Selections from Two Ends of the World (1937)
In the first days of June 1950, newspapers from all over the world printed a brief report, which included comments varying in their degree of irony. A certain owner of a large landed estate in Denmark, Hans Retlich, German by birth, had sent the following message through his private radio station: “On the 30th of June of this year, I will destroy mankind. Things have deteriorated to such a degree that nothing remains to be done, other than start everything over from the beginning. A few years ago I acquired a device which will allow me to kill every animal possessing a nervous system within the span of a few seconds. My “Supernal Ray” will cleanse the world far more efficiently than that legendary flood, crudely carried out by the Jewish god. My creed is purpose and precision. Everything on Earth will die except for that which I consider suitable to preserve. There are no means of defense against this blue ray. Mankind is kindly asked to prepare a sufficient number of graves. There will be no more “Religion” or “Art.” God and the creator of a new humanity, Hans Retlich.”
The puzzling thing was that the radio station of the mysterious Mr. Retlich was more powerful than any other broadcasting station in the whole world. The communiqué was heard everywhere. It drowned out local radio programmes, but the majority of listeners thought it was only an advertisement for a movie or the announcement of a radio drama. The matter exclusively interested radio enthusiasts. The first reporter to fly towards Retlich’s estate was the Englishman Browley. His goal was to visit and describe the largest private broadcasting station in the world. Browley’s aeroplane succumbed to catastrophe a few kilometers from the town of Ruben, which was owned by Retlich. Magazines offered a short report about the crash and in later editions sneered at the “New Noah” who – apparently just like the biblical Noah – had a penchant for alcohol. Some claimed that Mr. Retlich was drunk when he proclaimed his death sentence upon humanity, others… that he was mentally ill. But after three days, when the powerful, deafening, hoarse voice of the “maker of the new humanity” sounded out once again, serious criticism of the international radio inspectorate began. Is it possible that a private citizen could illegally build a radio station of that strength and could fool around on air, disrupting the reception of serious programmes? Some of the public thought that it was the beginning of a radio broadcast of Karel Čapek’s “War with the Newts” or a sensational drama by H.G Wells, who had just returned to Europe from Hollywood newly married. However, the matter turned out to be more sinister.
Two Danish reporters venturing toward Ruben also met with catastrophe before they could reach Retlich’s settlement. The Danish police took up the case, and the tone of the press fundamentally changed. “The Madman of Ruben” became a headline sensation. A certain village teacher from Ostapen published a letter, which claimed that over the past few years, strange things had been happening in Ruben. The town was surrounded by an unusual wire net. No one was allowed to enter without permission and a special inspection. There were vast fields and numerous buildings in Ruben. The press printed the revealing letter together with a report of the discovery of the two Danish journalists’ bodies. The corpses were charred and resembled a blueish powdery lump.
The architect of future mankind announced the first cataclysm in Europe: “On June 15th of this year, according to your idiotic calendar, the entire population of the city of Birmingham will die. I’m not some Jewish huckster; this won’t be a silly flood, but clean, solid work. It will be a demonstration of how one wipes out humanity. I chose Birmingham because a certain swine by the name of Denbry lives there.”
