Pudgy was being carried higher and higher into the night sky. At first he covered his eyes with his paws, but once Ice Feather levelled off and was gliding with her wings outstretched, he uncovered them. Alabaster was flying beside her as well, but he was having to flap a bit more, as his wing was still injured. The moonlight was bright tonight, and was illuminating the owls with a soft blue hue. The trees moved below them as the breeze caused their branches full of evergreen needles to rustle. While the hedgehog knew that at this height he was done for if he fell, the first thought was the backpack straps digging into his body. The mother owl’s claws had gripped tightly onto his backpack, and as long as the material held, Pudgy would be fine.
It was as they entered deeper into the forest, that the trees became absolutely gigantic. They were taller than anything the little critter had ever seen. The trunks were wider than Cobalt’s big red vehicle. The owls expertly flew between the large trees, and swooped under and above the branches that intertwined themselves throughout the forest canopy. It also grew almost completely dark, which meant Pudgy could barely see Ice Feather. As she banked hard to the left, the hedgehog was thrown upwards, and then swung hard back down as she levelled off once more. Sounding a greeting call, the two owls hooted very loudly. Before Pudgy was ready, he started to hear return calls from many owls.
To say many would be an understatement, and if he had been able to see in the dark, the hedgehog would have seen the trees were full of owls. Hundreds of owls were in the trees, having flown in from all lands. A familiar shrill voice came from below Pudgy, “hi Pudgy, I see you and Alabaster made it!” As the critter looked down, it was Short Feather. The burrowing owl wiggled her wings, and then dove down towards the forest floor. Holding for dear life into his backpack straps, he could feel Ice Feather tilting back. She called down to Pudgy, “We’re here, so get ready for landing. I’m going to drop you onto a safe spot.” The little hedgehog looked up, “drop Pudgy? Where?!?!?” The critter called out, and soon felt his body falling. The mother owl had released her claws, but to his amazement he did not drop far, and landed onto a soft and squishy area.
In the dim light, he saw both Alabaster and Ice Feather land nearby. The mother owl was checking her son’s wing, and the flight seemed to work out the remaining injury. Reaching up to his mining helmet, Pudgy flipped the switch, and his headlamp turned on. A tiny beam of soft white light was cast in front of him, and he could see he had landed on a big patch of dense moss. He stayed on all four paws, trying to be as low to the area he was , and turned his head and body around to illuminate the area around him. Plus, he did not want to shine the light directly into the owl’s eyes. The two arctic owls looked at the hedgehog curiously.
Pudgy was able to survey the area quickly, and realized he was on the very top of a tree. The branches had spread out horizontally in many directions. But he was on the center part, and based on his estimation, it was big enough for Mr. Bear to sleep and roll around to each side without worrying about falling off. As he crawled to where the owls were, he reached up and cut his light. Ice Feather hooted softly as she laughed, “well … we got here safe you two. Before we meet up with Grand Claw, I want Pudgy to meet someone first.” As the hedgehog stood up, and looked around, his eyes were adjusting to the moonlight. He still could not see well, but he was starting to see shapes and dark shadows moving in the trees.
Alabaster walked slowly over to Pudgy and looked at him. “Thank you Pudgy, for helping me return to my family.” The hedgehog bounced slightly, “Pudgy glad to help. Pudgy hope your Grand Claw will know what to do?” Ice Feather turned to the critter, “what do you mean Pudgy?” Before the hedgehog could answer, another arctic owl landed on the tree top area where they were standing. This owl looked like someone had painted him with black paint in sections, and he even had extra feathers tied around his head, almost like a head dress that a native american human might wear. The owl strode up to the group, and hooted in greeting. The two owls returned the call, and Pudgy waved.
Somewhere in the distance, Pudgy could hear the owls gently hitting the tree limbs. in a strange way, it almost sounded like drumming. Several owls were also sending a call of some sort, which started to sound musical. The new owl puffed his wings out, and then started to bounce as he danced around the platform of sorts where they stood. As the strange owl danced closer, Pudgy started to see he was carrying a burning piece of plant material that had a musty smell to it. Whatever was being done, did not feel bad, if anything he started to feel more at ease with his surroundings. After making a couple circles around the area, the owl bowed slightly towards Pudgy, before he stood upright. He was about a head taller than Pudgy, so maybe he was about eight inches tall.
