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   Everything around gave an impression of dryness. The thwack of the tennis ball and its neon fuzz. The hideousness of that color. The clop of the clay court, and the shushing of shoes on it. The unmelting paint of the bleachers, which was duller than any other green on Earth…
   Only the players seemed saturated because both of them poured with sweat. But what Dele had recently found was that she couldn't sweat - and she thought that knew why. She supposed that if a person held absolutely nothing back (particularly under the sun), then they would just drop dead.
   Thwack. Huff. The umpire studied them like a lighthouse. Nire won, of course. It was his brilliant and languid service. Dele could admit that that part came naturally to him. He had achieved extremely nice aces in every game.
   Congratulations flowed, as did the electrolyte water. It was too hot. His opponent, tired, made a hasty exit to the bus. She leaned against him while he laughed with his coaches under the open eye of the sky.
   It was the apex of the term, and not very many people had gathered to watch. But, of those that were there, Dele could tell which were first-years who still had no social circle, and which knew the team. The sight of the first-years - the spectacle of their insecurity - recalled to her an old self whom she had slain.
   Everything was so different now. The outfits of the first-years were palatable in the extreme. And the vivid strings of their lanyards escaped from their back pockets. Nire took her back to her hall.
   He put his racquet bag down on the gray, decent carpet. He sat in her desk chair. Dele hovered on the edge of her neatly made bed, chewing on ice from his aluminum bottle. The entire hall was unusually cool that day. Nire observed her in his whites by the window.
   Dele was thinking of her friend Lucien from Monaco, who had invited her to an ambient music concert in total darkness that evening. The warped peals of the carillon that lived in the university chapel quaked through the wide window. It had taken Dele almost nine months to figure out what that noise was on Thursday evenings. Only after a chance meeting with a carillonneur at a foreign students’ social had she connected the dots… The carillonneur was the first person whom she had ever met from Denmark.
   "Are you ready?" Nire asked.
   Dele nodded. Then they began.
   He took his bottle and his racquet bag and left her room. Her next-door neighbor had a phonograph with a stereo, and through the adjoining wall she could hear The Little Purple Flower.

   Dele patched herself up and then went to see Lucien. By that time, the sun was relinquishing this hot pink lustre to leagues of spires and gables and to the facets of glass libraries. Lucien lived in a decrepit shared house on the southern edge of campus. The house was beautiful. Its spirit was a silvery kitten that had no owner and no name.
   Once again, Dele heard music as she walked through their peeling door, which was always ajar, dangerously. This time, it was coming from one of the bedrooms on the ground floor. Familiar highlife. Music to cool existence, which was so hot… She wandered up the stairs.
   Lucien had the attic room and could unfortunately only stand up in one end of it. But the size of the attic made it a comfortable dwelling, and she had lain round pillows down over two rugs and between lamps for her guests to sit on.
   The walls, she had draped with intriguing textiles, contrary to fire code, including her own crochet experiments and a large sheet of adire, which had been a birthday present from Dele, and which served as a partial curtain. At dawn, because of it, all the corners of the attic turned indigo, a halcyon effect that Lucien and Dele both cherished. But Lucien wasn't in the room.
   Dele shut the door, feeling warm and faint. She loved the attic. Lucien had bought two cheap standing lamps from another student and painted the shades with subtle, rectilinear patterns using gloss. This meant that the lamps drew quiet angles on the dull floorboards when they were on and it was sufficiently dark, as it was now.
   The concert would not begin for another three or four hours. They had planned to go out for dinner beforehand. Dele lay down in Lucien's unmade bed and went to sleep. Her sleep was populated with shoals of thought. It was unusually watery, thin, and lucent. None of the thoughts lingered. They flashed iridescent flanks at her and then swam away…
   But she missed Nire, and that was the overall tone and tenor of her dream. The grimness of that, in light of his success in athletics. Game - set - match! Dele then wished a bitter wish. Her cells subsisted and proliferated. She wished that she had never given him her blood.

