Hegel the hedgehog rose one morning and greeted the sun. His smile was bright, and he decided, as he stepped through his front door and into the garden, that today would be a wonderful day, a fun day, and, if he was lucky, he would see Hobbes the hamster and maybe even get a chance to cheer him up.
For Hobbes was not a very happy hamster. Hegel and Hobbes had known each other for a very long time, and it seemed Hegel was always trying to cheer up Hobbes. Once in a while he would succeed and bring a smile to Hobbes’ face, perhaps with a riddle or clever rhyme. But mostly Hobbes just walked about wearing a pouty face.
Just as Hegel the hedgehog was thinking these things about his friend, there came a scratching sound at the garden gate. Only one creature in the garden made such a noise. He opened the gate, and, sure enough, there stood Hobbes, wearing a sad face and looking like nothing on earth could make him smile.
“Hello, Hobbes,” said Hegel. “Isn’t it a wonderful day?!”
“Well, it’s actually quite a grim day,” replied Hobbes, “I could hardly bring myself to get out of bed.”
“Why, Hobbes,” said Hegel. “You cannot really believe such a thing.”
“Of course I can,” Hobbes said, “for no one has told me I cannot.”
“That may be true, Hobbes, but only have a look at the sky. It is blue as can be.”
Hegel took Hobbes by the arm, taking care not to poke his friend with his stiff hairs. For everyone knows that hamsters are soft and fluffy, but hedgehogs are covered with hair that is stiff and very pointy. Sticking his friend with sharp hairs was not going to make Hobbes feel better.
As the two friends walked up the garden path toward Hegel’s house, there came a tiny voice from the ground below.
“Take care, you brutes,” the voice said, so low they could barely make it out. “You very nearly squashed my wagon of seeds.”
“Who said that?” said Hegel.
“Who indeed?” said Hobbes.
“Me indeed,” came the tiny voice from down by their feet.
Hobbes and Hegel knelt and put their faces almost to the ground.
“Good heavens,” Hegel said. “It’s an ant!”
“Not just any ant,” the tiny creature replied. “I am Immanuel and you very nearly upset my load of seeds, you great beast.”
“How odd,” Hobbes said, peering closer. “An ant that speaks.”
“I’M odd?” said Immanuel with great disgust. “Whoever heard of a talking hamster?”
“There, you see,” said Hegel looking up at Hobbes with a smile. “The day has hardly begun and already we’ve met a new friend.”
“Friend?” said Hobbes, standing up and gazing at the sky with a sigh. “What on earth would I want a friend for?”
“Oh, Hobbes, why ever not? Friends are the very best things anyone could ask for.”
“Speaking of friends,” said Immanuel looking up at Hegel, “yours is not very friendly at all.”
“Oh, pay him no mind,” said Hegel. “He just needs something to lift his spirits.”
“Well then,” said Immanuel, “I have just the thing. What your friend needs is an adventure.
“Adventure?” Hobbes said. “You can count me out of that. Adventures are terribly frightening things.”
“They’re nothing of the sort,” said Immanuel. “Adventures are wonderful things and there’s a good chance you might even learn something new.”
“Well, I for one have no plans at all for today,” said Hegel, “and I can think of no better way to spend it than going on an adventure.”
“There’s just one catch,” said Immanuel.
“Oh, there’s always a catch, isn’t there,” said Hobbes.
“We ants, you see, are known to be hard working fellows, and I am expected to move this great pile of seeds back to my home today.”
“What . . . that?” Hobbes said, looking down at the pile of seeds no taller than his toe. “Why that’s nothing at all.”
“For you perhaps, my furry friends. But as you’ve noticed, I am quite a lot smaller than you and it will take me all day to move that pile.”
“Then let us make a deal,” said Hegel. “We will move your seeds for you and then you will have a free day to lead us on your adventure.”
“That is just the sort of deal I had in mind,” said Immanuel.
