Dan didn’t stir from his drunken slumber until the train was well into Wyoming. He blinked in sunlight doubled by mountains of white snow. The sky was wide and blue. “Jay?”
“Hey Dan.” Jay gave him a glass of water. “We’re going to Sheridan, Dan. Like we talked about last night.”
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 to sit down as he returned from the restrooms. “Before we check out the Islands of Sheridan we’re taking preliminary notes in Sheridan, Wyoming. Bob Featherway here offered to let us sleep on his couch for a night or two.”
“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 finally woke he was sitting across the cramped back seat of Bob’s truck. Jay sat shotgun while Bob drove. The tinfoil under Bob’s fedora reflected the orange light of the sunset. There were stars in the sky by the time they arrived at Bob’s house at the edge of the forest. It was a smallish house but Bob explained that the view from the back porch was phenomenal: you could see trees creeping up the Bighorn mountains where they’d all drive up in the morning to Sheridan Cliff-Side College.
Dan and Jay followed Bob into his house. Bob pointed at the couch. “There’s the couch,” said Bob. “It’s a fold-out.”
“Thank you so much for your hospitality.” Jay hadn’t had a chance to change since the funeral so he still wore a suit. He hung up his jacket. “Can Dan and I buy you dinner tonight? What’s your favorite restaurant around here?”
“We’re a little far from town,” said Bob. “I wouldn’t want to drive all those narrow icy roads in the dark. But there’s a burger joint 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 for you 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 after his burger order.
“What flavor frozen-slush-drink-thingie?”
“Blue if they’ve got it. Orange if they don’t.”
Jay was so hungry after the train ride, he walked back while eating his hamburger. He was reminded of the Islands of Sheridan; Michael’s brothers had cooked him a goat-meat pastry. Every place has its meat-pie.
A chicken crossed the road in front of him. It interrupted his thoughts of the islands, so Jay mistook it for an adolescent Sheridanian big bird out of the corner of his eye. He bowed his head to it, then realized how ridiculous he must have looked. At least no one had seen him bow except the chicken, so it wasn’t too embarrassing. At any rate the chicken bobbed its head back at him, so the respect was mutual.
Why had the chicken crossed the road?
Jay looked where the chicken had come from. The poultry farm had a few coops sealed safely for the night. Jay wondered how just one chicken had managed to escape.
The poultry farm had a billboard advertisement. They apparently sold 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 returned, Dan was showing Bob how to wrap the wings of a cricket for smoking while Bob explained his big theory about religions and aliens and cargo cults. Jay gave Bob his order of two cheeseburgers with everything on them, 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. Seeing Dan’s hands were full, Jay put his large box of fries on the coffee-table in front of him with a plastic container of ketchup. Dan thanked Jay by nodding without looking from the cricket. “I thought if you were getting dinner to thank Bob, I should thank him with a bug-stick.”
“Have you smoked crickets before?” Jay sat left of Bob on the couch.
“Yeah, when I was younger,” said Bob. “A lot of teenagers smoke out in the woods. 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 he 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 sometimes service is a little sub-par. But it’s worth it to filter out subliminal messages.”
Neither Dan nor Jay recognized any of the channels Bob flipped through. Most of them were in a foreign language or English so distorted it sounded like a foreign language. Dan lit the cricket’s eyes on fire and puffed. He gave the cricket to Bob, who puffed, coughed, and passed the cricket to Jay.
“Hey, Jay, before you puff,” warned Dan. “Have you smoked a cricket since you smoked centipede dust?”
“No. I didn’t actually smoke anything in Sheridan.”
“If you’ve smoked centipede before, crickets can give you flashbacks.”
“Just little things,” said Dan. “You might see subtle movements or hear whispers in the distance. It freaked me out the first time I smoked a cricket after centipede. It’s harmless, but I wanted to make sure you knew.”
Bob smiled like he was meeting celebrities. “Wow. You’ve both had centipede? What’s it like?”
Jay ignored 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, as well. 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. “All the dubs were awful. If they ever make a third season I hope the localization is better.”
Dan pointed to the screen. “See that girl? She’s Lucille, the daughter of the Princess of Earth. 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.”