Animal Tales

Quinn’s nightmare (Part 2)

All the animals had gathered on either side of the stream to celebrate. There was plenty of food, now that the door to the village was open. Carrots, cabbages, apples, and chicken eggs were strewn on the floor as the Furrowians sat eating their feast.

“Someone has to tell the ferrets not to store fish,” said a meerkat. “They can catch it from the stream whenever they want. Look at us meerkats. Do you see us gathering fish?”

“Their chambers stink,” said a badger.

“But who will tell them?” asked a possum. “They will not listen to us.”

“What we need is a leader,” said a rabbit. “And Quinn is perfect for that role.”

“Why not Furrer?” asked the meerkat.

The debate went on for hours. Soon, the ferrets, hamsters, voles, and moles too joined the discussion. The mice remained in their chamber. They were still not sure that the bigger animals won’t pounce on them. In fact they did not quite like The Furrow. The jackals were not hunting them particularly. Why should they be hiding in The Furrow? They asked each other this question as they watched the other animals carry on a heated debate that slowly became physical. A possum snarled at a rabbit, and a ferret bit the tail of a hamster.

“This is a night to celebrate, not fight.” Quinn stepped in between the animals. “Moreover, it is not important to have a leader, as long as we can learn to live together.”

“We must have a show of paws,” shouted a meerkat.

“That will not be necessary, Gabby,” said Quinn.

But others took up the chant for a show of paws. Furrer, who had appeared with Pole, looked disinterested, and Quinn felt slightly uneasy. The animals decided to gather around on either side of the cave according to their choice of leader. The supporters of Furrer were to gather near the badger colony and those who supported Quinn near the porcupine colony.

At first, there was a commotion at the bridge, and several animals fell into the stream, coming out spluttering. Then there was confusion as to which colony belonged to the badgers and which one to the porcupines. In the end, all was settled, and the animals stopped moving.

Most of them were huddled in front of Quinn’s door.

Quinn shrugged and looked at Furrer with an apologetic smile. “This doesn’t mean anything. We don’t need a leader.”

“No, you are the rightful leader of The Furrow,” said Furrer. “Let us all eat and drink to that.”

Then the merriment started again, with a few grumbling but all extremely happy to have their stomachs full.

Quinn went to his colony, his mind now burdened with two things – one, the open passages, and two, the hidden conflict in The Furrow. What the Furrowians needed was unity. The selection of a leader could have waited. He did not quite understand the look on Furrer’s face. It was disappointment mingled with something else. What was it?

Quinn ushered his niece, Elda, into her chamber, where her mother was waiting. Poor child, he thought. I wish I hadn’t sent her father into that pit.

He could not save his brother, but he must save the rest of the Furrowians. He will keep the Furrowians united. And he will also close those secret openings in the Downer-cave.


That day he had been unable to sleep. It was the same for the following days. Hence, he was the first to be alerted when the commotion started.

“Jackals, jackals, run for your life,” came shouts from the Upper-cave.

Quinn rushed out of his bed, strewing hay all over the floor. He came face to face with a snarling jackal, whom he lashed hard with his quilled tail. A few tiny porcupines stood frozen between two jackals.

Quinn jumped in front of the younger porcupines and drove the jackals away. Outside the colony of the porcupines, his worst fears had come true. Furrowians were running helter-skelter. The gleeful jackals did not spare anyone they came across.

By this time, the other porcupines too had woken up. One of them ran to take charge of the little ones. The rest joined Quinn and rushed out of the colony, screeching out a war cry.

They did their best to snatch animals out of the very mouth of their enemies. Quinn gathered and led voles and shrews and hamsters back into their colonies, pleading with them to stay put. In the middle of his struggles, he caught sight of the badgers putting up a fight of their own. Furrer was not amongst them. He must be leading the fight from the Downer-cave. Of course, that is where all the jackals must be.

Quinn pushed past the chaotic animals and entered the glittering tunnel. He could hear screams coming from the Downer-cave. He ran faster. Animals must be trapped there, those who went there to catch the last fish of the day.

