Tilly believed in true love. The once in a lifetime, you are my soulmate forever, I will love you till the day I die kind.
People said she didn’t do things by halves. And when it came to love, she didn’t.
Sebastian was perfect. Really, he was. People said to her over and over – perfection is dangerous – but she didn’t care.
Sebastian was beautiful. The most beautiful man she had ever seen. When they walked in the street together people stopped just to look at him. Japanese tourists took photos, asking if he was famous. Women who weren’t even of a menopausal persuasion had hot flashes, swooning. Men held in their stomachs and checked their jawlines for stubble.
He was a rock star, an A-list actor and a sculpture by Rodin all rolled into one.
And he loved her. Little old plain Jane no man will ever look at you twice Tilly.
At first his love was disconcerting. He paid so much attention to her. He fawned over her. She felt like the muse of a Victorian poet lying on a chaise longue having her complexion compared to alabaster and tea roses. She wasn’t used to it.
He told her he would love her till the end of time. Maybe even beyond that.
It was staggering.
One night Tilly and Sebastian were walking home from an Italian dinner. Tilly’s eyes were full of red – the check tablecloths in the restaurant, the pasta sauce, the ruby ring Sebastian had given her with the most tender of kisses, the red rose the maitre d’ had in his lapel.
The night was really dark. At first Tilly thought it was because the restaurant had been so light, so full of life but she realized it was because the night sky was overburdened with clouds. A chill wind flowed at their feet, making them stumble on the shadowed streets.
The men were on them so quickly Tilly didn’t even hear them coming. Strong men, almost featureless. The smell of blood and terror on their lips. Tilly felt the brush of needles on her neck, burning hands on her arms and a scream, penetrating and raw as if the world had ended and the person doing the screaming knew it.
‘Sebastian.’ Tilly called out to him, trying to flee, trying to stay, although how she could hope to save Sebastian, defend him from these creatures, she didn’t know.
She couldn’t even see him in the melee. There were just shadows and boots and blood on the road. Not even red blood, black blood, thick as animal guts, like life turning away from all the good in the world. Black as stones at the bottom of a river.
Tilly picked up a rock, lunged at one of the men. He crushed the rock to gravel in one hand, teeth like a snake. Fangs.
Run, Tilly, run. It was Sebastian’s voice – as if his mouth was full of water, as if his mouth was full of blood.
Tilly heard the terror in his voice, the stone on flesh of panic.
She ran. She didn’t know how she got away, it was as if angels were pushing at her feet. She got to the police station, managed to convince them to come with her but when they reached the place where they’d been attacked the men were gone.
There was no sign of Sebastian, no sign of an assault. No blood. Tilly couldn’t believe there was no blood, the collar of her blouse was stained where the teeth like needles had skimmed.
The police left her, rolling their eyes. She stood in the middle of the street, waiting, her mind whirling, not knowing what to do. Sebastian was gone. There was no sign of him. There was no sign of anything, just the faintest of scents reminiscent of flowers left in the vase for too long, rotting flowers with a strong aroma; maybe gardenias.
Every day for a month Tilly looked for him. Her Sebastian. She wouldn’t let herself grieve, wouldn’t assume the worst. She went back to the place he’d been taken every single day but he was gone. Gone for good.
Tilly was awful at doing odd jobs around the house. She tried to fix things to take her mind off Sebastian. She had put in a missing persons report but the police laughed it off. She knew what they were thinking – that a woman who looked like her wouldn’t have a man, let alone a man who looked the way she described Sebastian.
‘He’s done a runner,’ she heard one of them say. ‘He’s run for his freakin’ life.’
Tilly had bought an antique mirror months ago. She wanted to hang it above the mantel by her bed but had put it off. There was a chance it would fall off the wall straight away and would probably smash; she didn’t want to risk the seven years bad luck but knew if she focused it would help to take her mind off Sebastian.
It took her an hour and a half but she managed to get the mirror to stay on the wall. She could see right into the garden if she stood by the bed. The world was ghostly, reversed. The trees were narrow in the dark, slightly threatening.
As Tilly turned away from the mirror she thought she saw something move, darting. Perhaps it was a cat. The leaves on the narrow trees rustled, shifted by something.
She thought she was dreaming when she saw him at the door; looking paler, thinner, but otherwise unchanged. Sebastian. He held out his hand to her and she noticed his fingernails were pale blue the way they turn under snow.
When Tilly was a child she liked to bury herself in the snow in winter. It was a silly thing to do – she could have gotten frostbite or worse – but she liked the stillness and coldness under the snow. It was probably what Narnia was like.
When she emerged into the light her lips and fingernails were pale blue. Just like Sebastian’s.
Tilly opened the door. Sebastian stood there. ‘Where have you been?’ Tilly asked. ‘Are you alright?’
‘Aren’t you going to ask me in?’ Sebastian said.
‘Aren’t you going to come in?’ Tilly replied.
‘You have to invite me in.’ Sebastian’s eyes were flicking back and forth. He seemed agitated, out of sorts.
