The river continued to grow larger and wound east to west like a zipper through the land. Soon Illinois and Missouri, were soon replaced by Kentucky. The ship quickly navigated the river bends deftly, while steering clear of the increasing commercial traffic. His VHF marine radio was picking up all sorts of chatter, especially when he reached the area between Mississippi and Arkansas. The captains of the various ships were mentioning about the strange occurrences happening in Louisiana. Due to the nature of the area, the torrential downpours and strong storms always sent torrents of water into the river. That brought dirt, rock, and other materials, which collected on the bottom of the rivers. It wreaked havoc on the commercial traffic, so the Army Corp of engineers ran near constant dredging operations. Large barges with cranes and claws would remove the accumulated sediment on the river bottom. It kept the main channel open, by ensuring a deep section which the barges could navigate.
A couple weeks ago, large crystals were being pulled up. They were hexagonal in shape, and thin. The engineers had sent several for study to the local colleges, as well as to an Army base in Pine Bluff Arkansas. The various branches were all mobilized, trying to figure out what exactly was going on. The river dredging operations had occurred for decades, so this new development had everyone talking. Pudgy chatted with the barge traffic, and as he crossed into Louisiana, the hedgehog felt the ship engine slow down and sputter out. While the captains used colorful language, he rushed back to the boiler. Looking through the hoppers, he had burned through all his supplies of wood. The boiler’s fire box had died out, which meant the steam was no longer being produced. The hedgehog’s sense of urgency had been growing, so he had been running 18 hours a day on the river. His weariness clouded his judgement and had not stopped to resupply at the last town. Scampering up to the radio, he pressed the transmit button. “Hello, this is Captain Pudgy. Is anyone on?”
A few minutes of silence passed, as the river current kept the ship moving very slowly. “Hello Captain, Pudgy, this is the Liberty, what is going on” Pudgy bounced, “Pudgy made mistake, ran out of wood for boiler, so ship not moving anymore. Do you have anything to burn?” The captain laughed, “I have 40 ton of coal, so why yes I do. Where are you?” The hedgehog looked at his phone’s map, “Map says Pudgy near some place called Tunica.” Noises were heard over the radio, like shuffling papers and loud banter laced with colorful metaphors. The Liberty Captain spoke again, “Ok, we are behind you, so maybe an hour or so. Just stay put and look for the large red barges.” Pudgy nodded, “Ok, Thank you Captain.” Pudgy steered the ship out into the open channel, and the ship drifted further into the channel. This left time for Pudgy to reflect, but mainly worry about the delay. As the Liberty captain mentioned, in a short time three large red barges appeared behind the ship. The little ship drew dangerously close to the barges, but this helped immensely, as a boat worker was hanging on the side of the tugboat’s railing, to hook in Pudgy’s ship with a long metal hook attached to a wooden shaft.
The man spat a wad of chewing tobacco into the river, “Holy hell, the captain was not lying.” Pudgy scampered out and waved, “Thank you for pulling Pudgy in.” The workers were almost burnt from the sun, red skin peeling on his heavily tattooed forearms. There was an older African American gentleman, who was completely bald, and smoking a pipe. Smiling ear to ear, he waved a calloused hand at the tiny ship’s Captain. “I will sell you a full load for $40.” Pudgy nodded, as he did not have any options for resupply. This part of the river was all grass and farmlands, with no trees. He scampered into the wheelhouse, and opened his secret compartment, which had money that Cobalt had given him for the trip. Shutting the compartment, he came out and handed two folded $20 bills to the worker. The man grinned and held up the money. The liberty workers started to move quickly, carrying buckets loaded with coal and filled the boat’s wood hoppers. The ship was tiny, and the workers experienced, so quickly the ship was loaded full. The worker holding the ship, let go, and Pudgy started to drift away. As the hedgehog waved, the workers helped up their friend, and soon everyone was watching and smiling.
