On the occasions I’ve tasted human blood, nearly all of which coincided with my being hit in the face, I’ve found the flavor neither delicious nor life-granting. I am not, it seems, a vampire.
But are you one? What about the person behind you? Are vampires among us, here and now? I reckon they might be.
My friend Angel is a longtime French Quarter tour guide who, for most of the years I’ve known her, had vampire-fang dental implants. She’s also a great source for spooky stories. With Halloween on the horizon, I joined Angel in the scenic Le Roundup bar to ask if she had any recent experiences with New Orleans vampires.
She put an immediate damper on my inquiries. “Naw,” she said. “Most of that stuff is just Hollywood.”
I must have looked crestfallen. “If it helps,” she told me, “there’s definitely such thing as a vampiric presence. You ever go to a party, and the mood is off, and then someone leaves and suddenly it kicks into gear? You could say that person had been sucking the fun out of the party. And there are people who, if you let them into your life, will drain you, emotionally or financially. That’s real enough, and scary enough.”
Angel, whom I consider an authority on the New Orleans supernatural, was skeptical regarding the existence of vampires… but I knew of at least a dozen people who’d disagree.
THE VAMPIRE PANIC DEFENSE
Alow me to share the horrendous and absolutely true experiences of Vera, whose vampire tale began when she needed a sublettor on short notice. “You know how New Orleans is when summer comes,” Vera said. “Everyone was leaving town, including me, so I turned to Craigslist to find someone who’d stay in the house over the hot season.”
Alas, inviting this stranger into her home proved disastrous. “When I got back three months later, he was supposed to already be gone, but he was still there. He kept making excuses, and since it was a squat, and there wasn’t a lease or anything, we couldn’t exactly evict him. We tried to work out some kind of accommodation, but he was creepy and crazy.
“He had a trust fund, so he had plenty of money, but not only did he not pay any bills, he actively hid the bills so nobody could pay them. We had to go through all this shit with Entergy just to find out what we owed. Turns out he’d set up a grow room in his closet, so the electricity bill was unbelievably high. He was constantly drunk and fucked-up on drugs, increasingly aggressive and paranoid.”
It all came to a head one night when he tried to pick a fight with Vera. “He came after me, and my friend Aphra got in between us. He dragged her into the other room and attacked her with a machete he kept there.
“He struck her a couple times with the machete before I and another friend pulled him off and managed to shove him out the door. It was a huge struggle; the whole house was covered in blood.
“I saw Aphra’s hand first– her palm was laid open deep. We worried he would try to get back into the house, so we moved her out into the street where the neighbors could see, where we’d have witnesses. I don’t like to call 911, but we needed emergency medical help; Aphra was bleeding out.
“There was so much blood it was hard to tell where she was injured. Aphra was like, I think he got my shoulder. I peeled back a flap of her shirt and suddenly was looking at this cross-section of fat and muscle and bone, all exposed. I tried not to let her see– she was already in shock. When the EMTs arrived, they said if he’d hit her another quarter inch to the right, it would have killed her. As it was, she lost a ton of blood.
“I’m telling you right now, I would have died from those injuries. Most people would, but Aphra’s tough. She’s been through so much; she’s a badass girl. Only someone as tough as she is could have survived that kind of blood loss.
“The cops picked the dude up, and thanks to his parents hiring a super-lawyer, he did about two days of jail. Bail was only $2,000, which his parents took care of immediately. I found out later he had a terrible record of violence– this machete attack wasn’t an isolated incident. The guy is seriously crazy. He previously broke somebody’s spine; that guy’s in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“We had the machete, with blood and his fingerprints on it, but I couldn’t get the police interested. I was like, don’t you want this as evidence? I took screenshots of the guy ranting on Facebook about how he was on a mission to purge the city of us– meaning punks. He was like ‘I’m starting an army to rid the city of this scum, who’s with me?’ Bear in mind this guy isn’t even from here– he’s a rich boy from New York.
“A year went by, and while we were trying as best as we could to put the trauma behind us, it was weird that we didn’t hear anything back from the police. They didn’t return our calls. Friends would call me up, like, hey, I’m still seeing this motherfucker around town. He was still crazy; he attacked the bartender at the John, throwing a stool over the bar at him. I finally got ahold of the District Attorney. I asked him, are you ever gonna do anything about this case?
“Turns out they’d switched the case over to a new Assistant DA and she didn’t have any of our numbers or information. She was like, ‘Oh, I’m glad you called. We were about to go to trial and I didn’t know how to reach you.’