He came to a halt as the stream in the Downer-cave became visible. His blood froze in his veins as he saw that it was Elda who was screaming, and it was Furrer who stood threateningly over her. 

“Furrer,” bellowed Quinn.

Elda streaked toward him. “He… he pushed mother,” she sobbed. “She fell down the…” Elda was unable to complete it, but Quinn understood. He looked unbelievingly at his friend.

“She shouldn’t have followed me,” said Furrer, pawing slightly on the floor, getting ready to attack.

Another moment and Quinn would have pounced on him. However, the commotion from the Upper-cave reached them in a sudden wave, as the jackals rushed in, followed by the ferocious porcupines. The badgers and ferrets were also behind them.

The jackals stumbled and tripped as they were being continuously attacked with the quills of the porcupines.

As they passed him, Furrer yelled. “Quinn and his porcupines betrayed us. They let the jackals in. Betrayers, betrayers, the porcupines betrayed us.”

In no time, the badgers and the ferrets stopped chasing the jackals and turned on the porcupines. The baffled porcupines formed a tight group and did the only thing they could—defend themselves. The jackals took this opportunity to escape into the dark tunnels of the Downer-cave.

Quills flew everywhere, and some stuck the rabbits and possums who had come down the glittering tunnel to see the jackals being chased away.

“STOP,” shouted Quinn. “We are leaving.”

He held Elda tightly to his side and walked right into the middle of his opponents. 

A path opened up for him as the animals jumped sideways to get the farthest from him. He climbed the glittering tunnel without looking behind. He could feel Furrer’s eyes on him. He passed the colonies and reached the exit, stopping only as he stepped out into the fresh air of the forest.

“Where are you going? We didn’t do anything wrong,” said one of the porcupines who had followed him.

“All of us must leave. Make sure that no one is left behind.”

A couple of porcupines ran inside and came back with the kids. “Where will we go?” They asked.

“Today, we will sleep in the forest. Tomorrow, we must find a new home,” Quinn said with a sigh.

As they settled down under a tree far away from The Furrow’s mouth, Elda came closer to him. He knew that his niece had a strong heart. Since the day she lost her father, she had put on a brave face. But now, her mouth was trembling.

“Why did you spare him?” she asked.

“Attacking him would have meant attacking our other friends in The Furrow.”

“We have no friends in The Furrow,” she said, blinking her eyes rapidly to hide her tears.

Quinn did not respond.

“Furrer has to pay for this. You have to make him,” she said vehemently.

“He will, but not today.”

Quinn watched as Elda sat there with the fire of revenge burning in her eyes. That day he made a promise to himself – never to let his niece wander into The Furrow ever again. He has to take her far away and make her forget everything that has passed.

Furrer will pay for his sins. The laws of nature will ensure that. Quinn did not want anyone to suffer to make that happen. He will take his family far, far away.


Quinn woke up with a start. Years had passed since that fateful day, and Elda had grown up to be an elegant porcupine. But the desolate picture still remained afresh in his mind. What was the nightmare trying to tell him?

After all these years, it was for the first time that he had traveled to this forest and slept so close to The Furrow—at the old porcupine rocks. Maybe that triggered the nightmare.

“Quinn, Quinn,” someone was screaming his name. The voice came from the sky. It was a bird. No, it was several birds—swifts.

“Quinn, you are needed at The Furrow.” A bird fluttered in front of his face. “The jackals have returned, and the Furrowians need your help.”


(Timeline of Quinn’s Nightmare: His travels through the forest during The Hedgehog Returns.)

Read The Hedgehog Trail for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Animal Tales

Quinn’s nightmare (Part 1)

(The History of The Furrow)

Quinn the porcupine looked behind his shoulder and spotted the shadow of the jackal that was following him. There must be more where that one came from, but fear did not cross Quinn’s heart. His quills could take down a jackal or two. However, it was not just his quills that gave him confidence. He was with his best friend, Furrer the badger. And together, they could face an army of jackals and win.

“Are they still behind us?” Furrer asked in a whisper.

“Yes, what now?”


Furrer turned and growled. Quinn let out a screech that froze the shadow that was following them. They did not have to charge. The jackal turned and dashed away. Several other paws also padded along in the same direction. The forest was silent again.

