No kitty litter, no neutering or spaying, no ear mites—where’s the fun in that?
Fitz the Cat
by Russell H. Krauss ©2008
"She acts like a real cat," Chester Mulligan told Steve, the service tech at Dale's Robotics Boutique, as he stroked the cat and listened to its purr. "And the fur. Is it genuine?"
"Latest synthetic. Virtually indistinguishable from actual cat's fur. Hardly sheds, either."
Chester still wasn't sure. "I've always wanted a cat, but, you know, the litter box, the scratching of the carpets and furniture, finicky appetites, having to spay them and all that. That's why I thought of an artificial cat. But, well, . . . "
"I know exactly what you mean. But she's just like a real cat without those drawbacks. Even better in some respects. She'll obey commands. Whoever heard of a cat doing that? They're so cattrary." He chuckled at his little joke.
"What's her name?"
"Fitz. She'll answer to Fitzie, too. Watch this." Steve planted himself a few feet away from the cat. Then he said, "Fitz. Come her Fitz. Come to Steve."
The cat flicked her ears, then stood up. She nuzzled Chester's hand as he stroked her, then padded gently toward Steve. "Good girl. That's a good girl. Now lie down and go to sleep."
Fitz lay down, curled into ball and closed her eyes. "They're programed to sleep about two-thirds of the time, like real cats, or on command, if you like."
"Wow," Chester said. "I had no idea they were so advanced."
"It's all in the manual. They learn quickly, too. In no time she'll get used to your place. All the commands are listed there."
"Gee, I'd really like to, but . . . "
"The cost. I know. Take her for a free trial over the weekend. Bring her in Monday morning if you don't want to keep her, or if you want her outfitted with a muffler."
"They emit certain high frequency audio signals, as well as some other gobbledygook rays which I don't really understand. A muffler suppresses those emissions, but it's quite an expensive extra."
"So why would I want one?"
"Without one, the articats can attract critters, varmints you might not want around. A mouse, perhaps, a dog. Even people, especially little old ladies. Depends on your environment. Probably won't need one. "But if you do . . ," Steve shrugged.
Chester considered his options. What did he have to lose? He could afford it. And in the long run it would be cheaper. No food, litter, and less wear and tear on the carpet and furnishings.
"How long do they live? Er, last?"
"Indefinitely. You never have to go through the grief of losing a favorite pet. Unless, of course, you just want to trade her in for another model. A tuneup once a year is all. Think of it like your annual trip to the vet."
"How much is the muffler?"
"About the same as the cat itself."
Chester gulped. That would be a strain. Still. "Okay. I'll take her for a weekend trial."
"There'll be a deposit. Refundable, of course, if you don't keep her. If you do, we have an installment plan option."
"Okay," Chester said, smiling now. "I'm sold."
Steve leaned down under the counter and pulled a carrier out. "We recommend this when transporting your cat in a motor vehicle. They won't scream and yowl, but they are curious, and you don't want her jumping on your shoulders when you're driving."
My God, Chester thought. Just like a real cat. Fitz woke up and sat on her haunches and licked her fur. Just like a real cat. Amazing. "Oh. One last thing. Can she go outdoors? What about dogs?"
"Certainly she can go outdoors. She can be taught to stay in your yard, too. And she has claws, so she can climb a tree if she has to. But she won't use them in any destructive way. She'll never bite or scratch you. And she won't claw the carpet or upholstery."
"Here we are, Fitz," Chester said, as he pulled his car over to the curb in front of his garden apartment. The carrier sat on the passenger seat.
"Meow," Fitz said.
Chester took the carrier into his apartment and set it down on the living room floor. He opened the little door and waited. Fitz meowed again, then cautiously crept out of the cage. She looked around, then up at Chester, who nodded in encouragement, then began to explore the living room, walking this way and that, sniffing at the furniture and curtains, pausing here and there to lick her fur a bit.
"My God," Chester said aloud, astonished. "You're every bit like a real cat." Fitz negotiated the corners smoothly and didn't get stuck the way his robo-vacuum did, which he had to kick to get going again. Fitz completed her living room inspection and paused at the kitchen door. "It's all right Fitz. You can go in there."
And she did. Chester followed her as she jumped up on the kitchen table and sniffed at the breakfast dishes that he'd left there that morning. Then she jumped back down onto the floor, rubbed against his legs and began to purr. He reached down and stroked her fur.
