Authors: George Pendle
Tags: #Humour, #Fantasy, #Horror
“And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it;
and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.”
who is set to play such a pivotal role in each of our lives, it seems strange that we know so little about Death. A deeply private figure, never interviewed or photographed, Death has been content to let his vast body of work do the talking. Now, for the first time, Death speaks out.
Death: A Life
is a highly personal chronicle that not only provides insights into the upbringing and character of one of our planet’s most interesting and unusual beings, but also sheds a fascinating light on the world in which we die. Up until now the sheer dearth of information on Death has meant that rumors and gossip have long been left to fill the factual void. Sensationalism and prejudice have triumphed; sobriety and accuracy have fallen by the wayside. As such, the Death that has been handed down to us through the generations is a monstrous and unfair confabulation of superstition, hearsay, and deep-seated instinctual fears.
Death has been variously described as the humorless Grim Reaper and the benevolent Father Time; as a destroying angel and a dancing skeleton; as Thanatos, son of Night; and Anubis, son of Ra; but who is he really? Where did he come from? And why does he do the things that he does?
Within these pages such questions will be laid to rest, for in this book, Death finally reveals to us the skin above the skull. He recounts his childhood in the lowest pits of Hell; the mental and physical cruelty he suffered at the hands of his demiurge parents; the insecurity and neurosis that wracked him at the Dawn of Time; his friendships with the great civilizations of antiquity; his enmities with the mythical gods; and his gradual, blithe descent down the shelving beach of curiosity into the deepening sea of addiction.
Readers will find it hard not to be shocked and amazed by the revelation of the “lost weekend” he spent with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or his magnificent but ultimately doomed rebellion against the Grand Scheme of Things, not to mention his wrenching institutionalization at the hands of angelic rivals, and his slow and painful recovery. The unsettling honesty, shocking candor, and mordant humor that characterizes his tale sheds a bright new light on the darkness that lies at the end of our lives.
But why, you may ask, has Death decided to write his book now? Who can fathom the mind of the world’s first truly omniscient narrator, but certain hints are provided throughout this book. First, there is the need to set the record straight, to answer some of his detractors’ taunts, and to correct the narrow-minded bigotry that has grown around his name. Second, there are the undoubted therapeutic benefits to be gained from recanting his travails to an audience. Third, and perhaps most important, is the chance to redress what Death sees as the fundamental misconception of Creation—that it is not Death that should be feared, but rather the dreadful possibilities of Life.
It is hoped that
Death: A Life
will provide not merely an interesting record of one of the world’s most famed personalities but also a constructive perspective to those struggling with similar problems of self-doubt and addiction. It can safely be said that no one has touched more lives, more deeply, than Death. Through this devastating memoir, it is hoped he will touch many, many more.
As for my own role
in bringing Death’s remarkable memoir to light, I can only say that it stems from a long-seated attraction toward the lives of others, undoubtedly prompted by my own unremarkable existence.
Unlike the vast majority of memoirists, I was the recipient of a happy childhood. My parents, it seems, loved me. They fed me, clothed me, and schooled me in precise accord with prevailing morality.
My dealings with my relatives were equally avuncular. I feared none of their visits and even under hypnosis could not manage to unearth a single false memory of abuse at their hands. I slept soundly at night and did not wet the sheets.
As I grew into my teens I became an outgoing child, not insular in the slightest. I did not pull the wings off flies or cut myself with broken glass. I found existentialism dull, and the works of Edvard Munch gloomy. I performed well at school, if avoiding scholarly distinction, and neglected to become addicted to alcohol, drugs, or even masturbation.
My summer jobs did not consist of turning tricks as a truck-stop prostitute or being the experimental subject of a disbarred doctor of medicine. My friends, of whom I had many, often remarked on my well-balanced character and all-round reliability, and my girlfriends were neither members of occultist groups, nor addicts of crack cocaine.
As I grew I discovered a singular lack of skeletons in the familial closet. Everything was exactly as I thought it was. By the time I entered adult life I could class myself as fit, happy, content, untroubled, and willfully ignorant of the many troubles that can befall humankind.
