As George and Mitchell had gone to bed that night, Gilbert sat in the leather armchair in the living room with his hands resting on his knees. Although they were not human, vampires and werewolves were still able to sleep just like normal people. Ghosts, however, did not possess this ability. They were able to have vivid dreams, but this involved a ritual different to sleep.
Mitchell often told Annie that she should try to dream more, as she constantly talked about how she wanted to behave 'human'. Sometimes she did this, but other times, she didn't feel that it was worth it. How human could you be if you never slept?
And, of course, ghosts had the added bonus of being able to appear in the dreams of humans, something Annie had never thought of trying herself.
But Gilbert was no stranger to it. And, that night, he wanted to try it again; he wanted to meet the mysterious girl in the picture George kept in his wallet.
The room was dimly lit and peaceful, which seemed to be the perfect moment for concentration. A recently put-out cigarette laid in the ashtray on the coffee table, the last remnants of smoke rising softly in the air. Slowly, Gilbert began to close his eyes, visualising the girl standing before him.
Although he didn't know her name, it was still possible to reach through to her, as long as he knew what she looked like. He kept the image in his mind, remembering every detail; her dimples in her soft, pale cheeks, her doll-like sky coloured eyes, the Smiths t-shirt she was wearing, who, by some coincidence, were Gilbert's favourite band.
"Focus, dammit." Gilbert thought to himself.
Instantly, his eyes flew open; the silence being completely interrupted. The voice came from Annie, stood in the doorway, hand on one hip. She had an eyebrow raised, suspiciously. Gilbert resented the fact that she chose that night, of all nights, not to keep to herself.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine." He huffed.
"Tell your face." she rolled her eyes, taking a place on the sofa beside him. "What are you doing, anyway?"
"It's too complicated to explain."
"I get it," she told him, even though she didn't. "Look, I just wanted to say sorry about earlier. I didn't mean to storm off like that; I know the afterlife is a bit of a touchy subject for you. It's your decision about when you want to go, and I shouldn't push you into that."
Gilbert began to relax. "It's not your fault, Annie. I'm sorry as well."
Annie smiled, putting her legs up on the sofa. "Do you wanna watch a bit of TV? There's not much on at this time of night, but there must be something. It gets a bit boring when everyone goes to bed."
"Would you mind if we don't? I want it to be quiet."
"You sound just like George."
"How the fuck dare you-"
Gilbert paused, his mouth dropping open; an idea beginning to form. Whoever the girl that he was trying to find was, George obviously knew her. As George had known Mitchell and Annie for longer than him, there may have been a chance that he had told them about her.
"Gil?" Annie asked. "Why did you stop mid-sentence?"
"This might seem like a strange question," he said quietly. "But...how much do you know about George's life?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, before he met us...when he was human..."
The question confused Annie, but nevertheless, she provided him with an answer. "Honestly, not that much, really; he's a bit secretive about that stuff. As far as I know, he was just an ordinary guy with a boring job."
"Nothing's changed, then."
"Anyway, the only thing I really know about him was how he became a werewolf. He was on holiday and met this American tourist, and they went for a late night walk together. Next thing he knows, a wolf attacks his tourist friend, tourist friend dies - I assume he crossed over straight away - and George almost dies, but survives and the injuries are what changed him."
"So, nothing else? Did he ever talk about the people in his life?"
"Why are you interested?" She inquired. "You hate him!"
"Yeah, but..." Gilbert could not think of an excuse. "I was just asking."
Annie gave him a sideways glance, but turned back to look at the television. She flicked through the channels, eventually settling on one, but having the volume turned down low; so as not to wake Mitchell and George, and to keep Gilbert happy.
As the focus was no longer on him, Gilbert used the moment to close his eyes again, trying to search for the girl. The low hum of the TV wasn't too distracting, as he had other things on his mind.
"Focus, Gilbert. Think of the girl in the picture. Block out the rest of the noise, just focus...focus..focus..."
This carried on for a few minutes more, refusing to break his concentration. Before long, the voice in his head was the only thing he could hear, and the sound of the television seemed very distant.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a forest.
Erin walked through the trees with her brother, talking and laughing about the old days. Everything seemed bright and wonderful; neither of them had a care in the world. For once in a long time, she felt genuine happiness.
"Where does this forest lead to?"
"Honestly, I haven't got a clue," George chuckled. "Let's find out!"
"Cool," Erin grinned. "I'll get there first!"
"No chance, mate!"
The siblings laughed as they dashed between the towering oak trees, racing each other through the landscape. As the wind rushed through Erin's long hair, the adrenaline soared through her. All of her doubts and worries became nothing more than puffs of smoke, and the faster she ran, the more she abandoned them. Her legs picked up so much speed that she thought she would start flying.
Noticing that she was much further ahead than her brother, she appeared smug. "Looks like I'm faster, George! You've got a long way to go if you want to catch up with me!"
