Three islands are the sole inhabitants of the area known as Nemo. Stranded between New Zealand, Chile, and Antarctica, the Islands of Sheridan are 1,000 miles from foreign shore in any direction.
On the Islands of Sheridan, the primary subject of religious debate is the identity of the first Virgil Blue. Some say the Biggest Bird was the first Virgil Blue. When she returned to the Mountain whose peak breaches heaven she appointed her first Earthly successor. Others maintain the Biggest Bird is beyond such terrestrial titles and anointed the first Virgil Blue to guide humanity in her stead. Nevertheless, most Sheridanians agree: the Biggest Bird brought forth the Islands of Sheridan to be her paradise on Earth. She taught the first man, Nemo, what to eat, and how to eat, and bore him sons and daughters from an egg. She declared Nemo Virgil Blue, and ever since the title has passed from generation to generation. Only a truly great teacher, one who leads students to the Mountain without fail, may attain the title of Blue. Lesser Virgils merely guide students’ understanding of the Blue Virgil’s sacred truth.
After leaving the islands but before retiring to the Mountain in the next eternity, the Biggest Bird erected the rest of Earth. Thusly the Bird’s influence is seen in religions, philosophies, and beliefs the world over. Virgil Blue’s monastery on the main island houses a library of such epistemologically relevant writings from every earthly area and every time period, annotated to outline featherprints from the Biggest Bird’s act of creation. Her wisdom may be found in fiction and nonfiction. In physics and magic. In sand and sky. There are no coincidences.
Doesn’t that sound familiar, Jay?
Jay squinted at the text.
The Biggest Bird resides today on her Mountain. It is therefore speculated that elevation marked her seal of approval during the earth-birth: foothills grew beneath her flight-path and mountains sprouted where she deigned to land. This emphasizes Sheridan as the holiest area on Earth. The main island of Sheridan extends from the seafloor to a permanent skycap of clouds. Including its height beneath the waves, it is the tallest mountain on this planet.
The Islands of Sheridan bear a population of sparse thousands, most of them ancestors of the egg-born, island natives. Almost half spend years of their lives engaging in monasticism. Virgil Blue’s monastery is home to hundreds of students and his private congregation of Virgils. Satellite groups preach the Blue Virgil’s unadulterated word to the majority of the islands’ religious practitioners. Unorthodox splinter sects exhibit unique and varied practices like masked dancing festivals, deity visualization exercises, and religious agriculture. No one knows the number of distinct religious groups in Sheridan, nor could be compiled a complete list of their beliefs and practices. Only three commandments assert themselves across all groups:
Only Virgil Blue may prepare centipede, and otherwise consuming centipede is forbidden.
Never harm or photograph birds.
Never climb above the permanent cloud-cover. Sheridan’s peak is always obscured. It must remain so.
Jay Diaz-Jackson, remember these rules when you journey to Sheridan. Your arrival is predestined, preordained.
Jay closed the pamphlet and examined the fist-sized fledglings drawn on its front. They looked somehow familiar. He covered the left side of a fledgling’s face with his thumb. More familiar by the moment. “Dan, have you seen birds like this before?”
He’d forgotten Dan had gone. He was still in the bathroom, quietly sobbing for some reason.
Jay unfolded the pamphlet to the next page. On the left side, hand-drawn crickets budded from soil just like the crickets in Faith’s cardboard box of dirt. On the right side, the largest of three islands was crowned by clouds. He read:
Tourists to the island generally belong to one of two categories: those interested in bird watching (but not bird photography, we emphasize) and those who have had their international flight require refueling on our runway and who decide to stretch their legs in our airport. Both categories are impressed by the bounty of the Biggest Bird, including fresh air, breathtaking vistas, and tasteful gift-shops. We encourage you to visit our islands and discover your connection to the Mountain in the next eternity.
Jay, have you forgotten your divine purpose? Remember not your Zephyrhood? You must come to Sheridan! You must find the Mountain within you!
“Within you, within you.” The last words echoed in Jay’s addled mind until they lost all meaning, becoming an irritating chirp. Jay swore the crickets in Faith’s cardboard box were rising and falling and chirping like chimes in the wind as their legs rubbed together. “Within you, within you.”
“Faith?” Jay shook her shoulder. “Faith, can you read this?”
Faith ceased hugging the couch cushion and looked blankly at the red card-stock pamphlet. “Read what, JayJay?”
He pointed at a paragraph accosting him by name. “These lines, over here?”
“Of course I can’t.” Faith cuddled the cushion again and rolled into the dark couch corner. “I can’t read Chinese.”
“No, not the Chinese, the—” Jay tried to reread the offending statement. Symbols flickered between English characters and Chinese logograms. “Oh my God. I’ve got to go to Sheridan.”
“What?” Faith rose from her stupor to pin Jay against the opposite armrest. He dropped the pamphlet as she wrestled him. “JayJay, you can’t go to Sheridan!”
“Look here, it says there are no coincidences!” He freed one arm to pick the pamphlet from the floor. “If it’s commanding me to go to Sheridan, it’s commanding me to go to Sheridan. If it’s not commanding me to go to Sheridan, I misread it as a command to go to Sheridan. It can’t be a coincidence! It says so!”
Faith twisted to restrict Jay’s movement as she tried to unwrap his logic. “But JayJay, it’s so far away!”
“I’ll take a boat, or a plane!”
“But you’ll be gone for so long!”
“Come with me!”
“I can’t!” Faith finally released Jay from her grapple. “BeatBax would never let me go to Cricket-Centipede Island! Just stay in LA and smoke with me!”
“No! I’ve got to find the Mountain within me!” Jay tried once more to read, but now struggled to find his name anywhere in the text. “Listen to your box of crickets, they’re singing it to me!”
Their loud conversation drew Dan from the bathroom. His gaunt stride silenced them. They made room on the couch for Dan to faint between them, red-faced and wet-cheeked. His mouth opened as if to speak, but he produced no words. Finally he shook his head and said: “Can you read?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Jay. “I must go to Sheridan.”
“Okay, you’re still high,” said Dan. “Faith?”
“Gorgeous,” she cooed, to the fledglings on the pamphlet front. “Just look at these beautiful birds!”
“Just about back to normal,” said Dan. “Both of you should eat something. That’ll help you come down.” He slowly stood and carried the cupcake from the coffee-table to the kitchenette to cut. “Happy birthday, Jay.”
“Happy birthday, Dan.”
“Dainty! Cut it into fourths,” Faith said. “Then you and BeatBax can share with us, and we’ll all sing!”
Dan cut the cupcake into thirds. “I… need to tell you something.”