In the weeks that followed, the HMS Caroline navigated the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship had been joined by two other British naval vessels, and had formed a convoy. One was a commercial vessel, that was loaded with various consumer products and sundry items. The other ship was a fishing vessel, that had been converted for defense purposes. The ship was originally used for hunting whales, and had visible guns that would shoot harpoons at the aquatic animals. Several of the harpoon mounts had been replaced with anti-aircraft guns, and the stern of the ship where the trolling nets were once stowed, was depth charges.
Ocean sailing ships had to travel in groups, escorted by the navy since the German navy had submarines called U-Boats. The underwater weapons were manned by small crews of German naval forces, and would strike without warning. Though the relative safety of the convoys helped, the ocean surface conditions were horrid, with twenty-foot waves tossing the ships up and down violently. Mother nature was seemingly assisting the Germans, and the silent machines travelled smoothly under the water’s surface. The humans on board the convoy of ships were having a very hard time acclimating to their status. And to make matters worse, terrible storms were pelting the ships with deluges of water and strong winds.
On board the Caroline, the captain of the ship gave no thought about the stow away hedgehogs on board, he had bigger issues at hand ensure the vessel did not sink. The critters had managed to exit their wooden crate packed with mail, to explore their surroundings. The cargo hold was loaded with hundreds of crates, all strapped to wooden pallets, that had hooks on top for the crane hoist to connect to. As they explored, the critters found that the humans had packed food in the various containers mixed in with the packages. Phillip’s discovery of biscuits packed in easily openable tins were very much appreciated by his wife. Once opened, the two hedgehogs learned that the British woman who had baked the biscuits did not know what she was doing? Their taste was quite bland, though neither of the critters had been aware of the British government rationing of food stuffs. The availability of sugar was hit or miss, since all supplies needed to be sent to the front to support the war efforts.
It was not long when Phillip and Margaret were soon accompanied by a couple rats and a few mice as well. Their new acquaintances provided some very much needed detail as to their situation, in exchange for biscuits. The group sat on the pieces of mail, while nibbling away. They were on a ship, which would take almost a month to reach the opposite shores. The mice spoke of the hustle and bustle of New York, and their cousins who ate strange things called bagels. It was dough, that was boiled, then baked and sold by the dozen. Occasionally one would fall, or the stale ones would be tossed out behind the bakeries. If their rat cousins were quick enough, they could steal them before the poor humans could find them.
Margaret at first was eating a lot, more so than usual each day until the weather conditions ensured that no passenger could hold down anything. Though by that point, the female hedgehog’s condition swung the other direction. She was also sick often, and complaining about indescribable pains throughout her body. Phillip tried to make her as comfortable as he could, while worrying about his wife. One day, as the male hedgehog was busy collecting fresh water from a leaking pipe into a tiny metal thimble, a female mouse who had never told him her name, tugged at his quills. “Why hello there, I’m gathering water for Margaret. You can use the thimble next.” The mouse twitched her nose, sending her whiskers wiggling occasionally. “Phillip, did you know Margaret is pregnant? Momma says she should give birth any day now …” The male hedgehog’s paws wavered, as he wiggled his nose. Nodding, he carefully carried the water in the thimble.
His mind was racing, they had been trying for many seasons now. Why now, when things were so dangerous? He scampered along with his mouse friend to head back to the cargo hold. Thankfully it was not too far, and he soon found his wife whimpering as she wiggled her nose. Setting the thimble of water down carefully, he reached out and took her paw. No words were spoken, only the sounds of her wailing. The mice soon gathered, and assisted as best they could, trying to not listen to the screams of Margaret. A mixture of afterbirth and blood escaped from behind her, and stained the pieces of mail in the crate where she was resting. Eventually a tiny hedgehog emerged from within her body, translucent white, with a shade of pink. The gathered water was useful, to wash the child, as well as to refresh Margaret.
The baby hedgehog squeaked softly, and when offered by the field mouse to the female hedgehog, she smiled weakly and snuggled with her child. Phillip bounced happily, wanting very much to hold them both, but realizing both had had a long day. He instead soon was running back and forth, getting water and food for his family. Pieces of correspondence were stacked around them, trying to insulate them in the cold cargo hold. The field mice wiggled their noses, at the baby hedgehog with tiny spikes all over its body. Margaret smiled happily, before snuggling with her child, and whispering to her. “Abigail …. how I waited so very long for you to come.” Phillip was there for the announcement of his daughter’s name, and he bounced happily.
