Chapter no 14

My Heart Is a Chainsaw

There’s something wriggling on the back of Jade’s neck, multiple wet somethings, but her arms are too trapped to get at them. Maggots, she knows. She can’t fault them, though. They’re just the hungry kids muscling their way to the front of the cafeteria line, right? They want to be there waiting when the doors open, when the meat’s the warmest it’s going to be.

Jade chuckles and then finds she can’t expand her chest out as much as it was before. Because of the weight. Because of her weakness. Because this is it.

She’s not sure how long she was out, or even if she for sure was out. One moment there was bloody mucky darkness all around, and the next moment there was bloody mucky darkness pressing her down and down and down, the most full-body hug she’s ever gritted her teeth through. Luckily her head cocked to the side right at the last instant, probably an instinct to save her teeth from getting crunched in, or else she’d have already smothered.

As it is, the air she’s breathing is air she’s been breathing, and has to be about eighty percent gore and rot, and some part sharp stabs of elk hair—sharp to her lips and eyes, anyway. The drowning feeling is completely real, but panicking doesn’t make any difference. She can’t move even a little. To keep from going even more batshit than she already is, she counts bodies from her and Letha’s big nightmare run through the SS Lazarus of Jason Takes Manhattan, which wasn’t the rush Jade had always imagined it to be.

There was… first there was Ladybird Samuels in the

hallway, then Ross Pangborne in the stairwell, then Mars

Baker up in the window, and Tiara pedaling out through open air, and Lewellyn Singleton in the shallows. Oh, and probably Macy Todd in the room on the other side of Letha’s wall. She was really first. Except for Mismatched Gloves and Cody and Shooting Glasses. And now at the bitter end—for them anyway—Jade and Letha. Really, if Letha’s lucky, then she was crushed instantly, or got the kindness of a shattered elk rib pushing up through an eye socket, into the big off-switch of her brain.

Faster has to be better.

As for Jade, she imagines her skull’s going to turn up in years, when some kids not even born yet are building skeletons from this fun mess of bones, don’t even realize they’ve found the last victim of the Lake Witch Slayings.

At least then she’ll really be part of it, right?

Don’t laugh, she warns herself. Any space her ribs give up, she doesn’t get it back.

It won’t be long now. It can’t be.

Unless… are the state police already crawling over Terra Nova with dogs and cameras? Is the whole nation focused on Indian Lake again, now that not just one Founder’s died, but a whole clutch of them?

If so, great, wonderful.

But the dogs and cameras can’t be ranging out this far yet. They’re probably still trying to talk Lemmy and Galatea out of the cabinets they’ve wedged themselves into on the yacht, that they’re never really going to crawl all the way out of again, no matter how long they live. They’re probably trying to raise Cinnamon and Ginger on their big-girl cellphones, except those twins are long-legged, are probably down the mountain already, and not stopping until they see Texas. They probably still think Letha is in the water, needs to be fished out. And what of Donna Pangborne, Lana Singleton, and, so far as the law and the media knows, Theo Mondragon?

Probably Donna and Lana were slashed open deeper down that hall, before Jade and Letha even woke—before Theo got to the room beside Letha’s, maybe caught a pellet or two from Mars Baker’s shotgun. And the kids could be piled down that same hallway, but… Jade doesn’t think so. Even the Dutch kids sacrificed to start this whole cycle, they were probably nineteen, weren’t they? How could they rent American cars if they weren’t? And, since them there’s been Deacon and Clate and the construction grunts and everybody on the yacht, none of whom were kids either.

Maybe Theo’s like Jason?

The reason Jason never takes kids, Jade’s always figured, is that he feels a dim kinship with them. Not just on a developmental level, but… his last good memories, they have to be of camp, don’t they? Of eating hot dogs in the canteen, roasting marshmallows over the bonfire, shushed laughing from the bunks after lights out?

But, too, if kids are off-limits for Theo Mondragon, the slasher, and his daughter’s the final girl, and she’ll always be a kid to him, then… how’s it supposed to work at the big movie on the water? Will he be pulling his punches, just knocking her to the side so he can open a few more necks, split a few more shoulders, leave a few more severed arms drifting down to Ezekiel’s Cold Box?

If Jade had any wishes left, if she hadn’t burned them all just to get a slasher to Indian Lake in the first place, she would want a few more hours of life, please. She’d wish to be there at the movie with the rest of Proofrock. To thrill in the carnage and narrate it all in her head, but… now that she’s dying she can say it, at least to herself: the reason she needed a slasher to come to town, it was so he could cleave through her dad at some point in the rampage. Or, failing that, Jade could do that cleaving herself, and let Hardy assume the slasher did it. That being a trick he’s already used himself, Tab Daniels being no friend to law enforcement, maybe Hardy’d let it slide, right?

But now Jade’s just going to suffocate. Unless of course her sternum crushes in first, splinters through her lungs. She clenches her fist as much as she can at the stupidity of it all, grits her teeth until she tastes blood. Maybe her own, maybe the elks’.

And now she’s crying, she’s pretty sure. It’s hard to tell, but she thinks maybe she is. Probably.

It’s because she should have done more—she could have done more. If she’d just insisted instead of been all polite and asked, Jade could have prepared Letha for all this better. What she should have done, she knows now, is kidnapped Letha, tied her to a chair over in Camp Blood, and somehow wired a TV and VCR in, force-fed this nascent final girl all the slashers she needed to have on file, to not have ended up in this cave of rotting meat. This collapsing cave of rotting meat. Slasher movies are supposed to be these grand fairy tales where the princess is a bad-ass warrior, but Jade never showed Letha that, did she? She never showed her anything, really.

You’d have been the best of them all, Jade tells her all the same. Letha Mondragon could have swung her machete further into slasher immortality than any of the other final girls.

But, because Jade didn’t think to kidnap her, now she’s just down here with her, or with her corpse, anyway. Which is a kindness. Or, it’s only fitting that Jade eke a little more life out, so she can soak in this rancid stew she deserves, wallow in her own failure.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she says as best she can, and then she thinks the unthinkable: that it would have been better for everyone if she’d just bled out in that canoe back on Friday the 13th. Or, no, the real dream, it’s that her dad rolls his high school Grand Prix the weekend before he smiles his smile to Kimmy Daniels. Then Jade never screams her way into the world in the first place, making it easier on everyone. Sure, that means never getting sprayed with that

thrillingly cold water from Hardy’s airboat, that means never finding A Bay of Blood in the bargain bin, it means never visiting the Skank Station, never sitting through detention or history class, never running away to Camp Blood over and over, coming back to find she wasn’t even missing, but it also means she doesn’t ruin so many people’s lives just by wishing a slasher to their pleasant little valley.

Jade’s breathing fast and shallow now. This has to be the end. Her—her vision’s even starting to glow at the edges. No more putting it off with slasher facts. No more slowing the moment down with heartfelt apologies. What confirms she’s being pulled into another, even harsher reality is that the heavy dead body she’s pressed alongside writhes into sinuous motion, since—of course—it’s probably about to stand up, run away into the afterlife of elk, which is all grass and cold sunlight.

Except this elk, once the glow suffuses down onto it, isn’t an elk at all, but Cody, because now him and Jade are just two more Indians at the bottom of the pile of massacred Indians. They’re circling the drain of history together, while Letha and Shooting Glasses and Mismatched Gloves are over at some other drain, with harps and angel food cake. But so be it. At least Jade’s not alone. Cody’s eyes are open now, his head’s shuddering like something hungry’s pawing at him, and Jade, with her foggy thinking, decides that she must be Alice at the end of the first Friday, Ginny at the end of the next one, Nancy in the closing scene of Nightmare, when the rules of reality go slack so the dream can seep in

And now her hand is glowing? Meaning she’s reaching for Cody’s face. Meaning she can.

There must be a reaper in whatever next stage of death this is, some dead-alive dude who sorts people into piles for processing. No, Jade says inside, not a reaper, a Reeker, like the movie.

“2005, Alex,” she thinks she creaks. Her mouth is trying to move, anyway.

Unless it’s the antropophagus from 1980, of course. In which case she’s screwed, as she doesn’t think she can run right now. She’s not even sure she can raise her head. All she’s sure of, or sort of hoping for, is that a glove of knife-fingers is about to burst up from the sand, wrap its blades around her face, draw her down into a forever Nightmare, which will be her own little back alley of heaven.

Jade starts to smile at the delicious horrible wrongness of it all, but then Cody rolls away and more light spills through, its impossible brightness blinding her so that when she looks up to who’s doing this, it’s an angel in a halo of blazing light, her hair wet with gore, face red and black with chunks, chest heaving, fingers curling open and shut like the talons they are.

Letha fucking Mondragon, reborn.

“You,” Jade says with what feels like her last breath.

“Me,” Letha says, and falls down into the pile alongside Jade, spent.

Their hands find each other in the rot and blood, their fingers intertwine like best friends, and Jade opens her mouth to the sky, breathes all this fresh crispness in.

They’re alive, and they shouldn’t be. They made it through the night somehow. This is the other side, Jade lets herself think for a hopeful moment—this is the sun rising over Woodsboro, Gale Weathers narrating the terrible events of the night.

Except: “Where is he?” she says, trying to push up, but her coveralls are full-body blood-glued down, so she has to peel up piece by piece, limb by limb.

Letha looks around casually, as if being polite, and they survey this serene meadow, Indian Lake glittering out past it, going forever.

It’s not noon on the Fourth, it’s late afternoon on the Fourth already, shading into dusk. Jade was out for… twelve

hours? Seriously? Is that what breathing maggot air can do to you?

Shouldn’t I have to, you know, pee? she thinks, but doesn’t check. All the same, hours-old urine would be an improvement.

Letha stops scanning, as if re-hearing Jade’s words. Or, only just now actually listening to them.

“My dad, you mean?” she asks, the insult there in her voice.

Jade nods once, nearly falls forward from it. “It’s not him,” Letha says again.

“If he’s not here, that just means he couldn’t find us,” Jade says, throwing her chin across the water. “He’s already over there, getting ready for tonight. Snorkel, waterproof chainsaw, speargun, belt sander—”

“Stop!” Letha says, high-stepping out of the muck. “Do you know how long it took to dig you out?”

Jade stands, her whole body stiff and bruised, her balance not quite catching up with her yet, blood rushing here and there in the least comfortable ways, but with a lot of stinging urgency.

Both of them are head-to-feet gore.

Jade pats her pocket for her last cigarette, tries to light it but it’s been in the lake, it’s been soaked in blood, it’s been crushed. She flicks it into the elk and it pretty much just crumbles mid-air, becomes an offering of tobacco above all these dead.

“Why isn’t the sheriff here yet, you think?” Letha asks. “I kept expecting him to show up.”

“Why would he call it in?” Jade says back.

