Home > Have You Seen Her

Have You Seen Her
Author: Catherine McKenzie







We’re losing light!” Ben yells over the whir of the blades. “We need to go!”

I turn to look out over the field to the tree line, taking in the scene of the crime. The dark green conifers, with their exposed lower limbs. The trampled grass. A wrapper from a protein bar tumbling over and over like a gymnast. A dark patch in the dirt that looks like it’s tinged by rust.

I can’t hear anything but the helicopter’s whine, but the screams are still caught in my thoughts—sharp, terrified, then cut out, cut off.

“Cassie!” Ben yells next to me. “Move it!”

The fear in his voice unsticks my feet. I turn away, following Ben to the Huey. He goes up first, and I put my foot on the landing gear, careful to keep my head bent as I was taught, conscious of the blade spinning above me. Ben crouches in the opening and reaches out his rough hand. I grab it and let him haul me into the helo’s belly. I stumble, then right myself, still bent over.

“You got this?”

I nod and he lets me go. I shuffle to one side and sit in an empty seat, facing Ben and Gareth. As I strap myself in, I try not to think of the body that rests on the floor between us, zipped into a thin black bag by Ben and Gareth after they found me. But the space is so tight that I can’t put my feet on the floor without resting them on it. That possibility brings bile to my throat, so I raise my legs in front of me. They protest; I won’t be able to keep this position for long.

The pilot checks us over his shoulder. He, like Ben and Gareth, is wearing a dark helmet, a microphone by his mouth. The pilot points to a helmet hanging on a hook next to my head. I grab it and put it on, adjusting the volume with a wheel on the side. It’s tight and uncomfortable, edging into the headache that’s been building since yesterday.

The pilot’s voice is tinny and distant. “We have ten minutes till pumpkin hour.”

Ben gives him a thumbs-up, and I feel a moment of confusion until the meaning of the term thunks into place. The helicopter can’t fly safely after dark in this mountainous terrain. They call it pumpkin hour, and there won’t be a fairy-tale ending if we flirt too hard with that deadline. I know this, I knew this, but the shock of everything that’s happened has affected more than my motor skills—I can feel it eroding my memory, like a thick fog descending that I must find my way out of before it’s too late.

“Everyone strapped in?” the pilot asks as he does his final checks.

“Ready!” Ben says, giving a thumbs-up again. Gareth does the same, and then it’s my turn.

I pop my thumb up in a gesture that feels more positive than possible. But I do have some things to be grateful for.

That they found me before it was too late.

That I’m alive.

That there’s only one body in a bag at my feet.

The pilot turns away, and then the engine changes gear. The blades above us spin harder, faster, louder as we lift slowly from the ground. It’s deep twilight now, the world fading like a watercolor left in the sun, and I cling to the straps holding me in place, petrified of the open door, and that I’ll never be able to erase what I saw. What I did.

The Huey banks, heading back to the Heli Base at Crane Flat, circling over the small field we just left.

I don’t want to look down, but I can’t help but throw a last glance at the scene below. And maybe it’s a trick of the fading light, but I swear I can see the faint outline of someone waiting at the edge of the tree line, watching to make sure we fly away.








The Reno airport is different than I remember it.

I thought it was as seedy as the rest of that town, the walls caked with cigarette smoke stains, the air fetid from sad people with dried-out hopes, their skin pale in the blinking neon lights. I could envision the shapeless men and women sitting at slot machines with buckets of change in their laps, and a row of bounty hunters skulking at the bar, checking passengers’ faces against the images of their prey.

But memory is a fluid thing—I know that better than most. Some memories are so clear and stark that you can recall the smell in the air and the music playing and the dialogue exchanged like it’s a movie in your head. Others get painted over by life, or merged with other experiences, or changed entirely because remembering the sights, smells, and sounds is too much to process.

We don’t get to choose which our brain keeps, amends, or discards. We just live with the consequences.

Either way, I’m wrong about the airport. It’s modern, with arched ceilings and hotel carpeting. And though there are slot machines, skylights above let in the sunlight and the bar has three thirtysomething women sitting at it, well-dressed and giggling over large glasses of chardonnay. The one in the middle is wearing a bright pink BRIDE T-shirt and a large diamond ring.

I rub at the empty spot on my corresponding finger and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s still empty. That this is real, and not some dream I’m pursuing over too many hours.

Someone jostles me from behind. I stumble to the left, then stop just outside my gate. I widen my stance and adjust my pack, unused to the weight and how it affects my balance. At almost fifty pounds, it’s a whole procedure to even get it on.

It’s been ten years since I moved through the world with everything I own on my back.

I slip my thumbs under the straps, pulling them up and away from my shoulders to get some relief, then walk toward the exit, my steps slow and slumberous. I forgot how hard it is to walk gracefully with this much holding you down. Each step feels like one of those dreams where you try to run for a flight, but your legs are lead and you miss it.

I feel like that all the time now, whether I’m sleeping or not.

Dreams like those are never about something literal, and this feels like that, too. I thought I’d shed it when I got on the plane in New Jersey, but it’s followed me through the sunlit sky.

I can change my location, but I’ve brought myself with me.

“Good luck, Cassie,” the woman I sat next to says as she passes me at a brisk clip, her frizzy gray hair held in place by a tennis visor. I don’t usually talk to strangers when I’m traveling, but Janice wouldn’t be denied. I heard all about how she’s in town visiting her daughter and grandchildren and everything they’re going to do for the next twelve days.

“Thanks, Janice. Have a good time with your grandbabies.”

She flaps a hand in goodbye and strides away, hopefully forgetting all about me. Out of context, I have one of those bland faces—washed-out blue eyes, dark blond hair, regular features. I look like a thousand other women, something that used to annoy me, but it has its uses.

I watch Janice’s confident stride. In a moment she’s lost in the crowd, and I regret that I didn’t take her up on her offer of a nice family meal. Because now I feel truly alone. I don’t know anyone here, and there’s no one coming to greet me unless I’ve made a grave miscalculation.

Get to Bishop, Ben had said, and I’ll pick you up.

There’s no flight from Reno to Bishop at this time of year, so my next stop is the bus. But I have one more thing to do before it arrives.

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