As the days turned into weeks, both mother and child recovered from their ordeal. Phillip was a wreck, having moved almost nonstop the entire time. He was getting scant amounts of sleep, since both of his loved ones needed him. The ship stopped moving so violently, and soon the waters had grown calm. The rhythmic rumble of the ship’s engines was constant, until one day when the whole ship began to shudder and the cargo hold hatches started to open one by one. Humid air started to waft down from outside, and a warm sun beamed overhead. The critters hid in the mail crates, and listened to the humans speaking as they worked. One by one the hoist was lowered by a crane somewhere outside, and started to lift the pallets of correspondence and supplies.
The field mouse twitched her nose while hiding under a letter addressed to Herman Smith, and sniffed the air. “This is not New York; it doesn’t smell right.” Phillip nodded, pulling a large envelope over Margaret and Abigail. They could see through the slats of the wooden crate, that the ship had docked in a huge port. There was blue green water, that had a unique smell wafting from it. It was a mixture of sea water and human waste. The humans were dressed in uniforms of white, and positioned the various pallets on the dock as the pallets were lifted down to rest. Once safely stowed, the hoist’s hook would be disconnected, and the crane would move its long boom arm to send the hoist back into the ship’s cargo hold.
A human sailor pointed as the passengers were disembarking, as the two men in black coats left the ship. They were accompanied by two dogs, who padded along behind them. “Oi William, take a look at those bloody bastards? How did they escape the draft?” A second sailor laughed, “laddie … probably aristocrats … don’t cha know us common folk die in their wars? Oi …what is wrong with this crate? The letters are all stained?” Their commanding officer stopped by, “you two got time to talk? Maybe I should assign more work?” The men shook their heads, and returned to their task of loading the wooden crates from the pallets, onto metal carts. Once full, the various boxes, and crates were then pushed by a sailor down the dock, and making a right to reach a long line of metal carts in a row.
The critters stayed silent, and did not move, since their discovery would only complicate matters. In time, as the humans disappeared, the mice signaled it was time to go. Abigail was clutching onto her mother’s quills on her back, while Margaret scampered as quickly as she could with Phillip. Through the opening in the crate, and down the side of the metal cart they headed, until the group of four field mice, two rats, and three hedgehogs were underneath the wheeled metal carts. The group of critters ran as fast as they were able to, underneath the heavily packed carts, and underneath a large sign that was labelled “all goods must be checked through customs.” There was also a sign which directed humans to head to the left, and towards a structure where they would be sorted.
Just as Phillip disappeared through a hole in the side of a warehouse building, the two dogs and black dressed humans walked past. The dogs sniffed the air and barked, turning and pointed their noses towards the building. Weiss nodded, “Fang … Claw … search!” The dogs instinctively set forth with their task, and started to sniff the ground, and followed the metal carts towards where customs were located. Rudolf looked around, adjusting his black hat accordingly to hide his eyes. Weiss and Fang were on the left, while Rudolf and Claw were on the right of the metal carts. Checking the wooden crates quickly, each human would move on to the next, until the carts from the Caroline were located. Claw barked twice, and Rudolf investigated one crate whose letters were all stained red. Cursing in German softly, he reached inside and only found stained letters.
There was no kodex located inside, but the dog already had started to move on and head forward again. As the two humans reached the end of the carts, they were continuing inside a long metal structure, that ran straight ahead long the pier. Rudolf turned to his commanding officer, “where would the British have placed it? Maybe the dogs have lost the scent?” Weiss knelt, and patted both dogs on their heads and spoke in German. “Fang … Claw … you find that kodex for me. I will take you to Auschwitz, and you can have all the bones you want. Now go, and do not come back until you find it. Bring it back to me, understood?” The dogs barked, and then ran off inside the warehouse. As Weiss stood up, he turned around and saw two United States soldiers in green uniforms pointing long rifles at them. “Keep it up you Kraut bastard, just give us a reason to blow your head off.”
Weiss had been so careful up until this point, only speaking English. He had not been aware that the British Naval personnel had spotted the men in black heading towards customs, and alerted their American counterparts. The soldier on the left approached, with his finger squarely on the trigger of his rifle, and approached the commanding officer of the German secret police. With barrel of a M1 Garand pointed at his forehead, “Guten Tahg, American. Ich bin Kriminalkommissar Weiss.” The solders’ expressions contorted, “knew it …he’s one of those Nazi bastards!” Weiss smirked, and looked to his left and then to his right, Rudolf was missing. With open palms, he raised his hands into the air, and listened as the soldiers shouted commands to move. The commanding officer could feel the barrel pressed against the center of his back, as he was pushed to turn around and walk along a narrow cat walk that ran along the custom’s building.
