“An amazing novella, made all the more astonishing because it wasn't written by me!”
Who Killed God? is a novella by Sam Tynen-Irnhein. First published in 1898, it centers on the search for God's killer. This book's troubled history, being contested before publication by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, is made more shocking in view of the fact that its author, Tynen-Irnhein, disappeared from a cruise ship a few months after release; his body was never found.
After undergoing a brief period of suppression, the book made a comeback when TIME magazine made light of the novel in its April 8, 1966 issue. Around the time of its publication, it was turned into a play by an unknown author; this play, also called "Who Killed God?", has subsequently been the subject of numerous Broadway revivals.
Chapter I: In Which the Investigation Begins
Part i: The Discovery of the Body
By his mark, he had been there for two hours. The man, lying stiffly on the ground before him, was of a type not usually seen milling about on a crowded street. His face was indescribable; his body ineffable; his name unknowable. Suffice it to say that he was the foremost religious figure in the Western world, lying cold on the pavement, covered with a sheet of dirty linen, and, as Detective Frederick turned his eyes to this immaculate man, he knew, for a fact, that God was dead.
"God is dead," Frederick muttered.
"Oh really?" replied his partner, Deputy Marcks. "When did you figure that out?"
"Why, when I just saw the body, of course," answered the detective.
Marcks let out a barely-suppressed scream. "Just saw the body? You've been looking at the ground for two hours, you ninny! You were staring at a group of ants swarming a blop of ice cream the whole time!"
Frederick cast his gaze left and noticed the ants again. "Heh. I love ants."
Marcks sighed. Ever since he had been paired with the dimwitted detective, it was one miserable case after another. And now, this! "How can you think of ants at a time like this!? God is dead, and we need to find out who killed him."
The detective considered it. "You're right. Want to take him to the coroner's office?"
The deputy sighed, resigned to his fate. "Sure."
Part ii: The Examination of the Corpse
"I don't see any presence of wounds on the body," said Emily Borland.
A young, nubile figure, she finished her examination of the body and proceeded over to the two lawmen in the corner. Thankfully for the two, the coroner's office was less than 300 meters from the crime scene, and Ms. Borland was on hand to help.
Taking a glove off, she remarked, "Are you sure he was killed by a weapon, detective?"
Frederick nodded, immeasurably sure of himself. "Of course I'm sure. The murderer was all like "WRY! WRY! WRY! WRY! WRY!""
Here, he imitated a stabbing action.
"And God," he continued, now imitating a stab victim, "was all like "AAAAAAAAA! AAAAAAAAA! AAAAAAAAA!" And a witness was all like, "Ha ha! God is being killed!""
Marcks watched the wretched pantomime until he could take no more. Finally striding over to the detective, he snatched up a newspaper and swatted Frederick over the head with it.
Grinding his teeth, the deputy turned to the coroner. "Ms. Borland, are you capable of performing a full body autopsy?"
"Gladly," replied Ms. Borland, instinctively bending over the corpse as she did so. While watching the coroner, Marcks' eye was caught by a sudden shift in Frederick's gaze, sliding downward— toward her half-showing bosom!
As Ms. Borland called out, "I don't see any hemorrhaging or bleeding...", the detective's mind was elsewhere, his eye devouring the two perfect mountains peeking up from the coroner's smock.
"Uh-huh," he murmured.
"...there is no organ damage..."
"...and tumors are nowhere present in the body."
Noticing the distinct lack of interest in Frederick's tone, the coroner looked upward, finally catching onto where the detective was resting his eyes.
"Mr. Frederick, are you listening?" she queried.
"What's one plus one?"
With that, Marcks reached forward and swatted Frederick on the back of the head with his palm. He was somewhat red in the face, but he with-held his anger, calmly shaking the coroner's hand.
"I'm sorry," said Marcks, "we no longer mean to bother you at this time; we need to find out who killed God. Come on, Frederick."
As the two calmly walked out of the room, Frederick spoke up one last time, but once was enough.
"Are those real?"
A final smack on the head soon put his inquiries to rest.