Later in the evening of that day magazines printed a sensational interview with Mr. Denbry, the owner of an old and well-known British printing press in Birmingham. It turned out that the head of the firm “Denbry, Fogg, and Son,” Mr. Samuel Denbry, recognized the name of the madman from Ruben. In the firm’s archives a copy of a correspondence between Retlich and Denbry’s press was discovered. The correspondence concerned the publication of a small collection of satirical poems and narrative poetry by Hans Retlich. The satires were named “Pillory of Words,” and a small tome of poetic prose was titled “Celadons.” The letters referred to the publication of these two booklets in an English translation. The original copies, printed in German, were also found in the firm’s possession. The morning dailies immediately printed excerpts from the oeuvre of “the creator.” Most idiosyncratic was the prologue; the author states that once the world reads his work, all will come to him and demand that he renounce it, but the poet finishes his prologue with an answer addressed to humanity: “I shall not erase anything, nor strike out any line, because each Worde arises from my Soule.” A journal by young conservatives sharply attacked Denbry’s firm: “If in fact Mr. Retlich is in possession of a terrible device, and the charred bodies of our brave pilots manage to confirm this fact, Denbry’s firm will be held entirely responsible for the complete destruction of mankind. Undoubtedly, the refusal to publish his poetry embittered the “titan of Ruben.” What right did they have to reject the work of such a remarkable man? This is not an isolated incident, as one of our closest co-workers met with similarly inexplicable resistance from “Denbry, Fogg, and Son” a few months ago. The matter concerned a poem entitled “Shawl” from the cycle “Souls.”
“Only strong leadership can protect our country from publishers’ lawlessness” – the organ of young national conservatives concluded. In response to these accusations, Mr. Samuel Denbry himself responded with a letter in the Times.
“Even if,” Mr. Denbry wrote, “humanity indeed had to die at the hands of a madman (which Mr. Retlich undoubtedly is), and even if I knew that saving humanity depended on the publication of “Celadons,” I would nevertheless refuse to publish it. The graphic arrangements of Mr. Retlich’s poems, coupled with content that is difficult to grasp, as well as the complete lack of rhymes, are at great odds with the traditions of the “Denbry, Fogg and Son” publishing house. It is commonly known that “Denbry, Fogg and Son” published the first volume of Kipling’s poetry for school-age youths.”
In the same issue, the Times initiated an extensive survey on the danger threatening humanity at the hands of the Madman of Ruben. Bernard Shaw responded: “Nothing has actually happened. The vast majority of English citizens are believers. Therefore, they should be prepared for both the fact that their fate lies in the hands of the Lord and that Judgement Day must eventually come. For the first time in human history, believers are dealing with the real and vengeful god of the Old Testament. God has revealed himself in the town of Ruben. His methods are the ancient methods of Jehovah. Believers do have their ways, though; they should pray to Mr. Retlich. They should hastily build statues of him on squares and burn incense in front of them. As far as unbelievers are concerned, they certainly can occupy themselves with their own business, namely intelligent entertainment. For that purpose, I recommend my new play Merchant from Mars, which premiered in Warsaw. The play was also published as a book through Hamilton Publishing House, and it costs three shillings and two cents.” Aldous Huxley responded, “The events that happened in Ruben remind me of the frames of El Greco’s paintings located in a certain Spanish chapel burnt down during the last revolution. These frames faithfully stood guard over nonexistent works of art. Perhaps Mr. Retlich will exterminate humanity, but he won’t destroy the whole universe. The frames, within which nature will rebuild all its mistakes and charms, will remain. The frames must be filled. This is the secret of all music, thus of our whole civilization.” Huxley’s statement was regarded by the sophisticated European public as a little joke and a stylistic pearl. The masses, however, were not swept away by the reasoning of the subtle writer. On the other hand Commissar Litwinow gave an interview that gained him many supporters. He said that the “Supernal Ray” made by the madman from Ruben is the invention of bourgeois culture, and we all know that the laws governing both the capitalistic system and bourgeois culture do not exist in classless societies. That is why this blue ray means nothing to the Soviet Union. There was a certain discrepancy between the words of the aged diplomat and the resolution passed by the Komsomol in the city of Kagangrad: “Since the bourgeois scholar Retlich invented a blue ray that can destroy humanity in forty minutes, the Komsomol scholars from Kagangrad hereby enter into an arms race and will invent a red ray that will perform the same task in fourteen minutes.” This resolution was reported by the Times separately because it reached England by a delay of a few days.
