In A Nightmare on Elm Street, after Rod’s been jammed up for Tina’s murder, he doesn’t know not to fall asleep. So, when he does, Freddy’s able to twist a sheet into a noose and hang him, make it look like a suicide, which is pretty much an admission of guilt as far as the cops and parents are concerned.
Nancy knows better. So does Jade.
All night in her cell, each time her head started to nod forward into sleep, she’d jerk awake, check the bars and cinderblocks for a hidden face, watch the drain in the middle of the floor for bladetips reaching up. And it’s not just Freddy to watch for in a place like this. Wishmaster could step into the passage between the two cells, use his drug dealer voice to ask her if she’d like to walk through these solid bars to freedom, and if Jade was tired enough, she might not remember to word this wish with utmost care, and end up being pulled like taffy through the steel bars.
No thank you.
It’s so hard to stay awake without a phone, though. Without a spear to stab trash with. Without Holmes sad-ranting about Terra Nova. Without a videotape playing. Without Fugazi leaking into her ears. Without Letha screaming to fill the night.
It had been glorious, though, hadn’t it? And—the way she stabbed her hand up, plucked that machete down from the heavens by the handle. If she’s not a final girl, then there never was a final girl, and Jade’s wrong about everything.
But no way is she wrong.
Jade stands, paces the meager length her cell affords, tries to grim her eyes down like a real convict but it’s hard to maintain while doing the pee-pee dance. There are no facilities in the two cells, just a chamberpot from, she’s guessing, 1899. Henderson and Golding themselves probably took turns pissing into it.
So far, Jade’s been granted access to the ladies’ room up front. But that was only one trip, and that was a lunch tray ago, which included two boxes of apple juice.
More pressing, if it’s halfway through Thursday afternoon
—and she’s pretty sure it is—then that means the massacre is seriously looming.
“Sheriff!” Jade yells, and it’s like she’s yelling into a megaphone while also being in that same megaphone. Before the first call’s even echoed away, she’s saying it again, and again, louder and louder, until a key announces itself in the lock, giving her a chance to stop before the door opens.
Hardy saunters in, one side of his face printed with the ghost of a backwards “4”: he was asleep on his desk calendar.
“I’m thinking you need to charge me or let me go,” Jade informs him, digging hard in her Law & Order dictionary.
Hardy breathes in deep, lets it out slow.
“How was the bologna?” he asks, then before Jade can get a comeback together, he’s already following up: “There’s an old song by Tom T. Hall about getting hot bologna every day of his stay here in the greybar hotel.” Hardy pats the cinderblock up high as if confirming its solidity. “He comes to like it.”
“What am I being charged with?” Jade asks, trying to lock him in her glare.
Hardy chuckles, strings his keys out from his belt, hauls Jade’s door open, grandly presenting the outer world to her.
Jade steps through, not trusting this even a little.
Hardy rubs his mouth so he can smile behind his hand.
“This is for your own good,” he finally says. “Being locked up?”
“Your dad let me see your bedroom.” “What? He let you in the house?”
“Why wouldn’t he? But it’s official now, Jade, sorry. You’re a runaway.”
“I’m almost eighteen.”
“Which means… let me do the math here, let me do the… does that mean you’re still seventeen, and subject to a whole different set of laws?”
“I’m not running away,” Jade tells him.
“To say nothing of your attempt on Letha Mondragon’s life,” Hardy goes on, moseying ahead of her to the front office.
“I was giving her something, not trying to hurt her,” Jade grumbles.
“And if she hadn’t caught that something?” “I knew she would.”
“More like you’re lucky she did,” Hardy says, presenting the hall to her.
“Bathroom?” Jade has to ask as it’s sliding by. “In a moment,” Hardy tells her.
“Cruel and unusual,” Jade says.
“Shit, don’t get me started,” Hardy says back with a chuckle, offering her the perp chair on the other side of his desk and not taking a seat himself until Jade settles in. Her phone is plugged in on the edge of his desk, is pretty much the only thing she can see anymore.
“I really do need to pee,” she says.
“If you’d just used the thunder pot in there, we could avoid these little discussions,” Hardy says, taking a fancy silver pen up from its holder, rolling it across the back of his knuckles. “But—kids these days, right? I mean that too, kids. You are still seventeen, little miss. And you were running away. I found your bags back in the trees. Much as this might seem personal, I do have a duty here.”
“Then this isn’t about… about anything I might have seen the other night?” Jade asks, careful with her phrasing.
Hardy creaks back in his chair, studying the much-studied ceiling, it looks like.
“And what do you think you might have seen?” he says. “You want, I can get my recorder from Meg, you can give a statement. Or, no—you can get it. Know right where it is, don’t you?”
He angles his face down to hers, rubs his lips hard against each other like he just glossed them, is trying to spread it around, get it worked in proper.
“Nothing,” Jade finally says. “Didn’t see a thing, Sheriff.”
She’s not sure whether she hopes that’s the exact wording thirteen-year-old Clate Rodgers used once upon a time, or if lucking into that would be the worst possible mistake.
“Seen more deaths here in the last couple weeks than in the forty years previous,” Hardy says, leaning forward now, his elbows finding the desk. “Then I find the local horror fan running around at night with a machete that’s got a name scratched into the blade?”
“Jamie Lee Curtis.”
“Blue Steel, yeah. Don’t think Bogey’s in that one.” Jade takes this, tries not to let it show.
“She’s kind of a final girl in that one too, you know?” she says, trying to keep it casual now. Just talking movies, not passing index card after index card of subtext back and forth, because pretty soon one of those index cards is going to have something to do with what she said to him the other day, about Melanie.
Hardy just watches her, probably waiting to see if she’s going to go on about JLC being forever the final girl.
That would be too easy, though. And she’s still got to pee. “So that’s what you’re jamming me up for?” Jade says
instead. “A weapon? Thought I was running away.”
“Not supposed to run with scissors,” Hardy says. “Think that goes double for machetes, don’t you?”
“You’ll be glad I gave it to her.”
“Because of… what were you saying?” Hardy asks back with a patronizing shrug. “Bear sketched it out for me a bit, yeah? Something about… Scooby-Doo?”
“It’s a Scooby-Doo build,” Jade spits back, disgusted. “Someone in a mask. Probably her dad, okay?”
