In the days that passed, the freight cars rocked to and fro as they traveled along the rails. The weather was terrible, with a new constant rain of either frigid water or ice. The ice was the worst, as it covered everything in a terribly slippery coasting. The humans were sliding, and in many cases falling on the cars. One poor dark-skinned man fell off the train, and landed hard on the ground. The hedgehogs frowned when the train would not stop, and the poor hurt man had to run as fast as he could muster to get back on board. Two days after that, Phillip watched as the obviously hurt man limped along with a shovel, trying to put the crops back into their various container barrels and hoppers.
The freight cars had many names painted on the side: Hanover Junction, Hanover and Gettysburg, Bachman Valley, and/or Baltimore and Hanover railroad. Unlike back home in Great Britain, the rail roads were all private. Little companies would build a specific use line, and over time would merge with their competitors. The end result was that by 1917, four companies had merged into one and the rails stretched all the way from Baltimore to Gettysburg, with many branching paths to connect the original locations. The lines ran through prime locations, making this a vital method to ship raw materials. The loggers cut through dense forests, and loaded their trees to be taken to the lumber mills. The mines in the mountains would bring forth coal and iron ore, for use in the mills. The farms would ship their abundance to market for sale.
The family of hedgehogs watched as the country side passed by, and wondered if they would ever get home? One night, as they were eating the bitter plants once again, Abigail made a face. “No mummy …no…” The little hedgehog would not eat the plants, which made Margaret sigh. She agreed with her daughter, and would very much like to get off the train. The forest would have a better selection of food, especially for a growing child. She waited for Phillip to return, which he did shortly while shaking his head. “I cannot find anything else on this thing to eat. It is just these bitter plants. How I fancy a biscuit right about now?” The female hedgehog nodded, as she held her child and rocked slowly. “Phillip, we need to get off of this thing. The forest will have more to eat, and Abigail can not tolerate this food any further.”
The male hedgehog nodded, “I agree Margaret. I overheard the humans talking, and while I do not understand everything, they mentioned of a stop ahead in the morning. I located a way off from here, but we have to climb through some tight spots. We will find a new place to call home … somewhere safe …with much food … and flowers.” The female hedgehog giggled, “and next time just get me flowers, ok?” The two adults laughed, while the baby hedgehog nestled against her mother and fell asleep. Phillip maneuvered around to curl up against his wife, and she did the same, all three hedgehogs fell fast asleep, as the skies started to clear overhead. A bitter chill blew on the wind, but Abigail was nice and warm, while wiggling her nose. The stars were so bright, it cast a light upon her. She giggled, then fell back asleep.
As the hours passed, the train continued until morning. The hedgehogs were awakened by a terrible screeching noise as the hand brakes were being engaged on each car to slow the train. Humans were shouting at one another, orders being given, and men running about preparing to come to the station. Far ahead the steam engine belched black smoke, while the whistle cried out. The cars shuddered, sending violent vibrations throughout. Phillip wiggled his nose, and motioned for his wife and child to follow. They scampered between the barrels, as the bitter green plants started to cascade out of the barrels and onto the deck around them. Abigail giggled and started to cover her body with the green plants, making a hat, while holding onto her mother. Margaret giggled, and followed behind her husband, until they reached the side of the freight car.
There was a lip of steel, about a foot high that surrounded each side of the train car. However, in the one corner, a huge gap had rusted away. It indeed was tight, but if a critter were to be careful, one could get inside. Phillip went first, and as he quills were folded back against the rusted metal; he got inside the train car’s frame. The car’s lip sections were hollow, hence why the rust had occurred in the first place. The humans also were not taking care of the equipment, which proved to be fortunate for their current status. There were occasional struts of hard iron that bridged and supported certain sections, which required a paw off off of Abigail who giggled each time. The three hedgehogs traverse the inside, until a long shaft appeared that went straight down. Phillip wiggled his nose, “this is the bad part. It goes straight down. I slid halfway down, and could see the ground rushing past. We must wait till this thing stops, then we can get out. Put your paws and body out in all directions, it will help slow you down. Abigail, hold onto mummy and do not let go unless she tells you.”
