Under any other circumstances, the girl sitting in the oversized red chair might be screaming for help or begging for mercy. A tall, pale young man — his eyes lined in black — inches toward her with a sharp blade in his hand. It's just after 1 a.m. on a recent Friday night, and an operatic trance song thumps through a North Miami Beach living room lit only by a series of white candles.
Nikolai, 23, wears black leather wristbands and the vest and pants of a powder-blue tuxedo. He's a thin kid with an emo haircut. He brandishes a medical scalpel in his right hand. He lifts Violetta's right leg into the air, rustling her burgundy, Elizabethan-style dress. The blade nears Violetta's exposed, fleshy thigh.
"It's better to cut right in here," Nikolai explains. He wants to exact a wound that bleeds but won't get out of hand. "If you get it light enough, at the right angle, there's absolutely no chance of scarring. The cut'll even close itself up sometimes." Violetta squirms a bit. "You can just see all the energy coming off of her," he says. His extended canine teeth show as he speaks.
Nikolai is a vampire. He and his friends are all part of a South Florida community of vampires — they sometimes spell it vampyre to differentiate the living, human versions from the fictional, undead forms. They identify with the lonely, torn spirits in vampire stories, but these folks are not your typical goth kids. Nor are they role playing. Some of them claim to be psychic vampires with an ability to drain energy with their minds. And some are sanguine — vampires who lust after and feed on human blood.
The community consists of circles of like-minded vampires and donors, often called "black swans," who are willing to let a vampire drink from them. There are also blood fetishists, who involve blood and blood consumption in their sex lives, and "slayers," deranged individuals who sometimes try to harm or kill the vampires. There are parties where vampires socialize, forums where elders give new vampires advice on the lifestyle, magazines and newsletters with classified ads, and dentists who install permanent fangs.
Books, movies, and TV shows like HBO's True Blood are making vampire images more mainstream than ever; America's parents are even finding kid-friendly vampires like the sparkly, restrained heroes of Twilight. But for years, people ensconced in a vampire lifestyle have shopped at your grocery store, stood next to you in line at Blockbuster, and, in the case of one local woman, drawn your blood.
People who ritualistically imbibe blood, like Nikolai and his friends, say it refills depleted energy supplies. And that's the plan tonight, as he brings the sharp scalpel to the upper inner thigh of Violetta — the black swan. (Like most of the vampires contacted for this story, they asked that their real names not be published.)
Nikolai explains that Violetta is starting to squirm because she has excess energy.
"She needs someone to drain it just as badly as we need someone to feed from."
Violetta is on her back in the chair, both of her legs in the air. Nikolai is bent over her, his face just inches from her skin. She takes a slow, deep breath as the metal instrument makes contact. Nikolai is deliberate, steady. He slides the scalpel down about an inch and a half. A thin, red line emerges in the wake.
Nikolai turns to the other people in the room and shows them the blade. It has a shiny red globule dangling from the sharp tip. He gives his friends a subtle grin, turns the blade on its side, opens his mouth, and slowly wipes the blood onto his tongue. He seals his lips and closes his eyes sensually, swallowing like a wine aficionado appreciating a fine Merlot.
Azrael remembers vividly the moment 16 years ago that he realized he was a vampire. He was 20 and serving in the military. "I was drawn to images of vampires my entire life, but I never thought about it," he says. "I was feeding off energy even then. I just didn't know it at the time."
Azrael's favorite pastime in those days was picking fights in bars. "You can feed off of someone in a fight just like you feed from them any other time. You can feel his energy leaving, and you can feel yourself getting stronger as the fight goes on."
He was in a relationship with a girl who was involved in goth and vampire communities, but he stayed out of it. Then one night, he was in a particularly violent brawl. "I was still radiating energy from the fight," he says. "I really did a number on this guy. But he got some good shots in too." Azrael's face was still bleeding when he and his girlfriend got home. Instead of nursing his wounds, she held his head very still and licked the blood from his eyes. "She started having this very positive sexual reaction," he says. "I just went with it."