Letha hears exactly what Jade’s saying, but still says it anyway: “My dad, you mean.”

“Your dad.”

“Who would never do a thing like this.” “Who did, then?”

Letha just sits there, and after a few seconds of it, Jade notices she’s crying. No sound, just tears.

“The twins,” she says, about the massacre on the yacht. “And L-Lemmy. Gal.”

Because of course the final girl doesn’t think of herself first.

“If it matters, then… I think they’re all right, probably,” Jade says.

“Why do you think that?”

“Kids believe in the boogeyman. They know to hide.”

“Thought you were going to say that my dad wouldn’t do that.”

“That too,” Jade says, uselessly. “So, what now?” Letha asks.

“Want to go to a horror movie with me?” Jade asks back.

Letha just looks up to her about this, like checking if this is even a serious question.

“Hardy’ll be there,” Jade adds.

“I know where the keys are,” Letha says, tossing her chin to the yacht. “We can—”

“Going back on that boat is a death sentence. He— whoever it is, he’s probably there waiting. He knows we need a phone. So they’re probably all already overboard.”

Letha looks down to what she’s wearing: her ruined camisole and pajama bottoms. No shoes. Aside from covering her in the most minimal way, the only real purpose her sleep clothes are serving anymore is to keep the gore and blood close to her, which might be good if she were going up against Van Damme in an alien suit, but Theo Mondragon doesn’t have heat vision, just slasher goggles.

Still, instead of already having sneaked over to the yacht for a clothes-change, here she is, right?

“Thanks for digging me out,” Jade tells her. “You didn’t have to, I know. I’m not worth it.”

“Please shut up.”

“You could have split, really.”

“Jade, you—it’s not your fault, what your father… and why you’re… you.”

“Yeah, I know, wow, it’s terrible, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t mean it like that. You’re you, and that’s great.”

“We should get going,” Jade says, high-stepping out of this moment.

She swings her hurt leg ahead of her and brushes past Letha.

“And we’ve all got daddy issues, right?” she can’t help but mumble, wincing the instant it crosses her lips.

“My dad isn’t the one—”

“Then why didn’t he dig you out?” Jade asks, playing with her lighter now, wishing so hard for a smoke.

“He didn’t know where we were,” Letha says, stepping out now as well, her voice rising a bit, in defense.

“If he felt that collapse, or heard it, or smelled it, whatever,” Jade says, finally getting a strong flame going to occupy her eyes, give her somewhere else to look, “then… then either he thinks we’re dead, which is score one for the good guys, or he went for help.”

“Instead of digging us out?” “How long did it take you?”

Letha narrows her eyes across the lake, considering this. “He’d have had to go all the way around,” she says, liking


“And his leg’s like mine now,” Jade adds with a shrug.

“He used to play football,” Letha says. “He says he played one game with his kneecap all the way behind his knee.”

“There you have it,” Jade says, moving her lighter back and forth, daring the flame to flicker out. “But”—and she does look up for this—“why isn’t anybody here yet?”

Letha flicks her eyes away.

“Whatever you believe or want to believe or won’t believe,” Jade tells her. “We have to get across the lake. We can’t stay here. Here’s done.”

“Terra Nova.”

“Terra Nova’s done, yeah.”

Letha steps past Jade for the boat garages.

Jade shrugs to herself, and, being sure Letha’s clear enough, tosses her lit lighter into the dead elk, trusting the pent-up methane to catch that lick of flame, whoosh up into a bulbous explosion, one Jade can walk away from in slow dramatic motion.

Instead her lighter just adheres to a low wall of meat and hair, is upright enough that it’s still flickering a weak flame.

“Thanks,” Jade says to it, and turns on her heel, following Letha through the trees, Letha’s long legs eating up the ground, Jade’s limp still there so Letha has to stop, wait for Jade to catch up, then offer her a shoulder.

“You don’t have to,” Jade says, latching on.

“I’m not leaving you,” Letha says. “I know you think this is some big horror movie we’re in, and that you’re going to get to choose your death, but—this is real life. A tragedy, but it’s real, and it doesn’t have to follow any rules.”

Jade doesn’t argue, tells herself to let the unfolding events prove her case.

Now that she’s moving, though—

“I have to pee,” she says, stopping them.

Letha extracts herself, steps away, turns politely around but that’s not quite enough for Jade. She limps to a tree, pushes off it to the next, and the next, struggles twenty or thirty feet between her and Letha before feeling through the gore for the snaps and gummed-up zipper of her blood-matted coveralls.

When she’s shouldering back into them is when she hears the groan. She radars in on it, the rest of the world falling away.

A low, long shape maybe fifteen feet back in the trees. Theo Mondragon.

Clamped around his leg—same one, different one?—is

another bear trap. One he didn’t have the strength to push

apart, apparently. Is he passed out from blood loss, from fatigue, from grief, what? Where’s his kneecap now?

“Doesn’t matter,” Jade says, actually out loud, just, very quiet. “You’ll get out just in time, won’t you?”

Unless it’s not him, Letha says in Jade’s head.

But still, right? Jade knows for sure and certain that he put nails in Shooting Glasses and Cody and Mismatched Gloves. No way is she announcing him to Letha, so she can use her final girl determination to wrench the jaws of that bear trap open. This is a Let-Nature-Take-Its-Course situation if there ever was one.

“You okay?” Letha asks, meeting Jade halfway to crutch her along again, some part of Theo evidently cueing in that Jade’s close, so he should groan again, louder, longer.

“Are you?” Jade says back, then has to stop when Letha does.

“Hear that?” she asks.

“Mountain alligator,” Jade tells her, doing her eyebrows to show how much she doesn’t mean this. “I scared it, I think.” But challenging Letha to call her on it, too.

Letha considers this, listens harder, and when the groan doesn’t come again, they move forward, Letha going from garage to garage to garage along the shore, coming out of each shaking her head no: all the boats they never even use are trashed. Not the engines, but the hulls. The boats are taking on water, foundering, the only thing holding them up their mooring lines or the straps looped under them.

“He wants us to have to walk it,” Jade says. “You can’t,” Letha says back.

“You could swim it,” Jade says. Letha nods, already knew that.

“The yacht,” she says finally. Again.

“No motors on the water for the Fourth,” Jade recites. “I think this would be an exception.”

“Except I’m not going on that boat again.” “Yacht.”


“Where’s that… the Umiak, right?”

“Hunh,” Letha says, looking around for it just the same. “He already sunk it, didn’t he?” Jade says.

“There,” Letha says, and she’s right. The Umiak is drifting out between Terra Nova and Camp Blood. Not sitting quite level anymore, either. It’s the Orca now, after the shark’s been chewing on it.

Letha shakes her head in frustration.

“They’ll have hot dogs and stuff over there,” Jade says, about Proofrock.

“I don’t want to go through that… that old camp, cool?” Letha says.

Jade nods, doesn’t explain that they’ll just be looking down on Camp Blood from the bluff.

“We’re gonna miss the movie if we don’t—” she says instead, but Letha’s silence and stillness stop her.

Jade follows what Letha’s staring at.

It’s… a head bobbing in the tall grass? An ostrich?

“You,” Letha says to the ostrich head, pulling Jade ahead with it. “Pedals only,” she narrates, “no motor.”

Jade tries to force this into a statement that makes sense. But then all at once it does: the swan boat, the one Deacon Samuels was playing on in that memorial slideshow. They have to wade out to it, then Letha has to push and pull to get it unmired, but it’s whole. The only boat over here that is.

Jade looks around to Letha to confirm that they’re doing this, but Letha’s gone. Jade spins around, about to panic, which is when Letha bursts up from the water, still trying to wash her face.

Jade follows suit, lowering herself under the surface in what she hopes is a more menacing fashion, swishing left to right, coming up to breathe, then doing it again, and again, until she feels halfway clean. Clean enough for a massacre.

Letha’s already up in the boat’s fiberglass couple’s seat. She holds her hand down, hauls Jade’s wet heavy self up as easy as anything, the swan boat tilting and rocking, but there’s no hull for water to slosh over, really, no bottom to have to bail out. Just a footspace for water to wash across, run down. Jade clomps her heavy boots down into that slurry, watches the lake run red around her feet, then clear.

“You should—” Letha says, about Jade’s boots. “If we end up having to swim, I mean.”

Jade looks down at her combat boots, the ones she pulled on for battle each morning of the war called “high school.” But Letha’s right. She should have kicked them off last night, really. That’s why Letha was able to swim so much faster than her. Well, that’s one reason.

She unlaces them, works them off, sets them gently down into the lake. It takes them as it takes everything it’s offered.

“The—” Letha says then, pulling at the nonexistent zipper over her chest, which is her way of saying maybe Jade should leave her coveralls behind as well?

Jade shakes her head no. Letha might look more killer with each article of clothing she loses, but Jade needs these, at the very least. She gathers her hand over the collars, pulling them together like fighting to keep them on.

“I feel like we’re going to get noticed in this,” she says about the swan boat.

“Good,” Letha says, and starts churning them through the water.

Jade tries to figure out how to place her feet on the spinning pedals, pitch in.

There’s a steering wheel of sorts—a joystick with a big white fiberglass egg for a handle, that must be connected to a rudder under the sweeping-back tail.

“Not exactly how I envisioned my return,” Jade mumbles. “Black swan fit you better?” Letha says, not quite with a

smile—this isn’t a time for that—but it shows she’s waking

up a little anyway.

“Ever done this before?” Jade asks. “Pedaled across?”

“We’ll make it,” Letha says, and pedals harder, surging them forward for a few feet. “Isn’t this where… you know,” she asks, sort of.

Jade rotates her left wrist up so her scar’s right there. “It didn’t want me,” she says. “The lake, I mean.”

“Why not?”

“There’s this preacher Ezekiel down there, purifying the water,” Jade says. “It makes this a Christian burial ground, and, you know. I’m Indian.”

“You and your dad.”

To try to head this off, stop Letha’s accusations before they can rev up, Jade says, “I’m sorry about your—your stepmom,” Jade says. “She didn’t deserve that. None of them did.”

“I should have burned the whole place down months ago,” Letha says. “We never should have come here.”

“I’m glad you did,” Jade can’t help but say. “I mean, tragedy aside and all.”

Letha’s hand comes off the steering egg, finds the top of Jade’s for a quick sisterly squeeze. Jade looks across the dark water to Camp Blood, lurking on Indian Lake’s shore like an infection, like a bad memory.

Theo Mondragon’s about to be walking through it, isn’t he? And maybe pulling all its ghosts in behind him.

“Along with my axe,” Jade adds to that visual. Letha comes back with, “Say what?”