British headquarters and artillerymen of both armies waited for an answer from Oxford and from Professor Sir John Cypkin, who on instructions from the government began feverish research on the nature of the Supernal Ray and potential means of defense against its effects. On the evening of the 14th of June, Professor Cypkin sent a reply straight to the chair of the Council of Ministers. The famous scholar was of the opinion that this “Supernal Ray,” which could kill from afar, did not exist. And even if it did exist, the only way to study its properties would be to determine the mechanism of transmission. Therefore, in his message to the chair of the Council, Professor Cypkin inquired if it was possible to deliver to his Oxford laboratory the devices emitting the ray. As far as a certain Retlich was concerned, no one in the scientific world had heard of him, and it was out of the question that someone not in possession of an academic diploma could send such a ray, unknown to modern science as it was.
At more or less the same time the radio broadcast a message from Ghandi in India. The great prophet, who was in treatment in one of the British hospitals in Benares, where he was recovering after his last fast, declared to all his followers: “We should not resist the “Supernal Ray.” Meanwhile, I am declaring a boycott against all goods imported from Denmark.” The first part of the instructions from the prophet from Benares was significantly easier to carry out. However, the second part was rather baseless, as the British Indies didn’t import any Danish goods, with the exception of an anti-insect powder “Retex,” and, as everyone knows, Buddhism prohibits the use of such powders.
The answers of both the great scholar and the great teacher of humanity engendered bitterness in the British cabinet. The intellectual world and reclusive ascetics failed. Artillery was all that was left. On the evening of June 14th, Nationalist and Fascist Youth demonstrations took place in many European cities. Massive placards reading “Down with the International Jewry!” were hoisted. The crowd attacked Jewish passersby. All this resulted from information taken from a certain tabloid which claimed that a Jewish family with the last name Rejbich lived in Hungary, which was certainly a slight variation of the name Retlich. The nationalist youth beat a certain Hungarian aristocrat visiting Warsaw on his way to Russia. The aristocrat was a brunet with a prominent aquiline nose and, having no command of Polish, could not explain to the youth that he was also an anti-Semite. In Bulgaria a reddish-blonde Swedish insurance agent was beaten, taken for a Jew, because — as everyone knows — Bulgarians are brunets, and Bulgarian Jews mostly red-headed. Several dozen authentic Jews were also beaten.
On the evening of June 14th, the weather was quite clear and in practically all the European cities, the populace crowded the streets, waiting for news from Great Britain and Denmark. At twelve o’clock sharp the radio broadcast a speech from Il Duce. The great Italian statesman had set himself the goal of outshouting the madman from Ruben. Indeed, his voice reverberated with great strength. Mussolini reasoned that the Supernal Rays would fall, first and foremost, on Great Britain, as punishment for the sanctions imposed on Italy during the new colonial war in Transjordan. Il Duce shouted that it was Jupiter and other furious Roman gods who threw the rays. Mussolini proclaimed the ancient Roman religion, claiming that Christianity was a faith at odds with the empire and the fascist party. This return to ancient beliefs triggered certain misunderstandings between the Vatican and the Quirinal, soothed thanks to the extraordinary tact of the Holy Father and King Emmanuel. Only the Germans were silent. At this point, neither Chancellor Hitler nor Goering had released a statement addressing the destruction of the few dozen aeroplanes or the threat to level both the city of Birmingham and the rest of the world.
The silence of the Germans and the verified fact of the madman’s German roots evoked numerous comments in the Leftist press. “Hitlerism Stands Behind the Madman of Ruben!”, “The Germans Want to Destroy the World by Retlich’s hand!”– typical headlines in the government-run French press.