“Her being—” “Letha.”
“ ‘Saturday,’ ” Hardy says, holding Jade’s eyes.
Jade spins away, stares out across the lake. Mr. Holmes is bucking the wind in his ultralight. “This is where I’m probably supposed to tell you to close the beaches,” she says.
“That’s from Jaws.”
“There’s gonna be kids in the water, I mean,” Jade goes on.
“They see worse on their videogames.” “You know what I mean.”
“That they’re in danger.”
Jade comes back around to him about this but Hardy’s already staring into her soul.
“Bear also took me through what he says is probably your reasoning for… for Saturday.”
For the first time, Jade really hears that: “Bear.”
A bear was supposed to have killed Deacon Samuels.
“I know this is all very real to you,” Hardy says, standing, taking a step over to the window, to what she guesses is his usual place, like he’s standing sentry over all of Fremont County.
“It’s bigger than me,” Jade says. “There’s… those two kids in March—”
“Of which kids we have to take your word about the second.”
“There’s Deacon Samuels.”
“Animal attack.” “Clate Rodgers.”
“ ‘Boating accident,’” Jade repeats before she can stop herself.
Does Hardy’s back straighten a little, though? Has he drawn some breath in that he’s not releasing?
“But he had it coming,” Jade fumbles in, standing now as well. “He’s probably not even part of the cycle, actually. Just an add-on.”
“That a thing?” Hardy says without looking around. “Add-ons?”
“The slasher gets blamed for all of them, yeah,” Jade says. “Winners write the history books, and the slasher’s never the winner.”
“Doesn’t do much writing,” Hardy adds.
“Signs all his kills in blood,” Jade says right back.
Far out over the lake, Mr. Holmes’s ultralight is nearly skimming the water now.
“That’s how he gets out of the wind,” Hardy says, chucking his chin to Mr. Holmes. “Wonder if the fish think his shadow is the mother of all eagles, that him swooping down like that is the end of the world?”
He turns to her then, his face easy, says, “Somebody threw a trashcan through the front door of the high school, hear about that?”
“School’s out for summer,” Jade singsongs.
“Thing is,” Hardy adds, “all the glass is out on the sidewalk. Not in by the trophy case.”
“Not my concern,” Jade says. “I’m not the custodian anymore.”
“Just saying,” Hardy says.
“Just listening,” Jade says. “Not that I know why.” Hardy shakes his head, impressed it seems.
“Your dad started out just like this, once upon a bad afternoon,” he says. “Sitting right in that chair when he was
eighteen. I told him he could either—” “I’m not my father,” Jade cuts in.
“You don’t have to be, no,” Hardy tells her. “You should have seen him when he was a yardegg, though. Always underfoot. Everybody wanted him to play cowboys and Indians with, you know that?”
Jade’s just staring out through the window, trying not to move even one single muscle on her face. On her whole body.
“Because he already was the skin,” she finally says, obviously.
“Because he was always carrying a shiner, a busted lip,” Hardy says back—where he was leading her. “Thing is, it would look like the cowboys had beaten him up.”
“I supposed to care about this trip down memory lane?”
“Just saying,” Hardy says. “I told him before you were born, I told him he lays one hand on you, just passing down what he’d got, that I’d be all over his ass.”
Jade swallows, blinks, says, “I see Letha got to you too.
Good to know.” “I—”
“He’s never hit me,” Jade says, “you saved me, Sheriff, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Hardy just stands there, lets Jade stew in her own juices.
“So when’s dinner around here?” she finally has to say just to move them ahead, out of this hole she’s dug. “And what is it? More of that hot bologna?”
Hardy doesn’t answer, is tracking Mr. Holmes now, it feels like. He’s buzzing Terra Nova. Just a small angry fly, banking high against a gust only he can feel.
“They hate it when he does that,” Hardy says, tossing his chin across the water. “Just wait, my phone’s about to ring.”
“And he hates them right back,” Jade says. “All balances out, doesn’t it?”
Hardy plunks down heavy in his seat, creaks it back again, regards Jade over his steepled fingers.
“So you hoping you’re right about all this, and a lot of people die, or is it better if you’re wrong?” he asks.
“People are already dying,” Jade tells him. “Doesn’t matter what I do and don’t hope. I’m not part of it, am just, like, calling it.”
“Good answer, good answer,” Hardy tells her. “But here’s mine. I’m concerned that if you’re not locked up in back, here, then you find a way to ruin Saturday for everybody. Or at least for me and my deputies.”
“Sheriff, you can’t—”
“I know, I know, charge you or set you free. Turn you over to Child Protective Services or… or don’t. But I’ve got forty-eight hours to decide, too, don’t I? Don’t answer that. I do have forty-eight hours where I can know exactly where you are the whole time. And, the way I tally that up, that clock started last night on the pier. So your forty-eight hours will be up about ten o’clock Friday night, which’ll be well after working hours. Meaning you spend the weekend here, Jade. You miss all the festivities. Sorry.”
“This is bullshit.” “Sir?”
“This is bullshit, sir. You can’t—”
“You’re right, you’re right,” Hardy says. “Your mom or dad comes down, sits where you are right now and pleads your case, I’ll probably have to listen, won’t I?”
Jade just stares out across the lake.
Mr. Holmes is barreling back to Proofrock now, is like a bobsled racer in the air, scraping down some frictionless channel, rocking back and forth from side to side, goggled eyes fixed on home.
“If I was eighteen—” she says, not sure where to go with that.
“This is for your own good,” Hardy tells her. “And for the good of the town.”
“I’m not the killer here, Sheriff. I’m no slasher.”
“But you do want him to ruin the big party, don’t you?”
Jade tries her best to make her eyes go dull, film over. It’s the only armor she has.
“Do I get a phone call at least?” she asks, starting to reach for her phone, but then something keeps her fixed on the… lake?
Growing up, staring out over the water, what she’d always imagined was some monster of a fish spurting up through the glistening surface, snatching a bird or three, then splashing back down. Anything to break the boredom.
Not this, though.
“Sheriff!” Jade doesn’t just say, but shrieks, just like the stupidest most bouncy cheerleader.
Hardy stands fast, his chair crashing back behind him, and he’s fast enough to see the very end of it: Mr. Holmes’s ultralight, not skimming the lake anymore, but skipping on it. Once, twice, and on the third time it sticks, Mr. Holmes’s small body crashing through one purple wing and floating through the air, floating, then cartwheeling across the hard-hard water.
