A JUDGMENT MADE CAN NEVER BEND





MOLLY TANZER









“Cat people, like Babycakes?”


“What is Babycakes?”


Sam was astonished. “Neely Comics? Superdeluxe-dot-com?” The utter lack of recognition on her co-worker’s face surprised her. “He did that song about George Washington having like twenty goddamn dicks?” Still nothing. “Did you never experience the wonder that was Wizard People, Dear Reader?”


“I don’t think so. What is it?”


“It’s an alternative soundtrack to the first Harry Potter film… sort of like a book on tape, but it synchs up, mostly, to the film?” They’d gotten away from the point. “Anyway, so no? Cat people like… Bowie? Or the film? Films?” Sam was pretty sure the one from the ‘80s was a remake.


“David Bowie was in a film called Cat People?”


Sam shook her head. “So which cat people?”


“What do you mean?”


Jeff was a co-worker. Fate had assigned Sam and him to the same line on the same schedule at the factory where they worked assembling medical devices. There did their commonalities end. Usually they did not speak, but that day, Sam had forgotten her book.


“What do you mean what do I mean?” Sam asked. “You asked me if I knew anything about cat people!”


“I just didn’t realize there were so many of them,” he said. Sam blinked. “Billy made it seem like some huge secret.”


Sam had been on the knife’s edge of returning to work early to get away from this conversation, but Jeff drew her back in with surprising—and likely unintentional—deftness.


“Who is Billy?”


“Billy’s my buddy. He works in a grow.”


“And he says there are cat people?”


Jeff nodded solemnly.


“Where?”


“Rocky Flats.”


Sam should have guessed the decommissioned nuclear weapons production facility would tie into this somehow. In Colorado, weird stories were destined to be set there, or at Denver International Airport. “Rocky Flats has been a wildlife refuge since 2007,” she said calmly. “Nothing more. And they just opened up the trails to the public for hiking and stuff. If there were mutant cat people living there or whatever, I doubt they would have done that.”


A look of triumph came into Jeff’s eyes. “Billy says there’s over six hundred acres that aren’t open to the public, and that’s where the cat people are.”


“And how does Billy know this?”


“He saw them when he was fishing.”


If Billy was eating the fish from Rocky Flats, no wonder he was seeing things. “What were the cat people doing?” she asked.


“He just said they were there and he saw them. They had spears, and were hunting in a pack.”


Sam stopped herself from suggesting it would be more correct to call it a pride. It was almost time to go back to work. She just had one more question.


“Why did you think I’d know anything about cat people?”


Jeff was the one who looked surprised now. “You’re always reading those books with covers that have spaceships or girls in armor on them and stuff. I figured if anyone I knew would know if Billy was full of shit, it’d be you.”


“I think Billy might be full of shit,” said Sam.


Jeff looked crushed.







SAM DID ENJOY BOOKS WITH SPACE SHIPS and girls in armor on the covers, and due to that, in part at least, she knew people who might be more likely to know about such things than she was.

“Cat people? Like—”

Sam cut Whitney off immediately. “No, not cat people like anything. Actual cat people. At Rocky Flats, roaming the plains in packs. Um, prides.”

“I haven’t heard anything about that.” Whitney was basically a one-stop shop for conspiracy theories, everything from Chapstick being a money-making scheme to make your lips more chapped to the Mandela Effect to the phantom time hypothesis—a favorite of local crazies, according to Whitney, likely due to the proximity of the National Institute of Science and Technology.

Whitney punched a few things into her phone. “Huh, that’s intriguing…”

“What?” Sam fought against the urge to look. “There’s just zero information online about cat people at Rocky Flats.” “Why would there be?”

“Because basically anything you can think up is online already,” said Whitney. “Rule 34 is just an uncomfortable manifestation of the Jungian collective unconscious, after all. Thus, the utter absence of anything that resonates with the search string ‘cat people rocky flats’ is practically proof that they’re there.”

Sam stared at Whitney.

“I’m not sure…”

“We should go check it out,” said Whitney. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

Sam got out her own phone and checked her calendar. “Uh, not much…”

“Let’s go, then. Early. Pack for a hike.”

