What Lies Beyond: Chapter 6

It was so loud. Sister was enveloped in a vortex of sound: scratching, scraping, clanging, screaming. She tried to open one eye, but it was so bright, she couldn't see anything. Gradually, the sound started to fade out, until all that remained was a whining sound that droned on and on...
Help yourself to some punch”, a man said, loudly. Sister stared blankly at him as he gestured towards a table with a bowl on it. He gave her a strange look, then walked off into the crowd. The same crowd from before.
Hello again”, said Michelle, from behind her. This time she did jump, clean off of the couch she was sitting on. Michelle sat down beside her. “That should have been the end, but it wasn’t”, she said. Sister stared at her, and she realized she was trembling. However, Michelle was totally calm. She picked up her container, raised it to her lips, set it down, and continued. “It’s just the same thing, over and over.”
Sure enough, it was. Sister surveyed the room; everything was the same as before. The same noisy groups of people talking, laughing and dancing, the same bright lights, and the same loud noises coming from one corner of the room. She looked directly at Michelle. She too, looked the same as she had at first, she was wearing the same red dress, and her hair was the same length. At a loss for what to say or do, she decided to be direct: “What’s going on? Where are we?”, she demanded of the stranger.

Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Michelle said, looking down into the container she held. “These are my memories. They’re the things that were most precious to me… and the things I regret the most.”
Sister was taken aback. Memories? She had her own memories, too, but they weren’t anything like this. She thought of Corsair, and wondered if she would ever see him again. “How do we get back?”, she asked.
I don’t know”, she said, closing her eyes. “I don’t know if I can. You saw the truck.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t even know if I'm still alive.”

Sister stared at her, unable to think of anything else to say. Michelle looked straight ahead, into the crowd, saying nothing. They sat in silence for a while, but still nothing changed. “He’s coming back”, Michelle said, at last. “You dance with him this time. It won’t make any difference.”
Sister started to say something, but she was interrupted. “This seems nice”, said Steven, taking a seat between them. “You’ve found a spot to get away from it all”.
We’re just shy.” Michelle said, “My friend here has been dying to ask you for a dance all night.”
Hey!” Sister blurted out, embarrassed, though she didn’t know why.
Steven chuckled. “Now I know why you weren’t interested in the punch.” He smiled at her and took her hand gently in his. “Shall we?”
He led Sister out into the crowd. She looked back and saw Michelle still on the couch, waving at her with a sly smile on her face. “You don’t have to be so nervous”, he said to her, softly, “To be honest, I haven’t been able to take my eyes of you all evening. I was really hoping to dance with you”. Sister backed away a little, but he put his arm around her and held her close. Gingerly, she wrapped her arm around him as well. “You’re so cute when you blush”, he whispered, smiling warmly at her. The sound started up again, and he started to move, and Sister struggled to follow along with him.

The dance lasted a long time, and she found her mind wandering. She thought of her friends, of Pack, who was always in a hurry, of Lay, who was always teasing her, of Lapse, who she never got to know as well as she would have liked, and of Corsair, her closest friend, who was always so bold and full of life. Corsair would love to hear about this, she knew, he was always searching for new things, and this was something that had definitely never happened before. “I have to remember this, so I can tell him”, she thought. If she ever saw him again. She suddenly realized how sad Michelle must have felt, to think she would never see her most precious friend ever again. She told herself that she would find the way back, so she could tell him her story, and so he wouldn’t have to feel like Michelle had. But what could she do? There was something so wrong about all of this…