Jade shakes her head no, nothing. It’s just what she thinks would look coolest, dragging behind a slasher who’s limping across the narrow whiteness of Glen Dam: the heavy long-handled two-bit axe she buried over there, once upon a runaway night. But, axe or no, if he’s going to make it, he needs to get to hopping to make an appearance before the movie’s over, right?

Even in this ridiculous swan boat, they’re getting there a half-hour ahead of him. At least half an hour. Which doesn’t mean they’re exactly skipping across the lake. First, they’re bucking the breeze. In town, it never seems to matter. But try to row against it—or pedal—and it stands you right up. Even Letha.

“Gonna be dark,” Jade says. “I’m trying,” Letha says back.

Jade tries to help with the pedaling but seems to slow things down more than actually contribute to their forward motion.

“Look,” Letha says.

It’s the inflatable movie screen.

Chrissie is running across the dunes, leaving her clothes behind her.

“Hey!” Letha screams, standing to wave with both arms, the swan tilting back and forth.

“They crank the sound all the way up,” Jade tells her, holding on.

Behind the screen, by decree, Proofrock is inky dark. And there’s no phone screens glowing on: nobody wants to douse them when their boat tumps, or when they find themselves in the middle of a splash fight.

“Y’all do this every year?” Letha asks, out of breath.

“Halloween for boats,” Jade says. “I mean—everybody dresses their boat up like a parade? Hardy even looks the other way about beer.”

“He really cares for you, you know?”

“I remember going in third grade. One of the high schoolers was dressed up as Jigsaw, and I—”

“He from Bay of Blood?”

Jade pretends that didn’t just happen, rolls on: “I couldn’t stop watching him.”

“Or her.”

“Jigsaw’s a him. When you’re in that mask, you’re a him.” “Until two, yeah,” Letha says. “And what about four?”

Jade looks over in wonder and Letha shrugs, the boat drifting a bit under them.

“The fuck’s your problem?” Jade says, straight from the movie.

“You’re my problem,” Letha quotes right back, quirking her mouth just perfect.

“I thought you didn’t—”

“That… the night of Banner’s party?” Letha says, pedaling again, having to haul hard on the egg to try to control their drift.

“The bonfire,” Jade says as if from a dream. “The Dutch boy in the lake.”

“That’s what we were watching in Banner’s garage,” Letha says. “But we didn’t get to finish, and my—my therapist said it’s unhealthy to leave a narrative incomplete. That it’ll haunt me if I don’t finish it, especially taking into account the… the trauma of that night.”

“Y’all were watching the first one, then?”

“I told my dad I needed to finish it in my room. He sent all seven.” Letha shrugs as if embarrassed.

“You dog,” Jade says, impressed.

“It’s nothing like… like back there, though,” Letha says. “Who do you think did that to those elk?”

“Supposedly a bear.”

Letha looks over like waiting for Jade to say what she thinks: it was Theo Mondragon, either trying to do the killer version of masturbating—animals, not people—or he was out there giving his shiny killing implements a run, seeing if he really had the nerve to go blade-on-skin. He’d have had to drug them first, a little ketamine in the salt lick, but…

Jade shrugs, and neither of them say anything for a while.

Letha’s got a sheen of sweat on her face now.

“Rest,” Jade tells her, and Letha shakes her head no but does anyway.

The silence is amazing. They must be just farther than the speakers can reach, even across the water.

“I can’t believe you know Jigsaw,” Jade says, still catching on that. “Saw’s… Saw’s like Hatchet. What you graduate to, not where you start.”

“I’ve never seen this one, if that helps,” Letha says, nodding with her head to the inflated screen.

“You’re from Boston, right?” Jade asks. “That’s pretty much where this one happens, I think.”

“And you’ve seen every mountain man movie?” Letha asks right back.

“Point,” Jade says, and Letha starts in pedaling again.

“I can’t believe we’re talking about what we’ve seen and what we haven’t,” she says. “I can’t believe we’re talking at all, after…”

She bats her eyes about the yacht.

“I’m never eating elk again,” Jade says, a laugh slipping out her lips.

Letha smiles too, has to cover it with her hand as if embarrassed, shaking her head fast that no, no, she’ll never eat it again either.

“Or maggots either,” Jade can’t help but add. “Stop!” Letha pleads.

Now it’s Jade who’s having to blink the feelings away.

“Everybody bumps their boats into each other for this part,” she says, chucking her chin ahead of them, to the movie. It’s all the wannabe trophy hunters crowding the boating lanes of Brody’s harbor to catch the killer shark, get that reward money. Invariably some seventh-grader drops an M-80 into the water, in honor of the dynamite one of those fishermen have. Even the adults bring buckets of chum: red Jell-O run through the blender.

“Why that movie, though?” Letha asks, pedaling slower either from fatigue or inattention. In that lull, a bottle rocket arcs up into the velvety sky, its sparks drifting behind it. Jade feels the muted pop in her chest.

“Because of that,” she says. “I mean, Jaws happens on the Fourth.”

“Wouldn’t a monster-bear movie fit better up here, though?”

“Prophecy, 1979, yeah,” Jade tells her. “But we’ve got bears. Bears are a fact of life. Sharks aren’t. Sharks are the fantasy. It’s fun to scream about them.”


“Fun,” Jade says, grinning in the dark, and doesn’t even fall into some involved lecture about where Jaws can fit on the slasher evolutionary chart.

Letha holds the top of Jade’s hand again, and keeps holding it, and Jade doesn’t pull away, just rides, and watches the movie. It’s not quite on mute anymore for them, but on “distant burble.” She pictures Hardy up on the pier, trying to zero in on who that is on shore with the roman candle. “I thought I was going to die back there,” she says all at once, surprising herself. “I guess I thought I already was dead, sort of.”

“I wouldn’t let that happen,” Letha tells her, and she’s so earnest that Jade almost has to chuckle, just as counterweight.

“How’d you get out?” she asks instead.

When Letha doesn’t answer at first, Jade looks over just casually, catches her blinking a touch faster than she has been—like Jade just was. Except, Jade was trying not to let her emotions get the better of her, wasn’t she? And… Jade’s dialing back, back—back to Melanie’s bench a week ago, yeah. When she clocked this exact tell from Letha.

“What?” Letha’s asking.

“How’d you get out of the pile of elk?” Jade hears herself asking, a coldness washing up her, gripping her heart, her face, her hand slithering back into her lap. She can’t remember how many of the who’s-doing-it breed of slashers have been eureka’d just this way: a dumb, inconsequential question that exposes some simple gap in logic.

“I wasn’t as deep in as you?” Letha is saying from what seems like far away.

“Because you’re faster,” Jade hears herself saying back, just to finish what she knows Letha is going to say. “You were almost all the way out when it fell down.”

“Lucky,” Letha says.

Jade looks behind them into the darkness, as if she should be able to see Theo Mondragon slouching along the shore, dragging that shiny axe behind him. Or, she can’t lie to herself: she’s studying the shore for even just a distant glint of that axe, please. Because that would mean that she’s just light-headed from lack of calories, lack of real sleep, a concussion—that she’s thinking wrong. That she’s not sitting right by the one somehow behind it all.

Did Letha see her dad in that bear trap too, and walk away? Is this all a ruse? Did it really take her all day to dig Jade out, or did she need that time to bash holes in a few hulls? Was the swan boat really there by accident? Is the machete tucked behind the seat?

“What’s wrong?” Letha asks.

“Somebody threw your stepmother,” Jade blurts out, clasping hard to that certainty. Because no way was that Letha. And how to have choreographed that shotgun blast through the wall? Why cut it so close just to convince the horror chick, whom she could have just killed easy as anything?

Unless she can’t. Unless that horror chick’s about to get framed.

Unless that horror chick’s been the patsy all along.

Speaking of, shouldn’t Letha have been reduced to a crying ball of fear by now, not relaxed enough to be idly talking about horror movies?

“My dad would never do that to her,” Letha says, still talking about Tiara’s big slow-motion fall. “Not to anybody.”

“Did you… like them?” Jade asks. “The Saws?”

“I watched like this,” Letha says, doing her fingers over her eyes, still playing the horror wimp.

Jade breathes in deep once, twice, and on three she says it: “Is that Michael Myers?” When Letha leans forward to follow where she’s pointing—past the swan’s regally arched neck, to Hardy policing fireworks from the pier—Jade slips quietly over the edge, under the water, no splash at all for once in her life, she’s pretty sure.

Her gamble is that by the time Letha realizes she’s gone, she’ll spend thirty seconds or a minute standing in the boat, calling, before she dives in for a look around. But Indian Lake is big, and dark, and quiet, and it’s been swallowing bodies since forever.

Jade kicks to the side, reaches with her right hand and pulls ahead like gathering water into her hip bag, and then she does it again, and again, her lungs burning. When she finally comes up, she’s alone. Freezing, but alone, just a prickly-scalped seal bobbing in the water, her eyes barely above the surface.

She takes her apology to Letha Mondragon back.

Sure, she might have dreamed of and begged for a slasher to stalk into town one fine day, but that doesn’t mean she wants to pedal into the big crowd alongside that slasher.

Except—it can’t be Letha, can it?

You’re being paranoid, Jade tells herself, tracing slow figure eights with her hands. Paranoid and stupid. This is why nobody hangs out with you. This is why everybody hates you.

There’s only about a quarter mile to go to Proofrock, now.

To Jaws.

After looking all around, certain no ostrich-size swans are about to glide up on her, Jade starts pulling for that glowing screen, trying not to broadcast her location with white water, praying she can get there before hypothermia sets in.

Halfway there, the dialogue of the movie is coming through clear. Quint’s just tacking that third barrel to the

shark, and assuring Brody and Hooper that no fish can dive with three. When Jade looks behind her this time, she has to admit that it’s to see if she’s dragging a yellow barrel, as idiotic as that would be. But she is a monster, as far as this town is concerned.

What she sees instead of a yellow barrel is the dull silver prow of a sudden and completely soundless boat, bearing down on her. Not sucking air in this time—no time—Jade slips under, instantly clamping her hands to her head to keep her hair from tangling in the propeller, but then just having bare scalp to hold.

It’s just a little trolling motor burring past, though. Jade watches it churn past inches from her face, a turbid cyclone of bubbles ensconcing the whirling blades. It’s like a free-range garbage disposal, gone feral in the lake—it’s the last thing Jason sees, in The New Blood. Jade rotates in the water, tracking it until the darkness swallows it away, and… and, and standing in the shadows of Banner Tompkins’s party a week and a half ago, she was right, wasn’t she? This

—a trolling motor, a light little boat—is exactly what Theo Mondragon’s been using to cross the lake under cover of night. With it, and especially if he’s got the sides blacked out, he might as well be walking on water.

She comes up a second after the aluminum hull’s gone and gasps air in, her vision swimming from lack of oxygen, and from certainty, from relief.

It is him. Jade was—she was wrong about Letha, she was reading the moment wrong. But it doesn’t matter, now.

