Jake wrapped the barbeque skewers in tinfoil until they formed rigid cone shapes that reflected the dull moon’s attempt to distract him. He heard snuffling and it spurred him to move faster.
Everything was almost finished, if he hadn’t gotten one of his spikes stuck in the doorframe as he snuck out of the back door then he would be fine; as it was he was slightly behind schedule, cold and shirtless in the woods behind Grovener’s House.
He duct-taped the spike back into place on his shirt. It slotted into the formation of cones perfectly and then he carefully slid into the shirt, trying not to move it too much or bend it. He didn’t want to break it so close to the finish line and have to try again tomorrow. Getting out of the house without his mother noticing was difficult enough once.
With the shirt back in place Jake stretched and turned slightly to feel the impressive array of spikes shift in tune with his movements. He heard them clutter against each other with soft scratching sounds of tinfoil on tinfoil but he supposed that would be alright.
Satisfied at last, Jake placed his phone and his watch in a bag he would leave behind and slowly knelt down into the soft mulch and wet leaves. He pulled the mask with the superficial snout over his face and inhaled the scent of the earth; his new home.
His movements were clumsy and slow but he tried to move as carefully as possible as he lumbered into the hedgehogs’ territory. He knew this prickle of hedgehogs well. He had studied them, still and silent, many times. It was important to choose your new family carefully when shrugging off the constrictions of a human life.
He stopped suddenly, with the heels of his hands and the sharps of his knees sinking into the soil, as he spotted one of the young hedgehogs. Jake curled up as tightly as he could, spikes pointing proudly outward all around his tightened form.
‘I am a hedgehog!’ he thought vehemently, over and over, trying to psychically convey it to the hedgehogs around him. This was the make or break moment. Hedgehogs would not be fooled by the same idea twice, he was sure. He had to stay perfectly still and wait for the hedgehogs to accept that he was one of them.
Jake remained tucked into himself for over an hour, until his poor too-long human limbs cramped, ached and then numbed. He tried to think hedgehoggy thoughts. Or more specifically, he tried not to think human thoughts. He pushed away reminders of his mother, of his few friends at school, of his music teacher’s kindness. He tried not to think about Eggs Florentine made by his Nan on all his birthdays to date. He tried not to think. He tried not to feel.
When Jake felt the tickling on the back of his feet he was, at first, actually excited. He thought the hedgehogs might be climbing over him to discover him like puppies do. He thought it might be the first step in the beginnings of this new life he had so desperately hoped for. He felt the rough scratches and tried not to flinch. He held his breath. He clenched his human teeth down and tried not to scare off his new friends, even as their little nails scratched his legs til they bled.
Eventually Jake realised he was going to have to move. He wondered if he rolled over very slowly if they would interpret it as a sign of submission (a good thing when joining a new pack of any animals) or attack. He was just deciding to risk it when he felt a new weight settling on the sole of one foot. Heavier than the others Jake wondered if it was the eldest hedgehog. Hedgehog alpha. The male hedgehog that Jake had named ‘Ross’ in his human language.
Jake held his breath. The approval of Ross meant a lot. The other scratching stopped, he felt some hogs slid off of him and he realised he was shivering slightly with the tension and the adrenalin. He waited. Trying not to shake the alpha hedgehog off of his body, he waited.
That is how the alpha hedgehog bit his 43 sharp little teeth directly through Jake’s Achilles tendon. Jake roared with the pain and shook him off immediately but the damage was done. Jake couldn’t stand on his left leg and when he fell trying to flee, as all humans will running through a wood jumbled with detritus in the early hours of the morning, the other hedgehogs were ready and waiting to pounce.
They snapped through the same tendon in the other foot and then, bringing families, friends and co-workers, the tiny hedgehog community rallied to devour the dark giant who threatened their lands.
By the time the screaming stopped the day was rising. The hedgehogs assimilated back into the underbrush exhausted and fat with Jake’s muscle tissue. The blood glittered gold with sunlight and the bright red ran wild, tracing shapes around leaves and running rivers around the broken remains of the now dead Humanhog.