Regret in the Machine

Regret had been spending more and more time in his box, and at some point I became concerned, for a number of reasons. One was that he persisted in smoking, so there was the ever present risk of fire. The other, and I’m a little ashamed to admit it, is that I was afraid he might be using it as an alternate litter box. Ashamed because as much of a pain in my ass as that cat might be, he’s my friend. And friends shouldn’t assume that just because a friend is a cat he’s going to indiscriminately shit anywhere that looks vaguely like a litter box.

Which he actually doesn’t use anyway, unless the weather is really awful. He’s been depositing his spoor across the neighborhood, specifically on the back patios of my neighbors. He’s like a poop ninja. The neighborhood block has organized several roving watches over the years in an attempt to nail the perpetrator. There’s even been talking of trying to get DNA from the poop and having all the pets in a ten block radius tested. But as no one has been willing to pick up the bill for all that testing, Regret is safe for now.

So one night when he was out confounding the neighbors, I took a look into his box. I may have had a drink or two before doing so. Maybe it was three. In any case, I wasn’t particularly steady on my feet, and I tried to steady myself as I knelt down by reaching a hand out to the bottom of the box.

That didn’t work out well.

My hand kept going, and I found myself falling into the box, falling and falling for what felt like a very long time, then coming to on a cardboard floor in what seemed to be a vast cavern, though it was shrouded mostly in darkness. I stood up uncertainly, the cardboard beneath my feet seemed to sag slightly, and looked around as best I could.

The first thing I really saw was a strange, furry lump on the floor. It was Regret, face down and dead. His body was cold and his fur charged with a tinge of static as I picked him up.

I have to be honest, I have very mixed feelings about that cat. But I guess I must have felt something for him too, because I’ll be damned if I didn’t tear up a bit holding him.

Finally, still carrying him, I tried to explore further into the cavern, and came upon another furry lump on the floor. To my surprise, this was also the lifeless body of Regret. I put the other down and picked the new one up. It was just as cold and also zapped me a bit as I stroked the fur.

As I explored I found dozens of Regrets in a similar state. No walls though, the room seemed to extend for miles into the darkness.

Eventually though, after I began to think that this is where I’d spend the rest of my life, I saw a glimmer of light in the distance. I ran towards it, nearly tripping several times on lumps of Regret, until I found a wall, and a corridor extending away into increasing light. I walked down the corridor, a little cautious now that the light was better, and more uncertain about what I’d find. The mindless panic was slowly replaced by fear at what was waiting for me at the end of the light.

The corridor extended into a brightly lit, equally enormous room, this one full of life Regrets in lab coats bustling between enormous machines that glowed a sickly yellow and hummed like millions of angry bees. The air itself was charged with the same static I’d felt in the fur of the dead Regrets, alive with it, walking through it was like being submerged in a pool of unambitious electric eels.

The Regrets were busy, frantic almost, scrambling back and forth to tune the machines as their cries rose into the biting air.

When I couldn’t figure out what else to do, I waved one of them down. The Regret noticed me finally, approaching me with a kind but puzzled look.

“You can’t be down here, asshole. Don’t you know that?”

“Where is here? What’s the hell is going on?” I could feel myself slipping a bit, and noticed off in the distance, behind them, several of the Regrets were gathering around another lump on the floor, this one much too big to be a cat.

“Hold on,” Regret said, rummaging in his lab coat. “You can’t be down here. And you can’t see what’s over there. You’re… Unhinged enough, on a day to day basis.” He found what he was looking for, and pulled out a black cylinder. “Here is it.”

“What is that over there?” I asked, pushing my way past him. The Regrets were surrounding the lump, blocking it from me. The machine, temporarily free of the Regret’s tuning, rose up a cacophonous roar.

“Never mind, that, look here. This will blow your mind.”

I turned and saw that he was pointed the cylinder at me.

“Literally, assuming I’ve remembered to charge it.” He said, and there was a flash of light.

I awoke on my bed. Regret was sitting on the end, smoking and flicking the ashes onto the floor.

“Let’s never speak of this again,” he said, then leaped off and strutted out of the room.

Outside, morning light was streaming into the room. It felt like poison.