Guess what, Snarklings? It’s time for another visit to The Nocturnal House! Here, let me light a few candles and pour a glass of absinthe … though a glass of Chartreuse would be more thematically appropriate, considering the book I’m going to talk about this time.
Let me set the WayBack Machine to September of 1992. Fangoria magazine had just released a special all-vampire issue, featuring articles on the upcoming movie of Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, Innocent Blood, and other vampire-themed content. I bought it, of course; how could I not? And amongst all the movie news, there was an article about the “10 best vampire books”. There were some obvious choices, such as Dracula (Vintage Classics) and Interview with the Vampire. Then there were ones that I had never heard of, such as George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream, or Delicate Dependency: A Novel of Vampire Life by Michael Talbot. (I ended up tracking both of those down, and I’m sure I’ll end up featuring them in future wanderings through The Nocturnal House.)
The “10 best” list also included a book that hadn’t been released yet:
Brite takes the vampiric themes of estrangement and love of the dark and perfectly grafts them onto an underground punk subculture, casting a spell in wet lace and smudged eyeliner.
I knew I had to read it. My parents, ever-amused and tolerant of my endlessly-growing collection of horror novels, gave me a copy of the hardback for Christmas that year. I feverishly read it from cover to cover in a few hours that day, sitting in a corner at the family gathering. (Which is not as anti-social/tortured Goth -behavior as you may think: my family was used to me sitting in a corner and reading a book during the holidays. Christmas always means new books! That must be read!)
Three vampires who could be easily mistaken for ferociously-partying rock stars blaze into New Orleans at the close of Mardi Gras, and find a small, dim bar owned by another of their kind. While Twig and Molochi share blood with Christian, the bar owner, Zillah, the leader of the hedonistic three, seduces Jessie, the teen-aged runaway girl who hangs out at Christian’s bar. The next day, Zillah, Twig, and Molochi leave town, headed for wherever strikes their fancy.
However, Jessie is pregnant. And while humans and vampires are close enough to breed, the birth is always fatal to the mother. Christian, hoping to spare the baby a lifetime of blood-soaked nights, spirits him away to a nameless, prosperous-looking suburb. He leaves the baby on the doorstep of a house, with a note saying “His name is Nothing. Care for him and he will bring you luck” pinned to the blanket.
Little Nothing is taken in by the couple who found him. They call him Jason, and he grows up feeling alienated, alone, and that there has to be something more to life than hanging out with other disaffected teens and waiting for life in the suburbs to suffocate him. Searching through his parents’ things, he finds the note that arrived with him, latches onto it as proof that he doesn’t belong, and decides to run away. His vague destination is Missing Mile, the home of the band Lost Souls?, who’s music he idolizes. While on the road, he catches a ride in a van housing three punkish party animals, who induct him into a life of drugs, sex, and blood.
“He had drunk from the bottle of blood without choking, without spitting or gagging . To the contrary — the blood had seemed to revive him, freshen his skin, brighten his eyes.
Most hitchhikers were glad enough to party with them, to share a pipe or a tab of acid or a tumble on the mattress. Then — always after these pleasures, for it made their blood sweeter — the wine bottle was brought out. Or the whiskey bottle, or whatever they had put the latest batch in. This was Molochi and Twig’s favorite part: the hitchhiker, already drunk or high or fried on acid, would swig eagerly from the bottle. Then his eyes — or her eyes — would grow big and frightened, and his mouth — or her mouth — would twist in terror and disgust as the blood drooled back out of it, and Molochi, Twig, and Zillah would be upon him. Or her. One rescuing the wine bottle, one holding the hitchhiker’s panicked hands, and one at the throat. The sweet, rended, pulsing throat. Or the belly. Or the crotch. Anywhere would do, any spot that would bleed.”
There’s more to the book, of course. There’s the two friends who make up Lost Souls? — quiet, spooky, possibly psychic Ghost, and Steve, the surly rocker boy who is secretly being devoured by his broken heart. There’s Anne, Steve’s ex-girlfriend who has an unfortunate taste for danger and dangerous people. And there’s Christian — ancient, taciturn, tired of feeling alone, but of a different time and generation than the raucous trio of Twig, Molochi, and Zillah. All of these people end up colliding in the worst possible way.
It’s a little difficult to explain what a world-changer Lost Souls was when it was first published. Sure, there were other vampire books with blood-splattered violence and punkish characters (such as Skipp and Spector’s The Light At The End), but Lost Souls was one of the first books to portray the strange, grimy allure of blood-soaked nihilism combined with lurid sex, and it was certainly the first vampire book I know of that spoke to the black-clad Goth shadows; not just spoke to us, but was built on the chiming undertones from our music and armored with our leather jackets and torn lace:
“Right now it was sainted Bauhaus, the pale long-boned gods of this crowd, doing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” The eyeliner eyes glazed and the black lipstick lips moved in time with the words, and the children danced slowly, for their blood was thin, and they were under the spell of the DJ and the music and the night.”
For all the morbid creatures of the night who thrilled to being afraid of the possibility of monsters in the dark while simultaneously wanting to become monsters themselves, Lost Souls was heady, heady stuff. It was everyone’s worst (and needless to say, wrong) suspicions about Goth, wrapped up in a sticky-sweet, darkly decadent confection that tasted of clove cigarettes, mysterious herbal liqueurs that glowed green, and blood. In other words, if you were a spooky gothling in your late teens or early twenties, Lost Souls hit you like a baseball bat to the head.
“‘such a fine, straight, hard hard piece of wood. But so plain. It needs brightening up, don’t you think? … with some pretty red GORE? … and some silky blond HAIR? … and some MAGIC BRAAAINS?”‘
Zillah’s voice rose to a shriek on the last word, and he raised the bat high above his head.”
Lost Souls is not for everyone, not by a long shot. There are people who are disgusted by the violence, there are people who don’t want to read vampire sex scenes (of all types and orientations), and there are people who find everyone in the book too damaged and reprehensible to want to spend any time with. All of which are understandable reactions. But to me, Lost Souls is a classic. It’s the literary bad boy (very bad boy) cousin to the movie The Lost Boys; the sex, drugs, and violence are very explicitly shown, and there’s no plucky younger brother, oddball friends, or quirky grandfather to save the day. When I want to indulge in nostalgia for my confused and wildly over-emotional younger self who had a taste for the wrong sorts of guys and for situations she probably should have thought (more than) twice about, Lost Souls is the first thing I reach for.