Renard Argente’ : Chapter 4: Cave In Rock

In the days that followed, the hedgehog navigated the river, falling into a routine very quickly.  The Ohio portion of the river was seemingly endless, and every 50 miles or so there was another lock and dam to navigate.  The lock masters were generally friendly, and some would flag the little ship for random inspection.  Mainly though, it was curiosity that got the better of them.  In all their years of operating on the river, there had never been a hedgehog in a steamboat that passed through.  The tugboat captains for the most part were friendly and spoke in a thick southern drawl.  It took time for Pudgy to catch on, though he soon was able to communicate with them. 

He was running the boat 12 hours a day, from sunrise to sunset basically.  As the little ship sped along, he navigated the barge, and other commercial traffic, granting them a wide berth.  When Pudgy was able to moor within a cove for the night, he would go to shore and retrieve firewood for the boiler.  Cobalt had made him a tiny gang plank that he could extend to the shoreline, allowing him access to the riverbank.  Thankfully, he had overpacked food supplies, so he was not in danger of going hungry.  When the rain would fall, he had a variety of little buckets that he could catch the rainwater.  With a funnel, he reloaded the boiler water feed tank, and his drinking water tank as well. 

When he had made it to the Indiana / Kentucky portion of the Ohio river, was when the hedgehog started to realize that he was going to eventually make it to the Mississippi river.  That river was huge based on all descriptions and information he could find.  It also was a major commercial water way, with huge ships that would be more dangerous.  Skirting the riverbanks would be a good idea, but at the same time, that too had risks for his ship.  Unlike his previous adventurers, he needed the ship to get back.  Patting his vest, the Xanadoom crystal was inside as well as his little identity card for Xanadoom.   Pudgy had not heard from anyone, which meant the crystal was either not working or not being used. 

When his curiosity got the better of him, and at night with no lights on in the ship, Pudgy took out the Xanadoom Crystal.  It was cold to the touch, and angular.  As he tapped it with his paw, “Lord Doomcock, are you there?”  The crystal did not respond and stayed dark.  “Pudgy miss you, hope you ok.”  Within minutes of his transmission, the crystal started to hiss.  “Your Lord is not here, Pudgy.”  The voice was high pitched, though had tones similar in nature to that of a dog.  Pudgy blinked, “Who you?”  The voice did not immediately respond, and as the hedgehog laid in his bunk looking up at the unpainted wood ceiling, pondered what he was dealing with. The voice spoke again, “Argente.  I serve Lord Cthulhu.  I would suggest you stop trying to reach this Doomcock.”  Pudgy shook his head, “No, Pudgy have to save the day.”  The crystal started to laugh, “Save the day?  How pray tell would you do that, hedgehog?” 

Pudgy rubbed his chin with a paw, “Pudgy resourceful.  But Pudgy glad to make your acquaintance Argente.  Maybe Pudgy can convince you to help us.”  More laughter ensued, “No, I may just have to convince you otherwise mon ami.  But you make your vain attempt to save the day, and you will see the futility of your efforts.  Lord Cthulhu will return to liberate this world from the tyranny of the humans.”  Pudgy blinked, “Argente, he wants to hurt everyone.  That includes Cobalt and the other nice people Pudgy meet, Pudgy friends.   Why do you want the humans all gone?” The hedgehog heard a growl, “I have my reasons, traitor.”  The crystal grew incredibly quiet, and the hissing stopped.  It left a confused hedgehog laying in his bed deep in thought.  The voice was from the fox like creature he had seen once before.  It was also interesting that while Lord Doomcock had a hedgehog, Harvey now had his own animal assistant.  Pudgy drifted off into a dreamless sleep, and soon woke up for another day of sailing. 

