Ray Wilkins finally became a human wreck within weeks of the world ending.
“My Raymond is going to end up in the gutter if he doesn’t pull his socks up.” His mother once prophetically stated, never dreaming of the circumstances in which her words would come true. At the time of her pronouncement the rest of Ray’s large family sat round the dinner table and nodded their heads respectfully in agreement.
“But that’d be my Raymond all over, wouldn’t it?” she added sadly. They all nodded again. “He hasn’t any sense at all, sure he hasn’t?” She continued, perhaps looking for words of consolation.
“No, Ma. He hasn’t.”
“Its not like he has any badness in him though, sure he doesn’t?” She asked.
“No Ma, He doesn’t”
The reason Mrs. Wilkins made her statement about the gutter is this; before the rise of the Dead her son Ray had lived a useless, unproductive life filled with disappointments and failure. His lack of resilience and his inability to cope with simple everyday problems soon put him on the road to drug dependency and alcoholism. This, unfortunately for Ray, soon alienated him from even the staunchest of his sympathetic friends and family members.
But Ray, and all other petty little worries and squabbles were put to one side and ultimately forgotten as soon as the streets of the world became clogged with walking corpses. Walking corpses. It was better than nuclear conflict for putting some perspective on the little things.
Now let’s skip forward a couple of years and we find Ray Wilkins in the very circumstances foreseen by his mother. Just look at him down there now; snoring softly on the bed of a wet, mulchy drainage channel which follows the rural roadside edge of a meadow just outside of the ashen ruins of Dublin City West.
Earlier in the day Ray had staggered, trembling and frightened, along the weed-cracked tarmac above, his mind a cauldron of nightmare confusion, his body buzzing unpleasantly from erratic nervous impulses. He was also being pursued by the grotesquely blocky corpse of an aged catholic priest. In his panic to avoid the grasping undead, Ray had swerved from his erratic path and jumped blindly off the road through a thick wall of brambles. The drop was further than he expected and he landed awkwardly in the meadow before rolling unconsciously over the lip of the deep open drain in which we now find him.
It’s true to say that his mind, never quite complete, had become so damaged by malnourishment and cheap plundered booze that it wasn’t unusual, in these apocalyptic days, for his own name to occasionally escape him. Never one to be accused of vanity Ray was quite happy to neglect himself in these times too. If, and when, he bothered his arse to forage for supplies he always looked for booze and drugs before considering food, so it didn’t take long for him to resemble the dead in most aspects – especially to the casual observer’s visual and olfactory senses. More importantly Ray was forced, as were all other solitary survivors, to become acclimatised to abject loneliness.
It’s important now to clear up a small point before we proceed with our tale: it’s unlikely that Ray’s substance abuse, mental decline, and absence of personal hygiene fooled the dead into thinking he was one of their own, yet amazingly he had managed to evade them through sheer luck and simple accident. He certainly didn’t possess any natural wit or cunning. His survival was a mystery.
But here he is in the gutter at last. His mother would have been pleased if she herself wasn’t shuffling blankly past Davy Byrnes Pub at that very moment with someone else’s mouldering hand clamped in her gummy jaws.
Ray exhales malodorously through the corner of his slack mouth, his long thinning hair plastered greasily across his face as he lies on his skinny side, his head resting limply on an out flung arm. His thickly bearded face sports a deep scratch across one eyebrow and a thin trickle of blood oozes through the coating of grime on one sunken cheek. This comatose condition was, for Ray, a welcome break from his deranged reality.
Shortly before sunset one of his gunge encrusted eyelids cracked open and he squinted painfully at the retina searing light blazing down through the spiky thicket above. When his shocked eyes adjusted to the gentle daylight he turned stiffly onto his back and contemplated the sky through a pleasant ceiling of leaves.
High cirrus clouds drifted smoothly in the blue and a hissing flight of starlings suddenly rushed over his hiding place, making him flinch. The dull realisation that he was actually awake prompted him to sigh despairingly.
On good days – whatever that may constitute in Ray’s world – as many as two or three seconds might pass after waking before his reality puffed away into ashes and depression enfolded him wetly in grey, shroud like billows; so as he looked upwards he waited in resignation for his treacherous mind to leech away life’s colours.
