soldering iron in question.
—Now, I’m not literally suggesting that any of us would voluntarily contract a life-threatening illness just to make you play ball. The very idea, it’s just preposterous.
Rytek stopped in mid-sentence and suddenly noticed his cigarette.
—Oh my gosh, I’m smoking. What is the matter with me? As the director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation I should know it’s bad for you. I mean, it’s practically common knowledge that it causes cancer…
He stopped and gave Frank a stern glare, snubbing the cigarette in the palm of his hand without showing any pain. To Frank’s horror, he noticed several circular burn scars on Rytek’s palm, no doubt caused by other cigarettes extinguished in this manner, probably during repeated instances of this lecture he was now hearing.
—Of course, the nature of our Foundation makes us slaves to the highest bidder, or sickest bidder, I should say. Unfortunately, you have no cancer, no leukemia, no AIDS-related illnesses, and therefore no cards to play.
—Well, not really. Nothing but cancer in my… blood pressure.
—Well, I’m amazed, Frank, but my tests show a recession of your blood pressure cancer. It looks like you’ve undergone a complete recovery!
A disrobed Frank slammed his fist on the table of Dr. Ramsay’s examining room.
—I don’t understand. Usually people are happy to hear news like that.
—No! I have blood pressure cancer! You know I do, you have an M.D. in oncology.
—I have a PhD.
—And since I have a PhD, I should know. Yes, Frank, it’s all gone now.
—But how?! I didn’t even do anything to get rid of it! I didn’t even have it before!
—Yes you did.
—No I didn’t! You don’t get cancer in your blood pressure, blood pressure is a measurement! Jesus, where the hell did you get your degree?
—So, wait a second. You’re saying you didn’t have it before, but you do now, and you want it, again?
—Alright, look. I need cancer, alright? My reasons are my own. Just cook up some bogus tests for me.
—I can’t do that.
—Why the hell not? Your entire practice consists of bogus tests!
—Then why did you come to me in the first place?
—To prove that you don’t know what you’re doing, and I don’t have cancer!
—But you don’t have it.
—Yes I do!
—No. But you did before.
—No, I didn’t! But I have it now!
—And you still want it?
—Okay, now I’m really confused.
—Just… Goddamn it. Just make up something you can show the Make-A-Wish Foundation that my blood pressure has cancer!
—But blood pressure is just a measurement. You just said…
—No, it’s not just a measurement! I mean, it is, but… GAAH! I want cancer, goddamn it!
—I’m sorry, Frank. It’s my job to get rid of cancer, not give it.
—Well, what the hell are you good for, then?
Frank rose to his feet and started putting his clothes back on.
—If you want I can refer you to someone who can, uh… take a look at those aluminum baseball bat welts. To be honest, I mean, uh… it seems like that’s the bigger medical issue here. I mean, I’m only an oncologist, but if I had to guess in my amateur medical opinion… you look like complete shit. You look like someone’s been beating the hell out of you with an aluminum baseball bat over and over again… you should get all that looked at for sure.
As Frank left the grounds of St. Donovan’s Memorial Hospital, he encountered his best friend Gordon heading toward the diametrically opposite way. Gordon stopped and offered to have a chat with his friend, and Frank, noting with much relief his lack of costuming and Super Incredible Baseball Bat of Justice, obliged him.
—Hey Frank. What brings you here?
—Nothing, just, checking my blood pressure.
—Oh. Is all the cancer gone from it?
—Oh, wow! Congratulations, Frank. Dr. Ramsay and I were going to review some of my options for hospice treatment. I’ve only got a week or so left after all.
—Yeah, about that. Come with me over here.
Gordon followed Frank to a nearby bench on the curb to the hospital. Frank clutched his chest and slowly sat down on the bench, and Gordon noticed his deliberately slow motions coupled with his grunts of pain.
—Are you alright, Frank?
–Oh, sure. Just, you know, justice hurts sometimes.
—Yeah, you can sure say that again! I heard Captain Super Incredible Man has been giving Dr. Karolus von Diabolous a real run for his money, with all the justice he’s been getting!
—Don’t I know it. Wait, what do you mean, you heard? Weren’t you there?
—Well, no. Of course not…
—Gordon. I know it’s you. I was there when you told the Make-A-Wish Foundation your wish. And there isn’t anyone else around here being a superhero, is there?
—Okay, just don’t tell anyone, it’s supposed to be a secret identity. I don’t want anything to go wrong before I die in a week.
—Have you ever wondered how you’re able to do this?
—What do you mean?
—How are you physically able to be a superhero? Don’t you think if you were really dying, you’d be preoccupied with other things? Like, I don’t know, maybe, dying?
Gordon’s jaw dropped in shock.
—Frank! How could you say that?!
—Of course I didn’t mean you should, I meant, hypothetically…
—That doesn’t sound like something you’d say. That sounds like, Dr. Karolus von Diabolous.