The sound stopped, and her focus snapped back to the dance. She realized she had both of her arms wrapped tightly around him, and they were staring straight into each others’ eyes. Without a word, he leaned forward towards her, and pressed his lips against hers. She was surprised, but it felt kind of nice. It only lasted a moment, then he whispered to her “Thank you for a wonderful dance” and held her hands in his.
That’s enough out of you, Juliet”, said Michelle, beside them. “I said to dance with him, not to totally steal his heart. Still, he’s quite a charmer, isn’t he?” She sighed. Sister felt confused. “Do you mind if I have the next dance?”, she asked him. “You made it look like so much fun.” Steven started to walk towards her.
Wait,” said Sister, and he stopped. “...I had fun, won’t you dance with me some more?”
Sorry”, he said to Michelle, “but I can't bare to disappoint a cute little flower like this. I’ll save a dance for you at the end, I promise.”
Michelle gave her a nasty look. “You said it didn’t matter”, Sister offered, timidly.
You catch on too quick”, she mumbled under her breath as she went back to reclaim her seat on the couch. Sister couldn’t help but smile to herself as Steven put his arms around her again. He brought his lips to hers again, too, for much longer this time, as they danced the night away.

That was mean”, Michelle said to her as they walked towards the store with the dresses. “I know I probably deserved it, but you didn’t have to rub it in quite so much.”
Sister smiled at her. “But you still like him, right?”
Of course I still like him.” She answered, quickly.
Then why did you say you never wanted to see him again?”
I was angry. I don’t want to talk about it.” Sister was trying to be nice about it, but Michelle sounded angry, and she looked down at her feet as they walked.
You can tell me”, Sister said, hopefully, but she didn’t. They walked the rest of the way in silence.

Which of these do you think Steven would like best?” Sister asked as she rifled through the dresses. She picked a blue one off the rack. “You said before that the blue brought out your curves, did he like that?”.
Don’t go there.” Michelle said, narrowing her eyes.
Or maybe the red. He did say I was very cute when I blushed… Or this yellow one, the fabric is so soft, it’d be very nice to wrap your arms around-“
Stop it!” Michelle cried, angrily.
No!” Sister shouted back. “Not until you tell me why you would say something horrible like that about someone you cared about so much!”
I told you I didn’t want to talk about it!” she bellowed back. People in the store were staring at them now. Suddenly, the phone rang. Sister snatched it out of Michelle’s bag before she could answer. “Hello”, she said, stepping back as Michelle grabbed for it.

Hi, beautiful”, Steven said, through the phone.
Oh, Steven!” Sister said, loudly, “I was just looking at dresses. Tell me, which one do you like? Blue, to show off my curves, red, like my cheeks, or yellow, and nice to hold?” Michelle grabbed at her again, but she nimbly hopped backward out of her reach.
I’m sure they’ll all look great on you.” He chuckled, “If you need some help, how about whichever one you can change into and out of the easiest?”
That’s an odd way to choose,” Sister mused innocently, “but practical, I suppose. Do you think I’ll be needing to get undressed a lot?”

Okay, okay”, Michelle begged, through the phone. “I give up, you win.”
Why did you say you never wanted to see him again?” Sister asked, returning to her normal patient demeanor.
It all started when he went away to university” She began, solemnly. “Because of the distance between us, we couldn’t see each other very often, but we promised we were going to stay together. But then… Stacy came into the picture. She was a total knockout: tall, very fit, a huge chest, and gorgeous blonde hair, and smart too, and they did everything together. He always told me she was just a friend, but I saw the way she looked at him, to her he was definitely something more than that. Some time later, when I was visiting him, he asked me to marry him, and I was so happy that my suspicions dropped for a while, but then I went to visit him on his birthday, unannounced, and…”
She paused. “Please, continue.” Sister urged.
“…I found the two of them kissing, alone in his room. He swears it was nothing, that nothing ever happened between them, but I know what I saw. His hands were all over her, and her perfume was all over him. That’s when we had the argument, when he said I didn’t trust him and always assumed the worst, and I told him that he could marry her for all I cared, because I never wanted to see him again.”
Is that all?” Sister wondered aloud. “Surely you could just apologize and-”
He LIED to me!” Michelle shouted, resentment and pain obvious in her tone.
Even if he did, you still care about him, right? Aren’t these your most precious memories? You said it didn’t matter, but it does, I can tell.”
There was a long silence. Sister twisted the phone cord around her finger, anxiously. “…what difference does it make?”, Michelle said, finally.
It makes all the difference! I have someone I care about too, and I know I have to get through this so I can be with him again!” Sister blurted out, surprised at herself.
“…you’re right.” Sister could hear the pitter-patter sound coming from above again. “We were together so long. I should at least talk to him again.” It was getting louder now.
I’m so happy,” Sister said, smiling triumphantly. “Let’s go home.”
She put the phone down and walked out of the room, into the dark hallway. The door at the end opened for her as she passed through into the rain. She walked to the street, and gazed to the left, waiting for the lights to appear. Sure enough, first the lights came into view, then the vehicle, and finally Michelle opened the door for her. She said nothing as Sister got inside.