After she finished shouting, there was a silence. George didn't reply.
In fact, Erin began to realise that all of George's laughter had stopped. It had only been her for a while.
Anxiously, she turned around. Her brother was metres behind, stood very still with a blank expression on his face. Erin was confused, but she tried desperately to put more fun back into the situation.
"Are you alright?" She called. "Come on, it's not that bad! We'll be out of the woods soon!"
He was staring straight at her, saying nothing. George's face did not change, and Erin wasn't sure if he was even blinking.
"You're scaring me now." Erin told him uneasily, gingerly walking back. "What's the problem?"
Again, he did not move. But then, his lips pursed as though he was about to speak:
Suddenly, George disappeared into the trees, as though he was being dragged violently.
Erin screamed, her heart beating a mile a minute. Instinctively, she raced back through the forest.
The faster she sprinted, the more petrified she became. Erin couldn't stop looking around her, hoping for a sign that he was still there, and that he was safe.
"GEORGE!" She cried, until her face turned blue, but it was hopeless; he was nowhere to be found.
Tears began to stream down her cheeks and her hair that once cascaded beautifully behind her was now falling frantically into her eyes. Her legs ached painfully and she was running out of breath, but she was also running out of her ability to care.
It seemed as though Erin was getting nowhere; no matter where she turned, there was no sign of George. The shortness of breath was starting to make her feel dizzy, clumsily knocking against the tree branches as her eyes could only focus on the strands of hair that caught in her lashes, and the view of her Converse covered feet on a platform of seemingly endless mud and fallen leaves.
It was then that she bumped into something.
However, this wasn't another tree. When Erin came into contact with it, she felt the texture of leather against her skin. Also, whatever it was, it was freezing.
So unnaturally cold, in fact, that the impact sent her tumbling to the rough, dirty ground.
"That was my bad. Are you alright?"
Erin flinched as there was a voice talking to her, yet the voice did not belong to George. It belonged to a male with a Northern English accent, possibly from Manchester. Quickly, she flicked the hair out of her face and looked up, wiping her eyes.
Before her stood a fairly tall man with pale skin and a light brown quiff. The clothes he wore looked very retro; a long black leather trenchcoat with a dark blue cardigan and jeans. He also appeared to have a cigarette tucked behind one of his ears.
The man smiled for a second when he saw Erin's face. She stared back at him, bewildered. Erin had definitely never seen him before.
She would have remembered.
Unsure of the severity of her state, he offered Erin a hand to help her up from the ground. Erin accepted, but when she touched his hand, she quickly pulled it back. It was as if she had touched something that was scolding hot, except, this was the exact opposite.
"Your hands are like ice," she shivered.
"Sorry," he said quietly, looking much like a deer caught in the headlights. "I was just trying to help."
"It's fine," she told him, slowly standing up. "Sorry for running into you like that."
"Don't be." He smirked.
As Erin stood up, her eyes met his. The man had light blue eyes also, yet they were not similar to hers. His eyes were the colour of a frozen waterfall; so cold, yet captivating. The more she gazed into them, the more they confused her. Erin could have sworn she saw something twinkling behind them, like some sort of light. It was something unexplainable and hypnotic.
"Was that you I heard screaming just then?"
"Oh," she replied, snapping back into reality. "Yeah, it was. I was looking for my brother."
The man's smile fell. "Brother?"
"Brother, yes." Erin told him, beginning to panic again. "His name's George. One minute he was here, and then he vanished, and now I can't find him-"
"YOU are George's sister...?"
"Why are you so surprised by that?" She asked impatiently. "...Wait, do you know him?"
"Well...yeah." He hesitated. "I could help you look for him, if you'd like."
Erin took a deep breath and nodded, beginning to calm down. "That would be great, thank you."
She walked with the mysterious man through the woods, looking behind every so often. But when she wasn't trying to keep an eye out for George, she would look up at the man's face; the way his eyes glistened curiously, especially when they caught the light. Sometimes he would glance back at her, grinning.
Even though she still felt anxious, she couldn't help but smile back.
"You never told me your name," he said to her.
"I'm Erin." She smiled.
Erin looked at him, surprised. It was a strange name, and not one that she commonly heard. But it was unique, and she liked it.
She already quite liked him, as weird as he seemed.
Gilbert's eyes flickered around, suddenly alert. This worried Erin, as it quickly began to dawn on her that the two of them were not safe there. Whatever happened to George could also happen to them.
"Erin, I have to tell you something."
"Shouldn't we get out of here, first?"
He sensed the sudden panic and put a hand on her arm to try and calm her down, but swiftly pulled away as he sent a chill running through Erin's body. He took a step back, awkwardly.
"No, no, it's fine." He told her. "We're alright here. But I need to tell you that your brother's alright, too."
She was confused; they had spent that whole time looking for him. And now, Gilbert knew he was fine? How could he possibly know?
