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I was joking about the cut-and-paste kitty, but darned if you didn't do it.
I don't know how you did it, but he's my dream-cat.
Cat in the Box
by A.R. Morlan

From: 7-29-01 05:06.25.86
Subj: Request for information

Dear Wes,

Since when did you get a cat? I was checking out your site before I went to work, and there was this cat (orange stripe I think) sitting in that box next to your bookcase. He's adorable, but I thought you mentioned something to whoever (whomever? ;-)) you were having dinner with the night before last about your landlord forbidding anyone at your place from having animals? I think you told her that the landlord was afraid the oak floors might get scratched/ruined …

Not that it's any of my business, I mean it's not like I'd tell the landlord or anything, but wherever you got him (her?) s/he's adorable. What a cute little face! But I would think about putting a blanket or towel in the box. Just a suggestion from one of your livecam fans … :-)

· · · · · 

From: 7-30-01 09:37.07.76
Subj: Cat in the box

Dear ReneeC,

OK, OK, "livecam fan" you got me. You wouldn't believe how many people log onto my site with messages, suggestions, complaints (about _what_ I'll let you decide!), et al. but your phantom cat grabbed me. And so, I'm breaking my own rule about emailing back to my "fans" (Jeez, now I know how Brad Pitt must feel, ;-)!). Just this once, tho.

The "cat" in question must've been a trick of the light coming thru my blinds—what you heard me telling my dinner guest (btw, a co-worker, period, as in just for the record) was true. No kitties. In case you didn't log on last week, I did a scan-pan of my apartment with the digital camera, and on my TV I have one of those gourd kitties, which does happen to be orange-striped, but he's never been in any box save for the one he came "home" in from the gift shop. Not that I wouldn't love a cat, tho. I was into them long before Jon had his Garfield. And yes, orange ones are my passion. But last time I looked, the box-by-the-bookcase was empty. Alas. Best to you, and purrs from the TV cat, Wes R.

· · · · · 

From: 7-31-01 12:03.01.34
Subj: Cat IN box/Not on TV

Hi, Wes R.,

I'm flattered that you actually emailed _me_ a reply, but least you think I'm some kind of web nimrod who gets off on sending joke messages (or spam, or flames), there _is_ a cat in your apartment. And his belly isn't full of dried seeds, either (btw, I have one of those gourd cats, too, only mine is black with white feet-n-face). He was curled up in your erstwhile empty box, licking his feet and belly, stretched out in all sorts of yoga positions which would hamstring a human tried 'em. He (as I could now see) is just a doll, with one of those wedge-shaped little faces you could stare at all day—big wide-set eyes, cute pointed chin with a daub of white at the bottom, and those deeper "M" stripes in the middle of his forehead. No wonder you don't want to advertise his presence—losing a beautiful baby like him to some money-grubbin' landlord would be a tragedy. But don't you think you should spring for a collar? Thanx again for responding to my e-mail, and be sure to pet both the kitties for me. ReneeC.

· · · · · 

From: 7-31-01 6:11.01.24
Subj: Cat not in box

Hello again, ReneeC.,

If your description of that cat wasn't so convincing, I'd be passing your e-mail address on to, along with a request that you be banned from logging on … but damn, that cat you keep telling me about sounds so real, I'm half tempted to check that stupid box for fur or what-have-you stains … Well, at least I know the cat is a "he" —nice touch, especially when I'm so partial to tomcats. But I suppose you guessed that from the Garfield reference in my last message. I'm supposing.

But the part about the cat-yoga did get me to thinking—ever notice how a cat can do just about anything—contort itself into the most asinine positions, yet still look dignified? The beauty of cats, I guess. Including the phantom-box-cat.…

Hey, next time he makes an appearance, why not download the image? I'd like to see him—even a cut-and-paste image would be a bit more animated than my trusty TV cat (btw, I don't know where you keep your gourd cat, but be warned, the heat from a TV can make the feet brittle. Mine lost a couple of toes that way!)

Be well, and be on the look-out for future Phantom Box Cat sightings!

· · · · · 

From: 8-02-01 3:48:26.09
Subj: Cat IN box on-line

Dear Cat-Owner Wes R.,

I'm willing to forget about your last e-mail's sarcasm—it took me a while (thank goodness I have an in-home office job or else I'd have missed him!) but your cat was gracious enough to not only pose for me, but he even "smiled" for the camera. (If a toothy yawn counts for a smile!) I don't know how long it will take to download his image since my digital equipment is rather balky, but be patient, and you'll see him. As if you weren't used to seeing him every day …

I suppose you've been worried about your landlord logging onto your site and seeing him, but I figure if he hasn't done anything so far, he's probably one of those dorks with a Betamax under his b/w TV who still uses a rotary phone.