The train cars rocked back and forth hard, and the brakes screamed terribly sending their shrill noise into the air. A muffled noise could be heard of humans talking, “there …. Station … load ….” Phillip nodded, and puffed himself up and hopped into the shaft. What he had referred to as a shaft, was in fact a section of box tube. Years back the car had been struck while moving in a freight yard, so to do a quick fix the humans welded the tube steel in as a quick fix, then pulled back the metal, so management was none the wiser. That fix had lasted since the great war, and the original manager died of tuberculosis, so there was no chance of any human getting in trouble. Quickly the hedgehog slid down the smooth steel, and without any warning, dropped out from underneath the freight car. Falling through the air was scary, but the huge undercarriage of steel wheels and their various parts fascinated the male hedgehog. He landed hard on the ground, and watched as his wife did the same soon thereafter. Abigail was holding on to her mother’s quills going, “wheeee!”
Trying to catch his wife, Margaret fell on top of her husband, and giggled. “Ouch, Phillip you are quite prickly today!” Phillip laughed, while Abigail peeked down at him, “Margaret …I am a hedgehog after all.” The female hedgehog rolled from her husband, and then looked around. The train cars were still moving forward, albeit much more slowly now. Long rails of steel stretched as far as they could see in both directions, sitting on top of spaced-out beams of wood, which rested on a bed of crushed stone. Phillip tugged at his wife’s quills, and started to scamper across the stones and towards a patch of tall grass. Margaret followed behind, while Abigail pouted, “mummy I wanna slide down again!” Soon the two hedgehogs had crossed the crushed stone, and disappeared into the grass.
The train cars continued to pass, until the dark red painted caboose slowly pulled up to the spot where the hedgehogs had exited. Two humans emerged, and jumped from the small metal platform at the front of the car. They landed roughly on their feet, and started to run up the tracks and towards the station. The elderly woman exited the car, and motioned with her hand, as two exited German shepherds padded out and down the metal stairs. The woman smiled, “you two go out and play!” The two dogs barked happily, wiggled their tails, and ran up to the spot where the hedgehogs had crossed. A familiar scent was caught once more, and the two dogs quickly darted into the tall grass. The woman rubbed his nose with a handkerchief, “well that is odd? I wonder what they caught scent of?” As she walked inside the car, she could hear the dogs barking.”
Phillip cried out, “RUN MARGARET!” It had only been minutes since exiting the train, that the dogs were on them once more. Their sharp teeth were borne, and their barks were like thunder. The critters having the advantage of their small stature, meant they could duck into places the dogs could not go. Soon they ducked into a hollowed-out log, and continued to run. Through the log, and out the other side, under a pile of brush, past a confused snake, up a hill, into another log, and around the other side the hedgehogs ran. The howls of the shepherd dogs filled the air, and their noses pressed down on the ground, trying to catch the scent once more. Fang looked out into the forest, then stopped and turned around back towards the train. The older dog stopped tracking, and looked back at his younger counterpart.
“What is it, we must get the scent back?” Claw said while padding back up to Fang. The younger dog whimpered a bit, “why are we doing this? That human woman was nice, and she fed us the entire time. That was the first time a human was nice to me …. I want to go back … never mind the scent.” Claw narrowed his eyes, “our master gave us an order, and we must follow it. I know the food was good, but our master will reward us with a far greater prize. I was there, outside of the furnaces, bones as far as the eye could see. I was in heaven, I want to go back to that place, and be with my master. You do what you want, I am going after the scent.” The younger dog nodded, “I understand.” Fang turned, and ran off back in the direction he had come from. He wanted to go back to the nice woman on the train, and be with her and the bubbling pots of food.
As the young dog’s brown tail disappeared into the tall grass, Claw turned around and howled loudly in the air. He quickly darted around the piles of trees. There were axes stuck in tree stumps, and a huge pile of brush. It looked as if humans were working in this area, clearing out the trees for further use. After some searching, the older dog caught scent and began to track once again. The prey was cunning, and darting into places that he could not get through. The scent would be lost, and then found once more, darting between fallen timbers. One … two …. Twelve …. The number of trees cut down was impressive. Claw soon found himself in a clearing, with humans working in teams. They were hooking up leather straps to a team of light brown draft horses. The horses were pulling the timbers through the forest, while the humans called out orders.
