The apocalypse isn’t an event, it’s a process. And the only thing worse than the end of all things is the misery leading up to it. We should know, right?
It turns out, the Sumerians had it right all along, and their particular brand of Armageddon has blanketed Gillian and Mel’s world with grief and suffering and fear. And then, ten years in, it…pauses. They’re stuck, right at the worst part, with hearts broken by loss, just trying to survive a simple walk outside without ancient demi-gods descending on them. Waiting for an end that won’t come.
Unless they do something about it. It’s too late to save the world. But Gillian thinks she knows what’s causing the holdup. All they need to do, is take a little trip to the netherworld and release the agent of the world’s demise—The Rampant—and remind him that he has a job to do, and shouldn’t he be getting on with it? If they can bring The Rampant aboveground, they can finally move on to a healthy afterlife.
The trip would be easier if the monsters weren’t so hungry for their sweet human flesh. It would be easier if their own supplies weren’t so scarce. It would be easier if the underworld didn’t also contain the tortured spirits of those they lost. It would be easier if they weren’t falling completely in love—because the end of all things is so much harder when you’ve still got something to lose.
Julie C. Day’s writing style is bright and whimsical, while still maintaining a dark grittiness. Like a fairy garden lightly coated in volcanic dust—the kind that will cut your fingertips if you try to brush it off. The images she creates are surreal, and eerily familiar, as if she’s telling you about a nightmare you had when you were a child. One you had forgotten until she whispered in your ear.
Day’s writing, if it were a painting, would be a Dali copied by Van Gogh. There are no sharp details, here. The writing is spare and gives you just enough to complete the picture for yourself—at which point you’ll realize that you have stepped out of reality. With every scene, you’ll slip a little further into the uncanny. The effect is permanent.
I asked Julie a few questions about her inspiration and writing process for this piece.
Sarah Read (SR): What part of this story came to you first? There are so many layers to this piece–did they all sprout from a single idea, or did it come to you in all its complexity?
Julie C. Day (JDC): Gosh, you don’t make it easy for me! I follow the scent of story. I’m a magpie collecting disparate bits that for some unknown reason seem to go together. However I try and explain it, “ideas” is far too careful a word. I save ideas and plans, in the main, for the revision process, which is where I spend 90-95% of my writing time. This story actually started as an exercise in the 3-act structure. Generally sticking with a somewhat predictable arc kills any interest I have in actually writing the story–I save such things for my daydreaming self. So I decided to write a story that forced a 3-act structure. I decided a quest/ coming-of-age story that required the protagonist to journey physically to three different places would keep me on track.
On another level, I felt ready to channel some of my childhood into a story. From the age of six until thirteen or fourteen, I lived in Southern Indiana. It wasn’t a good fit for my family. On a more personal level it was also a rocky period, emotionally, for my parents, myself, and my brother. We weren’t a happy family unit.
In the end, this particular story is built on a contained structure and feelings looking for release. Everything followed from those two starting points.
SR: Why the Sumerian apocalypse? With so many ends-of-the-world to choose from, what drew you to this particular version?
JCD: I love my one-rabbit-hole-to-the-next version of story research. I’m not sure how I decided to juxtaposition Southern Indiana with ancient gods, but it certainly tickled my fancy once I’d arrived at that idea. Too much certainty and self-satisfied judgement, along with more than a little ignorance: that is what sticks from my childhood, though I know on an intellectual level that no location is composed of a monolithic culture. I’m sure my childhood included interesting and empathetic people with an interest in the complexities of this world. Unfortunately, it’s the cutting things that tend to leave an impression. Anyway, once I realized a physical underworld would make this entire story sing, I tumbled pretty quickly; Sumer was the first culture to write down its stories and myths and it was a subject I knew little about. In other words, it held my interest.
SR: You write a lot of stories where facts and myths, science and spirits, blend imperceptibly. What is it about that interstitial space where the two meet that inspires your work?
JCD: It’s a way of presenting truth. There is no accurate perspective. No fully informed human brain. We wander the world limited by our culture, our experiences, and our physical selves. As much as we search for truth, an abstract understanding of anything is impossible. We are organisms limited by our senses and this squish of emotions, instincts, and needs that is the core of our brains. And yet what we can perceive of the physical world, what the application of science allows us to uncover, is wondrous. What we are capable of discerning gives human beings our only glimpse into the vast strangeness of the universe. Put another way I see true mystics and scientists as similar beasts. For me their intent and their limitations intersect.
SR: What aspect of this story means the most to you, personally? What do you hope it will mean to readers?
JCD: I was definitely saying something about the dark heart of religion–the way it imposes a structure that is never a comfortable fit for all it attempts to control. I was also interested in discussing the way, especially when they are portrayed as heroes, women and girls are expected to sacrifice. There is something insidious about concepts of femininity and self-sacrifice and how the two are intertwined in our culture.
SR: What are you working on now–and what can we read from you next?
JCD: I always have far too many projects and far too little time. I am truly a mess. Most of my work takes years to find its final form. That said, I’m currently working on a short novella Every Thought a Sin that was originally drafted as a short story, but needs more space than a short story can provide. It’s set in a near-future dystopia where the environmental crisis is being addressed in a rather *unexpected* way. It involves genetic engineering, population control via microbes and large public art displays, and love. Cause at the end of the world, when all decisions are fraught with compromise and limited options, love in all its rainbow stripes–familial, romantic, and even a love of self–is the only trustworthy yardstick by which to select the best course. At least that’s what I seem to be telling myself with this story!
Julie C. Day’s novella The Rampant is available from Aqueduct Press. Her collection of short stories, Uncommon Miracles, is available from PS Publishing. If you love horror, the Weird, or the slipstream intersection of the two, you’ll love Day’s work. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next thing she sends our way, even if it’s the end of the world itself.
Sarah Read is a dark fiction writer in the frozen north of Wisconsin. Her short stories can be found in various places, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year vol 10. A collection of her short fiction called OUT OF WATER is available now from Trepidatio Publishing, as is her debut novel THE BONE WEAVER’S ORCHARD. When she’s not staring into the abyss, she knits. You can find her online on Instagram or Twitter @inkwellmonster or on her site at www.inkwellmonster.wordpress.com