The cat walk was once meant for the various fishermen who once frequented the docks to quickly access all parts of the docks. The soldiers let their captured prisoner along the cat walk, and up towards the center of the pier, where many docks connected to. A detachment of soldiers had been stationed there, watching the incoming mail and packages as they were offloaded from the newly arrived British ships. The display of the German man in black being led at gunpoint drew quiet a reaction. “Hey look …Billy and Mark captured a Nazi!” The American commanding officer, a tall stern looking bald man approached, and reached into Weiss’s coat. After rummaging through the pockets, he located the identity disk the secret police used. Taking a look, “guten tahg Kriminalassistent Rudolf …. Welcome to the United States. Now please tell me …. What exactly is the gestapo doing here in Baltimore?”
Weiss kept his mouth shut, clenching his teeth, and trying to figure out what had happened? How did Rudolf exchange his identity disk? What was his subordinate up to? These thoughts were replaced with new thoughts as the American soldiers sneered, and forcibly restrained him. Kicking out his knees from behind, the German officer dropped to his knees, and soon was being strip searched. As his head was driven down onto the salty smelling wooden board that formed the deck of the pier, he could see Rudolf smiling in the distance. His eyes turned coal black, and faded away while tucking an identity disk into his black coat. Weiss cursed in German, and watched as several rats and three hedgehogs ran past him. The critters quickly ran along the cat walks, heading to the shoreline.
Phillip was bringing up the rear, as the group was being chased by the German Shepherd dogs. As they had passed the humans restraining one of the men in black, the dogs ran past and was quickly catching up behind them. The smaller animals could duck underneath carts, and between fence boards. They squeezed through chain link fences, and through metal slats. Down the pier, make a right down that dock, make a left, down the next pier, the port was gigantic. Margaret was still recovering from child birth, but the need to flee to safety with her child, outweighed any thought of stopping to rest. Abigail was crying, and holding on tight. She looked back to see the look of terror on her father’s face as he ran behind them, and the large dogs chasing after them. Their eyes were locked onto them, and the dogs would ram into the fence posts, and squeeze their way through the far too narrow openings.
The mice called out, as they pointed to a blue pipe sticking out of a wall, “this way! Hurry!” The hedgehogs followed behind, ducking between large oak barrels that had been placed near to one another. The barrels were labelled molasses, and smelled sweet, as they leaked a black substance from below the barrel. The dogs barking and snarling had started to attract human attention, as they watched the dogs chase something on the pier. However, they were too late, as Phillip quickly darted into the blue pipe behind his wife and child. Barking loudly, the two dogs pawed at the pie when they arrived, and tried to stick their noses inside to sniff.
The critters were still running, far into the pipe, as all light ceased. It was pitch black, and smelled horrid. It was not long until Margaret bumped into a rat in front of her. “Sorry Mr. Rat …do you know which way we are to go?” The rat nodded, and swished his tail back and forth, “to the left. But there’s a blockage ahead, the mice are working on it.” The hedgehogs nodded, and waited while their muscles recovered from the near constant exertion. The echoes of the dogs were growing more muffled, the farther in they had went. With one exception, “pappa …” Abaigail spoke, which made both of her parents giddy with excitement. The baby hedgehog was facing her father, when the word was spoken. He moved closer, and touched his fuzzy nose with his child’s and grinned. “Hello Abigail, do not worry, we should be safe now.”
The rat started to move again, and so did Margaret then Phillip. They headed to the left, and the pipe started to ascend at a slight angle. That slight angle, soon grew much steeper, and it became difficult to climb. Abigail fell from her mother’s back, and slid down the pipe to land on Phillip’s head. “Climb on the front part of my back Abigail …and hold on tight to my quills.” The baby moved slowly into place and nestled in between her father’s quills and held on tightly. Higher and higher they ascended, until finally the pipe levelled off, and widened into a much larger terra cotta pipe. The critters were running on the highest right side of the pipe, and watched as foul-smelling water with brown clumps flowed past them occasionally.
