What Lies Beyond: Chapter 4

Michelle…”, she said, weakly, reaching out with her right paw. The back of her paw brushed something soft, and something grasped it.
Sister…?” It was Corsair’s voice. She was back. She was really back. “…are you all right?” He asked, giving her paw a squeeze.
With some effort, Sister opened her eyes a little, but her vision was blurred, and she could not raise her head. “Corsair… it… Michelle… I…” It was hard for her to speak.
Michelle?” He leaned closer to her. “What’s Michelle?”
The stranger”, she said, trying once again to raise her head, in vain. Undeterred, she put all of her effort into her voice, to make sure she could be understood: “Corsair, please, I have to tell you something”.
We should get you off the deck, at least.” he said, draping her paw around his back as he lifted her into his arms. Sister wrapped her other paw around his neck and buried her head in his chest as she tried to recall as much as possible about Michelle and her plight.

Corsair laid her down gently on a couch in her cabin. She still felt weak, unable to sit up or support herself on an arm, so she contented herself to lie on her back and look up at the ceiling. She heard Corsair seat himself nearby.
First of all, what happened to you? Are you all right?”
Sister closed her eyes. “I was gone for a very long time,” she began. “I was with the same stranger the entire time. I knew it was too long, but I just couldn't get back.” She paused. “They’re real, Corsair. They’re real, just like you and me.”
Really? Did you discover something?” he asked enthusiastically, his concern momentarily forgotten.
I’ll try to start at the beginning, but it’s hard to remember it all.” She took a deep breath, and forced her mind back…


Help yourself to some punch”, the man said, rather loudly, but even then Sister could barely hear him over the deafening cacophony of sound that assaulted her ears. She glanced around the room, and there were people everywhere, some standing, some sitting, some walking about, but everyone seemed to be talking or laughing loudly. Everyone except her; Sister was sitting on a small couch by herself, and she seemed to be the only one not paired off or in a group. She realized the man who had spoken was staring at her, and she quickly turned back to look at him. He gestured towards a table with a large bowl on it where several people had gathered. “Oh… thank you”, she replied, not knowing what else to say. He gave her a strange look, then walked off and promptly disappeared into the crowd.

Sister returned her attention to her surroundings. Here and there she recognized a few members of her crew, but almost all of the people in the brightly-lit room were unknown to her. Suddenly, the loud sound died down, and she could almost hear what those closest to her were saying, but it quickly started up again. “What am I doing here?” She wondered to herself, totally perplexed.
I’ve been wondering that myself”, came a woman’s voice, from directly behind her. Sister almost jumped right off the couch. The woman walked around to face her, she had short brown hair and was wearing a red dress. “Do you mind if I sit here?”, she asked, leaning forward, “you seem to be the only one as out of place here as I am.”
Sure”, Sister replied, relieved to have someone to talk to. The woman placed the container she was holding on a nearby end table and sat down on the other end of the couch. Sister scooted over to her, so she could be heard: “So, what are we supposed to be doing here?”
The woman laughed. “Dancing, I suppose, or talking to people we don’t know. Or at least getting really drunk. Don’t tell me this is your first time out?” She peered at Sister quizzically.
Well, it’s the first time I’ve been somewhere like this” Sister responded honestly, as she wondered about “dancing” and “getting drunk”.
To be honest, it’s not something I’m crazy about either.” The woman picked up her container and raised it to her lips. She swallowed and put it back on the table. “So what’s your story?” she asked. “Why did you come here if you don’t want to dance or drink?” She paused, and leaned towards Sister, speaking more softly. “Don’t tell me you also have a crush on the guy throwing the party and came here hoping he’d notice you.” Sister didn’t know how to respond to that, but the woman kept talking anyway: “It figures, he is really cute, but I’d never have guessed he was this outgoing. I guess he’s probably not too impressed with our social ineptitude, huh?”

Although her manner was jovial, Sister could tell that she was unhappy. She lifted her drink again. “I’m sure he’s more impressed with you than me”, Sister offered, still not sure exactly what they were talking about.
I don’t know,” said the woman, “I think you're prettier than me. You’re a little spacey, but some guys like-“ She stopped mid-sentence. Sister turned her head, the man from before was standing in front of them.
This seems nice”, he said, taking a seat between them. “You’ve found a spot to get away from it all”.
...It’s a great party”, said the woman, a bit nervously, “I’m just not used to this many people.”
I didn’t expect even half of the people I invited would show up.” he said wearily, putting a hand on his forehead. “With so many guests, I’ve been running around the whole time, just trying to check in on everyone.”
She put a hand on his shoulder and leaned in closer, becoming more confident. “Well, let them fend for themselves for a little while. They seem to be doing okay.”
He smiled at her. “Yeah, most of them barely paid any attention to me. It’s my own party, and it’s like I’m not even here”.
Sister knew the feeling, no one was paying any attention to her. But her new friend seemed to be in much higher spirits, so she was happy for her.
Well, maybe next time you could have a smaller get-together”, the woman continued. “There’d be more time to talk and do other things.”
There may not be a next time. I think I’ll still be trying to clean this place up until the day I die.” She laughed and leaned in closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. “I suppose this would be a bad time to mention that I spilled my punch.” They both laughed, and they continued to talk for quite some time.

Oh no, is that the time?” the man said suddenly, looking down at his arm. “It’s already eleven-thirty, we have to wrap things up soon.”
Well, I had a good time”, the woman said, “it was nice talking to you.”
There’s time for one more song. Come on, you have to dance sometime.”
The woman’s face turned red, but she squeaked out an “okay” anyway. The man offered her his hand. “I’m Michelle, by the way”, she said, as she took it, and he led her off towards some of the other groups of people. Sister saw them put their arms each other, and they kind of waddled back and forth without ever really going anywhere. “I guess 'dancing' is like a hug”, she thought, and she wondered why it was such a big deal. Still, her friend seemed to be happy, and it made her feel kind of warm inside, too. And even though Sister was no expert on the subject, it seemed like there was time for a lot more than just one dance, they continued to hold each other tight in sway back and forth for a long time as the lights gradually dimmed everywhere except upon them...


Is that where it ends?” asked Corsair.
I thought so,” said Sister, sitting up, “but no, that’s just the beginning...”

There was a polite knock on the door to her cabin. A petite woman with short grey fur gingerly pushed the door open. “Sister, are you all right?” she asked, timidly.
I’m all right, thank you, Hope. Are the others okay?”
They’re weak and disoriented, but Mr. Corsair’s crew has been very helpful.” She took another step inside. “Oh”, she said, seeing Corsair, “I hope I’m not intruding on anything”.
It’s all right”, Sister reassured her, “I have a lot to tell to all of you later.”
I’ll go see what I can do to help”, she said, ducking back out the door. “Thank you for everything, Mr. Corsair.” She closed the door behind her.

Are you sure you’re up to telling the rest of it?”, Corsair asked. He sat down beside her and put a hand on her shoulder. “You’ve been through a lot, the rest could wait.”
No, it’s important. I’m just getting to that. I’ll be fine.” She said, turning to him.
All right, but don’t strain yourself. I’m here for you if you need anything.”
It was then that I started to realize something was strange...” she continued.

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