Mistress Vampyra carries a black leather purse molded in the shape of a coffin; she keeps her nails filed pointy and painted the color of coagulated blood. She peers out of small, dark, bright eyes hooded by slouchy eyelids, stands at 4-foot-10, has a penchant for corsets and speaks in deliberate, concise phrases. Her almost meek intensity and soft-spoken tenacity seems to warn, "Pet me and I'll bite."
We met about a month ago at a bimonthly All Kindred Society meeting, held at the IHOP on Maryland and Katie, open to anyone who identifies in real life as otherkinthose who feel more spiritually or physically aligned with mythological or legendary creatures. Five minutes sitting across the table from each other and we were already engaged in a discussion about polyamory versus swinging. "I like to be friends with my partners," said Vampyra.
All Kindred Society maintains public message boards on Yahoo and on meetup.com, where discussions about likes and dislikesnothing especially spooky, scary or magical, unless you count breedingare common. More often than not they advertise and talk about their play nights on Fridays at Krave and casual meetings held every other Saturday at IHOP: "I'll see you all in the back with a black rose so you can find your way," writes Jenn, one of the group's online leaders.
In fact, there was a single black silk rose on a table nearby, as if the guy with the shaved head and leather bondage collar in the smeared black panda makeup didn't give it away. That night over a dozen vampyres ("We use the y' to signify a difference between the living vampyres and the legends and fictional persona of the vampire spelled with the i,'" says Vampyra) and otherkin showed up. After an inordinate amount of hemming and hawing over the menu, eventually the deadpan server took orders for omelets, soups, French fries and carafes of Coke. Then one by one we'd each stand up and explain who we are inside, the self not determined by mortal coil, the magical being that the human form often belies.
We heard from a few empaths, a lycan, a werepyre, a couple of witches, a psychic vampyre and Juggernaut the chaotic angel, who's been backpacking for the last 11 years. When one young first-timer to All Kindred Society meetings, a grubby-fingernailed mechanic, said he was interested in role-playing, most of the group had a hearty laugh. One of the group leaders, Heretic, a psychic vampyre with slicked-back hair who never removed his sunglasses, quietly lectured him about the difference between real life and fantasy.
When it was Vampyra's turn, she calmly and rather quietly explained, "I'm a succubus." She paused, then added, "And a sadist."
Later, Heretic led us in a group meditation to center and ground ourselves. Eyes closed, hands flat on the table, feet solid on the flat carpet, he told us to imagine a tranquil underwater tableau; each bubble that rose from our mouths to the surface was another stressor. Dishes from the kitchen clattered in the background as his firm voice guided us toward a sense of inner peace and resolve.
She's the head of a quasi-communal four-bedroom home in Summerlin called Shadowgate House, one of several such non-traditional otherkin set-ups in the Las Vegas area. "There are houses that are run by councils of elders," says Vampyra. "There are houses that are run by representative house members." Hers is a matriarchyand she's in chargebased partially on the fact that it's a BDSM household with four, sometimes five, other residents who've all agreed that Vampyra's word is final.
"It's what we call a benevolent despot," she says. "I do care very much what my members think; they can tell you that themselves. I ask them often for their opinions and take their input." Before Vincent moved into Shadowgate House, she says, "I asked everybody who resided there if it was all right with them. I didn't have to ... but I cared enough because I want to be benevolent about it."
The matriarch of the house, according to Vampyra, sets the tone for the household, "keeps everybody tied together, makes decisions"such as whether or not to talk to a reporterand "provides moral support. All members of the house contribute with whatever talents they have."
If someone's good at cooking, they'll make meals. If someone's mechanically inclined, they'll help with cars. "We've got someone who's good at fixing computers," says Vincent, "someone who's really good with energy healing."
"It is really in a lot of ways what people would call a commune," says Vampyra. "It's all based on support."
"A lot of people here have a just-passing-through attitude," says Ralph, who's a druid and a member of the Spiritist church, "so they toss a lot of things aside, including friendship ... Las Vegas is a crucible. This is where people come to get their crap burned off. There's a lot of heat, and a lot of pressure." He talks about unconditional love and how to express that notion to "conventional" people. "You don't have to join us," he says. "You don't have to agree with us. But we're not weird."
Vampyra was born in the Ozarks in a small Arkansas town called Mountain Home into a family of Nazarenes, a strict Christian faith that formed when Calvinists broke off from the Methodist church because the Methodists weren't conservative enough. She wasn't allowed to go to anyone else's church, or read about anybody else's religion, or learn any other way of life. "Because it was a small town in the Bible Belt I really never fit in. It never felt right," she says.
"As early as I can remember, when I was very small," says Vampyra, "I felt like I was living inside of myself and had to get older before I could actualize who I wanted to be ... I've always felt different. Within the vampyre or kindred world we believe in an awakening. Some don't experience an awakening until puberty. But I knew. I was born with the knowledge that I was what I am."
There were times when she thought maybe there was something wrong with her. "I tried to deny it, be quiet about it and as a last effort cover it up," she says. "The affinity and interests I had for the occult, paranormal and other religions were unquenchable, even when told that these things were sinful at best and lead to demonic possession at worst." Finally, she says, she gave up trying to be what she was told a good girl was.
"I wouldn't come home when they said I had to. I wouldn't dress the way they wanted me to. I was too much of a tomboy. I wouldn't go to church if I could get out of it. They didn't like the people I hung around with, they didn't like the way I talked ... I was just too different." Finally her parents got mad enough and kicked her out. She was 16 years old.