—Did Dr. von Diabolous put you up to this?
—Gordon, don’t be ridiculous. I barely even know Dr. von Diabolous.
—Tell me! Look into my eyes and tell the truth!
Gordon rose from his seat and gazed directly into Frank’s eyes. Frank, for all his faults, had one redeeming virtue: he was absolutely unable to tell a deliberate, malicious lie to his friend, a virtue that, nonetheless, proved to be most disadvantageous to him at the moment. Finally, Frank rose to his feet and turned away from Gordon.
—You know what, I’d love to tell you, but then I might get shot in the back of my head by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
—Frank, I thought we were friends…
—Well, maybe, but as much as I value my friendship with you, I tend to put a lot more stock in my head being in one piece. See you later.
Frank walked away, beginning the process of turning his back on his friend Gordon. However, this process was abruptly aborted by Easy Steve’s and Sons Lawn and Landscaping Company. Seconds later, he was ejected from the van, dressed in Dr. Karolus von Diabolous garb. He rose to his feet and saw none other than Captain Super Incredible Man, waving his Super Incredible Baseball Bat of Justice. The Captain spent a full ten minutes administering as much justice to Frank as he could, considering, of course, the physical limitations his terminal illness allotted him.
Dr. Karolus von Diabolous staggered into his secret base, newly-equipped with a cast on his left arm and right leg, a neck brace, a wheeled walking apparatus, and a steel-wired contraption which almost completely forced his mouth shut. Rytek and his agents, who were waiting for him, rose to their feet and shut the door behind him. They offered to assist the Doctor, but he snarled and swatted them away before anything could be done.
—So, how goes the supervillain business?
—Well, let’s see, shall we? My ribs are all broken, one of my lungs is collapsed, my shin and thighbone are both fractured, my arm is completely broken, my wrist is shattered, my neck is sprained, I can’t walk with that goddamned thing (indicating the walking apparatus), and so it took me ten goddamn minutes to cross the street, half of my teeth are gone, I can’t talk, I still can’t see, I still have to do this, over! And over! And over! And over! And over! And over! And over again! (as he lifts his monocle to his eye and drops it down repeatedly) But hey! You know me, I CAN’T COMPLAIN! Hey, look on the bright side, at least when I got the ever-loving shit beaten out of me, I was right next to a hospital!
—So what are you going to do now? You still have to carry out some kind of nefarious plot, don’t you?
Dr. von Diabolous glared at Rytek and his agents, and let out a sinister laugh.
—You’re too late, Captain Super Incredible Man!
Unfortunately, Captain Super Incredible Man had indeed arrived at the headquarters of the Make-A-Wish Foundation far too late. He saw the evil Dr. Karolus von Diabolous holding Rytek and the entire Foundation personnel hostage, brandishing a soldering iron in the air, which, Captain Super Incredible Man realized to his horror, was plugged in, hot and ready for soldering, or for whatever other nefarious purposes it may be needed for.
—Yes! I, Dr. Karolus von Diabolous, have kidnapped the entire Make-A-Wish Foundation! They are now all at my mercy! I will now proceed to cauterize the testicles off of every one of them! When I am finished, I will then cauterize the testicles off of every man and woman in the world! And when no one has any testicles left, then no one can get testicular cancer! The world will then have no need for the Make-A-Wish Foundation! And if anything else in the human body can develop any other diseases, then I’ll cauterize that off too!
—No, Dr. von Diabolous! Don’t do it! Think about the consequences! If no children are sent to Disneyland, it could go out of business entirely! Think about all the kids in the world who have still never seen the Magic Kingdom!
—Then I’ll just have to cauterize the Magic Kingdom!
—Please, Dr. von Diabolous! Listen to reason! And, also, I’m not sure you know what “cauterize” means.
Alas, all fell on deaf ears. With all his might Dr. Karolus von Diabolous threw the soldering iron all the way to the Disneyland Magic Kingdom in Florida. It was instantly cauterized, and both Captain and Doctor heard the screams of a thousand infant children. A black cloud erupted and engulfed the super-hero-and-villain and the rest of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After a few moments the cloud took the putrescent, abominable shape of their most hateful common enemy, their former fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Marplethorpe. The horrible teacher let out a shrill howl that killed a thousand crows, pulling the leash on her pet crocodile who chomped at the bit toward Dr. Karolus von Diabolous.
—At last! You have destroyed the last bastion of pleasure for children all over the world! This, and also the complete subjugation of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, were all I needed to be free from my prison! And so, Dr. Karolus von Diabolous, what is the future-perfect conjugation of three to the ninth power?!
Suddenly, a deafening growl was heard. A muscular man was coming from a long distance away.
—To me, Leonidas!
A cheetah followed the man, with a host of hundreds of children following behind him, all pedaling on bicycles made out of solid diamond. The man leaped astride the cheetah and galloped toward Mrs. Marplethorpe.
