Patterns of salt and mold wound their spindly way around the back-alley wall, sketching their unique trademarks. Here, where the sun reached only as a dim reflection, the port town’s choking humidity coalesced into the grime, settling in with trash blown in by the wind, turning the ever-present sea-sand into a gritty slush.
Here and there a larger lump loomed out of the detritus, like a crazed mockery of a zen garden… a rusted paint can, a small cairn of bricks, mementos of a time when some hopeful soul had tried to hold back the endless wash of salt and slime.
The cat had been young, though it was hard to tell now; her belly opened as she lay, soft flesh greedily devoured by the ever-present rats. Streaks and strips of flesh and blood still trailed from where her verminous attendants had torn them loose, dragging tissues from within like ghastly pirates digging up their ill-gotten gains.
The young man stood in the doorway and took it in with defeated resignation. His quiet little smoking spot would be ruined for weeks, now… the stench would be unbearable, and he shuddered as he remembered the swift little grey forms he’d startled away from their bounty. No, he’d be imagining their horrible little teeth on his toes every time he sat down, feeling them rustle past the small of his back while he tried to savour the cheap roll-ups that were all he could scrounge.
Something twitched in the disgusting puddle of fur. His gorge rose as he imagined rats still stuffing the corpse, and he kicked the body away instinctively, his inner self gibbering even as he did so that now he was unclean, he had to wash, to purge, to…
There had been something under the body. Another creature, small, mewling. A kitten, barely newborn, eyes not yet open. The rats hadn’t savaged it as badly where it lay under its mother, not when there was such a bounty to be had from her. Still, their diseased little teeth had torn into its legs where the rats could reach. Most would be useless now.
The tiny creature writhed, freed from the weight of its parent. Uncomfortably shifting, the young man had a vision of a hundred rodent eyes glaring out of the alley’s darkness.
He picked up the kitten, gently cradling it. Feeding an extra mouth was hard, even if he found time to fish. But perhaps there was hope after all. The rats wouldn’t have this little one, he decided as he closed the door behind him.
Tonight, his son would eat meat…