“Right on time,” she says to Theo Mondragon’s wake, and then watches as he does the impossible: stands up in the prow of the little boat like George Washington crossing the Delaware—the poster’s on Mr. Holmes’s wall, has been since forever, even after Jade used her pencil eraser to give him Little Orphan Annie eyes. In the poster, what George Washington has running down along his leg, ready for battle, is a long curving saber.

What Theo Mondragon has is the machete, the one Jade never bothered to tell Letha is the same model Quint uses to save the Orca. And, not only is Theo Mondragon standing up in the boat, his hand no longer to the steering control of the trolling motor, but the boat, unlike Washington’s… it’s sinking?

Because he took one of the boats with the crashed-in hulls, Jade can see now. If he was sure to keep his weight all the way in the back, then the nose of that boat would ride out of the water, the big hole up front in the open air. Theo Mondragon must have gambled the boat would wheelie up like that, anyway. And, like every stock purchase he’s taken a chance on, every merger, every takeover, every board meeting, his gamble is paying out.

Right as the boat swamps, he steps forward like he’s going to continue with that forward momentum, walk across the water, start the blood harvest now, meaning… Jade doesn’t even know what that would mean.

Luckily, instead of her whole world collapsing from a human standing on the surface of the lake, he drops into the water instead of balancing on top of it, is just a head like Jade now, pulling for shore. But, forty yards closer than her, his jaw probably not shivering yet.

Jade tries to fix on the shape of his head, track what part of the crowd he’s going to drift into first, but then has to whip her head around again, sure that great white swan’s about to pedal her under. By the time she spins back around to the crowd, locates a head bobbing in the water, there’s… two more beside it?

“No!” Jade says, trying to climb out of the water.

What she saw for an instant, she’s ninety percent sure, is the glint of glasses on that face barely holding itself above water. Yellow glasses.

Shooting Glasses.

He had been deeper underwater than Theo Mondragon’s golden nails could reach, hadn’t he? Because it’s steeper on

that side of the lake. It drops off faster.

He’s alive.

And… and those two smaller heads it looks like he’s carrying, that must be Cinnamon and Ginger, the twins? Mars Baker’s daughters. Shooting Glasses has been swimming them across the lake for the last who knows how many hours, because… he’s not the final girl, is he? Not because boy final girls are illegal or break the machine, but because… because if Theo Mondragon’s the one with the machete, then that means that Letha can be what she was meant to be. What Jade meant for her to be.

Except Letha’s own words are echoing: this is the real world, not a movie, and the real world doesn’t have to follow any special rules. It just does what it does. You can’t pick your genre, no. Has that been what Jade’s been doing all along? Trying to shape an unwieldy string of dead people into a movie, just so she can have a minor role? So she can feel some sense of control?

If so, all her slasher homework has just been to delude herself, not to live through this night. Or, if she does live, then she lives knowing that there never was any slasher cycle, that slashers aren’t real, are just pretend, and what kind of life would that be?

Jade closes her eyes, shakes her head no, balls her fists by her face and sinks under, doesn’t know if she’s crying or not. Hanging under the surface like that the world’s so quiet that… what is that she’s hearing?

A choir? Ezekiel’s still down there in Drown Town, holding his last mass. And—and if that can be real, if Jade’s really and actually hearing music, then… then anything can be true, can’t it?

She reaches up, climbs the water handful by handful, finally surfaces a third time, her lungs hungry, her vision blurred, her nose running, skin number than numb.

She bobs, bobs, tries to jump up to see higher, not sure if her teeth are chattering from cold or from excitement.

He’s almost to the back of the crowd, Shooting Glasses. And, maybe twenty yards to the left of him, unaware of his escape, so is Theo Mondragon. And Letha must be already in the crowd, her unsteerable swan just another ridiculous float in a night of ridiculous floats. On-screen, Quint is screaming, the giant pissed-off shark chomping him in bite by bite, leg by leg, shutting him up once and for all.

“Somebody!” Jade screams, clapping her hand on the water, but she wasn’t lying: the movie really is cranked. And this is everybody’s favorite scene, anyway. In honor, the Proofrockers are singing farewell to Spanish ladies, their arms hooked into other arms over gunwales, across bows— was this what Jade was hearing underwater? And, zero surprise here, isn’t this where she’s always been? Way on the outside, everyone deaf to her cries? Deaf when she cried?

She screams in fury, just to be heard, and when no official flashlight stabs a dusty beam of light out into the darkness to guide her in, she leans sideways, does her best approximation of a freestyle stroke until she pulls close enough to hear distinct words from the speakers.

And—oh shit.

This cannot be happening, can it?

Every year there’s a sort of last-minute theme, circulated in the halls of both schools, scribbled on bathroom walls, left in code on the bulletin board at the drugstore: this year’s costume. It’s a game the whole town plays.

The year she saw the high schooler in the Jigsaw getup, the reason he stood out was that everyone was wearing nun costumes.

This year, some of those long black habits have been recycled, but mixed with hag masks, with zombie make-up, with long stringy J-horror wigs.

The theme this year is “Lake Witch.” Stacey Graves.

Because of course.

Right as Jade drifts in behind the last line of floats, one of those Lake Witches even comes flying across the screen, which is another tradition: dressing up, pole-vaulting off shore, into the stretch of water left free specifically for this year’s jumper to splash down into.

Because jocks and the black t-shirt crowd don’t exactly trade phone numbers and social calendars, Jade didn’t track who this year’s Henderson High Graduation Day pole vaulter was going to be, but whoever it is—Lee Scanlon, maybe?— he’s silhouetted in front of the bright-bright screen now, his robe ragged and backswept, never going to catch him, and it’s like Stacey Graves has come back.

Good for her.

Just, this time, this cycle, the slasher’s more mundane, more human. More real. Sorry, Stacey, Jade says in her heart—she’s already seen this year’s killer, and he’s more from the Ghostface era than the Golden Age.

That doesn’t mean his blade is any less sharp, though.

Jade latches onto the first hull she can and uses it to pull ahead. It’s the librarian float: the boat’s papier-mâché’d into a giant open book, but the gluey paper is mushy under Jade’s hand already.

Connie the Librarian looks over, crosses her index finger over her lips to shush Jade.

What Jade wants to yell back is to clear the beaches, that the theater’s on fire, that there’s a werewolf in the subway, but she doesn’t have enough breath, and Connie’s just playing the role that goes with her float, anyway. Shushing people on tonight of all nights would be hopeless. Like every Fourth, there’s elementary kids with shark fins tied to their backs, snorkels wrapped around their faces, there’s junior highers wading among the boats, sneaking up on ready-to-shriek friends, there’s sophomores making out in the water, seniors going further under cover of gunwales and blankets, and then there’s dads keeping one hand in the water, to guard the beer they’ve got on a stringer, and those dads’

wives drifting in innertubes, already on the day’s second bottle of wine.

Somewhere in there is a hero in yellow glasses, Jade knows. He’s trying to save two little girls whose father is dead, whose whole lives have turned into a screaming nightmare, who are probably chattering their teeth with hypothermia right now, since no way do they have enough body fat. Jade’s not a good person, she knows she’s not and never can be, it’s too late for her, but that doesn’t mean she can’t try to find them, help them onto a boat, onto the pier, into one of Hardy’s crunchy silver blankets.

Shooting Glasses, Shooting Glasses…

She steps up onto a raft built to be a living room, complete with couch and standing lamp, the man on the couch in comical boxers, a swimsuit under them—it’s Lonnie, from the gas station—looking over to her in a drunken way, then lifting his beer to her as if to tell her, Look, I’m not in just an innertube anymore. Jade gives him a nod and holds on to the lamp, casing the crowd. Three or four boats over is a bass boat made into a bassinet, which must be someone’s baby announcement, and there’s Hardy’s airboat tied to the pier like a guard dog, and— seriously?

Her father and Rexall are in a wooden paddleboat draped in what looks like ratty old elk hides that are taking on water. But who cares about their stupid boat. It’s their idiot selves Jade is wincing from: her dad’s got his face painted like Johnny Depp from The Lone Ranger—half-black, half-white, all “Indian”—and is drunk enough already to be shirtless in the open air. The better to see his gut, the skin stretched tight as a drum, his ribs traced in yellow for some reason. Maybe he saw it in a vision, was told by an eagle that if he painted his ribs yellow like that then he could fit not just two or three more beers into his body, but a whole twelve-pack.


Rexall’s worse, and… maybe it’s because he’s white? The headdress he’s in says he’s the chief of their two-person tribe, though, and if beer guts are a status symbol, a sign of prosperity, of having enough buffalo to eat, then… he doesn’t even need the turkey-feather headdress, really.

Jade’s not sure how the eyepatch he’s wearing is supposed to be part of his Halloween getup, but the monkey-doll clamped onto his shoulder probably isn’t culture-specific either—what did she expect, really?

From him: nothing.

From her dad, who actually is Indian?

Jade makes herself pull her eyes away from the insult they are, fixes for a moment on the cheerleaders in their matching bikinis, all of them sitting front to back on some giant shark built over a canoe, it looks like—real original, girls, nobody’s ever thought of that one for this movie. And talking canoes: like every year, Principal Manx is just past them in his clear plastic canoe, sitting alone, looking like he’s just floating there, like if you believe hard enough that you’re in a boat, then you can float.


“Shooting Glasses!” Jade yells, her hands cupped around her mouth.

Which is when she realizes that she doesn’t know his name. That, to him, those are probably safety glasses. Maybe he’s never even fired a real gun, only knows nailguns. And more intimately than he ever hoped.

He doesn’t turn around to her plea, is just trying to push either Cinnamon or Ginger up onto the pier, but there’s no ladder on this side, Jade knows, and when that wood’s wet, it’s slicker than slick. But he finally does it, finally gets one of the girls up there enough that she can latch on, clamber up, and the other twin’s pushing too, and… shit, that’s not one of the twins turning around on the pier to help the other one up. It’s Galatea Pangborne. Meaning the other twin…? Jade sneaks a look across the lake, as if her mind’s eye can

bore into the bowels of the yacht, pick one dead twin from that carnage. Or one hiding twin left behind by her and Letha.

Jade comes right back to the pier as if to apologize, ask for a do-over, she’ll just swim across right now, make everything right. But she’s never been in time for anything, has she? Is this the “Indian Time” her dad’s always using to explain his lateness? Growing up, she thought “Indian Time” meant “just one more beer,” as in, Tab Daniels was going to be however late it took to cash another can, but maybe it covers leaving a terrified little girl on the wrong side of the lake, too.

Not that this is necessarily the right side.

