‘Let’s tell scary stories’. This was the most exciting sentence to hear as a child. Sitting in a slowly darkening room as the back-to-school evenings drew in, my friend would regale me and my sister with the most terrifying tales passed down to her by her older brothers who were connoisseurs of all things spooky. Little girls with missing limbs, bodies hanging from trees. Goosebumps it was not.
I always had a predilection for everything surrounding the occult, from holding a séance one Halloween in my small kitchen to contact my dead grandfather, to reading about a haunted Winchester mansion on the (dial-up) internet. The sound of the modem will forever be associated with those images of the doors leading to sheer drops and the staircases built to nowhere, created to confuse ghosts.
During this time I encountered a smorgasbord of supernatural creatures which I absorbed into my subconscious mind, but it was vampires that took root. My dad came home one day with a book of occult-themed stamps, which I kept carefully in an album. I read voraciously about Dracula, thrilled that Bram Stoker was Irish. My neighbours were Romanian and as a seven year-old I asked their daughter if the rumours about Transylvania were true. She said yes, of course, but in retrospect, I feel like she was talking the place up.
There was so much paraphernalia involved in vampirism - the amulets and objects needed to keep revenants at bay; the cloves of garlic, the crucifixes hung over doorways. On paper vampires were dangerous (cautious child alert), and yet I found them intoxicating. I learned the words - shtriga, vampyr, vrykolakas. Along with Pokémon cards, keeping a nature diary, and magnetic slap bracelets, vampires became a part of my life’s fabric. I wanted to be one, and be with one (even just as pals).
Before going to bed, my hair was tossed to one side, fanned out on the pillow like the girls I imagined a vampire would be interested in. Every morning I woke up with a neck free of wounds, and felt bitter disappointment reading the cereal boxes at the table. Another day, another chance at becoming a member of Club Undead out the window. My mam would never have occasion to write me a sick note for school: ‘Ellen can’t come in today (or ever again) because she is a vampire now, and is therefore immortal’.
Aside from my prepubescent desire to become a ‘goth’ (helped along with a cheap pot of navy lip balm I carried in my combats pocket), my interest in vampires waned somewhat over time. This was until I put some pieces together. Every bad boy/girl I fancied in popular culture, every Jess Mariano or Morticia Addams, possessed traits that could be described as vampiric. Emotionally distant, an air of boredom even in good company, and a propensity for wearing all-black outfits, not to mention the complete lack of humanity in spite of the moody sexuality they exuded from every pore.
This connection between sexuality and vampirism is centuries old. In the Victorian era vampire literature gained momentum because so many of the stories involved people who were ‘under the influence’ of a vampire, and therefore unafraid to act on their desires. When unsatisfied women were ‘hysterical’ and sexuality at large was policed, a fantasy life free from the panopticon that was society at the time seemed pretty alluring. People wanted the ride, but had to make do with reading about sexual metaphors while showing your ankles in public was considered an affront to public decency. What would they have made of crop tops? Different (terrible) times.
Vampires were originally not the hyper-sexual and debonair creatures I was obsessed with. They evolved somewhat. Slavic folklore painted a grim picture of a ruddy-faced thing wearing a linen tunic it had been buried in, with matted hair and a bloated, bloodstained face. Not exactly a marketable brand. Contrast this to Bill from True Blood or Darla from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, their good looks used to entice and seduce.
Modern iterations of vampires are sleek, immaculately turned out, with artfully dishevelled hair. They don’t need to sleep, their immortal faces never marked by age. They are outsiders in society. A mirror reflects back nothing at all, leaving no trace.
The idea of vampirism, or entering into a relationship or indeed a torrid affair with one of the undead becomes less and less attractive the more real life miles I clock up. Yes, they are always beautiful and seemingly insatiable, but they will never put you first before blood. You would reach for your vampire girlfriend’s hand in the park and it would in that moment feel like ice before she whipped it away. Your vampire boyfriend would get annoyed if you wanted to stay in and watch Diners, Drive Ins and Dives on a Friday night instead of scouting the Camden Mile clubs for fresh meat. You would find him that night as you go down to get a glass of water, idly swiping Tinder at the kitchen table asking people what they’re into. You’ll turn 55 and get rheumatoid arthritis as they’re off gallivanting, their clammy skin as youthful as the night they were sired.
Vampires are a powerful and delicious fantasy, in a world where there are no rules, no preconceived notions of your place in society, and the promise of debauchery lingers in every interaction. Single-minded in their pursuit of humans, pursuit of blood, of you - but once that’s over what comes next?