Hedginald Q. Phitch is one extraordinary hedgehog. Sadly, one day, he came home from gathering berries to find his home burned down and his parents missing…
This story unfolded as I wrote it down and illustrated it on one paper napkin per day that went into my daughter’s lunch when she was in the fourth grade. Soon it became the focal point of her lunch group as they gathered each day to find out what was going to happen next in the amazing story of Hedgie and his forest friends.
The following is how the story of Hedginald Q. Phitch unfolded, napkin by napkin.
One happy day, Quincy and Pearl Phitch had a baby. They named him Hedginald Q. Phitch. Hedginald was quite extraordinary in every way.
Professor Quincy Phitch was an inventor and scientist. Pearl Phitch ran the Phitch household. She knew everything about cooking and hospitality.
Hedginald grew strong and kind and resourceful and generous. Everyone loved him and he loved them back. His father called him Hedgie and his mother called him Hedginald.
Sadly, one day, tragedy struck Hedgie’s world. He came home from gathering berries to find his home burned down and his parents missing.
For days, Hedgie wandered, searching for his parents, and answers to why this happened.
One day, as Hedgie was walking on the beach, he heard a soft whimpering. He walked closer and discovered a small sea otter all tangled up in kelp.
The young otter was barely alive. Hedgie brought the otter into a nearby cave. It took Hedgie many days of constant care to revive him. His mother had taught him about all kinds of good natural medicines.
Hedgie made up a name for the little sea otter while he was taking care of him. He called him “Kelpy” because he found him all tangled up in kelp. But when the little sea otter was strong enough, he told Hedgie that his name was Chester.
Chester told Hedgie the story of what happened to him. “A band of black rats came one day and captured my whole family of sea otters, about 16 of us all together. It was scary and terrible. Then something bizarre and horrible happened.”
“Suddenly, the leader of the black rats raised a scepter in the air. There was some chanting and a flash of bright light. Then a most amazing thing started to happen. One by one, each of my family members instantly changed into a blackbird!”
“Suddenly, in the midst of all the commotion, someone grabbed me and quickly wrapped me up tightly in a bundle of kelp. Then I heard a lot of squawking and flapping and rats yelling.”
“Then the rats started running around like crazy! I was getting kicked and trampled! Everything went dark. The next thing I knew I was in here with you. Thank you so much for saving me.”
“My oh my, Kelpy! That was a rather harrowing experience for you!” said Hedgie. “I am glad I came along that day on the beach.” “And I am glad you wrapped me up in kelp. I don’t want to be a blackbird. No,” said Chester.
“I think you are a bit confused, Kelpy,” said Hedgie. “I did not wrap you in the kelp. I unwrapped you after it was all over.” “Well, I was pretty banged up. And I am awfully confused. Yes,” said Chester. “But it just seems like…”
“What did he look like?” asked Hedgie eagerly. “Well, I thought it was you. He looked like you — apron and everything,” answered Chester. “That was no he, Kelpy! That was my mother! Hooray! You found my mother!” exclaimed Hedgie.
“Only my mother would know that wrapping you up in kelp would prevent you from changing into a blackbird, Kelpy,” said Hedgie. “She’s alive! And maybe my father is too! We have to find them!” “I will help you. Yes,” said Chester.
So Hedgie and Chester set out together in search of Hedgie’s parents and any other adventure that might come their way. While they searched for clues, they each shared their knowledge of the world. (Hedgie, of course, had a bit more to share.)
As they walked, Chester asked, “What are we looking for, Hedgie?” “Clues,” answered Hedgie. “What is a clue?” asked Chester. “A clue is something that leads you on the right path,” explained Hedgie. “Well then,” said Chester. “I think I saw a clue. Yes.” Hedgie took out his notepad and said, “What was it, Kelpy?”
“I have seen these bushes before on my walks along the beach and they only have purple flowers. Not yellow ones. No,” said Chester. “Hmmm,” said Hedgie. “My mother knew how flowers worked. Hey, look! There is another one up there!” exclaimed Hedgie excitedly.