The hedgehog returned the slight bow, “my name is Pudgy Hedgehog. What is yours?” The owl’s beak opened, and he started to speak. “Welcome ground walker, I am called Painted Feather. I am the shaman for this parliament. I do not sense any evil within you, but I do sense you have spent much time with the humans?” The hedgehog nodded, “yes. Pudgy used to live with good human friend Cobalt, then Pudgy moved to own home in the woods. Cobalt was so nice, and helped Pudgy. But ….” The little hedgehog started to whimper, and then he started to cry. As he sobbed, “after Alabaster arrived … Cobalt said he felt funny. Then he slowly vanished, and went away …”
The shaman nodded, “I see. You …. cared for this human?” Pudgy was wailing, and blurted out about all of the other human friends who disappeared.” The owl listened and nodded, before turning to look at Ice Feather. The mother owl walked over, and then pulled the little hedgehog against her body, and wrapped her wings around him. After a bit of time passed, the hedgehog was above to recover. When he was more presentable, she released him and watched as Painted Feather was inspecting him. The shaman had one gold eye and one black one, and was wafting the smoke around the platform with his wing. The platform was quiet, save for the occasional owl call in the distance.
Alabaster looked at Painted Feather, “Shaman … I gave Pudgy a brief explanation about the Gaia Stones. Perhaps, you can go into further detail?” The female owl nodded, “I think that would be for the best. Pudgy, my son may have omitted some key details. Grand Claw is wise, but if you are talking about bringing back the humans …” As Pudgy raised his paw as he was about to begin to speak, the shaman owl nodded. “Pudgy, it is time I tell you the tale of the world and how it came to be. The world is a vast island that floats in an endless sea of water. At each corner of the island, are strands that the world hangs from. Above is endless rock, and that is where our animal brethren came from.”
The hedgehog quietly listened, and sat down in front of the shaman listening intently. “When the world is old, the cords will break, and the land sinks back into the ocean. A great cleaning occurs, and then new land is created once more. This has happened several times with our world, and now is the time for a cleansing.” The hedgehog started to wiggle his nose, as he started to sniff while his eyes were tearing up. “Oh no, the world is going to sink again? That means everyone is going to go away! We have to stop this….” Painted Feather placed a wing tip softly on the hedgehog’s head. As the little critter calmed, the shaman continued with his story.
“In the times long ago, all of our animal brethren lived in the rock above the world. The rock was an arch, and was crowded. The animals wondered what lies below the water, and the great Beaver’s kin was sent to investigate. The water beetle landed in the water, and swam below the water as the animals watched. After a time had passed, the beetle began to bring up a new world. The land spread out in all directions, and new bonds were formed with the stone arch. The wet ground dried under the warm sun that shone above. Before the ground walkers came, the birds were sent to explore the land. Brother Buzzard, Mother owl, Brother Eagle, Mother hawk flew to all corners of the island. But the ground was still wet, and their wings made the land change. That is how mountains and valleys were formed, though the ground walkers pleaded for them to not make the whole world that way. As they glided on the winds, the plains were formed.”
Pudgy nodded, completely fascinated by the story. Painted Feather took a breath, and then started to bounce around the platform again dancing with the smoking plant material. It was not a dance, he was acting out how the birds flew all around the world. Then he returned to Pudgy, and gently touched his nose. “Then it was time for the animals to descend, and they climbed the bonds to the world. The creatures spread out along the new lands, with plants growing beside them as they explored the lands. As the animals explored, Gaia told them to stay awake for severn days and nights. But along the way, most could not resist the temptation to sleep. Only the owl, panther, and a few others could remain awake the entire time. Gaia blessed those to be able to see in the dark, when the sun hid beneath the ocean waters.”
The shaman went on to explain about the plants, how they spread all around the world. Why certain plants were green throughout the year, while others would lose their leaves. Why there were seasons, as well as many other topics. Pudgy was realizing just how little he knew about the natural world, so he paid close attention. The hedgehog raised his paw, “Painted Feather, why are the humans disappearing?” The shaman hooted softly as he raised a wing, “patience little one. Gaia is the name we animals use to describe mother Earth. She blessed this world with abundance, and life sprang eternal throughout. The binds that attach this world to the archway of rock, used to be much bigger. The stones were the size of mountains, though over time, the rain …the wind … the snow … the ice broke the mountains down. The rocks spread throughout the world, and those are what we call the Gaia Stones. It is the very connection to Gaia.”