But as you can see, your so-called Phantom Kitty is alive and well, and amusing all your webfans with his antics—the way he did that slam-dunk with the wad of paper into your bookcase was a classic. Funny, isn't it, how so many cats are left-pawed? I read someplace that right-pawed cats are in the minority, just like left-handed people. Weird, eh? Both my cats are left-pawed; Marco Polo (grey DSH, big amber eyes) and Casper (proverbial white, albeit with orange ears/tail, DSH, blue-blue eyes). And they're also into crawling into whatever empty boxes/bags they can find … I suppose the kitty-cup from the pet store is too declasse for them! And never mind those cat hammocks—altho Marco thinks they're a great stand-by litter-pan, alas! Once, and don't ask me how he did it, Casper "hid" for half a day under a point-down triangle of bedspread that was hanging off the side of the bed—I mean, how can a cat stand on his toes so that he can't be seen behind an inverted triangle of fabric? But, sure enough, I saw him emerge from behind there, and I swear I couldn't see him when he was sitting/standing/levitating behind it! (btw, now that I've "proved" to you that your own cat exists, what is his name? If perchance you haven't named him, Boots would be a perfect one, what with his white feet and all. Sure easier to spell than the name of that scientist guy who postulated that experiment with the cat in the sealed box … Schrodinger?) Bye for now, from Marco, Casper, the black-n-white gourd cat, and their owner …

· · · · · 

From: 8-02-01 5:52:04.75
Subj: Picture _me_ puzzled!

OK. I'll admit it. You've stumped me! I was joking about the cut-and-paste kitty, but darned if you didn't do it. And far better than even I could have imagined. You didn't say what you do while working at home, but might it be computer animation? What you did goes way beyond digital imaging! Phantom Kitty (aka Boots; I think the name Schrodinger for a cat was already "taken" by that Quinn guy on Sliders!) was indeed in my box by my bookcase, but you _have_ to believe me, I've never seen this animal before! Yet here he is, big as life, licking his white paws and rolling around—amazing job! And I'd thought furry critters were too hard to animate … I suppose things have come a long way from _Stuart Little_ and _Toy Story 2_. Care to share your how-tos?

But getting back to something else in your e-mail—I think what your cat Casper did when he was hiding behind that flap of bedspread falls under what I call Feline Physics. As in, the mass of a cat is _sub_ quantum, so they can occupy the smallest amount of space at will. Or enter the fourth dimension—when I was a kid, our one cat Tweetie Pie (a boy-cat, grey tabby and white paws) got scared of something and hid so well we literally searched the whole house (cupboards, closets, basement, attic, _everywhere_!), twice, and didn't find him … then, after he'd been hiding for about 40+ hours, Mom was fixing supper—chicken, roasted—and suddenly Tweetie Pie emerged from this one cupboard. Only we'd moved almost every can in there, save for a row smack against the back wall of the cupboard. Like there was no place he could've been hiding, yet that's where he was. The walls in there were sound—no holes, no cracks. I know a bat can squeeze through a space a quarter of an inch wide, but even though cats and bats do share a smidgen of DNA (along with a dollop of baboon DNA in cats!), I can't see how they can get _that_ small. So it has to be Feline Physics at work. Something even Schrodinger never thought of when he came up with the whole cat in the box with the radioactive atom scenario. (Seems to be the guy must not've liked cats if you ask me!) But … Quantum Qats aside, thanks for coming up with Boots. I don't know how you did it, but he's my dream-cat. And having this bit of digital footage of him makes up for all the rotten landlords and housing codes in this foggy ole city. How you did it, I can't begin to imagine, but thank you for making my (unvoiced) wish a reality. Wes.

· · · · · 

From: 8-03-01 12:45:30:86
Subj: Quantum Qats

Jeez. I thought I was the only person out there who remembered B. Kliban's "qats" from all those cat books of his, but I'm getting ahead of myself—

LISTEN (sorry 'bout the flame!), BOOTS _IS_ REAL!

I couldn't generate a digital cat/qat/feline if I wanted to—I'm not a professional animator, or an amateur who's taken one of those digital imaging courses. Nor did I go get a red/white cat of my own to film in a copy-cat box here at my place (as I'm sure you must be thinking) … I downloaded images from _your_ apartment. From your 24/7/12/52 digital stream. If you don't believe me, if no one else has yet to comment about the cat, do this, to humor me, and satisfy yourself. Put a sign near the box—no, wait, write it _on_ the box-flap, asking people to e-mail comments about the cat. That should "prove" Boots is real, shouldn't it? Unless someone out there is hacking into your e-mail, and reading this, no one else should be privy to this matter, right?

