This is in honour of All Hallows' Eve.
It's a day on which worlds collide and blur, and what might have been rubs shoulders with what might yet be.
So here is the other ending that I planned for 'After The Dream'. It has ghosts in it. Enjoy.
Note: Lilly's 'actual' ending can be found here.
After The Dream
(Hisao's Alternative Ending)
I never thought I’d live this long. Long enough to retire from Yamaku, long enough to find a life and slowly, regretfully, lose it. But one thing I’ve learnt is that if you are given a chance at life, you must take it.
I turn away from the grave. I am already a seed in the wind, the loosed little parachute of a dandelion’s last orgy. I look toward the sky, just as my artist friend, gone and forgotten, would have wanted me to. I see nothing there.
I’m old. My mentor, Akio Mutou of beloved memory, is many years in his own grave. I haven’t many friends of my own. My earliest friends, they are long forgotten; my wife’s family is dead, my own likewise.
But today, there are two people here to provide support and kindness. A man, a woman. They are husband and wife, and of all the unlikely things—including my own long-extended lifespan—their marriage ranks among the most improbable.
She walks with poise, not loudly, but quietly; always, my lady of flowers has been that way. She can also be stern and severe when she wants, but she is not the shy and nervous girl I once knew. When Hanako Ikezawa married Hideaki Hakamichi, it was at a small service in a secret chapel in the mountains.
We could have been family, I suppose. It was not that I never loved Shizune; it was that she had been my boss. To her credit, she had behaved with perfect decorum for many years, never seeking to break my silent mourning after Emi’s untimely death. She, the Principal of the Academy; I, her Head of Sciences and then her faithful deputy.
I remember faintly the day I knew my mourning was over. I woke up. I was seventy-five years old, and Shizune too had been taken from me, years before. It is sometimes the case that love grows on you like moss, and you do not know it. Then along comes life, like a tsunami. It turns the land over, washes the house away, leaves you naked, blinking in the terror of it all.
I buried Emi when I was forty-five. I had told her many times of my love, and all I said had been true, and she was all I had. Shizune was buried for me, when I was seventy, and I’d never told her that I had come to love her, because I didn’t know if that was indeed the truth, and it wouldn’t have been fair to Emi, anyway.
I am eighty now, and I admit I have nothing left. I am frail, and old, and a dandelion seed in the wind. Hana and Hideaki are bringing me home to the mountains, to Andorra, so that I may die with my last friends, and no strangers. I say my last farewells, and hold their hands, as withered as mine, and go.
It is a long flight, through Amsterdam and Toulouse, and then by winding roads for another three hours. It is cold, and I dream of another winter’s day more than sixty years ago, a day that changed my life. Old ghosts, these ghosts. Shin, Mai, Takumi, you don’t forget the names of some ghosts—least of all do I forget Iwanako. Her dark hair, her scent of warm flowers in the white snow, these are things I remember. My mind, it rambles, skipping the worst memories, the hospital and the stench of topical antiseptic and corridor bleach.
Hideaki is still strongly built. He took after his late father (oh, that infuriating man, but so kind to me in the end!) and became burly. He comes round to the door on my side, helps me down from the chunky SUV that has brought me to my new home. I can hear Hana already opening the door.
All around me, I feel the old ghosts leaving. This is my last home, and Japanese ghosts have no place here. I strain my hearing to listen, and my ears are preternaturally sensitive in the high mountain air, but there is nothing, and I am very, very tired.
That night, I awaken. I do not know what has woken me, at first. But I listen, and the fear begins to build. It is music, and not from any earthly violin or piano. It is something half my mind refuses to remember, and the other half refuses to hear.
It is the sound of a music box. If I am right, it is small, crafted from plain and undistinguished wood, and yet charming in appearance. It holds the ashes of my past, if things are as I think they are.
My body refuses to act. In the complete darkness, it is as if I am buried in the earth, dead and yet alive. I don’t know how long the music plays. I have never measured the time it takes for the mechanism to run down. Mutou would have chided me for that
, my irrelevant neurons tell me randomly.
Eventually I fall asleep. It seems that at least one ghost has followed me here. You cannot run forever. But one is better than a multitude.
