Reading Sundays: SHADES OF UNREALITY (Part 2), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

The animal resembled a cat with deep sea-green eyes and orange fur. But something wasn’t quite right, because it was bigger than most cats I know, and it seemed—softer somehow. I studied it carefully. Underneath its fur were not muscles and skin, but—padding. It didn’t look quite real.

“Look!” it exclaimed.

I jumped back, startled. Had that cat spoken?

It held up a large sheaf of something, some very large sheets paper, so finely made that the light shone through. I had never seen paper with such evenly made fineness in my life. It reminded me of a bolt of silk. As I scrutinized it, I realized it was covered all over with extremely small writing. Or rather, marks formed by moveable type, of the sort used by Master Caxton.

“British Government Contemplates Robot Rights,” declared the cat, flourishing those papers.

“Why would that be a problem?” asked a deep voice. The contrast in pitch made me realize that the strange cat must be female. I looked around. Another shape materialized, but this time it was off-white. Large and roundish, it possessed a bear-shaped face. But what drew my attention was its bow-tie, which was pink and covered in blue flowers.

I have seen bears before. During my girlhood, I inhabited a castle in a rather wild part of the country on the Scotch Marches, and there were plenty of wild animals there, howling wolves, snuffling boar, and cantankerous bear. But the bears I’d seen were black or brown, and were large, muscly, fearsome creatures. This thing was not only the wrong color, it was—stuffed. Like that strange cat, no muscle nor sinew rippled below its skin. It appeared padded with something, mayhap down feathers, and its stuffing made it strangely docile, even sweet-natured…[Continued next week.]