“Honey,” my wife shouts from the living room. “Call the mechanic. Professor Bigglesworth messed the carpet.”
After taking a few moments to process what she has said, I enter the living room and find Professor Bigglesworth frozen to her favorite spot near the hallway junction, walleyed, head tilted inorganically, paw before mouth, sandpaper tongue mid-lick. Near her on the otherwise pristine carpet is a bizarre, moist glob.
“Wh-what is that?” I ask.
My wife, reclining onto the settee by the garden window and placing cucumbers over her eyes, says, “How should I know, dear? Just call a mechanic and have them handle it.”
“Maybe I’ll check the manual. This sort of thing might be in the troubleshooting section.”
“Don’t meddle, dear,” she sighs, decidedly adjusting her neck into a less stressful position. “Let a professional handle it.”
I make the call and am told thirty minutes to an hour. Afterwards, I pace the living room, keeping a safe distance from our cat and the foreign mass. In good time the bell rings, and I go to let the mechanic from Perfect Pet Co. in: a stocky, smooth-headed fellow wearing a white jumpsuit just like in the commercials, and a nametag that reads “Hopkins”. I shake his hand vigorously with both of mine, directing him towards the problem.
“Well, who do we have here?” he says, kneeling down and stroking her rigid back. “Cute little kitty. Looks like there’s a problem with her anterior expulsion portal. Luckily, the posterior one is still calibrated correctly.”
“And that?” I ask, pointing towards the gray pile.
“That, sir, is what we in the business call a hairball.”
“You hear that, honey? It’s called — ”
“I’m right here, dear. No need to shout.”
“So you mean that’s made of Professor Bigglesworth’s hair?”
“Don’t really know. Could be hers, could be Another Professor Bigglesworth.”
“I see… We’re not going to have to move, are we?”
“Nah. Just send it out your trash portal and let some Other You deal with it. Anyway, the real problem isn’t the mess. It’s little Professor Bigglesworth here,” he says scratching behind her ear. She twitches slightly.
Hopkins turns to his toolbox and rummages through. The box stretches into another dimension full of an infinite variety of tools.
“I suspect the portal wires have grown into her neural network, which means your cat here, whether she’s aware of it or not, is sending instructions to open, close, or reverse the portal flow.” He chuckles a bit, his voice echoing in the toolbox. “Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but we have discovered that by some freak chance gag reflexes in binary language are identical to the override signal of the latest portal model, so you do tend to see this kind of thing with kittens — Ah! Here we are!”
Hopkins pulls a large gauge out of his toolbox, with a slender, flexible spidery probe at one end and a complex series of knobs and dials at his end. Once activated, the device begins to emit a periodic Geiger-counter-like clicking and flexes its long appendages, as if awakening from a long slumber. He forces the tube down Professor Bigglesworth’s throat and checks the measurements.
“Um, what’s that exactly?”
“Dear, let the man work in peace,” my wife objects.
“Oh, he’s not a bother, ma’am.” Then to me: “This here’s a portal calibrator. If I can change the override code, she won’t recalibrate every time she gets something caught in her throat.”
The cat shows no sign of being ruffled, her voice box and consciousness having been desynchronized with today, neurons signaling cross-dimensionally to other unsuspecting Professor Bigglesworths. Other sounds pop into the room or phase in and out: the Doppler-shifting hisses and mews of cats, bursts of conversation and television ads erupting out of pockets of disconnected space.
“Now comes the tricky part,” Hopkins shouts, his voice coming into focus over the confusing soundscape.
Then she begins to change, first blurring out of focus, then cloning in twos and threes, multiple, superimposing replications of Professor Bigglesworth, all walleyed, paws up to mouth. With the turn of one dial, infinite Professor Bigglesworths blossom out horizontally, growing more and more transparent as they split apart. A reverberating cacophony of distressed meowing burbles out of the calibrator.
“Hold on there, kitty,” Hopkins reassures her with a pat.
Her mouth stretches impossibly wide, wide enough to welcome in the portal calibrator and Hopkins’s beefy arm, inside an unfathomable cavern of gaping Professor Bigglesworth jaws and an endless spinning vortex of feline throats.
Hopkins shouts something to me, but his voice is sucked down the widening throat of the cat, like light crossing an event horizon.
He hones the dials, the clicking of the calibrator beginning to quicken its pace. The house starts to shake as the many Professor Bigglesworths expand and contract tenuously. Hopkins twists the dials to their extreme, the clicking intensifying. The cats grow more substantial, materializing out of various odds and ends — heads tilting out of walls, tails rearing out of the floor, paws drooping from the ceiling. The clicking blurs beyond a gallop, spiraling down an aural suction.
Professor Bigglesworths pop up everywhere, crowding the living room, one on top of the other, walleyed heads mushrooming out of backs, tails raying out of heads, legs porcupining out of bodies and into other ones, forming lipid-chain-like cat molecules, surging so quickly across the room, I am nearly pummeled out of the window by a flurry of kitty paws —
— when suddenly all is still, only one Professor Bigglesworth remaining.
“That should do it,” Hopkins says, removing the device and packing up his things. “Her hairballs are someone else’s problem now.”
He strokes her head, and she purrs contentedly, rubbing against his leg, as food eaten by Another Professor Bigglesworth bought by Another Me in Another Today fills her belly.
On his way out I tip Hopkins handsomely.
Tim W. Boiteau is a psychology research assistant at University of South Carolina. Other works of Tim’s have appeared in Write Room, Work, Farther Stars Than These, and eFiction Horror.