“And there are more yellow flowers up ahead, Kelpy,” said Hedgie. “I think these clues are leading to that forest of trees.” “I don’t know if I like forests. No,” said Chester hesitantly.
As Hedgie and Chester saw more yellow flowers and got closer and closer to the forest, they both noticed a flock of blackbirds squawking and flapping above it. “Is that another clue?” asked Chester. “Yes, Kelpy. I think it is,” said Hedgie. “I think I am afraid of forests. Yes,” said Chester. “Me too,” said Hedgie.
The forest was thick with trees and it got darker and darker as Hedgie and Chester walked, but the path was clear, like a damp tunnel, cutting its way through it. They lost track of time in the eerie darkness, but finally, the dank silence was broken by a slight yellow glow from a flickering fire.
As Hedgie and Chester approached the yellow light, a bright blue buzzing light darted several times side-to-side in front of them and stopped them in their tracks. “What was that?” asked Chester, startled. “I don’t know!” exclaimed Hedgie. “It was me!” whispered a voice behind them. “Now will you two please be quiet!”
Hedgie and Chester turned around and saw that it was a beautiful blue hummingbird who spoke to them. “Quickly!” she said sharply. “Get over here before they see you! Are you two out of your minds!?!” she whispered incredulously. “You were walking right into the rats nest!”
“I was just getting ready to go in there and rescue my friends when you two bumblers ambled in,” she said. “There might be bad rats in there,” warned Chester. “Um, what he means is — we have been tracking a band of mean black rats to this very spot,” explained Hedgie. “They changed my family into blackbirds,” added Chester.
“I thought there was something fishy about those blackbirds,” she said, puzzled. “They didn’t seem to understand me when I asked them to help me rescue my friends.” “I could ask them,” offered Chester. “I could help you, too,” said Hedgie. “Great! Let’s go make a plan,” she said. As she darted away she said, “I’m Mezzo, follow me!”
Mezzo darted quickly back up the tunnel. “Wait for us!” said Chester. She stopped abruptly and seemed to dart in every direction creating a star pattern. Suddenly, a door in the wall opened. “Quickly! In here! We have no time to lose!” said Mezzo. The door led to a narrow tunnel that climbed steadily uphill.
Soon the narrow tunnel opened into a clearing in the forest and they could see the sky again. Hedgie and Chester were glad to be out of the dark woods. “Ok, get them down here!” said Mezzo. “We have no time to lose!” Chester looked up and saw the flock of flapping squawking blackbirds.
“Hey you guys up there! It’s me, Chester! Come down here today because we want to help you and we want to help hummingbirds and we want to help Hedgie’s mother! So come!” Amazingly, the blackbirds began to form a big ring in the sky and then spiral down to the clearing.
“Ok you blackbirds…” said Mezzo. “Excuse me, Mezzo,” interrupted Chester politely. “They are really otters and they are my family.” “Exactly!” said Mezzo. “Thank you, Chester. You are exactly right. Now you otters, disguised as blackbirds, can go in there and spy on the rats for us.” “They said yes,” said Chester as they flew away to the rats nest.
The otter-birds flew over the forest above the rats nest and then down into the branches of the trees to spy out the situation. As they got closer, they were quickly confronted by a band of sentinel squirrels. While Hedgie, Chester and Mezzo were waiting for the spy report, they heard a rustling sound behind them, so they turned around and saw a large group of all kinds of forest animals, led by a raccoon.
“We are here to help,” said the raccoon. “Your blackbird friends are being escorted back here by our sentinels.” “They are really sea otters. And they are my family,” interrupted Chester politely. “Well, that explains their awkwardness and their eagerness,” replied the raccoon. “But we must hurry if we are to help the hummingbirds! Come with us quickly!” insisted the raccoon.
“I am Bandy Coon, and this is my brother Bandit. We organized this resistance group here in the forest because we are sick of Abernasty and his band of black jacket rats,” said the raccoon. “When they captured the hummingbirds and threatened to change them into black spiders, that was the last straw.” Then Bandy stopped and stared at Hedgie.
