In a large one story beige brick building, sat a middle aged human behind a cash register. The lightly tanned man was wearing a Montclair Hospital employee red uniform shirt, and beige khaki pants. His cell phone was out, and buzzed constantly on the desk, so he picked it up. There were a variety of posts from the various social media platforms that he was on. The disappearances had captivated the nation, and every day humans were disappearing quicker and quicker. The United States Military was on high alert, when planes started to crash out of the sky. The pilots who were flying them disappeared in mid air, which was a nightmare scenario that the upper echelons of power had never planned for.
During a professional baseball game, the entire Pittsburgh roster disappeared during a game with Cleveland. The game was declared a forfeit, but when the news media went to the team ownership for a comment, they found the building wide open. People were starting to panic, and those who could, chose to remain home with their loved ones. It was best to spend as much time together as they could, rather than risk losing them while they were away. Those who could not stay home, went to work as always, with the knowledge and fear that they may never see their families again.
An older blonde woman peered over the man’s shoulder, “what exactly is a Comix Villain?” The man laughed, “oh that is my screen name. I have a small youtube channel about comic books.” The woman giggled, and motioned to the phone, “well Comix Villain, put your phone away. The new inventory arrived, and I need it displayed.” The man chuckled, and then stood up from his plastic chair behind the register, and side stepped behind the counter. He watched as the woman took over at the register, and then proceeded to take her phone out and look at it. The hospital gift shop usually had a steady stream of visitors that ran throughout, but with the events of late, the hospital was very quiet.
He walked down an aisle, with sympathy cards and a blue bunny rabbit. The stuffed animal had been there since he started, and a story was told that the bunny was purchased by a visitor, who never came to claim it. Did the visitor pass away, did they move, were they taken by aliens, or did they simply forget? No one knew, and that was part of the allure, of the phantom bunny. Comix named the bunny phantom, because it was an idea for a character with lightning fast jumping powers. He was working on his own comic book, but it wasn’t ready yet. Reaching a set of double doors that were marked, EMPLOYEES ONLY, he pushed them open and headed inside the warehouse. The hospital was all one level, as this area was prone to earthquakes, so thankfully there were no stairs. There was a long hallway that headed around the back part of the cafeteria to the warehouse and receiving dock.
Turning a corner, there was a big brown delivery truck parked at one of the garage doors. An agfrican american gentleman wearing a brown uniform was unloading boxes onto a pallet. Waving to the driver, “hello Drew! I see you brought the gift shop order.” The driver looked up and waved, “yes, sorry it was delayed. There was a problem at the hub in Los Angeles, everything got messed up when the warehouse workers disappeared.” Comix nodded, “it’s like that here too. The hospital is having trouble staffing the various departments, so every couple hours I leave the gift shop, to help the janitors clean. What is going on in this world?” Drew nodded and wiped the sweat from his brow with a white handkerchief, before sticking it into his back pocket on his uniform pants. Handing an electronic device to Comix, the hospital worker signed off on the delivery.
Drew nodded, and pressed some well worn rubber buttons on the electronic unit, and then clipped it back to his belt. “Stay safe,” he said with a wave, as he turned back to the truck. He pulled down the roll top door, and locked the gate latch shut. He trotted back to the side of the truck, jumped up inside, turned the engine on, and pulled away from the dock in a matter of seconds. Comix waved back as the truck left, and then went to get a pallet jack from the side of the loading dock. After a couple adjustments, he was pushing the empty jack towards the pallet of boxes. The device made a clanging noise as the tines went through the holes of the wooden pallet. After a few pumps with the handle, he turned around and began to drag the load of boxes behind him.
Running along the hallway were gray public address speakers every 50 feet or so, along with a variety of safety lighting. The speakers all started to crackle at once, “all hospital staff, please be advised there continues to be a shortage of available workers. Overtime is being offered for all departments, at double time, please see your available supervisor for further details. Today’s lunch special is also fried bologna sandwiches, meatloaf is cancelled because Ethel disappeared.” The man shook his head, “aww man, Ethel’s meatloaf is paradise by the dashboard light.” A nearby janitor snorted, and waved as he pushed an overloaded cart of garbage past him. Upon reaching the set of double doors that were marked: GIFT SHOP, he started to open the boxes. Taking inventory of what was recieved, he read out loud. “Candy bars, drinks, chips, twinkies, stuffed animals, cards, comic books, toys …” He trailed off, wondering what was ordered.
