As I continue to grind my way through my 30’s, I’ve become increasing obsessive about mortality. Intellectually, I always knew the final dirt nap was going to happen one day. But I never really grasped it on an emotionally visceral level until a few years ago. Usually it takes a doctor bandying about words like “polyp,” “biopsy,” and “malignant” to pound that final fact of life into the brains of people who are too busy running through the rat maze to take a look at the big picture. Me? Well, I turned 33, which is as good a time as ever to start worrying about death.
You could call it a mid-life crisis. I preferred not to, because if 33 was mid-life, 66 promised to be an uncomfortably early end. Most people respond to these irritating twinges of fatalism by squeezing out kids in an effort to live forever through their perpetuating DNA. Personally, I never found my DNA to be so terrific that I wanted to start cursing future generations with it. I figure the sooner we can wipe British crooked-teeth out of the gene pool, the sooner we can free all those orthodontists to pursue their true calling in life — torturing small animals in cosmetic testing labs.
So instead of desperately trying to introduce my sperm to an egg in a womb-bound social mixer, I decided to settle down into a rigorous regiment of worry. I’d worry five or six times a day. If I was feeling really ambitious, I’d go all out and worry once an hour every hour. And then I started to worry that all this worrying would poison my system with nasty stress chemicals that would kill me all the quicker.
At night, I’d lie awake at night pondering the great existential questions. How long did I have? Was there enough time to achieve all I wanted to achieve in life? Will Paula Abdul be permitted to return for another season of American Idol?
My deeply-held religious beliefs offered little comfort or guidance in this matter. Orthodox atheism doesn’t have much of a support group going for it. I’d have gone down to the local atheist church and/or temple for solace, but there isn’t one. And if there were, it would be empty.
One question hung over my head like a guillotine blade. How was I going to go out? Every sniffle, every ache became a portent of medical disaster. Every street crossing or car ride, a gruesome road fatality waiting in the wings. I realized that my preferred mode of departure (instant pulverization by an express train while out for a stroll at spry, healthy age of 114) was fairly unlikely. Death likes to surprise you. You never know where, when or how.
Unless, of course, you do. And this knowledge has given me a much more positive outlook on life and the future as a whole.
Because I am immortal.
That’s right. You heard it here first. I am never going to die. Ever.
I got the good news a little over a month ago. It was Hallowe’en night. Hallowe’en is my favourite time of year because it’s full of ghosts and monsters and spookiness, and because I’m morbid in a way that makes the Addams Family look like the Partridge Family. Every year I sit at the door, dishing out candy to kiddies, and then stay up all night watching classic horror movies starring long-dead genre stars. Normally I don’t give much of a crap about kids or candy, but put the two together and you get a brilliant fashion show better than anything you’ll ever see from skinny supermodels on a runway.
I always take careful note of which costumes are the best, and which are the most popular. Harry Potter seems to finally be on the downswing, but Darth Vader is making his strongest comeback since the late 70’s. Batman and Spider-Man duked it out in a giant-sized Marvel/DC crossover. There was no clear winner until late in the evening when it was settled in a spectacular tie. One kid, who couldn’t decide if he wanted to be Batman or Spider-Man, went as both, with a mixed and matched costume and half-and-half makeup. He won.
But the kid I’ll best remember was dressed up as some sort of mauve Grim Reaper. He quietly accepted his candy and began to walk away. Then, as though he had forgotten something quite important, he turned back and looked up at me. In a hurried, rehearsed monotone, he told me this:
“One day you’re gonna go to Parc Safari and a tiger’s gonna eat you and that’s how you die.”
And then he left without another word.
Trick or treat are the usual options offered by the candy beggar brigade. This kid, however, had decided there was a choice C. Trick, treat, or prophecy of doom. I expect he was going door to door, telling people their fortunes. Or misfortunes as the case may be. I doubt it went over very well with a lot of people, who don’t like to be reminded they’re going to die, and especially don’t want to hear about it if it involves a final resting place in a mound of carnivore stool. But I was delighted.
I immediately turned to my wife and announced, “I’m immortal.”
All I have to do is never go to Parc Safari again. Which is fine by me. I went once or twice as a kid, I took a ride on the monkey bus, I saw the bored lions calmly check to see if the windows of my parents’ car were rolled up. Yes, I exploited exotic animals in the name of cheap entertainment and now I’m done. No need to return. Immortality assured.
That is, assuming the kid’s prophecy is on the money. But when is a kid dressed as a mauve Grim Reaper ever wrong? Never in my experience.
And that’s all the reassurance I need to get on with life.
Shane, Shane. You disappoint me. I am surprised that you, a writer, a scripter of ingenious plots, have failed to see how this prophecy will resolve itself. I fear you have already fallen into the first trap: you have dismissed the prophecy as something so unlikely that it can easily be avoided. Now, flushed with confidence, your guard will drop and the prophecy will slip from your mind. Then, at some point already determined by fate, you will follow a trail of circumstances to your inevitable death.
Perhaps one afternoon you meet up with a collaborator on a film project to discuss a script problem you have been wrangling over. Nothing too contentious, to be sure – just something that needs an adjustment due to some cost overruns. You begin your discussion over a pleasant lunch, but it is soon decided that you will need to bring the film’s producer into the frame. Some cellphone calls are made and you agree to meet with the producer at his cottage near Hemmingford. You and your collaborator get into his car and head south.
Now, you haven’t had a lot of contact with the producer. He’s sort of a mysterious fellow. The important thing is he’s the money man. He’s getting the backing for this project together somehow, and, heck, as long as someone’s providing the money who cares where it comes from? It could be the mafia for all you care.
But you should care. It seems that somebody borrowed the money for the venture from some other guy at quite a surprising rate of daily interest. Time and budgets are overrunning. Behind the scenes, fingers have been broken. Somebody doesn’t like the direction this whole deal is heading in. And someone has got to take the fall.
Which brings us to later that day, when, in the fading twilight standing in a grassy field, you begin recognize the place where you have been led. A distant memory stirs – a family outing, summertime, lions outside the car. And from behind, you hear the deep rumbling growl of a hungry tiger…
No one can escape their destiny.
Of course! It’s so simple. It’s just like an episode of Tales from the Darkside.
I guess we’ve proved which one of us should REALLY be writing for television.
It all come down to one thing.
It’s you or the tiger, baby.
There can be only one.