“We were about to go in and rescue the hummingbirds when you two stumbled into the tunnel,” said Bandy. “We did not know what to think, but figured it had something to do with the other two hedgehogs who are locked up in the rats nest.”
“Those are my father and mother!” exclaimed Hedgie. “I just know it’s them! We have to get them out of there now!” “Hold on, hold on now!” ordered Bandy. “Our plans have had to change a bit since you two came along and it is way too dangerous to just go barging in there without a new plan,” said Bandy.
“You are correct, of course, Bandy,” replied Hedgie. “I don’t want to put my father and mother, or anyone else here in the forest in any more danger than they already are.” “Hmmm, speaking of my father gives me an idea,” thought Hedgie. “Rats tend to be a little gullible and superstitious, right Bandy?”
Meanwhile, deep in the rats nest, Abernasty angrily paced back and forth. “Alright Phitch,” he demanded. “It better work this time or your meddling mate will meet her Maker! I just know she had something to do with the blackbird fiasco. They are a flock of useless idiots! The hummingbird change better be a different story.”
“Please don’t make me do this,” pleaded Quincy. “The powers of the Changeling are intended to be used for good, not evil.” “Just shut that old fool up, father!” snapped Soot, Abernasty’s sniveling son. “I’m warning you Phitch. If those hummingbirds don’t change into vile poisonous black spiders, your mate will take a one-way trip to the bottom of the river,” threatened Abernasty.
“I’m begging you, Abernasty. Please don’t do this. I’m trying to help you,” pleaded Quincy. “You have no idea of the power of being a Changeling and the awesome responsibility that accompanies it.” “Get that pudgy possum out of the cage and tie the weight around her neck!” ordered Abernasty. As the black jacket rats tied Pearl up she said, “Don’t do it Quincy, dear. I will be… I’m not afraid.”
“Alright Abernasty, I’ll do it, but I guarantee that you will regret this day as long as you live,” said Quincy as he prepared the Changeling elements. “First, eat this scroll…” “Aaayck!” choked Abernasty. “Now, drink this potion quickly,” ordered Quincy. “Everyone… stand back!” exclaimed Quincy as Abernasty screamed loudly and fell to his knees.
Suddenly, Abernasty began to stand up and shafts of light seemed to cut outward from him into the room. His entire appearance seemed to be changing as his ears shrunk and flopped down and his snout shortened and rounded. “Now it’s all mine!” he said as he raised the glowing scepter stone. And all the black jacket rats began to chant wildly.
Suddenly, Pearl gasped and grabbed Quincy’s arm to show him that one-by-one each hummingbird was losing their beautiful shimmering color and dropping lifelessly to the floor of the cell. Then, to everyone’s great astonishment, there came a loud thunder-like rumble and billowing white smoke from the entrance of the rats nest, as a dark figure emerged.
Everyone in the rats nest became quiet and stood still as the mysterious figure hovered into the room. He was very large and seemed to have black wings all over his body. Under a dark hood, all that could be seen were two large glassy eyes. “Abernasty!” he said in a strong commanding voice. “You must stop violating the Laws of the Changeling!”
“How dare you come into my lair and give me orders!” retorted Abernasty indignantly. “Get him boys!” At that, the creature raised his arms and seemed to double in size as the wings all over him expanded and he was lifted to the ceiling. “I am the Changemaster,” he said in a calm but strong voice. Then hundreds of woodland creatures of all kinds flooded into the room ready to fight.
“Well… it looks like we have worn out our welcome here boys,” scoffed Abernasty. “Your escape mechanism better work the way you have bragged about it, Soot.” Then Soot reached over and pulled down a lever on the wall. Suddenly, a crack started to form on the floor between the two opposing forces. Then it continued up both walls and all the way across the ceiling.
Suddenly, the cracking stopped with one loud crack, the whole room shook violently, and the back half that the rats were standing on began to slide down the hill toward the river. “Good-bye and good riddance!” yelled Abernasty. “Quickly, Mezzo, you gotta get the keys to the cages from Soot!” ordered Bandy. “I’m on it!” she said and sped down the hill.