Jade pushes up as high as she can in the water to get Shooting Glasses’s attention, but he’s… he’s already got others’ attention, doesn’t he? Three, four flashlights are holding on him, helping him help these kids, who probably fell off their own floats. It should be a good thing, a happy thing, except—except he’s Jada Pinkett Smith at the front of the theater in Scream 2 now, isn’t he?

Just, hopefully, without the slow, over-dramatic dying.

Either Cinnamon or Ginger is almost up onto the pier, though.

Which is when Jade’s Spidey-sense gets her head turning, her eyes zeroing in on… on… Theo Mondragon.

He’s bobbing in the water, using the baby announcement boat to see higher, and what he’s seeing is who everybody’s spotlighting for him: Shooting Glasses. Who’s supposed to be dead.

“No,” Jade says, but yes: in one of his bobs, or one of the water’s dips, the tip of Theo Mondragon’s Quint machete pokes up, is practically that long drill from The Slumber Party Massacre poster. And, on tonight of all nights, no one will take it seriously, everyone will think it’s a prop-weapon. There’s probably one that looks the same on every third boat, shit.

“There he is!” Jade calls out, slapping the surface of the lake with her hand, which is when the first scream comes. She looks over like she has to, and cheerleaders are bailing off the back of the shark, falling one after the other like a choreographed dance number.

But why?

Jade clambers up onto Lonnie’s living room float again, using his floor lamp to steady herself, the lamp’s chain evidently caught in her grip enough to pull the lightbulb on. Meaning there must be a battery on this raft somewhere—of course Lonnie would have a battery.

It lights her up, draws Theo’s glare to her. “You,” he says, Jade somehow hearing it.

“Go to hell!” Jade screams back, and then tilts the lamp forward. It douses in the water, Lonnie lunging after it.

Jade steps back into the lake too, never mind the cold. She’s roiling with heat, now, has no choice but to keep Theo Mondragon occupied long enough for Shooting Glasses to climb to safety, long enough for the final girl to gather her wits, find herself, and—

The cheerleaders, screaming again? Jade whips her head around.

It’s… Jocelyn Cates? Proofrock’s beauty queen and onetime Olympic swimmer—the final girl hopeful of her day, surely. Had there been a slasher in Proofrock twenty years ago. She’s standing up from her pink-frilled boat, and Jade’s blood, she’s pretty sure, actually drops a degree or two—all the degrees.

Jocelyn Cates is screaming because her husband beside her, whatever his name is, has black spreading over his chest. From his face, his mouth. Where his mouth used to be.

His lower jaw has been ripped off. All the flashlights within shining distance hold on him long enough that everyone can be sure. Long enough to track his slow slump forward.

Like that it’s panic at the disco.

The bass-boat bassinet fires up its outboard in response, breaking whatever promise this mom-and-dad-to-be had to make to Hardy. It stands up in the water and tries to spin around but there’s no room. Instead of executing a neat flipturn, the propeller wraps in the float beside it, the Henderson High float the teachers always do—the same “classroom” as every year—and all the teachers in the bolted-down chairs of their “desks” grab on to those desks, their hidden beers and glasses of wine exploding up before their faces, and, and—

Among them, Jade sees the last person she ever thought she’d get to see again. All other sound falls away.

Mr. Holmes.

He’s there in a wheelchair, his right leg in a trash-bagged cast in front of him, a cigarette in his hand, hidden down by his spokes. And the float he’s on is being chewed into by an illegal propeller that’s screaming higher and madder, faster and faster.

“Sir!” Jade shrieks, and doesn’t even think, just runs to him, climbing up and across Lonnie’s living room, falling almost immediately back into the water, conking her chin on the hard side of some boat, its mushy paper clinging to her face so she has to duck below the surface, swim under.

She comes up into absolute madness.

On-screen, the Orca is sinking, and right beside her, a much smaller Orca is too. The papier-mâché shark is floating free, getting batted around, and—no. No no no.

The lower part of Jocelyn Cates’s husband’s face is snagged on a half-gone six-pack, is floating with it, right by Jade’s face.

What could even do that? An M-80 in the throat? There’s no time, though.

Jade jerks away, trying to find Mr. Holmes. The bass-boat bassinet’s outboard is coughing down now, maybe has too much of the teachers’ float wrapped into its propeller. Jade

can hear it, not see it. She looks around for anything to climb on, something to latch onto, and—the pier.

Either Cinnamon or Ginger has Galatea up on her hip. They’re waiting for Shooting Glasses, who’s having to find his own way up, and with, Jade can see now, a line of nails angling down across his back. Theo Mondragon did get him. Just, not enough.

Or: not yet.

Jade shakes her head no, can see this happening but do nothing about it: Theo Mondragon is gliding to the pier in— in Manx’s invisible canoe. Which he is using like a paddleboard, Letha. He even has an actual paddle.

Give him a robe, a wig, and he’s Stacey Graves.

And he must be soundless, too, or else his paddle dipping in is hidden by all the splashing around him, by Jaws still playing so loud through the speakers, by all the screaming. Shooting Glasses doesn’t hear him until it’s too late, anyway.

Theo Mondragon pulls him back hard, all at once, hard enough that the nails in Shooting Glasses’s back stab into Theo Mondragon’s chest and stomach, sending both of them spilling over the side, the invisible canoe continuing on invisibly, maybe, who knows.

Jade looks up onto the pier for where either Cinnamon or Ginger is looking, as they might have a better line on what’s going on right under them, and—and it’s Tiffany Koenig standing there now.

She’s got her phone aimed down, is recording whatever’s going on, and probably this whole disaster.

Jade waves as big as she can to Tiff, but her arm’s just one of a hundred, and when she rises up high enough again to see the base of the pier, the foundering librarian float is in her way now.

“No!” Jade says, clawing at the soggy paper, her hand painfully connecting with the aluminum boat hidden underneath.

When she pulls it back to coddle it for a moment, stop the stinging, she makes herself try to remember if Theo Mondragon had his machete or not when he pulled Shooting Glasses down.

No, he didn’t! He had both hands on that tall paddle, didn’t he?

“Please please please,” she says, and a heavy hand plants on her shoulder, its owner just trying to pull past, get away from whatever this is. It dunks Jade before she can breathe, and she comes up sputtering.

To her immediate right, bleary and blurry but clearing up, too many Proofrockers are on Lonnie’s raft, and it’s sinking, the upright-again lamp flickering yellow somehow.

And the screaming, god. Jade can hardly hear herself think. Every mouth is open, and every second face is Stacey Graves—this night isn’t a night, it’s a series of heart attacks waiting to happen.

Jade finally fixes on her father, standing unmolested in his boat, his left hand to the toy saber strapped to his belt— aisle 3, Family Dollar—his right clutching the neck of his beer bottle. In the water at his feet is Alison Chambers, floating faceup, her chest leaking out into the lake. From that bass boat’s illegal motor? But… how does that motor explain Jocelyn Cates’s husband’s jaw being ripped off, especially when that jaw being ripped off came before that outboard even fired up?

There’s Judd Tambor standing in the water, holding a child up above the fray, the image of that wavering in Jade’s head with the image of him at graduation, holding a kid above his head just the same, everybody clapping for her.

They’re not clapping now, even though she was right about everything.

She backs up, feeling the water behind her first, and her fingertips find warmth.

Jade turns and the warmth is the inside of Misty Christy’s chest. Misty Christy’s daughter, the one Jade saved from the

bus, is treading water while trying to hold her mom’s head up, but it doesn’t matter if Misty Christy’s airways are clear anymore or not.

Jade pulls Misty Christy across to her.

“Go!” she tells the daughter, “find the sheriff, I’ll keep her safe!”

The girl is about to cry, this is too much, but after a moment more of treading water, she turns, is a minnow cutting for shore, for the sheriff, for someone to save her mom.

Jade lets Misty Christy drift away, and has to swish her hand in the water to clear the blood. Dan Dan the mailman rises up under her hand, his bald head a nervous periscope, the pole vaulter’s pole slips past like a rigid snake, and then some float is jouncing Jade forward. She looks back to who hit her. It’s Dorothy, of Dot’s. She’s holding on to the innertube she has made up like a coffee cup, like every year. Holding on and thrashing. She latches onto Jade, pulls herself up with Jade’s shoulder, which is when Jade sees Dorothy’s face.

The right eye is gone, and a good chunk of the skull, too.

Jade flinches back, gulps bloody water in and swallows it before she can tell herself not to.

Because it’s too crazy up here on the surface, she lowers everything but her eyes under, pulls from this boat to that boat, coasting through either blood or Jell-O. Her main hope now is to drift unobserved to the edge of this, and then float quietly out into deeper, more hidden waters. Except—her feet are tangling in something? She jerks, pulls, finally has to just duck under, see.

It’s spokes. Of a wheelchair. Mr. Holmes.

In this comparative calmness, she studies the water around her but can’t even see past her hands. All the blood, all the silt, all the bubbles. When she comes up she’s instantly swamped by she’s not sure what—somebody

cannonballing in? getting thrown in?—and when she clears her eyes, there’s Mr. Holmes right in front of her, trying to float on his back, but the lake is going in and out of his mouth, and his cast is heavy, trying to pull him down.

His head’s been opened at his hairline, about, probably from the prow of the bass boat, is spilling dates and history out into the water. His twitching left hand finds her right, and Jade pulls him to her, looking around for what she can protect him from.

He looks over to her, spits the water from his mouth and smiles, says, “Jenn—Jennifer.”

“Jade,” Jade says back to him, her eyes hot and crying now.

“I—I—” he sputters.

His left hand finds the back of her head. He runs his fingers across her stubble and she pushes back against this touch, shaking her head no but holding his hand all the same.

A spasm passes across him: his head injury. His brain, failing.

Jade pulls him closer, tries to hold him higher. “Just, just—” she says. “We can, I’ll get you—”

It was a lie when she said it to Misty Christy’s daughter, though, and it’s a lie now.

The corners of Mr. Holmes’s eyes crinkle like he appreciates the effort.

“Will she or won’t she what?” he manages to get out, and the massacre they’re in becomes just mute backdrop for the moment, a movie going on in the next theater over.

Will she or won’t she? Jade repeats, inside, feeling through



Where is this from? She knows, she does, she— No.

She closes her eyes.

It’s what she told Hardy and Letha and Mr. Holmes her

mom was asking herself, sitting in the car at that gas station

in Idaho Falls, wasn’t it? It’s what she wrote in her letter to Letha.

And—and her deal with Holmes, to get her diploma. She has to pass her orals. She has to answer this one question for him truthfully, the same as he confessed to her about having started the fire in 1965.

His fingers tighten in her hand.

Jade opens her eyes, still shaking her head no.

“Will she—” she starts, breathing so deep now to finally be saying it, after all these years, “will she or won’t she… be a grandma before she’s thirty. The doctor was—was to see if he’d gotten me preg-preg—or not.”

