Chapter no 3

My Heart Is a Chainsaw

Eight weeks is the vacation Henderson High gives you for attempted suicide, apparently—seven, really, Jade thinks, since spring break was one of those weeks.

Still, seven works, even if she had to spend them in a psych ward down in Idaho Falls. She should have thought of this particular scam years ago. Better yet? She’s kind of an escaped mental patient now, she thinks. Close enough.

And that story only ends one way.

“What’s so funny?” Sheriff Hardy asks her across the console of his OJ-white county Bronco—the chariot delivering Jade back for the last week of class, so she can go through the motions of finishing out her senior year.

“This,” Jade says, hooking her chin out to the hug-n-go lane they’re mired in.

“But you understand about the community service?” he asks, switching hands on the wheel with a groan, a wet cartilaginous pop coming from the depths of his lower back.

“Twelve hours,” Jade recites for the third time this trip.

Twelve hours picking trash for—

Get this, she would say to her best friend, if she had one: the community service is for “Unauthorized Use of the Town Canoe.”

“Is that really what it’s called?” her imaginary best friend would hiss back with just the right amount of thrilled outrage.

“Exactly,” Jade would say, this interchange nearly making those twelve hours of picking trash worth it.

Instead, they just sort of pre-suck.

Still, she guesses she’s going to be a star at school today, right? This will be her official fifteen minutes. The returning

antihero. The teen every parent fears the worst. The one who almost got away, before Hardy got Shooting Glasses’s frantic call and fired his airboat up, skipped out to Jade’s frozen spot on the lake, kept her wrist compressed just long enough for the LifeFlight to touch down on shore, all of Proofrock gathered behind it in their slippers and robes and, for all Jade knows, half-dead as she was, wearing those sleep caps with the long cartoon tails trailing behind, that, in real life, would have been dipped into toilet water five hundred times already.

It’s a fun enough image to dwell on, and Jade’s had weeks and weeks at the Teton Peaks Residential Treatment Center to do it, but what she always finds herself watching instead of the crowd that night is Sheriff Hardy, coming up out of the shallows with her in his arms, giving her all the body heat he has to give, his sixty-one-year-old jowls quivering with each bellow he lets out about how this girl is goddamn well not going to die, not on his watch.

In slashers, the local cops are always useless. It’s a hard and fast rule of the genre. Sheriff Hardy not sticking to that is just one more nail in the coffin of Jade’s dreams.

By now that coffin’s pretty much all nails.

“And you don’t have any blades hidden here, right?” Sheriff Hardy confirms, nodding to the front doors of the school they’re finally stopped at.

“Axes and machetes count?” Jade asks back with her best evil grin, her hand already to the door handle, but… there’s a manilla-brown PROPERTY envelope suddenly and unaccountably in Hardy’s right hand?

Hardy breathes in like Jade’s paining him here, says, “You want, I can just take you back to—”

“No, Sheriff, no weapons on school grounds. Everybody knows I keep my axes and machetes over at Camp Blood, right? Buried under the floorboards of cabin six?”

Hardy licks his lips and Jade can tell he doesn’t know what to do with her.

Just as she wants it.

“That’s for me?” she says about the mystery envelope, and Hardy hands it across uncertainly.

“I just want you to—to be safe, you know?” he says.

Jade’s trying for all the world to hold his eyes while also weighing this strangely-heavy envelope in her hand. Property?

“Consider me saved,” she says, her door open now, right foot reaching for the ground, and she’s no more than shut the door and spun around before a dad in a gold Honda kisses her shins with his plastic bumper, his tires chirping.

Jade has to hop back to keep the contact from getting real, hop back and slam both hands onto the hood. She looks down through her electric blue bangs to her knees, to this insult of a near-disaster, and then she brings her eyes up slow across the hood, bores them through the windshield, and Hodders her head over to look into this father’s soul. It, like his chest, is pretty much just covered in coffee. She removes her hands one at a time, only looking away at the last moment. Holding her mummy-wrist high, envelope low and trailing, she stalks away, wades through the crush of bodies, under the wilting flags, and steps into the hallowed halls of learning one more time, breathes that morning napalm in.

It smells like hairspray and floor cleaner and secret cigarette smoke.

“Woodsboro High, here I am,” she says. Nobody notices.