Moving Immanuel’s seeds took all of ten seconds. Hegel simply scooped them up in his furry hand, took five steps across the grass, and dropped them down next to the anthill. He even moved the ones Immanuel had already loaded in his cart.
“So,” said Hegel, arranging the seeds in a neat little pile, “what is this great adventure you have in mind?”
“Oh, it will be something special indeed,” Immanuel replied. “And the very best part is that not only will you get to see something new and wonderful, you’ll also get to meet another new friend.”
“Oh, that’s just great,” said Hobbes. “I really should have stayed in bed today. First it’s a new ant friend, then an adventure, and now another friend? Good grief, when will it ever end?”
“If you’re lucky,” said Hegel, “it never ever end. You will make new friends and have exciting adventures for your entire life.”
“What a horrid thought,” Hobbes said.
“Is he going to be like this all day?” Immanuel said, looking uncertainly at Hegel.
“I’m afraid it’s quite possible,” said Hegel. “But tell us about this new friend of yours. Is he a part of the adventure?”
“He most certainly is, and a more unusual friend you will never meet. His name is Plato.”
“Plato?” said Hobbes. “What a strange name. Is he an ant like you?”
“Heavens no,” Immanuel said. “He is … a bit odd and takes some getting used to. For starters, he is quite fond of swimming.”
“Ah,” said Hegel, “So your friend is a fish.”
“I don’t much care for fish,” said Hobbes. “They’re very slimy.”
“Oh no, he is most definitely not a fish, and he would have a good laugh to hear you say so. No no, he is covered in fur just the same as both of you.”
At this, both Hobbes and Hegel made curious faces.
“So he’s a furry fish?” Hobbes asked. “That would certainly be something new.”
“No, I’ve told you, Plato is not a fish at all. He has a long beak.”
“Well then, a bird,” said Hobbes.
“A bird that swims,” said Hegel.
“A bird that swims and is covered with fur,” said Hobbes. Both friends looked at each other in confusion.
“Actually,” said Immanuel, “it’s not so much a beak as a wide bill.”
“Ah, now we’re getting somewhere,” said Hobbes. “Your friend Plato is a duck, but a furry duck.”
“I’ve never met a duck,” said Hobbes. “But I’ve seen them and they’re not furry at all. Hegel, I believe your new friend the ant is trying his best to confuse us.”
During all of this conversation, Hegel and Hobbes had been walking through the garden, with Immanuel perched atop Hegel’s furry head so he wouldn’t fall behind. They passed through the great hedge that marked the back of the garden and began making their way across the field that lay beyond. Hobbes looked uncertainly about.
“I’ve never been beyond the garden,” he said. “I have heard there are monsters lurking about out here.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Hegel. “Monsters are made-up things.”
“I don’t know,” Hobbes said, his eyes darting about. “Immanuel’s friend certainly sounds like a monster—a great furry duck-faced swimming monster. And I cannot believe you let me be talked into coming all this way.”
After a good bit more walking and talking, the three friends arrived at the edge of a small pond in the middle of the field.
“Stop here,” said Immanuel. “He should be along soon.”
And sure enough, after a few more seconds of standing and looking about, there came a small splashing noise from the far side of the pond.
“And here he comes now,” said Immanuel.
A moment later, a large creature with wet fur and a bill just like a duck stepped out of the creek and waddled up to the three friends.
“Well,” he said to Immanuel, “you said you’d come and here you are.”
“My friends,” Immanuel said, “may I present Plato the Platypus.”
Plato smiled broadly and made a great bow.
“It is my sincere pleasure to meet you both,” he said. “What has Immanuel here told you about me?”
“He said you were a strange fur-covered beast with a bill like a duck, who is not a fish but who likes to swim,” Hobbes said.
“Hold on,” said Immanuel. “I never said he was strange.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” Plato said. “I’ve been called worse. “And I am a bit of an odd duck, at least in this neighborhood.”