The next day as Pudgy sped along on his little ship, the boiler’s smokestack was belching a thick white smoke.  His last resupply of wood was wet, so it was causing excessive smoke.  Pudgy reached the next lock, with a big sign that read: JOHN T MYERS Lock and Dam.”  This was the last one for Indiana, and Illinois was on the other side.  The hedgehog fired his steam whistle to signal the lock master he wanted to enter.  The lights went off, and the gates opened.  Pudgy maneuvered his ship inside and watched as the gates shut behind his vessel.  As the water started to drain, the lock master came out and waved at him.  Pudgy waved back excitedly, which drew a big smile on the soldier’s face.  Each lock had a different speed, due to the size and amount of water that needed to be drained.  The river elevation was going continuously down, as he progressed, which made sense as Pennsylvania was much higher than Illinois.  The exit gates started to open, so Pudgy throttled up, and the boat started to move forward. 

Back on the open river once more, Pudgy knew this next stretch was a long section without another lock to navigate for a long time.  The road signs along the starboard side of the boat read Illinois.   As the hours passed, and the boat chugged along, Pudgy could see a town coming up ahead of him.  There were also a series of big rock formations along the riverbank.   At the same time, when the hedgehog looked to the port side of his ship, he saw cars being carried on a large ferry boat.  There were people milling about outside of the vehicles.  The captain blasted his air horn, signaling he was crossing the river directly.  Pudgy throttled down and tooted his whistle in acknowledgement.  However soon the ferry boat was running with a parallel course to Pudgy’s ship.  The hedgehog locked the wheel and scurried to the deck.  He waved at the people on the ferry boat.  The humans on the boat looked in amazement as the little steam ship was sailing along beside of their ferry.  The sight of Pudgy drew many smiles and strange looks.  Especially from one woman, with long brown hair and a black T-shirt with Harvey Cthulhu’s image on it. 

She started waving excitedly and shouted, “PUDGY!”  The other men and women looked at her, and when the hedgehog waved back, they started to shout, “Hello Pudgy!”   The hedgehog loaded a couple more logs into the boiler’s firebox.   Then he heard his VHF radio started to talk. “steamboat, are you there?” Pudgy scampered into the pilot house and pushed the transmit button on the radio’s microphone.  “Hello, this is Pudgy.”  The male voice laughed, “I’m Captain Lawrence of the 91 ferry.  Several of my passengers want to meet you, would you be willing to alter your course?”  Pudgy pondered, and while he needed to save Doomcock, he also did need supplies.  Pushing the microphone button, “Yes, Pudgy will follow.  Where you are heading?”  Captain Lawrence said, “To Cave In Rock, Illinois, it is up on the starboard side of the river.  We are close.  I need to dock first, so please let me go first.”  Pudgy nodded and tooted his whistle in acknowledgement. 

His phone showed that this was a state park, with a small town called Cave In Rock, on the Illinois side of the river.  As he throttled down the engine, the boat slowed letting the ferry pull ahead.  Pudgy could see the docks that the ferry captain was talking about.  There was a big section where the ferry boat could connect to a road, which would let the cars to disembark.  A bit further up though, was a small dock for personal watercraft.  The hedgehog decided that would be the spot where he would dock.  “Captain Lawrence, Pudgy going to dock at the little dock.”  The ferry boat responded with an air horn blast.”  Pudgy maneuvered the boat towards the little dock and eased the ship along side the pier.  It was T shaped, with a long section parallel with the main river.  There was a long perpendicular section that lead to the shoreline.  If his vessel had a reverse transmission, he might have been able to make it.  Instead, he had to be quick, and scurried about with ripe, tying the ship to the dock as quickly as he could. 

Pudgy stayed terribly busy, tying the ship to the dock.  It was the only thing the people on the ferry boat could talk about.  Including the woman wearing the Harvey t-shirt.  She was positively excited and had heard many stories from the other of Doomcock’s darlings of Pudgy visiting them on his many adventurers.  Agonizing minutes passed, with everyone in their cars, as the ferry boat connected to the main dock and locked into place.  The large bridge deck lowered and connected to the pavement clamps.  Over a loudspeaker, “Thank you for using the 91 Kentucky ferry.  Captain Pudgy has docked a bit further up, so there is parking in town should you wish to visit.  I’ll be over there shortly too.”   One by one the cars turned their engines on and started to drive off the ferry.  The woman in a yellow car drove off, and then found a parking spot off to the side of the ferry’s landing area.  Excitedly she turned the motor off and exited her vehicle.  Locking the doors, she walked quickly following a couple curious onlookers towards the gray weathered wooden piers and docks.  The little steamboat was docked up, and the smokestack was starting to lose the volume of smoke. 