As Chester watched what was going on all around him, he was startled by the sound of squawking and flapping and then heard a loud thud behind him. “Ow!” said Hedgie when he hit the ground. It was Hedgie’s idea to confuse the gullible rats by disguising himself as the Changemaster, with the help of the blackbirds, of course. “Are you alright?” asked Chester. “Yes, but my father and mother are down there with those blasted rats!” cried Hedgie.
Soot’s escape contraption slid all the way down the cliff and landed in the river with a great splash. After all the dirt was rinsed off in the water, they could see that it was a large boat. “You all will regret this day when I come back and change all of you into black beetle bugs!” threatened Abernasty waving his scepter in the air.
“What about these two?” asked Soot. Abernasty glared at Quincy and Pearl and said, “We need to keep Phitch for now, but you can toss that meddling chubby chipmunk overboard. So Soot sauntered over in his usual air of contempt and shoved Quincy aside to the floor. “Looks like you are going to be the only drowned rat around here,” said Soot, as he grabbed Pearl and threw her into the river.
“Don’t worry, Hedgie! I’ll get her!” cried Chester as he scurried down the cliff and dove into the river after Pearl. Bandy, Bandit and the others were not far behind. On the boat, Soot was waving his arms wildly and yelling, “Get this blasted blue bumble bee away from me!” But Mezzo still managed to snatch the keys from his grip.
Just as Mezzo got the keys from Soot, one of the black jacket rats grabbed an oar, swung it wildly and batted her violently toward the rocky riverbank. Chipper, one of the chipmunk scouts, saw all of this happen and leapt from his tree to break her impact. “Gotcha!” “Ow!” “Ow!” they both said as they slammed against the rocks.
“Great catch, Chipper!” said Bandy running over to them. “Now, have your scouts take Mezzo and the keys up to Hedgie so he can start helping those poor hummingbirds.” Then she went to join Bandit at the river’s edge. Down at the bottom of the river, Chester was struggling against the weight chained around Pearl’s neck, and the river’s current.
Bandit dove into the river to help save Pearl. Chester was trying with all his might until he started to lose consciousness, when suddenly, the water surrounding them began to stir and shimmer and sparkle. Bubbles formed all around them and gently lifted them up to the surface where Bandy and Bandit helped them ashore. “What happened!?!” asked Chester. “Water fairies,” answered Pearl.
“Well, it looks like my kelp wrap worked on you, little buddy,” smiled Pearl. Chester gave her a big hug. “Yes,” he said. “Now we have to go help those poor hummingbirds,” said Pearl. As they made their way up the cliff, one of the blackbirds brought the keys to get the chain off of Pearl’s neck. “Thank you, little fella. I’ll see what I can do about you too,” said Pearl.
Pearl was so proud and happy when she made it back up to the top of the hill and saw her son gently moving the hummingbirds to a bed of soft fresh moss. “Oh, mother!” said Hedgie as he hugged her tightly. Their tears of joy said more than words about how thankful they were to be together again at last. But a little sadness also mingled with their tears when they both looked down the river and saw Quincy being taken away by the rats.
The other animals joined them at the cliff’s edge. “Oh, my dear Hedginald. I am so happy to be holding you,” said Pearl. “I was so worried about you. It looks like you have made some wonderful new friends, though.” She gave Chester and Bandit a thankful hug. Chester looked at Bandit and said, “Thank you for helping me to get her out from that river.” Bandit smiled, but did not reply. Chester seemed puzzled.
Then Bandy took just a brief moment to explain to their new friends that Bandit was mute as a result of a previous battle with the black jacket rats. Chester and Pearl gave Bandit a little hug and thanked him again. “Mother, I’m afraid we have a lot of work to do on those little hummingbirds to undo the dark change that Abernasty started on them,” said Hedgie. “And Mezzo took quite a beating, too.”
Mezzo opened her eyes and winced in pain. “Don’t worry about me. I’m Ok. Just please get my friends…” Chipper comforted her as she slipped back into unconsciousness. “We must get busy!” said Pearl. Pearl worked like a dervish giving everyone a task to perform to help her prepare the cure that would reverse the initial affect of the dark change that was cast upon the hummingbirds.
