Tag Archives: death

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Mortality

I’m not reviewing a book today, or talking about my favorite monster (although the Grim Reaper kind of counts as a monster) or even providing fiction. Today I’m feeling a bit introspective and want to speak to the universe regarding mortality.

I lost an old friend this week, someone I’ve known for 30 years. He’s the second friend I’ve lost in the past year and like the last one to pass, this friend was just slightly younger than I. I share traits with both of my friends: a bit overweight, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and more happy to be lounging with friends than doing something active with them.

I’m a statistic waiting to happen is what I’ve had driven home by both these deaths. It doesn’t have anything to do with your age if you’re just plowing ahead in your life and damn the consequences of your actions.  If you’re living a destructive lifestyle you can exit this mortal coil at 20 as easily as at 90. I’m somewhere in the middle, my 50s. I have lost friends and family before but I think the rapidity of these two men, both so full of life and embracing the pleasures of their existence has hit me a bit harder than I realized. I find myself dwelling on my own mortality.

True, I’m prepared. When my father died a number of years ago I learned from his mistakes and prepared things so that my family would not be left in a lurch should I suddenly die. But, preparing for death, while a good choice, is not the best option for me. I’m far from ready to see what comes next. I’ve had my close calls in my youth and have believed I was on borrowed time since a couple incidents in my 20s that really should have ended in my death but that doesn’t mean that I should embrace my inevitable end. I want to be here for a long time to come. My family might need me and even if they can get along without me, why should I put them through suffering of a loss before the time when they can say, “He had a long life, it was a good time to pass.”

I find myself examining my priorities. There always seems to be something more important than my health getting in my way. What kind of stupid attitude is that? Without health, we have nothing.  I know my late friends were warned many times by their doctors and friends about their health and they blithely soldiered on with their devil may care lifestyles and now they are gone.

I don’t want to be ‘too little, too late’ in this department. I think part of being a proper human is to not only enjoy your life but to ensure that your life is sufficiently long and healthy to obtain as much enjoyment as possible. I want to do art, I want to write, I want to sit and watch sunsets with my wife.  Hell, I’d be excited to argue the merits of Picard vs Kirk with fellow geeks for many years to come.

Life is a precious thing. There’s no real evidence that we move onward after it ends and I don’t want to miss out on anything before that happens. I think any right thinking person would want to embrace as much of life as they could, for as long as possible. Even if you believe in an afterlife with some divine creator, wouldn’t your creator want you to enjoy his creation for as long as possible? Anything less would be an insult to his work in my opinion.

So, am I going to run out and become some fanatic vegan gym rat  now?  I don’t think so. Moderation in all things is the perfect option as I’ve always believed.  I’ll take better care of myself, I’ll get more exercise (gods knows I need it – it stinks when I run out of wind after doing things that would have barely made me break a sweat 15 years ago) I’ll watch what I eat and drink a bit less.  On the flip side, I want to make more time for the things that matter. I want to enjoy the universe that I inhabit. I want to explore the possibilities that are before me in art.  I want to pay more attention to those around me. Hell, I want to live, and live well; and I want to do it for many many years to come. I would like to be the strange old man that the government comes to investigate some day wondering how I’ve lived for hundreds of years seemingly immune to age (OK, that probably won’t happen but I can dream).

What’s the point of this rambling missive?  Take care of yourself. Enjoy your friends while you have them. Love your family. Appreciate the world around you. No matter how horrible things look, it’s all temporary. Something always changes if you give it time and if you’re taking care of yourself, the amount of time you have to wait it out is longer.  Besides, for every bad day, you can always find SOMETHING to distract you until it’s over.

And to quote Baz Luhrmann:  don’t forget to wear sunscreen:

