Kubilius, Walter – “The Other Side” (1951)
Jim is a young boy in a rural town surrounded by a glass wall erected after the “Inter-continental Atomic War” of 1970, outside of which “poisoned fumes and deadly gases scorched the ground and made one breath of air a sentence of death.” He notices, though, that the water coming in under the wall is “clear and good.” Other things start to seem amiss – he wishes a bully was dead and the boy turns up dead the next day, in the library he can’t find any books that reference the wall or the war, and even though he knows it’s 1993, he finds a book published in 2039, in which he finds the passage “The gradual elimination of farming communities, begun during Robinson’s term as president, continued under the new administration. The artificial manufacture of food by reprocessing industrial waste had revolutionized social customs, particularly in the frequent distressing economic dislocations-” – which doesn’t quite line up with Jim’s experience living in an idyllic farming community, although it does place this story kind of tangentially in the mid-century school of post-scarcity thought (which seems rather odd for a post-apocalyptic story).
The town doctor, fulfilling the role of primary antagonist, sedates Jim and tries to convince him that he has been hallucinating or dreaming these inconsistencies, and tells him that he’s wasting his time: “History has no meaning,” Doc Barnes said, “and you’ll never find truth there. Study the sciences where all evidence can be weighed and measured. It’s the only road to truth.” This is a sentiment which would have been delivered by the hero of the story just a few years ago.
Determined to escape and find the truth (this objective remains even with the caveat that modern science isn’t the only way to find it, of course), Jim swims under the wall of the dome and finds that “Hillsboro, from the height where he stood, did not look like New York or Moscow, or any of the other really big cities of the Earth which he seen pictured in some of the older history books. Rather it had a bit of all of them, and he now understood who he was and why he was so important.” A series of levers telepathically inform him that humanity was wiped out 200 years ago, not by war but by alien colonizers, and he is the only surviving human, surrounded by “Robot-Duplicate Models of all known types of Man Specimens.” The story closes with the Keeper of the Natural Habitat Zoo slithering up to deliver him to the dissection chamber. Where this teenager came from 200 years after the end of humanity isn’t addressed, nor is the justification for dissecting him immediately.
Compare with the earlier humans-in-an-alien-zoo story, Fredric Brown’s “Knock” (1949).