The animals started to cheer as, one-by-one, each of the hummingbirds got their beautiful iridescent colors back and began to fly above them. Pearl also was able to help Mezzo heal and she shed tears of joy at the sight of her friends flying above her. In the midst of this joyous scene, Hedgie looked at his mother seriously and said, “I have to go help father.” Pearl smiled knowingly and gave him a hug saying, “Yes… you do.”
As things settled down that evening, plans were discussed about going to rescue Quincy from Abernasty’s evil clutches. “I need to come with you Hedgie,” urged Chester.” “And I as well,” insisted Mezzo, sitting up from her bed. Pearl added that she needed to stay behind and work on changing the sea otters back. And Bandy’s group would work on getting the forest back in order.
The next day, everything was ready for Hedgie, Chester and Mezzo to set off on their journey to rescue Quincy. “Good-bye,” said Hedgie. “Thank you for helping my family, Mrs. Phitch,” said Chester. “Good-bye friends,” said Mezzo. The three followed the river for quite a distance. Mezzo traveled on Hedgie’s shoulder because she was not strong enough to dart around just yet. The river veered sharply east at a rocky outcrop and began to flow very rapidly toward the ocean.
“It looks like we need to cross the river, but there is no way to cross it,” said Hedgie. “I can help you over,” offered Chester. “And I think I am well enough to fly that short distance,” said Mezzo. After crossing over and continuing east along the river, they could not help but notice how much faster the river was flowing. As the rapids roared, they soon found themselves at the top of a huge waterfall.
At the bottom of the waterfall they could see the wreckage of the rat’s ship. “Soot didn’t plan on waterfalls. No,” said Chester. “I’ll fly down there and survey the situation. You two look for clues up here,” said Mezzo. It didn’t take Hedgie long to find evidence that the rats jumped ship before going over the falls. “Look Chester. Look at all these tracks,” said Hedgie.
As Hedgie and Chester followed the tracks into the forest, Mezzo flew back onto Hedgie’s shoulder and reported, “Looks like a few of the rats didn’t jump ship in time and took the long ride down the falls. No casualties, but a few limped away.” That night, as the three were sleeping, Hedgie awoke at the sound of shouting off in the distance, and walked toward it. As he got closer, he silently crept to the edge of a clearing.
From his hiding place in the bushes Hedgie could see Abernasty and Soot in a bitter argument. “You imbecile! You nearly had us all killed!” shouted Abernasty. “Some getaway that turned out to be!” “How was I supposed to know about that waterfall!?” protested Soot. “And look at you — the mighty Changeling! Can’t even change a few hummingbirds! Ha!” Abernasty was furious at Soot’s disrespect of him.
Suddenly, Hedgie felt a sharp point in his back as one of the guard rats pushed him into the clearing. “Hey, looky here what I found,” said the rat. “The pudgy porcupine musta shrunk in the river.” “Well, that’s the only way she could have gotten out of my chains,” said Soot. “That’s not her, you arrogant fool!” said Abernasty. “That’s my son,” said Quincy proudly. “And if you lay a hand on him, I’ll… “ “You’ll what… you old fool!” interrupted Soot.
As morning dawned, the argument between Abernasty and Soot became increasingly heated. “The power of the Changeling is wasted on you, old rat!” yelled Soot. “You just don’t have what it takes to be truly great.” “You insolent brat rat!” yelled Abernasty. “How dare you speak to me that way?!” “I’ll show you what I dare to do!” yelled Soot as he charged at his father and grabbed the scepter. All the black jacket rats cheered and jumped up and down wildly as they watched the two fight over the scepter.
Finally, Soot over-powered his father and wrenched the scepter from his grip. “Now who’s the leader of the rats?!” he shouted victoriously. “Son, please, don’t…” pleaded Abernasty. But before he could finish speaking, Soot took a full swing with the scepter right to Abernasty’s head and knocked him down. Then Soot raised his arms in triumph and sounded an evil laugh. All the black jacket rats continued to jump and cheer. As Soot soaked in all the glory, he stepped back accidentally, lost his balance and started careening down the steep high cliff.