   But then the concert was good. It was good to loiter, first within a scarlet basement, and then inside of empty space, listening to unexpectedly raw sounds. Lucien burrowed into the experience readily. It was her favorite music.
She had leaned into glamor to honor it, though no one could see her or the spangled tippet that glorified the delicacy of her torso. Without a doubt, spiritually, she had left her friend behind, but Dele didn't mind much, since the night was temperate. And, at all events, being drained, she'd realized that she couldn't quite keep up with her generation.
   Spooks and phantoms leaned, not harmlessly, against the walls, between claustrophobia warnings. She had glimpsed them all along the uneven brick when first they descended into calm, crimson radiance. Lucien hadn't seemed to notice. She was certain that they kept their favorite prey at home.
   Dele had eyed them with a very indecorous curiosity when they first came down, and now she found that her sheepishness had grown arms and legs. Lucien was oblivious. The furnace of her insecurity gurgled under their eyes. She had felt much better when the lights initially went out, but then she recollected that darkness concealed nothing from these people.
   Lucien had never been drained, and anyone could tell that. She was barely aware of the gruesome and storybook possibility, from what Dele had been able to glean over the course of their friendship, which had begun in January, in a literary theory class. That night, as the air heaved with noise, billowed, and then settled, Dele reminisced with clarity.
   She saw Lucien in the snow, mittened as always, in the mittens that she had made, fidgeting under a silver constructivist titan, which the students nicknamed 'the paperclip,' waiting for her. Dele was usually late, being by nature and from her earliest childhood, sluggish. A sluggish individual. Lucien had been waiting because they both volunteered with the women's center at their university, which, that winter, had been putting together care packages of gloves, thermal underwear, and hygiene essentials and delivering them to unhoused women around the city.
   It was during these deliveries that the two had really gotten to know one another. Or, rather, it was during these deliveries that Dele had discovered a warm shelter for herself in the backdrop of Lucien's character. Lucien was kind, beautiful, and self-aware. She had been in therapy for most of her life, though she adored her cosmopolitan parents and her devout sister. Lucien's sister, from what Dele had gathered, was a monk with no self-existence and had been a scholar of emptiness in Nepal.
   They had both grown up in a futuristic idyll. A safe place full of holidaymakers. It would never occur to Lucien to lift a finger to take care of anybody else - she was not moved by pity in any degree - and this quality acted on Dele like a spell. She volunteered at the women's center because she liked it, and it gave her pleasure, and because she had chosen to make volunteering the foundation of her social life. The deterrent of obligation was utterly unfamiliar to her, or perhaps it had been excised in her treatment.
   But Dele was beginning to think that Lucien had made herself a prime target.

   What this meant in practical terms was that she was too cute and healthy. The phantoms were drawn to that and to forms of dependence, which would seem to be a contradiction in terms, but it wasn't. They also favored the ill.
   These and their other idiosyncratic preferences were cataloged in rigorous and discreet online fora, which Dele regularly surfed, and tabulated in slang. (Her username: 1nnocent_F1ghter.) The world wide web had metamorphosed. It had split like a loose aioli and become itself, and quality information could only be obtained there, nowadays, via cloak-and-dagger methods. Perhaps it was the logical endpoint of all of that, but Dele could not bring herself to feel an interest in declinism.
   Nevertheless, she cherished her giant e-village. The users there, though admittedly random, shared a truer understanding than she felt she did with her real-world friends, including Lucien. Just as this realization alighted, Dele was bitten, and the party was over.
   She knew it was a game and thought to herself that she couldn't be the only one. But, if she was, then the mere idea of interrupting the performance made her feel deceased. She couldn't even begin to take care of herself.
   And then there was the phantasm. You felt as though you had never, ever lost. Grief was annulled. You turned into a hard champion, a tennis star. It was everything and its opposite. It was both winning and being chosen.
   Dele strove to mummify herself, her single defense against this unsolicited pleasure, and the effort made her dizzy. When the lips had gone, she turned around, but the dimness rejected her sight, and perhaps the phantom was already with another. Lucien oscillated by her side.
   This had happened before on train platforms, in public restrooms, in clubs, in shops, in student bars. Users agreed that the number one draw for vampires was a source that another of their kind had already tapped.

   But the thing with Nire was that he had asked first - and, up until that moment, he had starved. This dynamic, which was engendered by his principles, was what persuaded Dele that she was different from all of those who wanted to be picked.
   When they left the basement, the coolness came as a real relief. The smiling stars were as tiny as pinpricks and as white as currents. Their beauty acted as a potent lure for Lucien's satisfaction and Dele's defeat. Lucien slung her tippet over her well-wrought shoulder, feeling triumphantly reborn in the music. And then she looked at her friend and chuckled.
   "What is it?"
   Lucien took out her jeweled compact and angled it toward Dele's throat, so that Dele could see the cool lipstick print in amaranth. As usual, there were no signs of a bite - no signs whatsoever of puncture - and Lucien presumed that she had been kissed.
   "Who was it? Did you even see her face?"
   "No… I didn't."
   "So, it wasn't consensual?"
   An impasse.

