J1. Uncle Featherway

Uncle Featherway sat on the only empty stool, next to Dan’s unconscious form slumped across the bar. “Is your friend okay?”

“He could use some time unconscious.” Jay pat Dan on the back. “Mister Featherway, are you ready for our interview?”

“Sure as sure. I’ve got plenty of time until my train comes in.” Uncle Featherway ordered a beer and straightened his tinfoil fedora. “You wanted to hear about Virgil Blue?”

“Yes, please. I recently met the Virgils on the Islands of Sheridan but Virgil Blue never spoke to me.” Jay took out his pen and notepad. “I wondered if you had anything to add to the stoic silence.”

“Only more silence,” said Uncle Featherway. “The monks came to Wyoming the same weekend my niece Faith came to visit and I took her to Sheridan Cliff-Side College. The monks carried the Virgil onto a podium or a lectern like a little throne, and Virgil Blue sat there for about half an hour.”

“Did any of the monks speak or were they all silent?”

“Well, some guy in sky-blue robes said a few words at first.” Uncle Featherway sipped his beer. “But yeah, Virgil Blue didn’t say anything. It was their inflection that made the silence seem important.”

“Important?”

“Like…” Uncle Featherway put down his beer and waved a hand. “Like they were revealing the secrets of the universe.”

“Really? Did you learn anything?”

“Of course not.” Uncle Feather puffed out his chest and sipped more beer. “I already knew the secrets of the universe. Hearing it from Virgil Blue just confirmed my beliefs.”

“Hearing nothing from Virgil Blue confirmed your beliefs in…” Jay spun his pen. “What, exactly?”

“Do you know about cargo cults? When we dropped aid on island tribes in World War Two some tribes built fake airplanes out of scraps. They hoped statues would bring the sky-gods back.

“I’ve heard of them, yes.”

“All religions are cargo cults. When the aliens created the earth and humans and all that, we didn’t understand what we were seeing. We tried to explain it to one-another and to our kids. Over generations the explanations evolved into religions.”

Jay sensed the conversation had drifted off topic. “What was Virgil Blue wearing when the monks came to Wyoming?”

“A navy blue robe with a hood, and a silver face-mask which looked like an alien.”

“When I saw the Blue Virgil’s face-mask it looked like a bird. Could you draw the mask you saw for me?” Jay passed the notepad and pen over Dan’s unconscious form. Uncle Featherway put the notepad on Dan’s back so Jay could see it while he drew.

“See, it had big old bug-eyes with criss-cross marks. It had this bulbous snout with a straight mouth. And it had two long antennae to receive cosmic waves.”

“Huh.” Jay took the pen and drew his own rendition of the Blue Virgil’s mask. “I think I saw the same mask you did. But I thought these antennae were long feathers.”

“Could be. Feathers are sensitive to cosmic waves too.”

“And I thought this bulbous snout was a round beak.”

“Aliens can have beaks. Like an octopus or a squid.” Uncle Featherway finished his beer. “What about the criss-cross bug-eyes?”

“I dunno,” said Jay. “I saw a statue of a bird with the same eyes. I figured it was a stylistic choice.”

“Well, sometimes we see what we want to see. You know?” Uncle Featherway returned the notepad to Jay. “Anyway, something about Virgil Blue made me think the Sheridanians were closer to the original aliens than any other religion.”

“Earlier you said there were different kinds of aliens,” said Jay. “What kinds are there?”

“Oh, all kinds. You’ve got your gold-miners, your mind-readers…” Uncle Featherway ate some complementary mixed nuts. “But really they’re all the same. They’ve got variety but they’re all aliens. They all come from the same place.” He pointed up.

“Hm.”

“When they made humans, they used their own DNA,” he continued. “So we’re all space-aliens when it comes down to it.”

“How insightful.”

“Yeah, it’s too bad Faith didn’t enjoy Virgil Blue’s lecture.” Uncle Featherway almost removed his fedora out of respect for the dead, but instead only tipped it to keep the protective tinfoil on his head. “She left halfway through.”

“How many people were there?”

“The monks had this big lecture hall, but there weren’t so many people watching. The monks made up most of the audience.”

“Did you know anyone else in the audience? Any friends I could talk to?”

“Nope.”

Jay rest his head on his right hand in contemplation. He spun his pen in his other hand. “If they reserved a whole lecture hall someone at the college must have coordinated the event. Maybe I could contact them.”

“Sorry I wasn’t more helpful.”

“You’ve been extremely helpful. Thanks for taking the time to talk.” Jay pocketed his notepad and pen and pulled out his phone. He looked up Sheridan Cliff-Side College and scrolled through their contact page. “They have an event coordinator. I should give her a call.”

“Why not come to Wyoming? Then you could interview her in person and check out the lecture hall yourself.”

“Not a bad idea, but I think I’ll still call her ahead of time to let her know I’m coming.”

“Wanna come with me back to Wyoming? You can sleep on my couch.”

Jay bit his lower lip. “Really? Would I be a bother?”

“Any friend of Faith is a friend of mine.” Uncle Featherway extended a hand to shake and Jay shook it. “Call me Bob. Bob Featherway.”

“Jay Diaz-Jackson. What time does your train leave? I’ll try to buy a ticket.”

“Four hours from now.”

Jay checked a train schedule on his phone and bought himself a ticket. “Four hours is short notice to travel cross-country, but I’m used to picking up my life and moving. I can make this work. Hey, Bob, would it be too much to ask if you’ve got room for two to sleep on your couch?”

“Oh, sure. It’s a fold-out.” Bob looked from Jay to Dan. “What, you mean him? Don’t you think you should wake him up and ask if he wants to come?”

“He told me to take him to Sheridan just before you walked in. The mountain air will be good for him.”

J1 pictb

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