Guest (Dec 23): Snow Patrol's my favorite. :)
Guest (Dec 19), BeChloeFan01: Hurts like hell, right?
cricket: To give room for another story. :)
RicchanxMio: So is this story. It's so confusing. LOL.
Guest (Dec 15): I'm sorry, but I'm not going to write a sequel. It's just that I feel resolved with the ending already.
avidreader: When you put it that way, I feel the pressure.
Guest (Dec 15): It's a toss between Futurama and Adventure Time. LOL
Guestttt: I can assure you it's not Lilly. If you remember, although implied, she was mentioned to be in the Limbo in the early chapters. She was one of the contenders for the Welcome Party job along with Rem and Bumper.
A/N: This is the shortest multi-chapter story I've written so far, yet it's the most complicated. LOL. I know most of the times, it's kind of difficult to follow, so I just want to say thank you for sticking around until the very last chapter. I absolutely had fun torturing you- I mean, writing this story. Til the next adventure, crickets! :) Oh and it's written in one go. No borders. Hope it doesn't confuse so much.
CHAPTER TEN: Forever
"You are Kimmy Jin."
Stacie shows to our hostess the picture of a certain Korean woman displayed on her phone screen. She has googled the name for the sake of evidence. A bunch of articles have been listed on the search engine for our perusal. I borrow the phone from my friend to scan through for my own peace of mind.
'Dead woman found alive'
'Zombie Woman: Still missing!'
All these articles pertain to Kimmy Jin, a twenty-seven year old woman who got killed in a bank robbery in Chicago, Illinois two weeks ago. She obtained a headshot wound which led to her untimely death. However, as if a miracle, she woke up in the morgue and then mysteriously fled town. I stare at the picture on the screen then to the woman sitting across the table; they are the same. She has to be Kimmy Jin.
"I am not Kimmy Jin," she further insists though.
Stan slams his hand on the dining table, not caring for a second that it's the woman's home in the first place and we are mere uninvited guests. He's obviously frustrated now. "Look, just tell us the truth. We don't have time to play games with you, okay? So, the girl in this picture, is this Kimmy Jin?"
"Next question: Are you and the girl in this picture one and the same?"
She hesitates for a moment, processing the question intensely so as to arrive at the best answer. "It's the same body, yes."
"So you are Kimmy Jin."
"No," she answers firmly.
"Then who are you?" Stan is already shouting, angry with this conversation that doesn't seem to be going anywhere relevant and necessary. I can understand his fury. It's been roughly a couple of hours, and we're still on the first step of this whole long journey. "Just tell us where Kimmy Jin is, and we'll leave you alone."
"Kimmy Jin is dead," the woman reveals. I look at her, and I know she's telling the truth. "Her time was up. I do not know who I am. I just know I exist. As a human being. Alive. An element of the physical world."
"You said you're from Portland," Stacie points out.
"That is what I retrieve from the memories I have."
"What do you mean?"
She gives us an ignorant shrug. It's not helping our cause at all.
"Fine." Stan takes the rose-in-a-bottle and sets it right in front of the woman. "Forget about Kimmy Jin. Do you know what that is?"
Her eyes light up again at the sight of the bottle, craving for whatever it might offer to her like some mad scientist. Bizarre. "Memories… so many memories… so many of them…"
Without warning, she eagerly moves supposedly to grab the bottle for her keeping. Stacie and I panic because it's our only chance to finding Beca; if she breaks it or take it away from us, then we might as well kiss our dying hope goodbye. Luckily, Stan has been fast enough to seize the mysterious container. Why? Why does she have that much interest? It's not just me who's noticed this anomaly.
"If you can tell us what this is all about, then maybe we can all be friends."
She stares at the bottle for a good five seconds, probably considering Stan's offer. Then, out of the blue, she shifts her gaze to my direction, knowingly, completely sure about what she's about to suggest. "Why don't you ask her?"
I receive my friends' questioning scowls. My mouth stammers without words to convey my bewilderment. I have no idea what this woman is talking about!
"Chloe, right?" The three of us grow anxious when she mentions my name. We never told her our names! How did she know who I am? She's getting creepier every minute we spend with her. Maybe going inside her unit is not a good idea after all. "You don't remember me, do you?"
What? Have I met her before?
"You were the biggest fish in the water," she wears a big grin I'm scared. She seems to be getting more and more interested in me. For some reason, I feel like she wants to feed on me, eat all of me. Her body is moving, I'm backing away, and Stan is on alert. "Now you have more memories than ever. They're all so vivid, playing in your head over and over, aren't they? Losing someone who completes you, you are now living in your memories. You are the biggest fish this water has ever known."
