War Cry: Chapter 5: Stealth

The surrounding area was illuminated by the faint blue ethereal light of the ley line activating.  Cobalt rubbed his eyes with his wing tip as Japan started to come into focus.  It was not long afterwards that his hedgehog friend appeared floating above him.  Once the vision of the external world was fully in focus, the hedgehog spoke quietly, “here …”  The eagle nodded while he stepped out of the light beam, finding the outside world to be much warmer than the forest.  There was a high humidity in the air, and the stones were wet.  Cobalt whispered, “it must have rained before we arrived.”  The former human turned around to face the light beam, the eagle watched its magical light fade.  Pudgy dropped slowly onto the flat stones, with slight crackling electrical energy discharging from his quills. 

In the scant light provided by the moon, both friends could see that there was a fountain behind the portal.  Water flowed out of the mountain through ancient stone carvings, sending the tranquil sounds of falling water throughout the area.  Water lilies floated on the surface, though the flowers were beginning to droop as the light of the day was vanishing.  Cobalt would have loved to linger, to study each of the carvings, and view the ancient buildings around the portal.  Sadly, there was no time for to linger for scholarly pursuits, and it was not long until the hedgehog scampered beside his eagle friend.  Cobalt watched as his friend pulled the strap on his backpack, and the perch bars snapped upwards. 

Neither friend spoke further, and the eagle started to flap his wings hard.  Performing a well-rehearsed choreographed routine, the former human was quickly able to gain enough altitude.  Banking hard to the left to turn in a quick circle, the eagle swooped in to snatch up the hedgehog by the bars on his pack with his talons.  Once safely acquired, the eagle began to flap his wings much harder so that he could ascend to a more optimal flight path.  Despite the low light conditions from a moon who kept ducking behind the clouds, the two could see that the temple was built on a mountain.  There were so many buildings nestled between the trees, and tucked away into the various contours of the land.  Each building served a purpose, though neither friend could tell exactly what, as they all looked about the same.  They were wood constructed buildings, painted generally brown.  Though the roofs were in the traditional Japanese construction style, flared and vibrantly painted colors.     

As the eagle continued to ascend, Pudgy watched as they circled the largest temple building.  It was a uniquely Japanese style structure, complete with its signature curved end brown tiled roof.  It looked like the builders placed multiple roofs on top of one another, because several flared out in different spots.  The triangular fronts revealed ornate yellow backgrounds and black fore timbers to show different scenes.  Although many of the timers were starting to turn gray, due to years of poor maintenance arising from the lack of human priests to perform maintenance.  Pudgy could just barely see an assortment of kanji letters were still a vibrant black paint, that spelled something out.  Neither friend could read Japanese, so the meaning of the letters was lost upon them.    

As the hedgehog dangled underneath his eagle friend, the last visages of a twilight sunset were just barely able to be seen to the west on his left.  The eagle noticed that too, and began to level off, as he adjusted his wing trim to head towards the north as per the hedgehog’s vision.  The tree tops were still too close for his liking, so Cobalt began to flap again.  Higher and higher into the darkening skies of Japan the eagle flew, until they reached a suitable altitude to coast.  Extending his wings wide, the eagle tried to recover from the exertion.  Pudgy called out from below the eagle with a timid voice, “can we speak now?”  The eagle chirped, “I think it is safe to for now.  Pudgy am I heading the right way?”  The little hedgehog squinted in the fading light, “Pudgy remember when shinobi rabbits took friends this way.  We left the palace, and followed a canal, before turning left.  There is a long winding road with crumbling houses, and then the temple is at the top of the hill.”

The eagle nodded as he just barely could see a long river canal in the distance, “keep the canal to the left.  Ok, that works for me.  I will try to stay as far as I can away from the palace.”  Adjusting his wings, the eagle started to coast more to the right, adding some distance just to be safe.  Cobalt did not speak further, leaving Pudgy to ponder to himself quietly.  The little hedgehog knew that the palace was the center of the emperor’s forces.  What was in their favor, was that his forces were primarily animals that operated during the day time hours.  This meant that the shinobi rabbits as well as their leader would most likely just be starting to slumber.  The critter settled in for a long flight, watching as the tightly packed crumbling human homes flew past underneath him.  There were many shops that sped by quickly underneath.  One unique aspect of Japan was that many of the shop keepers lived above or beside their businesses.  Before the humans disappeared, back home in America, it was the opposite.  Very few business s people lived within their business structures, choosing to keep work and home separate.      

How many humans once lived here, the little hedgehog thought?  The little hedgehog wondered, while pondering what was sold in the shops?  Pudgy really hoped there was a cookie store somewhere below.  A nice Japanese grandmother making cookies, and selling to bouncing children and hedgehogs.  Cobalt carrying Pudgy around in his backpack, while he nibbled on a cookie.  Pudgy sighed and whispered, “those days are over.”  Shaking his head, the critter tried to refocus on what they were going to do next?   Pudgy knew that eventually Cobalt would need to sleep.  Hopefully his eagle friend could fly for as long as he was able to.  If they could get past the imperial palace without being spotted, perhaps they would be able to find a safe place to rest.  High up in a tree, far beyond the reach of the shinobi bunnies.  The rabbits back home had a lot of trouble climbing trees, so perhaps it was the same here in Japan?

Once Kyoto was a sprawling metropolis of tightly packed homes and businesses that radiated out from the imperial palace and various shrines throughout the area.  Now, it was a sea of darkness, and crumbling buildings.  The forest was quickly reclaiming lands lost long ago to humans.  Pudgy was having a hard time telling how much time had passed, since it was hard to see the sky above his eagle friend’s body.  There was a sound, that started to occur, from a place the critter could not tell?  It was soft at first, but slowly gained in volume.  The hedgehog then recognized the familiar sound.  Straining his eyes to look into the dark skies, the sounds grew louder and closer.  Blinking hard, and rubbing his eyes with his paws, he could recognize owl greeting calls.  The sound was coming from somewhere below them.  The hedgehog could just barely see owls starting to fly towards them from below.  The Japanese owls were flapping their wings as hard as they could muster, trying to reach them.  “Cobalt!  Pudgy sees owls!” 

The eagle chirped in acknowledgement, but did not speak.  Extending his wings as bit, he began to flap harder.  Using his training by Iron Wood’s eagle flight instructors as well as the artic owl’s guidance, he started to ride the air currents.  This style of flight meant they were going down and up more, which made it harder for both the bird and the hedgehog.  Pudgy was whipped around at times, which was uncomfortable, but the predatory bird had a purpose: try to find the owls and call out their location.  The flight speed was increased considerably, though it came at an expense.  The former human was working harder, so he was tiring his body at an accelerating pace.  Pudgy watched as their distance increase between the approaching nocturnal animals.  The owls’ calls faded away, hampering their desire to get the eagle’s attention.  Pudgy wiggled his nose as the faint outlines of the owls disappeared, since they were not able to match his friend’s speed. 

When there were no more calls from the darkness, Cobalt decided it was safe enough to glide once again.  Hopefully enough time could pass, so that the former human could recover his stamina.  In the distance to their left, the faint rectangular outlines could be seen of the imperial palace.  To their right was a line of forest covered mountains, and below a sea of decaying buildings with crumbling streets.  Pudgy watched as they flew over what looked to be like a school.  “Pudgy think we missed the school festival.”  Cobalt chirped as he laughed, and pondered about the various schools in anime that he watched long ago.  The moment of respite was short lived as the predator bird coasted on the warm winds.   Pudgy wiggled his nose and whimpered as once more the owls appeared again, their eyes were burning bright, and their calls growing angrier.  “Cobalt, they sound mad.”  The former human chirped, “yes they do ….”

Once more the evasive flight pattern was once again repeated, allowing the owls to be kept at a safe distance to their rear.  The owls faded away once again, allowing time to rest.  The city was beginning to thin out below them, and the outlines of more forest covered lands appeared.  Cobalt banked to the right and headed in a north-easternly direction.  Trying to add more distance away from the city, they were approaching the line of mountains.  There was a valley which ran between them, and Pudgy could see a long flat section of land covered with a stretch of two lines that reflected slightly.  The hedgehog recognized it was a railroad, though it did not resemble any that he had ever seen before.  Cobalt saw it too, and recognized that it was most likely for the bullet trains which once crossed the land.  The trains that ran in the land once called the United States were laid in the 1800’s.  While maintenance was done, many of the bridges and original steel was from that time.  Japan had a much newer set of tracks, and they were surviving the withering much better than back home.     

Once more, the calls began again, though Pudgy watched as more owls had joined the pursuit.  The hedgehog whimpered when he realized what this meant: the entire parliament had now arrived.  Cobalt was wheezing, as his muscles burned, and he could not take the evasive maneuvers.  This allowed the Japanese owls to come within range, and were hooting loudly.  “Stop!  By order of the emperor!”  The scared hedgehog cried out, “Cobalt, they almost caught us, we have to go!”  One owl called out, “I see a hedgehog!  That must be Pudgy!”  Another owl called out, “just what on earth is that bird?  I have never seen something like that!”  Another owl flapping his wings as hard as he could was coming perilous close to Pudgy, “Pudgy … please tell your bird friend to stop!”   The hedgehog looked up, “Cobalt!  They are right behind us!” 

The eagle cried out an attack call, which sent a shudder through the pursuing owls.   The owls watched as the bird of prey folded his wings back a bit, and started a power dive.  The quick movement caught the owls off guard, and watched as the strange bird was flying straight towards a tall tree.  Hooting out of anger and concern, “wait stop you fool!  You are heading for a tree!  STOP!  STOP!”  Cobalt had just barely enough light from the moon to see, and at the last moment, the eagle unfurled his wings.  The large bird had picked up so much speed, that the owls had no way to match the speed.  The little hedgehog dangled underneath the eagle, and felt his rear end get brushed by a tree branch.  The critter whimpered with his eyes shut until his friend finally levelled off. As the hedgehog looked around, he could just barely see the outlines of industrial buildings passing by quickly underneath them.  “I can’t keep doing this Pudgy, my wings hurt so bad,” Cobalt chirped out as he wheezed. 

The hedgehog nodded, “Cobalt, I do not see the owls anymore.  Where do you think they went?”  The eagle groaned, “most likely to the palace.  I was hoping it would be longer until we were discovered.  I need to find a place to land that is both rabbit free and owl safe.  The hedgehog nodded, and both friends became quiet once again.  Pudgy spotted a river flowing beneath them, and watched as it snaked its way through the forest and surrounding buildings.  In the distance, a huge series of rectangular buildings could be seen.  It looked like 6 rectangular buildings were arranged around a central courtyard. In the distance, a sign was being illuminated by a flickering spot light.  There were the familiar kanji letters in white, but there were also words in English written as well.  Pudgy read out loud, “Rakuto High School.  Nooo …Pudgy do not wanna go to school.”  Cobalt chirped as he laughed, as they flew over a bridge and approached the school.  It was covered with a mixture of pale beige and a slightly darker light brown brick, and featured an imposing three storied structure.  The windows had been busted in by storms, as well as other causes.  The clock face on the front entrance was stuck at 6:18. 

The eagle started to come in for a landing on the roof, which was covered with black weather-stained gray asphalt shingles.  Releasing his talons, Pudgy dropped onto the roof, and bounced a couple times.  He wiggled his nose as his eagle friend landed a short distance away from him.  Cobalt moaned, “owwww…..”  Pudgy stood up and started to walk towards his eagle friend, and was thankful that the roof did not have a steep pitch to it due to the shingles being not as gritty as they once were.  The former human tapped at the roof with his clawed talon.  “This roof has seen better days, the granules are mostly gone.  Hey, you be careful Pudgy, it might be slippery.”  The little hedgehog nodded, and then carefully positioned himself to sit beside his friend.  As the eagle nestled down a bit, he craned his neck left then right.  So far, there were no more owl calls, though he did see a couple bats flying around. 

It was not long until the bird had fallen asleep, leaving Pudgy alone with his thoughts.  The skies cleared, and soon the star filled night sky was on full display.  With no light pollution from the humans, any animal could see the full beauty of the celestial heavens.  The stars looked so clear, they might be able to be plucked from the sky, if one were to reach their paw out towards them.  The hedgehog pulled out straps on either side of his pack, which had little metal hooks on them.  The field mice had listened to his stories, and made an enhancement to his travelling pack.  The ties on either side would allow the hedgehog to securely clip himself to trees at night while he slumbered.  While Pudgy did not think he would need to, he used one clip just in case.  Pudgy’s eyes became very heavy, and he too succumbed to the call of sleep.  Only the sound of a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the trees could be heard.  With the safety clip in place, Pudgy quickly drifted off to sleep. 

What neither slumbering friend knew was that far away, a set of golden eyes was locked onto to school’s roof.  The eyes made no attempt to come closer, and only kept a vigil to ensure no further movement from the strangers to their land.  Hours passed, and soon the light of dawn started to appear on the eastern horizon.  As the sunlight started to illuminate the tree tops, Cobalt opened his eyes but did not move his body.  Using his far more superior eagle sight, he scanned the area and could see a tree that was moving in an unusual way.  Peering between the gently rustling leaves, he could see small brown bodies perched.  Several owls had apparently landed during the night, and was keeping them under surveillance.  The former human pondered why they did not attack during the night?  Perhaps it was because they too had flown so hard, they ran out of energy as well?  Either way, the eagle spoke very softly.  “Pudgy …wake up … but do not move.  Pudgy! … wake up … but do not move.”

The words spoken caused the hedgehog to stir, and his eyes opened as he looked up at his eagle friend.  He could see the former human staring to the west, at a strand of tall oak trees that were standing near what looked to be like a baseball field.  The scoreboard resembled one from back home, but it was written in Japanese.  Cobalt whispered again, “owls.”  The hedgehog nodded while he slowly sat up, and unclipped himself from the roof.  As Pudgy put away the straps, the critter spoke not a word.  The eagle kept a watchful look on the trees, and then started to run to leap off from the roof.  The hedgehog knew the drill, and pulled the strap to extend out his perch bars from each side of his backpack, and then got down on all four paws.  It was not long until the bird of prey swooped in, and snatched up the hedgehog and began to ascend into the sky. 

Pudgy watched as the school circled below them, with what looked to be an overgrown park inside the interior courtyard of the school.  The garden must have been serene once, the little critter thought as soon they had resumed their north by northeast course.  The school was in the north-by-north west part of Kyoto.  There was a mountain range covered with dense forests, then the city of Otsu which sprawled around the massive lake Biwa.  As Cobalt leveled off to glide on the wind with his wings stretched wide to either side, the wide eyes hedgehog watched as the forests revealed the secrets.  Tucked into many places were red painted wooden shrines, with their familiar Torii gates.  These shrines appeared to be much smaller than their imperial counterparts.

Unlike his first time in Japan, Pudgy had a moment just to drink in the natural beauty of the country.  In many ways, the trees looked like those from back home.  There were tall oak trees, full of green leaves.  The occasional pine tree was tucked away, but what was more prevalent here were the cherry trees.  Sadly, it was not the season for the cherry blossoms, but the abundance of the trees made for interesting scenery.  They flew over a large highway, which was still in a relatively good state of repair, given the natural withering that was occurring within the world.  This led both friends to ponder why their home withered first, while Japan seemed to be reverting at a much slower pace?  Perhaps it was due to years of neglect, or substandard maintenance?  Or was it due to other factors at play that none were aware of? 

Flocks of birds could be seen flying around, though at a much lower altitude.  Pudgy wondered why they did not approach, though perhaps it was due to the fact that Cobalt was so much larger than the native birds.  Bald Eagles are not native, so to them, he might look like a monster.  There are eagles that live within Japan, but their size is much smaller than their north American counterparts.  The absence of the pursuing owls allowed for a much easier flight today.  Cobalt also was having fun watching the scenery unfold around him, while gliding high above on the winds.  It was also a stark reminder that taking French in high school was a terrible idea.  He should have learned Japanese; it would have helped tremendously now.  Although, no one could have planed all humans disappearing, and the world being taken over by animals.      

As the hours passed, Pudgy was growing bored.  They passed over what used to be a large equestrian center.  The horses had broken free of their stables, and were loose.  They were running and playing with each other, sending their whinnies into the air as the hedgehog waved while passing overhead.  The horses had been imported to the country many decades prior, and were well cared for.  This meant that they looked and sounded exactly same as their American cousins.  Quickly, the horses disappeared, and the forests gave way for a sea of concrete once more.  Tightly packed buildings were once again everywhere, and spread out along the various roads and highways that stretched throughout.  The eagle though the high-rise buildings were of most concern as he spotted them in the distance.  Pudgy pointed, and Cobalt chirped, as they watched several ten story buildings leaning at a very dangerous angle.  Large gaping cracks had opened in the concrete, and it looked like the land was either subsiding or rising.  The surrounding buildings had clear signs of fire, as their blackened shells were collapsing into piles of debris. 

Massive earthquakes had struck the area, causing the land to react violently.  The gas lines, had all caught fire and exploded.  Clear evidence of massive traffic jams, and hundreds of accidents unfolded below them.  Cars were crashed into store fronts, burned out wreckages from their engines catching fire, and trucks flipped onto their sides were everywhere.  These various forms of devastation had resulted in the tall structures starting to collapse.  The two animals watched as what appeared to be office furniture was sliding out of windows and pouring onto the ground below.  “Pudgy hope no animal is near there, this place is dangerous.”  The little hedgehog said as he worried out loud.  The eagle chirped in agreement, and turned his eyes forward once more.  Just visible in the distance, both friends could see what appeared to be a lake.  Cobalt called out, “Pudgy look.  I think that’s lake Biwa, like Shima Moyo said.” 

Pudgy nodded as he wiggled his nose, “we need to follow the lake.  Somewhere at the northern most part is where Pudgy saw Genghis and the Pallas cats camped.”  The eagle chirped, “I don’t know about landing there, Pudgy.  We will most certainly do a fly over, though.”  The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “they may know what is going on?  We can not trust the emperor, so they are a better source of information.”  The eagle couldn’t argue with that logic, and banked to the left to fly a parallel course with the lake.  Lake Biwa was a massive fresh water lake, which one served the reservoir for many millions of Japanese citizens that lives around the lake.  Teeming with fish, it also once boasted a large oyster farming operation in certain regions of the lake.  It was at least three hundred feet deep in the center most part of the lake.  There was a strange aroma that was blowing in from the lake, which neither friend could quite place.  It was not a bad smell, but much different than the lakes back home.

It was not long until finally the local birds curiosity got the better of them, and a flock of grey herons started to fly up from the lake.  The highly unusual sight of the dangling hedgehog underneath the equally strange brown bird with its white head, was the talk of the various flocks.  Pudgy waved, and the birds chirped with a friendly greeting in return.  The birds were a light gray color, and had pale orange beaks.  There were darker gray or black adornments at the ends of their wing tips, and on their heads near to their eyes.  Much smaller than their American counterparts, they reminded Pudgy of his blue heron friends from West Virginia.  It had been a long time since they returned to Friendship Town.  Pudgy hoped they were doing ok, wherever they had flown off to?  The gray herons did not speak, and eventually eased off, as they flew towards the lake’s surface once again.

The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “Pudgy wonder why they didn’t talk to us?”  Cobalt pondered that too, but said nothing.  Unlike the night before, flying was much easier today now that he did not have to take multiple sets of evasive actions.  Just as with Kyoto, the city of Otsu was massive.  It ran the entire eastern side of lake Biwa.  Unsurprisingly, along the shoreline were marinas too numerous to count.  They ran the gamut of small private marinas, to large commercial fishing marinas full of fishing boats.  The eagle’s belly started rumbling, and made a noise so loud that even Pudgy could hear.  “Cobalt, can we stop somewhere?  Pudgy hungry too,” the little hedgehog said.  The eagle chirped in agreement, and adjusted his wings to start to descend.  The eagle scanned the area with his eyes, trying to find a suitable place to land.  They had to think of both access to food, but also a place to hide should the owls return this evening?   

Pudgy watched as they flew over what clearly once was a hotel.  The swimming pool was full of a thick bloom of green algae, so going for a swim was out of the question.  Unlike the other buildings they observed, clearly visible green English letters spelled out “O’PAL.”  The building had gaping holes throughout, and morse signs of fire damage.  There was also an odor of natural gas coming from somewhere, so the cause of the explosion could be determined with a fair degree of certainty.  “Aww man, the pool is closed,” Cobalt chirped with a chuckle.  The hedgehog wiggled his nose, and remembered a time he swam in a pond like that once.  He came out covered in a thick coating of algae and upset tadpoles.  That frog mother was so mad at him, but thankfully her children were safely able to be returned to their pond.

While the critter remembered about the algae filled pond, the scenery changed.  Much to both friends surprise, suddenly a sizeable stretch of farm land appeared.  Fields full of overgrown green leafy plants appeared, labeled with signs written in Japanese.  It was hard to tell what had been planted, but Cobalt could tell that one of the fields was supposed to be flooded.  It looked like there was a dam failure, and the water had drained away.  The eagle remembered that rice has to be grown in a flooded conditions, so that was most likely the case.  Soybeans were also being grown, which were a higher priority crop.  Japanese cuisine used tofu, which was made from soybeans.  The former human did not care for it, and Pudgy would only play with it when he was offered a small piece.  The eagle spotted a place that seemed suitable for their needs ahead of them, just along the lake shore.  Cobalt chirped, “we will land in that marina up there.  Perhaps they will have some supplies for you, and it will give me a chance to rest before I go out hunting for fish.  I need to know you are safe, before I leave you alone.” 

The marina quickly appeared, and was full of boats that were placed on stands.  Large commercial boats, with pilot houses were covered in ratted blue tarps.  There was also a wide assortment of smaller recreational boats, though several had O’Pal painted on their sides.  The resort must have kept their boats here as well, which would make sense since the resort was also had lake access along its eastern side.  Cobalt recognized this area as the dry dock, which would be used to store boats during the winter.  The dry dock also facilitated boat repairs, such as resealing the hull, or working on the inboard engines.  There were two buildings in the center of the marina, that were surrounded by overgrown weeds.  One building was blue, and looked like it had been constructed from a shipping container, placed on a white concrete block foundation.  The second building resembled a restaurant, and had two floors.  Large glass windows were seen all along the lake side of the building.  Weather stained, splintering cedar boards clad the building.      

Coming in for a landing, the eagle flew very close to the concrete road surface, and released his talons.  The hedgehog dropped onto the ground, and watched as his friend landed a short distance in front of him.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, and stretched his body in every direction he could wiggle.  The former human stood up as tall as he could make his body go, and craned his neck to look in all directions.  Strangely, there was not a single sound, save for the lake water lapping up against the nearby shoreline.  “I think we should be all right Pudgy, but stay close just in case.”  Cobalt said, while he also noticed that the wind had stopped moving.  The humidity in the air was increasing considerably, while the clouds were starting to darken as they thickened. 

The hedgehog stood up, and pulled his perch bar strap on his backpack.  The bars folded down and clicked into place once secured.  Scampering quickly to the eagle’s side, the hedgehog headed with his friend towards one of the buildings.  The blue and white building seemed to be the business office for the marina.  There was only one word written on the door with kanji letters.  Regardless of language, the former human could tell what the building’s purpose was.  The two headed instead to what looked to be like a restaurant.  The wide set of glass doors which once served as an entrance to the building had been shattered.  There were clear signs of chairs being thrown through the doors, so perhaps during the time of human disappearance, there must have been a disturbance here.  There were slick promotional posters within glass shadowboxes on each side of the room.  The pictures of people fishing, water skiing, wake boarding, swimming, and sightseeing could be seen throughout the room.    

“This must have been where the resort would bring people to charter boats?”  The former human pondered out loud.  Pudgy was navigating the shards of broken glass as he walked, and pointed to a big sign hanging from a dark oak wood beam that was written in both Japanese and English. “Cobalt, that is written in English.  Gift shop, activities, oh boy …restaurant upstairs!”  The eagle nodded, and walked slowly with long strides.  The two walked on smooth polished concrete floors, that still had a shine on them despite years of neglect.  Following the signs, they passed the gift shop, which had been emptied of anything useful.  Pudgy did want to play with the claw game, but there was no power in the building, so that was off the agenda for today.  It was not long until they found a wide set to wood stairs, that were open between each plank.  The boards had been well worn with years of use, though remained smooth a slightly golden color from the stain that remained locked within the wood’s fibers.

Cobalt flapped his wings, and hopped up the steps at a quick pace.  Which made the hedgehog wiggle his nose while grumbling quietly.  “Pudgy, I’m going to look around, take your time climbing.”  The eagle said, as he disappeared from the top of the stairs.  One by one, the little hedgehog hoisted his body up plank by plank.  Twelves stairs to climb, one at a time … by the time he had done three, the critter was worn out.  So, he stopped to take a break, and looked around.  The lobby was empty, save for a couple chairs laying on their sides surrounded by broken glass.  There was a large board leaning against the wall painted white and had pink English letters on it.  “Wake board, laugh while you break your neck,” the little hedgehog could tell the sarcasm was high with the saying.  As he chuckled, Pudgy resumed his climb, and after two more rest stops, reached the top of the stairs.   Huffing and puffing, he dropped down on his belly and looked around. 

The restaurant was a huge room, that spanned the entire second floor of the building.  The glass windows were bright from the sunshine pouting in.  The lake was on full display, and the water gently rose and fell with small waves.  Many tables filled the area, but were much lower than the ones back home.  There were also woven tatami mats on the floor, with cushions surrounding the tables.  “Cobalt, are you there?”  Pudgy called out as he slowly moved towards the center of the room.  The floor was polished wood floors, from what he could see between the edges of the woven mats.  The eagle chirped but could not be seen, “yes Pudgy.  I found the kitchen.  This place looks like it was a tea house.  They had food, but it was not a place to get a meal.  The cupboards were mostly empty, though I did find some tea, crackers, and what looks to be three cans of sardines.”

