Too many years ago this station was grand and glorious, but now, like Betts, it has become something broken and burdened and altogether more desolate.

Her steps echo through the cavernous space, and when she reaches the first carriage she pauses, the slightest hesitation.

Once she’s in, there is no stopping what she’s about to do. This train will take her to a place she used to call home, to a woman she used to call Mother.

She flexes her fingers, bones cracking.

She gets on.

When the train starts moving, a soft lurch and a hiss of sparks on the worn rails, she leans her head against the window and closes her stinging eyes. She’s so tired of looking at everything all the time.

The train goes slow, slow, slow.

From the window she watches the world roll by: Paddington station fading into the distance, the blocks of flats that border the train line receding, the landscape switching from city to country. The once rolling fields and hills flicker into view; since the virus, they have been given over to nature. Wilder now—flowers creeping, grass left long and animals living free along the ridgeway.

The virus. It wasn’t an apocalypse after all, though they tried to sell it that way in the beginning. Everybody was supposed to die. People did, of course, but it’s like when a storm hits the country or when they used to threaten snow. Never quite as big of a show as they wanted. 

At Reading the train stops, but there’s no one in Betts’ carriage to get off; she’s all alone.

The doors creak open.

Betts opens her eyes and a girl comes through the door.

The girl looks just like she smells—cigarettes and burnt sugar and dry shampoo to hide the fact she hasn’t washed her hair in weeks.

She’s pretty. Pale white skin beneath a rusty bronzer. Green eyes.

Betts closes her eyes, giving herself time to consider as the train begins to move again, as the hunger claws at her throat.

Cigarettes and burnt sugar and dry shampoo and blood. Can’t hide that smell, not from Betts. Humming beneath her tissue skin. Sour.

She’s just a girl, moving through the world, trying to get home, or away from it.

But so am I.

What if somebody is waiting for her?

So go easy. She looks strong. She can take it.

Betts opens her eyes. That’s a lie. The girl does not look strong. But Betts is an excellent liar now and it’s easy to believe when she’s this worn out, this angry, this hungry.

She inhales through her nose and releases the breath steadily.

“Excuse me.”

Betts has gotten up and made her way to the girl, putting on a small voice and playing with the ends of her sleeves like she’s just some pathetic lost mess. “Do you have a charger I can borrow? My phone died and I just—I need to—” Betts hiccups as if it’s all that’s keeping her from crying. “Sorry, I just—”

“Oh my god, of course,” the girl says, whirling into motion and rifling through her bag and shaking her head. “I’m not getting off until Bristol so—”

Betts flicks out her knife and presses the point to the girl’s throat. She keeps her true self hidden at first, every time. It’s better this way: a purer control, a sweeter shock. “Shh,” she says soothingly. “Be good. All you have to do is be good.”

“I don’t have any money,” the girl says, the words a panicked rush—idonthaveanymoney.

“I know,” Betts says, using the hand that isn’t pressing the knife to the girl’s flesh to stroke her tangled hair. Money is not what Betts wants. “Can you be good?” When the girl doesn’t answer she pushes the knife a little harder. “Can. You. Be. Good?”

The girl swallows, the knife moving with the action, and nods. “Yes,” she gasps. “I’ll be good.”


* * *


My mother named me for Elizabeth Taylor, even though she herself took more after Diana Dors and Jayne Mansfield, but Mother always was a prude and I suppose she thought naming me after the classiest woman she knew would work out well for me.

She did a lot of things believing that they would make me somebody different. She told me my father had died—of course he hadn’t, and of course he only lived a two-hour train journey away. Mother told me my two front baby teeth had fallen out so early because of a bike accident I couldn’t remember, but really she didn’t like how crooked they were and pulled them out herself. She learned how to mix the relaxer right so she could sit me down and burn away any trace of a curl in my hair once a month. That wasn’t for any reason but her hating the parts of me that were the least like her.

I always wondered why she even kept me. She could have had the abortion—she got as far as the clinic a couple of times. She could have moved on to some other man, a Rock Hudson or a Clark Gable. Had herself a pretty baby, a white baby, a son who would never have to lift a finger, or a daughter who she’d idolize all the way into an eating disorder. She could have left me out of it entirely.

