The trip to the Tavern was much farther than Pudgy expected, though with Mrs. Claus walking, it went by quick. As she had previously advised, she made it there within about 15 minutes. Of course, there were many looks at the silver blonde haired older woman walking with a hedgehog in her hands. Pudgy waved at the people, who waved back, and drew comical looks and giggles from the various female passersby. Reaching the aptly named River Street, Pudgy could see boats floating by in the Savannah river. There was a huge structure across the river, but he did not get a good look at it, as his friend turned left.
As women can attest, wearing heels and walking is tricky to say the least. However, when you add a historically accurate cobblestone road surface, it makes things quite challenging. This was the heart of the historical district, and as Mrs. Claus carefully walked, she reached a much smoother spot of brick pavers that formed a sidewalk. The buildings were nondescript beige brick, that many had applied stucco over their river facing fronts to try to maintain the brick from the sea air. There were iron windows, stained from years of storms, and general conditions along the river. One thing was clear though, these buildings had been standing here far longer than Pudgy or even Cobalt had been alive.
All manner of yummy smells wafted throughout the air. Fresh seafood was cooking somewhere, while there were the sweet smells of cornbread coming from a bakery that they were passing. The road started to descend once more, which required the woman to walk carefully once more on the cobblestones. With expert maneuvers, they arrived in front of an incredibly old looking building. There was a set of aluminum poles that held a round covered awning that was striped green and white. Pudgy read out loud, “Boar’s Head established 1959.” Alexandria giggled, “Yes, I remember that year: there were many cowboy toys requested.” Pudgy nodded and looked forward as two large green wooden doors had been opened and flanked the sides of an open entrance. There was a menu board also painted a dark green that passed by quickly. Pudgy looked around quickly as he was being carried inside, he didn’t want to miss anything.
The interior of the restaurant was full of tables, and dark green painted wood paneling was everywhere. Dark brown stained oak beams ran the length of the room in the exposed ceiling. There was the occasional ceiling fan going, though since it was almost winter, they did not need to be going full speed. Alexandria smiled when she reached the hostess station, and a tanned young girl with black hair tied back into a ponytail looked up. “Oh, hello Alexandria, it is good to see you again. And who might this be?” Pudgy looked up at the young girl wearing an awfully tight pair of blue jeans, and a green T shirt with a boar’s head on it. “My name is Pudgy, hello miss.”
When Pudgy introduced himself, it drew a look of shock from her, and then a soft smile from the astonished girl. The restaurant had only a few patrons inside at this time, and would be much busier later, so they could pick anywhere to sit. Alexandria headed over to a table for two persons and sat Pudgy down on the place mat opposite of hers. When Pudgy sat down, he took off his backpack, and started to fumble inside of it. This drew a look of curiosity from Mrs. Claus, who smiled and spoke. “What are you doing Pudgy?” The hedgehog pulled out a rolled green piece of paper and unfurled it. It was a twenty-dollar bill, “Cobalt gave Pudgy money in case need it, will this be enough for dinner?” The woman smiled, and patted his head, “Yes I think that should be fine little one. Though if it is not, I have money too.”
The waitress came back, with a glass of water, and a shot glass full of water. “Welcome to the Boar’s Head Tavern, I’m Emily and I will be taking care of you. Today’s drink special are margaritas, as well as the Kringle Blaster.” Pudgy looked up at the waitress, “Pudgy stick with water, Cobalt says no adult juice for hedgehogs.” The two women started to laugh, while Alexandria covered her eyes. “What’s a Kringle blaster?” The waitress nodded “It is vodka, gingerbread cream, and decaf coffee.” The older woman nodded, “oh yes, I would like one of those.” As menus were placed on the table, Pudgy started to look over the huge human sized menu in front of him.
It was about this time, that Pudgy could see the faint shimmering light moving around the tavern. No doubt Agent 72 was here, and several others supporting elves. The waitress returned with a Santa mug, topped with whipped cream and red crystallized sugar. The drink was huge, and while he watched Alexandria take a sip from the drink, Pudgy watched her face start to gain a bit more of a red color. “mmm, that is so good, and strong too.” News of the hedgehog and the woman had reached the back of the restaurant, which drew the occasional peeking glances from the kitchen staff. This drew a sharp rebuke from a man dressed in a white chef’s coat, and a white hat. “Jacob, get back here!”