“How many do you think were there?” Furrer asked.

“At least a dozen.”

Furrer let out a chuckle. “Cowards.”

The two friends continued on their path, traversing an open glade to ensure that the jackals were not after them and then walking through the stream to cover their scent. They stopped only when they reached a clump of thorny bushes.

“This is the part I hate,” said Furrer.

Quinn did not mind the thorns, and he was happy that the bushes beautifully hid the entrance to The Furrow. The jackals would never be able to find the entrance to their secret underground cave. They wriggled into the barely visible hole. The deeper they traveled, the tunnel got wider and wider.

“Hurry up, Quinn,” called Furrer. “We have to check the diggings. They should have finished the tunnel to the village, but I am not sure whether those hamsters understood the directions we gave. Are they a lot of fools or what?”

“They are not fools, Furrer. They have a better sense of direction than you or me.”

“Well, then they don’t show it often. It would have been much better had they continued as pets in the village instead of coming to the forest.”

Furrer was not unkind, Quinn told himself. He just had an inflated sense of self-importance that came from being the cleverest inhabitant of The Furrow. Quinn could forgive him that. If only he did not hurt their other friends with his sharp words.

Both of them hurried down the tunnel. They passed a group of meerkats and possums polishing the walls of two adjacent chambers. This is where they planned to store food. Once the larders were filled with roots and eggs and berries and leaves, they wouldn’t have to leave The Furrow for nights.

“We need a larger chamber which can hold everyone,” said Furrer, as they continued running downwards. “How else will we gather all the Furrowians to give orders?”

“Give orders?”

“Of course, we will be giving orders, you and I, won’t we?”

Quinn did not reply. He did not like the idea of giving orders or bossing over the animals. All he had wanted was a safe refuge for all of them until the jackals left the forest. But The Furrow they discovered was a big surprise, with underground caves and streams. It could be their home forever and may require some organization.

They reached the Upper-cave with a towering roof, shiny walls, and ornamental pillars. The pillars always fascinated Quinn. Who would have designed such marvelous structures? Have they changed since he first saw them?

A stream cut through this cave, and moles were arranging misshapen sticks and stones over it so that the smaller animals could cross over. On either side of the stream, everyone was quite busy bringing their colonies to order.

How lucky they were that the Upper-cave had so many chambers! Each of the animals had claimed their own colonies. The colonies of the voles, shrews, hamsters, mice, and rabbits lay on one side. This was the path that Furrer and Quinn took. On the other side of the stream were the ones belonging to the porcupines, badgers, ferrets, possums, meerkats, and moles.

Quinn had deliberately made this division. It was meant to remind everyone that the space of the smaller animals is to be respected by the bigger animals. There will be no hunting in The Furrow. All will be safe.

“Watch out, Quinn.”

Quinn jumped and looked at his foot. He was poised to step on Shrill the shrew. Shrill’s nostrils shivered as she evaded both Quinn and Furrer.

“I am so sorry, Shrill,” said Quinn. “We should have taken the other side of the stream.”

“It is all right. Just keep your eyes pasted on the ground. I would have been pasted on the ground now.”

“You should have screamed earlier,” said Furrer.

“We all should be more careful,” Quinn said.

Furrer stepped across the stream, where it was the narrowest, and proceeded down the other side. At the very end was a mound of soil and dirt. The animals have been digging a tunnel with hopes of reaching the village. If they become successful, they could obtain food without facing the jackals.

“You are here!” It was Pole the ferret. “I am having difficulty convincing these hamsters that we have to dig up and not down.”

“We are not going down, sire,” said a young hamster, who was as white as snow. “I think we have not reached the village yet, and it is too soon to dig upward.”

“Don’t call us sire, Tub,” said Quinn. “If you think you can find a better path, you do that. Don’t let Pole tell you otherwise.”

“What are you doing, Quinn?” muttered Furrer. “You know that Pole is our best guide for digging tunnels.”

“Yes, he is. But we never know where new wisdom might come from. There can be no harm in trying. Pole, I need your help elsewhere.”