The gauze on her arm itches, wants to just come off already, but the gauze is her armor for the day, so it can’t come off. And Hardy was too gentlemanly to even question it, though Jade did catch him looking: Why would Suicide Girl still need dressing over stitches that had long been pulled, over a skin-weld of scar tissue she’s already considering getting a tattoo around, a tattoo of dead fingers

clawing their way up and out? The answer of course is that she doesn’t need it. But she also really-really does.

The mummy-wrap is stolen, of course. All the best things in life are stolen, Jade knows. Like this envelope.

Since nobody’s got eyes on her, she steps into the Quiet Room by the main office, which any student can retreat to if anxiety has their thoughts circling the drain, from their parents getting divorced, from their boyfriend or girlfriend not texting them back, from finals or “life,” whatever.

Jade unwraps the red string keeping the envelope closed and reaches in for this so-called property.

First is the name-patch from her custodial coveralls, probably all that was left after the medics attacked her with their blunt-nosed scissors. Jade tucks it into her front pocket, to carry ahead to her next pair of coveralls. Next is a plastic baggie with the earrings she was wearing the night-of. One’s a pearly-white smiling face maybe a half-inch across, and the other’s the same face, just sobbing blood, a pentagram Manson’d between its eyes. Because: the Crüe. She chocks the envelope under her arm and reinserts Theatre of Pain into her ears, apologizing to Vince and Nikki and Tommy and Mick that she never even missed them.

But the patch and the earrings aren’t the real weight in this envelope. The real weight is a sandwich baggie with a rhinestone-and-pink phone inside.

“What are you?” Jade says, shaking the phone out, trying to wake it but it’s been dead since the night-of, she guesses. Or earlier.

Why would Hardy think this is hers, though? Was it in the canoe? Is it one of the medics’? Why does it smell like peanut butter?

Jade peels the pink case off for the ID or emergency credit card tucked in back. Instead there’s just an if-found sticker, with a +31 phone number and a name that probably goes with that country code: “Sven.”

Jade dials the number into her own phone, listens to it ring and ring, finally landing at a voicemail in a language she doesn’t understand. She looks “+31” up, lands on “Netherlands.”

“Anyway,” she says, and, now that the phone number’s in her call list, peels the if-found sticker, crumbles it into the trash so that, as far as teachers or principals or sheriffs might know, this is her phone. To prove it, she shoves it into her right rear pocket, moving her own phone to her bra, which she knows is some sort of breast cancer danger, but screw it. Maybe her imaginary best friend will text and Jade will feel that buzz immediately in her heart, right?


All the same, she guesses it was pure luck she wasn’t checking her phone on the ride in with Hardy. He might have clocked the phone in her lap, had questions about the one in the bag, with the pink case Jade would never have for herself, now that she’s thinking about it.

That pink, though, it reminds her of… what?

Jade squints, trying to dredge the memory up, connect it to something, and zombies back out into the bustle of two minutes before first bell. She’s not going to chemistry, though. Not yet. First it’s the ladies’ room by the men’s gym, because it’s always the least crowded. The whole way there she’s expecting conversation to stop around her, for feet to shuffle to a stop when she scowls past, but instead it’s just the usual treatment: eyes flicking away when they realize it’s Jennifer Daniels again, or Jade, or JD, or whatever she’s going by this year. Even her beacon of an arm hardly draws a second glance.

What, did somebody else suicide after her, and better? Is she old news already?

She ducks into the ladies’ room and pulls down the community eyeliner from the top of the far mirror, the one with SKANK STATION scratched into the tile above it, either by

one of the rah-rahs who would never stoop to risk an eye infection, or by that rah-rah’s mother, fifteen years ago.

No way can Jade face the day without her black binoculars to look through, though.

She opens wide, traces it on raccoon-thick, has her face right to the mirror when the voice comes from behind her: “Oh. So there will be thirty-two Hawks this year, I guess.”

Jade refocuses, sees the reflections of Rica Lawless and Greta Dimmons swishing for the exit, their word balloon practically hanging in the air behind them for Jade to study.

Thirty-two Henderson Hawks?

Counting Jade back into the graduating class… she’s no mathlete, but shouldn’t it be thirty seniors without her? Does she count twice now that she’s back from the dead, or did some salmon of an overachieving junior jump a grade?

