Pudgy was stretched out in his own bed, in his own home, and under all the blankets. He was finally starting to relax, and sighed happily. The forest was becoming fuller, as more of his friends were arriving. In the short amount of daylight that had remained when the hedgehog had arrived back from his adventure to Iron Wood, his bird friends decided to retire early from exhaustion which quickly set in upon landing. Sandra and Raymond decided to take the short flight to head back to the newly formed lake that covered the former human town nearby to the forest. Cobalt had picked out a tall tree to perch on, and was joined by Angeliki. Comix returned to his usual tree, and wanted to spend some time alone to reflect on his role in Pudgy’s adventure.
The little critter drifted off to sleep, as a cool breeze blew in through the round window that had been cracked to get some air inside the underground home. It was the most restful sleep Pudgy ever had. The nap lasted well into the next day’s late morning hours. When the hedgehog opened his eyes, he had discovered Mrs. Field Mouse was standing at the end of his bed. She placed a paw on the bed and sniffed her nose, “I almost thought I was dreaming. Pudgy, you are home.” The critter waved and wiggled his nose, “Yes, Pudgy got back late yesterday. It feels so good to be home, and in Pudgy own bed.” The female mouse giggled while her whiskers wiggled at the end of her nose. “I am sure the others will want to know you returned. I hesitate to ask …were you able to find Cobalt?” The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy found Cobalt …. He is now an eagle.”
Mrs. Field Mouse made a face, “I am glad you found him. Though his new eagle form means that my husband and I must be wary. Eagles are known to eat mice, after all.” The critter looked up, as he started to stretch and pull back the covers. “Pudgy will talk to Cobalt, and let him know Mr. Field Mouse and you are friends of Pudgy.” She looked at him strangely as she realized that something was off, “Pudgy … what is wrong with Cobalt?” Motioning for her to sit on the bed beside of him, Mrs. Field Mouse sat on the end of the bed and looked at Pudgy. “Cobalt’s memory is not what it once was. Each time he changes, he forgets more from his past. It is going to be awhile before Pudgy can help him remember everything. But if Cobalt changes again, he might completely forget us.” The field mouse nodded as her friend spoke, and wiggled her nose. Pudgy rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the back of his paws, “Pudgy hungry, Pudgy hope there is food left this time. Did the bunnies eat everything again?”
The mouse giggled, “no, your preparations ensured that our supplies lasted much longer. There are teeth marks on the cages, where they tried to chew their way in, but Patches kept a semi present guard and were able to shoo them away.” Pudgy chuckled, and stretched a bit as he turned to sit on the edge of his bed. The female mouse continued, “Pudgy … after you left …. Mrs. Bunny told us that she was pregnant. And what seemed like almost an instant, soon their warren was overflowing with baby bunnies. They were in the tunnel, running around the store room, bouncing in your bed, and asking a million questions about the mysterious adventuring hedgehog who lived at the end of the tunnel. So, when Mrs. Bunny had recovered, the decision was made to exit the tunnel warren.”
The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “oh ….and where did the baby bunnies come from?” Mrs. Field Mouse started to laugh, “I will send my husband over to talk to you later to explain that part. Anyhow, the rabbits located a new spot for their warren. With some assistance by the grumpiest groundhogs ever, the new warren was dug out, and outfitted for proper bunny use. Mr. Bobcat helped relocate the door from the tunnel warren, to the new warren.” Pudgy nodded as he listened, “where is the new warren?” Mrs. Field Mouse stood up, and adjusted her white apron. “It is close, in the same clearing as our other friends. Very wisely, they built it higher on the hill, so the new one will not flood when the heavy rains come. It is on the side of the hill where Panda Drew and Mary Fox lives. Pudgy, I have chores to do. I will tell the others you are back.” The mouse scampered through his underground home to reach the interior door that led to the storehouse. She stopped and turned back to speak to him, “Pudgy … it is so good to have you home. I hope we are done with adventures for a long time now.” The hedgehog waved and watched his mouse friend return the wave before scampering through the doorway.