Pudgy quickly loaded the fire box and started to light a fire. As the tugboat pulled forward, Pudgy’s smokestack started to belch black smoke. He watched the steam pressure quickly build up, and soon he was running 550 PSI, which was dangerously close to the max of 600 that Cobalt said would be bad. Scampering quickly to the wheelhouse, he put the throttle to flank speed. The ship kicked up a wake behind it as the propeller started to turn. In no time at all, he had caught up, and was keeping pace with the liberty. Cobalt had built the system to be very efficient, and the extra heat from the coal had juiced the steam engine. Pudgy was happy, as he did not lose much time due to the oversight. And the coal worked much better than wood, which meant he could make it last a bit longer. As the days passed, he reached and passed through the capitol of Louisiana, Baton Rouge. It was a huge from what he could see out of his ship’s windows. “Maybe Pudgy will stop there on way back.” The hedgehog mused as soon the city passed behind him, and the small towns that dotted the river started to appear. There was a huge white steam ship with a red paddlewheel that passed him on the way north towards the capitol city. It tooted its steam whistle at him, so he tooted back and waved.
Pudgy ran the ship well into the evening, having to use the flood lights to navigate, though when that became to much, he moored for the evening. Again, he was up early the next day, and resumed his journey. So it took the hedgehog by surprise as when he started to pass a huge terminal of barges in front of a chemical plant, that his radio crackled. “Captain Pudgy, are you there?” Pudgy pushed the transmit button, “This is Pudgy, how can Pudgy help?” The radio hissed a moment, and the male voice spoke again, “This is Captain Jacob, of the Natchez. The other river traffic has said you are heading to New Orleans?” Pudgy bounced, “Hello Captain Jacob, yes, Pudgy heading to New Orleans. Pudgy friend is missing, so coming to find him.” The radio had sounds of various equipment in the background, “My word, perhaps we can be of help. Our ship moors at the Mississippi river pier, and we would love to meet you.” Pudgy bounced, “Pudgy would love to meet as well, Pudgy will look up on phone and rendezvous at the pier Captain Jacob.” As Pudgy’s engine was still rumbling, and the ship sped along, soon the large steamboat started to pass on his port side. The open decks full of people curiously watching the hedgehog scamper back and forth loading coal into the fire box. They took pictures and waved, as Pudgy waved back.
As the hours passed, the river opened wider and wider. It was immense, and huge ships were everywhere. Gigantic cruise ships were docked in port, beside factories and shipyards. “Captain Pudgy, please power down, this is Chief Petty Officer Rodriguez of the United States Coast Guard.” The hedgehog looked back, and saw a large gray boat approaching with a bright red painted bottom. The Coast Guard logo was clearly seen, and Pudgy pulled the throttle back to the lowest setting. He could not completely shut it off, as he had no neutral or reverse transmission. The hedgehog scampered out to the deck and waved as a man with black pants, and white uniform with lots of brightly colored bars and logos all over it gave him a stern look. “I don’t believe it … Michaels get out here!” A younger man with buzzed haircut got out, “it really is a hedgehog, in a steamboat!” The hedgehog bounced happily and looked at the boiler building pressure. “Chief, can Pudgy engage throttle, boiler pressure getting close to maximum.” The officer nodded and watched as the critter scampered in and then throttled up to half. He also tooted the steam whistle as well. The officer watched as the boiler steam pressure gauges dropped to 300.
Pudgy scooted back out to the deck, “thank you. Is this safety check?” The officer nodded and ran through a list of items the ship should have. In time the check was over, and the two excited crewmen talked with the hedgehog. Rumors of the steamboat manned by a hedgehog had spread up and down the river. The lock masters had radioed ahead, and soon the entire river system knew about this. Pudgy offered to drag race the coast guard, which drew a laugh. He was sent on his way and set the throttle back to flank speed. Soon after the inspection, Pudgy saw the Natchez docked at the pier. So, with careful maneuvering due to heavy commercial traffic, he swung the ship’s path wide, and crossed the river’s main channel. The commercial traffic meant there was a lot of to be done, but soon he was skirting along the riverbank and big park was seen. The river boat tooted its steam whistle, and Pudgy tootled back. This drew much attention from not only the park he was passing, but the pier the ship was approaching. The main part was high, built with steel piers that were driven deep into the riverbank. Pudgy could see the river bottom approaching, as he steered towards the inside of the pier. There was a small service platform, which maintenance boats would use.
