The ancient alarm clock rang extra loud that morning, its harsh cry coupled with the loud buzz as it danced across the top of the bedside desk. The room’s silence was destroyed by the annoying blare of noise and, as if angered by the sound, an arm slithered out from under the comfort of blankets like a trodden snake.
The hand struck the offending clock, knocking it off its feet and sending it across the room with a clatter and a dying ring, coming to rest in front of the closet door. The arm, exhausted by its outburst, fell limp for a moment, before the hand clenched into a fist, and grasped the edge of the blanket, flinging it off the now awakened man.
George Lannister swung his feet off the bed and sat upright, only to hunch over and bury his face in his hands with a long sigh. The room was stuffy, yet he felt no strength to rise and fling open the window. Instead, he got to his feet, stretching the tension from his back, and stepped in front of a tall mirror.
Looking back at him was a tall, handsome man with dark hair and even darker eyes. He put a hand to his cheek; he could see and feel the stubble of neglect on the long face staring back at him. George shook his head and resisted the urge to spit at the reflection, instead mumbling four words, like a curse.
“Look at you now.”
His voice seemed to stir a reaction from the bed, as the sheets moved a little. George looked over his shoulder to see the figure of a woman, naked, but mostly covered by the white bedclothes with her back to him. The long, disheveled blonde hair spilled all over the bed behind her, and her left shoulder rose and fell softly with the steady breathing of deep sleep.
George massaged his forehead as he stepped into the bathroom, and enjoyed a brief, scaldingly hot shower. The steam caressed his skin, but the calming effect was lost on George as he patted himself dry and stepped into some clean clothes he had laid out, now stepping in front of a smaller mirror mounted above the bathroom sink.
A very different man looked back at George this time as if each mirror in his apartment had a different opinion of him. The man was much more handsome, his hair combed, the stubble tamed, and wearing a pair of jeans, a white shirt, and a black jacket.
But both mirrors showed all too well the lack of a shine within those dark eyes and a certain hollowness to whatever smile he could manage to screw up. He quickly tossed the shaving razor into its drawer, resisting his urges to hurt himself, to finally end the fight with an enemy he had battled for too long: loneliness, made worse by a long onset of depression.
On thinking of his wrist, George’s mind shot to the time, and with a glance at his watch, he ground his teeth. He was going to be late.
After a half-minute debate on whether to button his jacket, he shoved his wallet and keys into his pocket. But before he could touch the doorknob, his hand froze, and, in the silence, he could hear the breathing coming from the bed. Withdrawing the wallet again, he pulled out three single hundred dollar bills and laid them on the bedside desk. He shook his head, and quickly left, shutting his apartment door as gently as he could.
The drive went fast, and George wished it had not. His morning drives, which proved to be moments of clarity, were all too short, and before he knew it, he found himself sitting at a table in a cafe. The seat overlooked the busy street outside while letting in warming beams of sunlight between the tall buildings. Soft music of an unknown genre played somewhere, but in his quietude, it seemed to be drifting from far away. His finger tapped his watch, he had been on time, but she had not.
As he thought this, the cafe door opened, and he barely noticed the woman entering. She was tall, with a blue dress that contrasted her blonde, almost white hair. She saw him and seated herself in front of him with a bright smile.
“You gotta be George.” Her voice was shrill to his ears. “You look just like your profile picture.”
George’s returning smile was skin-deep at best, and his attention was just as shallow. Yet another hopeless attempt, this time, thanks to an online dating site that had often failed him. The woman in his bed, and this woman sitting in front of him, they were not the first. And as she began talking, while he barely listened, he knew she would not be the last.
This was the story of his five-year struggle, the losing battle. Every hookup online, every prostitute paid off, it was worse than drinking. He was trying to find the one who could make him feel something, yet every venture dulled his sense further, and further.
She must have mistaken George’s silence for attentiveness, for she chatted away, her voice muffled as George’s mind drifted farther away. The battle was taxing him more, and, as he sat there with cold coffee next to him, and the pretty woman in front, he wondered for how much longer it would be worth fighting.
“... and I was all, like, really? You can’t just…”
“Excuse me.” George stood up, cutting her off in mid-sentence. “I need a second.”
George found brief sanctuary on the porch of the cafe, where two groups of people talked quietly from under shaded tables, away from the sun that warmed George’s skin as he drew a cigarette from its box. Lighting it, and giving a long draw, he held the breath for a moment before sighing out a long, white cloud of smoke that drifted upwards in the absence of a breeze. His body relaxed for a moment, and he took another drag from it, the end glowing like a coal.
This time, he breathed it out from his nose and grinned just slightly, imagining himself like those cartoonish bulls, blasting steam from flaring nostrils. He followed the smoke as it too drifted upwards, almost obscuring the entrance of an alleyway across the street from him.
