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Your Cat

Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She's the Nebula Award-nominated author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the <>Blood of Earth trilogy from Harper Voyager. Her short stories can be found in publications ranging from <>Beneath Ceaseless Skies to Uncanny Magazine. In 2019, she won the Rhysling Award for short speculative poetry.

Beth shares her household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and three feline overlords. Her website BethCato.com includes not only a vast bibliography, but a treasure trove of recipes for delectable goodies. Find her on Twitter as @BethCato.

Your past is now your future. You have traveled thirty years back in time to save your cat.
Child-you penciled this pivotal date and time in a diary decorated with unicorn stickers, and here you are. Again. You're shaky with nerves as you stare at your childhood home with sentimental eyes and a burglar's need.
You must break in.
The screen door is latched, the interior door cracked open. The screen's hook-closure lifts up with the help of a twig. The high whine of the television tells you that ten-year-old child-you is watching reruns while your mom is at work this Saturday. The house is small, a 1930s bungalow with creaky floors. You tread with care, fighting the urge to make the particular tongue-click sound that always made Malibu come running.
Malibu, your pink-nosed white and grey cat that is more of a sibling than a pet. She is your pillow every night, your quest-mate in tromps through the nearby fields and orchards, her love for you bright in her vivid green eyes.
She was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease days before. Your single mom is working two jobs to get by. Your family can't afford prescription medicine or subcutaneous water treatments.
While watching TV, child-you is determinedly dripping glue and glitter onto pinecones, certain they will sell and make enough money to help keep Malibu alive. You found freckles of that glitter in your old diary, thirty years in the future.
Today, you find Malibu in her shoebox in your bedroom.
She doesn't like strangers. She watches you with wary ears as you extend a hand for her to sniff. She investigates--then nuzzles your knuckle. She knows you. You choke back a sob.
"Hey, fuzzy-girl," you whisper. "I need you to come with me."
You scoop her against your chest. She squawks alarm. With a silent apology to child-you, you quickly exit.
Younger you will soon tear the house apart in search of Malibu, followed by sobbing circuits of the neighborhood as you call her name. You're certain she escaped when you went out for the mail. You're heart-broken with guilt, certain she will be run-over by a car.
Meanwhile, adult-you sits in the claustrophobic confines of the time machine, forcing a dropper of tuna-flavored kidney regenerative down Malibu's throat. Adult-you also cries as you stroke Malibu calm, taking in the familiar-yet-unfamiliar shape of a cat who will impossibly, healthfully live another decade, but is two decades gone. Though you know the agony of child-you now endures, you're selfishly glad Malibu needs to be monitored for an hour after her dose. You're together again.
You starved and scrimped for a year to buy this regenerative. It'll be worth it--but you're scared. You know you succeed here, but you don't know what awaits you in the distant future.
But for now, you have Malibu, and she has you.
When you were a child, you accepted Malibu's strange recovery as a miracle. That's how the veterinarian described it, repeatedly, as the years ticked by. News of the feline kidney regenerative caught your attention when you scanned headlines during your doctorate days but struck you as a passing curiosity, with Malibu gone so long by then.
As you began to work on the time machine project, though, you gave new thought to time loops and paradoxes and miracles. In some alternate universe, Malibu's prognosis must remain grim beyond this date. But you have never known that world, only the timeline that you establish here and now.
You pet her, and she purrs with a raspy rumble that is cozier than the thickest blanket on the coldest night.
The hour passes. You carry Malibu home in your arms.
Child-you and adult-you remember nothing of the savior who toted Malibu into the front yard. Your cat is your world, and she is all you see.
You stare after your child self and smile at the gunshot-clang of the door slamming shut. Malibu is safely inside again. You return to the time machine, to the future.
The lab is still dark and quiet. No one knows what you've done. Yet.
Your hands shake as you falsify logs and video. You've done everything you can think of to cover up your extraneous trip, but you don't know if it's enough. This machine is still an experiment. Every detail of its use is supposed to be chronicled. You're afraid to risk a jump to the future to see if you succeed--afraid that you'll only complicate things more.
You return to your apartment.
Your cat awaits you. Irvine, a gray tabby as stocky as a bulldog. He investigates you with audible sniffs, taking in not only the strange cat hair, but the lingering scent of the flavored regenerative.
Sobbing with relief and terror, you cradle him close. His body vibrates in a purr. You bubble out a hysterical laugh as you recognize sparkles on your hand--glitter specks, passed from the grabby hands of child-you. You wonder if some are in the time machine or lab. If your childhood craft fundraiser might doom you.
You already controlled the past as you established the time loop. You can't control the future. Right here, right now, you do the most important thing in the world that you can do.
You pet your cat.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Author Comments

This story arose from the annual Weekend Warrior contest on Codex Writers. One of the weekend challenges involved picking an inspirational title out of a batch. My title: "Your Cat Wants Your Attention." I thought of my dear cat Porom, lost to kidney disease, and about time travel, and regret, and love. "Your Cat" is the result.

- Beth Cato
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