Today's vampires don't fly, levitate or burst into flames in sunlight. They are not immortal nor are they minions of Satan. But they do drink blood.
By Stefanie Ramp for the Weekly
My escort, Dnash, curled his lips back exposing multiple fangs, and a man moved aside to allow us entry into a large warehouse. A beautiful drag queen sporting cat-eye contacts perched in an antechamber; she detained us for a few preliminary questions and then made us sign something.
Moving into the main room, my attention jerked to the cage in front of me where a young male vampire was tied up and being whipped by a preppy-looking girl. Several older dominatrixes watched, occasionally shifting in their leather corsets and pawing at the concrete floor with their spiked heels. One eyed me as if I had just slipped down the food chain and landed in the ranks of prey.
Velvet-clad guests milled around with capes floating out behind them, looking affectedly bored and aloof. Occasionally, they would smile to show off the craftsmanship of their fangs and let it be known which fang-maker they were aligned with -- each has a trademark design. A few males wore rubber suits with chain harnesses binding their chests, complete with metal leash attachments; their masters walked in front of them, leashes in hand. One guest had horns and leather armor studded with metal spikes. All of the guests were very polite and well-behaved, except for one middle-aged man in pedestrian attire -- no fangs. His glazed stare gave me the impression that he was fantasizing about chopping me up into pieces.
The occasion was a vampire fetish ball in Manhattan's notorious S & M club, the Vault. The event was a splendid game of dress-up, of courtly intrigue, a way to see and be seen. The scene was all about sex and adventure, but it wasn't about real vampires. For some of the guests, the ball was a live action extension of Vampire: The Masquerade, the latest trend in role-playing games. It had that interactive, theatrical feel that depends entirely upon the guests' simultaneous suspension of disbelief. But according to Dnash (pronounced "nash"), there were only two "real" vampires in attendance; he briefly told me what he knew of them.
Both are female and belong to the Clan of Lilith -- more on that later. One of them goes by the pseudonym "Cub." An attractively statuesque, middle-aged, African-American woman named Vi (rhymes with eye) sired her -- in other words: made her a vampire. Vi has recently written a book, Dhampir: Child of the Blood (Mystic Rose Books) about Cub's creation. Cub is a middle-aged blond, and very intense-looking. We did not actually speak at the ball, but only exchanged a few glances and a forced smile -- I don't think she trusted my journalistic intent. The other woman's name is Trish; she's a respected dominatrix and is around the same age as Cub. She recently converted to the Clan of Lilith, and that was all Dnash really knew of her.
Fangs Make The Vampire
Dnash is a fang-maker and also the character whose notoriety in the local vampire scene got this whole story started. He does not claim to be a vampire, but he makes fangs for people who want to pretend to be vampires -- and for those who want to take it a step further. There is a sizable subculture of people in the United States -- though certainly not limited to this country -- who are involved in The Masquerade and indulge their imaginations by dressing and playing the part. Some of these people believe they are vampires, and some just like to pretend. Bands like Type O Negative attract a following of these so-called vampires. "People get kind of sick of their lives. They need some way to escape it, so they put on the black lipstick, dye their hair and pretend they're immortal for a night," Type O's guitarist, Kenny Hickey, offered by way of explanation during a recent interview.
Vampirism is also very sexy, particularly for those who enjoy the fine line between pleasure and pain. I asked Type O frontman Pete Steele whether his rumored blood fetish was real. Smirking down at me he said, "Well, if a particular female wanted to be bitten, I would certainly oblige her." Not sure of his meaning, I covered my neck and ran for daylight. One couple who went to Dnash claimed that the fangs he made saved their marriage.
In contrast to this subculture based on make-believe, Dnash insists that the real thing does exist. Clear all Hollywood vampire lore from your head so as not to misinterpret the word "vampire" as it is used here. In it's barest form, vampire means blood-drinker. The "real" vampires in this story drink human blood, which is certainly within the realm of possibility. However, there are other physiological attributes these vampires claim to possess, and analyzing those qualities opens a troublesome gray area.