Then, as the smoke cleared, he lifted the cigarette for another pull of smoke, but the stub nearly fell from his mouth when he saw it. Two impossibly black eyes stared kindly from a sharp, canine face, and the head attached to the muscled body and flowing fur of a beautiful, black wolf. It stood dead center in the alley, not simply watching him; he could feel the eyes boring into his. The mouth hung slightly open, the tip of a pink tongue lolling between large, pearly fangs and, from where he was, George could hear the heavy in-and-out of rapid panting.
Yet, it was not the eyes, the teeth, or claws of the magnificent creature that had ensnared his gaze and attention. George blinked, to make sure it was not his own eyes making it up. Although it stood in the alley, shaded by tall buildings that blocked the sun, the wolf seemed to cast a glow of light. The light was bright, silvery, something that could only be described as pure, brilliant light.
George’s cigarette dropped forgotten to the porch surface, and he stepped forward. The wolf stared at him for another moment, then raised its snout to give him a bark, and, with the grace of an angel, turned and trotted away, quickly vanishing into the alley, and the glow with it.
George’s body seemed to be no longer his, and every fiber of him yearned towards the creature as it vanished. One step forced itself ahead of the other, and George found himself on the edge of the pavement.
Then, everything happened very fast, and all at once. First, George felt his feet leave the pavement, the asphalt knocking under his heels. He became conscious of several yelling voices, one of which became a scream. Finally, his mind snapped back into his body, and he came to a stop. George turned just in time to see the glaring light of headlamps, and the blast of a horn. Suddenly, a thud filled his world, and the world became light, brilliant, pure light.
* * *
The world seemed to be rocking him back to sleep, but George found that he could not return to the warm embrace of dreamless rest. Instead, he sat up, shielding his eyes from the light, until they adjusted to show him something remarkable.
He was seated in the comfortable interior of a moving horse carriage, the seats cushioned with velvet and the walls ornately carved from some red kind of wood. The sunlight flew in from a pair of glass windows, small curtains swept back on little silver hooks.
George rubbed his eyes, thinking it perhaps some trick of his own eyes, and shook his head as if to shed off whatever delirium assailed him. But when his eyes opened again, everything was as it was before. He sat slack-jawed and tried to bit his finger, to prick himself back into reality, but yet another surprise met him.
His hands were gloved in black, and as his eyes swept his arms, he found all his clothes were different. The black jacket was now a white button-up, under a black waistcoat with a little gold watch chain. Trousers and tall riding boots covered his legs.
George, suddenly overwhelmed by this overload of strangeness, slapped a hand to his forehead, only to knock loose a wide-brimmed hat, with a long red feather. It rolled off his arm, and landed as neatly as a cat onto its rim, seated beside him politely.
Now he sat still, as if certain that if he moved again something else would crack his reality further. Finally, he burst out, his fists clenched, although he could barely murmur a stuttered whisper.
“What… how… what the hell?”
Suddenly, the carriage heaved up from beneath him, sending George a foot in the air before tumbling clumsily to the floor of the carriage. It was not carpeted, and he felt his now bare head knock on wood, not too hard, but painful enough to solidify his worry.
This delirium was real., or it seemed. Was it drugs? he thought to himself. Had the truck impact knocked loose a few screws? George shook his head, running his hand through his hair.
Through the window, the trees and fields started to roll by a bit slower, and a bit slower. George, guessing that they were coming to a stop, quickly getting back onto the seat and grabbing the hat from where it had patiently sat. He put it on almost automatically.
The rolling countryside gave way to bricks, gravel, and bushes as they passed a wall and gate. The grinding of dirt under wheels now turned to a soft growl of gravel, and the carriage stopped rocking as it gave a final heave, and sat still. Before George had a chance to fling himself out the door, it seemed the moment they stopped, the latch on the carriage door clicked, and the door swung itself open, revealing the strangest man George had ever seen.
Or rather, a caricature of a man. He stood very tall, stooping even to look into the carriage, and everything about him seemed thin and stretched. The arms looked like bendy tree branches, and his torso as well. His clothes were black, he wore a long trench coat with a white scarf and gloves. His face, which was partially hidden by wispy, gray whiskers, was wrinkled, and two kindly, jovial eyes twinkled back at George from under bushy eyebrows. He wore a kindly smile, his cheek dimpled. and he spoke to reveal a perfect set of bright white teeth.
He spoke in a deep voice that seemed to defy his shallow chest. “We have arrived, Master Lannister.”
George found himself slack-jawed as the man, presumably, as the butler helped him out of the carriage into a wonderful sight. They were on a lovely estate. The red brick comprised a small manor building, with many windows. The hedges and flowers were bright and healthy, and a clean gravel path made a driveway to the front step of the house, with another path leading back to a stable for the carriage horses.