The young sous chef went back to his station, “sorry Chef, but Emily is right, there really is a hedgehog out there with that woman who keeps stopping by this week.” The head chef turned and shook his head, “make the Mahi Mahi first, and then look.” Turning back to his large skillet, he spooned clarified butter over vegetables. The staff were all abuzz of what was going on, and while the older man wanted to join in on the fun, he had to finish this order of shrimp scampi. After he plated the order and wiped an errant splash of oil off the edge of the plate, he turned and placed it on the service window. The waitress smiled and took the order quickly to its intended destination. But the curiosity was getting the better of him, so the man walked around the line, and then stuck his head out to investigate the dining room.
Just as the other staff had explained, there was the stunningly beautiful older woman in a red sun dress sitting at the table. Opposite of her, sitting on the table was a hedgehog wearing a white Santa hat. Rubbing his eyes, “oh my, that almost looks like Pudgy.” He exited the kitchen and started to walk over to the table. Alexandria looked up at the large man and smiled, “hello there.” Her words were like sugar and seemed to tickle his ears. The chef laughed and watched as the hedgehog turned around and started to bounce waving at him. “Hello Mister Chef! It’s Pudgy!” When the hedgehog started to talk, the man smiled from ear to ear. “Oh my, Pudgy, it is good to finally meet you in person. I must admit, I had a small set of doubts that you were real.”
Hesitantly the chef reached out, and patted Pudgy on his head, and ran his hand along his back. The quills were so soft, and a light brown color, with flecks of silver running throughout. “Yes, you are definitely here in my restaurant. Have you had a chance to look at the menu?” the hedgehog pointed, “Pudgy wanna get the bread pudding!” Mrs. Claus gave Pudgy a look, “no Pudgy, we are not going straight to desert. I want you to have a proper meal. What do you suggest Chef, that would be hedgehog sized and appropriate?” The man rubbed his chin, “I have some ideas, and looked down at the critter who was looking a bit sad no desert, but still wiggled happily. Alexandria smiled, “I’ll take the seafood sampler.”
Nodding, the chef turned and headed back into the kitchen. He stopped at the POS system, and entered in the details. Emily returned back and saw the Chef, “I stopped by and got the order. I have chatted with that hedgehog online actually, and finally got to meet him.” The Chef smiled, and then smiled as she saw the reaction from the waitress. It was a mixture of happy and confusion, which was quickly remedied by someone who wanted to pay with a hundred-dollar bill, and now needed change. The ticket started to emerge from the printer by the service station, and the sous chef, a tall younger man called it out. But the Chef surprise confused him, which drew a smile from the Chef. He headed over to the sink and washed his hands. “That’s Pudgy’s dish, I have an idea for that one. Go ahead and start the clams,” the man called out to his subordinate cook.
Meanwhile out in the dining room, Pudgy was sipping from the shot glass. Alexandria was starting to giggle, as the drink was strong the further, she got into the mug. The hedgehog waved, “did you lose your earring here?” His female friend nodded, and Pudgy bounced, “our friends found it and have it for you.” Pudgy knew he should use coded language, as they were out in the open. The woman’s soft pale blue eyes were watching him and would scan around the tavern occasionally. But then looked up towards the entrance of the dining room. There was a woman with long brown hair and glasses, leaning on a candy-striped cane. She was accompanied by a tall, tanned man, with a nearly cut beard. They were led by their waitress over to a set of tables opposite the room from theirs. Pudgy was busy playing with the candle center piece on the table. They were battery powered, so he was having fun making the light up drink special sign go on and off.
The blinking light caught the eyes of the couple who had just sat down, and a huge smile from the woman. She saw the little hedgehog with the Santa hat on the table and called over. “Pudgy is that you?” The hedgehog turned and started to wave while bouncing excitedly. “Hi Heather, yes it’s Pudgy!” The boyfriend blinked in astonishment and said, “Heather, do you … know that hedgehog?” Alexandria smiled and waved and watched as the woman stood back up leaning on the table. Reaching for her cane, she walked slowly over, and then reached the table. “Pudgy, I am so glad to see you. What are you doing here in Georgia again?” The hedgehog scampered over to her hand and started to hug. “Pudgy had to find missing lady. Pudgy found lady, her name is Alexandria.”
