Hiccup grows up

(Timeline: Before ‘The Hedgehog Trail’)

Hiccup was no ordinary hamster. He was the most protected member of his family because he was the youngest of them all. Whenever he wanted to go outside his home in the underground cave, The Furrow, he had to be accompanied by his elder sisters—Ginger and Snow.

He was also so tiny that he could sit quite comfortably on the palm of your hand. This allowed him to win all the hide-and-seek games he played with his sisters, for he could hide in the tiniest of hollows. However, it also made Ginger and Snow reluctant to let him go out of their sight because they were afraid of losing him.

Now, Hiccup did not mind being special, but he did not want to be molly-coddled all the time. He wanted to be a grown-up hamster as soon as possible so that he could roam around the forest at will and have his own adventures. He had a plan. He would survive one whole night alone in the forest. Ha! That would prove to his sisters, mother, and father that he could look after himself.

That cloudy evening, Hiccup ran obediently between Ginger and Snow until they spotted a moth with dots all over its wings. The three hamsters chased it for a while. They reached a part of the forest where the ground was covered with vines filled with violet flowers.

Hiccup ducked under the leaves and stayed as still as a hamster could, with his heart beating out of his chest. He could see Ginger and Snow clambering over a thick growth of brambles, dislodging some berries. They were still intent on chasing the moth.

“Aren’t you a sly one?” Someone whispered behind him.

Hiccup jumped, but he still remained covered under the vine. Above him stood Sami the ferret. Sami too lived in The Furrow, but Hiccup had never talked to him or any of the other ferrets before.

“Hiccup, Hiccup.” Ginger and Snow had noticed his disappearance. “Hiccup.” Their voice grew increasingly high-pitched.

Hiccup wanted to tell them not to worry, but he remained still. If he did not spend some time alone in the forest, they would never believe he was an almost grown-up hamster.

“Did you see Hiccup anywhere?” They asked, presumably to Sami.

“Who is Hiccup?” Sami asked in a smooth voice.

“He is our little brother.”

Hiccup did not quite like the word ‘little,’ but he let it go. Soon, they will stop calling him little.

“Ah! I saw him run through there.” Sami pointed toward the brambles.

The sound of scurrying paws told Hiccup that Ginger and Snow had believed the ferret. A coldness passed through his chest. For the first time in his life, he was utterly alone.

Well, he was not truly alone. Sami was still standing over him, casting a shadow from the last rays of the sun that was peeping out of the clouds.

“Are you playing hide-and-seek, little hamster?” The ferret asked.

“Not really,” Hiccup said. “I want to explore the forest on my own.”

“A noble endeavor. Where are you exploring tonight?”

“Er… I don’t know much about the forest, except these parts. I have never left the roof of The Furrow.”

“Then you must leave the roof of The Furrow. That is where the best things are.”

“Oh! What is there outside the roof of The Furrow?”

“Orchards filled with apples and strawberries, butterflies and honeysuckles, soft grass to roll around, small tunnels to play hide-and-seek. Haven’t your sisters told you anything? I always see them playing there, of course without you.”

So that is where they go without me, Hiccup thought. Aloud he said, “I want to go to this wonderful place.”

Sami looked thoughtful for a moment. “I am too busy now, but I can give you the directions. Go through those trees. You will see the stream.”

“I know that.”

“Some animals have fashioned a bridge out of twigs. Cross that bridge and run until you see the orchard and tunnels and the wonderful playground.”

“I will.” Hiccup got out of the vines and ran in the direction of the trees, not waiting to see the smirk on Sami’s face.

Crossing the bridge was the easiest part. Hiccup had never been to the other side of the stream. The thickness of the bushes baffled him, as he was not able to get through them without going sideways.

When he finally emerged at the other end, he wasn’t sure which way to run. Straight ahead appeared the outline of giant trees. Maybe that is where the orchard is. He zoomed ahead.

However all those trees were the ordinary ones that filled the forest. None of them had apples or strawberries. The orchard must be further away.

The sun had stopped casting any shadows. The moon now ruled the sky, and its light flickered along with the clouds that danced around it.

Hiccup was not afraid of the dark, but the forest was a different being during the night. Where was he exactly? He turned and gazed at the way he had come. There was no such way, only a crowd of trees standing in attention.

Well, he had the whole night to find his way back home. And wasn’t that what he wanted? To spend the night alone in the forest? But the thrill of adventure did not give him much pleasure. He wanted the warmth of his nest, the soothing touch of his mother’s fur, and the voices of Ginger and Snow calling him to play.