The hospital did not order the good books, but they were reprints of golden age comics. Superman and Batman from the 40’s, and some character he had never heard of before like Piranha man. Picking up the boxes of the snack foods, he pushed his way through the double doors. The gift shop was too warm for his preference, since he was working, but he set about his task. After an hour or so, the shelves were stocked, the boxes were empty on the pallet, and he turned the corner to look at the cash register. His supervisor was sitting there, looking annoyed. It was a much heavier older man with black round glasses, and disheveled hair. “Where were you, the shop was left empty this entire time?”
Comix gave him a look, “Karen sent me to the warehouse to get our shipment. I have been restocking the shelves Mr. Jacobs.” The man looked around, “when I got here, Karen was not here. Oh God …” The two men stood in an uncomfortable silence, as both realized what happened. Neither said a word, until the loud speakers rang out again. “The cafeteria will be closing today at 2 pm due to lack of staff, and we are out of bologna.” Mr. Jacobs waved a hand at his subordinate, “ok, take over, and don’t disappear. You are staying here till 9 pm, to cover Karen’s shift.” The supervisor stood up, and shimmied his way out from behind the counter. As Comix returned to the spot at the register, he sat down and watched the rotund individual waddle off. He made a face at him behind his back, but didn’t mind too much, since the offer of double time had been announced.
There was a small LCD flat panel television set hanging in a corner, set to PNN, which Comix turned up the volume on. The sound of the news filled the gift shop, “the disappearances have continued to accelerate with no explanation from government scientists. Wait!” The screen went red with a BREAKING NEWS banner, as the screen switched quickly to the rose garden of the white house. The President was speaking, flanked by secret service, and heavily armed soldiers. “At 2 pm eastern time, the entire United States House of Representatives disappeared at the same time. Then shortly afterwards at 2:38 pm eastern time, the United States Senate also disappeared. We do not have an explanation as to what is going on still at this time. People seemingly living their normal lives, start to exhibit the same symptoms. They do not feel well, start to fade, and then disappear. Using my authority under the emergency declaration section 3.20.4, I am invoking martial law with a nationwide curfew of 8 pm local time. I know times like these are tough, but will get through ….”
Comix started to cough, “martial law …curfews?” But with his eyes transfixed on the television, the older white man with gray hair clutched at the podium. “I …do not…feel so well.” The soldiers immediately lunged at the President, only to have their hands pass through his body. Then he disappeared in a flash of faint white light.” The camera feed immediately cut off, with a new graphic indicating that the transmission was halted due to national security reasons. “Oh my God….” The man stammered out, and quickly changed the channel, all were displaying the national security message. Taking out his phone, the social media platforms were on fire and crashing with activity. Frame by frame analysis was being done in real time, trying to figure out what happened.
People argued whether or not it was a good thing, while others asked what happened now? That is, until all of a sudden the services all crashed at the same time. The cellular signals all dropped to zero bars. He started to feel a knot forming in his stomach and his head started to feel dizzy. “Oh no … please ….” Comix called out as he watched his hands go translucent. “NO!” He shouted, and watched as the world faded away. The gift shop went silent, and the register was unmanned once more. Mr. Jacobs had heard him call out, and watched in horror as he disappeared. Leaning against a beige painted concrete block wall, he rubbed his chest, “not him too. We are going to run out of staff, we will need to close the hospital.”
Outside the walls of the hospital, the military command had ordered the cell phone towers shut down to all but emergency personnel. When the President and the entire congress had disappeared, the absolute worst case scenario started to go into effect. But those events were lost upon the delivery driver in the big brown truck, Drew. He had more deliveries to make, and the truck did not have a radio or air conditioning. He had his doors wide open, which circulated hot air around him. He was used to it, and was driving at a fair speed. He was taking 4th street, because it was the shortest route to Ontario Plaza. It was a strip mall that had a company shipping store, where he would need to pick up packages.