Claw navigated between huge piles of horse droppings, and muddy gouges through the land, to pick up on the hedgehogs once again. As the dog ran at a fair speed, he could see the hedgehogs scurrying up to a small blonde human girl. The little girl had picked up one of the hedgehogs, when she caught sight of the charging dog. “DADDY,” she cried out as the German shepherd lunged at the hedgehog in her hand. The dog howled and lunged to bite the critter out of her hand, but watched as the girl dropped the critter. Claw instead bit down hard onto her hand, causing the little girl to scream and cry. With her free hand she started to hit the dog has hard as she could. The two hedgehogs immediately started to bite at the dog’s front paws.
A human man ran as fast as he could towards them from behind, with a long-handled axe. He had a full beard of jet-black hair, and his barrel chest was scarred and glistening with sweat. “MARY! MARY! YOU STOP THAT YOU SON OF A!” There was a word said in anger by the human man, but it was drowned out by the sounds of horses whining as they worked in the surrounding area. Claw felt a tremendous pain as he was soon kicked hard by the man. Letting go of the little girl, he was flung against a tree. The little girl cried her eyes out as blood streamed from her hand and wrist. Phillip and Margaret were clutching onto Abigail, and watched as the tall human man raise the axe and start chopping hard with the blade. The dog was cut into pieces, while whimpering terribly, until he whined his last gasp of breath. As the lifeless body of the dog dropped onto the ground, the various fluids of the body seeped out around the carcass.
The man turned around and dropped onto one knee while pulling out a large bandana style handkerchief. He immediately grabbed her hand, and started to wrap the cloth around it while squeezing hard. “Mary! What were you doing? Are you all right? We need to get you patched up.” The little girl was crying, and in between sobs, she spoke. “I was just sitting here … when these little animals ran up to me. Look daddy, they have a baby! Then the dog came out of the forest, and attacked me!” The father was starting to calm down, and other men in the area had turned to look at them. The horses were happy, since they got a chance to recover from their strenuous work. The man nodded, “ok, we can talk more later. I need to get you home, and the doctor can come to treat you.” The little girl nodded, and reached out for the hedgehogs. She scooped them up into her left arm, and started to stand up.
“Mary, we cannot take them …whatever they are? Put the animals down,” the man said as he watched his daughter tear up again. “But daddy, what if another mean dog comes again, the baby animal will be in danger too!” The little girl’s blue eyes twinkled, as she almost started to pout. The human man relented, “all right …fine …. They can come too.” As Mary smiled, she walked beside her father as he picked up the bloodied axe. With hedgehogs pressed up against her body with her left arm, she was led by her father through the muddy field, and up to a wooden wagon. The man helped his daughter up and into the wagon, while he went to locate a horse to hitch up to the front. Various human men talked, and in time one draft horse was located and led back to the wagon. The other men came to visit with the little girl, to check if she was all right. They also stared in wonder at the strange spine covered animals that were scampering around her.
As her father hooked up the horse’s hitch to the front of the wagon, he smiled at his daughter, while calling out. “Keep pressure on your hand Mary, we will be home soon.” The man moved quickly, and was on the wooden bench quickly where the driver would sit. The horse whinnied, and the wagon soon was being pulled ahead. Mary did as her father instructed, holding pressure down on her hand and wrist where the dog had latched onto. Her hand hurt, but she was surrounded by the scampering hedgehogs, who were wiggling around her. She had already named them, and made up her mind they would live with her at the farm. The dense forest soon gave way to a clearing, and the rolling hills of brown matted plants and grass. The farms had already harvested, and the fields were fallow during the late fall and early winter period. The only fields that had been planted was with what was referred to as winter wheat.
Intermingled between huge fields of rolling farmland, were nondescript white houses with black roofs. Mary pointed with her left hand “there’s our home everyone!” The hedgehogs looked, and they were approaching a white house, with a long line of clothes flapping in the wind. Black pants, white shirts, patterned dresses, etc were drying from being hand washed. The man laughed, “Mary …your friends will need to stay with the other animals. You know what that means, but first you need to be checked out by the doctor.” As the wagon pulled up, there was a myriad of events that took place quickly. Abigail wiggled her nose and watched as the human woman scolded, then hugged her daughter, before being led inside. The hedgehogs were picked up by the human man, and carried over to an empty pen which used to hold ducks. A scoop of grain was placed into an empty bowl, and the human man walked away.
