The End of the World as told by Mr. J. Blue

By Myles Connolly

Dusk came as we sat there that afternoon, came with a light fog out of the east. Blue was telling me a story…It was a story for a motion picture, he explained. I shall reproduce it as best I can. I do not hope to catch the magnificence of it as he told it, there up on the roof with the fog settling aimlessly over us like a thin white smoke in the increasing dusk. I shall never, I know, have a story told me as vividly again.

     The last known Christian had been put to death. (So Blue began.) He had been found living in a lower level of an abandoned mine in South Africa. He was ferreted out and brought to trial. He had professed Christ. There was no tumult or clamor. He had been locked in a lethal chamber. The gas was admitted. In a few minutes he was dead. He was found lying forward on his face where he had fallen from his knees.

     The International Government of the World announced the capture and execution. "The work of a thousand years is now at an end," it declared in its exultant bulletin. The day of the announcement was a day of great rejoicing all over the earth. The IGW—as the International Government of the World was known—declared a half holiday for all workers. Great effigies of Christ on the Cross were burned at all the sub-capitals of the world. While the crosses flamed, the multitudes paraded and sang. It was the first time in a century that singing had been allowed. The work of extermination was over.

It was a strange world that witnessed this day of jubilation. The peoples of the whole earth had become slaves of a few masters. They had been herded into vast industrial centers, great mountains of stone and steel, banding the round earth like mountain chains, rising like huge wens on the face of the globe. But these men and women were not ordinary slaves. They were creatures of the machinery of a mechanical life, inferiors of the machines they operated, subsidiary attachments to the monsters of a new age. The fantasy of the philosopher had come true: machines had become superior to men. Men were not mere automatons; they were minor automatons, servants of a mechanical state.

The masters of the IGW were the sons of the masters who had established the state. Their sires had done their work with brutal and consummate efficiency. All rebellious races had been exterminated. All people unsuited for slavery, primarily Latins and Celts, were segregated and slain. Only the stolid, unimaginative, automatic races, dominantly Nordic, were preserved.

The days of the ecstatic, passionate, beauty-loving, liberty-seeking peoples had, as was early predicted, come to a close. The sluggish, frigid races had survived.

The founders of the world state had prepared carefully for centuries. It was a long, difficult work to concentrate control of all fuel, food, arms, and transportation into the hands of six men. It was a chemist who, by a masterstroke of strategy, finally perfected the consolidation. All agriculture and horticulture on earth were destroyed by a gas that obliterated a thousand square miles of forest in an hour. All fields, farmlands, gardens, woodlands from the great wheat areas of Russia to the forest expanses of South America were turned into a fine powder that lay like mist along the earth for days and then disappeared. When the work was complete the earth was as bare almost as it had been when the primeval glaciers withdrew their icy crust and first left the earth bare and bald beneath the sun. No fruit or flower or grain or vegetable showed itself. And none was allowed to show itself. The cultivation of any food growth was punishable by life imprisonment in the mines in the bowels of the earth. The cultivation of any decorative growth, flower or tree or vine, was punishable by death.

     The few thousand inhabitants of the world who had not been corralled into the huge black industrial fortresses came across the dusty levels and valleys seeking admittance. They were counted, given numbers, and assigned residential vaults. At first, people stared at these sun, browned slaves from the fields. They ill-matched the white faces of the vault-dwellers. But soon they lost their sunlight and became white as their fellows and as characterless as the numbers on their backs. No one had names. Individuals were known by numbers, and numbers only. There were no families. When children were born they were taken to be bred by the IGW in central vaults maintained for the purpose. If a child showed imagination or fire or spirit or brilliancy or any non-Nordic trait, he was destroyed. The multitudes, everybody except the masters and their large families and directing engineers, lived in steel chambers in enormous cabinets that were on the average a thousand feet high. These cabinets were like great filing cases. Each chamber was the same size as each other, was fitted with the same steel furniture, had the same bare walls. The chambers differed only in numbers.