“It’s supposed to snow…”

“It won’t,” said Whitney.

It did. Not a lot, but enough to be demotivating. For Sam, at least—Whitney was ecstatic.

“Isn’t this great?” she said, when Sam opened the door of her Subaru and slid into the passenger’s seat, keeping her heels outside.

“Is it?” Sam knocked the snow off her boots and then closed the door.

Whitney tapped the side of her nose as she threw her hatchback into gear. “Tracks!”

Sam mulled over the idea of tracks as they slipped and slid their way south on 119, and mulled over the idea of someone—some federal agency perhaps?—scrubbing “cat people rocky flats” from the internet as they cut over onto 93 to eventually wind around and hit the East Entrance.





All her life, Sam had eagerly read books where people heard about something weird and decided to go and see what was up with it. As it turned out, adventures were better when she wasn’t the one having them.


“Okay,” said Whitney, when they’d parked. From her CamelBak, she withdrew what appeared, in the yellowed murk of her car’s overhead light, to be a hand-drawn map. “The forbidden Department of Energy area is due east of us. We’ll just keep walking until we hit the barbed wire fence. I have clippers with me, don’t worry.” That wasn’t why Sam was worried. “I don’t think the fence is electrified, but I couldn’t find confirmation of that, so we’ll just have to use our discretion. I insulated my wire cutters, and hopefully we can find a big rock to put on the fence if it seems too sketchy.”


Sam continued to say nothing—she hadn’t known the area in question had been fenced off so thoroughly, which made her doubt Jeff’s friend Billy had really been there. Why go to so much trouble to fish in a potentially plutonium-contaminated stream, when there were plenty of rivers and reservoirs without such associated difficulties?


“I watched a few YouTube videos last night on how to do all this stuff,” said Whitney, taking Sam’s hand and squeezing it. “We’ll be fine.”


“Great,” said Sam, trying to muster some enthusiasm for her friend’s sake. “Shall we?”


It started to snow again.


Hiking was actually pretty nice. Other than the wet crunch of their boots it was perfectly quiet, and it wasn’t snowing too heavily. Not yet, at any rate. Sam hadn’t checked her app to see if this was the last of it or the start of it. She didn’t want to demoralize herself further, especially after they abandoned the trail for the rougher terrain surrounding the forbidden Department of Energy site.


“So,” said Sam, after about an hour, when the silence had begun to wear on her, “do you think cat people would be people who have powers over cats? Or would cat people be like, half-person, half-cat?”


“Half-person, half-cat,” said Whitney, immediately, and with confidence.


Sam nodded in agreement. “I think so to. So would “half” make them more or less catlike than the Thundercats? I’m thinking more.”


“I feel like the Thundercats were barely one-third cat,” agreed Whitney. “Except for Snarf.”


“Yeah,” said Sam. “I never knew what was up with that guy. I always found him disturbing, like, he’s sort of the equivalent of a talking ape among humans, I guess? Since he’s broadly similar in his biology, but less evolved…?”


“Do you think humanity would be capable of tolerating something like talking apes? I feel like we would have long ago wiped them out.”


“That’s dark,” said Sam. “But you’re probably right. You know what else is dark? As a kid, I got this book out of the library that was all about cats, and I learned that boy cats have likea dick spines? They hurt the female during mating, and I remember wondering if the Thundercats also had—”


Sam stopped at the same time Whitney did, because right there in front of them was the impression of a large paw. Possibly a cat’s paw Sam didn’t know.


It was as big as her hand.


The snow was falling more heavily now, but only a few flakes had settled in the depression. Whatever had left it had been there recently.


Sam locked eyes with Whitney, and they both started looking around. Rocky Flats was pretty, well, flat, but there were hollows where something might leap out with the intent to ambush.


Behind them was another paw print. Also fresh.


“Run,” said Whitney.


Sam agreed with her legs. As they sprinted back the way they’d come, Sam thought over the conversation that had gotten her here. In retrospect, she really should have asked what Billy had seen the cat people hunting.







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