Zeelo babysits Calex, who wants to show him the time machine that the kitten built all by himself. But it’s not quite what Zeelo expects, and sends him back in a different manner than expected.



Cardboard Time Machine
By CalexTheNeko



     “I don’t know…” Zeelo looked at the smaller and younger cat that was staring at him with his pleading bright yellow-green eyes. Of course Calex said it would be fine. The little orange kitten always said that! And Zeelo was not so much as convinced that he was lying, but just having very different understandings from what normal people would consider fine.


     “Come on! I told you! It’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiine!” Calex continued to plead, using that word again. It seemed that the  more stress he put on the word fine the more chaotic things would get. “Plus I built it myself!” The kitten gave the older brown-haired cat the most pathetic of looks. “I worked real hard on it.” He began to tug at the sleeve of Zeelo’s blue sweater, the sole garment the brown-fur had on. It was still more than Calex was wearing, just by virtue of being something.


     “Wait, you made it?” That gave Zeelo pause. He was familiar enough with Calex’s living situation to know that his owner, or guardian, or partner or whatever he was, was something of an inventor. Apparently, the two lived a very active life and fought honest to goodness supervillains. Many times, Calex had shown up with a souvenir from a recent adventure, rather that be some new invention his owner had made, or something liberated from a supervillain. While all these things certainly had effects that the kitten gleefully embraced, none of them had actually been constructed by Calex. As far as Zeelo knew, Calex’s engineering ability was limited to slamming two rocks together at the same time and shouting ‘science!’


     “Yup!” Calex nodded. “Took me all morning too! I had to skip cartoons and everything. I mean… It’s really cool! What are you even scared of happening?”


     “Well…” Zeelo thought back to several of the previous incidents. “Previous things you’ve wanted to show me have left both of us smaller than literally anything else in existence, turned me into a dragon, a mouse, a moogle, and a fair number of other things. And then you’ve messed with my age so many times that I’ve had to go back and repeat kindergarten seven times… And those are just the times I can remember! My memory of some things is a bit hazy… Like that time I spent two weeks as a chocobo egg.”


     “Hey, not -ALL- of those are my fault. You caused a few.” Calex stuck his tongue out. And he had a point. It was hard for Zeelo to resist getting involved with the kitten’s mischief… Especially on days where he found himself the same age as him. “And I also can’t help but notice you keep coming back… As a babysitter or a playmate depending on your age that day.” Calex stuck his tongue out, he knew he had scored two points there.


     “Well…” Zeelo crossed his arms. “That may be true, but this week it’s babysitter. So I’m contractually obligated to at least act concerned.”


     “Meaning you’re not concerned at all, and actually anticipating the event.” Calex’s grin grew wider.


     “You can’t prove that.” Zeelo averted his gaze from the kitten, an easy task given that at 5’9″ the brown cat was more than three and a half feet taller than the kitten.


     “Fine.” The kitten huffed. “Then I guess I can just work on coloring books today.” He sat down on the floor and crossed his arms in a pouut.


     “Eh?” This blindsided Zeelo. Of the many things he had expected Calex to try, giving up was not one of them. And now it left Zeelo feeling conflicted. On one hand, he did actually want to see whatever this invention was Calex had made. Sure, it’d likely have some side effect that would force him to spend the next month living on the face of an atom, or possibly attending kindergarten and eighth time… But the adventure that came with it was generally always pretty fun… And if Zeelo was pressed, he’d admit he hadn’t actually hated either of those scenarios, or any others his misadventures with Calex had left him in. Turns out, being smaller than everything wasn’t too bad if you had a friend along to keep you entertained. The simple truth was, Zeelo had already decided to cave to Calex. He just felt it better to drag this part out on the kitten. Hey, he had to get at least one over him somehow.


     But… Now that Calex was apparently giving up? Well… That presented another option… Mostly in that if they did just do a normal activity like coloring, it wouldn’t stay normal… And now Zeelo found himself quite curious how Calex would take something as simple as a coloring book and somehow turn it into a reality defying experience.


     Then again, whatever came with the coloring books had a high chance of being too chaotic even for Zeelo. With Calex, the safe option was always the most dangerous option.


     “Alright… Fine, I’ll take a look at our invention.” He saw the kitten perk up but immediately interrupted him. “If! You promise to be good and go to bed on time without a fuss or fight.”


     “Promise!” Calex shouted before taking off running from the living room on all fours. “Come on! It’s back in my bedroom!”