No one wanted revolt. The lives the slaves lived were mechanical almost to unconsciousness. It was an existence that suited their racial type. But had some freak appeared, some heroic soul with a love of liberty, he would have been helpless. The master stroke of the chemist had made revolt unachievable. It was the perfect servile state: no one wanted revolt, and if anyone had wanted revolt it would have been impossible.

Perfect slavery was assured in this manner: the only food obtainable was liquid which was furnished through pipes, as was water, from a central reservoir. This liquid was of two kinds: a dark fluid which had lubricating qualities, and a lighter fluid which had sustaining and fuelizing qualities. The formulae for these two fluids were guarded with a secrecy that precluded even an attempt at discovery. The chemist who evolved the formulae was killed immediately after final tests had proved their efficacy for the common weal. (A huge statue was forthwith erected to his memory.) The king of kings, that is the master of Masters, alone knew the formulae. Anyone who made the least query regarding them was slain. The IGW forbade curiosity with the same rigor that it forbade laughter. There was little need for prohibition in either case.

When No. 862,337, say, arose at dawn he went to a metal sink riveted to the wall. Over the sink were three pipes. One was water, one was the dark fluid, one was the light fluid. Before washing he took a glass of the dark fluid; after washing he took a glass of the light fluid. These two glasses were sufficient to provide him with sustenance until noon. At noon, he took two more glasses. At night, two more glasses. And so on, day and night, until he died. The slaves, I imagine, considered it a well-balanced diet.

The two fluids were very much like the oil and gasoline that were once used in automobiles. The airplanes which furnished the only transportation for the IGW used these two liquids for lubrication and fuel. When a driver left in the morning he took the same food he gave his engine. They both worked in pretty much the same way. Each industrial center was provided with a towering tank which served as a filling station. Each early morning would find a flock of airplanes buzzing around the top of the tank like flies over a dead fish. If any section of the IGW empire ever became the least stubborn, not to say rebellious, these antiquated and Christian weaknesses could be quickly cured by shutting off the liquid food supply from the central reservoir. The slaves would immediately be without fuel or lubricant. It was a simple system.

Now, it so happened, said Blue, after he had described the IGW to me, that like all mundane achievements the IGW had an imperfection. Even this kingdom of the Anti-Christ, perfect as it was, had a weak point. And so like all things mundane it came to an end.

The great capital of the IGW was SC No.1, in what was once known as New York. Blue called it New York and I shall. It is easier to say, for one thing, and for another it (even such as it is) leaves a more Christian taste on the tongue. The weak point in the IGW was a small, thin-faced wiry man who lived in a vault in New York. His number was 2,757,311. But Blue called him White, for Christian reasons. White was one of the last of the sun-browned country dwellers to come in after all vegetative life on the earth had been destroyed. He had come with a strange group of people from one of the outermost places. The examiners at the gate had hesitated to let him enter. He had a light in his eyes and it was well known that no genuine IGW slaves had light in their eyes. They thought at first that he might have been a throw-back to some destroyed race, but he had the proper credentials. They watched him carefully. In a few months he began to look like his fellow slaves. But the resemblance was only on the surface, said Blue, for his brain was afire and his heart bled.

White proved to be a good slave. He kept step. He walked with head bowed. He made no human noise that might soften the metallic din of the center. Winter came and went. White was beyond suspicion. But with the coming of spring he cast surreptitious glances sunward. At night he would look out of the ventilator at the stars. On Restday afternoon, he would go over to the hills across the western river. His fellow slaves could not understand his trips. "Why should he go over there," they would say to themselves, “when he could sit all day in the dark in his vault and stare at the floor?" But that was the extent of their inquiry. Thought was too much of an effort for them. Their sluggish minds would return with their eyes to the floor.

White had a purpose in the hills. He like the open and the sunlight, through none of his fellows would believe it. But he had his eye out for something. One warm afternoon he found it in a distant valley miles from men: a small patch of brown moist earth. He knelt down reverently by it, and made a sign of a cross on himself, touching his forehead and breast and shoulders with the first two fingers of his right hand. After a long while on his knees, he arose and made a sign of a cross in the air over the plot, murmuring as he did so. Then, with a glance at the airplanes that hummed by high over head, he took a little sack quickly from his breast and sprinkled its contents over the moist earth.