Chapter II: In Which Certain Persons are Questioned
Part i: A Walk through the Streets
It was now their task to find the murderer of God.
They had walked out of the coroner's office and went in search of anyone who had witnessed the murder of God. Their progress, however, was somewhat slow, as Frederick was frequently distracted by a kitten that was jumping across the tops of trash barrels. The detective told Marcks that he just wanted to pet it, but the deputy kept pulling Frederick away from the feisty feline, as he knew that the detective was more likely to huff the poor dear.
Eventually, they came across a man in a top hat and a black cloak practicing card tricks. Marcks approached the man and asked, "My good sir, who are you?"
The man removed his cloak and replied, "I am a wandering magician."
Recalling to his prior knowledge that magicians were practitioners in the dark arts, Marcks' eyes narrowed, suspicious that the man in the top hat had killed God.
"Were you in the vicinity of where God died today?" Marcks queried.
"Yes," the magician responded, "I was, unfortunately."
Marcks' left eyebrow cocked as his attention was piqued. "Unfortunately?"
"Yes," answered the magician. "I am a practitioner of Wicca, and so, when I saw the God that I did not believe in dying, I cried out, 'Ha ha! God is being killed!'"
Frederick immediately jumped to an abrupt conclusion in the case as he shouted, "I knew it!"
He had shouted directly into Marcks' left ear, and startled, the deputy raised up his hand and struck Frederick over the back of the head, instantly dampening the detective's enthusiasm. Marcks turned his attention back to the magician and asked, "Did you kill God?"
"No," the magician replied, "but I am a notorious serial killer, although no one believes me."
Frederick, paying no attention to the dialogue, was rubbing the bottom of his nose with his finger. He turned his head to the magician and uttered, "Huh?"
"Exactly," the magician said.
Marcks was highly skeptical of the magician's testimony. He inquired, "No, really. Who have you killed?"
The magician's eyes began to shift back and forth. He began to twiddle his thumbs as perspiration flowed generously from his forehead down to his neck. Marcks, having no time for this, took a glance at his pocketwatch and said to the magician, "Well, thank you for spending the time to answer our questions, anyway. We'd best be going on our way."
As the two were beginning to make haste down the sidewalk, the magician reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, tweed satchel. He called out, "Before you go, would you be interested in purchasing a bag of opium?"
Frederick approached him and extended his hand, but Marcks grasped his arm and replied, "The answer is no." Smiling politely, he hastily jerked the detective from the grasp of the magician.
Frederick, disappointed at not receiving a bag of Istanbul-quality narcotics, uttered, "Aw, man..." as they rapidly walked down the sidewalk and away from the dark figure that was the magician.
Part ii: A Pilgrimage to the Church
Barrelling down a block or so, the two came to a stop when Frederick's eye was distracted by the ornate grandeur of a local church. Eyes wide and grinning placidly, the detective seized enough volition to pull himself from Marcks' grasp.
As Marcks turned, he could just hear the choir inside intoning deeply the ancient chants so favored by St. Gregory. His eye turned to the figure of a priest standing just outside the door, bent over a cart.
Frederick noticed him, too, and pointed to the friar, shouting, "Where's your pointy hat?"
The deputy, embarrassed that a man of the cloth could be so insulted, rushed over to the detective and whispered, "That's a priest, you ninny."
The priest, apparently taking notice of them, turned and replied, "I'm sorry to have confused you, lads. Yes, I am a priest, or, at least, was a priest, but, now I am retired."
A crease formed over Frederick's brow for a moment, but his face brightened as he said, "Physically or mentally?"
Marcks' face turned bright red, and, ashamed of what the friar might think of him now, grabbed the detective by the collar and shouted into his face, "Not retarded, RETIRED!!! You're sounding retarded for asking such a STUPID QUESTION!!!"
Frederick merrily raised a finger at the deputy, laughing, "Tsk, tsk, tsk. Such naughty language. Didn't your mother teach you better?"
The priest, hoping to defuse the situation, cut in. "I now operate an ice cream cart. You wanna come see?"
