No moon or stars. The skeleton says, “Awfully dark,” and drinks the smoke that pours out through its teeth back in through its nasal aperture. I flip the bird as I run past after Tim. Sick of that skeleton.
The mountain’s three days shaking. I fire magic arrows that should hit Tim but don’t. The atmosphere is ash. A lot of the mountain’s bones are exposed, big dinosaur-looking trunks and dinosaur-sized horns.
The skeleton keeps showing up in front of me and waving. It’s weird. He’s just standing there, but he’s always ahead of me, and I’m running fast. He’s smoked at least three cigarettes, ‘cause he stubs them out on the bones. No lungs, I guess. Not running. No time to figure it out. I’m after Tim.
Tim’s a two-foot-tall imp with horns that corkscrew in round bulbs, all black and dripping, with neon blue eyes. I just call him Tim ‘cause I hate him. I gave chase when I first saw him, because I was bored of eating bug monsters and I thought he would taste different. He kept ducking behind bones or ash, and by the time I got there, he was ducking behind something else. Now I just want to show him whose mountain this is.
“You’ll never catch him,” says the skeleton. “And shouldn’t the sun be up? It’s half past two.”
It’s leaning against a horn and packing cigarettes. It’s laughing at me, so I send an arrow its way. It doesn’t even duck. Maybe my bow’s broken.
That laugh’s not the skeleton’s, though. That high-pitched, cutesy laugh is Tim. A couple times I’ve caught him peeking back from behind a corner, just waiting for me. The laughter’s louder then. I scream, “Fuck you, Tim!” He throws his stubby hands in the air and runs off.
“He’s toying with you. He’s magic.”
I say, “I’m magic, too,” and keep running.
Tim is nowhere this time, just gone. I lost him. I stop running, and next time the skeleton shows, I see what it wants. I sit on a little mound of ash. The mountain’s still shaking, and the skeleton lights another cigarette.
“He’s heading to the peak,” it says. “We can take your shortcut if you want to see him there, but catch your breath, wait up, listen.”
So it talks, and I hear it out. It’s Wiltner Dasney’s bones. We climb the mountain. He says he knew about Tim back when he was alive. Says it was the only time he saw the future before he woke up on his tombstone. Saw him in a dream. Drew a picture. Someone named Ub changed him a bit to make him easier to draw, but that’s the mouse for sure. The mouse that haunted his dreams for months and the rest of his career.
“You don’t recognize him,” says Dasney, “but you know him. The imp you’ve been calling Tim is Mousey Mickster.”
“How do you know he’s heading to my peak?”
“It’s not your peak, Drake. This mountain has always been Mousey’s.”
“Why’s he going to my peak?”
“That’s where he ends the world.”
He points, and the peak’s in sight. And like he said there’s Tim or Mousey, waving his hands in the air and wiggling his fingers like a magician. I fire an arrow, and he’s standing too still to pretend I missed. He doesn’t fall, just keeps waving, and a neon blue sky comes in like a wave from the wrong horizon and funnels into the mountain, a reverse volcano that shakes everything harder and knocks me on my ass. Dasney stubs out another cigarette.
It’s night again, and the mountain’s still shaking too hard to stand. Then daylight gets dragged up from the horizons, and the night follows the blue into the mountain until it’s gone.
Mousey’s gone with it. The new day’s sunset-colored, and the sun’s in the middle of the sky. The mountain’s all bones now, the last of its ash leapt into the air.
I get up on all fours and shout about where the night went. Dasney doesn’t raise his voice above the rumbling bone mountain, but I hear him. He says I should listen when he talks, it was never night, just a serpent across the sky.
“Would you like to be part of a quiz show?”