       "I shall bring God back to earth," White told the silences beyond the western river.

       Then, he returned to Vault No. 2,757,311.

Spring grew into summer over the heaps of metal and flesh that were known as cities, over the bare rock and soil that was known as earth. The people in New York noticed that the air had become warmer, and that was all. Some of them scarcely noticed that. But White knew and noticed. And now and then he returned from his visits across the river with a light on his face that was increasingly hard to conceal.

Autumn came. The patch of moist brown earth was now white with wheat that rippled like water to the slightest wind. It was a small patch; no one had seen it on land; no one could see it from the air.

One Restday White visited his plot early. When he returned at dusk he carried with him a small package of thin white wafers. He had cut down his wheat, beaten some of it into flour, had mixed the flour with water, rolled the paste into flat strips, and had baked them quickly over a fire made out of the remaining wheat.

     White was jubilant that night.

      He spent most of his sleeping hours on his knees. But the next day was a solemn day for him. It was the day on which the IGW announced the capture and execution of the last known Christian.

     White spent the half holiday on his knees in his vault.

      All afternoon he could see in the streets far below him the steady stream of black-garbed slaves, marching in slow step like prisoners, endlessly marching, monotoning their dismal paean of triumph. All afternoon the dark chant, varied only by silence or the endless shuffling of heavy feet, rose to his ears. And all afternoon he stayed on his knees. Now and then, he would look out and up to where above the black metal towers and roofs the sky still shone a lucent, unbesmirched blue.

Night came. White did not go to bed. He unpacked a box he had brought with him from the country. It held clothes, shoes, some tools. In the bottom of it, wrapped in an old coat, was a large case. He went over its contents carefully. There were some robes, a shiny cup, two small bottles, a book, a slab of stone, some miscellaneous small boxes and metal pieces. He went over each carefully. He filled one of the bottles with water. The other was already filled with a dark red liquid. Then, he packed everything back carefully in the case and waited.

     The city was as still as if death had stolen in and possessed it. White sat patiently through the night hours. The sky had a strange pallor, he thought, and there was a strange weight to the silence of the city. He did not know whether it forbode good or evil.

Two hours before dawn, he took up his case and made his way to the street. The streets were deserted. Always they were deserted at this hour as the slaves slept. But in the deserted dark of this night there was an unaccountable expectancy. The great masses of metal towered blackly upward, massed themselves hugely upward, as if threatening the stars. White walked quickly, a solitary speck of motion along the floors of the caverns of the monstrous city.

He reached the base of one giant structure that surpassed all others by a thousand feet, a memorial tower to one of the first masters of the IGW. He slipped into the only elevator and went hissing upward to the roof, a half mile above the earth. He locked the elevator at the roof so that it could not be summoned. Then, he set himself quickly to work. He changed his garments. In a few minutes, despite the dim starlight, he was done.

     "On top of that black tower of the devil in the kingdom of the Anti-Christ," said Blue, "after all those centuries of extermination, there stood a priest in amice and alb, maniple, chasuble, girdle and stole, heir in a noble line of Christ's servants, clad in their symbols of chastity, charity, honor and faith. The figure of Christ's cross lay on his back. The anointment of Christ was on his soul. Before him was his altar, his case topped with altar stone and missal and chalice. On it lay the corporal with the wafer he had made from the wheat he had grown. By it stood the two cruets of water and wine. He waited until first there was a streak of light across the east. Then he bowed down before his altar. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus sancti. Amen. The Mass had begun. He was keeping his promise to bring God back to earth."

Blue's voice was quivering. It was dark with night and fog. We still sat out on the roof.  What time it was I did not know.

"The last Christian," said Blue fervidly, "was a priest. Can you see that heroic figure in the twilight of the world saying Mass in the citadel of the Anti-Christ? Can you hear the Christe eleison as he cries it to the breaking skies of dawn? Can you catch the murmur of the Credo as the winds carry it to the ends of the earth? Can you see him turning with shining face as he gives his Dominus vobiscum to the empty cathedral of the morning?