Margaret grimaced, though the horrid smells soon were replaced, as the salty fresh air from the outside world was wafting from somewhere. As the group came to a wide rectangular stone box, they looked up through metal bars to see the blue-sky peeking from above. The rats laughed, “I hate the sewer … but it’s the best way to travel here. The humans never come down here.” The hedgehogs nodded, and once Phillip came to stand beside his wife, he felt Abigail climb back over onto her mother. The mice turned and waved at the hedgehogs, “good bye Phillip. good bye Margaret, good bye Abigail. We are heading home now, if it is still there?’ The two gray rats nodded and waved, “good bye …we are heading up to the business district. The human like to drop food on the ground, perhaps we can get a crabcake?’
The hedgehogs waved, and watched as their critter friends left them through various connecting pipes in the sewer. Margaret pointed upwards, “Phillip I want to get out of this foul-smelling place.” The male hedgehog nodded, and started exploring, until he found a rocky ledge that they could climb up to where the metal bars were. After testing it, he led the way for real, and helped both his wife and child up and out of the grate. As he pulled himself up, and squeezed his body between the metal bars, the hedgehogs could see they had reached a cobblestone lined street. Human buildings were on each side, with all manner of signs. There were letters everywhere, which made Margaret’s head spin. Abigail pointed, “mamma!” The hedgehog mother grinned, and looked up to see her daughter pointing at a sign painted with green cursive letters.
The critters watched as a human man was thrown out of the building. As he landed hard in the street, two other humans dressed in better attire cursed at him. “We do not need any more stinking Irish in our bar. Get back to your own country!” The man called Irish watched as the two other men returned inside, and eventually allowed him to stand up. The man smiled at the hedgehogs, and then turned to stagger up the road. Phillip tugged at his wife’s quills, and started to head underneath a black wooden cart, that was hitched up to a huge brown draft horse. As the critter navigated underneath the cart, Abigail looked up to see that it was in fact a boy horse. She wiggled her nose, then looked down as the larger animal decided to relieve itself. As they dodged and ducked quickly, Phillip looked up at the horse’s face. Cupping his paws around his mouth, “hello mister horse!”
The draft horse lowered his head, and his white main fluttered in the breeze, as brown eyes looked down onto the hedgehogs. “Hello there … my porcupine friends. First time in Baltimore?” The hedgehogs nodded, and Phillip spoke again, “we want to head to the country side. Do you know which way it is?” The horse nodded and stomped his front left hoof, causing a metallic ring from the horseshoe connecting with the cobblestone. “Head up the road, and make a left when you see the sign that points in three directions. That will take you to what the humans call a rail road. Follow the metal tracks, and it will take you to the country.” Margaret nodded and called up, “thank you Mister Horse!” The draft horse watched as what he called porcupines scampered off, with what looked like a baby clutching onto her mother’s back. The horse whinnied happily, and soon felt the wooden carriage behind it move as the two humans from before climb on board.
“Can you believe that stupid Irishman tried to get a job?” The one human said, while his partner adjusted his black hat, and checked a silver pocket watch. “If you think they are bad here on the east coast, my uncle says the Chinamen are worse on the west coast. Now, we must make the rest of our deliveries by four.” The leather reins attached to the horse were jerked and soon the horse taking its cue, began to pull the heavy carriage forward. The red painted wood sign on each side that read Budweiser, started to reflect in the windows on each side of the road, as the delivery men guided their horse through the shipping district. As one of the men looked to the left to check for cross traffic, he saw the hedgehogs scampering along the sidewalk, and up and alley way.
Hours passed, and the trio of hedgehogs followed the horse’s directions. Just as the large animal had advised, they soon found the metal tracks of the railroad. Day turned into night, and eventually they found a semi safe spot to rest for the evening. There were empty wooden barrels that had been tossed along the train tracks for some reason. Inside the wooden interiors were charred black, but the tired critters did not care, and immediately fell asleep inside. None moved the entire night, and it was not until mid-morning the next day, Phillip was awoken to Abigail speaking, “Mamma! Pappa!” The barrels were being picked up by humans and loaded somewhere. Suddenly their barrel moved, and a human with the darkest skin they had ever seen could be seen. He did not speak, but was sweating profusely. The barrel was tossed up to another dark-skinned man, who was loading them into a train car. The empty barrels were being lined up on a freight car, and tied into place.
The hedgehogs watched as the dark man disappeared, and the blue sky was shining down from above. The constant noise the humans working eventually quieted down. Phillip wiggled his nose, and started to explore the barrel, trying to figure a way out. Margaret pointed upwards as soon a huge chute moved by overhead, and wheat started to pour in from above. The strange looking green grain started to fill the barrel, causing both hedgehog parents worry, as they would soon be buried by food. “Margaret, clutch the wood, as the grain fills up, we can use it to climb up. Abigail, hold onto Mamma!” The two female critters nodded, and did as Phillip suggested. As the rain filled up the barrel, they climbed, until they were able to reach the edge of the barrel. They climbed over, and slid between the barrels to reach the floor of the freight car. The green plant material continued to rain from above, and started to fall all around them.
