My first nomination is for Carmilla, by J. Sheridan LeFanu, available here
in epub, thanks to fellow member richough3.
Available at a price in the Kindle store, too.
Here's a description by an amazon user:
"I live in your warm life and you shall die -die, sweetly die- into mine."
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" is among the greatest and most influential horror stories ever told. It's a wonder that it hasn't received the mainstream acclaim and notoriety of Bram Stoker's masterpiece Dracula. The tale of a female vampire insinuating herself into a family's midst as a welcomed guest while preying upon their daughter is as timeless as any. I know what you're thinking: she's just a female version of Dracula, right? Well here's the thing about that: Carmilla was published in 1872 and predated her much more famous brother in undeath by a good 25 years. Stoker himself acknowledged the story as a primary influence on his work. So it is Dracula who owes his very existence to the queen vamp. And to this day, the novella remains a compelling read with it's deliberate pacing, first-person narration (also not unlike "Dracula"), and creative subtle horror.
One of my favorite aspects of vampire mythology is the predator who walks among us and feeds upon us in our sleep. Carmilla is the best example of this. The character devises a strategy which allows her to enter the homes of well-to-do families as an invited and welcomed guest due to circumstances which appear to be beyond her control. Using her wit beauty and charm, she becomes as a member of the family and is able to cover her tracks by playing the weak and helpless frightened little girl with odd habits which are easy to overlook. Then she slowly drains her victim night after night, savoring each feeding as one would a sexual affair while supplementing her appetite with the blood of village girls before resting in her grave and returning to her locked room before anyone is aware she has gone. Carmilla's apparent passion for her preferred victims is More then a little lesbian in it's insinuations. She intentionally seeks out beautiful young girls like her and throws herself into a deep and intimate friendship with an intensity that often alarms the object of her affection. While there is no blatant sexual inference made by the author, the innuendo is unmistakable. After all, these sorts of vampire stories are often meant to be somewhat sensual in nature and for their time were about as close as one could get to sexualized material. It's hard to picture somebody wrapping their mouth around your neck without feeling a little twinge of something at the thought. And with two women (or men) involved it's downright scandalous.
While female vampires are typically portrayed as oversexed and domineering, Carmilla stands out as a character whose greatest strength is as an active and vivacious conversationalist and a very girlish intelligent but creature capable of thinking on her feet and beating her prey to the punch. In one rather impressive passage Carmilla is greeted by a girl whom she visited and attempted to prey upon as a young child, she very quickly realizes the danger of recognition and turns the subject around by claiming happily that she once had a dream as a young girl where the same situation unfolded. This places the pressure on the victim, makes the predator seem as innocent as the prey, and gives a rather romantic and adventurous token of a shared dream between the girls to make it seem as though they were destined to meet. This is just brilliant writing. A vampire whose key attribute is her intelligence is a rare thing these days. And while I'm on the subject, the only thing more terrifying then being visited in the night as a child by a girl who vanished when the room was breached would be encountering that exact same girl -completely unchanged- as an adult. Creepy. Another fascinating little twist is that vampires in this story are only able to give their true name or else an anagrammatical pseudonym. Thus Carmilla is known by different names to different people, but all are derived from the same letters. Mircalla was her birth (and death) name, and Marcilla another alias. This is another aspect of the story that has influenced vampire lore to this day. You may be surprised at how many vampire names you read and hear are anagrams once you are aware of this.
To my knowledge, Le Fanu's masterpiece has yet to be fully captured in another medium, but the character has become a standard of vampire mythology regardless. My favorite of the many adaptations is Hammer Studio's The Vampire Lovers, where the story was highly sexualized and the character was transformed into a more intimidating and aggressive figure. It's a loose adaptation, but it's also the best. Two inferior sequels followed. An even looser adaption was Spanish grindhouse classic The Blood Spattered Bride which transformed the story into an exploitative battle of the sexes with mixed results. Carmilla has also been featured in comic books video games and anime, referenced on television, and has inspired unofficial literary and film sequels to her story. Not too shabby for a character only classic horror buffs recognize. But as with all great literary works, nothing ever fully captures the mood and grace of the story in it's purest form.
"Carmilla" is a rare tale of a vampire capable of making anybody love her, but a slave to her own obsessions. Such pleasure she takes from befriending her victims and becoming part of their lives
that she doesn't even seem to care that such habits repeated over multiple households in the same vicinity will inevitably lead to her demise. Perhaps she is just bored and starved for attention and human interaction. Her true motives for her unusual habits are never revealed; simply left to the reader to decide for themself. And while it may have been overshadowed by higher-profile contributions to the genre that were themselves inspired by this work, "Carmilla" stands tall as one of the giants among the many works of vampire fiction well over 130 years after it was published. It is available both as a stand-alone novella and as part of many short story collections including The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, which no vampire fanatic can live without. However you get it, if you claim to be a follower of the undead you must possess this story.