A scifi anthology of twenty stories by authors new and established about space colonists interacting with alien planets and peoples. Read more
This project was successfully funded on October 17, 2012.
Beyond The Sun SF - Sneak Peek At Silverberg's Story & Accompanying Artwork
Okay, non-backers have not had a chance to see the kinds of stories they can expect from Beyond The Sun, but with the kind permission of Robert Silverberg, those days are over. Here's a preview of his story which we hope to publish with your support. Following the story is the image artist Laura Givens created to accompany it. We hope to reach our stretch goal and include pictures for all of the stories.
The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV
My grandson David will have his bar mitzvah next spring. No one in our family has undergone that rite in at least three hundred years—certainly not since we Levins settled in Old Israel, the Israel on Earth, soon after the European holocaust. My friend Eliahu asked me not long ago how I feel about David’s bar mitzvah, whether the idea of it angers me, whether I see it as a disturbing element. No, I replied, the boy is a Jew, after all—let him have a bar mitzvah if he wants one. These are times of transition and upheaval, as all times are. David is not bound by the attitudes of his ancestors.
“Since when is a Jew not bound by the attitudes of his ancestors?” Eliahu asked.
“You know what I mean,” I said.
Indeed he did. We are bound but yet free. If anything governs us out of the past it is the tribal bond itself, not the philosophies of our departed kinsmen. We accept what we choose to accept; nevertheless we remain Jews. I come from a family that has liked to say—especially to gentiles—that we are Jews but not Jewish; that is, we acknowledge and cherish our ancient heritage, but we do not care to entangle ourselves in outmoded rituals and folkways. This is what my forefathers declared, as far back as those secular-minded Levins who three centuries ago fought to win and guard the freedom of the land of Israel. (Old Israel, I mean.) I would say the same here, if there were any gentiles on this world to whom such things had to be explained. But of course in this New Israel in the stars we have only ourselves, no gentiles within a dozen light-years, unless you count our neighbors the Kunivaru as gentiles.
(Can creatures that are not human rightly be called gentiles? I’m not sure the term applies. Besides, the Kunivaru now insist that they are Jews. My mind spins. It’s an issue of Talmudic complexity, and God knows I’m no Talmudist. Hillel, Akiva, Rashi, help me!) Anyway, come the fifth day of Sivan my son’s son will have his bar mitzvah, and I’ll play the proud grandpa as pious old Jews have done for six thousand years.
All things are connected. That my grandson would have a bar mitzvah is merely the latest link in a chain of events that goes back to—when? To the day the Kunivaru decided to embrace Judaism? To the day the dybbuk entered Seul the Kunivar? To the day we refugees from Earth discovered the fertile planet that we sometimes call New Israel and sometimes call Mazel Tov IV? To the day of the Final Pogrom on Earth? Reb Yossele the Hasid might say that David’s bar mitzvah was determined on the day the Lord God fashioned Adam out of dust. But I think that would be overdoing things.
The day the dybbuk took possession of the body of Seul the Kunivar was probably where it really started. Until then things were relatively uncomplicated here. The Hasidim had their settlement, we Israelis had ours, and the natives, the Kunivaru, had the rest of the planet; and generally we all kept out of one another’s way. After the dybbuk everything changed. It happened more than forty years ago, in the first generation after the Landing, on the ninth day of Tishri in the year 6302. I was working in the fields, for Tishri is a harvest month. The day was hot, and I worked swiftly, singing and humming. As I moved down the long rows of cracklepods, tagging those that were ready to be gathered, a Kunivar appeared at the crest of the hill that overlooks our kibbutz. It seemed to be in some distress, for it came staggering and lurching down the hillside with extraordinary clumsiness, tripping over its own four legs as if it barely knew how to manage them. When it was about a hundred meters from me, it cried out, “Shimon! Help me, Shimon! In God’s name help me!”
There were several strange things about this outcry, and I perceived them gradually, the most trivial first. It seemed odd that a Kunivar would address me by my given name, for they are a formal people. It seemed more odd that a Kunivar would speak to me in quite decent Hebrew, for at that time none of them had learned our language. It seemed most odd of all—but I was slow to discern it—that a Kunivar would have the very voice, dark and resonant, of my dear dead friend Joseph Avneri.
The Kunivar stumbled into the cultivated part of the field and halted, trembling terribly. Its fine green fur was pasted into hummocks by perspiration, and its great golden eyes rolled and crossed in a ghastly way. It stood flat-footed, splaying its legs out under the four corners of its chunky body like the legs of a table, and clasped its long powerful arms around its chest. I recognized the Kunivar as Seul, a subchief of the local village, with whom we of the kibbutz had had occasional dealings.
“What help can I give you?” I asked. “What has happened to you, Seul?”
“Shimon—Shimon—” A frightful moan came from the Kunivar. “Oh, God, Shimon, it goes beyond all belief! How can I bear this? How can I even comprehend it?”
No doubt of it. The Kunivar was speaking in the voice of Joseph Avneri.
“Seul?” I said hesitantly.
“My name is Joseph Avneri.”
“Joseph Avneri died a year ago last Elul. I didn’t realize you were such a clever mimic, Seul.”
“Mimic? You speak to me of mimicry, Shimon? It’s no mimicry. I am your Joseph, dead but still aware, thrown for my sins into this monstrous alien body. Are you Jew enough to know what a dybbuk is, Shimon?”
“A wandering ghost, yes, who takes possession of the body of a living being.”
“I have become a dybbuk.”
“There are no dybbuks. Dybbuks are phantoms out of medieval folklore,” I said.
“You hear the voice of one.”
“This is impossible,” I said.