Hedgie glanced quickly at his father and then, to everyone’s surprise, ran to the edge of the cliff, leapt out into the air, formed himself into a ball, and began to roll quickly down after Soot. Hedgie caught up with Soot just before the long drop to the bottom of the canyon. Then he dug his feet in, grabbed the scepter and said, “Hold on, Soot!”
Meanwhile, Chester and Mezzo woke up and saw that Hedgie was gone. It didn’t take them long to discover the clearing and all the commotion at the edge of the cliff, so they found a place to hide where they could see what was going on down there. Soot wavered off-balance precariously at the edge of a long steep drop-off. The only thing preventing his fall was Hedgie at the other end of the scepter with his little hedgehog feet dug firmly in the dirt.
“Soot, please, stop pulling! You’re going to fall!” cried Hedgie. “You just want the scepter, but at last, it is mine! I will be the greatest Changeling of all!” cried Soot. “Now get away from me you pathetic pincushion!” “No! Soot! No!” cried Hedgie. “Give it to me! I said, ‘Give it to me!’” demanded Soot as he pulled against Hedgie. Then suddenly, with a loud crack and a bright burst of light, the scepter stone snapped off the end of the staff and Soot was released off the edge of the cliff, clutching the stone in his paw.
A somber hush fell over the crowd at the top of the cliff as they watched Soot plunge to his death at the bottom of the canyon below. Hedgie was crushed over his inability to save him as he wept quietly on his paws and knees. In the clearing, one of the black jacket rats said, “Come on boys. Let’s bust outta here. There’s nothing left for us here.” And they all walked into the forest leaving Abernasty on his knees weeping with Quincy next to him.
Hedgie found that is was much easier rolling down a cliff than climbing back up. He was making slow progress with difficulty when something suddenly started pushing him from behind. “Just keep going. I got your back.” Chester and Mezzo had joined Quincy at the clearing and they were all surprised to see Hedgie come up over the edge of the cliff being pushed by a blackbird.
After Quincy and Hedgie and the other friends finished greeting each other, they noticed Abernasty halfway down the cliff after his son. “Should we help him?” asked Hedgie. “No. This kind of task is best done privately,” answered Quincy. “Is that you, Blarney?” Chester asked the blackbird. “I knew you would still recognize me, little buddy. But my name is Blotter now. I met the real Changemaster and he said it was Ok for me to stay a blackbird since I have always wanted to fly.”
“Soot, Soot, oh my son… I am so sorry for the evil that I brought upon your life,” Abernasty wept as he buried him there on the canyon floor. Then he gathered as many of the sharp shards of the scepter stone, cutting his paws on each as he picked them up, and dropped them in the grave. It was a joyous Phitch family reunion when Quincy and Hedgie arrived back to the forest with Pearl. The hummingbirds and sea otters were restored and there was gladness throughout the forest.
Abernasty just wandered sadly for days weeping and moaning and mourning the loss of his son and thinking about his entire miserable wretched life. He didn’t eat or sleep and finally collapsed at the riverside. “I just want my son back… I just want my life back… I just want to change it all!” he cried. “Some things can change and some things cannot,” said a gentle firm voice. Abernasty looked up slowly and saw an image in the water. “I am the Changemaster. From now on you shall be a Changeling for good, and you shall now be called Abercrombee.”
It took about a year or so for the Phitch family to build a new home and get their life all back on track. Quincy was back in his workshop, Pearl was planting in the garden and warming up the home, and Hedgie was dreaming of more adventures. One morning, Hedgie came into the kitchen carrying the old scepter staff. “Would you care for a biscuit?” asked Pearl. “Thank you,” said Hedgie. “Remember this?” he asked, holding up the scepter. “I wonder what ever happened to old Abernasty.” “Well,” said Quincy “I sure would like to know. I do love a good story.”
Thanks for reading.