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One Final Portrait

One Final Portrait
#picturefiction #flashfiction #death

Gertrude coughed, a deep racking cough, as she ushered out the last of her photography customers.
It had been a long day and the coughing and pain in her chest that had dogged her for the last month didn’t make it any easier to bear. Gertrude wondered if this cough could be something more than a cold but her meager earnings from taking photos of matronly women and their children barely permitted her to keep food on the table let alone afford a doctor visit.
She was turning the wooden sign from open to closed on her shop door when the cloaked and hooded figure approached.
Gertrude’s shoulders sagged. She didn’t have the energy to deal with any more customers. She flipped the sign and hoped the person would take the hint and leave.
The cloaked figure knocked on the door, ignoring the sign. Gertrude pointed to the sign but the figure held up two large silver coins. The coins were each half as wide as Gertrude’s palm and had strange, ancient looking markings on them. This was not coin of the realm but if they were real silver, and they looked like it, Gertrude realized that the person was offering very valuable coins.
She left the sign as closed but threw the bolt and opened the door.
“It is very late,” she said.
Gertrude hesitated, she had not seen the person’s face. The cloak and hood made the sex of her customer impossible to determine, she was unsure whether sir or ma’am was the proper form of address.
The figure waggled the two coins.
“A rare token for your time madame,” he said. The voice was deep as if it came from the bottom of a well but clearly her mysterious customer was male.
“Of course sir. Would you please have a seat and I’ll prepare the camera.”
The man glided across the room and lowered himself into the chair before the camera. The only visible part of the man was his left hand. It was smooth and uncalloused, clearly not the hand of a laborer.
“Sir,” Gertrude said. “How would you prefer this portrait to be framed? Can I take your cloak?”
“No dear lady, I prefer to retain my cloak. The image will be perfect as I currently present myself.”
It was a strange request, most customers would never hide their faces. That was the point of a photo portrait was it not, preserving ones features for eternity? But the customer was always right and Gertrude would not complain with such a valuable form of payment.
She coughed as she prepared the camera and doubled over with the violence of the coughing and the pain that tore through her thin chest. Gertrude persevered and soon the camera was ready. She took up the trigger cord and faced her customer.
“Are you ready sir?” She coughed again.
“Join me my dear,” he said. “I would have your lovely face in my portrait.”
“That would not be appropriate sir.”
Again the man waggled the silver coins and beckoned. Gertrude looked at the coins and then with a nod walked to join the man before the camera.
“Place your hand upon my arm and join me in attaining immortality.”
Gertrude touched the man’s sleeve and pressed the button to trigger the camera. She felt the pain in her chest recede as if the cold cloth of the man’s cloak somehow pulled the consumption from her body.
“Come now Gertrude, it is time to leave,” the man said.
Gertrude was confused, she would not leave with some strange man no matter the payment. Her customer pushed his cowl back revealing his skeletal features and held the coins up for her to take.
“You will need this for the boatman,” he said and took her hand.
Gertrude numbly followed Death but cast one forlorn look back at her shop only to see her wasted form crumpled on the floor beside the chair where she had immortalized so many customers.
In the morning Gertrude’s son would find the camera plate exposed and would develop it, wondering at his mother’s final piece of art. He screamed in horror at the wasted figure of his mother standing with the Grim Reaper. He burned the image and the plate as well as the camera that had captured it. He never again touched a camera as long as he lived.

 

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The Day I Died

This story was inspired by an article by Harlan Ellison of a similar name in which he mused about mortality.


I died on July 5, 2006.

It was a Monday morning right after a long holiday weekend. Excesses of alcohol, fireworks and hilarity had finally pushed my middle aged body to the limits. I guess I should have stuck to my New Year’s resolution to start working out regularly.

Traffic was a bitch and I shouted myself hoarse at lunatics who changed lanes with inches to spare without signaling and little old ladies who think that twenty-five miles an hour is a good speed for a highway. The tension in my chest was written off to anger and muscular tension.

The morning Mountain Dew and junk food snack from the first floor cafeteria was a great energy boost and I decided that the sugar high was sufficient to let me trot up the stairs to my cube – bad plan.

Somewhere around the second flight of stairs the tightness in my chest became worse. I could feel every pulsation of my heart as it tried to force enough blood through my clogged arteries to keep my body running. The door to my floor was a vision of heaven and I staggered into the hallway gasping like a fish pulled from the sea.

My breathing refused to slow as I wound my way through the labyrinth of the office cube farm. Spots in my vision covered the faces of people to whom I would normally toss a jaunty good morning.

Logging into the computer was as agonizing as running a marathon. The darkness continued to creep in from the sides as numbness spread down my left arm. Then the pain stopped, darkness descended and I slumped back in my chair.

My co-worker Nita found me later that morning; she had assumed I was asleep at my desk. They needed to sedate the poor woman to stop the screaming once she realized I was dead.

I died on April 29, 2028.

I was distracted as I always was. The older I got the more I let my attention drift. I wasn’t senile or suffering a mental disease, I was just too lazy and preoccupied to really focus. When I did focus it was always on the wrong, inconsequential, thing. My demise was laughable – after all, crystalline memory units were everywhere, you’d think I’d be used to them by now.

Sarah was having a big family get together, four generations under one roof. My stepson’s son had a daughter and had come to visit Granny and – what do you call a step parent several generations removed – Grandpa will just have to do I guess. Kids being kids, anything not nailed down was a toy. Flowers littered one corner of the living room, my bed pillows were an impromptu fort, and everything was fun and wonderful in the Walker household.