“I agree, Shimon, I agree.” He sounded calmer now. “It’s entirely impossible. I don’t believe in dybbuks either, any more than I believe in Zeus, the Minotaur, werewolves, gorgons, or golems. But how else do you explain me?”
“You are Seul the Kunivar, playing a clever trick.”
“Do you really think so? Listen to me, Shimon. I knew you when we were boys in Tiberias. I rescued you when we were fishing in the lake and our boat overturned. I was with you the day you met Leah whom you married. I was godfather to your son Yigal. I studied with you at the university in Jerusalem. I fled with you in the fiery days of the Final Pogrom. I stood watch with you aboard the Ark in the years of our flight from Earth. Do you remember, Shimon? Do you remember Jerusalem? The Old City, the Mount of Olives, the Tomb of Absalom, the Western Wall? Am I a Kunivar, Shimon, to know of the Western Wall?”
“There is no survival of consciousness after death,” I said stubbornly.
“A year ago I would have agreed with you. But who am I if I am not the spirit of Joseph Avneri? How can you account for me any other way? Dear God, do you think I want to believe this, Shimon? You know what a scoffer I was. But it’s real.”
“Perhaps I’m having a very vivid hallucination.”
“Call the others, then. If ten people have the same hallucination, is it still a hallucination? Be reasonable, Shimon! Here I stand before you, telling you things that only I could know, and you deny that I am—”
“Be reasonable?” I said. “Where does reason enter into this? Do you expect me to believe in ghosts, Joseph, in wandering demons, in dybbuks? Am I some superstition-ridden peasant out of the Polish woods? Is this the Middle Ages?”
“You called me Joseph,” he said quietly.
“I can hardly call you Seul when you speak in that voice.”
“Then you believe in me!”
“Look, Shimon, did you ever know a bigger sceptic than Joseph Avneri? I had no use for the Torah, I said Moses was fictional, I plowed the fields on Yom Kippur, I laughed in God’s nonexistent face. What is life, I said? And I answered: a mere accident, a transient biological phenomenon. Yet here I am. I remember the moment of my death. For a full year I’ve wandered this world, bodiless, perceiving things, unable to communicate. And today I find myself cast into this creature’s body, and I know myself for a dybbuk. If I believe, Shimon, how can you dare disbelieve? In the name of our friendship, have faith in what I tell you!”
“You have actually become a dybbuk?”
“I have become a dybbuk,” he said.
I shrugged. “Very well, Joseph. You’re a dybbuk. It’s madness but I believe.” I stared in astonishment at the Kunivar. Did I believe? Did I believe that I believed? How could I not believe? There was no other way for the voice of Joseph Avneri to be coming from the throat of a Kunivar. Sweat streamed down my body. I was face to face with the impossible, and all my philosophy was shattered. Anything was possible now. God might appear as a burning bush. The sun might stand still. No, I told myself. Believe only one irrational thing at a time, Shimon. Evidently there are dybbuks; well, then, there are dybbuks. But everything else pertaining to the Invisible World remains unreal until it manifests itself.
I said, “Why do you think this has happened to you?”
“It could only be as a punishment.”
“For what, Joseph?”
“My experiments. You knew I was doing research into the Kunivaru metabolism, didn’t you?”
“Yes, certainly. But—”
“Did you know I performed surgical experiments on live Kunivaru in our hospital? That I used patients, without informing them or anyone else, in studies of a forbidden kind? It was vivisection, Shimon.”
“There were things I needed to know, and there was only one way I could discover them. The hunger for knowledge led me into sin. I told myself that these creatures were ill, that they would shortly die anyway, and that it might benefit everyone if I opened them while they still lived, you see? Besides, they weren’t human beings, Shimon, they were only animals—very intelligent animals, true, but still only—”
“No, Joseph. I can believe in dybbuks more readily than I can believe this. You, doing such a thing? My calm rational friend, my scientist, my wise one?” I shuddered and stepped a few paces back from him. “Auschwitz!” I cried. “Buchenwald! Dachau! Do those names mean anything to you? ‘They weren’t human beings,’ the Nazi surgeon said. ‘They were only Jews, and our need for scientific knowledge is such that—’ That was only three hundred years ago, Joseph. And you, a Jew, a Jew of all people, to—”
“I know, Shimon, I know. Spare me the lecture. I sinned terribly, and for my sins I’ve been given this grotesque body, this gross, hideous, heavy body, these four legs which I can hardly coordinate, this crooked spine, this foul, hot furry pelt. I still don’t believe in a God, Shimon, but I think I believe in some sort of compensating force that balances accounts in this universe, and the account has been balanced for me, oh, yes, Shimon! I’ve had six hours of terror and loathing today such as I never dreamed could be experienced. To enter this body, to fry in this heat, to wander these hills trapped in such a mass of flesh, to feel myself being bombarded with the sensory perceptions of a being so alien—it’s been hell, I tell you that without exaggeration. I would have died of shock in the first ten minutes if I didn’t already happen to be dead. Only now, seeing you, talking to you, do I begin to get control of myself. Help me, Shimon.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Get me out of here. This is torment. I’m a dead man—I’m entitled to rest the way the other dead ones rest. Free me, Shimon.”
“How? How? Do I know? Am I an expert on dybbuks? Must I direct my own exorcism? If you knew what an effort it is simply to hold this body upright, to make its tongue form Hebrew words, to say things in a way you’ll understand—” Suddenly the Kunivar sagged to his knees, a slow, complex folding process that reminded me of the manner in which the camels of Old Earth lowered themselves to the ground. The alien creature began to sputter and moan and wave his arms about; foam appeared on his wide rubbery lips. “God in Heaven, Shimon,” Joseph cried, “set me free!”
*To be continued*