George, overwhelmed, felt his legs giving way, and he fell, but only for a moment. The butler caught him as if he were weightless, his long arms very gentle but having great strength. Supporting him, George was guided to a small wooden bench by the front step of the house. The butler sat him down and stood up, and George realized he would have been even taller, were it not for the stoop of years in the man’s shoulders.
“Would you like some water, master Lannister? Or would you rather come into the house?”
George’s mouth hung open, and he gave the butler what surely was a vacant stare. “Who… what… who do you think I am?”
The butler’s kind smile turned into an understanding frown, adding another wrinkle to his forehead. “Ah yes, the physician said you would never fully recover. You are George Lannister, head of the estate, and my employer.” At this last, he bowed slightly. “You’ve been away these many months, years in fact.”
George’s tongue stumbled to say something, but the butler put a kindly hand his shoulder. “It’s alright sir, you just rest now. I will fetch the lady of the house out here, so you need not exert yourself.”
George was surprised at how the man walked, swooping himself to the doorway in long strides. He stopped before entering and turned to give George a bright smile.
“Oh... and welcome home, sir.”
George sat as if slapped silly, it had to be the drugs or some sort of delirious state that was feeding his broken body and mind this wondrous image. But as he looked around, he saw it was indeed wondrous. All around him spread a picture-perfect panorama of life to its fullest. There was not a shard of concrete or asphalt to be seen, and the sounds of passing cars had been replaced by a quiet chorus of afternoon songbirds and the bleating of wandering sheep in a nearby pasture. Everything was green, the ivy climbing the brick, the hedgerows, grass, and the elegant water plants gracing the surface of a sizeable pond.
“Sir.” The butler had returned, apparently as quiet in his step as he was gangly. “The lady will be out in a moment… you'll understand, your return has been long awaited.”
George finally found his tongue, and out of the thousands of questions assailing his mind, he asked the first one that came to mind.
“You… you said that I had been gone for… years?”
“Yes, sir. It hasn’t been easy, only me and the Lady, but if it were anybody but Mrs. Lannister waiting for you, you’d have reason to worry.”
George’s eyes flew open and all other thought ground to a halt. “Wait, Mrs. Lannister?”
The butler’s brow folded, as if, in spite of everything, this had come as a surprise to him.
“Of course, sir. Lady Anna Lannister is your wife.” With this, he gestured behind George to the open doorway of the manor house. George, who had thought no more could surprise him, found the greatest astonishment of all walking into view.
She was grace itself. Her dress was white and left her arms bare, with a blue shawl over her shoulders. She was slender, and while delicate, she also gave off strength. Her deep brunette hair cascaded down her back in a river, and like the rest of her, it glowed with the richness of life.
She turned to face him fully, two silver eyes fixing him with a stare that stopped his heart. Without the butler’s help, George got to his feet, standing on knees weakened not by frailty, but by awe.
Her hands came to her throat as if holding back to urge to cry out. Then she seemed to glide towards him until she stood before George. She stood much shorter than him, and from here, he could see the sadness and longing in her eyes.
Finally, two shining tears rolled down her cheeks, and she threw her arms around George. Without knowing what to do, he embraced her in return. He could feel the dainty shoulders quiver with sobs. He felt the cool touch of her skin and the warmth of her cheek on his chest. He felt the warmth of tears across his chest.
George also noticed something that he had not in a long time: his heart was pounding. Something almost foreign coursed through his veins, hot as molten iron. Something was stirring within him that he had fought to fill for a long time. Here, in the arms of this woman he did not even know, he had found a long-fought desire.
She pulled slightly away to look up at him again. The feeling burned in his throat.
George felt her lips on his, and his eyes closed as if drifting into another dream, and the sensation spread like fire through his entire body. It was as if he stepped into a warm, welcome home, and he could tell that he never wanted to leave.
Suddenly, it was as if the coals had been doused with icy water, and what he perceived as reality flooded back over him. He had let his guard down. No matter what he wanted, this could not be real. He was in a coma, dying on a hospital bed, hiding away within a happy dream.
She felt him lock up, and her lips released his head as he turned away to avert his eyes. She looked back up at him, now the look on her face reading confusion, and perhaps a small amount of surprise. She gripped his arms softly as if trying to bring George back.
Her voice caressed his ears like a warm breeze, but he fought to keep it back. It was like pushing back against an ocean wave.
“My beloved George, dear, why won’t you speak to me?”
Her imploring words wrenched his heart like the pull of chains and he tried to speak, but his jaw simply hung slightly open. Finally, he choked out the only words he could roll past his tongue.
“I… I am sorry… but I do not know you.”
Her shining eyes shot wide for a moment, only to fall to the pavement, closing like doors to hold back tears. Still holding George in a gentle embrace, she turned her head to look at the butler, desperately.
“Charles, is something wrong with him still?”
The butler, whom Anna had called Charles, nodded solemnly and placed a reassuring gloved hand on her shoulder. “I’m afraid so, milady. The physician said that his being alive is a miracle in itself.”
