When Jay knocked, Virgil Skyy brushed blinds aside and peeked out the window with his good eye. Seeing Jay, he unlocked and opened the door. Jay entered and Skyy locked the door behind him. “Are your friends joining us?”
“I don’t think so.” Jay removed his shoes and loosened his dark purple tie as his eyes adjusted to the dim room. Virgil Blue sat cross-legged on a king-sized bed. Their wheelchair sat in a corner.
Skyy limped to a rug rolled up against a wall. Jay wanted to help handle the heavy rug, but Skyy bid him to sit beside Blue on the bed. He swiftly knocked over the rug with his cane and unrolled it with his feet.
The woven rug depicted the Islands of Sheridan from smallest to largest. On each island, a single man, repeated many times, climbed to the top and claimed the peak. The man was nude and black like coal. Above the islands, a bird in sky-blue robes oversaw the man’s journey.
“The first man, Nemo,” said Virgil Skyy. “The tapestry shows his journey from divine birth to ascendance above the rank of Blue.” He thumped his cane on the floor. “Students usually undertake this ritual after years of training with Virgil Green, then swimming to the main island and climbing it nude like the birds do. You met Virgil Green, didn’t you?”
“I did.” Jay swallowed. “I understand he chased snakes from Sheridan.”
Virgil Skyy shrugged. “Close enough. The way I heard it, Nemo ate the snakes. When Nemo climbed above the clouds, the new Virgil Blue established Virgil Green as a subsidiary representation of Nemo’s being. Nemo was so much larger-than-life that to keep his flame alive, he had to be divided and diluted.”
Jay let his gaze wander the rug. Unconsciously, his focus drifted to Virgil Blue’s silver mask. Jay had a reflection in both of the mask’s eyes. “Virgil Skyy… Jango… On the islands, you said the dead are reborn.”
“We cycle in the sand until our souls find the Mountain.”
“You said no one remembers their past lives.” Jay pried his gaze from the mask. “Are you sure?”
“The sand in the desert of death wears souls smooth.” Jango pulled Jay to his feet. “We are effaced.”
“What if…” Jango guided Jay’s posture in sitting cross-legged on the rug. “What if someone slipped through the cracks?”
Jango sat on the bed beside Blue. “Virgil Blue once dreamed they were a bird eating grubs from tree-trunks. Who’s to say which thoughts are false and which are memories of past lives?” Jango noticed Jay’s concerned expression. “But it doesn’t matter. The mind is just the whorl where the river meets the coast. Someday we will stop spinning, but what we were will spin again. Maybe we’ll spin the same direction as before, maybe oppositely. Maybe we’ll spin two directions at once. If you recall past lives, perhaps you spin clockwise on the surface while your depths present an opposing current. All currents are personal and temporary. The awesome stillness at the end of the eternities belongs to everyone forever.”
Jay put his hands in his lap, but kept them clenched. “Do you know Anihilato? Master of Nihilism, King of Dust?” Jango shook his head. Jay darkened. “What if the dead refuse rebirth?”
“You don’t get a choice. The sand chooses for you.”
“What if someone eats souls so quickly that the sand can’t keep up?” Jay didn’t look at either Virgil. “What if the Mountain’s task is impossible because of that stuck cog?”
“I can’t speak for the Mountain’s plan,” said Jango. “I’m only a Virgil. My goal is to guide.”
Jay released the tension in his hands. “Guide me.”
Jango licked his lips. He considered Anihilato. “My brother has long, greasy hair. Our father always wanted him to cut it short. One day, our shower wouldn’t drain. Our father reached into the drain and pulled out a thick, messy clump of hair. Our father was angry but he laughed, too—‘Look,’ he joked to my brother, ‘our hair-collector is working!’—as if the clog was the drain’s purpose all along. Do you understand, Jay?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then you’re getting close. Let’s try again: there once was a monster,” he said, “who couldn’t be killed in the day nor at night, inside nor outside, by a man nor a woman. Obviously the monster was slain by a hermaphrodite while passing through a doorway during a solar eclipse. The monster wore ignorance as armor. It protected itself with words like ‘day’ and ‘night’ and ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ but to those who know better, words are just words. The hero slew the monster with the blade of unpronounceable truth. Do you understand?”
Jay did not say yes or no. He did not even nod.
“You’re ready.” Jango put his thumb and pinky on Virgil Blue’s silver mask. Jay gasped. Jango took the mask away.
Under the mask was a black tangle of centipedes.
“I warned you.” Jango pulled the navy robes from the centipede-bush’s dark thorns. The robe’s sleeves were empty. What Jay mistook for knees were loose folds of fabric. “Centipede loses potency soon after harvest. It’s not easy to smuggle a centipede-bush through customs, but no one bothers the living legend in a wheelchair.” Jango shook a sleeve and a knife fell into his hand. “Close proximity to Blue will give you a contact-high. This gives the Virgil a paralyzing presence.”
Jay managed to speak. “How long?”
“Hm? Oh, Virgil Blue retired above the clouds decades ago.” Jango wrapped his right hand in navy fabric. “I’m watching in their stead ’til the end of time. It should be any year now.” With navy fabric guarding his hand from thorns, Jango reached into the centipede-bush. He used the knife to pry up orange legs until he could pull a whole centipede from the tangle. The centipede curled into a spiral which Jango gave to Jay. “You’ve smoked centipede-powder, correct?”
“This is not the same,” said Jango. “You will have no control. I will have no control. The centipede will take you.”
“Eat it,” said Jango.
Without hesitation, Jay crunched the exoskeleton in his teeth. He tore off black chunks and swallowed them. Orange legs crawled down his throat. Dark liquid spilled from his lips. Jay wiped his chin and licked the liquid from his palm. He ate the last inches whole, retching and gasping until the centipede was gone.
Jango said something, but Jay couldn’t hear it. He’d left the magic circle.