It’s four in the morning and Jade’s standing half-in, half-out of the front door of her father’s house, not sure if she should take that next step or not. On the couch and in the chair are her father and Rexall, in the same places they were for what she guesses she should be calling The Night of the Carrot— her dad’s joke about her orange hair. They’re already passed out this time, though. Passed out and slobbering, snoring, twitching, Rexall hugging a pillow.
Jade gives her foot some weight, praying for no creak, and for once her prayer is answered. If they didn’t wake from her hauling the door open, though, then that means they’re really and truly conked, right?
Where she’s coming in from is the staging area. She sat there with Shooting Glasses until the next Terra Nova shift started to sift in. He’d cracked his can open for a morning dip then opened his door, nodded bye to Jade.
“Won’t you be tired?” Jade asked him.
“Sleep when I’m dead,” he said around his first gush of spit, spinning around on his heel to shoot her with imaginary sixguns. “Sam Elliott, Road House, 1988.”
“1989,” Jade didn’t have the heart to tell him, just launched her fingers off her forehead in goodbye, sloped home with her hands deep in the pockets of her coveralls, her shoulders up by her ears, a sort-of smile on her face. The whole night, her and Shooting Glasses had just talked about nothing, not one single real thing. It was stupid, would be a boring art house film were it on-screen, two kids mumbling in the afterglow of a killing because they’re both too shy to hold hands, but it had been pretty perfect too.
Its opposite, pretty much, is her dad groaning on the couch now, and scratching himself, doing that kind of shifting and flopping that means he’s about to crack an eye open. Jade stops breathing, doesn’t know whether she’s hitting the floor to be below his blurry line of sight or if she’s stepping cleanly back out the door she just walked through. But no way will she be making eye contact with him when his hands are down the front of his pants.
He snorts, nuzzles his face deeper into the couch cushion, and drops back into what she hopes is a falling dream, so she can watch his clothes flatten out when he hits bottom. When that doesn’t happen and then doesn’t happen again, she finally allows herself to breathe, and imagine what if… what if she were the slasher here? What if she had been raised by Ezekiel, attended all his black masses, learned all his lessons before she was swapped for a baby in Proofrock? If she were that slasher, then she would know to straighten a coat hanger out, creep up to both of these rejects, and drive that sharp point into their ear all at once, then wait around to dab up any blood that dribbled back out. Hardy probably wouldn’t even have any autopsies run, as this would be good riddance to shitty rubbish.
It would be so easy.
Jade opens and closes her right hand, going through the motions, licking her lips with anticipation.
Except… she’d sort of thrown up just from stabbing that dead bird with her litter stick, hadn’t she? Wouldn’t pushing a coat hanger into a human ear require her to muscle through some membrane or thin bone or something, to get to the brain?
She’s a gorehound, a horror fiend, the more brutal the better, bring it on, faster, pussycat, kill kill kill, but that’s all on-screen. And at some level she never forgets that all the blood’s corn syrup.
Still, she tells herself, she could do it. Just, not tonight.
Rather, some other time when her alibi is bulletproof. And maybe not both at once, maybe not even Rexall at all, since he’s no more aware of being alive than a jellyfish or mushroom. And, just one of them doesn’t draw the same suspicion, does it? Especially when that one’s whole life since his car wreck in high school is time he’s been stealing. This is just Final Destination: Death, calling in its marker. That coat hanger in the ear would be more just a function of nature, wouldn’t it?
Jade nods to herself about all of this, part of her fully aware that she’s made this same plan twenty times before. Fifty times. Ever since junior high, really, with all manner of household implements, with every last screwdriver in the toolbox, with all the rakes and shovels and hoes in the shed.
This time she means it, though.
“Bang,” she says, looking down her finger at her father, but she also sort of sees herself standing here, adopting that pose—sees herself as Hardy would, as Mr. Holmes would: another teenager who hates the parent she’s stuck with. And that’s the only way they have to see her, too, which is the catch-22 bullshit of it all.
Still, Jade angles the barrel of her finger over, drills a bullet into Rexall as well, just for good measure, and then freezes when Rexall hikes a leg up in an obscene pose, almost in response.
Jade angles her face up to stare through the ceiling, away from this moment, only slowly realizing she’s listening to something. She cocks her head over to let the sound drain in better: somewhere far above Proofrock, Mr. Holmes’s tiny rotors are whapping at the air. Either him or that’s another LifeFlight up there, and, if it is, then who for this time? Who for and how late?
