Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Alan Bligh


My friend Alan died tonight.

Better posts than mine will come. They’ll be more detailed, more insightful, and with the benefit of time to take a finer form. I had to get this down, get it from skull to fingertips to screen, in the brief but merciful expanse of numbness between emotional poles. Right after I heard the news I went to speak with the others that had known about his illness for a while, only to find I had an hour of missed messages from them trying to contact me, to tell me he’d died.

I’d known for a while that he was sick, and then a few of us learned recently, privately, that he was much, much sicker than we’d all thought. The words “weeks to months left” were given out, and I clung to those words the way my five-year-old son Shakes clings to all of my “In five minutes, buddy…” delaying tactics. I held them to the same sacred standard of absolution, when really they’re expressions of timeless vagueness.

Ultimately, it leaned heavily on the side of Days and Weeks, not so much in the Months corner.

Alan was one of my closest friends. He was much smarter than me, without ever making me feel shitty about it. He drank more tea than any other human being I’ve ever met. He often read my work before it hit print, suggesting X, saying he liked Y. He smuggled me out WIPs of his own. I first read the text for two Space Marine Legions in Microsoft Word, f’rex, with Alan’s typos still baked into the text. He sent the kids book vouchers at Christmas. Our various channels of communication were filled with 40K lore talk more than anything else, which is practically a given if you’re a good friend of mine, though there was a significant amount of him telling me to stop putting it off every year and write some non-40K stuff, and there was a roughly equal amount of lamenting and laughing about life’s ups, downs, zigs, and zags. Nothing unexpected. Nothing unusual.

When I was at my most furious and least reasonable with the tick-tocking madness of Games Workshop behind the scenes (during the Dark Times a few years ago), it was almost always Alan that would calm me down. That was Alan in a nutshell. Insert vexation; receive wisdom.

He’d say things like “This too shall pass”. He said that one often enough that those who knew him would quote it in doing impressions of him. Alan always said it with the knowing smile of a man that knew. And he was always right. They always did.

As Alan was dying in England, I was here in N. Ireland, inking an Ophidian Archway. Given how often he teased me for not painting enough, I suspect that would’ve amused him immensely. As glad as I am at the cold comfort of coincidence, I would much rather have been at his side.

My flight to see him was tomorrow morning. We’d heard from the ward nurse that he wasn’t up to visitors this weekend, so earlier this afternoon I’d changed my flight to next weekend instead. All useless, all pointless. He died tonight.

I had so, so much left to say to him. There was no doubt a bajillion things he still had left to say to me over the course of X years, but even without that much time left, I was ready with a host of what I wanted to say to him. He was weak and drained, and frankly I was braced for him to just lie there in his bed and look despairingly at me, hoping I’d shut up, while I talked and talked and cried and talked.

Everything I wanted to say is meaningless now. I can tell him none of it. It will evaporate over time, occasionally forming chunks of conversations that I have with his other close friends, occasionally surfacing as regret wreckage in the oceans of 2am melancholy that seem intrinsic to the human condition.

Earlier this week, Shakes caught me crying. He looked awkward, worried I was upset because he’d done something wrong. When I told him the reason, he said “Your friend might not die if they find a way to make him better.”  

I hugged him hard, too hard, and sent him back outside into the sunshine. In my office, the pressure of emotion inside my skull was beyond crying. I had to shout into my cupped hands just to discharge it, just to get it out of my head.

I’ve done that more than once this week. My head space was a compass. North was an inability to think about it at all; it was too much, too impossible, too much, too much, so for those hours I was perfectly fine since it wasn’t happening. South was a practical and cold look at the truth: He was going to die, so what needed to be done, what times were flights, what needed to be said before there wasn’t a chance to say any more? What would the 40K fandom say? What would Horus Heresy meetings be like (and the email sessions afterwards) without Alan? East was mostly trying and failing to look at it critically, to imagine what other people in the know were thinking and feeling. I’ve wasted a lot of hours this week being unable to see anything from anyone else’s point of view. West was a place of pathetic but earnest, tear-streaked hope – it was Googling “Terminal cancer survival percentages” and screaming into my hands so the poison wasn’t behind my eyes any more.

Now my friend is dead. My life is poorer for it, but immeasurably richer for what he brought to it. From the confidence and wisdom he gave me, to the fucking way he’d say “The perfidious Elllldaaaaaarrrr” which has stuck in my head for years now, unable to be shaken.

I once brought my fear to him that I wasn’t a worthy successor to Andy Chambers and co.; that the Codex Imperialis of 2nd Edition 40K was never going to be surpassed, but that I wanted to at least equal it. I thought his Badab War books for Forge World were on the same level as the old greats. I meant that, wholeheartedly. He could see that I meant it.

He looked me dead in the eyes and said “You worry about the strangest things.” He then gave me a look, the look he always gave me when I was charging up some ill-advised path but there was time yet for a Blighian scowl to make me rethink things. I sipped my gross tea and realised why he – an avid tea-drinker, hadn’t got any here himself. He’d known it was gross.

I miss him dearly already, with the insane selfishness of being caged by my own feelings.

I’m in pieces. I am in pieces. I miss my friend.

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 61 Comments