Like before, Pudgy and Alabaster were moving through the earth at a tremendous rate of speed. This ley line had an orange glow, and shone brightly around them. Pudgy was holding onto the sapphire with both paws tightly. There was something different this time, and Pudgy could feel heat all around him. Perhaps this ley line was going much deeper into the ground than the last one? Alabaster hooted softly, and his grasp was weakening under the withering heat. But just before all was lost, the owl and hedgehog emerged once more from the ley line. There was no brilliant flash of light, only darkness. Both animals dropped onto the ground, feeling the world spinning around them.
Pudgy put the sapphire back into his best, and clasped the pocket shut. “Alabaster, are you alright?” The hedgehog said while trying to stand. The owl coughed hard, “I hate that one, it is always so hot.” As Pudgy rubbed his eyes, he could see that they were no longer at the lake. There was sand, and bare earth everywhere, with only the occasional blade of desert grass. The ground was warm, but the air was cool. There were no clouds, and the sky was filled with stars as far as the eye could see. Alabaster pointed with his good wing, “ahh, the desert night time air feels so good.”
The hedgehog sat up, and started to get back to his paws. “Do you remember where the next node is Alabaster?” The owl rubbed his beak with the tip of his wing, yes and no. I know where it is from the air, but never have I had to find it on the ground. But I remember that you must pass two cactus to reach the node. So, let us find a cactus. I have to warn you though, since they are close to the ley line, they are funny to deal with. We must be on our guard.” Pudgy was unsure why, but nodded and started to follow the owl as he bounced along the desert ground.
The two animals scampered along the desert ground, ascending a small hill that overlooked the area. Upon reaching the top of the hill, Pudgy could see the area was lit up from the moonlight. The land was a sea of white and beige, with an occasional outcropping of rock sticking up from the surface. Pudgy squinted, “Pudgy has trouble seeing, but what can see, looks beautiful.” The owl nodded, “it is certainly a site to see, the natural world holds much in the way of beauty, Then the humans destroy it,” the owl grumbled. Pudgy looked to Alabaster, “Pudgy knows not all humans are nice, but there are many good ones. Pudgy see on television where they are doing things to preserve and fix the world, not all are destroying it.”
The owl hooted again as he chuckled, “poor … naive … hedgehog. You have not seen the devastation our parliament has. We lived in a majestic forest, trees as far as you could see, days and days by flight in all directions. Then one day the trucks came, humans with death sticks that spun cut down the trees as fast as they could. The trunks were put on long things with wheels that vomited poison from metal tubes. What was left, they set fire and walked away. The forest burned for days, and the animals scattered. Our homes destroyed, we moved to the next forest to settle once more. Then man came again, and the cycle repeated, over and over and over and over. They will only be happy when nothing is left,” The owl said with a hiss.
Pudgy frowned as he scampered along, trying to figure out a good way to retort the owl’s unhappy story. But he was having trouble, because what the owl was saying was right in some aspects. Pudgy wished Cobalt was here, he would have a way to explain this. The hedgehog sighed, and stopped next to a rock to allow his owl companion to rest again. “Pudgy saw a show about that Alabaster, but the show had a part where the loggers also were planting trees. Pudgy knows not the same, since it takes a long time for trees to grow back, but it is a start. Cobalt could explain this better than Pudgy,” the critter said sadly. The two critters did not speak for a long time, scurrying along the desert ground. The owl stopped and pointed, “here is cactus number one.”
A tall cactus stood growing, covered in needles from top to bottom. As Pudgy approached cautiously, the ground started to shake and a mouth formed in the main trunk of the cactus. “Alabaster, you came back, and you brought a friend!” The owl hooted, “Pudgy, this is Cactus number one.” The cactus sounded a bit annoyed, “I am not a number, I have a name!” Pudgy wiggled his nose, “nice to meet you, my name is Pudgy, what is yours?” The cactus wiggled what almost resembled arms, “Nice to meet you Pudgy, I am El Cactus Grande Pantatlone. Hey, do you like jokes? I’m working on a stand up routine.” Pudgy bounced and waved, “Pudgy love jokes. What do you call cheese that is not yours? Nacho cheese,” the hedgehog said. The cactus wiggled, “ha ha, good one. I must write that down, oh wait I dropped my pen.” The owl covered his eyes, “do not encourage him Pudgy. He will talk for hours, and nothing ever good comes from it.” The cactus wiggled again, “Alabaster is just a grumpy owl. Now onto the jokes,” the cactus said.
