Miserable at What the Fluff
by Channie Greenberg
Joey, Alicia, Lauren, Mark and Chicago salivated at the gate. They had successfully arrived at What the Fluff, Boston’s annual, autumnal marshmallow cream festival. Alicia had used her knowledge of Bokatar to permanently dissuade a bulldog from chowing on them, and Mark had conjured a cloud of invisibility to prevent a chowder of alley cats from turning them into dinner. Too many larger species considered hedgehogs to be legitimate munchies.
Nonetheless, those five, alone of their entire prickle, had transversed the nearly twenty miles from their home on the banks of Walden Pond to the merriments at Union Square. At least their dear ones had given their lives in the pursuit of furze-pig nirvana.
That they had no human coin was irrelevant; no one was going to stop small rodents from walking through the entrance gate since no one was going to notice them. Most attendees were preoccupied with all manner of melody, vendors and “shenanigans,” including musical chairs and blind man’s fluff. Hence, the wee critters circulated freely among the giants.
Their bravery was well rewarded. Every few feet, spills festooned the grounds. There was fluff on top of ice cream, fluff baked into pies, bites of pizza adorned with fluff, and even Brazilian-fusion hot dogs garnished with fluff. The bugs ate and ate until Joey got so overstuffed that he puked.
Ever the captain, Chicago declared a limit on consumption. Ever the den mother, Lauren took small, plastic receptacles out of her kit and began to fill them with the abundant, easy-to-reach treasure. She meant for her companions to have blissful eats en route back to their hibernaculum.
Just as suddenly, Lauren began to cry. She realized that while she was listening to the Flufferettes, observing the Marshmallow Toss, and at liberty to enjoy face painting and sand art, all of her littermates, plus her mom (there was no telling who her dad had been) had been flattened crossing Route 95.
Forgetting Chicago’s edict, she stuck a paw in the nearest puddle of the sweet stuff, sucked off the sugary goo, cried a bit more and then self-anointed. After repeating that ritual a few dozen times, she felt calmed until she, too, puked.
Apparently, Joey, similarly, was thinking about how most of his beloved others had perished along the way to utopia. Whereas he didn’t chance stuffing any more of the agreeable white paste into his maw, he did repeatedly gush with foamy saliva, which he then spread all over his paws.
Alicia-the-Fierce, one of the bravest warriors in their entire prickle, too, seemed distraught. She stopped tapping her front paws in time to the music of School of Honk and wiped her snout. Her betrothed, Wilson, had been captured by a crow, and had been decapitated during their march along Route 2. Worse, after that winged monster had bitten off Wilson’s head, the bird had flown high enough to drop Wilson’s compromised body in such a way that his quills would no longer protect his organs against avian sacrilege.
Alicia wiped her snout again and then turned her back to the clashing trumpets, clarinets, and saxophones. Those musicians were lively and successfully awoke connections among listeners, but they could do nothing to bring back her vivisectioned darling.
Mark, meanwhile, had gotten lost. He had wanted to peek at the Marshfellows’ offerings, but had been scooped up by a volunteer from the Humane Society of the United States. That woman had squealed and chirped worse than Big Mati had when Big Mati was alive. At least Mati’s excited noises had indicated a tasty grub or excellent nesting material. Mark shuddered, wondering if the hand that enclosed him was going to lower him into its accompanying mouth.
Fortunately, he was not eaten. Instead, he found himself shoved into a small plastic container, the lid of which the woman poked, with her pen, to create air holes. That basin smelled like a mixture of vanilla ice cream and marshmallow fluff.
Chicago was the first to notice Mark’s disappearance. He sighed mightily.
In Belmont, badgers residing at the local country club, the one that abutted Route 2, had swooped upon his league and had decimated dozens of his friends and family. Penelope, that cute bush pig whose snout was a tad longer than those of most of the rest of the females, too, had been tasted. Badgers, alone among all hedgehog enemies, were not deterred by quills.
Given that his band was down to five hedgies, Chicago was determined to keep all of them alive and accounted for. They had to find Mark.
Chicago trilled. Alicia, Joey, and Lauren came running. Chicago pointed out Mark’s disappearance.
Joey laughed, saying maybe their resident mage had purposefully made himself unfindable because someone amongst them had put a kibosh on eating fluff.