Let Letha handle it, though. Which means: let Letha witness it. Let it all stack up in her head, because she’s the one who’s going to need it as fuel for her big turnaround.
What Jade needs is… sleep?
Except, as much as she hates it, here in her living room are two survivors, two witnesses to what happened to Clate Rodgers. Two idiots who could tell her if the Umiak had been tied to the pier or not. That her father was wet in the alley meant he had to have been the one wading past the crusty pylons to find a latchpoint on that sleek white hull, Rexall high and dry playing lookout, Clate bobbing under the pier, psyching himself up. Well, shotgunning another beer anyway. Same difference.
Problem is, asking Tab Daniels for a version of this will be putting him up on a throne for as long as Jade needs that answer, won’t it? When she’s promised and sworn and vowed to never ask him for a single thing again, no matter what.
Jade comes back to her father’s sleeping face. There’s a beer in the crook of his arm, its longneck nestled in his armpit. When he shifts, it starts to seep into his pearl snap shirt, a slow flower of darkness to match all the faded-out flowers in the print. Jade watches it bloom as long as she can, finally has to ghost forward, tiptoe between, sneak the bottle up and out. What she tells herself is that she’s Ripley, crawling over a sleeping alien. She’s Sidney, squirming over an unconscious Ghostface. But really she just doesn’t want her dad feeling that wetness and waking.
Much better to let him sleep on.
Instead of taking a swig of the warm beer, she settles it onto the taped-together coffee table with the other empties. That’s another thing she’s promised and sworn, mumbled vows about: never to drink beer like him. Cigarettes, sure, smoking doesn’t make you stupid, just dead. But if she ever drinks, then that opens the door on a future where she someday shares a beer with her dad, and that’s not a door she’ll ever let life drag her through.
She could nudge Rexall awake, she supposes. Tricking him into telling her about what happened to Clate would be cake, less than cake. Except… talking to him would mean
talking to him, and she’s not that desperate. Even at four in the morning.
But what could Rexall or her father tell her about Clate Rodgers that would even be useful, right? Doesn’t she already know?
This is always her favorite part of any slasher. It’s already been established, thanks to the bodies stacking up, that somebody thinks they’ve got a good reason to be doing this, however it is they’re doing it. Now the push is to figure out what the dead might have in common, where their paths might cross. After that it’s just a matter of thinking back to who was where when a prank or accident went down. Who had stepped out to powder their nose, see a man about a horse, make a call?
Or, before Scream, anyway, that’s how you used to be able to figure a slasher out. Until it was either Billy or Stu who had to be gone from the room long enough to don a certain mask.
But, it was just and only Hardy ambling down from Melanie’s bench, wasn’t it? Cashing his last smoke and then moseying down to what was left of the idiot that let his daughter die.
So it’s him, then?
He is as good a candidate as anyone to bring Stacey Graves back. Except for Christine Gillette—his aunt—he’s the only one Jade knows to have actually seen Stacey Graves. And, what a Prowler-y rush if the slasher’s a law enforcement officer, right? That would… it would be like Nancy’s dad in A Nightmare on Elm Street feeling so much guilt about breaking the law to kill Freddy that he ducks into the crusty fedora himself, doses the kids with something to make them think they’re dreaming, and goes about punishing the whole block for their big crime.
As for how Hardy could have done Clate Rodgers: with his airboat tied to the pier, he had every excuse to be ambling past the Umiak for whatever he forgot—his lighter for that
all-important last cigarette, probably. And if Letha or Tiara called down to ask why was he tying them off, he could just say he didn’t know anybody was aboard, he just didn’t want it drifting away, a big pretty boat like that. What he wouldn’t be saying would be that, when you have the chance to dispense with the grown-up version of the kid you blame for your daughter’s drowning, you do that, even if you’re already involved in something larger.
When the bodies are accumulating, there’s always room for one more, right?
Jade nods, says it aloud in the living room, like a test: “Right.”
Neither of the sleepers objects. Which she takes as permission to go on with this line of thinking. With… maybe one last smoke to keep her company.
She palms the half a pack of cigarettes from under the lamp and steps out onto the back porch, sits in the open door and chain-smokes two, then one more for good measure.
The plan, she’s pretty sure, should be to sneak over to Terra Nova tomorrow—today, actually. It’s after midnight, right? Anyway, before Clate Rodgers burbled up from Indian Lake in chunks and smears, it was a lock that Theo Mondragon had to be the one behind all this. And he still could be. She could have Hardy all wrong—Theo Mondragon could have stowed away on the Umiak, been setting a death trap for someone else, for one of those two Founders who were going to have to be picked back up, and Clate just happened to get literally sucked into it. That Hardy didn’t stop it doesn’t mean he actually did it.
