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At least no one is looking closely enough to discern the difference between my tears and the rain.

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My uncle is paying a fortune to get rid of the bodies. Otherwise the lower city would be unlivable. If I pushed April and her sparkling silver eyelids out of the open carriage, the crowd lining this street might kill her. She was raised in the Akkadian Towers and has never been on the streets. Not this one, not the one half a block to the west, where I once lived in complete darkness.

But I cannot be mad at April. I live for her, for the hours when she makes me forget, for the places where she takes me. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice dark shapes creeping from between two buildings. I strain to see, but they never step out of the gloom. This area can get violent, fast. The corpse collectors stomp toward another door, marked with a roughly painted red scythe, passing through shadows and back into the light. Their disregard accentuates the care the cloaked figures take to cling to the shadows.

Anything could be hidden under a dark cloak. Our driver curses and turns sharply, and we finally lurch past the body cart. When I look over my shoulder, the cloaked men have melted back into the shadows. We turn a corner, and our destination becomes visible. It is a floating reminder—not that we used to invent things and travel, but that if you can get to the place where the balloon is tethered and if you have enough money, you can forget about death and disease for a few hours.

She is animated. I stare into space and whimper in my sleep. I only have the attention span for poetry, and April hates poetry.

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What April and I share are rituals, hours of putting on makeup, glitter, fake eyelashes glued on one by one. She could share this with anyone. People whisper about the Debauchery Club in the tattered remains of genteel drawing rooms, while they sip a vile substitute for tea from cracked china cups.

The first club we pass is the Morgue. They made bricks there, back when builders used to construct houses. The line to get into the Morgue stretches around the block. April and I pass this way frequently but never go inside.

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We are bound for the Debauchery Club, the place this entire district is named for. Membership is exclusive. Our driver lets us out in an alley. The door is unmarked and unlocked.

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When we step into the foyer, it is completely dark except for a succession of throbbing red lights that are part of the floor. No matter how many times we come here, they still fill me with curiosity. I run my foot over the first one in the hallway, looking for some texture, something that differentiates it from the rest of the floor. Araby, come on. April rolls her eyes. We remove our masks and place them in velvet bags to keep them safe.

Before the plague, the Debauchery Club was only open to men. But, like everyone else, the majority of the members died. April and I are probationary members, sponsored by her brother, whom I have never met. I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and smile. I am not the person I was this morning. I am beautiful, fake, shallow, incognito. I look impossibly thin and a little bit mysterious. For a moment I am reminded of cloaked figures, also swathed in black, and smooth my dress nervously.

I laugh.

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Her own skirts are artfully cut above her knees. Our fashions changed when the Weeping Sickness first came to the city. Long skirts could hide oozing sores.

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If I were honest with myself, I might admit that these few moments are why I come here, week after week. Swirling tattoos cover his arms, climbing up from the collar of his shirt to twist around his throat, the ends hidden by his tousled dark hair. I try not to look at him. He could make me happy. You know the routine. Breathe in here. He holds out the device.

senjouin-kikishiro.com/images/wycemesy/3278.php Are you contagious this week? You should be more careful. He presses the red button so that the handheld device will filter the air expelled from my lungs. I shiver. He puts my blood into some sort of machine. Will he look at me with contempt? Kick me out into the street? This is the only place in the city where we are safe without our masks. Here it would be an insult to suggest you need to filter the air. They only let one of us into this little room at a time, though.

Try to stay that way. He dismisses me with a wave of his hand.


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Oh, and next time you should wear the silver eye stuff. As he turns away, I raise my hand toward him without meaning to. If he were standing closer, I would have touched him. I enter the club through a curtain of silver beads. I imagine sometimes that they make a beautiful sound when I move through them, but I have never heard even the tiniest clink. We perpetually lose and find each other in this maze of rooms. She and I enjoy our time here in different ways. The building is five stories tall, average for this part of town. It was built to house apartments, but now all of the rooms are connected by long hallways and half-open doors.

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