“We finally went to trial, a year and a half later. They didn’t have any of the evidence we gave them. They didn’t have the screenshots of him ranting on Facebook how he was gonna kill us, they didn’t have the machete. He showed up with his family’s high-powered lawyer.
the whole house was covered in blood.
“I didn’t know just how extreme it was, because we had to leave court when he testified. When the ADA came outside to get us, she was laughing. ‘We got this guy, he’s crazy. He said y’all were vampires, that he attacked you because you were vampires and he was afraid of you.’
“He told the court it began because I was ‘hovering over him threateningly.’ I’m five feet four inches tall, so I guess he meant I was hovering off the ground. Me and Aphra were vampires, and he was defending himself against our evil powers. It was amazing how much shit his lawyer had been able to pull off Facebook to support this– old pictures of us in costumes or wearing weird jewelry.”
The jury bought it. They found the machete attacker’s story plausible, and brought back a verdict of not guilty. He walked from the courtroom laughing, free as a bird.
“Aphra and I bawled our eyes out,” Vera said. “This fucking jury had looked at us, and decided, yup, these girls deserved to die. I mean, as a woman, you get that so often: people judging you, people telling you that you deserve bad things happening to you because of how you look or dress. So these people had thought ‘Yeah, these two could be supernatural. It’s okay to try to kill them with a machete.’
“It was, in the most literal sense, demonizing us. We were legally dehumanized. ‘It’s okay what you did, because these scary punk girls aren’t actually human beings.'”
When I’d first heard this story from a friend of Vera’s, it had sounded too crazy to be true. Only when I talked to Vera and others who’d been present could I believe it. Notwithstanding Aphra’s clearly defensive injuries, the jury had accepted that this man had nearly killed them in self defense, because he thought they were vampires.
“The jury was all very elderly,” Vera said, “with only one person who was maybe in her fifties. All good churchgoers, I’m sure. I suppose if you believe in Jesus, if you already believe in the possibility of immortality, maybe believing in vampires isn’t so much of a leap.”
TAKE, DRINK; THIS IS MY MERLOT
“Damn,” Angel said, when I told her Vera’s story, “that’s awful. But then again, people in New Orleans have always believed in vampires, going back even to the early days of the Ursuline Convent. This is a vampire town… founded by pirates and prostitutes.”
How widespread is the belief in vampires these days? Actual, blood-drinking vampires?
“Hard to say. I’ve met lots of people who will tell you they know vampires, or they are vampires. Of course there are people who do drink blood, as a hobby, or for a ritual. With all the blood-borne diseases these days, though, there’s probably much less of that than there used to be.”
“Well,” I said, “I know of one local occult group who claim they drink blood, but it’s actually just wine that they’ve cast a spell on.”
On the subject of wine, Angel told me of NOPD raiding a certain French Quarter home whose owner had been accused of attempted child abduction. While there, the officers unofficially confiscated a case of Merlot from the rich man’s wine closet.
Only after most of the purloined Merlot bottles had been given to friends and family as presents was it discovered those bottles contained not just wine, but wine mixed with something else: something thick, metallic and unwholesomely salty. “There are specific wines, particular chemical and alcohol preparations that will keep blood from clotting and rotting,” Angel explained. “So if someone was into the taste of blood, that would be one way to lay in a long-term supply of it.”
If there are people, then, however few, who really drink human blood, aren’t those vampires?
“You’re forgetting the immortality,” Angel said. “Part of what makes a vampire is that they last forever as long as they get blood. And personally, I don’t believe anyone could last for hundreds of years. Not physically. Humans aren’t made for it. That doesn’t rule out ghosts or other things, but I don’t buy that an actual human body could last centuries without falling apart– even brick and stone give way sooner or later.”
Brick and stone and flesh and bone don’t last that long. Only an incorporeal thing could endure the long centuries: some magical, malign entity that exists, and can affect us, yet is intangible. A system, for instance. An institution.
My search for a vampire, a deathless yet lifeless monster that drinks human blood, led me once again into the scariest place I know: the courtrooms of New Orleans. Follow me, reader, if you dare.
THE POOL OF BLOOD
Like many horror stories, this true tale of vampirism begins on a happy, seemingly carefree note.
“I was just a month away from finishing federal probation,” my friend Arkady told me. “The main thing was not to get arrested, and I’d been watching my step all year, being very careful with my decisions.
“But it was a beautiful French Quarter night. There was something exciting in the air. A water main had burst, and the streets were flooded; it was like riding bikes through a water park. Because it was Tales of the Cocktail, there was free booze everywhere.