An excited African American gentleman was waving, dressed in a river boat outfit of back and red. He was holding a metal hook and rod, which soon the ship was caught, and pulled into place along the pier. Pudgy ramped down to the lowest setting on the throttle. Scampering out, “Hello, Can Pudgy dock here?” The young man smiled, “Why yes you can Captain Pudgy. We have been hoping you would come.” The hedgehog helped to throw out the mooring lines, which the young man started to tie off on the service dock’s cleats. Pudgy also dropped anchor, sending a little splash of water at the boat’s prow. The boiler’s fire box was almost empty, and the pressure was starting to drop. Pudgy pushed the steam whistle button and let loose a big whistle blast. The steam escaped like a burst out of the top of the stack. The young man peeked through the windows, to see the tiny wheelhouse and bunk bed. There was a cell phone and VHF radio mounted in a corner. Flood lights were mounted to the prow of the ship, as well as what looked like a harpoon gun. He blinked, and smiled, then watched the hedgehog come out and peek over the side. He pulled out a gangplank and lowered it to the dock. “Thank you, mister, for helping Pudgy dock!”
The young man smiled and waved, “Captain Jacob would like to meet you on board the Natchez.” The hedgehog nodded, and then placed his spiffy hat on, scampered down the gang plank onto the gray metal service dock. The planks were powder coated with something, so it was not slippery. Scampering down to a set of stairs, he started to climb the three up to the main pier platform. There was a wide loading area, with a ticket booth. Several workers were performing various tasks but stared in amazement as the hedgehog scurried past and waved as he said hello. Soon he found the loading platform, with a smiling older woman dressed in a navy-blue outfit. She waved at Pudgy, as he moved across the platform. There was bit of a gap, which he could see the river below, which he hopped across. Now on the Natchez, he followed the decks, finding a door that led into the ship. He entered the main ballroom, with a white tin ceiling, Black ceiling fans were moving, spending air throughout the room. There were plants set up in urns in various parts, but the tables set for dinner were seen everywhere. A long table in the back was set up, with several crew men sipping coffee. Pudgy approached, and waved hello.
Captain Jacob smiled, and waved back. The other crew members were staring in disbelief as the 5-inch-tall hedgehog wearing a captain hat was standing on the flowered carpet in front of them. “Ahh, welcome Captain Pudgy!” The hedgehog smiled, “Hello Captain Jacob, thank you for helping Pudgy.” Soon the two captains were talking, and the crew members listened to the grand tale of the hedgehog sailing from McKeesport, Pennsylvania to New Orleans, Louisiana. The Natchez Captain helped Pudgy to sit on the white linen covered table. A New Orleans specialty, Beignets were soon delivered by the waiter. This river boat had a kitchen and would routinely do river cruises with full buffets. The pastry resembled a donut but was so light and sugary that Pudgy could not stop eating. Between nibbles, the story continued, which drew a growing crowd of workers. The captain smiled as one would be enough for the hedgehog, since he was so small. As the time passed, the light started to fade, and the crew members yawned. Their bunks were below deck, and one by one they wandered off. Captain Jacob nodded, “What a grand tale, and I hope you can find this Doomcock fellow you are talking about. You may stay at the pier, for as much time as you need to find your friend. Now, I think you should head back to your ship, and get some sleep.” Pudgy nodded and bounced off the table. Jacob watched as the hedgehog scurried across the carpet, and then out of the door. Lighting a cigarette, the tired cook smiled at him, and turned back to the kitchen.