Traffic was light, so he was making progress. Usually the traffic was so thick, he would have to take a side street. Reaching the red light, he stopped the truck, and watched as people were running in a panic across the crosswalk. “I wonder what is going on?” The light turned green, so turning the right turn signal on, he turned the wheel and pressed the gas pedal. The truck turned down North Mountain Avenue, and then he could see the turning lane for the plaza on the left. Navigating the streets, Drew drove the truck up to the shipping store that was operated by his company. He drove up to the front of the store, and parked in a special spot for the delivery trucks. He put the truck into park, and turned off the engine. Then jumped out of the truck, to walk across the covered concrete sidewalk to get to the front door of the Brown Truck shipping store.
Usually there was a cute blonde woman who worked at the store, and she would giggle when Drew would walk in. As he entered, there was no giggle, and no blonde woman. A gathering of older women were huddled around a television set in the corner, and changing channels quickly. “Melinda, it’s on!” The driver walked up behind the women, and made noise to get their attention. One turned around and waved, “get over here! The President and the entire congress disappeared!” The astonished man blinked, and watched as the media networks were playing over and over as the elderly man disappeared. Drew coughed hard, “when did that happen?” The women filled him in, and it was when he had stopped at another business after the hospital. As much as he wanted to watch the television, he had a job to do. “Hey turn up the volume, and let me pick up the outgoing deliveries. I do not have anything for the store to drop off today.”
Drew headed around a half counter, to a wide flat table that was covered in boxes. Taking a mental note of how many there were, he started to pick up the small ones first, and carried them in his arms. He made several trips back and forth between the table and the truck. The gaggle of women were very helpful in relaying the parts of the news broadcast he missed when he was outside. In accordance with the chain of command, the Secretary of State was sworn in as the temporary acting President of the United States. After the ceremony, the remaining reporters all started shouting questions at the newly sworn in President. The middle aged pale skinned man answered as best as he could, but he was 5 minutes into the big job, and hadn’t had any briefings yet.
As Drew nodded, and started to pick up a larger box that was quite heavy, he saw two police officers walk through the door dressed in black uniforms. They were wearing mirrored black sunglasses, and had crew cut hair styles. The two younger officers waved to get the women’s attention. “Hello, I am officer Montoya and this is Officer Lopez. I am sure you have seen the news. We wanted to let you know that per order of the Governor, the curfew for the state of California will start at 5 pm. Please close your store, and return to your homes.” The women turned and listened to the slender hispanic officers, and nodded. Drew looked at Montoya, “I need to return to Baldwin park to drop off the packages, and turn the truck in. Is that alright officer?” The police officer nodded, “yes, that is fine.” Drew nodded, and then walked past the two men carrying a large brown cardboard box. He quickly exited the store, and then loaded the boxes and secured them in the back of his delivery truck. Pulling the roll top door shut once more, and securing it, he trotted around to the driver side door steps.
The two officers walked outside, along with the women, who had locked up the retail store. Drew waved, and then hopped up into the truck, and turned it on. Using his electronic handheld device, he registered the pickup. On the LCD display a message read: “TRUCK 87, RETURN TO CC.” The driver nodded, and put the vehicle into gear. As he carefully drove through the plaza, and pulled back out onto North Mountain Avenue, Drew talked to himself. “I could take the Ten, but at 3 pm, it would take 4 hours to get there. Ok, I will take the shortcut.” The short cut was in no means short, but the side streets were a lot quicker, even with the 60 red lights he would have to stop at along the way.
That was the plan, until he started to see police barricades set up at key intersections. He could not turn down the side streets, so it was becoming clear he would need to get on the highway. Turning back onto San Bernardino street, Drew drove past the hospital once again. He stopped at a red light, and put the right turn signal on, since he needed to turn onto Monte Vista Avenue to get to the onramp to the highway. As he looked in the truck’s large rear view mirrors, he saw a police car. When the light turned green, he pulled out, and then made the turn. What soon became very clear to him, was when he signalled and turned left to get onto the onramp. The delivery truck usually almost ran off the road every day when he tried to merge, but there were no cars. And once he had ascended the small ramp to get up to the main road, there were scant in the way of traffic. The map software always said 19 minutes, which was a lie since it never factored in people driving.