Heather scooped up Pudgy gently into her hands, and then hugged him properly. She was smiling from ear to ear and happy to see her quill covered friend once more. After several moments passed, she set the critter back onto the table. Alexandria smiled at her, and Heather smiled back, “I am glad you found her Pudgy. Oh, that is Jack over at my table, he’s my boyfriend.” The confused man waved, and Pudgy waved back at him. Heather made it back over to her table, and then sat down rubbing her back. “I threw my back out yesterday, but I’m ok.” Heather said to Alexandria, who had a small look of concern in her expression. Her boyfriend patted her hand, and when the waitress stopped by to take their drink order, the attention turned away from Pudgy’ s table.
Emily arrived at their table, with a big oval shaped plate of bubbling foods. There was shrimp scampi, boiled clams with some sort of buttery white sauce, rice pilaf, and colorful vegetables arranged on a Christmas themed oval plate. Emily then placed a tiny plate in front of the hedgehog and watched him sniff and then bounce excitedly. The chef had to put his thinking hat on, so there was a plate of cheese grits, and tiny vegetables cut and arranged around the plate. The poor chef had to get out an X-ACTO knife to cut the asparagus spears to fit the plate. After Alexandria said grace, which was a short verse, the two started to eat. Pudgy really enjoyed his meal, and it was just the right size for a hedgehog. His female friend was munching happily and watching as the tavern started to fill up with patrons.
Pudgy watched Heather and her boyfriend giggle a lot, and hold hands, so he knew they were on a date. He would leave them alone, and thoughts crossed to where Blood Honey was? He hoped she was all right, and where she was, she was happy. Almost as if she could read his mind Alexandra spoke, “Beth is fine Pudgy, she is with her boyfriend now I believe.” Pudgy nodded, and continued to eat, while looking around the old tavern. There were stacked stone walls along two sides of the dining room, with placards from previous businesses that had existed within this location. There was a sign about a prior tavern before this one opened, and several prohibition era signs mentioning where the bakery was located. The figures were all winking for some reason, which the hedgehog did not get.
Pudgy finished his meal, about the same time as Mrs. Claus, and when he looked up at her she smiled again. “Pudgy, I don’t know about you, but I’m full.” The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy full too, we should skip desert.” She nodded, and then watched as Emily came up to the table. Their bill was reasonable, and Pudgy’s twenty-dollar bill was enough to cover the meal, but not the tip. Emily was surprised the hedgehog was paying but accepted the cash. Alexandria handed Emily a couple of bills from her purse for the tip, which drew a big smile from the waitress. “Thank you so much Alexandria, and Pudgy, this means a lot!” Pudgy watched as the excited woman ran off to the cashier’s station. The blonde silver haired woman had given her an undisclosed sum of money, which was more than a waitress would normally receive.
As Alexandria stood up, she slung her purse over her shoulder, and then gently scooped up Pudgy into her hands. “All right Pudgy, it’s time for us to go. I have a busy day tomorrow. Heather, Jack, it was a pleasure to meet you.” With the hedgehog waving at Heather, they began to exit the tavern. Heather waved back from the table, “bye Pudgy, you be safe please!” Jack laughed, “do you know any other talking animals, Heather?” The two laughed, and then sipped from their Christmas tree mugs. The older woman soon disappeared from the tavern, with a faint shimmering light following her. Jack rubbed his eyes, and then leaned in towards Heather to kiss gently on the cheek. She giggled, and then resumed to looking at her date.
They exited the tavern, as more locals and tourists started to pass by the nearby streets. Pudgy noticed the sun was setting just as quickly here, as it did back home, so he could understand why they were leaving now. After carefully navigating the cobblestone streets, Alexandria smiled when she got to level paved concrete areas. The heels were a poor choice, but she looked good in them, so it was worth the difficulty walking. Back home, she did not have anywhere she could wear them to. As she mused on thoughts of home, Pudgy started to wiggle in her hands. Looking down, she saw the hedgehog pointing to a park that they were passing by.
