Jay’s Interview with Virgil Blue

(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)


Dan and Jay slept on the fold-out while Bob retired to his bedroom, still wearing his tinfoil fedora as he tucked himself in. Jay said nothing of his visions outside, unsure whether Faith had been real or not. In the morning, Bob woke them for breakfast. “Dan,” Jay asked over cereal, “have you thought about your thesis?”

“My what?”

“Your thesis. We came to Wyoming to research the Sheridanian Virgils for your PhD in Religious-Studies.”

“Oh, right.” Dan pushed flakes across milk with his spoon. “Maybe the college will inspire me.”

After breakfast they boarded Bob’s truck. Jay dialed his phone. “I’ll let Ms. Lyn know we’re coming.”

“Who?” asked Bob. Dan sat in the back.

“Ms. Lyn, the college’s event-coordinator. I called her at the bar to arrange our meeting.” Jay sat shotgun. Bob revved the engine and pulled out. “Hello, Ms. Lyn? Sure, I’ll hold.” Jay dated a fresh page in his notepad. Bob steered toward the mountains on roads of slippery ice. “Ms. Lyn? It’s Jay Diaz-Jackson.” He nodded. “Just wanted to let you know I’d arrive soon.” Jay nodded again but knotted his brow. He lowered his phone then returned it to his ear. “Could you repeat that?” He humphed. “Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

“What’d she say?” asked Dan.

Jay shook his head as he hung up. “She said they’ve arrived ahead of us.”

“Who has?” asked Dan.

“She assumed I knew.”

Bob drove the winding mountain roads so quickly Dan clutched his seat-belt and chewed his gloves in terror at every icy hairpin turn. Jay watched clouds peek over peaks like boiling cream. “Almost there!” Bob pointed to buildings dotting the mountainside. “See that lecture-hall? That’s where Virgil Blue said all the nothing!”

Bob parked with such enthusiasm Dan’s body rocked forward. As the three stepped from the truck, a woman in high-heels approached, waving. “Mr. Jackson?” she called out.

“Diaz-Jackson, but please, call me Jay.” Jay shook her hand. “You’re Ms. Lyn?”

“Yep. Follow me.”

Ms. Lyn led Dan, Jay, and Bob onto campus. “Hey, wait,” said Bob, “this ain’t the way to the lecture-hall!”

“I couldn’t reserve the lecture-hall,” said Ms. Lyn. “I booked you a private room usually reserved for one-on-one counseling.”

Dan finally recovered from the drive. “But we’re supposed to see the lectern Virgil Blue sat on.”

“I’m sorry?” asked Ms. Lyn.

Jay explained while Ms. Lyn ushered them into an administration-building. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding. I wanted to meet you, Ms. Lyn. I wanted to ask about the Virgils from Sheridan.”

“Oh.” Ms. Lyn put her hands on her hips. “But they said they wanted to meet you.”

“The Virgils want to meet me?

“They called two days ago, just minutes before you did,” said Ms. Lyn. “They said you’d call me to schedule your meeting.”

They rounded a corner into a hall of lockers. Virgil Jango Skyy sat in a school-chair attached to a tiny desk. Jay gasped and hustled to him. “Jango!” he said. “Virgil Skyy!”

Jango opened his good eye and smiled at Dan, Jay, Bob, and Lyn. He stood from the tiny desk, took his cane, and bowed his head. “Oran dora.”

“Hey, that’s one of the guys!” Bob gestured for Dan to follow. “You gotta get a selfie with this dude for your thesis!”

Jay struggled for words. “Why are you here?”

“You’re here, aren’t you?” said Jango. “There are no coincidences.”

Ms. Lyn folded her arms. “The Virgils arrived by bus half an hour ago.”

“Me and Blue. Green is busy as always.” Jango brushed wrinkles from his robes. “Jay, I hope our abrupt arrival has not caught you off-guard.”

“It’s an honor to meet you again,” said Jay, “but why?