"Good girl, Fitz. Good girl." he said.
Then she left the kitchen and wandered down the hallway that led to the two bedrooms and bathroom. Chester followed her throughout her exploration, until she finally returned to the living room, jumped up on one end of the couch, curled into a ball and went to sleep. Chester smiled. This was really going to work out. It wasn't going to be like it was in horror stories where cats were always sinister and did evil things.
At just after midnight Chester woke from a disturbing dream. He felt around on the bed for Fitz, but she wasn't there. He felt a chill run up his spine, and his heart started pounding. He flicked on the light. "Fitz?" he called out. He peered over the side of the bed and bounced upright in surprise. Fitz sat on the carpet, staring right at him, a curious look on her face that momentarily gave him the willies, and his stomach knotted with fear.
"Meow," Fitz said, and jumped up on the bed beside him. She started kneading the blanket, purring, and pushed her face against Chester's hand, inviting him to stroke her. He did, and within a minute or two she went to sleep down at the foot of the bed. Just like a real cat. Nothing spooky at all. Just a bad dream. But why had she wandered off, after they'd gone to bed?
"Well, cats are nocturnal," he mumbled, as he turned the light off and went back to sleep.
Chester lumbered into his kitchen laden with grocery bags at noon on Saturday the next day. He set them on the counter. "Fitz?" he called. "I'm home. Where are you?" She had been sleeping on the sofa when he left, but she wasn't there now. "Fitz?" he said again. Where could she be? Oh well. He started unloading the groceries and putting them away, when Fitz finally appeared. "Oh there you are," Chester said. But she didn't meow back.
No, she had something in her mouth. What was it? He hadn't any toys around, and he'd just procured some from the pet aisle in the store. "Fitz. What have you got?" It seemed to wriggle as it dangled from her mouth. Oh God, Chester thought. The cat advanced toward him and dropped the article about his foot. "Oh God," Chester said. "A mouse! Where in the dickens did you find that?"
Fitz sat on her haunches and looked up at Chester. "Oh my," he said. Steve hadn't told him she was a hunter. He stooped down and picked the mouse up. Momentarily stunned, it recovered and crawled about his cupped hands. "Poor little feller. But you didn't hurt him, did you, Fitz?"
"Meow," said Fitz.
"Let's see how you do, before I put you outdoors, little guy," Chester said, walking over to the front door and setting the mouse down. It twirled around a couple of times, and then, astonishingly, it scurried back to Fitz the cat, who looked down at it and poked it gently with her paw.
"Whoa!" said Chester, racing back into the kitchen and grabbing the poor confused mouse. "What's this suicide complex you have?" He took the mouse outside and placed it safely among the foundation plantings.
What other surprises lurked in the robotic mind of his pet? He shuddered as he pictured a headless rat lying in the bathtub, or a snake slithering beneath his pillow. Steve had warned him about something, but he couldn't remember what.
Chester woke up early Sunday morning and glanced at Fitz as she slept peacefully. There hadn't been any further incidents, but he still felt apprehensive, not fully trusting his new companion. "Ready to go outdoors, Fitz?" he asked.
The cat opened her eyes and yawned lazily. She got to her feet, then sat back on her haunches and started to lick herself clean. She doesn't even shed, Chester thought.
"How about it? A little romp in the back yard?"
"Meow," said Fitz.
After a light breakfast of toast and coffee, Chester led his cat out to the tiny communal back yard that served the apartments in his cluster. Fitz acted very cautiously at first, taking tentative, mincing steps onto the lawn, while frequently looking back at Chester for reassurance. "It's okay, kitty," Chester said. He led Fitz slowly around the perimeter of the yard, and she soon got into the swing of things, sniffing and pawing at interesting objects, and darting here and there when insects flitted among the blades of grass. She pounced at the leaves stirred by light breezes, and Chester laughed delightedly.
He led her toward the lone tree that stood in the middle of the yard when suddenly a golden retriever rushed toward them, barking furiously. Fitz screeched in terror, and leapt right up onto Chester's chest, grasping his shirt with her claws as the dog barreled toward them. Chester hoisted her to his shoulder, just as the dog flew up off its feet and grabbed his arm in its mouth. "Yeow!" he howled, as the dog's teeth held like a vice, and the animal hung suspended from his arm. Meanwhile, Fitz jumped from Chester's shoulder onto a branch of the tree, putting herself out of reach of the swinging, growling canine.
