The Midnight Rescue

By Smriti Daniel

The party was still going strong when Obtuse and Pokee left the Sky Tower. It was very early in the morning, and the sun rays had only just begun to leak into the dark sky. A few Tonkas were standing by the entrance to the tower, faces sad as they murmured blessings for the travellers. "May your feet never grow tired, or your mouth go dry or your belly be empty… May you find helping hands, and open houses; may you see the wonders of this world and be joyful always."

Gratefully Obtuse and Pokee accepted the blessing as well as the offerings of food, and then thanking their tiny hosts, turned and left. As usual, Pokee rode in his little sack on Obtuse's back. Looking behind, he waved to the Tonkas until the trees of the forest blocked them from view.

The travellers were on their way again.

They decided to head west; as Pokee slept blissfully on Obtuse's back, the apprentice guru strode along, making steady progress. Around noon, Obtuse stopped by a stream, and without waking the dreaming porcupine, settled down to a meal and a little nap. Rising after an hour, he set off again. In his sack, Pokee had not moved so much as a quill. Now porcupines are by their very nature, animals that prefer the night. They tend to avoid the blazing sun and will instead go looking for food under the gentle light of the moon. For most of their travels Pokee had been unable to stick to his usual routine, something that his companion knew well and was determined to remedy.

And so it was that the little animal slept all day and woke only when it was time for Obtuse to retire. The stars were twinkling in a friendly fashion and a naughty breeze played with the leaves. Obtuse had set up camp under a huge tree and was now resting against a comfortably broad trunk. Soon his eyes had drooped shut and Obtuse was snoring gently, curled in between two gigantic roots. Pokee hung around for a little while and then wandered off looking for something to eat.

In the hours that followed a contented Pokee discovered many a tasty treat. He loved to wander around in the dark, sniffing out tasty leaves, digging up roots and bark and gnawing on the occasional bone. In fact everything was going just fine and dandy, right up until the moment something rustled in the tree above Pokee. It was a large Banyan tree sporting long, rope like roots. Instantly he was on guard as his mind conjured up visions of a spotted leopard or coiling snake inspecting its prey from a branch. (Like any other animal, Pokee intensely disliked the thought of becoming someone's dinner and would go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it.)

Shuddering, he let his quills rise as he slowly backed away from the tree.

Once again the leaves rustled. And then the most unexpected thing happened. Someone (or was it something?) shouted "COW-A-BUNGA!!" and leapt into mid air! Disbelieving, Pokee watched as a porcupine first grabbed one root and then swung on to another. He was followed by yet another porcupine and then a third! To say that Pokee was amazed would be an understatement. He had never even heard of such a thing! Porcupine acrobats!!

His astonishment held Pokee immobile for a few seconds by which time the three acrobats had already changed roots several times. Then determined to make their acquaintance, he shrugged off his paralysis. Rushing after the trio he caught up with them in a clearing just past the Banyan tree. As soon as they noticed the intruder, the three porcupines were immediately on the defensive. They immediately turned around, so that their powerful tails - their main weapon - faced the lone porcupine. The threat was clear - come any closer and we'll turn you into one big pin-cushion.

Quickly assessing the situation, Pokee decided that he had better introduce himself before anything regrettable happened. "Err... hello, my name is Pokee Poynt," he started of hesitatingly, "I think we just may be cousins." This news seemed to intrigue the strangers. Pokee found himself gaining confidence, "I'm from the brush tailed porcupine family, as you can see," he said, "I'm travelling with a friend."

All this information seemed to have the desired effect. Slowly, the three strangers turned around. Coming forward, they inspected the new comer, walking around him slowly. As they inspected him, Pokee inspected them. They were Common Porcupines, easily distinguishable by the black line that ran up the middle of their tails and expanded on their lower backs. And even if one didn't spot that, there was the patch of white on their heads to give them away.

After a moment it seemed that they had made up their minds. "Hello cousin!" said one, "they call me Jumper, and these are my brothers - Hang and Swing - we're all porcupine acrobats!" (They obviously knew this was a most unusual profession for a porcupine.) It soon became apparent that they were willing to take Pokee at face value. They invited him to come home with them for a light snack. And Pokee who was quite curious about his strange relatives went along quite willingly.

It was on their way over that the 'incident' happened. The matter was simple really and it involved an animal called a fisher-cat. Now Fishers are quite horrible. Using their sharp, long claws and sharper teeth, they will not hesitate to attack animals bigger than themselves. The lot of them are simply passionate about meat, and there's no meat they like more than that of the juicy porcupine. As you can imagine, dear reader, to eat a porcupine is no easy task - especially if you don't want to swallow a bushel of quills. But fishers were wonderful hunters - agile and quick, they would flip a porcupine over and devour its defenceless stomach. All while the animal still lived!