In no time at all, the woman had made it to the ship, and waved at the hedgehog who was fielding many questions.  The hedgehog was bouncing excitedly, talking to everyone. “My name is Pudgy.   Pudgy from Pennsylvania.  Pudgy going to New Orleans.   Pudgy friend Cobalt build steamboat.”  Captain Lawrence was a heavily tanned man with a snow-white beard, and an oil stained red hat that with an Indian chief of it.  Smiling ear to ear, he inspected the little ship.  As the onlookers wandered back to their cars, the woman could finally reach the ship. Grinning ear to ear she spoke excited, “Hello Pudgy, it’s me Blood Honey.”  Pudgy recognized her, and the name, and bounced happily waving. “Hello Blood Honey!  Pudgy glad to finally meet you in person.”   The woman watched as Pudgy moved the gangplank out and lowered onto the dock.  As he scampered out, he was only about 6 inches tall, and came to their ankles.  He hugged the woman’s ankle.  Giggling, she knelt and gently scooped him up.  Hugging gently, “Now I can get a Pudgy hug for real.”  The critter was soft and warm, and hugged back.  The ferry captain laughed, “Ok I will leave you to be.  Nice meeting you Captain Pudgy.”  Pudgy waved, “nice meet you too Captain Lawrence.”  He then looked up at Blood Honey and hugged again. 

The hedgehog sniffed, and while the woman’s perfume was more present, he could just barely smell something cooking.  “Blood Honey, would you like to get food?”  The woman turned and noticed an old wooden sign that said: Rose Kountry Kitchen.  She nodded, “yes, I would Pudgy.”  The hedgehog wiggled, and slid out of her arms, and scooted down her leg back to the dock.  He then scampered inside to shut down and secure the ship.  Then came out with a green cash bill rolled in a tube stuffed into his vest.   She giggled, and then quickly scooped up the hedgehog into her arms.  Then started to walk towards the restaurant.  Pudgy bounced happily, though he did not look up.  While the woman held him forward looking, if he looked up, he might get in trouble.  The hedgehog could see the town buildings, all had been there for decades or more.  While kept nicely, the paint was faded, and peeling on some signs.    The restaurant was a nondescript white building with a low triangle shaped roof.  The burgundy sign with tan letters had the business name labelled.  The entrance was a gray steel door with a flowered wreath hanging on it. 

Upon entering the restaurant, an elderly woman in a white apron was busying making pies behind a glass display case.  There were metal folding tables around, with steel folding chairs.  A lunch counter was on one side, which faced the kitchen.  As Blood Honey headed to the lunch counter, she sat down on a wobbly round caster seat.  As she turned back and forth, the chair locked into place.  Setting Pudgy down on the counter beside of her, she looked at the paper menu placement in front of her.  The hedgehog looked too.  The elderly woman walked up, with long silver hair tied back into a ponytail.    Big round glasses were perched on the end of her nose, and happy blue eyes looked at the two of them. “And who might you two be?”  Pudgy pointed to his chest, “My name is Pudgy, I’m from Pennsylvania.”  The waitress laughed, “I’m sorry you two, my cook is not here yet.  I can’t serve you any food from the menu.”  Pudgy pointed, “Can Pudgy have Pie and tea?  The hedgehog unfurled the cash bill, and it was $10.  “lunch on Pudgy.”  The two women started to laugh loudly and nodded.  The waitress came back with two slices of pie with big fluffy dollops of fresh whipped cream.  While the critter’s human friend got a cup of tea, Pudgy had a deep saucer, which was almost a bowl for him. 