"Jesus Christ, let go!" Chester bellowed. His arm hurt like hell as the dog dangled and growled through its clenched teeth.
"Rover!" a man hollered. "Down Rover. Enough. Down boy," the man commanded as he burst from the apartment across the yard. The dog released its grip from Chester and dropped down onto the grass. It slunk over to the man, tail between its legs and mewled.
"Oh my God, your cat attacked my dog," accused the man. "Rover's frightened to death. You keep your cat penned up inside or I'll call the animal warden. Hey, what happened to your arm? Did your cat do that?"
Chester rolled up his sleeve. It really hurt, and his forearm was laced with deep, angry red welts where Rover's teeth had lodged. He groaned with pain as a woman came out of the apartment and took Rover by the collar and led him away.
"Your cat," she spat back behind her. "I saw what it did. Sorry about your arm, but your cat is a menace."
"That's, that's not what happened," Chester protested, wincing with pain. "He started it." But had he really? It happened so quickly, could he have got it wrong? "She got scared," he added.
"Meow," Fitz said.
"Bullshit, mister. Rover is a gentle dog. He's never hurt anyone, and doesn't chase cats. Sorry about that arm, but Rover was terrified."
"Well, I agree he didn't mean to hurt me. Just excited, I guess," Chester conceded. "And I'm sure my arm will be fine." What was it that Steve had said again?
But it wasn't all right. By mid-afternoon his arm began to throb with pain, and his fingers were numb and acted unruly when he tried to move them. He had fashioned a makeshift sling from an old t-shirt and it seemed to help a bit. He sat in his living room, watching a boring baseball game to take his mind off the incident.
But he couldn't. He couldn't get it out of his head. Fitz had attacked that poor, defenseless mouse, and now his neighbors claimed she had scared the bejesus out of their dog, and try as he did, he couldn't quite remember how that altercation had been triggered. He didn't think that Fitz was the aggressor, but maybe she had this cunning way about her that diverted his attention. Could this cute, fuzzy ball of fur have a malevolent streak?
He thought about the warnings and cautions in the operating manual, but there was nothing to suggest behavioral problems like these. Then he thought back to what Steve had said. What was it? Damn, he just couldn't remember.
He jumped when the doorbell rang. Who could that be? He wasn't expecting anyone. He got up from the couch and walked to the front door. The bell rang a second time. He slid the dead bolt across and opened the door.
An old grey haired woman, small and wiry, stood on the stoop, scowling at him. "May I come in," she demanded querulously. "It's quite a serious matter, I assure you." She tapped her foot impatiently. She wore those clunky old lady shoes that Chester thought had gone out of style decades ago.
"Come in," he said, matching the old woman's frown, wondering what she could possibly want.
"I'm Hazel," she snarled, as she squeezed through the partially open door. She strode purposefully toward an easy chair in the living room, and sat down. She sighed heavily, then said, "Turn that ghastly ball game off, young man. I need your full attention."
"Yes ma'am," Chester said. He picked the remote up from the coffee table in front of the sofa and clicked the set off. Then he sat down.
"Your cat is a menace," Hazel said, her eyes snapping with anger. "I can't think straight anymore."
"I'm sorry?" Chester said, totally bewildered. "You must be mistaken." What on earth was this about?
"You've a cat. I know it. Don't tell me you don't, because you'd be lying. I sense it."
"Yes, I do, but what's that got to do with--"
She cut him off sharply. "Let me see your cat."
"Um, she suffered a bad scare this morning, and she's sleeping in the bedroom. I don't want to disturb her. How can you say she's a menace?" But a thought stabbed him like an ice pick. The bedroom window was open, and the super hadn't replaced the torn screen yet. Could she have gotten out?
"She's a tortoise shell," Hazel said. "Right? I want to see her. I'll tell you if she's the one."
Chester's heart began to pound furiously. Oh no, he thought. It couldn't be. Not just when he'd made up his mind that Fitz was a definite keeper. "All right, I guess." He was wimping out, but what else could he do?
He rose from the couch. "If you'll come this way," he said, beckoning Hazel. He proceeded dispiritedly down the hall that led to the bedrooms and bath. "In here," he whispered, pointing at Fitz. Damn that open window.
Hazel brushed past him into the bedroom. Chester thought his heart would explode right in his chest, as he watched the woman from behind. His knees wobbled and his good hand trembled as he waited for the verdict. Then, ever so slowly, she nodded her head. "That's her," she said sternly. "Don't you feel the vibrations from that evil little devil of yours?"