Jango took air through his teeth. “In Sheridan there’s a story,” he began, after judging the audience worthy of hearing it, “of a sage who knew how the world would end. Men climbed to the sage’s cave to ask about the apocalypse, but the sage never answered. One day someone climbed to the cave and asked, ‘how will the world end?’ The sage, as usual, said nothing. They just sat facing the darkness. The climber repeated, ‘how will the world end?’ and again, the sage said nothing. The climber repeated again, ‘how will the world end?’

“And the sage said, ‘the eternities end when the Chain wraps the Wheel and no worms remain to salvage.’

“The climber was thrilled, but had to ask, ‘why answer me but no one else?’

“And the sage said, ‘because you asked three times.’ ” Jango beamed. Dan and Jay just looked at each other. Bob cocked his head like a dog. “Fifteen years ago,” said Jango, “Faith met me on the main island of Sheridan. Five years ago, Faith met me here at Sheridan Cliff-Side College. A week ago, Faith met me a third time.” From his sleeve, Jango produced the holiday-card which Faith had sent with Jay. He showed them the fox she’d drawn and signed inside. “I cannot ignore someone who meets me three times, even if the third time is only pictorially. There are no coincidences. I knew if I made the barest effort, I’d find the visitors I expected. So!” He clapped his hands. “Where is Faith Featherway?”

Dan, Jay, and Bob shared a glance. “Um.” Jay put a hand over his heart. “I’m afraid Faith died days ago. She was struck by lightning.”

Jango deflated. He looked down the hall as if Faith would appear around the corner. “Impossible.”

“I’m afraid so,” said Bob. Dan wiped his eyes. “Sorry.”

Jango covered his mouth. “But the Mountain arranged this meeting.”

I arranged this meeting,” muttered Ms. Lyn.

“The Mountain and Ms. Lyn did their best,” offered Jay. “We’re Faith’s friends and family. You’re here to hear of her death directly from us in person.”

“I suppose.” Jango rapped his cane on the floor. “Thank you.”

“Geez,” said Bob, “I’d hate to send you home empty-handed. Can I buy you a bagel?”

“Wait,” Jay interjected. “You said Virgil Blue is here? Now?”

“Yes.” Jango pointed to a nearby door. “Waiting for Faith.”

“Can Dan and I interview them?”

Jango raised the eyebrow over his clear eye while squinting his cataract. “The Blue Virgil is rarely in a speaking mood.”

“Then we’ll just take pictures and notes.” Jay shook his camera. “You can supervise us if you’d like, so we don’t disrespect the honorable Virgil.”

Jango sighed. “Nah, go on in.” He walked beside Bob. “I’ll take you up on that bagel while we wait.”

“Me too,” said Dan. “This is a little too much for me right now.” Ms. Lyn led them away, leaving the door to Jay.

Jay licked his lips and knocked. Hearing no response, he opened the door and froze when he saw Virgil Blue’s silver mask staring back. The Virgil, in their hooded navy robes, sat cross-legged on top of a desk. Jay sat in their vacant wheelchair and stared at the mask for a while, unable to do anything else. He wanted to count his fingers, but found himself petrified. His thoughts wandered the embossed, buggy eyes. Seeing them, and being seen by them, was a profound experience. It brought Jay right back to a childhood dream.

Jay knew he lacked the strength to take a proper photo. Without looking down, he willed himself to put his notepad on his thigh and prepare his pen. His wrist locked in writing-position. Unable to break eye-contact with the mask, he hoped his blind scribbles were legible later.

‘I’ve lucked into an interview with Virgil Blue,’ Jay wrote. ‘Their stare transfixes me. I sense messages from past millennia hidden behind the mask. Even if this teacher of teachers says nothing, I’m honored to share space with them.’

Jay couldn’t turn the notepad to continue writing. Instead he watched the mask. He could’ve watched the mask for hours. He stared at his two reflections in the silver eyes. The perception of depth reminded him how to focus his vision and operate his facial muscles, allowing his gaze to stray away. The Virgil’s navy robes were thicker than rugs. The Virgil’s sleeves were tucked into each other to hide their hands. The Virgil’s knees were so knobbly, the robes looked like a crumbling cathedral.

Jay found strength to turn his notepad over and continue writing. ‘Virgil Blue’s commanding aura cannot be overstated. I wish I could coax even one word from behind the mask.’