We’re going home!” Sister said happily as she stared out the window into the night sky. The rain continued to fall as they went along, trees and buildings passing quickly by until it became too dark to see anything except for the lights on the street ahead of them. Michelle said nothing, busying herself with control of the vehicle. It was a quiet trip, but Sister could barely contain her excitement. Soon she would be back on her ship, with her crew, where she belonged. She would see her friends again. She could tell her story to Corsair, and he’d be so happy to hear about what she had learned. Maybe she’d even tell him about dancing, and the way Steven had brought their lips together, and ask him if he liked her cheeks or her curves. She couldn’t wait to get back.

In the distance, the lights appeared in front of them, and then she could see the large figure drawing closer. Still Michelle said nothing, and the lights drew closer still.
This time you can go around it!”, Sister said, enthusiastically.
No, I can’t.” said Michelle, solemnly, and she twisted the wheel in front of herself sharply. To Sister’s horror, the vehicle did not deviate from its path, and the lights drew ever closer. She reached over in her seat and grabbed the wheel, twisting it frantically to and fro, but still the vehicle moved forward, and the lights came closer. Michelle merely lowered her head as Sister cranked the wheel as hard as she could. SCREECH!
NO!!” Sister cried, as everything went white and that horrible sound came back.

Steven blinked. “Well, we do have other things besides punch.” he said. Sister buried her face in her hands. “Is something the matter?” He asked, putting a hand on her shoulder. He sat down beside her on the couch.
I told you,” Michelle said, “it doesn’t matter what happens. We’re stuck here.”
But you decided to see Steven again!” Sister cried, “Why can’t we go home?!”
Excuse me? Have we met before?” Steven sounded puzzled.
What I decide makes no difference,” Michelle said, “these are just my memories. All except you, anyway. You’re probably just some figment of my imagination I created to keep me company. There was no one else with me in the car when I got into that accident, and I didn’t meet anyone else at the party. But that doesn’t matter either. We’re stuck.”
But the rain was calling me! I have to go hooomme!!” Sister started to cry.
Michelle hung her head. “There’s no way to go home. I don't think we can ever leave.”

Her words cut into Sister's heart in a way she had never known was possible. She would never see Corsair, her crew, or any of the others again. She couldn't even cry anymore. She felt completely empty, like everything that had ever been hers had been taken away. She raised her head from her hands, and stared ahead blankly. Michelle was in front of her, staring straight into her eyes. “You... you've also lost a loved one, haven't you?”, she asked, incredulously. “Just what are you?”
If you need a ride, I could-“ Steven started to say, but there was a deafening crash. The sound snapped Sister out of her misery, and she quickly jerked her head to the right. Part of the wall had collapsed, and rain was pouring in from the blackness beyond. Everyone froze, and suddenly it was silent in the noisy room. Scarcely able to believe her eyes, Sister stood up and walked towards the hole. She peeked through it, looking for her ship.
I know this is crazy,” Michelle said, suddenly, and Sister turned to face her. In her green eyes, Sister could see both incredulous hope and complete desperation: “you’re probably not even real, but please… find Steven. Tell him I was in an accident, and that I’m sorry… I think it’s my only chance. Please.”
I will.” Sister said, feeling the rain on her back.
Michelle hugged her. “Now go!” she said, suddenly, and pushed Sister through the hole.
She was falling, and everything was dark around her except for a tiny box of light coming through the hole in the wall, which was rapidly getting smaller and smaller as she fell. She thought she could see Michelle dancing with Steven as the figures became too small to make out. Soon it disappeared into a mere speck of light, and she lost consciousness.

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