The Second Species: Vampires based in Fact
It was a lovely Southern summer afternoon — late afternoon, in fact. What the townspeople called “evening,” that time when day is turning into night and the sun begins to dim. It was around six o’clock when Warene de Vissage stepped from the dining room of the house onto the back porch, calling to her child to come in for dinner. The sinking sun was shining on the backside of the house and Warene was sheltered from its rays by four walls and a roof. Nevertheless, she could see the heat rising in shimmering waves from the sidewalk fifteen feet away on the other side of the running rose-covered picket fence. She could also feel that same heat touching her skin.
Wrapping her arms protectively across her chest, she hurried back inside not waiting for the child to obey.
The next morning, Warene awoke in agony. Her skin burned, felt hot and tight. Staggering out of bed and to the mirror above her vanity, she stared at the startling and horrorific image before her . . . skin crimson and scorched, edges curled and inflamed, blisters and scales . . . as if someone had held her over an open fire. To touch her face brought excruciating pain . . . to look at it brought tears . . . it itched, it burned . . . but she knew why.
The sun…reflecting off the pavement. Hadn’t she felt its heat? She’d dared to step outside during daylight, thinking just this once, it wouldn’t matter . . . just this once, so late in the day, she wouldn’t suffer, but though she hurried back inside, that damnable sun had still found her, and done its work.
It would be weeks before she would heal.
This may sound like the beginning of a vampire story, but it’s a true episode, taken from my own mother’s life. Maman suffered from PMLE -- polymorphic light eruption -- a condition in which an individual’s DNA cannot repair the damage done to the skin by ultraviolet rays. She was never able to go out into the sunlight without being completely covered from head-to-toe, even on the most overcast days. Long pants, knee socks, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, a neck scarf, a wide-brimmed hat, and an umbrella were her usual attire when leaving the house . . . and still, she could be burned by sunlight reflecting from the pavement or any surface, going through her clothes to cause first degree burns.
PMLE appears to be hereditary, but I was lucky; even with my blond hair and fair skin, I can walk in sunlight with no more than the normal fear of getting a sunburn. SPF-70 sunblock and I are old friends, however, and I use it faithfully.
For most sufferers, PMLE simply causes an annoying rash but a small percentage is stricken with a much more severe case, in which they appear to have been actually cooked. It is the less painful form of a condition called XP — Xeroderma pigmentosum. Which is, in medical terms, “a skin cancer-prone autosomal recessive disease characterized by inability to repair UV-induced DNA damage.” XP suffers never come out in daylight; they live their entire lives after dark.
What does this have to do with vampires? The inference is obvious, and may be one of the ways the vampire myth began. If you were a superstititious person living in a primitive time when it was believed the sun sank into the sea every night at the edge of the world, and you saw someone actually burned by that same sun . . . someone who was only comfortable after dark and only felt he could safely come out of his dwelling at night . . . what would you think? Other opinions have been offered: premature burials, porphyria, lycanthropy. I’m certain all these — plus PMLE and XP — attributed to the legend a good many of us who are writers have used to our advantage, and I am one of them.
When I began my series The Second Species, I wanted my vampires to be different, not the usual Undead, sleeping-in-a-coffin type. So I made them a living people, a second species of Mankind, divorced from their human brothers because of their differences. They have many characteristics of the Undead but I’ve given them acceptable reasons: the entire group suffers from XP, therefore they can’t emerge into sunlight; they have allergies — the most powerful one being to garlic and certain herbs; their refusal to look at crosses, etc., is not because they are repulsed by them but because their own religion demands they not look on the sacred objects of other faiths, and so on. Understanding how humans fear them, they have hidden themselves away in the cloud-covered peaks of the Carpathians where the sun never penetrates and when they emerge into the land of humans, tragedy inevitably follows.
That is the story behind the creation of my “vampires,” based in fact, elaborated in fiction. The first novel in the series, The Shadow Lord, is expected to be released later this year by Red Rose Press. Look for it . . . you will enjoy it . . . and feel a little sympathy for those true suffers who are “deprived of God’s holy sunlight.”
I am offering a contest: In answer to the question, "How many narrators are there in the novel Dracula?" I will offer a pdf copy of Two Vampire Tales. Anyone wishing to participate should send the answer to: email@example.com