Hardy’s gone faster than a sixty-one-year-old man should be able to be gone, actual papers drifting in the air behind him. Because that’s the last member of his old pirate band out there sinking in the lake, Jade knows.
“Go, sir,” she says, quietly pocketing her phone and the charger then touching the glass of the window with her fingertips, which is her version of a prayer for Mr. Holmes: the longer she keeps her fingers there and perfectly still, the better chance he has.
By degrees, then, she realizes she’s… alone? unmonitored?
She turns in wonder and Meg’s standing in the door, waiting to be seen.
“I’m to deposit you back in 1A,” she informs Jade. “But Mr. Holmes—”
“The sheriff is on it, dear.” “I can’t—”
“You have to, I’m sorry.”
Jade shakes her head in disappointment, regret, and sneaks one last look out the window on her way out of the office, for Hardy’s airboat, the throttle pulled back to 11.
“Can we just wait and see if he—?”
“I have to call emergency services, I have to call—”
“Okay, okay,” Jade says, and slips past Meg into the hall.
“We all told him to be careful in that death machine,” Meg says behind Jade, as if she’s talking to herself, is actually flustered for once. In the front office, at least two phones are ringing, meaning Jade wasn’t the only one to witness the crash.
“Oh, oh,” Jade says. “The sheriff—I have to pee, and I can’t, not in that—Sheriff said I could use this one again.”
“I don’t have time for this, Jennifer.” “Please.”
“You can hold it.”
“I’ve been holding it.” “Just—”
“Could you, in that thing?”
“Fine,” Meg says, and holds the door to the bathroom open.
Jade steps in, Meg of course not letting the door shut, and Jade makes a production of the complicated mechanics of her coveralls, pretty certain Meg is fully aware of what she said last week, about the window in this bathroom being rusted open.
But then the cowbell above the front door jangles and Lonnie’s trying to get his words out, is trying to tell someone, anyone, what he just saw out on the water, but he keeps sticking, can’t get it all the way out, and—
Jade pulls the stall door closed, loudly runs the slide bolt home, and then every iota of her awareness is focused on the line of shadow she can see through the crack of space between the stall door and the stall. That line is the leading
edge of the door Meg is holding open. And the sound is her toe tapping.
Both fade, the tapping first, turning into quick footsteps, then the shadow, slowly blurring as the door sighs in, so she can hustle up front, talk Lonnie down.
Jade zips up much faster than she unzipped, steps out, and is up and through the window before Meg’s even told Lonnie that the sheriff’s on it, that this is being handled, thank you.
It’s trees and trees behind the sheriff’s office.
Jade crashes through them holding her arms in front of her face, and wonders if that’s another part of why slashers are so into masks: to avoid scratches. Five minutes later, when she can’t hold it anymore, she has to step behind a tree, pop a squat. Because she wasn’t lying about needing to pee in the worst way.
Five minutes after that she’s standing on the shore over by Banner Tompkins’s, her right hand opening and closing. All the boats that could scramble are out on the lake where Mr. Holmes went down, meaning… meaning what? Why do they still need to be out there? Jade’s heart sinks, then rises back into her throat, her eyebrows doing that stupid V thing she hates.
“No,” she says, a hundred seventh periods reeling through her head, “not him too, please, he’s not part of it,” and then claps her hand over her mouth when, just to make the nightmare complete, there’s a mewling sort of animalish creak over to her right, on shore.
Slowly, still holding her hand over her mouth, she cranks her head over.
Jade can’t breathe anymore, maybe can’t breathe ever again.
It’s a shadow on four legs, tumbling after a shopping bag, a small shadow, a—
Not a dog, not a cat.
Jade feels a smile spread across her face by degrees: it’s a bear cub.
It’s just playing.
Jade shakes her head, impressed with the world for knowing just how to give her a heart attack.
When the shopping bag snags on something in the gravel, the bear cub’s moving too fast, slides past, reaching back to try to bite it, its effort the cutest thing ever, pretty much. Even to a horror chick.
“Go,” Jade says to the little bear. “Go find your mom, snuggle up close. There’s a scary bear out there somewhere, the kind that eats little guys like you.”
The bear cub stills, having heard her voice, Jade guesses, and she starts to step out past the trees, maybe snap a picture of this, but then she stops herself.
She’s a fugitive now, isn’t she?
She steps back into the deeper shadows, feeling for dry branches before giving her foot any real weight.
She still has a good line on the lake, though. On the part of the lake she needs to be watching. One of the boats’ lights are just coming on, in anticipation of dusk, and Jade shakes her head no, runs through Idaho state history dates in her head, on the idea they can somehow help Mr. Holmes: Nez Perce in the north, Shoshone in the south; Lewis and Clark, 1805; Oregon Trail, 1846 through 1969—no, 1869, shit; gold in the hills, 1860s; Henderson-Golding, 1869; Chief Joseph, 1877; becomes a state in 1890.
“I know them all, sir,” she whispers.
The lights out there just keep on, though, and none of the boats are buzzing back to Proofrock yet, and that can’t be good, can it? Keeping to the trees and watching for baby bears—for anything, anyone—Jade slips through town, her lips pressed together in an attempt to keep her eyes from crying for Mr. Holmes.
Stupid idiot, she tells herself. Senior citizen high school
teacher flying a sky go-cart just so he can smoke cigarettes
his wife won’t know about? What the hell did he expect? Except she already knows the answer to that: to get away. And, yes, okay already, she does it with slashers a little just the same, so what. And for Hardy an airboat is what he uses to get away, isn’t it?
Before she can stop herself, then, she’s answering for her dad, too: beer, and reliving high school. For her mom, though? What does her mom use to check out?
“Dollar store customers,” Jade mumbles, trying for a smart-ass grin but probably easing more into the “constipated grimace” category.
She hates herself more than a little for giving that voice, and slips through the staging area’s fence for a third time. There’s bodies lumbering back and forth, calling orders and stacking things, rounding out the day’s work, but they’re on the other side of the lot, the active side. Over here on the dead side, Jade’s alone.
