Short Story - Needs a title

I can’t decide what to call this. Something including the word Quantum? Or something more prosaic about cats. All opinions are welcome!

The first glow of dawn played across the lidded vision of the cat as she sprawled on the rug. Her eyeballs darted around as she dreamed of whatever cats like to dream of; a mouse, a fight with another cat, who can say? She stretched and rolled over onto her front. One eye popped open to check on the state of the room around her before she started her morning routine, licking her already clean paws and stretching her back.

The morning proceeded according to plan. Heading into the garden, her jet back fur accepted the offering of the first rays of the sun as it elbowed its way over the trees and she glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, a field mouse trying to steal a few more minutes of night time cover, nosing around for fallen birdseed. This was too good to miss, but she knew not to make sudden movements or get too close too soon. She strolled to behind the nearest bush, feigning indifference, and then turning on a point, crouched, ready to attack. As the unsuspecting animal approached, she pounced and pinned it to the floor using her paw. She pondered whether to toy with it before the kill, but in the end, dispatched it with a clean bite. Today she felt magnanimous. Taking the still warm morsel in her jaws, she carried it into the house and left it as an offering on the rug in the lounge. It was her tribute.

Walking back outside, she sniffed the bushes for signs of incursion before leaping the fence and catching the scent of a local tomcat. The smell was strong and loaded with menace; It could only be Ginger from the house at the end of the road. He was the biggest and meanest of the neighbourhood toms, and took every opportunity to leave a trail for the lady cats.

Next, she walked along the wall that adjoined her house to that of the next-door neighbour, where someone kept a dog outside on a chain. What followed was something that she had practised to perfection. She jumped up onto the dividing wall and started her traverse, pausing to lick her paws, check her claws, and scratch behind her ears, all the while enjoying how the now demented creature stretched its chain to the limit. She scored extra points that morning for inducing the dog’s owner to throw a shoe at the dog from out of the window, trying to shut it up. That done, she jumped off onto the lawn of another neighbour and deposited a soft gift. She knew that the lone human living there would find it later, with luck even stepping in it before shouting his gratitude to her owners.

Yes, this was the kind of perfect summer morning that she lived for. Hmmm most satisfactory.

The humans left the house, one at a time, banging the main door behind them. She would soon have the run of the place, with a choice of surfaces on which to luxuriate. The only chore was having to move from window to window to track that warming yellow disk as it travelled in the sky. The windows facing the street were her favourite, allowing her sit on a warm windowsill and wash her fur, while surveying what was going on in the neighbourhood.

She counted the humans as they left, one, two, three… But where was the fourth? Sharp muttered sounds emanated from the garage and she made out the voice of the female adult, her least favourite. This was the human that the Cat needed to watch, the one that often tried to do unpleasant things to her. There was the sound of many things being moved around and then came a crash, followed by more shouts. And now she saw the basket; The Basket, the small one with a lid.

The Cat was terrified of the basket for several reasons. For first licks, she hated to be in a confined space. Then there was the stale odour within it, a hint of an unfortunate previous animal’s mess. But most of all, she associated it with a visit to the vet. Not that she had a word for a vet. She had no words, but a cat can think in terms of vivid smells, tastes, vision and sensations. To the cat, the basket meant a confined nauseous journey, at the end of which there was a place filled the sounds and smells of tortured and bewildered animals. And the way the humans there gripped, poked and jabbed at a simple creature, well, it was nasty and wrong. And then there was the sheer indignity of it all, the sense that the rest of Cat-Kind could be looking on with scorn as she sat, all suckered and abused. More than anything else, a cat hates to be controlled. None of that pointless running after a ball that a stupid dog does for its owner.

The basket indicated an automatic medium alert. If the human came any closer, evasive action would be required. Sure enough, the monster approached, making pathetic meowing noises. As if that was ever likely to fool the Cat. She crouched, ready to flee, with her senses tuned, and blood pumping to her muscles, braced for flight.

As the woman tiptoed closer, trying hard not to startle her, she bolted for the cat flap over on the other side of the kitchen, dodging a clumsy effort to grab her tail as she passed. Easy. Too easy? She hit the flap at full speed only to bounce back, hurt and confused. Wow, they’d locked it, the brutes! A cat has a strong sense for a trust betrayed. This would not be forgotten. No matter, she’d noticed a window open earlier on the upper floor through which she could escape; it was a fair drop from there down to the garden, but she’d made bigger jumps and lived.

First, she did another manoeuvre around the outstretched hand, making it grasp at empty space; this time she used a well practiced roll and a crouching run. Darting out of the kitchen, she gained the stairs, scrambling two at a time. At the top, she took a tight right turn and passed through a doorway and then made a leap and clean landing onto the narrow windowsill, only to discover that the window was… closed. She stared in horrified disbelief. What sick mind could have done this? This was now a full emergency!

The human was almost on her, and she’d wasted too much time. OK, last resort, the hairball trick.

