Once the hedgehog had been allowed to get onto the ground, he started to investigate the artillery battery. There was a strange smell, like Sulphur but not quite. It was while his new human friend was looking around, he had spied the hole in the cement block wall. Pudgy decided to go through the hole in the wall, and by the time he had squeezed through, it was too late. He could hear Loki’s muffled voice outside, and inside the room was dark with a musty odor. As, Pudgy started to push the striker button in his mining helmet, he lit the flame. Cobalt had made for him a genuinely nice mining helmet. It even included a small tank of butane, to run the flame.
With the little flame dancing inside its firebox housing, the hedgehog started to move forward slowly. The floor was dirt, but packed hard from years of usage by the military. There was concrete in spots, but it was crumbling. Pudgy could see large wooden shelves stretching in all directions. They were spaced evenly and were meant to hold the various artillery shells for the war machines. The smell was growing stronger, and he twitched his nose, trying to home in on where it was coming from. The hedgehog could still hear the man talking outside, and the door began to screech loudly as it began to open. “Pudgy, where did you go?” Loki asked in the distance as he began to enter the room. The hedgehog could see a little cell phone flashlight appear, “Pudgy, this isn’t safe to be here. We should go outside….”
The critter continued his investigation, until he found a large metal vehicle parked inside the bunker. There were wide metal bands strapped together, that was strung taught between two wheels. Investigating further, the vehicle was armor plated, pot marked with bullet holes. Turning around, he could see the cell phone light behind him. Cupping his paws around his mouth he shouted, “Loki! Over here!” The man walked up closer, and as his boot clad food set down in front of Pudgy, he remarked. “That looks like a tank, Pudgy.” The hedgehog bounced happily and pointed. This must have been what the soldier was trying to tell them about. But how to get inside was the next question? The hedgehog was starting to ask out loud, when he saw a black shadowing claw wrap around Loki’s torso. “Loki!” Pudgy cried out, as the man was sucked out of the room and flung outside.
Pudgy was frozen, his new friend was possibly hurt outside, yet he could not move. The black shadow started to fill the dark room. The darkness somehow was darker than the surrounding area, but what he could see was two floating golden orbs. The orbs danced around the room, looking at the various empty shelves. They locked onto Pudgy and focused onto the timid hedgehog. The shadow began to speak in guttural tones. “Ah, da bist du ja, Igel.” Pudgy rubbed his head and could not understand what the voice said. “Mein Meister lässt grüßen, aber wir können Sie nicht fortfahren lassen.” The clawed hand pointed to the tank, and the hedgehog realized that it was especially important to whomever this was. “Pudgy no let you get tank, you big mean ghost!”
The orbs were focused on the hedgehog and did not realize and extremely pissed off man was standing behind it with a rusted sledgehammer. “Ok, you mother…. say hello to Stone Loki.” The man swung hard and connected with one of the golden orbs. To both of their surprise, the hammer connected and then flung the shadowy pass across the room and into a decayed wood cabinet. The cabinet exploded into a torrent of broken wood and dust. Loki looked down, “Pudgy, are you, all right?” The hedgehog nodded, “The ghost wants this tank for some reason.” The man nodded, “my German is rusty, but the ghost basically said he couldn’t let you proceed. Pudgy, we should get out of here!” The hedgehog shook his head, “can you help Pudgy get into the tank?”
Shaking his head, the man looked at the recovering black mass, and then nodded. He reached down to pick up the hedgehog roughly and set him on the tank. He also started to look, and then the two found the release lever for the hatch. Pulling the lever, the hatch swung open, and inside was even darker. Pudgy hopped inside, and the man laughed, as he hoisted himself up onto the tank. The cannon turret was round and could barely hold a human. The cannon was pointed to the left, so he could get inside the hatch. Dropping inside, he landed hard onto a seat whose padding had long since departed this world. With the cell phone light illuminating the interior, he reached up and closed the metal plated hatch.
While locking the hatch, he noticed that the controls were rudimentary. It was very much like a bulldozer, with two control levers to control left and right. There was one pedal to control the forward movement, “Pudgy, there is no way this is still operable. It probably sat here for over a hundred years.” The hedgehog was not seen, but Loki could see flashes of light from the corner of his eyes. “Pudgy searching, maybe find something can help.” As the man was about to speak, the whole tank shook. The shadowy mass screamed, “RAUS AUS DEM TANK!” Loki nodded, “Pudgy, this thing really doesn’t want us in this tank.”