After a moment he dimly realised that this didn’t seem to be happening; maybe the leeching was being delayed due to technical difficulties. He snickered at the notion. But while this brittle peace remained unbroken he was more than content to gaze at the delicate shapes in the sky. He scratched absently at a city of lice which nested grapelike in his clotted beard and he tried to think of a single reason to move. He had no plans, he had no pressing business to attend to, and he had a nice leafy roof for shelter and concealment. He wasn’t particularly cold or hungry, and the mulch on which he lay was passably soft, if just a bit too wet for perfection. And, more importantly, the Late Father Murphy obviously hadn’t found him. Ray farted wetly and was as content as he could ever expect to be. He scratched at his lice in the knowledge that it was unusual for him to be counting blessings.
Then a nagging, familiar desire made him frown. The furrowing of his brow caused tiny flakes of dried blood to crack and peel from the cut on his forehead. Without bothering to sit up he fumbled in his jacket; a worn black fleece he had found blowing around a street in Rathcoole, and pulled out a little boxlike can with an elongated plastic nozzle. It made a hollow clunking sound in his filthy grip.
“Howya,” he whispered to it. He brought the needle-like nozzle to his mouth, being careful to avoid the ring of infected sores that were once his lips, and squirted the last of its contents against his blistered tongue. The harsh solvent constricted his chest and made him gag and choke noisily. He froze and stifled his coughing to prevent the ecclesiastical corpse, wherever it was, from overhearing. Ray rolled into a foetal position, scrunched up his craggy features, and hunched his narrow shoulders to keep in the pain. He tried not to whine as the lighter fuel washed into his empty, ulcerated stomach.
He waited nervously until his system settled before thoughtlessly discarding the can with a dismissive flick of his wrist. It landed soundlessly in the deeper shadows of the bushes. No Litter Wardens around these days’ boys, he thought with mild regret.
With his immediate craving dealt with he turned his head to survey his surroundings. To his amazement he found himself looking straight up into the green eyes of an emaciated domestic cat – a crouching long haired tabby – which was regarding him curiously from the edge of the windswept meadow, its feline shape framed against the colourful, pre-sunset sky. The cat was as skinny and undernourished in cat terms as Ray was in human.
Rays heart skipped an excited beat at the sight of this living beast and a wonderful, unexpected delight blossomed in his chest.
“Hello, kitty,” he wheezed; the first words he’d spoken directly to a living thing in sixteen months. There wasn’t anyone left to talk to and besides, even human detritus like Ray knew that speech in a silent world only drew the wrong kind of attention. Sadly for Ray the few living creatures he had encountered since the Collapse had quickly sized up his ragged, graceless figure moping towards them and mistaken him for a corpse. All of them, human and animal alike, had scarpered accordingly.
Then something bleak and awful came over him, replacing his joy as he returned the cat’s unblinking stare. Ray wanted something else – badly – and as he watched the half starved cat his belly became awash with a strong disagreeable sensation. There was darkness and loss in it.
His breathing grew shallow and his chest tightened; maybe it was the lighter fuel, or maybe not. He hoped it wasn’t his asthma. He felt a strong compulsion to hold this cat in his arms because suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, the loneliness he had grown accustomed to gripped him hard in its desolate jaws. That’s what this horrible feeling is, he realised. Lonely. He needed the consolation of physical contact with a warm creature. He badly needed a hug.
“Come on down here willye Kitty and give us a nice big cuddle,” he whispered hopefully in a low husky voice. “Nice puss. C’mon. All I want is a little hug, willye?”
Without taking his eyes off the alert looking tabby Ray slowly lifted the back of his head from the wet ground.
“Have yeh no pals, pussycat? Have yeh not? Yeh poor oul’ thing. Me neither. C’mon down here and give us an oul’ hug. I’ll be yer pal. C’mon, puss puss. Jaysus, yer just gorgeous.”
As Ray lifted his shoulders from the muck the cat’s attention darted away as a movement in the field caught its eye. Ray froze with fright. What did it see up there? Was it that terrible priest? Had it spied him as he took his heroic dive through the bushes and followed him down? Had it seen the cat, perhaps? Was it stumbling towards him at this very instant?
The cat looked back down at Ray, seemingly unfazed by whatever it had seen, so Ray relaxed. Well, if the cat wasn’t troubled why should he be?
“Please god,” he nevertheless implored quietly. “Don’t let your dead priest find me, and please god let this cat allow me to pet it wouldye? Please? Please?”
Normally, because of his own personal history, Ray considered the concept of prayer a joke; it was just an old ingrained habit to invoke it. He had grown up in a religious household and had gone to mass every Sunday with his parents, brothers and sisters. After things started to go bad for him as a teenager he prayed fervently to god to look out for him and make life easier – not just for himself – but for his mother too, whom he knew suffered the most because of his shortcomings.