     Despite having looked after him several times, Zeelo had never actually been in Calex’s bedroom. Usually by the point it was the kitten’s bed time both of them were already asleep in the living room, out in the yard, or in a petri dish. He wasn’t sure what he thought Calex’s bedroom would look like… But it was far more normal than anything he would have expected. It was a little bit of a mess with toys scattered about the floor, as to be expected of any six-year-old. There was a normal twin sized bed against the wall, and a cat bed in the corner. Zeelo vaguely wondered which one the kitten used. The only thing really odd, was the simple fact that the closet was completely devoid of any outfits or clothing, except a couple scarves and hats. A fact that was not remotely surprising to anyone who had known Calex for longer than five minutes. Instead, the closet was mostly stacked full with board games, many of which were probably quite cursed based on previous experiences.


     As for the invention, it was sitting in the center of the room, as if on display. Calex was currently perched atop it, purring smugly and looking about as pleased as possible. The invention itself… Was a cardboard box.


     “A box?” Zeelo arched an eyebrow. True, as a fellow feline he knew the value of a good box, but it wasn’t exactly a new invention. Still… Just looking at it, he could feel his feline instincts kicking in, wanting to just dive right into the familiar comfort of a box. It was a cat thing. Non-cats just didn’t get it.


     “No! It’s a personal time machine.” Calex insisted and pointed to the side of the box where the words ‘Time Machine’ were written in crayon. Other than that, the box looked like just a normal box, sat on its side with both lids open making it possible to crawl through.


     “Oh? And what time will it take us to?” Zeelo decided to play along.


     “Sometime earlier for us.” Calex shrugged. “With castles and stuff.” How descriptive.


     “And how does it work?” Zeelo walked over and tapped the box with a paw. Every fiber of his being was screaming get in the box. He made an adamant effort to ignore that instinct while he entertained Calex.


     “We just go through it!” Calex pointed to the open side of the box that was facing away from the bedroom door. “But make sure we go in through that end! The other way we gotta use to come back later.” The kitten leaped down from the box and stood up right inside its entrance. He was small enough that he could do that. Zeelo was going to have to get down on his hands and knees. “Come on! Time’s a wasting!”


     “But how can we waste time if we have a time machine?” Zeelo chuckled, but he got down on his hands and knees and climbed into the box after Calex. He had resisted the urge for as long as he could. He felt an involuntary purr rise up from the pure joy that came with being inside a box. Meanwhile the kitten ran forward as soon as he was inside quickly disappearing out the other end. Zeelo crawled as fast as he could after but… It was strange… The box felt a lot longer from the inside… But Zeelo could see the exit and knew Calex was just past it. Just a bit more and…


     Suddenly, Zeelo found himself swimming in his own sweater, as if it was at least six sizes too big for him. It would seem the kitten’s usual antics had started.


     “Mroooooww!” Zeelo tried to shout Calex’s name in an annoyed tone, but all that came out was a rather adorable squeaky meow. Zeelo tried to crawl forward further, and in the process crawled right out of his sweater leaving it behind and himself as naked as Calex. He found himself hyper aware of the fact that box was now much bigger… And when he finally crawled out from the exit.


     “Meow!” Calex was waiting for him with a big goofy grin on his face. He also was looking even smaller than usual and was now crawling on all fours. He had gone from six years old to six months.


     “Mrowl!” Zeelo retorted annoyed. Now outside the box, he tried to stand up, but found his legs weren’t strong enough. Instead he sat back on his bottom so he could look at his paws, which were now larger in comparison to his body. Looking over at Calex, he could judge himself to be about the same size… Making him the same age. Calex’s invention had turned them both into infants. Still, it was six months and two weeks older than the state he had been left in last time he babysat.


     Really, Zeelo should have expected this. He expected something, but not specifically age regression. Considering the invention literally had the word time in it, it really should have been obvious… But Zeelo had thought they might actually be going back to the past… Suddenly, he understood what the word personal was for in the machine’s name… And what Calex meant by sometime earlier for them… But then what was that about castles?


Zeelo studies his younger body while Calex prepares to strike.
                        Art by LilChu


     “MROOOAWRL!” While Zeelo was deep in thought processing what had happened, Calex saw another kitten with his guard down. He had propped himself up on four legs, then pounced forward and tackled the brown kitten, sending both felines rolling across the floor. Calex let loose a series of playful giggles before being the first to recover back up onto his hands and knees.


     “Meoooow!” Zeelo flailed his paws at Calex, but was too young to be capable of speech and ask for an explanation.