Marcks turned, astonished that a man of the cloth could lower himself so. Frederick, ears perking instantly at the sound of "ice cream", disentangled himself from the deputy's grasp and began to acquiesce.
Marcks, fearing the detective would embarrass himself again, pulled him away from the friar, remarking quickly, "I'm sorry, Father, but we already ate."
Backing slowly away from the church at first, the two quickly turned and ran, making the priest shake his head as he went back to churning his ice cream.
Part iii: A Sojourn in the Cemetery
Panting and wheezing as they finished their escape, Frederick and Marcks found themselves at the gates of some forgotten cemetery. Walking through the entrance, their eyes unaccustomed to the newly-risen fog, they stumbled blindly past rows of tombstones until they bumped into the backside of a mysterious figure. Rising at once, he turned and regarded them, his one eye dimly glaring through the fog.
Frederick turned pale. Glancing at the figure, he shouted, "Who are you?"
The figure responded, "I'm a wanderer."
Behind him, another man appeared, his appearance identical to the wanderer, but his body translucent like a ghost. He spoke, as if echoing the wanderer, "He's a wanderer."
Marcks noticed that the wanderer was holding a basket in his left hand, and he asked, "What are you doing?"
"I'm picking flowers," answered the wanderer, and his shadow repeated, "He's picking flowers."
Marcks, becoming agitated by the redundancy of the situation, shouted at the wanderer's shadow, "And will you shut up?!"
The shadow jumped back slightly and put a hand to his mouth to keep it muted. Frederick, currently distracted from what was happening, leaned over to his right and caught sight of a third figure in the darkness.
The detective pointed his finger at the shadowy individual and shouted, "Also, who's that man in the beard right next to you?"
Marcks turned his head to an old man with a long white beard carrying a cane. His garb suggested that he was a soothsayer, and not from this time period; perhaps he is not even supposed to be in this tale.
Marcks had a puzzled look on his face. He turned to Frederick and whispered, "I believe this man is in the wrong story." He turned his attention back to the soothsayer. "Sir, I believe you are in the wrong story."
"Beware the Ides of March!" The soothsayer repeated, making no notice to what Marcks had just said.
"You are in the wrong story!" Marcks reiterated, slower and louder, trying in vain to make the soothsayer understand what he was speaking.
From hearing this, the soothsayer ran screaming past Frederick and Marcks, through the cemetery gates, and into the busy streets.
The deputy turned to Frederick, astonished. "You just said something to him in Latin," he said. "What was it?"
The detective responded, as if discovering something new about himself, "I speak Latin? Wow, I did not know that!"
Marcks glanced strangely at Frederick, then spoke, "On second thought, let's go back to headquarters."
"They're going back to headquarters," the shadow repeated.
Marcks, having had enough of the shadow's obnoxious redundancy, walked back, red in the face, and struck the shadow over the head with his palm. He then rushed back to Frederick and the duo made haste to police headquarters.
Chapter III: In Which the Investigation Draws to a Close
Part i: The Report to the Police Chief
It was dark and smoky when they entered Police Chief Engels' office. The stench from the cigar cupped between the chief's broad lips was horribly putrid, but more than made up for the rank of body odor wafting from the beefy man's underarms. His dark blue uniform, creased with wrinkles and lined with the years of sweat and toil, concealed a burgeoning belly often filled from late-night raids on the pantry.
His muttonchops, grown to foster the impression that he was a grand magistrate of sorts, bristled with indignation at the two junior lawmen cooped up inside his office.
The chief waved a bunch of meaningless papers at the duo, pretending they were important documents to be reckoned with instead of clumps of scrap. To them, this meant, they could sit.
Engels stood, squinted, and began to question the two in a tone not unlike the sound of a mongrel dog as it bays at passers-by. "What have you two come up with? I've been waiting all day to hear about your progress."
Marcks sat still, ashamedness creeping over his face, then spoke, "Well, we've spent 8 hours interviewing random individuals on the streets and still have not found a killer."