She chooses the least-used storage shed, the one with pallets teetering in front of the door so she has to slide sideways to get in, and with her phone light she inspects her new home. It’s just junk sheathed in cobwebs. But some of the junk has a crackly-stiff tarp over it, who knows why. Jade peels the tarp, folds it into a sleeping pad of sorts, and nestles into it, not letting herself sniffle, not letting herself think of the way Mr. Holmes would look up when she was late again, and then pretend to count her tardy. Except those tardies never quite added up to detention, did they?
But at least there’s no windows in here. And, really? It’s a shed, sure, but that’s a skip and jump from a shack in the woods. All she needs now is Pamela Voorhees’ head in a tableau of flickering candles on an upturned spool. Or, you know: her father’s. If you’re gonna dream, right?
Anyway, at least now she knows Mr. Holmes wasn’t working with Hardy to drive the Terra Novans away. He had the hatred, though, didn’t he? He needed the revenge, had
the investment in the community, and there’s probably some personal history Jade can’t even guess at.
“Unless I was right all along,” Jade says to herself, sitting up in the darkness. Maybe Mr. Holmes’s plane wreck was staged, is supposed to remove him from suspicion. Maybe this is just another cog of their plan, part of the setup for Saturday’s Grand Guignol, Proofrock’s version of Demons.
“You wish,” Jade says into the tarp.
Except it might explain why Hardy let her keep the sandwiches in her cargo pockets, that are pretty well flattened in their baggies now: because he knew she was going to run, and figured she might need some calories to get her through to Saturday’s big party in the water. Because… because he needs her there? They both do? To, what, frame her?
Jade has to call bullshit on that.
Though, at the same time, was it really any accident that she got that pink phone right when it could convince her all of this was real? And, aside from her, who else in Proofrock would know the slasher any better than Mr. Holmes, who took Letha’s final girl crash course over the last four years?
Jade doesn’t know which version of Mr. Holmes she wants to believe in, the one who died out on the water, or the one with a score to settle, and a blade to settle it with. And… and she doesn’t even know what color this tarp is, does she? It can’t be “dust-colored,” even though that’s what it keeps sighing up, coating her with.
She zones out not by listing giallos in her head like usual but by pretending she can hear the kids playing on the park that’s going to be here someday. By imagining what it would have been like to have had a park like this when she was young enough for it to matter. But she would have still ended up sitting alone in a swing at three in the morning, smoking a cigarette, wouldn’t she have?
“Run, little bear,” she says again, into the dusty crunchiness of the tarp.
She wakes with the shift change at four in the morning but nobody opens the door to toss any cutters or pry rods in on top of her, and nobody needs the tarp to cover the equipment, and Shooting Glasses’s radar doesn’t lead him to her a second time. She’s not sure what exactly she’d say to him if he did open the door, though. Probably bluster and lie, hide that she’s homeless now—homeless, jobless, and escaped from jail, sort of.
Before dawn—“Just before dawn,” she tells herself, patting herself for that tape, which is also still there—Jade is gnawing on the second sandwich (either the first was appetizer or this one’s dessert) and moving through the dark trees for the dam, to tightrope across one more time. If she’d thought ahead she’d have a pair of binoculars and more cigarettes. If she’d thought even more ahead she would have just braved the dark, bunked in Camp Blood with the rest of the ghosts, and her stolen axe. Then she’d already be most of the way over to Terra Nova. Not that there would have been any electrical sockets to charge a phone with at the abandoned camp. Not that there were in the shed, either.
That’s got to be the first thing at Terra Nova, then. Sneak in, find an unmonitored plug to juice back up, then scope the place out, get a line on Theo Mondragon.
Is she just stacking tasks in front of actually having to find him out, though?
Her big fear is that once she settles in to watch for the day, it’s just going to be business as usual: yacht people doing yacht things, construction grunts grunting over construction, nature blasting out serene and pristine all around, Theo Mondragon walking the deck or the dock, having important phone conversations.
If so, then… what? Who’s left that it could even be?
Jade walks and thinks, thinks and walks, and, even though there’s warning signs and the chance of being spotted, still, she hops up onto the concrete spine of the dam, to balance across. But not before sparking a cigarette up to keep her feet steady and sure. There’s no fence, no handrail, just nearly two hundred feet to plummet down on her left if she slips. And then about halfway across there’s the control booth to shimmy around.
At least having to be sure about each foot placement, having to track each trailing boot lace, it keeps her from dwelling too much on Mr. Holmes. She focuses hard on each next step, dials down and tries hard to think about what she’s not thinking about, as, in a slasher, that’s usually key.
What she comes up with is Cry_Wolf and All the Boys Love
Mandy Lane, which means admitting the worst of all possibilities: Letha herself. What if the final girl is finding all these bodies specifically because she knows where she’s left them? Would that not be the best cover? What if Letha fought tooth and nail not to move out to the sticks of Idaho, and blames everyone in Terra Nova for her losing her friends, her social life, her favorite boyfriend?
Jade would allow this… except for Letha herself. Letha who made a hard phone call to Hardy to try to save the horror chick, the sad girl, the—the Ragman of Indian Lake, yes. Trick or Treat, 1986, Alex. Ragman’s peers hate him, are always crapping on him, but so what, he’s got metal, faster harder thrashier, and he finally wishes hard enough that he gets the slasher he so thought he needed.
And it tries to kill him too. Figures.
But no, not Letha, not the final girl. There was a moment when the slasher was getting turned on its head like that, but that moment’s over and done with. And Letha is pure, anyway—too pure. She’s not going to be the so-called final girl Leslie Vernon’s dreaming about, swinging her own panties over her head. No, Letha’s bookish, she’s virginal or
close enough and she’s got the long limbs of a girl meant to run through the syrupy colors of a Dario Argento sequence. Only, where she’s running, it’s right through the Golden Age, what she’s vaulting over, it’s the Scream Boom of the late nineties, and where she’s coming down to make her stand, it’s here, it’s Proofrock.
She’s a killer, yes, but not until pushed. Not until having her good-girl veneer carved painfully away.
Jade pads up to the control booth window, can’t see through the dark glass, shimmies around anyway, and then hears the door shut behind her and has to run, run, no balance, all forward momentum, the sky all around her.
She crashes to her knees on the other side breathing hard but smiling big.
This is why she loves coming around the lake this way instead of walking two miles down for the bridge: it’s always a close call, is always the best rush.