She has her hands prop against the table as if she would jump at me anytime. That's when we notice her pale odd skin and the strange appearance of her nails - it's like she's decaying!
"Just because you are back in this world does not mean you are safe forever and ever."
A long piercing scream explodes inside my brain. I have my hands up on my head, hoping to contain it. My eyes are shut tightly close; my hands squeeze my head as the scream drives me nuts; I'm down on my knees. What's happening?
"Chloe!" Stacie hurries to my aid. "Chloe, are you alright? What's wrong?"
I can barely talk. I can barely think. I just want this wailing banshee to stop. "Make it stop, please. Make it stop!"
"What, Chloe? What is it?"
"The scream!" I yell out. Then the high-pitched screech gets louder I yelp in pain. "Make it stop, Stacie!"
"But I don't hear anything. Chloe, nobody's screaming."
"What did you do to her?" Stan's fuming voice echoes into my ears. I can make out through my blurry vision his shadow confronting the woman. "Stop it already! Stop it now!"
I hear her laugh while my mind is crowded with a rush of old memories and others I can't recognize, the dreams and the nightmares altogether. I close my eyes again in fear but I still see her, face-to-face, grinning at me mockingly. She's literally inside my head!
"Get out!" I shriek through my nausea. "Get out of my head!"
"Chloe…" Stacie is trying to calm me down, but it's no use. I'm already vulnerable to this woman's power, whatever it is. "What's going on?"
"Let me remind you of what I am, Chloe."
Then the lights flicker rapidly until the glass shatters, enclosing the room into a complete blackness. The screaming has gone too; now I can hear myself panting heavily. The entire room has fallen silent, except from mine and my friends' own anxious breathing.
"Anybody okay?" asks Stan, and Stacie answers for us both. "Good. Just stay where you are. I'm coming for you two, then we're leaving."
"The bottle," I am suddenly reminded.
The delay in Stan's response gives away the fact that he no longer has the bottle, which can only mean that the woman has stolen it. Startling us a bit, lights coming from an unknown source begin to flicker once more. The room is already empty but our presence. Stan easily spots us amidst a seizure-inducing circumstance. He starts walking towards me and Stacie as cautiously as possible.
"Stan, the bottle," I told him.
"We have to leave."
"No! We're not leaving without the bottle. Stacie, tell him!"
But I find the reluctance on her face as well. "Sorry, Chloe, but I'm taking Stan's side on this one. That woman is freaking crazy!"
"Then I'm staying," I declare. I'm not leaving without answers. I won't leave 'til I get Beca back.
"What? No! Who knows what she's going to do next?"
Like an answered prayer, the flickering lights turn into a blinding radiance - white beam in a million refraction. There's a sudden whoosh of wind followed by black smoke that fills the entire premises. It's cold and it's cruel; it's like a tornado spinning rapidly like a top. Then it starts to suck my friends away from me like a vacuum, so the black smoke can trap me at its heart where I am weak and defenseless. The piercing scream comes back along with the painful rush of memories. I fall on my knees, forced to endure the torture.
"Stop!" I beg for mercy. "Stop it! Please!"
And it does, thank god. But I'm all alone. Stan and Stacie. I have no idea where they are.
"Do you remember me now?" I hear the woman whisper. So eerie; it's like she's whispering right into my ears. "Do you remember my kind now, Chloe?"
Stabilizing my breathing, I'm suddenly looking up to her physical self standing right in front of me. "You're a Soul Hunter."
"I knew you'd remember," she grins widely.
But I'm really confused. I don't know why I've said that, let alone where I've gotten the idea. She offers a hand - she doesn't seem to be that bad at all - and I try to hold on to it, but I can't. It's as if I'm trying to touch the wind in the atmosphere.
"Your friends will have to stay in the physical world," is what she explains instead. "They do not belong here yet."
"And here is where?" I question as soon as I get back up on my feet.
"Here is what is in between."
Riddles, more riddles.
"I can help you," she proposes. Something about her tells me it won't be a generous offer. "You can help me. We can help each other out."
"What else do you recall from the Limbo?"
I shake my head for emphasis, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"But you do remember I'm a Soul Hunter."
"I don't," I admit. "The thing just spit out of my mouth."
