Dan only stirred from his drunken slumber when the train was well into 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 going to 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 an isolated South Pacific island on a train.”
“Nope.” Jay made room for Bob as he returned from the restrooms. “Before we go to the Islands of Sheridan we’re taking preliminary notes in Sheridan, Wyoming. Bob Featherway offered to let us sleep on his couch.”
“It’s a fold-out,” added Bob.
“I was staggering drunk when I agreed to go.”
“Drunker than that,” agreed Jay. “I couldn’t leave you on the floor of 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.
There were stars in the sky by the time they arrived at Bob’s house by the edge of 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 had a chance to change since the funeral so he still wore a suit. He hung his jacket. “Can Dan and I buy you dinner tonight? 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, 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 hungry after the train ride he ate his hamburger on the walk back. He was reminded of the goat-meat pastry he’d had on Islands of Sheridan; every place has its meat-pie.
A chicken crossed the road before him. Thinking of Sheridanian big birds, Jay bowed his head to it, then realized how ridiculous he looked. At least no one had seen him bow except the chicken. At any rate the chicken bobbed its head back, so the respect was mutual.
Why had the chicken crossed the road?
Jay looked where the chicken had come from. The poultry farm’s coops were sealed safely for the night. Jay wondered how only one chicken had managed to escape.
The poultry farm had a billboard advertisement for fertilized eggs, so intrepid individuals could hatch chicks of their own. Jay wondered if that was bad for business in the long run.
When Jay walked in, Dan was showing Bob how to wrap the wings of a cricket for smoking while Bob explained religion and aliens and cargo cults. Jay gave Bob two cheeseburgers with everything, a box of chicken nuggets, an apple pie, and a blue-flavored frozen-slush-drink-thingie. “Where’d you get the cricket?” Jay asked Dan.
“Faith taught me to grow them.” Dan braided one wing under the other. Jay put a large box of fries on the coffee-table in front of him with a plastic container of ketchup. Dan nodded without looking from the cricket.
“Have you smoked crickets before?” Jay sat left of Bob on the couch.
“Yeah, when I was younger,” said Bob. “A lot of kids smoke in the woods nearby. Their bug-sticks don’t look nearly as nice.”
Jay opened a package of cheese-powdered puffs he’d bought at the gas-station. “Good thing I bought 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. “Do you two wanna watch TV while we get all bug-eyed?”
“Sure,” said Dan.
“What’s on?” asked Jay.
“I cover my satellite dish in tinfoil, so service is a little sub-par. But it filters 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 gave the cricket to Bob, who puffed, coughed, and passed the cricket to Jay.
“Hey, Jay,” warned Dan, “have you smoked a cricket since you smoked centipede dust?”
“No. I didn’t actually smoke on the islands.”
“If you’ve ever smoked centipede, crickets can give you flashbacks.”
“You might see subtle movement or hear whispers in the distance,” 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. “And 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 is 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 popular but printed in small runs so it’s almost impossible to find. I don’t think it was ever even finished.” The show began with a recap of prior episodes.
“It’s in Japanese,” Bob noted.
“Probably for the best.” Jay finished off the cricket. “The dubs were awful.”
Dan pointed to the screen. “See her? 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 just been 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 used to belong to Professor Akayama, who built the base on the moon to fight that cosmic horror. She disappeared in the accident which killed Lucille’s parents.”