But I was born and it was just the two of us. Mother would tuck me in every night and smooth the frizz on my artificially straightened hair and say, “Oh, Elizabeth, what am I going to do with you?”

I remember how she watched the news when the virus first came and looked at me like she knew she was about to be free.

When it finally reached us she took me to the hospital. Left me there to die.


I didn’t, and if I think hard enough I can hear her voice, perpetually disappointed. 

Oh, Elizabeth, what am I going to do with you?

Well, Mother, I suppose you’re going to find out now.


* * *


Betts steps onto the platform at Swindon, wiping the corners of her mouth with care. It’s always such a fucking mess. They never showed that in the movies and TV shows she used to watch about monsters. About vampires.  

Betts lets her hair down so that the curls hide her face. Her toes rub in the boots she took from the girl but she can take it. It’s a reminder of what she’s already done tonight. 

The girl won’t tell anyone, Betts knows, because no one ever knows how to say it without sounding like they’re high as shit, and also because she will soon be high as shit from whatever little pill it was at the bottom of her bag when Betts emptied it out.

You gonna be good like you promised? she’d said and the girl had nodded, opened her mouth wide, let Betts slip her fingers inside to press the pill into her tongue.

Betts moves silently through the near-empty station now, a lone cleaner leaning against the help desk and tapping ash from an imaginary cigarette. Go home, Betts wants to say as she passes. It’s late, and there are dangerous people out here.

She takes the stairs at a run and the barriers are open, as she knew they would be at this hour, and she passes through to head out into the humid night.

She swallows—the taste of sour blood is still on her tongue, biting at the back of her throat.

I don’t have any money, the girl had kept repeating. I have nothing, I have nothing.

Betts had heard the truth in it. She had heard herself in it.

But that was before Betts got lucky. The virus changed her, inside and out; where once she was empty, now she is full of blood and power.

Now she is ready for what must be done.


* * *


You watch those lone survivor shows and always think, who the fuck would want that? Trying so hard to survive in a hostile world that only wants you gone? No.

But then you wake up one day and you don’t know how long you were out and the room around you is unfamiliar but your fever has broken and you cry, because what you wanted most in the world was to die and somehow you are still here, lucky lucky lucky bitch, but then over long days alone you realize you have not returned to normal but have become somebody new entirely.

And maybe you are dead, or maybe you are only half-alive, but what you know is that you need something to survive that no one wants to give you easily.

So you become deft with a knife, the weapon you choose even though you could rely on your own sharp mouth now, because you like the control, the precision. The way it so quickly and effectively sends fear through your victims. You become slick with your words, convincing with a glass of cheap white wine in your hot hands. You drink deep of anything and everything you can get: whiteredclear, vodkawaterwine. Blood. You watch the world empty out around you and you wonder if you are a survivor or a monster or both, and the notion of becoming a monster floods you with pride.

This is what you always were, after all. Isn’t it? When your mother couldn’t bear to look at you, when she touched you like your skin was toxic, when she spat your name at you. And you tried to believe you were better than she said you were, that you were not any of the things she called you, but then you got sick and woke up dead and it takes you a while but you understand, finally.

She was not wrong about you. And now you match, the in and the out. A vampire girl.

A monster.


* * *


The walk is longer than Betts remembers, sticky in the night's warmth.

It’s all uphill and once she finally reaches the top, a tall, spiked fence welcomes her. Home, a part of Betts says, but the rest of her crushes this thought. Not home. Just a place where she used to live.

The fence—this was what rich people had done, put up walls around their nice houses after the first wave of the virus hit. Some of them still got sick but their houses and their pretty possessions stayed safe. And now while everyone and everything outside these enclosures navigates life in a sparse, slow world, they continue on as if nothing ever changed.

By the gate there’s a guard whose eyes rake Betts’ body as she approaches.

“Number seventy-three,” Betts says, pulling all the money she has from her bag and sliding it through the plastic window to the guard. This is where she’s supposed to follow with the access code, but of course she doesn’t know it.

The guard stares at the cash for a long minute, as if deciding whether he can be swayed by such a pathetic amount. He glances up at Betts, and then presses a button that swings the gate open. “Have a nice night.”


