Like many vampires, Lady Steph was forced to hide her alternative lifestyle during her days as a flight simulator engineer and Baker Hughes technician “I looked for years in different cities for people like me,” says the 41-year-old mother of one, who is also on permanent disability (from work, not vampiring). But then came Facebook. Not only did social media rid her of the isolation that sometimes comes with being a vampire, it also helped her attain her present position, as the elder of a seven-person house of vampires.
This is not the image the public has of such creatures. The vampires know this, which is perhaps why a group that didn’t include Lady Steph agreed to a face-to-face meeting with us at Aladdin, the Mediterranean spot in Montrose, rather than, say, in a darkened lair or on the roof of an abandoned building. Even vampires crave a good gyro now and again, it seems.
Among them is a solid boulder of a man named Cayne, a vampire with a broad chest and beefy forearms thicker than most men’s biceps. He’s in his 50s, bald with a greying goatee and eyes that peer warily from behind wire-rimmed glasses. He also happens to be Lady Steph’s “protector.” Dressed in black, with leather straps around his wrists and a single earring, Cayne gives off a distinctly strong-man-in-a-traveling-circus vibe.
“A lot of the time, I stick out without even trying,” he says. On the table before him, a large black Japanese fan is displayed for reasons personal. “People just start coming up and want to know who I am and why I look the way I do.” We consider telling him that the fan may have something to do with this, but say nothing.
Cayne tells us, between bites of baba ghanoush, that he’s been struck by lightning three times and survived numerous other brushes with death; also, he is able to influence ordinary humans with electromagnetic energy, not unlike the protagonist of the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man. If you haven’t seen it, he says, you need to.
Cayne, by the way, is not the kind of vampire who turns into a bat, hates garlic, feasts on strangers’ blood, or other absurd Hollywood stereotypes. In fact, other than being a retired City of Houston employee, there is nothing scary about him in the least. Rather, he and other members of the local vampire chapter—Allied Night Kindred Houston—are benevolent outsiders longing to channel their powers toward art, education, and community building. Those powers can range from extrasensory perception to immunity from illness, although many are also sensitive to light and prone to energy deficiencies stemming from anemia.
“Sunlight is torture,” says Lord Gervase Sin Nacht, a soft-spoken man in his 40s with pale skin and sharp fingernails. He is the ANKH resident high priest, and has known since the age of six that he was a vampire.
What makes a vampire a vampire, again contrary to mainstream lore, is not a desire for human blood (though some do partake, with willing partners and after proper testing), but the need to attain sustenance from sources beyond food and drink. This can be accomplished by consuming blood, having sex, absorbing a handshake, or—in the case of Cayne—tapping into another’s electromagnetic energy.
Given its much-celebrated love of diversity, you might expect Houston to be a hospitable climate for vampires, and it is. Baba Yega and Numbers Nightclub in Montrose are particularly welcoming. Houston vampires are welcoming too—potlucks are held regularly—although prospective types should expect a strict vetting period. Real vampires like 36-year-old Tarik Rêver are forever on guard against posers, people who, as he puts it, think “being a vampire means putting on some plastic fangs and crazy contacts and going to the club.”
But Rêver gets even more worked up about “misrepresentation,” “stereotyping,” and the prejudice that comes with them, even here. This is not so much an issue for Rêver, perhaps because he is employed as a cashier at the Whole Foods on Waugh Dr. (i.e., the one place where you can wear ankle-length dreadlocks and elaborate leather outfits to work without getting written up). But he knows that other vampires are not so lucky. Many experience workplace discrimination, intolerance, even violence, he says.
“We exist, and we’re not to be feared or here to harm anyone,” Lord Gervase says, summing things up while finishing off his plate of tabouli. “We’re here to help Houston, and we want to be accepted.”