But the young of any species are very rarely threatening; in fact they can be downright adorable. So, it is understandable that when Pokee saw two little fisher pups about to be eaten alive by a gigantic bandicoot, he rushed in to protect the little lives. The bandicoot did not take too kindly to having his prey suddenly defended and turned ferociously on Pokee. Teeth gleaming and eyes glittering the hungry rat slowly circled the porcupine, looking for an opening through which to attack. He was angry now and determined to kill the runty little porcupine if he could.

Now Pokee Poynt was not by any means a coward, but this did not necessarily make him a good fighter either. He knew that his best chance would be to make sure his enemy could not get at his face. However, there was one thing that neither the porcupine nor the rat had counted on and that was Pokee's newly discovered 'cousins.’

You see, when Pokee rushed in to defend the young fishers he was unaware of how the fishers and porcupine in this part of the jungle simply did not get along. Understandable really, particularly as hunter and prey are rarely the best of friends. That was why initially Jumper, Hang and Swing, were tempted to remain uninvolved… why risk one’s life and limb for the enemy after all? But when they saw Pokee in real danger they had to quickly re-think their strategy. One couldn't simply sit by while another porcupine battled for his life… even if he was being a bit dumb.

So in they leapt, all ready to give the nasty bandicoot a fight he would remember till the end of his days.

There is a ritual Common Porcupines go through before fighting. When they believe that they are about to be attacked, they always face their back to their enemies, looking over their shoulder to see what his next move is to be. If he still looks like he wants to take a bite out of them, they issue a second warning. They allow their teeth to click and chatter together for around half a minute - a warning which they will repeat many times. As if this weren't enough you should know that a porcupine can produce a strong, pungent odour, one that is so strong and so icky that it can make your eyes and nose to water.

It is only if all this fails that a porcupine will erect its quills - as Jumper, Hang and Swing were doing now. Watching his cousins prepare for battle, Pokee suddenly remembered the name the ancients had called his species. It meant "one who rises in anger." Almost proudly, Pokee addressed the terrible bandicoot, and this is what he said: "You don't want to mess with us, buddy."

The next few moments unfolded in slow motion. First the bandicoot lunged, teeth bared in rage at Pokee, who by ducking his head and erecting his quills forced the rat to swerve away. In the meantime, Jumper, Hang and Swing were not idle, they had positioned themselves carefully. Just as the bandicoot turned they hit him hard with their tails - driving their short, sharp tail quills deep into his chest.

Responding instantly to the great rat's body heat, the microscopic barbs on the end of each quill expanded and became even more firmly embedded. Blood gushed from the points of entry. Terribly wounded, the bandicoot backed away from the porcupines. Before he could move more than a foot away, he collapsed and did not move again. And as simply as that the fight was over.

There was still the matter of the two little fisher pups to be dealt with. The animals traditionally lived in little holes in tree trunks, and Jumper was sure there nest would be up the trunk that was closest. He was also sure that their parents would be here pretty soon. It would not be a good idea, he told Pokee, for them to be caught here. But having defended the little pups, how could they once again abandon them to a forest full of hunters?

The only solution it seemed would be to stand guard and hide in the bushes till the parents returned. So this is what they did. Waiting somewhat impatiently in the bushes, they kept a watchful eye on the little pups. The two young ones seemed to understand what was required of them, and waited quietly, resting against the tree trunk.

Not half an hour had passed before the mother returned. When she saw her children, she let out the strange keening cry that was characteristic of the fisher-cats and rushed towards them. Within a moment she had ascertained that they were alright and had found the carcass of the dead bandicoot - filled with porcupine quills. Ignoring the whimpers of her children, she took a deep breath, sniffing the air for scent. It was immediately apparent that she knew they were there. Looking straight at their hiding place behind the bush, she seemed to nod her thanks. Then grabbing her children by the scruffs of their necks, she scrabbled up the tree trunk and vanished into a hole.

Walking towards home, Jumper, Hang and Swing could not stop talking about what had happened in the clearing. They had never heard or even seen something like that before. A vicious, cold-hearted evil fisher actually not attacking a porcupine!! If they hadn't been there themselves they would never have believed it.

Only Pokee was quiet. Somewhere, inside him, he felt warm and happy. Not all was wrong with the world after all - good things still happened. And besides he had a feeling about that fisher cat. He thought they just might bump into each other again sometime soon.

He was right.

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