“Look Alexandria, it’s Blood Honey! Why is that man kneeling in front of her with a little box?” Mrs. Claus’s face softened, and her lips pulled into a smile. “I see, he’s proposing to her. Pudgy, we should leave Beth and her fiancée alone, this is a special night.” Pudgy wiggled his nose, and nodded, “Ok, Pudgy understand.” After watching the critter settle down, Alexandria turned to look again, and the two were embracing in a loving manner. Thoughts drifted to when Mr. Claus proposed to her, all those years ago. It had gone by in a blink of an eye, but she did not regret one moment of marriage.
Reaching a cross walk, the large red illuminated signal indicated to not cross the street. Pudgy watched as he was moved in front of a large button, to press in order to cross. Pudgy pushed the button, and then bounced happily, drawing a giggle from his human friend.
The traffic stopped, and then the signal turned to the white safe to walk signal and beeped loudly. As Alexandria cross the street, she reached the other side quickly and continued to walk. Pudgy noticed the faint shimmers were all around her and started to form a barrier around her. “I understand your intentions, but can you please give me a bit of space?” Alexandria said in an annoyed tone, as the gathering camouflaged elves were starting to prevent her from walking. Soon she had to stop, and looked around, “enough of this. I told you, I have one more day, and then I will be returning. That is, it, I’m not telling you again.”
Agent 72 rematerialized in front of her, “Mrs. Claus, you do not understand, we are under orders to return you to the North Pole. Santa is beside himself with worry, and he is not able to focus on the task at hand.” Pudgy looked up at Alexandria, whose soft eyes were starting to burn brighter blue. “uh oh, you made Mrs. Claus mad.” Pudgy whispered and started to roll into a ball. The hidden elves looked at each other, and then agent 72 swallowed hard. “Mrs. Claus, if it were up to us we would …” the elf said before being cut off by the angry woman. “I will NOT be going back tonight. Tell your superiors that, now I am heading back to my hotel. Good night to you!” she said, while stepping over the elf.
When Mrs. Claus raised her voice, everyone took notice. Pudgy peeked out, and saw that her face was scowling, and he rolled back into his ball shape. In time, they reached the hotel once more, and entered the lobby. The HSSA elf agent Redd was sitting in an overstuffed floral chair. The desk clerk was slumped over in a nearby chair, fast asleep. The older elf looked up and waved, “good evening Mrs. Claus, and Pudgy Hedgehog. I trust that your dinner was pleasant?” Pudgy looked up and nodded, then back at Alexandria’s face. She was rolling her eyes, “Redd, I told the others, I am not going back yet.”
The older elf nodded, and adjusted his uniform, produced a small white pipe. As he lit the tobacco within, he drew from the pipe. “I have seen and heard those reports. Do you know why we are here; it is to protect you. When you lost your earing, specifically this one, we had to arrive.” The elf had a crystal ornament earing on the chair beside him. “Santa feared the worst and wanted to send the USMC to Savannah. I was able to talk him out of it.” Pudgy remembered the USMC stood for United Santa Military Cadre, the military arm of the elf operations. The woman nodded, “my loving husband worries too much. Thank you for finding my earring, where was it?” Redd pointed, “at that Tavern you have been frequenting. What is the nature of your relationship with that large, bearded man win the white outfit?”
Mrs. Claus shot him an angry look, “he is a friendly man, who is an excellent chef. How dare you insinuate such a thing?!?” She placed Pudgy in left hand, and then reached down to take her earing from the chair in her right hand. The elf nodded, “I am glad to hear it is merely plutonic, lest we have to report to Santa otherwise.” Pudgy looked down at Redd, and started to speak, before he was cut off by Alexandria. “ARE YOU ACTUALLY THREATENING TO BLACKMAIL ME?” She yelled, with her voice echoing throughout the lobby. The elf smirked and drew from his pipe once more. “Whatever gave you that idea my dear Mrs. Claus? I merely am thankful to find you safe and hear your vacation ahs gone well. If you will excuse me, I will return to our base now. Pudgy Hedgehog, please attend to Mrs. Claus, and help her pack. She will be leaving in the morning.” The elf hopped from the chair, and then strolled past, before disappearing once more into a faint shimmer.
