Armande could only eat berries. He preferred them to insects in taste, hated the way legs got stuck in his whiskers, but the real issue was his teeth. Armande, to his great hardships, was born with teeth that were made of rubber. He didn’t know what rubber was, since he was a hedgehog, and his parents felt they’d been cursed with a son who was a freak. His father tried so very hard to toughen Armande up. He made the young hedgehog chew rocks every morning before his breakfast, but all they did was chip away at the rubber and make his teeth even more useless. So berries it was. All the time. It made him weak, and he never had to hunt his food down so he was also slow. But all was fine for a while. He got by. Until all the berries disappeared.
Armande was starving. His parents refused to help. He wandered the woods alone, foraging, sniffing the air, burying that nose into all the cracks and crevices of the forest, where he felt certain berries must be lurking. But there were none.
Aside from the rock chewing lessons, his father always taught him never ever to give up, and demonstrated that determination that night, when he took on a wild boar. Old Mr Hedgehog was dead before he could roll into a ball. The giant boar blasted him up off the forest floor. He flew for a while, knocked limply into a tree and landed in the small stream that flowed beside their Oak Tree home. Armande and his mother watched the old hedgehog float away but neither of them said a word. Even Armande’s mother stayed silent, before whimpering quietly for seven days, eventually downing herself in the arms the Oak tree’s roots where a small pool of tears (just deep enough to drown a hedgehog) had formed.
Armande was all alone, with a mouth full of broken rubber teeth. Weak and slow. No berries. No berries. No berries.
But he walked, slowly into the night, until morning, and until the next, for ten days, growing weaker.
Night fell on day ten.
This is where we find him, death on his shoulder, singing songs about blackberries as he struggles on. The forest darkens. He stumbles. But a light appears. It glows orange just a ahead and he calls out, “Help me!”
The light is small, darting around, and it floats closer. ‘No, it’s not a fairy. What are you?‘ he wonders.
Armande grows faint, and all goes black, aside from the little chestnut with a face, surrounded by an aura of glowing light.
“You saved me on the other side,” he says, “That awful, other side.”
Armande is still, surrounded in total black. “Am I dead?” he asks.
“On the other side, where we’ve met before, yes. A minivan killed you,” the chestnut says.”
“Did I have rubber teeth on the other side?”
“No, your teeth were fine.”
“Wow,” Armande says, “What a dream.”
“But you’re dead over there. Surely this is better. Rubber teeth can’t be that bad.”
“I can only eat berries but the berries are all gone. I also watched both my parents die,” Armande replies. “My mother killed herself with her own tears because my father tried to teach me a lesson about never giving up by facing a wild boar and killed himself.”
“That’s awful,” the chestnut says, “I don’t really know what to say to that.”
“Maybe I should just die as well. End all of this.”
“What?” The chestnut leaps forwards, concerned. He nuzzles Armande’s nose with his side.
“I’m starving,” Armande says.
The chestnut glances around, hovers around the area, circling, darting from bush to bush. He comes back. “You’re right,” he says, “It’s a shame I’m not a berry.”
Armande blacks out.
He wakes up alone in the forest later on and the chestnut is gone. It’s morning. The bush in front of him is full of berries. He eats until he throws up and then he eats some more. He stops short of throwing up the second time and blacks out again.
When he wakes up its night time and his mother and father and sitting in front of him.
“What kind of time do you call this?” Mr Hedgehog grunts.
“I don’t understand,” Armande says.
“Neither do I,” says his father, “But I’ll be cowering under the ground the next time a boar comes by, like the hedgehog I am, and not the bear I think I am.”
“No,” says Mrs Hedgehog, “You’re not a bear.”
“I feel sick,” Armande says. He thows up.
“Are your teeth still rubber?” Mr Hedgehog asks.
“I wish I was dead,” says his father. “Eat a beetle right now, son, or I’ll kill myself.”
Armande doesn’t eat the beatle. He tries but his teeth are too soft. His father runs off into the dark screaming, “Where are you, wild boars? Come and get me! I’m a bear in soul, but only a hedgehog in body!”