They were actually conducting a conversation. Dylan had only the dimmest understanding of what Shepherd might be trying to tell him; however, for once he felt certain that his brother was listening to him and that what Shep said was in direct response to the questions that were asked.
With this in mind, Dylan sprang to the most important question pending: 'Shep, do you remember the movie The Fly?'
Head still lowered, Shep nodded. 'The Fly. Released to theaters in 1958. Running time – ninety-four minutes.'
'That's not important, Shep. Trivia isn't what I'm after. What I want to know is do you remember what happened to the scientist?'
Far below them, standing beside the motorcycle, Vonetta Beesley took off her crash helmet.
'The cast included Mr. David Hedison as the scientist. Miss Patricia Owens, Mr. Vincent Price—'
'Shep, don't do this.'
'—and Mr. Herbert Marshall. Directed by Mr. Kurt Neumann who also directed Tarzan and the Leopard Woman—'
Here was the kind of conversation that Dylan called Shepspeak. If you were willing to participate, involving yourself in patient give-and-take, you could spend an entertaining half-hour together before you reached data overload. Shep had memorized prodigious quantities of arcane information about subjects that were of particular interest to him, and sometimes he enjoyed sharing it.
'—Son of Ali Baba, Return of the Vampire—'
Vonetta hung her helmet from the handlebars of the bike, peered up at the hawk that circled to the east of her, and then spotted Shep and Dylan high on the hill.
'—It Happened in New Orleans, Mohawk, and Rocketship X-M among others.'
'Shep, listen, let's get back to the scientist. You remember the scientist got into a teleportation booth—'
'The Fly was remade as The Fly in 1986.'
'—and there was a fly in the booth too—'
'Running time of this remade version—'
'—but the scientist didn't know—'
'—is one hundred minutes.'
'—it was there with him.'
'Directed by Mr. David Cronenberg,' said Shepherd. 'Starring Mr. Jeff Goldblum—'
Standing down there beside her big motorcycle, Vonetta waved at them.
'—Miss Geena Davis, and Mr. John Getz.'
Dylan didn't know whether or not he should wave at Vonetta. From this distance, she couldn't possibly know who he and Shep were, but if he gave her too much to work with, she might recognize him by his body language.
'Other films directed by Mr. David Cronenberg include The Dead Zone, which was good, a scary but good movie, Shep liked The Dead Zone—'
Vonetta might be able to see the suggestion of a third person on the hilltop – Jilly – but she wouldn't be able to discern enough of the gateway to understand the full strangeness of the situation up here.
'—The Brood and They Came from Within. Shep didn't like those cause they were too bloody, they were full of sloppy stuff. Shep doesn't ever want to see those again. None of that stuff anymore. Not again. None of that stuff.'
Deciding that to wave at the woman might be to encourage her to come up the hill for a visit, Dylan pretended not to see her. 'Nobody is going to make you watch another Cronenberg movie,' he assured his brother. 'I just want you to think about how the scientist and the fly got all mixed up.'
Apparently suspicious, Vonetta put on her helmet.
'Teleportation!' Dylan agreed. 'Yes, that's exactly right. The fly and the scientist teleported together, and they got mixed up.'
Still addressing the ground at his feet, Shepherd said, 'The 1986 remake was too icky,'
'You're right, it was.'
'Gooey scenes. Bloody scenes. Shep doesn't like gooey-bloody scenes.'
The housekeeper mounted her Harley once more.
'The first version wasn't gooey-bloody,' Dylan reminded his brother. 'But the important question is—'
'Nine minutes in the shower is just right,' said Shepherd, unexpectedly harking back to Dylan's critical tirade.
'I suppose it is. Yes, I'm sure it is. Nine minutes. You're absolutely right. Now—'
'Nine minutes. One minute for each arm. One minute for each leg. One minute—'
Vonetta tried to fire up the Harley. The engine didn't catch.
'—for the head,' Shepherd continued. 'Two full minutes to wash everything else. And two minutes to rinse.'
'If we jump back to the motel together,' Dylan said, 'right now, the two of us hand-in-hand, are we going to wind up like the fly and the scientist?'
Shep's next words were saturated with an unmistakable note of wounded feelings: 'Shep doesn't eat crap.'
Baffled, Dylan said, 'What?'