The chief's face turned red with stress and frustration. "What?!" he barked. "You incompetent fools! How could this be so?"
Marcks pointed his finger at Frederick and answered, "Well, the detective here kept asking irrelevant questions, providing us with absolutely no leads."
Engels turned his head to Frederick, glared, and inquired, "And what do you have to say for yourself, sir?"
Frederick had a confident grin of success on his face. "I already caught the killer!" he replied.
Engels' eyebrows flew up. "What?" he asked, with a surprised tone in his voice. "Who is he?"
"His name is..." said Frederick, as he reached into his pocket, "Red Herring!"
Out of the pocket came a bright red fish that he had bought at the local pet store. It flopped lifelessly in his hand, as its prolonged time out of the water had suffocated it.
"That's a fish, you fool!" shouted Engels, as his face glowed red with bitter anger.
"Look, chief!" shouted Frederick, pointing at the brick lying on the floor, "Someone sent us a present!"
Marcks turned to Frederick and grumpily stated, "The chief's out cold, you ninny!"
The detective knelt down and picked up the brick. Present on its surface were words scrawled hastily in black paint.
"It says 'I'..." read Frederick, staring at the brick. He turned to Marcks, brick in hand, and said gayily, "It's addressed to me!"
The deputy sighed with frustration.
Another brick flew through the window. Frederick picked it up and read, "'Know'."
Yet another brick came smashing through the window. Frederick read on, "'Who'."
Yet another brick. It read "'Killed'."
Another. "'God'." the inscription stated.
Suddenly, a maelstrom of bricks barged their way through the window. As Engels stirred and regained consciousness, his jaw dropped in wonder at the sight of bricks falling to the floor like rain, and he burst out, "My God, all these bricks!"
As each brick fell to the ground, the detective read the message that was formed. "If. You. Want. To. Know. The. Answer. Head. To. The. Abandoned. Warehouse. At. Midnight."
Marcks turned to the chief, who was grasping the desk to pull himself up, and asked, "Chief, do you know what this means?"
Frederick turned his head to the deputy.
"Yeah." he responded, "Someone is wasting building materials and we have a broken window."
He pointed to the pile of bricks lying on the ground, then to the window, which had become so broken that it was now equivalent to a gaping square hole in the wall.
Marcks turned his attention to Frederick and barked, "No, this means that we will finally figure out who killed God!"
The chief finally steadied himself, and, with a proud tone, exclaimed, "Finally! Now I can get some—"
Suddenly, a final brick soared through the gaping hole where the window used to be and struck Engels on the head with a thunk. Falling to the ground, the chief moaned out, "Staaars..." and landed on the floor in a heap.
The deputy pointed the final brick. "What does this one say?", he inquired.
Frederick read, "Sharp."
"Figures..." uttered Marcks.
"So," the detective asked, "what now?"
"We lie in wait for the killer!" answered the deputy.
"Oh, okay," said Frederick. "Can we get McDonald's afterwards?"
"Umm, sure," responded Marcks.
Frederick raised his hands to the air and shouted, "Yay!"
On that note, the two proceeded out the office door, leaving behind an unconscious police chief, a floor covered with broken glass, and whatever little was left of the window that looked out into the alley.
Part ii: The Confrontation at the Warehouse
At 12:00, the lawmen left their carriage for the dark stillness of the night. The air became ice cold as the duo approached the abandoned warehouse. Fresh dog urine was present on the ground, and old motor oil permeated the atmosphere.
As they reached the dark structure, a dim light shined out of the windows. They could tell that this warehouse was far from abandoned.
Creeping steadily through the door, they found numerous crates full of the vilest stuff known to man.
Frederick, opening one of the boxes, exclaimed, "It's filled with teddy bears!"
Marcks whipped around, holding up his revolver as he glanced anxiously at the detective. "Frederick, seriously. We're near the end of the story. Don't drag this out any farther."
At that point, a low, thumping noise began to emanate from a dark corner. Squeaking leather met harsh gravel, making a music only the deaf would enjoy. The sounds became louder as a figure began to emerge from the shadows. A clatter could be heard as a knife fell from a shelf.