Anna seemed to ponder this, then retrieved a small smile. “Yes, of course, it is. This is not a day to be sad. God has returned my beloved to me again, this is reason enough to be glad.” She took George’s arm, and slowly walked him towards the door. George felt himself gently pulled along in a near-stupor. It all, the carriage, the touch of the butler, the kiss, it had all felt so real.
No, he thought to himself. He thought of the years of loneliness, heartache, the drab color of his everyday life. It felt better than real. As he took in the bright, warm colors of the house and carriage, and the bright, vital colors of the surrounding countryside, the reality outside seemed gray and cold as old porridge. The air was quiet, with the relaxing hiss of a breeze through trees and hedgerows.
He told himself it was only a dream, but what a dream it was.
George pulled back into himself to find that they were now in a spacious room with a large curved window with a cushioned ledge. Aside from a coffee table and lamp, the walls were covered with oak bookcases, stocked with leather-bound titles of all sizes. Charles eased George into a seat by the window, and Anna was standing by a door, facing away from George, her hands hidden but busy. George caught a glimpse of a kerchief dabbing at glimmering eyes,
Like that, she turned and gave George a smile, one hiding a deep inner conflict. “Oh dear, where is my decency, I’ll fix us some tea.” Charles made as if to accept the job himself, but Anna waved him away. “No, Charles, I’d rather you stay with George.”
She then disappeared through the door, which briefly revealed a small hallway with doors, one presumably leading to the kitchen. George sat, carefully breathing softly, trying desperately to process everything. It was his mind, it had to be. No drugs could bring about such a wild dream, the butler, the woman, the estate. His mind must have finally broken. All the same, when Charles was not looking, George gave his right thumb a chomp with his front teeth, barely disguising a groan of pain.
Damn, he thought to himself. That was a very real pain.
Charles stood, twiddling his fingers, before finally breaking the silence. “She’s one devil of a woman, is Lady Lannister. If I may say so.”
George nodded, flexing his reddened thumb. In a just audible, distracted whisper, he muttered: “I guess so.”
Charles frowned, as if annoyed, but then passed it off as the effects of some condition George could only guess plagued his… this other George’s body.
George spoke up, the silence grating his already jangled nerves. “Charles?”
The kind smile immediately leaped back to the old man’s face. “Yes, sir?”
“You say I’ve been gone for… how long?”
“Years sir. Almost two years.”
“... Why?” The word felt like it took ages to pass George’s lips. Charles hesitated, and then nodded. “Of course, sir.”
The ancient looking butler stood to George’s right side and procured a small mirror from the pocket of his black coat. Giving it to George, he pulled back George’s hair above his right ear. George figured that the mirror was to see what Charles wanted him to see. What he saw numbed his fingers, and the mirror’s image trembled. Just below the hairline was a large dent in his skull, perhaps an inch deep and at least just as wide. Charles noticed the blood drain from George’s face, and gently reclaimed the mirror.
Charles put a kindly hand on George’s shoulder. “I’ve seen men with less of an injury be put in the ground, never mind recover.” He chuckled softly, thumbing a small silver cross that hung from a delicate chain around his neck. “You being here, sitting there today, is a picture of grace.”
George felt his finger along the hole in his head. “My god… how?”
Charles's smile darkened into a look concealing a dash of hate. “It was a night you went to town. It was raining hard, as I recall. You were found under a streetlamp, your blood mixing with the rain.” He pointed to the significant wound. “That was a pistol round.”
George was about to beg to know more when the tinkle of china and silver rang from the hallway, and Charles regained his composure. Anna entered, bearing a tray that looked massive in her arms, with three cups, a steaming pot, and a carved box of tea packages. George watched as she mixed the tea into the cups, noticing a dim rim of red below her eyes. But she smiled as she gave a cup to George, then to Charles, and kept one for herself. George inhaled a very welcome scent of lemon, and he felt the warmth bring a peace into his state of anxiety, and he closed his eyes for just a moment.
Suddenly, when the feeling had passed, he opened his eyes and looked around to see Charles clearing away the tea things. The sunlight streaming through the windows was no longer golden, but red and dim. He felt a warmth beside him on the windowsill and saw Anna seated beside him, her hand on his.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, George realized just how tired he felt. It must have shown, because Anna stood, her hand clasped around his, leading him to his feet.
“Come, dear, you should rest.”
George could not agree more. He seemed to doze off yet again, for his eyes cleared again to find him and Anna standing in a lavish bedroom. He soaked in the warmth of the room, the rich red and earthy colors, the thick carpet, and big bed in the middle across from a crackling fire. Charles stood at the bedside, stooping down to tuck the sheets tightly. He looked up and bowed.
“Will there be anything else tonight, milady?”
Anna smiled and waved Charles away. With a smile and not a word, the man swept past them and down the hallway, closing the door behind him.