Ice Feather nodded, and Alabaster listened intently as well. It had been many moons since he heard this story, and it was always a treat to listen to the shaman. Painted Feather started to dance around the platform once again, motioning with his wings to show the weather breaking down the mountains. He returned once more, “it was after the stones had spread throughout the land, that Gaia realized she was lonely. So she created the humans, and gifted them many abilities that the animals did not have. They spread out throughout the land, but along the way, darkness crept into their hearts. I suspect you have seen a touch of that darkness?” The hedgehog nodded and sniffed his nose again sadly.
“The humans began to destroy, they took beyond what they needed, and the very land began to die once more. The bonds to the rock arch began to weaken, and the lands of the world began to sink into the ocean once more. The animals hoped that they would see the error of their ways, and tried to help. The humans did not listen, and chose to lash out in anger. They cut down the forests, they poisoned the land, made fertile ground into desert, and committed vast atrocities throughout the world. It was then when Gaia made a desperate plea, and called out to Grand Claw. He was the age of Alabaster, when he flew from our great tree that lies to the direction of the sun past the great mountain to the north of here.”
Pudgy bounced, “Pudgy knows that place, it is called Mount Rainier. Pudgy was there, and flew my plane to save a human friend from the evil Kaiser.” The shaman looked at him, “you, were in the strange winged thing that flew past our tree?” The hedgehog nodded, which drew a look of confusion mixed with curiosity from the shaman. “It would seem, you have a tale to tell me as well.” The critter nodded again, while the Shaman started to dance around again acting out the story. “Grand Claw found the Gaia stone, long hidden away in a pocket of forest hidden from man. Gaia called out weakly, and pleaded for the other stones to be found. She did not want to let the land sink below the water once more. But it was clear that man was the cause of death and suffering within the world. So Grand claw pledged to find the stones, and returned to the great tree.”
The hedgehog could hear a thunderous rush of wings flapping above him. The air moved quickly around him, as an extremely large arctic owl landed on the platform. This owl towered above the rest, and was pure white. The owl was far older than any other of the parliament, and his claws almost resembled hawk talons. Two gold eyes stared intently at Pudgy, and then Painted Feather. An elderly male voice started to come from the silver beak of the owl, “greetings. This is the part where I arrive in the story,” the Grand Claw said with a laugh. The Shaman danced around the platform once more, “Grand Claw sent our parliament to speak to the others, and a Great Parliament was called forth. All the owls, from all around the world came to be together. There were disagreements, but at the end, all were unified in the desire to find the stones. One by one, the stones were found, and the connection to Gaia was restored. Our brethren in the skies also joined our cause … soon the eagles … the hawks … the buzzards … the flocks of all birds were sent to all corners of our world.”
Grand Claw puffed up proudly, “and now, all stones have been located. Gaia’s will has deemed the humans to be removed from this world once more. Their kind …will never return.” The words of the Grand Claw hit Pudgy hard, and the little hedgehog started to wail once again. Tears were streaming down his face, and his nose was running terribly. The elderly owl looked at the hedgehog strangely, as he was not expecting that reaction. Pudgy’s cries filled the air throughout the tree tops, and he was being studied by owls of all parliaments. After a long time passed, of no one speaking, Pudgy settled down once again. He looked at the Grand Claw, “but there are nice humans. Pudgy friends with them, they do not deserve to go away forever!”
The shaman wafted the burning plant material once more towards the critter, which calmed him down. “Pudgy Hedgehog, you spoke of the flying machine when you flew to the mountain. Might we hear of your travels, perhaps we can find an answer to your problems? Please start from the beginning, if that is agreeable to you … Grand Claw?” The elderly owl nodded, and Pudgy stood up. He watched as the owls started to take positions around the ground owl and the platform. They all were facing the critter, and watching with expectant eyes. “Pudgy remember it was real dark, warm, and then Pudgy Mommy was hugging Pudgy.” Ice Feather giggled, “not that far back.”