Theo’s got the more immediate motivation, anyway—his house, his literal castle—and since it’s not the millennium, motivations matter. Motivations are everything. Hardy has his daughter as an excuse to let Clate Rodgers get pulled into those whirling blades, but his motivation for Deacon Samuels is a harder nut.
Oh: unless he wanted a certain golf club, Jade remembers. Do people really kill for golf stuff, though? She wants to say no, except… Jason did kill that one guy for littering, right?
But if greed or envy or gain is the motivation, then this is a giallo Proofrock’s in, not a revenge-driven slasher, and since this isn’t Italy in the sixties, she has to suspect there’s some other motivation, one that feels a lot more righteous.
And? She’s not supposed to have it all figured out yet, is she?
Doesn’t mean she can’t be trying, though. Like she can help it.
So the plan now is to conk out for a few hours then hike around the lake to Terra Nova, maybe stop to wow over the Deacon Samuels stains behind the fluttering yellow tape at Camp Blood, and then she’ll either figure out she’s right, it’s Theo, or she’ll exclude him, easy as that, one-and-done.
Jade blows a clean line of smoke up into the night and cashes her butt on the sole of her boot, keys on another paper she wrote for Mr. Holmes, about how the reason final girls fall so much when running away is that they’re like those mother birds who flap away from their nests like they’re hurt, so as to draw the predator off of their babies.
She never turned that one in, though. She burned it half-written and flushed the ashes, because no mothers are actually like that.
What about Letha, though? Will she continually fall down on Saturday, so as to draw the slasher away from the floating masses? There will be lots of kids in the water that night, Jade knows. Lots of innocents.
She turns to go in, spinning at the last moment to catch the screen door, keep it from waking the living room, but then she stops: the smallest, saddest bottle rocket is tumbling down out of the sky. Which is to say: a lit cigarette. “I’m telling your wife,” Jade says up to Mr. Holmes with a smile, and, when the cigarette spools a trail of smoke up out of the tall dry grass, she steps over and stomps it out,
saving the whole town, probably. “And that’s how you do it,” she says to the idea of Letha, and then leaves Mr. Holmes up there to court lung cancer and fight bats.
The kitchen is empty, the living room still asleep.
Jade pads through to her bedroom to cue something up and crash, and—
All her videotapes and clothes and posters are in two black trashbags on her bed.
Jade just stares at them, stares at them some more, and finally comes up with the only possibility: her dad heard about her OK Corral walk down Main with Hardy.
“But I didn’t bring him here,” Jade says, picking through the jumbled tapes, finally lucking onto Just Before Dawn. She can’t carry the whole bag around the lake to Letha as one last lesson, but she can at least leave her with that one. Technically—chronologically—Halloween should probably be next in her education, and that’s only if they skip over Black Christmas, but… this isn’t the full course anymore, is it? This is a crash course, a late-night cram session. And if Letha’s going to have to pick one final girl to follow, then don’t pick the one who hides in a closet, don’t pick the one who leaves the killer’s knife behind, don’t pick the one who has to get saved by a dude with a gun at the end. Pick the one who becomes rage, the one who climbs the front of that hillbilly slashing machine and jams her arm down his throat up to her fucking elbow, looking him in the eye the whole time.
Just Before Dawn, then. That and…
Jade reaches around under her bed, frees up the machete weaved into the mattress’s undercarriage. It’s from the flea market in Idaho Falls, still has the factory edge. Jade looks around for what else she might need, finally decides to change everything she’s wearing under her coveralls. Because who knows.
Instead of throwing the dirties in the laundry corner, she stuffs them back in the bag.
After that, the only thing left is to dig out the food coloring in the kitchen, dye her hair one last time in the sink, being sure to lock the door first.
The food coloring’s dark green, the result more aquamarine shading into turquoise, and temporary as hell. Still, it’s something, right?
On the way out the front door, a fresh sandwich in each pocket, two garbage bags glistening over her shoulder, she flips the living room off roundly, walks backwards off the porch still doing it.
School’s out forever.
Instead of trying to brave the trees and the muck in the pitch black—there is a rogue bear out there somewhere— Jade asks Terra Nova to wait until the light of morning, please. Maybe she can crash out in a storage shed in the staging area until then? Except, on the way there… of course.