It wasn’t long before he noticed that the harder he prayed for something the worse things got. And when things got worse, the harder he prayed. If he asked god to get him out of a hole he always fell deeper into it. If he asked god to get him out of the frying pan he ended up in the fire, whereas if he asked god for more heroin well, god normally came through with the goods on that one. Where’s the sense in that, he thought. It was terribly frustrating.
“Prayer?” he had screamed at his mother one troubled teenage night after she told him she always said a little prayer each day to keep him out of trouble. When she stated that yes; the power of prayer would help him, Ray exploded.
“The power of Prayer? The power of my shite!” He had yelled as he slammed the front door after him. So, as far as prayer was concerned, Ray felt that he’d probably be better off just using his non-existent charm to seduce this hairy, cuddly tabby.
Still terrified to make any sudden movements in case he frightened this precious living thing away, Ray inched his hand slowly back to his jacket pocket. With shaking fingers he removed a small piece of dried sardine he had found earlier in a discarded can and he held out the miserable, mummified fish to the mange ridden cat as if it were a holy offering.
“Here, puss puss. I have something for you. You’ll like this. Willya join me for supper, little pussycat, hmm?” he wheezed. “I don’t suppose you’ve any booze? I just drank me last little drop. You won’t run away, willya! Please don’t…I can find more fish for yeh if yeh like…” He tittered nervously. His desire for physical contact was fast overcoming his fear of any nearby dead possibly overhearing his hoarse whispers.
“Come on down here puss-puss, where I’ll keep yeh safe from our Dear Departed. Come on down to me, me darlin’. Wouldn’t yeh like to join me for a hug? I’ll give yeh a good tickle behind the ears an’ all. All cats love that, don’int yis?”
The tabby looked down haughtily but its eyes followed his hand as he waved the dried fish around.
“Come on pussycat,” beseeched Ray in a whisper, “come on me darlin’, take the bleedin’ bait, willye?”
The scent of the fish had indeed aroused the cats’ interest. It craned its neck forward as if testing the air, but it obviously didn’t trust the human. Ray shuffled carefully and clumsily into a kneeling position. Pools of moisture formed round the points of his bony knees as they pressed into the ditches sodden bed. The cat tensed and Ray stopped in fear of it leaving. Dead wet leaves clung unfelt to the back of his head. Tiny little lights sparked and drifted across his field of vision before blinking out. He was in such poor physical shape he thought he was about to faint from the effort of kneeling up. The world turned white for a moment and wavered in and out of focus.
“Puss-puss,” he gasped, keeping his flow of patter moving until the dizzy spell passed. “Please don’t go.” He scrunched his eyes shut and waited. “What’s new, pussycat?” He knew he was babbling, but this was nothing new. He had babbled all through the relentless awfulness of his…well, we’ve already skirted briefly through his past already, haven’t we?
The cat blinked lazily as if bored with the situation, although it recognised Rays offering as an easier option to hunting for its supper – but how could it get to the food without having to touch this reeking human? It doesn’t smell like the dangerous ones, thought the cat, though it moves slowly, just like them, so it’ll be easy enough to avoid. Still, it really smells bad; as if it carries its own waste around with it instead of burying it.
But the human had food, and the tabby wanted that. Rays knees shook as they settled deeper into the wet soil but he waited until his head cleared properly. A surge of hope swept through him when the crouching cat relaxed and sat down. It even licked absently at a front claw.
Despite his surge in optimism Ray knew the cat wasn’t going to let him near it. He just knew. It wasn’t fair. The cat is just there! Look at it! It’s less than two metres away!
“You’re goin’ to run away, aren’t you puss puss? Yer sittin’ down there as cool as a cucumber but I know yeh are. I don’t want yeh to, but I know yeh will. That’s bad. Here’s me alone all this time with drink as me only friend. An’ there yeh are, yeh big tease, just flauntin’ yerself. I mean yeh no harm horse, but I’m goin’ to hafta give yeh a bit of a fright. Y’see, I’m goin’ to grab yeh as soon as I spot a chance, but maybe after an oul’ hug and a friendly pet we’ll prob’ly be great mates…”
With his mind made up Ray leaned forward veeery slooowly and rested his weight on his free left hand. The cat spotted another tiny movement in the long grass again and its predatory senses were aroused. It looked away from the smelly human and scanned the meadow for possible rodents.