The hedgehog followed the sound of his friend’s voice, and found the eagle with the stated food items.  The eagle was truing to open the can of sardines, which was a bright red can with wildly scripted black kanji letters.  Pudgy found the open box laying on the side, and quickly darted inside.  He pulled out a plastic bag from within, and took out a cracker in the shape of an octopus.  Nibbling, Pudgy bounced happily, as there was a mildly sweet taste to the cracker.  “Pudgy don’t know what the box says, but this taste good!”  Cobalt stopped working at his can, and looked up.  There was movement from underneath a nearby table.  Narrowing his eyes, he scanned the room, and then returned to his task of opening the can.  Using his beak, he had managed to pull up the tab and was just now starting to work the lid.  The movement occurred again out of the corner of his eye, and the eagle looked up again. “Who’s there, I keep seeing you!”

The hedgehog turned to see  a tiny brown field mouse with large round ears peeking from behind a table leg.  Pudgy waved at the rodent, “would you like a cracker?  Pudgy thinks taste good!”  The mouse twitched his nose, and slowly moved closer, with wide black eyes firmly locked on the eagle.  Cobalt chirped, “my name is Cobalt.  This is Pudgy, we are not from around here.”  The hedgehog waved, and reached into the bag to pull out a cracker shaped like a bunny rabbit.  The mouse quickly scampered over and took the offered food item, and nibbled away.   Pudgy smiled as he nibbled, “Pudgy glad to meet you Mr. Mouse.”  The mouse’s cheeks were stuffed full of cracker, and he tried to speak with his mouth full.  That did not work, so after he had time to swallow his food, the mouse bounced happily.  “Konnichiwa … my name is Daiki.”

The eagle was able to open the can, and chirped with a tone, “those are not sardines.”  The field mouse looked, “oh that is canned natto.”  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “what is natto?”  The mouse nodded, “fermented soy beans.  My Grandfather would make those, when the harvest was coming in from the fields.”  Cobalt blinked, and stuck his beak into the can.  The beans were stringy, and did not look appetizing at all.  The eagle was able to eat it, but had a look on his face the entire time.  Thankfully the can was small, and the bird pointed at a blue can, “Daiki .. I can not read Japanese.  Can you tell what these other two cans are?”  The mouse pointed to a black can with white letters, “that is Yakitori seasoned squid, and the other is tuna packed in soy sauce.”  The former human nodded, and started working the can for the tuna.  The natto had a salty taste, and resembled cottage cheese that had gone bad. 

Pudgy bounced happily, and nibbled crackers with Daiki.  The filed mouse looked at the hedgehog, “I have never seen an animal like you before … nor your friend.”  The critter nodded, “Pudgy is a hedgehog.  Pudgy live with Cobalt in Friendship Town.  We built a town in our forest, and there are all sorts of animals that live there.”  The mouse nodded as he nibbled on a cracker in the shape of a cat.  “That sounds like a nice place,”  Daiki said as he watched the eagle’s expression sour again.  He had opened the can of squid and not the tuna.  There were many annoyed bird noses, as he dipped his beak into the can and pulled out a tentacle.  This was going to be a rough dinner.  Both hedgehog and field mouse were very glad, they had nice …safe …crackers to eat.  Pudgy started to tell stories of back home, as the field mouse nodded and listened with an excited expression.                


War Cry: Chapter 4: Fair Memories: Part 3

Two days passed since the incident with the turtles.  Both Pudgy and Mr. Drew had returned from Beaver town in Pudgy’s steam ship, once he had awoken from his levitating slumber in the center of the aquatic animal’s town.  The little hedgehog physically seemed ok, but did not say what happened when he had passed out.  The steam ship was fired up, and a quiet return trip was uneventful.  As the ship was tied up, and as the boiler cooled, the concerned red panda insisted on a full day of bed rest for the hedgehog.  To the former human’s surprise, the rambunctious critter did not argue, and went straight home and stayed put all throughout the next day. 

Argente was besides herself with worry, and made sure to keep an eye on the underground home.  She politely shooed away any animal who wanted to stop by, and advised Pudgy needed to rest.  It helped, because one day of bed rest later, the hedgehog was back to his normal happy self.  The doors and windows to his underground home were opened, and the mayor of the town was once again able to receive visitors.  Soon, there was a flurry of baking going on once again, in preparation for the big celebration to occur tomorrow.  Throughout the day, the various larger animals would stop by and check on him, and all seemed to be back in normal order.  The counters, tables, and any free space within the home was soon covered with yummy baked treats. 

The center of town had been transformed from a tranquil woodland setting, into a sea of long tables that were low to the ground.  Multi colored banners, and streamers were tied around the trees and throughout the branches.  The town stage had a wonderful assortment of flowers, arranged in a large clay pot.  The turtles, true to their word, had arrived with the first shipment of clay during the day of bed rest for the mayor.  A groundhog had fashioned the pot, and baked it carefully with a fire built all around it.  There was not enough time to paint it, but the pale white color seemed appropriate, given the bright colors from the flowers.  There were also spaces being laid out for where the various foods would be placed around the newly made ceramic planter.  However, given the nature of some of their guests, some courses would be served to ensure the safety of smaller animal friends.  The smaller animals were to sit closest to the stage, and as their size increased, they would be arranged out accordingly in a rough semi-circle, though no animal friend would be separated by the river. 

On the morning of the big day, the skies cleared to reveal a brilliant blue sky.  There was a slight chill on the morning breeze, which was a welcome relief from the recent humid days.  Mary the arctic fox hoped to see snow soon, though she was just pleased that it was no longer the season for frizzy fur.  Shima Moyo and her daughter Argente arrived, and chatted with Mary while giggling at how much the two white foxes looked alike.  There were subtle differences between the Japanese and domestic fox, mainly in the face around the eyes.  While the female foxes chatted, they watched as Pope and Tess bobcat sat down near them.  Their ever-growing kitten, Star playfully bounced behind them, before being positioned by her mother to sit beside her. 

The small bobcat desperately wanted to run down to the center, and look at the flower planter.  Slowly, carefully, she would start to inch forward when she thought her parents were not looking.  However, her watchful father would gently pull her back by the tail, drawing a meow of frustration.  Patches the house cat joined the bobcats, and helped Pope keep an eye on Star.  Tess was exhausted, and just happy she did not have to figure out a meal for the day.  She fell asleep with her head on her front paws, while Pope laughed.  One female in his life was full of boundless energy, while the other just wanted to sleep.  The house cat grinned, and gently pulled back Star who had got farther away this time.      

The Japanese fox could not believe her eyes as she saw flocks of robins, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, goldfinches, crows, thrushes, and even a couple sleepy owls arrived to their designated tables.  Angeliki Raven was present, and chatting with some fellow ravens about a human car that had been found somewhere.  Inside there were all manner of strange oddities, which the demigoddess had to explain what they were?  The birds were noisy, chirping their various tones, but all were happy and full of excitement.  A Pudgy party was not to be missed, and was the highlight of the year.  There was talk of a Winter Eve affair, but that was more out of a remembrance of the past.  Winter had not come for such a long time, there was not much of a need to celebrate the event.  Some animals spoke of a magical human in a red suit, but  talk quickly turned to the event at hand.

A loud sound could be heard, of what sounded like brush being moved about.  Soon many animals in attendance could see the source of the noise, as they watched a herd of elk walked slowly down the hill where the human houses once stood many years ago.  The large animals positioned themselves, and stood at the rear of the furthest most table.  The stag’s coat of fur has started to grown long, and had tinges of gray at the ends.  The females, or cows, were also starting to thicken as they grew older.  Silly stories had been spreading throughout the forest about their father.  The proud father held a near constant watch over his daughters.  As his daughters grew older, they had discovered the various male deer, or bucks as they were called.  A swish of a white tail, and a crack of the antlers would cause a swoon in their hearts.  Words of woo spoken, and the cow would start to wander off with their new suitor.  Within seconds, a charging stag crashed through the forest, and then would hind kick the suitor away forcibly. 

Drew red panda arrived with Blood Honey tiger, and sat nearby to the foxes.  They waved their paws happily, as they waited for the others to arrive.  It was not long until all animals watched as the newly arrived bears Snortapoopus, Ivan, Bo and Bill arrived at sat near the elk.  Mr. Bear and Grandpas bear arrived with wagons full of yummy pies, and clay jars full of bear strength drinks.  Cobalt and Mr. Dave arrived carrying two large silver northern pike fish in their talons, and dropped it nearby to where the bears were.  As Stone Loki Elk started a conversation with Snortapoopus, the crowd started to cheer as Pudgy and the field mice started scampering around, and putting the food out. 

All manner of seeds, nuts, gathered vegetables and fruits were laid out.  Some dishes were steaming hot, wile others were cold.  While the food was being put out in various serving vessels, the beavers and otters started to emerge out of the water along the river bank.  The aquatic animals waved carefully, so they did not get any nearby land-based animals wet.  As the recent arrivals took their spots, the turtles arriving and slowly emerged from the water.  Zeke motioned with his head, and the snapping turtle led his brother to sit next to the otters.  They did not look at the beavers, and remained silent.  Perhaps it was just as well, quiet between the two species was progress.  The bunnies bounced excitedly, as some were chosen to help pass out food.  It took a while, but not too long for the various empty bellies in attendance, to be served a wonderful meal.  It was a time of fun, food, merriment, and a chance for all to gather in friendship. 

Soon the forest was noisy, with every animal friend talking at the same time.  Food was quickly being devoured, and many trays were now empty and being stacked nearly on the sage.  Mr. Bear was serving pies, as a line had formed leading up to him.  However, it was not too long until Cobalt eagle noticed that Pudgy was nowhere to be seen.  The other bears were happily devouring the huge pile of gathered fish nearby.  While Dave Sea eagle pecked at a fish, he pulled a large chunk out to eat.  As he chewed, he noticed his fellow eagle’s eyes looking around.  After swallowing, “What is it, Cobalt?”  The bald eagle was scanning the crowd, “I do not see Pudgy.  I am going to go check on him.  Tell the bears they can have my fish,” the male bird said as he started to walk off.  The sea eagle nodded, and started to peck away again as he ate.  It was not long until Snortapoopus snatched up the fish that Cobalt had been pecking at, and happily munched away.

The bald eagle slowly strode through the myriad of tables, and happily chatted with the various animal friends assembled around the stage.  It was not a far trip as he headed towards where his critter friend’s underground home was located.  The doors and windows were open, and the chimney pipe was still puffing with a faint white wood smoke.  The eagle could not fit his body inside the home, since he was too big, but it was easy to stick his head inside through the main doorway to look around.  As the eagle poked his head inside, he found Pudgy curled up into a ball whimpering beside his kitchen table.  His eyes were glowing white, and his quills were starting to crackle slightly from electricity. 

Sighing, the former human knew what this meant, and watched quietly.  Several minutes passed, with the din of the party noise floating and echoing inside of the underground home.  Eventually, the electric charge began to dissipate, and the strange glow stopped.  The eagle said nothing, watching with pale yellow eyes as the hedgehog blinked several times.  While he sat up, Pudgy wiggled his nose and looked at his friend.  “Cobalt, when did you arrive?”  The eagle’s pale-yellow eyes locked onto his, “several minutes ago.”  There was an uncomfortable pause as the hedgehog caught the stern look coming from the eagle’s eyes.  Slowly, and with a firm tone, Cobalt began to speak again.  “What is it Pudgy?  You floated in Beaver town, and worried Dave to no end.  You disappear from the party, and when I come to check up on you … I find you curled glowing.”

The little hedgehog shook his head, “Pudgy do not want to ruin Thanksoween.  Every animal friend is having fun, Pudgy do not want to make anyone worry.”  The eagle nodded as best as he could, “all right.  But you will tell me what is happening later today when the party is over.  We will act as nothing happened, you needed to check on the wood stove … agreed?”  The hedgehog nodded, wiped the tears from his eyes and watched Cobalt pull his head out of the doorway.  The actions of the eagle had caused much talk within the party, and the various guests in attendance were wondering hat their hedgehog friend was up to?  When the eagle withdrew his head and waved a wing at the guests, their concerns seemed to be misplaced, and the festivities renewed once more.    

The kitten Star had finally broken free of her parents, and was being chased by Patches.  The bobcat kitten tugged gently at one his brown feathers along his side.  Looking up with concern in her eyes, “Is Pudgy ok Mister Cobalt?”  The eagle chirped and nodded, “yes … Star.  He forgot the wood stove, and needed to check on it.  Pudgy got some soot in his eyes, and had to wash it out.  See … here’s Pudgy.”  The little critter exited, and wiggled his nose.  “Pudgy stove good,” the critter said as he soon was being hugged by the kitten.  An exasperated Patches giggled, “Star … your parents are going to be cross if you don’t come back this instant.”  As the kitten was coaxed back to her parents, Pudgy joined the field mice and bunnies, as they were munching away and giggling.  The eagle took a few strides towards an empty spot, and took flight to perch up in a nearby tree. 

Over time the remaining food was eaten, and the tables were cleaned up.  The stage was cleared, and soon the bunnies were doing a stand-up routine.  The jokes were hit or miss, but everyone was having a good time.  As the last crumbs of the pies were eaten, the bears got out the clay jars, and started drinking.  Even Stone Loki Elk got a drink, which started to curl his fur.  Stories were told, and games were played well into the early evening hours.  The animals thanked Pudgy for another wonderful celebration, and then started to head home.  The decision was made that the tables could be put away tomorrow during the day.  The bears staggered back to Mr. Bear’s cabin with empty wagons, and empty clay pots.  There would be no after party, until the world stopped spinning.  In the trees above as the skies darkened, the owls hooted softly.  Fett Owl was putting the moves on a female, who was giggling as she fluttered her feathers.  Heather owl rolled her eyes, as his pick-up lines were corny.  The two former humans turned owls noticed, Cobalt fly down to Pudgy’s house and stick his head inside the doorway once again.  The eagle’s expression looked stern, which seemed odd given the festivities of the day. 

Pudgy was washing dishes in his sink, when he saw Cobalt’s white feathered head pop inside of his home.  The eagle’s expression was stern as before when he had found him in his electrical charged state.  The little critter knew what that meant, and as the hedgehog dried his paws, he turned to his friend.  Sighing, “Pudgy is having terrible visions again … of Japan.”  The former human nodded, “I suspected another adventure was soon upon us.  Pudgy … go on …”  The critter started to speak quickly, and became more visibly upset with each word spoken.  “Pudgy did not know what it meant, but it keeps happening over and over.  Pudgy hears sirens, and a tall mushroom shaped white thing is steaming.  Animals are fleeing, and their skin blisters.  Oh Cobalt, it is terrible … blood …everywhere.  The animals gasping … the sirens … oh the sirens and the ground melts … and the sea turns black … and the tentacles emerge …. The magenta eye …it is all seeing … all knowing … it knows of the forest … it knows of Pudgy.”  The hedgehog was wailing between his words, and tears pouring out of his eyes. 

Cobalt’s expression did not change, while he listened intently.  When the hedgehog had stopped talking, and was just crying, the eagle waited before he started to speak again.  Once the sobbing had quieted down, the eagle spoke again.  “Pudgy, when you saw these visions … where did they take you?”  The hedgehog sniffed his nose hard as he wiped his eyes with his paws, “Pudgy saw the portal in Japan, then flew to the north and north east.  Along a huge lake, and over a camp of cats that looked like Genghis.  Then straight north over a tall set of mountains, and to the ocean coastline.  It was a bay, and a town …. Then to the west, as the sun was setting, along the coastline.  The white mushroom thing was at the end of peninsula of rock, surrounded by chain link fences, topped with that spiky wire.  Oh, and Pudgy saw a strange symbol, it was circle, with yellow, and three black triangles, with another black circle in the middle.” 

The eagle blinked as he recognized the symbol his friend had seen, “Pudgy that is a nuclear symbol.  That must be a power plant you saw in your visions.  If the plant is indeed melting down, this is an extraordinarily dangerous occurrence.  The radioactive fallout would destroy the area, and untold numbers of animals would perish both immediately … and over time.  The blisters, were radiation burns.  That is the outward manifestation of a deeper poisoning.  It is silent … insidious … and can last thousands of years.”  The hedgehog nodded and wiggled his nose as he listened.  Cobalt blinked and spoke again, “how many days have you been having this vision?”  The hedgehog wiped his eyes again with his paws, “since Beaver town.” 

Cobalt nodded again, “Pudgy … this is extraordinarily dangerous.  There was a similar issue with a place called three-mile island here in Pennsylvania.  The humans were able to stop it in time, but if they had not, it would have destroyed a large section of the state.  Although from what you are describing, it sounds like Chernobyl.  That was a full on melt down, and it wiped most likely from the land.  The humans had to build a special dome around the plant to try and contain the radiation, but there are limits to what can be done.  All life would die, and the land would be emptied.  If the reactor explodes, the poison would be spread on the wind.  It would take time, but could eventually reach here.  Sickness …death from above …floating on the wind …”  The hedgehog nodded as he started to cry again, “Pudgy want to help, but the emperor won’t listen, he thinks Pudgy and friends are enemy.”

The bald eagle closed his eyes, and started to think.  “Pudgy go back to your dishes,” the former human said softly.  The little hedgehog nodded, and started washing a long metal tray.  The words spoken were hanging in the air, and a tense silence had filled the underground home.  Much to the critter’s relief, he heard his eagle friend hesitantly speaking again.  “The crane emperor … and his forces are of no use.  We cannot trust them to help in this situation.  This threat is too important to ignore, we must act.  If the plant does not explode, it could sink into the ground.  Even with all the time, money, and centuries of study … we do not know how this planet truly works.  Are their caves underneath the plant?  If there are, where do they lead to?  If the nuclear waste and fuel enter the ocean, what happens?  Is there water underneath the land, and does that water lead here?  Would it poison the water?  Would it poison the land?  Yes, but how far?  So many questions, so many possibilities for death to spread on this world.”      

The hedgehog started to whimper, but the eagle continued.  “But … what is of concern as well … are the tentacles.  You spoke of the King of the Ocean before Pudgy.  If this is his plan, to render the surface world lifeless … how long would it be until he chooses to focus his attention here?  We could choose to ignore this threat, and fortify our home.  However, isolationism does not work forever … evil if allowed to fester will spread.”  Pudgy turned as he dried a long metal tray, “Pudgy do not know what to do?  Pudgy does not want to put friends in danger again.  But Pudgy worry, and Pudgy sad animals are in danger.”  The eagle nodded, “agreed, we do not want to endanger our friends.  Pudgy, was Mrs. Field Mouse able to help you with your replacement backpack?” 

A timid voice whispered out from behind the round door that led into the storehouse.  The female field mouse looked sad as she twitched the whiskers at the end of her nose.  “Yes, Cobalt … I was able to.  It is in your closet Pudgy.  Are you going away?”  The eagle looked at the timid rodent, “yes, once again we find ourselves on a hedgehog adventure.  I will be taking him back to Japan.”  Both the hedgehog and mouse looked at him, and listened intently as they wiggled their noses.  “Pudgy, this is too important to ignore.  We must go back to Japan.  It is safe to assume that the emperor’s forces are the enemy.  We will go in stealth, just us two, and no other town friends.  Japan is about twelve hours ahead of us, so it is going to be morning now.  We will leave at daybreak, since it will be just turning night there.  Speed will be of the essence, as we need to get to and back without the emperor noticing.”  The hedgehog watched as the eagle pulled his head out through the doorway to his home.  The last words spoken by the eagle were, “I am going to tell Argente.  Pudgy … start packing.” 

The critter nodded, and scampered over to where his closet was located.  Pushing the wood panel, the door popped open.  A new canvas pale green backpack was inside, along with the perch bar attachments.  The emperor had seized his original equipment, so upon return to the forest, the little critter’s friends had started making him replacements.  The canteen was decorated with hopping bunnies, so it was clear who worked on that project.  The field mouse was sniffling as she cried softly, “just when I thought we were done with adventures.  I heard your vision, it sounds terrible.”  The hedgehog nodded, and started to pack supplies.  The mining helmet was not able to be produced, given the current skill of the town craft animals.  However, Pudgy had a small hammer and an axe now, which he clipped onto the pack.  The hedgehog soon was scampering to and fro within his home.  Opening cupboards, and adding various survival foods inside the main compartment of the pack.  Having gone on so many trips, there was always an abundance of hardtack stashed away in his various cupboards.      

Mr. Drew peeked inside of the round kitchen window about an hour later, “Pudgy are you ready?”  The little critter was just tying up the straps of his backpack, and wiggled his nose as he responded.  “Pudgy ready, how did you know?”  The red panda sighed, “well when Cobalt arrived at Argente’s cottage and she started screaming at him … everyone was woken up.  I had my suspicions.  It had been too long since we had another Pudgy adventure.”  Mrs. Field Mouse hugged the hedgehog, “you come back, promise?”  The critter nodded, and hugged back, “Pudgy promise.”  The little hedgehog put the straps over his shoulders, and noticed there was a new string with a little handle to pull.  “Mr. Field Mouse added that Pudgy, it will let you fold the perch bars back.  He thought it was a good idea incase you needed to be dropped by a bird and hide somewhere.”  The perch bars were indeed folded, making it much easier for him to navigate tight spaces.  The hedgehog could not wait to try it out! 

Pudgy scampered outside and climbed up onto his red panda friend’s back.  His home no longer required to be made secure prior to a trip, as it served as the town’s main hub.  He knew it would be safe during his trip, and the hedgehog waved to the field mouse standing in the doorway.  Drew stood up, and quickly started to walk. Past the round door to the store house, around the bend, behind the dragon cove pier and buildings, and past Argente’s darkened cottage.  Drew chuckled as he noticed, “Argente and her mother will be up at the ley line I expect.”  As the red panda quickened his pace as they ascended the hill.  Mary the arctic fox waved her paw from the doorway to her underground home, and looked sad in the faint moonlight. 

Higher and higher up the hill, through the tall weeds, until they reached the concentric circles of rocks that surrounded the ley line node the red panda travelled.  The two animals could just barely see in the faint moonlight that Angeliki Raven had arrived.  The black bird was busy talking to Cobalt, with the silver and white foxes behind him, looking upset.  All eyes turned towards Drew and Pudgy as they approached.  Argente’s brown eyes were burning bright, and the little hedgehog could feel her anger even at this distance.  There was a tension in the air, and Pudgy felt uneasy as he watched the raven start to speak clearly to the assembled group of animals.  Angeliki nodded, “ok … let us go over the plan once again.  Ahh Drew, I see you fetched Pudgy, good.” 

Cobalt nodded, “We will wait till just before daybreak here, and have Pudgy activate the ley line.  Then He and I will travel to Kiyomizu-Dera.”  Shima nodded, “the emperor may have added additional guards there.  But, if you are quick enough, you should be able to take flight with Pudgy.”  Argente barked with a bit of an angry tone, “I want to go, we need to guard the ley line.”  The older fox shook her head as she placed a paw on her daughter’s paw, “and you may be captured again.  While, I do not think ill of the emperor.  I believe his motivations are that of protection of the Japanese animals and their territory.  However, Japanese thinking is … foreign to western thinking.  Perhaps in time, and with evidence the emperor can choose to change his understanding.”  Angeliki nodded, “time we do not have.  I concur with Cobalt, the least number of animals involved in this, is to the benefit of the mission.” 

The little hedgehog was asked to repeat his vision.  The words were terrible, and all in attendance immediately felt uneasy.  Many follow up questions by Shima, primarily to describe the land and water in the visions.  After a series of clarifications were completed, the Japanese fox nodded while Argente looked at her mother.  The silver fox spoke, “do you know where Pudgy is talking about?”  The white fox nodded, “It sounds like Mihama … or perhaps Tsuruga?  I am not sure, since our hedgehog friend can not read Japanese, the signs he might have seen are just scribbles.  Both are coastal towns, that reside on the northern coast of Japan.  What is also of concern to me is Lake Biwa, and that encampment of those angry cats in the vision.  Why are they there?”  Pudgy wiggled his nose, and shrugged his shoulders.  “Genghis was being held by the emperor, perhaps they were there to rescue him?”  Shima nodded, “perhaps.  Stay focused on your plan, and fly as quickly as Cobalt can Mihama.  Find the nuclear power plant, and see what is going on?”

Drew raised a paw, “if something bad is happening, what will you do?”  Pudgy looked a tad bit hopeful as he raised his paw, “maybe some animals used to be humans?”  Cobalt nodded, “that is a possibility, perhaps they were a plant worker.  In any case, we will need to find a local who can read Japanese, who can come with us to go inside the plant to try and shut it down.”  Argente closed her eyes and she stifled a yawn, “there is too much that can go wrong with this plan.  I do not like it.”  The eagle nodded, “I am not keen on this either.  But we must find out if the plant is indeed in melt down?  It could harm not only Japan, but threaten our forest too.”  Angeliki nodded, “nuclear power was something the gods never envisioned.  Only humans could create a power source that could render the land lifeless for a millennium or more?” 

Shima nodded, “or fashion them into a weapon.”  The rebuke was noted by Cobalt and Drew, but not responded to as the Japanese fox spoke again.  “The emperor is stubborn, but he is not dumb.  If you present this threat to him, he will be forced to act.  Perhaps the best course of action would be to go to the plant.  Survey the area, see what is going on, and then report back to him?”  Drew shook his head, “given what Pudgy explained to us when he returned, I do not think he will listen.”  Argente nodded, “I agree, we must keep him out of this.”  Shima nodded as Angeliki spoke again, “go … and come back.  In and out, do not linger.”  The eagle nodded at the red panda, “agreed.  Pudgy, stealth means quiet.  We only speak when necessary.  Teleport to Japan, close the portal, and fly like heck to get to Mihama.”  Pudgy nodded, and watched as his eagle friend motioned with his wing towards the ley line node.  The red panda nodded, as he started to ease down, and felt as the hedgehog slipped from his red fur covered back.  The critter hugged Drew, then Angeliki, then Argente, then Shima, and finally Cobalt. 