Blood Honey watched as the hedgehog started to devour the pie.  This was the first desert he had had for a long time.  The waitress watched in delight as the two lemon pies were being quickly eaten.   Smiling, “Pudgy, this is really good.  So, why are you heading to New Orleans?”  His female friend asked.  The hedgehog drank from the saucer and nodded.  “Pudgy need to go to New Orleans.  Lord Doomcock is in trouble!  Pudgy think Harvey kidnapped him.”  The woman smiled and patted his head, “Pudgy, you do realize that Doomcock is just a fun show we watch?  He’s not real.”  So then Pudgy began to narrate his adventures thus far to her, as he continued to munch on lemon pie.  Soon a small crowd of curious towns folk and a couple boat captains.  He spoke of the travel to the center of the earth, then to Santa’s fortress, the moon, and then his civil war adventure.  When his story was done, everyone was in shock at everything that had happened thus far.   How much was story was open to conjecture, though here was a talking hedgehog in a steamboat.  So, there was some parts that were obviously true. 

Blood Honey looked shocked and pulled her long brown hair back into a ponytail. “Ok Pudgy, I believe you now.  So, when you get to New Orleans, then what?”  The hedgehog nodded, “The crystal showed Pudgy something called French quarter, and a voodoo museum.  Pudgy will start search there, and when find Doomcock, will save day.  Pudgy resourceful, “he trailed off as he finished the last part of his piece of pie.  Sipping the tea, he bounced, “Oh boy that was so good!  Pudgy stop here on return trip!”   The waitress laughed and came over with the check.  It was $3 per slice of pie, and the tea was $2 each, so it came out to be $10 even.  Pudgy handed her money, and the waitress smiled weakly.  Blood Honey nodded, and handed her two one-dollar bills, “Pudgy you need to tip the waitress, here you go.”  The woman smiled and patted the hedgehog’s head. “Is there anything else I can get you two?”  As his female friend shook her head no, Pudgy nodded. “Do you know where Pudgy can get supplies?”  The waitress nodded, “yes, there is a general store in town, two blocks over from here.”   Pudgy looked up at his female friend, “Can you help Pudgy Blood Honey?”  The woman nodded, “Yes, I can, let’s go!”  As she picked up Pudgy and carries him past a set of old water stained wood paneling, the two friends exited the restaurant. 

“Cobalt gave Pudgy money for trip; we need go back to ship. “The woman did not go back to the docks and carried her hedgehog friend over to an equally old looking general store.  “Don’t worry about it, I have money, you can reimburse me.  As they passed the crumbling red brick façade, a wooden sign swung on rusted chains above.  “General Store,” the hedgehog read aloud as they entered. It was s tore from another era, with large wood beams exposed and sacks of grain hanging from the ceiling.  An antique grist mill sat in the corner.  An older man wearing a Chicago Bears shirt waved, “Hello, and what might you two need?”  Pudgy bounced, “Do you have firewood, Pudgy need for boiler.” The man nodded, “yes outside, I have cords for sale.  Are you from the steamboat?”  The hedgehog nodded and bounced in Blood Honey’s arms happily. “My name Pudgy.”   As the woman sat him down on the worn oil stained counter by the cash register, she nodded. “Ok Pudgy, what else do you need?”  So, after 10 minutes of going up and down the aisles, of which were 4 in total, the woman came back with two shopping baskets loaded of items both food and fuel.  She also purchased a Cave in Rock T shirt, for herself.  