The critter got out of bed as well, and pulled back the blankets to make his bed into a more presentable state. Opening the door and windows to get fresh air in, Pudgy soon started to work the sink pump to get the water flowing. It did not take much effort, and once the water began to run clear again, he filled up his cup. Sighing happily, and tanking a long drink, It was not long before he had his first visitor. Mary ducked her head inside of Pudgy’s doorway, “PUDGY! YOU’RE BACK!” Before the hedgehog could respond, the arctic fox shot out of the doorway, and then through the forest announcing the hedgehog’s arrival. “Pudgy better put kettle on, and start making hot water for tea.” The hedgehog busied himself with the stove, loading wood, and then lighting the fire. White puffy smoke began to escape from the chimney over his home, further signaling his return.
With the wood stove going, Pudgy filled up his main tea kettle as well as the reserve one. Checking his cabinets, he still had dandelion and spicebush tea flakes. “Pudgy will need to gather more soon. Pudgy need to stay home, and get ready for winter. Plus, the holidays are coming …” The little critter pondered, and remembered all the happy times he had with Cobalt in his warm home full of goodies. All that was gone now, which meant that the traditions of the past, had to change. Thoughts of holidays were soon replaced by Argente appearing in his home. The silver fox was crying slightly, “Pudgy!” The little hedgehog scampered over and started to his fox friend. “Pudgy so glad to see you too Argente! Pudgy just started making water for tea, it’s not ready yet.” The female fox hugged her hedgehog friend tightly, and watched as the field mice appeared through the storehouse doorway behind him.
Soon a steady stream of friends appeared, with the larger animals sitting outside and looking in through Pudgy’s round windows and doorway. Once the water was ready, the hedgehog started to make tea. Mr. and Mrs. Bobcat, Panda Drew, Mary, Argente, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, with twelve bouncing baby bunnies were soon gathered outside. As the tea became ready, Pudgy filled the cups, and made many trips from inside to outside and back. When all of his friends were served, the hedgehog returned with his own cup and waved at everyone. Argente looked up at Pudgy with inquisitive eyes, “Pudgy …what happened this time?” The little critter began to tell his grand tale. The flight from the forest to the big power plant, and the domes that looked like mushrooms. The trip through the magical tunnel, and the huge reservoir. When Pudgy got to the part with the beavers, Mr. Beaver started to pepper him with questions. The hedgehog explained everything, and the group watched as the two beavers began to happily swish their tails. The restoration of the Great Dam filled their hearts with glee.
Pudgy continued on with the otters, and the Great Holt, before the next magical tunnel trip to reach the forests of the high mountains to the north. Everyone listened to the wonderful tale, and sipped their tea. The tale of the dense forest, that moved like the ocean, and the arrival to the edge of Iron Wood was next. The hedgehog watched as the trees started to fill with birds, including Comix and Angeliki. The tales of the land of the eagles drew curious looks, and a near quiet response. The Grand Aerie commenced, and the gathering of the eagles were a focal point. He was interrupted with many questions by both ground walker and bird alike. When Pudgy got to the part where he fell out of the tree, that drew an angry stare and growl from Argente. Cobalt’s conversion to eagle form, and then his rescue of Pudgy drew cheers from his crowd.
In the background, high up in the tallest tree of the forest, Cobalt was sitting and watching the affair below. That fact was not lost upon the birds, who all turned to look up. This drew the attention of Mr. Bobcat, who spotted the eagle. Soon the audience started calling for Cobalt to come down, which the eagle nodded. They watched as the large bird swooped down and came in for a landing beside the hedgehog. The former human was not at least two feet tall, covered in brown feathers, with the unmistakable white fathered head of the eagle. Bouncing off to the side, the hedgehog continued the story. Including the part where Ice Feather, then Angeliki, then a couple eagles spanked him for falling out of the tree. Argente giggled, and listened as the story continued with the return to the grand lake of beavers and otters.
Pudgy stopped telling his tale, and looked at Cobalt. “When you went with Angeliki, where did you go?” The eagle nodded, “we met her mother the goddess. Suffice to say, she may not be able to help us again in the future now that the humans are not coming back.” The hedgehog looked sad, since he really liked the triple form goddess. Cobalt looked up, and Angeliki was also looking downcast. The hedgehog continued with more beaver and otter stories, before the next leg of the journey. The meet up with Sandra and Raymond Heron, and their return to the forest as well. The birds looked around for the herons, but did not see them gathered. They must be still at the lake, and would be given a proper welcome later. The story finished with Pudgy’s return to the forest, and getting a good night’s sleep. A round of applause, and cheers by the crowd ensued.
