South Florida's underground vampires lust for more than your heart

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"There is a mystique to vampires, that dark side that appeals to everyone," Christopher says. "But for some people, it's way more powerful."

Representatives from the Florida Attorney General's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said they could not cite any cases — aside from the Ferrell case — that specifically involved vampires or blood drinking, though both organizations said tracking such a thing would be very difficult.

"Most people have no idea how many vampires are out there," says Azrael, now 36, married, working as a yacht architect in Coral Springs, and quietly affiliated with the vampire community. "I know doctors, lawyers, businessmen — all vampires. It's just a way to maintain more control over your life."

Azrael says most of his feeding is done psychically these days, though there's just no substitute for blood.

Evan Christopher says he used to feed on blood, "but I don't dabble in that anymore. We're living in the age of AIDS. There are better, safer ways to take of that." If a vampire must consume blood, he suggests they abide by a vampire code of ethics, found online. It promotes discretion, safety, and respect for elders. "We advise people to get tested, wait for three months and get tested again before any kind of blood play. In that time, you can get to know the person you're dealing with."

Between gatherings like Fetish Factory's in Fort Lauderdale, Electrolust Hollywood, and Vamps South Beach, fang bearers and fang bangers can all don their darkest robes, show off their customized teeth and contact lenses, and dance to electronic tributes to Depeche Mode almost any night of the week. There is plenty of hedonism and "psychic feeding" at these parties, says Joseph Bonilla, organizer of Vamps South Beach (and a former New Times ad salesman). Rarely is there "blood play" or discussion in public. "That part is a little bit like the Mafia: The more people know, the less they talk, and the more they talk, the less they know."

Most vampires and black swans connect through online meet-up groups, small covens, or through quiet networks of friends willing to share feeding partners.

"I think being a vampire is about as cool as you can get right now," says Julio Hernandez, a Miami dentist who, for $400 per tooth, will install a set of permanent vampire fangs on his patients. It's a bonding procedure, similar to a white filling, he says. He doesn't know of any of his patients drinking blood, and Hernandez would have fangs himself, he says, "but people are already scared enough when they go see the dentist."

Nikolai and his friends spend plenty of time in the clubs, but the act of consuming blood, at least for him, is "what being a vampire is really all about." After cleaning the scalpel with his tongue, he puts his lips to the new wound on the thigh of his best friend's girlfriend. With Nikolai's mouth on her leg, sucking gently, Violetta quivers. She moans softly. There is no blood visible as Nikolai's cheeks pull tighter against the bones in his face.

Legally speaking, what's going on right now is assault — even though it's completely consensual. Many vampires argue that the desire to consume blood is intrinsic — when a child gets a cut, they say, the first impulse is to put the finger in his mouth.

A representative from the Centers for Disease Control says they don't have information on the possible dangers of human blood consumption. Hepatitis B and HIV are the biggest risks, says Paul Wilson, quality assurance director at Continental Blood Bank. However, "orally consuming blood is less likely to result in transmission than unprotected sex. If you have an open sore in your mouth or gums — which is completely likely — you're going to risk blood-to-blood contact. Otherwise, your gastric fluids usually take care of those things."

After a minute or so, Nikolai's done, and he signals for his girlfriend, who's wearing a red dress like Violetta's. He stands up, looking like he just woke up from the most refreshing nap of his life. "It's completely revitalizing," he says, blood smudging his lips and outlining his front teeth.

His girlfriend carefully imitates Nikolai's suction procedure, though for a shorter time. When she's done, there's only a thin smear of blood left on the thigh. For Violetta's boyfriend's turn, Nikolai cuts a small slit on the inside of the girl's ankle. "See these lines? That makes a good place for a cut. On a male, the best place to cut is right here," he says, pointing to his own collarbone.

When the three vampires finish feeding, they seem more energized. All three bob their heads to the loud music still pumping from the living-room speakers. They're also smiling, though just barely. Violetta moves to the couch, where she's perfectly still, her eyes closed. She looks unconscious in the candlelit living room.

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Michael J. Mooney