     “Mew!” Calex giggled, then turned away from Zeelo and crawled out of the bedroom. Zeelo took a look back at the time machine… Calex said they could go back just by going through in reverse. Calex was a mischievous impish little thing… But he wasn’t malicious and he didn’t lie. The personal time machine would change them back when this little play adventure was over. Knowing this was temporary let Zeelo breathe a sigh of relief. Again, it wasn’t that he minded being younger… But he had been forced to grow up all over again several times already! At least there wasn’t going to be an eighth visit to kindergarten this time!


     “Meooooow!” Zeelo crawled after Calex. He saw the kitten go through the living room and into the kitchen. From there, Calex crawled through a doggy door in the backdoor heading for the backyard.  It was lucky that was there, as neither one of them was big enough to use doors. Then again, given Calex’s life…  The doggy door was likely there by design just for this type of situation.


     Zeelo made his way through the kitchen and climbed through the doggy door. However, upon arriving in the backyard he froze in awe.


     Previously, Zeelo had seen Calex’s backyard from the points of view of both a mouse and a flea. The yard had been a daunting giant world of grass trees and pebble mountains. But… All of that had way less impact than what he was seeing now.


     There was an honest to goodness, full sized castle, complete with towers and moat. However, the entire thing was made out of cardboard boxes stacked atop each other into the shape of a castle. How had Zeelo not seen this when he arrived at the front door? It was bigger than the entire house! How did it even fit in the yard, or even the neighborhood?


     “Mew!” Calex chirped then began to purr as he crawled over to the edge of a moat. He pulled a lever which was actually a cardboard tube, and the drawbridge, a giant refrigerator box, came down to allow entrance. Zeelo could only stare in awe as he followed the other kitten towards the castle. However, as he approached the drawbridge, Calex held out a paw and shook his head.


     “Mew?” Zeelo was confused. What was the kitten’s intention?


     “Meow!” Calex pointed behind Zeelo. And as Zeelo turned to look, he only had more questions.


     There was a second castle made from cardboard boxes. It was just as big, and it too had its own moat and towers. That was right… Calex had said ‘castles,’ plural.


     “Meow mrow mew meow!” Calex attempted some kind of explanation. Zeelo could only go off the kitten’s movements to guess what it was. Calex threw up his paws and made a loud noise that sounded something like ‘boosh.’ Then he pointed at the second castle, rolled onto the ground, and made a motion of holding an invisible objection in one paw, and drawing something back in the other. A bow maybe? Calex released his invisible bowstring, or whatever it was, and then got up on his knees and put his hand-paws over his eyes like binoculars. He looked in the direction of the first castle and laughed. Immediately, the kitten rolled to the ground again, pointed at the first castle, then got back up onto his knees. He made the same binocular motion, looking back at the second castle. But this time after a few seconds, he suddenly threw his paw over his heart as if he had been hit by something. He made a few gagging noises, crawled a couple steps, and then fell over with his tongue hanging out. “Mew!” Then the kitten got back up and looked at Zeelo as if expecting something.


     “Meoooooow.” Zeelo just stared wide-eyes. The kitten probably should have explained whatever this game was while they were both still old enough to talk. That would have involved revealing the coming regression, and then Zeelo might not have gone through the personal time machine and come to these castles.


     Oh who was he kidding? He would have dove right in anyway. Curiosity regressed the cat.


     “Meow mew!” Calex pointed at Zeelo, then at the second castle. That much Zeelo could understand, Calex wanted him to go to the other castle.



     Zeelo obeyed, crawling over to it. Once there, he found a second cardboard tube lever. When he pulled it, the draw bridge came down and allowed him inside. The inside of the castle was a bit more plain than the outside. Half the doorways and passages just seemed to be drawn on the walls of boxes than actually exist. There was only one real path, and it led to a set of spiraling stairs that ascended the central tower. When Zeelo finally reached the top, he found an  open-air room that gave him a view of the entire neighborhood. The room was also full of all kinds of contraptions. There were levers and knobs all over the place, each labeled in crayon. They read things like catapult, ballista, and cannon. As Zeelo looked out across the landscape, he could see Calex in the central tower of the other castle. The orange kitten was pulling a couple levers on his end, and suddenly a crossbow emerged from his castle. It fired a single bolt, that flew all the way to Zeelo’s castle landing directly in front of the controls. It didn’t harm anything, the tip was made of foam after all, but it had certainly shocked the brown kitten. He noticed a scrip of paper attached to the bolt. He took it off and unraveled it to see what it was. It was a declaration of war.


     Literally, it just said the words ‘I declare war. With love, Calex.’