Merging into the right travel lane, he sped up the truck. Finally there was enough wind inside the truck to cool it off, and the police car passed him going very fast. California was heavily developed in this area, with tight neighborhoods with lots of people. Drew turned on the truck’s radio, and turned up the volume. “Effective 5 pm local time, all residents of the state of California are required to be at their homes. The curfew is for all residents, I repeat ………hisssss………..” Drew looked down at the radio, and it was still on. The radio transmission was cut, “what on Earth is happening?” He reached down and started to press the channel seek button. Another station turned on, “and today in Raiders news, the team released a statement about the status of the team. The primary and secondary rosters have all vanished, so the third string has been activated. At this time, they do not feel the need to contact the independent leagues for assistance. This is happening league wide, with reports that the Steelers operation has lost everyone. We turn to Jimmy for his take on the day’s sporting news, Jimmy? Jimmy?” The radio went silent, until an exasperated radio host haltingly spoke, “beside the station director, and myself, we are the only ones left in the building. Today is not a day for sports, go home and hug your loved ones. Sports Talk 101 signing off,”
The radio went to a hiss as the transmission was cut. As the man continued to search for stations, they were all cut out. He steered the truck into the exit lane for Exit 32A, since this was the turnoff to get to the distribution hub. Taking the cloverleaf, he drove past the front of the center, and headed to the truck entrance. The distribution center was a nondescript gray warehouse building, with hundreds of large and small trucks backed into the garage door loading docks. Truck 87 was assigned to dock 87, which made driving a bit more simple. After taking the familiar path, he found his dock, and backed the truck up to it. Rubbing his temples, Drew put the truck’s transmission in park, and turned off the engine.
Sadly, he could not just go home. He had to unload the truck, register the deliveries, sync up the handheld device, check with dispatch, check with the shift supervisor, take the mandatory learning course of the day, and then he could go home. The normal activities in the warehouse were cut way back, as many workers had disappeared, and the few remaining ones had already left. After clocking out for the day, he exited the employee section of the warehouse, and headed to his gray personal vehicle. The logos had fallen off, as well as several other markings. One of these days he might fix it, or he may just get a new car? He hadn’t decided that part yet, and opened the door which gave a terrific screech. “Need to oil that door again when I get back,” he muttered as a wave of heat escaped the vehicle.
As he let the car cool off, Drew pulled out his phone. There were no bars of cellular signal, and the data was reading offline. Furrowing his brows, “what the hell? I pay too much for this plan, and they cut it off? Nation’s best wireless my butt,” he cursed. Looking up into the clear skies, he could see the sun was still high in the sky. But something caught his eye: what looked like a tiny pirate ship, that was being held aloft by a cigar shaped balloon. The ship had a propeller blade on the back of it, and was turning. Holding his phone up, he turned on the camera app, and used the zoom function. The video was grainy, but he could see a hedgehog turning a crank. There was also a black rabbit standing beside him, who was lowering a fabric wing out to the side of the ship. A second wing was being deployed on another side of the ship. “That …looks like….PUDGY? What’s he doing in California, wait …. disappearing people all over the country?” Drew hopped into his car, as the nuclear hot seats burned his rear end. He didn’t care, and turned the engine on. Nevermind the curfew, he was going to go find Pudgy.
Meanwhile on the Hareship, the firebox bunnies Pyro and Fire were making do with their limited supply of wood. Everything had gone fine, till Zippy overslept. The ship had passed over what the humans called Mount San Antonio, but then was caught in the strong winds. They had drifted far off course, and were over the human’s vast city. With all crew awake, and the black hare reprimanded, they had returned to course. The ship’s wings, and flaps were deployed, and the firewood being rationed. The Captain had been through worst situations than this, and calmly gave orders. The hares were positioned at their posts, to balance out the weight of the ship. Pudgy was working the propeller, and ordered it to turn at full speed. Alabaster was still asleep, but he would not have been able to help anyway.