Ray stopped again. Maybe that corpse was in the field and that’s what the cat was tracking. He listened hard but heard nothing. No uneven footfalls, no swishing of decomposed legs through the long grass, no moans.
With his eyes locked on the distracted cat, Ray pulled one foot carefully out from underneath his skin and bone frame. A burst of pins and needles tingled in his foot. Logic dictated that this was probably his best and only opportunity to strike as the cat was looking the other way and he had his feet underneath him. The tabby, thinking Ray a slow mover, was foolishly complacent; its pointed ears flicking left and right as it looked into the middle distance.
“Now!” Ray screamed mentally. “Now! Now!” His heart pounded in his narrow chest as his spindly, ulcerated legs launched his emaciated body up the side of the shallow bank. He was aware of the proximity of the bramble and hazel thorns above his head so he was careful not to sacrifice an eye to them in his leap.
Malnourishment was probably the main reason that the surprised cat reacted a tad too late to save itself. It felt Rays bony hands close tightly round its midriff a millisecond before it could bound away. The momentum of his jump carried Ray only partially into the field. His legs were still in the drain so he had to scramble forward into the meadow using only knees and elbows, the wriggling, screeching cat pulled in tight to his wasted body.
He had done it! He had done it! Ray laughed wildly but it just came out as a gasping bark. He glanced around for the dead priest, just in case, but saw no sign. He must have wandered away in the service of the pope.
The enraged cat shrieked, spat and pummeled away with all four claws, its talons raked Ray’s jacket sleeves and his unprotected belly. It sank its pin like fangs deeply and repeatedly into his unprotected hands, fighting him ferociously with a horrifying strength.
“Ouch, pussycat! Stop! Jaysus! It’s all right! I’m not goin’ to bleedin hurtya, willye take it easy for Jaysus sake? Take it easy,” he grunted desperately. “I’m not goin’ to hurtya; just give us an oul’ cuddle! I just want to pet yeh.” Rays triumph became terror as the cat fought fiercely but he wasn’t going to release it. Not after so much time alone.
“For fecks sake puss puss, c’mon, I don’t want to hurt yeh, I said! Willye take it easy just, willye?”
It was meant to get tired and slow down and eventually succumb to the delights of Ray’s deft fingers as he tickled it. Then it would rub itself against his legs and become his bosom buddy for life. Ray and his Cat. The Adventures of Ray and his Cat! But its struggles continued.
Rays hands were getting badly ripped but his adrenaline levels prevented him from feeling any immediate pain. When they were about twenty seconds into what the cat considered a life and death fight, a desperate and uncharacteristic plan came to Ray: if he could just make it a bit more manageable…a bit quieter, then they could have an oul’ hug and they’d both be the better of it. Confidant that he had the animal securely contained, yet unaware of the damage its scrabbling claws was doing to his belly, he cautiously withdrew one shredded hand and, face pressed into the fragrant earth for traction, reached into his pocket for a small rusty penknife.
“Please cat,” he gasped. “Stop fightin’ willye? I don’t want to hurtye. Willye please just bleedin stop? Oh god,” he prayed, “please make it calm down, please?”
He manoeuvred himself carefully with elbows and knees until his knife hand was under his body with the lunatic cat, and after several more moments of careful positioning he was ready.
“Last chance to stop yer feckin messin’” he pleaded. He insisted that the tabby listen to him but the cat just wasn’t interested in reason. With a tinge of alarm Ray could feel his asthma beginning to tighten his airways.
“I’m warnin’ yeh! Stop your bleedin wailin’ or I’ll use this knife! I will! I’m bleedin tellin’ yeh!”
He held the trapped animal solidly with his shredded left hand, feeling the drumming of its heart beneath its soft fur. As it refused to surrender quietly he began to do his necessary work. He shut his eyes, leaned his weight forward and drove the little blade meekly, without much resolve – almost lovingly – against the struggling animal’s body, but the blunt tip of the useless knife failed to puncture the flailing tabbies’ pelt.
It recognised the new danger and screamed afresh at this outrage. Its new wailings were louder and more attention seeking so an alarmed Ray punched the blade in a little harder. With a terrible dismay he felt the knife shallowly pierce the feline’s body.
“Ah Jaysus, ah no, ah Jaysus…” he gasped in shock.