* * *


She leaves you in the hospital and she cries when she does it, so you think—even in the haze of death and rebirth, you still think—that she does love you. In some way, deep down, some primal part of her loves you because she cries when she leaves you to die.

You wake up later, surrounded by the aftermath of the chaos caused by the virus. A newborn vampire left in the wreckage.

But you are alive, still, somehow, and where else do you have to go but home?

(You are scared, is the truth of it all: you only half understand what is happening to you and you need an anchor, something familiar to ground you, and the pulsing pain of how much your mother hates you is the most familiar thing, so you decide to crawl back to her.)

You go home, but army officers are in the streets and when you give them your mother’s name they tell you—she is dead.

You are alive and she is dead and you have to walk away so they don’t see your hysteria, sobbing and laughing at the same time.

Mother is dead, so you leave. Make your way to London and learn how to survive.

In the city you sink into your skin. You ask a girl to let you kiss her, and all you’re doing it for is to stop starving, and all she’s doing it for is some relief while the virus fades from the world. You ask a boy to let you go to the alley behind the church and get on your knees. You ask a girl to take you home and make her come on the living room floor. You ask them all to give you what you need and they all say yes. Everybody’s blood tastes the same to you. You wipe the back of your hand across your mouth when you’re done and leave, a mess, but satiated for another night.

You do this until you are tired of bartering sex for survival and you already know you are a monster, so that is when you begin using the knife instead.

You feel yourself blossom, feel yourself bloom into a vampiric wonder.

One wondrous day, you meet another like you. A dark-skinned girl with shorn hair and mesmerizing eyes and sharp, piercing fangs. You ask her too many questions—when did she get sick, when did she change, does she think, as you do, that the virus is one thing with two branches: it kills you, or it lives in you, turns you. If you are lucky and rare, it remains in your blood and it turns you.

But she tells you she was never sick. A girl I loved, she says. She made me this way.

And you think—made?

New power, new promise.

You tell people different stories and different names and different histories. Never the truth. Never that you were just a girl wanting to die until the opportunity finally came and chewed you up and spat you out the other side, not a girl anymore.

You know they would not understand what wanting to die means. That you did not want to end yourself, did not have the nerve or the energy to plan such a thing, but god you would have given anything to just not wake up in the morning. To rest, finally.

It is not lost on you now that you are the strongest you have ever been, have a skill with a knife that could take you out fast and clean, and yet. 

And yet.

Now that you are no longer a girl, and now that you are some kind of dead, you don’t mind living so much.


* * *


Betts stares at the front door.

The noise from behind it is warm, the kind of warm she’s forgotten how to feel. She imagines what she’ll see when she walks in: the grand piano in the room to the left, bottles of wine almost emptied, spilled on the dining table, perhaps a blonde with mussed hair and softly wrinkled eyes kicking her heels off.

The door should be locked. If they are smart, the door will be locked.

She turns the handle.

It opens gracefully.


* * *


You lived in the city and time passed, two years, three. Three years a vampire; three years an orphan.

You were in a cafe one night when you saw it—a six-month-old issue from one of the two newspapers still in print. The news inside half-focused on the virus and the fallout, and half-ignoring it completely, pretending as if life were exactly the same. Complaints, recipes, birth, death, and marriage announcements.

Of course that was where you saw her. 

Your mother.

Your mother and her new husband.

The world slipped sideways and for a minute or two, you couldn’t breathe as you put together the woman in the picture in front of you and the woman who’d left you in the hospital. The two realities collided and then—

You (I) caught fire from the inside out.

You (I) remembered how dead she was supposed to be, how the army officer had told you (me) that with a look of pity.

You—I, me, fucking finally—realized that she hadn’t cried the day she left me because of some primal bond with me. She hadn’t left me because she was dead, or because she thought I was dead.

She had known I was alive. She had to have known, to tell the officers not to let me in. To get them to tell me she was dead.

She left me because she could. She’d always wanted a reason and there it was.

Those tears hadn’t been because she was leaving me or losing me. They had been tears of purest relief.


* * *


Betts steps carefully down the wide hallway, shoes quiet on the wooden floor.

There, the piano.

