What Lies Beyond: Chapter 11

At first it had seemed so easy that she had promised without even considering it. All she had to do was find a stranger and give him a simple message. It wasn't until now, when things had gotten back to normal and she had a chance to think about it that she realized she really didn't know where to start. For as long as she could remember, she had met a new stranger each night, but she had no idea how to go about finding a specific one. Even with all of them searching, they might never find the one they were looking for.

She wished Corsair was here. Exploring was what he was best at, he probably had a dozen ideas about how to find Steven. She had spent many nights listening to his stories about the places he would go and the strangers he would meet. She enjoyed hearing about his adventures, but it was the strangers that interested her the most. In truth, she felt sorry for them, so many of them seemed lonely or sad. She would try to comfort them as best she could, but then the sun would set and she would never see them again. She often wondered what happened to them afterward. The other captains didn't really share her concern, but Corsair also wanted to know more about the strangers and their world, and that was something they had always shared together. She sighed wistfully, reminiscing about old times.

She shook her head. “I can do this”, she told herself, trying to put the pieces together from what she had found out that night.
First of all, Steven had been there when she met Michelle. If she had known, she could have given him the message right then, or Michelle could have done it herself. Yet Michelle had said that those were only her memories, and that she couldn't change them, so maybe the Steven she met was just a memory, too. That seemed very strange, he had certainly felt real enough to her when she danced with him, and why would Michelle have a memory of her dancing with him if they had only just met? Was it possible that she had met them before, but forgotten? No, Michelle had said that herself, she hadn't been there, that was how she realized that Sister didn't belong.

That had been especially strange. No one else had ever told her anything like that before. A few times she had slipped up and said something wrong and usually ended up falling in the ocean for it, but never before had a stranger looked into her eyes and seen her true self. Never before had she been unable to return home when the sun went down, either. If what Corsair had told her was correct, she had been gone for many nights. She tried to remember the sunrise from the night before she met Michelle, but she hadn't paid much attention to it at the time, if there had been anything strange about it she no longer remembered what it was. That made her nervous – was it possible that she could be trapped like that again any time the sun came up? She thought back to how she had felt when she thought she would never see her friends again, but it was so painful she quickly shut it out of her mind.

Whatever the case, she had to find Steven. Michelle was counting on her. “She's probably stuck there until I find him”, she thought, “otherwise she would have just come with me.” Or maybe she was stuck there forever and sent Sister to deliver the message knowing that she never could. She hoped it was the former, the latter was just too sad to think about.

Sister sighed. It wasn't much to go on. She still had no idea how to find Steven specifically, and there was so much about Michelle's situation that was still unclear to her. Even though she knew more about the strangers than before, she felt like she understood much less.
I guess all I can do is keep my eyes open and try to make sense of all this”, she thought to herself as she watched the waves through her window. “I just hope we can figure this out before it's all too late.”


She was greeted by the clamour of dozens of people milling about, and for a moment she was overcome by the horrible fear that she might be back on that couch once again, trapped for good this time. Gingerly she opened her left eye, and breathed a deep sigh of relief to see that she was not. She found herself in the middle of a long, brightly lit hallway, flanked on both sides by rooms with tall glass windows and what must have been hundreds of people walking up and down each side. Just in front of her, there was a quiet spot with a few benches and one of those strange indoor trees in the middle. Not knowing what else to do, she sat down on the bench and watched the people go by, keeping an eye out for one who looked like Steven.

Excuse me”, a high-pitched voice asked her, and she turned around to look for its source. A short little woman wearing a pink dress with brown hair tied in a ponytail was staring at her, hands folded cutely in front of her. “I can't find my brother, can you help me?”
You're looking for someone?” She asked.
Yes, we were together just a little while ago but now I can't find him. I saw you sitting here by yourself, and I don't have anyone else I can ask...”
Okay”, she nodded, “I'll help you look. What does he look like?”
Oh, thank you!”, said the little woman, smiling widely, “He's about my height, and he's wearing a red cap, jeans, and a black shirt.”
Well, we'd better get looking, then”, she said, getting up off the bench, and the two of them started walking down the isle together.