At 7 o’clock in the morning it was possible to reconstruct the events that occurred on the night of the 14th. All Danish citizens fell victim to the mysterious “Supernal Ray.” On Swedish soil, the residents of Lund and Malmo perished too. The population of German cities such as Kiel, Altona, and Hamburg perished; the Helgoland island perished. The north-eastern part of Holland perished. All living creatures within a radius of two hundred kilometers from Ruben vanished on that first terrible night of the new world order. The “Supernal Ray” described a circle with a radius of two hundred kilometers. After that, at 5:40 in the morning, Retlich fired a massive beam of blue light that destroyed Harwich, Northampton, Cambridge, Coventry and Birmingham. Retlich had carried out his threat. When discussing the destruction of cities, one must note that those cities did not collapse into ruins, nor did they fall victim to fire. Only living creatures perished. Flora survived, although the majority of trees lost their leaves and all remaining greenery acquired a bluish metallic tint. Many German cities fell prey to Retlich’s death rays. The accusation of the leftist press was false. No government and no European city had backed the madman. It was necessary to come to terms with this utterly individual attack by an individual person armed with the most terrible instrument of death ever known.
Eight million people lost their lives on the tragic night of June 14th. No one escaped alive from the area affected by the Supernal Ray. The residents of Cambridge survived; but only for the simple fact that there was nobody left in Cambridge because the whole population of that beautiful university city had departed to Oxford for the rugby game the evening before. Numerous sanitary and rescue commissions arrived at the area affected by destruction. A hasty examination of the dead revealed that no major organs were damaged. The blue ray left no trace on the bodies apart from a metallic tint. Their effect relied entirely on the paralyzation of both the nervous system and the heart. After a few hours the victims’ bodies disintegrated into grey and odorless ash. […] Endangered man’s real hope, however, was a discovery by a student from Coventry who had returned to the dead city in order to fetch golf clubs. The student, Gerby, found the golf clubs and bodies of his immediate family, and while he was bustling around the deserted house, he noticed with utmost surprise that something was moving in the aquarium on the windowsill. It was a goldfish, nicknamed “Professor Cambell;” like his namesake, the fish had extremely bulgy eyes. On June the 15th, the afternoon papers printed long articles on the first page: “The Fish Live!”, “Water – a Poor Conductor for the Ray!,” “Waterproofing Will Save Humanity!” The Polish state-run press published an article entitled: “Flee to the Sea!”. In Brussels, a certain Anglican pastor commenced his sermon with the words: “The Goldfish from Coventry Has Shown Us the Way.” Indeed, it turned out that fish in ponds and rivers located in the area of the fatal waves’ impact were not affected by the Supernal Ray. Would it be enough then, to simply take a dip for a few minutes in order to save oneself? People started rapidly buying glass tubes that allowed breathing underwater; the price of a diving suit reached the staggering sum of fifteen thousand British sterlings.
In this way, the five days following the annihilation of the German and English cities passed. The madman from Ruben showed no sign of life. Optimists began to believe that Retlich himself died from the effect of his own invention. In general, however, the opinion that only water could save humanity prevailed, and for that reason masses of townsfolk moved to the seaside. A few religious sects were created. A certain German scholar from Wroclaw wrote a paper in which he demonstrated that mankind’s biggest mistake was the migration from sea to land and the transformation of gills into lungs. Initially, organic life stuck to salt water. Prof. Bibrich from Wroclaw claimed that the propagation of living organisms on land was the first Jewish conspiracy. “Jews are the ones,” cried Prof. Bibrich, “who lured us onto land. Credulous Aryan nations succumbed to the international Jewry’s instigation and began to breathe with their lungs. But Jews have preserved their gills to this day, and when the final day comes, they will throw themselves into the water, sneering at the annihilation of the Nordic race.” In order to demonstrate the validity of his thesis, and in front of a full auditorium, Prof. Bibrich performed an operation on a few Jews caught on the streets of Wrocław. After looking inside the Jews’ chests, it turned out that their lungs were absolutely normal. However, this could not invalidate Prof. Bibrich’s claim, as Minister Goering asserted, because no materialistic or empirical evidence is able to invalidate Bibrich’s superior theory– a theory that is based on national mysticism rather than Jewish logic. In general, the Germans were relatively calm; it was believed that Chancellor Hitler would defend the country against the death ray. Such faith in the power of governmental leaders was not present in Poland, even though the population thought the Ray was hogwash.
