The LLS-TA theme played over the end credits. A minor chord introduced an image of a Hurricane Planet. This blood-colored space-orb of biological and mechanical parts swallowed stars and smacked spaceships from the sky. Scarlet spots speckled the black background of space—another trillion Hurricane Planets like it, or larger. Each was a single cell of the cosmic horror called the Hurricane.
Jay squinted at the credits, but the names of artists and animators squirmed and resisted interpretation. “Faith, I think I’m having a stroke.”
“No, JayJay!” Faith bent backwards over the couch to stretch to her full length. “The bug-stick is making you paranoid. Just enjoy it!”
Jay licked his dry teeth. He reached for the remote and, after struggling with the hieroglyphs, pressed the menu button. “Oh, here’s the problem. The names are in Japanese. We watched the whole episode in Japanese. We didn’t even have subtitles on.”
“Ha!” Faith laughed until she ran out of breath. “I think I got the gist anyway. But that’s what happens on crickets!”
After switching the language to English, Jay highlighted the next episode. He did not select it. “So, what’s up between you and Beatrice? Are you dating?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s complicated.” Faith looked away.
“She carries that bible everywhere,” said Jay. “Her family seems pretty religious. Does that make dating difficult?”
“You didn’t hear it from me,” said Faith, “but BeatBax breaks out the bible for unwanted male attention. She plays the pastor’s daughter routine until suitors lose interest. In truth, she’s fine dating a girl and hiding it from her parents. We’ve even talked about smoking crickets before.”
“So what’s complicated?”
“Dainty likes the pastor’s daughter routine,” she sighed, “and I like Dainty. I wish dating were easy. I just wanna hold all my friends in a big cuddle-ball.” Jay held Faith’s hand. Faith squeezed back and smiled. “Crickets help you open up, sometimes.”
“You know a lot about crickets. Are you sure you haven’t smoked before?”
“What are you talking about?” Faith couldn’t tell lies while folded backward over the couch. Her poker face broke and she giggled. “You caught me. I’ve smoked a bug-stick before, but just once, I swear. I wanted to share the experience with you.”
“It’s really something.” Jay searched for words to describe his mental state but found none. He made sound effects and exploding motions with his hands. “Where’d you smoke your first?”
Faith kicked the air. “You’ve met my uncle, right? He came from Wyoming for a weekend last semester.”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Jay. “He asked if I believed in aliens. He had quite a bit to say on the matter.”
“Well, he is the black sheep of the Featherways.”
“The inside of his fedora was lined with tinfoil.”
“Some people like tinfoil,” insisted Faith. “Anyway, I visited him last month in Sheridan, Wyoming, and that’s where I smoked my first cricket. Let me explain.”
“Smell that air?” Her uncle poked his head from the driver’s side window. He secured his fedora against the wind with one hand and steered the truck with the other. “The higher we drive up the Bighorns the fresher it gets!”
Faith only smelled exhaust from her uncle’s beat-up truck. Still, the mountains were beautiful and melting snow encouraged greenery. “What are we doing up here?”
“Your mom made me promise I’d show you the college. Look, there it is!” He pointed at buildings dotting the mountainside near the border of Bighorn National Forest. “Pop the glove box; there’s a bunch of public lectures today. Choose one that looks good.”
Faith opened the glove box to find a brochure listing events at Sheridan Cliff-Side College. “Does SC-SC have an art program?”
“I dunno. I mostly sit in the library and tell sorority chicks about my theory.” He made a hairpin turn at high speed.
“This lecture looks neat,” said Faith. “It’s a bunch of monks from Sheridan. I like how each monk has a different colored robe.”
“What? There aren’t any monks here in Sheridan. Wyoming ain’t their style. You mean Indians? There are a couple Indian tribes in Sheridan.”
“Not Sheridan, Wyoming. A series of islands also called Sheridan—it’s hard to spot them on the world-map in the brochure. They’re tucked in the corner with New Zealand. The most isolated islands in the world, it says.” She showed him the brochure as they pulled into the parking lot. “See? It says these cute flightless birds live only on the islands and the monks consider them sacred.”
“I should give a lecture on religion. I’d blow the whole thing open.” Her uncle parked. The valleys below held the forest like a bowl of trees. “Did I ever tell you my theory?”
“Yes, you have,” Faith said firmly as they stepped from the truck.
“It just makes sense. All religions are cargo cults. You know, cargo cults. When we dropped aid on island tribes in World War Two they built fake airplanes out of scraps. They hoped statues would bring back the sky-gods. Right?”
“Okay, sure,” sighed Faith. They walked into a lecture hall.
“So if aliens exist (and they do) and they’ve been to earth (and they have) then that’s proof that all religions secretly worship aliens and churches don’t even know it.” He tapped his temple and flashed Faith the tinfoil in his fedora. “You have to keep them out of your brain.”
“Cool,” said Faith, regarding not her uncle’s theory but the monks gathered by the stage. Male and female in roughly equal proportion, they each wore a robe of solid color. Some wore a cool color, some warm. None were below forty years old and some were over eighty or ninety. They had every variety of skin colors: black, copper-brown, brick-red, yellow-tan, pink, and some were so pale they looked blue. Most were bald.
Their leader sat cross-legged in a wheelchair. They wore a hooded navy robe and a silver mask. The mask had an embossed beak and two buggy eyes like a watchful bird. The silver bird-mask surveyed the audience until another monk (an elderly man with robes like a clear sky) took the podium and addressed the crowd:
“Thank you for allowing us to speak at Sheridan Cliff-Side College.” The elderly, sky-clad monk leaned on a cane taller than himself, a curious object smooth along the shaft but with ten black spots encircling a gnarled top. “We come from the Islands of Sheridan, located between New Zealand, Chile, and Antarctica, a location called Point Nemo. The name Nemo, Latin for no-one, belies the solitude we enjoy on Earth’s most secluded islands. There we worship the birds, the plants, and the Mountain, though sometimes we worship nothing at all. It is my honor to introduce my teacher, and the teacher of all teachers, Virgil Blue. They will provide a silent lesson. Then we will leave and never return.”