Professor Yannick Muller, The Man Who Became a Cat


Translated from the German by the Author

Professor Yannick Muller made three mistakes to precipitate his transformation into a cat: first, the previous evening, he’d purchased cat food when he intended to purchase coffee beans; second, the following morning, he ground the cat food, swirled the grounds with hot water in his plunger pot, waited, then poured the liquid into his coffee mug; third, presently, he drank from that mug. Only cats drink cat food coffee, and Muller was no cat. Muller’s body, recognizing this contradiction, made the necessary adjustments to his genetic structure.

The transformation first manifested itself as a reduction in scale. Muller noticed his eye-level gradually nearing the ground, but reasoned he was merely doing squats; he did squats every morning, after all, and he figured his body had automated the routine. He cheered this development. Muller took note that his eye-level remained close to the ground, while all his previous squats involved a return to normal, and reasoned something must be awry. His concern increased when he noticed his coffee mug falling to the floor beside his paw. He dropped it due to his lack of opposable thumb. Muller thought carefully about these observations; he clearly remembered having an opposable thumb but could not recall ever possessing a paw. His arm was still an arm, but now it was covered with fur and stripes. As a boy, he’d once drawn stripes on his arm; perhaps he’d neglected to wash them clean and they’d remained on his arm for forty years without him noticing. This was an unsatisfactory explanation, since it did not account for the gray fur. More research would have to be done.

Muller strode to his dressing mirror. His gait now involved four legs, which was another distressing observation. When Muller looked into the mirror his feelings were assuaged: he was looking at Professor Yannick Muller, human male, six-foot-one, fifty-one years of age, standing normally. The cat sighed with relief. There was nothing to be concerned about. To celebrate this victory, Muller licked the fur on the underside of his neck. The body in the dressing mirror stood motionless. Muller licked his fur again, and again the body in the mirror was motionless. What he considered his reflection could not be: not only was the figure in the mirror not licking the fur on the underside of its neck, but it didn’t even have fur on the underside of its neck. Or a tail. Muller then remembered that it was not a dressing mirror at all! It was a life-sized picture of himself that he’d placed on the wall with the hope that potential burglars might see the image of the man they were about to steal from, feel sympathetic, then leave quickly and quietly. Perhaps taking time to pen a note of apology. Muller had never been stolen from, so he thought the plan to be worthwhile, but he could’ve done without the present confusion.

Muller didn’t need the dressing mirror any longer. He put the evidence in front of him and knew he was now a cat. This was not wish-fulfilment: not only did Muller dislike cats, but to compound the inconvenience Muller was scheduled to give the keynote speech at the Philosophy Professors Congress later in the evening. It was his University’s honor to host the event, and it was his honor, elected by his peers, to speak on their behalf. He’d been working on his speech for months. It was a primer to the larger project that he he’d been working on for years, his magnum opus, a full-length book preaching his conclusions on philosophy. The work was entitled The Human Experience. Muller read the title on his computer screen. How would he be able to address his audience as a cat? It would be a spectacle that he did not take pleasure in imagining.

Muller knew revelling in despair wouldn’t help matters and resolved to set out for help, but he was too embarrassed to ask a human so he ventured to find a cat.

“Hello,” Muller said to the first cat he encountered. He was astounded at his own voice, for it was the same as prior to his transformation.

“Hello,” responded the cat, a calico.

“I am in need of assistance,” Muller explained.

“Then it would be unwise to ask John Key.”

This non-sequitor puzzled Muller.

“I am unfamiliar with that name.”

“John Key,” said the calico cat in a derisive manner. “The Prime Minister of New Zealand.”

“What is the meaning of that information?”

The calico cat hissed and ran away. Cats prefer communication by meowing, and generally avoid speaking German. When they do speak the language, it is customary for them to limit their conversation to the politics of New Zealand; by limiting their conversation to Kiwi governance, if a human does overhear the conversation he or she will take no interest and leave the remarkable cats alone. Muller was ignorant of this wise custom.

Disconsolate at his inability to find help, Muller returned to his house. It was fortunate that the previous owners installed a cat-door, and that he’d never found time to board it over.

The keynote speech was due to be given in just hours. All his hard work, his thinking, his writing, would be lost forever. Muller tried to cheer himself up by playing with a string. It worked — and sparked an idea. He dropped the string, ran to his writing desk, and hopped up on the chair. He looked at the title, The Human Experience, placed his cursor at the end of it, and typed the addendum: …from the Perspective of a Cat.

Ah, there it is, he thought.

Muller revelled in his good fortune. He would become the first philosopher with the ability to observe his species from a true outsider’s perspective. Not only would his speech go on, it would be stronger than he anticipated. The accompanying book, also to be titled The Human Experience from the Perspective of a Cat, would be the first of its kind. It would sell millions. Muller imagined himself showered with praise, the first cat Nobel laureate, delving deeper into the human experience than any other philosopher. He imagined exquisite salmon buffets. He smiled, laid down where the sunbeams met the floor, rolled on to his back, and took a nap.

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