The angered woman started to walk once more, down the hall, and then up the stairs to reach the second floor. The hallway had faint shimmers everywhere, of elves that were standing by. The hotel had turned into a prison, and she was starting to realize that they were not going to take no for an answer. Upon reaching her room, Pudgy was again shifted into her hand with the earring, and then she retrieved the room key from her purse. Placing the key into the lock, she unlocked the door and entered. Shutting the door quickly, she could hear a loud thump as an elf tried to gain entry. After securing the door’s safety latch and deadbolt, she tossed the purse and Pudgy onto her bed. Pudgy stilled rolled in the ball shape, rolled across the bed and landed by a pillow. His quills were sticking out, as well as backpack.
Pudgy could hear movements, and a lot of loud angry words being spoken. It was not English, but regardless of words, tones were key. His female friend was extremely angry and was storming around the hotel room. He did not often roll into the ball shape, so the quills sticking out in all directions clearly revealed the extent of the gray and white splotches throughout his body. He could feel her fingers gently petting him through the quills, which meant she had calmed down. He unfurled, and then looked up at Mrs. Claus. Her face had returned to a look of concern, and her blue eyes had stopped glowing as brightly. “I’m sorry Pudgy, I did not mean to frighten you.”
Pudgy nodded and watched while she continued to look at him., “Pudgy, this is not good, you are aging at an accelerated rate. You should not be like this for many more years. You said before we went to dinner, that you had rescued the daughter of Hecates from a mountain in Washington state?” Pudgy nodded, and the woman rubbed her chin as she thought. “Something is causing this, but I do not know what. Pudgy, you must be incredibly careful. I am sure Cobalt would be sad if you didn’t come back from your adventures.” The hedgehog nodded and then watched as Alexandria put her lost earing into her left earlobe. The ornaments started to glow, and then a voice started to echo throughout the room.
“Alexandria, are you, all right? Where have you been? I was so worried.” The rushed questions and statements were from Santa. Pudgy watched as she pressed the ornaments and then started to talk. “Yes husband, I am all right. I am not pleased though.” Pudgy knew this was a private conversation, so he scampered under a pillow, and the whole world was hidden away. The sounds were muffled, and after a period of low talking, Mrs. Claus raised her voice once more. It was half in English, and half in naughty words that Cobalt said to never say. When the shouting had stopped, Pudgy peeked out from under the pillow. Mrs. Claus had started to take off her dress, so she shot back under the pillow before he would get in trouble. “Pudgy, I am taking a bath!”
The hedgehog was starting to wonder if it was safer back at camp. Xylenia was probably rested by now, so she could get him back home, if he asked her nicely. But he found himself being very sleepy, in the nice soft warm bed. Soon the hedgehog had fallen asleep, and thoughts of the thanksgiving party floated in his dreams. An unknown amount of time passed, and soon Pudgy woke up when the bed started to move. The pillow was moved, and soon he was revealed. As the hedgehog wiggled his nose; he saw that Alexandria was now in the bed with her covers pulled up. “Well Pudgy, it appears that I will be returning tomorrow to the North Pole. I am not pleased, but I can not resist this any longer. The children will be so sad though….”
Pudgy looked up a Mrs. Claus, “what children?” The tired woman closed her eyes and sighed. “I was volunteering at a hospital nearby to here. I was working as a nurse, trying to bring a bit of Christmas to the children’s wing. I had one more day and was going to set up a party for the children. They were so looking forward to it.” Pudgy nodded, “that sounds like a wonderful thing to do. What did Santa say?” Her eyes opened and focused on the hedgehog, “he told me to come home. Work has piled up, the whole castle is starting to tall apart without me. I need to return.” She sounded sad when she said that, but soon found Pudgy climbing onto a pillow so he could look at her better.