The hedgehog was amazed at the carpet of homes that spread in all directions below the ship. There were more humans than a hedgehog could ever count that lived here. The homes were packed side by side, with either concrete or desert around them. The roofs were either beige or red, and the buildings were about the same. Very few areas were green, which made Pudgy sad in a way. He missed his forest, and his friends, and Cobalt. The Captain called out, “wings to 20%, firebox go for broke …. throw it all in!” Pudgy watched as the tiny hares loaded the firebox full of everything they had left. In the distance was a lake, which seemed out of place in the sea of beige homes with tiled roofs.
Pudgy wiggled his nose, and kept cranking as fast as the gears could turn. The Captain called out, “welcome to what the humans call Puddingstone Reservoir. Our port is in the north eastern section, we have almost made it.” The dry desert air was replaced with a slight bit of moisture. Somehow the humans had even managed to develop the areas around the lake, but it looked like park structures. Pudgy saw a dock with paddle boats lined up, as well as a couple sailboats at another dock. As they crossed out onto the open water, the shoreline returned to that of nature. Long stretches of green grass grew along the shore line, as little birds were playing in the water. A huge forest of tall mature trees started to appear, and the Captain turned the ship’s wheel to head towards it.
“Pudgy, full stop!” The Captain called out, and the hedgehog nodded. He stopped turning the gears, which caused the propeller to cease its revolutions. The Hareship continued its descent, “Pyro and Fire, lower the landing skids!” The Firebox bunnies saluted, and disappeared under the ship again. The same noises as before occured, as the skids were lowered and locked into place. The crew watched as the Captain turned the ship’s wheel and steered the descending vessel towards a wide section between the trees. As the hedgehog peeked over the deck railing, his eyes opened wide. There was a town here, with little homes. Barns were built as well, and smoke coming from little chimneys of stone.
The ship landed hard on the ground, and began to slide on the rails. While the grass was soft, the wooden rails were rough, which helped friction cause the ship to slow considerably. The ship lurched to a complete stop, which threw Alabaster forward. The sleeping owl was jolted awake, and caught himself before falling off the ship. As the Captain called out to the stations, everyone reported that they were alright. Pudgy stood up, and looked around, as several other animals were peeking out the town at the ship. “Zippy, lower the gangplank.” The Captain ordered, and the black hare saluted while complying. As the hare moved the plank down, the other hare were retracting the wings,and storing them amidships. Pudgy scampered up to Alabaster, “are you ok?” The owl hooted and nodded yes, and the two looked around. First Officer Fluffy hopped up to them, “this is as far as we can take you two. Welcome to Lake Shadow,” the female hare said with a flourish of her front paw.
The Captain nodded, “Pudgy and even Alabaster, you two are both welcome to serve on this ship any time. I know you have a place to get to, so consider this a goodbye for now. I suspect that we may meet again one day.” Pudgy scampered over and shook the Captain’s paws, as well as the other hares as well. “Thank you for letting Pudgy and Alabaster ride along, this helped a whole lot.” The owl hooted, “I concur with Pudgy, thank you Captain and crew of the Hareship.” Alabaster motioned for Pudgy to follow, and started to head down the gangplank. After Pudgy checked his bag, helmet, and bag; he waved at the hares and then scampered after his owl companion. Once the two were back on the ground, they turned to watch the hares start undoing the netting over the cargo holds. Zippy moved large cloth bags full of something, and started to make a pile at the foot of the ramp.
Alabaster knew where he was, and had visited this town many moons ago with his mother. As Pudgy followed along, they passed by a blacksmith shop. There was a very muscular hare working at a hammer and forge, banging a piece of glowing metal. The owl’s walking speed was that of hedgehog speed, so Pudgy was able to look into the open buildings. There was a saw mill as well, with a beaver chewing on a piece of wood. Somehow, he was making a statue of an Otter. The homes and buildings were following a winding road that weaved through the forest and around the trees. Other animals passed by:bunnies, hares, squirrels, chipmunks, beavers, otters, and a wide variety of birds. The two headed to a large building, with a steeply sloped wooden roof. It was mainly open air, and had many flat rocks that ring around a center firepit. Pudgy saw that this was a restaurant of some sort, as many critters were eating or drinking.