When Vonetta keyed the ignition again, the Harley answered with proud power.
'Shep doesn't eat a narrow little list of crap like you said, a narrow little list of crap. Shep eats food just like you.'
'Of course you do, kiddo. I only meant—'
'Crap is shit,' Shepherd reminded him.
'I'm sorry. I didn't mean any of that.'
Straddling the Harley, both feet still on the ground, Vonetta gunned the throttle a few times, and the roar of the engine echoed across the meadow, through the hills.
'Poopoo, kaka, diaper dump—'
Dylan almost cried out in frustration, but he swallowed hard, and maintained his composure. 'Shep, listen, buddy, bro, listen—'
'—doodoo, cow pie, bulldoody, and all the rest as previously listed.'
'Exactly,' Dylan said with relief. 'As previously listed. You did a good job previously. I remember them all. So are we going to wind up like the fly and the scientist?'
With his head bowed so far that his chin touched his chest, Shep said, 'Do you hate me?'
The question rocked Dylan. And not solely the question, but the fact that Shepherd had spoken of himself in the first person instead of the third. Not do you hate Shep, but do you hate me. He must feel deeply wounded.
Behind the house, Vonetta turned the Harley out of the driveway and rode across the backyard toward the meadow.
Dylan knelt on one knee in front of Shep. 'I don't hate you, Shep. I couldn't if I tried. I love you, and I'm scared for you, and being scared just made me pissy.'
Shep wouldn't look at his brother, but at least he didn't close his eyes.
'I was mean,' Dylan continued, 'and you don't understand that, because you're never mean. You don't know how to be mean. But I'm not as good as you, kiddo, I'm not as gentle.'
Shepherd appeared to boggle at the grass around his bedroom slippers, as though he had seen an otherworldly creature creeping through those bristling blades, but he must instead be reacting to the astonishing idea that, in spite of all his quirks and limitations, he might in some ways be superior to his brother.
At the end of the mown yard, Vonetta rode the Harley straight into the meadow. Tall golden grass parted before the motorcycle, like a lake cleaving under the prow of a boat.
Returning his full attention to Shepherd, Dylan said, 'We have to get out of here, Shep, and right away. We have to get back to the motel, to Jilly, but not if we're going to end up like the scientist and the fly.'
'Gooey-bloody,' said Shep.
'Exactly. We don't want to end up gooey-bloody.'
'Gooey-bloody is bad.'
'Gooey-bloody is very bad, yes.'
Brow furrowed, Shep said solemnly, 'This isn't a Mr. David Cronenberg film.'
'No, it isn't,' Dylan agreed, heartened that Shep seemed to be as tuned in to a conversation as he ever could be. 'But what does that mean, Shep? Does that mean it's safe to go back to the motel together?'
'Herethere,' Shep said, compressing the two words into one, as he had done before.
Vonetta Beesley had traveled half the meadow.
'Herethere,' Shep repeated. 'Here is there, there is here, and everywhere is the same place if you know how to fold.'
'Fold? Fold what?'
'Fold here to there, one place to another place, herethere.'
'We're not talking teleportation, are we?'
'This is not a Mr. David Cronenberg film,' Shep said, which Dylan took to be a confirmation that teleportation – and therefore the catastrophic commingling of atomic particles – was not an issue.
Rising off his knee to full height, Dylan put his hands on Shepherd's shoulders. He intended to plunge with his brother into the gateway.
Before they could move, the gateway came to them. Facing Shep, Dylan was also facing the magical portal behind Shep when the image of Jilly in the motel bathroom abruptly folded as though it were a work of origami in progress, like one of those tablet-paper cootie catchers that kids made in school for the purpose of teasing other kids: folded forward, folded around them, folded them up inside it, and folded away from California.
Half crazed with worry, Jilly almost snapped completely when the radiant tunnel in front of her appeared to fracture from the center and then folded upon the fracture lines. Although she thought the red passageway folded inward upon itself, simultaneously she had a sense of it blooming toward her, causing her to step backward in alarm.
In place of the tunnel, she was confronted by shifting geometric patterns in shades of red and black, similar to what might be seen in a kaleidoscope, except that these designs were breathtakingly three-dimensional, continually evolving. She feared falling into them, not down necessarily, but also up and around, feared tumbling like a weightless astronaut into blossoming patterns forever, to eternity.