As the first traces of light appeared in the sky, Pudgy scampered out to the center of the ley line node. The group watched, soon the stone began to glow with the faint blue light and the hedgehog started to float off the stone.  Turning towards the pile of stones marked Japan, the light beam went strong, and a dull thump could be felt as the gateway opened.  The hedgehog called out, “Cobalt!  Ley Line open!”  The eagle looked at the various animals in attendance, nodded, and then strode out through the rock field.  Taking a few hesitating steps at first, the former human entered the beam of light, and soon found himself floating upwards.  The light soon became blinding, and everything faded away in a void of white.  There was no sound, nor any sense of movement, until suddenly an image of a Buddhist temple started to slowly materialize.      

The elderly hedgehog snapped back to his current situation, when he noticed several wood peckers looking at him then at the statue of the bears.  “Pudgy sorry, Pudgy was lost in thoughts, can Pudgy help you?”  A young male woodpecker, pointed with his beak towards the statue of the bears.  “Pudgy-san, who are the bears?”  The hedgehog pointed with his cane, and named each of his deceased friends.  “The bear in the middle was Mr. Bear.  His fur was brown, his claws black and long, and was the best bear friend Pudgy ever had.  The gray bear was Mr. Bear’s father, whom we called Grandpa Bear, and he was kind.  The larger bear behind them is Snortapoopus, he was a polar bear.  His fur was white as the snow, and so kind.  The panda bear was called Bo, and while he spoke slowly, his words were measured with knowledge.  Bill was a koala bear from Australia, which sadly no longer exists within this world.  It was a land of intense heat, deserts, with a stripe of habitable land along the coasts.  He drank … a lot, and was funny.  But no bear could hold his liquor like Ivan, a Russian grizzly.  Strong and proud, he helped all the bears fight the ocean heroically.”

The woodpeckers nodded, and helped Pudgy stand up.  The hedgehog waved at the statues and sighed as the happy memories of the past had lifted a small weight from his shoulders.  He began to walk slowly once more, with the rhythmic tap of his cane on the cobble stones.  The birds walked alongside him, and it was not long until there was a small crowd that had formed behind the elderly critter.  The words spoken by Pudgy had attracted attention, and the various visitors that had come to explore the gardens had heard of stories the hedgehog told tales of his adventures.  Around a curved path, past several oak trees, and a garden of lilac planted the procession headed until the hedgehog saw another statue.  This one was guarded by two shinobi rabbits in black garb. 

Upon noticing the hedgehog, one rabbit hopped up and raised his paw to the crowd of animals.  “Everyone, please let Pudgy-san have a moment to himself.  Pudgy-san, you may proceed.”  The hedgehog nodded, and patted the young rabbit on his shoulder, “thank you shinobi-san.”  The other shinobi nodded, and hopped to block the path from the opposite direction.  As the hedgehog approached the statue, he could see it was a bald eagle carved from the same granite stone of which the bear’s state was made from.  Moving faster than he normally did, the hedgehog ran as fast as he could up to the statue and started wailing.  His tears were flowing like falling rain, and placed a paw on the placard written in kanji. 

The various animals stood silently along the path, and watched as the Crane Empress and Sichio Touma walked up to the shinobi rabbit who was blocking the opposite side.  Bowing deeply, the subordinate backed away, and allowed the two to pass.  The Empress walked slowly behind the hedgehog, and looked sad as she stared at the statue.  She bent and placed a wing tip on top of the crying hedgehog’s head.  “Pudgy, I know this must be so hard on you.”  The little hedgehog looked up at the Empress as he turned and nodded.  “It has been years, and Pudgy still misses him.  Pudgy never could have gone on all the adventures without him.  Cobalt was Pudgy’s friend….”  Sichio Touma nodded, bowed before the statue.  Then the rabbit turned to Pudgy, “once you have a moment to recover.  The empress wishes to discuss something with you.”  The little hedgehog wiped the tears away with the back of his paws, and looked up at the tall white crane.  She smiled as the only way a bird could, and motioned with her wings while speaking.  “There are many here who have not heard the tale of the war of the ocean.  Would you please tell the tale once again?  I would very much like to hear it.”  The hedgehog nodded, and watched as the shinobi signaled one another to allow the crowd to form.  As the various animals started to gather, they formed a half circle around the hedgehog as he sat on a flat stone in front of the eagle statue.  The little hedgehog spoke at first haltingly, but then started to speak normally.  He skipped his normal joke of starting at the beginning when he was born.  That was not the time for that amusement.  “Pudgy … will now tell the terrible tale of the war of the ocean.  How the animals of Friendship Town came to help the animals of Japan defeat the evil King of the Ocean.”    


War Cry: Chapter 3: Fair Memories: Part 2

Pudgy’s back started to twinge, so he looked around the statues of the carved bears.  There were several large flat rocks nearby, which would facilitate sitting down.  Slowly, the elderly critter walked, until he reached the stone and sat down.  The pressure was being relieved on his spine, which felt a lot better.  There would be no walking for now, so the little hedgehog pondered what happened less than a day later after Mr. Dave and the bears had arrived.  The forest was abuzz with activity, with all manner of animal friend were busy at their various tasks. 

Every free spot was full with baked treats in Pudgy’s home.  The annual festivity known as Thanksoween was soon upon them, and the hedgehog was working from sunrise to sunset to make as much food as he could.  Mr. and Mrs. Fieldmouse were helping as they were able to, but were busy with their normal daily tasks.  In years past, the gathering marked the last time that the forest would see the various birds who lived there.  The next day, the grand migration to the warmer lands south occurred, and the trees would become very quiet.  However, with the various changes to the world, the birds had changed their habits.  While some continued to migrate, out of habit, others chose to linger longer.  As such, the town party changed accordingly to a festive affair with less emphasis on departing friends. 

Having a wide variety of yummy foods to eat was important when planning a party.  To help facilitate this: woven baskets were lined up in front of the underground home.  The birds were tasked to gather seeds and nuts, as well as other items that would be of use during the grand gathering.  There was a steady stream of robins, blue jays, cardinals, gold finches, sparrows, and crows making regular trips outside of Pudgy’s home.  The birds would land, drop off the gathered item, and then take flight again.  That was until the gray and fluffy bunnies came up with an idea.  The mischievous rabbits arranged the baskets further out, and then started to excitedly tell the birds about their game.  They called it “who can land the nut or seed in the basket and win points for bunny prizes but not too many prizes because we don’t know what the prize is.” 

As the rabbits bounced and excitedly talked over one another, the red panda Mr. Drew stopped by and nodded as he listened.  When the birds were thoroughly confused, he spoke calmy and pointed out that Payload was a much better name.  The bunnies pouted at first, but watched as the birds began to really got into the fun.  They started doing power dives, corkscrew barrel rolls, and all sorts of highly coordinated displays of aerial prowess.  There were also many arguments in progress as the cardinals yelled at the blue jays about which basket was theirs?  Then both arguing flocks took off chirping loudly in anger, while the gold finches would sneak in and drop off their load.  The game was simple, you would score points by style, but also by weight of product.  The yellow birds were playing to win, and their section was already at three baskets. 

All bets were off when the red panda heard an eagle cry, and the bunnies watched as Cobalt swooped in and dropped off a small pumpkin.  The predator bird banked hard and flapped his wings to gain altitude, as he weaved through the trees.  It was not too long afterwards, when Mr. Dave the Philippine eagle swooped in carrying a pumpkin of equal size, though a bit greener than the first.  The tropical bird’s call was unique, and followed the same flight path to head back to the pumpkin patch that was still producing the fruit all these years later.  All the smaller birds started to chirp loudly, protesting that the eagles were cheating!  The quick-witted red panda nodded, and to avoid a full-on meltdown by the sparrows, announced that the eagles were not part of the competition. 

With the crisis averted, the red panda looked around town to see Mr. and Mrs. Bobcat helping to move long wooden tables into place around the town stage.  They were joined by a tiny female bobcat kitten, who was busy playing with a dandelion flower.  During the time of the grand adventure of the Determined, the bobcats entertained themselves within their cottage.  It was not long until the Waffle Cat’s cabin soon became very full, with the addition of their daughter Star.  Patches the cat assisted with not only the pregnancy, but also the birth as well, as she had had a few kittens herself over the years.  The birth was hard on Tess, since there were no hospitals, and anesthesia was no longer in existence.  It took many hours, but the kitten was successfully birthed.  Both mother and child recovered, while Pope took on more responsibility.  The faithful husband hunted and gathered, while staying close to protect his family.  During their scant time together, there was much colorful language, and a joint decision was made that they would not entertain themselves again when Pudgy was gone.

Pudgy had met Star, and bounced happily while asking where she came from.  The baby pounced on the hedgehog, who was marvelously squishy, but soon learned that the quills could be quite prickly.  With a look from his wife, Mr. Waffle Cat made up a story that would explain how the kitten arrived.  He used artistic metaphors, and thoroughly confused the hedgehog, who decided the kitten arrived by magic.  The kitten pointed at Pudgy’s house with the dandelion, while her mother giggled a bit, “we will go visit Pudgy soon Star.  Your father and I must set up the tables first.”  Star nodded, and waited patiently, watching Patches come strolling up and waving a paw at her.  The house cat grinned, and twitched her nose, “I see you found a dandelion.  Did you know those flowers are named after a lion?  A lion is a huge cat, and they roam the plains in lands far away from here.”            

The kitten nodded, and listened to Patches intently.  She had not started to speak yet, but was developing quickly.  Turning towards the river, a tree was being pushed down stream and towards the town.  It was covered with a huge pile of blueberries.  A couple beavers were in the water guiding the log, and eased it against the river bank.  The house cat padded down towards the log, “hello!  Oh …. Are those blueberries?  Where did you find those?”  A proud male beaver emerged from the water and waved one of his webbed paws, “they grow on bushes near our town.”  The scent of the fruit was sweet, and every animal present was trying very hard not to devour the entire log’s contents.  Nodding, “Pudgy will want to see this … good job finding these!”  The beavers beamed, and started to offload the fruit onto a wide shale rock nearby.  The house cat snatched up a bunch by the stem, and started to head towards the underground home. 

The house cat crossed the distance through town, and started to carefully pad across the bridge that stretched over the river and to the shoreline where the hedgehog’s underground home was.  She dropped the bunch of fruit on the ground in front of the open front door way, and meowed happily. “Pudgy, look what the beavers brought us?”  The cat watched her hedgehog friend scamper to the door way and bounce happily, “Hi Patches!  Oh wow … blue berries!  We can make jam, and muffins!”  The house cat giggled, “or just eat them.  They brought a whole tree load up to the town … and … are…. Excited …. to …”  The cat trailed off, and she spotted the beavers becoming agitated.  There was loud arguing, which drew the hedgehog’s attention as well.”  Three turtles had emerged from the water, and were angrily snapping at the tails of the beavers.  “YOU STOLE OUR BLUEBERRIES!”

The hedgehog looked at his cat friend, “we need to go.  Please bring the blueberries Patches,” the hedgehog said as he scampered towards the bridge that spanned the river.  The cat nodded, and picked up the fruit by the stem in her mouth.  Falling into line behind her friend, the two animals crossed the well-worn wooden bridge, and over to the side of the river where the beavers were now angrily slapping their wide flat tails on the muddy shoreline.  The brown animals chittered in high pitched angry sounds, while pulling the log covered with the fruit towards them.  The turtles were about eight inches long, and were a dull green color, with muddy colored brown that covered shells on their backs.  They were slowly advancing towards the long, and kept repeating the same thing over and over.  “You stole our blueberries, you stole our blueberries, you stole our blueberries,” it was incessant and the nearby animals of the town looked on with confused looks. 

As the hedgehog scampered up to the beavers, he waved and wiggled his nose.  “Hello beaver friends, can Pudgy ask you a question?”  The three beavers stopped slapping their tails, and turned to face Pudgy.  A young male spoke, “hello Pudgy.”  The critter pointed at the log, “where did the blueberries come from?”  The turtles cut the wet brown animal off, “from our land.  They stole our blueberries!”  The hedgehog turned to the lead turtle, “hello, my name is Pudgy, what is yours?”  The turtle looked at him, then at the fruit covered log, “they stole our blueberries!”  The other two turtles repeated the same, and did not acknowledge the question.  Patches padded up, and placed the bunch she had taken back onto the log, “Pudgy … these guys do not seem very with it … perhaps we should just give them back the fruit?”     

The beavers snapped angrily, “we did not steal the blue berries!  The bushes grow on our land surrounding our town!  Turtle Village is much farther downstream, and nowhere close for that matter!  So why do not you dummies go home,” the young male said while his two friends nodded.  The turtles narrow their beady black eyes and shouted, “ZEKE!”  The word floated in the air, with no apparent action that occurred.  The turtles stood defiantly, but the beavers only laughed as they started to move back towards the log.  Three steps were taken, when a large shell started to emerge out of the river water.  A turtle that was almost two feet in length started to emerge slowly.  The shell was a similar muddy brown color, though had gouges in it.  Green leathery skin started to appear, as the much larger turtle picked his head up out of the water. 

Mr. Waffle Cat, curious about the commotion, had started to approach when he called out with a concerned tone.  “Pudgy, careful, that’s a snapping turtle.”  Zeke had arrived, and lunged towards the log and bit down hard on it.  He started to drag the log back into the water, but a tug of war started as the beavers grabbed the other end.  The large turtle let go of the log, and darted forward in a short burst of speed, and lunged towards a beaver tail.  His powerful jaws bit down hard on the flat black tail, causing tremendous pain.  The beaver squeaked out, and tried to pull away, as he began to whimper. 

Pudgy rushed over as quickly as his little legs could carry him, “please Zeke!  No hurt beaver friends, they did not know about the blueberry bush!  Please, Pudgy do not want any animal friend hurt.”  The snapping turtle narrowed his black eyes, as the water started to dry from his skin.  The words of the hedgehog resulted in the turtle letting go, and the beaver running away to join his friends.  The other two beavers seeing the snapping turtle had started to back away slowly.  Slow, measured words began to come out from the large turtle.  “They…. did … know.  We … told …. them.”  The beavers shook their paws at the turtles, “no you did not!  Liar!  Lies!”  The beavers had started to shout, while the smaller turtles nodded and hissed in agreement. 

The hedgehog realized that there would be no agreement, as each side was completely at odds with another.  Rubbing his chin with his paw, the little critter pondered.  After a few quick moments had passed, Pudgy looked at the turtles.  “Can Pudgy see the blueberry bush?  Will you show Pudgy where it is?”  Zeke nodded, “yes … I … will … show … you … tomorrow.  In meantime …. Brothers … take blueberries.”  The beavers chittered and slapped their tails on the ground, “NO!  THOSE ARE OUT BLUEBERRIES!”  And unfortunately, the brief negotiated calm rekindled the anger.  Both sides started to argue loudly, with hissing, and slapping tails.  Patches shook her head, “this is going nowhere.  How can we fix this, Pudgy?”           

The hedgehog scampered over to the log, and picked up a blue colored fruit and sniffed it.  It smelled sweet, though it seemed to have a slightly acidic smell for some reason.  Lifting it to his mouth, the critter took a bite.  This resulted in both the turtles and the beavers to stop arguing and look at the critter.  Mrs. Waffle Cat watched as the hedgehog made a face, and immediately rushed to a rock and started to spit up the fruit.  Then, the hedgehog started to expel the contents of his stomach.  Concerned, the mother bobcat padded over, and placed a paw on the hedgehog’s back.  “Pudgy what is it?”  The various animals nearby all started to look concerned, as a clearly sick critter looked up.  “The fruit tastes weird … makes Pudgy tummy feel bad.”  The beavers wiggled their noses as they looked concerned, and then at the turtles.  Zeke frowned, “not good.  No one eat fruit … Pudgy come tomorrow.”   

As the turtles backed into the water, the beavers slowly moved towards the log.  Picking up the berries, they tasted them, and immediately had a similar reaction to their hedgehog friend and spat them out.  Patches nodded, “there is something very wrong here.  We need to get rid of that stuff, so no other animal friend can get sick.  Tess, can you please take Pudgy home?”  The mother bobcat nodded, and leaned down so Pudgy could weakly climb up onto her back.  Star looked concerned, and padded beside her mother as she headed towards the underground home and center of town activities.  Patches and Mr. Bobcat carefully grabbed the fruit by the stems and scattered it around the forest, under rocks and in various nooks and crannies, where no animal would easily find the tainted fruit. 

As the hours passed, Pudgy recovered and was visited by many of his animal friends to check on him.  Word had spread throughout the town of the immediate violent reaction of the picked fruit and its effects on not only the hedgehog but the beavers as well.  Mr. and Mrs. Beaver even swam up to check on their friend, bringing him a root they would use to calm their bellies if they ever ate something bad.  The critter gratefully accepted, and the strange root did help, allowing him to head to bed and get some sleep.  He dreamed intense dreams, of hedgehogs being chased by German shepherds.  Pudgy would wake often, though would drift back to sleep, only to be confronted by scenes of terror as family now was joined by a baby hedgehog as they were fleeing.  By the time morning had arrived, the dream was over with him and Cobalt eating cookies. 

As the early morning sun streamed into his home through the round windows, he finally felt like his normal self.  After getting out of bed, and attending to some normal morning business, he scampered out of his home’s front door.  Turning to the left, the critter scampered past the big round door that led into the storehouse.  It was not long until he rounded the bend, and headed to the dragon cove docks where his steamship was moored.  Overhead, the skies were starting to cloud up, and there was a slight chill in the air.  It was not uncomfortable, but odd since it had been nice and warm for so long, that many had forgotten what winter was like?  Shaking his head, the hedgehog began to make many trips between the wood storage shed and his ship. 

A steamship adventure was not quick, and it required many steps to be able to go off on a trip.  First, a huge load of firewood had to be moved from the storage pavilion and onto the deck of the ship.  Various animals oversaw gathering firewood, and would ensure the covered wood pile would remain full of fuel for various tasks.  Once the deck was loaded with more than enough fuel, the critter started to load the firebox.  First small sticks, and dry grasses were loaded.  A flint striker was inside the firebox, and using the controls, bright sparks started to be created and catch the dry starter on fire.  Once the smoke started float out of the opening to the firebox, the critter started to load small sticks, and then larger ones.  It was about an hour until there was a roaring fire inside. 

White puffy smoke started to billow out of the blackened smoke stack.  The boiler was filled with fresh water, and as it began to heat: pressure began to build up.  There was a pressure gauge, which the hedgehog had learned how to read during his first steam ship adventure.  It was not long until a curious red panda appeared from behind the town’s saw mill.  “Good morning Pudgy, how are you feeling?”  The critter looked up and waved, “much better Mr. Drew.  Want to come with Pudgy to Turtle village?”  The former human grinned and nodded, “why yes, I would certainly like to go on a Pudgy adventure.  But we must be back by evening, I have a show.  Tonight, is the debut of my new play: Limburger Love.  It is a play of romance, bunnies, and stinky cheese.”       

The mooring lines were undone, and as Drew crossed over from the dock to the stern of the ship, the vessel sunk down a bit before recovering its natural buoyancy.  The red panda pushed the ship out from the dock, and watched as Pudgy headed to the pilot house.  Setting the throttle to half, he turned the ship’s wheel and maneuvered the ship out of the cove and into the main river channel.  Turning starboard, the ship started to turn to the right as the propellors spun up to proper speed.  Once out into the center of the river, the throttled was set to full, and the ship came up to speed as it passed through the town.  The bunnies waved from their burrow, and Mr. Drew waved back as he ducked a bit as the ship went under the bridge.  Friendship Town started to fade away, as the river twisted and turned, while it weaved through the land. 

Drew watched the groundhogs work, digging ever deeper tunnels, trying to find more metal ore to process.  Their butts were sticking out wiggling, while the dirt was flying out from either side of their bodies.  In time, they too disappeared, as the ship reached the lake that covered the former human town where Cobalt once took Pudgy to shop for cookies …and other non-cookie related items.  The water level was holding steady, though the geyser of water that once shot up at the lake’s center, ceased to flow.  Sandra and Raymond Herron, before they left to search for what remained of their human home, said that one day the water stopped bursting out from deep below the lake’s surface.  They flew very low over the area, and could see ripples, so water was still flowing, but with much less pressure.  The little hedgehog wondered what his bird friends were up to?  He also hoped they were safe, wherever they had wound up to?

Beaver Town was at the southern end of the lake, and the hedgehog steered the ship in that general direction.  The aquatic animals had developed their town with many wood buildings, of an ever-increasing number of artistic wood carvings.  Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who used to live near Pudgy had moved there a long time ago, and were central in the town’s operation.  They too had entertained themselves in the hedgehog’s absence, so there were many more children scampering around the town.  There was no time for the parents to explain, as the little ones always wanted to play with Pudgy and listen to his stories when he would visit town.  Their saw mills were in near constant operation, and the beavers supplied all the neighboring villages with a steady supply of expertly sawn lumber and wood products.   

Drew watched as the town started to pass by, and he waved a black fur covered paw at the beavers as they worked.  Some waved back, but others were too busy chewing and prepping the logs to be processed at the mill.  Pudgy knew that their destination was a short distance past the beaver town, and eased the ship into a ever narrowing channel of water that followed the original creek’s path.  In days long past, the naturally flowing stream that ran through the area, and continued for long distance before it too joined the Monongahela River.  The humans called the water Turtle Creek, due to the abundance of wild turtles within its water ways.  Pudgy had wanted to explore it for a long time, but adventures to far away lands always kept him busy. 

With bow paws on the ship’s wheel, Pudgy navigated the channel, and avoided large rocks that were sticking up in various spots.  The foliage started to pull in closer, and the trees weaved together like a carpet over head with their green foliage.  The light decreased, and soon an eerie silence started to fill the air.  Drew wiggled his nose, “Pudgy, I do not like this.  Why are there no birds here?”  The hedgehog was wondering that too, and pondered whether he should light the lanterns at the bow of the ship?  He would use them in low light or night conditions, though Argente was very keen on no extended night time trips.  The critter would find her pacing at the dragon docks, and get a tongue lashing, before a hug from his female silver fox friend.

The red panda called out, “helllooo…..”  Pudgy looked around, and lowered the throttle to half, and pulled the strting for the steam whistle.  Toot! Toooot!  The shrill whistle blew, and echoed in the trees.  The loud noise started making the calm water ripple, and suddenly Zeke emerged from beneath the water.  “Helloo … Pudgy … follow ….. meee …” Both hedgehog and red panda nodded, and watched as the large snapping turtle start to move very quickly in the water.  The turtle led them a short distance around the bend, and underneath a large fallen pine tree, to reach a very large outcropping of rock that covered a naturally forming cove in the stream.  The rock was shale, which was naturally occurring in western Pennsylvania, and was very thick.  The pressed layers of rock could clearly be seen, and varied from dark to light.  There was also a prevalence of bright brown dirt, which signified an abundance of clay. 

“Pudgy, all this clay ….  The turtles could make a lot of trades with our town.  We can make pottery.”  Pudgy nodded, and guided the ship along the shoreline, and then quickly scampered to drop the anchor.  The anchor made a splash, and the chain rattled for a time, until it caught bottom and the ship was moored into place.  Shutting the vents on the firebox, the fire was starting to be snuffed out, and the water pressure gauges slowly fell.  Pudgy tooted the whistle again, to further release boiler pressure.  A dozen turtles peeked out of the water and waved at both the red panda and hedgehog in the ship.  Zeke’s head was soon resting on the deck of the ship as he looked at Pudgy.  “Nice … ship … Pudgy.”  It was not that the turtle was speaking slow, he had a very measured approach to speaking.  The smaller turtles spoke normally, at a higher pitch.  The hedgehog beamed, “yes, it is.  We had to rebuild the hull, but the engine and drive system are the original that Cobalt built for Pudgy a long time ago.” 

Drew pointed at the clay overhead on the steep hill that was above the shale rock overhang, “Zeke, we can use that clay to make things in Friendship Town.  We can trade you for it, our town has many things.”  The snapping turtle nodded, “perhaps, I will talk … to my brothers …regarding your proposal.”  The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “Zeke … Pudgy did not see any blueberry bushes on the way here?  Where are they?”  The turtle motioned further down the stream.  As Drew carefully maneuvered off the ship, he positioned himself so that Pudgy could climb onto his back.  His paws were in the cool water, and the mud squished between his toes, but most of his body was still dry.  Carefully maneuvering around multiple smaller green turtles, the red panda watched as Zeke started to dart again, causing a slight wave in the water.             

Pudgy watched as they went a couple feet past the turtle’s home, and made a left to follow the stream.  It was not very far until the water became so narrow and shallow, that the steam ship would not have been able to travel further.  The snapping turtle moved slower now, as there was less water to make him buoyant in, but after a right, then a left, the blue berry bushes could clearly be seen.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “the beavers swam past your town, to get to the bushes?  Zeke, you are right, this is no where close to beaver town.”  The turtle nodded, “we asked the beavers for wood.  Want to make village, like Friendship Town.  Then one day …. They came and picked almost all the berries off the bushes.”  The hedgehog nodded, “did you offer the blue berries as payment for the wood?”  The snapping turtle nodded, “yes … but we wanted to harvest them.  The beavers just came and took them.”

Drew nodded, “I see, that is why the smaller ones kept saying the beavers stole the berries.  What I do not understand is, why did the fruit make Pudgy sick when he ate it?”  The little hedgehog nodded, “the blue berries had a funny taste, almost acidic.  Zeke, where did the beavers pick from?”  The snapping turtle pointed, “they spent a lot of time over there.”  Drew padded slowly through the tall grass, and fruit plants.  Sniffing the air, there was an odd scent.  “Something is off … look at the ground Pudgy.”  The grasses were brown, and patches of dirt were bare as well.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “something is killing the plants?  Cobalt used to have this stuff in a blue bottle, he would tell Pudgy don’t touch or lick it.  Then Cobalt would wash his hands, sometimes twice with hot water and soap.”  The red panda nodded, “weed killer most likely.  No Pudgy, that would wear off, this is something else.  Oh no…look …”

As Pudgy turned forward, the red panda crested a small hill, which overlooked a terrible sight.  Zeke also slowly ascended the hill, and stared with unblinking eyes.  There was a mountain of tires, tossed into a gully.  A swarm of yellow jackets were buzzing, as they flew in and out of many of the tires.  There were also about a dozen car batteries that had been cracked open, or rusted until the acid within was leaking out.  Drew wiggled his nose, as he could see the varied remnants of an old house that was laying in a pile next to where the angry insects were buzzing about.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “Pudgy think used to be a farm here.  Cobalt took Pudgy past here a long time ago, the house was so old he would say.”  Drew nodded, “they probably worked on cars, or just liked to collect hazardous waste.  Well, that explains why you got sick from the berries.  Zeke, no animal can eat anything the grows here.  The land is full of poison.”

