I used to know this guy who had this fantasy, a real longstanding, deep-rooted-can’t-explain-it-but-probably-something-to-do-with-childhood-trauma fantasy of being pissed on. So one year for his birthday his girlfriend ties him up and puts him in the bathtub and has all of her friends come over and whenever they have to pee they go and do it on him. When he told me about this I asked him, so how was it, having your fantasy come to life? He said it actually wasn’t that great. See, fantasies — the real, raw ones — are fundamentally creatures of the mind. When you try to draw them out into the real world, at best you’re looking at some form of disappointment. At worst, well, the piss guy was lucky compared to my buddy Lee.
Me and Lee went way back, all the way to the first grade. We stayed tight through high school and college and ended up in the same city after graduation. He was always a smart guy, inquisitive, open to new things. In retrospect maybe he was a little too open, too desperate for novelty. To some extent I think we all crave new experiences but Lee was on the extreme end of things. He tried drugs I wouldn’t touch — stuff like meth and GHB — and I knew he had some pretty out-there habits in the bedroom too. He liked to get hurt, liked to be handcuffed or whatever. I think he had some self-esteem issues and this was part of his way of dealing with it. But it wasn’t until we were out late drinking one night after he’d just ended a thing he’d had going for a while that he told me about his real fixation: vampires. That had been the point of contention with this girl: he wanted her to bite him — hard — while they were fucking, and she thought it was gross.
I didn’t see the appeal. I’m not a fan of pain, and I wince even when I have to get my blood drawn at the doctor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging. Everyone’s got their thing and god knows I’ve certainly got a few of my own. Here’s one, just to make things a little less one-sided: I’m frozen by a magic spell or a freeze ray like in old superhero cartoons. The ice creeps up my ankles, then my legs, my chest, and finally around my arms and head. It isn’t cold, just confining, and somehow I can breathe totally fine. I thought about this almost constantly as a child and learning that a real person in this situation would die instantly as the water in every cell of their body burst was the source of some disappointment. I guess I could have tried regular bondage at some point but it always seemed so tacky to me — all that leather and stuff, I don’t know, it’s just not the same.
The vampire thing had started, Lee thought, back when he was a kid and saw this old movie Vamp with Grace Jones. She plays this vampire stripper who kills the main character’s best friend and is hot as hell the whole time. I mean, come on, she’s Grace Jones. If you’ve ever seen From Dusk Til Dawn, it’s kind of like that — a lot of people think Tarantino got the idea for that movie from Vamp. Anyway, ever since he saw it, Lee said, he had had this obsession with fangs, blood, all that stuff.
The impossibility of realizing his desire — it being for a class of fictional creatures and all — didn’t deter Lee in the slightest. If anything, it seemed to make that desire fester and grow. So a couple of weeks after his drunken confession, he told me about this group he’d found on Reddit. It was a bunch of people who called themselves “real-life vampires” and got together every month to chat and talk about their lifestyles. The whole thing sounded corny and a little sad to me, like LARPing or something, but Lee wanted to check it out, and he wanted me to come with him. Maybe you can write about it or something, he said. A bunch of weirdos in capes and plastic fangs didn’t seem like great fodder for an article but it seemed to mean a lot to Lee and I didn’t have anything else to do on a Wednesday night so I agreed to go with him.
So I got into his old beat-up Honda on a hazy evening and we drove up the 5 to Everett. We pulled into a parking lot and I couldn’t believe it — the meetup was happening at a Denny’s. You’d think they’d do it in a graveyard or in the woods or something, but what did I know, maybe that was too cliché. We went in and I remember the smell, cheap pancakes and grease like every Denny’s you’ve ever been in, but because of what happened later that night that smell just stuck with me. They say that scent is the sense most tied to memory. Maybe that’s why I can’t go in a diner without wanting to throw up anymore.
Lee was closer than he’d ever been to fulfilling his fantasy, though I still wasn’t sure exactly what that would entail. I guess he just wanted to bang one of these kind of weird-looking chicks wearing all black. Again, though, no judgement. There’s way weirder out there. It’s funny how our brains can get so twisted up thinking about sex that we end up wanting things that don’t seem to have anything to do with it. Like, here’s another one of mine: I’m wounded in a great battle and my unconscious body is recovered by a kind friend who nurses me back to health in a hideout safe from our enemies. My injuries are severe but day by day I gradually improve thanks to their loving attention. Textually this is all non-sexual and it was likely inspired by similar situations in childhood media. Freud would probably have a lot to say about this one — at its root a fantasy of caretaking, being mothered.
