( vii )
Red and Leila were standing in front of a white, worn-out door of a bungalow that desperately needed maintenance. The fences were overgrown with the desiccated remains of climbing plants. The overgrown lawn needed mowing a long time ago. But they knew that the types of residents they may encounter got weary of such aesthetic nonsense long ago. The first address on their list seemed to be abandoned, but they must still verify. One of these addresses could harbour a potential suspect. Red kept calling his team stationed at the cemetery for more updates on the well-being of the bait. The sniper confirmed that the sheep is alive and well. Leila first pressed on the buzzer. Without seeing any response to it, she started knocking in a soft, polite manner. But she then grew impatient and started knocking loudly.
“We might need to break in. Let me get my lockpicking kit…” Red searched his side bag for his instruments.
Leila grabbed the door handle and pushed hard, effortlessly breaking the locking mechanism. “Done! Saved you a few minutes.”
Red was annoyed at Leila’s recklessness but didn’t chastise her. They both knew their task was time-sensitive.
They entered the house and were greeted with a stale, musty smell.
“Is there anybody here?” Red yelled out. “By the authority of the East-Coast Warden, show yourselves.”
Red looked at Leila and asked: “Do you feel any presence.”
Leila closed her eyes and listened carefully for any footstep, or heartbeat. She put her hand on a nearby wall to detect any hint of vibration.
“I don’t think there’s anybody here.”
“There’s supposed to be an immortal here. According to the logs, he received his weekly care package last Wednesday. So he just happened to live in this filth without care?”
“That’s the problem with small-town immortals,” Leila said as she took of her shades. “They get bored after a while and just give up.”
“François Girard, 289 years old.” Red looked at his phone. “Converted in his mid-twenties.”
Leila turned on the light, which dimly revealed the horrid condition of the house. The pair split up. Red, armed with a gun and a flashlight, started scanning the whole dwelling. He went down to the basement to look for any sign of the resident. Leila, on her side, started exploring the dining room and the kitchen. Her eyes glowed like those of a cat in the dark. The table gathered quite a bit of dust and there were marks of small rat feet. The kitchen smelled of rat faeces and unwashed bottles over the counters and sink. Leila narrowed her eyes and wrinkled her nose in disgust as she smelled the metallic smell from the sink. Leila went to the fridge and opened it. She saw the bottles from François Girard’s care package. She closed the fridge and walked towards the living room, where she reunited with Red.
“No one in sight.” Said Red. “What if he got bored of his care package and developed a taste for fresh meals?”
“I don’t know.” Leila seemed pensive. “I saw his fridge and he seemed like a regular feeder. I doubt he went feral. What did you find?”
“He has a painting studio. Judging by the dust pattern, he didn’t visit it often. Some of the tubes were open and they went dry at least a few months ago.”
Leila glanced at the various paintings decorating the walls of the living room. She walked towards each one of them and carefully inspected them.
“You know the worst part of a long life?” Leila asked.
Red didn’t reply, knowing that her question was rhetorical.
“It’s the moment you realize how repetitive your nights become. You may have thought that you’d have an eternity to enjoy life or accomplish your desires. But you realize soon that this is not how you wanted your life to be, but you are stuck living in it. You keep lying to yourself that you like this life. But deep down, you know very well, how much you hate it.”
Red remained silent.
“Add loneliness and isolation to the mix, the inability to enjoy the tiny little things most people take for granted…”
Red started noticing the paintings. Most of them had a small man gazing at a dark void of various patterns of black and grey. Few of them had a face in various distressing emotions. Most of them didn’t have any face at all.
“You don’t think he…”
Leila looked at Red, with sadness in her eyes.
“I think we should check the backyard.”
The back door of the bungalow led to a backyard overgrown with weed. Red has been Leila’s colleague ever since he joined the organization. He has worked with her as a young man, and he’s now by her side as a a grey old man. In his youth, he often could not understand why she would disappear into herself from time to time. The mere reality of ageing, wrinkled skin and grey hair, he took them for granted. As he grew older and wiser, he started to understand her pain and those of her kind.
“There. I see something.”
Leila’s acute visual awareness showed something Red couldn’t easily pick up. They walked towards what looked like burned remains of charcoal. Red crouched down with his flashlight and recognized a charred leftover piece of a femur. Other bone fragments were scattered nearby. Most of the ashes were blown away by the wind.
“He’s free now.” Leila said with a morose smile. “I haven’t told anyone, but I often used to go up on the roof alone and stay up there. I sometimes stayed long enough to see the horizon starting to glow. I’d stay up there as long as I could stay… until it started to hurt. You know,” Leila locked her teary eyes with Red’s, “At some point, I started enjoying the pain too, just to feel something. Anything.”
Red was stunned. “Leila, I had no idea…”
She wiped a renegade teardrop and put her shades back on. She glanced once more at François Girard’s remain and started walking.
“Let’s go Red. We have a rogue to find.”
The drive towards the second location was silent, until Red broke it.
“It’s been a while we’ve been working together Leila. If you ever feel that way, you know you can talk to me, right?”
Leila looked at Red and smiled.
“I can’t even imagine how lonely it must feel. I don’t even know what I would do in those moments.”
Leila looked back at the road illuminated by passing street lights.
“You’d do what I did. You find reasons to live.”