The snapping turtle nodded, “agreed.  My brothers and I will block off this place, and prevent the beavers from coming here.  I wonder … how many berries did they eat?”  Pudgy wiggled his nose and whimpered, “Pudgy hope not many at all.  One was enough to make Pudgy sick, and Pudgy never was able to swallow it.”  As the red panda and snapping turtle turned, they started to head down the narrow path between the tall grasses.  After a few feet, they found a small green turtle waiting at the edge of the water.  Zeke looked down, “what is it brother?”  The small turtle wiggled his head back and forth, “the beavers came again.  They saw Pudgy’s ship, and then headed back to their town.”  The group headed back along the shoreline, and the turtles eased back into the water, and soon were swimming quick.  It was not long until they had returned to the rocky overhang.    

Zeke called out, “brothers … surface!”  Pudgy watched as easily twenty turtles of various sizes started to pop their heads out of the water.  “The land is poison, no one go over there.  No one eat anything over there.  We will start at once to block the stream.  No animal will head past our village, it is not safe.”  Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy and Mister Drew will talk to the other animals in Friendship Town, maybe some animal friend will know what to do with the bad stuff we found there?  Pudgy and Mister Drew will head to Beaver Town, and let them know.  But before Pudgy go, Pudgy want to invite every animal friend to our party Thanksoween.”  Drew nodded, “yes please come, it will be a lot of fun.”  Zeke nodded, “we will come, but have nothing to bring?”  The red panda nodded, “yes you do.  Can you bring some of this clay?  We can use it to make ceramic, and pottery.”  The turtles nodded, “ok, we will bring the clay.” 

As the turtled cheered, and talked excitedly amongst themselves, Pudgy hopped from his friend’s back and onto the ship’s deck.  Quickly he scampered around, relighting the boiler and preparing to set forth once again.  Drew carefully maneuvered and eased himself back on the ship as well, without capsizing the ship of course.  The boiler was still hot, so it did not take much to come back up to pressure.  The anchor was pulled up, and Zeke helped to pull the ship out and turn it around.  “Bye every animal, Pudgy can’t wait to see you in two days for Thanksoween!”  The throttle was set to full, and a flurry of bubbles formed as the propellors spun quickly with the ship darting forward.   

The ship was now heading up stream, so the quick progression from earlier, was now much slower.  The turtles disappeared as they followed the bends in the stream, until they reached the lake once again.   The steam ship’s smoke stack from the firebox puffed away with white smoke.  The dense foliage also pulled back, and the skies opened to reveal a mostly cloudy sky, with the occasional peak of blue sky appearing.  After about an hour of travel, the ship pulled up to the edge of Beaver Town.  The town had a dock for Pudgy to moor his steam ship to, and with the assistance of Drew’s helpful paw, the ship was positioned at the end of the docks.  The anchor was dropped, as well as the mooring lines tied off to the pier posts.  Once the ship was safely tied off, the firebox vents were shut, and the fire was snuffed out once again. 

The red panda carefully maneuvered to disembark once again, and watched as Pudgy quickly scampered off the ship and along the teeth cut wood planks that formed the deck planks.  It was not long until the various beavers of the town started to gather around Pudgy and Drew as they headed to the town center.  Mr. and Mrs. Beaver waved their paws at their friend, and motioned over to a wide wooden table.  “Hello Pudgy … hello Drew!  We saw you sail past earlier, heading to Turtle Village I Take it?”  The male beaver said, while many others milled about trying to eavesdrop.  Pudgy nodded as he sat down beside his former neighbors, “yes, we did.  The turtles were much calmer this time.  Pudgy must know immediately, did any beaver friend eat the berries they gathered from beyond the village?”  Mrs. Beaver shook her head, “no.  The young ones said the bushes were just outside of town.  They so wanted to bring you a present, and show off.”

Drew looked at them with a serious expression, “the bushes were not close.  They had to swim past the turtle village, and go up a hill behind their home.  But that is not the worst part, we found what used to be a human dump or a farm.  There were tires, batteries, and other hazardous waste there.  The poison is leaking and leeching into the soil.  All the plants there are not safe to eat.  The turtles said that they would block off that part of the stream.”  All the beavers looked horrified, and started to quickly talk amongst themselves.  Pudgy nodded, “please, no animal friend must go there and eat any food you find there.”  The little hedgehog nodded, and as Drew was about to speak again, Mrs. Beaver looked at Pudgy. 

He was starting to look sick, and watched as the hedgehog’s eyes rolled back into his head.  He passed out, and fell backwards.  “Pudgy!  No Pudgy!  Quick, get him some water.”  Drew carefully reached down with his paw to gently shake his critter friend with a concerned look on his face.  The beavers were quickly darting around the various wood buildings, trying to find something to help their friend.  Mr. Beaver watched as the hedgehog started to float off the ground, and his quills started to extend out in all directions.  “Everyone!  Back away …something is happening.”  The animals stopped and stared, while watching the hedgehog float unnaturally in midair.  Drew wiggled his nose, “oh great ….” The red panda knew what this meant, and their days of peace were soon to be over once again.       


War Cry: Chapter 2: Fair Memories: Part 1

The little hedgehog stood in quiet remembrance in front of the memorial statue for the bears.  He remembered that it had been several weeks since the crew of the Determined returned home from Japan.  Everyone was happy to be home, especially Pudgy, who relished every moment to sleep in his own bed.  The ground was not rocking back and forth, which allowed him to relax fully.  The forest was quiet, with only the sounds of the occasional breeze rustling the leaves in the trees far above the forest floor.  Thoughts of the extended adventure that took forest friends first to the Philippines and then to Japan eventually faded as everyone settled back into their daily activities.  Instead of maintaining the ship, the town and surrounding lands needed looked after.   

The condition of Friendship Town was one of neglect, but not due to any ill will.  Tall weeds had grown, and the various little paths that facilitated travel had become choked off with dense plant growth.  Trees fell, and had blocked various parts of the river banks, and isolated the dragon cove, where the steam ship was moored.  The main issue was that the animals who knew how to, and performed much of the work to maintain the town had gone away for months.  The remaining animals tried their best, but the volume of tasks was too much to handle.  The town was still in place, with its various buildings, and soon became full of life once again.  The fields planted with various food stuffs and supplies were overgrown, which took a solid week worth of action by a crew of ten animals.  Many vegetables were past their optimum harvest state, so they were picked and then converted into various products. 

During this time, the hedgehog’s underground home was cleaned by a quiet hedgehog.  It was then restocked accordingly for a variety of official town business, as well as fun personal related activities.  As the fields were harvested, the various goods were taken to Pudgy’s home to be processed.  The wood stove was loaded full of firewood, lit, and came to temperature quickly.  Soon the familiar sight of the underground home’s chimney pipe was sending white puffy smoke up into the air.  A line of small wooden carts and wagons started to appear in front of Pudgy’s round front door, and the larger round door that led into the storehouse.  Some foods could be stored dry, and the natural cooler temperature underground led itself to considerable storage and food preservation capabilities. 

The vegetables that would rot without care, required to be processed by the hedgehog.  Glass jars were washed, filled with vegetables of various kinds, brined with a salt water mixture, and placed into a much larger metal pots were boiling away.  From sunrise to sunset every day, the critter stayed very busy until everything was processed.  It was endless, with load after load of vegetables were being brought by the bunnies who hopped happily, hugged Pudgy, then scampered off with empty carts to bring more vegetables.  Lettuce, carrots, beans, turnips, and all manner of other vegetables were quickly filling the underground storehouse.  Other foods like pickles, chow chow, sauerkraut, were also made, and carefully placed in neat rows on wooden shelves within the storehouse. The field mice were performing inventory during this process, trying to organize the chaos of freshly prepared foods coming into the storage facilities in a near constant wave.    

During this time, Argente’s mother Shima was in amazement, as her daughter showed her around the forest and the little town that had been built.  In many ways Friendship Town was just like Fushimi village.  The biggest difference was that the layout was more organic in the placement of various structures.  In Japan, the highly structured mindset resulted in tight control of development.  Here, bunnies were living nearby to groundhogs, and somewhere there was a cabin full of bears.  The wooden stage was a notable exception, apparently serving no purpose.  However, as the day grew late, the Japanese fox watched with a huge smile as various town animals performed for every animal’s entertainment. 

The bunnies had juggling acts, or acts of sheer insanity with their catapult antics.  The groundhogs did dramatic readings of the time the tunnels collapsed during various mining activities.  Pudgy’s stories of his adventures were always a hit, though the hedgehog did not tell them often as of late.  The red panda was quite funny in his own right, doing standup routines, that made all the animals laugh.  Word soon spread that he had developed a comedy drama featuring the field mice who were dressed up as humans.  It was a married couple fighting about who ate the last slice of bologna.  There were many chapters, and three performances had been done so far.  The shows were so popular, that they were doing multiple performances of each chapter.  Even Mr. Elk and his daughters arrived one day, to watch the show and laugh in their distinctive way.  The big finale was coming soon, which all residents were looking forward to.  Promises and promotions states that the final chapter would delve into the nature of luncheon meat and the married condition.  Deep intellectual concepts were being discussed, with a side of laughter and pickles.  

One morning, as a pot of water was bubbling away on the stove, Pudgy reached over and started to place spice bush leaves into the pot.  As the water started to change colors from the leaves steeping in the hot water, the hedgehog sighed.  He remembered the excellent tea that was served in Japan, and it made him wistful for the tea that Cobalt used to bring him when the humans were still around.  Due to the extended absence of the hedgehog, the various spice bush plants had grown very full of leaves.  There was a bounty of plant material to gather, and process for that matter.  Once the endless stream of vegetables ceased, Pudgy dried the various gathered plants, and then filled jars and cans full with the tea plants.  Wild mint was located, and was carefully gathered, along with other plants suitable for beverage purposes.   

Once the tea was prepared, Pudgy fished out the leaves with a wooden spoon and tossed them into his metal sink to cool off.  Pouring the steaming liquid into a white cup that was shaped in the helmet of his underground friend at the earth’s core, Pudgy looked out into the forest through his round window and sighed again.  “Pudgy wish tea could still be bought, or traded for, but spice bush is good enough.  Stupid emperor …” the hedgehog grumbled a bit.  Had things worked out, Friendship Town and Fushimi Village could have become trading partners.  In the Japanese village, there were all sorts of yummy things that did not grow in Friendship Town. 

Pudgy wanted peace and happiness, which would have worked out tremendously in favor of both of their homes.  With the prospect of ley line travel, the ability for both trade and travel were endless.  Instead, they were treated as foreigners to be kept at paw’s length, and mistrusted.  It all stemmed from the emperor, who wanted power and control.  So, at the first opportunity offered, the animals of the Determined fled Japan in a mad dash rush through the ley line portal.  The town had decided to never go back there.   The hedgehog wiggled his nose, as an annoyed expression came upon his face.  The tea was hot, steaming away in the cup, while he looked out the round kitchen window.

A tiny paw touched his back, “are you alright Pudgy?”  Turning around, the hedgehog saw Mr. Field mouse, twitching his nose and whiskers.  Nodding, “Pudgy all right, just thinking about Japan again.”  The rodent nodded, “ahh … I see.  I think about it too, as well as that Philippines place.  The world sure has changed, from the way you described it in your stories to now.  But I am glad we are back home … safe …and sound.”  The mouse emphasized the words safe and sound, while nodding at his hedgehog friend.  Since returning home, the married field mouse couple had taken some time for themselves, before returning to their various daily tasks.  With the processing done, and the storehouse full, the mice had time for leisure.   

Tea was poured for the mouse by Pudgy, and both friends scampered over to the kitchen table to sit down and gingerly sip their beverages.  A nice breeze was blowing through the window, and the birds were chirping softly outside.  Pudgy nodded, “safe and sound.  No more adventures far away … Pudgy staying home now.”  The two friends smiled at each other, and sighed as they watched the leaves flutter outside the kitchen window.  After a time had passed, and a sip of tea from a tiny cup, the mouse chuckled, “we will see about that.  I know you … in two weeks … you will be off to fight the polar bears in the frozen north.” 

The hedgehog gave his mouse friend a look, and sniffled while speaking. “Oh no …what about Snortapoopus and the other bears?  They were on that fishing boat in the ocean?”  The mouse gave him an ‘I told you so’ look and then nodded, “macho … macho … bear …”  As the ear worm filled their minds of the silly song being played and sung on the fishing boat that bears were travelling on, Pudgy smiled and spoke happily.  “Pudgy want to be … a macho bear.”  There was a pause, and then a concerned tone filled his voice, “Oh!  Oh … Mister Dave!  Pudgy almost forgot, Pudgy wanted to invite him to forest.  Remember, the nice tropical eagle we met on Mt. Apo?” 

The field mouse nodded, “oh yes, I remember him.  He had the pale blue eyes, and the white belly feathers and brown top ones.  Yes, he was nice, and I am sure Cobalt and the other eagles will enjoy a visit from him as well.”  The mouse watched as Pudgy got the I want to go on an adventure look, and laughed as he sipped from his cup of tea.  After a moment’s quiet reflection, the mouse spoke again,
 I hope he can tolerate our climate though?  Mt. Apo was a tropical island …”  The animals of the forest had noticed that what had seemed like an endless string of summer days, was starting to change once again back to normal.  At night, the stars were drifting once again, and the world was being put back into the position it once rested in.  The change was slow, and seemingly deliberate.  Pudgy suspected it was Unetlanvhi, though he did not see any sign of the thunder eagle in the skies so far. 

As the world changed position, and while the temperature was still warmer than normal, all had noticed the nights beginning to cool off.  Some of the smaller animals even could be seen wearing thin shells of woven fabrics, just to take the chill off.  The artic fox from Alaska was of a more pleasant disposition as the slow changes occurred, though she spent her days in the river cooling off, much to the chagrin of the occasional otter that swam past.  The field mouse nodded and spoke again, “which reminds me Pudgy … the potatoes and corn are coming in soon.  We will need to coordinate teams to harvest.”  The two friends nodded, talked some more, sipped tea, and planned the next couple weeks’ worth of activities.  Plans were drawn up, on homemade paper and scribed using rudimentary pencils. 

The ground hogs had discovered a source of lead somewhere.  They were resistant in telling where they were obtaining the metal from, and Pudgy did not press the issue.  He wanted them to help, and they were known to be quite stubborn at times, so they got a pass.  The lead material was useful for marking purposes, as well as a binder for glass pieces.  There was talk of a stained-glass project occurring somewhere within Friendship Town, but no one remembered where, or were not telling Pudgy until it was done.  Mr. Bear’s smelting foundry was getting a work out again, from various metals processing.  Once the lead was processed and ready for use, it was carefully inserted into hollow wooden shells by Pudgy.  The hedgehog had shown the chipmunks how to do it, but they kept licking their paws, and getting upset stomachs.  It was decided that only Pudgy would be allowed to make pencils from there on out.  As with all limited quantity goods, every animal wanted one, and there would be much pouting when the supply ran out. 

The day progressed, plans were finalized, and eventually the mouse went home to his wife.  This led to the hedgehog being alone again, with his thoughts.  The critter washed his tea pot and cups in his sink, watching the light of the day start to fade outside of his window.  After a time of silence while drying the tea cups, Pudgy put away the various items into their respective places within his kitchen.  Nodding to himself, the hedgehog went to his wood stove, and shut the vents to snuff out the fire.  It was not a quick process, and he would not leave until everything was safe.  Returning to the kitchen table, the little critter put away the various plans in various drawers and storage places within the walls of the underground home.  He could feel the warmth of the stove fading, and the sound of crackling logs were dying down.     

Once satisfied that the fire box was safely secured and the fire posed no risk to his home, the hedgehog nodded while he headed towards the entrance of his home.  Taking a moment to secure the front door, Pudgy scampered through his home’s interior door and into the storehouse.  There was no use to shut the interior door between his home and the storehouse, because the hedgehog’s home had become part of the town and animals wandered in and out all the time.  The once exception was his bedroom, which the town animals left alone.  Quickly scampering past the multiple stalls full of food and supplies, the hedgehog made a left and through a narrow corridor to reach the tunnel he went. 

Just outside of the door from the storehouse and inside the tunnel was a little pool of water that had formed after numerous heavy rains.  In the past Cobalt and Pudgy tried to mitigate it, or reroute the water, but eventually the creation of an extra pool of water proved too much a draw for the various smaller animals over the years.  The pool had been built up with pieces of shale rock, and clay mud to form a very nice water tight area within the underground tunnel area.  Currently, it was full of field mice squeaking away and splashing around.  Pudgy waved as he navigated the tunnel while more field mice came running past excitedly.  It would see the neighbors had come over for a pool party, which made him smile.         

Up the tunnel he went, then made a right, the hedgehog headed so that he could reach the exterior doors of the tunnel.  In years past, it went out to nice clearing, where the bunnies had made their burrow.  Now, a ravine had taken its place, covered with various plants.   To the right of the tunnel was Argente’s cottage built into the side of the hill, and further past that was the Dragon cove’s port buildings.  Thankfully, the ground had stopped moving, asides from the tall grass waving in a gentle breeze.  In the distance, he could just barely see the bobcat’s cabin, and puffy white smoke was coming out of the chimney.    

As the little hedgehog scampered through the grass, he laughed and chased after a couple monarch butterflies, as he headed up the hill.  The insects flew higher and higher, and then wandered off to do butterfly things.  It was not long until Pudgy reached the outer doorway where Cobalt used to live when he was a dragon.  It had been repurposed as the home of his red panda friend Mr. Drew, the arctic fox Mary, and now the Japanese fox Shima.  There was disagreement on the name, and the original Critter Condominium was tabled, and voting underway for a new name.  Taking a moment to peek inside, the hedgehog watched as Drew Red Panda was sitting with his back towards the door.  The larger animal was working with a coveted pencil and paper, writing a script for the upcoming show at the stage.  “What rhymes with aardvark?”  The red panda said, while scribbling away with a black fur covered paw.   

Nodding, Pudgy decided to leave him alone, and quietly scampered past the open doorway.  Further he headed up the hill, at excited hedgehog spped, which then slowed to normal hedgehog speed, and then to Pudgy out of gas speed.  It was almost another hour or so later, when a huffing and puffing hedgehog reached the crest of the hill.  Dropping onto his belly, the cool dirt squished down as Pudgy’s quills twitched occasionally while he caught his breath.  The smell of earth was fragrant around him, as well as the smell of Argente.  The fox must have passed by sometime earlier today. 

This was where the ley line node was located, and the field of stones laid in concentric rings.  After many investigations, tests, and careful alignments with Angeliki Raven … the ley line was now marked with a series of much larger stones in very specific areas.  Each stone marker was a piece of hard granite, which had words chiseled into them.  Mr. Bobcat who had developed tools for etching and carving stone as well as wood, and had been very excited to try them out when called upon by the raven.  One stone read: Mt. Apo, while another read Japan.  The Japanese stone was tied with red dyed rope, and a sign that said: NEVER GO HERE AGAIN!  With the various stones that remained, it was clear that there were more places they could connect this ley line to.  However, no animal was in a rush to find out where those unforeseen paths could lead to, or what dangers were waiting there for their town? 

It was not very long until Pudgy heard a purring voice calling out from behind him, “Pudgy?  What are you doing?”  As the hedgehog stood up and turned around, a curious white tigress was looking at him with pale blue eyes.  Her tail swished back and forth as she padded closer, looking at him with concern building in her expression.  The little critter bounced happily, “hello Blood Honey!  Pudgy want to use ley line.  Pudgy want to invite Mr. Dave from the Philippines for a visit here.  Pudgy promised him he could come.  Pudgy feel bad … Pudgy forgot until now.”  The tigress nodded, “oh … all right … just no hedgehog teleporting.  I do not want to have to explain to Argente why I let you wander off.  Especially given what happened to every animal that returned from the Japanese debacle.” 

The hedgehog nodded in agreement, “Pudgy have too many things to do tomorrow, so Pudgy does not have time for adventure.”  He walked out onto the central stone, took a deep breath, and concentrated.  It was not long until there was a dull thump that could be felt in the ground, and the critter started to float off the ground.  Working with Angeliki Raven many times, the hedgehog now could quickly open and close the connections using the ancient ley line.  Having the stone markers in place, also meant that the various node locations were easier to focus on.  During one such test around two weeks prior, they could hear the emperor’s forces talking, and apparently heard that things were not going so well over there.  It was not long until the shinobi rabbits saw the light from the node, and Pudgy had to quickly turn it off.  Turning to face the Mt. Apo stone, Pudgy could see the summit of the mountain, and the light of dawn just starting to form.  He called out, “MISTER DAVE!  ARE YOU THERE?” 

There was at first no response, so Pudgy floated silently as he was engulfed in blue light which stretched high up into the sky.  The white tigress sat down, and watched her hedgehog friend while noticing several animals from Friendship Town peeking up the hill from where the red panda lived.  “Mister Davveeeeee!”  Pudgy called out again, and again there was not a response.  Blood Honey rubbed her chin with a large fur covered paw, “maybe he is not anywhere near the stone on Mt. Apo Pudgy?  Give him some time to respond before calling again.”  The hedgehog did as was suggested, and floated silently.  It was not long until he heard a loud distinct bird call, and the unique face of the Philippine eagle appearing overhead.  The bird yawned, “good Morning Pudgy, why are you calling so early?  I was having a wonderful dream about easily openable coconuts.” The hedgehog waved happily, “Pudgy sowwy, Pudgy forgot, Pudgy pwomise that you can come to Pudgy Forest to visit.  Does Mister Dave still want to come?” 

The eagle nodded and chirped happily as he continued to wake up, “why yes, I do.  But I cannot leave just yet Pudgy … I have visitors here.  A couple days ago, this big fishing troller washed up ashore.  On board was a polar bear, a grizzly bear, a panda bear, and a koala bear.  They were arguing about going off course, when I stopped by to try and break up the fight.”  The hedgehog wiggled happily, “OH! that is Snortapoopus, Ivan, Bo and Bill!  They made it to the Philippines!  Pudgy knows them all, Pudgy so glad they made it to island.  Pudgy was worried.”  The eagle nodded, “when I mentioned you, the bears all started to bounce happily, and I was able to stop the fight.  Pudgy, could they come too?  I am sure if I leave and do not tell them, they may be upset with me.” 

The hedgehog nodded, “ok Mister Dave!  Pudgy can keep the connection open longer now, and it does not make Pudgy so tired anymore.”  The eagle nodded, “be right back Pudgy.”  The image of the eagle disappeared from overhead, and it was replaced by the sun starting to rise to the east out over the ocean.  The tigress purred happily, “oh the Pacific Ocean looks so big from that vantage point.  Can you show any more images, or are we just locked into that one view?”  Pudgy indeed was able to turn the focus around, and able to see in many directions now to the left and right.  The jungle that surrounded the base of the summit was thick with trees, and various tropical birds could be seen flying around.  “Pudgy, this is almost like watching a nature show, but there is no narrator or commercials.  Are you alright? Do you need to take a break?” 

The little hedgehog shook his head, and the two waited for the eagle to return.  An hour passed, and the tigress had fallen asleep, when Heather owl appeared and waved her wing.  “Pudgy, oh wow …where is that?”  The hedgehog wiggled his nose, “it is the Philippines.  Pudgy going to invite Mister Dave here.  Hey wait, why are you awake now?”  The owl hooted softly, “Pudgy it … is … night time now.  Just when did you come up here?”  It had been much longer than an hour as experienced by the hedgehog within the ley line.   Outside of the ley line’s portal node, time was progressing as normal, and night had returned with a waning crescent moon starting to shine overhead in the skies.  The image of the eagle’s face appeared once again, “sorry Pudgy I had to go get our friends.”

A large white polar bear’s face appeared, “PUDGY!  CAN WE COME TOO?”  A large grizzly bear peeked in, “da comrade Pudgy, we want to come too!”  Bo and Bill peeked, “please mate, don’t leave us here, we want to come!”  The hedgehog nodded, “every animal friend can come to the forest.  Pwease, one at a time step onto the node, and Pudgy will bring you here.”  The full body of the eagle appeared overhead, and Pudgy raised his paws up towards the sky.  The ley line beam pulsed strongly, and suddenly the large Philippine eagle appeared and landed hard on the ground beside the startled owl.  Then Snortapoopus appeared overhead, and the beam of light pulsed much strong this time, with a large polar bear falling out of the sky and landing hard on top of the sleeping white tiger.

Blood honey roared, “ow!  What the heck?  Umm … hello …who are you?”  The white polar bear stood up and backed away from the startled female tiger, “my apologies … I think we should back up.  Ivan does not bounce as well as I do.”  As the large animals started to back away, Heather bounced quickly on her talons quickly on the ground.  It was just as well, since at the same time the group watched as huge Russian grizzly bear fell out of the sky and landed hard on a fallen log.  He started cursing in Russian, and stood up blinking in the low light conditions.  Shortly afterwards, a koala bear then a large panda bear fell out of the sky in short order.  Once all friends had been summoned, the beam of light disappeared as an exhausted hedgehog dropped onto the ley line node’s smooth stone surface wiggling his paws in all directions.  “Owwwwww ……Pudgy …over …did it…. again.” 

Dave looked around, noticing it was dark out, “if I remember correctly … I think the Philippines is 12 hours ahead … so that makes it night here.  But there is no jet lag … so we are good to go.  Pudgy, I cannot believe it … I am here …. In your forest!”  The other bears nodded and started to bounce excitedly, with Heather and Blood Honey looking at each other, before greeting the newcomers.  After introductions were exchanged, the tired hedgehog was scooped up by Ivan and placed on the back of the white tigress.  The bears fell in line behind the female white tiger, as they headed down the gill and through the forest towards Friendship Town.  Down the hill they went while carefully navigating around the dark port buildings of the dragon cove.  There were oohs and ahhs by the visitors, as they continued around the narrow bend to reach the grassy strip that was just outside of the hedgehog’s underground home.   Thankfully the large bears did not have any accidents along the way, so no building repairs were needed. 