The cashier rung up the order, “that will be $62.50.”  Pudgy frowned, “Blood Honey, please take Pudgy back to ship, Pudgy need to get money.”  The woman shook her head.  Taking out her brown purse, she pulled out $65.00 from a compartment within.  “Some of this is my stuff too, so we will square up when we get back to the ship.”  The man nodded, “You can borrow my wagon, as long as you bring it back.”  Pudgy waved, “Thanks mister, we will!”  The Hedgehog watched as the man pulled out from beside the counter a rickety green wooden wagon with black wheels.  As the woman put the items into the wagon, the Hedgehog rode in the wagon, as they exited the general store.  The firewood was on the side, and the cashier after moving Pudgy, loaded the stacks of wood.  Soon the wagon was overloaded, and Blood Honey started to pull it through town.  Pudgy waved as a couple of burly men on motorcycles were parked in front of the restaurant.  “GET THE LEMON PIE!” He shouted, as they waved at him. The woman laughed and shook her head, and in no time at all, reached the docks once more. 

The ship was still tied there securely, with the gangplank out and laying on the dock.  Another boat had docked up, along the part where Pudgy could not get to.  That man was busy inspecting the tiny steam ship. 

The man wearing a Chicago bulls white T-shirt was about to look annoyed at the woman when he saw the hedgehog riding on top of the pile of supplies.  Pudgy waved, “Sorry Mister, Pudgy no have transmission, can’t go in reverse.”  He blinked, and walked away shaking his head, not realizing until now that the ship was too small for a human to operate.  His female friend helped Pudgy take things from the wagon, and place onto the deck of the ship.  Unpacking the bags, the hedgehog scampered about, putting things away into their various places.  The cords of wood were broken apart and stacked in such a way to be even across the ship as well as moveable by Pudgy.  The rope twine that was holding the cords together, Pudgy put into another box on the deck, which kept fire starters.  Soon though, the woman saw Pudgy come out with more money.  Sitting down, she pulled her legs in Indian style crossing her blue jean clad legs.  Getting her phone out, she worked out the numbers, and figured out what Pudgy needed to pay her.  The little hedgehog was being insistent on paying her back, so the money was exchanged.  She made change, which meant he wandered back inside his cabin to put the money away.

She was still grinning, “My word Pudgy, I thought these adventurers were just stories.  Turns out I was wrong, but I’m glad that we could finally meet.”  Pudgy bounced back to the deck and hugged her leg while looking up at her. “Pudgy agree, extremely glad to meet Blood Honey finally.  Where do you live, is it close?”  The woman shook her head, “No.  I live near to Chicago, which is still 5 hours north of here.  I was visiting some friends in Kentucky.  We toured the Jim Beam Museum.  It was a fun trip, though I was detoured on the way back which required the ferry.  I am glad for the detour.”  Pudgy bounced and nodded, “yes, Pudgy agree.  Pudgy need to get going though, have to save day.”  The woman nodded, and watched him scamper back, and check the fire box.  “Fire cold, Pudgy need to restart.  Going to be awhile.”  The woman smiled and watched him start the fire once more within the boiler’s firebox.   As the hedgehog scampered back and forth, the man from the general store was walking down to the docks.   Reaching the gathering quickly, he inspected the ship, and then retrieved his wagon.  Word of the hedgehog had quickly moved through town. 

The smokestack started to send white smoke into the air once more, and Pudgy scampered out to the woman.  She scooped him up against and hugged him gently but firm.  Pursing her red painted lips, she kissed him gently on his head.  The hedgehog started to blush and stammer, as she hugged again.   His female friend watched the gauges build up, as the steam pressure built up within the system.  Getting her cellphone out, she took a picture with herself, the ship, and captain Pudgy.  Setting him back into the ship, the hedgehog bounced, and pulled back the gangplank.  “Just met Pudgy in Cave In Rock, Illinois.  Pudgy has a steam ship and is heading to New Orleans.”  Almost instantaneously, her post started to get likes and messages as the other of Doomcock’s followers all started to respond to the post.  Helping to untie the ship, the ropes were tossed into the decks, and Pudgy waved.  “Bye Blood Honey, maybe we can meet again on return trip?”  Blood Honey shook her head, “No, I think this was a one-time meeting.  Next time you are in Chicago, we can meet up. Safe travel Pudgy, I hope you can save Doomcock.” 

