This text was written and first read by Martin O’Brien for his performance An Ambulance to the Future (The Second Chance) on 18 May 2023.

Listen to the audio of this performance here:

Content Warning
Please note that this text and audio contains sexual content, BDSM practices and a discussion of death.


A Study in the Land of Greyness and Solitude (2023)

Eternity wasn’t supposed to feel like this. It wasn’t as he’d expected. It wasn’t as he’d been promised. He wondered an ashen wasteland, wondering if death would have been preferable to this.

The story starts some years earlier. There was a young boy. He was obsessed with death. He thinks of nothing but it. He listens on repeat to Freddie Mercury singing ‘who wants to live forever? I do’ and he thinks, me too! As he grows, his obsession continues. He wanted to know everything about death. But he was terrified of it. He was unsure if there was such things as an afterlife and he didn’t want to take the chance. He loved the feeling of breathing and wanted to be able to do this for all eternity.

He visited Mexico for the Day of the Dead Festival, he hanged around in cemeteries, he listened to ghost stories but never sees one himself. He got as close as he can to death. Know thy enemy! He trained to become a pathologist. Cutting away at the flesh of corpses, figuring out how they died. He would be called to crime scenes to investigate. He was very good at his job. He was never shocked by the idea of a dead body. He enjoyed their company in fact. He felt no desire towards the living at all.  He never took a sexual partner and many people gossiped that he was attracted to the corpses he worked with. This was not strictly true, although on dark nights alone in the morgue with the bodies, he did feel something, a form of longing and desire would come over him, but it would pass quickly. He never attempted anything of a sexual nature with the corpses but he did come close several times. This strange feeling of desire would come and go several times a week. It seemed more complex than simply the desire for the rotting flesh of dead humans though.

His first love in life was the Greenland shark. He read about them constantly. He watched documentaries on them and went on boat trips to try and see them. They live alone in the darkest, coldest waters on earth and live for over 400 years. They move slowly along the seabed sniffing for corpses to devour. The man envied their longevity and their solitude. He wanted to be a Greenland shark and live for hundreds of years. He wanted to feel time passing slowly and not have to worry about mortality. He saved his money for years and years, never going on holidays, never spending irrationally. Buying used clothes and cheap food only. Then one day, he had saved enough! No more saving was needed. Whilst others had saved for a mortgage, he had, over twenty years of work, put together enough money to pay for cryonic preservation. He would now be able to die in peace knowing that one day he would return.

He imagined that his death would trigger a whole series of practical exercises to prepare his corpse for resurrection. A group of people would arrive and begin to work on his corpse.

His body is to be injected with herapin and given cardio pulmonary support, and cooled on ice by a funeral director. His body will be kept on ice and transported by plane to a Cryonics centre. At the centre, a process called perfusion takes place: all blood is removed from his body and cryoprotectant agents are to be added in its place.

His body will be taken on a board, inside an insulation pouch, to a cooling unit. Inside this cooling unit, he will be cooled over a period of five and a half days to -196c. His body will then be moved to the long term storage unit. His body will be lowered into a cryostat, filled with liquid nitrogen. This is a process called cryonic preservation. In short, the suspension of a corpse in liquid nitrogen to prevent decay, in the hope that one day, the technology will exist to bring someone back to life. The overall cost for this whole process is approximately £152,877.38, with an additional annual membership fee of £382.19 during life. Money well spent!

As an exhibitionist, he imagined his revival will be televised. People will be able to witness the moment of first breath. People will witness as he opens his eyes. People will witness as he looks around as a zombie. He will learn what year it is. He will learn that all his loved ones and friends are already dead. He will return to an empty house but will not know the neighbours. He will visit the town where he was born, and the house he grew up in. He will tell people what it is like to die. He will watch the video of his own death. He will ask if he is still sick, or has that been cured by now? He will walk in the streets again. He will try to find love again. He will visit the graves of everyone he has ever known. He will marvel at new technologies. he will build a new life. He will philosophise about life and death, having experienced both. Eventually he will die again. He will go through this entire process again until eventually he is ready for death. 400 years he wants, like the Greenland shark.