The baby bunnies were excited, and soon were hopping around their parents imitating Cobalt flying. They also barreled past Argente and Mary to bounce and hug him. They wanted more stories, but with a soft word from their mother, the small rabbits returned dragging their paws. Panda Drew nodded, “wonderful tale as always Pudgy. Cobalt is back, and new Herron friends are nearby as well, what is next on the plan?” The little critter nodded and looked up into the yellowing leaf filled tree canopy above. “It is autumn now … that means the holidays are coming. Pudgy remember the wonderful times at Cobalt’s house, and also all the times he came here to cook for us.” Drew nodded, “That is going to be difficult this year Pudgy. All the usual sources for food and merriment are gone, the humans who made the wonderful gifts are gone, and the world has changed in ways we do not yet realize.”
Cobalt nodded, “for the better. A world without humans is best, and much simpler.” The birds looked at the eagle, strange to hear those words from his beak, but nodded. “It will be winter soon, and most of our tree friends will be departing for warmer lands. What are you proposing Pudgy?” The eagle said as he turned to look at the critter. The hedgehog bounced, “the humans had Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s. Pudgy thinks we can combine them into two big gatherings.” The red panda nodded, “that sounds like a good idea. We can combine Halloween and Thanksgiving, into Givingween.” The animals all looked at each other, and started to argue the pros and cons of the name. Mary rubbed his nose with her paw, “what about Thanksoween?” That name drew many nods, since it was easier to say and convey what the gathering was about?
Argente nodded, “New Years was a strange tradition at Cobalt’s house. We stayed up late to watch a ball drop, then drank sleepy bubbly stuff.” Comix chirped, “I vote we all just go to sleep.” The motion was seconded, and the forest rule went into effect. New Year’s was officially dropped from the holiday schedule. That left Christmas and Chanukah, which would be combined into a Winter party. Patches meowed happily, since Chanukah was celebrated at her former home each year. The name could be decided later, and how it would work. That party would not be able to be attended by most of the birds, as they would have departed by then. Thanksoween was decided to be celebrated soon, while it was still sort of warm, and before the first snow came. Pudgy nodded, “this will be a big gathering. Pudgy need you help to gather as much food as you can, so we can prepare for the day.” The animals nodded, and bounced excitedly.
Time passed, and in the days that followed, Pudgy’s store house was filled to almost overflowing with food. One especially fruitful day, Cobalt had found a garden growing nearby to the ruins of the human homes. Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes were growing, and were ready to go. The eagle could lift several times his body weight, and was able to carry back one pumpkin at a time. Comix started to help, and after a couple of hours, a mountain of pumpkins was gathered. Pudgy set to work, with the assistance of Mr. and Mrs. Field mouse, to process the bounty gathered. They made pumpkin pie filling, pumpkin chutney, pumpkin jam, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins, and cleaned the seeds as well. Many friends stopped by for Pumpkin soup, and soon had full bellies and orange noses.
The next day resulted in a huge load of crab apples, when Pudgy was of exploring with Argente and Panda Drew. The little cart hitched up to the snow fox was soon filled to overflowing. Of course, each animal had to quality test the apples, so by the time they got back to Pudgy’s house … the wagon was still full, and they were full. The apples were cleaned and processed by the hedgehog, making apple pie filling as well as apple juice. The baby bunnies really liked the juice, but the natural sugar soon energized them. As exasperated Mr. Bunny was soon chasing after them, making mental note to be at the hedgehog’s home the next time to keep Pudgy from giving them treats. The day of the party was soon upon them, and the little hedgehog was hard at work cooking.
Parties were fun, but also a lot of work. Thankfully, the Bobcats were hard at work outside. They were dragging flat rocks into place, so they could have a place to set out the feast. The field mice were inside helping Pudgy cook, and also sneakily tasting the wonderful foods being cooked. Mr. Bear and Grandpa Bear also arrived, and it was not long when Cobalt and Comix started to fly overhead and dropping freshly caught fish onto the ground. As Grandpa Bear was about to say something while looking up, a sunfish dropped into his mouth. Happily munching away, the elderly bear remarked, “I’m glad Cobalt is an eagle now.” Mr. Bear laughed, and looked up with his mouth open, and it was not too long before another bluegill dropped out of the sky and into his mouth. After chewing and swallowing the fish, “best party ever …the fish rains from the sky.”