“So a priest, a rabbit, and a rabbi walk into the bar. The bartender says, hey is this a typo?” Pudgy wiggled his nose, “Pudgy don’t get it.” Alabaster tugged at Pudgy’s quills, “Pudgy, we are leaving now!” The hedgehog was pulled away, while the cactus shouted, “oh sure, running away. Ok time for the big guns, two blondes walk into a bar … AND THE THIRD ONE LAUGHED! AWWW … COME BACK … I’M NOT DONE YET WITH MY SET!” Pudgy wiggled his nose while he scampered beside Alabaster. The desert grew quiet once more, and the two critters continued their travel. In the distance coyotes were calling, as well as what sounded like a wolf. The owl’s senses were heightened, “they sound far away, so we should be fine. Like humans, not all animals can be trusted, and some will delight in torturing you before they let you pass.”
Pudgy nodded his head, “Pudgy know, Pudgy thankful have not run into any mean animals yet on adventures, but know that will not always be the case.” After another long period of walking, the two stopped beside a tall green object. The owl was panting, “I will be so very glad when I can fly once more.” The two critters felt the ground shake again, as the second cactus turned around, and a mouth formed. “Broken wing your is Alabaster?” The owl looked up, “oh great, Pudgy this is cactus number two. He is a comedian like the last one. Looks like today is reverse day,” the owl grumbled. Pudgy looked up and waved, “Pudgy is name my.” The plant almost seemed to bounce as the hedgehog was playing along. The owl hooted annoyedly. “no, do not play into this, you will only encourage him.” The hedgehog looked up, “Cactus mister name your is what?”
The cactus has only one main trunk, with no appendages. But somehow he was able to wiggle and move around like he was rubber. “I am the desert flora of doom! I am the porcupine of power! I am the nopal of nectar. I once fought twelve wolves, and only lost one arm. I am the calamity of cacti!” Pudgy wiggled his nose, and looked at Alabaster. “Pudgy thinks he sounds like a pro-wrestler. Pudgy used to watch that with Cobalt, but stopped, it got boring.” The owl nodded, “the titles get worse each time.” As the two critters were about to turn, the first cactus bolted out of the ground right beside them. Pudgy shrieked, as the owl sounded a warning call. “You two ran off before I got to the good part! Now, there was this 12 inch pianist …”
The second cactus looked at the first, “hey, you get back over to your section! Don’t you know New Mexico state law says only 1 cactus per acre, do you want me to call my representative?” The first cactus wiggled, “oh go ahead and call Larry, he only got 2 votes last time, and you need 3 to win this county!” The second cactus wiggled, “oh yeah, Larry could have won, but you abstained!” The first cactus wiggled, “well, I didn’t think my vote counted?” The second cactus bent and hit the first, “THERE ARE ONLY FIVE CACTUS IN THIS COUNTY, HOW WOULD YOUR VOTE NOT COUNT?” Pudgy and Alabaster took their opportunity to sneak off as the two cactuses argued. The plants did not even notice, as they had begun a flat tax discussion, and how they could balance the county budget if they tax the desert hares at 95%.
After getting a safe distance away, Pudgy could feel the sapphire wiggling in his vest. The owl watched as the hedgehog turned and headed towards a big boulder that was sticking out of the ground. Waving to the owl, “here it is. Pudgy wonder where this one goes to?” The owl bounced up to Pudgy and nodded, “it will take us another fair distance, but the stone is not yet recovered. We will need to wait awhile. I hope those two don’t figure out we left.” Pudgy nodded, realizing what the owl meant by the cacti were funny. Pudgy took off his pack, and opened his tiny canteen. He took a sip of water, which tasted really good. He walked over to the owl, and motioned for him to tilt his head back and open his mouth. The owl nodded and did so, and watched as the hedgehog carefully poured some water into his mouth. Pudgy tighten the top of the little canteen and went back to his pack to lace up the canteen.
