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Of all the little hedgehogs in the garden, there was one that they rarely saw. She lived alone by the northern fence. Her home was cold and draughty, and she never seemed to have enough food. The other hedgehogs only ever glimpsed her from afar, shuffling around, bits of dried leaf stuck to her quills. If she caught them looking, she’d raise her tiny chin and cast them haughty looks. She wouldn’t bring herself to ask for help unless she really needed to.
The other hedgehogs kept their distance. Her reclusiveness left her open to all sorts of gossip. And besides, the big cat had said they shouldn’t talk to her.
But one day they noticed spikes at the entrance to her home. To their consternation, no matter how much they squeaked across the garden, she refused to take them down. Instead, she announced that she was sharpening away at her twigs to turn them into even bigger spikes, enough to match the claws of the big cat!
All this made the hedgehogs living closest to her nervous. Especially when the little hedgehog started practicing javelin-throwing, to check her aim (so she wouldn’t spear the wrong animal by mistake), and to prove to the big cat that she was serious.
It should be mentioned that the big cat was also, at this time, engaging in some practice clawing, teaming up with the little hedgehog’s neighbours in close proximity to her house.
“Don’t you dare come near me, you overfed mog!” the little hedgehog would pipe up on such occasions, and the other hedgehogs would hold their breath and swing their gaze from her to the big cat.
The big cat, prowling around the garden, grew increasingly annoyed. “I’m not going to eat you, you little squirt,” the big cat said. “I’ve gone vegetarian. Get rid of your spikes or no nice things for you.”
But the little hedgehog didn’t believe the big cat, and in the dead of night, everyone could hear her sharpening her twigs.
So, under the big cat’s orders, the other hedgehogs dutifully removed all of the berries nearby that the little hedgehog was relying on for food. It didn’t take long as there were only a few around anyway. And they hid away the bits of leaves that she could use to warm her home in the deep, long winter.
“She’s a danger to all of us,” the big cat said. “I’m only punishing her to ensure the peace and harmony of the garden.”
“Stop making spikes,” the other hedgehogs implored. “We feel bad not letting you have any berries.”
But the little hedgehog pursed her lips and glared at them suspiciously. Why did they really want her to have a defenceless home? Some of the others owned spikes, and no one seemed to be picking on them for it. Besides, whenever she did try to play along, they just said she was faking it.
Day by day, the little hedgehog grew thinner and thinner and seemed to shuffle with a deep chill in her bones. But she refused to let down her guard. Whenever she caught scent of the big cat, she’d tense up, ready to curl into a ball. And she hurriedly prepared lots of new barbed insults, to prove that she wasn’t some soft-bellied pushover.
Sometimes, on lonely days, she’d peer in at the homes of her former friends, long empty. When they’d given up their own spikes, the big cat had come and had them for lunch. It had been a grizzly sight, their skeletons strewn across the flowerbeds. There was no way she was going to be the next meal. The big cat was getting hungry again, she was sure of it.
“The little hedgehog is a threat to the safety of everyone,” the big cat said. “For the sake of preserving the peace, I’m going to have to go into her home and pre-emptively scratch her.”
The little hedgehog’s only relative in the garden, a roly-poly brother, perked up in alarm. They’d not been on speaking terms for years, and normally he preferred dancing around and humming tunes to talking about spikes and all that. But the situation was especially grave for him. If a fight broke out between the little hedgehog and the big cat, and if the little hedgehog’s spikes weren’t strong enough to take on such a muscular animal, then he’d be the one to get a spear in the hide instead as a substitute.
He thought about it over many sleepless nights. And the more he thought about it, the more dismayed he became. For it was one thing for siblings to quarrel among themselves, and quite another to see the big cat threatening to scratch his own sister. What would their mother say?
Ashen-faced, the roly-poly brother began to journey across the garden.
“What are you doing? Don’t go there!” the big cat said.
The roly-poly brother pretended not to hear and quickened his pace.
“Don’t think this won’t have consequences!” the big cat said.
The closer that the brother got to his sister’s home, the more he realised how much he had missed her. How affectionately they had played, and how bitterly they had fought, all those years ago.
He moved as quickly as he could. He could not bear to lose another second.
Seeing his small nose snuffling at the entrance, and his eyes, void of judgment, the little hedgehog felt, for the first time in a long, long time, the hard lump in her throat begin to ease.