The hedgehog at the end of the line

Blood red and ink black

“Whoops!” The man gave up prising a lump of wax from his ear and pointed a crooked finger at the page. “There’s a hedgehog at the end of the line.”

“You what?” Bloody fool never could talk straight. She scratched her upper lip. Sweat always made her moustache itch. “You’re bonkers.” 

The tabby stretched and meowed as if to say, “Yeah.” Always did side with her.

“Look. The blighter’s smudged the ink.” He spat out a string of swear words. Being a wordsmith had its advantages. “I spent ages cutting that together.”

“I don’t see no blinkin’ hedgehog.” She squinted at the page, pulling the metal-rimmed spectacles from her nose and rubbing the glass furiously with a snot rag. She sighed. “You bin at that bottle again?”

The blindness of it. After so many years. She still didn’t see. “The only bottles I’ve got are full of ink.” Irritated, he stretched out a hand to brush the thing from the page, smearing ink as he did. “Ouch!” He snatched his hand back dripping blood and sucked his finger. “Spiky brute!”

The woman shook out the snot rag and knotted it in a bow around his finger. “Only you could draw blood from a text.”

Startled, he stared from his trussed up finger to his work. Blood red and ink black mingled in growing disarray. “It’s in tatters.” He screwed up the page. “The scraps I painstakingly pasted together have come undone and all the cleverness has run through the cracks.”

“Scraps of worthless crap, if you ask me.” She strained to her feet, her joints cracking, and ducked the kettle in a bucket of water. The cat jumped to safety. It hated all that wetness. Dumped on the hob, the kettle hissed angrily.

“What do you know about the stuff that makes a story a story?” He tossed the scrunched ball of paper at the cat. It missed and landed in the bucket. Droplets showered the animal which spluttered in indignation. Did they do it deliberately?

“You and your pot of glue and your washed-up scraps.” She scooped up the cat and petted it. “You call that a story? There’s more glue than story.”

He jumped to his feet and strode to the bucket. Fishing out the soggy lump of paper, he shook it out and tried but failed to unfold it. Shoving the pink and grey mess under her nose, he spat, “That’s a story!”

She got to her feet, sending the cat flying, and pummelled the man’s chest. The thud of her angry fists accompanied the kettle whistling violently to the boil. A final thrust sent him reeling. The clump of paper flew from his hand, arced over his head and landed with a squelch on the seat of his chair. Off balance, he tottered backwards his arms flailing till his legs met the chair and his rear plonked down heavily. He let out a piercing scream and leapt to his feet grasping his backside.

Spinning in fury, he raised a clenched fist, expecting to see the cat’s smug smile. Instead, rolled up in a ball, its grin well hidden, sat the hedgehog.

The above flash fiction was inspired by a passing comment from EmJay Holmes during a workshop at the Geneva Writers’ Group.

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