I never noticed that little Mary had gotten in to my movie collection. Ancient DVDs were everywhere and my rather impressive volume of crystalline matrix recordings were being used as marbles in the center of the living room.

So there we are, Nate and I shooting the shit about the old days and impressing upon his son Jacob how far he has to go to ever match such stalwart paragons of humanity such as we elder gentlemen when I step on a memory core. Those little suckers are slippery and not as fragile as their crystalline appearance implies. My foot flies out from beneath me just as I’m launching into my best “Back in my day” story. With a flip worthy of an Olympic hopeful I fly into the air and come down on my head, snapping my neck.

Yup, one hell of an anniversary present I gave Sarah, an insurance policy to support her the rest of her life and a corpse to bury the following day.

I died on July 27, 2053

I was attending Pennsic LXXXII with the Society for Creative Anachronism. It was my sixty-second Pennsic and I was one of the few remaining old timers who had attended during the twentieth century. The fact that I had not actively participated in any combat arts for nearly 40 years didn’t matter to me. Seeing the youngsters follow in the footsteps of those of us that came before warmed my heart.

My android Page had erected my tent in my traditional spot and then helped me to the opening ceremonies. My only regret was that my dear Sarah was no longer able to come to the war, but her doctor had ordered her to not leave the arcology again as her allergies had so grown with age that they could kill her if she ventured out into the fields where the battles occurred.

The procession of Kings and Queens and their attendant followers was breathtaking as always. Banners snapped in the breeze and crowns reflected the sunlight in rainbow hues over the crowd. Speeches were given, each strangely more quiet than the one before. At last, the gauntlet was thrown and the King of the East broke the arrow declaring the start of the war.

The crowd’s roaring approval receded from me as the warmth of the sun made me sleepy. Content that the traditions of the war continued I nodded off in my chair and was gone.

I died on October 5, 2462.

I was bored with the near immortality that the nano-bots had brought to humanity. After five hundred years you find yourself repeating the same old activities. Human nature does not change but age brings on a lack of flexibility in granting leniency to those who repeat the same mistakes you’ve already seen a thousand times in the past.

Sarah was much braver than I. She had shut down the bots and begun the ultimate journey into the unknown thirty years ago. I admit now that I was just a coward and was not ready to believe that life was no longer worth living. Eternal life is boring, life without her became Hell. So for my birthday I poured myself a stiff drink of Nectar, toasted my love and gave the mental command to the bots to terminate.

Eternal dark fell. I only hope that Nate remembers to pour that shot of alcohol on my ashes before launching his mother and I off toward Andromeda as I requested.

I died on October 5, 1962.

Forty-eight hours of labor nearly killed my mother, it did kill me. I was never born. The doctors tried to sooth the distraught twenty-one year old who would have been my mother but what words can console a woman when her child is delivered to her as a corpse.

My death changed her life. She was inconsolable for years and in her grief allowed herself to remain the punching bag of my bastard of a father longer than she would have had she had an infant to protect.

The woman who would have been my wife continued her course from one bad relationship to another. The cycle of mentally abusive men who never made her stand up for herself and admit that she was smart, beautiful and worthy of a life of love and happiness continued.

My stepson sank into a miasma of drugs and alcohol and finally died in a car crash while racing a stolen Ford under the influence of a near toxic mix of anti-depressants, designer drugs and alcohol.

Animals I cared for never found loving homes, stories were never written. My carefully tended home passed from one white trash owner to the next never rising above the status of unkempt mountain shack.

People who I brought together never met and their lives were lessened. A bug I found in some software went unnoticed and cost a major corporation hundreds of billions and millions of homeowners their life savings.

I never existed; it actually mattered.

I defeated death April 10, 2073.

I was old. Old to the point that death seemed a welcome thing. I was afraid to let go though and grasped at the new technology being touted in the press. The great grandkids thought I was nuts.

“It’s not you,” they lamented. “You just make a cheap copy that thinks it’s you.”

I was desperate so in my normal manner, I ignored them.Universal Vision Inc. hooked me to the machines as the scientists reiterated again how the energy patterns of my consciousness would be mapped into the subtle energy patterns of what they described as the eleventh dimension. Parallel worlds, membrane space, it all made sense in a sort of high level, layers of an onion, sort of way but I really didn’t care. I wanted to continue my existence. They hooked me up and threw the switch.

I was everywhere and no where. All reality spread out before me. Universes of stars. Realities of strange matter and parallel worlds where I beheld myself as a black, an asian, a woman and a dog. Everything everwhere was at my fingertips. I wondered if I could change something. I reached out and tried.

I have not died, I may no longer have form but as I said to the primitive man I managed to contact, I AM.

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