Sometimes my loft breathed. The windows propped open, the garage door below cracked, the summer wind just right. The breath woke me. It was an intrusion. That’s how I know that a vampire never stood in the shadows and watched me. If the loft woke me with a breath, a vampire would totally wake me with his steely stare.
This is what I think when I wake, when the smell of engine oil and dirt flow over me. Slices of my former life tear into the fabric of now at odd angles.
Last asleep, first awake, I muse in the musty light filtered through grime and dust motes. I find no immediate evidence the rats touched me. My computer, dead, slides with abandon off my legs to clatter to the floor. I think, maybe the others force sleep to come so that they can remain blissfully unaware of what comes out at night. It’s not a bad plan.
“Noname,” Stipple says in the husky voice of disuse and the slow drawl of the South. “You’re still here, man.”
“Yeah,” I say.
Stipple is the oldest in the group at 22. His skin features uncounted artworks in shades of grey. From a long distance, you might not see the images. In this half-light, I can only make out a few. He claims his name, Stipple, arose from the art. The many specks that make up his skin.
That’s how I know these kids won’t be easily categorized. They each have a distinct voice telling a distinct story. Their words and their ideas are not what Hollywood would have me believe. Yet, they also don’t bear the tarnished halos of the disenfranchised savior trope.
They are simultaneously more complicated and more simple than that.
“Let me see you,” Stipple says, pulling a shirt over his head. I falter, not sure what he wants to see. “Two ears, good, good. Nose still there. Yeah, yeah, eyeballs present and accounted for.”
“What are you doing?” I lift up on my elbows.
“You’re fresh meat. For the rats. Just making sure they didn’t nip anything important last night.”
I feel flush. My private war in the dark was not unique. It’s another initiation into their circle. Survive a night with rats, and what? You must not be faking your poverty? You are worthy? Annoyance overcomes embarrassment fairly quickly.
“Legit,” he says. I don’t know how I feel about his acceptance. “Come on, Noname.”
Stipple walks out of the warehouse. I shove my laptop into my bag, which I hope has no rats, and shuffle across the textured boards after him.