Looking back, the Gunnery Sergeant ghost was standing in the turret. The USMC insignia burning bright on his uniform. Pudgy bounced onto Loki’s lap, and handed him a set of keys. “Pudgy found the keys!” The man looked down, with the little mining helmet casting light onto his chest. He took the keys, “what the hell, let’s do this!” Placing the keys into the ignition, he turned the key. Nothing happened, “crap,” Loki exclaimed while the ghostly solider pointed around his head. There was a sequence needed to start the engine, and while the tank shook hard from each direction as the shadowy mass tried desperately to get inside.
Following the silent soldier’s instructions, he tried the key again, and the engine’s start motor began to crank. Their unknown foe roared in displeasure, and the tank continued to shake as it flailed violently to get inside. One by one, lights started to turn on, and the engine roared to life. A terrific cloud of black exhaust came out the back-exhaust pipes, and the hydraulic pumps started to move ancient oil through the lines. The Gunnery Sergeant barked out orders, “Get us out of here!” Loki nodded, and pushed the gas pedal, and loud screeches that filled the room, the tank began to move forward. There was a tiny slit in front oh where Loki sat, where he could see. The orbs had turned orange and were desperately searching for a way inside.
“German bastard ….” The solider cursed, as he moved the turret to aim the cannon at shadowy mass. Pulling back the loading lever, the click sound filled the tank. “Wait are you going to fire that thing?” Loki shouted over the engine, and the soldier’s mouth pulled into a smile. The cannon fired, and a huge burst of smoke came out of the barrel. The shell hit the shadowy mass and flung it across the room. When the shell hit the side of the building, it blasted apart. Daylight started to pour inside the room, and the solider shouted, “get us out of here!” Loki nodded, and pushed the control levers and worked the pedals. The tank started to move forward, lumberingly slow. This was not a fast vehicle by any stretch of the imagination. It moved forward towards the hole in the building. Chunks of masonry were dropping from the ceiling onto the tank. “The whole building is coming down,” Loki shouted, and tried to goose any bit of speed he could out of the engine.”
The tank began to emerge from the building, with its cannon barrel emerging first. The shadowy mass was recovering, and just had started to pull itself up when the right tank treads started to run over its form. The creature roared in pain, as it crushed it under the tread. With light flooding into the tank through various holes, Pudgy bounced in Loki’s lap. There was a big RENAULT logo stamped into the metal plating beside Pudgy. This was the tank from the leather-bound book. The solider barked, “hold in position!” Loki stopped the tank, and turned his head, to see the solider turning the turret by hand to move the cannon barrel to face the shadowy mass. There were three shells of ammunition arranged in a hopper by the olive drab legs of the ghost. Taking a shell out of the hopper, he loaded the cannon. The black mass had stood up and roared again with its claws extended out menacingly.
“FIRE!” The solider shouted, and the cannon blasted once more. The whole tank shook and was flung forward a bit. The artillery shell connected once again and flung the creature against the side of the derelict mess hall. The building exploded and send chunks of masonry up into the air and landed hard on the ground below. The tank’s gauges were all busted, so it was unclear just exactly how the tank was operating. “Turn this thing around, we have to pursue!” Loki nodded, and pushed the left control lever forward, and the right control lever backwards, and pushed the gas pedal. The tank slowly started to turn around in a circle. The entire time, the solider behind was loading the cannon. When the tank was facing the creature, the man put the levers back to stationary and made the tank go forward.
Pudgy had hopped from Loki’s lap, and scurried into the tank behind him. As he looked up at the solider, he found a box inside the tank. There were rows of bullets, on a chain of some sort. The hedgehog then saw it had come loose from a connector above it. Realizing what it was, the hedgehog started to connect the strands together. Loki looked back, “Pudgy, are those bullets?” The solider grinned, “50 caliber, get the machine gun loaded hedgehog!” It was a furious effort, and while the critter struggled to load the clip into the firing block, Loki continued to drive forward. “FIRE!” The cannon blasted once more and ripped the shadowy mass apart while it took out the officer quarter’s building.
The hedgehog managed to connector the feed lever and firing block to the strand of bullets. The solider tapped Loki on the solider, “firing control is there!” Loki found a mocked-up gun handle grip with trigger assembly. By today’s standards, this was sub part, but back during 1916, it was revolutionary technology. Pudgy scampered back up and bounced into his new friend’s lap. “READY!” the critter shouted, and the driver smiled. The shadowy creature was not looking good, with huge chunks blow out of its form. One orange glowing orb had been blown apart, and it roared once more. “FIRE EVERYTHING!” Gunnery Sergeant Miller shouted, while loading the last shell from the hopper into the cannon. Loki pushed the pedal and moved the tank forward. The cannon blasted once more and ripped the creature to shreds. Loki fired the machine gun, and Pudgy watched as the bullets started to move along a track beside Loki, and up to the gun mounted in the tank’s left and right sides.