Here, the wine.

She reaches the living room and stops, surveying the scene. Betts takes out her knife, an afterthought, or maybe a comfort. Twisting it in circles through the air at her hip as she proceeds.

The room is empty and dark. There’s something sweet and cloying on the air. Not like blood; like dead flowers left too long.

The music she heard from outside plays on, and Betts looks for the source. When she finds the speakers she turns them off, a sudden and uneasy silence surrounding her.

She waits, still, in the silent space. Well? What now?

The smell, she decides. Betts follows it towards the kitchen, cluttered with pans collecting water dripping from the ceiling. There’s mold on the cupboards and something rotten in the old farmhouse sink. Not flowers, like she thought. Something dark yellow and clotted.

On the kitchen table, a curling note, weighted down with a gold ring. A wedding band. Please don’t follow me, the note says. Betts reads it, and reads it again, and touches her thumb to the cold metal.

Maybe life inside the gates is not so sweet, after all.

She leaves the kitchen and runs her hands along the banister. It’s covered in scratches. Scratches she made, small rebellions, when she was ordered to her room day after day after day.

Her nails, bitten jagged, fit into the grooves as she walks up the stairs. The rotten smell that Betts had thought was just the kitchen follows her, permeates the second floor.

Betts slows. This she knows. She has smelled this so many times. 

Not flowers.


She swallows air and anger. “The fucking bitch,” she says as she comes to her mother’s bedroom door. “You fucking bitch.”

Betts pushes the door open and the smell rushes out to wrap her up.

On the bed, silk sheets pile around her mother’s body.


* * *


I went to Paddington and I caught a train.

To come home.

To kill my mother. 


* * *

Betts steps into the bedroom.

Her mother’s hair has half fallen out, and her face is swollen, and there’s a bucket on the floor filled with flies and thin vomit.

“No. No.”

Betts takes her rage out on the room, first. Upends the furniture and rips the clothes out of the wardrobe and shatters the mirror, raining bad luck all over everything.

Then Betts turns back to her mother and she thinks, If I cracked my fist into her face it would cave in. She thinks, I could pull her teeth out of her skull and feel better. She thinks, I could desecrate every inch of her body and do it well but it wouldn’t matter because she’s already gone and she’ll never have to answer for all the things she did to me and the lies she told and this is the last thing she will ever take from me. 

Her own life.

She grabs a handful of what’s left of her mother’s hair and twists it around her palm. She yanks and the hair rips free, too easily to be satisfying, and Betts yells into the still, rotten house.

“Fuck,” she says when the echo of her yell has quieted. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” She crouches, letting the hair drop to the floor, staring her dead mother in her blank, yellow eyes. “I came here to kill you,” she says, quiet, on edge. “But of course you couldn’t let me have that, could you?”

She turns away from the mess on the bed, snatching her knife up from where she has dropped it near the bucket of vomit.

What took her? Cancer? Something more run of the mill?

Maybe the virus is back. Or maybe it never really left, has just been dormant for the past two years. Lying in wait.

When it first came, it was in waves. Clusters of people sickening, dying, the wilder spread, and then the fade. The first person to die that Betts knew was her piano teacher, six months into things, and up until that moment it hadn’t felt real.

(Betts had stolen into the piano teacher’s house one night, after she was gone, and slipped into her bed and rolled herself up in the sheets.) 

Betts runs her thumb along the edge of her blade. There’s nothing here for her now. The thought leaves her empty but it’s true, she knows. It’s time for her to go.

And that is when the cry comes from down the hall.


* * *


Betts stares at the door

The cry comes again, clear and desperate.

“Hello? Is somebody there? Please, help me!”

Betts walks, the floorboards creaking with her every step. The voice is still calling, cracking, asking for help help help.

It is coming from Betts’ old bedroom.

She opens the door and there is a girl.

She is chained to the bed.

She is white and blonde-haired and skinny, maybe starving, actually, judging by the chains on her wrists and the state of that dead body in the other room.

This girl claws to the edge of the bed, staring at Betts with wild eyes. “Please,” she says for the thousandth time. “Help me.”

“Who are you?” Betts runs her thumb over the blade again without taking her eyes off the girl. “Tell me the truth.”

