What Lies Beyond: Chapter 35

“She's still out there, I know it. Just have to keep looking. Make a few more calls.”
“It's too late now. We've looked. It's not happening.”
“How can you say that, after all we've been through? Don't you also want to have a comfortable life?”
“Of course I do, but we've run out of chances. It's time to get out while we can.”
The two men idly drummed their fingers on the table, milling over the words that had just been spoken. There was a certain tension lingering the air, as though both sides had much more to say, but neither wanted to be the first to speak.

“Who are you talking about?” Pack asked, breaking the silence. The other two men at the table turned to look in his direction, having paid him little attention until now.
“The last big sale”, said the first man, who had a shiny bald head and a grey moustache. “I know it's still out there.”
“The market's dried up, and we're too old now”, said the other man, who still had a smattering of brown hair on his head and wore thick glasses. “We're done.”
“And here I thought you were talking about a woman”, Pack remarked, looking disappointed. Both men laughed uproariously.
“The market's dried up on women too!” said the second man, barely able to contain himself, his glasses almost falling off his face.
“Speak for yourself when you say we're too old!” said the first man, reaching across the table to slap the second man in the shoulder. Pack rolled his eyes, which they must have seen.
“Suddenly regretting that you never got married?” asked the second man, attempting to regain his composure. “That's not like you.”
“In some ways you're lucky”, the first man added, “don't have a family to answer to. My wife always wants to know when the next cheque is coming, and I wish I had something better to tell her. I wouldn't give her up for the world, though. She stuck with me this whole time, that's far more than I deserve.”
“We all have things that we still want to do”, Pack said, pulling up a chair and sitting down at the table with the men. The bald man nodded.
“But that's not always the same as what we can do”, said the man with glasses, “sometimes we just have to admit that a move on. And it's been so long since we've heard anything. Deep down, I think we all know we're at that point now.”
The table fell silent once again. This time, Pack didn't want to say anything either.

“Well, I still want to give it one more shot”, the bald man said, standing up.
“Do what you like”, replied the man with glasses, leaning back in his chair. “But this time, I'm out.”
“What about you?”, they asked him.
“I- I don't know” he responded nervously, not expecting to have been put on the spot.
“Well, think it over”, said the stranger, “but we can't wait forever...”


Pack hadn't left his cabin since he returned that night. “We can't wait forever...” he mumbled under his breath. The stranger's words had bothered him tremendously, and now it seemed as though he had brought that tense atmosphere back with him.
He forced himself to stand up. “The nightly address. It's so terribly late”, he told himself. In truth, he didn't really care, but he had to get out of his room. He staggered out the door of his cabin and to the helm of his ship.

He expected them all to be waiting for him – at a time like this, they would all depend on his leadership and support, but he was wrong. Snag and Hour were swabbing the deck, Design was mending one of the sails, and Quill was busy working away on his charts. all without being told what to do. Someone looked up at him as they walked by, but that was it. Everything was as it always was and no one seemed the least bit distressed.
“It's just business as usual for all of them”, he thought to himself, incredulously. “In spite of all that's happened, they seem content enough just doing what they know.” He sighed. “Maybe it's better that way. I was like that once, too. Before I met her, all I cared about was maintaining this ship and doing my job every morning. Could I ever feel that way again?”
He walked back down the steps to his cabin, flopped down in his chair, and took out his notebook, flipping through the pages as he had so many times before.


“Sir”, Scout said, gesturing out to sea. “I've spotted it again, sir.”
“Let me see”, Pack said, reaching for the telescope and fixing it to the horizon.
Scout pushed the telescope to the side with his paw. “It's there, sir.”
“Oh... that's right. There is... something.” He squinted harder. “It's too small to make out.”
“I've seen it for three nights now, sir.”
“It must be a ship. What else could it be?” He leaned farther over the railing of the crow's nest, though it did him no good. “But Corsair and the others should be nowhere near there...”
“It... it could be the Black Ship, sir.” Scout offered, fidgeting with his paws.
“The Black Ship doesn't exist,” he said irritably, putting down the telescope. “We just must have made some error in our calculations, that's all.”
“So what should we do now, sir?”
“We'll just have to go and see what it is. Then we can correct our projections.” He gave the telescope back and started down the ladder. “Let me know as soon as you can get a better look.”