He gathered courage to speak. “Hello, Virgil Blue. My name is Jay. We’ve met before, in your monastery on the Islands of Sheridan. May I ask a few questions?” Virgil Blue didn’t respond. Jay recalled Jango’s lesson about asking three times. “May I ask a few questions?” Virgil Blue didn’t respond. “May I ask a few questions?” Virgil Blue didn’t respond. Maybe he was just supposed to ask? “On your islands, I got the impression that Sheridanians know centipedes are sometimes smuggled away. Smugglers just have to pass through some sieves to show they’re above-board. Is that right? Any comments?” Virgil Blue didn’t respond.

Jay sighed and continued writing. ‘I guess I’ll have to leave without a quote.’ Jay wiggled his toes. He couldn’t yet stand under the Virgil’s indomitable presence. On a whim, he wrote an empty quote to convey the wordless message: “”.

“Drop the pen.”

Jay dropped the pen.

“Close it.”

Jay closed the notepad.

“Chase truth in your own navel, not mine.”

“I don’t want the truth,” said Jay. “All I want is—“

“Shut up.”

Jay shut up.

“Stop listening, too.”

Jay’s attention blurred.

“My body was born centuries ago, but my story is older. I heard it from the previous Virgil Blue, who heard it from the previous Virgil Blue, who heard it from the previous Virgil Blue, and so on. My story concerns the first man, Nemo, whom the Biggest Bird declared the first Virgil Blue. The original sun made Nemo immortal to guide Sheridan for all time, but over millennia, despite perfect health, his mind deteriorated daily. Nemo’s last students struggled with his peculiar discipline. Nemo reacted violently when his students answered questions incorrectly—or correctly. He demanded students sit nude with him outdoors on winter nights so frozen fog would frost them.

“When students complained of frostbite, Nemo ate the afflicted fingers and toes. He acquired a taste for flesh and filed his teeth sharp like a shark’s. His final lesson was a display of depravity: Nemo chased his congregation through the snow ranting and raving, pouncing on his slowest students and biting off their fingers at the knuckle. It was decided Nemo should retire, and with startling lucidity, Nemo agreed. To pass the title of Virgil Blue, Nemo invented a ceremony in which a bird’s egg—fertilized with sacred seed inside—was smashed on the appointee’s forehead. He passed the title to his only student who still had all ten fingers and toes. Then Nemo climbed above the clouds, never to return. The new Virgil Blue brought Sheridan back to non-cannibalistic orthodoxy. They anointed subordinate Virgils to stabilize the islands.”

The room was quiet for a while.

“Two centuries hence, the new Virgil Blue was still in perfect health, but Nemo appeared in their dreams and told them to wear this silver mask, because their life would soon end. In their following dreams, Nemo ate the Blue Virgil’s fingers and toes. When no phalanges remained, Nemo chewed other extremities, until after excruciating years, the Virgil’s dream-body was totally devoured. Virgil Blue knew their time had come, so they retired the mask and passed the title, following Nemo above the clouds, never to return. Since then, every Virgil Blue has worn the mask while Nemo cannibalized them in the dream-theater, and passed the title when he was finished. Every former Blue climbs to the cloudy peak.

“Some foreigners dare trespass on that sacred peak, and such trespassers never return. Beyond that, everything these trespassers own is ruined. Their property burns. Their children die. Their spouses throw themselves in the sea. This is why the peak fits as final resting-place for the Blue Virgils: they call nothing their own. When they wear the silver mask, they surrender wholly. As Nemo breaks my bones in his teeth each night, I understand the asceticism he imposes. Nothing is mine, not physically, mentally, nor spiritually. When Nemo finishes gnawing my skullcap, I’ll lose nothing in climbing above the clouds.”

The room was quiet for a while.

“The only Virgils I anointed, Skyy and Green, I will never promote. I am the last Virgil Blue. This eternity ends with me. I am Nemo’s last student and his last meal.”

Jay didn’t move or speak for several minutes. He bowed his head, picked up his notepad and pen, and left without a word.