The only thing that I can't understand is that you haven't been able to "nose" him out yet. He is unneutered, far as I can tell. He must be going somewhere! Maybe you should look for any one-point-down triangles of fabric—he could be hiding behind one of those. Or lying behind a row of condensed soup cans at the back of the cupboard! (How 'bout looking into Feline Physics For Dummies?) Until later, Renee C.

· · · · · 

From: 8-06-01 1:07:22.89
Subj: Feline Physics For Dummies

Hi (he said, humbled!)

He may not smell, he may not leave any wet spots on the carpet, he may not scratch the oaken floors, but … _you are right_ BOOTS LIVES! _Where_ or even _how_ I dunno, but if the first ten e-mails I got in response to my "My Name is Boots … Tell My Owner What You Think Of Me" message on the box-flap are any indication, we may well have stumbled onto a law of physics Stephen Hawkings never thought of! Or Boots himself found it … wherever he goes when I come into the apartment!

All ten e-mails referred to him doing specific things, looking just the way you downloaded him, not being neutered (got bitched out three times on that point!), needing a towel or a blanket in the box, etc.

But it is clear that the box is the "how" he gets here. I asked my co-worker, Martha, about it, and since she actually took physics in high school, she knows a bit more about quantum physics (if not quantum qats) than I do/did … after going on about isotopes, elements, electrons and protons in the neutral atom (the latter has matching numbers of electrons and protons), she moved on to half-lives, which amounts to time periods. As in, how a half life can vary from isotope to isotope, but how the half-life is always the same for a particular isotope … so, if you have, say, 8000 radioactive atoms whose isotope's half-life is fifteen minutes, in those fifteen minutes, half of them will decay, so you only have 4000 left. And in another fifteen minutes, you'll have 2000 left, and so on until they're all gone. And I can guess your next question—what tells the atoms it's their turn to expire? Nobody knows—Martha says that all "they" know is that half-lives exist. And can be proved.

Which is a very round-about way of getting back to that original cat-in-the-box _you_ mentioned a while back. Schrodinger's cat. The original theory involved putting a hypothetical cat into a theoretical box along with an imagined radioactive atom. Along with a detector to determine when the imaginary atom decays _and_ if said atom decays, it will release a poison which will kill the non-cat.

(Sounds like a lovely guy, no? The PeTA folks would've done one hell of a billboard about him!)

Anyway, if you were to open this imaginary box after one half-life for the atom, you would have 1) a non-kitty or 2) a living-albeit-unreal cat. (Or as John Cleese might shout, "This is an ex-cat!")

The whole thing boils down to, how do you know when a statistical event does or doesn't happen? Schrodinger's atom will decay. But when? There's no way to predict this statistical half-life event. Or so Martha said. (I lost my Physics For Dummies!) She also said that the experiment had another part, involving _two_ universes around the choice point of the time of decay of the atom. So in one universe, the atom decays within the first half-life, and you have an ex-cat. Or ex-qat. In another universe, the qat lives. Which brings us into Sliders territory, the whole side-by-side-by-another-side Universes concept. Like, every alternate choice creates a whole 'nuther universe. Usually, we think of this in terms of choices _people_ make, but what about choices _cats_ make? Like … there's this box, sitting behind a supermarket. Which the me in this universe picks up, empty, and takes home to his apartment. Only, in another universe, there's this same empty box, into which this orange and white cat jumps. And is brought home to my apartment, only (and here I'm sorta quoting Martha, who was quoting some guy from Caltech she'd read about) since at the smallest scale of universe, the quantum physics level, the box and the cat (both of which are composed of electrons which don't always follow a specific path from here to there) are working in such a way that the cat could simultaneously be both there and not there at once. (Martha used a full/empty wine bottle in _her_ analogy, but you get the picture). Martha said that what we see around us isn't as predictable as it seems to be—there's a whole sub-atomic level of life we can't see, let alone predict or fully understand.

Which seems to be the case with Boots. So … he's here, and he's not here, and the box seems to be what's simultaneously devoid of cat/filled with cat.

Only … for some reason Boots and I aren't existing in the same plane of reality at the same time. Like he's yin and I'm yang, or he's in while I'm not (Martha did say that the only thing which can't be is him being negatively charged while I'm positively charged—sort of the old impossible scenario of someone meeting with their anti-matter double on the street—if your double is antimatter, he couldn't walk on a matter street in the first place).

