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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thinking of Death at This Time of Year

I’m always thinking ahead. I play out a lot of “What ifs” in my head. I’m a science fiction writer as well as a suspense and horror writer, and I think of “What ifs” a lot.

                Living in the present moment is as alien to me as living in the real world. I prefer fantasy worlds, but sometimes I’m brought back to reality by my body demanding immediate attention. I set aside my reading or writing to pop something into the microwave, take a nap, or take a crap. That’s as much of reality as I’m used to handling at any one time.

                When my body fails to function as normal, however, I’m brought kicking and screaming into the real world. I’m seventy years old. My wife of almost thirty years died of a sudden heart attack. Someday soon, I’m likely to die, too.

                What if it happens sooner rather than later?

                I envision myself dead in my chair or on the floor or in my bed. In order to concentrate on my writing, I’ve become a recluse. I don’t encourage family or friends to visit. What will my body look like when it’s finally found? I don’t want my family or friends to see me like that. Eventually someone will call the police when I fail to pick up my mail, mow the lawn, or shovel my sidewalks. Let the cops find me.

                Being a horror writer as well as a sci fi writer, I naturally include such morbid thoughts in my writing. But what if it really happens? What then?

                I know I’m sick when I think like that. Physically sick.

                I get a flu shot every year, and I got mine early this year. I don’t get sick often, but when I do I don’t handle it well. I have forgotten what it’s like to feel ill. I regress to childhood and watch old westerns incessantly. I should have known I was sick when I had an urge to watch Rod Cameron and Rex Allen in black and white. I also craved old Captain Marvel comic books illustrated by Charles Clarence Beck and written by Otto O. Binder. Shazam! That’s a sure sign I’m coming down with something.

                Perhaps it is only the cold winds from the north driving leaves across my lawn like penmen driving doomed cattle into the slaughterhouse that makes me think of death. Perhaps it’s the fake skeletons hanging in front yards to commemorate the coming of Halloween and the Day of the Dead. Perhaps it’s the constant ache in my chest from too many cigarettes. Whatever the reason, I think of death constantly. I think of all the people I have known who have died. I remember my grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my beloved wife. I think of Isaac Asimov and Dick Laymon and Fred Pohl and David B. Silva.

                I remember pets, too: my beloved dog Mitzi and my cats Mow and Fridger and Casey and Kore and Callie and Lyle.

                Death surrounds me.

                I think of Lokesvara Sailendravarman, one of the characters in my novel Abandoned, and how he must assume Manjusri’s persona of the Yamantaka, the Slayer of Death, in order to conquer death. “It is not whether you live or die that is important,” he tells his students at the lamasery at Ankor Wat. “It is how you face death that matters.”

                So, when I face death, I will say, “Old friend, we meet again. I have thought of you often.”

                But not today. I shall not die today. I have writing to do, and I am not ready to pen “The End” quite yet.



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