The Last Election
The torches cast a flickering light on the handful of men huddled in the shelter. One of them cleared his throat, raised his hand to catch everyone’s attention and said:
“I really think we should go ahead with the election. There’s just no time to lose.”
A second man nodded and replied:
“I can see your point, but don’t you think it will be just a symbolical event? Don’t we need more than symbols at this stage? Those earthquakes virtually destroyed the entire planet, and swept away human civilisation. Will that election really help us?”
For a moment there was silence as they were all lost in thought. Then a third man said in a quiet voice:
“Well, I suppose there’s an end to everything. As far as we know we’re all that’s left of humanity. And how much time do we have left? Our supplies are running out, and when we leave this shelter we’ll meet sudden death outside. Admit it, guys, it’s over for us. This is the end of the line. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in honouring important traditions up until the very last moment. I tend to agree with our friend’s proposal. We should go ahead with the election. We can’t go on without a representative of God on earth, even if there’s only a handful of faithful followers left.”
“But I’m just a priest. Only a cardinal can be elected as the new pope. And with all due respect, you’re not cardinals either, so you’re not allowed to vote.”
All the men waved his protests away.
“You’re the only candidate for the papacy. And we’re all devout believers. Considering the seriousness of our current situation, I’d say we should allow for some leniency. Let’s go ahead with it. This is too important to cancel because of technical details.”
“Technical details,” the candidate for the papacy muttered, shaking his head.
“The Church has been without a leader for too long. And when we die, it will be too late. This is no way for Christianity or humanity to end. Let’s act quickly. I know the procedure takes time, but we should speed it up. We’ve wasted enough time as it is.”
They conferred a final time, and mere minutes later the votes were cast. Unsurprisingly, the priest was informed he had been elected as the new pope, in all probability the very last one in line.
One of the men held a moist cloth next to a torch, and white smoke billowed up that made everyone cough. When they were able to breathe again, someone said hoarsely: “Habemus papam.”
The newly elected pope rose to his feet, clearly overwhelmed by emotion.
“I thank you all for this great honour,” he said. “I’m afraid that I’m at a loss for words.”
“You need to take a name,” someone reminded him.
The pope nodded, thought for a moment and announced: “I inform you that I take the name of Paul VIII. May God bless you all.”
They all erupted into cheers and applauded him.
“The Vatican is gone,” someone cried out, “but the Catholic Church is still alive, the Catholic faith still lives on, and there is still a representative of God on earth.”
“New York, Paris, London, Rome, it’s all gone, swept away, but we keep the flame of Christianity burning. May God bless us all!” another one joined in.
“Humanity’s almost wiped out by the cataclysm, but we will carry on until the very end, sustained by our faith, and protected by God.”
Pope Paul VIII looked at his disciples and nodded. “There’s just a handful of us left, and we may not have much more time. Let us now…”
A quake hit the shelter, and the men desperately looked for cover as part of the roof caved in, and debris and dust made it almost impossible to breathe. The torches went out too, and blackness surrounded them.
“Are you all right?” a voice finally came from the darkness. What was left of the roof came down, and when the dust had settled they could see the stars and a crescent moon overhead, spreading just enough light to make out vague silhouettes.
“I’m okay. Did all of us make it?”
It turned out only three of them were still alive, and the newly elected Pope was not among them.
“Pope Paul VIII is dead,” one of them lamented. “Mere moments after his election. How tragic.”
“It was the shortest pontificate in the history of the Catholic Church,” the second survivor commented.
“This just has to be a sign of God,” the third man wailed. “We must have failed him. The Pope was struck down by God’s hand. And look at that crescent moon. The symbol of the Islam! God is mocking us!”
“Don’t be silly,” the first man reprimanded him. “You must have been hit on the head by a rock just there.”
“Kill the heretic,” the second man screamed. “We’re all that’s left of humanity, of the Catholic community. Let’s keep our faith pure!”
The two men went for each other’s throat, and the sole spectator shouted: “Stop that! Think of the commandments! God’s children don’t fight, and they certainly don’t kill. Behave yourselves. We’re probably the last human beings still alive on the planet. Let’s spend the time we’re still granted here in dignity.”
The two others suddenly screamed with panic as they disappeared into a crevice they hadn’t seen in the semi-darkness, and the only remaining man on earth stood pondering.
Well, he thought, I must have reached the end of the line. I’m the final witness of the apocalypse. All I can do is wait until my maker calls me back.
He sat down and meditated until an idea struck him. What if I hold another election, he thought. This is my chance to become God’s representative on earth. Now obviously I’m the only candidate, and I’m also the only one able to cast a vote. It would be wholly symbolical. On the other hand, why pass up this chance? This is my opportunity to become Paul IX. Or perhaps John Paul IV. Or what about Pius XIII? Benedictus XVII?
He still hadn’t decided on a name as another quake made him roll down the slope, thus abruptly finishing his papal ambitions, as well as humanity’s reign over the planet.
About the Author
Frank Roger is a Belgian short story writer with a few hundred stories to his credit and publications in more than 30 languages.