Pudgy scampered back to his ship in a short time and collapsed into his bunk bed falling promptly asleep. The 18 hours days, ad constant activity had taken its toll and he could not move. So, it was no surprise that the next day, he slept in late. He made a quick breakfast, then packed up his backpack with supplies before scurrying down the dock, up the stairs, and then down the pier to reach the shoreline. In front of the area was a big parking lot that ran along the riverbanks. Three sets of train tracks also ran beside. It was possible to take the train from where you were in New Orleans to get to the pier. So as Pudgy waited till it was safe to cross, he scampered across the train tracks as quickly as his little legs could carry him. He turned the corner of a beige stone building with big glass windows. It was a café of sorts, though Pudgy could not see the sign. As he passed by the patrons watched the hedgehog peek into the windows, and then scoot by. Continuing down the street, as cars passed quickly by, he found a drug store with a bright red sign. Passing by, he saw a large park with a statue of a man riding a horse. Navigating the crosswalks, the tiring hedgehog made it to the park. The man on the horse was Andrew Jackson, famous in this region. Pudgy did not know who it was, but he sounded important.
Pudgy found some squirrels playing beside a tree, whom he waved at. The squirrels twitched their noses and wiggled their tails. All animals could talk to one another, but as with humans, they had distinct accents. “Hello, my name is Pudgy.” The squirrels bounced, “Hello Pudgy, I’m Twitchy this is my sister Snitchy!” Pudgy bounced and sat down tiredly. “Pudgy came all the way from Pennsylvania. That is really far north.” The squirrels nodded, and Snitchy bounced, “Oh boy, that is far. Why are you here?” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy has a human friend, he is in danger and missing. He is about normal height for a human but has a gold mask and helmet with black eyes. There might be a silver fox too, Pudgy thinks.” The squirrels looked at each other, and Twitchy placed a paw on Pudgy’s shoulder. “Pudgy, don’t mess around with the fox. We do not know who she is, but she is not good. There is a ghost that follows her, green, floats with tentacles. He says things, bad things, stay away.” Pudgy nodded, “That’s Harvey, he is bad. Pudgy made him go away, but he trying to come back.” The female squirrel nodded, “Brother right, stay away from them. See gold mask friend last week. He was being led, tied up with rope. They headed to French quarter, over there.” The squirrels pointed, which drew attention from a passing robin. The bird landed and bounced down beside the trio of animals. “I see the gold mask man; he heads to voodoo place.” Pudgy bounced, “Thank you everyone, Pudgy hope to find friend soon.” The animals waved and watched the hedgehog scurry through the manicured grass.
Pudgy scurried past an old church, and then followed the streets towards a busy intersection. Looking up, he saw the street sign that read “Dumaine Street.” Bouncing, he recognized the street sign from the brief scenes shown in the crystal while the fox was inadvertently transmitting. As he crossed the street, he found a large pink painted wooden door. There was a women cloth covered doll of sorts with painted jagged teeth on it. The sign above read authentic Voodoo souvenirs. Deciding this was a good place to start, he scampered inside. It was a gift shop, filled with all manner of things for sale. As the hedgehog scampered inside, an elderly African American gentleman smiled and waved a four fingered right hand at him. “Hello mon ami, welcome. You seem lost?” The man was wearing cut off blue jeans, and a threadbare white shirt, halfway buttoned. Pudgy noticed for the first time, that it was starting to get extremely hot. He was a northern hedgehog, and while it was still spring, it could routinely go over 80 every day with high humidity. The ceiling fan was not working in the shop, which made it stuffy with strange smells. Pudgy waved, “Pudgy searching for friend, he has a gold mask with black eyes. Have you seen him?”