"The Hell's Angels took me in and they were my fathers," she said. "They helped me finish high school and took care of me and watched over me. They were the first people who let me be who I wanted to be. They didn't tell me I had to be any certain way. That was a real new concept to me ... I was free to explore, learn and come out of the shell of a child's body to once again be the person I had developed into being over many lifetimes."
She came to Las Vegas to visit an old flame when she was 22, four years after Shado was born. Now 17 years old, he's pretty blasé about the life he came into: "I'm supposed to think something about all this?"
"I think the hardest part for him was sometimes not being accepted in school," says Vampyra, "not always understanding that not everybody is going to be as accepting. This one time I was involved with a partner who was female and I wanted him to understand that he might not want to bring some of his friends home because they might be uncomfortable, or at least to let me know when their parents were going to come by. It's not fair to him to have to lose friends because their parents are narrow-minded. I didn't want him to suffer.
"I didn't tell him he had to become goth or kindred or be into the S&M or the polyamory," she says. "Those were all choices that he's decided to make. I've told him so many times, Be who you want to be.' It would've been a little bit difficult for me to understand if he'd decided to become very, very religious, but I would still want him to pursue it."
As it turns out, Shado says he's quite happy with his bisexual polyamorous lifestyle, thankyouverymuch, and doesn't bat an eye when his mother starts up cutesy talk about tickling a lover with a shock from a low voltage, high current, electric wand. In fact, Shado was friends with Vincent first; they met at goth bowling at the Orleans. When Vincent unexpectedly stopped by the house one day, he met Vampyra, "the most beautifully woman I've ever seen," he says, "and I never stayed at my house again."
They went on their first date that night; three months later they exchanged one garnet and one black onyx ring in a traditional wedding ceremony where they each sliced the other's breasts, drank each other's blood and cauterized the wounds with torches. They've been married three months now. Vincent hasn't left Vampyra's side for a day.
By day, Vampyra's a career counselor for college students. At night she doesn't go out without at least one guard and her consort. Her bedroom walls are lined with black vinyl, and there's a coffin propped up in the corner. But she sleeps on a bed and doesn't literally buy into many of the myths of vampirismthe garlic, the holy water, the lack of reflection. She does, however, believe her spirit is immortal.
And there are a few uncanny things that account for her alignment with vampirismfor example, her claim that many a person who've slept next to her have awakened her in the middle of the night fearing she was dead. "I have for medical reasons had an overnight test of my pulse," she says. "It drops to 26 beats per minute." A normal human at rest has a pulse somewhere between 60 and 100; technically hers is that of someone in a coma. "My blood pressure when I am asleep is 80 over 60. I have a low body temperature normally of 97.1, so I am cool to the touch," she says, "except when I have been feeding."
After the family dinner at BJ's, we head out, sans Shado, to Krave, where Vampyra tells me she wore out four lovers at her bachelorette party: a submissive man and his mistress, a submissive woman and her master. Characters in pleated skirts and leather pants"my babies," as she calls themare drawn to her, and wherever she walks someone is always right behind her, waiting to open a door or clear space if necessary. She kisses Emily; Vincent is cooing over some little thing in a skirt.
"I gave up on the gay scene," says Vampyra, "because they seem to be more bigoted than the hets. If you're not totally gay, they shun you." She feels they don't seem to understand what she calls her pansexuality because it's too much of a gray zone. "But the Goths accept everyone," she says.
In the club, a tall, trim blonde with a slight Adam's apple wearing a feather trimmed, Santa-themed corset and gauchos slit up her inner thigh introduces herself as Pandora. Formerly a pilot in the Air Force, she's now just your "run-of-the-mill escort," she says with a shrug. She clarifies: "Well, not run-of-the-mill."
While trying not to look at a frantic, stringy-haired woman in dirty mom jeans and an ill-fitting black faded camisole who has sweat coming from her eyesshe keeps spinning and spinning and spinning, stopping only to point a finger in the air and wildly spout gibberishI spy a pale, skinny man with long, black, silky hair and flat, ice-blue eyes like a dead wolf's. "That's Don Henrie," Vampyra whispersthe electronics engineer/body piercer/vampyre who was on the Sci Fi channel's reality TV show, Mad Mad House, where he lived with a Wiccan, a Voodoo priestess, a modern primitive, a naturalist and 10 "ordinary people," including a retail sales manager and a fifth-year college student, to see who could best tolerate other lifestyles.
At a table near the door Ralph is reading cardsnot exactly tarot, more like prayer or destiny cards with words such as "abundance" and "freedom" and "realization" on them. I pick one: Surrender. "The problem with human beings is dreams die hard," he tells me.
Vincent takes his shirt off once inside the club. "You know the term incarnate'?" Vampyra asks me. "That's when the physical body resembles the inner spirit. Look at Vincent," she orders, and I do. He's kind of hairy, thick at the shoulders, a little rounded forward as if ready to pounce. "He's a wolf," she says. "Duh." She points out a naturally pointy-eared man with a slightly pinched face in leather pants and some sort of elaborate codpiece. "There's an elf," she says.
It's a little Lord of the Rings, but the trilogy was a hit for a reason. The underworld is alluring; otherness is fascinating. Wanting to fit in, I tell Vampyra I feel like a lone-wolf pony with fairy energy. "Hmm," she says, sizing me up. "I'd think you were a nymph." I'm bowled over, stunned, heart leaping with joy. I tell her she seems pretty nice for a vampyre. She laughs, grabs, my finger, and presses it against her sharp canine.