The hedgehog bounced, “yes, Pudgy will!”  Then the excited critter headed inside the pilot house, engaging the throttle once more.  A little burst of bubbles came up from behind the ship as it started to pull forward.  Soon the ship was back out into the main river channel, and Pudgy was waving from the deck to Blood Honey.  Once it was safe, Pudgy went full throttle, and the ship started to speed along.  The woman waved and took another picture before sending it to the quickly growing conversation online.  Smiling, “I got to be part of a Pudgy adventure. “As she walked along the dock, she returned to the town and her awaiting car.  Getting messages like crazy, including several from Sammi Jo and Eris.   The two friends had mentioned that they would be heading to New Orleans soon as well.  Maybe they could meet up with Pudgy, to help him save the day, whatever that meant?  The comments were fast, but the followers were quickly starting to wonder if Lord Doomcock’s extended online absence was due to this.  Maybe Pudgy was right, and something did happen?  As the exited woman got back into her car, she still had 5 hours travel time left till she got back to her home, so she put the phone away and drove up through town and towards the farm lands that lined the way to the highway. 

As the hours passed, the ship sailed quickly along.  Pudgy was happy, to finally meet Blood Honey, and he hoped that all the others were doing ok.  Soon the critter head reached the next lock and was flagged for inspection once more.  That quickly progressed, and he could enter the lock.  The lock master got on the radio, “Captain Pudgy, you have 2 more locks till you reach the Mississippi River.”  The hedgehog bounced, “Oh boy, are there anymore when I get there?”  The lock master radioed back, “No, however there are inspection docks along the way, so do not be surprised if you are asked to pull along shore.”  The lock gates opened, and soon Pudgy was off once more.  As the night started to become apparent, he again found an island cove to settle into, and secured the boat for the evening.  He skipped supper, as he had eaten a ton of pie today with his new friend.  After a good night sleep, he was again up at sunrise the next day.  His trip continued and passed through the last two lock and dams for the Ohio river.

The barge captains were all excited as the hedgehog had gone about a thousand miles all by himself.  He had made it to Cairo, Illinois which was the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  Once his map application had registered his position on the phone, the screen updated to Mississippi river.  The hedgehog wiggled excitedly within the wheelhouse. “Pudgy made it to halfway point!”  As with the Allegheny and Monongahela river confluence, there was a stirring of the waters, which caused the ship to not be able to hold a course easily.  Pudgy struggled with the wheel, and kept the throttle high, until he could navigate once more.  This was the point when the hedgehog realized just how big this river was.  It could easily accommodate 2 sets of full loaded barges, with plenty of space of the middle.  So, for the first time, he got out into the middle, and opened the throttle to flank.  The ship’s engine was full bore, and the rumbling noise was filling the air around his vessel.  As more boat traffic became apparent, he pulled back to the side of the river where his downstream traffic was meant to be. 

Pudgy once more fell into his routine, and as the days passed, the hedgehog was making excellent progress.   It was against this backdrop; the hedgehog was continuing to do research on the river as well as New Orleans.  The key to travelling, is that news changes as you move around.  As the critter closed towards Louisiana, he started to find out more about the region.  In the last few weeks, unexplained boating issued have been occurring.  The Mississippi river due to variety of reasons, required to be dredged from time to time, to keep the barge traffic flowing.  The dredging barges were reporting strange materials coming up.  Propeller blades were being broken when any vessel got close to something called Lake Pontchartrain.  This was a big lake that was to the north of the New Orleans city center. Soon though on the starboard side of the boat, Pudgy saw a huge white metal hoop sticking far into the sky.  This was the archway in St Louis, Missouri. 