Pudgy explained that his mother lived on a farm to the east of where his friend Cobalt lived. All manner of animals were raised there, and were sold to the humans for many reasons. The man had visited the farm, and picked out Pudgy to come live with him. Pudgy’s Mother had left the world prior to Cobalt’s arrival due to her age, so his connection to the farm was not strong. The man was so kind to Pudgy, and cared for him better than anyone at the farm had done so. Pudgy’s explanation of the farm did not sit well with the owls, but they listened nonetheless. The hedgehog continued to explain that over time, Pudgy started to be able to understand the human. He could read some words on the paper, and understand what the big rectangle thing said.
One day, Pudgy mustered up all the courage in him, and spoke to the man. The man did not scream, nor run away, and instead pulled him up closely for a hug. The two became friends, and over time, the hedgehog was taught many things by the human. After a couple of moves, the man settled down, and Pudgy started to want a place of his own. Cobalt did not argue, and instead helped him find a piece of land. Then a small cabin was built, and there was much laughter and happiness. Pudgy lived close enough that he could still visit his friend, and his friend could visit as well.
The hedgehog attempted to explain how the internet worked, but he started to lose the owls. So he explained that a human who lived in the center of the earth, was very nice, and Pudgy went to go visit him. Thus the telling of the first adventure began, and as the critter told his story, he acted out the parts. Painted Feather’s beak was open, and was shocked at what was under the land. It was also during the story, that several more owls started to arrive on the platform. But the critter was on a roll, and was still telling his story. The myriad of parliaments had sent representatives over to the arctic owls tree to investigate the crying, and found a storytelling hedgehog acting out on the platform. Soon more owls were arriving, and the tree boughs started to bend from the weight of the birds.
Pudgy’s trip to the moon and back also fascinated the owls. More stories told of the civil war ghosts, and Pudgy’s grand travel down the great river to save the man with the metal helmet. When the man had attacked Pudgy, that drew hoots of concern from the owls. That was when Pudgy said goodbye to the metal masked man, and his adventures continued in a new direction. The owls started to discuss amongst themselves, in hushed tones, so it would interfere with the story. Pudgy then spoke of the revolutionary war ghosts, and the magic stone that let Pudgy transport to places in the land. It was also the first time he met the evil demonic Kaiser. As Pudgy explained the monster, the owls all started to shriek in terror. It took a stern warning hoot from the Grand claw to settle them down.
Once the Parliaments had settled, Pudgy continued on with the story of the ghosts that led him to the big lake in Texas. More shadowy monsters attacked, and the battle on the lake surface with the magic talisman and the death goddess. Then the hedgehog began his tale to Poland, with the escalating violence of the Kaiser and his demons. The hedgehog then started the tale of what had happened on this adventure so far, but it was much shorter, since he was still on it. As Pudgy wrapped up his tale, the owls were dumbstruck and deathly silent. He had spoken throughout the entire night, and the first light of dawn was starting to form in the skies above the forest.
The Grand Claw nodded, “that ….was quite ….the tale.” A small gray owl landed beside Pudgy, and placed a wing on his head. “We were there at the camp, and watched you fight. Thank you Pudgy,” the owl said. Painted feather bounced over to the gray owl, “you saw Pudgy there?” The small owl nodded, “our Parliament is from that land, and we have lived in the shadow of evil for all of our lives. That place is proof why man must go away forever!” Pudgy turned to the gray owl, but did not whimper. He had seen the images, and experienced a small fraction of the horror that was world war two. The critter had seen the past of Rabbi Rudolf, and what the nazis had done on the terrible night of broken glass. What the owls said made sense, and he could not help but agree that some humans should be sent away forever.
The critter started to yawn terribly, and watched as the owls started to disperse and fly off to the other surrounding trees. Grand Claw pointed to Pudgy with his wing, “we will talk again later. For now, we must all sleep. For obvious reasons my ground friend … do not go exploring …good day to you,” The large elderly owl started to flap his wings hard, and then flew off to find his branch. As the owls departed, Pudgy headed to the center of the platform, and took off his pack and mining helmet. He placed the helmet upside down, so it would catch any moisture. He laid down on the soft green moss, and started to fall asleep. In no time at all, he was fast asleep. Painted Feather decided to remain with Pudgy, and he nestled into a nearby nook of tree branch. The Shaman kept a watchful eye of the hedgehog, before he too drifted off to sleep.