And, where she’s landed, she’s pretty sure, is in the last act, the third-reel bodydump. Somewhere out there Letha’s probably screaming about a corpse unfolding from the ceiling, and another crammed into a cabinet.
It puts a pep in Jade’s step, just on the off-chance she can see that from far way.
She keeps to the top of the chalky bluff above Camp Blood
—no choice: it’s not like you can get to Camp Blood without looping around almost all the way to Terra Nova. Two or three minutes later she can see the yacht at its usual mooring, and then the Umiak in its shadow, no longer in floating impound. Since it’s the first boat anybody takes, Jade assumes the rest of the boats are in their garages, even though all the Founders are, for once, because one of their own fell, here.
The long flat barge the construction crew drinks their coffee on, crossing before sunup each morning, is already back at Proofrock, Jade imagines, taking up ten or twelve
berths, Terra Nova just renting out that whole quarter-mile of the shore.
And the houses over here, goddamn.
Somebody’s mixed some Miracle-Gro into those frames, those roofs, those driveways, all that landscaping. It reminds Jade more of a cartoon than a gated community: the outlines of the houses were there all along, all they needed was some great hand to tip a bag of ink over into the chimney, to let color leach down all the lines, find all the corners, fill in all the windows.
All ten are ready by August first, she has to imagine, and then realizes she’s just standing there skylining herself like an idiot, practically asking to be called out, asked what she’s doing over here.
Jade lowers herself slowly, tries to bore her eyes all the way across the lake to see if Hardy’s glassing for her, but Proofrock’s just shapes and shadows. Are students gathered at the flagpole in front of the high school already, for Mr. Holmes?
Jade closes her eyes, isn’t going to think about that.
“Not everybody gets to live,” she says to herself, confident that, at fifty yards, her whisper will dissipate before cranking anyone’s head around.
Not that there is anybody.
Does that mean… has the crew moved on to doing the interiors of the houses now? It makes sense the insides of the houses would be last on the to-do list. You don’t hang sheetrock until that sheetrock’s protected from the elements.
Still: no one?
Jade pats her pocket for the second sandwich she knows is just as gone as the first. It’s less actually looking for it, more showing the world that she’s hungry, that it can deliver her some nuggets or a burrito or fishsticks if it wants. She won’t tell anybody.
In lieu of food, she lights another cigarette, her fourth from last, and then smokes it lying on her back, waving the smoke to tatters, hoping none of the smell wisps down between the houses. But surely some of the crew burns em if they got em.
A harsh clack! rolls her over, gets her studying downhill again.
It could have come from anywhere. Shit.
Is this what a stakeout is? If so, isn’t there supposed to be coffee and pistachios? But it’s not like Jade can just stroll in and start asking questions, either.
She rests her chin on her crossed hands, situates her frontside against the dirt and grass, and tells herself stories about the houses, how they’re not mansions but cabins, how this is Packanack Lodge from Friday the 13th Part 2, just down from the original’s “Camp Blood,” ha.
She’s Jason, looking through the one eyehole of her pillowcase. Watching the skinny-dipping, seeing seductive shapes through the gauzy curtains. Half the counselors piling into a car and a truck to caravan down to the local honky-tonk, the other half either already dead or in the process-of.
Over here is where all the bodies are buried, right? Mr. Holmes was always telling them. Before there was a lake dividing one side of the valley from the other, people who caught a bullet to the gut or a pickaxe to the head would usually end up over here, stuffed into a seam, a crevice, a crack. Which would have worked fine if not for the buzzards. According to Mr. Holmes, when Henderson-Golding was booming, that was the sheriff’s main job: watch for buzzards.
Jade rolls over, cases the sky, the sun’s position, decides she must have either slept or got Fire in the Sky’d.
Probably noon already, or one, shit.
She’s like the police officer assigned to protect the final girl’s house: dozing off on the job. Then, Clack!
“What is The Nail Gun Massacre, Alex,” she mumbles. It’s where she knows that clack from.
Jade sits up and scooches forward, looking at Terra Nova all over again, this time with eyes pre-shaped for “nailgun.” What she sees instead pretty much stops her heart, and answers every one of her wishes.
It’s a tall male figure, moving like the Prowler from one nearly-complete house to the next one, never mind the daylight, or that it’s not 1981. At first Jade thinks he’s wearing a military helmet like the actual Prowler, or a motorcycle helmet covered in electric tape, like Bubba in Nail Gun, but it’s just… a black golf cap turned around backwards? Strapped down over that cap is a full-face gas mask with two stubby, close-to-the-face filters coming down, angled away from each other, giving his head a kind of oblong, giant-mouse shape.
“No,” Jade says, even shaking her head like to prove it.
Because this can’t be real and actual, can it? Can it?
He’s carrying that heavy nailgun as easily as a pistol, too. This is really happening. It’s really been happening.
“Makes sense, makes sense,” Jade tells herself about the nailgun, her voice jittery. In—in High Tension, the chase runs through some road construction, so they come out with a huge and just massively dangerous concrete saw, which spins so much faster than any chainsaw. It stands to reason that this Prowler down there would pick up whatever’s handy. Well, handy and deadly. But it’s all deadly in the wrong hands, with the right intent.
Jade should be happy, too, she knows. This is proof, this is what she’s always wanted. She fumbles her phone up to take a snapshot for Hardy, but by the time she gets her phone up from her coveralls’ complicated pocket, Terra Nova’s still again, exactly like this Prowler had been a figment of her overactive, blood-soaked wishful thinking.
If she’d been making him up, though, then, first, he’d have had motorcycle boots on, most likely—those ratchet-buckles are so cool, so metal—and, second, there’d be a reason for the gas mask past just its essential scariness. In My Bloody Valentine, the gas mask is because this is a mining operation, and in the actual Prowler, the sheriff with the covered face is supposed to be a soldier who had probably had to deal with mustard gas on the battlefield or something.
Jade takes the best scent reading she can, identifies no foreign smells—no mustard gas, no horseradish—and finds herself both wanting this slasher to step out again, prove he was real, and also wanting him to have been all in her head. She’s caught between those for, by her best guess… two hours? Has any slasher ever moved this slow? Granted, movies probably compress events that would take a lot longer, but two hours is long enough for her to spin all kinds of excuses for whoever that was down there to have been wearing a gas mask, carrying that nailgun, and wearing that black hoodie in July. Which isn’t the way to be ready, to be
Then, finally: Clack!
