Dolly Biters - The Vampire Girls of Victorian London
The first thing I saw, coming out of the October darkness, were their eyes. First one pair, then two pairs, a dozen and more. Then their faces, the white faces of teenage girls, some older, some younger, as they emerged from the shadows and stood before me.
They were well-dressed compared to some of the humans who lived (well, more like survived) in other parts of London's East End, but even these vampire girls, these children of the night, looked dirty, dishevelled and hungry.
“Who are you?” asked one, as they approached. “What you doing down here?”
“Look at her ears!” said another. “She's one of us!”
“Of course she bleedin' is,” said the first, “or I'd have eaten her by now.”
The ears. Besides the fangs, the ears were always the easiest way to tell a vampire from a human. When a human was turned into a vampire, the body would go through a whole host of changes. The fangs were perhaps the most well-known change, along with the hunger for blood. But there were many other changes too; the skin became paler, the body cooler, the eyes redder. And the ears, they became slightly elongated and pointed, like pictures of an elf that you might have seen in a children's book of fairy tales.
These elf ears did not occur in 'natural-born' vampires (those born of vampire parents), but it always happened to humans that were turned into vampires. All of the girls now standing before me had these ears, regarded by the natural-borns as a disgusting deformity. Deformity or not, these girls all wore their hair high to accentuate their ears; a badge of honour, a deceleration of who and what they were. Turned vampires, the lowest of the low.
“Coo, take a gander at her pretty dress,” said one of the vampire girls with a heavy East End accent. “She ain't from round here, whoever she is.”
There were no boys. The only male vampires I had ever come across were natural-borns. Men could never make the turn from human to vampire; they all died, for whatever reason. So there were no boys here, just the girls.
“Who are you?” demanded the first girl, who seemed to be their leader. She appeared slightly older than the other girls, all of them suspended in time at the exact age that they were turned. Her hard, angry face glared at me with suspicion, red eyes piercing the darkness, and the other girls looked to her to gauge how they should react.
“Sisters!” I smiled, holding out my hands in what I conceived of as a welcoming gesture. I had a whole speech ready in my head. A speech about kinship and being amongst my own kind. Since I had been forced to flee from my family home I had been lost and alone, and although these girls were living in what was close to poverty, they were, at least, the same as me, the same breed as me. Humans turned vampires and abandoned by society and by those who they loved. Sisters, I said, hoping that I had found some kind of home where I would be welcome. I said sisters, and they fell about in fits of laughter.
“Fuck off, sister!” screeched one, and the laughter redoubled.
Well, as you can see, they did not take to me at first. I was too fancy, too West End for their liking. My accent was not the same as theirs, and I was far too quick with my pleases and thank-yous. But they allowed me to stay, gave me a roof over my head, and a blanket to pull over myself when the sun rose over the streets of Spitalfields and we were all forced to take refuge from the murderous day. After three nights, when my once pretty dress was almost as filthy as the other girls' dresses, and my face was smudged with dirt and blood, the vampire girls of Chicksand Street began to relent, their mood softened towards me, and they asked me to tell my story; the story of how a lady from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea came to be turned vampire and henceforth came to stagger into their midst looking for acceptance.
Chicksand Street lay smack bang in the middle of Spitalfields, running off Brick Lane. And running off Chicksand Street were half-a-dozen smaller roads, little more than alleys really; Ely Place, Luntley Place, all ruled over and dominated by the vampire girls. They called themselves the Brick Lane Irregulars. They weren't an organised gang as such, not like some of the human gangs that ruled over parts of the East End with an iron fist. This was more of a co-operative; I estimated them at three or four dozen turned vampires, living together for mutual protection. Alone they would be easy prey to those who would have rid the world of all turned vampires, but together they were strong. They hunted as a pack, and robbed their victims for good measure. Yes, hunted, for these were vampires and killers, make no mistake about that, and they feasted upon human blood, and from the pockets of their victims they stole whatever they could to make their lives a little easier. Money of course, but watches, shoes, even spectacles; anything that they could utilise, pawn, or sell to the fences of Brick Lane. The press called them vermin, the curse of the East End they said; but if they were such then it was only because circumstances dictated that there was no other way for them to live. To live and to survive. I had called them sisters and they had laughed, and now I saw the humour of it all.
Their leader, the girl with the hard, mean face, was called Raffles. On that third night she sat before me in one of the run-down terraced houses in Chicksand Street and said, “Come on then, darling. Tell us your story. You ain't from the street like the rest of us. How come you managed to get yourself turned?”
We were surrounded by a dozen or so older vampire girls, girls who had been in their late teens and twenties when they had been turned. The younger girls had their own house, next door to the one we were in, where they socialised and slept and called home. Sometimes their laughter and shrieks of joy could be heard through the thin walls and it would have been easy to forget that they were vampires and not simply mortal children, playing games and enjoying the innocence that their tender years should have afforded them. Other times their sobbing and cries for their mother could be heard, and the reality of the situation was almost too painful to bear.
Raffles looked across at the other girls as they sat on the floor or on the rickety chairs that were scattered around the room. “We want to hear her story, don't we?” she asked of them. The girls looked up at Raffles and nodded in agreement. A handful of candles stood flickering atop a crude wooden table, sending shadows dancing like drunken marionettes across the bare walls and meagre curtains. How had I been turned from human to vampire, from Chelsea lady to Spitalfields rough arse? I smiled a little sadly, and told them how.