Ms. Lyn led Jay to the campus cafe where Jango Skyy sat with Dan and Bob at a booth. Dan helped Jango butter the halves of a bagel to share while Bob sipped a beer. 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 way to the booth.
“Jay!” Jango raised his cane. “Is it time to collect the master Blue?”
“They’re all yours.”
“I’ll let them sit a while. No one would dare disturb their eternal meditation.” Jango bit his bagel half. Dan sipped milk and removed his gloves to swipe through photos on his phone’s touchscreen. “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. “Buy me another beer.”
Jay found a free cup for water and brought Bob his beer. “If you’re drinking, I’ll drive us home, if it’s alright with you.” He sat across from Jango.
Dan showed Jango his phone and the old man took it to scroll on his own. “Okay, those are the covers of each collection,” said Dan. “That’s Princess Lucia, daughter of the ruler of Earth. Her family keeps her landlocked to protect her from the Hurricane, the cosmic horror which ate the universe, 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 the eye blocked by cataract and spread wrinkles from his good eye. “What’s the author’s name?”
“The author goes by pseudonym,” said Dan. “The comic was cancelled when the animated version premiered, but the animated version was cancelled too, so it just sort of 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.”
“Where are you staying?” Bob asked Jango. “Bring Blue to my house. Dan, Jay, I’ll 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 booked a motel-room.”
“How long are you staying?” asked Jay.
Jango nibbled his bagel and stowed his hands in his sleeves. “We planned to stay just one night, to extend our invitation to Faith.”
“An invitation?” Bob sipped his beer. “To what?”
“To the islands, of course.” The old monk released a long sigh. “No one has visited me three times in such a fashion as Faith. I thought she was destined for the white-walled monastery. Virgil Blue and I prepared her initiation, if only she was alive to accept!”
Dan bit his fingertips. Jay nodded and swallowed. “Is the initiation still, uh, ready to go?” Jay asked.
“If Faith is dead, then for whom?” asked Jango. Then his eyes opened so wide that 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 us the materials and procedures of 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-visions are integral to Sheridan. In fact, if you plan to write about the islands, I insist one of you consume a whole centipede—under Virgil Blue’s supervision, of course.”
“Really?” asked Jay.
“We have the materials prepared for Faith.” said Jango. “Someone might as well eat a centipede. I won’t demand you join my congregation unless you truly 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 died. I won’t 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 hamburger, cheese-puffs, and a bowl of cereal.”
“Don’t eat any more. You’ll likely vomit. I certainly did.”
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. His jaw trembled. “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. It’s me. Jay.” He almost hung up. He could still change his mind and turn back. “I’m doing something kinda stupid. Kinda really stupid. This might be the last you ever hear from me. So… I love you. Oh, and you’ve got some nice seashells coming in the mail. 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 on-campus, 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 couldn’t see his tears. “Maybe we’ll meet there, huh? If I decide to become a monk?”
Then Jay left and walked to the nearest motel. He knew the Virgils would be there, because there were no coincidences.