Dan stirred from his drunken slumber only after the train crossed into Wyoming. He blinked in sunlight doubled by mountains of white snow. The sky was wide and blue. “Jay?”
Jay gave him a bottle of water. “We’re almost in Sheridan, Dan. Just 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 restroom. “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.”
“Too drunk even to stagger,” agreed Jay. “I couldn’t just 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. “My place is 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 from his funeral-attire. He hung his jacket and loosened his dark purple tie. “Can I buy you dinner? What’s your favorite restaurant near 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 that he ate his hamburger on the walk back. It reminded him of the goat-meat pastry he ate 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 in respect, 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 just one solitary chicken had managed to escape. The poultry-farm had a billboard advertising fertilized eggs so intrepid individuals could hatch their own chicks. Jay wondered if that was bad for business in the long run.
When Jay returned to Bob’s, Dan was wrapping 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 packets of ketchup on the coffee-table for him. Dan nodded without looking from the cricket.
Jay sat left of Bob on the couch. “Have you smoked bug-sticks 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 started on his cheeseburgers. Dan finished wrapping the cricket and produced a white lighter from his pocket. He offered the lighter and bug-stick 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 bug-stick to Bob, who puffed, coughed, and passed the cricket to Jay.
“Hey Jay,” warned Dan, “have you had a bug-stick since you smoked centipede-powder?”
“Nope. I didn’t actually smoke at all 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 back the bug-stick. “Look, Dan, they’re playing LuLu’s.” On the TV, multicolored robots bounded through space.
Bob puffed again and coughed again and passed the bug-stick 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 robots.” The show began with a recap of prior episodes. “I think this is the last episode they ever animated.”
“It’s in Japanese,” said Bob. He passed the bug-stick from Dan to Jay.
“Probably for the best.” Jay finished off the cricket. “The dubs were awful.”