—Sing as loud as you can, children, the joyful song of pure-hearted children is her only weakness!
Skin-a-marinky-dinky-dink, skin-a-markiny dooo! I, Loooove, Yooooou!
I love you in the morning, and in the afternoon, I love you in the evening, and underneath the moon…
—Gaaaaah, not the joyful song of pure-hearted children!
—It’s working! Now, Captain Super Incredible Man, and Dr. Karolus von Diabolous! Kill her crocodile pet! She keeps a fraction of her soul in its stomach!
Without hesitation the super-hero-and-villain, once the bitterest of enemies, now united against the threat of a common enemy, grabbed the crocodile by each of its jaws and ripped them apart with all their might. A putrid black fog wafted from the stumps where the now-severed crocodile mouths used to be, with a wild howl Mrs. Marplethorpe sank back into the dark underbelly of the Magic Kingdom, never to terrorize children around the world ever again. The children cheered, yay! The evil teacher is gone forever! The Make-A-Wish Foundation has been rescued! Now we can still get sick and go to Disneyland!
—Well done, Captain Super Incredible Man, you’ve made us all proud.
—But what are you doing here?
—I had your Doctor pretend to diagnose you with cancer. I knew when the Make-A-Wish Foundation came for you, you would choose to be a hero. You would choose to be the best man you could be. The man I knew you would become someday.
—So, I don’t have cancer? I’m not going to die?
—Far from it. But don’t you see? You don’t need cancer to be a hero! You had it inside you all along!
—Wow! I don’t know what to say. Thank you! Thank you so much!
The mysterious man climbed on the back of Leonidas, ready to ride him off into the sunset. He offered the younger superhero a bicycle fashioned out of diamond. The latter accepted and mounted the bike, preparing to join him.
—Wait, what about me? Does that mean I don’t have cancer?
—No, the doctor wasn’t faking it when he diagnosed you. You’ve got it all in your blood pressure, I can tell just by looking at you.
Just then, a mysterious man, about ten years too young to be, unlike the hospital-bed-mate, classified as “elderly” in full compliance of AARP regulations (but nonetheless, again topographically speaking, well beyond “the hill” men are commonly known to surpass), fairly short and stout with not a few of the preliminary lines about his face and thinning, scattered gray hairs that showed the true age of a man, wearing, despite being a balmy mid-afternoon in the month of July, a wide-brimmed fedora, a black suit and tie and a beige overcoat, approached the nefarious, cancer-afflicted villain and shook his hand.
—The name’s Rytek, Make-A-Wish Foundation. We make things happen. I heard you’ve got cancer in your blood pressure. What last wish can we grant you, sir?
—Can you get rid of my cancer? That would be great.
—Sure thing. All you have to do is wake up.
—What? Ah fuck, you gotta be…
To Frank, waking up at 9:30 on a Saturday was still waking up too early, so he let the phone ring and tried going back to sleep. Still, the call he received at that time from Gordon (no need to check, Gordon was the only one who ever called him, not even his parents did that) woke him from a troubling dream, so he grabbed his phone after all and answered the call just in time before it would have gone to voicemail.
—Frank? It’s Gordon.
—I know. Why are you calling me? We live in the same apartment.
—Your door was shut, and I thought you were still sleeping, so I didn’t want to knock on your door and disturb you.
—But… I… what do you want?
—We’re out of toilet paper again. Is it my turn to get it or is it yours?
—What does the chart say?
—Oh yeah, I forgot to check. Hm… looks like your name’s crossed out.
—…then it’s your turn, Gordon.
—Okay, I’ll head out and grab some. Say… are you alright?
—Yeah, I’m fine. I just had a real bad dream. About Mrs. Marplethorpe again.
—Oh, I’m sorry. Yeah, Mrs. Marplethorpe was not a good person. Want to talk about it?
—No, it’s okay. Anyway it really started to go off the rails near the end, so in a way I’m kind of glad you called. I’ll see you back soon.
Frank hung up his phone, stretched and got up from bed to start his day. While in the kitchen making himself a pot of coffee, the details of the dream, and a sudden sense of dread, stayed with him. He often in the past would ponder what reality really was, the waking life of every day, or perhaps the life he saw every night through tinted glass of a dream? How could he really be sure?
He soon shrugged off this feeling. He couldn’t be sure, but he knew which one he preferred. This reality, the reality where things made sense. Come on, Gordon a super hero, the Make-A-Wish foundation, crocodiles with pieces of souls in their stomachs? How absurd. Yes, better I’m conscious and living in this plane of existence, where things are nice and orderly and logical. That’s right, nothing quite like living in the real world, he told himself as he peeled away one of his nine tentacles, which then slithered into the fridge and pulled out an especially juicy-looking puppy, which he then pierced open with his mandibles and sucked out its delicious marrow.
Yes indeed… the real world.