After a couple more trips, the eagle and hawk landed beside a pile of fish outside of the hedgehog’s home. Argente and Mary scampered through the tall weeds, with Panda Drew following behind them. The larger animals were dragging pieces of wood with them, and started to assemble the rough shape of a stack of firewood for the burn pit. Drew looked at Mary, “so, do you have a light?” The snow fox giggled, “no … maybe Pudgy can help?” Argente nodded and scooted past the growing assembly of animals, and ducked inside of the hedgehog’s home. “Pudgy, do you have anything to start a fire?” The little hedgehog nodded, but he was surrounded by pots and containers of cooked food. Very carefully he maneuvered around to his wood stove, and then opened the firebox. Lighting a long piece of wood, the flame danced on the end of the match stick. Mr. Field Mouse took the match, and carefully as well, navigated over to the silver fox. Placing it into her mouth, the flame danced beside her head.
The female fox backed out, and then headed back to the firepit. Grandpa Bear was now sitting beside it, and pawing at the branches to make the fire wood burn better. The elderly bear had already cleaned the fish, to bear standards, and had arrange them on sticks to cook evenly around the fire. Argente nodded, and stuck her snout under the branches and dropped the lit match stick onto a smaller pile of twigs. The flames very slowly started to spread, and a fine smoke started to escape the wood pile. Drew chuckled as he sat down nearby to the elderly gray bear, “I wish we still had lighter fluid.” Mary giggled, “or a propane torch.” The elderly bear chuckled, “humans and their toys …”
The beavers arrived next, with the bunny clutch, as well as Patches the cat. The baby bunnies wanted inside Pudgy’s home, but were politely refused by Mrs. Field Mouse. It was time to start bringing out the food, so the baby bunnies were called back to their mother. The crowd watched as soon the two field mice, and hedgehog began bringing out serving bowls of all manner of yummy foods. The steam was escaping, as they had just come out from the oven or stove top. Roasted seeds of all sorts, pumpkin soup, roasted pumpkin, pan fried mushrooms, onion jam, pumpkin jam, apple sauce, dandelion salad, pumpkin pies, apple pies, wild strawberries, wild blackberries, roasted chestnuts, and hundreds of bread rolls started to appear on the flat rocks that served as the banquet table. The smell of cooking fish also wafted in the air, as the fire had started to roar.
Mr. Bear had brought with him a clay jug, that was bear sized. Inside was something he had been making: apple pie brandy. A little-known hobby of the bear was the art of making moon shine. With the human stores gone, and the availability of materials scarce, this was a very useful project in these strange times. Looking over at his father, “hey Pops …shall we tap the jug?” The elder bear nodded, “yes please … fish should be ready soon.” Drew was helping turn the fish around on their spikes, so that they cooked evenly. Argente and Mary wandered back over to the large rock, and watched as Pudgy came out with a huge serving platter. He had used the last of the beef jerky, and rehydrated it. The little hedgehog had somehow managed to make a meatloaf out of it, and it looked very good. Mr. Bobcat sniffed towards the table, “everything smells so good … even the jerky loaf, Pudgy.”
Looking around the forest gathering, Pudgy bounced happily. “Pudgy thank the Great Spirit for this bountiful feast, thank you all for helping to bring the food to Pudgy to cook, and thank you for coming. Welcome one and all to our first Thanksoween! Now, let us eat!” The little hedgehog started to serve his friends, as well as the two field mice. It was easier to do it this way, since many of the animals did not have the ability to use the serving spoons. Little plates were filled, with wonderful things to eat. The birds marveled at the seeds, they had been roasted and coated with seasoning. Once all of the smaller animals had been served, then Pudgy moved up to Argente, Mary, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cat, Mrs. & Mr. Beaver, and Panda Drew. Cobalt, Angeliki, and Comix were over at the fire pit, pecking at a roasted fish. The raven had flown in just as the food had started to be served, and had joined the former humans at the fire pit.