In the morning, I hear Hana and Hideaki whispering about something, but that’s their life, they’re a couple, I don’t have to eavesdrop. I have breakfast before me, something simple, tasty. A porridge of sorts, a poached egg. Thyme! I raise my head and I know Hana knows what I’ve just learnt—she’s finally perfected one of her recipes. I smile.
It’s a cold day, although the sunlight prickles along my skin. Then, there’s another presence in the room. It cannot be. I let my spoon drop. It clatters on the plate. “Lilly?” I whisper.
The room has gone silent.
“Is that… Hisao?”
The room goes more silent than silence itself.
My heart shudders. You think that heartbreak is a metaphor, a dramatic turn of phrase? Oh, no, it is not. My breath catches as it did thirty-five years ago, when I thought I’d never breathe again. I forget to move. My blood is silver in my veins. There is no air, no air at all. Perhaps that’s why all the voices are old and whispery.
And then, there’s nothing. Or at least, nothing much. Fortunately, I retain some sense of humour. Of course it’s Lilly, if anyone’s ghost would be the last, it’d be hers. Last as she was first, in some wilderness cottage. My life unwinds, as they say it does at such moments.
My heart clenches. What, I still have a heart? Hnngg. This dying thing, it takes too long. It’s like that old Titanic movie. It goes on and on and on. Maybe I’m dreaming, still lying in bed somewhere, in some hospital, with Iwanako sitting beside me.
Let’s just agree to have this continue a while
, I say, offering an amused prayer to whatever gods sit in these old mountains. Somewhere, an icy spirit laughs like the breaking of clean crystal.
Dimly, I hear movement. Then, a presence at my side. Cold, spectral fingers brush across my face, across my heart. So. I am to be tortured in the afterlife.
I resign myself to my fate.
“It –is– him! That’s your mystery guest!”
Hideaki’s voice replies. “Well, birthday surprises and all, cousin.”
Silence. Then, “It’s not fair to him. His heart sounds all right now, but the journey is a lengthy and arduous one. The poor man must be exhausted.”
“It’s not only for you, Lilly,” Hana says, a little sharply.
Another little package of silence fills the room. Possibly, with a ribbon on top. Her birthday? Oh, yes, so it is. Memories fade, don't they?
I let myself go, and the dandelion seed floats away.
There is a little tea-room, redolent with the fragrance of the fine tea brewing in one corner. A chess set has been placed upon the table, the pieces all arranged. There I am, on one side of it. The radiance of the summer sun warms the room a bit. Lilly is sitting next to me, and I think her warmth is greater.
I reach out for a particular pawn. I haven’t played for a long while, so it takes me time to find the piece. I say out loud, “… d4,” moving the white queen’s pawn up into the fray for my third move of the game. Hanako takes a short sharp breath, surprised by my new opening, suddenly very different from the Giuoco Piano of the last few weeks.
Lilly giggles unexpectedly. “You’re improving, Hisao. Or at least, your repertoire has broadened. That is a rather… eloquent opening.”
“With you teaching me how from Braille chess manuals, I don’t see how it could be otherwise.”
She laughs. Her hand finds its way to mine, holds it tight. “I must confess that the role reversal has felt rather odd to me at times. But some things don’t change.”
I feel a little blush as I realize my faux pas
. And then I figure out that she’s joking. I turn to her, feeling the heat that rises from her body.
Across the board, Hanako whispers, “… exd4,” capturing my adventurous pawn.
“Lilly,” I say, speaking to this ghost who is no ghost at all, “It’s probably too late to make any promises at all. But… may I make a request instead?”
“Go ahead, Hisao. I promise you that we’ll remain friends regardless.”
I smile at her, knowing she’ll be able to hear it even if she can’t see it. “I know I can't promise you that I'll always be around, or that we'll be together forever.”
“Go on, old man Nakai.” There’s a teasing lilt in her voice.
“Will you celebrate Tanabata with me this year? It’s to make up for one that we missed sixty-three years ago.”
I hear surprise, perhaps tinged with wonder. “You… remembered that?”
“I may be old and blind, but I haven’t lost all my memory yet!”
I hear her raise her head a little as she places her other hand on my cheek, giving a small, amused giggle. I smile absentmindedly at how earnest it is, almost girlish in its lightness.
And they lived happily ever after.