Adrenaline floods all through her again, sharpening her senses. By the time it’s washing out of her system, she’s back to trying to make it all make sense. If this slasher were trying to nail someone running across the room, there’d be a barrage of clacks! This guy’s more deliberate, though, isn’t he? That game where two people hide on opposite sides of the same wall, each waiting for the other to burst out?
Evidently he’s the more patient one.
Except… except this is too early, isn’t it? This is supposed to be tomorrow night. Jade wants to stand, wave her arms for everybody to slow down, that they’re blowing their wad ahead of time, aren’t going to have any left when it counts.
She doesn’t know how far a nail from a nailgun can tumble through the air, though.
She looks up to the flurry of motion to her distant right— the yacht.
It’s Tiara Mondragon. She’s in her black bikini, her sunhat and shades on, a book tucked under her arm.
She sashays down to the—to whatever the tower part of a yacht is called, kind of two-thirds of the way back. She disappears into it. Moments later she emerges on a higher, closer-to-the-sun deck, drink in hand.
Call Hardy! Call 911! Jade tries to brainwave across, straining so hard her head nearly Scanners.
But, call him to say what, exactly? That someone over here’s wearing a gas mask all suspiciously? That their gait is all slashery? That—gasp—there’s a super-dangerous nailgun over here?
All the same, Jade gets her own phone ready, except… she did really need to plug in last night. All the charge she got from Hardy is gone, shit. Jade shakes her phone like she can get the battery juice to an important place long enough for just one call, but that works about as well as it usually does.
It’s all up to Tiara to save them now. Tiara who’s just settling down onto the towel she must have spread while Jade was having a panic attack about her battery. On the deck Tiara was just on, though, one of the Founders— Lewellyn Singleton—is walking and reading a newspaper, his robe cinched loose. At the back of the yacht the two girls, Cinnamon and Ginger, mirror images of each other, are tossing bits of something over the railing into the water and giggling, and that short one whose head’s barely taller than the railing must be Galatea Pangborne.
None of them know. Yet. Including Letha.
“Where are you?” Jade whispers to her. More important, where is this slasher prowling around? Is he, even? Do slashers take naps too?
“Fuck it,” Jade says, and stands.
Nothing happens. No nails whizz in, bury themselves in her gut.
“Well, let’s get this party started,” she announces, and walks downhill with long deliberate strides, all her pockets zipped, her lips set in a firm line. By the time she’s twenty yards from the closest house, past the last of the trees the Founders aren’t going to let anyone cut down, her lips feel more squiggly, more Charlie Brown. And she can feel his cartoon parentheses around her eyes, too.
Thing is, she’s close enough now she can’t see every exit, every entrance, and she’s only eighty percent certain— okay, seventy—that this is the same house she saw the slasher walking away from. Meaning it could be one he’s back inside.
Jade nods to herself for strength all the same, reminds herself that she knows this genre, and regrips her hand around her phone, blasts across the last of that open space, certain that if she turns around, that gas mask is going to be right there, and gaining.
She makes the door, it’s thankfully unlocked—she hadn’t even considered that it might not be—and she opens it both quietly and as quickly as she can, guiding it shut behind her. The hall she’s in is dark, but there’s a light glowing in the… kitchen, it turns out. She pats her pockets for the charging cable she suddenly can’t find, but knows that, because this is a slasher, any plug she finds in here isn’t going to bring her phone back to life, isn’t going to connect
her to anyone who can help.
Instead of using it as a communication device, then, Jade holds her phone like it’s the handle for her machete—the one she gave away—keeping it directly in front of her. She tunes in for footsteps, for breathing, for crawling, but she’s
really and actually alone, as best as she can tell, and as already suggested by the slasher striding purposefully away from this house. But it’s these kinds of situations jumpscares are made from, she knows.
Moving room by room she clears the first floor, then has the choice of either going upstairs like Sidney says stupid girls in horror movies are always doing, or going downstairs, into the basement, which she’s now insisting will just be that: a basement. Not a cellar, and definitely please not some Evil Dead fruit cellar, because there’s only so much her mind can take.
“Shit shit shit,” she mutters, looking up then down, up then down. And then she sees it: one golden-tinted nail standing up from the frame around the door to the basement.
Her face goes cold, her breathing deep.
She swallows, the sound a thunderous gush in her ears, and, keeping her right foot ahead like that matters, shuffles alongside the stairs, eases the basement door open, the whole while picturing a network of tunnels connecting basement to basement across Terra Nova, so they can scurry from home to home during the winter months.
Except, she reminds herself, it’s rocky over here. Too rocky.
Meaning, of course, that if the basements do end up connecting, it’s going to be by burrowing dead people, left-behind murder victims from the nineteenth century contorting around rocks, gathering in caves, turning their faces up to the hateful sounds above them.
“Shut up, shut up,” Jade hisses to her brain, and takes the first timid step down, deciding at the last moment not to turn the staircase light on, as that would only announce her presence, which might then lead to her bloody absence. Which, to everyone across the lake, would be good riddance, the best riddance.
At the blind turn halfway down the stairs, Jade’s ninety-nine percent sure anybody down there will be able to hear her heart pounding. When she’s finally down there, she has no choice but to feel on the wall for the light switch. Either that or pull out her trusty Jame Gumb night vision goggles.
The lights come on and instantly she’s blinded, is falling away, swinging her dead phone in front of her like that would do anything. Finally, after all these years, she understands Laurie Strode: you cringe, you fall, you shriek and you cry. Never because you want to, not because you intend to, but because it’s scary shit. The body’s gonna do what the body’s gonna do, and screams aren’t at all voluntary.
When she can see again at last, there’s no furniture, just an endless tile floor, already-textured walls—the whole basement’s finished out already. Up near the ceiling there’s those short wide windows that mean this isn’t completely underground, but it’s enough underground to be that clammy kind of cool, and kind of muffled.
Any nails fired down here are probably not nails she heard.
Proof of that turns out to be on the wall behind her. Going from waist-high and up into the ceiling, maybe twelve feet in total, is a zipper line of nails, set close enough to be a stairway for an acrobatic mouse. Meaning, since they start in the corner, that the target was running the other way.