Mr. Bear and his father were busy munching on roasted fish, and occasionally sipping from the clay jug. Pudgy and his field mice helpers finally sat down, and started to eat as well. It had been an extremely tiring morning of cooking, so it felt good to rest. The banquet table almost as quickly emptied, as it was filled. The pies were small enough to be handled separately, and Pudgy had purposely made them that way. So, it was not long when each gray fluffy baby bunny was munching on a tiny pie. It was not long afterwards when Angeliki walked down to the banquet stones, and looked at Pudgy. “Marvelous party Pudgy, might in Inquire if there are any pies left?” The little hedgehog nodded and pointed, at a couple apple pies left. The raven giggled, and leaned down to take one in her beak. It was small enough, that the demigoddess was able to get it all in her mouth at the same time. The natural sugars made it taste so good, and the tartness was quite refreshing.
Mr. and Mrs. Bobcat were munching on a slightly larger pumpkin pie, while Panda Drew was having fun with rolls covered in pumpkin jam. The animals chatted amongst themselves, and the forest was full of laughter. Pudgy nibbled on an acorn flour roll, and looked down the ruins of his grist mill along the creek. “Pudgy needs to fix that grist mill soon…Pudgy used up all of the acorn flour.” Several squirrels who also had attended looked up at Pudgy, “the acorns are all gone now. We stored what we need for winter, and shared what we could for the meal today.” The little hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy understands, Pudgy thank you for helping with what you could provide. The mill still needs fixed though, and perhaps moved to a safer spot while Pudgy at it?” The banquet of food was gone, with only empty serving bowls and plates scattered about. While the tired hedgehog scampered over to stack the dirty dishes, he pondered about the mill.
The sun was starting to sink into the south western skies, and the air cooled. By the time the critter had put all of the dirty dishes into his sink, the sun was just beginning to set. The animals all scampered over and hugged the hedgehog, thanking him for the wonderful party. The birds flew off in pairs, while the bunnies hugged the hedgehog two at a time. An overly excited clutch of bunnies hopped back towards their new warren nearby. The babies were hopping circles around their parents, who were going to have a very …long…. night. Pudgy waved, and then was hugged by Argente from behind. The hedgehog smiled and chuckled, as he looked up at her face. “Did you enjoy the party, Argente?” The silver fox nodded, “yes …this was lots of fun. We will definitely need to do this again next year. Hopefully our forest is peaceful, and you do not need to go away again.”
The hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy agree Argente. Pudgy tired, want to stay home. Everyone is safe now, the forest is safe, Pudgy hopes the Great Spirit keeps it that way.” The female fox nodded, and watched as the two field mice approached. “Pudgy, we are tired, is it ok if we head back to our home?” Mr. Field mouse asked, which the hedgehog nodded and pulled both mice towards him to hug. “Yes please, and thank you for helping Pudgy today!” The two tired mice hugged back and nodded. They released the embrace, and then slowly scampered back into Pudgy’s home, through the store house, up the tunnel, and to their cavern home. By the time the mice reached their home, they headed straight to their soft bed and immediately fell asleep.
Cobalt was standing next to the glowing bed of ashen coals, as the fire started to dwindle. The three bears were laughing, as the high proof brandy was starting to kick in. Mary had a snout full as well, and she was giggling, while swishing her fluffy white tail around. There was not a hydrometer around to check the proof, but it was borderline do not drive or operate heavy machinery strength. Sadly though, the jug was emptied, and it was time for the bears to go home as well. Thanks, and well wishes were made by the two bears, whose speech was a bit slurred, and they staggered off down the creek. The hedgehog waved and chuckled, and watched as Cobalt strode up in front of him. “Wonderful get together Pudgy, thank you for inviting me. I need to head off now, early day tomorrow. I need to start my patrols; the Aerie is set to send a representative to check on me soon’ish.”
The eagle nodded at the hedgehog, and then quickly took flight. Pudgy wiggled his nose and waved, while Argente looked a bit sad. “Last year we all stayed around the roaring fire, laughing and talking. Then headed back into your big room, and fell asleep around him. Look at us now …” The fox trailed off, while she pondered all of the changes that had come in the last year of the forest. The hedgehog sighed, “Pudgy glad he is back though. Even as an eagle, even though he lost many of his memories, Pudgy need Cobalt here along with all of Pudgy friends.
