Ms. Lyn led Jay to the campus cafe where Jango Skyy sat with Dan and Bob at a booth. Dan helped Jango cut a bagel in half to share. Jay shook Ms. Lyn’s hand. “Thank you again, Ms. Lyn. Can I buy you coffee?”
“I’ve got appointments to plan.” Ms. Lyn left. Jay passed chatting students on his walk to the booth.
“Jay!” Jango raised his cane. “Is it time to collect my master Blue?”
“They’re all yours.”
“Let them sit a while. No one would disturb their eternal meditation.” Jango bit his bagel half. Dan sipped milk and swiped through photos on his cell-phone. “Come, Jay. Dan is explaining Zephyrs.”
“I need water,” said Jay. “Bob, can I buy you anything to eat?”
“I lose my appetite at altitude,” Bob said empty-handed. “Try to buy me a beer.”
Jay found a free cup for water and brought Bob his beer. “I’ll drive home.” He sat across from Jango.
Dan showed Jango his phone, and the old man took the phone to scroll on his own. “Okay, those are the covers of each collection,” said Dan. “That’s Princess Lucia, the daughter of the ruler of Earth. Her family keeps her landlocked to protect her from the Hurricane, the cosmic horror which ate the sky, but she dreams of joining robot-pilots on the moon. One day she escapes and learns to pilot this robot, the heart of the Zephyr.”
“Hm.” Jango scrolled through comic covers. He closed his eye blocked by cataract and spread wrinkles from his good eye. “What’s the author’s name? How old is this?”
“The author goes by pseudonym,” said Dan. “The comics started twenty years ago, but it was cancelled when the animated version premiered. But the animated version was cancelled, too, so it just ends. LuLu’s was a cult classic while it lasted.”
“These robots.” Jango circled the phone with his finger. “They’re all Zephyrs?”
Dan nodded and took his phone back. “The robots and their pilots are both called Zephyrs. Sometimes it gets confusing.” He removed his gloves to use the touch-screen.
“Where are you staying?” Bob asked Jango. “Bring Blue to my house. Dan, Jay, can I pump up the air-mattress for you while the Virgils take the fold-out?”
Jango dismissed the notion with the wave of a hand. “Virgil Blue and I have booked a motel-room for the night.”
“A motel?” Jay sipped water. “How long are you staying? Motels can get expensive.”
Jango nibbled his bagel and stowed his hands in his sleeves. “We planned to stay just a night, to extend our invitation to Faith.”
“An invitation?” Bob sipped his beer. “Where?”
“The islands, of course.” The old monk loosed a long sigh. “No one has visited me three times in such a fashion as Faith. I thought she was destined for the Islands of Sheridan. Virgil Blue and I prepared an initiation, if only she was alive to accept.”
Dan bit his fingers. Jay nodded and swallowed. “Is the initiation still, uh, ready to go?” he asked.
“If Faith is dead, then for whom?” asked Jango. Then his eyes opened so wide Jay saw the white and black of his irises. “Are you suggesting—”
“No, no,” denied Jay, “I wouldn’t invite myself into your congregation. But Dan studies religions. We hoped to perform research for his thesis. Could you show him the materials and procedures in a Sheridanian initiation?”
At his name, Dan looked from his phone. Jango appraised his expression. “I suppose,” said Jango, “but before I invite you to our motel, I must warn you, the materials of a Sheridanian initiation ceremony are… controversial. ”
“Centipede powder?” asked Jay.
Jango shook his head. “The centipedes must be… consumed whole.”
Dan and Jay understood the implication. When Bob caught on, he bolted upright and held his fedora to his head. “You smuggled whole centipedes through customs?” Jango put a stern finger over his lips. Bob grinned giddily at Dan and Jay. “You guys have cool friends.”
“Please understand,” said Jango, “centipede hallucinations are integral to Sheridan. In fact, if you plan to write about the Islands, I insist you consume a whole centipede. Under Virgil Blue’s supervision, of course.”
“Really?” asked Jay.
“We prepared the materials for Faith,” said Jango. “I won’t demand you join my congregation, unless you really must.”
Dan covered his face. “Jay, I don’t know.”
“Is something wrong?”
Dan rest his fists on the table. His face was pale. “I can’t take centipede again.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll take it and describe my experience to you.”
“I can’t be in the same room as a centipede,” said Dan. “Not since Beatrice. I won’t to go to Sheridan. Coming here was a mistake.”
Bob took air through his teeth. “You know, I’m in the same boat as Dan. I don’t wanna overdo anything.”
“Okay.” Jay extended a hand for Jango to shake. “I’ll take up your offer alone.”
Jango shook his hand. “What have you eaten in the last 24 hours?”
“A burger and a bowl of cereal.”
“Don’t eat until we meet tonight. You’ll likely vomit.”
That evening Jay stepped out on Bob’s back porch. Dark clouds crossed the sky. None looked like foxes.
He dialed his parents’ phone number.
His cell rang too many times. Jay knew he’d speak to an answering machine.
“You’ve reached Camilla Diaz and Ethan Jackson,” said his mother. “We can’t answer the phone because we’re on our second honeymoon! We’ll respond when we’re back from the Caribbean. Click!”
Jay drew breath, but could not speak. His jaw trembled. “Hi, mom. Hi, dad. It’s me.” He almost hung up; he could still change his mind and turn back. “I have to do something risky. This might be the last you hear of me. So… I love you.”
He hung up. He blew fog on his hands.
He entered Bob’s house. Dan sat on the fold-out trying to untie his shoes. “I’m walking to Jango Skyy’s motel,” said Jay. “I’m performing the initiation.”
“Really?” Dan struggled with his laces. “You haven’t changed your mind?”
Jay shook his head. “Do you need help?”
“Please. We walked in grass on the way to the cafe. Now my shoes are dirty and I have to wash them. But I forgot my gloves, and I can’t touch grass-stains with my bare hands.” Dainty Dan let Jay untie his shoes. They were hardly dirty, just damp. Jay pulled the shoes off Dan’s feet. “Jay, on the Islands of Sheridan, did you see too many centipedes?”
“Hardly any at all,” said Jay. “Only near the peak of the main island, above even Virgil Blue’s monastery.”
“Then I’ve changed my mind,” said Dan. “I need to visit Sheridan, to prove I’ve moved on. Thanks for bringing me here so I could realize.”
“I know you’ll love Sheridan, Dan.” Jay turned his head so Dan could not see his tears. “Maybe we’ll meet there, huh? If I decide to become a monk?”
Then he left and walked to the nearest motel.