There were no guards anywhere, no protection from exploding ordinance. With bullet holes everywhere, the armor plating was not sufficient by today’s standards. But that did not matter, as the tank lumber forward, sending a hail of cannon and machine gun fire forward. The creature roared once more, “du wirst den kaiser niemals aufhalten!” Dropping onto the ground, the remaining orb cracked, and soon disintegrated. The black miasma dissipated, with a sense of calm starting to fill the area once more. The tank’s engine stopped, as the remaining gas in the tank had been spent. Soon an eerie quiet filled the tank, with Pudgy looking around.
The solider stood stoically, and in position within the turret. Pudgy crawled up onto Loki’s shoulder and waved. “Thank you for helping us Gunnery Sergeant Miller!” The solider smirked, “if you had said to me that I would share my last battle with a hedgehog and a strangely dressed civilian, I would have laughed. But I must thank you, I’ve been stuck inside that trunk for years.” Loki laughed, “I bet I do look strange, it’s 2020 now.” The solider cursed under his breath then calmed and said, “it’s been THAT LONG! Jacobs was supposed to take the trunk to the Tarantula, we have to keep it safe.” Pudgy waved again, “what is the Tarantula, isn’t that a spider?”
The tank was quiet again for a time, until the solider spoke once again. “All that were sworn to this secret have passed. Swear to me, you will not reveal this to anyone!” Pudgy raised his paw, “Pudgy promise.” Loki nodded, “I promise to, now what is it? What is going on?” The ghost started to grow translucent a bit, and he sighed. “I was not always a tank operator, though this is my home, I was stationed with the navy for a time. I served on board an underwater vessel known as the Tarantula. We were tasked to keeping the shipping lanes safe, and to fight the Germans. The little ship served us well, and at the end of the war, we came upon a convoy of enemy ships. We attacked and were successful. It was as we boarded the one ship, we found strange boxes. The writing was foreign to us, with golden caskets. Painted faces were on the outside, with birds, and cats.” Pudgy pondered, and Loki nodded, “That sounds almost Egyptian. That was probably hieroglyphs.”
The ghost nodded, “well whatever they were, we opened the boxes. We tossed the bodies overboard for a proper burial at sea and took whatever fuel and ordinance we could use. The one box had a treasure inside: gold, jewels, and a golden staff. When we touched the staff, a beam of light covered the ship from above. Realizing what we had found was important to the war effort, we brought it on board. The light however attracted attention, and after we submerged, we ran silent till getting back to London harbor. The war department swore us to secrecy and instructed us to return with items back to the port of New York. We ran silent, and without support, through an angry ocean, to get back to home. However, when we got to port, the Navy took us all into custody. It took some time to clear matters up, and soon we were released.”
Loki nodded, “my word, that sounds like a harrowing experience. What happened next?” The soldier frowned, “I don’t remember. That is the problem, the longer I am remaining here, the more I forget. I think we had to keep the treasure safe. As much as this tank was my home, that vessel was as well. I wish I could just rest, it’s been too long fighting this war.” Pudgy waved, “Pudgy will go find the Tarantula. What does Pudgy need to do?” The solider smiled, “place my tags in this tank, and my crucifix in the vessel.” Pudgy nodded, and opened his backpack, and pulled out the tags on their silver chain. He handed them to Loki, who hung them onto the control panel, wrapping the chain tight so it would not fall off.
The solider smiled, “please get out, I’ll take it from here.” Pudgy nodded and watched as Loki reached up to unlock the hatch. Swinging it open, the man held onto the hedgehog and started to stand up. Sitting Pudgy on the metal plating around the cannon turret and hoisted himself up. Swinging his legs out, he dropped onto the ground, and picked up the hedgehog from the tank. Pudgy watched as he was carried away, the hatch shut by itself, and the ghost disappear from the turret. Loki stopped and turned noticing the engine had fired up once more. The tank started to drive off from its resting spot, and with each wheel revolution, disappears into the distance. The tank and the solider was gone, having driven off into destiny once more.