The Cat always kept a hairball secreted at the back of one or other cheek for such a crisis. She’d never put the plan into action before, but trusted her instincts. She part-swallowed the hairball while breathing in at the same time. Sure enough, it triggered a choking reflex; her plan was that the human would back off and give her enough time to dodge and look for a safe place to jump, maybe on top of a cupboard or a shelf. Anywhere out of reach.

It was a terrible miscalculation. The Cat, now focused on choking, failed to evade easy capture. A hand closed on the scruff of her neck and hoisted her up before turning her upside down. A sharp knock on her back shocked the breath out of her, propelling the hairball across the room. It hit a vase on the desk with a loud ‘Ping’. There was no time to draw satisfaction from the sound. Now they were on the move towards the stairs and, and… the basket of doom.

The human was stroking the Cat now, holding her close in what would in other circumstances be a soothing way. Wait, was this another chance? The cat deployed her claws and made contact. She penetrated the woman’s skin through her thin covering layer, drawing blood and a gratifying screech.

Sucker!

Any moment now, the Cat expected to be dropped and could resume her escape manoeuvres. But Noooo! The human still had her suspended by her neck above the floor, in a now painful vice-like hold. Was that it? Had she lost the battle? Not at all! A Cat never gives in, not even in a situation as dire as this one. There remained a chance of exploiting a momentary loss of concentration on the part of her foe. As the human placed the Cat into the basket, she would have to let go, and there would be a sliver of time during which the lid would still be open, if only by a fraction. Precise timing would be everything, but yes, she might work.

Seconds later, she could see the basket close by, and she waited as the woman lifted the lid and placed her inside. Now! She made a quick, final, jab at the human’s paw hearing another yelp. But she had mistimed the final spring toward freedom. She was a fraction too slow, and her head clashed with a now-closed lid.

The Cat felt the world had crashed in on her and that she had let her kind down. Perhaps there had been a lapse in planning, or it was a case of poor judgement. Who could say? It would need to be analysed later. Lessons had to be learned.

As she clawed at the basket sides, and snarled her displeasure, she glimpsed through the basket that the surrounding scene was changing. They were outside, and then she was in one of those moving boxes. She heard an engine start and experienced the undulating sensation of being in motion. By now, her heart was beating so hard that her chest might burst. As the basket rocked with the car’s movement, she tried to hold back her nausea but, hey, at least if she vomited up some fish from the morning feed, she could make a defiant statement, a gesture, ‘You may have beaten me this time, but you will never control me!’

The car stopped and started, turning first one way, then another. She heard a disembodied voice sounding from the front where the woman was sitting, as if another human were trying to speak to the driver. The car jolted and came to a stop with a crash, with a sound like something smashing, and she was pitched forward inside the basket. A tightening sensation spread within her chest, running up to her neck and on down into her paws. The human was out of the car, shouting at another who shouted back even louder. Two minutes later, the human was back, breathing loudly and banging inside the car with her hands, shouting. The motions of the car were even more abrupt, throwing the basket around and further frightening the cat. The pain in her chest grew. The car halted, and she was lifted into the animal prison. She heard the box lid being loosened, ready for opening. Just at that moment, the pain in her chest became unbearable. A white veil fell over her vision. Her breath stopped. She floated, suspended between life and death.

And as the flap lifted and light entered the basket, and as the cat passed through the cat flap of existence and entered the garden of eternity, a fleeting thought passed through what was left of her mind, ‘Dead then…’

(Sorry for the Jack Dee ending, I coudn’t resist it.)

Explanation (if needed)

During the years in which theories of quantum physics were first developed, it was common for the participants in the debate to use thought experiments as a way of thinking about what happens at very small scales, the scale of an atom or a particle of light.

To explain the idea that it is impossible to simultaneously know the position and direction of a particle, Schrödinger came up with “The cat in a box” idea. It runs something like this:

Imagine a cat inside a sealed box with thick walls to prevent an observer from seeing or hearing the cat. With the cat inside the box is a vial of cyanide that will be split open based on the state of some unstable particle. Unstable particles don’t ‘like’ being in that state, so they tend to “decay”, which means they split into two or more other particles. In the thought experiment, if the particle decays, the cyanide vial will break open, and the cat will die. Otherwise, it is most likely still alive.

Inside the box, we can’t know the state of the particle and, when we try to calculate it, we find that the particle is both decayed and not decayed at the same time. Bear in mind that quantum theory makes no sense, and anyone that tells you otherwise is lying. So, in theory, the particle exists in two states at once, and therefore the cat in the box is both alive and dead at the same time.

It is only when the box is opened that we find out the true state of the cat. In quantum theory, we can make probabilistic predictions of the state of the cat. If the probability of the particle decaying at any given point is 1 in 100, then we could say that the cat is 1% dead and 99% alive. Which is ridiculous, right? But that’s what the quantum world is actually like. It is only when we observe the cat (when we open the box) that can see that she is either 100% alive or 100% dead.

Note: don’t try this experiment at home or if you do, please be careful not to inhale the cyanide.

The Quantum Physics of cats.

Schrödinger’s quantum hairball.

1 Like

I love your idea.
I was going to choose “A quantum of cat”, but thought putting the word Quantum in there would put off anyone frightened of physics.