The hedgehogs had found a safe place to live, and raised their daughter in peace. The man named Daddy grew old, and his barrel chest faded away. He walked with a cane, and watched as his young daughter had blossomed into a woman. Phillip and Margaret did not have any other children, and Abigail grew into an adult hedgehog during the same time. First Phillip passed away, then Margaret, which left Abigail all by herself. When there was only one hedgehog left, Mary appeared one day and placed a new male hedgehog in the pen with her. His name was Mark, and he had been imported from Great Britain by a nearby farm. The animal was sold off, as soon the child had lost interest after the initial rush of excitement.
After a brief introduction was made, it was not long until Abigail began to heave many births, and soon the pen was full of scampering hedgehogs. The male hedgehog passed after many years of frolicking, which made Abigail sad as she was alone once again. However, she was so busy raising her young that she could not spend time to mourn. Nor did Abigail notice that her young babies were disappearing one by one. Mary grew older during this time, married, had children, buried her parents on the farm, and became elderly. The farm was so much work, though many of the hard labor tasks had been replaced by machinery. Her sons worked the land, as their grand father did, while the city approached year after year. Soon their farm was the only one left, surrounded by neighborhoods of homes that all looked the same.
Her adult children, now with young ones of their own, had decided to open a store in the front of the property. The business was doing well, and was starting to make triple what the farm did. She was conflicted, wanting to honor her parents who had worked the land, while knowing this was a better way to provide for the entire family. The decision was made, and the farm was shut down, with only the store remaining. It was not long after that, when Mary passed away peacefully in her sleep. Services were held, and the remaining farmers gathered to bury her beside the rest of the family along the back property line. It was not long after this time, that Abigail fell asleep and did not wake up.
The remaining hedgehogs hugged their mother, and watched as the humans came to remove her body from their pen. The barn had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair over this time, which required them to be relocated from their home. They were relocated to the store building, and watched as a bulldozer approached to knock down the barn. Inside the store, humans would walk past, and point at them. One by one, they would select, and the humans who took care of them would pack them up into a crate and would go away. It was during this time, that soon only one hedgehog remained. Day after day, humans walked past, but no one wanted to take him home. One day, a tall man walked into the store and took a basket from the entrance, and started to shop. Filling the basket with sweet treats, baked items, and various food stuffs, he approached the metal cages in the back.
A young woman dressed in a traditional Mennonite dress smiled at him, “sir, would you like to buy a hedgehog? They make excellent pets, they are like a cat, without all the fur.” The man stopped and smiled, looking down at the cage. The hedgehog was busy eating from a bowl of pellets, “I see. He is a bit … Pudgy insist he?” The girl giggled and adjusted her bonnet, “that is his name, Pudgy! He is the last one, so he gets double the food. Please mister, will you buy him? Mamma says if we do not sell him, we must put him down.” The man nodded, “yes … I would like to buy him.” The hedgehog wiggled his nose, and watched as soon he was taken out of his cage, and placed into a new one. The store moved quickly, until he was sitting on the counter at the cashier’s station. The transaction was completed, and the bags packed into the car. The man carried the cage, and as he placed it into the back of a long black vehicle, he knelt to look at the little hedgehog wiggling his nose.
The back hatch of the vehicle was shut, and soon was driving off. The little hedgehog fell asleep, and did not wake until the next day. He found himself in a house, with the man sitting on a brown couch. He was eating a green icing covered cookie, which looked so delicious. He turned, “Hi Pudgy …my name is Cobalt …do you want a cookie?” The little hedgehog bounced happily, wiggled his nose, and opened his mouth. He mouthed the words, and then said a word, “cookie!” The man blinked, “did you just speak?” The hedgehog reached his paws outside of the cage, and watched as the man put the cookies down on the couch, and then walked over to the cage. The astonished man opened the door, and reached inside towards the hedgehog. Gently scooping up the critter, he walked back to the couch, and sat down. Placing Pudgy on his chest, he broke off a piece of a cookie and handed it to the animal. The hedgehog took the cookie and started to nibble. Cobalt smiled, “I do not know if hedgehogs are allowed cookies. But I think it should be ok,” he said while watching the hedgehog curl up and fall asleep again with a cookie in his mouth. Little did either one know, that the future was soon to be filled with adventures. But for now, it was time for a dumb movie about giant tomatoes, and a dozen iced cookies from the farm that needed to be munched upon.