"It was magnificent," exclaimed Blue as if he were telling of something he saw. "And the while he is making the sign of the cross over the wafer of bread, the powers of the Anti­-Christ are gathering. He has been seen.

“An early plane spied him as he bent over his altar in the first streaks of light. The warning has awakened the city.

"Below grows a tumult of multitudes. The clangor of the alarms and the rumble of moving people rise to the top of the tower. But the priest does not hear. His soul is on his Mass. The morbid slaves below awakening from their sluggish sleep are electrified by cries of 'a priest! a priest!'

"Millions who would not lift a hand to save a friend or give a sign of affection, these apathetic slaves of the Anti-­Christ, are transformed by this discovery of the Mass. Stolid, stupid peoples, insensible even to pain, need—as ever—only the mention of the priest and the Mass to drive them into unimaginable fury.  'The mobs surge about the base of the tower. There is no access to the upper levels save by the lone elevator. Their blasphemies rise in raucous uproar. Their frenzy would hurl over the structure itself if it could. . .. The while the priest is reverently at his Mass.

"Veni sanctificator omnipotens, aeternae Deus. 'Come Thou Who makest holy, almighty and eternal God...' He is beseeching the blessing of the Holy Ghost."

    The Mass goes on.

    "The Master of the IGW has summoned the marshal of his soldiers. 'Stop the Mass immediately!' he commands.

"The marshal reports that planes are speeding to the tower. 'The top is too small for a landing. It is a difficult shot...' he is explaining.

"The Master is furious. 'Bomb the tower. Destroy it.  Demolish it. But stop the Mass!...'

"His face was black," said Blue. "From his own tower he could see the silhouetted figure bending over his small altar. He tears his flesh in his rage.

"Two, three, four planes are circling above the tower. One drops a huge shell. It misses and goes hurtling down to the street. It crashes in the heart of the insane mob, annihilating a black square of them, shattering the steel walls, shaking the structures for a mile around. Another bomb falls. Another misses. And again, there are slaughter and destruction below...

     "But now the priest bows low over his altar. Qui pridie quam pateretur... He begins the words of the consecration, the words that shall change the bread and wine of his altar into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  "He approaches Christ's own words at the Last Supper. "One plane is now low over the roof of the tower, so low that the crew can make out the figure of the Cross on the priest's chasuble. A bomb is made ready. . . 

"And now the priest comes to the words that shall bring Christ to earth again. His head almost touches his altar: Hoc est enim corpus meum...

 Blue was whispering. I think he was shivering.

     "The bomb did not drop. No. No. There was a moment of awful silence. Then, a burst of light beside which day itself is dusk. Then, a trumpet peal, a single trumpet peal that shook the universe. Then, the sun blew up like a bubble. The stars and planets vanished like sparks. The earth burst asunder…And through this unspeakably luminous new day, through the vault of the sky ribbed with lightning came Christ as He had come after the Resurrection. It was the end of the world!"

     Blue's last words were just barely audible.

    "The Kingdom of the Anti-Christ disappeared like ashes in a whirlwind. And hastening up out of their tombs and resting places came the souls of the just, happy, hearty, wholesome, to greet their king."

     Blue paused. Then he added: "Father White who had been No. 2,757,311 found himself a hero even in heaven."

    So, he ended his story.

     There must have been five minutes of silence. My body was cramped from its single position. My clothes were soggy from the fog. Yet, I had not noticed these things before. Blue was waiting for me to say something. I did not know what to say. I held my peace.

      "Don't you think that would make a good picture?" he asked me finally.

He was close beside me, but I could hardly see him in the, fog. I told him I couldn't tell.  I suggested his theology was wrong. Isn't the Church to endure to the end of time?

  "But think of the possibilities! The scenes! The theme!  Think of a picture of Christ and the end of the world!"

I had to be honest with him. I told him that it would make the sort of picture which would appeal to himself and the few others like him. Outside of that, I said, I doubted if it would have much success. “And, anyway," I added, "don't worry. It is one of those pictures that will never be made."

     We parted soon after that—I, to get some food and warmth on the street; Blue, so far as I could gather, to meditate further his strange dream of the end of the world.