It’s that time of year, I know: the spooky season. Goth Christmas, if you will.
What kind of goth? That’s a silly question. Now where was I?
Oh, yes, it’s the time of year when the world is full of ghosts and pumpkins, witches and spiders. When creepies are crawling everywhere, and vampires are moving among the mortals.
But this is not a blog post about vampires.
Once upon a time—
Hush, this isn’t a fairy tale, though there is betrayal and blood and death aplenty. And it is certainly not a story about a vampire.
Once upon a time, we left our home seeking refuge.
Our arrival, our settling on the Danube, was to be a victory for the Eastern Roman Emperor. Barbarians they would call us. But even barbarians can be of use. After all, what Emperor doesn’t need more fodder for his war machine?
We would be recruited into their army, resettled in groups if we became a threat. And in exchange, we would be fed, given land.
But we were given neither of these things.
The Emperor did not know that we still had our weapons. Did not appreciate how dangerous we would be when we were desperate enough, hungry enough, to sell our children for food.
The Romans did not expect rebellion, not like this. They did not expect us to be joined by our brethren, or by slaves and miners and prisoners.
They did not expect us to pillage the Roman countryside, to become a powerful army, to become a threat to Constantinople itself, or to slay Valens.
They did not imagine that we would sack Rome, desecrate their “eternal city”.
But this is not the story of a vampire, this is the story of a Visigoth warrior.
Time passes strangely in tales, and the Roman Countryside gives way to time and distance and we find ourselves in France, in front of a cathedral.
This place is said to be the first of its kind, made in the “French Style”, but it will not be the last.
The spires of the north tower pierce the overcast sky. Dead Romans and French Kings rot below the cathedral. A glance up upon walking through the central portal shows iconography of the Last Judgement carved into tympanum and lintel.
Tall pointed-arch windows in towers and rose windows alike are filled with stained glass to let light and color into what would otherwise be high-ceilinged gloom.
The choir is suffused with light that is shepherded in through a clerestory filled with stained-glass windows. Flying buttresses, pointed arches and ribbed vault hold aloft the high ceilings.
Pilgrims will arrive in the fall, for the feast of St. Denis, and while construction and reconstruction is complete for the moment, so much remains to be prepared for their coming. As the pilgrims step over the threshold into a house of god where sinners and saints alike are welcomed, they will be surrounded by Light and Death. And looked upon in Judgement.
But this is not the story of a vampire, this is the story of an abbot of the Basilica of Saint Denis.
The house is opulent and the drive leading up to it is cobblestone. The horse’s hooves clatter and the wheels of the elegant carriage rattle. The governess who steps out into the twilight mist from the moors is plain. She is far too plain to be a part of the household. And she’s timid in that moment. Skittish. She’s fresh from the country, the orphaned child sent off by relatives who had promised a dying mother they would look after the girl.
There’s another woman, a woman no one sees, spoken of in whispers if spoken of at all: she vanished mysteriously, is absolutely no one to worry about.
There’s a sound at night that comes from the attic or the room with the locked door (there’s no key for that lock on the heavy ring with all of the other house keys). But the sound is nothing. It’s the wind from the moors. It’s the scraping of tree branches against the eaves.
The governess is difficult to tolerate. She’s outspoken. Critical. The governess is also easy to fall in love with. She’s sensible. Kind.
But there are the sounds in the attic. The mystery woman. The faces in the wallpaper. There’s the dark secret from your past come back to haunt you. The curse of your bloodline.
But of course you’ve never ridden through the moors, and even if you had…
This isn’t the story of a vampire, this is the story of a rakish rogue, a Byronic hero, the lord of the manor.
The driving beat of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” pounds in the club. The air is hazy with synthetic fog and the smoke from cigarettes.
The people on the dance floor are all dressed in black. Some wear crushed velvet or silk, delicate boots with side buttons and kicky heels, fingerless lace gloves. Others wear leather or frilled silk, spiked wrist bands and collars, boots with heavy soles and metal toes that are made for stomping.
Lips and nails are painted black or purple or blue or a red that tries so hard to be blood. Black eyeliner curls up, dips down. Cheeks are powdered pale and shaded to emphasize cheekbones on even the roundest faces.
Someone has a leather purse in the shape of a coffin with a velvet cross on the lid and a chrome chain strap. The scent of glove fills the air: die faster, smell better.
Bauhaus shifts to Siouxsie and the Banshees to the Cure to Sisters of Mercy to Rosetta Stone. That’s when the floor is full of velvet and lace, swirling skirts and elegant frocks.
When the DJ swerves toward Nitzer Ebb, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, the velvet gives way to leather and ripped t-shirts. Dancing is rough and loud, half way to a mosh pit.
And then the set swings back again and people in full, floor-length skirts appear to be picking up a dropped coin, looking at it, tossing it over their shoulder. Or they’re pulling taffy with a ghost, perhaps screwing in an invisible light bulb.
There’s a girl leaning against the blacklit wall, black-papered cigarette between pale fingers inhaling smoke through her nose as she lets it out of her mouth.
This is not a story of a vampire, this is the story of an 80s or a 90s goth at a goth/industrial club.
As I said, this is most assuredly not a post about vampires, certainly not about one in particular who was a warrior and a priest and the lord of the manor and that girl looking at you in the club. This is a post about barbarians and architecture, literature and subculture. It’s about four different flavors of goth, and not about a vampire.