One night the man was in the morgue. He was working late to finish the examination of a body. He had been suffering chest pains and difficulty breathing for several days and this feeling intensified. The air felt heavy and he began to choke. He grasped at his chest and fell to his knees. And had the overwhelming feeling he was about to die. The lights in the room began to flash and he heard a huge clap of thunder. The bulbs began to explode and he was plunged into darkness. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, a strange uncanny figure was stood in the room with him.

‘Hello?’ the man said. He was met with silence. The figure stood in the doorway. It was not possible to see its face. It had a magnificent black gown and hood. It was tall and stood facing the man, who was still on his knees. Two eyes could be seen glowing red in the darkness. A silence that felt like hours passed as the man looked upon the figure. Then the silence was broken by the words ‘your time has come’ emanating from the darkness of the figure. For this figure was death itself. The Grim Reaper. With this, Death moved towards the man. It passed through a pool of moonlight and the man was able to see the face of death. A skull shined and sparkled. It’s hands, bereft of skin and muscle, white bones clutching a scythe. Seeing this, the feeling of desire he had felt many times before came upon the man. ‘Wait’ he said. ‘I’m not ready. It’s not my time.’ Death continued moving towards him. ‘Please’ he pleaded. ‘I want to live forever. I want to remain like you until the end of time’. ‘Your begging means nothing to me. I have taken billions of bodies over time. You are no different. Beg all you like. I will strike you down. You are mortal. This is life. One day, I will strike your family down too, and they will also beg. It will make no difference. Your life is over. You will soon be gone.’ With this, Death raises it’s scythe in the air. ‘Please’ the man cries ‘I will do anything. Surely there is something I can do. I want to live forever. I want to exist for all eternity. I want to never die.’

Death stops as the man cowers and covers his face. Instead of striking, Death lowers its great weapon and places the handle on the ground. ‘There is one thing, mortal, but it will not be pleasant’ ‘anything’. Death stopped and looked at the man. ‘I have watched many mortal animals experience the joy of sexual pleasure, but I have never experienced it for myself. If you agree to give me your body and allow me to use it for my own will, then I will grant you the gift of eternal life’. The man stopped, to fuck death. The idea aroused him. He agreed. The grim reaper stood there, finally the man saw him fully. His skeletal form sparkled in the moonlight and nothing else existed. This was the deal. Death reached out and wrapped its cold, bone hand around the man’s skull. He was lost in the darkness of the cape. The grim reaper drew him near and kissed him. He tasted like death, and the man loved it.

Death was no longer visible. Is this it? The man thought. Then he felt a sensation he had never felt before. The grim reaper might not be visible, but he was present. The man became freezing cold, and his lips turned blue. He began panting for air. The man understood that Death had penetrated him and was in him. The man felt as though he was being strangled. He could feel the hands of Death around his throat, choking him. At the same time, he could feel a ghostly presence inside his body, wiggling, moving. This wasn’t sex as he anticipated it to be. He was filled with the most extreme pain he had ever felt, as if his internal organs were all on fire. The man grasped his chest and fell to the floor. He moaned in a mixture of agony and ecstasy. He felt he was being fucked to death by Death itself. This went on for some hours and then suddenly stopped. There was a silence for a minute or two. The man was able to breathe again. And then he heard the voice of Death ‘you are now cursed to live forever. You have your wish. You are no longer mortal. You will not die, under any circumstance. You will still feel pain, you will still feel pleasure, you make contract diseases, but nothing will destroy you. No fire or water, no machine or weapon, no disease or animal. You are immortal and will walk this plain for all eternity. You will truly know what time means. After all your friends are dead, you shall still live. After the world is in ruin, you shall still live. There is no way to reverse this. You are and always shall be.’ Then silence again. Death had left. The man stood and looked around. The corpse he had been examining still lay on the gurney. He moved the body back into the refrigerator and fell asleep out of pure exhaustion in the place where it had just laid.