"You also remember Beca when it is not possible to retrieve any memories from the Limbo." She speaks to me as if she's certain that I've been there, in the Limbo, with Beca, and that my wife is left behind that unheard location. I'm all ears now; my entire being is completely engrossed into what this woman has about to say about this one. "If you want to reach her, you must go back there. But she will certainly not remember who you are."
"So she's alive."
"No," she dismisses my hypothesis so surely. "You will find her soul. And in Limbo, it will stay for eternity. You should know. You have known."
I hold up a hand to signal my utter confusion. "Look, I just want to get her back."
"You will never get her back."
There, she has just crushed my own soul with a single frank sentence. Of all the things she has told us, this is the most honest; this is what I believe the most. And it's heart-wrenching. The expression on her face proves that she's just as cold and cruel as the black smoke that she really is.
"Take me to her," I demand. For now, I just really need to see her again, to exist in the same universe as she is again. No matter what it takes.
"You need to surrender me your memories until you are almost empty."
So be it. I spread my arms wide to yield to her demand. No, I don't have anything to lose now anyway. For the past weeks, I have been mostly an empty tank. Surrendering my memories to this creature won't make any difference at all, except from a better chance to see the love of my life again.
The woman puts on a smirk and the wind blows around us angrily. i fight the urge to be taken by the tornado-like threat while I watch her stand in position so calmly. Her body though, bit by bit, detaches away to form black smoke. Then, I feel myself lose control of my own; my feet lift up, rising from the ground, as the strange woman finally disappears into her true self. In a quick violent tremor, the black smoke penetrates my mind, sucking in every little memory I have, and I'm defenseless. I simply hang in midair struggling helplessly in pain. Everything turns black after that.
I wake up, gasping for air. It feels like drowning at first until I find myself standing in the middle of a room I have never been before. At least that's what I recall. But turning around, I see myself, another me, clad in a wedding gown, staring at her reflection on a full-length stand alone mirror. She doesn't seem to notice my presence; my reflection does not appear on the mirror where it should have.
Curious, I walk closer - a dozen inches from where she stands - to have a better look. She's getting married. She has the most gorgeous gown I've ever seen, the perfect hair and makeup, and a bridal bouquet of lilies of the valley to complete the attire. But I look at her and somehow I know something is wrong. After all, we are one and the same. There's something missing, the most important of them all - her smile.
"Chloe, you ready?"
We both turn our heads towards the door where a blonde woman, the Maid of Honor, sneaks in; she's out of breath; the stress of the job has probably taken its toll. Neither of them still seem to have noticed my existence much to my horror. More so, blondie unbelievably walks pass through me, as if I'm a ghost, to reach the bride.
"Everything's set," she informs the other. "You go to your spot then we start in a few minutes."
Chloe, however, is not responding the way she should be for a very special day like her own wedding. She's awfully… depressed. "Aubrey?"
"I have to do this, right?"
Aubrey sighs and clicks her tongue. She's figured out the problem. "No. Not if you're not happy."
"I am happy," the bride flashes her best smile. It doesn't matter, however. It's not even convincing anymore, not even for a benefit of the doubt.
"Beca's skipping the wedding." Just the mere mention of the name affected the redhead. So as me. "I've been trying to call her since yesterday, but she's out of the radar. Her office won't give me her schedule or anything. Bitches."
"Did you ask her brother?"
"He's covering up for her, of course."
"She's gone," concludes the other. "We won't see her ever again."
Aubrey shakes her head and takes away the bridal bouquet to remove it out of the way. She holds the redhead's hands and looks straight into her eyes. "Listen to me, Chloe. I know I'm your Maid of Honor today and that part of my duties is to make sure you get out of that door, walk down the aisle and marry the guy in front of the hundreds of guests. But more than that, I am your best friend... 'till death do us part and beyond... and my job here includes that I talk you out of this wedding. Chloe, this is not what you want. Ben is not who you love."
"Do you think he would ever forgive me?" my other self asks her best friend.
A cloud of black smoke comes in to fill the scene out of my sight. I am reminded of what's happening. No, not this memory. I can't let her have this memory. This is the day I chose Beca! I scream for mercy, but the smoke keeps on blending in.
"Surrender your memories," the eerie voice rings in my ears, causing me unbearable pain.
The next thing I wake up I'm at a candy store. A group of triplets have come running through my intangible body; their parents chasing them behind. To them, I am nothing but an invisible puff of air. I turn my body around to follow their paths and see myself once more; the kids have knocked her down and so are the pack of candies she was carrying. I hurry to help her, but a certain brunette beats me to it.
