Chapter no 15

My Heart Is a Chainsaw

What brings Jade out from her chosen cabin isn’t dawn glowing behind Terra Nova, but she thinks that’s what it’s going to be.

It’s the fire she guesses she probably started. The fire from the lighter she left flickering in that pile of elk. It finally singed some hair enough to rough a little flame up, and that flame caught some more hide, found the grass, felt across to the trees, and… and now Caribou-Targhee National Forest is burning. For the first time in fifty years. Every Idahoan’s worst fear is climbing tree after tree, the crowns bursting sparks and embers into each other like an endless stand of matchsticks.

Jade shakes her head in apology, in regret, and kind of smiles a bit on accident, even.

This too, slasher gods?

“The Burning,” she says, obviously. “1981, Alex.”

It’s the main slasher to have made of fire something formative, but, for an actual forest fire, not a misdirected prank, you have to dial all the way back to The Prey, Jade guesses. The Prey opens with a fire that burns across an innocent family, leaving one of them disfigured enough to Cropsy back up years later, when partying teens show up for a camping trip. But The Prey was only in theaters for a week at most in 1983. Or was it ’84? Never mind that it was actually shot in 1978, meaning that, unlike all the other slashers of the Golden Age, The Prey wasn’t really riding Halloween’s coattails, was probably surfing the same cultural wave that spit Halloween up onto America’s screens in the first place, that wave being the sweet spot where the grindhouse of the seventies and the giallo of the sixties

overlapped with someone with Herschell Gordon Lewis dollar signs in their eyes—Sean Cunningham in early 1979, pretty much, taking out an ad in Variety to fund a little horror movie set on Friday the 13th that he wanted to make. Call it what you want, Jade tells herself. The truth is, the same as you can’t be cruel to animals in the production of your slasher—that poor innocent snake in Friday the 13th— you also can’t light some random woods on fire just to make your movie cooler. What else she tells herself is that she kind of always knew it was going to come to this, didn’t she?

Her citing slasher trivia to herself over here in Camp Blood.

Who else would even listen?

She was always trying to be Randy from Scream—the Cassandra Scream 2 would nod to, who would become a literal Cassandra-on-videotape in Scream 3—but she knows that, if anything, she’s Crazy Ralph.

Definitely not the Girl Who Saved Proofrock. Or, as much of it as she could, anyway.

Hugging herself from the chill—it’s always coldest just before dawn—she looks away from the flames consuming Terra Nova and the national forest and probably all of Idaho behind it, considers Proofrock watching this same tragedy unfold across the water.

As if ten or fifteen people floating in pieces in the water isn’t enough, now there’s a fire to try to deal with.

“Sorry,” Jade says, wishing Mr. Holmes were around to shake his head at this prank to end all pranks. In trying to turn her back to it so as to maybe soak up at least the idea of some of that wonderful warmth, she finds herself facing the chalky white bluff behind Camp Blood, the one Hardy said it used to be a big joke to climb, so you could moon everyone at once.

Sounds like fun.

Jade grins a guilty grin—this is no time for smiling—and rocks back on her heels, imagines the cliff of water to the left of that bluff, that she used to dream of someday

releasing down-valley, just for kicks and grins, and because she kind of wanted to see Drown Town, not just make dioramas of it for art class.

Now, after the fire feels around this side of the lake, ravages through Camp Blood on its way to taking Proofrock down, now the next generation’s dioramas are going to be of Pleasant Valley, before it burned to cinders.

It’s a foregone conclusion: that’s the way the wind’s blowing, and the skies are clear, no clouds building to release nature’s fire extinguisher down.

Jade can try to climb the cliff when the flames get close, but… does she really want to? Better to just sit in her cabin hugging her knees and rocking. Maybe imagine that the flickering on the windows is from a bonfire burning into the night. Maybe the ghosts of the kids killed here will feel that heat, even, and raise their voices in some campfire song, the rhyme-y one about the dam bursting, and—

Jade stops rocking back and forth on shore. She looks to the chalky bluff again.