Anarchy reigned in the majority of European countries and the authorities could not control the growing chaos. Numerous gangs formed and attacked passersby in broad daylight. The streets were full of fugitives rushing to the sea.
One of the heroes of our story, Henryk Szwalba, did not rush to the sea like a lemming. He remained in the city.
In choosing the people who would constitute new mankind, and in his search for boys and girls to fill future cadres, Retlich was guided above all by racial criteria. The Nordic race didn’t seem appropriate due to their considerable admixture of humor, and this type of humor was one of the most dangerous anarchistic powers of the old world. Retlich’s personality was such that he went farther than his predecessors. If fascism was a regression to primitive forms of existence– a renunciation of a humanitarianism which erodes strength and the drive to conquer– Retlich more boldly strove towards an animalistic, biological human species. Having familiarized himself with the work of ethnologist Hugo Bernatzik, he decided to base his future race not on Nordic characteristics, but on something found still further to the north. He decided on the Laplanders, which Bernatzik had called “the saddest nation on Earth.” The exceptionally harsh climate, in which barely two months a year resembled summer, together with a tribal, primitive way of life, had created a type of gloomy but unusually tough and hardy animal. The Laestadian sect, forbidding anything that could be regarded as entertainment, toys, dances, and family celebrations, was somewhat of a preschool compared to the higher education Retlich planned to give them. The crisis and a bad seal-hunting season allowed him to easily buy young Laplander males and females for the price of three steel fishing hooks.
Retlich understood that if the happiness of humanity was going to rest on this retreat to primitive forms of life, it was necessary for man to be genetically similar to his closest relative in the animal kingdom… the monkey. It seems as if Retlich should have searched for his pupils among African Negroes or inhabitants of Guinea. However, as far as anthropological criteria is concerned, a Negro male is not closely related to an ape. A monkey lacks protruding lips, which is a “black” characteristic– Retlich came up with this brilliant thought entirely on his own. A monkey possesses lips corresponding more closely to those of an Eskimo than to a Negro. Additionally, if one takes hair into account, Retlich noticed (with his usual perceptiveness), that monkeys almost never exhibit curly hair. Retlich’s most original discovery was another historical fact of immeasurable importance. Jews had mingled with all the nations of the world. Some Jews display remarkable negroidal features, and so– consistently reasoning– there must be, on the basis of mutuality of types, Negroes with semitic features. The Negro-Jew is a quite common phenomenon, although no one has ever seen a Laplander-Jew. Laplanders are also distinguished, as Professor Gubner claimed, by their absolute inability to recognize two-dimensional shapes. A Laplander does not know how to reconstruct the third dimension, and that’s why photography is an unintelligible jumble of meaningless lines and blotches for him. The Laplanders from the Laestadian sect are characterized by a profound lack of musicality. A physical immunity, a strength of will, an instinct to fight, and courage– these are the characteristics, above all, on which future man must rest. All of these wonderful traits had not yet attained their full expression in those young Laplanders whom Retlich had chosen. For the time being, unaccustomed to the climate, they perspired and suffered in Ruben’s barracks, resembling beached seals on a scorching hot summer day. Retlich consoled himself with the thought that after a few generations they would adapt to their new conditions of existence. A portion of them would return to the eternally snowy north. The rest, who would adapt, would be the healthy, powerful, new mankind, rescued from the morass of mysticism, art, humor and all other psychically-corruptive “miasmas.”
Daydreaming in his Ruben villa, Retlich saw with his mind’s eye the figures of great and powerful Rubenites populating the wildernesses of an Earth restored to its primal beauty. Cities, ports, and ships would disappear. The world would not head down the road of art, science, and convenience, depriving man of his natural, innate, marvelous bestiality. At first Retlich planned to preserve every trophy of modern engineering and medicine in his Rubenite ark. In recruiting mercenaries who would complete the destruction, he chose experts from fields which would grant the Rubenites the strength and ability to rule the world. However, one night in the months before June 1950, during the last weapons tests, Retlich came to a conclusion. Preserving technical inventions would require a continuation of scientific research, because otherwise the future descendants of the Rubenites wouldn’t know how to use their inherited instruments. This thought drove the sleep from Retlich’s eyes. He recognized all of the dangers that lay in wait for the future masters of the earth.