Slinging the backpack back on, Pudgy looked up into the skies above. “Pudgy hope the moon dinosaurs are all right.” The owl looked up, “tell me about them again, please?” The hedgehog nodded, and told the grand tale of where they lived. The general structure of operations, the domes, and the visiting gray aliens. The owl was fascinated, and was about to ask a question, when the two cactuses burst out of the ground beside the leyline node. The two spoke in unison, “YOU TWO RAN AWAY AGAIN!” El Grande Pantalone cactus wiggled, “now, where were we? Oh yes, if we tax the desert hares at 95%, then we can afford a tax cut.” The dark destroyer of doom cactus shook his body, “that will never work. Every time we tax the hares, they run away and hide in the rocks. It is like they know we can not travel through rock!” Caliente Pantalone Cactus nodded, “good point. Well they have to leave the rock sometimes, that is when we will get them, an entry tax.”
A small, but very annoyed voice called out behind Pudgy, “will you two STOP IT?!?!?!” The hedgehog turned to see a desert hare dressed in green combat fatigues and smoking a cigarette. “You two are always talking about taxing the desert hares. How about we tax all of the cacti 100% Oh yeah, I know why, because you are out of work and have no money.” The devilish debonaire of danishes cactus wiggled, “that is not true. We have lots of money, it’s just tied up in the courts.” The verde pantalone cactus nodded, “yeah, once we get our writ from the courts, we will have all the money in the county, just you wait and see!” Alabaster turned to the hare, “hello. Can you help save us from these cacti?” Pudgy turned as well and waved, “hi Mr. Bunny!” The hare shot Pudgy a look and wiggled their tail at him, “there is no mister here critter, I am all woman!”
Pudgy looked sheepish, “Pudgy sorry Mrs. Bunny, can you help us?” The hare nodded, “yes I can.” Reaching into a holster, the desert hare pulled out a miniature flare gun, and shot a round into the sky. The two cactuses looked up and spoke in unison again, “oh sure, cause light pollution! We’re going to report you to the authorities!” The hare wiggled her white fluffy tail at them, “kiss my tail, petunias!” The cacti wiggled, but as they had advised, they could not move past the boulder. They bent as far as they could, but could not reach the critters. Pudgy looked up into the sky, and saw something blocking out the stars. He pointed with his paw, “Alabaster look!”
The owl looked up, and his beak dropped open. Descending from the sky was what looked like a sailing ship, which was being held aloft by a huge cigar shaped balloon. The ship started to come around, and move in such a way that it was still airborne, but could lower the ramp. A long wooden ramp lowered down, and hit the rock with a thud. There were several more desert hares dressed in combat fatigues, and some had bandoleers full of carrots. “First officer Fluffy, we saw your flare, come on board.” The hare nodded, “I am bringing some friends along. Pudgy, owl, come with me.” The hare hopped up the wooden ramp, and Pudgy followed in kind. The owl hesitated, but then bounced up the ramp as well. The deck was wide, and if Pudgy laid down, it would take 5 of him to reach the other side. The hedgehog helped a black hare pull up the ramp, and stow it away.
The cactuses wiggled, “oh sure, running away! Well, you have to pay the depart by air tax! That will be ten thousand dollars. A white hare who was missing part of his ear hopped over to the side of the airship and flipped him off with his middle toe. “Put it on my bill, I will pay you next quarter! What am I up to now?” The flagarant flower of flirtatiousness cactus wiggled, “you owe the cacti a billion now!” The hare nodded, and looked at Pudgy, “they can try to collect, but we will be far gone before they ever catch us. I am Captain of this ship, welcome aboard. I may need you to assist with the operation of the vessel, so be prepared to work.” The hedgehog nodded, and watched as two small hares were loading wood into a firebox. The fire warmed the air, which inflated the balloon. Silently the airship was ascending into the sky once more, and turned to catch the wind.