Phillip returned to his wife, and then picked up the green plant. It had a unique smell, and he started to nibble on it. It tastes bitter, but did not make his stomach upset. “It’s edible, whatever this stuff is?” Margaret nodded, and made a face, “it tastes terrible.” Beggars could not be choosers is the human saying, so the critters quietly munched away on the surrounding bounty. The dark-skinned men were busy working outside on the platform, and watched as the last of the grain was loaded. A tall skinny man looked a muscular man, “any idea why they loaded all the hops into the whiskey barrels?” The muscular man spoke with a thick southern accent, “heading to a distillery outside of Gettysburg I heard. My uncle fought for the south there … his master sent him instead of his son.” The skinny man made a face, “and now our new masters have us loading train cars for twenty-five cents an hour …. after we pay back the shovel fee …the uniform fee … the privilege of working for the company fee … Progress…” The muscular man nodded, “could be worse … we could be in Germany.”
The two men nodded, and watched as the train started to pull forward, sending a loud screech into the air. The cars shuddered, and slowly started to move. The men turned and headed back to the loading station to return their tools, and chatted on and off about the various topics of the day. They also watched as two shaggy German shepherd dogs came running past with their noses occasionally pressed to the ground. The dogs were seemingly set to a task, and tracking something. They stopped as soon as they reached the spot where the hedgehogs had entered the barrel, and started whining and sniffing the air.
Fang looked at Claw, “I can’t smell it anymore … where did it go?” Claw sniffed again, then looked at the departing train as it continued to pick up speed. “There …must be on that train.” The two dogs bolted, and started to run at top speed, trying desperately to catch up with the train. Unfortunately for the predators, the train had moved too far ahead and was only increasing its speed as it continued to pull ahead. They did not question the order from their master, find the smell and bring back the kodex …whatever that was? When it became clear that they would not be able to catch the train, the two dogs slowed but continued to follow the tracks.
Hours turned into days, and blue sky into dark gray with a cold rain that pelted the open freight cars. The temperature was plummeting, and Phillip was holding onto Margaret. Abigail was between them, and their body head was necessary to keep her warm. The baby hedgehog was happy to be so close to her parents, and sighed happily as she fell asleep. The bitter green plants were still not tasting any better, but everyone was tolerating their provisions. The train was heading north, winding its way through the state of Maryland, and passing through long stretches of thick forests and wide-open grassy fields. The trees were bare, and the chill of winter was heavy in the air.
Phillip was trying to stay awake as much as he could, in order to protect his wife and child. Though the call to sleep was becoming to hard to ignore. Eventually, he passed out involuntarily, and the hedgehogs slept for many long days and nights. The long freight train crossed the border into Pennsylvania, heading towards its destination. Human train workers were examining the cargo, and checking for any persons riding that should not be there. The men did not see the hedgehogs between the barrels, and continued inspecting the cars as they continued to the next freight car. As the humans reached the last car, they found the red caboose car. It was where the train company did business, as well as cook for the workers. The side of the car was painted in white with “Baltimore and Harrisburg. As the pale skinned men grabbed the metal railing, they swung down to the platform, and turned the handle to open the door. Entering the caboose, two very tired German shepherd dogs were busy drinking water from metal bowls.
There was a two-burner coal stove burning hot, with a black metal pot bubbling away. “Coffee is ready boys … dinner in about twenty minutes.” There was an elderly woman wearing an oil-stained house skirt, standing at the stove, and smiling at them. The smell of chicken paprikash was heavy in the air, and the two men sat down into a booth beside the dogs. One man reached out with a gnarled, coal-stained hand, and petted the dog gently. “I see you found some pets … Nona?” The elderly woman nodded, and pulled back her white hair, “si …poor boys were chasing this train since we left Baltimore. I helped them on board, and gave them some water. If there is any food left after supper, they will get the left overs. I made that Hungarian dish …the engineer suggested.” The men nodded, and watched as a terrible storm started to pelt the outside of the caboose, and then laughed as the Italian grandmother started cursing in Italian at the one man for not washing his hands. The banter of the old country’s language held in the air, while bubbling pots rattled on the rusty stove.