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

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"There's a balance you feel that's really hard to describe to someone who's never had it," Nikolai says. "You just feel right, healthy, stronger. Even just a little bit, it makes such a difference."

Before he got into the vampire scene four years ago, Nikolai says, he felt sick. "Basically vampires have something wrong biologically. For me, it took the form of depression." It's a common claim in the vampire community, a feeling that there is something different with them biologically, like an inability to go out in the sun, struggles to gain or lose weight, asthma, and a reversed circadian rhythm — meaning they function better at night.

Nikolai says as soon as he had his first feeding, his depression was gone.

Most vampires report similar awakening experiences. But the personal beliefs and lifestyles in the community include light-hearted role players, literature scholars, and, on the extreme, sadomasochistic fetishists. And these people aren't hard to find.

Sitting on a leather couch in a dark corner of a wine bar in Hollywood, Kristoff is frank about what he likes most about the vampire community: "I'm a sexual opportunist," he says. "For me, being a vampire is about indulging in everything normal people shouldn't."

Dressed in a thin, black, collared shirt unbuttoned down to his breast bone, the 26-year-old has long, dark hair, a set of permanent fangs, white contact lenses, and a series of metal gothic rings and necklaces. He won't discuss his daytime occupation other than to say, "There's only so many things you can do when you look the way I look."

He's more open about his lifestyle, however. Kristoff is on the blood fetishist end of the vampire spectrum. "Blood is the ultimate human energy source, literally the force that keeps us alive," he says. "And sex is the most efficient, effective way to transfer that energy. Think about it: Everyone has had a sexual experience that was so powerful that it left one person so still they're almost catatonic and the other person up and dancing around like they're high. One person just gave the other one all of his energy."

He says combining his love of sex and his love of blood seemed natural. "I think every man has thought about cutting a partner or getting cut during intercourse," he says, sipping from a glass of red wine. "Some people like to use saliva for lube. Other, darker people might like to use blood instead."

For partners, Kristoff says he doesn't discriminate. Men, women, black swans, vampires, werewolves, "whoever wants to play."

On the other end of the spectrum is Nyx, a 20-year-old single mother living in the Brickell area. She calls herself a "hybrid" vampire — she says she can feed off psychic energy or blood. She says the hardest part of being a vampire is dealing with all the people who just don't understand.

"Friends of mine have had their spouses leave them when they found out about this," she says. "They've had their children removed from the house, lost jobs, all for being a vampire."

She doesn't dye her hair or wear all black. Nyx says she's an average girl: a college student hoping to attend medical school one day, someone who loves to shop with her friends. She's even a youth pastor at her church. She doesn't tell people at church about her vampire life. "Not because I'm ashamed; I just know they wouldn't understand." But she says her two lives don't conflict. "We're not immortal. We're not evil beings. Vampires are just different, and what's so wrong with different? Diversity is a beautiful thing."

Dealing with the stereotypes perpetuated by "posers" who don't know the first thing about the lifestyle, she says, is part of the vampire lifestyle. "You hear kids talking about how they can't see themselves in the mirror or they're 170 years old or they're allergic to garlic — that's fiction. That's not who we are at all."

Like most of her vampire friends, Nyx was a social outcast in school. When life was hard, she would turn to the fantastic worlds of her favorite literature, ancient religions, and mythology. Her vampire name, "Nyx," comes from the Greek goddess of the night.

She feels like her vampirism was predetermined. "All my life, I was fascinated with blood, the idea of blood, how it worked. And I was drawn to anything with vampires too." She was already a licensed phlebotomist — trained to draw and test blood in a lab — before she awakened as a vampire. She says she would never consume the blood she works with because that would violate the most important rule of feeding: consent.

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Michael J. Mooney