Anyway, we found the “real life vampires” at the back of the place. They’d pulled a few tables together to fit everyone — around a dozen people. Most of them looked exactly how you’d expect someone who identified as a vampire to look: pale, dressed in all-black, kind of creepy. Some of them were wearing fake fangs or had gothic jewelry on. The whole scene looked like a bunch of Hot Topic teens had aged a decade without growing out of the shtick.
I ordered Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies — this was back when they were doing that tacky Hobbit promotion for the movies — and tried not to make eye contact with any of the weirdos. Lee seemed pretty shy too but eventually broached a conversation with this girl with heavy black bangs cut straight across her eyebrows. In the meantime I pretended to be really fascinated by my pancake puppies, these little balls of batter with white chocolate chips inside. When I looked up, this woman made eye contact with me from across the table. I was startled, because I hadn’t noticed her at all when we came in. She looked as out of place there as Lee and I did, wearing a simple white tank top and jeans with her blonde hair tied back into a ponytail, but gave me a little smile then went back to pushing some hash browns around her plate with her fork.
I caught a few snippets of conversation. This big pasty guy — I couldn’t tell if he was really just that pale or if it was makeup — was leaning towards a mousy girl next to him and talking about his dark hunger. Like the food, it all seemed so contrived and artificial. What would Tolkien have made of it? Or Bram Stoker? I envied those people in a way, because they seemed to lack all of the self-consciousness I was feeling, and I wasn’t even dressed up like an extra from The Hunger. Maybe those kinds of people, the ones who just chase the harmless things they want and ignore that little voice that says they’re being embarrassing or weird, maybe they’re having the most fun. They reminded me of really fervent Christians I’d met in the past. Whether you’re throwing yourself into religious belief or an elaborate sexual kink it seems like you have to be able to silence self-criticism. That’s never seemed possible for me.
Seeing anyone else “living their truth” has always kind of set me off, to be honest. Like, what gives them the right when I feel so incapable of doing the same? I have all of these weird fantasies kicking around in my head that I’d never think to try and enact because I’d be too mortified. Maybe that’s my problem and I need to go to therapy. But if you’re imagining yourself being tied to a tree and pierced by arrows and that kind of thought gets you off then what can you really do about that? You have to face facts and accept that some desires just aren’t capable of being made manifest. I think that’s why the vampire wannabes and the Christians bothered me in equal measure — from my perspective, they both seemed like deluded children who couldn’t face reality.
Lee and I stood out amongst them, as did the blonde woman across the table. What was her story, anyway? Maybe she was like Lee, a tourist come to scope out the scene. Maybe she was a writer like me or a sociology student working on a paper on local subcultures. She didn’t seem to be engaging in much of the conversation around the ethics of drinking blood and the difficulties of “coming out” to one’s friends and family as a vampire. In fact, she didn’t seem to be there at all. It had only been a few moments since we’d made eye contact, but she’d disappeared. I scanned the table, and I realized she was sitting next to Lee now. She must have switched seats while I wasn’t looking. To my surprise, Lee seemed pretty interested. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t bad-looking, but she didn’t seem at all the type he was after. But there he was, chatting away with this woman while the girl with the heavy bangs turned away, obviously irritated at being dropped so easily.
A sickly-sweet taste was coating the inside of my mouth from the food and I gestured at Lee to indicate that I was running out to smoke a cigarette. He barely seemed to notice, nodding vaguely back at me before getting sucked back into the blonde’s gravity field. Maybe it was just Radagast wreaking havoc on my guts but the whole situation felt sick to me all of a sudden and I was glad to have an excuse to duck out for a while. As I leaned against the outside of the Denny’s and burned down a cig I stared out towards the freeway and thought about how absurd desire was, this force whipping people around the planet in search of a satisfaction that was inevitably fleeting. I was no different, carrying around as I did all these mixed-up wants and dreams that were more or less just perversions of the basic biological imperative to perpetuate the species. I’d heard somewhere that Buddhists thought that desire was the root of all suffering. Maybe I could become a monk, I thought.
When I went back inside Lee and the blonde were nowhere to be seen. I dreaded the idea of chatting with the Denny’s Draculas but they continued to ignore me and I just stewed on the idea that Lee owed me big after this. I’m not sure how long I sat there — maybe if I hadn’t waited so long things would have gone differently. But eventually I figured Lee and the chick might’ve slipped out the back and started fooling around behind the restaurant, which would have been typical — leave me here with the freaks while he’s out shoving his tongue down that blonde’s throat. I wanted to get out of there but he was my ride, and by then I kind of had to piss anyway, so I got up from the table and walked past the counter down the narrow, faded hall to the bathroom. I pushed the door open and immediately gagged at the putrid scent that crashed into me. For a split second I thought maybe someone had just been really sick in there, but then I saw what was really going on.