Loki looked down at Pudgy, “Well Pudgy, when Cobalt asked me to help you investigate a World War One mystery, I did not think it involved driving a tank and fighting ghosts.” He laughed heartily, while walking through the even worse deteriorated buildings. Pudgy nodded, “But now we have the next part of the mystery. We have to find the Tarantula.” The man nodded as he snuck through the split rail fence, and back to the walking trail. “Yes, a submarine. If there is a treasure on board, it would be worth a fortune now. I somehow suspect that the military took that for safe keeping though. There’s no way that they would leave a magic staff on board the ship, would they?” Pudgy shook his head, “Pudgy unsure, if they were secret mission, maybe the crew hid the treasure on board?”
The trip back was quiet, and as the adrenaline faded from their battle, the man reached the green pickup truck. With Pudgy on his shoulder he got the keys out of his pants front pocket and unlocked the door. Opening it, the wave of heat escaped the truck’s interior. “I really miss my truck now.” He picked the hedgehog up off his shoulder, and gently placed him on the tweed bench seat. Watching Pudgy scamper across, he slid into the truck, and shut the doors. Again, working the manual cranks to get the windows open, he fired up the truck’s engine, and backed out of the parking spot. Loki was sitting quietly, thinking about what had just happened? The drive home was quiet, and occasionally he would look down to see the hedgehog riding beside him.
He had thought people were exaggerating, but here Pudgy was. He had a grand adventure, attacked by a ghost, then drove a tank to fight the ghost, help a ghost solider, and watch said solider drive the tank off into the sunset so to speak. This was the best day ever! He could not help but smile and watched as Pudgy was pointing. “what is it Pudgy?” The hedgehog smiled, “can we go to Popeyes! Pudgy need mashed potatoes, and a cookie.” The man laughed, “I don’t feel like cooking either, so good call.” Pulling the truck into the chicken place’s drive thru, he reached the ordering board. He ordered his meal, and Pudgy’s request. As they pulled up to the first window to pay, the man saw Pudgy holding a $20 bill. Smiling at the hedgehog, then the woman at the cashier window, he took the money to pay for their order.
After handing the hedgehog the change, he pulled the truck forward to the next window. Pudgy was busy packing up the money back into his backpack. Soon a big white Popeyes bag was sitting beside him, smelling wonderful. The remainder of the trip home was uneventful, and soon the truck pulled back in front of Loki’s house. After putting the windows back up, picking up Pudgy and the bag of food, the truck door swung shut behind as the man headed back inside. In a short trip, they had reached the front door, and entered the much cooler interior. Heading for a faded brown couch, the man sat down, and scooped up Pudgy to sit him on a silver metal coffee table. Pudgy looked down as he was set on a glass surface, and then bounced happily. The man took out all the food and set things down. Pudgy went to open the mashed potatoes, and the man smiled, “we should say grace first, Pudgy.” The hedgehog nodded, put his paws together, “grace!” Then he opened the lid and started to much hungrily.
The man turned on his big flat screen television set and fired up YouTube. Eris was having her new show, and when he turned her on, she was talking about why Star Wars was not good. While he started to eat, she said in an annoyed tone, “and Loki was supposed to join me today. He’s not answering for some reason…” The man coughed, “oh crap, I forgot that was today!” He quickly got out his cell phone and started typing. Soon a message appeared on the screen, which Eris read with a shocked look. “Loki says he was on a Pudgy adventure?!?!” The Valkyries started to message like crazy, and the chat lit up saying they wished they could go on an adventure too. So, while Loki called into the show using his phone, he started to tell everyone what had happened. He stayed vague about the next part featuring the submarine, as he had promised to keep that secret. Soon all thoughts about a 40 plus year old movie was out the window and talk of adventures. Pudgy even got on and answered questions. It was hard to hear him, so the phone’s microphone had to be placed close to him.
With mashed potatoes gone, and the bowl licked clean, Pudgy’s attention turned to the ooey gooey cookie on the table. As he munched happily, the show’s attention turned back to the topic at hand. More people joined and discussed the intricacies of same alien number 1 versus space alien number 2. Pudgy was enjoying his cookie and liked it when people laughed. The boisterous program ended when Pudgy finished his cookie. As Loki finished his meal, he rubbed his belly. “Man Pudgy, I haven’t had that in ages, thanks for paying!” The hedgehog waved and wiggled, then laid down on his back with his paws in the air. The man took off his boots and stretched out on the couch. The two friends relaxed, and soon Pudgy had fallen asleep. He had a busy day, and Loki’s house was safe. The man smiled and queued up a movie on one of the streaming services he subscribed to. As giant robots fought dinosaurs, he too started to drift off. As the man snored on the couch, the sun set in the west causing the home to darken. The home was serene, light coming from the television set, and muffled dinosaur noises coming from the speakers.