Comix and Angeliki were the next to stop by and say their goodbyes, with many hugs. The birds flew off, back to their respective spots in the forest. The little hedgehog wiggled his nose as he waved to his departing friends, and pondered what happened to Sandra and Raymond? The two herons had been invited to the party as well. Looking up at his fox friend, “would you like some tea Argente?” The silver fox nodded, “yes please. Hey Mary, Drew, want some tea too?” The arctic fox and red panda nodded, and after checking to ensure the fire indeed had gone out, they followed behind the silver fox and back inside of the hedgehog’s home. The wood stove had burnt out its supply of firewood, but it was easy to get the stove going again. As the hedgehog worked, his last three remaining friends arranged themselves around the interior of his underground home.
Drew grinned, “wonderful party Pudgy. Now, we have to plan the winter party.” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy like that idea. Maybe Mr. Bear can help us? Pudgy remember he offered to host Christmas this year since Pudgy hosted it last year.” Argente giggled, “he has a bigger stove, so that will help.” The hedgehog sighed, “Pudgy wonder why Sandra and Raymond didn’t come to the party today?” Mary looked up, “oh crap! I forgot to tell you Pudgy. When you had went out to gather apples, the two herons arrived outside your home. I had been out hunting, and they told me that they were heading south. Now that they knew generally where they were, they knew how to get home. With all of the party preparations, it slipped my mind.” The hedgehog nodded, and started adding the tea flakes to his kettle of boiling water. Argente nodded, “no worries. I just hope their trip home is safe.” Pudgy chuckled, “and Raymond doesn’t pick a fight with any more dolphins along the way.”
Tea was eventually ready to be served, and the little hedgehog moved from friend to friend pouring the steaming liquid into their cups. Once all had been served, Pudgy served himself, and took a sip. “Pudgy need to find more dandelions, as well as spice bush. Pudgy remember that they would grow all the way into November sometimes. Mary nodded, “many years ago I used to live in Pennsylvania, so I vaguely remember too Pudgy. I will be glad when the cold air arrives, finally I will be comfortable.” Drew laughed, “she always wants to sleep with the door to our cavern open. Which is fine in theory, until you wake up surrounded by baby bunnies.” The room started to erupt in laughter, as the friends enjoyed each other’s company.
Pudgy started to wash his mountain of dishes and serving platters. Drew laughed, and was telling a humorous tale of the cardinals. They had taken great interest in Cobalt, and were busy peppering him with questions. They were quite annoyed when he would fly off, and escape the questions. Pudgy looked up mid story, “why are they doing that?” The red panda grinned, “Well …I think they are trying to see if he’s single. I am not sure how that would work though, given the species difference.” The hedgehog chuckled, “Cobalt was a human, then a dragon, and now an eagle …he needs some time to recover.” Mary and Argente giggled, and sipped their tea. Pudgy looked up at the two foxes, “Pudgy found out that Cobalt was supposed to come back as a gray fox originally. Something happened to make him turn into the dragon, but Pudgy unsure what.” The two foxes stopped mid sip, and looked at their hedgehog friend.
Mary looked at Argente, “a gray fox? I didn’t think foxes came in that coloration?” The silver fox giggled and nodded, “they are rare, but I have met a few. My word …Cobalt as a fox …” The revelation hung in the air, while sounds of clinking dishes in the sink accompanied them. Drew laughed, “well it’s good he came back as a dragon when he did, given everything that happened. I wonder what will happen now, Pudgy?” The hedgehog nodded as he washed a serving platter, “Cobalt spoke of the wolves. Pudgy hope they stay far away to the north, let us have peace.”
The animals nodded in agreement, and watched as a pile of dirty dishes, bowls, and platters were replace by clean ones. They were arranged on towels laid out on the counters, and set to air dry. The critter turned, and his eyes were almost closed, but still moving. His friends nodded, with Argente speaking first. “Pudgy, you need to go to sleep now. Today was absolutely wonderful, thank you!” One by one, the two foxes, and then the red panda hugged their hedgehog friend. As his friends left, the hedgehog waved, and then shut his door. Securing the locks, the exhausted hedgehog secured his wood stove, shut the windows accordingly, and turned off his interior lights. Crawling into his bed, Pudgy got under all the covers, and immediately fell asleep. There were no dreams, just restful sleep.
In the days that followed, the flocks of birds all said their goodbyes, and headed south for the winter. The trees lost their leaves, covering the forest floor with a sea of yellow and brown leaves. As the tree canopy emptied of its foliage, Pudgy and the other ground-based animals could see Cobalt flying overhead occasionally. The eagle was patrolling the area as ordered by the Silver Claw. Comix sometimes flew along as well, and the two birds would be gone for hours. Angeliki decided to stay in the forest, having decided against her usual travels. With her mother sealed off from this world, the reasons to travel were gone, at least for now. It was time to build a nest, and prepare for the winter.
