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They came up out of the Hole on the creature’s back, clutching each other’s waists and locking their legs around the creature’s barrel belly to keep from falling off. Wind and sand ripped through their hair and tugged at their pajamas, threatening to pull them off their mount and hurl them back down into the darkness.

All of them were shrieking, but only Charlotte was shrieking with joy.

At the Hole’s lip where the suction was strongest, the creature beat against the whistling currents with unflagging strength, his four legs pumping and the two long whips that were drilled into the scar tissue of his shoulders buzzing up and down so fast that they were a dangerous blur, like bicycle spokes.

Finally, the creature punched through the aperture and dug his hooves into the Hole’s rocky ledge, straining hard, pulling himself and all six of his passengers out of the ground like weeds. His whips stopped buzzing, went momentarily limp, and then shot out to grab the sides of the Hole like spider webs, helping to drag them over the edge.

The creature lay down in the bright orange sand and rolled sideways, throwing the youths off his back. They landed together in a shocked, terrified heap. Heaving and snorting, the creature rested, watching them with his glowing red eyes. His massive, shiny white chest glistened as if it were an oil slick on a pool of cream, and his long, thin features were fine-boned, cruel, and sensitive. The long black blade that had been drilled into his forehead was jagged and sharp, and was as long as the creature’s slender and sculptured face: a muscular snout that tapered into thick lips and thick, flat teeth. He was white all over, from his milky nostrils to the pendular genitalia that swung like a lazy monkey between his knees. The only parts of his body that weren’t covered in slick white fur were his black hooves, the black blade jutting from his forehead, and the tendrils as thick as garden hoses that sprouted from his shoulders and moved with as much gravity-defying grace as cat’s tails.

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