“Prickle by name, Prickle by nature”, his mother sighed, as yet another perceived slight from his friend Bilberry caused the little hedgehug to stomp off into the bushes.
Her friend nodded sympathetically and she went on. “It worries me that he will end up just a heap of prickles. I know he’s terrified of being like his cousin, who never grew enough spikes to protect herself. But it’s gone too far.”
Like all HedgeHugs, when Prickle bristled, his spikes grew. But they didn’t grow longer, they grew inward. In Prickle’s case, they had grown so far inward that there was little left of the soft part of his body. It was no use talking to him about it, it only made him bristle further.
Although he didn’t want to admit it, Prickle was finding it harder and harder to walk, let alone storm off like he used to. But Bilberry had left him no choice, he muttered. Caught up in his angry thoughts, Prickle lost track of his surroundings, but now he was out of sight, he just had to have a rest. He sank down by the side of the path, wondering whether it was worth the discomfort of going further.
After a few minutes of stillness he became aware of something stirring. Something underneath him. Gingerly, he stepped back – and saw a tiny harvest mouse, camouflaged against the sandy soil – far too small to be out of its nest. It was shivering.
“Don’t go” she said. “I was so cold I could hardly move before you came.” Checking to see that no one could see, Prickle edged closer so that his tiny soft belly was once again helping to warm the mouse.
They stayed that way a while. And while they did, Prickle was aware of a sensation he hadn’t felt for a very long time. As his warmth was reviving the mouse, another sort of warmth was creeping through him – a warmth that came from his sense of protectiveness towards the mouse, and an unfamiliar sensation of being concern for something other than his pride. It was odd. It was also not entirely comfortable. As this warmth started to dissolve a tiny part of the spikes that had grown into his body, it hurt. As more spikes dissolved the pain grew, and Prickle was faced with a choice.
After a while, the mouse was warm enough to run by itself and scurried back to his nest. Prickle couldn’t quite remember what it was that had sent him storming off in the first place and decided to make his way home. The pain was less now, and it felt good to be able to move more freely than before.
As he reached home, Bilberry called out “Hey, Spiky!”. Instinctively, Prickle started to bristle. But then he saw his Mum looking at him anxiously and remembered the mouse. Maybe defending himself wasn’t always what mattered most.
Ignoring the pain he knew would come, he took a deep breath.
“Hey Bilberry”, he smiled.
[Image of a wooden sculpture at The Kingcombe Centre, Dorset Wildlife Trust.]