Ironically, however, I longed to write about myself. I yearned to put the real “me” down on paper for the world to see. But who would read such a memoir of contentment? By the time I realized my calling, it was too late for me to endure a terrible upbringing, too late to be scarred by childhood abuse. I knew that no one was looked down upon more in memoirist circles than the wrist-cutting arriviste. A certain pedigree of mistreatment was demanded—sustained, brutal, and given by those who should have loved one most. Here, as within the aristocracy, one’s family was all important.
Yet my wish to be a memoir writer did not dim. Of course, it was too late for me, but with so much suffering in the world, why couldn’t I live vicariously through another’s misery? So I placed advertisements in newspapers and magazines, calling on people with stories of personal tragedy to come forward. Together, I explained, we could transmute their leaden suffering into bestselling gold.
I was immediately contacted by a forty-five-year-old man who told me a horrifying story that would become my first book,
The only child of experimental psychologists, the subject had been referred to throughout his youth by his case number, and his every move had been studied and recorded. When he had found a wounded pigeon in his garden, his parents had bludgeoned it to death in front of his eyes to gauge his reaction. On Christmas Day, after he had unwrapped his presents, his parents had forced him to take them into the garden and set fire to them. In both cases his response, his parents recorded, was “negative.” Case 463/E>9 told me that his terrible upbringing had led him to loathe the laughter and happiness of children, a crippling phobia that he finally learned to manage by becoming the successful headmaster of a prestigious boarding school. The ensuing book was a minor bestseller and was excerpted in the
New York Review of Books
With that the floodgates opened, and I was subsumed under a tidal wave of other people’s misery. I became expert at mixing the horrific detail of tortures suffered with touching recollections of lost innocence, and for many of my subjects, my house became a home away from broken home.
So good was I at my job that, with each new commission, I felt that I was understanding my subjects’ suffering somewhat better than they were themselves. Each inappropriate medical treatment, double-murder orphaning, and unjust consignment to a lunatic asylum was like a dagger through my own, unbroken heart. Soon I developed a tolerance for man’s inhumanity to man. My subjects’ stories began to seem pedestrian and formulaic. A childhood abduction by religious fundamentalists barely raised a shiver. A single mother’s drunken alcoholism and descent into prostitution left me yawning. I was suffering from a trauma glut.
I was thinking of packing it all in and returning to my university thesis topic—a study of the similarities of the even-numbered presidents of the United States—when I was awoken late one night by a strange telephone call. It began in silence before a voice that was barely there at all spoke my name, referred to one of my advertisements, and said he wanted to tell his story.
The man’s voice was so peculiar that I thought he must be a foreigner. This boded well. Tales of cold Slavic upbringings or African child-soldiering inevitably led to the subjects finding their way to a Western metropolis and a good, uplifting, profitable ending. But as I gazed at the magnificent statue I had recently installed in my bedroom of an unconscious Thomas De Quincey, I sensed there was something about this voice on the telephone that seemed to have greater depths of sorrow behind it than even the Albanian white slave trade could offer. I agreed to meet my subject the following week.
I was somewhat disappointed, upon arriving at the designated address, to find myself at a run-down apartment block located in one of the less salubrious areas of the city. This would seem to preclude any hope of a happy ending. But already I began fitting this story into one of my many formulas—“A Promising Life Ruined” perhaps, with a dash of “Survival Is the Greatest Achievement” tacked onto the end.
Picking my way around the overturned shopping carts and broken glass, I took a urine-scented elevator to the thirteenth floor. I was just about to knock on apartment number 66F when the door swung open as if of its own accord. I edged inside.
“Sit down,” I was told.
The voice seemed to come from the far corner of the room, which, despite all the lights being on and the sunlight streaming through the south-facing windows, was draped in a funereal darkness. Throughout our subsequent talk, no matter how hard I squinted, I could barely make out a distinct shape.
“I want you to tell my story,” said the voice. This was promising. It usually took hours of cajoling and sympathy for my subjects to open up. “For centuries I’ve been mistreated, abused, had tales told about me that are quite untrue. Now I want to set the record straight.”