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Somewhere Beyond the Stars - Part 3


By Merrie SandersPublished 7 months ago Updated 7 months ago 7 min read
Somewhere Beyond the Stars - Part 3
Photo by Jakob Søby on Unsplash

"Hold your breath," my dad says quietly as he squeezes my hand.

I look up at him, not sure what he means.

"We're about to go through a tunnel. You hold your breath whenever you go through a tunnel."

I nod, understanding that this is an important ritual. I inhale sharply and blow up my cheeks. I look at him again, and he smiles, blowing up his cheeks to match mine.

We sit silent as the shuttle moves us through the darkly lit underpass and count in my head.

1, 2, 3, 4--this is sort of fun.

5, 6, 7--I wonder how long this tunnel is.

8,9, 10, 11--I wonder what happens if I let out my breath. Dad's cheeks sure look funny all popped out like that.

12, 13, 14-Wait, why do I have to hold my breath? Is there not enough air?

17, 18, 19 --I feel a little lightheaded. I wonder if I...I'd better---


When I open my eyes, dad is sitting over me with a worried expression on his face. I feel his hands' warm, rough skin on my forehead as a small smile begins to creep over his face as he sees I'm waking up.

"Alma, sweetie," he's chuckling now.

"That tunnel was too long, daddy. I'm sorry I couldn't make it."

And he's laughing a little more earnestly now.

"We'll practice in a shorter tunnel next time," he offers, his hand behind my back, helping me sit up.

Once I'm situated upright back in my seat, I ask, "Why do we have to hold our breath through the tunnel?"

"It's something my grandpa told me. You spend your time in the tunnel thinking about a wish, and if you make it through, you make that wish."

I feel sudden rage pulsing through my entire body, "You didn't tell me to make a wish! Dad!"

He's pushing his finger to his mouth now, and I realize I'm shouting. "Sorry, dad," I say, quickly collecting myself, also realizing I wouldn't have gotten my wish anyway because I didn't make it through the tunnel.

"I'm sorry, kid," his eyes look worried, and he pats my knee reassuringly. He gets that look on his face whenever my mother or I have a "fit," as he calls them. He's worried I'm just like her, but he'll never tell me that. So instead, he pushes back the worry and smiles his contagious grin. "We've got more tunnels coming up, so there's still plenty of chance to get that wish," and he winks at me before setting his eyes ahead on the seatback in front of him.


"Why would the guards take Louisa's bear, Ken? What's going on?"

We've been silent for a few minutes because Ken is worried someone is listening in and the guards will be back. And he seems sad. The mention of his late wife and Louisa's words about a "life without mommy" seem to be etched into the lines of his face as he stares at the mussed carpet underneath his feet. He doesn't look up or react when I ask my question, and it lingers in the air until Louisa says, "His name is Charlie."

I'm confused for a moment before understanding that she means her bear's name. "Charlie," I repeat to her. Her eyes are still wet with tears, and even though she's stopped crying now, it looks like any wrong syllable could set her off again. I consider telling her I'm sorry they took Charlie, that we will get him back, or even giving her a hug, but she looks resolute in this newfound courage to not cry, and I decide against it, sitting back in my seat, again digesting the silence.

"Ken," I say, trying to make my voice simultaneously sweet, cautious, and stern enough to elicit a response. He looks up and furrows his brow, ready for whatever question I'm about to toss his way.

"Could you tell me about the first cabin check?"

He looks back to the ground before speaking, "They told us that we shouldn't get up unless necessary. No roaming the train, no walking around the cabin, and absolutely no speaking with other passengers. We are to remain seated and quiet."

It seemed strict, maybe a little unnecessarily harsh for the supposed "luxury" transport we were on, but it was easy enough to dismiss that. We are traveling through space, after all, so it'd make sense that maybe this form of travel lent itself to more rules. Maybe those guards were just tired or just had to deal with some unruly passenger, or maybe they just really hated teddy bears because they reminded them of their own lost youth.

"Okay, Ken, but that doesn't seem totally unreasonable. I mean, maybe they--' Remembering Charlie and the cruelness in the guard's kidnapping of the beloved companion stopped me.

"Yes, but there was something in the way that they said it..." he trails off as if he realizes he doesn't have the words to articulate it.

"Well, did they say anything else? Why would they take Charlie? How many checks have there been?"

Ken clearly exacerbated my questions and, unable or unwilling to talk about this anymore, has retreated from the conversation and is staring at the floor again. Louisa puts her tiny hand on his knee and squeezes. I see a tear drop from his eye, landing on his shirt collar.

"Louisa, why don't you try to go potty?" he said, tapping his hand lightly on top of hers.

"But, daddy, you said that we shouldn't get up--"

"Just be quick, please, " he snaps, and she nods before getting up and heading for the bathroom door. Once it's closed behind her, Ken leans into me. "Alma, I don't want to scare Louisa anymore than she already is--"

"Then maybe you shouldn't snap at her like that," I say, feeling that familiar bubbling in my veins that makes my whole body tingle. "Or just sit there when some stranger rips her bear out of her hands."

I hear my voice getting pitchy and loud, but he's already reaching over the aisle to my mouth to cover it.

"Alma, please," he's begging, and his eyes have that same familiar sadness I saw in my own dad's eyes all those years ago. "I froze, okay. I know that, but please, listen." He removes his hand from my mouth and sits back in his seat, urgency in his hushed voice.

"I don't know how I didn't see this before, but the woman who encouraged us to get on this train, she..." again hesitating to choose the words, "I don't think she suggested we get on this voyage with good intent."

"Adriana?" I ask, remembering that she did say he was a friend. " She said you were desperate to get on the train and that you would pay 20% extra for the fare-"

"20%?" He exclaims much louder than I've heard him speak this entire trip. "We paid 50% extra."

"What?" I ask in disbelief. "I told her that you could keep your fare, all of it. I didn't take your money."

He's laughing now, but not in the baritone I imagine his actual belly laugh would be, but a sort of sick, sad one. Far too high-pitched and nasally, he mutters something under his breath that I can't fully make out, but I understand that he's cursing our mutual friend.

"She took it all?" I ask, already coming to know the answer.

"All of it."

"Why would she do that? She said you were desperate to get on the train--"

"No, Alma. She suggested it after I..."

"After you what, Ken?"

But before he can answer, Louisa exits the bathroom and settles back into her seat. Before she can even buckle in, our cabin door is opening for the food service.


The next tunnel we go through is much shorter, and I successfully hold my breath the entire length. Shoot! I was so focused on not passing out that I totally forgot to make a wish.

"What happens if I forget to wish, daddy?" I ask, so frustrated with myself for getting this wrong again.

"I guess it just builds up for an even bigger wish the next time." He says in a way so reassuring that I can already feel that boiling, consuming frustration subsiding.

"An even bigger wish," I think to myself. "Dad? Do you let the wishes build up, or do you just have little ones?"

"Hmm," he thinks. "I guess I usually just wish for little ones," he answers. "Do you have something big in mind?"

I think about this for a moment but realize as he holds my hand that I already have all the big stuff covered.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Merrie Sanders

Writing for fun and as an escape from the everyday. After all, what is life for if not to create?

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