The gentleman rubbed his chin, and wiped sweat from his brow, wiping it on his pant leg. “Why yes, I remember him. He was not talking, and a silver haired fox was leading him up the street. That was about a week ago. While we do love Mardi Gras, it was way too late to be wearing the mask now.” Pudgy waved, “Thanks Mister!” He then scurried out of the gift shop, and further down the street. It was then as he crossed the street to the next block, when the hedgehog found another sign he recognized. Pudgy read out loud as he started up, “New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.” The building was older, with long balconies that stretched around the entire building on the second and third floors. Locating the entrance, he saw the ticket booth was too far for him to reach, so he scampered in through the open door. He found an interior door that led to the ticket booth, finding a bored teenager sitting there on her cell phone. Pudgy waved, “Pudgy would like to go in museum, is there a cost?” The teenage girl looked down and blinked. A talking hedgehog was there in a ship captain hat and backpack. “Well adults are $7, Children are $3, I guess hedgehogs are $3.” She smiled and pulled back her long-braided hair behind her. Watching the critter, open his pack, and take out a $5 bill, she reached down and took the money. Making change in a drawer, she handed the two $1 bills back to him, and watched him put the money away.
Pudgy put his pack back on and followed the arrows on the floor. It was a self-guided tour, with signs. As Pudgy maneuvered through the museum, he learned about the voodoo religion. It was brought to New Orleans by African slaves, who were brought to work the plantation fields. There were various descriptions of the brutality of the slave trade, which made Pudgy sad. He did not understand things being discussed but started to notice a pattern of violence and hurt. The tone of the museum started to gradually change, to reflect more of the religious aspect of the practice. Also, rooms dedicated to Marie Laveau, Doctor John, and Fred Staten described their various mysteries and truths. A description on how dolls could control people were in various rooms but downplayed their role. There was a big room, full of various relics, and a depiction of the loas. Loas were not gods, but they had immense spiritual power. There was one however, that looked an awful lot like Harvey. The description of his powers would be that the load was summoned from the waters of lake Pontchartrain. In the picture, and description, the load was show as holding crystals in his tentacled hands. Pudgy realized what this meant, as the eldritch god has once visited here. As the hedgehog intently stared at the loa, he took out a paper, and started scribbling notes on his paper.
A tour guide approached from behind, watching the hedgehog. “That is one of the death’s loas, why are you so interested?” Pudgy turned, and a Haitian woman wearing a traditional dress of orange and bleu colors was standing there.” Pudgy waved, “Pudgy recognize this one, seen before. Pudgy need to know how to stop.” The tour guide blinked, “no one sees this one, and there is no way to stop him. Death is inevitable, as his birth. Two sides of the same coin, so to speak. But there is a way to delay him, you need to find the crystals. There are two, one for birth and one for death. When combined, they negate one another. That of course is the legend, which may or may not be true.” Pudgy nodded, “Thank you Miss.” He put the paper away back into his pack and scampered out of the museum. The woman adjusted her dress, and leaned against the door, pulling his tight braided hair back behind her. Watching the hedgehog scurry down the street. Pudgy pondered if the crystals the woman could be his crystal and the fox’s crystal. The crystal was shrinking, and a funny color, which led him to believe it was dying. The fox’s crystal was glowing bright, which could mean that it was the life crystal. It was during this musing, Pudgy heard his name being shouted from above. Turning his head, he saw a bright yellow painted brick building, with a wide balcony. A woman with black hair and dressed in business casual was waiving excitedly. “PUDGY!”
Pudgy blinked, and could not believe it, Eris was standing and waving at him. Pudgy waved back and bounced happily. She shouted again, “Come over to the Andrew Jackson hotel, I will meet you in the lobby!” Pudgy nodded, and then waiting till it was safe, quickly crossed the street. The hedgehog arrived at a set of red brick steps, which he climbed, and entered the lobby. Eris was standing there and was almost bouncing with excitement. She knelt, and quickly scooped up the hedgehog, and hugged him gently. Standing back up, the woman smiled as the hedgehog hugged back and looked up at her. “what on earth are you doing in New Orleans Pudgy?” The hedgehog bounced, “Pudgy on adventure!” She smiled and headed through the lobby out to a brick patio with a round emerald stone fountain that was flowing with water. The hotel had a courtyard with round wrought iron tables set up with red umbrellas. She sat down on a metal chair and set the hedgehog down on the table in front of her. Pudgy started to bounce and tell her all about his ship that Cobalt built for him, and the trip down the Youghiogheny, Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers.