For a moment there, he imagined he heard their voices again. But no. They would never know he had crossed the stream. He had left the roof of The Furrow. Hadn’t his father always told him never to leave the roof of The Furrow? But Hiccup never knew why, until now. It must be because the forest swallowed up anyone who dared to get deeper into it.

No. He wouldn’t cry now, but however hard he tried, his chin quivered, and a sob escaped him.

Hic. Hic.

Even his hiccough sounded unnatural among the night melodies of the forest. He had wanted to be alone, hadn’t he? He had gotten his wish. Now he had to face it like a grown-up hamster. What would Ginger and Snow do if they were lost in the forest? They wouldn’t sit and mop. They would try to retrace their steps.

He moved slowly back toward the stream, or where he thought the stream was. The trees showed no mercy and did not divulge a clear path. But he imagined he could hear the trickling water and moved in that direction.

His stomach began to settle. Soon he will find the stream and cross back into known territory. And maybe then his father and mother and Ginger and Snow will believe that he can look after himself.

With increased hope, he padded on until a figure appeared in front of him, blocking his way.

“I once told the same story to a stupid vole who then crossed the stream and was never seen again. But this is the first time I am capturing a hamster.” It was Sami the ferret.

“Capturing?” Hiccup nearly stumbled over a bulging root.

“Oh yeah, I know all about that Law of The Furrow—that we are not supposed to eat our fellow Furrowians. But no one will know, now that you are so far away from The Furrow. I wonder if the laws of The Furrow apply on this side of the forest. Anyway, as long as nobody sees me doing it, it’s gonna be fine.”

Hiccup did not listen to half of what the ferret said. He had seen a gap under the root. Without wasting a moment, he slid under it.

“How long do you think you can stay hidden?” The ferret’s snout appeared in front of Hiccup’s face, sniffing him out.

“Hiccup. Hiccup.” This time Hiccup was sure that it was Ginger and Snow who were calling him. He did not imagine it. He wanted to call out to them, but they would know that he had run away from them and that he was a coward.

Sami too seemed to have realized that the hamster twins were headed this way. He straightened up.

After a moment’s silence, he said, “Your sisters will be pretty disappointed that you made fools out of them.”

“Hiccup. Where are you?” The voices came nearer.

“Oh! It’s you again.” That was Snow, now so close; Hiccup was sure she could smell him. All his senses told him to shout out to them, to ask them to save him. But what if the ferret attacks them, too, to keep his evil doings a secret?

“It’s me, the same old Sami. What are you two hamsters doing here far away from the roof of The Furrow, all alone?”

“We are not alone,” Ginger quipped

“Yeah, there’s two of you.”

“Not just we two,” said Snow. “Our parents and grandfather are also here, searching for Hiccup.”

“And also, the possum family is looking for him near the stream,” Ginger said.

The ferret’s paws shuffled uneasily. “In that case, I too must look for him.” He bounced away from them into the denser forest.

Hiccup rushed out of his safe haven and slammed into Ginger and Snow, bawling his eyes out.

The elder hamsters let out a muffled scream.

“What are you doing here?” They asked in unison.

Hiccup told them everything from the time he had wished to be a grown-up hamster to how he almost became a meal for Sami.

“I knew that ferret was not quite right,” Snow said. “It was only a matter of time before he broke the Law of The Furrow.”

“He already did.” And Hiccup told them about the poor vole. “Come, let’s tell grandfather about him. He will let the others know.”

“Yes, for that, we should return home,” Ginger said.

“But all of them are here, aren’t they? Searching for me?”

“No, we lied.” Snow shrugged. “No one is here.”

“And the possum family?” asked Hiccup.

“Must be foraging near The Furrow,” said Ginger.

“But… but…”

“We didn’t want the ferret to think we were helpless and alone in the forest,” said Snow.

Hiccup’s mouth gaped wide. “How did you both get to be so smart?”

“By frequently getting into trouble.” Snow giggled.

“And by listening to mother and father,” said Ginger, more seriously.

Hiccup’s face drooped.

“But you know what, Hiccup? You are smart too. You wouldn’t have been alive if you weren’t. You are growing up too fast.” Ginger hugged him.

“I will miss my baby brother, but soon he will be a fully grown hamster who wouldn’t like to play with us.” Snow patted him on his head.

“I would always love to play with you,” said Hiccup, and the three of them walked back to The Furrow. But the ferret Sami never returned to The Furrow ever again.

(Timeline: Before ‘The Hedgehog Trail’)

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