He sighed deeply. "He's not here...but he's perfectly safe, I promise you."
A slight twinge of anger sparked up in Erin's brain. "...So, basically, you sent me on a wild goose chase. You wanted to waste my time, while I was in the middle of...wherever this place is, scared and alone. Did you think that was funny?"
Gilbert was horrified. "No! It wasn't like that at all, I swear! You see, I just wanted to meet you, and..."
Erin could no longer focus on Gilbert's voice, as so many thoughts were screaming inside of her head. It became so overwhelming that she had both hands on her temples in an urgent attempt to try to silence them. It seemed so distressing that Gilbert stopped talking and just watched her.
Suddenly, all the voices in her head were cut off. Slowly, she took her hands away from her face, and looked up at Gilbert.
He gave her a strange look. "...No...no, he looked pretty alive last time I saw him."
She shook her head. "No, Gilbert. He's dead."
In frustration, she kicked the nearest tree. "Every single time I find myself in a situation like this, I'm always gullible enough to believe it's real! There's always a small glimmer of hope that my brother's alive, and then it gets taken away from me. But now I realise; this is a dream. I'm dreaming right now, and I'll wake up soon and everything will be back to normal...shit, but normal!"
She slumped onto the ground, burying her head in her hands, her long brown hair covering her.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to wake up."
"You're not real either!" Erin yelled. "Do you really think I'd listen to you now?"
"Erin, you've got to listen to me."
Without thinking, Gilbert knelt beside her, grabbing her hands by the wrists. The briskness of his hands forced her to look at him, as the iciness sparked her entire body.
"Are you cold-blooded or something?"
He let go of her, cursing under his breath. "You're right. You are dreaming right now."
"But you need to listen to me." He took a deep breath. "George is alive, I promise you that. You see, the thing is...I know what happened...that night, when he..."
Gilbert shook his head. "Got attacked. But he survived."
"That can't be true," Erin told him, eyes beginning to water. "His fiance...she came home on her own, absolutely heartbroken...we had a memorial service for him...his death was all over the news..."
"Well, did ya ever see the body?"
Erin paused, her glassy eyes widening. "No...but I...we all just thought his body was missing..."
"He's in Bristol." Gilbert said without a second thought.
"Yeah," he told her, cracking a small smile. "He's perfectly fine...a bit of a pain in the arse, mind. But he's happy."
Erin, however, wasn't in the mood to cheer up. "Why would he just ditch his fiance and escape to Bristol? Julia was lovely. Did he really hate us so much as to fake his own death, just to get away from us?"
"God, no!" Gilbert quickly tried to reassure her. He almost putting a hand on her shoulder, before quickly retracting it. "I promise you, it's nothing like that."
"Erin, I've never lied to anyone in my life, and I'm not about to start with you."
Her eyes then glowered and bored directly into Gilbert. "Then, why?" She scowled.
Erin's sudden change in mood seemed to shock Gilbert somewhat; he began to lose the confident attitude he had had before. "I...it's a bit of a complicated one, that-"
"I deserve to know."
"Of course you do," he told her. "But I can't say. You just wouldn't believe me."
She looked at him, desperately."Try me, Gilbert. You've told me so much already. A small part of me always wondered if he was still out there, and everyone thought I was insane. You have no idea how much I need you to just confirm everything right now. Please, just tell me how he survived and why he left."
He hesitated, feeling conflicted between the girl and the information he was keeping to himself. Gilbert could see that all it took to bring happiness and comfort back to Erin's life was to just tell her the truth...but, then again, he feared it might do the exact opposite.
But then he disappeared.
Erin's jaw dropped as Gilbert just vanished into thin air, without a goodbye, or an explanation. Would he ever come back?
"Gilbert!" Erin yelled. "Please, just come back!"
Erin woke up, once again in the dark, in a cold sweat, the familiar sting of tears filling her lifeless eyes. The only difference was that, this time, she had been completely lucid through the experience.
Her emotions were a combination of hope and annoyance. The latter, because she couldn't uncover more of the truth. She knew she was in arm's reach of it, but it barely brushed against her fingertips. The former, because for the first time in two years, someone shared her belief that her brother was safe, and did not think she was crazy.
Gilbert allegedly knew George. He knew his whereabouts, whether or not he was safe, and possibly other things that Erin had no idea of.
There was just one thing getting in the way; Gilbert wasn't real. He was merely a character in her dream, reflecting her sense of perseverence.
But in that moment, for reasons that Erin couldn't possibly begin to articulate, she got out of bed. Switching on her bedside lamp, she began frantically opening the drawers of her bedside table, rummaging for a notebook and pen.
Eventually, she found them, and got back into bed. Opening the first page, she wrote down all of the important details of the dream that she could remember: Gilbert, Bristol, George was attacked, but not killed.
She wiped her eyes, and started to smile.
"This isn't over." She whispered.