Jade listens hard for creaking above her head, peers as deep into the high windows as she can for gas mask eyes clocking her, and, though she’s still not sure this is the best of all ideas, goes the direction the nails are telling her to go.
For reasons she can’t explain even to herself, she’s still being sure to lead with her right foot. Everything that made sense when she was watching slashers doesn’t seem to matter just one whole hell of a lot while walking through a slasher, does it?
Worse, “It’s July fucking third,” she says aloud, like calling foul.
None of this is even supposed to be happening yet.
How many final rounds does Scream 4 have, though, right? Maybe, since the slasher’s been going for nearly four decades, the only way to still surprise is by breaking its own rules.
It’s definitely working. Jade has no idea what’s coming.
The next breadcrumb for her eyes is golden again, and nail-shaped again, and in a doorframe again. Either a closet or a bathroom. Or, this is a basement—maybe storage, then? Water heater, furnace?
“H-hello?” she asks. No response.
She taps on the door with her phone, runs through a mental list of who’s not behind the door—everyone she knows is in Proofrock, and everyone she just saw on the yacht is, you know, on the yacht.
“I’m coming in!” Jade announces as clear as she can, and, using her left hand on the knob, she swings the door out and hustles back into something like a defensive stance, spinning instantly around because how it always works is that the slasher’s right behind you when you least expect it.
She’s still alone.
Trusting neither the space before her nor behind her, she turns back to the door she just opened.
It is a bathroom, what she guesses is a “half-bath” over here in Camelot. For all she knows, her dad carted the tub down for somebody more expert to install.
There’s a body in that tub, too.
His legs are cocked out over the edge, his arms thrown out to the side, and his eyes are open, but they’re not seeing anything anymore.
“Cody,” Jade whispers, in pain. Cowboy Boots.
He’s still wearing them, along with a golden nail between the eyes, a ribbon of blood unfurling down from it and curling across his face, tucking itself into his mouth at last instead of pooling in the hollow of his neck.
Jade spins around again but it’s still just her in the basement.
Which is when the lights black out. She nearly falls down from it.
All she can hear now is her breath. It’s coming in hitches, in gasps, then not at all because she’s listening.
“Cody,” she says at last, “CodyCodyCody,” but he’s not answering. Which is surely for the absolute best, thank you thank you, Indians have to stick together. But still.
She was never Jame Gumb, she realizes. She’s Clarice, feeling her way with wide-spread fingers.
The lights fizz back on.
Jade cringes back, sure that’s just step one of her getting rushed.
But… she finally sees it: the light switch she flipped up. There’s a motion sensor under it, to save energy. The lights go off when it thinks the room is empty.
Jade spins back to Cody. Still there. Still dead.
Jade leans against the wall opposite the bathroom door and slides down.
“I’m sorry,” she says into the bathroom. “I—I don’t know why, man. You’re not even part of all this, are you? You weren’t, I mean. Until now.”
Was it just because he was there? Is this target practice for tomorrow night? Cleaning house before the big party? What could he have done to have deserved a nail in the forehead, though?
“Nothing,” Jade tells him.
Oh. Unless it’s that he talked to her back in March? Which would matter to the slasher why? Does her knowing the genre and predicting the day and trying to pull Letha into all
of this somehow mess things up for the slasher? And, how can she even be thinking rational thoughts, this close to a dead body? Just as important: it’s Letha’s job to find Cody, not Jade’s. This could be screwing the whole process up.
“But I was never here,” Jade says out loud, and stands, resetting the room as best she can: pulling the bathroom door shut, policing the tile for any mud she’s tracked in, and, back at the stairs, flipping the light switch to down.
The next moment is when she realizes that lights in the high basement windows suddenly not glowing are like a flashing sign for the slasher. But it’s daytime yet, probably not even four in the afternoon. Whoever’s playing slasher out there would have to be watching these windows specifically to catch them going dark.
And, anyway: why stake out a room you’ve already killed in, right? That’s no way to hit a bodycount.
“Sorry,” Jade says one last time to Cody, and then slouches upstairs.
After watching through the window of the back door for what feels like twenty minutes—no one, nothing—Jade steps out, walks the same exact path the slasher did, going from this house to the next one over.
This time the first floor and the basement are empty, and the side door into the garage is yawning wide, the garage past it open. No nails in any doorframes, no blood misted on any walls.
Same for the second floor.
Jade steps into what she thinks will probably be a study in a month or two and positions herself just inside the broad window, enough so she can see out, not quite enough where she’s a distinct form in the glass. Just an irregular continuation of the wall, she hopes. A half-assed drape— tarp or something.
From here she can see the yacht so much closer.
Tiara’s swishing her hips along the railing, disappearing through a door. Nobody’s reading a newspaper anymore,
nobody’s dropping flower petals into the lake.
Does this mean they’ve all been nailgunned in the forehead?
And then, finally, a flurry of fast motion.
It’s Shooting Glasses. He’s scrambling down a roof two houses down, is Jesse Pinkman’ing into what’s going to be the front yard, and already rolling that impact away because it’s the least thing he has to worry about. Jade watches the window he must have dove through but it’s the front door of the house that swings open instead.
The Prowler, the killer, the slasher.
His chest is heaving, his face unchanging, still gas-masked, the nailgun heavy and deadly by his thigh.
Shooting Glasses looks back, shakes his head no, holding his hands up like to ward off flying nails, and he’s saying something over and over but it doesn’t matter.
His killer steps down off the porch, is already leveling the nailgun.
“No, no!” Jade hears herself screaming, the flat of her hand slapping the glass of the window she’s up against.
The slasher stops, turns around, settles his tinted eyes in her general direction but hopefully she’s behind a glare, hopefully those tinted lenses aren’t binoculars.
Jade backs a step up and the slasher has to give his attention back to Shooting Glasses when Shooting Glasses is up and running again. He falls twice on his way to the pier but makes it there fast enough. The slasher just steadily approaches behind the whole time, until there’s nowhere for Shooting Glasses to go but into the lake, not so much a dive as a desperate jump, or a failure by the water to hold him up when he tries to run across it.
Right as he goes under, nails stitch the water all around him.
The Prowler wades in up to his knees, quilting the whole area with nails until his cartridge runs dry.
He looks at the gun and tosses it aside, lets it kerplunk down.