Pudgy was placed in the aft of the ship, helping turn a set of gears that rotated a huge propellor blade. This was how the airship moved forward, and Pudgy quickly realized that the airship was at one point in time a steam vessel. Pudgy wiggled his nose, and bounced slightly, which caught the attention of the Captain. Alabaster was at the stern of the ship, trying to not be in the way. Higher and higher the ship floated into the sky, it was silent, save for the noise of the desert hares working. After a long stretch of time had passed, Pudgy waved at the Captain. “Captain, thank you for taking Alabaster and Pudgy with you. Where are we going?” The owl turned and nodded in agreement with Pudgy, and listened intently.
The Captain was an older hare, and was missing part of his left ear. The ear tips and tail were black, but he was dressed like a pirate. Flowing black pants, regal looking blue naval attire coat, and a tiny sword in a black scabbard. He turned to Pudgy, “We are on our way to where the humans call … California. The ship needs repairs, and our main port of call is located on a tall mountain over some place called ….oh what is that word?” The first officer waved, “Montclair. Strange name for a place, but it is huge. Lights go on forever, and can waste a month’s salary in a night.” The black hare laughed, “you have to stay out of those casinos, the badgers are crooks!” Pudgy wiggled his nose, “wait, there are casinos run by badgers?” The Captain nodded, “and worse, places where a lonely rabbit can find the accompaniment of a lady hare for a nominal fee. I am too old for that nonsense, and stay on the ship now. Back in my wilder days, I could drink wolves under the table.”
Alabaster could not tell how much of this was pure nonsense, and what was real, but it was fun to listen to. Plus, they were travelling at a fair speed as well, so he could not complain. Pudgy was enjoying himself, and turning the crank to keep the propellor spinning. “So, Pudgy and Alabaster, we have a long trip ahead of us. The crew is tired of my stories, do you have any to share?” The owl hooted happily, and listened as Pudgy began his grand tale. The crew was trying hard to pay attention to the ship duties, but all eyes and ears were on the hedgehog. He started at the beginning of his tale, with the long trek deep into the earth to meet the man with the mask, and finding a dragon along the way.
What really captured the bunnies attention was Pudgy’s tale of the trip to the moon. The Captain and First officer peppered the hedgehog with questions, all manner of technical questions, which Pudgy tried his best to answer. Hours passed, and as the critters all started to yawn, the stories were placed on hold. The ship went back into its normal rotation, with critters taking turns to rest. Alabaster was the odd critter out, because he could not really help with the ship operation. He tried to stay out of the way, and quiet. After a couple rest periods, everyone was awake again, and the Pudgy story could start up once more.
The airship was making good progress, and had crossed the midpoint of the state of Arizona. As the sun continued to rise in the sky, the light spread throughout the pale desert sands that were below the keel of the airship. Pudgy could see vast stretches of desert in all directions, with virtually no water anywhere. There was no green anywhere, except for the odd cactus. The Captain had laid in a course that would avoid all human areas, so they would not be accosted by curious taller folk. Pudgy raised his paw to get the first officer’s attention, “Pudgy have a question?” The hare hopped over, “yes Pudgy, what is it?” The hedgehog bounced a bit, “well, how did all of you come together on this wonderful ship?”
The female hare nodded, “well, the Captain can tell this story better than I can, but he is resting now. The captain was originally a normal hare like the rest of us, but he grew bored and wanted to see the world. He found a ship stranded in the reeds along a river. It was a toy some human had cast aside or lost. But to the Captain, he was enthralled, and soon was spending all his time working on the ship. Eventually, he bid his friends goodbye, and went on an adventure. One by one we came to join him on his adventures on the river. It was ten moons ago, where the Captain decided that the rivers were not enough for him. So, we constructed the balloon, and have been sailing the skies ever since.” Pudgy nodded, and bounced happily, which made the crew smile and twitch their noses at him in return.
