Jay and Faith were awestruck by the 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.” Jay couldn’t block it from view with both hands at arm’s length. Seams split open along the white sphere’s surface. “And growing!”
“Indeed,” said the Mountain’s Heart, “but the Mountain is larger. We will swallow it.”
“Cool!” Faith pointed her only paw at the white sphere’s seams peeling at the corners and fraying into feathers. “Are those wings?” Yes, wings peeled from the sphere in sheets. They flapped and the winged Zephyr drifted like an awkward dirigible. “How can you swallow it all the way up there?”
“It’s not the only one with wings.” The bird unfolded its forty-foot wingspan. Faith oohed and aahed. The Heart turned them both a stern gaze. “Don’t get into trouble.”
“What’s in these pits?” Faith used her paw to crawl to a cave. “Can we climb inside?”
“Only if you intend never to resurface.” Reconsidering, the Heart stomped and all the holes on the red mountain sealed seamlessly. “Better safe than sorry,” said the bird. Then it initiated liftoff.
Its exhaust flooded over Faith and Jay. Jay only fell, but Faith flew for meters like an Autumn leaf. “Help! JayJay! I’m too aerodynamic!”
Jay blocked the breeze with his body and Faith fluttered down safely. The Heart of the Mountain zoomed toward the winged Zephyr on thin steam.
Faith shook out a new forelimb. “Can you give me a hand? I’m having trouble making myself.”
“You want me to, uh…” Jay mimed squeezing legs from her bulk. “Like, play-doh you?”
“Wait, I’ve got it.” Faith waggled out two hind legs and kicked frost from their feet. “I like being a fox! We gotta smoke centipede more often.”
Jay was distracted watching the Heart of the Mountain cross the yellow sky. “Sorry, what?”
“Centipede! We should smoke more!”
“Oh yeah. We smoked centipede.” He watched Faith shape her ears. “Smoke without me. I don’t like being bullied by a bird.”
Faith gasped with glee. Kicking frost had formed a fluttery tail behind her. “Oh, hohoho! Look at this!” When her tail left the lee made by Jay, it was almost stolen by the breeze. Faith huddled on her haunches in safety. “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 winged Zephyr. The Zephyr’s wings threatened to smack the robed bird from the air, but the bird barreled right. Blue tentacles spilled from its sleeves and constricted the Zephyr’s wing-joints. “Do you think the mountain can really swallow that thing?”
“Bug-Bird 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’re on the couch.”
“Oh. Right.” Jay wiped sweat from his brow. The 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 can hear us.”
“Wow!” Faith watched the Zephyr sail through the air. The Heart shot on a burst of steam to beat the Zephyr to the red mountain’s peak, where it phased into the rocky cliff-face. “Oh. Weird!”
The ground shook. Rocks rolled off the mountain’s edge. Jay stood. “What was that?”
Just before the massive winged Zephyr collided with the peak, the peak collapsed into a caldera. The caldera widened and the mountain wobbled. Jay braced himself.
The Zephyr landed in the caldera like a hand in a glove. The caldera deepened to drag the Zephyr into the red mountain with earth-shattering quakes. “Woo!” Faith let volcanic convulsions throw her through the air. “Fun, huh JayJay?”
Each ripple knocked Jay’s feet from under him. The mountain’s peristalsis rocked him and rolled him until a heavy fall broke both his knees backwards. Jay shrieked.
“Oh! JayJay!” Faith landed beside him. “Are you okay?”
Somehow Jay’s knees were intact and rightward bent, but he hyperventilated then held his breath. His hands shook.
“JayJay?” Faith raised a paw to his face. “Jay, can you hear me?”
Jay retched and held his neck. With a spasm, he spat a tooth on a line of saliva.
“Oh!” Faith reared from the tooth. “Oh no! Jay!”
Jay hacked up three more teeth and spat blood.
“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” Faith gathered the teeth but they sank into her snow. She gave up and pat Jay’s shoulder 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 locked eyes with him. “This isn’t real! Hold onto yourself!” She saw into Jay’s throat. His esophagus churned with canines and molars. Shark-teeth swam amid the mix. Faith turned her tail to him. “Open wide.” She dipped her tail’s tip down his neck. The teeth soaked into her fur and she pulled them from his mouth. “There, is that better?”
Jay panted and gave Faith a thumbs-up. He rubbed his throat. “It felt like throwing up thumb-tacks,” he managed. “Maybe I didn’t drink enough orange-juice.” He spat more blood and closed his eyes to clear his tears. “Thanks, Faith. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
She was gone.
Jay stood. He saw white steam rolling up the red mountain. “Faith?” He waved at the retreating steam. “Faith! Wait!”
The steam didn’t stop. With a sigh, he climbed the mountain after it.