Martin Banks and his wife Melinda finally decided to buy a cat. They had waffled back and forth on the issue for a while as neither had ever owned a cat before, but after being married for two years it seemed appropriate that they acquire some kind of pet. They read guidebooks, browsed Wikipedia, and asked questions about litter boxes, scratching posts, and catnip to all their friends. When they felt prepared enough they drove to the pound with the intention of taking home a tabby.
The volunteer at the pound wore a black shirt covered with cat hair. “This one,” she said, “just came in last week. He’s a real cutie.”
Melinda looked at the orange ball of fuzz in the back corner of the cage. It was a median sort of cat, she thought, of average size and fluffiness. She took it out and played with it.
Martin picked it up and the cat started to purr.
“We’ll take it,” they said.
Martin and Melinda stopped by the pet store on the way home and bought a litter box, cat food, a water bowl, and five different kinds of stuffed toys. They fed the tabby and watered it. They gave it yarn. They took videos of it and uploaded them to YouTube. Weeks passed. The cat slept most of the time.
Melinda was refilling the water dish when she realized that their cat had begun to shrink. It was small enough to hold in the palm of her hand.
“This can’t be more normal,” she said to Martin.
They called the veterinarian and consulted various blogs but even so the cat was soon small enough to swim in its water bowl. They cut its food into smaller pieces and bought a smaller dish.
After the incident with the spider they kept the cat in a terrarium. They rigged the container with a microphone and amplifiers so they could still hear it meow.
Soon it had shrunk to the size of an ant. Martin fed it with tweezers.
Melinda ordered a microscope. They carefully transferred the cat out of the terrarium and onto a slide. The magnify settings of the device increased as the months passed. September: 5x, October: 10x, November: 100x.
Two weeks before Christmas Martin searched the microscope slide for a speckle of orange but found nothing.
A scanning electron microscope was too expensive, they realized. Martin took the slide that (probably) still contained the tabby and put it on the mantle next to the framed photos of their wedding.
“Should we buy another one?” Martin asked. “Maybe it will be different this time.”
“I think it’s still there,” Melinda said. “Just very small. Small enough to be an atom or an electron.”
She started to cry as Martin threw away the water dish, the terrarium, and the microscope. She imagined the tabby playing amongst molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. She imagined the tabby as a negative charge eternally spinning. She imagined it being energy, not really matter anymore, and zipping around at the speed of light. She imagined it being even smaller, somehow, and maybe being so small that it might be everywhere at once.
James Reinebold is a video game developer who lives near San Diego.