Hardy didn’t just tell her about that mooning stunt, did he?

He also made that big deal about… how long ago was this? Sophomore year, was that when Jade had to do her interview project a second time? Shit.

But: yeah. That story about that other old sheriff, the one who saved Pleasant Valley from the last fire by shooting out the windows of the dam’s control booth and raising the level of the lake, dousing the flames.

Jade looks up the bluff again.

Could she?

If the wind’s blowing the fire towards the lake, and the lake’s rising, then… it should work, shouldn’t it?

Hardy’s not around to drive up to the dam and shoot the windows of the control booth out, though. And everybody in Proofrock’s probably still got shriek-faces on about their dead friends and family, and everybody else is packing their

cars and trucks, because this is the big one, this is the end of Pleasant Valley, the end of what Henderson and Golding started so long ago.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Jade lowers her hands, trying to shake blood back into her fingertips, and for the fiftieth time she wishes hard for her coveralls. It was a good and necessary gesture last night, but dealing with that gesture in the morning is seriously sucking.

But this tracks, too, doesn’t it? All of her armor’s been stripped away, is part of the lake already, but there’s still one fight to fight. Jade hates Proofrock through and through, doesn’t have enough fingers or toes or math to even count all the ways she hates it, but that doesn’t mean she can watch it burn, either.

She limps back to cabin 6, the one that was supposed to have been her own private Mausoleum, her high-altitude Mortuary, her American Burial Ground, and pries the loose floorboard up, stands with the shiny-new double-bit axe she stole once upon a childhood, to deal with anyone who ever followed her out here to her safe place.

Instead of dragging it behind like would look cool, she carries it low in front of her hips, runs for the bluff.

The lower ten feet are dotted with old rusted rebar hammered into the rock for a climbing patch. Jade tests that rebar, gives it her weight, her shoulder screaming for mercy, her fingers just screaming, and earns her climbing patch in her underwear, in a twenty-mile-per-hour wind.

From here on up, though, it’s all fingertips and toes, it’s all crumbling rock and untrustworthy roots, the axe hooked over her right shoulder from the front, its lower tip gouging into her back each time she has to reach farther than she can reach.

Letha Mondragon would make short work of a task like this, Jade knows, but Letha Mondragon is receiving medical

attention in a tent right now, the reporters already carving her hero’s journey in stone.

It makes Jade jam her bloodied fingertips deeper into the crevices. It makes her scrape her knees harder against the face of the rock.

Finally she births over the top of the bluff, lies there on her back panting, the axe clutched tight to her chest.

It’s not over yet.

She rolls over, comes up to a knee, then three points, and then, because she doesn’t trust herself to stand all at once without wavering back off into the open space behind her, she’s running ahead as best she can, still holding the axe with both hands.

Ten, twelve minutes later, there’s the dam like a big toy dropped down from orbit, its top lip of concrete probably twenty feet tall. Meaning: that’s how high Jade can bring the water up, if she can just convince Jensen Banks, the dam keeper, to crank his controls that much.

Will he remember her from all the presentations he gave to the elementary classes? Presentations Jade groaned and squirmed through, not caring about the volume, the rate, any of that stupid stuff.

It matters now, though.

She runs harder, the smoke engulfing her for feet at a time, leaving her bent over and coughing from the absolute bottom of her lungs—it’s like inhaling a whole pack of cigarettes at once, and then, before you’ve got your breath, inhaling another pack.

The Girl with the Black Lungs pushes on. The Girl with the Stubbly Head doesn’t stop.

Finally Jade crashes out onto the flat spine of the dam, her momentum plus the unwieldy axe nearly overbalancing her over the dry side, the long drop side.

She reins it in by swinging the axe back behind her, just holding on to the handle with one hand.

It works, but barely.

Jade makes herself walk the fifty yards to the control booth, her steps stiff and mechanical again, because Jensen’s probably watching her through the peephole of his door—watching this girl in her underwear make her way to his booth, left foot dragging.

