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The Down Days

A Novel



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About The Book

In the vein of The Book of M comes a fast-paced, character-driven literary apocalyptic novel that explores life, love, and loss in a post-truth society.

In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak—reminiscent of the 1962 event of mass hysteria that was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic—a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria, or something more sinister? In a quarantined city in which the inexplicable has already occurred, rumors, superstitions, and conspiracy theories abound.

During these strange days, Faith works as a fulltime corpse collector and a freelance “truthologist,” putting together disparate pieces of information to solve problems. But after Faith agrees to help an orphaned girl find her abducted baby brother, she begins to wonder whether the boy is even real. Meanwhile, a young man named Sans who trades in illicit goods is so distracted by a glimpse of his dream woman that he lets a bag of money he owes his gang partners go missing-leaving him desperately searching for both and soon questioning his own sanity.

Over the course of a single week, the paths of Faith, Sans, and a cast of other hustlers—including a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater, and a hyena man—will cross and intertwine as they move about the city, looking for lost souls, uncertain absolution, and answers that may not exist.


Chapter 1: The Daily Truth - 1 - THE DAILY TRUTH

By Lawyer Tshabalala

It started with a tremor, small and unassuming, as these things generally do, my broe. Just a few words on page seven (by yours truly) about three tween girls stuck in a giggle loop.

The school called in a bunch of experts, who gave the thing a fancy label. And this put the parents’ worries to rest. Because who doesn’t like a good label to help them sleep at night?

Mass psychogenic illness. Also known as mass hysteria. Just a couple of tweens with their hormones running riot. Nothing to worry about.

It had happened once before. In the sixties, in Tanzania. Remember the Tanganyika laughter epidemic? And that story turned out fine. No need to panic, run tests, stick needles into anyone.

The experts took the Tanganyika epidemic as a blueprint and ordered the girls to be isolated from their peers. So, the school sent the girls home to ride out this wave of runaway emotion somewhere else. Case closed, problem solved, job well done.

Only thing was, it didn’t work. The girls didn’t stop laughing.

Four days passed and the girls were burning fevers now. Struggling to breathe, eat, sleep. One by one they were rushed to the emergency room. Test after test was run while they lay shackled to their beds to stop them from falling off. Fed through tubes, attached to breathing apparatuses, and monitored around the clock.

Seventeen days. One day longer than the worst of the cases reported in the Tanzanian epidemic. And the girls were still laughing. Eyes tearing, voices broken, mouths salivating like mutts, faces contorted in the most horrific grins, knees jerking, arms flailing, bodies forever convulsing like crash test dummies.

Meanwhile, the “joke” was catching. The girls’ families started laughing first, then their friends, their coworkers. The nurse with the heart tattoo on her ankle who came in quick to change the IV drip. The car guard holding out his hand for tips.

At first the guys upstairs clung to the mass hysteria diagnosis and tried to stem the tide by closing all channels of information. Lawyers were hired to file DMCAs to stop people from streaming all those YouTube clips or posting images in their feeds on social media. This was the Information Age, after all, and the tide couldn’t be turned. So, the government pulled rank, imitated their chums in China, and orchestrated a total web blackout. Our city became data dark. But like Adam and Eve, we couldn’t go back after tasting from the tree. Social media addicts were up in arms, their trigger fingers were itching and twitching, and a new kind of violence, dubbed “withdrawal rage,” swept the masses. Addicts would snap and bring out their fists for as much as a skew look in a queue, and violence stats soared.

And along the way, more and more people were cracking up. It’s psychological, it has to be, the experts proclaimed: an extreme response to Third World stressors.

But the girls, the ones the Laughter had chosen first, were now showing other symptoms, too. Their bones disintegrating, their organs turning into soup. And this thing, this mass collective joke, was blowing up in everyone’s faces, with laughter resonating on every street corner, and death following suit.

Today, exactly seven years on, we remember the day that changed our sick city forever. Dorothy, Jennilee, and Andiswa: may you rest in peace. Along with every single soul who followed after. And God, Allah, Vishnu, the government, our ancestors (or whoever we choose to believe in) help us. May we one day find a cure for this curse.

About The Author

Stephanie van Gelderen

Ilze Hugo is a South African debut author with degrees in fine arts and English studies, along with a Masters in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies like The Ghost Eater and Other Stories and My Holiday Shorts. As a freelance writer, she’s written for magazines to guidebooks to ad campaigns and even the odd comic. She lives by the ocean in Muizenberg, Cape Town, with her husband and two children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Skybound Books (May 5, 2020)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982121549

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Raves and Reviews

One of Amazon's Best Books of the Month: Science Fiction & Fantasy

“Science fiction and spirituality intertwine in Hugo’s fun, apocalyptic mystery debut… Hugo adeptly juggles multiple points of view... The arresting prose, an effortless blend of Afrikaans slang and invented jargon, peppered with evocative turns of phrase elevates this from run-of-the-mill science fiction thriller. Fans of gritty environmental sci-fi will enjoy this dynamic, fast-paced debut.”

– Publishers Weekly

“With a fresh new voice that jumps off the page and an incisive, probing plunge into the double-edged coin of survival and grief, The Down Days brings the tenacious synchronicity of Tom Robbins to science fiction with the pacing and mystery of a thriller.”—Delilah S. Dawson, New York Times Bestselling Author

“We’re living in strange times. Why not face it head on and read a novel similar to our current reality? The Down Days is a fascinating story about the residents of an African city quarantined after an outbreak of laughter... The similarities will give you hope and change the way you think about holding onto your old way of life.”

– HelloGiggles

The Down Days is one of the most accurate depictions of the strange realities of life during a pandemic… A shaggy dog story and modern noir, The Down Days feels particularly familiar now, due in part to its strange blend of tragedy and absurdity… The result closely resembles Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City, highly literary speculative fiction that blends elements of sci-fi and mysticism but grounds the high concepts with charming characters and a brilliantly realized setting… A surprisingly comforting work... The world may be dramatically changed, but when people are willing to take risks and work together, we can get through anything.”

– The A.V. Club

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