This wasn’t the way he wanted things to turn out. He had hurt it. He really had. This wasn’t going the way he wanted at all. In his misery he loosened his hold. The cat squealed and wriggled slightly from the mans ragged grip. Weeping, Ray withdrew the blade but as he did so the cat slipped from his blood slimed hand and broke free in a lashing flurry of fur and limbs. With a terrible croak of loss Ray struck out blindly with the knife and by sheer dreadful chance he struck the animal through a hind leg.
“Ahhhh!” he cried in shock. “Aw, no! Aw, Jaysus!”
The cat flipped head over heels from the force of the blow but it regained its footing and fled limping and rolling into the long grass, leaving the malodorous and bloodied man weeping as he staggered to his feet. The meadow grass swallowed the wounded animal but Ray could see the tussocks twitching and waving in its wake.
His airways were tightening faster. Mindless now of any undead danger and slowly beginning to suffocate from his exertions he stumbled after it. Tears and snot streamed down his face and blood flew unnoticed from his mauled hands. Despite his constricted breathing he soon overtook the injured cat and blocked its path. It dodged left and tried to double back but Ray swung out hard with his right foot and he felt little ribs shift and click beneath the cats clotted pelt as his toes connected. The solidity of the skinny cats mass surprised him and he felt a jolt of pain shoot through his foot. The momentum of the kick threw Ray off balance and he fell heavily into a patch of stinging nettles, his hands, despite the knife, scrabbling at his clogged throat.
His kick had launched the cat skyward where it was silhouetted briefly against the blazing eye of the setting sun, momentarily blinding an appalled Ray. He hadn’t meant to kick it so hard. He hadn’t meant to kick it at all; again it was just reflex. The cat twisted in flight, its claws outstretched for balance, tail waving, and it landed with a soft thump and rolled.
“Oh puss,” choked Ray in distress as he lay on his back, unable to continue, tears streaking his filthy face. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Come back, come back! I won’t hurt yeh again!” No sounds came with his words. His airways had closed. He felt his eyes expanding and bloating in their sockets as his bladder and bowels loosened, warming his jeans. He knew from experience that this would be a nasty attack. One of his mangled hands fumbled successfully for his nebuliser, the only personal item he’d never discarded and he was lucky, there was at least one out-of-date spritz left. He soon felt the aerosol begin to do its work.
As soon as he felt able he dragged himself into a sitting position and looked in the direction the tabby had gone. To his amazement he found it hadn’t moved from where it landed, but it was watching him.
When Ray went down the cat took the opportunity to rest its broken body. But now the human was up again. The tabby turned painfully for the ditch; its knifed leg trailing. Ray soon closed the distance between them and caught it by the tail. It shrieked and twisted in his grip. He lifted it to eye level and it swiped its three good claws across his face.
Without thinking Ray punched the little knife hard into the suspended body. The luckless animal seized up, sensing serious damage. Ray withdrew the blade and thrust it in again. The tabby slowly arched its back, opened its mouth and uttered a low mewling sound. It stared at the multicoloured sunset sky with wild emerald eyes. Ray looked at it for a moment and laid it gently on the ground.
But the cat wasn’t quite finished. It struggled awkwardly away; half walking, half crawling through the waving grass towards the hedgerow, the rusty blade embedded in its ribcage. It made it to the lip of the drain before collapsing.
Rays knees buckled beneath him and he slumped to the ground, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to suck air through his traitorous windpipe. He raised his hands and for the first time he gazed in bewilderment at the cat-ripped strips of flesh that hung like ribbons from his wrist to his knuckles; glaring white bones visible through the gashes. He brought them closer to his astonished face and stared in fascination as his blood ran down the insides of his tattered sleeves. He could actually see it flow. It was then that he noticed that his grubby shirt and fish white belly was as shredded and bloody as his hands.
He dropped his arms and looked up at the clouds as if the answer to his unspoken question was mysteriously written there, his features bathed in garish light.
His feeble intellect struggled and failed to make sense of the last few minutes. He attempted to stand but couldn’t. He looked over at the cat as it lay in the shadows of the brambles and hazel, staring warily at him, the light in its eyes fading. Ray crawled the distance on all fours and the tabby emitted a low keening threat that chilled him, its ears pressed flat across its head as it hissed.
“Please, pussycat.” Ray begged. He stared aghast at the dying creature; still not understanding what had happened, or what he could do about it now. He had hurt it.
Had he hurt it? He knew he had, but only so it wouldn’t leave him; that was all! So he could give it cuddles and hugs. And love! But now it was in awful pain. It was going to die. The prospect broke his fragile heart. What had he done?