The morning sun beamed through the morgue windows at 7am the next day. The man’s co-workers arrived to find him asleep on the gurney, amongst the corpse juices. They woke him ‘are you ok, you look like death?’ ‘I had the strangest night.’ The day passed normally. As did the next, and the next, and the next. His life remained the same for the next few years in fact. No strange encounters with ghosts or anything like that. His desire towards the corpses he worked on had passed and he was able to fully focus on his important and enjoyable work. He took up risky hobbies. Sky diving, swimming with sharks, horse riding, surfing, mountain climbing. He tried it all. If there was a risk of death, he did it. He threw himself fully into his new immortal life, but in the back of his head he wondered ‘was it real? Did it happen? Am I actually immortal?’ He told no one of his encounter, who would believe him anyway? His hobbies became more and more risky, and he trained as a stunt man. He left his job that he loved so much, working with the corpses and moved to Hollywood, where he soon became the most popular stuntman around, due to his delight at performing more and more elaborate, death-defying stunts. He was set on fire, he fell from great heights, he crashed cars, and detonated explosives.

One day, he was to perform a particularly dangerous stunt in the ocean. He was to fall from a tall ship into the waters. On this day, the wind was blowing hard, and the water was rough. The shoot was going to be called off, but the man insisted he was able to do it. He felt invincible, after all he was immortal. So, the shoot went ahead. A famous actor, who was also a scientologist performed the lead role. In this scene he stabbed the villain in the chest and the villain was to fall to his death. This is where the man came in. So, the scene was shot and reshot with the actors, and then, once more with the stunt man. The man stood on the edge of the boat, the fake knife was thrust at his chest, and he fell backwards off the boat. Taking his immortality for granted, he did not follow all his training and he hit his head on the way down. He was knocked unconscious as he fell into the water. Blood oozed into the waves and, the powerful tide quickly enveloped him and washed him far from the boat. Was he consumed by the waves? Did he die at the hands of the ocean? No is the answer. He floated for days, coming in and out of consciousness the entire time, screaming out, as new-born babies tend to do. The man tried to swim when he was awake but was tossed around by the waves. He spent long periods of time under water, breathing in the liquid. But he did not die. In fact, it did not seem to cause any damage whatsoever. The man went weeks without food, constantly having the sensation of drowning but never succumbing to it. It was like hell. Is this what eternal life means? The constant feeling of death, without an end point?

He spent months being washed around the ocean, crying out for help. No land in sight. Wishing Death would come and take him. ‘Death, please. Come. Save me. Take me. Let me die.’ But Death did not answer his call. It did not come; it did not respond. Was he to spend eternity as a drowning man? The feeling of breathing that he once loved so much, was now filled with agony. He held his breath as much as possible, for the sensation of breathing was so unbearable. Each intake of breath, he drowned again.

At some point he found himself in the freezing waters of the arctic. Barely conscious, under the water, under the ice, he was pushed slowly by a calm tide. His eyes and mouth constantly open. He had become accustomed to the sensation of drowning. As he floated along, he glanced below him to see a Greenland shark passing under him. The beast moved slowly, but with purpose. Mostly blind, due to parasites feeding on its eyeballs, it sniffs the seabed for prey. The man felt awe, the closest he had ever been to his most beloved species. The closest he had ever been to being a Greenland shark. He instantly understood the darkness and solitude. He understood time, and he understood immortality. And he did not like it.

It was but a few days later that the man finally washed up on a shore. After several months at sea, he returned to land. Barely able to walk or speak. Feeling more fish than human. He lay gasping for air on the beach. The feeling that he loved so much, of breathing, returned. Without water, he was able to fill his lungs with oxygen. He was found lying in the sand some hours later and taken immediately to hospital. He was kept hooked up to machines as they tried to drain the water from his lungs. The doctors could not understand how he was still alive. His story of survival hit the headlines and was soon turned into a Hollywood movie by the same company he had been working for when he hit his head. The part of the man was played by the same scientologist actor that the man had been stunting for. The man became famous all over the world. Headlines called him ‘unkillable’ and ‘immortal’. They said he was ‘lucky to be alive’ but he did not feel it. He made millions of pounds from selling his story, and from a lawsuit against the film company. He was richer than he ever imagined and moved back home into a huge mansion.