As the ship started to pass by, he saw inside the center, a green mist started to form.  Then the image of Harvey appeared, with his blood red eyes locked onto the ship. The Xanadoom crystal started to hiss, “I see you are making good progress, in a little tiny ship no less?” Pudgy looked but kept his paws on the ship’s wheel. “Pudgy not afraid of you, Pudgy made you go away once, Pudgy can make you go away again. What you do to Doomcock?”  The eldritch god cackled, and the boat shook, “Wouldn’t you like to know, hedgehog!  I will return from the prison you placed me within, and I look forward to destroying this world.  With you being the last to perish, so you know ultimately how futile your efforts really are.”  The hedgehog grinned, “Oh, Pudgy don’t know about that, Pudgy has secret or two.”  The god’s eyes burned red, “darn you Pudgy! I will have my revenge!”  The crystal started to grow silent, and the visual image of Harvey slowly faded away.   Pudgy pondered, there was no burgundy fez on top of his head.  His friendly green demeanor had been replaced by that of a dark form.  That would be due to his regaining the full usage of his body from the moon. 

While he acted brave in front of the Eldritch God, he was shaking a bit.  With the moon, there was a plan, this time he was going into the unknown.  First, he had to get to New Orleans, second find the parts where the Fox like creature had been for clues.  Though the activities with the lake had him curious, as to what was happening there too?  The critter pondered this as he passed large chemical plants along the shoreline.  The ship was performing flawlessly, and as the night began to form once again, he started to look for a place to moor for the evening. Steering back towards the Illinois side of the river, there was a large forested island that was splitting the river.  Nodding to himself, he set course for the island, and within an hour reached it.  Thankful for the flood lamps, that illuminated the water, Pudgy found a cove and slowed down to throw the anchor and tie the mooring lines. As the lights shown forward on the water, ripples formed as fish started to nip at the surface of the water.    The boiler was cooling, and the pressure falling quick.   He looked up at the cloudy skies and was unable to see the stars.  Rumbles of thunder could be heard in the distance. 

As the hedgehog settled in for the evening, he fell asleep in his bunk.  However, the night was not to be kind to the critter, as torrential rains started to fall.  The thunder boomed louder than a cannon, and the lightning struck the trees on the forested island like daggers from the sky.  The boat shook back and forth and was filling up with water pouring from the sky.  Pudgy turned the bilge pumps on, and quickly bailed water out of the boat as well.   Then he got hit with an ice pellet the size of a dime.  “Ouch! Darn Hail!”  Scampering back inside of the deck cabin he looked for something hard to put under his hat, but soon the rains stopped.  As the pumps got the water out of the boat, Pudgy checked around and noticed all his wood was not soaking wet.  It would be a terrible time to get the boiler going tomorrow, so he decided to dry off and sleep late tomorrow.  The hedgehog was becoming exhausted, with the constant work to keep the boat going.  Collapsing into his bunk, he fell promptly asleep. 

The morning came, too quickly for his preference, and as the critter opened his eyes, he saw a black fox sitting on the deck of his boat.  The tips of its fur were silver, with soft brown eyes looking at him.  As Pudgy got up, he exited the cabin.  “Hello, are you …. Argente?” The fox nodded and curled its tail around as it sat looking at him.  “I told you not to come, yet here you are. Why?”  Pudgy crept closer, and then sniffed gingerly.  The fox was there, by the pheromones of the scent, she smelled female.  “Pudgy need to save Doomcock, and everyone.  If Harvey allowed to come back, then the world will be destroyed.”  The fox was quiet and looked at him. “Is that so, and how do you know this to be true?”  Pudgy pointed above, “Pudgy went to the moon.  Harvey attacked his own followers who freed him.  He almost destroys moon, before Pudgy made him go away with crystal.”   The fox nodded and pulled out a small crystal from a shoulder mounted pouch.  It was similar as that of Pudgy’s crystal, though glowing blue with an unearthly light.  The fox blinked, “I see, so this crystal could bring back my Lord Cthulhu.”