‘That’s ridiculous, you live here.’ Tilly couldn’t understand why Sebastian was being so distant. She couldn’t understand why he didn’t just rush into her arms. She was about to invite him in with a flourish when the phone rang. As she turned back to answer it she caught sight of herself in the mirror, she caught sight of herself in the doorway. The mirror image of Sebastian didn’t appear.
Tilly looked back at the doorway. He was standing right there. She looked back at the mirror – he had disappeared. She remembered the blood on the road, the snake-like teeth, the ripping sound, the gurgling of blood in the throat.
‘What are you?’ she said. ‘What has happened to you? Why can’t you just come in to your own house?’
‘You have to invite me in, you stupid woman.’ Sebastian’s voice was shrill. He had never spoken to Tilly like that before. She saw the brush of a gleaming fang on his pale lips. And she knew what he was.
She scrambled to shut the door. Sebastian tried to reach for her but she was too quick. She slammed the door and locked it. The force of the slam knocked the mirror from the wall. It landed on the bed, facing the French doors. Sebastian banged on the glass, louder and louder.
All night he shook the glass. All night. Tilly closed her eyes, rocking on the bed. Her eyes were red, the room was red. The glass in the mirror was red. Sebastian banged on the doors until the fingers of dawn reached through the dark sky.
The next night he was back. And the next. And the night after that. Tilly had leaned the mirror against the wall. It reflected the door, the garden, the purple shadows. Sebastian stood before the doors for hours but did not appear in the mirror once. He could not be human if the mirror discarded him. He could not be her Sebastian any longer.
Tilly held onto the frame of the mirror. She wept as Sebastian called out her name again and again. Her heart felt like it was under snow. She knew it had turned pale blue.
Every night for a week he came, beating at the door. Tilly was exhausted, stressed beyond belief. She knew what she had to do. She bought a gun. A .38 Special, Colt Detective. Only six bullets in a round. She would have to make every bullet count, she wouldn’t have time to reload.
She bought chains made of silver and a packet of wooden stakes, telling the guy in the hardware store she was going camping. He nodded at her sagely as if he knew what she was really doing, as if he had also been plagued by a vampire.
That’s what Sebastian was now. That’s what he had become. Her evil, blood-sucking one true love.
At sunset Tilly loaded the gun. She wedged two of the stakes into her belt. She rigged up the chains above the door frame, ready to drop on Sebastian once he stepped into the house. Once she invited him in.
The sun had barely gone down when he appeared. He was withered, drawn, ghostlike. His vibrant beauty had gone.
‘Come in, Sebastian,’ Tilly said, opening the door. ‘Come in.’
Sebastian looked surprised but immediately stepped over the threshold. The chains fell on him, knocking him to his knees, causing him to smoke and scream.
Tilly wasn’t prepared for the smell of burning flesh, acrid, disgusting, as if someone was incinerating a pile of rotting food.
She gagged as she was pulling the trigger, missing him, shooting a hole right through the glass on the French doors. Fragments of glass sprayed into the room, cutting her hands, her face. The metallic smell of blood filled the room, splattered the mirror, rousing Sebastian from the floor. He roared, deranged, a beast, his fangs pure white in the thickening dark.
Tilly fired again, knowing she had to hit him this time, knowing he would rip her to pieces if she didn’t hold her nerve. One shot, two shots, three. She had two bullets left in the gun. Sebastian had holes in his chest, his stomach. Gaping holes, oozing blood, but he was still standing, still coming towards her.
‘I thought you believed in true love,’ he shouted. ‘Why are you trying to kill me? True love never dies.’
‘It already has,’ Tilly said, using the last two bullets. Both the bullets hit Sebastian in the head, splitting his forehead in two. One of his eyeballs was loosened, wobbling about in its socket like those joke eyeballs you see on springs.
He paused, drunk on gunpowder and disbelief. It was the only chance Tilly had. She pulled one of the stakes from her belt, lunging at him, plunging the sharpened wood straight into his heart. Tilly felt sick. She had expected the resistance of flesh and bone but Sebastian’s chest was brittle, dry as a hay bale at the end of winter.
For five agonizing seconds nothing happened. Sebastian reached for her, scraping the side of her throat. His fingers smelled like mould and wet earth. Tilly began to panic but on the sixth second Sebastian flung himself backwards onto the floor and then turned to ash.
The room was covered in it, dark grey dust like really old chimney soot. And blood, already turning black. All that was left of the man she had loved. Her hands were covered in dust-encrusted blood. The mirror lay against the wall, undamaged, but smeared as if a post-modernist artist, high on cocaine and gin had used it as a canvas. Tilly didn’t even notice, she was just grateful it hadn’t cracked, she hadn’t wanted all that bad luck on top of everything else.
She looked at herself, disheveled, sullied with blood and dust. She knew she should cry but she couldn’t help but smile. ‘Done and dusted,’ she said. It was a job well done for an amateur vampire killer. Tilly didn’t believe in doing things by halves.