Extras: The Definitive End
Extras are bonus content supplementing the work in our issues. Matthew Scott here elaborates on the inspiration for Shooting Star (Issue 19), and the uncertainty that is a 'fundamental brick in the human condition'.
In my story ‘Shooting Star’, the characters talk about ‘the day’—the steadily approaching closing to all proceedings, when a large chunk of rock will extinguish all life on the planet in quick succession.
I didn’t think about the approaching asteroid in the sense of films like Deep Impact or Moonfall, wherein a celestial body brushing up against the Earth results in a blockbuster sequence of events as world landmarks fall like houses of cards and our heroes are able to survive by climbing something big. Instead, ‘the day’ is the definitive end.
It’s that moment of an image shrinking into nothingness when you switch off an old TV.
It’s a song fading out on the radio: only this time, there will be no disc jockey’s voice to paper over the cracks before your next life begins.
I thought about ‘the day’ because like most people I am simultaneously wowed and terrified by the fact that we all have our own ‘day’ coming up. Unlike the characters in my story, we don’t know when it will be.
That’s what makes it bearable.
Not knowing if we have a week or a half-century to go before the curtains close gives life a unique essence of uncertainty. It’s a fundamental brick in the human condition. If you pull that out, I’m not quite sure what happens.
In the Tim Burton film Big Fish, there’s a scene where a group of kids approach a creepy old manor on the outskirts of their Louisiana town. A witch lives there with a magic eye that she hides behind an eyepatch. It’s said if you look into her eye you will see your future demise unfold.
The swamp witch offers the children each a chance to look upon their deaths, and with the kind of dangerous curiosity kids can’t help, they all take her up on it.
Watching as a kid I always wondered if I’d look. It’s a tough gamble—maybe you look in to see yourself dying at an advanced age, surrounded by loved ones, at peace and fulfilled. Or maybe you see some cruel joke of a death waiting for you just around the corner.
I decided eventually that I wouldn’t look. How much of the scaffolding my sense of self is hanging on is made up of my own relationship with my uncertain mortality? Take one Jenga block out and the whole thing might fall.
Some people are forced to deal with this—every day, somebody is given a deadline in a doctor’s office.
I started to wonder what would happen if the entire planet got this kind of diagnosis at the same time. That’s a lot of Jenga towers to all fall at once—I’m sure the sound would be deafening.