“Are you going to help me? I’ve been waiting for so long, I thought no one was ever going to come, I thought I was going to die…” The girl begins to cry, or at least her face moves in the right way; Betts is unsure if any tears actually leave her eyes. “She told me she had a safe place for me to live,” she says, breathy. “She’s dead, isn’t she? I can smell her and she hasn’t come to me in a week. I ran out of water, I tried … I thought I was going to die in here.”

Betts tips her head to the side. Don’t be so sure you won’t, girl. “What’s your name?”

“Lauren,” the girl says, stretching as far from the wall as her chains will allow. “But she—she calls me Greta.”

Betts closes her eyes. She calls me Greta. Greta, Greta, a do-over, a pretty blonde child her mother took and tied up in this room that used to belong to Betts.

A replacement.


* * *


It’s a knife to her heart, a muscle which has died and yet, and yet—

The pain of it is unyielding and she had to do it, didn’t she, her mother had to twist the blade into her one last time. Torturing her from beyond the grave.

This girl, this Lauren-Greta is everything Betts is not and it’s so easy to see why her mother would have loved her. 

You would think Betts should be past this, past fixating on her mother and past trying to please her. But there’s some old version of her hiding in the back of her mind who can only say, over and over and over, Why wasn’t I ever enough for you?


* * *


“There’s a key,” Greta is saying, desperation apparent in every word, every movement as she holds her wrists up. “In her bedroom, she has a key. You can let me out.”

Betts looks at the girl her mother has trapped. 

Look at her, she thinks. So pretty, even while she’s starving.

I bet you were so proud of her, weren’t you, Mother? I bet you watched her from afar and wished she was yours, so you plucked her up and made her your mirror and I bet you loved, cherished, adored her, didn’t you?

“You look just like her,” Betts says.

Greta shifts, her red-raw wrists the brightest point in the room. “What?”

“The woman that brought you here,” Betts says, crouching now. “You look so much like her. That’s what she always wanted, you know. A clone. So you never really had a chance once she saw you. You shouldn’t feel bad. It was only ever going to be this way for you.”

“What?” Greta is still crying, and she holds her hands up again. “Please, just let me out. I don’t care about her, I just want to get out of here.”

Betts knows she should feel sorry for this trapped girl, but all she can feel is the same white-hot rage that coursed through her when she had found out that her mother was alive.

This girl took her place, and she probably did everything right and her mother might have really loved her and no, no no no.

Betts steadies herself.

She came to take something.

A life. She came to take a life.

And if she cannot have her mother’s, well—maybe she will take this girl’s, then.

You did it, Betts thinks, her eyes stinging from lack of blinking. You found yourself a perfect daughter and now here I come, ready to ruin her.

“She hated me,” Betts says. “That woman. My mother. Because I wasn’t perfect like you are. She used to call me a monster, you know. And I thought she was wrong, but—” She smiles, showing her sharpened, perpetually blood-tainted teeth. “A monster is what I was destined to become. Do you see? Do you get it, Greta?”

“I’m sorry,” Greta says, and then again, and again. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but what is she apologizing for? Does she even know? Does she know she stole Betts’ place in her mother’s heart?

Betts moves close and sees that there are no tears coming from Greta’s eyes. It’s just panic there, and the sound of her keening. “Greta,” Betts says. “I need you to do something for me.” She brings the knife up slow and presses it, soft, against the sweaty skin of Greta’s throat. Betts smiles at the strangled inhale Greta takes.

“No,” Greta manages to say, a rush of air with the word, “please, let me go—”

This is what Betts is used to now. She and her knife, old reliable, working together to steal money and blood and anything else she wants. Betts can see herself pulling the blade across the girl’s throat, a deep decisive cut and she’d be gone in seconds. No more replacement. No more pretty doll.

Betts stares into Greta’s eyes, the knife waiting, and with her other hand she finds herself smoothing the damp hair at Greta’s forehead.

Even in her rage a slice of sorrow shines through. She is angry at this girl, but it’s another manipulation of her mother’s, isn’t it? How Betts came to kill her mother and now longs to kill this girl who did nothing but fit her mother’s expectations of beauty so perfectly.

