The Book of Skulls

Free The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

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Authors: Robert Silverberg
Tags: Fiction
metaphysical. You say you don’t understand, and you shrug, and you step back and laugh. Why do you want to be a zombie, Timothy? Why do you want to disconnect yourself?”
    “He can’t help it, Eli,” I said. “He was bred to be a gentleman. He’s disconnected by definition.”
    “Oh, fuck you,” Timothy said, in his most gentlemanly way. “What do you know, either of you? And what am I doing here? Dragged halfway across the Western Hemisphere by a Jew and a queer to check out a thousand-year-old fairy tale!”
    I made a little curtsy. “Hey, well done, Timothy! The mark of the true gentleman: he never gives offense unintentionally.”
    “You asked it,” said Eli, “so you answer it. What
are
you doing here?”
    “And don’t blame me for dragging you here,” I said. “This is Eli’s trip. I’m as skeptical as you are, maybe even more so.”
    Timothy snorted. I think he felt outnumbered. He said, very quietly, “I just came along for the ride.”
    “For the ride! For the ride!” Eli.
    “You asked me to come. What the crap, you needed four guys, you said, and I had nothing better to do for Easter. My buddies. My pals. I said I’d go. My car, my money. I can play along with a gag. Margo’s into astrology, you know, it’s Libra this and Pisces that, and Mars transits the solar tenth house, and Saturn’s on the cusp, and she won’t fuck without first checking the stars, which can sometimes be quite inconvenient. And do I make fun of her? Do I laugh at her the way her father does?”
    “Only inside,” Eli said.
    “That’s my business. I accept what I can accept, and I have no use for the rest. But I’m good-hearted about it. I tolerate her witch doctors. I tolerate yours, too, Eli. That’s another mark of the gentleman, Ned: he’s amiable, he doesn’t proselytize, he never pushes his thing at the expense of someone else’s thing.”
    “He doesn’t have to,” I said.
    “He doesn’t have to, no. All right: I’m here, yes? I’m paying for this room, yes? I’m cooperating 400 percent. Must I be a True Believer, too? Must I get your religion?”
    “What will you do,” Eli said, “when we’re actually in the skullhouse and the Keepers are offering us the Trial? Will you still be a skeptic then? Will your habit of not believing be such a hassle for you that you won’t be able to surrender?”
    “I’ll evaluate that,” Timothy answered slowly, “when I have something to base my evaluation on.” Suddenly he turned to Oliver. “You’ve been pretty quiet, All-American.”
    “What do you want me to say?” Oliver asked. His long lean body stretched out in front of the television set. Every muscle outlined against his skin: a walking anatomy textbook. His lengthy pink apparatus, drooping out of a golden forest, inspiring me with improper thoughts.
Retro me, Sathanas.
This way lies Gomorrah, if not Sodom.
    “Don’t you have anything to contribute to the discussion?”
    “I really wasn’t paying close attention.”
    “We were talking about this trip. The Book of Skulls and the degree of faith we have in it,” said Timothy.
    “I see.”
    “Would you care to make a profession of belief, Dr. Marshall?”
    Oliver seemed to be midway in a journey to another galaxy. He said, “I give Eli the benefit of the doubt.”
    “You believe in the Skulls, then?” Timothy asked.
    “I believe.”
    “Although we know the whole thing’s absurd?”
    “Yes,” said Oliver. “Even though it’s absurd.”
    “That was Tertullian’s position, too,” Eli put in. “
Credo quia absurdum est.
I believe because it’s absurd. A different context of belief, of course, but the psychology’s right.”
    “Yes, yes, my position exactly!” I said. “I believe because it’s absurd. Good old Tertullian. He says precisely what I feel. My position exactly.”
    “Not mine.” Oliver.
    “No?” Eli asked.
    Oliver said, “No. I believe
despite
the absurdity.”
    “Why?” Eli said.
    “Why, Oliver?” I

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