The screen for the big July Fourth celebration is already inflated, for everybody to watch from the lake. They do it early like this now, since the time in sixth grade when they did it the afternoon-of, and had to keep the compressor running all through the movie because of some new holes in the vinyl, which kind of killed the whole “movie on the lake” charm. It was more like “movie nobody can hear over the air compressor.”
Jade doesn’t key on the screen just because it’s up, though. It’s also glowing.
On-screen is the giant version of someone’s laptop screen, it looks like. Mac, not PC. Jade steps back into the shadows to watch, cues in that the two Founders who were getting dropped off earlier, they’re back on the deck of the Umiak now—probably with whatever cable or adapter they needed for the projector, it being a few years old, their ports all next-gen.
It is Mars Baker, and, Jade finally decides, Llewellyn Singleton. Their little laptop screen is glowing onto their
faces, and they look for all the world like two twelve-year-olds hunched over a video clip between classes. Hanging a few feet back from them, hands on the rail, is Letha Mondragon, her eyes cupped in the Jackie O sunglasses and pale wrap pretty much mandated for someone who’s now found three dead people since moving to town.
When you’re mourning, grief-stricken, shell-shocked, sunglasses at night are cool. And… does Letha see Jade? Jade backs up farther, dropping her bags into the bushes, only keeping the machete, but hiding it along her right leg like’s proper.
Finally Letha’s black lenses move on to Main all at once, Jade’s eyes going with whether she wants to look or not. It’s just a cat crossing under the streetlight, but is there anything more perfect to spook things up?
Jade nods thank you to Letha for directing her to this next Jonesy, and then whatever Mars Baker and Lewellyn Singleton are trying to magic onto the big screen finally pops.
“Hunh,” Jade says. Also: of course.
It’s a slideshow of Deacon Samuels’s life. There he is in a silver hard hat, cutting a ribbon for some groundbreaking event. There he is on the cover of Golf Digest. There he is in a candid shot with Ladybird, his wife. There he is having fun in the swan boat, Indian Lake all around him like the place he’s been looking for his whole life.
The reason they’re testing this now, Jade figures, is that this is going to play before the movie on Saturday, right? It’s easier than inviting the whole town over to gawk through Terra Nova, breathe all the clean air up.
It’s funny, too: the Umiak right under these Founders, and part of the pier is cordoned off with Hardy’s yellow tape. Because the fish probably haven’t eaten all of Clate Rodgers yet, have they? The bigger chunks of him had probably been the work of a few minutes: plunge an official fishnet in and back a couple of times and he’s gone, in a bucket, in
cold storage, a big “do not drink / not margaritas!” sign taped on it.
And now the slideshow’s over and… another no-surprise: it’s a video of the remaining Founders. They’re down in some mahogany part of the yacht, it looks like. Lewellyn Singleton, Mars Baker, Ross Pangborne, and the chair of the board, farthest from the camera—meaning the center of the shot—Theo Mondragon.
Jade tries to look past the screen, past the Umiak, all the way over to the actual yacht, but comes back to the screen when whoever’s holding the camera moves in on the Founders.
Instead of the suits or high-dollar casual wear they’re usually wearing, all four look to be just in from a swim. Towels around the necks, either actually or artfully mussed hair, and wearing… not “trunks” exactly. More plum-smuggler cycling shorts? Not banana hammocks—there’s legs to them—but not board shorts either.
And? They can each pull off shorts that tight, that unforgiving. Mars Baker, even, when he coughs into his hand, has a six-pack or thereabouts, and Theo Mondragon looks pretty damn sculpted, Jade has to admit before looking away.
Of course they’d turn the memorial for their friend into another way to lord it over the common folk, remind them of the pecking order.
This slasher can’t come fast enough.
Jade starts to turn away, not be drawn into the practice run for this spectacle—thanks for the warning, Mr. Holmes— but then the speakers crackle. Jade stops, her hands clenching into fists, but she’s listening now.
Sorry, Mr. Holmes.
Jade looks back over her shoulder and the memorial slideshow’s still over, but now what Mars Baker and Lewellyn Singleton are playing on the inflatable screen is an actual recording of Deacon Samuels. A Skype session that
somebody apparently hit “record” on. Deacon Samuels has his golf cap pulled down low like the frat boy he must be, and he’s just lowering a disposable plastic cup but savoring whatever’s in it, meaning this is maybe the end of the day, except… is that trashy wood paneling behind him? Is that dim light hanging on a fake brass chain familiar?
