Consider the end of times. Every religion and culture, so far, imagines its own destruction. It is rare to think of the end of everything as a happy story. What faith permits the end of everything to be a happy ending for everyone? The good are inevitably rewarded with a trip to heaven, but no one else will enjoy the loss and expulsion to hell. In other cultures, the end of times is horrible for everyone. Julie Day takes this notion to the horrific extreme by imagining that the oldest religion we know was the only one that was correct.
Sumerian religion, a very old religion, is a kind of brutal tradition, with all-powerful gods that are fairly indifferent to the suffering of the faithful. It is reminiscent of Lovecraft, in its way. One bargains with the gods and minor deities through sacrificial offerings, blood and beer and meat. Heaven is reserved for the bodies that died in a clean, undamaged state, because the bodily form in the underworld is going to be reflected in whatever material state it enters. When the end times comes, the mess that demi-gods and monstrous things make of the faithless doom them to a special plane of hell. This is all an important plot point, so the horror of the faith enters the text, itself, and becomes critical.
Gillian and Mel are neighbors. These young women have survived in the constant apocalypse for years. Mel’s father died in the apocalypse, and his bones were scattered and destroyed by the demi-god that devoured him messily. These women are survivors, who face the shifting reality with the kind of resilience reserved for the young and the brave. There are lots of little techniques they use to survive: holy oil barriers to ward off the hungry and the holy, knives for self-harm and prayer mats and cheap beer and old meat to use as sacrificial offerings. They do not hide in their houses, as their mothers would prefer. Instead, they gather corn moths and caterpillars in jars, and dig out a way into the underworld, following both the rules of the faith of the Sumerian Revivalist church that emerged as the community of faith adapted to the stark reality of the end times, as well as the rules that they gleaned from ancient texts and dreams sent to them from the Rampant,
Who is the Rampant? The god that does not arrive on time for the end of times. The apocalypse stalls for years. This Rampant reaches out to the living, to two young women in Indiana, who are called on a holy quest to journey through the Underworld, and down to the depths of the land of the dead. These young women must traverse the deadly and dangerous terrain of hell, wearing dirty clothes, carrying no weapons, making no sound, and prepared to sacrifice everything to bring about the final end times. They seek to draw the final god of the apocalypse, the Rampant, up from the land of the dead, to finish what the gods started. In their journey, they realize that the apocalypse can be… Let’s say negotiated.
Sacrifices will be made.
Right, so this novella is excellent. It’s a piece of horror literature that uses two compelling lead women, who are in love and awaking to their love, to journey through the horror of the faith. In this act, it calls into question all of our faith’s end times. It proposes a fairly brutal and ridiculously archaic apocalypse to show how not only ridiculous all concepts of the end times are, in all faith traditions, but it also shows us the path to overcoming all of these ridiculous products of our own imaginations: working together in courage and reason and love. If mankind has any power at all in the realm of the afterlife, any ability to bargain, any way of negotiating and manipulating the rules, then there is hope.