Marcks, nearly blind in the dark, swung his revolver around, shouting, "Who's there?!"
Frederick, who at this point had been rubbing the bottom of his nose with his finger, looked up and shouted, "HUH?" The deputy, nervous as all Hades, dashed back and clamped his hand over the detective's mouth, hissing, "Shhh! Just shut up!"
Before they could make a move, the figure stepped into the light, revealing himself to be wearing a paper bag over his head. Marcks, unsteady, slowly whispered to the detective, "Is that...?"
Frederick, immediately jumping to an abrupt conclusion in the case, shouted, "Hey, it's the Unknown Comic! Are we on "The Gong Show"?"
Marcks, enraged, bashed the detective over the head with the butt of his pistol, sending a shot screaming up into the rafters. The masked figure jumped, sending the bag flying off his head in the process.
The duo stared in both curiosity and revulsion as they beheld the face of the man. It was the ugliest face they had ever seen.
The man spoke. "My name is Werner Jenkins. I am the ugliest man."
Frederick, nodding, replied, "Yes, you are."
Marcks, distracted, dropped his gun, sending up a shot that just barely brushed the back of the detective's head. Rattled, the deputy turned to Jenkins.
"Are you really the ugliest man?" inquired Marcks.
The man nodded. "Yes, I am the ugliest man."
Marcks eyes narrowed, ever suspicious of unattractive men. "Were you really the one that killed God?" he asked.
"Yes, I am— well, actually, no; no, I'm not."
The deputy stepped backwards, stupefied. "What? But we were so sure!"
Frederick nodded sympathetically. "Well, you can't be right about everything."
The man turned to Marcks. "I'm actually a coroner's assistant. Ms. Borland told me to relay this message to you: God's body has disappeared from the morgue."
The deputy's jaw dropped. "We are looking for God?!"
"No," interjected Frederick.
The ugliest man turned to Frederick, a look of bewilderment plastered across his face. Marcks turned to the detective with a harrumph and said, "Explain yourself, Frederick."
The detective stepped forward, posturing before the other two as though he were an actor in some drama on the stage. "I know where he lies, Marcks. Where has God gone? I shall tell you. We have killed him — you and I. We are his murderers.
"But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
"How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us — for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."
At this, Frederick stopped, determination etched across his face. Marcks turned to the ugliest man, then back to the detective.
"Frederick, I am astonished!" he cried.
The ugliest man shook his head. "I'm confused. Didn't you used to be stupid?"
Frederick turned to him, a questioning look on his face. "Weren't you beaten with an ugly stick?"
The man nodded. "Well, yes, I was beaten with an ugly— hey! You damn teasing bastard! I'll kill you!"
The ugliest man picked up a fallen knife from the floor and charged at Frederick, screaming all the way.
"WRY! WRY! WRY! WRY! WRY!"
A look of bemusement appeared on the detective's face. Quickly picking up a crate of teddy bears, he sidestepped the man and heaved the box at his head, yelling, "Catch!"
The crate connected with the man's head, sending him reeling. A puddle of dog urine was enough for him to topple, but, as he did so, his knife hand fell under him, impaling himself.
"OW!!!" the ugliest man cried.
Marcks chuckled. "Well, serves you right for being so ugly."
The dying man sniffled. "You know, the worst part about my death is that I'm going to be late for work tomorrow."
With a hacking cough, the man expired. Frederick gently placed his hat on the ugliest man's face, remarking, "And so it goes."
For a moment, Marcks looked from the deceased man to the detective, then turned to the latter. "Frederick, I am simply delighted by your sudden growth in intellect! I do believe that your brilliance will make you the greatest thinker that this world will ever see in its history. Do you agree with me on this matter?"
The detective turned to Marcks, a placid look once more settling on his face as he cried, "Buttered toast!"
The deputy looked ill for a moment, then muttered, "Never mind."
And so, the case was closed. As the two proceeded out of the warehouse and into the night, it appeared that all was once again right with the world.