Painted Feather would stir awake from time to time, by the sound of the hedgehog whimpering. His dreams were vivid, and would cause him to wake suddenly. At times, the nightmares would cause him to call out for his departed human friend. But, he would settle down, for another long period of sleep. The tree swayed very gently in the air, and rocked everyone on it back and forth. It was late afternoon, when Pudgy opened his eyes, and sat up. The afternoon sun was still high in the sky, and warmed the area under its soft glow. As the critter looked around, he could see the shaman sleeping nearby to him. Trying to make as little nose as possible, Pudgy opened his backpack, and peeked inside. He had a cookie, broken into hedgehog sized pieces, as well as a cracker. Also was one tiny loaf of bread, which he decided to eat. Pulling out the bread, he bit into the hard crust. The interior was still soft, although a tad bit stale. He did not mind that, and hungrily ate.
While eating, the critter leaned over and noticed the mining helmet had indeed caught the morning dew, and a small puddle had formed inside the helmet. It was not enough for a full drink, but it would help extend his water supply. He had refilled his canteen at the animal town, prior to the departure with Mr. Drew, but knew that would not last. Perhaps the owls could carry him down to the ground, if he asked nicely? After finishing the loaf of bread, he reached for the mining helmet. He pulled it up to his mouth, and tiled back letting the trickle of water run down so he could drink. There was enough water for a mouth full, and it tasted good. There was a slight aftertaste though, but Pudgy chalked it up to the fact that this forest was so close to the pacific ocean. Perhaps there was still a tinge of salt in the air that would be carried on the wind?
He took stock of the remaining contents of his pack: a shovel, an axe, a pickaxe, one twenty dollar bill tightly folded, the cookie, the cracker, a replacement tiny battery for his headlamp, and several small pieces of brightly colored cloth. As the critter repacked the contents, and resecured the tools to the pack’s exterior, he saw the canteen was still tied securely outside of the pack. He touched the container, and it was still full of water. It was during these activities, that Painted Feather had awoken, and was watching the hedgehog. Pudgy turned around, and noticed the shaman looking at him. “Pudgy sorry, Pudgy woke up and was hungry, Do you want a cookie or cracker?” The owl hooted softly, “no my friend. I will feed later. Your story moved something I thought had been lost in me. Memories of my past life, prior to being an owl.”
The hedgehog turned to face the shaman, and smiled while asking inquisitively, “your past life?” Painted Feather nodded, “before I was called to fly with Unetlanvhi, I was a human. I was of the Cherokee people.” Pudgy was shocked, and nodded while the owl spoke. “I was the medicine man, and would heal the sick as best I could. Though, when it is time to join the great spirit, I did not have a say in that matter.” The hedgehog nodded once more, but raised his paw. “Can Pudgy ask Painted Feather a question? Where did all the humans go?” The owl looked sad for a moment, and then nodded in return. “Unetlanvhi is the word for God in my people’s language. He rules the skies above, and all that is of creation. Gaia is the mother of the Earth, and bends to his will. Many things the white man and his followers have done, and they will be judged.”
Pudgy nodded, “Cobalt and Pudgy’s other human friends were all good humans. If they are judged, and pass, what would happen next?” The shaman rubbed his beak with his wing tip, “I can not say for certain. But, if I can cross over from human to owl, I do not see why the process would be any different. Pudgy, is this man that important to you? In time, you may forget him, and move on …” The hedgehog whimpered and shook his head no quickly, “no, Pudgy will never forget Cobalt or any of his friends. If they don’t come back, Pudgy will be sad forever.” Painted Feather nodded, “I felt that way once, after I first crossed over. When I was old enough to fly, I returned to my people’s home to check on them.” The critter looked at the shaman, “what happened?” The owl looked sad once more,”they chased me away. Owls are bad luck, and they feel that we are associated with death. That is not the truth at all, but I was never able to explain. I instead chose to return to my Parliament, and did not go back.”