The "real" vampires Dnash described to me don't fly, levitate, vaporize in sunlight, melt from holy water, or run screaming from garlic wreaths. They are not immortal nor are they minions of Satan.
However, there is often a particle of truth in every myth. These vampires claim to oftentimes have better muscle control and agility than the average human and the ability to control their body's release of adrenaline, thereby giving themselves increased strength. Most claim to experience sensitivity to sunlight, particularly after consuming blood. Though not immortal, an extended life span is expected. One of the vampires I spoke with, Tsarvek (pronounced saar-vek), expects to live at least a century. He also says that the aging process has slowed in him; Tsarvek is in his late 40s but is said to look about 20 years younger. Tsarvek lives in Seattle, so I didn't have the opportunity to verify this first-hand, but Dnash, who is Tsarvek's fang-making protégé, supports the claim.
The vampire aversion to garlic apparently fits most closely with lore. According to Tsarvek, the taste and smell of garlic in the blood and its aura on the skin is something akin to rotting meat or soured milk for the vampire's palate.
So if not in Italian restaurants, where are these vampires and how many of them supposedly exist? It's certainly not the kind of information found in a Reader's Digest Poll. Dnash knows of none in the immediate area, but Cub does live in Connecticut. Vi moves around a lot but is currently based in Pennsylvania. Tsarvek told me that in the 15 years he's lived in Seattle, he's only met three real vampires. However, he estimates that one in every 10 people is capable of becoming a vampire. Many more people are involved in vampirism as vessels -- the humans who provide blood for a vampire -- and there are people who drink blood but don't have the other characteristics that are supposedly attributed to vampires like Vi and Tsarvek. This form of vampire subculture is global, like The Masquerade type.
It's unclear to me how this inner circle of vampires claims to recognize one of their own. Tsarvek and Dnash say that it's just an inexplicable knowledge. Seeing Dnash's fang creations, I do understand how the lay person could mistake one of his clients for a vampire. When I first met Dnash, he looked like a musician (which he is); he has long blond hair, a goatee and sideburns, vinyl pants, and three-inch-heeled boots. He's pale and has that slightly emaciated look that comes from consistent dining on coffee and cigarettes. But then he smiled at me, and I visibly flinched. Dnash has three sets of fangs -- upper canine, a shorter set on the bicuspid and lower canine. It's just fucking scary at first.
Dnash's fangs are shockingly real; he can eat (though with most sets, you can't), smoke, drink and talk as if it were perfectly normal to have six very sharp points in one's mouth. Dnash designed his three sets based on the mechanics of the human jaw. Biting solely with upper canines makes it difficult to hold the prey steady, Dnash explains, and it requires that you pull your lower jaw way back. With three sets, the lower fangs stabilize the prey while the uppers puncture the flesh. The second set of uppers on the bicuspids also help to stabilize the prey and provide additional punctures, which allows blood to flow more easily, he adds. This is for the fun of theory; Dnash does not drink blood and does not approve of his teeth being used for that purpose. (Find out more at his web site, www.teethbydnash.com.)
I wanted a set, and Dnash obliged my whim. The process took about 45 minutes. Using a pre-made acrylic cap, Dnash filled it with a combination of liquid acrylic and a colored powder compound matched to the shade of my teeth. Pushing that onto my canine, the cap became custom-molded to my tooth. When it hardened, he removed the cap and filed it by following the shape of my canines to create a natural and aesthetically pleasing form. He selected a subtle length and a sharpness that wouldn't do too much damage to my lips and tongue if I bit myself getting used to them.
Since I now had the requisite fangs, Dnash suggested that we attend the Vampire Ball. In the days preceding the ball, he explained what he had learned of the vampire subculture so I could appreciate what I would be seeing.
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