“There, you see,” said Hobbes. “He admits he’s a duck!”
“No, no, Hobbes. That’s just a figure of speech,” Hegel replied.
“Well anyway,” said Hobbes, “now that we’re all here and so very far from home, what is this adventure we’re supposed to be having?”
“Ah,” said Plato, shaking himself and spraying water all about, “a creature after my own heart. Straight to the point. I have told Immanuel here that if you are brave enough, I can show you a place that no creature in this field or your garden has ever seen.”
“It already sounds terrifying,” said Hobbes.
“Over there,” said Plato, turning and pointing to a small island in the center of the pond, “is a great place—a wonderful place. And in that place there is an especially good thing that I can show you.”
“What?” said Hobbes. “On the island? How on earth do you mean for us to get there? It may be easy for you, but none of us are duck-billed furry fish who enjoy swimming.”
“And that,” said Plato, “is why we must all work together on this adventure. For the thing that awaits us on that island is quite high up and I cannot reach it, even when I stand as tall as I can manage.”
“And what is this wondrous thing that awaits us on the island?” said Hegel.
“That, my new friends, will be a surprise until we get there,” said Plato.
“But you have not yet answered the question of how we will manage it,” said Hegel.
“Easy enough,” Plato said. “I shall carry you there myself.”
“I just knew he was going to say something like that,” said Hobbes. “He expects us all to climb onto his slippery furry back and trust that he won’t dump us into the water on the way.”
“I’m a very good swimmer,” Plato replied. “And I shall be so still getting across that you won’t even know you’ve left the land.”
“But what if I do not want to go?” asked Hobbes. “What if I would rather stay here and leave you three to have this adventure on your own?”
“Now now,” said Immanuel, “just think of all that you’ll miss. If the adventure is a good thing for some of us, then surely it will be an even better thing if we all go.”
“And besides,” said Hegel, smiling, “we have come a very long way to have this adventure. Wouldn’t it be a pity to miss out now?”
Hobbes gave this some thought, frowned uncertainly, but eventually nodded in agreement.
“Your adventure will probably be the death of me,” he said, “but at least I’ll have company.”
“That’s the spirit!” Plato said, stepping toward the water’s edge.
And so the three carefully climbed onto the platypus’s back, Hegel in front, Hobbes behind him, holding on for his life, and Immanuel perched atop Plato’s head. Just as he had promised, Plato glided across the pond, keeping his back steady as he could manage to ensure that his friends stayed dry. In only a few minutes they were safe and sound on the beach at the edge of the island.
“And now look,” said Plato. “You’ve made it to a place never before visited by hamster or hedgehog.”
“And never again,” said Hobbes. “These adventures are not at all to my liking.”
“Come, come,” Plato said, waddling his way up the beach, “and I will show you why we have come all this way.”
The friends walked across a small grassy meadow and past a row of bushes to where a lone tree stood, its branches covered with what looked from a distance like small red dots. As they drew nearer, the truth became clear.
“Goodness, look,” said Hegel enthusiastically. “Why, it is filled with apples!”
And so it was. The tree was so filled with ripe apples that the lower branches hung quite close to the ground. Plato waddled to the lowest branch of all and raised himself up as high as he could, but his tiny arm was still a few inches away from the nearest reddest apple.
“And so you see why we have come,” he said, lowering himself back to the ground. “I am an excellent swimmer, but I’m afraid I am no climber.”
“Well, I’m of no help,” said Hobbes. “I’ve never climbed a thing in my life.”
“Nor have I,” agreed Hegel. “We hedgehogs are ground creatures.”
“I am a very good climber,” said Immanuel. But then he sighed sadly. “But it is a terribly long way, and I’m quite tiny. I’d be all day getting up there and to the apples. And even then, what could I do except take a bite for myself?”
“And that,” said Plato, “is why we are going to have to work together if we are to enjoy this wonderful fruit.”
“But how do imagine we can do it?” said Hegel. “It’s very high up there.”