As with the Natchez, soon there was a crowd of other hotel guests listening to the story. As it turned out, this was the hotel’s patio restaurant, so soon a waitress stopped by with coffee for Eris and a hot tea for Pudgy. A basket of fluffy croissants arrived next, which Eris nibbled on while she listened to the story. Tales of the crystal, the silver fox, a missing Doomcock, and the rush to arrive. Blinking she patted his head gently. “Oh Pudgy, if I didn’t meet you once before, I would think this is just a story. But I know you, so this is all true. But if it is, that means that Lord Doomcock is in trouble. This explains why he has been missing for weeks. Do you think the silver fox has a role in this?” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy made Harvey go away, and he is trying to come back. The fox is helping him.” Eris looked confused, so Pudgy filled her in with his trip to the moon. As the hours passed, Eris needed something more than croissants, and ordered a bowl of gumbo. Pudgy was happy with croissants, so he would nibble occasionally. The moon story was incredible, but she remembered Purple Lady talking excitedly that she had found Pudgy in Great Britain, a good while ago. But this would make sense, as Harvey on the show always was talking about breaking free to destroy the world. She thought it was a joke, but Pudgy’s look of determination was making her question that assumption.
As Eris finished her meal, she ordered two beignets, which she smiled as Pudgy began to devour the sweet French treat. Eris continued to listen to the hedgehog’s stories, and her red lips smiled all the while. Pudgy sipping his tea, “Pudgy glad to see Eris again, how come in New Orleans?” The woman laughed, “business trip once again. We have a plant outside of the city, so I stopped by for the weekend. Hey, I heard Sammi Jo may be coming to Baton Rogue soon for her job, you could stop by and see her too. I am sure she would like that. Pudgy, after I pay for dinner, can I see your ship?” Pudgy bounced and nodded happily. The waitress came with the bill, and Eris smiled when Pudgy offered to pay. The two women laughed and watched as Pudgy took out dollar bills from his pack. Pudgy oversaw the tip, while Eris paid for the meal. Eris scooped up her hedgehog friend, and then started to talk out the side exit of the patio, and out onto the street. As Pudgy directed her, she quickly covered the distance back to the pier where the hedgehog’s ship was moored. Human speed was much faster than hedgehog speed, and soon she saw the Natchez river boat, passengers being loaded on board the ship. At first the dock worker was not going to let Eris onto the service dock but waved as he saw Pudgy in her arms.
It was as Pudgy described, a steam ship with a big boiler in the middle of the ship. Brown wood decks, with a lacquered hull, and loaded with coal. She set Pudgy down back onto the ship’s deck and watched as he pointed out all the parts of the ship. His friend Cobalt had built him a safe vessel to travel in. Smiling, she yawned a bit, and scooped up the hedgehog to hug once more. The critter hugged back tightly and looked up at her. Smiling, she kissed his head, and then set him down onto the deck. “Pudgy, please be careful. I will be in the city till tomorrow afternoon, then I have to go back home to Texas.” The hedgehog bounced, “Ok, Pudgy need to search for the fox, and then will try to figure out how to save Lord Doomcock. Pudgy glad to see you again!” The woman smiled, “Me too, I am so glad to see you as well.” Eris turned and headed up the steps and then as she started to pass the pier railing, stopped and looked at the ship once more. She snapped a picture with her cell phone and sent a message about her meeting Pudgy. In no time at all, she had hundreds of messages, including an excited series of posts from Blood Honey, who was extremely glad that the hedgehog had made it safely there.