The man was in hospital for several months, and when he was released, the whole experience scared him. He was no longer the risk taker he had once been. Immortality seemed to be more a curse than a gift. The promise of an end to suffering was no longer possible. So, he became risk averse. He would not engage in any activity, even with the smallest amount of risk. As he was rich, he did not need to. He had people to cook for him, he would not risk being burned by water. He had people to clean and to cut his food up. The swimming pool in his mansion was drained of all water. He wore protective clothing everywhere he went. To the outside, it seemed he feared death. But no, for him, he feared a life of suffering. To engage with danger without the potential of death is to embrace pain as a way of life. He had experienced this, and he did not want to again.

Many years passed by and the man continued to live. He watched his friends and family grow old and die. He made new friends, who he also watched die. He lived many lives. He lived in his mansion. Many friends commented over the years that he didn’t seem to age, and people that didn’t know him presumed that it was now his son living in the mansion. He saw many generations come and go. He lived for hundreds of years. He retired many times from different jobs and trained anew in something different. His fascination with death continued and he often worked in death related fields: hospitals, hospices, morgues, undertakers, cemeteries. He thought about his life as a series of different lives. Each with their own job and friendship group. He tried to demarcate time in this way. The idea of eternity was too much to think through. It was almost unbearable to attempt. Each time his friendship group died, the man thought about his life as starting afresh.

The man reached a childhood goal, he survived the lifespan of a Greenland shark. He surpassed 400 years old. Officially the oldest person in the world, but many thought he had a fake passport. Others brought up the famed stuntman of over 300 years earlier and rumours amongst conspiracy groups spread that he was that very same stuntman. A strange cult formed around the man. Groups of followers flocked to see him, they camped outside his mansion and asked for advice on how to live as long as the Greenland shark. He found new motivation in his 400th year, with followers beginning to gather around him. He enjoyed the idea of being able to tell the truth to these people. They listened to his every word.

Unlike other cult leaders though, the man was not interested in having sex with the young followers, nor was he interested in making more money from them. He simply wanted to tell his story. He spoke of that dreadful night of passion with Death, the only sexual encounter of his long long life. He spoke of his many ‘lives’, his jobs, his hobbies, and his amazing escapes from the jaws of death. He spoke at length about the Greenland shark and its abject beauty. Its slow movement through the cold cold waters, and its incredible longevity. He enjoyed his life as a cult leader for several years, but he did not have the desire to find new and complex ways of keeping his followers. Most drifted to find other spiritual pursuits and he was eventually alone again.

Over the years, the man saw many catastrophes come and go. He saw earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, viruses, and the effects of global warming. So, when a new virus arrived and threatened to create chaos, he thought very little of it. As everyone in the world went into lockdowns, the man wondered the empty streets, unafraid of the effects of the illness. He pondered if this was almost a rehearsal for when he would be the last living human. Little did he know, this was to be closer than he expected. The scientists began to understand the effects of this strange new virus. A lung based disease that made people over produce mucus. It meant the world was thrown into coughing fits. The illness did not seem to kill people though, just make them cough and produce very thick, green phlegm. People stayed at home spending hours coughing up the thick viscous. They would spit it into their toilets and into their sinks, washing it down with water and a flush. Millions of blobs of phlegm were flushed away each day. This mucus was extremely thick and began sticking to the inside of sewers.

As the months passed by, mucus began to build up in the drains of towns and cities. Blobs would stick together to create larger blobs, and slither along in the wet sewers to join other blobs. Collections of mucus the size of humans began to form in different places. These bulbus carriers of bacteria moved slowly, as if they had brains, finding others and joining. Eventually a large phlegmburg has formed in the sewers, and it moved along sucking and picking up anything laying in its way: mucus, shit, wet wipes, dead rats. The phlegmburg became so huge that is completely blocked the sewer. There was no space for anything to pass by. People’s toilets and sinks started blocking up, and as people peered into their drains, they could see glints of violent green mucus pushing upwards.