Jade turns all the way around, steps closer to be sure, then nods.
Deacon Samuels is in a room of the Trail’s End Motel just off the highway, three hundred yards from where Jade’s standing right now. To be sure, she turns, uses a tree to help tippy-toe, and, yep, there’s that big dying Indian sign that’s supposed to lure travelers in and, in the same way you warn coyotes by hanging their dead brethren on the fence, keep Indians out.
He stays there, though?
“And I just had this long wonderful conversation with the gentleman who runs the gas station, I believe his name was… Lonnie, yes. Apparently his family has been here since before electricity, that’s the way he put it.”
Jade’s eyes skate over the water where the crowd will be bobbing on Saturday and she has to press her lips together, happy for Lonnie in his innertube, his name coming through the speakers. What Deacon Samuels isn’t saying anything about is Lonnie’s stutter, which would have made their conversation at the gas pumps… something a person on the cover of golfing magazine could be poking fun at. But he isn’t. He isn’t even mentioning it. And everybody watching this Saturday night is going to lift their beers to Lonnie, and there might even be a swell of applause for him, probably his first one ever.
“And then, do you know what he did?” Deacon Samuels says. “I’d forgotten the world could work like this, that it had ever been this small. He—he stepped out into the street and waved at someone having coffee at this perfect little diner,
Dot’s”—another round of applause here, surely—“and who he was calling over was a realtor, a Mrs. Christy.”
Misty Christy takes a bow here, from whatever float she’s on.
“And, and of course there’s plots of land available here, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is… it’s the clarity of the water, Theo. This isn’t like Boston Harbor. And, Lew, the air here, I think it’d be good for Lemmy. Mars, I know Macy likes to birdwatch, doesn’t she? And aren’t the girls on the swim team? And Galatea, Ross, there’s so much up here for her to photograph. But it’s not just what to do, you can do stuff anywhere, it’s… it’s like, do you remember that old movie The Land That Time Forgot? Theo, I know you do, I think you own it now. This is like an idyllic little part of the world that’s stayed safe and pristine, that hasn’t been touched. And, I don’t want to presume, but I think if we were to pool our resources and connections… Mars, this is more your domain, but we could—”
Jade’s face is slack now.
This is Deacon Samuels, out driving across America, and stumbling into Proofrock, and falling in love with it, and trying to… not to sell it to his friends, but to get them to see it as he does.
He’s a realtor, a salesman, Jade reminds herself. But still.
“How could we have said no?” another voice comes in now.
It’s Lewellyn Singleton, the banker. He’s stepping out from the mahogany locker he was sort of leaning against, and the camera’s close on him now. His hands are working the twisted ends of the towel slung across his neck.
“This place was and is everything Deacon said it was,” Lewellyn goes on, “and more. Yes, this high mountain air has done wonders for my son’s lung condition. Who’d have thought that a nineteenth- century cure would still work in the twenty-first century?” He smiles, shrugs. “But it’s been
good for me, too. I feel like I’ve finally found home, which I know has to sound like… most of you have been here your whole lives, it’s your home, we understand that. But”—he rolls his lips in, looks away like trying to keep his eyes busy
—“I don’t know how you define ‘home,’ that’s… I know interest rates and long-term this and that, it doesn’t matter. My little dog of fourteen years, though, Princess Leia, we brought her with us last time we were here, and—and now she’s buried over here in Terra Nova. That’s how I define it, that’s how I define ‘home.’ ”
He shrugs, steps back, and Jade’s arms are crossed now.
Because she’s trying to resist this.
“Hi,” Ross Pangborne says, raising his hand and stepping forward, then evidently taking direction from whoever’s behind the camera. He steps over, more into the center of the frame, waves all over again. “First, let me say that I’m not reading any of your direct messages,” he says with a guilty smile, referencing a recent privacy scandal his social media empire just went through. Jade can’t help it, has to smile with him here. He’s so awkward, so vulnerable, so not the raging, power-mad tycoon. “Second, and much more important, I want to thank you for welcoming us not just into your beautiful town, but your lives. And I want to personally apologize for the—the process of building across the lake, here, which is leaving industrial scars, I know. But we want you all to know, and this is a promise, there’s going to be a park there next summer, and it will be fully accessible, and the—the county won’t have to support it. That’s going to be our job. You’ll see one of us out there every weekend, collecting any gum wrappers, any soda bottles. That’s our guarantee. Thank you.”
Jade shakes her head no, this isn’t happening, this can’t be happening.
