A form dark and true, I recognize him even before I see him, a shadow skulking about the patio, a whisper in the dark that shows me his presence only when light reflects in his eyes.
Then his voice. There’s something about the raspy, weak, child-like voice, something powerful and wonderful, yet something equally heartbreaking and lamentable. He speaks.
The sound floats upon cold air like a plea for love, a begging for that which he knows so rarely.
I kneel and pet him. He soaks it up like a sponge does water.
All the while he talks. Cries, really, for that better describes his voice than anything else.
They all have distinguishable vocal sounds, yes, and his no less than any other.
Trembling and broken, a melodramatic hint that touches the right heartstrings, he talks. Each word a question, each question an appeal.
To them I have no answer save no.
What he needs I cannot give except in the darkness of the night.
As each of The Kids approaches this window or that window, he runs to greet them, speaks to them in a language only they understand, affectionately rubs against the glass in salutation, asks them for a spot in their home.
A warm corner will do. Not much is needed. A spot of water, a bit of kibble. It’s only for one night, one cold night when the wind relents not for a single moment, when the stars offer no embrace from a cloudy sky.
They look on unable to give what is needed, unable to offer that for which he yearns.
Then he returns to me, The Shadow in a night full of shadows, a hint of predator full of love and need.
All the while his voice scratches my soul.
When spent and weeping for another life I cannot save, I leave him to his meal.
Instead of eating, he cries at the door. And cries.
Light reflected inward does nothing to hide his presence. He is al-Zill, the Shadow, and his presence goes where he wills it despite my best effort to block it from my mind.
There, next to me at the patio door, he sings a woeful song, a piercing tune of desire for things I cannot provide. Simply can’t. Six is more than enough. So I keep telling myself. Far too much in this place and time…
A scramble, a brief slide of claws upon concrete, then more sounds.
The food bowl tumbling over. Loud crunching. More pushing and shoving of the bowl.
I look again through the glass and see a raccoon, a large male at least three times al-Zill’s size.
And the cat moves to the bedroom door where he continues his entreaty.
Only now he’s cornered, caught between what he wants most and what he cannot face.
I go to him, to the patio, and I try to scare away the raccoon.
Perhaps because I have little intent to harm or perhaps because his size and age give him more strength of will than I anticipate, the raccoon challenges me, challenges the cat, remains in place at the bowl.
Now mad, however, for I do not relent.
That low hiss of such creatures, the throttled exhalation of deep air caught between the neck and mouth, and he rears up and gets louder.
Too much commotion and al-Zill takes to higher ground, a quick leap to the top of the fence, a movement so silent as to epitomize his name. Then he’s gone.
And I face the raccoon.
I let the cool wind give rise to my arms in a motion slower than time. And I become bigger than life.
The masked invader retreats, all hisses and snarls. At the fence he challenges me again, pushes in toward me with a final lunge.
My arms still floating on restless winds, I lift my foot at him, a motion to block his path as much as to put an impenetrable object between his advance and my person.
But the damage already is done.