Once upon a time there was a little hedgehog named Harry, which was actually kind of a misnomer, because Harry wasn’t hairy at all. But rather pokey and prickly, and so sharp in some places, not even his mother (a pokey and prickly hedgehog in her own right) could hug him. Instead, she gave him kisses on his nose, which wasn’t prickly at all.

But Harry, although loved by his mother, didn’t have any friends, because all the other little hedgehogs said he hurt too much to play with. So while they laughed and played sardines and leap-hog, and ring around the rosies, and red-rover, poor Harry watched from the sidelines, alone because he was never invited to join.

Now most hedgehogs (and people too, for that matter) might let something as tragic as not having any friends stand in the way of their happiness. Of their feelings of self-worth. But not Harry. Because in addition to have super spiky spines, Harry also had an incredible imagination, which he began to use on a daily basis.

Instead of standing on the sidelines, longing to join one of the hedgehog children’s games, Harry started to play his own. Moving into a clearing surrounded by yew trees and blackberry bushes, Harry created a stage, which became for him, all the world, and where he could act out his bravest daydreams.

Depending on the day, Harry would transform into the Fearless Fireman of Forager’s Cove, where firefly bellies burned too hot, and needed to be dunked into the cooling waters of Scavenger Creek. Or maybe he would brandish his rapier twig, and become Sven the Swashbuckling Swordshog, who defended the mice in Rodentia Hollow from the Porcine Pirates of Pig-Penzance.

But his favorite daydream cast him as the conductor of an avian orchestra. Plucking his spikiest spine to use as a director’s baton, Harry would close his eyes and lead an imaginary chorus of birdsongs and whistles amid a symphony of cricket chirps, cicada hums, and bee-wings. And always, after such a performance, Harry would wander back to his hedgerow home, happy to see his mother and shower her nose with kisses.

Soon, the other little hedgehogs grew tired of their games, especially now that nobody was there to look on longingly and give them a false sense of self-importance. In fact, after their exclusionary games had ended, the other little hedgehogs would wander over to Harry’s stage to watch him perform one of his daydreams, increasingly jealous of how much fun he was having.

They would envy his expert swordplay, his twirls and swirls and duckings, unable to see his imaginary enemies, but desperate to fight them as well. On most days, the little hedgehogs would watch from hidden perches. In their minds, they had excluded Harry too often and too long for him to ever forgive them, and so in their shame, they watched quietly, and secretly, always leaving before the final act had ended.

But one day, little Hallie, who had always been polite to Harry, if not kind, couldn’t stand the suspense another minute. “Who are you fighting?” she yelled, stepping out from behind the blackberry bush, which had shielded her from Harry’s view.

As if woken from a trance, Harry looked up, blinking his eyes in surprise.

“The Mosquito Marauders from Melville,” he said, growing increasingly shy as the other hidden hedgehogs stepped out from their hiding places, eager to learn more. “They’re trying to steal the ruby blood from the scarlet dandelion’s stem, which will make their proboscis quadruple in size, and help them live forever.”

Hallie shivered. “Sounds terrible. And wonderful! Can I help? Please?” she asked. “I want to fight imaginary mosquito marauders too.”

Harry didn’t answer at first, but lowered the tip of his sword to the ground. He looked at the sea of hedgehog faces, all eager, all nodding, all wanting to join his game. He didn’t move for a long while, and the eager faces became worried ones. What if he resented them too much to let them play? What if they had waited too long to befriend him?

But eventually Harry began to smile, the biggest, spikiest grin any hedgehog had ever seen. “Every hog needs a stick” he shouted, “Follow me!!” He raised his sword and ran forward, leading a charging army of his new pokey and prickly friends, who were no longer afraid to fight by his side.

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