MIAMI — When fatigue is about to set in, the friends venture into a dimly lit wooded area at night.
It is the woman, with black hair down to her waist, who leads the way into Esplanade Park in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Her two male companions follow.
Sensing something lurking from a tree, she stops in her tracks.
Crimson smiles and two sharp fangs appear.
“Everything gives off energy,” she says.
It is that energy she needs for her survival.
Crimson, 33, is one of dozens in South Florida who identify themselves as vampires.
“It’s what I am, and I don’t feel the need to hide it,” she says. Crimson is the name she goes by within the vampire community. She rarely uses her legal name, except for business purposes such as applying for a job. (She and the other self-proclaimed vampires interviewed for this story provided their legal names to The Miami Herald for a background check. None have criminal records.)
A recent study reports there are thousands self-proclaimed vampires throughout the world. Florida ranks fifth on the list of states most populated by vampires — although most make their home around the Tampa area.
“It’s not simply about having a good time and putting on some fake fangs on a Friday night,” said Joseph Laycock, author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism.” “They view this as a serious condition, with measurable medical consequences.”
For more than three years, Laycock, a graduate of Harvard’s School of Divinity, delved into their world.
Laycock found a culture of people who, not at all immortal, feel a need to feed off the energy of others. Without this absorption, they feel drained and prone to sickness.
“They are constantly trying to figure out ‘is this person giving off good energy?’” Laycock said. “It’s exhausting, not fun at all.”
When not feeding on energy, food must suffice.
Just before midnight, Crimson and two friends head to Denny’s.
The waitress delivers the trio’s order: a club sandwich, scrambled eggs, french toast and a Moons of My Hammy breakfast sandwich.
Now comes the impractical part of being a vampire. “Excuse me,” says Jailil, as he discreetly takes off his faux fangs.
There is another option:
Miami-based dentist Dr. Julio Hernandez has fitted more than a dozen of his clients with fang implants.
“They walk in with teeth, they walk out with fangs,” said Hernandez, who charges about $150 a pop.
“Technically they should be strong enough that you could bite into a hamburger, or I guess you could bite into a person, but I don’t think you would be able to break through the skin,” Hernandez said nonchalantly.
Crimson and Jailil live together in the heart of suburbia — a town house nestled in a Sunrise, Fla., subdivision.
“See, no coffins,” joked Jailil, 37.
Like most in the vampire community, he was given his name, which means “guardian,” by another vampire. It’s a name he relishes, noting that he is always protective of his vampire friends.
He was 26 when he came out — a process known as “awakening.” A friend suggested he read up on vampirism to come to terms with why he always felt different.
Their friend Draethius, 25, just started calling himself a vampire six months ago. He was adopted as a child and given the name Matthew by his parents, but he clings to his vampire name — a homage to the little that he knows of his Danish and Armenian roots.
Crimson, the mother of five, senses her youngest, a toddler, is also a vampire.
But it’s against the rules to talk about vampirism with anyone younger than 18.
“There’s rules and guidelines we follow,” she explains.
Known as “The Black Veil,” the rules remind vampires to exercise control when feeding, not to drain someone completely of energy. They must have permission from the person, as well, no rogue feeding.
There are also “sanguinarian vampires” who consume blood, though usually in small amounts. A consenting donor will prick their finger to release a droplet of blood. And the vampires believe in safety — the donor should be tested beforehand.
Crimson is a hybrid — she does both.
Growing up in Michigan, Crimson recalls always feeling different. Her mother would affectionately call her “my little vampire” of her pronounced canine teeth.
Crimson’s awakening came when she was 25, after a family friend suggested her “heightened sense of energy” might be attributed to being a vampire.
Today she is considered an “elder” in the South Florida vampire community. By day she takes online business administration courses at Kaplan College. At night she works as a promoter for Area 7, a punk rock bar in Fort Lauderdale, where every Monday night she hosts a karaoke night geared for the vampire community where they belt out rock and Goth tunes.
Her dream is to one day open a coffee shop in Tampa featuring a Gothic coffee line. Flavors include Graveyard Shift, a blend of java and mocha coffee beans, and Mystery Manor, a vanilla and cinnamon blend.
Jailil, who is enrolled at DeVry University working on his master’s in accounting and financial planning, would like to be the numbers cruncher in Crimson’s coffee shop venture.
“Bet people don’t think vampires are out there getting their degrees,” said Crimson. “Vampires come in all walks of life. I know a judge who is a vampire, doctors, teachers. A lot of them, because of the position they hold in society, just can’t be as open about it.”
The community is tight-knit and often clings together at events — like one recent night when several gathered for a “Bloodbath” party hosted by club promoter Joseph Bonilla.
Known in the vampire community as Josepher, he has hosted vampire themed parties since 2006, mainly at Hollywood, Fla.‘s Club X-It. For a $40 entrance fee, party-goers can revel with his performance troop of vampire dancers known as Cabaret Vampyra — a sort of Pussycat Dolls burlesque performance group for the darker crowd.
“Mainstream people who were afraid to be alternative, who felt like they had to live their mainstream cookie cutter ways, will now feel that it’s OK to embrace this side of themselves,” Bonilla said.
The group sneers at mainstream portrayal of vampires — from HBO’s “True Blood,” the CW Network’s “The Vampire Diaries,” and of course the “Twilight” vampire books and upcoming movie.
“The difficulty we encounter from these mass marketed books and film occurs when individuals unwittingly stumble across the real vampire community and wrongly assume we consider ourselves immortal vampires who must sleep in coffins and avoid sunlight at all costs,” said Merticus, a self-identified vampire who runs the Atlanta Vampire Alliance.
In 2005, the Alliance and its research arm Suscitatio Enterprises invested nearly $10,000 in conducting a lengthy survey of more than 1,000 vampires living in the United States, Canada, France and England.
Dubbed the Vampirism and Energy Work Research Study, the purpose of the survey was to generate data on the vampire community, from where they lived (California has the highest concentration) to their average age (28).
“Undoubtedly, as vampirism is examined more closely by social science, and hopefully medical science, more widespread attention will be gained by the Vampire community,” Merticus said.
Each third Saturday of the month, the trio of friends attend “The Vampire Gathering” in Tampa — a meeting of about 60 like-minded folks from throughout the state who find comfort and support in each other’s presence. They often discuss how to clarify misconceptions about their community — from the perils of eating garlic to going outside in the daylight.
“I love Garlic, garlic bread, garlic salt, the more garlic the better,” Draethius said.
“Most vampires prefer to go out at night,” Crimson said.
Vampirism, they stress, is not a cult or a religion.
“We all follow different beliefs,” said Crimson, who is Wiccan.
Many study Eastern philosophies regarding fields of energy and are interested in Yoga and Tai Chi.
And despite the folklore, there’s absolutely no desire to take the life of another.
“I’m a vampire,” said Crimson, “but I could never hurt a living thing.”