This couldn't be happening. He felt dizzy, and for a moment he thought he might pass out. Fitz must have gotten out, then snuck back in. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll be more careful in the future." As if to prove his point, he strode over to the window, closed it, then led the old lady out of the bedroom. She continued to complain.
"What's wrong with your arm?" She asked suddenly, in a nasty insinuating tone of voice. "Cat get you?"
"Ah, no," Chester said, feeling helpless now, caught in a web of complications. "See, this dog across the way--"
"I thought so," the old woman interrupted. "Your cat attacked the dog, and it tried to defend itself, and you got in the way. I have half a mind to call the animal people about that awful creature."
"No, that isn't . . ," but Chester didn't finish. He remembered the unpleasant confrontation with his accusatory neighbors. They would simply confirm this woman's worst suspicions. He felt dizzy again. The circumstantial evidence seemed overwhelming now. Something must be wrong with Fitz.
"You'll be hearing from the animal department," the woman said, at the door. "Good day sir." She stomped out of the apartment.
Chester leaned against the door, not knowing what to do, when he saw Fitz, sitting before him across the living room. She licked her fur, then glanced at him. "Meow," she said.
She looked so innocent, so harmless. How could she be a danger to so many? What was he to do? He'd have to take her back tomorrow, tell Steve that she had aggressive circuitry disorder or something. Damn. What was it Steve had warned him about? He couldn't remember.
Chester slept restlessly throughout the wee hours. Nightmares about cats haunted him, black cats and cats with evil eyes and cats that attacked and cats that cast spells, and he woke up once toward dawn, with that certain knowledge that Fitz was staring down at him, glaring at his unprotected throat, teeth bared, and it was all he could do to repress a terrified scream. With shaking hands, he turned on the light. But Fitz wasn't staring down at him. She was sleeping peacefully on the other side of the bed. He reached out to caress her, felt the vibrations of her purr, when suddenly it struck him, like an epiphany. He remembered with clarity now what Steve had told him, about the gamma rays or whatever they were, and that Fitz might need a muffler, that she might attract the very kinds of creatures that had paraded through his life the last forty-eight hours. "Of course," he said aloud. "You need a muffler, Fitz. That is all it was, all along."
Fitz lifted her head up in response. "Meow," she said, and then she went back to sleep.
Chester set the carrier down on the sidewalk outside Dale's Robotics Boutique, then opened the door with his good hand, his other arm still in a sling. The pain had not gotten any better. He picked the carrier back up and began edging his way through the doorway when Steve rushed around the counter to help.
"Here, here, let me," Steve said, and he grasped the carrier and placed it on the counter. "What happened to you?" he asked.
"Dog bite," Chester said. "Hurts like the dickens."
Steve shook his head in sympathy. "I think I can guess what happened," he said. "So what's the verdict? Is she a keeper?"
"You bet," Chester said, smiling. "It took me until five o'clock this morning to figure out what was wrong, all the crazy things happening over the weekend. I just couldn't remember what you had told me, put it together. It's that damn subliminal radiation or whatever. She's attracting all kinds of critters, including nasty little old ladies. I need that muffler."
Steve laughed, then stopped abruptly. "Sorry, I know that arm hurts, and I'm a little concerned about your memory problem, too. Just leave her here. You can pick her up after work."
"Fine. I'll want to pay for it on the installment plan, though."
"Oh, and one other thing." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
"Sure," Steve said, nodding, glancing at Chester's arm in the sling, apparently anticipating what was coming.
"I'll need a new arm," Chester said. "Just the forearm will do. I brought the specifications with me." He handed the sheet to Steve.
Steve unfolded the paper and examined it. He grinned. "This is easy, plenty of them at our supply store. I use this brand for replacement parts myself. I'll have it here when you come back later."
"Great," Chester said. "See you later, then."
"Right," Steve said. "And I'll throw a free memory scan in on the deal. Looks like you might need a tuneup."
x x x
I’ve got four—count ‘em, four—cats as this goes to press. None like the one in this story, though. Ketzie, the Big Guy, Nessa, and Cee Cee—flawed as they may be—are more fun than the mechanical mouser in this tail—er . . . tale. The story’s a keeper, though, as is the author. You’ll see what I mean later this year if all goes well. -GMT