She taps on the door with the side of the axe, and, when there’s no tap back, no anything, she knocks harder, with more insistence.

Still nothing.

Why didn’t she check for Jensen’s truck on the way in? But… but of course: he’d have seen the emergency lights down in Proofrock, wouldn’t he have? He’d have seen and puttered down to see how he could help. Either that or he got a heads-up from the Forest Service about the fire headed his way, so he set the controls on the dam version of autopilot, abandoned his post.

Either way, Jade hauls the axe back behind her, swings it ahead with everything she’s got, fully intent on Jack Torrance’ing the door to splinters.

The axe hardly makes a dent.

The door’s metal, and thick, solid metal at that.

Jade swings at the doorknob now, misses, but connects on the second try.

The door handle clatters off, falls into the lake. The door’s just as fast, just as solid.

“Shit shit shit!” Jade says all around, to all the nature she’s also trying to save.

Hating having to do this, she sucks in, tightropes around to the other side of the control booth. The three sides that don’t have a door do have windows, but the one opposite the door is the only one you can actually do anything with, or to, as it’s the only one you can really stand by.

Halfway there, Jade’s bare foot jerks up all on its own from a sharp fleck of gravel or a rusty nail head or it doesn’t matter and she throws her arms out like to keep from falling, her hands completely forgetting about the axe.

It falls, falls, one of its two bits catching on the concrete lip between Jade’s feet instead of gouging into either of them like it should have, and that sends it cartwheeling out and back in what feels to Jade like the slowest motion ever— slow enough that even a nonathletic horror chick can plop down to her ass, her legs hanging out over the water so the top of her right foot can just cradle that axe head, guide it back up to her waiting hands.

The fall from here wouldn’t kill her, but there not being anywhere to beach for a quarter mile would.

Slowly, carefully, the top of her right foot cracked open like an egg, she stands again, this time paranoid about keeping a grip on the axe, trying with each step to will her back adhesive, prehensile, whatever it takes.

It works—just.

She steps around the corner onto the comparatively wide spine of the dam, knocks on the glass with the axe.

Jensen’s not home.

“I’m sorry,” she says to the idea of him, and tries to wait this next breath of campfire smoke out to swing, but the smoke’s like from a train in a tunnel, now. Just coming and coming, thicker and thicker.

It doesn’t do anything to help Jade’s balance.

Whenever Doc Wilson gave her a physical in elementary, before she stopped going in for them—for reasons—the portion of the test she always failed was when he’d tell her to stand on one foot and close her eyes.

Each time, she’d waver, almost fall.

Like now. She might as well have her eyes closed.

She taps on the glass with the axe, not swinging it, just expecting the big window to shatter because it knows this is an axe, she guesses.


She hauls back again, isn’t sure about proper form or anything, but what she does have is a whole childhood of anger to swing, six years of the other kids’ parents sneering

at her, of teachers sending her to the principal for being sick

—all of it. And then having to go home to Tab Daniels and his dirty dishes.

Jade opens her mouth in a scream she didn’t know she had and swings forward with all of her weight, and, and—

The axe bounces off, bounces hard enough that it comes straight back for her face. She dodges it, watches it twirl past, then spin down the dry side of the dam, maybe never even hitting, it’s so far down there.

“What?” Jade says.

But of course: since this is glass that got shot out once, and because the woods on the Proofrock side fill with hunters, these windows are all reinforced, aren’t they?

Of course they are.

Still, all her effort did leave a chip deadcenter, at least.

Like when gravel catches a windshield wrong.

Through the smoke chugging all around her, Jade guides her hand to that powdery crater in the glass, pushes on it with her index finger, and, as if that were the release button, the whole window collapses in.

Jade nods thank you thank you to the slasher gods and follows that glass in, clambering over the desk that’s there, her knees and the heels of her hands gathering crumbles and shards, her eyes roving for dials and switches, levers and wheels.

They’re all there, and more. And there’s no manual.

“Shit,” Jade hisses.