George stepped over to the large window overlooking a wide, sweeping field. Remembering Anna, he turned from it to see she had removed her shawl. She had her back to him but glanced over her shoulder at him, a slight redness entering her cheeks. George, blushing himself, turned to look back out the window.
Not a skyscraper or a bit of concrete in sight. The land spreading below the window was greener than George had ever seen in his life, grass plots bordered by hedgerows, copses dotting the land, and a few other, smaller estates. In a nearby field, a few contented sheep still grazed happily in the fading light.
“It’s alright darling. Come.”
George turned to see that now Anna was dressed in a white nightgown that looked very comfortable, and yet did nothing to diminish her beauty. George found a sort of nightclothes for himself and, donning them, collapsed onto the bed, the energy flushed from his limbs.
He felt the grace of sleep rush over him, but before the dark took him, he felt the softest kiss on his cheek, and a gentle “good night” whispered into his ear. Just before falling asleep, he felt just a twinge of that molten emotion in his veins before it all went dark.
* * *
The light pried George’s weary eyes open, but only a little. It was too bright to ignore, but sleep still pulled back its halter. It felt colder, and instead of the warm colors of the room, instead, everything looked white. His eyes could only open so far, and everything was so blurred. Something was curious, and soon his eyes adjusted.
It did not take long for the white walls and ceiling to take the form of what George guessed was a hospital room. A shrill beep pulsed like a heartbeat, and two muffled male voices soon cleared enough to be made out, one sounding much older than the other.
The younger voice sighed loudly. “Trust me, I’ve dug deep, and got nothing.”
“You sure? No one? Rob, this is a hard working, honest citizen, surely there’s someone out there who’s gotta know.”
“... Know what?” thought George, trying to crane his neck to track the voices, but his body seemed as lifeless as driftwood. Rob, the younger voice, cut right back in, sounding aggravated.
“I’m telling you, I dug. I even tried numbers off of cards in his wallet… mostly, uh, ‘sex workers.’ Most of them didn’t remember him, and those that did could care less.”
No… George’s heart sank. It came back to him, his loneliness, the lack of people in his life. His work as a software engineer did not allow for much socializing. George now wished he had tried harder to find someone, anyone who would miss him.
“Damn it.” The older voice grunted. “No family? How does that happen?”
“Apparently, it’s… rather tragic. His parents died when he was really young. An orphan raised in a few good homes, but he left as soon as he graduated high school. Damn right he’s a hard worker, got a good job, went to college, got a degree, all the makings of a good man. It’s a damn waste that no one’s looking for him.”
George’s eyes burned, tears held back by something unexplainable, holding back an unspeakable anguish. George closed his eyes, begging the darkness to take him away again. He did not want to hear any more. But as the warmth of unconsciousness pulled him away to sleep, he felt a soft pressure on his arm, a hand giving his arm a soft squeeze. The older voice accompanied him as he passed out.
“Hang in there, pal. Please, don’t go yet.”
* * *
George sat up, a slight dampness down his back making his shirt stick to him. He wiped a hand across his brow, and it too came back slickened. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes to look about the room.
The words jumped from his mouth involuntarily as he took in his surroundings. Earthy colors, the embers of a fire, and a window now letting in a golden light. He was back in that wonderful dreamscape, back in his delusional state. George flopped back onto his back, sighing loudly.
“I must be going mad.”
He swung himself onto the bed’s edge, massaging his face with vigor. Finally, all the ache in his body left enough to stand up. George then turned to find his clothes, these very strange clothes, folded neatly on a chair. Courtesy of Charles, George chuckled. He could not deny how comfortable they were as he donned them and stepped out the bedroom door.
It was some time before noon, the cool touch of morning air still lingering in the hallways, the windows were all open. The place felt clean, refreshing, and George found himself feeling better than he had for some time. As he approached the door leading to the sitting room, he checked himself. shaking his head and muttering aloud.
“No, no. It’s all in your head…”.
He leaned his head down, the words of the doctors echoing in his head.
“... No one’s looking for him…”
He held back a small tear. “Don’t get too attached. It’s not real.” Regaining his composure, he pushed the door open and realized maybe he had spoken too soon.
Anna, lovely, beautiful Anna, was standing with her back to him, staring out of the window. Her dress was now a deep blue with elbow length sleeves. It reached her ankles but showed her elegant figure in a wonderful way. George stood in awe, never before had he imagined such a beautiful woman, whose modesty and kindness captured him. He had seen no shortage of women who had bared it all, and they had all blurred into one.
George’s heart was beating a little faster as he cleared his throat. Anna turned, the look of focus becoming one of welcoming as she stepped over to him. She took his hands softly, smiling up at him.
“Good morning my dear.” When he could find nothing to say, a look of concern branched across her face. “Oh George, what’s wrong? Your eyes, they have a dreadful look in them. Did you not sleep well?”
