~Thinly veiled references ahead~
The porcupine sat alone on the hill, watching the sunset. It was what he did every day. One clear evening, he heard the stomping of a predator in the woods the lined the hill. He bristled his quills in fear, prepared to ward off any coming ambush.
This time, instead of a bear or the mangy wolves, it was a girl in a beautiful dress. He relaxed instantly. Though humans didn’t often stop by, he knew they were harmless (if a bit eccentric). She pushed her way out of the brush and smiled at him, pausing only to free herself from a snagging branch. “Hello there mister porcupine! I saw you from our house again, so I wanted to see what you were always looking at all alone.”
She sauntered over and sat beside him in the grass. He glanced at her worriedly – she was probably one of the eccentric types. “I… uhh. I just like to sit and watch the sunset. You can see for miles here, and the light makes the whole plain glow. I just think its beautiful.”
The girl smiled beatifically at him, “Thats very pretty mister porcupine, but I wanted to know why you were always here on your own! All the other porcupines are curled up and asleep by now.”
“Oh. Oh. I, umm. Well like you said, they’re all in bed now. Either that, or they’re not into this kind of stuff.”
She nodded. It was late though, and the sun had almost set. “You’d better get back before it gets too dark. Wouldn’t want you to get lost in the forest after dark!” said the porcupine. She pointed to the back of her hand and smiled again, and wandered off into the brush.
“Huh.” he remarked.
It was his daily ritual. When the edge of the sun hit the tops of the trees, he would climb to the top of his hill and watch the fiery glow spread across the tips of the trees. A false, beautiful imitation of a fire. This time, there was someone already occupying his hill. He walked over to his little flattened patch of grass and sat beside her. “Here to watch the whole show this time?”
“Why don’t your other friends come join you?” she folded her arms in front of her knees and gazed intently at the reddening sky.
“Oh. They have their own things to do. You know. Hunting, running… flying. That kind of stuff.”
“They don’t like the sunset?”
“I guess not.” he sighed.
“Have you asked them?” she was staring intently at him now.
“Well, no. But I know they wouldn’t want to watch with me,” he looked away, staring into the woods.
“You should ask them sometime. I’m sure they’d love to watch with you”. She reached out her hand. “I’m Emily by the way.”
He reached out his paw and put it into her palm. “Nice to meet you Emily. I’ll do that.”
She smiled at him again. “Thanks. But I think I got to get going. Its almost dark.”
“Bye!” he waved to her, watching her disappear into the woods. He felt uneasy, but it seemed almost good. He felt as if he made a strange new friend. She didn’t seem scared of his quills, like his friends, the coyote and the fox. She hadn’t teased him like the crows had. She seemed intrusive, yet familiar – completely unlike his closest friend, the otter.
On the third day, she arrived after him to see the sun. They sat and watched in silence for nearly an hour before she talked. She enquired softly “Why don’t you play with the other porcupines?”
“I… well. Umm. Its complicated. I’m a little different than them.”
“Oh. My quills… they don’t come out. If they get stuck in something, they got to be cut or torn and it hurts so much” he shuddered at the thought. “I got to be careful all the time, or they’ll get caught in a branch or on a bush, or on someone else. The other porcupines are used to being poked and jabbed, but it never hurts them when someone bumps into them. It does for me.”
He sighed. “So I just sort of stay on my own. Arms distance, you know? Even if someone else isn’t afraid of getting hurt, it actively hurts me too. So its better for everyone to stay away.”
The porcupine rested his head on his front paws. “You know?”
“No, I don’t know. But I understand.” She reached out and touched one of his quills.
“Watch yourself. They’re barbed, and I don’t want to see you get hurt. They’ll be a nightmare to get out too if you aren’t careful.”
She pricked the end of her finger on the quill, a little drop of red beaded from the cut. “What’d you do that for?” The porcupine jumped up in a fit, facing her. “Hurting yourself like that. You’d better go home and clean that up!”
She just smiled at him again. “Its not that bad. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
The porcupine just shook his head. “People.”
On the fourth day, she beat him to the hill. A little bandage marred her hand. “Howdy mister porcupine!”
“Hi Emily” he grumbled, sitting down. “How’s your finger?”
“Fine. Didn’t hurt a bit.”
They sat and watched the sunset in silence for what seemed like hours.
“Yes?” he turned and looked at her. She was kneeling on the ground, facing him.
“I think you need to open up. Let people get close to you.”
“I told you. It hurts both of us. They get hurt, and I get hurt. Its not worth it. I like things how they are.”
She reached out and grabbed him, pulling him close to her body.
“Oh god. No no no no let me down let me down let me down let me down you’re going to get hurt-…”
She grimaced in pain as the first of the needles pierced her skin, their barbed points pierced her shirt and embedded themselves into the flesh beneath – red water welled up and soaked her shirt. “Its ok! I said, it doesn’t hurt. I can take it.”
He screamed and struggled. Some of the quills dug deeper. Some quills tore themselves free of him and her. He screamed and cried out again. “Why oh god WHY oh no oh no oh no”.
She gasped as he bit and clawed his way free from her and his own quills. Sharp pain raked his bloody back, where the quills has been uprooted from his flesh. Rivulets of blood ran down those that freed themselves from the girls flesh. She gasped, lying down on the hill. Blood soaked her clothes.
“I-…” she coughed and slurred in pain “just wanted someon-” she paused and grimaced “wanted someone to be close to you”. Her smiled was beatific, it was angelic.
He stared in horror. He turned his back on her, and ran back to his den.
He nursed his own injuries, and wondered on the fate of the girl. Was she ok, did she live?
A few days later, he crept his way back to the hill. He saw her sitting there, wearing a hospital gown. She stared off into the sunset.
He watched as she watched, and turned around. He had let her down, she had gave him a gift, and he spurned it.
He didn’t want it, he didn’t need it – but it was a gift none-the-less. She sacrificed so much to make him a friend, and he spurned it.
He couldn’t face her again after that.
Deep in his heart, he wondered if she would be there the next day, or the next day after that. Maybe he’d come back.