     So… That’s what this game was… And that meant all these levers and knobs… Zeelo grinned as he looked around the tower, judging all of his weapons. He quickly pulled the lever marked catapult. As he did, a large catapult that resembled a giant plastic spoon emerged from the roof of one of the other towers. The lever Zeelo had pulled had come loose, allowing him to move it left and right now. When he did, this changed the direction the catapult was facing. He pushed the lever back up as a test, and the catapult fired. It launched a massive water balloon that went arcing right past Calex’s castle, crashing into the house. To Zeelo’s credit, he had only been testing it, not aiming… And he understood the mechanics of this game at once.


     If either kitten was splashed with water, they might be a little annoyed at being wet, but would be unharmed. Meanwhile, the castle was made of several cardboard boxes. As they got soaked, they’d start to collapse in on themselves… And considering these things were just stacked together and not glued or tied in place by any means… It would only be a matter of time before destroying a few boxes would cause the castle to collapse completely. Calex must have put a lot of time and thought into planning this game out. Zeelo wasn’t sure how he had done it… But it certainly had involved a lot of work.


     Calex must have interpreted Zeelo’s shot as the opening volley instead of a test, as he quickly got to work pulling levers and turning knobs. Slits opened up along his castle walls, as several crossbows fired, each with a smaller balloon tied to it that pelted Zeelo’s castle.


     “Meoooow!” Zeelo shouted in annoyance, as a balloon exploded against his tower, getting him wet. Though, it did at least verify the balloons were filled with normal water. Then again, it was entirely possible they were filled with fountain of youth water instead, and just couldn’t make the two any younger. That wouldn’t be out of character of Calex, and it would have acted as insurance if Zeelo had refused to go through the personal time machine.


     Still, this was unfair! Zeelo had still been figuring out what all his weapons were and how to use them! Calex had built this thing! (Probably.) He already knew what everything did! Zeelo really could have used a few minutes to learn what weapons he had. But there wasn’t time now. Zeelo quickly looked around the controls and pulled a cardboard tube that looked promising.


     “MEOOOOOOOOOOOW!” Zeelo gave a battle cry that was more cute than fierce. Despite the distance between the two, Calex was able to hear it. Cat ears are strong, even as kittens. It was because of this, Calex had just enough time to duck to avoid a huge tidal wave of water as multiple cannons fired giant water balloons from each of Zeelo’s towers. Calex’s castle was soaked, and Zeelo could see where it was already starting to sag. He might actually beat the kitten at one of his own games.


     “MEWWWWWWWWWWW!” Calex gave his own cry before returning fire. He fired his own catapult, aiming it at one of Zeelo’s towers. The massive balloon burst, raining down on Zeelo’s north tower and leveling it. The rest of the castle was unharmed, but any weapons stored there were now nonfunctional.


     So… Was that the kitten’s plan? Dismantle his weaponry then finish him off? Well two could play at that game. Zeelo pulled his own catapult lever again. But this time, as it came out the brown kitten saw it was completely empty. It looked like each weapon could only be used once. And too think, he had wasted such a powerful weapon on a test shot.


     While Zeelo scrambled to choose a new weapon, Calex was far from idle. He pulled a paper chain hanging from the ceiling as a ballista rolled out from his drawbridge. It fired a massive foam dart with at least twenty water balloons tied to it, striking Zeelo’s east tower. The tower was starting to sag, but it held for now.


     “Meow mew!” Zeelo accused Calex of being a cheater as he quickly pulled the first lever he saw. It turned out to be his own crossbows, as they pelted Calex’s castle with water slowly wearing it down. But Zeelo wasn’t done. With no time to actually figure out what each of these were labeled as, Zeelo was in full press buttons and pray mode. Multiple mini-catapults fired, a ramming log shaped balloon on wheels fired out from his drawbridge, and bottle rockets fired into the sky before exploding and raining balloons down onto the other castle.


     The damage was substantial. Two of Calex’s towers collapsed immediately and the central one began to wobble. The orange kitten, now soaked to the bone maintained a determined stare as he quickly retaliated. He was using his own cannons this time, and with carefully aimed shots leveled two more of Zeelo’s towers, leaving only the central one left.


     In desperation, Zeelo pushed, pulled and turned everything he could find. But everything seemed to be out or have been destroyed by Calex’s attacks. There had to be something left he could use! Zeelo yowled in frustration and fell off the platform next to the control. He landed on the floor, where something beneath the platform glinted and caught his eyes. Zeelo squirmed beneath the it and saw a single and sole metal lever within the entire castle. There was a crayon message written next to it. ‘In case of emergency.’