By the time they had reached Pudgy’s home, the little hedgehog had recovered enough to slide off Blood Honey’s back, and then start hugging every animal in attendance.  As the large bears sat beside the quietly flowing river that ran in front of the underground home, Snortapoopus looked up into the night sky.  “Finally, here in Pudgy’s forest.  Hey, here is the moon.”  He pointed with his paw, while starting to fan himself with his other paw, “it is rather warm here.”  Bo the panda nodded, “yes …finally … I prefer a warm climate.  I wonder if they have any tasty bamboo here?”  Bill Koala laughed, “I could go for a beer myself.  Too bad Ivan drank it all!”  The Russian grizzly bear was about to say something, when he was suddenly hugged by Pudgy.  Ivan watched as suddenly the small critter ran inside through a round front door nearby, and one by one little lighted windows started to appear in the ground.  The windows opened, and Pudgy’s voice called out, “Pudgy make tea now!”       

Bill Koala watched as a tiny metal chimney pipe started to puff with white smoke, and the scent of burning wood wafted in the air.  He bent down, and peeked through a round window, to see the hedgehog scampering about inside the underground home.  “Oh wow … Pudgy …that is a nice home you have mate!”  Well, the comment made by the koala bear prompted a delicate dance of large bears jockeying about for position so that they could look though the tiny window.  There was no way that any of them would be able to fit inside the underground home.  Mr. Dave was last to get a look, and chirped when he saw Heather owl inside and wiggling her tail feathers playfully at him. “Hey, that is not fair …  Heather fits inside the house!” The former human man whimpered, which drew more looks from the bears, and then loud laughter. 

As the time passed, more residents of the town were awakened and peeked out at the group of large bears sitting outside of Pudgy’s home.  They had never seen these animals before, and it took every bit of effort by Mr. and Mrs.  Bunny to restrain their children back and not hop over to see them.  There were majorly pouting bunnies forced back to rest, and protests occurring with the bunny burrow. Bo Panda noticed the peeking animals in the low light conditions, but could see the earliest traces of twilight dawn appearing in the distant skies.   Smiling widely, the panda looked at Ivan who was busy pawing at the river flowing past.  The grizzly bear was intently studying the water, and with a lightning quick jab, was able to catch a small silver fish.  He popped it into his mouth, “mmm … now …to find twenty more of those.”    

Eventually tiny cups of a uniquely tasting tea was served through the round kitchen window of the underground home.  The newcomers did what every animal did when they first arrived, and downed the beverage in one gulp.  Blood Honey yawned while giggling at their expectant looks, “I know what you are thinking.  I thought the same when I first came here.  I love coming over for tea at Pudgy’s house.  You must remember; he is a little hedgehog.  It takes time to produce things to eat and drink.”  As the larger animals nodded, Mister Dave chirped happily as the unique taste of the spice bush was still in his mouth.   The tigress continued, “Dave …do you remember the easy bake ovens?”  The eagle rubbed his beak with his wing tip, “was that toy you can bake a cake with a light bulb?”  The tigress nodded, “yes that is the toy.  Pudgy’s kitchen is just like that … it tastes great, but you only get a little piece.”   

As the morning sun appeared on the eastern horizon, another round of tea and light refreshments to tiny muffins were provided.  Snortapoopus tried his best to make it last, but was unsuccessful, and gulped the food down.  The other bears had similar results, but all were happy and excited as soon the various animals of the town came across a wooden bridge that spanned the river.  The bunnies were first, and started bouncing happily around the new comers.  Introductions were made, and the bears from distant lands were the center of attention.  Each one told stories of their homelands, of the bear mother on Kodiak Island, of the huge party on the island, and the epic voyage across the ocean on the fishing boat.  Bill made sure to tease Ivan again, but the grizzly was tired of it, and tossed the koala bear into the river. 

Round after round of tea was made, served, drunk, until the full light of morning returned.  The tigress had fallen asleep, and when the large polar bear peeked inside of Pudgy’s home, he saw that both the owl and hedgehog inside had fallen asleep as well.  Chuckling to himself, a red panda appeared and waved his paws at the visiting bears and eagle.  After Drew’s introduction was completed, he waved his paws at the group, “how about we head to Mr. Bear’s cabin?  It is not very far from here, and he can offer some drinks, of an adult variety.  We should let Pudgy rest.”  The group nodded, and started to follow slowly behind the red panda bear, with the sea eagle following at the rear of the parade.  “I wonder what sorts of things happen here in Pudgy’s forest?” The former human remarked out loud, as he walked past the area where the Determined ship was built.  One thing was for certain, he was far away from his homeland, and would enjoy every moment of this trip. 

The group was gone for most of the day, and returned with Mr. Bear and Grandpa Bear in the evening.  The various animals of the town gathered around the stage, and cheered as Drew approached the stage.  Mr. Elk and his daughters stomped their hooves, while Cobalt and Dave sat on a sturdy oak tree branch and chirped loudly.  “Welcome all animals of Friendship Town to the season finale of …. who stole the bologna. Let the show …. begin!”  As the red panda backed away, the field mice ran out and were dressed in brightly colored clothes, and started to act out the play.  The large polar bear looked confused, but that was fixed when Mr. Bear pawed over a large clay jug of a bear strength liquor.  As the play wrapped up, it the townsfolk cheered and the mice took a bow. Ivan looked confused, “wait …so what happened to the Bologna?”  Snortapoopus passed the jug, “I do not know.  But this stuff helps ….” The bears clapped their paws, and cheered on the actors.  Friendship Town was indeed an interesting place, and they looked forward to many days of fun and silliness.           


War Cry: Chapter 1: War Memorial

The sound of a gently blowing breeze, and children playing in the distance softly mumbled in the background.  There was also the myriad of chatter in the treetops of the various birds.  The sun was so very warm, making it the perfect sort of day to rest.  A gentle shaking started to be felt, causing the tranquility to stir a bit, as the scene started to reveal itself when Pudgy opened his eyes.  A well-manicured park was seen, with cobblestones paw carved out of thick pieces of slate.  White and blue flowers grew in neat rows, while a family of red-tailed squirrels milled about a stone fountain.  The water was spraying out of the top of the fountain, and cascading down into the larger deeper basin that surrounded it. 

A small light brown field mouse dressed in a school uniform of black trousers and a white shirt was staring at him.  “My mister hedgehog, you fell asleep!”  Pudgy nodded, and smiled at the young child.  “Oh my, I certainly did, didn’t I?  What time is it?”  The mouse turned to look past the fountain, and towards a rectangular piece of stone with a clock built into it.  “It is 10 am … oh shoot …I am late for school!  Bye, bye, Mr. Hedgehog!”  The hedgehog waved as the field mouse ran quickly off through the park, and disappeared out of view behind a large set of bushes. 

The hedgehog sighed and eased himself from the bench and reached for his wooden cane.  As his joints popped, the critter leaned on the cane and started to walk slowly along the pale gray shale cobblestones.  Towards the fountain he headed, though it took him a bit of time since he did not move as well as he once did.  Upon reaching the fountain, he looked down to see an elderly hedgehog looking back with gray fur.  “When did Pudgy get so old?  Pudgy forgot … 10 o clock?  I best be going myself.”  Walking slowly, the rhythmic tap of his cane on the stones marked time as the hedgehog walked through the park and past the stone clock.  The monument was a silent testimony to the town’s past, etched with the names of friends long gone.  The elderly critter stopped for a moment to read the names carved in the stone.  Pausing at the name of Cobalt, he pressed a paw on the stone and sniffed his nose.  The family of squirrels took notice, and shooed their energetic children away to give the critter a moment to himself.

After a few minutes passed, and a long bout of sighing, Pudgy started to walk again.  He headed past the spice bushes growing tall out of the soil. And made a left towards a long cobblestone street, that led into the town proper.  Over the years, Friendship town had grown into quite the place to be.  They now had cobblestone lined streets, with lamps to chase away the darkness at night.  All manner of stone cottages were built from locally quarried pale stone, with roofs made of cedar shingles.  The town stage was still there, but much greater than when it was initially built.  There were now concentric circles around the stage, where many more animals could sit on crushed stone.      

Raising his left paw, Pudgy waited patiently until a young red fox ran up pulling a wagon behind him.  The fox grinned and waved, “where will it be Mister Hedgehog?”  Pudgy walked slowly up, and climbed into the black wooden wagon emblazoned with TAXI on the side.  As he sat down, there was a wooden box in front of him with a slot on the top.  Reaching into his vest pocket, Pudgy withdrew a silver metallic coin and plopped it into the box.  The coin clinked loudly inside, and the fox nodded while wiggling his tail.  “Please take me to the grand transport,” Pudgy said while watching the fox start to move forward.  Currency was still a new concept for the town, but the last couple years found more of an adoption of the method of payment for goods and services.  Thankfully for the fox, his passenger was not heavy at all, so after a few steps, the wagon was speeding along. 

Through the town they headed, passing row after row of homes.  Many animals had moved into town from places far away, and over the years, the town had grown in an organic way around the original structures.  Several child rabbits waved as the taxi passed by, with Pudgy returning their greeting with a smile as well.  It was not long until the taxi had reached a bend in the row, which led to a stone bridge that spanned the river.  The original wooden bridge had rotted away, so the town had decided to rebuild with stone so that it would last much longer.  There was no sway anymore, a nice solid surface that could accommodate two fox pulled taxis going in either direction.  His snow fox friend Mary and her husband had many sons, and they put them all to work with the family business.  The fox taxi service had commandeered the market in the surrounding area, though rumors of a competitor fluttered in the wind like wind carried seeds.        

After crossing the bridge, they turned right and started to follow the road marked with a white sign that read Dragon Road.  The younger animals never knew why it was called Dragon Road, nor why the cove was called Dragon cove.  Dragons do not exist, and it was just silly words on street signs.  The hedgehog smirked as he pondered what the children said, and could just barely see his underground home in the distance.  Soon the underground home with its round windows and doors was gone when they entered the industrial port.  The once quiet cove had bulked up considerably with additional buildings and storage sheds.  The port was now home to three steam ships of varying capacity, with the largest being able to ferry groundhogs.  Speaking of which, as the smell of wood smoke hung thick in the air, the hedgehog watched dirty groundhogs shoveling coal from the barges docked along the pier.  The foul-mouthed diggers had found a source of coal, and had been mining it for a couple years now from the tall hills nearby to Beaver Town. 

The road eased left and right, as the fox slowed their progression as the taxi passed through the shopping district.  It had made sense to locate it near the port, and all manner of stores had been created to sell a variety of wares.  Foods from all over were sold, as well as the latest fashions at reasonable prices.  There were so many new animals in town, that Pudgy could not remember all their names.  Still many waved, while others were too absorbed in their transactions.  The smell of cinnamon was in the air, which meant the squirrels had fired up their oven.  Pudgy always liked to get a paw full after lunch, when his old bones would allow for the walk up to Zippy and Zany Squirrel’s Hot Nuts.  There was always a snicker, a wink, and a nod with each order.  Pudgy still didn’t get the joke, but he did like the caramelized sugar taste that coated the acorns.   

Once the taxi had exited the shopping district, the road ascended up the hill towards the original location of the ley line grove of oak trees.  The ancient oaks had started to sprout, and some had even managed to spread their boughs into the air.  The fox wiggled his tail, and his ears bounced as they continued to follow the road.  It wound to the right and then back to the left between tall oak trees full of yellow leaves.  Despite the warmth of the son, there was a bit of a chill on the air, signaling the arrival of fall.  They approached a wide circular path of polished white limestone, and soon slowed as he pulled the wagon up to the unloading spot.  Wiggling his ears, “we are here Mr. Hedgehog. Thank you for choosing Fox Taxi service for your trip.”  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “thank you Mr. Fox,” he said as he exited the wagon.  The hedgehog had sat too long, so his muscles had locked up a bit.  However, the fox was patient and rested while the hedgehog exited the vehicle.  This was also an opportunity to pick up a return fare, before heading home to his mother.    

The hedgehog took up his wooden cane once more, and once his paws were on the stone pavers, walked away from the wagon and headed towards the gate.  This place had almost remained the same, as any development could be affected by the ley line.  With the assistance of Angeliki raven, and a Japanese counterpart: the ley line was able to be reopened for a permanent connection between their town and the Kiyomizu-Dera gate in Japan.  The second main route was the connection to Mt. Apo in the lands once known as the Philippines.  While not often, Mr. Dave would occasionally visit with a load of plantains from the jungle.  That was a rare treat, as bananas did not grow anywhere close to their village due to the climate.  Recently, there had also had a temporary connection established to Scotland.  The connection was spotty, so it was not available for active usage yet.  The demigoddess had personal reasons for wanting to open the connection, and had never been very clear why.  No one pushed her on it, because she was trusted by all animal friends on town.    

The rings of stones that once lay on the dirt ground, had been replaced with permanent rings of white polished limestone.  To mark each destination location, decorations had been crafted from local stone. An elegant crane statue signified the direction of Japan, and Mt. Apo was represented by a stone statue of a sea eagle that looked very much like Mr. Dave.  The sea eagle protested mightily on each visit that they really should pick a different marker to represent his home.  Clocks were also built into the granite stone bases, and attuned to the rime that each location represented.  The hour hand and minute hands of the clock silently ticked away as they kept proper time.  There was also a small pavilion nearby, where the former human would wait for the various travelers who wished to use the ley line.  Pudgy did not need to maintain a constant presence here anymore, so it facilitated travel for all parties. 

As Pudgy walked, the rhythmic tap of the tip of his cane on the pave stones, resulted in a look from his raven friend.  Chirping happily, Angeliki strode over towards him and waved her wing tips at him.  The hedgehog smiled in return, while he pondered about the cost to use the ley line.  The critter quickly remembered that there was no fee to use the ley line, but you did have to talk to the raven in order to gain access.  It was mainly a security issue, more than a financial one.  Donations for gate maintenance were appreciated though, at least that was what the Greek bird would say when pressed on the matter.  “Pudgy … it is good to see you!  And where are you off to today … an unauthorized adventure?  The town council will be most displeased if that is the case.  And you know how Argente gets … for that matter?”  The little hedgehog nodded, “Pudgy knows.  Pudgy need to head to Kiyomizu-Dera, for official town business.  They are dedicating the war memorial there.”  The raven nodded, and looked sad for a moment.  “It has been ten years … huh?  I can feel it in my feathers, and my back for that matter.  Ok, please have a good trip, and come home soon.”

The raven motioned with her wing, and watched as her elderly friend walked out and to the center of the ley line.  It was hard to see the once bouncing energetic hedgehog grow old, and move so slowly.  Pudgy had lived for a time longer than most hedgehogs, and it was wonderful to savor each day he was still with them.  In a quick flash of blue light as he reached the center of the ley line paver stones, the critter watched the forest town disappear and suddenly be replaced by the ancient stone fountain of the holy temple.  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but soon the hedgehog could see that the skies were dark.  The smell of candles burning, from above drew his attention.  He could see that the area was lit with red lanterns made of paper.  The black kanji written on the sides indicated that this was the Akio ley station.  Water lilies were growing in the fountain pools, with ancient Japanese inscriptions carved into the stone.  It was a mixture of Shinto and Buddhist sayings, proverbs, etc. 

Taking a moment to acclimate, the hedgehog looked around and noticed the shinobi rabbits were stationed about various places around the fountain.  Turning to his left, the hedgehog walked slowly towards a sleeping orange fox dressed in a white Shinto priest robe.  After a few minutes of slow walking, the elderly hedgehog reached the priest, and gently placed his paw on the sleeping fox’s nose.  Gently the critter shook him, and soon the fox slowly opened his brown eyes and looked at Pudgy.  Pudgy spoke first with a smile, “Have you been waiting for Pudgy a long time Kiyoshi?  Pudgy sorry, Pudgy fell asleep in the park at Friendship Town.”  The Shinto priest wiggled his ears as he looked at the hedgehog, “no … I got here maybe a few minutes ago.  The Kaito has me working extra for the ceremony tomorrow morning.  Please get on my back, I will take you to the reception.  I believe that may have started now.” 

The hedgehog nodded, and slowly climbed up onto the fox’s back.  It was so much harder now that he was older, but the fox waited patiently to ensure the critter was safe before standing up.  They walked past the shinobi rabbit guards, dressed in their black outfits who snapped to attention when Pudgy passed by.  The reaction of the guards drew a smile and a wave from the hedgehog,  It was a marked difference from their initial reaction when he had first come to Japan many years ago.  The ancient stone steps had been cut back and adjusted to accommodate animal standards.  So, while it took a bit longer to maneuver, it was much easier as they ascended the stairs and towards the main temple buildings. 

The two soon passed underneath a series of red Torri gates, that had been restored to their original state of repair.  The base of the posts was black, and the rest painted with a red crimson.  After the first set of stairs, there was a small stone platform, which overlooked the surrounding ocean waters.  It was too dark to see the ocean, but the moonlight did faintly illuminate the waves as they crashed against the distant shores.  The sound of the ocean was enough to remind all its presence.  The waters had come far inland, though the temple and surrounding grounds were well fortified against attack or natural disasters.  Soon the priest made another left to head up another long stretch of stairs.  By the time the fox reached the top, he was huffing a bit while he spoke. “It’s been years … and those stairs never get any better.”  Pudgy chuckled while he wiggled his nose, “did the Kannushi let you put in the slide as Pudgy suggested?”  The Shinto priest nodded, “oh yes, and we all love to use it.  Even the old fart likes to slide down it while praying.”  The critter laughed, “prayers to the gods?”  Kiyoshi laughed and shook his head, “no …prayers to stop.” 

The ancient temple had been rebuilt, and restored to its former magnificence during the time of humans.  Towering spires of red painted wood stretched high into the sky.  The unique curvature of the black Japanese roof construction adorned the buildings, while more tube-like red paper lanterns illuminated the structure.  The surrounding buildings had also been rebuilt, and adapted for animal usage.  Fushimi village, Fushimi Inari Taisha, and the Imperial palace had been relocated to the mountain temple.  The high altitude allowed to safely form the home of the Japanese animals.  Like Friendship Town, their temple had grown in density and built quickly back into a small city.  Electrical power had been restored, and even modern conveniences like internet had been restored.  Pudgy heard rumors that when they had turned on the computers, that there were crazy internet women called Vtubers that had been stuck on a server this entire time playing something called Ever quest 1.0.           

Thoughts about the electrical women soon disappeared from the hedgehog’s thoughts, as he could see ahead of them the courtyard between the temple buildings.  A gathering of various animals was present, milling about and talking happily amongst themselves.  The Shinto foxes were standing proudly in the white robes, while the Kaito could be seen busy attending to the Crane Empress.  As Kiyoshi reached the edge of the gathering, he eased down to let Pudgy climb from his back.  “Here we are Pudgy … I will let the Kaito know you are here.”  Pudgy stood up, leaning on his cane, and watched the orange fox pad quickly off and through the crowd.  Once again, the hedgehog paused to get his muscles working again, and waved as many animals recognized and waved at him.  Once more, the Shinobi Rabbit guards went to attention, and relaxed once the hedgehog had passed. 

With the rhythmic tap of his cane, the elderly hedgehog walked slowly until he reached a group of field mice dressed in vibrant pink kimonos.  Stopping a moment to rest, he wiggled his nose as he caught the scent of Japanese tea being served somewhere.  The female field mice giggled and twitched their noses as they spoke to one another.  A small brown field mouse walked up to Pudgy and smiled as he twitched his nose.  He too was wearing clothing like a kimono, which the hedgehog thought might be called a yukata, but it was of a dark gray color.  “Konnichiwa Pudgy,” the field mouse said as he bowed.  Pudgy returned the bow, and spoke wile he rose, “Konnichiwa Daiki-san.  It is good to see you.  How was the harvest?”  The field mouse beamed with pride, “the fields are better than ever.  We increased our crop yield three-fold, and even the second rice field is starting to produce!” 

Pudgy nodded, “thank goodness.  Pudgy was starting to worry, based on our discussion the last time Pudgy visited.”  Daiki nodded, “yes.  I would introduce you to my daughters, but it would seem they are having too much fun with their friends.  Care for some tea?”  The hedgehog nodded, and walked slowly with his friend.  “A proper Japanese tea does sound good at the moment …” The critter said, as they slowly maneuvered between the various rabbits, mice, chipmunks, foxes, wood peckers, owls, and other animals in attendance.  The crane empress was also in attendance, though she was busy handling affairs of state … now … though that could change.  The two friends reached a food cart that had been set up, attended to by a familiar gray rabbit.  The rabbit waved his paw, “konnichiwa Pudgy!”  The hedgehog grinned as he bowed slightly, “konnichiwa Minato.  It is good to see you.  Can Pudgy and Daiki have some tea please.” 

The gray rabbit nodded, and carefully poured two brown clay tall cups full of the steaming brown liquid. Once poured, the rabbit gently slid the cups on the wooden work surface of the cart towards the hedgehog and fieldmouse.  Pudgy wiggled his nose, “Pudgy received word that your Grandfather Goro passed last year.  Pudgy sorry for your loss.”  Minato nodded, “arigoto Pudgy.  I still miss him, but each day gets better.  Oh Sichio Touma …do you want some tea as well?”  The hedgehog turned to see the leader of the shinobi rabbits standing behind him, smiling as he twitched his nose and making his whiskers dance.  “Hai … Minato.  Pudgy Hedgehog, glad you could make it to our reception.”  The black rabbit placed a paw on the hedgehog’s shoulder and patted it before reaching over for his cup of tea.  Daiki and Pudgy reached for theirs, and the trio sipped slowly.      

The tea tased delicious as always, with a rich deep flavor that Friendship Town was never able to duplicate.  Despite his efforts to find out their methods of production, the Japanese kept their secrets close to their chest.  Sighing contentedly, Pudgy smiled as he looked at the rabbit.  “Pudgy has been looking forward to this for awhile now, since the empress offered her invitation.  Speaking of which, Pudgy should head over to her.”  Sichio nodded, “finish your tea first.  I know an old timer like you can use it.”  The hedgehog laughed, “Pudgy has cane. Pudgy can still get a hit in or two before Shinobi rush in.”  Daiki laughed, “yes, and then you would fall down, and need help from a nearby young child to get back up.”  The black rabbit laughed, “getting older stinks.”  The trio laughed heartily for a long time while they finished their beverages.  Each animal returned the cups back to a wooden table next to the food cart, which was designated for the unclean drinking vessels. 

Pudgy walked slowly beside Sichio, and through the crowd. There were many well wishes and greetings to the hedgehog as he headed towards the wooden platform where the crane empress stood.  After a few minutes passed, and some assistance by a young black shinobi rabbit, Pudgy made it up to where she stood.  Bowing deeply Pudgy showed his respect, while leaning harder on his cane during the process.  The white crane giggled, “Pudgy, it is so good to see you.  You do not need to bow that low, it is ok to rise.”  The hedgehog laughed, “Pudgy glad to see you too, thank you for invite Pudgy to gathering.  Pudgy back locked up … Pudgy need minute.”  With some slow maneuvers, his back moved once more, and the critter was able to look upwards at the white crane.  The former human female laughed, which was a series of short chirps coming from her long pale gray beak.    

The empress has ascended to the throne, and had been ruling the unified country of Japan for the last seven years.  Her father had passed away after the terrible war had ended, and during the time of reconstruction.  The former princess had quickly adapted to her new role, and the surrounding lands were flourishing under her leadership.  The Diet had been reformed, made up of representatives from the various groups that made their land function.  Each animal had a voice, and while the Empress would have the final say, she welcomed all opinions and information equally.  The white crane turned towards the crowd, which caught their attention, and soon a hush had fallen over the crowd.  “Welcome every animal … one and all … to Kiyomizu-Dera.  I am pleased that you could attend this gathering.  Please follow me,” the crane empress said as she turned and walked.  The shinobi rabbit guard fell into a phalanx around her, to guard from any potential threat.    The various animals all fell into a silent procession behind the tall white bird.   

They walked a gently sloping path of crushed white stone, which wound around the various hills of the tall mountain.  No animal walked in front of the Empress, though the impatient Shinto foxes really wanted to get ahead of her.  It was not long until all animals could see why.  Almost a hundred little white paper lanterns were attached to tiny wooden boats.  The empress stopped, and turned around to face the approaching crowd.  The foxes taking their cue, rushed around her, and started hurriedly lighting the candles within each lantern boat.  After a few moments had passed, and the moon was shining directly overhead, the crane empress spoke once again.  “A traditional that dates back to the times of our ancestors, we shall send well wishes to those who died in the war of the ocean.”  The white crane turned around, and walked slowly to where a paper lantern boat was waiting for her.  The Kaito had lit the candle himself, and positioned it so that she could easily push it out onto the water.  “I miss you father, please rest well, I am following your advice and leading our country in a way I feel honors your wishes.”

Pudgy watched as the boat floated out, and the faint light of the candle revealed that this was a large pond of fresh water and lilies.  It served as the temple’s main water source, and was a tranquil reflecting pool.  The empress motioned with her wings, and soon each animal approached and took a lantern.  They offered silent prayers to their deceased loved ones, and pushed the boat out into the water.  It was an orderly, silent process, with tears emerging from even the sternest of eyes.  Pudgy waited patiently, until it was his turn, and picked up the little boat.  Walking carefully, he placed the boat into the water, “I miss you … all of my friends who passed …  Please be well, wherever you went.”  The little hedgehog started crying, as the boat floated out into the water, and joined the others as they bobbed about.  As he wiped the tears from his eyes with the back of his paw, the hedgehog moved aside so others could launch their boats. 

