Cobalt walked through the forest on his way to Pudgy’s underground home. It had been several weeks since his return from Georgia on his ghostly adventures. Stopping at the water wheel, he inspected it to make sure everything was ok. The recent rains had come swiftly, causing local flooding around the area. The wheel was intact and spinning slowly as the water flowed through the creek and danced upon the rocks. There was a soft whine from the alternator. The man set down a white plastic bucket he was carrying. Inside was a couple tall plants, dirt, and a hand shovel.
As he knelt, Cobalt started digging small holes around the water wheel. Taking the green leafy plants out, he planted them one by one. It was while planting, he noticed Pudgy peeking at him from behind a tree. “Hi Pudgy,” the man said while waving at his hedgehog friend. The hedgehog bounced happily and walked over to the new plants. “Are these plants to hide the water wheel?” Cobalt nodded, and Pudgy helped by adding topsoil around the plants and tamping it down. “How are you feeling Pudgy?” The man said, as he planted. His critter friend looked up, “Pudgy feel ok, but miss Elizabeth. She came over to visit every day. Mister Dinosaur, and Hecate are not coming over either.”
The human nodded and patted his friend’s head. “Well Pudgy, we saw them a lot as of late. Maybe they have things to do? You have had a bunch of adventures in a short amount of time. I think a good rest is due, for everyone. Plus, it’s getting warmer out, so I can come over more.” The hedgehog bounced, and watched his friend put the shovel back into the bucket. Pudgy watched his friend stand up and started to walk towards his underground home. Scurrying beside him, Pudgy ran into his home, to open the meeting room doors. As Cobalt waited, he saw the grass was greening up, and spreading across the front of the home. In time, the windows and doors would be the only thing that would be seen.
The big round door started to split and open inwards slowly. The sitting room was being revealed, and soon a happy hedgehog was peeking over the round doorjamb. Cobalt set the bucket down beside the doorway and stepped inside the room. He had a small green backpack on, which the man took off and set down on the banquette. Cobalt sat down and unzipped his backpack. Watching Pudgy scurry up to hit mud-covered boot, the hedgehog climbed his leg, tugging at his blue jeans. The man gently scooped him up into his hands. Pudgy smiled and bounced as the man started to hug him. The critter sighed happily and looked up at his friend.
Cobalt smiled back and started to tell his hedgehog friend about recent developments at his job. There was a decision made, and most of the workers could work from home provided they met certain conditions. He had brought home the various parts of the work hardware and had set up in his office at the house. Pudgy nodded while his friend talked and was glad that he could stay home. While it was nice to go into the office, there was a definite cost savings by working from home. Given all the expenses as of late, it was a chance for Cobalt to recover financially. From travel supplies to rocket assembly, the man had spent thousands of dollars on hedgehog related activities.
Pudgy let go, and sniffed towards the bag, and scurried over towards it. “Oh, I brought over some items for your home.” Cobalt said with a smile, watching the hedgehog start emptying the bag. Little cans of food, with easy pull top lids were inside. There were also plastic containers with screw tops of rice, flour, and other dry goods. Cobalt learned early on to use containers that could be easily opened with fuzzy paws. The hedgehog smiled and noticed the big box of Lorna Doone cookies. “And yes, I brought cookies. The store was out of the hydrox cookies for some reason, which is strange.” Pudgy bounced, “Thank you Cobalt!”
The man smiled, and helped his friend, then the grocery items, onto the concrete floor. He watched as the hedgehog scooted back and forth carrying an item at a time into his home and put the food away. Cobalt had stained and polyurethane the wood surfaces within the sitting room during the time that Pudgy had returned. The home was finally finished, save one part which was a supplemental heat source for this room. Given the nature of Pudgy’s usual activities, wintertime adventurers necessitated a warm room for gatherings. He had located a heat source used for boats, but the store was in Ohio. There were local marinas and boat stores, but they primarily served for bass boat style of watercraft. It was surprising though, with the wood stove running, how much heat Pudgy was able to generate though for the whole of the underground home.
The hedgehog peeked out of the interior doorway, “Cobalt, would you like tea?” The man smiled, “No thank you Pudgy. I brought water with me,” he said while opening the top of a water bottle that had been clipped to the backpack. The critter nodded and ducked back inside towards his kitchen. While his friend said no, Pudgy wanted some tea and started to make a pot of water to put on the wood stove. Springtime was here, and finally he did not have to keep cutting firewood every day. The wood hoppers were full, and he could let the stove’s fire die out during the afternoon. As with most homesteads, he would do his baking in the morning, while the fire was lit.