Slowly and silently, the ship was losing altitude. The reason was that they had exhausted their supply of materials to burn in the firebox. They needed a constant heat source to keep the firebox lit and create the hot air that sustained flight. The Captain was awoken, and he rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the back of his left paw. “All right, we need to find a spot to land. Let me get out my charts,” The lead hare said while adjusting his belt slightly, “all right, if we maintained our course, we are just south of what the humans call …. Parker. We are close to the great river, which means plenty of supplies.” What the critters called the great river, was the Colorado river that ran the border between Arizona and California. The airship was high enough, the rate of descent was slow enough, that they could coast into the river valley, and land somewhere along the river banks.
Alabaster could tell the ship was descending too quickly. As an owl, he could glide so far, before the natural forces in this world caused him to need to land somewhere. Flight has its limits, and he watched as the desert ground soon became closer in view. Pudgy was turning the gear faster, trying to help the airship speed up a bit. The desert hare crew were not faxed by what was going on, and calmly moved around the deck doing their tasks. The fire crew were still feeding material into the firebox, but not at the rate that they once were. The hedgehog looked up, and could see a huge airplane descending above the ship. Alabaster hooted and pointed, “what is that thing?” The Captain nodded in agreement while Pudgy said out loud, “airplane!”
The tiny airship was passing over the northernmost part of an airport that was built in a flat, and wide stretch of the Arizona desert. Their vessel was not in any danger, as they continued to fly along, and over a road. There were not that many cars along the road, which was odd for this time of day. It was almost at full sun, which drew a look from the first officer, “where are the humans? Last time we passed this road, it was busy, it led to that huge human casino.” Pudgy frowned and sighed sadly, “the humans are disappearing.” The captain’s one good ear shot up and turned to the hedgehog. “What was that Pudgy?” The hedgehog explained how his friend Cobalt disappeared in the forest. When Pudgy and Alabaster were in Texas, humans disappeared outside of the restaurant too.” The hares all looked at one another and wiggled their noses, but were quiet.
The ship’s attitude continues its decary, but Pudgy could smell the river, and feel the moisture forming in the dry desert air. The Captain shouted, “deploy the wings!” A gray hair with a nasty scar across his face and a glass eye shot to the port side of the ship, while the black hare ran to the starboard side. On each side of the ship were folded fabric wings that were tied up on the side of the ship’s hull. The hares expertly untied, and lowered the wings into place. Soon the ship was gliding through the air, and gaining speed. The female first officer was at the bow of the ship, and pointed. “I see the river, and the big dam the humans built!” The owl was watching too as they were approaching the river.
The desert plains were sloping downwards , and then dropped down a steep embankment. The sands were slowly chaining to soil, and green plants soon were appearing scattered beneath the hull. Alabaster watched in amazement as they turned and ran parallel with the dam. Huge pipes were built into the dam, that sucked the river water inside the stone structure that ran the entire width of the river from shore to shore. Behind the dam, the river was much higher, while past it, it was much lower. The owl curse, “darn humans are taking all of the water too!” Pudgy shook his head, “that is a dam. Those pipes, Cobalt tells Pudgy, divert water inside and run over big water wheels. That makes power for the humans … It is just like Pudgy water wheel, but much much bigger. See the big pipe over there,” the hedgehog pointed, and Alabaster peeked as the water was blasting out of a large pipe beside the dam.
Alabaster nodded, “I regret not talking to this Cobalt friend of yours Pudgy. He seemed to be very wise, for a human.” The hares were adjusting the wings, and trimming the balloon as they continued to descend over the wide swatch of water known as the Colorado River. The Captain shouted, “lower landing gear, and get read for a hard landing!” The two smokey gray tiny fire box bunnies nodded, and then went underneath the ship. Loud cranking sounds were heard, as the landing skids were lowered into place. The skids were like skies, and could retract and deploy when needed. The shoeline could be seen, and was full of lush green plants growing tall along the river. Pudgy held onto the deck rail, while the ship landed hard on the muddy shoreline. The ship rocked back and forth violently, as it slid along the ground. After a terrific racket, the ship stopped moving, and the hares all started to look around the ship.