Pudgy watched Eris walk away, and soon was out of sight. He checked his ship, and then crawled into his bunk bed. He took off the pack and hat, tossing them beside the bed. Loud jazz music was blaring outside, as the Natchez was holding a river cruise with music. Soon the hedgehog was asleep, and he would have slept the entire night, save for a tapping sound he kept hearing. Blearily he opened his eyes and rubbed his nose with his paw. He scurried out to the deck and looked around. His ship was fine and moored at the service dock. The skies were still dark, and puffy white clouds floated by. The stars were out, though with the city lights, it was hard to see. As the hedgehog turned, his eyes locked onto a set of glowing blue eyes on the shore. The silver fox was silently standing there. Pudgy froze, unsure what to do, and kept watching the fox. Pudgy took a step forward, putting his paws on the deck railing. The fox took a step back, but her eyes started to fade. Mist started to form on her paws, and she hopped across the still river surface, and quickly was in the ship sitting beside the boiler. “I told you not to come, yet you are here, why?”
Pudgy sat down and looked up at her. “Argente, Pudgy told you, Pudgy have to save Doomcock. What is going on?” The fox’s brown eyes narrowed at him, “I told you as well, not to come here. These humans do not deserve to be saved. I have seen their cruelty, they enslave one another, they turn on each other. I watched you go into the museum; you know that of which I speak of.” The hedgehog nodded, “yes, Pudgy saw in museum. That was a bad time, an awfully long time ago. It is not like that now.” The fox snapped at him, her eyes starting to glow once again. “They murdered my mother when I was just a child. I will never forgive them!” Pudgy frowned, “Pudgy sorry.” The fox poked at him with her pointed snout, “and why are you so trusting of them?” Pudgy started to talk about Cobalt, and his other friends, how nice they were. The fox listened, and cut him off again, “They are using you Pudgy! They want something, that’s all!” The hedgehog shook his head, “No, Cobalt is Pudgy’s friend. He does not have to help Pudgy. He has spent so much and took time off from work to help Pudgy. Pudgy feel bad for taking so much from him.” The fox rolled her eyes, and her long black tail with a silver tip curled around her body. “When my master Cthulhu returns, he will strike them all down.” Pudgy shook his head, “No, we can not let Harvey out!” The fox looked confused, “who’s Harvey? I serve Cthulhu, the eldritch God. He will bring my mother back from the dead, and we can live happily once more.”
Pudgy could not dispute what the fox said regarding the behavior of some humans. But they were not all bad, and many were nice. He had to keep her talking, to see what the plan was. “Well Pudgy locked Cthulhu away, the dinosaurs helped Pudgy use crystal.” The fox laughed, “I have my own crystal, and it will restore the life to the god as well as my mother!” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy see …. What was Argente mommy like?” The fox blinked, not realizing the hedgehog would change subjects like this. Stammering, “she was beautiful, with the finest of black fur. Kind silver eyes, and her laughter was beautiful, it would fill the air. Until that stupid car ran her over … I watched her die. The cars kept coming over and over, and I could not get her to safety. “The fox started to cry, and her head dropped onto her paws. Pudgy started to sniffle too, and wanted to hug her, but was staying back because he was unsure how the fox would react. The fox recovered from her bout of sadness and wiped her eyes with the back of her paw. She looked at her hedgehog foe, seeing him cry too, which drew a tinge to her heart. “Why are you crying, she was my mother?” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy sorry for your loss. Pudgy felt that way when Pudgy momma go away.”
The two animals sat quietly, looking at each other, and then the stars above. Pudgy sighed, “Pudgy met Cobalt shortly after momma go away. He asked if I wanted to come with him, and Pudgy said yes. He built Pudgy a couple homes, so could live apart, but always welcome to come over. Maybe if Argente come over to Pudgy house, Cobalt can help you too?” The fox snapped at him, “darn that human, and all others. I will get my revenge, and then they will all go away forever. The earth will be populated only by animals. Cthulhu will return soon, from his underwater portal to the north. And there is naught you can do to stop him. This is my last warning Pudgy, do not interfere!” The fox disappeared into a shower of white sparkles. The ship became eerily quiet, and Pudgy whimpered. He now understood why Argente was so mad. If that had happened to his mother, he too would be mad. But the blind hatred was not good, as Harvey was most likely twisting it to make her follow him.