As Sichio Touma launched the last boat, he snapped to attention, and the shinobi guards did as well.  The rabbits all began to sing, words of Japanese that the hedgehog did not understand. Kannushi Kaito, the elderly head Shinto fox priest turned to face the temple and lifted a lantern boat into the air with his front paws.  Ceremoniously he turned and placed the boat into the water, launching it.  In the distant spires, on a floor high from the ground, ancient bells started to ring.  Their deep sound echoed in the air, as the rabbits grew silent, and all watched in reverence at the tranquil scene of glowing boats in the darkness.  An unknown amount of time passed, and the crescent moon travelled its path in a star filled sky above.  Eventually the empress spoke, “take as much time as you need to reflect.  Tomorrow at sunrise, we will dedicate our memorial to the dead, and offer further prayers to the heavens above for peace in our remaining time.  I will take my leave now, oyasumi.” 

The Crane Empress carefully maneuvered around the crowd, to slowly walk back up the path towards where she resided within the temple grounds.  The shinobi rabbits fell into formation around her, and quickly disappeared into the night dressed in their dark attire.  The various animals started to depart as well, with soon only Pudgy and Kannushi Kaito remaining at the edge of the water.  The little boats continued to float on the water’s surface, and the candle light flickered within the translucent white paper boxes on each deck.  The head priest spoke first, “I knew this was going to be hard on you, Pudgy.”  The little hedgehog was still crying, “Pudgy miss Cobalt so much.  Pudgy miss all friends who went away so much.  Why is Pudgy still here?”  The orange fox looked sad, and gently patted his head with his front left paw.  “The gods have their reasons Pudgy.  I stopped questioning their wishes a long time ago.  Let us head back to the temple, you may rest there until tomorrow’s dedication.”

The hedgehog nodded, and slowly turned away from the water.  The elderly hedgehog moved slowly, while drying his eyes.  Kaito was also moving slowly, as he too was far older than any fox had ever lived up to this point.  It took about an hour, of maneuvering the white stone paths, to circle up the hill, and around to the left behind the main temple building.  By the time both animals had arrived, they were exhausted and sat down as soon as they found an empty cushion within the long rectangular room.  In times long past, this area was used for storage of supplies for the temple.  Now, it had been repurposed to quarters for the Shinto priests.  Pudgy immediately fell asleep, with Kaito grinning a bit before laying his weary body down as well.  “Oyasumi ..” he muttered as sleep soon overtook him as well.  The exhausted priests had been hard at work all day, and all slept silently within the nondescript room.

Almost too quickly, the blissful oblivion of sleep was dispelled by a gentle shake from a cold fox nose.  Pudgy opened his eyes and waved at the Shinto priest fox.  “Pudgy is up, is it time?”  The young fox nodded, and motioned with his head for the hedgehog to climb up on his back.  It took a couple attempts to roll up to his paws, and then slowly walk over to climb up onto his back.  “Pudgy doesn’t move like Pudgy used to,” the hedgehog said with a sigh.  After a few attempts, he was able to mount the fox’s back and held gently to silver fur sticking out from various places of the white robe.  The nondescript brown wooden doors were open, and a cool breeze was blowing in from outside.  The pink twilight dawn had just started to emerge, with a noticeable hint of moisture on the breeze. 

The fox nodded as he moved at a brisk pace, “looks like rain is coming.  I hope we can finish the ceremony before it arrives.”  Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy hope so too.”  The critter noticed they were following the same path back to the pool where the lantern boats were launched not too long before.  As the sunlight increased, Pudgy could see statues coming into focus.  The pool of water was enclosed in a rectangular stone, and the familiar Torri gates marked the entrance and exits to the reflecting water.  Orange bonsai trees were expertly pruned, as well as their larger cousins around the area.  The animals from the night before were arriving, and starting to be directed by the shinobi towards a large statue of a white crane.  Pudgy smiled weakly, “the Crane Emperor’s statue turned out nice.”  The fox beamed with pride, “we have been hard at work on that for years.  There was a committee, and I was responsible for carving his legs.” 

Cranes had delicately long legs, so the fact that such a crucial component was trusted to the young fox, was a high honor for him.  If he had messed up, the statue would fall over and break.  As they approached the rear of the crowd ,the young priest stopped and eased down to let his hedgehog rider disembark.  Pudgy slid off from the fox’s back, and patted him gently on the side of his head. “Thank you, Mr. Fox,” Pudgy said as he started to slowly walk forward while leaning on the cane.  The various animals had dressed in somber colored kimono and yukatas of grays and browns.  Gone were the vibrant colors from the night before, and a mournful silence hung on the air.  The smaller animals had gathered towards the left, while the larger ones arranged themselves to not be too much in the way of one’s view.  The crowd all started to bow, as the crane Empress appeared as she walked through the gate that approached the gathering.

Pudgy bowed too, though the large crack that could be heard from his spine made several field mice wince.  The hedgehog stole a glance at the procession of the Shinto foxes, and watched as Kannushi Kaito bowed deeply before the empress.  She looked somber, and nodded in return, motioning with her right wing to proceed.  The head priest bowed again, and turned slowly to face the crowd.  The priest spoke calmly, with a well-rehearsed speech in Japanese.  Many animals in the crowd started to cry, including the empress.  The words were concluded, and then the fox spoke in animal speak.  Kaito nodded, “for those of you whom do not know the words of our ancestors.  I shall translate thusly.

Our dear friends’ lives have ended, with the passing of our dear friends, the memories of times, have come to an end, their threads wove the fabric of an earlier day. Our dear friends’ lives have ended, with the passing of our friends, sunrises and sunsets, bright days and dark nights circled again and again, and gave context to their lives, moment after moment, their lives were lived each day.

Our dear friend’s lives have ended, with the passing of our friends, lives have been touched by the dear one’s journey, laughter, tears, hopes, fears, their lives have come to an end, memory hold their spirit alive, in our own lives. Their lives have ended, with the passing of our friends, the loss of future moments, that will not be, grateful for moments shared, that nourished me, moments lived, in casual belief, they would never end.

A part of me has ended, with the passing of our friends, be they gone from the earthly plane, their spirits soar, to renew again, in summer land, heaven or another life, I know not where, but their love remains with me, for in this life, we friends, did share. I miss our friends, but they will always be near, inside of me, inside you, and all who took time to hear, the music of this life so dear, a life now silent, living only in the memory, of those who survive.”

The words of the priest echoed in the air, and the ancient bells started to ring out with a somber tone.  As the first vision of the rising sun could be seen, the tranquil garden came into full view.  Statues of animals had been carved by the priests.  The statues stood heroically as they looked towards the center reflecting pool.  The little lantern boats had all been cleaned up, so the water was free of debris.  The remaining candles had been repurposed towards little shrines that had been set up at each statue.  The empress bowed before the statue of her father, and placed a wing on the side of the statue.  She spoke words, which none could hear, and then turned around once more to face the crowd. 

“This garden shall provide a place of peace and respite, while we remember the terrible effects of the war with the ocean.  The lives we lost, the friends missing, and families separated … shall burn in our hearts brightly.  None will forget the cruelty of the ocean, and now we came together to defeat the truest and darkest of evil.  I hereby dedicate this garden to my father the emperor, and all those who served him, as well as those assisted him in the defense of our nation.  I declare this memorial available for all animals’ general use.  You may rise, and explore the area.  Our priests have done an excellent job with the carvings.”

Pudgy started to slowly stand upright, and could see the Shinto foxes were bouncing slightly from the compliment.  The animals started to separate, and fan out throughout the gardens.  Once it was safe to walk, the elderly hedgehog walked slowly while leaning on his cane.  Cobblestones of hardened granite had been laid by humans hands hundreds of years ago.  Despite war, weather, and the various disruption of this world: they never shifted nor a weed grew between them.  The oak trees were full of leaves, and their branches swayed in the wind above him.  The birds were chirping as they spoke in their high-pitched voices.  There was still a large crowd around the emperor’s statue, so Pudgy decided to head towards one of the perimeter statues. 

After a short trip, and several stops to give his hips a rest, the hedgehog stood before several bears carved in granite.  “Mr. Bear … Grandpa Bear …. Snortapoopus … Ivan …. Bo …. Bill.” Pudgy whimpered, as he placed a paw on the placard at the statue’s base.  The statues were not bear sized, but were scaled in such a way to be of size for frame of reference.  Looking up at the bears through tear filled eyes, Pudgy remembered a time before war.  When his bear friends were still alive, and they were happy. 


Hunted: Chapter 5: Gettysburg

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. 


Hunted: Chapter 4: Baltimore

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.        


Hunted: Chapter 3: Slades Hill

The two timid hedgehogs looked out from the wooden crate they were trapped inside, as the world passed by at an astonishingly quick pace.  Hours had passed, and the constant noise from the humans’ contraption and their constant banter meant that they were surrounded by noise.  Thoughts drifted to the quietness of their home and the surrounding forest.  The lorry was hauling the wreckage of the downed German bomber, and was heading to a temporary base that had been built in the town of Enfield.  On the top of the tallest hill in the area, the British army had installed a battery of cannons and anti-aircraft weaponry.  Similar gun emplacements had been constructed around the city of London to defend the city from aerial attack. 

The truck’s gear’s whined and clanged as the transmission was shifted into a lower gear as it began to ascend a winding road that led to the crest of the hill.  The solders in their green outfits were starting to get antsy, and were loading their weapons with brown or green metal cannisters that would click into the bottom of the weapon.  Others were loading long silver or gray tubes with pointed ends, and then would move a bar down and a clicking sound could be heard.  From inside the truck, the head human called out, “INCOMING!”  The air riad sirens were sounding once again, throughout the city.  Bill braced himself against the rear of the lorry’s cabin wall, and watched as 5 green bombers were starting an attack run over the city.  The bomb bay doors were opening, and a rain of black bombs were starting to pour out like tea from a kettle. 

A young soldier started to cry, “that looks like its over Walthamstow.  My Mum lives there …”  Bill punched his comrade’s arm to get his attention, which worked as the young man shot him a look.  “Cry tomorrow, we have a job to do.” The soldiers nodded at each other, and watched a huge blast had started to appear in the distance.  Tall buildings were crumbling, and started to collapse onto the streets in the distance.  The truck passed a sign hastily written with black paint over a white sign background that said Slades Hill.  The hedgehogs watched as the humans jumped off the back of the lorry, and immediately ran up to even larger weapons.  Bill shouted, “let us go lads!  Time to shove artillery shells so far up their back sides, their children will taste British steel!”  The human men responded in kind, and started to circle the strange object. 

The army had installed on thick concrete pads, four quad formations 4.5-inch Mark 2 anti-aircraft guns.  Their tall gray cannon barrels were sticking up high into the sky, and started to turn in the direction of the German Bombers.  Bill called out, “move your bloody arses!”  It was the first time the hedgehogs heard the man called something other than Bill, “staff sergeant Smith, ready to go sir!”  The soldier pointed, “FIRE!”  The humans all ducked down underneath a concrete emplacement, and the cannon began to shudder.  The ground shook violently, as the most horrible sound the critters had ever heard erupted from deep within the ground.  The cannon fired, and its shell blasted so quickly out of the barrel, that no one could see. 

Phillip was hugging Margaret tightly, and both were covering their ears with their paws.  The guns were firing one after another, the shockwaves of the weapons were causing their insides to slosh around.  It was making both critters sick to their stomachs, but the female was in greater distress.  Crying, Margaret stammered out, “Phillip we have to escape!”  Her mate nodded, and then started to look around the wooden crate.  The cannons kept firing, never stopping, over and over.  The lorry was shaking so hard, that every time the hedgehogs took a step, they were thrown to the wooden bottom of the crate.  It took all his effort to pull himself across the crate, to reach the edge of it, and he could see a piece of wire that had been twisted shut to keep the crate’s front lid shut.  Reaching out, the little hedgehog started to untwist the wires. 

The female hedgehog slid up towards her husband, and watched in the distance as one of the strange flying human objects was on fire, and starting to crash.  Somehow that object was making a louder noise, since it was starting to head directly towards where they were.  Screaming, “PHILLIP,” she tugged at her husband’s quills along his back.  The male hedgehog was making angry noises, as his paws were hurting terribly while untwisting the gray wire.  After many tense minutes, incessant weapon fire, and watching the strange object with the red flag on its tail heading ever closer, the front of the crate whipped open.  The two hedgehogs quickly ran out into the lorry’s bed, and watched as one of the human flying machines flew overhead.  As they looked up, more humans were inside, and were working levers to make the terrible black objects fall out.  They extended their right arms, and made a hand motion as they led forth another volley. 

All sound started to fade away, as the first of the black weapons of death landed on the ground.  An explosion occurred, and the two hedgehogs held on with dear life as the truck was thrown several meters opposite of the blast site, and fell over on its side.  The bomber parts slid, and started to crash onto the ground.  Their grip could not be maintained, and soon both critters fell off the contraption, and onto the hard packed ground below.  Pieces of German steel fell all around them, while Phillip grabbed his wife and started to scamper as fast as they could away from danger.  Margaret cried out, “PHILLIP, I’M SCARED!”  Her husband grabbed her paw, and they ran as fast as they could.  The smell of death was in the air, mixed with smoke, and terrible acrid smells.  They kept their eyes forward, heading towards a stacked stone wall. 

The lorry started leaking fuel, and with the engine still running, started to explode was the petrol caught flame.  Pieces of shrapnel both from the truck, and the recovered bomber were sent into the air.  Jagged shards rained from the sky, striking everything, including the soldiers as they continuously loaded and fired the cannons.  More of the terrible air things were flying overhead, and Margaret watched as the human tubes turned around to face the planes, while continuing to fire.  Flame and smoke were belched from the ends of the tubes, and their terrible contents flew into the air and struck the air things.  The female soon was jerked hard by her mate, and they continued to flee.  As she looked forward, she wiggled her nose and whimpered. 

The two hedgehogs stopped beside another strange human object.  It had two round wheels, and leather bags on each side of the rear part.  Phillip pointed at letters on the back, “can you ready this …. Huff … Magararet?”  She started to sound out the letters, while wheezing, “ K…i…nnnn….g ….George ….important ….Can ….arrr….eeee ….W…harr…..f?”  Phillip nodded, and started to undo a leather trap, trying to open the bag.  He was successful, and positioned himself to let his wife climb up and into the bag.  Nodding, as the first instinct was to hide, she climbed up her husband’s back and hopped into the leather bag.  As she peeked out from the bag, she watched Phillip climb up the metal parts, and hop inside as well.  Pulling down the flap, the two critters peeked out from within. 

They watched as two dogs started to run past, while two humans dressed in black walked past.  Phillip whispered, “it is those dogs again.  We need to stay here, till they go.”  Margaret nodded, and noticed inside were all sorts of papers.  Some were in folders of a pale yellow, while others were loose.  There were letters everywhere to read, and so she did, as it was keeping her mind busy.  Reading was much preferable, then worry about terrible dogs and their masters outside.  Phillip watched as a young human ran up towards them, so he pulled down the flap.  The critters felt the bag lower and then raise up, and a new sound filled the air.  The sounds of humans talking occurred again, “yes staff sergeant!  I will head to Canary Wharf!  Yes sir, I will let them know we need more ordinance!”       

What the two hedgehogs did not know, was that the bag they were in, was attached to a British army motorcycle.  The crystals had been destroyed, so the short wave radios the army used for communication, was offline.  Thus, couriers were being used, who travelled by motorcycle.  Phillip peeked out, watching the two humans in black talking to a soldier, and suddenly everything moving away very fast.  They were speeding off again, and being bounced around inside the leather saddle bag.  Both Phillip and Margaret peeked out, and watched the scenery speed past. The hill that led up to the army base was on fire, with jagged pieces of metal sticking out of the ground.  The human solider driving the motorcycle cursed out loud. “Bloody Germans … I used to go there with my father to watch the birds.

The critters watched as they started to pass through human towns and villages along the way.  Many of their homes were on fire, and destroyed.  Their method of transport had to weave between piles of debris, and the bodies of the fallen humans being laid out in the street.  Margaret shut her eyes and whimpered, while her husband watched and wondered why the humans were being so cruel to each other.  What should have only taken an hour at most, turned into an all-afternoon affair, to navigate the choked streets to head to Canary Wharf.  Once known as the West India Wharf, it was the center of finance and business for the human shipping companies for the nation.  Tightly packed buildings were partially destroyed, and trying to be repaired.  Though many had survived, and the two critters watched as they stopped and a human soldier approached.

“Oi … laddie …where ye goin?”  The Scottish accent was thick and unmistakable, as the young soldier saluted and responded.  “I just came from Slades Hill, they took down three of the German bombers.  They are requesting resupply, and the crystals are not working on the radio.”  The Scottish soldier nodded, “bloody crystals.  They will be the death of us one day … go ahead and pass.  Oh …King George …. I see … you are a royal courier.  Probably one of me betters, here with us bloody commonfolk.”  The young soldier called out over the engine, “we do not have time for this.  Our nation is under attack, who cares who my uncle is?”  The vehicle started to move again, and once more the critters watch as soon the buildings opened and huge ships could be seen peeking out from between the structures.  The smell of the river started to waft in the air, mixed in with the typical smells of the industrial section of London.  Acrid smoke filled the air, burning ones’ nose, while the fires burned on from the latest German raid.

Eventually, the motorcycle stopped, and the engine turned off.  Both critters felt the bag being lifted, and then swinging back and forth, as the soldier carried it.  Back and forth and back and forth, the bag swung over and over.  There were noises of humans, and machines around them, until finally the world stopped moving and quieted down after many long minutes had passed.  Margaret crawled out of the bag, and peeked from underneath the flap.  “Phillip, it’s all right.”  Her husband joined her, and peeked out.  The bag had been placed on a wooden bench, painted green, though it was starting to flake off.  Nodding to each other, the hedgehogs quickly scampered out of the bag, and hopped down underneath the wooden bench.  As they peeked from around the wide leg of the bench, they could see the young pale human dressed in the green outfit talking and making a hand motion which pressed against his head.   

“I certainly understand Staff Sergeant Smith’s predicament.  All our batteries are needing resupply, but I am unsure why he did not just use the radio?”  The young solder nodded, “the crystals in the short wave are not working.  Plus, I also had business to attend to here as well, on behalf of the palace.”  The older solider nodded, “I see …and you just happen to leave that important communication sitting on a bench in public often?”  The hedgehogs watched as the older human proceeded to berate and dress down the young soldier to the point, even they felt uncomfortable.  Phillip wiggled his nose, “bloody jerk that human is.”  Margaret giggled, “let us go my dear.”  Once more, they carefully scampered along the wall, and behind the benches that lined the wall.  Occasionally they would peek out to see if it was safe, and then duck back to continue.    

The two animals did not know, but they had been transported to the former commercial port of London.  The British Army and Navy had taken over vast portions of its buildings, to coordinate war efforts.  Because this was a kingdom, and not a republic, by order of King George it was so.  There was no negotiation, no request for compensation, only acknowledgement of the order of the monarch.  There were signs everywhere, painted neatly and easily read from a distance.  Margaret continued to sound things out, while she read for her husband.  Phillip wanted to learn letters too, but ultimate decided to let his wife do it, because he grew bored easily.  “Ar…t…ill …er….eee … m…ai…llll  service … oh wait, Mail service!  I recognize that.  That means the way home!”  Phillip nodded, and waited for several human soldiers in gray uniforms to pass, before scampering quickly with his wife across the street. 

The road surface was cobblestones, and several had picked up and were sticking out at jagged angles.  The humans would stomp down on them as they walked, to level the surface once again.  The two critters watched that as the human solders passed by to and fro.  Once again, they darted for the safety of a bench, this time painted gray.  The bricks that formed the surface of the wall were smooth and pale brown.  Following the signs for mail service, until they found an open doorway that led inside.  Quickly scooting around a human’s foot.  Margaret noticed it was a female human, dressed in a pale gray long dress that ran all the way to her ankles.  She giggled when Phillip ran between the woman’s feet, stopped a moment to look up, then ran past to join her once again.  Margaret giggled, “see anything interesting up there?”  Phillip shook his head, “all humans look the same, there is nothing special up there.  You are much prettier.”

With his wife giggling, and wiggling her rear end at him as she ran in front of him, they navigated around the room and underneath a counter.  There were more humans working, both men and women, dressed conservatively in proper British attire.  Margaret stopped as they reached a wooden crate, and quickly read out loud.  “Bal …ti…more …. Mary … Land ….  Here it is Phillip, the way back home.  This says Buntingford.”  Phillip nodded, and noticed a human man was starting to walk towards them.  The two hedgehogs quickly climbed up and hopped into the wooden crate.  Inside there were papers, that were enclosed tightly and strange pictures on the corners.  The farming village they lived in was called Buntingford by the humans.  And Margaret nodded to herself, as she sat proudly assuming she had read correctly.  They took a crate to get here, so it would be a crate to get back.  Maybe if they were lucky, they could be home by tomorrow.  Then never leave their home again, adventures were too dangerous, especially for dainty flowers like herself.

Before Phillip could say anything, a pile of papers was thrown inside the crate, and covered them up.  Then more papers were tossed inside, until finally it stopped.  The crate was picked up by a human, and loaded onto a metal cart.  Pushing the papers aside, the critters could see they were being moved somewhere.  Though soon their view was blocked, as more crates were stacked in front and around theirs.  Yawning, Phillip closed his eyes and fell asleep.  Margaret wanted to chide him for sleeping at a time like this, but as he made sleepy sounds, soon she too gave in and fell asleep.  Neither of the exhausted hedgehogs heard, nor saw anything occur, that would have been very important while they rested.  The letters and correspondence were insulating, and keeping them very warm.  All seemed safe, as the humans started to speak around them. 

“Charles … is that the last load for the ship?”  The human man nodded, while adjusting his round spectacles upon his nose.  Reading the invoice paperwork, “yes Harrold, this is the last load to go out.  When did we start sending mail and freight to Baltimore?”  The metal card had been loaded onto a platform, which was attached to a chain.  The chain started to go taught, as a crane began to move the contents onto a ship that had been moored behind the mail office.  “Ever since the U-boats started attacking our trips to New York, we started an alternate route to Baltimore.  I heard the navy has tripled the escort convoys.”  The two mail clerks watched as the last load of mail was lifted onto the ship, and descended into the cargo hold.  There was also a loading platform, with various women and children heading on board as well.  Only elderly men could be seen, with those young enough to serve, being conscripted to defend the nation.

“BARK BARK BARK BARK!”  Two rather large brown and black dogs started barking, and sniffing around the two mail clerks.  As Charles turned, he laughed, “and who might you two fine fellows be?  Are you lost?”  A whistling sound could be heard, and the two shepherd dogs padded back to stand beside two men dressed in black overcoats and hats.  Phillip, a portly man that was a tad smaller than Charles turned and addressed the visitors.  “Nice dogs you two have, but you are not allowed back here.  Only mail service personnel, and dock workers.  The two men stood staring at them, while the dogs lowered their heads and bared their teeth while growling menacingly.  As tense minutes passed, the man on the left spoke, “It has been a while …. Gerhard how has your father been?”

Phillip shook his head, “I will have to ask you to leave here at once!  And there is no Gerhard here, is that not correct Charles?”  Charles was quiet, and narrowed his eyes, “how did you find me Weiss?”  The second man in black spoke with a thick German accent, “we never lost track of you.  The Fuhrer wanted to see where the Judin rats would scurry off to?”  Phillip looked at his fellow employee, “Charles, what are they talking about?”  Who are these people?”  The man was stone faced, and all color had drained from his face, “I will not go back …. I would rather die first.”  The shepherd dogs immediately bolted forward, and started to maul both dock workers.  The men cried out, and beat the dogs’ sides.  Their teeth dug deep into their arms, and ripped out chunks of flesh.  Blood began to pour from their wounds, and they flailed.    

There was no worry that their cries would draw attention, as the large ship had started its engines, and steam whistles were being sounded.  As women waved from the ship’s deck to those on the pier, the dogs continued about their task, killing the men.  Rudolf remarked, “your shepherds are quiet efficient at killing Judin filth, Kriminalkommissar…” Weiss nodded, as he wiped dust from his spectacles with a crisp white handerkercheif, “indeed Kriminalassistent.  Both were trained well at Ravensbruck, before being transferred to Auschwitz.  A dog’s sense of smell is keen, and they remember.  This makes our canine friends key allies to rid the world of the Jewish infestation.  Once they have had their fill, we will dispose of the bodies.”  The subordinate officer nodded, watching the dogs tear the flesh from the dock workers’ bones and feast upon their kill.  “It would seem the kodex was in the possession of the filth here.  Where shall we look next?” 

Weiss nodded, “It would appear …. that the kodex was on that ship.  The ship must be fueled, prior to making its transatlantic journey.  We must inquire with the mail office about where that is?  Then endeavor to board that ship accordingly at its next port of call.”  Weiss walked over to where the dogs were happily licking their chops, and kicked the body off the loading platform.  Rudolf did the same with the second filth on the ground, and watched as both bodies fell into a pit filled with mud.  Weiss commented, with his German accent coming through for a change, “the tides will come in and the river will rise.  The bodies will float out, and the British will assume they were struck by a boat.  Now Rudolf, let us depart.  We have a ship to catch.”  The subordinate officer nodded, and walked beside Weiss.  The man whistled, and soon the dogs came trotting up beside them. 

Walking slowly, the two men eased out and joined with a group of passing business men.  It was seamless, and no solider batted and eye as the two men and their dogs joined up with the group.  The various men were talking about work, “the bloody navy took our warehouse!  Now where am I going to store a thousand cans of sardines?  At least you still have product to sell, they left me the building, and took all my tires.  King George needs the rubber they said …. It was toy truck tires!  That was enough rubber to make one quarter of a tire!”  Weiss was stone faced, and soon ducked into the front door of the mail office.  Rudolf stayed outside, with the dogs, and looked down to see a newspaper on a nearby bench.  He picked up the paper, and pretended to read its contents.  Occasionally he would smile and nod at a passing by soldier.   

