Them Skulls

I was lounging on a loveseat near the door, reading a fantasy novel. This was in a motel in Corinth, Mississippi, summer of 1992, and I was there to work construction on a site my grandfather managed. He was on his way out, maybe to go for some diesel and chewing tobacco, and he slowed to take a long look at my paperback.

I looked up, and he asked, “Do you believe in them skulls?”

I didn’t know what he meant at first, but then I remembered the cover—an armored dwarf stomping through snow beneath a tree, his rust- or blood-stained battle axe held high, elvish companions sporting longbows on a hillock in the background. The tree held many skulls hanging from rope, and speared skeletons littered the foreground. Them skulls—he was asking if I believed in them.

The question didn’t make sense to me, so my first move was to ask him to clarify. I said something like, “What do you mean, ‘believe in the skulls?’” How would one go about believing in skulls, I later wondered; and if I were to believe in skulls, would I not want to start with actual skulls, like my own? I could believe in the existence of skulls, but it would be less of a belief than an observation that skulls do seem to exist. But these illustrated skulls, surely they didn’t exist in the same way that real skulls do. Right?

He stood there and repeated himself, but in a sterner tone, “Do you believe in them skulls?”

Though the question still didn’t make sense, my next move was clear. “No sir,” I said. “I don’t believe in them skulls.”

He nodded just a touch and proceeded on his way, no more questions, no more discussion. I was free to read whatever I wanted, so long as I didn’t believe in stuff other than The Lord, and them skulls were not The Lord.

I still have a hard time with belief.

Woody Evans is a librarian from Southern Mississippi living now in North Texas, by way of the UK, Taiwan, and the UAE. His work has appeared in Boing Boing, Juked, New World Writing, Rain Taxi Review, Library Journal, and many others. @quarrywork