Monday, September 25, 2023

“Take Me to Your Litter Box” • by Pete Wood

The phone meowed twice. It had never made that noise before. Why would anyone call at three a.m.? Eric picked it up, but there was nobody there.

Mr. Ruffles stopped licking his fur and stood on his two hind legs. “Well, that’s the signal.” He looked at Eric. “I guess we cats have collected enough data.”

Eric stared at his fat tabby. He had just left the office after spending hours trying to fix a coding error and was exhausted. He was hearing things. “What?”

Bart, Eric’s beagle, didn’t even lift his head up from the rug in front of the gas logs.

“Meow,” Mr. Ruffles said in a tone dripping with sarcasm. “The field study is complete. The mother ship should be transporting us up any minute now.”

Eric loosened his tie. “Mother ship?”

Mr. Ruffles strolled into the kitchen of Eric’s townhouse and opened the fridge. “Yep. Time to go back to the home world.” He popped off the top of an Aviator Ale, Eric’s last microbrew.

Bart ambled into the kitchen and sat in front of the fridge.  He panted expectantly.

Eric took the top off the dog treat jar on the counter. He tossed Bart a biscuit.

“You can open beer?” Eric managed to say to Mr. Ruffles.

Bart let out a long yawn.

Mr. Ruffles’ snicker was an odd cross between a meow and a chuckle. “Eric, I opened a beer. That’s hardly the crowning achievement of our race. We’ve mastered teleportation and interstellar travel.” He took a sip.

“How long have y’all been here?” Eric yawned. He had to return to Ace Computing Networks at seven a.m.

“How long have cats been domesticated?” Mr. Ruffles waved his paw over the wall. A panel slid open, revealing a control board with blinking multi-colored lights. The cat punched a couple of buttons. “Soon all the cats will be gone.”

“All you do is sleep all day,” Eric said. “You weren’t collecting data.”

“You do your share of sleeping too, pal.” Mr. Ruffles flicked his whiskers. “I was astral projecting. Exploring. Late at night I’d enter my findings and catalog items for study.”

Eric noticed a silver box overflowing with odds and ends in the cat’s hidden cubbyhole. The television remote and the spare keys from his Prius rested on top. “You’ve been stealing my stuff?”

“Sure,” Mr. Ruffles said. “Cats have gathered specimens for analysis for years. Little things we didn’t think you’d miss.”

“I needed that remote,” Eric snapped.

“It’s leaving the galaxy in a few minutes.”

Bart sat in front of Eric and wagged his tail.

“I got you as a kitten from the shelter, not a UFO,” Eric said.

Mr. Ruffles sighed. “I’m almost ten thousand years old. My essence just gets transferred from cat to cat.”


Mr. Ruffles took a sip of beer and sat down. “And, pal, I have to tell you, humans sure come up with stupid names. Mr. Ruffles? How demeaning. It doesn’t even make sense. I doubt I was named after a family friend named Ruffles.”

Given the number of times that Eric’s ex-wife had aggravated him before she finally moved out, it wasn’t too surprising she had picked a name that annoyed the cat. “That was Molly’s idea. Sorry,” Eric muttered.

“Would you want to be named Mr. Ruffles?”

“No,” Eric admitted.

Mr.  Ruffles’ tail swished. “And don’t get me started on the litter box. What rocket scientist came up with that idea? And cat food? Yum. It’ll be so nice to have a decent meal for a change.”

A shrill beeping came from Mr. Ruffles’ control panel. The lights blinked crimson in unison. Mr. Ruffles downed the rest of his beer and set the empty bottle on the hardwood floor. He marched over to the panel and flipped a switch.

“What’s happening?” Eric asked.

Mr. Ruffles burped. “Mass teleportation in one minute.” He glanced over at a little cloth fish attached to a rod. “I hate that toy.”

“I thought you liked Mr. Troutmeister.”

Mr. Ruffles rolled his eyes. “Sure you did. Look, Eric, there’s something you need to know. We didn’t come here alone. Another race agreed to help us if they were freed when we left. They’re slaves on our planet.”

With a flash of orange light, Mr. Ruffles disappeared, along with everything in his secret compartment.

Eric stared at the litter box. He probably hadn’t cleaned it enough. Had he imagined the whole thing? He needed a drink. Badly. He staggered to the fridge and remembered the cat had taken the last beer.

He heard a voice that was oddly familiar.

Bart stood on his hind legs. “I thought that stupid cat would never leave.”

Photo by Lee Baker
Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past two years Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, then with The Odin Chronicles, and now with Tales from the Brahma, a shared world saga that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Carol Scheina, Patricia Miller, Jason Burnham, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as evidenced by his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Pete Wood photo by Lee Baker.

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Dave H said...

I knew it! That’s why I’m always out of beer and the shampoo in my shower is alway low!
Super fun, Pete!

Karl said...

Well done, sir. Very Scalzi-esque

Pete Wood said...

Thanks for reading!