She quickly realized that this place was much like the one she visited with Michelle. It had the same sort of brightly-coloured rooms and indoor trees as the place she had been before. She wondered whether or not it could be the exact same place, but it didn't seem to quite match up with the place she remembered. They had just passed a place where the path had split in two, and she didn't recall that from before, though perhaps she was just remembering it wrong. It was such a large place, and she had only been there for a short time.
Danny, where are you?” the stranger called out, and Sister realized she hadn't been looking for the stranger's friend at all. She stopped to take a look around, but she didn't see anyone as small as the stranger. Then something caught her eye, and she darted over to it.

She pressed her face up against the clear wall so she could see inside more clearly. Inside was a brightly lit store filled with dresses and clothes of a hundred different types and colours lining every wall, just like the place she had gone with Michelle. Could she possibly be in there? It looked so much the same. She quickly walked around to the entrance to peek inside.
I don't think he'd be in there”, the stranger said from behind her, “that's all girls' clothes.”
Maybe just a quick look-” she started to say, but the stranger was already moving on. Sister quickly turned back to the room with the clothes, but the lights had dimmed a little. She took another quick peek inside, but it seemed to be empty now. She sighed and hurried along.

A little further ahead, they came to a room that was adorned by lines of bright flashing lights of various colours. Just looking at it made Sister feel a bit dizzy.
“This looks a lot more like a place he'd go”, the stranger said, looking inside. “Could you wait here while I go look for him? Let me know if he comes by.”
Okay”, Sister said, seating herself on a nearby bench, glad not to have to go in there. The stranger disappeared inside the pulsating room, and she went back to watching the people going by.

She was a bit surprised that none of them paid any attention to her as they walked by. They all seemed to be so wrapped up in whatever they were doing that she could stare right at them and they wouldn't even notice. She was almost tempted to call out to them and see if they would respond, but she thought better of it. She turned back to the coloured lights, but the stranger still hadn't come out. She thought about going in after her, but then she caught something out of the corner of her eye.

At first, she couldn't be sure, so she leapt up from the bench and took a few steps to get a closer look. Her heart started racing – he had the same dark skin, the same short black hair, the same everything. “Steven!”, she called, shouting after the man in the other isle. She thought she saw him react a little, and then she started running, forgetting all about the stranger.

She had caught up about half the distance when he turned a corner to her left. She bolted after him, brushing up against one person and almost crashing into another, but she ignored them all and kept running. As she rounded the corner at top speed, she frantically scanned the isle ahead for him, but he was nowhere to be found. She took a second look, unable to believe he could have gotten out of sight so quickly, and then she spotted a halfway-open door that was closing itself. She darted towards the door, which had closed by the time she reached it, threw it open, and ducked inside.

It was pitch black inside the room, and cold, the only light came from the hallway behind her.
Hello?” she called to the dark-skinned man. There was no reply, so she walked further into the darkened room, raising her hands in front of her so she wouldn't bump into anything.
Hello?” she called again. Still there was no answer, but she thought she heard the sound of footsteps coming from farther in.
Please, come out”, she said, “I just want to tell you something.”
She thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye, so she walked towards it, but there was nothing there. Then she realized what she had seen and whirled around immediately – the light in front of her was getting smaller! She turned back just in time to see the door closing, gradually cutting off the only light in the room. She ran towards it, but it was too late, the door shut with a soft click, trapping her in total darkness.

She put her hands out in front of her and walked back towards the door, but even after she had walked what seemed like far enough, she didn't bump into it. She wondered if she had gotten turned around in the darkness, so she walked the other way, but there was nothing that way, either. She doubled back again, and again, but no matter how far she walked, or in which direction, she couldn't even find a wall.