Weiss walked up to the counter, and smiled warmly at a British woman with blonde hair.  “I am sorry, you just missed the last shipment for transatlantic mail service.  The next ship is set to depart in a week.”  The man nodded, and took off his hat as he spoke, “my word, that is not optimal at all.  I have a loved one, my dearest wife’s sister, who was on board that ship.  She forgot to take something special, a present for our cousins who live across the pond in America.  I was wondering …does that ship make any other stops before the ocean crossing?”  The blonde woman nodded, “yes it does.  If you hurry, the ship will be fueled at Tilbury.  I do not know if the navy will let you on board though.”  Weiss nodded, “thank you Miss, I appreciate the information.  I will endeavor to get there at once.  Our cousins will be so very sad if they do not get their present.”  Weiss nodded, smiled, and put his hat on as he left the mail office.  Approaching Rudolf, he made a hand motion discreetly, and the two started off once more.

The German police navigated the cobblestone streets of the Canary Wharf with ease.  Dressed in proper business attire, and with the correct words, they were able to exit the military check point with no fanfare.  Weiss raised his hand, and attempted to summon the services of a hackney carriage.  It was not long until the black vehicle pulled up with a British man in his thirties driving the car.  “oi … where ye laddies want to go?”  Weiss nodded, “we must get to Tilbury wharf at once.  Can you take us there?”  The driver nodded, “aye, but I am charging extra for your dogs if they mess up the interior.  It will be a hundred pounds.”  Rudolf cocked an eyebrow, while Weiss laughed, “why so expensive?”  The driver pointed up into the sky, “don’t you bloody bastards know the Germans just attacked?  For all we know they are coming back in minutes, and you want me to drive all the way out to Tilbury?  What about my wife and children?” 

Rudolf opened the door, and it swung to the left.  Entering inside, the dogs hopped up into the vehicle afterwards.  Weiss laughed, and entered the vehicle, pulling the door shut.  Reaching into his overcoat’s interior pocket, he pulled out 100 hundred pounds worth of paper currency notes, and handed it to the driver.  “If you get us there within the hour, I will add a hundred.”  The driver’s Scottish accent disappeared, “yes sir!”  The car started to pull off, and began to quickly speed down the road.  Rudolf smirked, and lifted the newspaper he had been carrying, which drew the attention of Weiss.  The commanding officer took the paper, and started to read it, “oh the corn shipments are off.  I shall need to adjust my investments.  You should invest your wages; you will never be able to provide for your loved ones’ future Harrold.”

The younger officer nodded, but did not say anything.  His English was not good, and chose to stay as inconspicuous as he could.  The dogs were silent, though were aging their tails as they peeked out of the windows.  They acted as if nothing had just occurred, and were off on another fun filled trip.  The carriage was moving extremely fast, blowing through intersections, and honking the horn.  The passengers discreetly held onto conveniently placed door handles, as the car at one point went on two wheels to get around a pile of debris.  Back and forth, over hill, over dale, make a left, make a right, drive like a maniac, the occupants of the car found their driver was from Scotland.  He swore an awful lot, while speaking with an accent so thick at times, that even the dogs made faces at him.  He could not serve in the military because he knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy that convinced a guy that he was missing a foot.  As long as he stayed in his cab, everything was fine.            

IT took almost an hour, but soon the car came flying over a hill and landing hard in front of the front gates to Tilbury harbor.  “Bloody hell, made it here in under an hour governor!”  Weiss laughed, and counted out the bills, handing their driver the additional payment.  “Excellent work,” Weiss said, as he opened the door.  The dogs quickly jumped out, and wiggled their tails, while looking expectantly at Rudolf who exited last.  Shutting the door, the carriage drove off quickly.  That fare had paid an entire year’s wages and them some.  Rudolf commented once they passed the gate, “where did you get so much money?”  Weiss chuckled, “you would be amazed at how much we have confiscated from the filth sent to the camps.” 

The two men looked at each other, and then proceeded to walk down the concrete stone path.  There were large signs, directing visitors to the main shipping office.  Unlike the ornate port from before, with a variety of all walks of life amassed for commerce and service, this was a purely logistical port.  Huge ships were docked, and being fueled from other ships also moored at port.  The docks had been struck by the German planes many times, so vast sections had been destroyed.  There was a much heavier military presence here by the British Navy.  The various dock workers were covered in oil, mud, or dirt.  This means the two pristine business men stuck out like a sore thumb, as they approached a metal shed.  There was a solider dressed in a blue gray uniform, and had a white sailor’s hat on his head.  The soldier was smoking a cigarette, and looking disgusted as he read from a newspaper. 

Weiss approached the glorified shed, and up to what served as the counter.  Inside there was a portly man, missing his left arm, and most of his front teeth.  When he grinned, you could see into his mouth.  “Don’t you two look out of place?  Did the train drop you two bloody bastards too far from home?”  Weiss grinned, and spoke in his proper accent, which only served to annoy the working-class lads that worked the port.  “It is my understanding that this port will fuel the ships before heading across the Atlantic.  We very much need to board a ship that should have arrived already.  My wife’s sister is on board, and we were too late to accompany her when it left the Canary Wharf.  I was hoping, should proper compensation be provided, to board that vessel with my companions here.”

The man behind the counter was the harbor master, and he nodded while spitting into a spittoon nearby through the gap in his teeth.  “Aye, I can get you on board, if you make it worth my time and effort?”  Weiss withdrew notes of pound sterling, and began to count them upon the metal counter.  The harbor master’s eyes went wide, and contract negotiations commenced.  It took about ten minutes of haggling, before the funds were dispersed, and the metal gates opened to allow entry.  Weiss motioned for Rudolf and the dogs to follow, and then all fell into line behind him and walked through the port with the harbor master the man walked with a limp, and led the way while counting the bills.  Had the two officers not had access to stolen Jewish funds, it would have meant their voyage would have been much more difficult.   

Around the bombed out remains of the warehouses they walked, as dock workers furiously repaired the structures while working on scaffolding high in the sky.  Over a serrated steel bridge they passed, and the dogs watched as the murky river water of the Thames passed by underneath.  The ship has just pulled in to the refueling dock, and was being moored.  Words were written on the bow of the ship, “HMS Caroline.”  Both Weiss and Rudolf remained stone faced, though were keenly aware that this was a British navy ship, which greatly increased the danger of detection on board.  German spies were not looked upon favorably by the armed forces of King George.  Words were exchanged between the harbor master and soldiers on board the ship, dressed in an absolutely filthy set of coveralls, which once were colored blue.  Weiss nodded when motioned to proceed, “thank you harbor master for your understanding.”  Rudolf smiled and nodded, while the dogs parked happily, as they padded along behind them.  Across the gangplank they crossed, and onto the deck of the ship.   

The soldiers looked annoyed as new passengers were coming om board.  There was a cursory pat down to ensure no contraband or weapons were being brought on board.  The German police allowed the search, and their possessions did not attract attention.  Their identity disks seemed to be that of a toy, and were handed back without any fanfare.  As the dock workers were fueling the ship with diesel, every soldier and worker was on high alert, keeping an eye to the skies.  There had been many aerial attacks, and ships sunk prior to the ocean voyages.  Hours passed, and the ship was fueled finally.  The workers disconnected the hoses and nozzles from the fuel ports of the ship’s deck, and then started to cross the gangplank to head back to the pier.  Weiss looked at Rudolf while the ship’s engines fired up and the vessel started to pull away, “care for a spot of tea?”      


Hunted: Chapter 2: Geheime Staatspolize

Two nondescript pale skinned men were standing in front of the entrance to a typical British village.  They wore gray wool trousers, with gray wool vests over crisp white shirts with black ties.  Each had a black overcoat on, and a typical fedora hat of a similar shade of black.  Clean shaven, and haircuts properly cut and styled, the men had no spec of dust or dirt on them.  They were silently surveying the scene, as the villagers were emerging from underneath their homes after the latest German air attack.  No words were spoken, as they started to walk, maneuvering between the debris and through the village.  The two men seemed out of place, though as the living grieved the dead trapped under the wreckage of their homes drowned out any sense of confusion regarding the men.    

With little fanfare, having made a cursory search of the small village, they departed along with two shepherd dogs straggling behind.  The dogs were mostly brown, but had a large patch of black fur on the center of their backs, that ran along each of their sides.  The black patch also continued down their spines to their tails.  A similar patch of black was in the center of their faces, primarily centered around their noses.  Dark brown eyes stared menacingly at any who dared to look at them.  The village was quite small, only being two cobblestone lined streets that curved and connected to the main road.  As they departed, the man on the right whistled a short burst.  He made a motion with his right hand, and the dogs quickly ran past them and in front of the two men as they walked. 

They walked underneath tall oak trees, full of leaves, though some were beginning to turn yellow.  Nature was starting to signal the arrival of fall, a rare instance of normalcy despite the given situation with the humans.  Once safely out of ear shot of any nearby villagers, the man on the left spoke in German quietly.  “Kriminalkommissar Weiss, I do not understand why we are here?  If the Rabbi is hiding, he would be with his own kind, infesting the center of a city so he could cause decay from within.”  The man on his left, equally nondescript, stayed quiet.  The complaint hung in the air around them, with only the sounds of the dogs sniffing the area and occasionally barking at each other.  The animals had caught scent of something that had perked their interest, and resulted in drawing the two men as they walked towards the right of the road.  The road surface was crushed stone, and stretched for many kilometers, until it reached the main road that was paved for vehicle traffic.  This was farmland, and the residents were too poor to afford to pave the road to their village. 

Following behind the dogs at a brisk, but leisurely pace, the two men could see an approaching truck on the road ahead of them.  The British called them lorries, for reasons not clear.  They moved aside and fell into single file behind their dog companions.  The truck began to flash its headlights as it approached, with the driver waving out the open driver’s side window to get their attention.  Both men watched as the truck slowed down as it approached, with its front brakes squeaking terribly.  The vehicle was a box truck, most likely from one of the surrounding farms.  It had seen better days, with rust all over the hood and doors, though the original brown paint could still be discerned throughout the vehicle’s body.  Its engine was still of good enough repair to ensure proper function, though there was a slight fragrance of oil burning from somewhere inside the engine compartment. 

Inside the truck interior were two British army soldiers, dressed in green informs and helmets.  In the back of the truck, were at least four more soldiers, and what looked to be a mortar tube.  There were also wooden crates of ammunition, stamped with British flag insignia on them.  The driver appeared to be the officer in charge, and called out from the window with a cigarette dangling from his lips.  “Oy, you two chaps all right?  What are you doing so far out of town?”  The man identified earlier as Weiss smiled warmly, with his gray eyes almost sparkling, and spoke with a proper local accent.  His counterpart knew English was spoken, but the words sounded garbled and messed up.  While the language was English, the local dialects were sometimes so bad, it sounded like a Russian trying to speak Italian.  The man had to intently listen, and eventually understood was said.  “We are fine, our car broke down, and we walked to the village up the road.  They could not help, “ 

The soldiers in the truck’s interior compartment nodded, “understood, we passed a petrol station about two kilometers up the road.  They should be able to help, if the owner is still there.  The latest attack has everyone unnerved.  If you see anything suspicious, please report it to the local authorities or the war department.”  The driver waved once again, and put the truck into gear.  It pulled away slowly, with several of the soldiers in the back waving at the two men as the lorry pulled off to continue down the road.  It was not long until neither could see the truck, as it turned the bend and headed towards the village they had departed.  Weiss waved, turned, and then proceeded to follow the dogs once more.  Down a well-worn path the men followed the dogs, along a stacked field stone wall that ran along a long stretch of farmlands planted with wheat. 

The stench of a dead animal hung in the air, and the counterpart to Weiss saw a dead rabbit buried under a pile of stones.  It was not the first time he had smelled the air of the deceased, and looked around to see where the dogs had wandered off too?  They followed the path, past a tree stump, and through a sparse forest towards a creek.  Following the creek, they eventually reached the next field, and the debris of the German bomber that had been shot down by the Royal Air Force.  It was one of the Dornier planes, which had been painted dark green on the top of the plane, and a gunmetal blue on the bottom.  This was meant to cause the plane to blend in with its surroundings.  If one were to look out, you might lose sight of it in the air.  If a pilot flying in a plane above it was to look down, the green color would make the bomber appear to blend in with the ground. 

Weiss frowned, and took off his fedora and placed it over the left side of his chest.  His brown hair, slightly rustled by the removal of the head covering revealed a balding spot where the hair thinned.  Speaking in German, “we honor you brave pilots, and wish speedy travel to Walhalla.”  As the counterpart walked up beside Weiss, he did not remove his hat and stood silently.  Turning to Weiss, “this appears to be of greater interest, ya?”  Weiss growled in German, “Kriminalassistent Rudolf, you will honor our brave fallen comrades.  They died to protect the fatherland, and serve the Fuhrer!”  Rudolf removed his hat, and placed it over the left side of his chest as Weiss did.  In terms of rank, the Kriminalassistent was the lowest of the German Secret State police ranks.  Weiss was four levels higher than him, thus his superior officer. 

Their organization had another name: Gestapo.  The majority of its members were police officers, most having served the Weimar republic, though some were transferred from the military forces.  However, as the man with the answers rose to power and took the title of Fuhrer: their organization was adapted to serve Germany accordingly.  They dressed plainly, like officer workers or bankers.  Did not wear uniforms in most cases, and had no identity papers on their persons. The exception was, a small card, within their wallets that would be able to identify themselves to fellow officers.  If one were to review the card, it did not seem to be out of the ordinary, only some nonsensical words in a specific pattern.  Blending in with their surroundings, the Gestapo agents would surveil and apprehend criminals.  If the evidence did not exist, they would create it.  The safety and purity of their glorious nation was of the utmost importance.  

Rudolf watched as Weiss put his hat back on his head, and did the same.  The dogs were circling a section of the field, and barking loudly.  “It would appear the dogs found something,” Rudolf said, as he walked beside his senior officer.  Down a small bank, and across the field they walked.  The entire rear tail section had fallen onto the ground in one piece, though was sticking up at an angle.  The bomb bay doors were driven deep into the ground, and sticking upwards at strange angles nearby. However, it was not long, until they found the cockpit section of the plane.  Weis bent down, and peered inside the plane’s wreckage.  “Both pilots appear to be dead, Rudolf stay here and watch for any visitors.”  Weis entered the plane’s interior, and climbed up the serrated steel floor, to reach the pilots.  Praying for their souls to head to the afterlife, he unzipped their uniforms, and searched the bodies. 

Rudolf looked around the field, and noticed the brown truck just appearing at the edge of the forest.  “Kriminalkommissar … the truck with the soldiers is approaching.  We should leave.”  Weiss slid back out and nodded as he spotted the truck.  Giving a short whistle, the dogs turned and started to run back towards them.  The two men weaved between the sections of wreckage, and bent down to try and stay as hidden as they could manage.  The truck so far had stopped at a nearby farm house made from cobble stone and a thatched roof.  Rudolf slowly moved to the left, trying to catch a glimpse at the soldiers.  They were still in the truck, though several occupants of the house were outside and surrounding the truck.  There appeared to be a conversation occurring, though the only thing that could be heard was the truck’s engine from afar. 

Ducking back behind the wing of the bomber, Rudolf looked at his senior officer.  “Did you find anything inside the plane?”  Weiss shook his head and spoke softly, “no, and that concerns me.  There is a tin that contains a Kodex as well as two cyanide tablets.  The co-pilot appears to have taken the cyanide, while the pilot was shot in the chest from what appears to be rounds from a British plane.  I was not able to find the tin with the Kodex.”  Rudolf gave him a look with his blue eyes having an appearance of confusion, “is that important?”  The senior officer nodded, “the Kodex is a card that our pilots use to tune the radio navigation equipment, as well as decode communications.  If it were to fall into enemy hands, it would directly impact our force’s ability to operate here.  We must locate the tin with the Kodex, it is of higher priority.”

Rudolf nodded, “Kriminalkommissar, what of our current operation to find Rabbi Frederick?”  Weiss turned to his subordinate, and reached forward.  Grabbing his black tie, he pulled hard and tightened it into a noose.  “You will not question my orders … is that understood?  The only reason you are here, is because central command thinks you may be use to find the Rabbi that escaped Auschwitz.”  The subordinate officer was starting to wheeze and his eyes were beginning to roll back into his head as he was asphyxiating.  Eventually Weiss released his hold, and Rudolf dropped onto his knees.  The senior officer cursed, “if it were up to me, I would kill you right here and now.  But I received orders from the highest level to train you while doing this operation, and return with both Rabbis: Frederick ….and Rudolf.”

As Rudolf stood up, he brushed the dirt from his pants and watched as the truck pulled off and drove down the road.  “I am sorry for questioning your orders Kriminalkommissar.  The truck appears to be leaving now, should we depart?”  Weiss stood up, and whistled again to summon the dogs.  The two shepherds quickly ran up, and sat in front of him on the ground.  “Fang … Claw … sniff …. find ….”  Weiss bent down, and opened his hand to reveal a piece of the pilot’s uniform.  The two dogs pressed their black noses onto the fabric, and inhaled the scent.  After several moments, they quickly took off and began and quickly started to search the field for the scent.  Weiss turned to Rudolf, “we will begin our search here.  We have some time to spend …. Tell me … judin … why did you betray your kind to serve the Fuhrer?”

As Rudolf considered how to respond to his commanding officer, he watched the two dogs run quickly off.  Their noses were centimeters from the ground, sniffing and moving, in a search pattern.  It was not long until they started to follow a path that led towards the creek.  Fang turned to look towards the two men, and barked twice to get their attention.  He watched their intense expressions, as the two were arguing again.  Claw rolled his brown eyes, “stupid humans fighting again?”  Fang nodded, “but I got their attention.  Should we follow the scent?  Have you ever smelled such a thing?”  Shaking his head to the negative, Claw turned and started to follow the scent once more.  “I have tracked many things, and this reminds me of rats.  They probably took the object because it was shiny, and didn’t know what it was?”

The two German shepherd dogs started to follow the creek, squeezing underneath logs at times.  Down they went, following the bends, until they lost the scent at the edge of the creek.  Claw crossed the shallow running water, and located the scent on the opposite side.  Giving a soft bark to get his younger friend’s attention, the dogs headed into a sparse forest of tall spindly leaf bearing trees.  Most had fallen, but several still had vibrant red and yellow leaves on them.  The scent of death was hanging in the air, as they approached the body of a rabbit.  Its eyes had rolled back into its head, and there appeared to be blood pooled in front of its mouth.  There was also an odd smell, almost chemical on its face.   Fang started to get closer, when Claw bit his tail and tugged back.  “No, do not taste that rabbit, nor smell it.  I recognize that smell, it is poison.”

Fang yelped a bit softly, but nodded and pulled back to stand beside the older dog.  “How do you know that smell is poison?”  Claw narrowed his eyes, “before I was sent to the place the humans call Auschwitz, I served them at Ravensbruck.  The human filth they imprisoned there would work on making things to serve the master race of humans.  I recognize the smell of the poison they worked with there.”  The younger dog nodded, “all humans look alike to me.  Which ones are the masters?”  The older dog chuckled, “the ones who feed us.  I miss Ravensbruck …. They gave me all the bones I wanted.”  The other dog sighed and looked wistfully, “I am happy to go on a trip … but endless bones does sound good.”     

The two dogs watched as nearby there was a tree stump, with what looked to be a burrow underneath.  Rocks started to move, and a strange brown animal emerged.  It was covered in short brown quills, and its scent wafted in the air.  Claw sniffed twice, and lunged forward when he recognized the smell.  Growling menacingly, the dog quickly traversed the distance in seconds. The strange animal’s eyes went wide, and it quickly ducked back into its den.  Barking loudly, the dog started to claw at the burrow’s opening.  He would try to dig it wide enough to fit inside.  Occasionally he would stick his nose inside and smell, then bark loudly.  There were noises inside, but the predator could not see what was inside. 

Inside the burrow, Phillip and Margaret were pressed as far back along the rear of their den as they could go.  The dog’s nose sticking inside, and the terrible sound of the barking echoed in their ears.  They could see the paws of the dog furiously reaching inside and scraping back the dirt with its short claws.  The smooth shale rocks were giving it trouble, as the paw would slide across the stone.  Where it would touch dirt, there were gouges being dug deeper and deeper.  Every five or six digs, the dog would stick its nose further inside and sniff.  The female hedgehog looked at her mate with pleading eyes, and Phillip nodded.  Starting to dig, he pulled back a piece of rock that had been leaned up against the rear of their burrow.    Margaret rushed over to help, and pulled as best she could to move the rock. 

This burrow had once been the opening chamber to a series of groundhog tunnels.  Groundhogs were notorious for digging up farmer’s fields, and when they would be found, the humans would go to great lengths to get rid of them.  The hedgehogs had blocked off the tunnels that went deeper, because there was a draft that would make their home colder during the winter season.  With the tunnel entrance open, Phillip grabbed the tin can with the papers inside, and then followed his wife inside.  Reaching out with his paws, he pulled the rock back as best as he could to block the opening.  Then turned around and scampered with the metal can to join Margaret. 

The tunnel went down quite a distance, and narrowed in places. Large tree roots were growing through sections of the dirt tunnel, and there was the constant worry of the dirt above collapsing inside causing a cave in.  After several tense minutes passed, and the two rounded a bend around a large rock, Margaret spoke.  “Why did that dog attack us?  We did nothing wrong?”  Her husband remained silent, and smiled as he watched her rear end wiggle in front of him.  Down, around to the left, then around to the right, then up, then down, then left, then up, then right, then up, then down, then right, then left … they followed the maze-like tunnel.  Phillip chuckled, “this ground hog must have been drunk …or crazy …”   

As the hedgehogs fled through the tunnel, at the tree stump entrance to the burrow, Claw had grown tired.  He switched with his young friend Fang, who was happily digging and barking.  The scent was fading, which confused him.  It was not long, until the two humans began to walk out of the forest where the creek was, and Weiss was rubbing his chin while nodding.  “I see … well that certainly is a good reason for betraying them.  Or a terrific lie … either way an entertaining story.  Now, let us see what our trackers have found?”  Rudolf nodded, “Fang … Claw …. What have you found for us?”  Rudolf noticed the dead rabbit nearby, and bent down to take a better look at the carcass.  Fang barked excitedly, and soon almost half of his body went inside and under the tree.  His tail wagged happily, and his hind legs started to dig into the ground so he could pull himself back out. 

The dog pulled himself out, and then turned around with something between his eye teeth in his mouth.  The dog was keeping his mouth open, and trotted proudly up to Rudolf.  The man reached out with his left hand to take what looked like a piece of paper, and rubbed the dog between its ears with his right hand.  The dog released his find and barked happily.  Standing up, he read out loud in German, “Pilot Kodex and cyanide tablet.  This looks like the top card of the Kodex, but where is the rest of it?  Should there be more cards than this?”  Weiss nodded, “at least three cards in total.  One would be the top card, to protect the interior.  One would be the code card, and one would be the secondary code card.  It would seem some rodents took our Kodex.  I wonder why?”

Rudolf nodded, and pointed at the Rabbit, “we know what happened to the cyanide tablet.”  The two men nodded, and started to look around the forest.  Weiss chuckled, “my grand father had a farm a long time ago.  Animals would tunnel underneath, and up into the lettuce patch.”  Rudolf nodded, “how did he take care of them?”  The commanding officer laughed, “just sit on the porch and shoot them with his rifle.  Like French men popping out of their burrows during the great war.  Eventually, like the French, they stopped appearing.”  The two men laughed, and started to fan out to look for holes in the ground.  The dogs took turns to inspect the burrow, and were able to locate the tunnel that was much farther inside than either had expected.  After a moment to verify, then soon started to run around, barking occasionally as the search became more of a game rather than a job.    

Meanwhile, after getting lost several times, Margaret sighed as she saw the exit of the tunnel ahead of them.  Turning around, she saw Phillip pushing the metal tin in front of him.  Wiggling her nose, “Phillip …does the dog want this?  Is that why they came to our burrow?”  Her husband looked up, “what would a dog do with this?  No, you know how they are, they found a hole and had to dig.  There just happened to be hedgehogs inside to torment, before indiscriminately killing them.  They are just as bad as farmer humans, kill first, ask questions later. Still … you raise a valid point.”

Phillip opened the tin can, and noticed there were only two pressed paper cards inside.  “uh oh, I didn’t pack one of the papers.  I must have forgotten it?  I can go back.”  Margaret gave him a look, “no you will stay here.  I need to read again.”  The female hedgehog picked up the cards, and started to read again.  “These letters do not make any sense; every letter has a number below it.  They do not spell out any word I can understand.  We need a human.”  The female hedgehog had learned to read words when her husband brought a newspaper home to insulate their burrow.  During the long winter, she started to understand the writing and would regale her husband with human tales.  He enjoyed the 25% off sale at Smith’s fine foods market story.  He would hand on every word, as the epic tale of streaky bacon sandwiches topped with tomatoes would appear.  The concept of food arriving without gathering it, was a tale of magic and wonder.

Margaret read the descriptions of human garments, and they did not seem comfortable at all.  The one article talked of restraining objects from moving, while covering in fine lace.  She was glad she wasn’t a human, and put the cards back into the tin.  Sliding the cover back onto it, the strange red, white, and black symbol on its cover filled her mind with dread.  “This symbol does not look good …”  As she turned, the female hedgehog could see her husband peeking out of the exit hole and watching something.  “What is it Phillip?”  The male hedgehog’s quills puffed up a bit, “there is a human thing on four wheels moving past.  It has pieces of metal from that field where I found the can.  The symbol on the can, matches what is on the back of the human thing.  They are taking the metal away, to the village.  Maybe they will know what to do with the can?” 

Margaret nodded, “I think so too.  But we must be careful, the humans might just decide to kill us instead of help.”  Her husband nodded, and exited the tunnel.  There was a small hill, so as he descended it, Margaret slid the tin can so it would go onto his back.  After the can was situated, she exited as well, and the two hedgehogs started to scamper towards the human village.  The tunnel’s exit/entrance was in the stacked stone wall, that ran alongside a well-worn path where the humans travelled to get to the fields.  The pressed dirt soon gave way to crushed stone chips, then eventually to cobblestones covered in moss.  The critters stayed close to the wall, and out of the way, while watching the sun move throughout the sky. Day turned into evening, and evening into night. 