But the projections had not been wrong. It was a ship, but not one of the ones he knew. He rolled his eyes as his crew peeked out at it from the safety of the hatch to the lower deck.
“It's the Black Ship, I knew it!” Someone said in a whispered voice.
The next voice was not so quiet: “What'll happen to us? I'm scared! Hey, stop pushing- AAAHHH!”
There was a loud crashing sound as Snag fell off the ladder to the floor below. The impact jostled the trap door free from where they had propped it up, and it fell back into place, sealing off the hatch and the rest of his crew. “Honestly,” Pack shook his head. “Such tomfoolery. The sails aren't even black.”
His ship pulled quietly alongside the other vessel. There was no greeting, and the deck seemed to be empty, as did his own apart from himself. He extended the boarding plank to the other ship and walked across.

The deck was completely silent. The sails were drawn in and did not rustle, and he saw neither hide nor hair of any crew. Even the wind seemed to have stopped. He actually wondered just for a moment whether or not it could really be the Black Ship, but he quickly dismissed it. “If it was, surely something bad would have happened by now”, he told himself. He pressed onward to the helm of the ship. There was nothing towards the railing, but just behind the wheel he found a big heap of what seemed to be dark-coloured fur. Gingerly he poked it with his paw, and he reeled back as it let out a high-pitched squeaking sound.
“What- who are you?” he asked the pile.
“I'm hiding.” it responded in a muffled voice.
“Are you... all right?” he asked, peering at it quizzically.
“I don't know,” the pile responded. “Did I do something wrong?”
“What? No. I just wanted to see who was there,” he said, strangely flustered. “Won't you come out?”
To his great surprise, the pile uncurled itself, revealing a woman with scraggy brown fur of varying colours who was even taller than he was, though substantially less broad. She had an enormous fluffy tail, which had seemingly composed much of the pile of fur, and when she opened her eyes, he saw that they were different colours, one blue and one green.
“You're... one of us?”
“No, I'm me”, she responded.

He coaxed her into coming down to the deck to talk, which she did by walking along the hand railing, one foot after another, carefully keeping her balance with her paws.
“Are you alone here?” He asked her. “I didn't see anyone else.”
“Yes, all alone.”
“How is it that I've never seen this ship before?”
“I met some others, a long time ago. But they said I was 'strange'. So now I just watch.”
“Isn't that... very sad?”
She cast her head upwards. “The stars keep me company. And every time it gets light, I see someone new.”
“Yes, he said. It's the same for all of us. We're not so different, you and I. What kind of work do you do?”
“Work?”, she said, puzzled.
“When the big light comes up.”
“Oh”, she said. “Do you want to hear?”

She stood up and walked towards the railing. She put her hands on the railing and began to speak in a strange manner that was unlike anything he had heard before:

“The day is long and hard,
And the night is dark and cold.
Dreaming of another life,
Waking with the one I've got.

Putting on a different face,
Trying not to lose myself.
Precious things drift away,
Taken by the tides of life.

But as long as you stand by my side,
I won't fear the night or day.
Together we can find our light,
And never fear what lies beyond.”

After she finished, it fell totally quiet. He didn't know what to say at all.
She looked down at her feet. “It's strange, isn't it?”
“No!” He said, hastily. “It's... nice.”
She smiled a little, and stepped up onto the railing, walking along and balancing as she talked. “It's special, I just know. That's why I remembered it.”
He glanced towards the sea behind her. Its colour was already starting to brighten.
“I should go back”, he said, standing up.
She kept pacing along on the railing, her big tail flipping back and forth. “Okay”, she replied, not sad, but as though she had been expecting it.
Watching her go spurred something inside him. “You know,” he told her, “if you ever feel bored or lonely, you can come visit my ship.”
She quickly turned to face him, and for a second he thought she would lose her balance and topple over the railing, but she didn't. “Really?”
She jumped down from the railing and threw her paws around him. “Thank you!”, she exclaimed happily, staring at him through her multicoloured eyes.
And he felt...


“It's too late,” he thought, closing the book. “My memories of these events have all but faded away. I might as well be reading about someone else.” He stood up, and walked to his door. “The Pack who was Lapse's friend is long gone. I let my sadness and guilt take control of my life. She never would have wanted that.”
He came up to the deck, and walked to the railing. He hesitated for a moment, then held the little book out over the edge. “Goodbye, Lapse”, he said, dropping the book into the water below, “thank you for everything”. It floated on the surface for a moment, then sank below the waves, never to be seen again. A single tear fell from his cheek, landing near where the book had sunk. He forced himself to turn away, and he solemnly walked back to his cabin.

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