“Going off to the Downer-cave, are you?” Furrer asked.

The Downer-cave. It always gave Quinn an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. What mysteries did that cave hold? It had a myriad of tunnels, some tricky, some dark and narrow, but some wide enough for the jackals. What if one of those tunnels opened up into the forest?

“Yes, Furrer. I have to set my mind at rest.”

“All right. You do that. I will see how the work on the colonies is progressing.”

Pole and Quinn turned back, crossed the stream, and bounded off into the glittering tunnel that led to the Downer-cave.

“You shouldn’t be this worried,” said Pole. “Those tunnels are a maze. The jackals will never be able to find their way through any of them.”

“But we have to know. It is not good to live in ignorance.”

“What about the traps? Have you forgotten what happened last time?”

Quinn could never forget that, and that was why he wasn’t going to ask for help from any other animals this time around. Five precious lives have already been lost while exploring the Downer-cave—one of them his own brother’s. This time it would be just him and Pole. There was no one as sure-footed as Pole. If anyone could cross the traps safely, it was Pole the ferret.

“We didn’t even manage to cross the Death’s Mouth.” Pole rambled on behind him.

“This time, we will,” said Quinn with quiet determination. “We will explore each tunnel meticulously; find out where they end, find out if they are large enough for jackals, account for all the traps within.”

The pillars of the Downer-cave were much more elaborate than the Upper-cave. Some had not yet reached the roof, and some struggled to touch the floor. A few had branches crisscrossing under the ceiling. What amused Quinn the most was a winding structure through which water from above the ground fell into the underground stream. There was a hole on the roof at this place. He will have to scout the forest to see where it led. But it did not worry him too much, as a jackal would never be able to fit into that hole. Even he wouldn’t be able to do it.

“Do you mind if I fill myself up at the stream? Can’t tell when I’ll get another chance! If I get lost or die in one of those tunnels, will you tell Furrer that he has my vote?”

Quinn chuckled but waited patiently as Pole went ahead to catch some fish. The ferret expertly caught two huge ones and gobbled them up at lightning speed.

Together, they entered the big mouth which led to all the tunnels of the Downer-cave. It was darker, and the air was damp. A swish of wings welcomed them. Quinn was not troubled by the bats; one poke from his quill was enough to keep them away, but they tried to explore whether Pole presented a good enough meal. When they realized the unappetizing nature of the two animals in their vicinity, they went back to sleep.

Quinn stepped carefully around to the tunnel that opened to his right side. It was the least dangerous. That meant there were no deep abysses or falls, but the mazes were mind-boggling.

“Maybe I should lead,” said Pole, yawning. “We will not see the end of these tunnels if you are so slow.”

It took all the skills that Pole could muster to lead them in and out of each tunnel. Most of the paths had dead ends, but they had to go a long way before finding these ends.

“Have we been through this tunnel before?” Quinn asked as they progressed through a tunnel that looked no different from the ones they had already examined.


Something in Pole’s voice made Quinn’s heart beat faster. But then he felt it. A cool breeze was flowing into the tunnel. And when they turned a curve, he saw it—the light at the end of the tunnel. This was definitely bad news.

Quinn and Pole hurried to the opening. They emerged out of the tunnel to stand on a wet rock. The river flowed below them, and above the rocks, the greenery of the forest appeared washed in a recent rain.

“What do we do now?” asked Pole.

“Check out the other tunnels,” said Quinn grimly.


The next night they went into the tunnels on the left side. The progress was even slower because now they were faced with all the potholes and snares there. Each step had to be taken with care.

Quinn went ahead. They crossed the first two pits, secure in knowing that they had done so before. Quinn paused at the second one. He imagined he could hear his brother’s scream that had echoed through the tunnels as the latter stumbled into this pit.

“Come, mate,” said Pole. “No use lingering here.”

With a heavy heart, Quinn proceeded forward. He knew what lay ahead. The thunderous noise that welcomed them was warning enough. But even though he had seen it before, the sight still stunned Quinn.