But in all ten e-mails, that box is the constant. Said box which I haven't moved since I brought the thing into the apartment. Everyone sees him in it, or next to it, or jumping back into it.

Which brings up what I suppose is my next move (or my last move): To move the box, or not to move the box?

I don't think Shakespeare ever confronted a question like this one!

· · · · · 

From: 8-07-01 2:01:35.90
Subj: I'd say I told you so if it didn't sound so smug.


Talk about a lady-or-the-tiger conundrum! It took me awhile to digest all your co-worker Martha's physics, but I think I do get the gist of what she was saying. The cat is real, but is somehow moving between at least two universes. And the nexus has to be the box. Which is in a fixed location. Move the box while the cat isn't there, and he stays wherever it is he "lives" when not in your apartment. (And wherever that place is, he must be eating, and presumably eliminating, since he seems to be well nourished!) To me, the "answer" would be to somehow monitor your own website from somewhere else, watch him for yourself, and figure out a way for him to move the box into another spot (one which would not form a pathway "back" to where ever it is he goes) before he can go "back" … which brings up a whole 'nuther problem: Suppose the other universe has another "you" who _is_ in contact with the cat? Wouldn't "he" miss Boots once the cat never came back? Now I think there would be ways to rig the box so that it would move once he was in it, but think … _should_ you do it?

I don't know where you work, but I assume you don't have access to a monitor there, since you haven't tried to do the obvious (watch Boots yourself) … but if you could swing it, would you consider just watching him, seeing how healthy/happy he seems to be, before you make your decision about whether or not to trap him in "our" universe? Remember on that show Sliders, how some people have "doubles" and others didn't on the various worlds? Maybe Boots has a double, one who is still hanging around that alley where you found the box. He might need a home—or he could be at a shelter, etc. Worth a thought, no?

· · · · · 

From: 8-09-01 7:22:30.97
Subj: If you haven't already, check your monitor.

Boots is Gone, Boots has come Home.

I repositioned my camera to show where _my_ Boots has his new, improved box (complete with folded towels on the bottom), so anytime you log on to my site, he should be there. Poor boy's had it rough—he was living in that same alley, and the pickings from Dumpster diving were slim after the homeless folks took what they needed.

As you will see (if you haven't already), he's the same Boots, even as he's a different Boots. Looks the same, but his coat still needs some work (I'm going to try a luster-bath next time; the first one was strictly flea-tick killer!), and of course, he's not as fat as the other Boots, but we're working on that problem. But he's just as playful, despite living in that alley all these weeks. He purrs, so he must've been dumped—he's no feral!

Good thing I remembered where that box used to be—he was sitting in the same spot, as if he were waiting for me. Or maybe he wondered where the box had gone! And landlord be damned, I scooped him up and shoved him into my jacket (he tried to climb into the one sleeve, but that's for another e-mail!), and literally ran him home in the early morning fog. And, when I entered my apartment, the first thing I did was kick the box by the bookcase out of the way, so it skidded along the floor … but I swear that just before I actually kicked it, the box was just a bit heavier-than-empty. When I picked it up later, though, it weighed less. So I hope the other Boots jumped out on his end. But cats startle easily, so I'm sure he did stay wherever it is he _is _ now. Another funny thing … once I took a good look in the empty box, I did find some loose fur in the corners. Orange fur. It could be from _my_ Boots, from when he was using the box back in the alley … right? Boots (the one here, now) jumped right into the box, purring up a storm … only he left little flea droppings in the box along with the fur. And there weren't any before.

But he does need an extra box next to the original one … makes me wish he'd find another one of those mini-worm holes and use it for a litter pan! As you can guess, the landlord "nosed" him out, but it turns out (and you guessed) that he's already been surfing my site, and said that since Boots hasn't caused any damage so far, he can stay. Especially since he has so many fans on the web.

Now if I can just convince _this_ Boots to take it easy on the oak floor, like his double did …

I've already made an appointment for his neutering, but I'm not into declawing! Schrodinger, I'm not …

The End

Author's note:

This story was inspired by M. Christian's digital photo of Tatters, the original "cat in the box." Special thanks to Jayge Carr, whose explanation of quantum physics/the Schrödinger's cat experiment was paraphrased here. The remaining physics material (including the empty/full wine bottle analogy) is based on the work of Hideo Mabuchi, Assistant Professor of Physics at Caltech.

In memory of B. Kliban, qat-lover, and artist.


© 2001 by A.R. Morlan and SCIFI.COM.