The owl stopped and sat down on a flat rock, motioning Pudgy to join him. As the hedgehog sat opposite, but facing the owl, he wiggled his nose. “Alabaster, what are we going to do now?” Pudgy asked as he looked around excitedly. The owl hooted as he chuckled, “well, we are going to wait. My presence has alerted the town, so I suspect we will be visited soon by this region’s Parliament representative. Pudgy, each type of owl groups together, and they live within a certain region. A group of owls are called a Parliament, and every 39 moons, a grand Parliament is called. It was at the last Grand Parliament, it was decided to locate the stones.” Pudgy wiggled his nose, “how many moons has it been since then?” The owl rubbed his beak with his chin as he thought, “37 moons I believe.”
A higher pitched voice spoke from behind Pudgy, “38 moons actually, Alabaster.” As Pudgy turned around, he saw a small owl about his size standing there. This owl was more rounded like a hedgehog, and his feathers were a mix of brown and white. The owl’s eyes were yellow, and less gold than Alabaster’s. Pudgy waved, “Hello, my name is Pudgy.” The little owl hooted, and waved, “hello Pudgy. I am called Short Feather. Alabaster, how is it you come to be in accompaniment of a ground walker?” The arctic owl motioned to his splinted wing, “Pudgy helped me with my wing, and is assisting me with returning home to the grand mountain north of here.” The smaller owl nodded, “ I see. Thank you Pudgy for helping Alabaster,” the small owl nodded again, and hooted happily.
Alabaster nodded again, “38 moons, so that is why Grand Claw sent my mother and I to the east. It is time for another Grand Parliament.” Short Feather nodded, “much more than that, I have heard the Hawks and Eagles are attending. Something monumental is going to happen, and we need to get to the sea of trees in the great forest.” Pudgy wiggled his nose, “where is that?” The white owl nodded, “it is south of the grand mountain of my Parliament, but north of here. It is a forest full of giant trees, with red bark. The tree has grown there since man was just a fanciful dream.” Pudgy rubbed his chin with his paw, “the redwood forest. Cobalt showed Pudgy a nature show on television once. The forest is full of trees that stretch all the way to the sky. They even built a tunnel in one, so cars can drive through. It is a protected forest, so the humans can’t cut it down.”
The small owl said with a strange look, “wait, you lived with the humans?” Pudgy nodded, “yes, with Pudgy good friend Cobalt. He disappeared in the forest when he came over to visit. Alabaster said his Grand Claw might be able to help, so Pudgy help take Alabaster home.” The snow white owl hooted softly in agreement, and watched as the brown owl stood up and waved his one wing at Pudgy. “A pleasure to meet you Pudgy, I must be off. Goodbye both of you,” The small hooted and bounced out of the pavilion, before quickly taking flight. The hedgehog was waving, and then turned back to Alabaster. “Pudgy guess we will need to find another node, is one around here?” The owl rubbed his beak, I believe so, it would be to the west of here. How i long to fly, I could just carry you there.”
The little critter smiled, and got up from his seat on the rock, and went to check on the owl’s wing. Very gently he pushed on certain parts of it, and the owl did not cry out. Well, until he touched the lowermost part, which caused a terrific hoot. “Pudgy sorry, Pudgy needed to check wing.” The owl recovered and nodded, “yes, I was wondering that myself. It is best my wing stay splinted for now, but it means our journey will be that much longer. We will need to circle the lake.” The hedgehog bounced happily, and motioned for the owl to follow. The two companions set out from the pavilion, and followed the winding path around the trees. After a long time of walking, the two stopped at the edge of the lake shore.
The humans had built picnic pavilions along the edge of the treeline, and there was a rocky shoreline that ran along the water. Pudgy told his owl friend more stories of his adventures, and would stop when the owl would tire of walking. The sun was starting to set, when Pudgy turned to look at a concrete walkway. The hedgehog knew that humans would run or walk on it, sometimes with their dogs. The strange part was, there were no humans anywhere. It was a very warm day, and the sun was shining, so there should be people around. The hedgehog wondered if the disappearances were getting worse. The owl was contemplative, and not speaking much, but suddenly gave a warning call. Pudgy snapped back to attention, and looked around.