Cobalt stood partially up, and then got down onto his hands and knees. Opening the little metal door, he looked inside to check the electrical components of Pudgy’s home. Given the nature of the area they lived in, Pudgy’s water wheel either generated too much power or not enough. Given local laws, as well as an understanding with the local sewage authority, they could not dam the creek and make a lake. That would be the best way to ensure a daily source of free-flowing water. But the weather patterns had been changing over many years. Now Pennsylvania was getting more rain than snow, so when the deluges came, it was best be ready. Two extra deep cycle Marine batteries had been wired in, which would give the home a months’ worth of power when fully charged. The inverter was green, and the panel showed .5 of a watt of power being generated due to the slow-moving wheel.
It was as he looked back, towards the chain link fence gate that blocked the bigger Xanadoom Crystal, he blinked and coughed. The crystal was cracked, and only part of it was glowing. “Pudgy, can you come over here?” The man opened the gates, and swung them back, and watched as Pudgy scurried up underneath him and into the power room. “Oh no, the crystal!” The hedgehog exclaimed, with a worried tone. “Cobalt, we need that!” The man nodded, “Pudgy, where is your little crystal?” The hedgehog nodded and pulled it out of his little green vest. The small crystal which the hedgehog used to communicate and transport with was intact, though it had a strange purple discoloration to it.
Cobalt nodded, “Something is not right here Pudgy. Call Lord Doomcock, please.” His furry friend nodded, “Lord Doomcock, this is Pudgy, are you there?” The crystal started to hiss, and glow with a pale golden light. Then the light faded, and Pudgy started making a face. Setting the crystal down on the concrete, he rubbed his paws on his sides. “Cobalt, the crystal got very warm.” Just about as the man was about to speak, the crystal was immediately pulled into the bigger one. The two friends looked at each other, and then back at the crystal. The strange coloration spread throughout its structure, though the crack began to heal itself. The whole body began to shrink as well, until it reduced in half by volume. A tremendous amount of heat was coming out of it and spread into the small utility room. The man flipped a breaker switch and cut the power to the crystal. It continued to glow however and turned a deep emerald glow.
An insidious voice started to fill the room, with a thick accent. “Met out pa ka ede ou kounye a.” It repeated several times, before the crystal went dark. Pudgy was furiously writing the message on a scrap of paper he had found in the room. Cobalt took out his bandana handkerchief and used it as a glove to disconnect the crystal from the power structure he built. Setting it down on the floor, he pulled his hand back. “Pudgy, this is really not good. Who was that?” The hedgehog shook his head, “Pudgy don’t know. But Pudgy wrote down message?” The man pulled his body back from out of the cramped room, heading the short distance back to the banquette seating in the sitting room. Sitting down, he pulled his phone out of his pants pocket. “Cell phones are a wonderful thing, especially that google stuff.” Using the microphone, he said, “Met out pa ka ede ou kounye a translation.” The phone had a spinning circle then the translation appeared on the screen.
Cobalt’s face drained of color, and Pudgy looked up at him from the utility room. “What is it Cobalt?” The man coughed hard, “It is Haitian creole, and it said your lord can not help you now.” The hedgehog looked scared, “Lord Doomcock is in trouble!” Cobalt nodded, “Possibly. However, we also know that Santa for example uses these crystals as well. Perhaps Lord Doomcock is all right, but someone else is using the crystal network?” The critter nodded, “Maybe … Pudgy have to go to Xanadoom!” The man shook his head, “you nearly didn’t make it there in the first place. That was by luck and chance you made it safely. Plus, you had the crystal in case of emergency. We must assume now we are on our own, with no safety net. There are ways to contact him using nonmagical methods, which we will try first.”
Pudgy was dragging the crystal out of the utility room, and up towards Cobalt’s boot. The critter nodded, “We need keep scary crystal away from power.” The man nodded and picked up the seat opposite from him to reveal a storage compartment. He removed the rusted metal box that was retrieved from Cemetery hill in Gettysburg. “Good thinking Pudgy, we will wrap the crystal, and place it in the box. Retrieving his bandana once more, the man bent down, and picked up the crystal. Wrapping it carefully, he placed the crystal inside the metal box, and shut the lid. Cobalt started to move back towards the storage compartment when Pudgy waved his paw. “Don’t put it back inside, what if Pudgy needs to use it?” The man nodded and set the metal box on the floor but at the furthest part of the sitting room away from the door. “Ok Pudgy, I understand. But, please do not use it. We have to assume whomever that voice is, does not have good intentions.”