The government decided they needed to do something about this, they sent people down with water cannons to try and destroy the phlegmburg. Those poor souls, and their water cannon, were never seen again. They tried fire too, blasting it into the sewers, but this had little to no effect. The phlegmburg was so large now, it was pressing against the ceiling of the sewer. No one could use their toilets, so a huge pit was dug on the outskirts of town, where people would dispose of their waste. Some would arrive and hang their naked arses over the edge, letting the shit fall down. Others would do their business at home in buckets and take it to dump out.

The man was taking a walk through the city. The smell in the streets had become so vile, most were not leaving their homes. On this walk though, he saw the single most incredible image of his 400 years of life. The ground below him began to split. The road was being torn apart from below. Bursting out from underneath was a mountain of solidified mucus. The phlegmburg broke through the streets and pavements, the groundfloor of flats, people’s houses, office block. Now 200ft long, as it had been held in the sewer like meat in a sausage skin. With this burst through into the city though, the phlegmburg grew upwards, like a mighty mountain it stood tall above the highest building in the city.

Pandemonium hit. People ran for cover, and the phlegmburg moved slowly forward, destroying everything in front of it. Pavements ripped in half; buildings collapsed. Rubble stuck to the mucus, adding to the phlegmburg. People who could not get out of the way were dragged into the phlegmburg. And it continued moving. Nothing was safe. Trees fell and mountains crumbled. An aeroplane stuck to the top of the phlegmburg, before sinking deep into the core. People thought they may be able to escape this viscous mass as it moved slowly. But the diseases it carried were so extreme, people could not survive in this toxic environment for long. Corpses were strewn across the wasteland that was once our planet.

The man watched everything. He watched as people dropped dead, as they were sucked into the monstrous green form and became part of the problem. The army could do nothing, the fire brigade was useless against it. The government decided nuclear weapons was the only way. They dropped a bomb into the phlegmburg. This too was a pathetic attempt to stop it. The bomb was swallowed by the blob and the explosion created nothing more than a slight rumble of its edges. This was the last chance. The world crumbled at the might of the phlegmburg. People starved; others died from the toxic air.

Nothing remained, no nature. Nothing. The ocean had become mixed into the viscous of the phlegmburg, which was now the size of Ireland. The only remaining living thing was the man. He followed the phlegmburg. He watched the phlegmburg. He photographed its many sides. He accompanied it on its journey, studying it. There was nothing to eat or drink and he felt extreme hunger and thirst constantly. From time to time, he would find a mucus covered can of coca cola to sip from. Despite being completely malnourished, he could not die. He watched as the earth fell to ruin. At one point, as he gazed upon the phlegmburg, he noticed, peering out, the eye of a Greenland shark. Dead parasites attached to it. He wondered what the Greenland shark was thinking about as, unable to see, it was sucked into this great viscous. The phlegmburg took everything of beauty. The world was now a grey, ashen land. The man thought about plunging himself into the phlegmburg, but he knew it would not kill him. Instead, he would spend eternity drowning in mucus. So, he watched, he walked, and he continued to live. Like all things on earth, the phlegmburg did not last forever. In fact, it lasted merely a decade in its viscous form. It began to melt and fall apart. The largest section solidified into a mountain range. Other parts of it became lakes of toxic green water. Corpses were left strewn around. There was nothing. The man was alone.

Death was everywhere. The man no longer had anything to do or see. No beauty, the skies were always grey. The sun never broke through the clouds of ash. The ground was cold and burned his feet when he walked. Some insects had started thriving in the conditions, and soon parasites began to feed on his eyeballs. He moved slowly through the ashen wasteland. He continued moving with nowhere to go and nothing to do. One day, he cried out. He heard his own husky voice for the first time in almost 100 years. ‘Death, Death, please. I made a mistake. Make this end.’ To his surprise, Death appeared to him one more time. That same figure from 500 or so years ago in the morgue stood before him again. ‘There is no way out. You begged me for immortality. This is what eternity looks like. This is how it shall be. You shall be forever. There is no end.’ With that Death vanished and was never to be seen again.

As years passed, the man was barely still human. Parasites had eaten his eyes, and most of his skin had peeled off. He was unable to see, he could move very slowly. He shuffled along the cold ground, feeling every moment. He understood time. He understood life and death. He understood the way of the Greenland shark. His dreams had come true, but eternity was not what he expected it to be.