Now he’s looking up, to the yacht.
Letha is up against the rail, calling down. Not shrieking, not screaming, not crying, not asking what or why.
“T’s napping!” she whisper-yells, just loud enough Jade can make it out.
Below her, knee-deep in Indian Lake, Theo Mondragon peels out of the gas mask and hoodie.
“Did you get them all?” Letha calls down, apparently forgetting her injunction against waking Tiara.
Theo Mondragon shakes his head no as if disappointed with himself, then holds his forearm up as if for inspection.
“Do wasps bite or sting?” Letha calls down, leaning far out over the rail, completely unconcerned about gravity.
Theo Mondragon looks at his forearm, probably at a welt Jade can’t see from this distance, and exaggerates his shrug.
“You should be careful!” Letha says, but is kind of thrilled too, Jade can tell.
Her dad was rooting out a wasp nest or two. Thus the mask, the hoodie. Just, he redefined “wasp” to include Cowboy Boots, and Shooting Glasses.
Jade looks behind her, half-expecting him to be sitting in the corner with a bellyful of nails, his fingers moving over them like accordion buttons.
Why? Why would Theo Mondragon be going after his own workers?
It doesn’t make sense. They can’t be in the justice cycle, shouldn’t be slasher vics at all.
But Clate Rodgers wasn’t exactly supposed to have been, either. And Mr. Holmes was supposed to have been around to write the sad history of this all down.
And, really, if she’s counting people who don’t deserve it, the Dutch kids were sort of extra too, Jade figures.
Deacon Samuels may be the only actual targeted victim.
Unless Theo Mondragon saw Jade through the glass, that is. Unless she’s about to be the next clean-up on aisle 9 of this wilderness re-enactment of Intruder.
Her insides clench, her airways constrict.
At least it won’t be nails, when it comes. The nailgun’s wet and buried.
And, like Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street, her chances go way the hell up if she can just keep from falling asleep. Just, there’s still the night to get through. And then tomorrow. If there is one of those.
“Here!” Letha calls down to her dad. What she’s waving in her hand—offering—is a tube of something. After-bite cream, lotion, Jade can’t tell.
Letha makes to lob it down once, twice, so Theo Mondragon can get in sync, and then she lets it drop, plummet end over tiny end. Theo Mondragon snags it from the air like the athlete he had to have been at one point.
He nods thanks, already applying the cream, and then Mars Baker is leaning out over the railing on the deck below her. With an over-under shotgun he’s just now swinging shut. Letha leans out and over even farther to see him but he’s not looking up at her, just down to Theo Mondragon.
“This is what you should have had,” he says, snapping the shotgun up so he can track a duck flapping low across the water. He fake shoots it, doing the recoil and everything.
“What’s for dinner?” Theo calls up to them, as if he wasn’t just on a killing spree.
“Not duck!” Tiara answers.
“Duck, duck, right,” Jade says to herself, lowering herself down below the level of the window so Theo Mondragon won’t accidentally clock her on his walk up the pier.
He hooks the gas mask on a rack, twists his hoodie around his neck after this hard day’s work, and saunters up into the yacht like nothing’s wrong with the world. Nothing at all.
Moments after he’s gone and nobody’s at the rail, Shooting Glasses’s body doesn’t bob up to the surface, perforated fifty times over, blood staining the water.
Probably because he’s nailed to the bed of the lake.
Okay, for My Bloody Valentine’s or just even only for Valentine but also to make up for my perfect gag for the year book crew, which if you didn’t see it but only missed my presence, was 6 FAKE hypodermic needles superglued to my forearm Dream Warriors style, with each one labeled Algebra and English and P.E. and the rest, including of course HISTORY, but to make up for the quiz that day, I’ll
pay you back and more with a little insight into how there’s not enough slow motion in the whole world really for when the final girl finally stops running and turns around to fight this unkillable killer, and also WHY he’s so nice slash mean to her. Emphasis on the “slash” there.
First you have to imagine what’s in her head. She’s been watching her friends and family and pets all get killed, and THEN she has to run down whatever hall it is they’ve all been put in in various and many jack in the box contraptions.
At some point this final girl has to realize that this is all about her, don’t you think? That her friends and family and pets would all still be alive if this slasher had only STARTED with her instead of cutting his way closer and closer to her. So she feels guilty like maybe she’s sort of the killer herself, like this bodycount is maybe HER bodycount.
What I’m saying here, sir, is that she’s been groomed to become her secret
and best self. The slasher COULD have started with her easy. The slasher doesn’t HAVE to start at the outside edges but CAN just walk right into the center, apply blade, deed done, go home now, story over.
But that wouldn’t be enough. Not even close.
The slasher cycle is a dance, see? Imagine a dance floor in a high school gym, the lights are down, crinkled paper everywhere, spiked punch, fancy handed
down jackets and dresses, shoes it’s impossible to even walk in, I know you’ve chaperoned some. Now who the slasher WANTS to dance with is this one quiet
girl way on the other side of the gym floor, but he can’t cross to her yet, instead he has to work his way across TO her, dancing with this person and then that
person, the back of his hand sometimes touching the final girl’s sleeve during a slow song, their eyes locking like fate, but he’s waiting for the last dance, sir.
The slow (MOTION) one. That’s the one that matters. You don’t go home with
who you dance your 3rd dance with. You go home with who you’re holding hands with when the music’s over.
But it’s not love, don’t let me get you thinking that. And it’s not hate either.
It’s deeper than both of those.
My theory or thesis from many viewings and more knowing is that the slasher has the kind of eyes that can recognize which girls have a final girl hiding inside them, which is why he targets them LAST. But is it really to kill them? I don’t think so, sir. I think the slasher’s life of revenge is a life of pain and misery, and the slasher knows that no ordinary person can end that. Only a very very certain kind of girl can. Only a final girl. But not in her current state or form. No, the slasher first has to help her TRANSFORM, which involves killing all her friends
and family and pets, everybody except Dewey pretty much, because Dewey’s basically unkillable.
So that super slow motion moment at the end when this bookish reserved quiet girl finally stops in all the swirling madness and blood and tears, turns
around with a machete or a chainsaw or just even only her hands like Constance from Just Before Dawn, and she’s screaming with rage, this is why slashers really wear masks, sir.
It’s so you won’t see them smile.