There’s no slasher movie that can help her with this, either. Maybe there’s some submarine film or lighthouse movie that might could, but probably not. Dam control booths aren’t that damn interesting—the joke whispered before all of Jensen Banks’s talks at assembly.

All she can do, she supposes, because she has to do something, because something’s better than nothing, is… is

push the biggest, most central lever from its three-quarters

down point to “all the way up?”

When the two wheels on the back wall are mostly turned over to the right, it feels like, she hauls them back to the left until they stop, imagining the dam is a giant water spigot. And it sort of is, isn’t it?

To prove she’s doing it right here, a whole bank of lights start flashing alarm, and a robot voice comes from overhead, not asking if she likes scary movies—the question she’s forever waiting for—but telling Jensen to attend to the levels of “1” and “2,” as failure to do so will result in a reduction in flow that could lead to dangerous back pressure if left unchecked.

“Exactly,” Jade says, nodding about her handiwork.

She hovers her fingers over this big industrial dashboard like seeing what else she can do. When there’s nothing left to push, nothing left to turn, she opens the door from the inside, having to force it with her shoulder.

It spills her out into open air with too much momentum but she was expecting that, knew to have a good hold on the inner doorknob.

Now if only the control booth would blow up with a big mushroom cloud as she walks away from it, down the dam.

How long will the lake take to rise, though?

Will it be fast enough? What brick by the bank will the waters reach over in Proofrock?

It’ll be soon enough, Jade decides. And: it’ll be all the bricks.

When the control booth doesn’t explode—it’s not packed with demolition supplies, and there are no sparks in there anyway—Jade keeps walking all the same, her hands fists, eyes fixed on Camp Blood’s white bluff through the smoke, and she only stops when…

Holy fucking shit.

Galloping ahead of this fire is a grizzly. Not the trash bear that killed Deacon Samuels, part of her mind registers,

because that cub she saw down in Proofrock earlier, it’s trying like hell to keep up. With its momma.

“Run,” Jade says to it again, and then realizes where they’re running: right to her, right along the top of the dam.

She turns, is running hard herself now, her one chance in a thousand to plant her bare foot on the round knob inside that door she left cocked open.

It catches her right in the arch painfully, the door swinging out with her weight, trying to send her down and down into open space, but now her midsection’s catching the flat roof of the control booth.

She starts to scrape back and down, the door coming back to hit her hanging legs, but… she scrabbles, she grabs, she pulls, she makes it up onto the gravel roof and whips her feet up fast, before any sharp teeth can snag them.

When she turns to peer through the gusting smoke, though—this momma bear and her cub aren’t even halfway to the control booth.

“Don’t fall, don’t fall,” Jade whispers to them, not wanting to give her safe place away either—nine feet isn’t much to a bear at least that tall—but… why have they stopped?

Jade looks behind them, down the line of the dam, and— they weren’t running from the fire, they were running from what’s running from the fire: the trash bear, a big ragged boar, his fur scorched and smoking, his face scarred from claws and teeth, or maybe fights with dumpsters, it doesn’t matter.

What does is that, just like with hamsters, Jade knows— everybody in Proofrock knows—Papa Bears eat Baby Bear every chance they get. They’re easy pickings, and tasty besides.

Jade stands, shaking her head no, no, please.

At the end of the dam, the air swirls clear enough for her to make out this trash bear standing, carving the air with his massive claws, his roar filling every iota of space, and then

—then what Jade’s always known to be a lie, what she would

never believe, what all the nature shows have been lying to her about, what starts her heart like the chainsaw it is: the Momma bear tucks her cub up under herself, steps forward over it, and roars even louder than this trash bear, her lips quavering from it, her rage-saliva misting out before her, and Jade doesn’t speak bear, but she gets this all the same.

This mother’s saying that if this bad man wants her baby, then he’s gonna have to come through her to get it, and Jade has to look up to the sky to keep her eyes from spilling, and for a moment the smoke parts enough for a grainy line of sunlight to filter through, find the palm of her hand when she reaches up to try to hold this feeling for as long as she can.

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