The Walking Man found that the clouds from the south were outpacing him as he trekked over the narrow ribbon of fading asphalt through fields of corn. He pulled his jacket closer to his body, willing himself to build up body heat before the first tickles of water splashed on his thinning pate.


All hopes of a quick sprinkle evaporated when he heard the roaring of the downpour approaching, savagely tearing at the cornstalks and blasting them with gusts of freezing air. As far as the eye could see, the road obliviously stretched itself east and west. There was no shelter, and he knew he would be in for a miserable night.


The howling fury of a storm rocked him when it caught up with his plodding body. In seconds he was drenched and cold; the joints of his hands began to ache with the sudden temperature change. The wind whipped the pebbles and decaying vegetation from the last harvest into a stew of stinging projectiles. The Walking Man tried to shield his eyes, but the absolute darkness that had descended on him, combined with the airborne flotsam, made it impossible to see the road. Only the change between the asphalt and the soil kept him from wandering too far off his course.


He knew it was living when he tripped over the yielding body. It was some form of animal, and it made a small gurgling noise when he crawled back to it. His bruised knees protested painfully and his hands were further injured from pebbles burrowing into bloodied palms. He gingerly reached out and touched a broken cat, run down on the roadway hours or days before. He scooped the cat up as best he could, turned his back to the wind and opened up his jacket to shelter the cat, whose head lolled about from pain and lack of strength.


They bundled together against the shrieking gale, the man shivering from the cold and the wetness and the cat shaking from spasms of pain. The jacket made a decent shelter for the cat, and it stopped gurgling enough to look up and let out a stuttered mewling of thanks.


The Walking Man began to assess the cat and discovered it wasn't alone. A dead bird had been hidden underneath the matted cat body. Perhaps the cat had been hit when it went after the starling, a bloody chain of events as the killer was himself the victim in one ironic fell swoop. The bird had died suddenly; the cat was paying for its salvation with suffering and time.


The storm kept battering the Walking Man for the better part of the night. The cat rarely made a sound - it was several hours before he realized the cat had died in his arms. Dragging himself to the stalks of corn, he used several flattened beer cans he found on the way to dig a small hole in the rich earth. He carefully placed the two bodies in the hole, and thought about erecting a temporary cross until he figured the cat and bird were atheists at best. He placed two flat rocks over the gravesite, wished them well on their journey as he soggily stood up to continue his own.

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