High school is a tough time for everyone. The stakes are high, the workload is heavy, and the social strata are more complex than ever. Preps, jocks, goths, scene kids, band geeks, weeaboos–subgroups upon subgroups uncatalogued by even the most ambitious of anthropologists. Where do you fit in? How do you stand out? Why are you so good at back rubs?
Vampires in Their Own Words is an inadvertent expose on an adolescent coping strategy that can be summarized thus: when no niche is special enough, create your own. Contained in this book are pieces by nearly two dozen people who claim to be actual vampires. Under the guidance of editor Michelle Belanger of House Kheperu, these brave souls join forces to educate us poor mundanes on the intricacies of vampire life. Whether you believe their stories or not, one thing is certain: they are so much more unique than you.
The Elephant in the Room
There’s one aspect of Vampires in Their Own Words that really steals the show, to the point where I feel compelled to address it here at the top. It’s the names.
When it comes to credibility, the name “Reverend Vicutus, Dominus de Ordo Sekhemu” doesn’t instill quite as much faith as Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow. “Sphynxcat” was definitely somebody’s AOL Instant Messenger screen name back in the day, and “Belfazaar Ashantison” sounds like the guy in your LARP group who’s been wearing the same HIM t-shirt for the past six months.
It’s impossible not to wonder about these people. What was it like growing up on Midnight Childe’s suburban cul-de-sac? How hard did Sedona of House Aeterno’s eyes roll every time her grandma dragged her into American Eagle? How many letters did Anshar Seraphim write to WWE wrestler Mankind?
Fortunately, some of the authors do toss out a few autobiographical details. One of them is Michelle Belanger of House Kheperu, otherwise known as our Fearless Editor. Let’s see what she has to say.
Belanger compiled this anthology to give voice to a broad spectrum of vampiric experience, but she kicks things off by telling us her own story. It turns out that, as a fifteen-year-old, she was really good at giving back rubs. Promising start!
Belanger had an overprotective grandma who wouldn’t let her see her friends. That legit sucks, and I feel for her. Interestingly, however, the resulting isolation wasn’t the main issue. Belanger could live without her friends. She couldn’t live without them back rubs.
According to Belanger, when she gave back rubs, she would drain the energy from her friends’ muscles and draw it into herself. She would later recognize this as the hallmark of a psychic vampire, or psy-vamp. As long as a psy-vamp is able to feed, everything is aces. But without their preferred energy source, they become sick and enervated.
Realizing that the only plausible explanation for her malaise was psychic vampire-dom, Belanger set out to test herself. She began to feed remotely from her classmates–with shocking results!
Thus began a long journey toward self-acceptance and blah blah blah. Belanger admits that her experience is not necessarily representative of all vampires. Indeed, vampires don’t even agree on what causes psy-vampirism or how the condition manifests. For a smattering of the disparate viewpoints, we turn to the next chapter.
Part One: What is a Vampire?
The difference, psy-vamps hasten to point out, is that their condition can’t be attributed to any specific physical malady. Doctor after doctor gives them a clean bill of health, and yet they feel so dang tired all the time!
That’s right: eating, drinking, and sleeping don’t work for vampires. One wonders why they don’t simply dispense with those three activities altogether, if they’re completely ineffectual. Force of habit, maybe?
These definitions of vampirism obviously differ from traditional descriptions, in that they’re way more stupid. Also, they leave out the more folkloric elements like sleeping in coffins…
…and catching fire in direct sunlight.
As you can see, there’s much more to vampires than the legends would have you believe.
Part Two: Vampire Awakenings
We’re only on the second chapter, and already the book’s gotten prohibitively wanky. This whole section is so dang boring that I can’t even bring myself to scan it–apart from one story. Which happens to be my favorite story in the entire book. It’s written by an ex-Marine called Khan.
I love Khan’s story because it’s insane and seemingly wholly unrelated to vampires. It begins when Khan is seventeen. In defiance of the adults who advise him to go to college, Khan joins the Marine Corps. He loves the lifestyle and excels in the harsh, manly-man environment.
Then the unthinkable occurs: Khan’s best friend dies.
Heartbroken, Khan retreats to his bunk and cries until he can’t cry anymore. Once he’s completely wrung-out, the following happens:
Khan is blindingly white, of course, but that doesn’t matter. Wise Chinese men are second only to wise Native Americans in the frequency of their appropriation by vaguely spiritual white people. Presumably, Khan has omitted the part where the ageless Chinese man bestows upon him the legendary Jade Dragon Sword and also his first Pokemon.
Later, Khan gets deployed to the Holy Land for training exercises. While visiting the Wailing Wall, he encounters his spirit guide once again.
Eventually, Khan leaves the Marines and decides to go on a trip to Haiti with an eccentric rich man to hunt for lost treasure. (No, really. That’s really part of the story.) Shortly before his departure, Khan is rummaging around for something to read.
But it gets better…
Again, I have no idea what any of this has to do with vampirism–and that’s only partially because I was skimming hardcore. Sure is entertaining though, isn’t it?
Part Three: Vampires and Feeding
Here’s another section so wanky and dull that I barely made it through. As far as I’m concerned, this quote encapsulates the best and worst of “Vampires and Feeding.”
Part Four: The Vampire Community
This chapter is composed of one-half angry rants about how stupid the vampire community is and one-half wounded hand-wringing about how misunderstood it is.
Poor vamps. They’re just too special for us mundanes to understand. Things would be better if only we could get on their level. Until that time, they’ll just have to soldier on, like other oppressed groups throughout history.
Part Five: Codes of Behavior
As if being a vampire didn’t already sound super lame, the authors of Vampires in Their Own Words exacerbate things by offering up long lists of rules. Most of them are about not feeding until you get consent and things like that. Others tackle more prosaic matters. Like fashion.
Part Six: Vampire Traditions
To be honest, the whole concept of “Vampire Traditions” was dead to me the moment this book compared vampire culture of that of African American slaves.
Part Seven: Other Voices
WOW WHO CARES
Khan’s weird, vaguely offensive story about his ageless Chinese spirit guide was the sole high-point of Vampires in Their Own Words. Everything else was the dictionary definition of insufferable. I say this as a former wannabe goth: this book makes me want to go back in time and punch the other goths in their knees.