George squeezed her hands slightly, affording her a small smile. “It was fine.” He was astounded at his answer. How could one sleep within sleep? Anna smiled again and softly pulled him towards the front door.
“Come, I must reacquaint you with the place.” Her smile seemed saddened somehow. “You used to love the garden. It was a wonderful place to sit and talk.” He could see memories in her eyes, memories of George... this other George, he told himself. It made George himself feel for her.
The gardens were indeed beautiful, the cultured hedges, the happy gurgle of water, and the graceful koi gliding between lush weeds and stones. George saw that, because of the fewer trees, a wonderful breeze was allowed to roam the garden, and it felt good on his skin, as did Anna’s touch on his arm.
He felt himself up open enough to sit on a bench beside Anna, and they enjoyed a heartfelt chat, alone in the peaceful atmosphere that relaxed George’s anxiety. However, that doubt at the back of his head constantly nagged at him, and a frown often appeared on his face. Finally, the conversation dulled, and they sat silently next to each other, her head on his shoulder, and his arm around her. He felt the warmth of her body, and wondered: can the mind fabricate such warmth?
The evening soon arrived, and they both sat down to dinner, which apparently had been cooked by Charles. It seemed Charles did almost anything and everything that needed to be done around the house and did so in a charming, modest way. He left the two to eat, supposedly to eat his own meal in the kitchen. George found the food wonderful, which astounded him further. Everything was so exquisite, so tangible… so real. His mind reeling, the meal passed quietly, with a slight tension radiating from his end of the table, but he could not help it. Anna saw his anxiety, and he saw to his chagrin that it affected her too.
Finally, at sunset, they prepared themselves for sleep again. By the time Anna had changed, George had sat down in a chair, this time removing his shirt as well, and running his hand through his hair. Anna laid on the bed, staring at him, trying to extricate something unknown. “George, you need your rest, please, come lay down.”
George shook his head, saying nothing. He now dug his fingers into his scalp, the very real-feeling pain jolting through his body. It was not enough. He dug deeper, grunting softly, secretly enjoying the stabbing pain, and tears rolled down his cheek, sobs wracking his body.
Suddenly, something gripped his forearms, and while the grip was not all too strong, it arrested his arms like iron. He froze for a moment before looking over to see Anna. Without making a sound, she had moved over to stand before him and now held his shaking hands in hers.
The look of surprise and shock on her face must have matched George’s when he saw the blood under his fingernails. George felt the exhaustion wash over his body, and he slumped his head forward to rest on Anna’s shoulder. Sobs wracked his body, which softly drifted as the comforting caress of Anna’s hands on his arms.
George felt his body collapse onto the bed, and the sobs returned, this time, tears rolled uncontrollably down his face as he felt everything bearing down upon him. A soft touch caressed his spine, electrifying his body, but draining away his sorrow like water from a bowl.
* * *
“Dear god, how is he still alive?” The voices were no longer foreign to George, and now his focus zeroed in them. This had been the younger voice, Rob.
“Search me. I’ve seen men with lesser injuries pass within hours. His brain; irreparable. His spine; totaled. His internal organs look like they’ve been shuffled about…” George’s heart sank deeper into his stomach with every sentence, like the toll of a church bell over a graveyard.
“Jack, you’re not saying… we’re not talking about unplugging him, are we?” George’s heavy heart gave one final drop. He felt a scream building up in his throat, but the jaws remained closed, and no sound could escape the body that had now become a prison for his tortured brain.
Jack, the older voice, broke in on Rob. “You’ve done your search, right? The only reason he’s been kept on life support is so we could find someone to inform, but there is no one, right?”
Rob broke back in, sounding almost scared. “No, come on, he’s not done yet. And there MUST be someone out there.”
“You’re fighting the inevitable, Rob. I don’t know what’s going on in what’s left of his consciousness, but he’s dying. We’re prolonging his agony.”
Rob now sounded furious and snapped back. “You want this man to die alone?”
There was an awkward silence as Jack sighed, and scratching of hair could be heard. “You know that’s not what I want, and I know it’s not what you want. But what can we do? It’s not even up to us, management’s gonna need a verdict soon or they’ll make their own.”
“Jack, you’re Chief Surgeon. You’ve got the pull, please, just get me another day. 24 hours, that’s all.”
A loud sigh played out, and another scratching of heads. Finally, Jack grunted “Ok… but it’s not a promise.”
* * *
George now woke amongst the lavish sheets and the bed of the well-furnished room. The transition was now seamless, and George gave the sight a sigh and rubbed his face. He dressed again, and, this time, loitered in the room more. Stepping to the window, he looked out into the fresh morning scene outside. The warmth of the golden, young sunlight invigorated him. That nagging doubt that pulled him back to this old place, that had harbored so much loneliness and grief was now so small.
