by DAVID CLARKSON
Cat #361 by K-nekoTR| Flickr
Where to begin? Openings are never easy; whether it is opening a story or opening a box. More so when opening a story about opening a box. Sometimes it’s best to go right ahead and do it.
So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll open the box as we open the story. Then all that is left to do is take a look inside.
“Well?” asked the owner. “What do you see?”
The vet stared into the box. There was no need to check for a pulse. They had enough experience of death to be able to spot it anywhere.
“Your cat is dead,” they told the owner.
“Are you sure?”
The vet looked again. The prognosis was beyond doubt. A taxidermist could not have fixed the animal’s expression more solidly. Although they probably would have tidied up its expression a bit. The tongue protruding from the side of the deceased’s mouth was most distasteful.
“Definitely dead,” the vet confirmed. “For quite some time by the look of it.”
“Oh.” The owner appeared surprised.
They closed the lid, silently counted to ten and then reopened it.
“How about now?” they asked.
The vet did not need to look, but made a show of doing so anyway.
“Still dead,” they confirmed.
“Bummer,” said the owner. “I really thought it would be different this time. Maybe if we try again.”
They closed and reopened the lid.
“Still dead,” said the vet.
The process was repeated.
“Just as dead as before.”
Then repeated once more.
The owner’s eyes widened with a mixture of hope and surprise. “Really?”
“No, it’s still dead,” said the vet. “And speaking from professional experience, I don’t think that’s likely to change no matter how many times we open and close the box.”
“Surely not every time,” said the owner.
“Every time,” said the vet.
The owner closed the lid and this time, they left it that way.
“This is rather unfortunate,” they said. “I was hoping that if we kept trying, eventually Milton would pull through.”
“Pull through?” The vet was incredulous. “Your cat is dead.”
“Well, we don’t know that unless we look in the box.”
“We looked. Trust me; it’s dead.”
The owner ran their fingers across the lid.
“Don’t worry, buddy, we’ll get you out of there alive. No matter how long it takes.”
“I’m sorry,” said the vet, “what exactly are you hoping to achieve here?”
“I’m hoping to get my cat out of the box alive,” replied the owner.
“But he’s dead.”
“We don’t know that. Not unless we look in the box.”
The vet did just that.
“What are the odds?” asked the owner, throwing their hands in the air.
“I’d say the odds are pretty much certain,” said the vet. “A dead cat is not going to miraculously come back to life.”
“What if it wasn’t dead?” asked the owner.
“This one is,” said the vet.
“We don’t know that. Not until we look in the box. As long as the lid remains shut, there’s just as much chance Milton is alive.”
“Wait a minute,” said the vet. “Are you referring to Schrodinger’s Cat, because this is not how that works?”
“I think it is,” replied the owner. “A cat in a box is neither dead nor alive until one opens the box to take a look. In fact, I think it is both dead and alive. Like Milton is now.”
They tapped on the side of the box as if expecting a response. None was received.
“That’s not how the experiment works,” insisted the vet. “And besides, it’s a thought experiment – purely hypothetical. Nobody can actually carry it out.”
“Hypothetical. The answer is philosophical rather than scientific. Like when a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around. It is impossible to know if it makes a sound.”
“Surely it depends on what it lands on. If there’s water, it’ll make a splash. If the ground is hard, there’ll be a thud. And if it hits an unfortunate squirrel, I imagine it will squeal.”
“You’re missing the point,” said the vet. “There would be nobody around to hear any of those things so they remain unverifiable.”
“The squirrel could verify it,” said the owner.
“And if there is no squirrel?”
The owner reflected for a moment.
“No. There are no animals. No foxes, no badgers, no hedgehogs – nothing! Nobody and nothing is around to hear a sound. Therefore, there is no way of knowing if a sound is even made.”
“What if somebody left a tape recorder there?”
“Trust me; they didn’t.”
“But surely there would still be a sound, it just wouldn’t be heard. The falling tree produces a sonic wave that resonates through the air, there are just no ears to receive the signal.”
“You’re still missing the point,” said the vet. “You’re not supposed to answer the question. It’s designed to highlight the fact that it is impossible to determine objective reality as our perceptions of it will always be filtered through a subjective lens.”
“What if we put the tree in a box?”
“It wouldn’t fit.”
“How about a cat in the tree?”
“Is the cat dead or alive?”
The vet had come to the end of their tether.
“Okay, I have an idea. Leave your cat in the box and put that box in a tree. Then walk away. Nature will do the rest.”
“You think that will work?”
“It will and it won’t; there’s only one way to find out.”
The owner took the vet’s advice and on their way home they stopped by the park. After making sure there were no squirrels sitting amongst the branches, no foxes hiding in burrows or hedgehogs concealed under leaves, they placed the box containing Milton high up in the tree. Later that evening, there was a storm and a tremendous gust of wind blew the tree down.
As the tree hit the ground, the box concealed among its branches became dislodged and fell open, spilling its contents. Unfortunately, whether the cat that came out of the box was dead or alive remained a mystery because there was nobody around to hear it purr.
David Clarkson is a writer of novels and short stories based in the UK. He has a BA in English Literature and has written ten novels along with numerous short stories. His novels, the Outback, Stealing Asia and the Diamond Sky trilogy are all available at Amazon, and his short story, Giant Killer Bugs! was published in issue #4 of the Woven Tale Press. When not writing, David can usually be found wandering through the woods in search of inspiration or on twitter @dclarksonwriter.