The scene in the bathroom was completely fucked. The woman had Lee pressed up against the tiled wall so that he was facing the door. Her hands had changed, fingers elongated into sickening points, one curled around his shoulder and the other tearing into his midsection. His t-shirt was ripped apart and those awful claws had dragged deep, bloody furrows into his side, the flesh peeling apart around the gouges. Flashes of trembling wet pinkness peeked out from beneath the skin, and the smell, I realized, was the acrid odor of Lee’s opened-up body, the exposed muscle and organs stripped of the flesh that usually kept them contained in a neat little package.
She shifted a little and I saw Lee’s neck. You know how in the movies, it’s always these little neat puncture wounds? It wasn’t anything like that. She was savaging his throat, ripping into the meat with her teeth, making these wet, ragged noises. It sounded like knives sawing into a rare steak, and she was greedily lapping up the dark red blood that gushed and bubbled from the ruined column.
I wanted to do something to help my friend, but I found myself just standing there in the doorway. I felt like if I intervened or even turned to run, that horrible thing’s attention would be drawn to me and I would be reduced to a quivering pile of meat like Lee had been. I stood, paralyzed, incapable of moving or making a sound.
After what seemed like an eternity the woman — the thing — pulled back and then, to my horror, she turned and looked at me. Her face was different from how it had appeared earlier, her pretty features sharpened and twisted. Her mouth was now full of razor-sharp teeth caked in gore that dribbled down her chin and the front of her white tank. Her blue eyes had become piercing rubies, and feeling them on me made my bones rattle.
And then her face changed, a flash of recognition crossed it like she’d just snapped out of a trance. Looking at Lee then again at me, a pained, almost regretful expression came over her. Before I could say or do anything, she dropped Lee — the husk of his body slumping to the bathroom floor with a squeak as it left a trail of blood behind on the tiled wall — and skittered up towards the window near the ceiling. She contorted her body like a panicked animal, wriggling out of the little gap and disappearing into the night.
I don’t remember much after that. Someone called 911, I guess. It wasn’t me because I passed out about then. I woke up in the back of an ambulance with bile burning my throat, a heavy blanket laid around my shoulders, and a tired-looking cop in a trenchcoat pushing through the paramedics to grill me about what had happened. I think maybe she suspected me since I was the last person to see Lee alive, but it must have been obvious that I had no way of inflicting the kinds of injuries he’d sustained.
I knew I couldn’t tell the cops what I’d really seen — at best they wouldn’t believe me and at worst it might get me put on a psych hold or something, so I said there had been some kind of wild animal in the bathroom, a coyote or a mountain lion maybe, and she seemed to accept it. What else could have torn someone apart like that? She said things like this happened sometimes, an animal escaped from the zoo or a neighborhood dog caught rabies and attacked someone before it could be put down.
There was a funeral — closed casket, of course — and then I was just left to accept that Lee was gone. There didn’t seem to be any reason or explanation for his death, and I never saw anything like what I saw that night again. For a while I was worried the blonde would come after me as a witness, but a few tense months passed and I realized I was in the clear. Anyway, I don’t think that thing, whatever you want to call it, really wanted to hurt Lee. Maybe it just hadn’t eaten in a while and lost control. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Some people, they’d come out of something like this and feel the need to learn more about the world, try to get revenge on the things that scurry around in the night and rip the throats out of innocent young perverts. Me, I just want to forget about it.
But there’s one thing I can’t forget. When Lee told me about his vampire thing, I assumed it was just about the seductive glamor of the monster that maybe more than any other has captured the human imagination over the centuries. I think it was more than that, though. In all of his desperate chasing of novelty and fantasy, I don’t think he was ever really comfortable with his body or himself. Maybe something about the idea of being desired for this internal part of himself, this thing he could give freely and that was needed by someone — something — was the real appeal for him.
See, back in that bathroom, Lee wasn’t trying to fight her off and he wasn’t screaming or crying. He wasn’t making much noise at all, in fact, just these quiet little murmurs. At first I thought maybe she’d ripped out his vocal cords with the rest of his throat, but then I noticed his expression. His eyes were rolled up in his head, his mouth hanging slack. Rapturous — he was enjoying himself. He was practically being mauled to death by a wild animal, all teeth and claws, and he looked like he was in heaven, like he was getting the best head of his life. At one point I made eye contact with him and he flashed a weak little grin at me. I’ll never forget that look.
I don’t think Lee wanted to die, but in that moment I don’t think he minded, either. And if he died too young, at least he went happy — which is more than most people can say. Not only did he get live his fantasy, he didn’t stick around long enough to realize that trying to make it real was a mistake. So, in a manner of speaking, I guess he was luckier than the piss guy after all.
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