And Jade only thought she was crying before. Her whole face is leaking now, though, and it’s from—it’s from deeper than she’s ever felt.

She’s finally telling someone. She’s finally saying it. It’s not just inside her, now, it’s out in the world, it’s real, it really happened. She wasn’t down in Idaho Falls to get baby aspirin pumped from her stomach, baby aspirin was just the first thing her mom saw on the impulse rack by her register, Keyser Söze–style. No, they were down there to see if—if she had something else inside her.

Mr. Holmes closes his eyes like this hurts him more than his head injury, more than his leg, more than anything.

“I’m—I should have—” he says, and uses his left hand to pull her face to his neck now, and, this close, Jade can feel the tremor passing through his body, the… Twitch of the Death Nerve, yes. Also known as A Bay of Blood.

Thank you, Mario Bava.

Jade pulls Mr. Holmes closer, as close as she can, but she can’t stop it. He’s dying. Right now this actual instant while he’s in her arms, he’s dying.

“Somebody should, somebody should…” he says, and Jade mumbles the end into his neck, her lips right against his rough skin: “Somebody will, sir.”

When she looks up to him his eyes are glassy, and he’s gone, is—say it, she tells herself: he’s history.

Jade lets him float away, back into the frothing blood, the screams, the mayhem, all the volume dialing back up for her now. Where she’s looking is to her father, still standing on his boat in the middle of all this madness, untouched, his black-and-white warpaint not even running.

For the moment.

“You’re getting all the wrong people!” Jade screams to Theo Mondragon, wherever he is, whoever he’s carving through now.

Jade’s not moving stealthily anymore. She doesn’t have to. All around her it’s craziness, it’s blood in the air and screams cutting through it, multiplying. And Letha was right, these coveralls are heavy, but Jade’s fingers are too numb to get a grip on the wet zipper, so she just pulls ahead, pulls ahead.

On the way to her dad’s boat she collects a shattered piece of a wooden pole—a rib from the cheerleader’s shark, probably. Her dad’s not a vampire, but the thing about stakes to the heart is that they work on non-vampires just the same. And this is one bloodsucker that needs to die. And in carnage like this, nobody will question one more body facedown in the mix. That’s a lesson she’s learned from the sheriff.

“This is for you,” Jade tells her eleven-year-old self, a completely weird thing to say, but she’s got to say something.

She comes up behind her dad’s boat, glides up into it as stealthy as any slasher. Everything’s already rocking, so a little more rocking—her climbing aboard—doesn’t draw his attention. Before she can talk herself out of it, she steps cleanly ahead, takes his neck from the back in the crook of her arm, and presses the sharp leading point of the pole into his back, his chest swelling away from this pain but she has him by the neck, so he can’t get away from this.

Of all the lines Jade’s tried to have ready for this moment, all she manages to come up with is, “I wasn’t for you, Dad.”

“J-Jennifer?” he says back, realizing that it’s her, that this isn’t the end he thought it was, and for a bad flash—his tone is so surprised—Jade lets herself believe that he was drunk enough that night that he doesn’t even remember what he did. How else does he get across the last six years in such good spirits?

It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, though.

It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, Jade’s telling herself. Whether he remembers what he did or not doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

When her dad tries to twist, see her face, she tightens her arm on his throat, shoves the splintered point of the pole maybe a quarter inch in, blood spurting warm onto the web of her hand.

She’s in the shower again, which is where it happened. The water heater’s failing, so they’re doubling up. He’s washing her, his bottle of vodka up by the shampoo, he’s washing her and he’s—he’s—

“What if Janet Leigh was waiting for Norman?” Jade says through her sudden tears, or tries to say, but her throat is clenching, her whole body is trembling, is cringing away from this skin-to-skin contact with him, and—and she wants to spasm her head back and forth faster and faster like Jacob’s Ladder, to shake free of this Lost Highway memory, she wants to remember things her own way, please, she wants to blur that whole year away, smear it into just a bland sixth-grade nothing, and she still isn’t stabbing this sharp pole into her dad’s back like she needs to.

“I’m really going to,” she makes herself say, like hearing it

out loud might make it true.

But… she can’t?

She looks down to her hand like to clock where the betrayal is, but it’s not there. It’s in her head. Her head is what’s betraying her. Her heart.

She can’t do it. She’s not a killer.

“Jennifer?” her dad says, a sort of confident chuckle to his voice that makes her want to hurl.

“No,” a voice says from just past him, “it’s Jade,” and then Tab Daniels’s head conks over to the side fast and hard. He falls away, slumps ahead into the water, out of Jade’s arm, blood from his face coating the water.

Letha. It’s Letha.

She’s holding a board with a nail in it, but to her it’s a bat. The nail, and the force behind it, tore Jade’s dad’s temple away from his skull. Some of him—cheek muscle, nose tissue, a whole eyebrow maybe—is still on the sharp end of that nail, even.

“He’s never going to hurt you again,” Letha says, breathing hard, which is when the world turns white and fast and stinging. Letha disappears into it and Jade falls onto her knees, shielding her face, her newly exposed scalp.

There’s a sound too, an everywhere sound, a deep dangerous whirring, like a weed whacker the size of a car, which means—

Hardy’s airboat.

He’s got it revved high, all his lights shining through the mist and droplets his great blades are spitting across the water.

Until that fan cycles down, anyway.

Monstrous shadows surge through the light, and all Jade can see is Hardy teetering there now from whatever just happened, one hand still to his high captain’s chair, his stomach open to the night air, his hand already clamped to that line of pain. But his hand’s not big enough for this. At first a little blood seeps through his fingers, and then the rest, slick and bulging, glistening gray.

Jade’s breathing hard now.

She looks back around to Letha, still standing exactly where she was, the nail-board down by her leg, and… she didn’t do this to Hardy, she was right here, doing what Jade

couldn’t. And—and Theo Mondragon, Jade can see his hulking shape on the pier, one hand trying to keep his seeping nail-tears shut, the other shielding his eyes from the projector light, Brody huge on-screen behind him, lining up on that oxygen tank one last time.

“I don’t—this doesn’t—” Jade says to Letha, reaching forward not so much to pull Letha in as to just hold on to her, but… a small hand is reaching up from behind Letha, is taking her chin, and is wrenching it to the side, Letha’s own hands coming up fast to try to hold her face together but even her final girl strength isn’t enough.

Her jaw is tearing away, her head trying to go with it, her eyes blown wide because this can’t really be happening, and finally her reflexes and muscles are able to clamp her hands onto whoever’s doing this terrible thing to her, so her whole body can ride this tearing-away motion.

Still, her jaw is definitely creaking away from her face, opening her screaming mouth unnaturally wide, and crooked—a dark chasm Jade’s seen a hundred times through the tracking lines of a VHS tape, but up close and personal like this, it’s so much more intense. The top and bottom rows of teeth, they’re—they’re supposed to be parallel to each other, pretty much, but Letha’s lower teeth are angling fast away, and there’s the distinct sound of the hinge of her jaw cracking, the skin there tearing. There’s not any blood yet, this moment is being sliced too thin for the blood to be coming yet, but if the skin is parting like this, if the bones are shattering into the muscle, if the ligaments and tendons are popping like rubber bands—

And then this instant catches up with itself and Letha is being flung away, her body ragdolling across the remains of Lonnie’s living room, thunking into the side of the jauntily floating but thoroughly abandoned bass boat, and… then sinking, with no ceremony.

The final girl is dead.

Jade looks into the space Letha just was, to whoever just did this impossible thing.

It’s a little girl with long black hair, a little girl with pale dead skin, a little girl with a dress both rotting away and rolled in stabby elk hair, a little girl with forever-cracked lips and shattered fingernails, thin black veins spidering away from her black-black eyes.

Stacey Graves, the Lake Witch.

She opens her mouth to hiss but her own jaw dislocates on one side, falls out of joint, stretching the dry skin on that side of her mouth down. She screeches, draws one hand up to stop this pain, and cocks her head over to some angle she must know, jams her jaw back up into place.

“You,” Jade says, falling back, catching herself on a gunwale, and it all comes home for her in that instant: a little girl, afraid of what she is, gallops across Indian Lake on all fours, away from the boys who played this trick on her, away from the town that never fed her, away from the father who never wanted her. All she’s looking for here is her mother, stashed in a crevice over there, one deeper than the buzzards can find, because Letch Graves doesn’t need any more attention from the sheriff.

But Stacey Graves is no buzzard, and she has weeks to find her mother, and finally does, right at the water’s rising edge.

Stacey Graves wriggles into the shallow cave with her, drapes her mother’s arms around herself, and goes to sleep until the hated water seeps in with them, bringing its faint music with it. Because it’s the water coming up over her, not her trying to get under it, and because she’s wedged so tightly in her mother’s embrace, Stacey Graves is able to go under at last and be with her mother, which is all she’s ever wanted.

But then a sharp black hook finds her, ends her sleep.

She comes up, frees herself, and, looking for her mother again, kills anyone she finds hunting on that side of the

lake, making those woods so sacred they become national forest almost on their own. But she does manage to find her mother again, dragged out along with Stacey, just floating at the surface of the lake now.

Stacey leads her to a better cave, a higher-up cave, one the singing water will never find, and then blocks the entrance up behind them, and this works for decades, until the forest becomes a furnace, dripping enough sparks and hissing pitch down that her mother’s dry skin sizzles, flickers, catches flame.

Stacey Graves pats those little fires out, waits for the larger one to die back, and then she climbs up, goes for the first culprits she can find. They’re at the edge of the lake, are in a series of little houses that aren’t the town she hates, but will do.

Afterwards she retires to her cave, sleeps the sleep of the dead with her mother again, hopefully this time forever, but then someone drops in with her. She hisses at him, scratches at him, and then thick grey water starts to spurt down into her cave. But it’s not water at all. It’s melted rock. Stacey Graves fights through before it can dry, rises that night, and takes the first lives she chances upon: elk, foraging close to shore under cover of darkness. But she’s not done yet. There are voices out on the water. Laughing,


Not on her watch.

She rushes out there to that green canoe, silences them both, and, looking for another cave to ride out eternity in, she hides from the sun—it makes her skin hiss, her eyes smolder, her lips and nailbeds steam—in the only cave she can find: the elk she slaughtered, which embed their stabby hair into her rotting nightgown. But it’s nice in there, it’s dark and pressing like a hug, like her mother’s there with her, and for weeks and months, it’s enough, until a saw made of screaming metal tears into her rotting cave, splashing light in.

Stacey Graves retracts from it, squirming deeper into the decay, and then she pushes hard enough that she falls out into the open air again, after which she races to the loudest, most obnoxious sound she can, the one that must be responsible for disturbing her: the yacht. After tearing up and down those tight halls, slashing across those slick decks, crashing through door after door, she hides from the sun again for the day, and then—then this, the party on the water, disturbing her sleep, invading her lake. Her lake.