The Captain had fallen over, and was getting back to his feet. “Is everyone alright?” The hares all nodded one by one, while Pudgy and Alabaster waved. “Ok, lower the gang plank, and check the ship for damage. Zippy, take Pudgy with you, and start looking for firewood. I see our critter friend brought tools with him.” Pudgy was still wearing his backpack and mining helmet. He had a shovel, axe, and hammer clipped to his bag. Zippy was the black hare, who moved and lowered the plank into position. Pudgy scampered behind the hare, and onto the soft ground. The sun was high in the sky, and was baking the area with nary a cloud present.
Alabaster watched as his hedgehog companion left, and turned to the Captain. “I feel out of place, with my hurt wing. Is there anything I can do?”
The Captain nodded, “yes you can Alabaster. I want you to go with First Officer Fluffy, and scout the area. If you find anything dangerous, sound a warning call. I know what your owl calls sound like.” The female hare motioned for the owl to follow, and the two scampered down the plank, and the opposite direction from the ship. The two tiny bunnies that had been working the fire box, got out of their hearth and wiggled their noses at the Captain. “Pyro and Fire, go to the river and start filling the water barrels … and wash yourself up too.” The Captain said with a smile, watching the tiny hares bounce as they rolled empty water barrels off the ship and down the bank. He would remain on the ship, and keep guard. The balloon continued to deflate, and soon was laying beside the ship on the starboard side.
Alabaster bounced along behind Fluffy, having a terrible time keeping up. He really missed flying, but he still did not want to chance hurting his wing further. The owl followed the hare up to a large rock that overlooked the river bank where the ship had landed. “This is a good spot to start our lookout. Alabaster, you stay here, I am going to scout around some more.” The owl hooted in agreement, and stood guard. Though the hot desert sun was starting to make him feel unwell. Arctic owls belonged in the cold of winter, in the north, what was he doing in the south? He watched the bunnies playing in the water, and filling the barrels at the edge of the river. They went into the water a smokey gray, and came out a creamy white. Skinny trees were starting to fall one by one, as Pudgy was cutting firewood for the airship. The cutting of trees irked the owl, but these were a kind that did not support a bird or owl. So while the owl rolled his eyes, he understood.
Zippy the hare was not named that because he was fast, but the rabbit was strong, with paws as fast as lightning. He was the brawler of the ship, and was pulling the cut trees down to the ship. Pudgy followed, and then started to chop the trunks into sections. The hedgehog was amazed at the hare’s strength and bounced as he worked at his task. The critter knew that he needed to pay his way for the trip, and being useful to the crew was a good way to do just that. The Captain poked his head over the deck rail, “Pudgy, cut those into smaller logs for Pyro and Fire.” The hedgehog nodded, “aye aye Captain!” The older hare smiled and twitched his nose, before walking the deck of his ship. Zippy brought more long scrub trees down to the ship for Pudgy to cut, before heading down to the river to get the water barrels.
The firebox bunnies were busy splashing each other in the river water, and splashed Zippy. The black hare twitched his nose, and then splashed them right back with the cool river water. After a bit of play, the larger hare started to carry back the full water barrels to the ship. As the crew worked at their tasks, Alabaster kept a watchful eye. He could see the various birds flying in the sky over the marsh areas that ran along the river bank. A fish or two would jump out of the river water, and far across he could see the desert lands that rank beside the strip of life that sprang forth from the river. He sighed, wondering if he would ever get back to his tree? Something caught his eyes, as two brown things were swimming in the river, and approaching the bunnies. Sounding a warning call, the hares all perked up, and looked around. First Officer Fluffy hopped back quickly, “what is it Alabaster?” The owl pointed at the river, “two brown things swimming towards the hares.”