But it still plagued him and was still strong enough to keep a small part of him back there. As lovely as this life was, what if it was not real? What if it was only given form by his decaying mind, the last vestiges of a dying soul for a place of warmth?
Another voice argued with this. The voice in him which had, for so long, begged the powers that be for a brighter day, a day of peace. A torch to drive back the darkness, and a source to finally keep the flames bright.
This is what he had longed for, what he had shed tears for.
However, now the two voices were equally strong, and George shook his head, driving them away for the time being. As he gripped the windowsill tightly and clenched his teeth, he knew he would still need time to think.
The door opened behind him, and Charles poked his wiry frame into the room like a cuckoo from a clock. He smiled to George, drumming his fingers on the doorframe. “Good morning sir. You look much more rested if I may say so.”
George nodded and gave Charles a grin of his own. “I am, thank you.”
Charles gestured down the hallway. “Lady Anna asked to see you in the garden today, if that so pleases you, sir.”
George indeed found the idea a pleasing one, and briskly walked his way there. Hallways that had been daunting and confusing before were now comforting, beginning to feel more like home than even his home had been.
The garden was bathed in the glow of the approaching noon and was quiet save for a few birds having long since started their day. Next to the pond was a small tier leading into like like steps, with a large slab for a seat where one could dangle their toes. That is where Anna sat, her hair flowing down her back, her slender hands softly gripping the edge of the stone ledge. Her dress was draped over her knees, for she was hanging her feet over the still water, creating ripples with a toe every now and then. She had a smile on her face, one that brightened even further when she caught sight of George. He could not help but smile himself.
“You look so happy,” He said.
“This is a happy place,” She replied, looking about her. “Now that you’re home.”
A small sadness entered her eyes, as he sat beside her. “It’s been so empty without you here. Before... before you were almost taken from me… we had so many memories in this garden.”
Her speech constantly halted, for the words seemed hard to say, the emotions in them overflowing. A tear formed in her eyes as she faced him. “I nearly died alongside you that day.”
George took her hand in his, and gripped it firmly, but gently. “I… I am home again.”
She closed her eyes again, leaning her head on his shoulder. “But… even with you home, I see this look, this dreadful look in your eyes. As if you’re still lost, as if you were still on that bed in that awful place.”
George’s heart ached with this, and he pulled her closer. She felt so warm against him, and her touch livened him, more than he had ever hoped to feel. “I don’t know what happened to me.” His voice was a whisper. “I don’t know how, but I will be your George.” He lifted her face to his. “I am home, Anna. And I am not leaving you again.”
Their lips touched again, and the fire could not be pushed away this time. George felt everything explode within him, and now the voices did not matter. He knew this is where he belonged, the woman he had searched for, the love he had prayed for. The home he had longed for.
He opened his eyes again, to see Anna beaming past tears, her eyes shining. This was his angel, he was sure of it. She leaned her head on his shoulder, and they each gazed down into the still water, like a mirror beneath their feet.
George then saw it, clear as day, looking back at him in the reflection of the water. His eyes shot up, to see it was indeed standing there, on the opposite bank of the pond. He saw the flowing fur, the black eyes, and the glow of the now silver wolf, staring right at him.
He squinted, but suddenly the light all around him became too much to bear. A searing pain shot through his head and soon encompassed his whole body. He was unable to hide a cry of pain as he slammed his eyes shut, hunching over and losing his balance.
As he collapsed onto his side, George was aware of three things. The cries of Anna, and her frantic hand clutching at his. The last, as he opened his eyes for just a moment to allow a sliver of the world in, he saw the wolf padding away, looking back at him over its shoulder. In another moment, he could see no more, and feel no more.
* * *
“I’m not so sure you saw what you think you saw.”
George now only wanted to ignore these two men’s voices, these harbingers of this misery that was his body, but with no other stimuli to distract him, he could only listen.
“Jack, I’m not kidding. Up until just a minute ago, his EEG was showing 20 waves per second. He’s conscious!” Rob sounded excited and hopeful.
The older voice, Jack, sighed loudly. “Rob, you’re a medical professional. This happens with cases like this, he’s still in a vegetative state, it’s his brain giving its last kicks.”
“Fine, but how do you explain him experiencing REM, right alongside the increase in his EEG readings?”
Finally, Jack cut in, his voice stern. “Rob. You need to stop, one; you’re obsessing. Two.. it’s bad news.”
Both Rob and George felt their hearts sink before Jack continued. “It’s management. They want to take him off the machines… and I agree with them.”
Rob sputtered, but sighed and gave no argument. “I should’ve known this would happen.”
“Rob, I understand. But there are rules to life. The first rule is, men die. Rule number two is; doctors can’t always change rule number one.”
“I guess we oughta give him his last rites?”
“All his ‘profile’ information says he’s “agnostic”, but I guess I see what you mean. Yeah, it’s only a decent thing to do. I’ll make the arrangements.”
