The interview with the vampire takes place in a sixth-floor walk-up in the East Village, among the dark shadows cast by blood-red drapes of satin brocade.
The vampire himself reclines on a plush bedspread of the same color and material, a figure of pale ivory against a rippling crimson tide. There are sepulchral notes in his laughter and undercurrents of menace in his smile, which reveals long, sharp canine teeth that curl over his lower lip like incipient fangs.
He is 20 years old, is known to all of his friends by his adopted name of Ethan Gilchrist and quickly clarifies that he does not consider himself the kind of vampire familiar from ancient legend and modern lore, the immortal creature who beds down in a coffin and sups at the jugulars of hapless human prey.
“But I’m definitely part vampire,” he says, citing his unusual overbite, lifelong distaste for sunlight and occasional taste for blood. Sometimes, he says, when an obliging friend gets a nick or cut, he will savor a few drops from the wound.
“It’s like liquid electricity,” he says.
Is Gilchrist a prankster? A singular freak? He appears to be neither, but rather part of a small, loosely knit demimonde of vampire enthusiasts in New York City, an underground scene with its own music, nightclubs, wardrobe, periodicals and, in the case of some individuals, gustatory delectations.
The existence of this moonlit nether world, whose denizens number perhaps a few thousand nationwide, came into flickering, ambiguous view this week when it was mentioned in news accounts about the disappearance of Susan Walsh, a 36-year-old woman from Nutley, N.J., on July 16.
Walsh, a go-go dancer and freelance journalist, had befriended modern-day disciples of Dracula last year as she did research for Sylvia Plachy and James Ridgeway, the authors of “Red Light,” a book on the nation’s carnal underbelly.
Police have declined to discuss details of the investigation into Walsh’s disappearance, but relatives and friends dismissed the notion that so-called vampires were to blame, saying the breed that Walsh encountered was hardly sinister.
A brief journey into their haunts and lairs draws back the curtains on a theatrical, eccentric and kinky milieu sired by Bram Stoker, nurtured by Anne Rice and inhabited in particular by people under 30 who have struck a countercultural pose with Victorian roots.
For many, vampirism is merely a kitschy game of dress-up, or an elegant style, not to be taken too seriously. For others, it is something deeper: a romantic fantasy, a sexual identity, even a religion.
To hunt these various vampires is to breach a society in which custommade fangs can be purchased for as little as $40 (dental acrylic) or as much as $300 (porcelain), popular bands go by such names as Nosferatu and Type O Negative, messages on answering machines include the words “Feed well,” and distinctions are made between those who are and those who are not “out of the casket.”
Many patrons flash oversized canine teeth bought from a Brooklyn company, which recently began marketing prescription contact lenses that give wearers red irises or feline eyes.
The Limelight, a club in Chelsea, will begin holding monthly vampire balls of the kind it choreographed July 30, which featured performances by such vampire-fixated artists as Jerico of the Angels. Jerico has been known to imbibe his own blood on stage and to simulate sex with a naked vampire-ette.
Although Jerico thinks of himself as a vampire, he and his particular soul mates define vampirism not as a predatory need for human blood but as a poetic metaphor for the way in which all human beings feed off each other in order to exist.
“It’s a more spiritual approach,” says Jerico, who lives in a basement apartment - “no sunlight,” he explains - in Astoria, Queens, and refuses to specify his age. “I’m ageless,” he cackles.
He keeps a sarcophagus in his living room when he is not using it as a stage prop and confesses that he used to drink blood other than his own a decade ago, before the AIDS crisis and the distinct possibility of contracting the virus through such practices gave him pause.
Once, Jerico says, he used a ceremonial knife to make a tiny gash above the heart of a consenting girlfriend, then pressed his lips to her flesh. “It’s an extremely powerful experience,” he says in a tone of dead - or undead - seriousness.
Jeff Guinn, author of “Something in the Blood,” and other researchers say that people who consume blood include both occasional thrill seekers taking their fascination with vampire mythology to new heights (or depths) and true believers enacting a sexual fetish, pagan ceremony, psychological affliction or combination of all three.
Dr. Fred Berlin, one of this country’s leading experts on sexual aberrations, said that a genuine, ongoing erotic compulsion for blood is not a recognized disorder along the lines of pedophilia or necrophilia. Berlin added that a little-known fact about Jeffrey Dahmer, whom he interviewed and evaluated just before the serial killer went on trial, is that Dahmer once worked at a blood bank and drank bits of the supply. But Dahmer’s pathology is a far cry from the campy, risque adventures of Christine Brosky, 20, an English major at Marymount Manhattan College.
Transfixed by horror films and literature as a teenager, Brosky later latched on to the Gothic nightclub scene, acquiring a black satin gown, antique silver jewelry and acrylic fangs. She says that with her boyfriend, whom she trusts to be free of the AIDS virus, she has dabbled in blood exchanges, nibbling on his neck or letting him nibble on hers.
“It’s very intimate,” she explains with a blush and a giggle. “Also, I like pain to a certain degree.”