The Skull

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in If Sep 1952

A man named Conger is sent two hundred years back in time to the 1960s to find and kill the mysterious Founder of the First Church, a subversive anti-science movement that preaches non-violence at odds with the present era’s ruling class that trusts a society governed by rationalism and the occasional war to clear out humankind’s weaker elements.

In order to identify the Founder and kill him before he is able to deliver the sermon that will lead to this new movement Conger is given the skull of the Founder which they obtain after raiding the First Church’s holy relics.

Once back in 1960’s Midwest America, it is fairly obvious that Conger himself is this Founder he is searching for. Because he arrives too late and is spotted by some townsfolk before traveling farther back in time to when the Founder is killed he gives the appearance of a resurrection which leads to the belief in the Founder’s divinity. Eventually, right before he is killed by a mob from the town that doesn’t trust outsiders, Conger realizes ‘wait a minute the teeth in this skull I’ve been carrying around are a dead ringer for my own.’

I get what Dick was going for here, although the 1960s setting makes it hard to believe Conger’s trite aphorism, spoken to the townspeople right before they take him down, would be enough to spark a global and long-lasting movement.

Cast of characters

  • Conger – sent back in time to find the Founder of the First Church
  • The Speaker – the council member who sends Conger back in time in search of the Founder
  • Mrs. Appleton – rents Conger a room in Cooper Creek
  • Ed Davies – store owner in Cooper Creek
  • Bill Willet, Lora Hunt – teenagers in Cooper Creek
  • Sheriff Duff – the sheriff of Cooper Creek