Ms. Lyn led Jay to the campus cafe where Virgil Jango Skyy sat with Dan and Bob at a booth. Jay shook Ms. Lyn’s hand. “Thank you again, Ms. Lyn. I actually had a question for you, though, about the event-brochure from the day the monks lectured here. My friend Faith said there was a bird-photo; who supplied it? Photos of Sheridanian big-birds are rather taboo.”

“Oh.” Ms. Lyn blushed and smacked her forehead. “That was me, but they weren’t real birds! Twenty years ago I was on a flight from Indonesia to Peru which refueled in Sheridan, and I took a picture of some plushies in a runway gift-shop. After Virgil Blue’s lecture, Virgil Jango Skyy complained to me about the photo, and we had a laugh.” Nevertheless embarrassed, Ms. Lyn left him in the cafe. Jay passed chatting students on his way to the booth. Dan helped Jango butter the halves of a bagel to share while Bob sipped a beer.

“Jay!” Jango raised his cane. “Is it time to collect Virgil Blue?”

“They’re all yours.”

“I’ll let them sit for a while longer. No one would dare disturb their eternal meditation.” Jango nibbled his bagel-half. Dan sipped milk and removed his black gloves to swipe through photos on his phone’s touchscreen. His fingertips still looked chewed-upon. “Come, Jay. Dan is showing me my brother’s manga.”

“I need some water,” said Jay. “Bob, can I buy you something to eat?”

“I lose my appetite at altitude,” said Bob. “Buy me another beer.”

Jay found a free cup for water and brought Bob his beer. “Is this really your second drink?” He thought of all the icy hairpin-turns along the mountain roads. “I’ll drive us home, if that’s alright with you.” He sat across from Jango.

Dan showed Jango his phone and the old monk took it to scroll on his own. “Okay, you’re looking through the covers of each volume,” 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—the robots and the pilots are called Zephyrs, so sometimes it gets confusing. One day she escapes and learns to pilot this robot, the Zephyr’s heart. LuLu’s was a cult-classic while it lasted.” Dan took his phone back.

“Where are you staying?” Bob asked Jango. “Bring Blue to my house. Dan, Jay, I’ll pump up an air-mattress for you while the Virgils take the fold-out.”

Jango finished his bagel-half while dismissing the notion with the wave of his other hand. “Virgil Blue and I booked a motel-room.” He stowed his hands back up his sleeves. “We planned to stay just one night, to extend our invitation to Faith.”

“An invitation?” Bob drank his beer. “To what?”

“To the monastery, of course.” Jango released a long sigh. “No one has ever visited me three times in such a fashion as Faith. I thought she was destined for the Islands of Sheridan the same way I was. Virgil Blue and I even prepared her initiation! If she were here to accept it, she could skip studying under Virgil Green and step right into the monastery.”

Dan bit his fingertips, scrolling through LuLu’s on his phone. Jay nodded and swallowed. “Is the initiation still, uh, ready to go?”

“If Faith is dead, then for whom?” asked Jango. Then his eyes opened so wide Jay saw the whole white and black of his irises. “Are you requesting—“

“No, no,” denied Jay. “I’d never invite myself into your monastery. But Dan studies religions! We hoped to research the islands 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 with you?” 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. If you like what the centipede shows you, I could take you into the monastery—but I won’t pressure you. The life of a monk isn’t an easy one.”

Dan covered his face. “Jay, I don’t know.” He 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 twenty-four 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 the Diaz-Jacksons,” 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. You’ve specifically told me not to do this, but I think I have to. I need answers. I’m not sure how this will play out, but I might be spending the rest of my life on an island, or my life might even end tonight. Either way, if I’m reading the subtext right, I’ll be back to see you again in a sequel. 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 stepped back into Bob’s house.

Dan sat on the fold-out, trying to untie his shoes. “Have you changed your mind about the initiation?” Dan struggled with his laces.

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, on the Islands of Sheridan, did you see too many centipedes?”

“Not too many at all.” Jay pulled the shoes off Dan’s feet. “Only near the peak of the main island, above even Virgil Blue’s monastery. You’d like it there, Dan. They’ve got a great library.”