Is there anything easier than to corrupt an innocent and righteous psyche through the miasmas of belief and desire, or to force this unclouded blood into the madness of art and communism? All of the crimes against human nature could again be repeated, imposed by the Jews of a depraved humanity. Retlich thought long and hard over the resurrection of a pastoral culture, but he was put off by the lack of an element of danger. No, humans will have to fight tooth and nail for their lives. It was then that Retlich’s plan crystallized into its final form. The mercenaries would die after fulfilling their role. Explosives, tanks, and electricity would function only as long as Retlich remained alive. He had not shared his knowledge of the death ray with any Rubenite. When the now-useless mercenaries die, only he will remain, god and leader of the Rubenites. Legends of Retlich will be the only legends of humanity, his commandments will be the only commandments. Our reader might obviously think Retlich’s fantasies are naive, but that doesn’t change the fact that these dreams gave him much satisfaction and that his possession of a death ray allowed the neo-Noah to realize his ambitious plans. That’s how it could have happened and that’s how it did happen.
On the 30th of June, a brigade of Rubenites was locked in a special pavilion in Ruben. Retlich himself worked in his laboratory with the help of Emerich and two Laplanders, Number 17 and Number 13. The dynamo which powered the main machine emitting the “Supernal Ray” ceased its booming. Silence reigned throughout Ruben. Retlich rose from the silent apparatus, opened the laboratory’s window and, breathing heavily, stared at the wide open landscape stretching before him. There were familiar buildings and familiar trees. On the surface, nothing had changed. However, these were the only human settlements in the whole world. The human noises floating from the barracks were the only human voices on the desolate globe of the earth.
In that moment, Retlich did not feel as if he had committed a crime. It was murder similar to the murder of contemporary war. When killing an enemy, a Roman soldier saw the deathly-pale face of his dying foe. He saw eyes wide with fear and pain. He removed the sword from the wound and wiped the blood off it. The artilleryman of the twentieth century or the aviator who drops a bomb on a city only performs a more or less precise technical operation, and the imagined outcome of such an act does not necessarily correspond with reality. Military orders do not appeal to the imagination.
“Position eight one third, fire!” is not the same as “Fracture eleven human skulls, slice open twenty-two stomachs of people with unknown names, kill forty young boys, mutilate fifteen of them, and blind two.” In this moment Retlich saw neither the faces of murdered people nor eyes insane with fear. He did not think about the millions of young boys and girls who were in love with life and filled with innocence and desire. For Retlich, the world was wasted and senile. He had undertaken a great enterprise and the pleasure which he experienced was not the same as the bloody and almost sensual pleasure that he felt when he shot two Jews on a highway near Berlin. As he rested his hand on the windowsill and gazed into the distance, he experienced the pleasure of a deed accomplished. His desire for power was satisfied and a sense of his own strength was confirmed. Perhaps his feelings were quite similar to both the satisfaction of an industrial tycoon who signs a document ruining his biggest competitor, and the brutish satisfaction of a submarine who sends a huge passenger steamship to the bottom of the sea. Excited and feverish, Retlich stepped up to the microphone, turned on the electricity and shouted: “Hello, hello! It is me who speaks! No one on this enormous planet hears my voice! You are no more. Only I remain! I rule the whole world and it is up to me to decide what path man will follow. Do not forget to ground your antennas, you who have been grounded by me!”
And yet, things were different.
