Seeking the immortality promised in an ancient manuscript, The Book of Skulls, four friends, college roommates, go on a spring break trip to Arizona: Eli, the scholar, who found and translated the book; Timothy, scion of an American dynasty, born and bred to lead; Ned, poet and cynic; and Oliver, the brilliant farm boy obsessed with death. Somewhere in the desert lies the House of Skulls, where a mystic brotherhood guards the secret of eternal life. There, the four aspirants will present themselves-and a horrific price will be demanded. For immortality requires sacrifice. Two victims to balance two survivors. One by suicide, one by murder. Now, beneath the gaze of grinning skulls, the terror begins. . . . From the Trade Paperback edition.
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January 31, 2006
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Excerpt from The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg
Coming into New York City from the north, off the New England Thruway, Oliver driving as usual. Tireless, relaxed, his window half open, long blond hair whipping in the chilly breeze. Timothy slouched beside him, asleep. The second day of our Easter vacation; the trees still bare, ugly driblets of blackened snow banked in dirty heaps by the roadside. In Arizona there wouldn't be any dead snow around. Ned sat next to me in the back seat, scribbling notes, filling up page after page of his ragged spiral-bound book with his left-handed scrawl. Demonic glitter in his dark little eyes. Our penny-ante pansy Dostoevsky. A truck roared up behind us in the left-hand lane, passed us, abruptly cut across into our lane. Hardly any clearance at all. We nearly got racked up. Oliver hit the brakes, cursing, really made them screech; we jolted forward in our seats. A moment later he swung us into the empty right-hand lane to avoid getting smashed by a car to our rear. Timothy woke up. "What the crap," he said. "Can't you let a guy get some sleep?"
"We almost got killed just then," Ned told him fiercely, leaning forward, spitting the words into Timothy's big pink ear. "How would that be for irony, eh? Four sterling young men heading west to win eternal life, wiped out by a truck driver on the New England Thruway. Our lithe young limbs scattered all over the embankment."
"Eternal life," Timothy said. Belching. Oliver laughed.
"It's a fifty-fifty chance," I observed, not for the first time. "An existential gamble. Two to live forever, two to die."
"Existential shit," Timothy said. "Man, you amaze me, Eli. How you do that existential number with a straight face. You really believe, don't you?"
"In the Book of Skulls? In your Arizona Shangri-la?"
"If you don't believe, why are you going with us?"
"Because it's warm in Arizona in March." Using on me the airy, casual, John-O'Hara-country-club-goy tone that he handled so well, that I despised so much. Eight generations of the best blue chips standing behind him. "I can use a change of scenery, man."
"That's all?" I asked. "That's the entire depth of your philosophical and emotional commitment to this trip, Timothy? You're putting me on. God knows why you feel you have to act blase and cool even when something like this is involved. That Main Line drawl of yours. The aristocratic implication that commitment, any sort of commitment, is somehow grubby and unseemly, that it-"