"Beca," I call out of her name yet her attention is all on the other me.
This memory, I've memorized this by heart. This is the moment we first laid our eyes on each other. Beca will give me a hand with the candies; she will chip in a joke, and I will laugh regardless of how corny it is; we will introduce ourselves then head for lunch at a sushi bar… I know all these and the rest of history because it's all I have of her. No, I can't let anybody take these memories away from me. But as I run to Beca and grab her arm, I see the Soul Hunter in her stead.
"You agreed to give up your memories," she hisses at me with the tongue of a snake.
By the time I'm about to open my mouth to respond, I am sweep into another memory. I find the other me sitting by the doorstep of someone else's house. She looks tired and all, like she's been camping out here overnight.
"Chloe?" Beca walks past my ghost-like body. "What are you doing here?"
"I didn't want to miss your arrival," mutter the other.
"What? Are you crazy?"
"Yes! Maybe I am."
The brunette heaves out a deep sigh at the remarks of the old me. "You should go home, Chloe."
"No!" insists the redhead. "We have to talk about this. It's driving me mad, Beca. Everytime I close my eyes, it's playing in my mind over and over."
"You're with Ben now. It doesn't matter."
"Well, how you feel about me, it does matter."
"Just forget about it." Beca fishes her keys out of her bag and begins to unlock the door. "I didn't even mean for you to know about it so, why don't we both pretend it never happened or that it's only a terrible nightmare to forget, yeah? Besides, it's just feelings. Who knows, Chloe? Maybe tomorrow it'll go away. Maybe it's just some stupid infatuation after all. I'll get over you soon, alright?"
"But I don't want you to get over me."
The brunette freezes. Everything goes quiet for a minute or so, except from two hearts beating as one. I stand there in anticipation as their eyes meet.
"So if tomorrow it'll go away," Chloe speaks, "Can I hear it from you again today? For as many times as you can say it."
Those dark blue eyes soften at the plea. Before the scene could play on any further, the black smoke snatches the memory away from me. I am coerced to walk down the memory lane - from one memory to another - and, without a choice, watch them get stolen.
The Soul Hunter is so unfair, I have decided. She's selectively taking my memories of Beca, the biggest chunk of them all. Soon, my grasp on her identity evanesce.
"Wake up, Chloe."
I flutter my eyes open to see a pair of hazel greens staring down at me. I blink several times to fix my blurry vision. It's a woman I've never seen before - the tips of her blonde hair, fascinatingly, are painted with all possible hair color you'd think someone simply splash the color wheel into her strands.
"Can you stand on your own?"
"Where am I?" I ignore her query to post my own now that I realize I'm in a dark forest, lost in a dark forest with a stranger mysteriously appearing beside me. "Who are you?"
"Here." Equip with a burning torch in one hand, she holds up a twig I can grab on to help me stand on my feet. "It's me, idiot, Rem."
The name doesn't ring a bell, but she speaks to me as if we're close friends.
"How can you make a deal with a Soul Hunter?" she chides. "You're not even supposed to get here yet! You have three days, remember? And she told you to wait for her, didn't she? So you should have known better than come barging in here!"
"I… I-I don't understand..."
She checks my eyes. "This is bad. Really bad, Chloe. Your memories, they're almost gone. They were taken while a part of you is human. That could do permanent damage."
"Where on hell is that shorty?" There's a hint of urgency in her voice like this is some sort of an emergency. "She has to revive you immediately before the Timekeeper realizes you're time has paused. It would know you're here."
"Put the fire out!"
We turn to the side to see a brunette rushing towards us. The torch suddenly disappears from Rem's grip as the other stranger reaches our spot. By now, there's only so much I can make out of the blackness. None of us say a word nor breathe out loud. Before long, a levitating silver ball of electric lights hovers around the nearby surrounding like a police patrol. I can sense the anxiousness in the unsteady breathing of my two companions, I wonder what the light is.
"How did the appeal go?" Rem asks the brunette as soon as the coast is clear. The torch is back in her possession. "Was it suspicious?"
"I ran out as soon as I got your signal," replies the other. Then, she turns to me, a shy smile plastered on her lips. "Hi."
I'm stumped. I have no idea who she is.
"She doesn't remember you," blondie explains my condition to her. "We have to retrieve her memories from the Soul Hunter that stole them in order to execute the restoration. But we don't have time for that, Beca."
"Beca," I repeat the name. It sounds so familiar. Even my soul agrees, calming to her presence.
