Like most of my generation I am unfamiliar with death. As a Baby Boomer I was born after the two global conflicts that defined the last century and the seminal generation-defining wars that followed: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the war without end that is the relentless suffering in the Middle East. My only experience of death has been limited to family bereavements; that and the baffling loss of a boy from my class at school when I was thirteen. I was unable to understand then how anyone could die at such a young age, having lived so little. I think of him often, wondering what his life might have been like compared to mine. Somewhere in another time-line is the woman he might have married, the children that might have been his. Are they ghosts, or something even less substantial, the ghosts of ghosts, perhaps?
For my two cousins it was a different story. Death stalked their wives as if pursuing a personal grudge, taking one in childbirth at the obscenely low age of 21, and the other not many years later through multiple cancers at 28. My granddad died when I was 34. All I can remember now is a funeral under skies so grey it seemed impossible they would ever be blue again, preceded by countless Sunday morning trips to an equally drab nursing home. I lost my parents within six months of each other, my father to renal failure, pneumonia and dementia; my mother to the shock of losing the man she had been married to for 49 years. This is my death tally, my ledger of bereavement, the names I would have no trouble recognizing in the Book of the Dead. The only book that never goes out of print.
Never let anyone tell you that death is the last great taboo. We are every bit as obsessed as the Egyptians were. It’s just that our monuments are different and less conspicuous. Death infests our magazines and books, our TV programmes and our high streets, especially the funeral shops that we conveniently fail to see. Our reference points may be different but the preoccupation is the same: we are all marking time until the bony hand of Death taps us on the shoulder.
My father’s death was the worst of those bereavements, the dementia taking an appalling toll, severing the synapses in his brain, until nothing coherent was left of the man he had once been. In the end I prayed for him to die, for the release it would give us all, my father included. I grew to dread the daily visits to the hospital: in the evenings during the week, and during the day for seven or eight hours at a stretch at the weekends, a son visiting a father who no longer recognised him. Incoherent and incontinent, my father was by turns aggressive and indifferent to the presence of others. Worst of all were the journeys we made to the patient toilet, two or three of us escorting my father to the cubicle, lifting him on and off the seat, changing the incontinence pad, and then the stumbling journey back again.
At the end of each visit I wanted to run from that place and never go back. But I did go back. All the while knowing that the real victim in all of this was not my father but the woman he’d been married to for almost half a century.
If that is what lies in wait for me, I shall choose a different means of departure, a different way of entering my name in the ledger. I shall not go gently into my final terminal night, into the bottomless chasm that reclaims us all no matter how hard we struggle. Even if we keep our memories with us right to the end.
Letters from an Astronaut is a collection of messages sent home by an interplanetary traveller on a journey through the solar system.
Mark also co-authored and co-edited the biography Arthur C. Clarke – A Life Remembered.
In 2014 he won the Sir Patrick Moore Medal for services to the British Interplanetary Society where he founded and edited the e-magazine, Odyssey, for two and a half years.
Mark’s website includes full details on his short stories:
He can be followed on Twitter @pendragonmist
And on Facebook at:
Mark now lives in the Surrey/Sussex hills; members of his non-human family include rabbits, horses, foxes and hedgehogs.
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
Visit the STORGY SHOP here…
of EXIT EARTH here…
Unlike many other Arts & Entertainment Magazines, STORGY is not Arts Council funded or subsidised by external grants or contributions. The content we provide takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce, and relies on the talented authors we publish and the dedication of a devoted team of staff writers. If you enjoy reading our Magazine, help to secure our future and enable us to continue publishing the words of our writers. Please make a donation or subscribe to STORGY Magazine with a monthly fee of your choice. Your support, as always, continues to inspire.