In fact, the awesome structure that loomed in the wall defied her sense of vision, or perhaps defied her mental capacity to grasp and analyze what her eyes revealed. It seemed markedly more real than anything else in the bathroom, real but so infinitely strange that her terrified gaze ricocheted off one peculiar detail after another, as though her mind fled from the consideration of the true complexity of the construct. Repeatedly she perceived a depth greater than three dimensions, but didn't possess the ability to lock on that perception and hold it, even though a small and panicky inner voice of intuition counted five, and then seven, and kept counting after she refused to listen to it anymore.
Almost at once, new colors intruded upon the red and black: the blue of a summer sky, the golden shade of certain beaches and of ripe wheat. Among the countless thousands of tiles in this ceaselessly reforming mosaic, the percentage of red and black rapidly declined as the blue and gold increased. She thought she saw, then knew she saw, then tried not to see fragments of human forms distributed widely through the kaleidoscopic patterns: here a staring eye, and there a finger, and there an ear, as if a stained-glass portrait had been shattered and tossed in the air by a cyclone wind. She thought that she also glimpsed a toothy portion of Wile E. Coyote's grinning visage, then saw the merest scrap of a familiar blue-and-yellow Hawaiian shirt, and another scrap there.
No more than five or six seconds passed from the instant that the tunnel folded upon itself until Dylan and Shepherd unfolded into the bathroom and appeared before Jilly as whole and normal as ever they had been. Behind them, where the tunnel had once churned with red light, there was now only an ordinary wall.
With obvious relief, Dylan exhaled a pent-up breath and said something like, 'No gooey-bloody.'
Shep declared, 'Shep is dirty.'
Jilly said, 'You son of a bitch,' and punched Dylan in the chest.
She hadn't pulled the punch. The blow made a satisfying thwack, but Dylan was too big to be rocked off his feet as Jilly had hoped he would be.
'Hey!' Dylan protested.
Head bowed, Shep said, 'Time to shower.'
And Jilly repeated herself, 'You son of a bitch,' as she hit Dylan again.
'What's wrong with you?'
'You said you weren't going in there,' she angrily reminded him, and punched still harder.
'Ow! Hey, I didn't intend to go.'
'You went,' she accused, and she swung at him again.
With one of his open hands as big as a catcher's mitt, he caught her fist and held it, effectively ending her assault. 'I went, yeah, okay, but I really didn't intend to go.'
Shepherd remained patient but persistent: 'Shep is dirty. Time to shower.'
'You told me you wouldn't go,' Jilly said, 'but you went, and left me here alone.'
She didn't quite know how Dylan had gotten hold of her by both wrists. Restraining her, he said, 'I came back, we both came back, everything's all right.'
'I couldn't know you'd come back. As far as I knew, you'd never come back or you'd come back dead.'
'I had to come back alive,' he assured her, 'so you'd have a fair chance to kill me.'
'Don't joke about this.' She tried to wrench loose of him but couldn't. 'Let go of me, you bastard.'
'Are you going to hit me again?'
'If you don't let go of me, I'll tear you to pieces, I swear.'
'Time to shower.'
Dylan released her, but he kept both hands raised as though he expected that he would have to catch further punches. 'You're such an angry person.'
'Oh, you're damn right I'm an angry person.' She trembled with anger, shook with fear. 'You said you wouldn't go in there, then you went in there anyway, and I was alone.' She realized that she was shaking more with relief than with either fury or fear. 'Where the hell did you go?'
'California,' Dylan said.
'What do you mean "California"?'
'California. Disneyland, Hollywood, Golden Gate Bridge. You know, California?'
'California,' said Shep. 'One hundred sixty-three thousand seven hundred and seven square miles.'
With a thick note of disbelief in her voice, Jilly said, 'You went through the wall to California?'
'Yeah. Why not? Where'd you think we went – Narnia? Oz? Middle Earth? California's weirder than any of those places, anyway.'
Shep evidently knew a lot about his native state: 'Population, approximately thirty-five million four hundred thousand.'
'But I don't think we actually went through the wall,' Dylan said, 'or through anything at all. Shep folded here to there.'
'Highest point, Mount Whitney—'
'Folded what to where?' Jilly asked.
'—fourteen thousand four hundred ninety-four feet above sea level.'