The exquisite vampire has been declared dead.
He has enjoyed periods of feast and endured times of famine. In the 1920s, the movie “Nosferatu” awakened the vampire into popular culture after its slumber following Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” In the 1990s, it was the film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire that resurrected the neglected vampire from his grave until Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series drove the stake back in with what some perceived to be a neutering of the vampire with her glittering immortals. And there he has remained, proclaimed overdone, tapped out, over.
But to say vampires are exhausted is to ignore the fact that marginalized people have been writing stories far outside the normal fare offered by mainstream media, their tales left to collect dust in obscurity.
SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire is a tribute to those forgotten stories, while also showing the world that the vampire has so much more to offer. Editor Nicole Givens Kurtz has pulled together a collection of stories as diverse as the African diaspora itself, showcasing new and established voices in Black horror, which also feels like a love letter to the ancestors whose stories will never see the light of day. In fact, the anthology is dedicated to the influential Black vampire author L.A. Banks.
Divided into sections representing stories from the United States and Britain, Africa, and the Future, this anthology truly does have a story for every horror lover, even those who believe the vampire has been done to death, and should remain in his coffin for all eternity.
Case in point: the opening story, “Desiccant,” by Craig Laurance Gidney, shows us vampires as tiny, moth-like creatures that suck their victims dry, leaving husks of humans in their wake. Historically, vampires have always been beautiful creatures with human qualities that make them virtually indistinguishable from their mortal counterparts, but this ignores the vampires of non-Western cultures around the world that take the shape of fireflies, snakes, and cats. Gidney gifts us with a tale of a different kind of vampire, while also showing us the very real horror of what it’s like to be ignored simply because you are poor and other. With a Black trans woman protagonist, the desperate ending of this story, as well as its exploration of the theme of inequity makes it a strong anchor story, and my personal favorite.
Of course, there is the work of award-winning author Sheree Renée Thomas, who always delivers a story outside of the norm. This time, “Love Hangover” presents us with a vampire that feeds on a musician’s song to give rise to her own musical career. But even though the creature is a vampire in the truest sense of the word (given that it feeds for something it cannot produce on its own), this story blends in another mythology that takes it to a whole new level, giving readers a ride they won’t soon forget. Thomas’ story also explores themes of love–what it means to be enamored with someone whose beauty becomes tainted by their actions, but still unable to let go of the person you once loved, even though they were never real to begin with.
Dicey Grenor offers us a tale with a twist. “Diary of a Mad Black Vampire,” with its nod to Tyler Perry’s 2005 movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman, takes form as an epistolary story, written in diary entries over the course of a month. We follow Ashanti, a bored vampire who’s found new life in a new companion. But as Ashanti gets to know her new friend, we find that the line between monster and human is blurred, leaving us with an ending that has us wondering who the real protagonist of the story truly is.
In the Africa, section we begin with a story of a newborn vampire balancing their new life and their old one, with disastrous results. In “Ujim,” Alledria Hurt tells us the story of Imani, a young woman chosen from her village to join a cadre of vampires. But when Imani discovers that her sister is in danger from the very family she’s just joined, she has to choose between her mortal life and her immortal one, and her old family versus her new one. Beautifully written, this piece of short fiction digs deep to examine what holds us to the past, and what–and who–family really is.
In “His Destroyer,” Samantha Bryant merges vampiric legend with biblical lore to create an enrapturing tale of heartbreak, revenge, and divine retribution. Dienihatiri dies after being beaten for delivering a baby girl instead of the coveted son, but she is not allowed to rest until she completes a final mission. She awakes hungry, desperate for sustenance that is both sacred and unholy, and she finds it again and again in the worst of places. With its new take on the biblical pharaoh, this story is one of my personal favorites as it blends both the supernatural and one of the oldest stories known to man.
Finally, in the “Future” section, we are granted stories that are an effortless mix of science fiction and horror. “Message in a Vessel,” written by V.G. Harrison, offers us a tale of mosquito-borne illness and spaceships. Exploring themes of colonialism and the human response to a pandemic, this story somehow feels like it examines our past, present, and future, which is horrifying in its revelation that though society has progressed, we are still doomed to repeat the darkest parts of our history.
In “SLAY,” Kurtz’s promise to slay the European vampire trope is fulfilled, and this collection of haunting stories should be on every horror lover’s shelf, even if––perhaps especially if––they believe the vampire is dead. With stories that toe that line that every horror writer toys with, the reader is both entertained by this supernatural anthology, while also asked to stare into the abyss of humanity’s monstrosities, until we aren’t sure who the real vampires are.