Grey and Lifeless

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"Calm down," I said. "Evelyn was probably the vector, but your husband is not on drugs. I'm sorry to say that Lillian, but I'm afraid Adam is gone."

She was shaking. "What do you mean?" She knew what I meant. She had seen it in his eyes. Grey and lifeless. They were a deep brown in the picture she had given to me. And then the blood. Grey and lifeless as well.

"People disappear all the time in this city. That's why the cops don't take it seriously anymore. Most of them can't bring themselves to care. Just like Adam or Evelyn can't. It's not just the mood, or the weather. It's not a disease. It's... an invasion."

"You're scaring me."

"The missing folks always come back. They only need a day or two to work on them."

"Who are... they?"

"Don't know. Don't want to. They are not like us. They are not from here. But the city belongs to them now." I rose and walked to the windows. Peeked through the blinds. Grey and lifeless. "Had been theirs for quite some time now."

"What happened to Adam?"

"Adam is no more. I'm sorry, but he's gone, forever. What came back to you is... something else. An approximation of your husband."

"What does it want... from me?"

I turned back to face her. "Like I said, it's an invasion. First Evelyn. Then Adam. And then..."

"I can't go home."

I nodded. "Any family close by?"

"No. I would need to take the plane. But Ada... that thing has the car."

"Let me drive you to the airport, then. It's too late for your husband, but you can still save yourself."

That's how Lillian got into my car. I drove fast, almost recklessly. Not that it mattered. Cops were among the first to be replaced. What parade as them now don't give a damn about traffic. And few of them use cars, so the roads are always empty.

Lillian was looking at me, sadness and fear in her beautiful, living eyes. I wondered how long it would take for her to notice.

"You don't wear your wedding ring today," she said. That wasn't the observation I expected.

"Yeah... I... lost it."

"Really?" She frowned. Then she looked around, finally paying attention to our surroundings. "Wait, it's not the way to the airport!"

I could have lied, told her it was a shortcut, but why bother? I parked in front of a warehouse and motioned toward the old, derelict building. "Out."

"Where are we?"

"Out."

"Not before you tell me where we are!"

I drew Maggy from my coat. "I said, out." She stared at the gun for a moment, before opening the car's door. I led her toward the warehouse, pushing the barrel against her back.

Inside the warehouse were only shadows. It took some time for our eyes to focus. Then a silhouette appeared in front of us. Lillian recognized it, even though its posture was slightly off.

"Adam," she said. The next question was for me: "What does it mean?"

"I thought you wanted to find your husband."

"I'm here, Lillian," said Adam. His voice wasn't really brimming with joy. It was grey and lifeless, too. "I was looking for you."

He reached for her with clumsy open arms. Lillian's hand crashed against his face, drawing blood from his nose. Ash-grey blood.

"You're not Adam." She span to face me. "And you're not the detective!" Her eyes looked down on my finger, where the wedding ring was supposed to be.

"It's painless," I promised.

"Come, Lillian," said Adam behind her. "Let's go back home. You and I. You and I and everyone. Let's go back home."

"Fuck you!" She caught the barrel of Maggy before I could react. She struggled to pry the Magnum from my fingers, and I fought back. The gun got off.

Thunder echoed inside the warehouse and slowly died off. A scream of agony followed.

I fell on the ground, grasping my bloodied leg and wailing. Lillian watched, Maggy smoking in her hand.

My blood smeared the warehouse's floor, painting it...

"Red..." Lillian dropped the gun. "Your blood is red."

I struggled to get my senses back, to see her through the veil of tears, to anchor myself to consciousness.

"But... the ring..."

I smiled with clenched teeth. "Threw it away. Thought it was time. That I could go on living... without clinging to my past. It was The Case, you know?"

Silence. "Why?" she finally asked. "Why help them... if you're not one of them?"

What used to be Adam kicked the gun out of reach and caught her arm.

"It's their city. Hell, it's their world, for all I know. When in Rome..."

"You're hopeless," she said.

I laughed and then I cried.

Adam led her into the unknown darkness.

The bottle of whisky is empty. I shake it to get a few more drops, but it's no use. Dry is dry. I throw it to the ground but it doesn't even shatter. Guess what I truly need is a smoke. I pull my lighter from my treasure drawer. Then I stare at the picture of the missing person the man brought me.

She's a classic beauty.

Rocking the Marilyn Monroe look.

I drop the picture of Lillian in the ashtray.

I'm good at my job. I could find her if I wanted to. That's what Adam asked me to do. What they want from me. Bring her back.

But I don't feel like it.

I click the lighter and set fire to the picture.

Because I have this belief, that some unsolved mysteries can make the world a little less... how should I put it? Grey and lifeless.

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