As he sat back up and into the banquette, Cobalt frowned as he realized it would be only so long before he could distract his hedgehog friend, before he would run off on another adventure. This one would be different, and more planning would be required. In the meantime, he turned his phone on once more, and started typing a message to Lord Doomcock’s various social media platform sites. “I’m sending messages to Diktor now Pudgy, but usually there is a lag between when I send, and he responds.” The critter nodded but was still watching the box with a worried look. Pudgy shook his head and scurried up Cobalt’s leg and buried his face into his hip hugging. “Pudgy hope Lord Doomcock is all right.” Cobalt patted his friend gently, “I’m sure he is Pudgy. He has a fortress, with robot guards, in an underground base. Diktor gave us a rocket and supplies to send you to the moon and back. I’m sure he can handle a mysterious voice, speaking creole.”
The critter looked up, “what’s creole?” The man nodded, “It is a language spoke in and around Louisiana, though mainly New Orleans. New Orleans is the biggest city there, though the state capitol is in Baton Rouge. Remember how I took French in school, and haven’t been able to use it anywhere? That is the one place you can, in many parts. French is not Creole, but they share similar words. I could understand part of it when the voice was talking.” Pudgy nodded, and hugged again, feeling safe with his large human friend. Cobalt reached over into his backpack and pulled out a tray of thumbprint cookies decorated with bright pastel colored dollops of icing. Cobalt handed him a bright yellow cookie, and the hedgehog accepted it and started to nibble. Cobalt took a cookie for himself and started to eat as well. Baked goodies, especially cookies, made things better.
Cobalt stayed over at Pudgy’s house all day, doing touch ups on the painting as well as checking things. The underground home was much better than the cabin for his friend. It was well protected, and if need be, easily hidden. The hedgehog continually checked his phone, waiting for Lord Doomcock to respond. As the sun began to set, Pudgy was frowning, “He hasn’t answered yet!” Cobalt took the phone back and put it into his pocket. “Pudgy, like I have said a couple times today, there is always a lag between when I send, and he responds. It might be days before he contacts us. Do not worry about him, nor the crystal. We have taken steps to fix this, and we need to wait. In the meantime, I believe if I am not mistaken, you have a trip to Mister Bear’s house tomorrow?” Pudgy nodded, “Yes, Mister Bear invite Pudgy over for tea. But what if the Lord calls, when Pudgy is not home?” Cobalt laughed, “He can leave a message. Press star 4 for emergency hedgehog access.”
Cobalt knelt and scooped up his hedgehog friend to hug him gently. “Good night Pudgy, I will see you in two days.” The small critter hugged back, and then bounced when he was sat down onto the concrete floor. Cobalt took his water bottle and backpack back and exited the sitting room. He picked up the white bucket outside of the door and waved back. “Bye Pudgy.” Pudgy waved and disappeared to start turning the gears that shut the round split doors to the sitting room. Once shut, Cobalt turned and walked through the dimly lit forest.
Pudgy watched out of his window as his friend headed back to his home on the other side of the forest. He scurried about to secure his utility room. After completing the task, he turned the lights off in the sitting room, and shut his interior door. The kitchen table was full of Cobalt sized thumbprint cookies, covered with a tablecloth. “No, save cookies, Pudgy full.” Filling the sink with water, Pudgy started to wash his couple of dishes and cups. Thoughts of Lord Doomcock in trouble filled his head, but he was powerless to do anything at this time to stop it. The cell phone that Cobalt gave Pudgy began to buzz and light up. Drying his paws with a striped towel, he scampered quickly over. Lord Doomcock’s picture appeared, and Pudgy pushed the icon to turn on the application. “Greetings Pudgy, what is wrong my friend?” The hedgehog bounced, “Hail Lord Doomcock! Something bad happened, are you ok?”
The lord laughed, “Pudgy I am all right. What is wrong my friend?” The hedgehog quickly started to tell Diktor about the crystal, and what had happened with the strange voice. The app on the phone was neat because he could see Lord Doomcock’s helmet bouncing, like he was talking. Yes, it was an animation, but it reassured the hedgehog to see it. Once Pudgy was done talking, the lord paused. “Pudgy, you and Cobalt were right to disconnect the crystal from the power. I have been finding them to be problematic as of late. While they facilitate communication and transportation, they seem to be brittle in nature. The voice is of concern and needs to be investigated. As a precaution, I too will deactivate the power grid from the crystalline network. This is temporary, until I can determine whom we are dealing with. Pudgy, do not leave your home until I instruct you otherwise.”
Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy has a visit with Mister Bear tomorrow, is it still ok to go for tea.” The lord laughed, “yes, you can visit Mister Bear, Mister Dino, and Cobalt. But no grand adventure, please, I need you to remain there. If I need to send you to investigate a matter, I need to know I can reach you shortly.” The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy promise.” The application turned off, with the phone losing its glow. Soon the room was quiet once more, save for a soft whine from the LED bulbs that lit his home. Pudgy was reassured and went to finish his dishes. Once done, he turned off the lights, locked his doors, and headed to bed. As the critter got under all his blankets, he drifted off into a peaceful sleep. Dreams of a big party filled his head, with friends both local and far away. Thoughts drifted to Xylenia, and wonders of how she was doing in the snowy lands of the north.
Quickly the next day came, with bright sunshine shining through his round windows. Yawning, Pudgy wiped the sleep away with his paws. Bouncing out of his bed, he got ready for his trip to Mister Bear’s house. At Cobalt speed, he could get there in 30 minutes. However, hedgehog speed was much slower, so he would need to leave early in the morning. Packing supplies for a short trip: cookies, water, hat, and other assorted items. The hedgehog exited his home, locking his door as he shut it behind him. Pudgy scampered down to the water wheel, and then followed the creek. The forest was beginning to come alive once more. The trees were starting to send leaf buds out at the tips of their branches. The forsythia bushes had all started to throw out the bright green leaves. It was too soon, but eventually the forest would be filled with their golden hue.
Cobalt mentioned that Easter was within a week or so, so that meant that the Easter bunny would be making visits. The bunny visited his cabin last year, bring a basket full of all sorts of goodies. While the air was crisp, the sun above was sending light and warmth throughout the forest. Stopping beside a rock that straddled two other rocks precariously over the creek, Pudgy noticed a shadow that seemed out of place. Shaking his head, the critter turned and scooted down a small bank to the next part of the water’s path. A strand of pussy willow bushes was also starting to bloom, which was nice to see. Pudgy sometimes used the fuzzy tops as stuffing for crafts. Though the puffy cotton Cobalt could purchase from the store was much better. The hedgehog pondered if a boat would be faster, but that was not able to be the case. Several places in the winding creek were lower, and had small waterfalls, that could not be easily traversed.
Looking down into the water, Pudgy saw his reflection. Smiling, he stood back up, and started to walk once more. Eventually the creek continued one way, but Pudgy had to turn up the hill that led towards Mr. Bear’s house. It was not a sharp incline, as the Pennsylvania hills were round in this area. Though they did steepen when getting up towards Mr. Dinosaur’s cave, so that trip would require more supplies. The big granite boulder that had been then for many years, far before anyone had come to these woods, was the marker that the cabin was close. As Pudgy stopped beside it, he placed a paw onto the rock’s cool surface. The green lichen moss was starting to spread, and little yellow flowers were trying to peek out from the ground surrounding it.
The hedgehog found the worn dirty path and started to follow it. He could smell the bear, as well as several deer that had passed by recently. Large bear prints were in the drying mud, so Pudgy knew he was close. While the scampering was slowing down as he was growing tired, Pudgy reached the top of the path to see the familiar cabin of his bear friend. The shutters were dark green, with a deep dark brown stain on the timbers. The wood windows were also painted the same color as the shutters and had a 4 x 4 pattern with cross bars. There was a small covered porch, with stacks of firewood piled up, with a brown bear sitting in a white rocking chair sipping from a steaming mug. He waved a paw at the approaching visitor. “Hello Pudgy, I’m glad you could make it over today?”
Pudgy waved back, and scampered up the stairs of the porch, and sat tiredly down in front of his friend. “Pudgy very glad Mister Bear invite Pudgy over! Are you well?” The brown bear grinned as only he could, with rows of white pointed teeth exposed. “Yes, I am well, Pudgy. Thank you for asking, my friend. I want to hear all about your recent adventures. Please have a seat,” the bear said while moving a table between the chairs. As Pudgy climbed up onto a non-rocking white chair, he watched as his friend started to serve tea. The problem with animals serving food, was that most utensils and serving vessels were of human configuration. Though occasionally one could find, fanciful by human standards, pieces that leant themselves to animal usage. In the case of Mr. Bear, he had found a tea kettle with an extremely wide handle that was in a hoop style. He could grasp it by the paw and pour. The tea came out black, almost like coffee. Recognizing he did not have any hedgehog sized cups, he poured it onto a saucer. While not ideal, Pudgy could drink from it much easier as if drinking from a stream.