   That evening had furnished Dele with an extra shadow. She remarked its presence throughout the following week, but she didn't panic. Much more absorbing were the throbbing alpenglows and the marxist tenets that she was scaling in class. Staid history nourished her better than the clear scaffolding of theory (a ladder made of icicles), and every evening in May was as rosy as her innards.
   Furthermore, it wasn't the first time that something like this had happened. Since the start of university, Dele had actually been stalked twice - Lucien, incidentally, many more times. The only difference was that, in instance, she thought she knew who it was.
   "It does seem like the population is growing. There are more and more of you."
   She said this to Nire when next she saw him, and he grimaced. They were where he lived; a spacious apartment belonging to his uncle, who was in the Nigerian senate. The french windows in the living room were open to two juliet balconies. The sun was everywhere.
   "Do you have a collective goal?"
   "Do human beings?"
   "Yes. Obviously, world domination."
   "But, as I've told you, we don't think of ourselves as a separate species. We want to be like you."
   "So you don't want to be better."
   "I didn't mean 'want' in that sense." He fidgeted and scowled. "What I'm talking about is more of an imperative."
   It was the first time that they had discussed it. Or, rather, it was the first time that they had addressed its relevance outside the scope of their relationship. Still, Dele could not bring herself to raise the topic of bad sportsmanship.
   "Aren't you scared of what's going to happen?"
   He shook his head - and that was when she knew.

   What she knew now was that she had better be careful; her fashion-forward satellite was not the pressing issue. The vampire lady from the scarlet basement wore a short patchwork jacket in black and magenta velour, usually. She wore it with slacks of an unidentifiable color that flowed around her like water. More often than not, Dele did find it curiously difficult to put her finger on the pressing issue, but her survival instinct had kicked in at last, and now her thoughts were able safely to land.
   Her next-door neighbor, whom she had never once seen, was continuing to play the Duke aloud from about seven to eleven p.m. every evening without fail, a historic source of cheery solace to Dele, who had been lonely, but these days she ignored the piano's laughter. Ever since her basement experience, she preferred listening, through top-of-the-line headphones that she had not used in many years, to more and more of what she thought of now as bright red music. Not only was it easy to fall asleep to, it also added immense interest to her dreams.
   She never went to sleep in anything but the white gold necklace that Nire had given her - a curious 'N' set with amber on a glimmering rolo chain - and now she had the curious sense that it was colluding energetically with the sounds, in particular, of a new band that she liked named 'Cream Gyroscope.' Their music was a wet nebula of soft drumming, synth streams, and other noises that she couldn't really identify: found instruments. The individual songs flowed into one another like the segments of a hilly landscape. She traversed those feathery hills in her sleep, and occasionally she was pursued, but never once by the woman from the red basement.
   Nor by Nire, if it came to that. But he was in the dreams, in a manner of speaking, because he was always with her. She knew it by the weight of her desire, which made her sweat and cry and cry when she woke up.
It was always exceedingly fitting to be like that in the twentieth floor of a high-rise undergraduate dormitory. And if there was a glittering thunderstorm, as there was tonight, then so much the better.
   Dele got up from her bed and walked to the awning window on the other side of the little room. It didn't open widely, but she knew herself and a couple of other women acquaintances to be capable of squeezing through, if they put their minds to it. She bent her knees and extended her arm. The cool, lascivious drizzle made her shiver. She cupped her hand to catch some of it, and then she brought it in and drank. The skin above her sternum was still exceedingly warm and damp.
   She was staring down at the swinging silver curtain of droplets when a still sight moldered her heart. It was nothing but a shadow from this height and in such vivid darkness, but she knew almost at once that it was looking at her, just as she knew exactly whose gaze it projected upward.
   She threw on an old t-shirt and a pair of seersucker pajama shorts, pink and white. She put on a pair of beaded sandals. And then she went downstairs.
   Of course - it was a Saturday - there were tired merrymakers in the elevator. Two identical women with thick, sable pigtails, which they had decorated with long, thin ribbons in blue and ivory. Their drunkenness made them obnoxiously shy. They held hands, and on each of their fingers was mounted an iridescent sculpture made out of resin, glitter, minute stickers, and varnish. They were giggling. Dele noted to herself that those ribbons had stayed, remarkably, in place throughout their probable wild adventures on that night. It didn't seem to strike them as at all odd that Dele was in her pajamas. They were preoccupied with their bashfulness.
   On the ground floor, she shivered through the entrance hall, nodding to the night guard, who eyed her with worn out disapproval. It was not warm outside. She halted just beyond the sliding doors for a brief moment in surprise. Her weird friend was right beside her.
   "Do you know where we're going?" She asked.
   Dele shook her head, nonplussed.




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