Jay and Faith were awestruck by the new Zephyr: a shiny white sphere set in the sky like a polished moon. “It’s beautiful,” said Faith, the quivering snow pile.
“It’s huge,” said Jay. He could not block it from his vision with both hands at arm’s length. Seams split apart along the white sphere’s circumferences. “And growing!”
“Indeed. The wheel span so harshly the Zephyr’s size should not surprise me.” The Mountain’s Heart clenched its beak. “But worry not. The Mountain is larger. We may swallow it.”
“Cool,” said Faith, pointing with her only paw. All the seams on the white sphere peeled up at the corners. The peeled corners frayed and feathered. “Are those wings?” Yes, wings peeled from the sphere in sheets pointing all directions. They flapped and folded without coordination and made the wing-thing drift like a clumsy dirigible. “How will you get it down from all the way up there?”
“It’s not the only one with wings.” The bird unfolded its eighty-foot wingspan. Faith oohed and aahed. The Mountain’s Heart turned a stern gaze to her and Jay. “Don’t get into trouble.”
“What’s in these pits?” Faith used her one limb to crawl to the edge of a cave. “Can we climb inside?”
“Only if you intend never to resurface.” After reconsidering, the Heart of the Mountain stomped an unseen foot. All the holes on the Mountain closed and sealed seamlessly. “Better safe than sorry,” said the bird. Then it initiated liftoff, and shot skyward.
Its exhaust flooded over Faith and Jay. Jay fell but Faith flew for meters like an Autumn leaf. Her one paw could not anchor her to the dusty Mountain. “Help! JayJay! I’m too aerodynamic!”
Jay sat beside her to block the breeze. The Heart of the Mountain zoomed towards the sky-Zephyr on thin steam.
Faith shook out another forelimb. “Can you help me out here? I’m having trouble making myself.”
“You want me to, uh…” Jay mimed squeezing legs from her bulk. “Like, playdoh you?”
“Wait, I think I’ve got it.” She waggled out two hind legs and kicked frost from their feet. “I like being a fox! We’ve got to smoke centipede more often.”
Jay found himself watching the Heart of the Mountain fly across the yellow sky. “Sorry, what?”
“Centipede! We should smoke more!”
“Oh yeah. We smoked centipede.” He watched Faith shape her ears. They were felted with velveteen hair. “If you want more centipede, smoke it without me. I don’t like being bullied by a bird.”
Faith gleefully gasped. Kicking frost had formed an airy tail behind her. “Oh, hohoho! Look at this!” She admired its elegance, but when it extended past the lee left by Jay it was almost stolen by the breeze. She sat in safety, huddled on her haunches. “Can you sculpt yourself, JayJay?”
“If the wind blows you away, maybe I shouldn’t try. We’d both be blasted across the Mountain.” As Jay spoke the Mountain’s Heart confronted the new Zephyr. The sky-sphere’s wings threatened to smack the robed bird from the air. The bird dodged left and barreled right. Blue tentacles spilled from its sleeves and constricted the Zephyr’s wings and joints. “Do you think the Mountain can really swallow that thing?”
“BugBird seems to have a handle on it.” Faith watched the Mountain’s Heart drag the Zephyr through the sky. “Do you think Dainty and BeatBax can hear us talk?”
“Dan and Beatrice. They were on the couch with us.”
“Oh. Right.” Jay wiped sweat from his forehead. Above, the Mountain Heart’s tentacles slung the Zephyr in an easy arc. “I mean, we can hear each other, so we must be speaking aloud. Yeah, they should be able to hear us.”
“Wow!” Faith watched the Zephyr sail through the air. The Mountain’s Heart shot on a burst of steam to beat it to the Mountain’s rounded peak. It phased into a rocky cliff-face. “Oh. Weird!”
The ground shook. Rocks rolled down the mountainside and tumbled off the plateau. Jay stood. “What was that?”
The Mountain rumbled. Before the massive Zephyr could collide with the peak, the peak collapsed into a volcanic crater. The crater widened and the ground wobbled. Jay braced himself.
The Zephyr landed in the crater like a hand in a glove. Its back wings clung desperately to the caldera. The pit deepened and the volcano closed to drag the Zephyr deep into the Mountain’s depths with earth-shattering quakes. “Woohoo!” Faith let volcanic convulsions throw her through the air. “It’s like a carnival ride! Fun, huh JayJay?”
Each ripple knocked Jay’s feet from under him. Even when the winged Zephyr was wholly swallowed the Mountain’s peristalsis rocked him and rolled him until—
A heavy fall broke both his knees backwards beneath him with a series of cracks and pops. Jay shrieked.
“Oh no! JayJay!” Faith landed beside him. “Are you okay?”
Somehow Jay’s knees were intact and rightward bent, but he hyperventilated and then held his breath. His eyes looked at nothing. He hands shook. He released a ragged exhalation.
“Jay?” Faith tentatively raised a paw. “Jay, can you hear me?”
Jay retched. He coughed and choked and held his neck. After three spasms he spit a tooth on a line of saliva.
“Oh!” Faith backed away from the tooth. “Oh my gosh! Jay!”
Jay hacked up three more teeth and spat blood.
“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” Faith tried to gather the teeth for him. When she touched the teeth they sank into her snow. She gave up collecting them and pat Jay’s back with a paw. “Okay, okay, let it out,” she whispered. “C’mon, breathe with me, man, breathe with me.”
“I can’t—” Jay vomited a whole mouthful of teeth. Some were broken and chipped. “They’re—stuck—in m—” He coughed bloody shark teeth. “My—”
“You smoked centipede!” Faith put her paws on his shoulders and locked eyes with him. “This isn’t real! Hold onto yourself!”
She saw inside Jay’s mouth. His esophagus churned with canines and molars. Shark teeth swam amid the mix. The teeth tore his throat bloody raw. Faith turned her tail to him.
“Open wide.” She dipped her tail’s tip into his throat. The teeth soaked into her fur and she pulled them out of his mouth. “There, is that better?”
Jay panted and gave Faith a thumb up. He held his neck with his other hand. “It felt like throwing up thumb-tacks,” he managed. He spat more blood into the dirt and closed his eyes to clear his tears. “Thank you, Faith. I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”
She was gone.
Jay stood and looked around. The Mountain had regained its smooth, solid features, so there was nowhere for her to hide. Finally Jay saw white steam rolling up the mountainside.
“Faith?” He waved his arms at the retreating steam. “Faith! Wait! I can’t lose you, I—”
The cloud did not turn back. With a sigh he climbed the Mountain after it.