The critter walked over to the owl, and gently hugged him. Painted Feather hooted softly, and started to feel better. “Thank you Pudgy,” the owl said softly. Pudgy released the embrace, and then walked back over to his spot on the moss, and sat down. “Is there a way to reverse the stones, Painted Feather?” The shaman shook his head no, “not that we are aware of. I am sorry Pudgy, but the humans are gone forever. Well, unless Gaia changes her mind, but the process to return them would be just as chaotic.” The hedgehog had not thought of that, and pondered what would happen if everyone came back at once? Daily life was an interconnected set of systems, and when enough parts break down, it would cause chaos. Case in point, when a big snow would happen back home in Pennsylvania … some humans would lose their minds and panic. Multiply that by a million, and the hedgehog started to see the problem forming.
The owl nodded, “I can see by that look, you are thinking about what would happen? It would be bad. As I said, the humans will be judged, and we will see what Unetlanvhi and Gaia decide. Tonight is when the Grand Parliament begins, though some call it the Great Parliament for that matter. Each Parliament will send their Grand Claw to council, as well as their shaman, to the great tree. The tree has stood here since the dawn of the land, and is of deep spiritual importance to our kind. The council will discuss matters, and come to a resolution. At the conclusion of the council, the parliaments will return home. Where is your home Pudgy?”
The hedgehog smiled warmly at the owl, “Pennsylvania. It is far to the east of here, almost the other side of the land. Alabaster showed Pudgy how to use ley lines, so we could teleport to various points along the way. The bunnies helped us get to California on their airship, and then Mr. Drew drove us to Orick. Pudgy has this magic stone,” he said while retrieving the tiny blue sapphire from his vest. Painted feather nodded, “We have stones like those too, and are called owl tears. There is a ley line node to the sun rise direction, which one of our Parliament can take you to.” The hedgehog nodded, and put away the stone back into his vest, and secured the clasp.
Pudgy sighed, “what will Pudgy do? No Cobalt, no humans, no more adventures, no more yummy food, no more…..cookies …” The hedgehog sighed wistfully, till he got a bright look on his face. The owl looked curiously at him, “what is it Pudgy?” The hedgehog bounced slightly, “the grocery stores are full of food …food farther than Pudgy eyes could see. No humans mean no money, and that means free cookies.” The owl laughed, “that is true. I flew into …a …store I think it is called. The humans were quite displeased when I snatched away a stick of meat hanging from a hook. Tasted good, but made me sick.” The two animals talked and laughed, as the sun set, and the night skies started to form once more.
As twilight continued to fade, the owls started to sound their calls. It was beautiful, with the thousands of calls filling the forest air. He saw all manner of owls flying around: gray, brown, white, black, cream; a myriad of colors and patterns. Some had long ears, some had what resembled horns, some were huge, and some were small. Eyes of gold, of yellow, of black, and of white stared back and scanned the forest. As Pudgy was watching, and waving friendly as they flew past, he heard a tremendous flapping sound. The distinctive call of the Grand Claw was heard, and he landed in the same spot as he had the night before. “Good evening Pudgy, did you rest well?” The hedgehog stood up and nodded, “yes. Pudgy glad brought supplies, because there was no going anywhere as you said.”
The elderly owl laughed, “very true. At this height, your climb would be great, and the potential to fall certain. Did Painted Feather explain matters further to you?” The hedgehog whimpered a tiny bit, “yes, Pudgy understands. But Pudgy know chance will see friends again,” the critter said with a hopeful look. The Grand Claw nodded, “Painted Feather has a way of speaking that soothes and inspires hope. I know not if he is right in that regard, but I value his council. Speaking of which, it is time to go.” The shaman nodded, and then bounced past Pudgy while flapping his wings. The black and white owl took to the skies, and headed deeper into the forest. Grand claw nodded, “we will be back later. Please stay here, my grand feather will be visiting you later.”
The owl calls continued to fill the air, as the large white owl started to flap his wings, and flew quickly from the tree platform. As Pudgy watched the owl fly away, he noticed there were other owls heading in that direction. A familiar cry of a hawk was heard, as well as a crow, as shapes flew past the tree. The gathering of the Parliaments, the murder, and the flocks had begun. The hedgehog did not know what would happen next, but he looked forward to the upcoming visit from Alabaster. He hoped that what the shaman told him was true, and that filled his heart with a tiny bit of hope.
One reply on “Moon Cry: Chapter 7: Painted Feather”
Another solid chapter, I loved the (literal) world building. I’m happy to know that this story has two parts & I’m excited to see how/if Pudgy can fix things. All these new owl characters are great.