The Problem with Thought Experiments

It was a box.

Just a box.

I suppose if you want to be precise, it was a small wooden crate.  It was sixty centimetres long by forty centimetres deep and forty centimetres high. It had a frame with planking sides, top and bottom, and cross pieces from corner to corner to reinforce the sides. There was nothing fancy about it. It was well made with nicely fitting joints, but it was unpainted and had no markings. Nothing to suggest anything unusual about it all.

Which, of course, was what was unusual.

Who goes to the bother of making a small wooden crate from planed wood with well jointed ends, no casual nailing or stapling here, without any markings? Everything is plastered with information these days. Size, weight restrictions, ‘this way up’, fragile, handle with care, ‘to be transported in accordance with…’ makers names, advertising, contact details for the sender, recipient, manufacturer, the delivery address, the intermediate handling station, temperature restrictions, hazard warnings, the contents.

Ah yes. The contents.

There was uncertainty about everything to do with it, that box, and nothing was more uncertain than its contents.

How it got there was a mystery in itself. No-one saw it delivered and it seemed self evident that it could not have simply materialised from thin air, the ether or a thousand other clichés that flesh and writers are heir to. Could it have popped through from a parallel universe? A bit of time travel maybe? Who knew, who knows?

We opened it of course. Well, you do don’t you?

There was a sort of humming coming from it. Not exactly a sound and not really a physical vibration but a sense of something emanating from it. Something like that prickling static feeling one gets wearing a lot of nylon or being near a van der graaf generator.

So we opened it.

I don’t really know what we expected. I know Doover wanted it to be Man U kit. Although why anyone should box overpriced sports kit so securely defeated even his logical processes. Shalene was hoping for a super secret advanced prototype of something. Possibly a plasma gun or the latest set of Kardashian make up. I don’t think I had any expectations, which was just as well.

We went round to Stevo’s with it. It felt heavier than it should have been. Stevo had a jemmy. He said it was a tyre iron, but I’ve never seen a tyre iron with a hook on it like that, and everyone knew what his night time hobby was. Doover had suggested dropping it off the walkway because the smash wouldn’t hurt his shirts, but Shalene pointed out her ray gun would either not work after that, or go off big time and blast half of the Waybury. We knew she was just worried the nail varnish and foundation bottle would smash but we humoured her, and so Stevo’s it was.

He was keen at first and we had to argue for half an hour about his cut for opening it. He wanted half as it was his jemmy, or tyre iron. We got him down to a third which was more than we wanted and less than he wanted so that seemed equally unfair to everyone. Bit like Brexit negotiations.

When we got it into his dad’s shed and he slipped the tyre iron out of its hiding place, he lost his enthusiasm. He didn’t like the humming. It was well scary. Doover said he wasn’t going to bitch out was he? Shalene said if he used that sexist crap round her again she’d bitch slap him good, so he shut it. But Stevo had lost it, so I took the tyre iron. As soon as I handled it I understood why Stevo did it. His hobby I mean. I mean I wouldn’t go robbing myself but I sort of knew why he did it. It was a cool tool.

I knelt down and stuck the slim steel end under the edge of the lid, or what we guessed was the lid; no markings remember? I pulled myself up to put all my weight down on the metal. I looked up at them.

Your faces! I laughed. They were all holding their breath, mouths open, eyes wide. What do you think is in here? And then I dropped all my weight onto the lever.

The stink made us gag, Stevo chucked into one of his dad’s plant pots, but that had a drainage hole in the bottom so it started seeping out into the shed, making it stink up worse.

Everyone swore for a bit and then I thought in for a penny, that’s the worst bit over and levered the whole top off. It crashed onto the floor, splashing puke about. Shalene swore a lot more. There were some Fs and a lot of other letters of the alphabet. Doover declared it sick and not in a good way and Stevo puked again. Nobody really bothered with him this time.

There was a smaller box inside, with one of those weird yellow and black circles divided up into segments you see on the door to X ray places. I had one when I fell off Stevo’s car at the circus. Nandridge Circus roundabout, not the one with clowns, apart from Stevo. At the other end was a small machine surrounded by broken glass and some liquid on the bottom of the box.

None of that was sick, in any sense. What was weird, and what was stinking, was a furry bag of what had once been, by the look of it, a cat. It wasn’t well. We all sat back and looked at each other, and then back at the cat. Outside and air seemed like a good idea.

Stevo went to get some water and have another puke. We shrugged. Shalene said it was only a cat, though you could tell she was shaken. Doover said he bet it was a Man City Cat, the bastard thing. I didn’t say anything. The stuff inside reminded me of something. I couldn’t quite get it. Something Scratch Wilson the physics teacher had gone on about in class at the end of one term when we’d finished the syllabus and he’d wanted to impress us. That had a poisoned cat in a box. Or was it not poisoned in his story? I couldn’t remember.

Stevo came out of the kitchen and walked down the path. We all turned to see if he was all right. He looked okay, well as okay as he ever did. Then he stopped and he dropped the glass of water he was holding. He was definitely for it. Puking in his dad’s plant pot and smashing his mum’s glass. Doover asked wtf was up with him and Steve didn’t say anything but pointed behind us. We all laughed. Yeah, very clever Stevo. You need a better schtick than that pal. He turned and ran. We laughed some more. Then we smelt it. That smell again. We all turned.

It was the cat. It had been as dead as you can get. It was still as dead as you can get but there it was hissing and spitting and stinking its way up the path. We followed Stevo and ran.

We didn’t wait to see where it went but from what happened next on the Waybury I guess we can work out what it did next. The police say they’ve contained the outbreak. They let us go after a week. We couldn’t tell them any more. Apart from the name stenciled on the inside of the box.

I remembered later what Mr Wilson had said. Well, be honest. I googled it. Apparently everyone thinks the cat is alive or dead. But of course it’s alive and dead until you open the box . Turns out he got the moment of quantum superposition wrong. Sometimes it’s alive and dead after you open it as well.

Bloody Schrodinger can keep his cat.

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