Fluffy shot off at top speed, hopping towards the river. As Pyro and Fire were backing up, fuzzy faces were emerging from the river. Fluffy reached her friends, and then stopped as two brown otters emerged from the rivers, and waved their web like front paws. Fluffy signalled to Alabaster it was alright, and then turned to the otters. “Hello there my otter friends, how are you today?” The otters smiled and wiggled their brown noses as they shook a bit of water off their bodies as they continued to emerge from the water. “Hello, hello,” the otters said at almost the same time. The first otter smiled, “we saw your floating thing come from the sky, and wanted to see what was going on?” The second otter nodded, “yes, and why are you wearing strange things on your bodies? We have never seen animals like you before?” Fluffy laughed, “we are the crew of an airship: the Hareship. It is parked up the bank from here. We needed to get supplies.”
The otters nodded, and followed the hares up to the ship, where Pudgy was still cutting firewood. He turned and waved, never having seen an otter before. They looked like beavers, but were much more slender, with smaller tails. The hedgehog had been busy, and had made piles of firewood all around him. Zippy was moving the logs up the gangplank, and stowing them around the fire hearth in the center of the ship. The Captain hopped down from the deck, and waved to the otters. “Hello there my good Otter friends. I am Captain Feisty, of the Hareship.” The otters laughed, and bounced happily with the hares, and asked all sorts of questions. They also wanted to know what Pudgy was, and where hedgehogs came from? Pudgy answered, but the otters did not have a sense of direction, nor knowledge of the land, so he had to point to the east. Across the desert, through the grasslands, across several large rivers, and into the hilly forests of the north east.
The otters still didn’t get it, so the Captain explained, “really far away.” The otters understood that, and nodded. When Alabaster bounced back to the ship, the owl’s presence got their immediate attention. The aquatic animals politely said they had to leave, said goodbye, and then scampered off to the river once more. The immediate departure of the inquisitive otters when the owl arrived, drew a look of concern from the Captain. “Alabaster, why did they leave so suddenly?” The owl shook his head, “I know not, Captain. But desert owls are known to live in this area, so perhaps their parliament controls this area. We are fine, I will represent you, should they come calling. I am operating outside of my normal hours, this day light business is not my preference.”
The captain nodded, “Pyro and Fire, light the furnace!” The tiny hares saluted, and then hopped onto the ship. Pudgy was done cutting firewood, and started to help move the cut logs up the gangplank and to the area where the hares directed him to. In time, the firewood was loaded, and the water barrels secured in place. While Pudgy would have liked to go play in the river as well, since he was overheated, he knew that the ship would be leaving soon. He stayed on deck, and sat down tiredly. He opened his pack, and sipped from his canteen of water. Clipping the axe back to his pack, he broke off a piece of a cookie and nibbled on it. One by one the hares were climbing back on board, and followed by Alabaster last. Zippy pulled up the gangplank, and hoisted it into place. The fabric wings were also lifted, and tucked back amidships.
Pyro and Fire were busy at the hearth, which was a stone lined area in the center of the ship. There was a series of metal rings, and scaffolding set up overtop of the heart, and a smokestack of brass stained black from soot. The hares were all working the balloon, catching and directing the heated air inside. Hours passed, and the balloon was finally at full inflation, just as the sun was starting to set. All noticed the heat of the day was quickly plummeting, as a cool breeze blew from the west. The ship started to lift from the ground once more, and the captain gave the order to start the propeller. Pudgy was back at his post, and turning the cranks to make the propellor blades spin. Once having gained enough altitude, the bunnies lifted the landing skids back into the upright position, and locked them into place.