“I ended up at a hotel with a bunch of other people. I’m a bartender myself, so I schmoozed the bar staff, and all of us drank and drank. Eventually there were about fifty of us, and we all went to watch sunset from the pool.
“People were in various states of undress. It got wilder and wilder. Finally someone from the hotel came over and was like, y’all need to get out of our pool.
“That seemed an unbelievable injustice, that anyone would try and ruin our perfect evening. People were yelling drunkenly, and the cops got called. Once I heard the police were on their way, I did get out of the pool, but I was distracted by making out with this crusty kid I’d had a crush on. My roommate was pulling on my arm, saying, ‘Arkady, you need to book it.’
“We finally got down to the lobby and the police were waiting for us. A lady cop tackled me and threw me in a paddy wagon, and one by one, nine other people got stuffed in there with me, only some of whom I knew.
“One of those arrested was a Tales of the Cocktail attendee who got caught up in the sweep somehow. Nobody likes being in Orleans Parish Prison, but this rich white tourist really, really hated it. The only person who might have hated OPP more was the swimmer who ended up jailed in just his underwear– a skinny-dipper had grabbed this guy’s clothes in the dash for freedom, so there he was in OPP, in only his briefs, soaking wet and slowly sobering up. That’s about as rough as it gets.”
Given Arkady’s delicate legal status, the charges stemming from his swimming-pool arrest had to be dropped at any cost. Little did he suspect, going in for his initial hearing, that his legal vulnerability was to make him a victim of vampirism.
“Our lawyers went to talk to the City Attorney in the back room, and we waited outside. This is Municipal Court, so ninety percent of people there were just dealing with traffic tickets. Meanwhile I was watching my life flashing in front my eyes on these federal charges.
“One of our lawyers came out with a big smile on her face. She said, ‘We got them to drop your charges, on condition you do a bunch of community service at Goodwill, or… something.’
Little did he suspect that his legal vulnerability was to make him a victim of vampirism
“Apparently, the City Attorney’s on the board of a blood bank. So if we went and donated blood at his blood bank out in Metairie, and brought back proof, he’d drop our charges.
“As you can imagine, I was hugely relieved to have my charges dropped. Giving blood? Sure. A few days later, one of the other people I was arrested with picked me up so we could go to this blood bank out in Metairie. Coincidentally, we both were wearing big sunglasses, daisy dukes and tank tops that day. There’s only one way to say this: we both looked super gay.”
“We told the front desk lady we wanted to give blood, and she sort of squinted at us. She said, ‘Okay, but first we need to talk to you about something.’ She took us into a back room, and we figured she was gonna ask if we were gay. Instead, she asked, ‘Have you been in jail recently?'”
“We looked at each other, and said yes, we had. She asked for how long. When we said just overnight, she smiled and said, ‘Oh, good.’
“Apparently the City Attorney had been sending tons of people there to give blood in exchange for leniency, and if you’ve been in OPP– not just in any jail, but specifically in OPP– for more than 72 hours, blood banks are supposed to turn you away, because of the epidemic of tuberculosis in OPP.
“At this point the strangeness of it all really started to set in, that there was this whole machine in place to extract blood from people in exchange for their freedom.”
I spoke on background to a defense attorney who confirmed this was a common practice in Municipal Court. “I don’t think the City Attorney sees anything strange about it,” she said. “It’s just part of how the system works in New Orleans. If you can’t give them your time or your money, you give them your blood.”
Even beyond the ethical grotesquery of extorting blood from the potentially imprisoned, one wonders about the actual blood arrested people are giving. If Arkady had been in OPP for more than 72 hours, if he’d indeed been tubercular, what prevented him from lying? People who need to give blood to stay out of prison aren’t always going to be forthcoming about things that might disqualify them from donation.
“Of course we had to do a little interview,” Arkady told me. “And I needed the blood donation to get my charges dropped, so I lied, lied, lied straight through it all. ‘Have you had sex with a man since 1976?’ I wasn’t even born in 1976. ‘Have you ever snorted drugs with someone who’s HIV positive?’ You mean since last night? In all seriousness, I don’t understand how someone could live in New Orleans and not do that.”
“So we gave them our blood, and they gave us receipts and ice cream and t-shirts with aliens on them: ‘Giving Blood is Out of This World!’ We gave the receipts to the lawyers, and that was that.”
Back at Le Roundup, I relayed Arkady’s story to Angel, as proof that vampires are real and among us… in the form of the New Orleans justice system. She sighed and sipped her drink.
“Yeah,” she said, “I guess that counts. Like I said, this is a vampire town.”
Some names have been changed to protect the mortals involved.
To hear more scary stories, call Angel Tours at 504 360 0487