“Oh, kitty. I shoulda prayed for you to run away. Knowin’ my luck with prayer you might of let me pet yeh instead.”
He watched its pale yellow fur rise and fall. Its pink tongue protruded as it panted like a sweating dog. Blood glistened on its belly. A powerful sympathy rose in Ray’s chest as he knelt beside it.
“Oh, kitty! Oh, kitty!” he mouthed. He was still having serious trouble breathing. “Oh, my darling. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ll be good. I won’t hurt you again. I promise. There now pussycat. Shush now, shush. It’ll be ok. It will. I’ll make it ok.”
He gently lifted it with his mutilated hands. Its broken and dislocated bones moved unnaturally beneath its fur. It lay limp and motionless as he cradled it lovingly, stroking it. A huge emotional burden was lifted from him at its touch and he felt blessed relief suffuse his system. His breathing improved. His prayers had finally been answered. He had a living friend at last.
“I’ll look after yeh now, pussy wussy.” He whispered tenderly. “I’ll keep you nice and safe and warm and comfy,”
The cat raised it head and spat. Ray dropped it in shock and watched as it rolled limply into the ditch, right down to the spot where he had lain when he first saw it.
He slid after it into the gloom, protecting his eyes from the thorny bushes with his forearms; the shadows of the hazel branches projected sharply onto his features by the low sun. He sat in the mulch beside the cats’ prone body and picked it up again, adoring it in his arms. As he lifted his face to the sky in an effort to pull more air into his lungs it voided on him. He felt as if he were breathing through a tiny hole in a thick plastic bag, although the touch of the tabby made him feel a lightness he couldn’t describe. It was better than Smack.
“There now, puss puss, there now. I’m sorry. Its all right, there’s no problem. Yiz’ll be all right now. It’s all ok.”
Ray had prayed that the cat would stay with him and look…it was in his arms. He had asked for his loneliness to be taken away and look…it was gone. Maybe prayer was the answer.
He sat in the wet leaves and luxuriated in the dying cats company. He whispered and sang silently to it. The cat was his darling, his love, his soul mate. He wet it with tears and slobber as he kissed and caressed it through its final miserable breaths. He soothed it under the thorny bushes, blessing and cursing it in equal measure until it expired dismally twenty five minutes later.
At the end of twilight, just before full dark, Ray had regained enough of his breath to climb up into the meadow again, the cooling cat held gently in his ruined, heartbroken arms. His faulty mind was puzzled by its passing and in a sudden rage he threw the broken body to the ground. Frustrated beyond his powers of expression he lifted his head and howled his loss at the first stars peeking out of the darkness. All that really emerged from his abused airways was a hissing croak, but in this silent, post-human world, that was all the noise required for other things to take note of one’s presence. Ray had simply been lucky, as usual, that he hadn’t drawn attention to himself sooner.
He looked down, and in a fit of remorse he knelt painfully and stroked the cats blood caked flank. His mind, twisting again, made him pick it up by the tail. He flung its carcass high over the bushes and out onto the abandoned road, its body stamped briefly against the twilit sky, jet black against dull orange.
He was my best friend ever, mourned Ray. “Oh god, please don’t let me be alone. Why can’t I have a pal? What’s so hard about that? Is that too much to bleedin well ask?” The damage to his hands and lacerated stomach were seriously making their presence felt and although Ray didn’t know it, he was already in shock from serious blood loss.
Sensing movement he glanced to his left and saw a human figure stumbling awkwardly out of the dimness, its arms spread wide. Ray watched this agitated silhouette grow; lurching and tottering its way across the uneven surface of the meadow.
It moaned plaintively as it closed the distance and then, out of nowhere, a chink of light appeared through a tiny gap in Rays despair. An incredible thought had struck him. Maybe there was some power in prayer after all, he thought; at least there has been today. He had prayed that the cat would stay and it did. He had asked for his loneliness to be taken away and it was. What had he just asked for now?
A Pal! That’s what!
With growing hope he stared into the gloom and opened his arms wide to embrace his prayer conjured friend, the crashing loneliness lifting like a weight from his shattered heart. By the time the moaning form had impacted wetly into him, forcing them both backwards, a rare smile had already cracked the infected skin on Rays suppurating lips.
“Howya, pal” Ray gasped as he and his new friend toppled in a cold embrace to the darkness at the bottom of the mulchy ditch.
“You’re the answer to me prayers, you are.”