“I have given this quite a lot of thought,” said Plato, facing his friends. “And here is my plan. I cannot reach the branch by myself because, even though I am the largest of our group, I am still too short.”
“Which means that none of the rest of us would do any better,” said Immanuel.
“That is true,” said Plato, “but if we combined our heights, we could reach the apples easily.”
“Oh, I don’t like the sound of this one little bit,” said Hobbes. “Can’t you see what he means to do?”
“I do,” replied Hegel. “I think I do indeed. We shall stand one atop the other and then pull down all the apples we like.”
“And because a hamster is smaller than a hedgehog, and a hedgehog is smaller than a platypus, you will no doubt expect me to stand atop the whole thing.”
“Well, not quite,” said Plato. “It is true you are smaller than Hegel or myself. But Immanuel here is the very smallest of all. And since he has strong jaws to bite with, he shall stand on top of Hobbes, climb up onto the branch, chew through the stem, and drop the apples to the ground.”
Hobbes looked uncertainly at Hegel. “Is this the sort of thing that normally happens on adventures?” he asked.
“Well, said Hegel, “I’ve not been on many myself, but yes, I think so.”
“I don’t like it one little bit,” replied Hobbes, “especially since it sounds like I am the one to be on the very top of this pile.”
“Except for me,” said Immanuel. “I’m the one who has to go climbing into the tree.”
“How is it that our new platypus friend here gets to suggest a plan that has him safely at the bottom of the pile?” said Hobbes.
“No matter,” replied Plato. “I am happy to be atop the pile, and we will all climb upon Hobbes’s back.”
Hobbes frowned at this idea and grudgingly agreed to Plato’s plan.
“All right then,” Plato said, “let us fetch some apples, for I am quite hungry.”
He bent down and allowed Hegel to climb onto his shoulders. Then Hobbes climbed atop Hegel’s shoulders, and Immanuel climbed onto Hobbes’s head. Finally Plato carefully stood up and moved toward the biggest reddest apple. As he neared their goal, the entire pile began to sway unsteadily first in one direction, then another.
“Hold steady!” Hobbes shouted from high atop the group. “You’ll kill us all.”
“So sorry,” Plato said, puffing with the weight of his friends. “I was only trying to bring us closer.”
Plato moved more carefully until he was standing directly beneath a large low-hanging apple. Immanuel crept up Hobbes’s outstretched hand and leapt easily onto the branch. As he jumped, the pile of Plato, Hegel, and Hobbes became unsteady and spun to one side. Hegel tumbled from off Plato’s head and onto the grass below. Plato and Hegel stood up, brushed themselves off, and looked about.
“Where has Hobbes gone?” Hegel said with alarm.
“I’m up here, for Heaven’s sake,” came the voice from far above their heads. The two looked up to see Hobbes hanging by one hand from the tree branch above. “And I don’t expect I can hang on much longer, so if it’s not too much trouble, could you come back up and let me down.
While Hegel was climbing once more onto Plato’s head, Immanuel was busily chewing through apple stems, and every few minutes a fresh red apple would fall to the ground, once very nearly upsetting Plato and Hegel as they worked to rescue the stranded Hobbes. In only a moment, Hobbes was back atop Hegel’s head and Immanuel had scurried back down the side of the three friends and onto the ground. Seconds later, all four were safely on the grass and happily eating away at the apples they had harvested.
“I thought for sure I was doomed,” Hobbes said, his mouth filled with juicy apple.
“It is quite possible,” said Plato, “that you are the very first hamster ever to climb a tree.”
Hobbes smiled at the thought. “And the first, as well, to swim across a raging pond.”
The four friends turned and looked out across the pond, its water barely moving in the bright morning sun. All at once they began laughing so hard that they rolled about in the grass clutching at their apple-filled bellies.
“It almost makes me wonder what our next adventure will be like,” Hobbes said, lying back and letting the bright morning sun warm his soft fur.