Pudgy shook his head, “No, you can’t bring him back!”  The fox narrowed her eyes at him, “You didn’t watch your own mother be murdered by those uncaring humans.  I will have my revenge, on every one of them!”  The fox held the crystal in her silver tipped paws and disappeared quickly from the deck of his ship.  Looking sad, the hedgehog started to realize what she was saying.   Touching the pouch where his crystal was, he nodded, if something happened to Cobalt, he would be upset too.  The next time he would meet Argente, he needed to talk more to her.  Perhaps if she can explain more, then Pudgy could help her.  The fact that she knew where he was, meant that the crystal he carried was a way to track him.  The hedgehog expected to see her once more, and the next time would be ready.  In the meantime, he needed to start the boiler.  Opening the firebox, he added wet pieces of wood, and started with extra Firestarter, to start the fire.  As the hours passed, he was able to get the boiler going, and a thick belch of white smoke poured out of the smokestack.   Weighing anchor, and untying the mooring lines, once again the hedgehog was off. 

The river was packed full of commercial barge traffic, and now tankers loaded with oil and chemical products.   Once everything was dried out, the hedgehog realized after a day had passed, that he would need to start tempting fate, and speed up his travel progress.  Setting the throttle to flank speed, he started to travel in the night, until he could not keep his eyes open any longer.  This extra travel time resulted in him making better progress.  As the days progressed, the hedgehog started to come across various channels within the Mississippi river.  The river was wide and bending, going over all sorts of terrain, mainly flat.  The barge captains were helping him stay within the commercial lanes, as it was extremely easy to get lost on the original banks of the river. The army corps of engineers had dug and directed the commercial traffic to certain parts of the river as the barges would become stuck.  In times of drought, this was of special concern.  Soon however the hedgehog had made it to the Arkansas / Tennessee borders.  But the extra time travelling, and the shorter sleeping time was taking its toll on Pudgy. So, he pulled over alongside a small island, and moored for the night.  He would be of no use, if he made it to New Orleans and was too exhausted to help.  Falling promptly asleep, the hedgehog slept soundly. 

The closer he would get towards his destination, the more the hedgehog would catch glimpses of the fox.  Either on the shoreline watching, or nearby to his boat peeking out of the water.  There were no more words between the two, which Pudgy desperately wanted.  He wanted to find out more, so he could help her, but the fox stayed away.  As he checked his calendar, as well as the river maps, Pudgy saw he would reach Memphis soon, which was in the state of Tennessee.  As the ship sped along, throttle on flank speed, the boat was again lightening as the wood supplies were quickly being burned off.  He would need to resupply soon, though this part of the river did not have any ports or docks he could pull up to.  It was as he ran out of wood when the hedgehog realized he had a problem.  The boiler died down, and the boat floated along with the current as the propeller blade slowed down.  This was when Pudgy realized that if he asked nicely the river boat captains could help.  Within hours, a large boat came floating towards him.  “Hello, Captain!”

Pudgy waved, as a burly dark-skinned man with white hair waved back. “Hello Captain, thank you for responding!” Pudgy’s boat was pulled closer with a long metal hook on a pole.  “This boiler will let you burn anything, not just wood my small friend.  You can burn coal, which is twice as hot.  We can sell you some of our coal if you are interested.”  Pudgy nodded and bought as much as his little ship could carry.  It was a bit heavier than wood, and the ship’s mate started bringing bucket loads over, and gingerly poured it into the ship.  Once fully supplied, Pudgy paid the Captain who waved back as he pushed the ship out.   Pudgy excitedly started to load the firebox, and get the coal going.  Unlike wood, it started to quickly burn, and the boiler shot up to 300 psi almost instantly.  The hedgehog was also glad that Cobalt insisted on giving him extra money for the trip. Now as black smoke belched from his smokestack, the boat was speeding much faster.  At this rate, he could make up for lost time, and get to New Orleans far quicker.  “Look out Harvey, Pudgy’s going to save that day!”

By Cobalt

Cobalt is a normal guy that goes to work. Pudgy is his hedgehog friend who lives in a hobbit style home nearby, and goes on epic adventures. All Pudgy stories are copyrighted to Cobalt. Doomcock, Harvey Cthulhu, and Xanadoom is copyrighted to Overlord DVD.

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