Chicago slapped Joey across the snout. All of the hedgehogs quieted and then put their noses in the air to sniff out their comrade. Those critters were able to follow his scent until they got to the Humane Society of the United States table. There, while they smelled nothing, they heard his angry growls.
Two pawfuls of fluff later, Joey determined that Mark was in one of the containers piled behind the humans sitting at the table.
Alicia suddenly darted among the giants’ legs.
Mark’s captor noticed her and tried to pick her up.
She bit the woman.
“Rabies!” the volunteer screamed, sending her fellow do-gooders into panic. They fled.
Somehow, Mark’s cohorts managed to push his carton out of the pile. Assured that his abductors were briefly elsewhere, Mark conjured Paws of Might and pushed the lid off of his jail.
He and his friends scrambled under the display of a nearby family dentistry booth, Smiles by Rosie. There was no smell or actual globs of fluff, there, to distract them.
“This carnival is no heavenly place!” wailed Lauren. She cast off the pots of fluff she had meant to take with her to help sustain her and her associates on their trip home.
“Lies are fluff pies. Gloom is fluff tombs. I ought to cast the spell for wings and sail us back to Walden,” fretted Mark.
“You will do no such thing,” volleyed Chicago. “We are proud beasts and will return to the pond on our own paws. Besides, your spells have a five-minute duration, maximum.”
“They do. I’m a hedgehog.”
“I’m tired, Chicago. I wanted to bask in the glory of marshmallow fluff, so I joined the pilgrimage. The battles have been fun, but losing so many loved ones, less so,” sighed Alicia. “Maybe we should try flying for five minutes and then drop where we do.”
“NO!!” screeched Lauren. “No more dropping. No more near-deaths. No more deaths. We came together. We will leave together... on paws.”
“We’ll wait until dark,” decided Chicago.
Joey shrugged and puked once more.
At nightfall, the little creatures had expected to scamper to the fete’s gates. However, the two-leggers had rigged artificial suns. Not only were the giants still present, but the shadows created by their lights proved less predictable than those that were cast by the daytime star. Plus, someone’s pet basset hound continued to stick her nose under the table where the hedgies hid.
Thankfully, the humans rolled up the circumference fence, folded its gates, and otherwise cleared up all of the fair’s detritus the next morning. Except for the unclaimed piles of litter, including fallen globs of fluff, there were few signs left of the amazing affair.
Chicago pulled Joey away from one such glob.
“Gee, Chicago, I was going to eat the insects attracted to that goop. Really, I was..”
“I think we ought to skip Route 2 and take Concord Avenue. That route has fewer cars and more possible food and shelter,” offered Lauren. She had her paws on a smart phone that had fallen to the ground.
“Too dangerous; we’d have to cut south through Cambridge. Harvard students practice dissection!” roared Alicia.
“Calm down, girlfriend. Better to risk juveniles than highways.” Lauren looked over her shoulder. “Three o’clock. Feral dog, unleashed, approaching.”
Alicia pulled her longsword from her scabbard and pricked the puppy’s nose. It ran away, whining.
The troop, minus Joey, who could not be deterred from eating discarded roadside chocolates and who had subsequently keeled over from liver failure, made it to Walden Pond at the cusp of winter.
“Kind” hedgehogs of a neighboring prickle took in the supplicants. The worn wanderers had had no reserves put by for their seasonal sleep.
In the spring, both Alicia and Lauren emerged with kittens. Both had been forced to mate with their hosts.
Chicago emerged with ringworm. Mark did not emerge at all. He had been strangled by a benefactor who had heard him muttering incantations.
Thereafter, in the fall, when the neighborhood around the kettle hole called “Walden Pond,” glittered with the changing leaves of black birch and red oak, when raspberry bushes and sumac shone bright crimson, and when sweet smells wafted in from the local jam factory, Alicia, Lauren, and Chicago met to discuss their former adventure to the font of hedgehog ecstasy. Sometimes, they’d bring their adolescents with them. Other times, they’d meet alone. At all times, they agreed that traveling to esteemed places is an overrated form of quest and that fluff is not as satisfying as it is reputed to be.
Copyright © 2016 by Channie Greenberg