Eric has been found.
I had a phonecall yesterday from a vets about six miles away from here (that's six miles by road, or just over three miles as the crow flies, or as the cat hobbles). The Cats Protection League had found Eric on Monday night and taken him to the vets. Apparently he was in a bad way, with a couple of untreated wounds.
The vet had to put him to sleep.
Thankfully he was micro-chipped so they were able to contact me, albeit two days later. I was so grateful to them for letting me know. Not knowing was awful.
Trying to piece together what happened is obviously difficult, but on the night he decided to leave us he must have set off and started walking. This was totally out of character, he had never so much as tried to get out of the garden. I realised he was missing after about half an hour and started calling him. I now assume he was already too far away to hear me. This fits with my theory of him going away to die.
So he was gone for five days and nights. He'd probably been in a scrap with another cat. He must have found some food, water and shelter. I'm trying to imagine that he was reasonably okay most of the time.
We picked up his body this morning. He looked fast asleep, curled up like a kitten. He looked better than I was expecting, so that was a relief. I was able to stroke him one last time and say goodbye.
We buried him, as planned, under his favourite bush in the garden, where he used to sleep.
I can see his grave from here.
I imagine he's tucking in to a never-ending bowl of tuna in cat heaven.
Rest In Peace Eric x