“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. “Um. Here.” Like Dan’s father giving him his books, Jay gave Dan his notepad. He’d torn out the pages about Jango meeting Faith as a fox. “These are my notes on the islands.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Dan flipped through the notepad. “I like your drawings of birds.”

Jay wiped his wet cheeks. “Maybe we’ll meet in Sheridan, huh? If I decide to become a monk?” Then he left and walked to the nearest motel. He knew the Virgils would be there, because there were no coincidences.


When Jay knocked, Virgil Jango Skyy brushed blinds aside and peeked out the window with his good eye. Seeing Jay, he unlocked and opened the door, then locked it again behind him. 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. “Oran dora,” said Jay.

Virgil Skyy wordlessly limped to a rug rolled up against a wall. Jay wanted to help handle the heavy rug, but Skyy bade him to sit beside Blue on the bed. He knocked over the rug with his cane and swiftly 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, until he finally disappeared above the clouds. The man was nude and black like coal. Above the islands, a bird in sky-blue robes oversaw the man’s journey. The sun was red and had a noticeable pimple, the Mountain.

“The first man, Nemo,” said Virgil Skyy, pointing with his cane. “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 months or years of training with Virgil Green, then swimming to the main island and climbing it nude like the birds do. It’s their last step to becoming a proper monk. When a monk wants to be promoted to Virgil, they begin as Virgil Green, training students to make that same swim. You met Virgil Green, didn’t you?”

“I saw him on my tour.” Jay swallowed. “I understand he chased snakes from Sheridan.”

Virgil Skyy shrugged. “Close enough. The way I heard it, Nemo ate the snakes. When he 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. This close, Jay had countless reflections in both of the mask’s compound eyes. “Virgil Skyy… Jango… On the islands, you said the dead are reborn.”

“Our worms cycle in the sand until they find the Mountain,” said Jango.

“You said no one remembers their past lives.” Jay pried his gaze from the mask. “Are you sure?

“The sand on the original sun wears our worms 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 Virgil Blue. “Virgil Blue once dreamed they were a bird eating grubs from tree-trunks. Who’s to say which thoughts aren’t memories of past lives? We get worms from everywhere and across all time.” Jango noticed Jay’s concerned expression. “But it doesn’t matter. Minds are just the whorls 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? The largest worm, the Master of Nihilism, the King of Dust?”

Jango tilted his head in suspicion. “I’ve heard some of those names, but they’re never spoken aloud, except to Virgils. I never even mentioned them to Jun. Where did you hear them?”

“A little fox told me.” Jango’s mouth fell open a little, but he grit his teeth in slow acceptance. Still his eyes were narrowed with skepticism. “The Mountain thinks Anihilato’s collecting worms on its behalf, right? Worms which aren’t ready?” Jango nodded and Jay darkened. “What if it eats enough worms to overpower the Biggest Bird?” He couldn’t bring himself to look at either Virgil. “What if the Heart of the Mountain’s cosmic plan has a stuck cog?”

“I can’t speak for the Mountain,” said Jango. “I’m only a Virgil. My goal is to guide.” Jay’s tense hands trembled. Jango licked his lips, considering Anihilato. “My brother Jun 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. 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 didn’t say yes or no. He didn’t even nod. He just relaxed the tension in his hands

“You’re ready.” Jango grabbed Virgil Blue’s silver mask. Jay gasped. Jango pulled the mask away. Underneath 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. “Centipedes lose most of their potency soon after harvest. It’s not easy to smuggle a bush of them through airport-security, but no one bothers the living legend in a wheelchair, or wonders why they smell so funny to the dogs.” Jango reached into the robes where the femur would’ve been and pulled out a curved knife made of bird-bone. “Close proximity to Blue, especially in an enclosed area, will induce 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 until the end of the eternity. It should be any day 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?”

“Yeah.”

“This will not be the same,” said Jango. “Someone who smokes centipedes sees their worms in the desert, squirming in the sand. You’ll have no such self-control. I will have no control. The centipede will take you straight to the Mountain and show you what you really need to see.” Jay nodded. “It’s a suppository.” Jay cringed and Jango burst out laughing. “Just kidding! Eat it.

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 and was seeing through Nakayama’s compound emerald eyes.

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