“I smell regret,” boomed Bumblefuck, taking a sip from my pint. So loudly, in fact, that a hen party across the street stopped giggling and retreated. One or two of them started crying. If you’d asked them why they wouldn’t have been able to tell you.”
Regret is a strange thing. It’s the burnt psychological fingers, the psychic pain of playing fire. You swear you won’t make that mistake again, and often you don’t, unless complacency slips in. People who routinely play with fire are either in denial or have behavioral problems. These are not mutually exclusive states.
Regret can also take the form of missed opportunities, a constant questioning of ‘what if things had better’. Nowhere would this feeling be more pronounced than at the end of the world, I imagine. The brink of destruction.
Without really intending to, I wrote a story about regret, which sounds intensely lofty, po-faced and Not Fun. Hopefully the reverse is true. The tale centers on a demon, who for the purposes of the story is called Speight. Demons are a fairly irredeemable lot, and everyone secretly loves the bad guy more that the hero (except for James Bond movies, perhaps). So what if our resident, irredeemable demon develops regrets? And what if there’s a very narrow window of time to set things right, if they can be set right at all?
The 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still elicited a decidedly un-apocalyptic ‘Meh’ from many critics. Audiences weren’t much keener, but it did have John Cleese in it, very briefly. The aliens in this case haven’t come to destroy Earth, they just want to kill all humans, in order to protect the Earth from those who live on it. Cleese’s character, Professor Barnhardt argues against the destruction of the human race:
“You say we're on the brink of destruction and you're right. But it's only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.”
And so the stage is set for a demon, who has been complicit in Hell’s plans, to bring about the end of the world. Speight is not actually doing any of the heavy lifting so speak, he’s just overseeing Armageddon. Or he would be if if he hadn’t bumped into his ex-girlfriend in the pub, who he didn’t really break up with as much as stop calling. It’s only on the brink of destruction that Speight discovers something about himself. Something he’s been in denial about.
Lou Morgan’s story also takes place around a pub (you can read the entry on her story here), and I’m no different. I imagined Speight and his fellow demon overseers stood outside the John Snow pub in Soho. I don’t mention the name of the pub in the story, but it was useful for me to be able to visualize the location. And there’s something about a pub that’s very grounding and real. Having elements of the real woven alongside the fantastic makes for a richer cloth, one that makes the suspension of disbelief just a little bit easier to wear.
Den Patrick's "The End of the World" appears in Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse, which, as of today, has about two weeks left before it is gone forever. Den's short fiction can also be found in A Town Called Pandemonium (out soonish). He's also the author of The Fizzy Pop Vampire and an upcoming fantasy series from Gollancz (out 2013). More Den here and on Twitter.