Margaret wanted to rest, but Phillip insisted they press on.  The two hedgehogs traversed the near kilometer distance between their burrow and the human village by the time the moon was high into the night sky.  They could hear the owls hooting in the distance, as the human village’s homes chimneys puffed with smoke.  The scent of wood fires filled the night air, with scant sounds being heard.  Phillip yawned, as he could see the large human thing with four wheels parked outside of a cottage.  Several humans dressed in green outfits were standing around, with white sticks in their mouths that seemed to be lit on fire.  Occasionally a human would spit smoke out of their mouth.  The two critters started to hesitantly walk up to the humans, but when a third exited the home, they ducked underneath a wheelbarrow that had been left outside.  The two looked up while twitching their noses.

“Bill, got any extra cigarettes?”  The one soldier asked a counterpart outside, to which he nodded and held out a metal can.  “One of these days, you will need to buy me a couple packs, so I can lend them to you in the future.”  As the third man withdrew a cigarette, he lit it with a match and started to puff away.  Bill nodded as he looked at the truck, “I guess the other lorries are coming tomorrow to get the rest of the German bomber.  I hope they decided to stop, it must be getting expensive.”  The third soldier shook his head, “I heard they imprisoned half of their population.  They have them working three shifts, building planes and bombs.  The only cost is materials … “the trio of men sighed, wishing they has signed up to defend their country during a time of peace.  Alas, that was not the case, and they watched the truck while pondering what lay ahead in their futures?

Bill noticed movement by a wheelbarrow, and turned while bending down to take a look.  As he took a drag from his cigarette, he noticed the two hedgehogs looking back at him.  “Why hello there?  Lads, we have some hedgehogs who came to visit us.  I am sorry, I do not have any food.”  The other two soldiers laughed, and watched as the two critters timidly emerged from underneath the wheelbarrow.  Bill smiled, and reached out to gently pet the hedgehogs.  They did not move, and their quills stood up, making it impossible to touch their backs properly.  However, as the man looked, he could see something else reflect underneath the farm tool.  Reaching past, he picked up the tin can, and brought it into better view.  As the light illuminated the German flag insignia of the third Reich, Bill started to cough.  His counterparts looked confused, and watched as their friend’s expression change instantly. 

“Bill, what is it,” the one young soldier asked?  There was no response, and watched as Bill immediately turn and enter the cottage.  Inside there was a muffled voice, and soon the windows inside began to illuminate one by one.  Phillip turned to Margaret, “there it goes.  I hope the humans know what to do with that tin can?”  The male hedgehog noticed his wife had fallen asleep, which sounded like an excellent idea.  But it was not safe to do so here, so he stayed awake and watched over his mate while she slept.  Eventually though, the call to slumber became too great, and he too drifted off to sleep.  Both animals slept soundly, and did not move a centimeter due to exhaustion.    Hours passed, and soon the light of day once again returned to the world.

The sounds of night gave way to loud thunderous bangs, waking up both hedgehogs.  They found more soldiers had appeared, and were working around the lorry and strapping down the metal pieces.  In front of them was a metal plate that had some vegetables on it.  The humans had left them a present, it would seem.  Margaret did not wait for Phillip to test if it was safe.  She immediately began to devour the offered food.  Phillip laughed, and munched on a piece of a radish.  The two watched the humans walk in formation, and were in step with each other.  They also listened, and learned just what they had found?

One human had more markings on his outfit, and seemed to be in charge.  He was on a brown metal box that had a hand crank on the side.  There was a series of pieces that he was holding, with one to his ear and the other to his mouth.  “That is right command … two animals brought what appears to be a German Kodex here.  It must have come from the bomber we recovered.  Yes, I understand … orders received … all right … uh huh … yes … I see … return to base?  Why bring the animals with us, though?  Understood!”  The human gave the pieces back to another human, who started to put away the objects into another sturdier box.  The human motioned, “William … please locate our hedgehog friends, they will be coming with us.”  The other solders laughed as the young soldier nodded, and quickly scooped up the two hedgehogs from underneath their wheelbarrow.

Both critters curled up into tight balls, and stuck their quills out in all directions.  However, the solider very wisely had brown leather gloves on, used for welding.  He safely was able to carry the animals, and placed them inside a tool compartment inside of the lorry’s truck bed.  Eventually Phillip unfurled, and watched as the top of the container closed, and a thumping noise could be heard as it was locked shut.  The human men all started to climb abord and into the lorry, before the engine fired up and the transmission was put into gear.  The human villagers waved as the soldiers departed, while Phillip and Margaret looked out through a series of slits in the wood box in the truck bed.  As the vehicle reached the end of the road, it turned left to head to the main roadway.  The two hedgehogs watched as the German shepherds locked eyes onto theirs inside the truck, and could hear the barking as they drove past.

The soldiers watched as two men exited the forest, dressed in all black and up to where the dogs were barking.  William pointed out, “hey … isn’t it those two bankers from yesterday?”  The other men in the truck nodded, but settled in for a long drive.  “Who cares Bill, now settle in, we have a four-hour drive to get back to base.  Hopefully the Germans decided to take a day off.  It is a Sunday after all …”  The men in the truck nodded, and watched as the two men in black faded away into the distance.  By this afternoon, they would be back at base, and could get a hot meal and some rest before going back out on patrol.  The truck’s engine whined, and black smoke belched out of its exhaust pipes.  Hopefully it could make it to London in one piece, it would be rather troublesome to break down and must carry the bomber back.


Hunted: Chapter 1: Luftwaffe

When the great war ended on November 11, 1918; the world breathed a sigh of relief.  The German aggressors has been defeated, and the world could pick up the pieces and get back to a normal pace of life once more.  The anger of the victors combined with long standing feuds, to punish the defeated foes, resulted in a deep sense of resentment.  That resentment turned into hatred, and as the nation of Great Britain buried its dead and attempted to rebuild their country, rumors began to trickle out.  A charismatic man gave grand speeches, attended by dozens … then hundreds … then thousands.  He had all the answers, and plans within plans to restore Germany to its ancient glory.  The speeches once translated, horrified the surrounding countries leaders.  The great nation, weary of war, turned a blind eye  to the dangers building to the southeast and moved on with their daily lives.     

However, the speeches continued, and the man with all the answers became leader of the Reichstag.  The parliament was abolished, and the man seized complete control.  Their flags were soon replaced with symbols of their ancient heritage, on a background red as the blood that flowed within their arteries.  Religion was abolished, and replaced with worshiping of the man with the answers.  The drum beat of war soon began once again, with aggression spreading throughout the continent.  Italy soon began their conquest of Ethiopia, which was followed by the Spaniards fighting one another in a bloodied civil war.  The world tried to stay neutral, to ignore things, hoping it would go away or at least settle down.  It did not, and watched as the German army crossed the border into Poland.  There was no choice, and once again Great Britain joined by its allies declared war upon Germany on September third of 1940. 

Four days passed, and in the early morning of the seventh, the low hum of engines filled the air.  As wives were waking their husbands to get ready for work, and making morning preparations.  The bombs began to fall out of the sky, like drops of rain during a rain storm.  Twin engine propellor driven Dornier Do 17 aircraft were flying in a tight formation, so low over the ground, one might think they could touch the planes’ metal bellies.  Terrible whistling sounds could be heard, before a horrendous explosion of fire and concussive force destroyed all which surrounded the impact site.  Buildings which had stood for hundreds of years, were levelled in seconds by wave after wave of aerial bombardment. 

At first, it was just the military targets being destroyed: airports, naval ports, barracks, etc.  However, the man with the answers … the Fuhrer as he called himself … ordered civilian targets to be sighted.  Hours turned into days, and days into weeks: of constant destruction.  Hope gave way to fear, as families sought means to safety.  Instead of birds chirping, or children playing, the sounds of air raid sirens blaring in the distance was all that the subjects of Great Britain heard.  As soon as the siren began to call, the humans began to run for their lives.  Women and children screamed, as bombs rained from the sky.  Surely if one were to head underground, it would be safe from the death raining from the skies above?  The humans collectively began to head underground to their basements, to train tunnels that ran beneath their cities, or anywhere not of sight of the sky. 

During the times of terror, radio stations ceased their normal programming to broadcast safety warnings.  They stayed on air for as long as they could, until the powerful German air forces struck their radio towers.  As one station went silent, the others attempted to boost their power, so they could continue updates as best they could, given the circumstances.  Between the din of exploding bombs and gunfire, the same words were spoken in London and the surrounding area each day.  First the Luftwaffe, the name of the german air force, would be sighted.  Then the attack runs would start, with London being the primary target, though the surrounding areas were also struck.  And invariably, once fuel was low and weapons depleted, the terror from the skies eased as the planes returned to their aerie in the fatherland.  Timidly the humans emerged from their places of safety, to view their homes in ruins and the ground still smoldering from the fire of hatred that had been cast upon their land.  The radios that still worked called out from their places within the destroyed structures, “the latest raid by German forces has ceased.  I repeat, the latest raid has ceased.  The Royal Air Force has chased the forces of Fuhrer Hitler back across the English Channel.  Reports are coming in from all around the city, and the police have been dispatched to assist the areas in most need.  Casualties have not yet been reported, but appear to be low at this time.  King George….”

In the background as the humans dealt with their affairs, a different scene was unfolding to the east of London in the city outskirts.  Farmland that was once full of vegetables had been obliterated by the weapons of war.  Fire crackled, and the steam hissed as moisture was driven from the plants.  Beside the fields, lay forests that had grown since the time before the human’s arrival.  “Momma ….   Mommma!”  The sounds of a timid rabbit hung on the air, as the young one searched for a missing parent.  The brown rabbit hopped frantically, searching, with pleading eyes and ears outstretched for any fleeting response.  “Momma!”  The rabbit cried out, and saw a hedgehog standing on its hind legs, peeking over a pile of stone.  “Mister Hedgehog … can you help me find my Momma?”  The rabbit cried out as she hopped towards him, but watched as the quill covered animal turn around with a sad expression on his face.  He immediately pulled the rabbit close, and hugged her, “I’m sorry …”

The stone pile was once a wall that had been built to hold the hillside back.  A German bomb had been prematurely released from the aircraft, and had exploded nearby, causing the wall to fall onto a nearby garden for the humans.  The body of an adult rabbit was crushed by a pile of moss-covered stones, and eyes rolled back with a carrot still in its mouth.  Tears flowed, and wails of sadness filled the air, as the female rabbit had found her mother.  The brown hedgehog hugged tighter, closing his eyes as he too started to cry.  Whispering, “the humans fight …and we always die first.  They never think of what happens to the rest of us,” the hedgehog said with a curt tone.  Tentatively, he took a step, and started to maneuver the hysterical young rabbit with him away from the pile of stones.  It did not work, as the young hare broke free of his embrace, and hopped quickly to reach her mother. 

The young rabbit furiously tried to lift the heavy stones off her mother’s body, “I can save her.  Please Mister Hedgehog, you need to help!”  The hedgehog turned around and walked slowly behind the rabbit, and placed a paw on her head between her long ears.  The rabbit dropped onto all fours, and began to wail loudly.  The smell of death hung in the air, and the horror of realization was dawning upon the young animal that her mother had left this world.  Tense minutes passed until the hedgehog spoke, “I am truly sorry Mrs. Rabbit passed on.  Please, come with me, I am sure my wife will have supper made.  You can spend time with us, until you figure out what you want to do?”  The rabbit shook her head, “I am staying with my mother.  There is no place safe, the humans will not stop until we are all dead.” 

Sighing, he turned around, “all right.  If you change your mind, follow the path till you reach a stump, then make a left to find my burrow.”  Scampering off, the hedgehog did just that … follow a human path well worn by farm workers.  The humans were gone, hiding somewhere as the terrible objects fell from the sky.  This meant he could be out and about with less concern than normal, as the humans would usually chase him off to protect their crops.  Down the path, until the edge of a forest started, though the trees were sparse.  Once a mighty forest stood here, until the humans cut down the trees, to build and heat their homes.  Now, only stumps and the skinniest of trees stood here.  In the winter, it was so bad, that they had even resorted to ripping the trunks out of the ground.  This was problematic, having resulted in the displacement of many animals’ homes.  Luckily, he had not had to find a new home for 2 winters, since there was a big rock in the way.  The critter made a left, and saw the entrance to his burrow. 

A female hedgehog was standing on her hind legs, looking worried to her left.  Scampering up behind her, “guess who?”  The female giggled as she wiggled her nose, “oh Phillip … I was worried.  Where have you been?”  The male hedgehog watched as the female turned around, and rubbed her brown nose against his.  Their dark eyes matched, and the brown quills twitched occasionally.  “I am fine Margaret … I was up the path to check on the garden.  One of the human weapons destroyed it, and killed Mrs. Rabbit.  Her daughter is there now, and will not leave the body.  I offered our home for her to rest, but she would not take me up on the offer at this time.”  Margaret nodded, “the poor thing … I will have a talk with her later.  Come inside, I have supper ready.”  She slid down a slight hill, and underneath the oak stump, before being followed by her husband.

The hedgehog’s home was plain, but very nice.  The ground had been dug out to create a large central area.  It was big enough to hold three hedgehogs, and the ground was covered with smooth flat pieces of flint stone.  In the center of the room, was a pile of turnips.  The two-hedgehog smiled at each other, and then took positions opposite of each other, and reached for a turnip to munch on.  Margaret giggled when Phillip made a face, “well I am sorry … but turnips are the only thing growing at this time of year.  What do you want, one of those humans made baked items?”  The husband nodded, “a biscuit would be nice actually, but it is rare to find those around here.  I did manage to sneak one off a farm hand’s lunch pail.  No … no …turnips are fine … thank you my lovely wife.  I shall go pick you flowers later.”  Margaret giggled, “oh … Phillip.”       

The hedgehogs were mated to each other, and had been trying to start a family.  There were complications, and so far, nothing they tried had worked.  While other males might have run off to find a more fertile option, Phillip chose to stay with Margaret because he loved her.  He could see the pain in her eyes, as she desperately wanted young hedgehogs running around the burrow.  The two continued to eat, until the pile of vegetables had been depleted.  It was not long until Phillip exited the underground home, and scampered off through the tall grass to go searching for a flower.  Margaret giggled, and waved as she watched her husband disappear behind a thorn bush.  The sounds of whimpering started to be heard, and the female hedgehog watched as a brown rabbit peeked around the edge of the stump.  “Oh my, you are the young rabbit Phillip spoke of earlier.  Please come here, I have a few turnips left.” The rabbit nodded, and hopped inside of the burrow to follow the female hedgehog.  Nibbling on an offered vegetable, Margaret hoped her husband was, ok?

Phillip had crossed quite a distance during this time, powered up on icky turnips, he was tooting so much that he had gained speed.  It was not that the root vegetable tasted bad, it just made him gassy.  So, picking flowers was a good excuse to get out, and vent literally, otherwise there would be an argument inside the burrow.  Across the forest, and down a slight hill the critter scampered, until he reached the edge of a stream.  The water was shallow, allowing him to cross easily.  Ordinarily he would cross without a second thought, but there was something off about the water.  Blood was floating on the surface, as it flowed past him.  Wiggling his nose, he could see the purple and blue wild flowers just across the bank.  But his curiosity was gnawing in the back of his mind, urging him to follow the stream. 

Hesitating a moment, Phillip shook his head and turned to his right.  Scampering along the bank, he watched as the stream weaved to and fro, and became deeper in spots.  Strangely, there were no frogs or turtles present, which was starting to unnerve him.  The water’s foreign coloration was becoming thicker, and an acrid smell was filling the air.  Instincts were kicking in: run …flee …hide … but still the little hedgehog pressed on.  Climbing over piles of gray rocks, and weaving between fallen tree branches he continued while trying to press on.  Sounds began to fill the air, of crackling noises, like a fire dancing on logs within a hearth.  Ahead was a small waterfall, cascading over a higher part of the stream, and more strange smells.  Something was burning, but he knew not what?

Through the brambles, and between the logs …. Up the bank, and across a series of flat rocks that jutted out of the water … Phillip scampered until he could just barely see over the crest of the hill.  Rarely did Phillip ever venture this far from his home, since this was where the humans’ worked fields of wheat.  Blinking several times, the little critter looked on in horror as the entire field was on fire.  A giant thing had crashed into the ground, and broke apart in thousands of pieces.  Jagged pieces of metal were driven into the ground, and were sticking out at weird angles.  Shards of glass were strewn about the area, while the smell of death hung heavy in the air. 

Swallowing hard, Phillip scampered forward, and through a tubular piece of green metal.  The insides were slippery, and soon the hedgehog was sliding very fast through it.  He popped out the other sides, with paws covered in something black and gooey.  It smelled bad, and when he tasted it, it was horrid.  Spitting it out, the curious animal started to move about the wreckage.  “I wonder if this was what caused the field stone wall to be knocked over?”  The hedgehog said out loud, while walking past a long section of metal.  It was a narrow chamber, that connected to a wide wing like metal piece, and had two upright metal pieces at each end.  It was painted a dark green, though there was a red rectangle prominently visible.  There was a white circle, with a strange black symbol in the center.  Wiggling his nose, and hesitantly reaching out a paw, Phillip touched the metal.  It was cool to the touch, and very smooth. 

Turning, he continued to walk along the long section of metal, until he reached an even larger thing.  It looked like a giant cave, though there was light streaming in from above.  “Maybe something neat is inside?  I always bring Margaret flowers, perhaps I can find us biscuits?”  The critter nodded, and pushed the feelings to flee far into the back of his mind, and headed inside.  As the hedgehog crossed over a jagged piece of metal, he could smell the unmistakable smell of death.  The metal sloped upwards at a steep pace, and he could see two seats where human bodies were sitting.  Their heads were snapped back, and dull lifeless eyes were staring at him.  Phillip covered his mouth his paws to stifle a scream, as he looked at the human’s blood being splattered across all sections of the interior. 

CLANG!  There was a sound of something hitting the metal above him.  As the hedgehog looked around, he started to see a small by human standards, metal case sliding down towards him.  There were bars of metal that were running parallel to each other, with more metal connected on top of it, with a circular pattern.  The screeching sound filled the empty chamber, and landed directly in front of his paws.  It looked like a can of sardines, and was in the shape of an oval.  “What bloody good luck, sardines …”  The hedgehog said as he grabbed onto the can and started to drag it out.  There were words written on the can, but Phillip did not know how to read.  The same strange red, white, and black symbol was on the exterior of the can.    

After some careful maneuvering, Phillip was able to put the metal can onto his back.  The contents within did not seem to be too heavy, which meant the greedy humans must have eaten some already.  Still, even if there was one left, it would be a treat his wife had not had for a long time.  So, the hedgehog set off with his prize, and headed through the field of death and destruction.  His speed was slower than before, and he needed to stop and rest occasionally.  However, it was not long until he had reached the stream, and was in the process of heading back to his home.  He couldn’t wait to show his wife what he had found, though he was sure to get a talking to for being gone so long. 

The hours passed, and the sun drifted lower until it fell below the horizon.  As the evening twilight started to appear, Margaret saw her wayward husband coming across the field.  She was worried, and waved while speaking.  “And where the blood hell have you been Phillip?”  Phillip approached, carrying a metal can on his back, but no flowers.  Phillip laughed, “no where have you been, dear husband?”  The female hedgehog put her paws on her sides, “and what is that thing?”  Phillip wiggled past her, and slid down the small decline into their home.  His wife sighed, glad he was home, and followed inside.  As the two critters stood side by side, they looked at the sleeping brown rabbit.  The female hedgehog sighed, “she came here shortly after you left.  I gave her a few turnips, and then let her rest.”

Phillip yawned, and slid the metal can along a dirt wall, and then turned around to face his wife.  “We can mess with the can tomorrow.”  His wife nodded, and moved closer to rub her nose with his.  As the light continued to dim, the two critters slept side by side.  Their quills tickling each other, while the occasional giggle from Margaret could be heard, “oh Phillip ….go to sleep.”  The dark burrow soon became very quiet, and a cool breeze blew in from outside.  It would be turning to winter soon, and the necessity to block the entrance would once again be in order.  Though that did not need to be done at this time.  It was early fall, and the time to eat beyond one’s fill to store up enough fat to last the winter was in order.  Both critters would be properly pudgy eventually, and then they could nestle in for a long winter’s rest. 

The hours passed, and soon the sound of humans talking filled the air and drifted into the burrow.  Phillip was the first to wake, and hesitantly peek his head out the entrance/exit hole to his burrow chamber.  There were at least a dozen human men walking around, dressed in a green brown uniform, with matching hats.  They were armed with weapons, and were walking past in two rows.  Wiggling his nose, he ducked back inside and faced his wife.  Her worried eyes met his, and the two rubbed noses.  Whispering, “Phillip, what is going on?”  The male hedgehog whispered back, “two rows of humans … dressed the same …  They are probably looking for those dead humans I found yesterday.”  His wife shot him a look, “what dead humans?  Phillip, what did you do?”

The faithful husband relayed his small adventure from the day before, and the field of wreckage that lay upstream from their woods.  He described the chamber with the dead humans, and what happened with the can.  His trip back home was uneventful, until he was called out by this female hedgehog with a saucy mouth.  She giggled, “oh … saucy mouth huh?  More turnips for you then today …. Dear husband.”  The male hedgehog laughed, and turned to look at the oval shaped can.  “I wonder what is inside that thing.  I think it is sardines.  Those used to be everywhere, but I think the greedy humans ate them all.”  The brown rabbit had woken up, but was being very quiet, watching and listening to their banter. 

The male hedgehog maneuvered around the burrow, until he positioned the can in the center of the underground home.  Each animal could see the can clearly, and the hedgehogs began to paw at the can.  There was a lid on top, and did not pull open like a sardine can.  But after many tries, the top of the can started to slide off.  There were a ridge on each side of the can, and with considerable effort they were able to slide the lid off.  Setting the top of the can to the free spot beside the rabbit, the trio of animals looked inside the now open can.

There were stiff pieces of paper, with something written on them.  The same strange red, what, and black symbol were on the cards.  Setting each card out, Margaret sounded out the words, “Zy …a …nid.  Der … co …dex?”  Phillip grumbled, “all that work to bring back paper.  Stupid humans, they ate all the sardines.  Oh look, a white circle … I bet it’s candy.”  Indeed, there was a white circle of pressed dust, and before either hedgehog could say a word, the rabbit reached out and grabbed the white circle and popped it into her mouth.  Margaret grew cross with her, “NO! YOU SPIT THAT OUT THIS INSTANT!”  Phillip nodded, “I might be wrong, it may not be candy.  Please spit it out …”  but neither critter words were heeded.  The rabbit dashed out of the burrow, and out into the grassy area between the trees. 

Margaret sighed, “next time … bring me flowers.  I will go find our rabbit friend.  Put those cards away Phillip, but keep them here.  I like to practice my reading; it might come in useful one day.”  Her husband nodded, and started to put the cards back into the tin, and watched as his wife’s rear end wiggled as she exited their home.  Husbandly feelings emerged in his mind, but were replaced when he heard Margaret screaming.  “PHILLIP!  PHILLIP COME QUICKLY!”  With the cards safely put away, he hurried through the narrow opening to exit the chamber, and climbed up the hill.  He could see Margaret crying, and pushing at the rabbit who was laying on the ground and not moving.  It was not very long, until he reached the lifeless body of the rabbit.  “It wasn’t candy ….”

The female hedgehog was crying, and covered her eyes with her paws.  “Phillip … why did you have to say candy?  That was poison of some sort.”  The male hedgehog placed a paw on his wife’s back, “I am sorry Margaret.  It looks like candy; I have seen similar pills that the humans carry.  There was the one pill that tasted sour though, and I had to sleep a long time afterwards.  I guess some candy is sleepy candy?  Maybe that is all it is,” he said with a hopeful tone.  That fleeting feeling of relief was soon dashed as he watched blood ooze out of the rabbit’s mouth, as she took her last breath.   The two critters stood there, mourning the loss of their rabbit neighbor, and silently pleaded with whomever lived in the sky to keep all animals safe. 

A terrible sound filled the air, and whined loudly over and over.  It was rhythmic, with a long high pitch, then lowered to a dull pitch, and back to high.  Looking upwards, Phillip saw more of the wrecked objects from the field, flying in the sky.  Grabbing his wife, “hide!  Now!”  The two critters quickly turned and started to run back to their underground home, and slid quickly through the opening.  Margaret watched through the opening as object after object flew overhead, just barely above the tops of their forest’s trees.  The sound coming from the strange objects was terribly loud.  Two circles were spinning in front of the objects, but she could not see any more because her husband pulled her back inside.   As soon as she was safely inside, Phillip started to move rocks into place to try and seal the entrance.

The male hedgehog was listening to his instincts, and the decision to hide was the best course of action at this juncture.  Once he had made his burrow as safe as he could, he sat down opposite of his wife and rubbed his nose with hers.  The two mates were silent, feeling the ground shake, as the humans’ terrible objects flew overhead.  The distant rhythmic sounds continued, until suddenly they ended.  In time the flying objects stopped, and the forest became eerily quiet.  Neither hedgehog left their home, and stayed buried within their burrow.  Since they had some time on their paws, Phillip puffed up his quills, and gave his wife the look.  She giggled, “oh Phillip.”  Outside of the hedgehog’s burrow, the forest of sparse trees stood.  Their branches swayed in the wind, as the tall grass blew back and worth.    Up the path, and past the collapsed wall of stone, lay a human village.  It was in ruins, having been destroyed by hellfire raining from the skies above.  At the edge of the village stood two humans, dressed in black finery and at each of the sides was a dog.  They did not say a word, and only watched on as the British villagers started to emerge from their underground places of refuge.  The existence of the strangers did not cause alarm, as the grieved humans were too busy checking on the condition of their homes, and looking for missing friends or loved ones.  The strangers grinned at the scene of death unfolding in front of them, and gave each other looks of approval as they started to walk forward.  The hounds at each side fell into line behind them and sniffed at the ground occasionally, searching for something unseen.