When the hedgehog was now eye level with her, Pudgy had a determined look. “Pudgy will go to hospital and have party for children.” The determined hedgehog’s look made the woman smile, and she reached over to gently pet the hedgehog. “That makes me happy to hear you say that Santa suggested that you may be able to help with that. Tomorrow, I will wake you up, and fill you in with the details. For now, let us go to sleep Pudgy,” she said with a tired smile. As Pudgy bounced from the pillow, he wiggled into the blankets and immediately fell asleep. Mrs. Claus smiled, and then shut her eyes. A couple hours later, Pudgy woke up to someone running power tools. It sounded like a buzz saw, but when he turned, he noticed the noise was coming out of Alexandria’s nose. She was snoring, so once realizing things were safe, he scampered under the pillow once again.
The rest of the night was quiet, save for the occasional snoring flare up by Mrs. Claus. And in the morning, Pudgy woke up and climbed from the bed. After attending to some requisite business, he checked his pack and his Santa hat. Mrs. Claus was readying herself for her return trip and emerged from the bathroom in her familiar red velvet with white accent outfits. She was dressed in a proper North Pole attire, and her bag was packed with her belongings. Pudgy turned and looked up at her and smiled. She was so beautiful, and her bright blue eyes looked a tad sad. She looked down, “Pudgy, it is time for me to return home. But your mission is still going on. Santa said he would issue an order to the SIA that they were to assist you with this. HSSA Redd, will be assisting you going forward. Now, please be good, and come over here.”
Pudgy scampered up, and watched Alexandria kneel, and gently scoop him up in white velvet covered hands. She hugged Pudgy gently, and then sat him down on the floor of the room. “The hospital I was working at is Candler Hospital, it is a little further than the distance to the Tavern in the opposite direction of here. The party is supposed to be today, so there will be much to do. I believe Xylenia is outside ready to take you there as well. Please make the day special for the children, they really need it.” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy promise Mrs. Claus, the party will happen, and everyone will be happy.” The hedgehog waved and turned to head towards the door. To his amazement, the door opened by itself, and he was able to scamper outside. As the hedgehog turned, he saw Mrs. Claus teleport away in a cloud of white light and snowflake sparkles. The door closed shut slowly, and then Pudgy could feel the hotel change. It felt like an empty building, which meant it was time to do.
The hedgehog scampered down the hallway, and reached the staircase, and very carefully began to descend the stairs. The windows were dark, which meant they had awoken before daybreak. Moving at hedgehog speed, meant that it was going to take a while, until Pudgy figured out how to slide down the one part of the stairs. Upon reaching the first floor, he began to head along the wall towards the lobby. It was there that a faintly shimmering woman was paying the front desk clerk and checking out of the room. It was not Mrs. Claus, but a projection of her. Pudgy marveled for a moment, but then exited the lobby and started to push the exterior door. It was not budging and was too heavy for him to move. However, at that moment, a faint shimmer appeared beside him, and pushed the door open.
As Pudgy exited the hotel, he found Xylenia sitting outside on the sidewalk. The elf materialized beside him, “agent 72 reporting for duty, Pudgy. We have our mission, to head to Candler Hospital, and transport is ready.” Xylenia rolled her eyes, “transport has a name, elf.” Pudgy laughed, and hugged Xylenia, “Xylenia, can you please take Pudgy and Agent 72 to the hospital? We have to help the Christmas party happen.” The dragon giggled and lowered herself so the two could climb on. Once they were on her back, she started to flap her wings. “Next stop, Candler Hospital, please hold on you two.” As she ascended, the dragon started to fly over the historical buildings. As they passed by the several parks in Savannah that Pudgy had wandered through, they reached Forsyth. Agent 72 pointed, “Main base has been dismantled and returned to the north pole. We have 4 agents standing by: 67, 48, 23, and 99. They were given instructions by Santa and Mrs. Claus and are readying the location of the party. It was scheduled to start at 11 am, local time. Based on current estimated, we have,” Pudgy pointed at a bank with a digital clock sign, “it’s 6:32 am, we still have time to make it!” The elf nodded, and Xylenia started to flap a bit harder. The hospital was seen in the distance, with its white stone towers, and plate glass reflecting the morning sunlight from the horizon. Pudgy was excited and determined to bring Christmas to those children no matter what.