Last Seen Leaving
Shasta Lemieu ended up in a cow field that they used for overflow parking when the craft expo came to town. Last seen leaving a Metallica concert, Shasta tried to get back into the venue and was denied re-entry. She called her friends, but when no one answered she decided to hoof it back to wherever.
That was eight years ago, and now they have found her remains working their way up out of the mud. Initial ID came from her purse, the strap everlasting, better than flesh around her bones. Inside were two condoms in pristine packets, good as new.
It cannot be determined if she was buried deliberately.
Manner of death is unknown.
She could have died a hundred different ways.
The preferred version is that she just lay down in the field and went to sleep, forever.
That there were stars to look at and distant cheers to sing her away.
That the vibrations from the Loudest Band in the World soothed her through the weeds.
Had it rained that night? The investigators would look it up.
Shasta “liked History,” especially that of her family and the county in which she died. She found an account of a cousin named Tomas Maull who declared that he’d rather “drownd than be cut to strips” by a locomotive. He made this statement after leaping off the tracks to avoid an oncoming train. This happened on his way to the swimming hole where he would fulfill his destiny.
The chronicler of the account wanted to make it clear: Tomas Maull and his companions were naked. When he failed to surface after his very first dive off the quarry’s edge, his friends ran screaming back into town. The chronicler thought their condition was paramount: these boys were traumatized and ashamed because they were nude and their friend had died. It was the chronicler’s emphasis, that particular image: two naked teenagers, hysterical in the dusty street.
That was 1897. The boys were descendants of The Negative Men. Tomas was eighteen. Jed was seventeen. Cyril was fourteen. None of them were married yet.
Shasta “liked History,” but not “Mathematics.” And by that we mean she let boys take advantage, but only to a point. She did not do anything wrong. Not particularly. She did not make a mistake that sealed her fate and whatnot. It was reported she was seen at the concert talking with a thin man near the comfort station. It was reported she’d passed out and was taken to the Aid Hut by venue security. It was reported her companions lifted her up and gave her to the screaming crowd to be passed back, overhead, only to disappear at the rear of the hall.
None of these reports could be verified. The only thing that was for sure: it had rained that night. On and off.
Simple. A pickup truck with two wild boys in it. During the original investigation the boys allowed that they mighta seen her that night, a quick shape like a narrow bear, diving out of the way. They didn’t say they were speeding and hollering obscenities—that was assumed. Now, eight years later, they keep it low like haunted men. Like extras in a bar scene in a movie about work.
They want to remember.
They think they should.
They each think the other is holding out.
Regardless, it’s important to believe that Shasta’s fate was not fate but a deliberation.
At some point she left the road and crossed a ditch to enter a dark field. At some point she decided to lie down.
Blinded by headlights, Shasta changed sides and wondered if she had already made her own prophetic declaration. Because it’s not like you’d know. She wished she had a picture or something. She imagined Tomas to be lean and shiny. She imagined his reeking woolen pants on the rocks. He would have been the first, while Cyril and Jed struggled out of their boots. Tomas’s buttocks perfect, his shoulders perfect, that first contact with cold blue water, perfect. That would have been the last thing he felt, the last thing he was: perfection.
It rained a little, but not in the way that cooled things off. The summer night smelled like cows, and that was a great comfort.
Shasta and Tomas found a place in the grass, forgetting they were cousins. Forgetting the enormous age gap. Tomas tried to tell her what he’d rather, but after a hundred years of being eighteen, he had no mouth beyond the rosebud of his lips.
A soulful intent would have to do. He coiled around her and seeped into her cracks. He poured himself down her throat, into her stomach where it felt so wonderful. Then into her lungs where it didn’t.
A pickup screamed past, with wild boys in it. Shasta slipped and landed hard on her tailbone in a ditch.
Then someone leaned over her, a strong hand, a long coat. Dark, he smelled like stone. He pulled her up and steadied her. But he was the one breathing funny, panting from the top of his throat. The tip of his tongue protruded.
Her rear was mud-soaked, but being covered in mud was better than getting hit by a car, and she said as much. The man turned away from her, stepped into the field. He was an enigmatic stranger.
Shasta had trouble keeping up with him. He was long legged, striding through the weeds, almost trying to lose her. And she could barely make out the shape of him. He was blank, untextured space, a blot of nothing, but moving. He was the chronicler, who made night in his wake and tilted toward oblivion. If anyone had been following Shasta that night, they would have said the same thing of her. That she became nothing, or the thing that covers something so you can’t see. That she went away.