Help! Someone! Let me out of here!” She cried as loud as she could, but there was no response. She jumped up and down, trying to make as much noise as possible, and waited, but no one came. She rubbed her hand against her face, hoping to feel the soft touch of her fur, but it was still the smooth texture of skin. “Let me out!!” she cried again, in vain.

Frantically, she took off one of her shoes and threw it, hoping to hear the sound of it striking against a wall, but it took a long time to make any noise and in the end there was just a soft thud that sounded like it came from very far away. She tried to follow the sound, but she never came across the shoe again. Defeated, she collapsed on the hard dark floor below.

Why?” she sobbed, pathetically. “Why does it have to be like this?”
She only wanted to help. Michelle was trapped and had nowhere else to turn. Surely it wasn't wrong to feel sympathy for her, even if she was a stranger. But where had that gotten her? Now she was trapped, too, and who did she have to rescue her? The ship would come, and she wouldn't be on it. Then she would never get to go back and see her friends again, and in time, they would forget that they had ever known her, while she remained here, trapped in this dark empty space forever.

She was so stupid. Even if that had been Steven, it could easily just have been another memory, not the real one. What was she thinking, that she could hope to find one stranger among who knows how many? Why had she been willing to risk everything that she had for something so impossible? Now she would never see Corsair again. She felt so angry at herself and everyone else. “Why should I help you?!” she cried bitterly, throwing her other shoe as far as she could. “Why don't you just stay there?!” She tore at her shirt with her hands, and it made a sharp sound as it ripped beneath her grasp.
I don't care! I don't care about you or Steven!”
Worn out from her outburst, she crumpled to the ground in a heap, tears streaming out of her eyes.

Then there came a tiny creaking sound. It grew louder and louder, and she raised her head and saw a little bit of light through her watery eyes.
“Oh, there you are!” Hope said, holding the door open. “We've been looking all over for you!” The stranger was there, too. “It's a good thing she told me where you'd been!”
Sister slowly picked herself up. She was a mess, she had no shoes, her shirt was in tatters, and her hair was strewn every which way. “Are you okay?” the stranger asked her. Sister didn't say anything, she just slowly walked out of the room.
“What happened to you?” Hope asked her, leaning in to try to get a look at her face, but she walked right past her and flopped down on a nearby bench.
“Ummm... I found my brother”, the stranger told her. “Thanks, miss!” She hurried off. Sister didn't even watch her leave.
Hope sat down beside her and put her arms around her, clasping her shoulders. “Hey... it's okay.”
Sister slowly turned her head to look at her, then returned to looking at her feet. It wasn't okay. The lights above her started to fade, but her light had already gone out.


We're back”, Hope said gently as they returned to the ship. Sister didn't respond to her, she just continued to look at her feet.
Please, what happened?” she asked, concerned for her friend.
She was still in a poor mood, the sour tone of her voice made that clear: “I thought I saw Steven in there, so I chased after him. I ended up getting stuck in that dark room and I still didn't find him. It was a total disaster.”
Hope tried to encourage her: “We can always try again”.
No, we can't”, Sister said, firmly. “If you hadn't come along, I would have been trapped in there forever. It's far too dangerous.”
Don't worry”, Hope tried to reassure her, an annoyingly cheery smile plastered across her grey-furred face, “next time we'll stick together so that everyone comes home safe.”
“Don't you get it?!”, she snapped, “there's not going to be a next time! I don't care anymore! I turned my back on them, the only person I really care about is myself!”
“Hey, come on, you know that isn't true...” she reached towards her, arms outstretched.
Just go away and leave me alone!!” Sister shouted at her, swiping at her to keep her away.
Hope slunk back, heavily cowed. “...okay”, she squeaked, backing away with her head drooped. She added “I'm sorry”, just before she ducked out of sight, and that made it even worse.
Sister just stared down into her paws in shock, unable to believe what she had just done. She had her claws out. She never had her claws out.

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