How Jade knows she’s right about all this, it’s not that the dates or the logic line up, it’s that this little dead girl is standing behind where Letha was—on the water.

It hasn’t been Theo Mondragon impossibly being here and then there at the same time. It’s been a little dead girl flitting across the surface from person to person, a little girl not slowed down by having to wade or swim—she couldn’t if she wanted to, because this Christian burial ground won’t take her Indian self, won’t let her step through.

Right when Stacey Graves starts to surge forward, for Jade, a bellow stops them both.

It’s Theo Mondragon.

He’s standing in Hardy’s airboat, is looking at the bass boat Letha just died against. He’s looking at the water his only daughter just sank down into.

And then he’s looking at Stacey Graves.

He’s got the machete back, now, must have had it slid into his belt at the small of his back.

“You!” he says to Stacey Graves, and she angles her head over, maybe surprised to be called out instead of retreated from.

But, does she even understand words anymore, or does she only understand death?

She seems to get it when Theo Mondragon points his machete at her, anyway.

Stacey Graves darts forward and Theo Mondragon cocks the machete back to cut her in half, but at the last moment

she swerves, slides under his swing, stands up behind him.

Before he can orient, set his feet in the rocking airboat, she’s reached around, has him by the jaw the same as she had Letha. She flings him hard to the side, not even bothering to tear his face in half, just cracking him into the side of the pier, probably fifteen feet away.

Theo Mondragon’s legs and shoulders try to keep going, and do, folding around the unmoving side of the pier, and something cracks inside him. His back, surely, because people don’t fold sideways, do they?

He sloughs off, down, and it seems for a moment that the empty green canoe is going to catch him, but it only catches his machete.

Stacey Graves, after watching that slow drip into the waiting water, maybe even appreciating it, turns, inspects the red surface of these waters, her eyes settling again on Jade.

“No,” Jade whispers to her, like that can work. But it’s not a completely voluntary thing, either. Is just a prayer, really.

It’s answered by the night splitting in two from… gunfire? Four fast shots, grouped tight in Stacey Graves’s back,

flinging her small body ahead, sending her skidding across the surface of Indian Lake, which looks so wrong.

It’s Hardy, Jade sees. He’s dying, is still trying to save her, because he’s not going to let Jade die in these waters like his daughter did.

It’s what dads do. It’s what they’re supposed to do.

After those four shots, though, Hardy slumps forward into the water, and Stacey Graves is already there on top of the water he just disappeared under. Just like when Hardy was eleven at Camp Blood, she’s tearing at the surface, trying to get to him, but again she can’t. Jade uses this distraction to push back, to hide, to live, and once under she kicks back and back, so that when she rises amid all the floating dead, she’s just one head of many. Right beside her, faceup, is Mr. Holmes. And Misty Christy. Gliding past on a paddleboard is

Lucky, the school bus driver, using a long blue paddle to pull himself ahead, ahead. He locks eyes with Jade for a second or two, pleading with her to be still, to be quiet, to let him sneak away, through all this, but then he thunks into the green canoe, over here already somehow, and loses his balance, has to step over the side, slip into the water.

On the way down his chin connects with the paddleboard and that leaves his tongue jumping on that gritty surface. When he comes up gasping for air, chin bloody, eyes panicked, Stacey Graves is standing right there, the holes in her chest and shoulder not even bleeding, just black at the edges of those craters.

She hauls Lucky up to her level by what hair he has and, moving slowly, deliberately like an experiment, she pushes her other hand into his chest, rotates it left and right to ease the insertion. Instead of pulling Lucky’s heart back out, she holds it, it looks like, holds it in her small hand until he sags, becomes even deader weight.

When she drops Lucky’s body back into the water along with his heart, she’s already staring at Jade, treading bloody water, Jade’s friends and enemies all dead around her, and

—but it can’t be, she’s not a final girl… she hasn’t been a virgin for six years now, almost seven. But she’s the only one left who can do this, isn’t she? The only one who can stand against the slasher?

Is she the final girl?

Jade shakes her head no, but Stacey Graves lived before movies, lived before John Carpenter and Wes Craven, before Jason and Ghostface, so she doesn’t even know what Jade’s saying no to.

I’m not ready, Jade wants to tell her. I don’t—I can’t—I’ve never—

It doesn’t matter.

Stacey Graves lunges ahead to take Jade by the hair the same as she just took Lucky, but Jade has no hair for Stacey Graves to grab on to. Her little fingers scrabble on Jade’s

stubbly scalp and Jade slips under, away from them. She drops into a quieter world. Up above it, Stacey Graves is clawing at the surface of the water, clawing and, it looks like, screeching, the same as she was about Hardy. At least until her jaw cranks out of place and she has to stand, line it back up again.

Jade uses that to drift away, under some boat melting paper down.

She comes up as quietly as she can right alongside that boat—it’s the librarians’. She can tell because Connie is hanging over the edge, her face in the water like she’s looking for something she just dropped.

Jade breathes deep and slow, not sure when she’s going to have to go under again, but she’s fighting blind panic, too. It can’t be her! It’s supposed to be Letha! Letha could have done this.

Jade, she’s—she’s just the horror chick, the fan.

But then she hears a commotion, looks up. It’s Lee Scanlon, trying to wade-run through the shallows, escape up Main Street.

Stacey Graves surges ahead, her bare feet on the surface making little sucking sounds, part of her dress ripping away behind her, clinging to the shape it caught on: the machete. It’s stuck point-down into the high side of the green canoe, just as Quint left it—no, no, as Theo Mondragon dropped it.

This is no time to lose the line between movies and the real world, Jade tells herself.

With Lee’s first, maybe last, scream, Jade reaches up from the water, grabs on to the handle of that machete, works it free—not as easy as it looks—sheathes herself back into the water.

You can do this, you can do this, she’s telling herself. You can take down Stacey Graves. You have to. She killed Mr. Holmes. She killed Theo Mondragon. She killed Letha, the actual final girl.

Making no waves, Jade dog-paddles to the side, just away from where Stacey Graves knows she’s supposed to be. The first body she comes to, she grabs on for purchase, to pull ahead, and it’s Jocelyn Cates, playing possum, making hot eyes to Jade about just keep moving, I’m not really here, don’t say anything.

Jade can’t help it, she flinches away, surprised to have someone she thought dead making eyes at her, and only realizes the mistake after she’s made it: Stacey Graves keys on that flurry of motion, is already coming over, is that hag from Curtains, moving so soft and perfect across the top of the water.

In the movie, though, it’s slow motion, it’s beautiful, it’s serene.

In real life, in Indian Lake, it’s all of about two terrible seconds.

Jade tries to duck under again, but this time Stacey Graves has her by the shoulder, her sharp little fingers pincering in through the skin, latching onto tendon and bone.

She hauls Jade up, and now her rancid scent—rot, decay, elk—assaults Jade’s nose, her mouth, her lungs.

She lifts Jade higher, higher, maybe not sure where her feet are going to be, and Jade’s shoulder is screaming, her neck too even though it’s higher up, and her first instinct, it’s that little-kid response: reach up, grab Stacey Graves’s wrist, take some of that weight that way, just like Letha tried to do.

But that didn’t work out so well for her, did it?

Instead, Jade takes the handle of the machete in both hands, knows this is a one-shot-only thing, and slices from right to left with everything she’s been holding inside for the last six years, with every ounce of anger and rejection, all the unfairness and resentment, and she hears herself screaming exactly like a final girl when she does it, and it’s not even on purpose, it’s just coming, it’s pure rage, it’s

having so much inside that it’s got to come out, she’s Constance in Just Before Dawn, she’s finally turning around to fight, is insisting on her own life, is refusing to die, isn’t going to take even one more moment of abuse, and, and—

The machete is factory sharp, and her grip is solid, and Stacey Graves’s side is stretched tight from having to hold Jade up and up—she’s short, never got past eight years tall.

Jade’s scream dies away, her scream spent, her rage falling from her eyes so she can see again, and… the leading edge of the machete is maybe an inch into Stacey Graves’s ribs, has done no more damage than Hardy’s bullets. Way less, really.

Stacey Graves looks down to it, drops Jade to lower a hand, extract this irritation, and Jade slips under the water for what she knows is her last time. Now there’s no one left to distract Stacey Graves. Now she’s just going to squat down on the surface like the kid she is, wait for the living girl to come up for the air she needs, isn’t she? And, even if Jade had all the machetes, they wouldn’t matter, would they?

But… but why did that hook work on Stacey Graves all those years ago, and not the machete now? Is it that Jade’s not the real final girl? But how could that keep a machete from acting like a machete? It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t—

Steel, Jade tells herself. Of fucking course.

That’s what the machete is made from, right? Because it needs to be sharp. And because this is the twenty-first century. But, didn’t Christine Gillette say that that iron hook cost two dollars at the hardware store? Key word, there: iron.

Iron works on whatever Stacey Graves is. Steel machetes don’t.

Like Jade has any iron ones four feet underwater.

This is it, she tells herself, and the way she knows it really is is that she’s not running through a list of apologies and

regrets, isn’t talking to anybody right now. But—but at least she can deny Stacey Graves the pleasure of eviscerating her, can’t she? At least I can die with my jaw attached, Jade tells herself, and blows all her air out, butterflies her arms out to go lower, lower, into the deep dark.

After thirty seconds of it, her body bucks, her mouth opens, draws in a deep breath of cold water, and she can’t help it anymore, she’s fighting up, she’s clawing for the surface—

She gasps up, and almost before she can breathe in, she’s puking water, her body still bucking, her hands out, fingers reaching for anything, please.

What they find is Stacey Graves’s ankle.

Jade looks up along the rotted gown, and Stacey Graves is looking back down to her.

She works her jaw back into place again and steps neatly forward, out of Jade’s grasp, squatting down to look Jade right in the face, her scent a sharp oily assault.

In the movie version of this, Jade knows, she’d have found Mr. Bill’s old dredging hook buried down on the floor of the lake, and this is when she’d sling it up and around, bury its sharp point in Stacey Graves’s temple.

Letha was right, though: this is real life.

Stacey Graves cocks her head to the side, her eyes no longer on Jade’s face, but on… her scalp?

She’s never seen a bald girl, has she?

Jade closes her eyes, can’t stop this inspection from happening: Stacey Graves’s nose snuffling against her scalp, trying to get a read on this strange girl-person. Not exactly trying to get away anymore, that’s useless, Jade retracts all the same, slips just barely under the surface, looks back up through it, and what she feels like is Hardy at eleven years old, hiding under the water while Stacey Graves stands right above him, unable to get down to him, because this water, to her, is cursed, is cursed with Ezekiel’s

unholy choir, which allows no intruders as corrupt as a little monster of a girl.