The hedgehog bounced and took a sip of the extremely strong tea. “Oh Boy, Pudgy will be up tonight.” The bear laughed and placed a small plate next to the saucer of tea. It weas granola, and oats, and dripping with honey. Pudgy thanked his friend, nibbled on the wildly sweet item, as he told Mr. Bear all about his ghost adventure to Gettysburg, Blacksburg, and eventually to Kennesaw. The bear listened and served tea as Pudgy would require. He was very glad his friend came over today, as Pudgy stories were always a treat to listen to. Plus, this was his turn to be the host, which was a welcome change of pace. As Pudgy finished his story with the part of the angels, the bear’s mouth dropped open. “You saw heaven?” Pudgy nodded, and sipped his tea, “Pudgy wonder where God is? Pudgy assume he is at the buffet.” The bear started to laugh, “yes, an all you can eat buffet, with all manner of good foods and friends. But that is far away my friend, for the both of us. I’ll be an old gray bear when it’s time for that.”
Pudgy nodded and starting to bounce from the sugar overload. It was then when Mister Bear was glad, he didn’t offer that second piece. Any more sugar, and Pudgy might hit 88 miles per hour, and he did not want any time travel on his watch. Laughing, the bear talked about many things happening on his side of the forest. Including Mister Dinosaur, which drew Pudgy’s interest. “What happened to Mister Dinosaur?” Pudgy asked, while sipping his tea. The bear nodded, “Well, one night a huge round sphere floated over this section. When I saw it, I headed out to the forest to see where it was landing. Several dinosaurs exited it wearing space suits. They spent some time within his cave, and soon Mister Dinosaur left with them. The craft floated upwards and took off into the sky.” Pudgy nodded, “The Daedalus and other dinosaurs asked Pudgy many times about Mister Dinosaur. Pudgy guess they came to retrieve him, but that is good. While Pudgy will miss Mister Dinosaur, Pudgy glad he is back with his friends.”
The brown bear nodded, “Yes, I agree as well ….” he said trailing off as he looked, further into the forest. Pudgy noticed his concerned look, “Is everything ok?” His large friend nodded, “Thought I saw something. I might need to get glasses, but I thought I saw a shadow standing beside a tree.” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy saw a shadow too earlier, seemed out of place. Pudgy unsure what means but keeping eye out just to be safe.” His large friend nodded and rubbed his belly with a large black clawed paw. “That is best, but if you need me, please ask for help. I will help.” The hedgehog nodded and scooted off his chair. He scampered over to his leg and hugged looking up at the bear’s happy brown eyes. “Thank you for inviting Pudgy over for tea and honey thingy.” His host laughed, and patted Pudgy with his paw. “You are very welcome my friend, I am glad you could come over. I know you have to start back soon, as it will take you quite a while to get back to your home.”
The hedgehog waved and put his pack and hat back on. Then scampered off the porch, at a much quicker pace. The laughing brown bear weaved, “Bye Pudgy!” He took another slice of the honey thingy and munched away. Our of the corner of his eye hey saw the shadow quickly moved away from its tree and followed the hedgehog. “What the …” he trailed off and was slightly concerned. While Mister Bear knew many things, the supernatural was not his forte. He would need to do so some research, but he had the impression that something happened recently, that his hedgehog friend omitted from his stories. There must be a reason why, so he was not offended, mainly concerned.
As Pudgy ran past the boulder, the effects of high sugar, and extremely high caffeine was supercharging the hedgehog. Running along the creek, he scooted through the forest at an extremely quick pace. He followed the creek once more, though this time it meant he had to climb up the waterfalls, instead of sliding down the banks. As he reached the second one with its cascading water, the sugar was starting to wear off and he returned to his normal scamper speed. The critter could see his water wheel far away in the distance, so the hedgehog knew he would be home soonish. Ass the water babbled in its brook; the trees swayed by a cool wind. The birds were chirping and flying about above.
The out of place shadow was back once more, and Pudgy did not look at it. Knowing it was there, he wondered what was going on, but did not react visually to its presence. His pace continued to slow, as the crash started to form, and dropped down onto his rear end on a cool stone. Panting, he looked around, “Boy, next time, Pudgy only ask for half slice of honey thing. But it was so good, have to ask Mister Bear for recipe.” Once he had recovered, he exited the path along the creek, and scurried up the hill towards his home. The ground was still covered with rotting brown leaves, but that was normal for this time of year. Eventually once spring was in full swing, the ground would be covered by other manner of green leafy plants.
As the critter reached his door for his underground home, he unlocked it and scampered inside. Opening the windows, he let in light and fresh air. The underground home was just as he left it, with all things still in their respective places. The hedgehog was also very glad to be home. While very enjoyable with his friend Mr. Bear, the trip to and back was a long distance for him to walk. Pudgy had way too much sugar today, so tonight would be no sugar, just bread and tea. Pausing, he looked at his kitchen table with the mound of thumbprint cookies, well maybe one or two cookies couldn’t hurt.