Dan only stirred from his drunken slumber after the train entered Wyoming. He blinked in sunlight doubled by mountains of white snow. The sky was wide and blue. “Jay?”
Jay gave him a cup of water. “We’re almost in Sheridan, Dan. Like you wanted.”
Dan drank the water and pulled his shirt over his face. “We’re on a train.”
“You can’t get to islands on a train.”
“Nope.” Jay made room for Bob as he returned from the restrooms. “Before we visit the Islands of Sheridan we’re taking preliminary notes in Sheridan, Wyoming. Bob Featherway says we can sleep on his couch.”
“It’s a fold-out,” added Bob.
“I was staggering drunk when I agreed to go.”
“Drunker,” agreed Jay. “I couldn’t leave you in the bar, could I?”
Dan sighed and tried to sleep. “Wake me when we get there.”
When Dan next woke he was sitting across the back seats of Bob’s truck. Jay sat shotgun while Bob drove. The tinfoil under Bob’s fedora reflected the orange sunset.
The stars were out when they arrived at Bob’s house near the forest. “It’s a little small,” said Bob, “but the view from the back porch is phenomenal: you can see trees creeping up the mountains to the college.” Dan and Jay followed Bob inside. Bob pointed at the couch. “There’s the couch,” said Bob. “It’s a fold-out.”
“Thank you for your hospitality.” Jay hadn’t changed out of his funeral attire. He hung his jacket and loosened his tie. “Can I buy you dinner? What’s your favorite restaurant around here?”
“We’re pretty far from town,” said Bob. “I don’t wanna drive those icy roads in the dark. But there’s a burger place near the gas-station around the corner, past the chicken farm.”
Dan sat on the couch and stared through Bob’s television. “I could eat some fries.”
“Lemme write down my order for you, Jay, it’ll be too long to remember.”
“I’ll visit the gas-station, too,” said Jay. “I left my toothbrush in California. I’ll bet I can buy one there.”
“If you’re going to the gas-station buy me a frozen-slush-drink-thingie.” Bob wrote it below his burger order.
“What flavor frozen-slush-drink-thingie?”
“Blue if they’ve got it. Orange if they’re out.”
Jay was so famished after the train-ride he ate his hamburger on the walk back. He was reminded of the goat-meat pastry he’d eaten on the Islands of Sheridan; every place has its meat-pie.
A chicken crossed the road. Thinking of Sheridanian big birds, Jay bowed his head, then realized how ridiculous he looked. Thankfully only the chicken had seen him bow. At any rate the chicken bobbed its head back, so the respect was mutual.
Jay looked where the chicken had come from and saw the poultry farm. Jay wondered how only one chicken had managed to escape. The poultry farm had a billboard advertising fertilized eggs, for intrepid individuals to hatch their own chicks. Jay wondered if that was bad for business in the long run.
When Jay returned to Bob’s, Dan was demonstrating how to wrap a cricket for smoking while Bob explained cargo cults. Jay gave Bob two cheeseburgers with everything, a chili dog topped with fries, a box of chicken nuggets, an apple pie, and a blue-flavored frozen-slush-drink-thingie. “Where’d you get the bug-stick?” Jay asked Dan.
“Faith taught me to grow them.” Dan braided the wings. Jay put a box of fries and some ketchup packets on the coffee-table before him. Dan nodded without looking from the cricket.
Jay sat left of Bob on the couch. “Have you smoked crickets before?”
“Yeah, when I was younger,” said Bob. “Sometimes kids smoke in the woods nearby. Their bug-sticks don’t look nearly as nice.”
Jay opened a pack of cheese-puffs from the gas-station. “Good thing I brought extra munchies.”
“Nice.” Bob worked on his cheeseburgers. Dan finished wrapping the cricket and produced a white lighter from his pocket. He offered the lighter and cricket to Bob, who declined the first puffs. “Wanna watch TV while we get bug-eyed?”
“Sure,” said Dan.
“What’s on?” asked Jay.
“Service is a little sub-par cause I cover my satellite dish in tinfoil, but it’s worth it to filter out subliminal messages.”
Neither Dan nor Jay recognized the channels Bob flipped through. Most were in a foreign language or English so distorted it sounded like a foreign language. Dan lit the cricket’s eyes and puffed. He passed the cricket to Bob, who puffed, coughed, and passed the cricket to Jay.
“Hey, Jay,” warned Dan, “have you had a cricket since you smoked centipede powder?”
“Nope. I didn’t actually smoke on the islands.”
“If you’ve ever smoked centipede, crickets can give you flashbacks.”
“You might see patterns or hear whispers,” said Dan. “It freaked me out the first time. It’s harmless, but I wanted to make sure you knew.”
Bob smiled like he was meeting celebrities. “Wow. You’ve both smoked centipede? What’s it like?”
Jay distracted Bob by blowing smoke rings and passed him the cricket. “Look, Dan, they’re playing LuLu’s.” On the TV, multicolored robots bounded through space. “It’s the second season, too. It has the updated intro with Lucille.”
Bob puffed again and coughed again and passed the cricket to Dan. “What’s this show? I like the spaceships.”
“LuLu’s Space-Time Acceleration,” said Dan before he puffed. “It’s an anime about giant fighting robots. The manga was printed in small runs so it’s almost impossible to find.” The show began with a recap of prior episodes.
“It’s in Japanese,” said Bob. He passed the cricket to Jay without puffing.
“Probably for the best.” Jay finished off the cricket. “The dubs were awful.”
Dan pointed to the screen. “That girl? She’s Lucille, the daughter of Earth’s princess. Her parents died fighting a cosmic horror, so Lucille devoted her life to becoming the best pilot on the moon.” The flame-haired pilot climbed into a giant blue robot head. “She’s being promoted to pilot of the head robot. I mean, the main robot, the leader robot—there are lots of robots shaped like heads. This leader robot belonged to Professor Akayama, who built the moon-base to fight that cosmic horror. She disappeared the day Lucille’s parents died.”