A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day twenty-one – The Skull, by Philip K. Dick.
Read it online here:
Sometimes you are not in the mood for simile and metaphor – not feeling like subtle characterizations or complicated thematic structures – ready to eschew deep symbolism or confusing transcendence…. At times like that you want to read a yarn.
And that’s what I give you today… a yarn. Philip K. Dick has plenty of wild off-kilter stories to tell of alternate universes, alternate histories, or alternate lifestyle – but his plots are rock-solid. That’s why his work, though it never lifted him out of poverty while he was alive – have been made into so many well-known films (Total Recall, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Screamers, Minority Report, Imposter, Paycheck,The Adjustment Bureau… and more).
Here he tells a simple story, embellished with a little time-travel mystery and political comment concerning war-mongering and the McCarthy-era red scare thrown in. It’s one of his earliest works (1952) and one of the handful in the public domain.
He spins his yarn around an unlikely hero moving through time in a crystalline machine and lugging the eponymous body part in a plastic bag.
It’s more than a bit of fun.
The day was warm and bright. Conger’s shoes crunched the melting crust of snow. On he went, through the trees heavy with white. He climbed a hill and strode down the other side, sliding as he went.
He stopped to look around. Everything was silent. There was no one in sight. He brought a thin rod from his waist and turned the handle of it. For a moment nothing happened. Then there was a shimmering in the air.
The crystal cage appeared and settled slowly down. Conger sighed. It was good to see it again. After all, it was his only way back.
He walked up on the ridge. He looked around with some satisfaction, his hands on his hips. Hudson’s field was spread out, all the way to the beginning of town. It was bare and flat, covered with a thin layer of snow.
Here, the Founder would come. Here, he would speak to them. And here the authorities would take him.
Only he would be dead before they came. He would be dead before he even spoke.