Mr. Bear arrived one day to check on the hedgehog, and was immediately pressed into service. The remnants of the grist mill were moved from the creek, and over to the exterior exit of the tunnel that led into the clearing. Pudgy had an idea how to make it work, but would require some time to make the parts. The main thing was that the heavy stones and timbers were moved. Once all trips were made, and the brown bear sat down as Pudgy explained his ideas. Mr. Bear started to speak, “Pudgy, those are all good ideas. Hey, I wanted to let you know that I will be hosting our Winter’s Day Party at my cabin. Can you please spread the word to all of our friends, that they are all invited?” The little hedgehog bounced happily, and started to hug his bear friend’s leg. “OH BOY, THANK YOU MR. BEAR!” The critter said excitedly, as he scampered around the bear.
“My father has suggested it on the way back from our Thanksoween celebration, and I remembered my offer from last year. So, I am very glad you approve of the idea, I wonder though …will Xylenia be able to come too?” The little hedgehog stopped in front of the bear, rubbing his chin with his paw. “Pudgy unsure, Pudgy hope Santa is all right? If all the humans went away, did Santa go away too?” The brown bear shook his head, “Santa was a magical being, so I am sure he is fine. Xylenia was a dragon though ….” The hedgehog looked up, “when Pudgy helped the elves in Savannah last year, Pudgy entered a bubble of magic. It made Pudgy teeth wiggle. The elves told Pudgy that they needed it to exist a long time in this world.” Mr. Bear nodded, “ahh I see. Yes Pudgy, they should be fine then. I bet Santa is really confused though, with no letters coming anymore to the north pole?”
Pudgy pawed at the mill stones, and pondered, “Pudgy have no way of contacting them to check. But Pudgy remember that first time we used a lantern, and when Glitter contacted Pudgy last year, she used a similar method. So, if Xylenia comes, we will welcome her. But if she cannot, that is fine, all that matters is that she is safe and happy.” Mr. Bear nodded, “I agree Pudgy. She is invited too, if she is able to come. So Pudgy, last time you used the creek to drive the mill stones. How will you power the mill here?” The hedgehog pointed upwards, “the water runs down here when it rains. Pudgy thinks can make a series of catch basins, and then with a pully release the water. It will run down here, and drive the water wheel. Pudgy need to work out gears, with Mr. Bobcat. He told Pudgy he can help with mechanical stuff like that. Cobalt might be able to help too, but Pudgy unsure.”
Mr. Bear nodded, changed the subject back to the party, and started to tentatively plan the details. It would be several weeks till the winter solstice, which happened around December 21st. The decision was made to host the Winter’s Day party on that day, at Mr. Bear’s cabin. In time, the large brown bear headed back to his home, and the hedgehog to his through the tunnel. Pudgy stopped at the former bunny warren to see what was left. There was not much, just some dirty straw that could be cleaned out easily. Turning around, the hedgehog returned to shut the tunnel gates, and then headed back to the storehouse in his home. The overabundance of food was gone, and then supplies were neatly arranged in their stalls behind locked gates.
Patches the house cat was busy licking her paw, and standing guard. Pudgy waved, “hello Patches, how goes it?” The white cat giggled, “fine … a nice quiet day. I want to rebuild my tree house, but it is too late in the year to do so.” The hedgehog nodded, “yes, it is. Plus, it would be so cold too, much better to stay here in the winter. Oh, that reminds Pudgy, Pudgy need to make your home warm too, a heat source of some sort.” The house cat had taken over floor three in the store house, and made quiet a nice living area for herself with the remnants of the tree house. It also afforded the cat a view from above, regarding any bunny shenanigans. Patches giggled, “I am sure you will figure something out.” The hedgehog motioned for the cat to follow, and they headed back to his underground home. “Mr. Bear stopped by to tell Pudgy that we are all; invited to Winter’s Day party at Mr. Bear’s cabin.” As the cat started to speak, she stopped mid-sentence, “Pudgy that ….” As the cat trailed off, both friends stared as a white ball of light was floating inside of the center of the hedgehog’s home.