If she kills Greta, she’s just another dead girl, another life wasted at her mother’s hands. But—if Betts takes her for herself, she’ll be freeing Greta, the way she always wished someone would free her, take her away from this place, this very room.

Yes. Yes, she will take Greta’s life. But in her own way.

She smiles at Greta, the first true, uninhibited smile she’s let herself have in a long time and it hurts her muscles to move in this unfamiliar way but yes, yes. This is good. This is right.

She hasn’t tried it before, but she has never forgotten the shorn-haired girl she met. She made me this way, the girl had told her. “Greta,” she says, still smiling wide. “I’m going to make you like me.”

Greta’s lips move with no sound. Better than the wailing from before.

“I know, I know,” Betts says. “Don’t worry. You’re going to like this, I think.”

Betts brings the hand that was stroking Greta’s hair to her own mouth, sliding her teeth down to the softest part of her wrist and biting in. A slick, fast movement like her flesh is butter or a hot, soft piece of meat. I’m going to make her into something like me, Mother. She’ll become a monster too and I will remake her in my image, strip every part of you away from her because even in death, she is more than you deserve. 


“I need you to be good,” Betts says, as she forces her bloody wrist up against Greta’s mouth, silencing her. “Shh, stay still. Drink. It’s going to be okay.” 

She made me this way. If it is as Betts believes—one virus, two branches, the vampiric strain bedded deep in Betts’ blood—then this is what will help Greta. She believes it will, she believes this will work. Feed her to infect her. 

Infect her to save her.

She feels how Greta resists, at first, squirming beneath her. 

But then the girl seems to realize how little fight she has left in her, and she stills.

Betts watches her, Greta’s eyes the same kind of tired as her own. Come on. Do it, she thinks. Don’t you want this?

And like she has heard her, like she is saying yes, yes, I want this, Greta swallows.

“Perfect,” Betts says.

Fill her up with your blood.

She must die, and then she will live.

This is what Betts believes. 

Greta stays suckling for long enough that Betts begins to feel it pulling at her, the edges of the room beginning to blur. “That’s enough,” she says, taking her arm back and licking the self-inflicted wound to clean it. 

She wipes around Greta’s mouth, catching the blood that has leaked out, and then slips her fingers inside to touch her wet tongue, press the blood into it. Can’t waste a drop, not for this.  “You get to sleep for a while now. Aren’t you tired?”

Greta nods, her gaze fixed on Betts, dreamy. “Yes,” she says. “So tired.”

“When you wake up you’ll be a whole new Greta—or Lauren, or whoever you want to be. And better,” she says, leaning in close. “You’ll be like me. And you’ll be free of all of this, you know? Free of relying on other people for some shred of kindness, or believing anyone else will help you, of being trapped inside the box of good or pretty or nice. Free of humanity, Greta.”

“Free,” Greta repeats. “Yes.”

Maybe this is what Betts was always supposed to do, this is why she saw the announcement, this is why she was really drawn back here. To find this girl and take her emptiness and her cracked hollow shell of prettiness and perfection and reveal to her the rot at her core. Show her how it is not wrong, that she is not bad for being made this way. Turn her into a blood-feasting, howling vampire banshee and unleash her on the world.

“It’s going to be okay,” Betts says, giving her best teeth-baring smile. “It’s all going to be okay.”

She moves fast, the knife in her hand one moment and then in Greta’s heart.

A decisive jab, in and up, rip and tear.

Greta makes a noise like laughter, but it’s just shock, Betts thinks, and it’ll be over in a quick minute, she’ll be dead in no time at all.

But for now she is still alive, barely, and she falls, her body losing all control of itself.

Betts catches her and begins to lower her to the grimy bed but changes her mind.

She pulls her near.

Greta is warm, and close like this, Betts can feel the life pulsing out of her. Slow beat, slow, slower still. “I need you to be good.” Betts rocks back and forth slowly, a gentle sway with Greta in her arms. “I need you to be good, and die now.”

A hissed breath in her ear, all that Greta can say.

Betts pulls back and fixes her gaze on Greta, who looks so calm, like she is ready, has always been ready to die. “Can you be good, just one more time?”

{ Edited by Denise Conejo. }