From The Art of Michael Whelan:
"All the concepts I submitted for the 1982 Year's Best Horror Stories cover were strong. If I had tried to guess which one would be chosen, the one that became this painting would have been my last guess. But Don Wollheim saw the possibilities in the concept better than I did and selected it to develop for the cover.
For an allegory on the use of opium and its derivatives, specifically heroin, I posed the Angel of Death amid a field of poppies, offering a false mask of friendship. He is accompanied by diverse symbols and various accoutrements of the drug user. He wears on his head a single wing, representing false freedom of thought and the illusion of flight, and he wears a crown of Destroying Angel mushrooms. The tree is meant to suggest the dendritic branching of blood vessels, but it is withered. And the background consists of a purple haze--a reference to the reason I got to ruminating on the whole subject to begin with, the death of Jimi Hendrix."