The death ray killed almost all the people on Earth apart from the residents of Ruben, a place that was secured by a special and quite complicated isolation system. The ray killed almost everyone, but not everyone. The number of random combinations in nature is so high that whatever Retlich consciously did in order to isolate Ruben occurred by accident in a few other places. The only insulation against the Supernal Ray was a certain combination of thallium and asbestos. Just like water spilled on a glass surface, the blue ray left small islands unflooded by the deadly light. This combination of thallium and asbestos, coupled with strong air ionization, accidentally occurred in a certain factory shed on the outskirts of Warsaw. In making its lightning-fast rounds, the Supernal Ray skipped over the factory premises. They created an island about 15 meters wide on the earth’s surface, otherwise flooded by death. Water did not protect people because the blue ray lost its power only at a depth of two thousand meters. Armored shelters did not protect people either. But two sacks of asbestos and several sacks of thallium ore, abandoned in the deserted factory, saved those who, on June 30th, happened to be in the depths of the dark and stuffy building. Szwalba, deadly tired after hiding from the gunfire on the streets, entered the shed and heavily fell asleep like a troubled man who had not slept for two days. Szwalba woke up around eight o’clock. It was not sounds or noise from the street that woke him, nor human voices; there were no noises, no hubbub, and no human voices anymore. He remembered that he had to go to Ciechocinek. He longed to talk to Miss Szczypek, and he was worried that he wouldn’t reach his beloved public library clerk before the deadline designated by Retlich. Like many people, Szwalba did not believe deep down that he would die. He had a small hope that the whole business with the Supernal Ray would turn out to be a bluff; and even if it turned out to be true, he alone, Henryk Szwalba, a unique individual, would resist the impact of the terrible ray. Young people never actually believe that death truly exists as far as their experience is concerned – it is precisely that experience which demonstrates that it is always somebody else who dies.
Szwalba looked at his watch and realised that it was few minutes past eight. The morning was beautiful and sunny. There was no doubt in his mind that either Retlich’s ray had turned out to be hogwash or that the great madman from Ruben had moved the date of humanity’s annihilation. Szwalba was hungry. He left the shed and went into the yard. It seemed to him that a shadow blinked somewhere behind the corner of the red brick building. It wasn’t anything extraordinary and an incident that only a few hours later would have shaken him to the core now passed without making the smallest impression. He took Pulawska street and slowly walked toward Union Square. On the corner near Bagatela he saw two human bodies lying on a sidewalk. On mankind’s last day, many people were killed by other people and this sight did not particularly surprise him. The only thing that made him stop and think was the fact that the faces and hands of both corpses were a metallic-blue color. In the abandoned garden of the confectionery on Bagatela also lay several corpses. All of them had that awful, blue, cyanotic tint. That is how the ray’s victims, photographed and described in the papers after Retlich’s first attack on Birmingham, had looked. Suddenly Szwalba felt incredible terror. He ran out of the confectionery’s garden. A half-torn theatre poster waved in the wind, inexorably announcing Ordonka’s farewell show before her departure to Hollywood. A sign reading “Ice Cream,” nailed to the trunk of an old chestnut tree, fell to the ground. The rustle of the cardboard sign hitting the ground scared Szwalba. While running toward the main avenues, he started screaming:
“Hey, hey! Is anybody here?”
By Antoni Słonimski.
Antoni Słonimski (1895-1976) was a prominent interwar Polish poet, author, and critic. In addition to his numerous volumes of poetry, he also published two works of science fiction, of which Two Ends of the World is the most recent. In Two Ends of the World, Słonimski satirizes the personages and events of the mid-1930s, including fascist movements which were spreading throughout Europe. The antagonist of the tale, Retlich (an anagram of Hitler), is meant to be a gross caricature of fascist ideology. Sadly, Słonimski’s fictional villain turned out as less of an exaggeration and more of an approximation of Hitler’s ultimate intentions regarding European Jews. Retlich annihilates mankind with the help of his “Supernal Ray,” but a few survive; among them, the hero of Słonimski’s story, a Jewish Pole named Henryk Szwalba.