The hedgehog scampered back into the wheelhouse and pulled out his maps and phone application. There was a huge lake to the north of New Orleans, called Lake Pontchartrain. It was a huge lake that served as a buffer against the Gulf of Mexico, which was the ocean. But it was a start, and Pudgy would need to lay in extra supplies, for an extended search of the lake. Turning on the VHF radio so he could listen. “This is the coast guard, all vessels, please be advised of the following warning. Lake Pontchartrain is experiencing strange currents around the causeway that crosses the lake. Please be advised all vessels entering the lake.” It was an automated message and repeated several times. The phone’s map application showed an exceptionally long set of bridges crossed the lake to connect to Lewisburg Louisiana, and a state park nearby. It was a start, and he now knew where the next part of his adventure was to take him. The hedgehog was now wide awake, so he started to check his ship, and inspect things. As the time passed, soon the sun rose, and the city began to wake up once more. He took money for his pack, and then quickly scurried out of the ship.
On his exploration yesterday, he passed an Italian grocery store that sold muffuletta sandwiches. In an hour, he had reached the store, who was just opening. An Italian woman with long black hair, and hazel eyes smiled her dark red lips at him. “Why hello, my piccolo, how can I help you?” Pudgy waved, and pulled out a bill rolled up, and showed her it was a $20 bill. “Pudgy need supplies for ship, heading to lake Pontchartrain.” The woman smiled ear to ear and helped him buy a variety of dry and wet goods, in various tiny sizes. She even threw in a couple of cannoli’s too, which meant he had spent the entire amount. Pudgy waved and started to drag the plastic bag of goods on the ground behind him. The woman waved her hand, “wait, let me carry that for you. I want to see your ship.” She scooped up the hedgehog, and while her husband worked the store, carried the bag of groceries and hedgehog back to the pier. In her amazement, there was a tiny steam ship moored there. She helped the hedgehog to his ship and watched him scurry around packing away the goods. “Thank you miss for helping Pudgy!” She giggled, and walked up the stairs, and down the pier.
Pudgy nodded to himself, “Lord Doomcock can wait, Pudgy have to stop Argente and Harvey.” The hedgehog grew a determined look in his eyes, and started to quickly untie the mooring lines, and pull up the ropes into his ship. He filled the fire box with coal and started to light the fire. The current was pulling the ship out from the dock, which allowed Pudgy to use the wheel to turn the ship around. As the boiler pressurized, he engaged the throttle, and the ship started to move back out into the river channel. The black coal smoke belching once more from the smokestack. As he circled the Natchez, the hedgehog waved at the ship crew. They waved back and watched as the hedgehog’s tiny ship headed further down the river. Consulting the river maps, he located a connecting river that led to the lake. This part of the river was much narrower, and several bridges crossed over head. Large barricades were set up to ensure the ships did not hit the bridge supports. Pudgy continued to head North, north west, and steered left as he reached a fork in the connecting river. In a couple of hours of navigating the river, soon Pudgy saw an airport on his starboard side. It was once he passed underneath the last bridge; he entered the edge of the lake. The water became quickly rougher, with waves and swells. The ship was not meant for ocean travel, and the lake was much rougher as at the far end it would connect into the gulf. He also noted that unlike the river, this was far deeper. This was requiring Pudgy to be more careful, and the fire box was loaded full. The gauges were all showing 500 psi, and the ship was chugging along. Heading to the north west, he could see the causeway. The skies were turning black, and lightning flashed in the skies above. Pudgy scampered out to the deck, and looked around, as the waters turned black. The smell of decaying filled the air, and soon he watched as gigantic tentacles started to lift out of the water ahead of his ship. Pudgy quickly raced to the wheelhouse, and watched as the skies above started to separate, into a void of darkness. Pudgy swallowed hard, and stammered out, “oh crap.”