A tall dark skinned human man was walking down the concrete path. He was dressed in a brown delivery truck uniform, and looking at his cell phone. Pudgy squinted his eyes, thinking he almost recognized the human. Alabaster ducked behind a green metal trash barrel, and pulled Pudgy gently by his quills. As the two critters peeked around the barrel, they could hear the human man talking on the phone. “I know baby, I will be home soon. I had to check something out first. I am glad they turned the cellular phone towers back on.”
Drew had followed the airship all the way to the lake, and avoiding police checkpoints along the way. It was past 5 pm, so technically he was breaking the law, but he didn’t care. There were still people out and about, so he was not too worried. The little airship had to have landed somewhere around the lake, given the course and angle of descent. He had driven and parked along various parts of the lake, checking out the areas to see if he could find the airship. he had been out of luck so far, and had driven to the north parking lot, to check the children’s play area. “Hello …hello?” The phone’s signal dropped to zero bars again, which made him shake his head and put the phone back into his pocket. He continued walking, till he reached a central point, with several covered tables that were on the lookout point. As he passed a green trash can, Drew heard a little voice call out to him.
“Hello, are you Mr. Drew?” Pudgy asked while wiggling his nose, and waving to get the man’s attention. Drew stopped and turned, then looked down to see the little brown hedgehog waving. A big smile formed on his lips, and he waved back. “Oh my goodness, it is you Pudgy! Yes, it’s me Drew, from twitter. Everyone has been saying you were real, and I hoped you would come to visit California one day.” The hedgehog bounced happily, and motioned to the barrel. A snow white owl walked out and looked up at him with gold eyes. The owl hooted and waved his one wing discreetly. Pudgy motioned with his paw, “this is Alabaster, Pudgy helping him to go home. Umm Mr. Drew, how did you know to find Pudgy here?” The man smiled, “well I saw the airship floating down from the sky, so I followed you here. Pudgy, do you know what is going on?”
The owl discreetly pulled Pudgy close to him and whispered, “tell him not of the stones. We do not know how he will react.” The hedgehog nodded, “Mr. Drew, can you help us? We need to get to the big redwood forest north of here.” The man grew thoughtful, “If I remember correctly, that is near a town called Orrick. Pudgy, it is about 11 hours from here by car. Things have become really bad now, it is not safe to travel. People are disappearing left and right, the President and congress are gone, and the police are enforcing a curfew. It was supposed to start at 5, which it is now half past six at the moment.” The hedgehog nodded, “ok Mister Drew, Pudgy understands. We will find our own way there.” The man watched as Pudgy started to talk to the owl.
Drew was conflicted, he really wanted to help the hedgehog. He had read online of the fantastical adventures, and now one was right here in his lap. But he also recognized the fact that he had obligations and commitments, and the female friend on the other end of the phone would worry terribly if he did not come home as he explained. As Pudgy scampered up to his foot and hugged his ankle, “Pudgy glad to have met you Mr. Drew. We need to get going, it’s important Pudgy get owl friend home.” The owl waved, and the hedgehog scampered beside him and headed up the concrete path. As the man gave a small wave back, he looked at his cell phone. No signal bars, no data plan working, no way to call her. No way she would find out … “Pudgy .. Alabaster, wait up!”
The two critters stopped, and watched as the man stood up and walked the short distance over to them. He knelt and gently picked up the critters in each hand. “Screw it, I will take you to Orrick.” The two animals looked hopeful, and bounced in his hands as he stood up. Drew stood up, and walked with a spring in his step. He was going to have his chance at a Pudgy adventure, and perhaps he would find out what was happening? As he reached his gray car, he set the owl on the roof, and opened the passenger door. After placing Pudgy in the passenger seat, he stood to retrieve the owl, and then placed him beside Pudgy. The man slid into the driver’s seat, and shut the door. Drew laughed, “it’s 700 miles to Orrick, full tank of gas, hedgehog, owl, and half a box of twinkies.” Pudgy motioned with his paw, “hit it!” Drew laughed at the movie reference, turned the car’s engine on, and pulled out of the parking spot and onto the road.
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