Derek opened the latch to the crypt, as the usual eerie sound echoed into the caverns just ahead of the following steps. He didn’t want to be here but, as with many things in life, he’d accepted his situation many years previous. He’d, at least, found some scraps from the local fast food restaurant’s bin. This, to Derek, was a good thing. Falling asleep on an empty stomach wasn’t something that he was fond off, but it happened from time to time.
He stepped down a few steps, turning to close the gate behind him, before continuing on his small journey. At the bottom of the steps, sat the usual pool of shallow water which always appeared after even the smallest downpour. Hopping over the water, he switched on his solar torch and made his way into the catacombs. After a few moments, he found his usual spot which, thankfully, had the smallest amount of light from the grid just above his chosen resting place. He often enjoyed watching various particles of dust floating around, seemingly invisible, until the light brought them into reality. It’s what he had, it’s what he enjoyed, with anything being better than having no thoughts or enjoyment at all.
He sat down onto the small, dry mattress, exhaling as the strain from walking long distances left his body. He opened the medium sized carton, happy at the choice delicacies he’d found by chance. A half eaten chicken leg, a full, plump chicken breast and an entire, small, corn on the cob. He didn’t especially like the fact that the corn managed to get stuck within his remaining teeth, but beggars would never be choosers in his eyes. His lips pressed against the leg, as his teeth pulled at the chicken. It was succulent, but cold. Luckily, he’d found it moments after being discarded which, of course, meant that there could be a chance of actually having a seemingly hot meal. Upon this occasion, it wasn’t so.
The food entered his stomach, the growling within almost immediately stopping as his body realised that it had work to do. He ravished the rest of the food as quickly as he could, placing the bones and a few shards of chicken just to the side of his bed. He had others to feed and, despite his situation, the kindness within his heart knew no limits. If he could, he would help all of them.
The last little part of the corn vanished from view, as he burped a small little silly burp, which brought a smile and ever so slight giggle to his breath. He nodded a few times, thanking whichever deity was listening. Thankful, for the meek and small gift that had been brought his way upon this day. He was, genuinely appreciative, to still be alive. He’d dream big, but his imagination preferred to stay within the here and now. Each day, as it arrived. Each opportunity, a gift within a moment’s notice.
He curled up into a small little human sized ball, upon the mattress, allowing the day’s events to play through his mind. It was, as always, a long day. The same faces mixed in within the million other faces that he’d possibly never see again. The world span within his consciousness, as he felt the night’s chill appear upon his bones. Even three layers of decrepit clothing couldn’t evade the cold warning of the night.
As he turned to rest upon his other side, facing the scraps of his food, he smiled a smile as he finally fell asleep to the view of a hundred rats gathered around him. The rats, within their home, gnawed upon the gifts of food. There were many of them, thousands, millions, billions across the world, but today they were only a few hundred in this area. They had grown accustomed to Derek, even thankful, as all they’d known in their lives was fear, aggression, shouting and death when faced with the large two-legged animals. They would never forget the days when Derek looked after their own, nursed them back to health, after an accident within the upper world.
They’d changed, the rats of old, which they all knew. They’d watched as the previous generation had died out, allowing the enhanced breed to increase their numbers. Proficient, engineered, given many objectives within their daily lives to clean and clear the world. For them, however, looking after Derek was something that they’d allowed themselves to embrace instead of feeling fear or staying hidden as much as possible.
They watched as his breathing slowed, as Derek started to shake with the cold and, upon this moment, they did what they did each and every single night that Derek graced them with his kind company. They moved around him, over him, covering him with their warm bodies, their fur and their affection. It was but an act from one animal to another. A sharing of emotional care, despite their fear of the upper animals. They pressed against him, his warmth becoming theirs and their warmth becoming his. They felt a certain calm from Derek, his auric soul, his shield of energy, calming their fear and allowing them to sleep and rest as one. They were called rats, but most certainly, not by nature.