Mr. Holmes was right. He has to be. The Founders are evil, they’re capitalism in human form, they’re only in Proofrock
because mountain towns are in style for their tax bracket this year.
“And don’t worry, I’ll make sure that’s all legal and proper,” Mars Baker says with a smile he can’t quite swallow. This is the point in their pre-movie show where everybody in the water laughs, Jade knows: the high-dollar lawyer reminding them that he can get down and dirty with a contract. “But seriously,” he says, already making his closing argument, “I know you can’t see it yet, but we’ve told the teams putting our homes together that they’re not to cut down even one single tree. And we’re not allowing any fences over here, either. To us, this is still going to be national forest land, and before that, the traditional homeland of the Shoshone, a fact we should all keep in mind. Ownership in these mountains is a recent concept. The one we prefer is stewardship. When the deer come in and nibble Macy’s garden down to nubs, then, well, we’ll just come over to Dot’s, order a salad, right, Ms. Dorothy?” Then Mars Baker steps closer, says behind his hand, “But don’t tell Macy, her squash and black-eyed peas are already all she talks about…”
Jade looks up into the sky, reminds herself that Macy Todd killed a boyfriend in a hotel once upon a time, and then rented two days’ worth of movies.
While she’s staring up, Theo takes the stage. She can tell from the silence. The media mogul knows how to work a camera.
“As many of you know, my daughter will forever be a graduate of Henderson High, class of 2015!” He pumps his fist and then holds it there, like congratulating Letha. Like congratulating all of them. Then he opens that hand, massages Lewellyn Singleton’s shoulder, his eyes still staring right into the soul of the crowd. “And I don’t know what I can add that these fine gentlemen”—Ross Pangborne pushes him, as if “gentlemen” is an insult, a joke, but the effect is that they’re just boys in a locker room. That they’re
just like everyone bobbing in the water, soaking all of this in
—“that they haven’t already said, and said so much better than I ever could. We do, we love it here. This isn’t a refuge from the modern world, we wouldn’t use your town, your lake, your valley like that. This is a place we want to put down roots, a place we want to watch our children grow, and their children’s children. But shh, shh, we don’t want to tell anybody else about it either.” Laughter here, Jade knows. She knows because she almost burped a laugh up herself. “Where else in all of America can a town come together to float in the water and watch a movie about people in the water!” Theo says, louder now, and Lewellyn swims a rubber shark in behind him, Theo unaware of it. “And yes, a hundred times over, we miss our friend Deacon.” The shark lowers. Theo’s face lowers. “He was the best of us. He was the one who found this place. He’s the one who should be here saying all this to you.”
The mahogany locker room of Founders dissolves then, replaced by… shit.
It’s the snapshots Deacon Samuels took of Indian Lake and Proofrock, the first time he swung through. In some of them he’s running to try to be in the shot, but he never quite makes it, and that makes it approximately one thousand times more endearing.
Finally it holds on a selfie he took, him and Lonnie at the gas pumps, Lonnie’s lips pressed tight together like he always does because he doesn’t want to stutter, Deacon Samuels smiling full-on into the camera, his sunglasses in his right hand, his eyes crinkling into crow’s feet from all his hours spent on the links.
When that image is finally burned in, faded away, Theo Mondragon is there in that mahogany locker room again, Lewellyn Singleton and Ross Pangborne and Mars Baker all crowded in like groomsmen. Theo Mondragon takes a sip from his plastic water bottle, looks camera right, then leans in, says, “But we’ve got to be part of the community, we
want to be part of the community here. Ross, weren’t you saying that? We can’t just invade the place, we’ve got to… we should prove ourselves to them somehow, don’t you think? That we’re committed, involved?”
It’s obviously scripted, and Jade’s pretty sure Theo Mondragon is being a worse actor than he really is, which takes some real acting chops, but still, it works.
“And, just so you know,” Theo says, “this wasn’t our idea. This is all Deke—Deacon, I mean. He didn’t want to be a siphon on the community, but a reservoir the community could draw from.”
“He wanted to pay back into this place,” Lewellyn Singleton, the banker, says.
“His testimony about Proofrock sealed the deal,” Mars Baker, the lawyer, says.
“He clicked ‘like’ on every person here,” Ross Pangborne adds with a smile.
The four of them lift their water bottles in toast, and, come Saturday night, all the beer cans come up in response, Jade knows.