George barely heard a pair of shoes walking away, and one coming up alongside him. He felt a hand grip his, and a loud sigh from Rob.
“Damn… I’m sorry man. I did what I could, and I put you through this too long.” He paused, and George could hear him scratching his head. “I dunno where we go after it all… but when you get there, please forgive me.”
* * *
George fully expected the old dream to end, and to wake up to the now familiar and welcoming room, but his eyes could not open. He did hear the fire crackling and felt intense warmth below his chest. The pain was still there, making George glad that he could not open his eyes.
Two voices emerged as his other senses cleared. They were familiar as well, but one was much more welcome. The other sounded much like Jack, but with a pronounced accent.
“Why was he not kept in bed?” This had been the older voice, and now a female voice joined in.
“We were not told anything about his condition, or rather I was not.” George’s mood lightened upon hearing Anna. Lovely, heavenly Anna.
The doctor sighed aloud. “I sent him and Charles home with a note as long as my arm, telling you with no uncertainty that he was to be mostly confined to bed and heavily rested.”
“A note… Charles gave me no note.” A dim hint of suspicion crept into her voice. “Charles? Charles, come in here please!”
The knocking of footfalls crept into the room, barely audible as was Charles’ way of moving about. No sooner had he entered the room that Anna burst in on him.
“Charles, how could you? Do you not care at all? George was meant to be bed bound, the doctor said so, and you’ve not told me?”
After a long, tense silence, Charles let out a long sigh, tapping his shoe toe on the wooden floor. “I suppose I should tell you. Master George saw the note being given to me, and I had every intention of giving you the note.”
“But… before we left the hospital he intercepted me, and begged me not to show the note, taking it himself instead.”
The doctor grunted. “Damn fool, why would he do that?”
“His sole reason for this discretion was Lady Anna.”
George heard a soft gasp from Anna. “Me? Why?”
“He… we, that is, knew that his time would be short. He wanted to make the most of his time, and he did not want you to worry. Of course, now he would not recall that conversation. He had another lapse of amnesia on the way home, I fear that even riding the cart home strained his stretched physique.”
A long period of silence followed, and George felt Anna tightly grip his hand. He felt things begin to numb, the voices slur, the sounds fade, but before he passed out again, he could make out the doctor mumbling solemnly.
“He hasn’t got long. I suggest you make it count, Lady Lannister.”
* * *
George felt almost no transition as if the passing of the old dream was now an effortless action. It was colder than he remembered, and the persistent beeping continued. He soon made out the two voices, now joined by another one. Another male, it was mumbling something, prayer in Latin perhaps. He felt his forehead touched with a wet thumb.
He heard the familiar voice of Jack sigh a long sigh. “It never gets easy, no matter how long you do this, no matter who it is.”
“Death is what it is. It’s not fair, though, I agree.” Rob chimed in.
“He was young. You’re right, it’s not fair. No one should die alone.”
George wanted the old dream to end. He knew now that this was not true. He was lying in a welcome home, with the one person who really mattered in his life. All the same, he felt that he would miss the two voices. They had cared for him in the old dream, when, by their own words, no one else cared.
Suddenly, George’s eyes opened, as if a blindfold had been removed, but they adjusted so quickly to the light that he knew that he must have only closed his eyes for only a moment, a mere blink. He now saw, to his joy, he was seated in the garden, the sun setting in the distance, and all was very quiet. Not a breeze stirred the leaves, not a ripple disturbed the pond. All he could hear was the steady thump of his own heart. It sounded so slow, so tired, but George had never felt better in his life. He could also hear, very faintly, a ringing sound, pulsing like his heart. Perhaps the distant toll of a sweet, silver bell.
Suddenly, as soon as he had noticed it, it stopped.
Then, George noticed that the light overhead was growing, and wondered if perhaps it was dawn instead of dusk. He stood, looking about in wonder as the light grew, and now saw the light came from everything. It all glowed, this white, heavenly glow.
A soft touch landed on his shoulder, and he turned to see the most radiant of all, Anna. She looked like an angel, and she smiled so warmly at him. He took her hand, and she leaned on him. Her eyes shone, as he was sure his did as well. Never had she looked so beautiful, and never had he felt so alive with his arm around her waist, her hand on his chest.
The light was so bright now, especially in front of him, like an approaching sun. George sensed something sitting to his other side. He looked down to gaze into the eyes, the now shining silver eyes of the now white wolf. It sat on its haunches beside him, softly breathing, and its radiant fur waved like long grass in the breeze across a wide field. George ruffled its ears with his free hand, feeling the warmth of life under the long, flowing fur.
The light was now all George could see, and it warmed him. He could not help but smile, and even as he calmly closed his eyes, the glow filled his eyes and mind. It was time to rest, to enjoy a long, endless sleep, to enjoy a neverending dream. As everything faded, George Lannister felt washed clean by the light, the brilliant, pure light.