The tunnel slowly opened up, letting in more air and moonlight. The walls thinned out before disappearing completely, exposing the surrounding tunnels to their view. In front of them, the path extended like a bridge—a stone bridge. And under them flowed a mighty underground river.

“I bet there are loads of fish in those waters,” said Pole sarcastically.

It was a cruel reminder of the last words spoken by the ferret who had fallen from that bridge into the river during their earlier exploration. There was no way of knowing whether the ferret had survived the fall, for he never returned to The Furrow.

The bridge was not that dangerous if one was careful enough. Quinn and Pole walked slowly on the slippery surface, ignoring the flecks of water that tapped their faces.

“The flow is stronger now,” Quinn observed. “It must be raining again.”

On the other side of the bridge, both friends found themselves dragging their feet. For, in front of them lay the abyss that Quinn had nicknamed the Death’s Mouth. They had lost three of their friends in that pit and had not dared cross it on their first try.

“Go ahead. You were the one who wanted to do this. Spare me.”

“We have to cross it, Pole.”

“Cross it? How in the world?”

“The same way the others did it.”

“The others didn’t do it. They fell into the pit. The jackals will never make it across.”

“As long as there is a way, they will try. And the path exists, even though it is on the adjacent wall.”

Quinn peered at the wall that had a long cut across it. It was just enough to offer a foothold. The jackals were not brave or daring, but they were stupid enough to try. And they would sacrifice enough of their own until some of them got across, if they knew it would lead them to food.

Quinn led the way. He walked on the groove, balancing his body away from the wall. It took a surprisingly short time to reach solid ground again.

Pole was right behind him. The ferret flashed a victorious grin as he approached Quinn. But the grin was quickly replaced by a look of terror as Pole lost his balance. Without a second thought, Quinn jumped and caught hold of a paw that was vanishing at the edge of the drop.

“I’m gonna dieeeeee,” Pole screamed.

Quinn pulled him back with all his might.

“Ow…” cried Pole as he was pulled to safety but on to the sharp quills on Quinn’s head.

“You mad porcupine. I am not coming with you anywhere. I am going back.”

“Calm down, Pole,” said Quinn. “Let me take that out.” He pulled out a quill from Pole’s stomach. “Going back is as dangerous as going ahead.”

“I will go back into known danger than go ahead into unknown ones.”

“I won’t force you. But I will find the end of this tunnel.”

“The end will be mine,” muttered Pole before following him.

The tunnel grew wider as they moved ahead. They clambered across shallow, water-logged ditches, Pole complaining all the while how wet and cold he was.

“Aha! We have come to a dead-end,” said Quinn.

“We have not. Look up and then down.”

Quinn did so, and to his disappointment, another tunnel continued to run over their heads. What he thought was a dead-end was another pit.

“Fancy climbing up?” Quinn asked.

“Why not? I am anyway going to die tonight.”

“It won’t be that difficult. Don’t look into the pit, but the wall is so rough. We can surely find some footholds. I will go first.”

He was right. It was as though someone had shaped tiny steps into the wall. He was able to climb up easily, and so was Pole. 

“The tunnel must have collapsed long ago,” said Quinn.

“You think The Furrow will collapse someday too? Into a deep, endless pit?”

“The Furrow will endure. Did you notice that for some time now, we have been ascending?”

“I remember only my fall.”

“This looks like a cave, and I can sense it has an opening. Look, there it is.”

Pole slumped on the floor and wept like a baby ferret. “I will never again enter those cursed tunnels.”

“We will return through the forest.”

“The Furrow is not as safe as we supposed it to be, is it?”

“We must keep this a secret. There is not one but two ways in. The jackals may never find it, but what if they do?”

“They will never be able to get in through this cave. They will all die on the way.”

“But we must close it anyway. I can block this mouth with a boulder. And the other tunnel. Its inner parts are narrow. We can fill it up with something. Will you keep this a secret till I decide what to do?”

“You can trust me, Quinn. You know that.”

(Continued in next post)

(Timeline: Years before the events of ‘The Hedgehog Trail’)

Read The Hedgehog Trail for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Animal Tales

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’)

Read The Hedgehog Trail for free with Kindle Unlimited.