“In the spirit of that,” Theo says, “we propose a standing offer to every graduate of Henderson High starting next year.” He looks around solemnly to the other three Founders, as if confirming this crazy idea. When there’s no takebacks, he looks back into the camera, says, “We propose to establish a scholarship fund that will pay for four years of college at any state university.”
“To every graduate!” Mars Baker adds.
“Just state?” Ross Pangborne says to all of them, the most scripted line so far, and Pangborne oversells it by a mile, but this is the “all in good fun” part of the programming.
“Wherever they want to go!” Lewellyn Singleton adds, like what the hell.
“The Deacon and Ladybird Samuels Memorial Scholarship Fund,” Theo says as farewell, and, because they can’t take it any higher after that, that’s when the Founders freeze-
frame, arms over shoulders, smiling lopsided smiles, fizzing black and white, and THE DEACON AND LADYBIRD SAMUELS MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP FUND burns in over them in a tasteful, dignified font.
This is how you buy a town in the mountains.
It’s gonna be a drunk night, Jade can already tell. More than usual. All those college funds will be getting turned into boats, into trucks, into vacations. Jade hates it, but, standing alone at the front edge of the trees, she has to blink away tears herself, even. Not of happiness, but of having been born too late: this starts with the class of 2016, not her and Letha’s class.
Jade laughs a sick laugh and shakes her head in disgust, trying hard to be bitter against all the Hawks just a year behind her, who now have access to the world. But some of that disgust is also for herself: this was so much easier when she could hate all of these Founders righteously, like Mr. Holmes. Now it’s… it’s complicated. It’s bullshit.
Worse, what she has to take into account now—to use a Lewellyn Singleton banking term—is that one of these rich goofballs is the slasher? In theory, it’s great, it’s ironclad. Of course it’s one of them. In practice, though, after having actually seen them, heard them… no way could it be Ross, and not Lewellyn either. They could no more lop a head off than Bill Gates could. Any violence they do, it’s with keystrokes. It still could possibly be Mars, she supposes, but that’s just because he’s a lawyer, has to have a black heart, a hidden agenda, and the ability to think fourteen steps ahead. And the only reason Theo Mondragon would still be in the mix is that he makes the cycle so neat, so contained, so elegant—all in the family.
She’ll just have to go over there, see. And if it’s not Theo Mondragon? Then… Rexall? Except he’s always fourteen steps behind. It could always be Hardy and Holmes tag-teaming it Billy and Stu–style, she supposes. Or even her dad, out killing between beers, and then popping a beer to
celebrate each death, and then probably sneaking a nip or two in the act-of. And of course there’s always Deacon Samuels. He was collected in bags, right? Meaning he was mostly identifiable by his golf clubs, so, if he could stage a body double for that bear, maybe to avoid the SEC or something, he could still be out there, could be the one doing all this.
The suck-thing about all this, of course, is that if Jade’s wrong about the Founders, then who else is she wrong about? It’s like on cop shows: when the prosecutor turns out to have been bad, then all the people they sent up get released. Is Jade that prosecutor now? Does her mom deserve a second chance? Her father? Is she the one with Michael’s babysitter goggles, except, for her, “babysitter” is all adults, and since she doesn’t have a machete in her hands, she uses her tongue, her accusations, her suspicions?
“But I do have a machete,” Jade hisses, and thunks it hard
into the tree beside her, which makes her general area go halogen-white. She threads her sticky bangs out of her eyes to study the top of the tree, see if this is actually a streetlight. When it’s not, she leaves her hand as visor, and peers around to the dummy light pinning her in place.
Hardy. Of course. In his Bronco.
She’s running before she even tells her legs about it, the machete still in her hand, the blade in the tree nearly pulling her shoulder out of its socket, both her boots actually airborne for a moment, like the cartoon she doesn’t want to be.
“Jade, wait!” Hardy calls through his speaker, but Jade can’t.
She falls ahead, the machete tearing away from the tree with a distinct horror-movie sound, and it’s all downhill from there. The slope to Indian Lake lets her be faster than she is, faster than her own thoughts: What’s she going to do, swan dive off the pier, swim to Camp Blood? Ask Letha for asylum
on the Umiak? Hope Hardy gives up, which is exactly what cops do when perps holding deadly weapons run?
More important, why is she even running? It’s Hardy, isn’t it?
Shit. Shit shit shit.