Alabaster was watching the approaching desert landscape, when he noticed a cactus wiggling next to a large boulder. “YOU TWO THOUGT YOU WERE SO SMART RUNNING OFF WITH THE BUNNIES! BUT, I BEAT YOU HERE!” The owl covered his eyes, “oh no, they used the ley line!” Pudgy wiggled his nose and waved, “hello Mr Cactus, are you the Grande Pantalone or the Comic?” The indignant cactus wiggled and started to grow taller, trying to reach the airship while talking loudly. “No, I am the Dark Destroyer of Doom. I am the Excellency of Egalitarianism!” The Captain covered his eyes, “Pyro … Fire, more heat if you would please?” The firebox hares saluted, and added some extra wood to the fire. The heart increased its heat output, causing more hot air to bellow from the stack above the hearth. A second cactus appeared next to the rock, “Oh sure, push ahead of me! NO DON’T GO YET, WE HAVEN’T TOLD YOU ABOUT THE EXCELLENT DEAL ON ROCKS WE HAVE. BUY TWO ROCKS, GET THE THIRD FREE. YOU JUST HAVE TO PAY A 99% RABBIT TAX!”
The cacti were shouting, but could not follow any further. The leyline’s exit point was that big rock, but there was no nearby magical energy they could use to continue to follow the owl and hedgehog. The tiny airship continued to float to the west, and the second cactus looked at the first. “I told you we should have left sooner. But no, you wanted to go and get your hat.” The first cactus nodded, and was in fact wearing a very nice white cowboy hat, “hey, it is Arizona state law you have to wear a cowboy hat. Do you want us to break the law, do you, hmm?” The second cactus, “that is a made up law, and you know it. Larry doesn’t know what he is talking about. There is a reason why he keeps losing county commissioner!” A brown desert owl landed on the rock and looked up at the two arguing cacti, and raised his wing, “ok, where is your hat cactus? Do you not know all cacti from out of state have to wear hats?” The first cactus laughed, “oh so Larry was wrong huh?”
The desert owl looked at the two cacti, “I can let you off with a warning this time, but I have to send you back on your way home.” The second cactus without the hat wiggled, “thank you officer owl,” and disappeared in a flash of blue light. The first cactus laughed, and tossed a coin to the owl. The owl hooted and laughed, “easiest dollar I made all day, pulling a fast one over that cactus.” The first cactus laughed, “best use of a dollar I can think of too, now I can rub it into that smug cactus every day now. Hey, any chance of supporting my cousin Larry’s next campaign?” The owl raised his wings, “no thank you, I steer clear of politics. I am just in it for the money, i have expensive tastes.” The first cactus wiggled, and then disappeared in a flash of blue light as well. The owl picked up the coin, and flapped his wings hard, and took flight to the south.
The ship was safely out of range, and speeding up the embankment to the desert lands of California and far away from cacti silliness. The night sky soon appeared once more, with the stars appearing one by one. Out of sheer exhaustion, Alabaster fell asleep while standing. The hares all nodded to each other, and worked quietly at their posts, also taking turns to rest. Pudgy was still working the propellor, and pondering what was next to come on this very strange adventure? He hoped this Montclair place the hares spoke of, would offer clues as to the next part of the journey. But he too was getting very tired, and was yawning terribly. Zippy walked slowly back, and placed a black paw on Pudgy’s head. “Please get some sleep over there, I will take over for now.” The hedgehog nodded, “thank you Zippy, Pudgy sleepy.”
The exhausted hedgehog moved over to a spot on the deck where there was a soft netting area over the cargo hold. A couple of the hares were laying on the nets and sleeping. Pudgy crawled out and laid down on his belly, with the pack still on his back, and his face stocking through a hole in the netting. He immediately fell asleep, which drew a smile from the Captain. He stood at the wheelhouse, his paws on the ship’s wheel, and steered to the west. Over the desert they would fly, and through a place the human’s called Joshua Tree. The port was across the park and up the mountains that overlooked the human city of Montclair. With a ship full of supplies, and a rotating crew of hares, hedgehog, and owl: the captain knew everything would be alright. He settled in for a long quiet flight, and watched as the moon continued to fill in, to a tad past half full by his estimation.
One reply on “Moon Cry: Chapter 4: Desert”
My hometown of Montclair made it into a Pudgy story, this is AWESOME! I’m also a fan of the Desert Hare characters, most animated chapter I’ve read so far.