Then Jade finds a calm place inside her.

There’s a thought bubbling up into her head, with the last of her oxygen. No, an image: Stacey Graves, thrown by the boys, screaming with joy, hanging above the water. But then bouncing on the hard-to-her surface. But—but if that elk hunter Mr. Bill hooked her under the water all those years ago, if the cover she was hiding in got submerged in the rising lake, then that means she can be under it, just… she can’t get there herself. But it can rise over her. She can’t be dropped in, can’t be thrown in, but…

Jade waits until she feels Stacey Graves’s nose right above her forehead, and then she shoves her right hand, her non-suicide hand up through the surface of the water as fast as she can, her fingers forcing their way between the blackened stumps of Stacey Graves’s teeth, because— because the only weakness Stacey Graves has, aside from maybe iron dredging hooks, is her messed-up jaw.

Jade yanks down on it with everything she has, feels bone creaking against bone somewhere in Stacey Graves’s small skull, and she falls back with it as hard as she can, forcing all her air out again, no preparation, and—yes, yes yes yes

—Stacey Graves’s face plunges down through the surface, followed by her whole little body.

Her sharp broken teeth bite into and it feels like through Jade’s fingers, but she keeps pulling, keeps dragging, Stacey Graves no longer mad but scared, shrieking under the water, clawing up, up, for where she belongs.

Jade pulls her deeper, deeper yet, until they reach a still point and Jade can hug Stacey to her, hug her tight with arms and legs, caging her, her small body bucking and writhing at first, but then, gratefully and by slow degrees, stilling, stilling enough that… is that music Jade’s hearing through the water, or the end of the movie?

She lets go and Stacey Graves just hangs there, motionless in the silt.

At least until a large pale hand comes up through the muddy water, wraps around her thin ankle, and pulls her away all at once, down into the real and permanent darkness of Ezekiel’s Cold Box.

Jade panics, her last lungful of air long since used up, and now she’s the one bucking, now she’s the one unable to climb up to the surface, but… but it was worth it, wasn’t it? To die killing the slasher? To have got to actually and really be the final girl, right here at the very-very end?

Jade full-body convulses, her traitorous mouth opening to suck water in, the lake suffusing her chest, with its icy-everywhere-at-once fingers, and, and this is what death is like, some part of her realizes, and it’s not soft or easy at all, it’s a panic you’re both trapped in and distant from, and it’s

Another hand coalesces a foot in front of Jade, which is… which is up, from above, not from below? Before Jade can process it anymore it has her by the front of her coveralls, is ripping her to the surface.

It’s Letha Mondragon.

She’s not slow-motioning it through the science hallway of Henderson High, though, her shampoo-commercial hair billowing behind her. No, now she’s gasping, blood sheeting down over her face from a gouge across what used to be her eyebrow, and that eye’s not moving with her other one anymore, but that’s nothing—her jaw. It’s been wrenched out of place, cracked away at the hinges, so her chin’s hanging low and crooked. The only reason it’s still even close to in place, isn’t torn away and tossed aside to sink, is… it’s her moisturizer regimen, isn’t it?

Her skin was elastic enough to hold on.

And if she can make it through that kind of violence, then taking a header into a boat isn’t going to end her.

Some girls just don’t know how to die.

Jade wants to reach for Letha, to hold on to her, to be held by her, but there’s a coldness surging up through her chest, there’s a new burning she knows is air, wonderful air, and then she’s puking lake water onto Letha. And Letha just lets her, lets her, doesn’t drop her or anything. At least not until she has to, the last of her strength spent on Jade.

Jade reaches for her, for real now, to try to save her back, but she doesn’t have to: Banner Tompkins is standing with her in his arms, is the one doing the saving here, his surge of water pushing Jade away.

“She—she did it!” Banner calls out, turning around so everyone left can see the hero, Letha Mondragon.

The final girl.

“She did it!” Banner repeats, louder, standing higher now with Letha, holding her like a trophy, like a hero, and Letha’s a good-enough person to shake her head no about this, try to give slasher credit where slasher credit’s due, but the effort to try to rise from Banner’s arms to direct attention back to Jade is finally too much. Letha passes out into Banner’s heaving chest, her long hair trailing down into the water, which somehow makes the whole scene more dramatic, more perfect.

Jade wouldn’t just be the bad guy for messing with it, she’d be the worst guy.

Worse than Proofrock already thinks she is, anyway.

She lowers herself into the cold water so as to disappear and frog swims to the side, having to navigate all the half-sunken floats, all the cold dead arms hanging down, all the blood swirling around her outstretched fingers.

Underwater, it’s not really crying. But it is cold, now.

Jade surfaces with a gasp, the night air not doing much to warm her, and stabs a hand out for something to help her stay up.

The town canoe.

Jade clambers up, over, in, shoulder screaming, fingers throbbing, her hurt leg dead and heavy.

Collapsed down between the seats, her face to the green fiberglass, she laughs and sobs and hates everything, but she loves it all too, wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Finally she rolls over and there’s nothing but stars overhead. She drifts like that, just checked out, spent, imagining she’s on a raft of the dead, imagining there’s credits rolling somewhere in her foreground, imagining—

Her hand finds the machete under the bench.

She lifts it, inspects it like the wondrous thing it is, and, trying to be cool like Quint, slams it down into the side of the canoe. It falls over so she tries again, standing to swing, and just gets the edge to chisel in enough so the machete can stay there like it’s supposed to.

Sideways in the canoe now, Jade hooks her legs over one side, hangs her head back over the other side, and for the thousandth time she’s Alice at the end of Friday the 13th, Alice in the long sigh after all the screaming, Alice reclining back into that dream which would wedge the door of sleep open for Freddy, for this whole Golden Age.

Just for a moment, before Jason bursts up from the water, hugs her from behind, everything’s pretty all right, isn’t it? Pretty perfect, really. The horror’s been dealt with, this long night is over, and there aren’t even any hard questions to be answering yet.

It’s the best tease in the long and storied history of teases.

It makes Jade breathe in, to get ready for the next part, her hand finding the handle of the machete on pure instinct.

“One last scare,” she recites.

On cue, a great splash rises behind her, and, because she’s ready, because she fucking knows this genre, Jade is already coming up to her knees and spinning, already swinging, already screaming for all she’s worth.

But, again, her machete doesn’t cut all the way through.

Because evidently machetes don’t really do that.

What they are good at, it would seem, is going a few inches in and stopping.

Except—except this isn’t Stacey Graves?

It’s Jade’s dad, it’s Tab Daniels, somehow floated out here too, just trying to survive, one eye and part of his head gone, the rest of him latching on to whatever he can, grabbing on to Jade to pull her back into the past with him. Because of course Letha’s nail-plus-board didn’t really kill him, now that Jade’s having to think it through. Letha’s too pure to kill unprovoked like that. The world won’t let her deliver a blow that deep, that permanent.

Leave that for the Jades of the world.

The machete isn’t even halfway through his neck, but that’s far enough.

His blood—his life—slips out for real this time, coats the blade, and the one eye he has left is locked on Jade’s, and she says it to him at last, what she always meant to, the only thing she ever had: “I trusted you, Dad.”

When she pulls the machete back, he slips under, Indian Lake slurping him down, Drown Town calling his name, and Jade, the guilty party now, the Indian with her ear to the train tracks, feels her senses prickling, looks over to the side.

She’s not as far from the pier as she thought, is she? And, who she felt watching her, it’s—it’s Tiffany Koenig. She’s still recording all this on her phone.

“No,” Jade says to her, trying to explain but not nearly loud enough, “you don’t understand, he—he—”

She gives up.

Why even try?

Instead she covers her face with her hands and screams into her palms, screams and kicks, and when she looks up the next time, she’s drifted farther out, and there’s red and

blue lights in Proofrock now, there’s helicopters beating in over the trees.

So it begins.

Jade watches, her heart reaching across the water but her bloody hands staying right here. She uses one of them to pat her chest pocket for a cigarette she knows isn’t going to be there, and then she works the lid off the little cooler, uses it like a paddle, two groaning pulls on the right side, two on the left, and going gradual like that, gradual and silent, she drags herself across the dark water.

She’s crying again, because this is it. This is her last time to run away. No way can she go back now, not with what Tiff’s got recorded on her phone. With Jade’s luck, all the stories of this night’s massacre are going to coalesce around her until she didn’t just kill her dad, but everyone else too— all this blood in the water was her calculated revenge against the town that never accepted her, that treated her like it had treated Stacey Graves, once upon a time. They can even dig in her old history teacher’s student files for her papers. They’ll be all the proof needed, and more.

Theo and Letha weren’t framing Jade, Jade’s been doing that all on her own, all these years.

No, there’s no going back. This is it. It has to be. Mr. Holmes is dead, Sheriff Hardy’s dead, and she’s officially a killer now.

Even if Proofrock would have her, there’s nothing for her there.

She ships her oar—the cooler lid—runs her fingers up to the name-patch on her coveralls, works the two earrings loose. One’s the comedy face, one’s the tragedy face, right? Add them together and you’ve got a slasher, pretty much. That would have been her last paper for Mr. Holmes, she thinks. How the slasher is a bloody coin flipping through the air, showing a smile for a flash, then a frown, and then another smile.

Jade would have that coin never land.

She makes one last fist around the two earrings, the back of her fingers seeping from Stacey Graves’s teeth, and then she holds her hand out over the water, lets the earrings go, closing her eyes for that small plunk, and so she can see them in her head, swirling and sinking, one laughing, one crying.

Before her on shore is a string of dark cabins against a chalky bluff. Camp Blood. If she had a best friend with her, or any friend at all, she’d point ahead with her lips, say how she was conceived there one bonfire night, she’s pretty sure. And now—now they’ll find her starved and frozen in one of those dark cabins, won’t they? The horror chick turned into a leathery mummy, scavenged on by turtles and raccoons and crows, her knees still hugged to her chest, her heart finally buried in the only soil that would have it.

But she had a moment, didn’t she? She screamed until that’s all there was in the world and then she stuck her hand as deep into the killer’s mouth as she could. Maybe for as long as that lasted she sort of was a final girl? Just a little?

Close enough.

Jade drops her name-patch over the side, lets “JD” sink as well, and then she peels out of her coveralls and shirts and pants, why not, pushes them over the side, holding herself against the cold at first but then remembering, taking the cooler lid up, dipping it over the side again and again. She doesn’t want to die out here, in this green canoe, but up there.

“Momma, I’m coming home,” she says between pulls, her teeth chattering, shoulders twitching, hands numb, and the mom she’s talking to carries a hunting knife at her belt, the mom she’s talking to would kill a whole camp of counselors if anybody so much as looked at her daughter wrong.

Jade pulls harder at the water. She can’t wait

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