She wants this to be Scream so was trying to pair him up with Mr. Holmes, but the feeling she can’t shake is his voice coming out of the darkness outside the library the other night. His shape walking in from Melanie’s bench, sparks trailing from his hand, Clate Rodgers a red smear on the surface of the lake. And he does have that backstory with his daughter dying probably fifty yards from where they are right now, and with someone Jade’s dad used to drink with, and he does have a brush with Stacey Graves, he did grow up with his aunt telling him that rhyme, he did find Deacon Samuels, he did set a fire that killed his own uncle or whatever, and with that airboat, he can skid up onto shore wherever he wants, be gone in an instant. Or, if you’re out on the water, he can be right there beside you before you know it, hardly even dragging a wake, his big fan turned off a hundred yards back, so he just coasts in, the only sound the soft whop-whop-whop of his blades spinning down.
On the other hand, he did save Jade when she was bleeding out, and he did get her the custodian gig after freshman year, and he does run her dad in whenever he can
—could the enemy of Jade’s enemy even be a slasher?
Jade doesn’t know, but what she does know is she can’t stop running. The slope’s got her now. All she can do is… is sling the machete as far out into the water as she can, dispose of that evidence, not give him a reason to take her in. Never mind that there’s nowhere to go after she does, nothing to do, no way to hide.
Halfway up the pier she catches on that Letha’s leaning over the rail, is watching this hopeless little effort.
Jade changes her grip on the machete so slightly, but it makes all the difference.
“Letha!” Jade yells up to her, and Letha cocks those bug-eyed shades up on her forehead, which is all the invitation Jade needs. She stops hard, her combat boots finding traction for once, and turns all that momentum into one desperate throw.
The machete goes twirling up into the night, Mars Baker turning around to track it, Hardy’s tires screeching, all of Jade’s hopes and prayers in that spinning blade, now.
It climbs, it climbs, and, just when it should be lodging in Letha’s chest, instead her hand stabs out as only a final girl’s can, and catches that machete by the handle as perfect as anything, so perfect that Jade hardly even feels it when Hardy tackles her.
So for a slightly late Christmas present, sir, please accept this gift of a last ingredient of the slasher, whose season will be upon us again soon in only 10 short months, by which time you’ll be having to get your slasher information from some other horror fan, since this girl will be graduated and GONE.
And you would never guess it in a 100 years unless maybe you were Clear Rivers from the Final Destinations, but this ingredient is tied to the incident in
the cafeteria just before winter break. But in my defense though Manx wouldn’t believe it, I really was projectile puking from sudden onset sickness. This wasn’t my attempt to spit pea soup like Regan in The Exorcist. And also it wasn’t a
prank, sir. I think if anyone else had been sick then the cafeteria monitor would have made tracks to get that student to the nurse’s office instead of sending her to the principal’s office based on only past History of trying to make high school a fun or just less terrible experience. But that was last year as they say. Well, as everybody says except Billy Loomis, or in 1958, Pamela Voorhees.
You’ll also have to start getting excellent jokes from somewhere else, sir, sorry about that.
But, since we’re already talking puking, that’s what final girls are all better than me at not doing in the Third Reel Bodydump. There aren’t autopsies to
prove this but I think final girls must have an extra valve in their esophagus that keeps them from upchuck city, sir. How else to explain them not losing their lunch when, about 2/3rd’s or even 3/4th’s through the slasher movie they’re in, suddenly they stumble upon the dead and necrogymnastic bodies of their friends and families? Think Laurie Strode in Halloween for example, finding so many of her friends surprisingly dead and suspiciously posed in that bedroom
across the street, which would become the basic model to repeat not just for the Golden Age, but all the way to now, sir, which I won’t walk you all the way
through since you always mark all of them out as extra like that swimming pool of bodies in House on Sorority Row, which I’m not even mentioning. This Third Reel Bodydump though is a most important part of the final girl’s development.
Or instead, being faced with all this definite PROOF of what terror she’s up
against is carving away of the rules of her once sane world. It pushes her over
the edge, and when she climbs back up again, she’s different and more dangerous.
The question that’s never answered here though is why the slasher DOES this, which I’m sure you’re right now asking out loud at your desk. Well, WHY he does and HOW he learns all these knot tying and spring loading bodies from ceilings tricks, but if you start thinking like that then Michael Myers would never have learned to drive the car he steals to get back to Haddonfield, and nobody wants to have to think like that, sir. Especially not Yours Untruly.
But there is a reason the slasher does this kindness, sir, but since I’m nearly at my 2 page limit here I’ll save that for a My Bloody Valentine to you, I think. But don’t feel cheated either. Really, I’ve put my own beating heart into every one of these already.