She walks up to me and gives me this intense look I'm drawn to her. "I will neither live nor die. I'm sorry I can't give you what you wanted, Chloe. Aubrey told me everything before she made the cross. Now I don't know how long I can keep these memories, but I will be here. We might not remember each other the next time we meet, but I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here waiting for you."
"Beca," I say her name again. Something inside me stirs I can't explain. It's like I just want to burst out crying and embrace her until the end of time.
"You have to revive her now," Rem quietly interrupts.
"Okay," Beca nods. "Close your eyes, Chloe."
But before I could, a cloud of black smoke swoosh around us; the fire on the torch dies out from the strength of the wind. Again, we find ourselves in the middle of darkness.
"Give her back her memories!" I hear Rem's furious voice shouting at the top of her lungs. "Take mine instead! I remember everything, all of them!"
I can't make out what the smoke has done to her, but her screams soon infiltrates the atmosphere.
But the smoke grows stronger and her screams louder.
"Close your eyes and count one to ten," Beca instructs me once more. "No matter what happens, no matter what you hear, just keep your eyes shut until 'ten', you understand?"
"Just do it, Chloe."
She leaves my side to help the other. I am left with no other choice but to give in to the command. I close my eyes and start to count ten. One… Two… I can still hear Rem's shrieks… Three… Four… I feel a vibration all over my soul… Five… Six… The cruel winds have knocked me down… Seven… Everythings starts to subside… Eight… Things have become eerily silent… Nine… Ten…
I open my eyes. I'm still in the grubby old apartment; Stacie and Stan are lying unconscious on the floor; The creepy woman is no longer in sight. As I crawl to my friends' aid, I slap a hand over my forehead - headache. It feels like I just woke up from a bad dream. The best part though is meeting Beca again. And it feels so real.
The three of us left the unit, hop into the car and drive back home. Nobody dares to start a conversation about our chronicle. Speechless, we have agreed to never mention the encounter ever again. It's past midnight when they drop me off my house. We exchange obligatory good nights and they promise to visit me in the morning. I respond with a small nod. I enter the house and lock the door behind. I'm all alone again.
Exhausted, I drag myself up the stairs, kicking my shoes along the way. I walk into the bedroom and flop into the bed. It's been three days, three whole days of emptiness. I'm just freaking tired already.
I look over to my side; an image from our wedding is displayed on a frame where Beca is smiling at the lens, at me directly. I reach for it with my frail trembling hands - come on, feeble body, just a little bit longer and I'm letting you take over. Lying on my back, I stare at the picture. Like magic, I can hear our laughters, her jokes, the favorite songs we play on the radio when we cruise to nowhere.
[Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul
And it's the only thing that I know, know]
Reminiscing all the times we spent together, I smile to myself. My mind serves as a perpetual visual album where our love story can live on. The images pan inside my brain, and I've never been any more satisfied this past weeks. It's like I can close my eyes and I can be with her again.
[I swear it will get easier
Remember that with every piece of you
And it's the only thing we take with us when we die]
The morning has come, and I feel different. I get out of bed and head downstairs for a mandatory breakfast, but I stop by the hallway when I notice the front door open; a brunette is sitting on my doorstep, waiting. I know who it is, that slouchy back a giveaway. Of course I'm drawn to her like a magnet.
[We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time's frozen still]
I should question her unlikely presence, but I don't. Nobody should question a miracle. So I sit beside her; Her eyes are glued to me and so is the smile on her face. She then lets out a chuckle, and I follow suit. Funny, is this how everything would end? 'Cause I won't mind.
[So you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer 'til our eyes meet
You won't ever be alone]
"The Gatekeeper is hiring a new Welcome Party," she says. "Perks include prolonged stay in the Limbo."
I get what she's trying to point out here. "I might be interested."
"So," she deliberately coughs and offers a hand.
I take it without a doubt. Grinning, I pull her face for a kiss - she has no idea how long I've waited to do it again. I remember the sensation, the taste of it, the sparks everywhere. I squeeze her hand and meet those blue orbs. We finally co-exist.
[And if you hurt me, that's okay baby, only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won't ever let you go
Wait for me to come home]
"How's the potato clock?" starts our endless conversations. I scoff at her silliness as we stay seated right on the doorstep; She bombards me with her terrible jokes, but I laugh anyway and sigh delightfully. This is where our forever commences; I couldn't ask for more.
Are they finally reunited? Is it just a dream? A hallucination? I'm leaving it to you. Merry Christmas, crickets! And happy new year! :)
Song: Photograph - Ed Sheeran