     Well… Considering Zeelo was about to lose, this was certainly an emergency. He pulled the lever. The howl of sirens tore through the air as a single big red button slowly rose out of the floor and up to the platform. Zeelo climbed back up and got one look at the button and it’s label. Then he let loose a mad laugh.


     It was labeled ‘Gatling Gun.’


     Completely period inappropriate! But he had nothing else to use! Zeelo slammed a paw down on the button and his central tower rose higher into the air revealing the gun directly beneath it. Then it just stood there, not doing anything. However, the appearance of the massive weapon had at least distracted Calex, who gave a yowl of distress upon seeing it.


     If only Zeelo could fire it. He tried tapping the button again. It fired exactly one balloon, and Zeelo saw Calex dive for cover as if expecting a lot more. Something was up, if it only fired a single shot Calex wouldn’t be acting so freaked out. Zeelo tried pressing the button again, and another balloon fired. He pressed it a third time, another. The brown kitten wore a manic grin. He began to mash the button as fast as he could. Each press launched another water balloon and soon there was a storm of them flying at Calex’s castle.


     “MROOOOOOOOOOOWL!” Calex let out a yowl from somewhere within his castle as it began to sink into itself… And then all at once, it collapsed completely, falling into a mess of boxes.


     “Mew?” This was enough to shock Zeelo out of the game. What had happened to Calex? He knew the little guy was tough but wasn’t sure how much of his usual powers he had at his age. Zeelo glanced around the ruined castle looking for a sign of him. Suddenly, there was movement. A few boxes shifted aside as an orange paw reached out from it, waving a white flag. Calex was fine! And he admitted defeat!


     “Meooooow!” Zeelo purred smugly, then shook the excess water from his fur. He quickly crawled back down the stairs and out the castle to go check on Calex in person.


     The orange kitten was alright, if a little perturbed. Less by having a castle fall on him though, and more by the fact that his own attempt to dry himself had caused all of his fur to puff up. The kitten was grumpily licking his paw and trying to pat the fur down as fast as possible.


     “Meow.” Zeelo rolled his eyes. He was supposed to help give Calex a bath before bed though. He crawled over to the other kitten, and proceeded to aid in the grooming. Calex tried to squirm away from Zeelo, clearly thinking he could handle it on his own, but Zeelo managed to bite his scruff and held him in place till the orange kitten tired himself out.


     After both kittens were cleaned, and their fur orderly, they crawled back to the door and headed inside. It had been a fun game, but Zeelo thought it was about time they start getting back to their normal ages. They crawled back to Calex’s bedroom…


     And saw a mess.


     The window had been open, and Zeelo could see the remains of the balloon from his own catapult caught on it. The room had been flooded, and the cardboard box in the center of it… The Personal Time Machine… It had fallen flat! There was no way to use it now!


     “Meoooow!” Zeelo crawled over to the remains of the machine and pointed at it then looked at Calex.


     “Mew?” Calex poked at the remains a couple times with his paw. Then he shrugged. There was nothing he could do. It was gone.


     “MROOOOOOOOWL!” Zeelo gave a shout, realizing that they were stuck like this. He was going to have to redo a lot more than just kindergarten this time!


     “Meow.” Calex placed a paw on Zeelo’s shoulder and mewed in a comforting voice. “Meow mew mrowl mew.” It wasn’t clear what Calex was saying, but it was clear he was trying to reassure Zeelo. But… If Calex meant it was fine, it must mean there was some other way to get back to normal.


     Perhaps it was for the best he didn’t understand what Calex had actually wanted to say. He had indeed been trying to assure Zeelo, but if he was able to speak his words would have been: ‘Don’t worry Zeelo! You won’t have to go back to school again! The Personal Time Machine actually freezes your age when it changes you. Neither one of us will get a day older ever again, so you don’t have to worry about ever being old enough for kindergarten.’


     Of course, Zeelo would find this out and come to terms with it eventually. It’d become pretty obvious by his next birthday.


     In the meantime, Calex let out a yawn. He crawled to the corner of his room and climbed into the cat bed where he curled up. He had promised to go to bed on time after all. Zeelo stared at him for a few moments, shrugged, then climbed into the bed with him. The bed was far more comfortable with the warmth of two kittens snuggled together in it, and soon both of them were sound asleep.


     This wasn’t too bad an end to this week’s babysittinig job. And really, this wouldn’t even be the first time Calex’s owner had come home to find both him and Zeelo less than a year old and curled up to sleep together.


     Everything was fine.


     If only he had known… But, when he finally learned his new fate, he’d at least have a friend there to go through it with him.


The End

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