More important: does she care? Is she going to let Rica and Greta occupy even one one-hundredth of her precious headspace? The only reason they’re even counting graduates is because they’re both yearbook staff, meaning the class photo is their responsibility—that stupid series of wide snapshots by the trophy case that every group of seniors gets Shining’d into. It’s one of those cardboard cutout things like for coin collections, except the coins are the graduates’ faces, and each of their faces is set into an actual Henderson Hawk, brown feathers and all, the scroll at the bottom promising they’re all going to soar into the future or take the snake by the tail or have a bird’s-eye view of history, Jade forgets all the stupid embarrassing hawk stuff.

But yeah, “I’m back, bitches,” she says out loud to the

door closing behind Rica and Greta.

It’s punctuated by a toilet flushing.

Jade holds the eyeliner a smidge from her lower lid, waiting for a pair of combat boots to step down from a toilet, followed by a dark robe slowly descending over the ankles, but instead—

Oh, shit, Jade nearly sputters out.

This is why no one cares that Suicide Girl is stalking the halls again. This is why the count of graduating seniors is off by one.

Jade’s eyeliner pencil goes clattering down into the sink, leaving slashes and dots of black in that porcelain whiteness.

It’s from who’s pulling the stall door in, stepping around it, gliding effortlessly to the sink right by Jade’s. She’s nobody from Jade’s past, nobody Jade recognizes at all except by stature, by type, by bearing. If this girl had an aura, it would be “princess,” but the cut of her eyes is closer to “warrior,” the kind of face that’s just made to come alive when a spatter of blood mists across those perky, flawless, no-acne cheeks.

Jade isn’t sure whether this girl actually reaches forward to turn the water on or if the water, knowing it needs to be on to better kiss these hands, just comes on all on its own. For half an accidental moment, Jade catches herself checking the air around them for cartoon bluebirds carrying a gossamer wrap.

“Oh, hey,” the girl says as easy as anything, of course not offering to shake hands—this is a bathroom—“I’m Letha. Letha Mondragon?”

The question mark hanging between them now translates out as You’ve heard of me, yes? but not in an off-putting way, not in a way that’s assuming anything.

Jade feels her face flushing warm in response. It’s maybe the first time in her life that’s ever actually happened to her. She wonders if it shows on her Indian skin or not, and then she’s wondering if this “Letha Mondragon,” being Black, is even accustomed to reading people’s emotional states from the blood rushing to the surface of their skin.

In the same instant she decides this is racist as hell, gulps it down as best she can. All the same, she still hasn’t

managed to look away from this Letha Mondragon’s reflection in her own mirror, has she?

It’s not because she’s Black, either. Black isn’t completely unheard of in Idaho, though it is less and less heard of the higher the elevation gets. No, the reason she’s caught in this vortex of staring, it’s… is it Letha Mondragon’s hair?

It’s not just glamorous and perfect, flowing down her back but kind of spiral-curled too, it’s, it’s—oh, Jade knows what it is, yeah, of course: online at four in some bleary morning, lost in the wishing well of her phone, she’d chanced onto a smuggled-out snapshot from the set of a shampoo commercial. One of those ones where the model’s long luxuriant locks are cascading in slow-motion waves all around her, a silky bronze extension of her dopey smile.

What Jade had always assumed had to be strategically-placed fans blowing and lifting all these models’ too-beautiful hair turned out to be a faceless green humanoid— someone in a skinhugging bright green turtleneck and thin green gloves, with green nylon pulled tight over their head so they can disappear in the camera’s eye. So they can guide the model’s hair up like this, and like that.

Letha Mondragon must have a whole crew of those green humanoids following her around, always underfoot, lifting her hair up, around, everywhere.

And, the thing is? Jade can tell by the polite way Letha’s just waiting for Jade’s response, lips pursed, eyes big, hands sudsing up, that she doesn’t see the little green people. She isn’t even aware of them.

“And you are?” she says to Jade, her face hopeful for some interaction but not being pushy about it. “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before, have I?”

Jade makes herself lean back into the mirror with her face, her numb fingers grubbing the eyeliner pencil up, fully aware now of the SKANK STATION carved above her. And, as if her own grudging awareness of that heading has made it blink, Letha Mondragon’s eyes flick up to it and then down

just as fast, almost demurely, and now it’s not just Jade’s face glowing with heat, with awareness, with knowledge, with possibility, it’s—and she could never say this out loud, not in a thousand-million years—it’s her heart.

Letha Mondragon is embarrassed, not of the profanity, but that it even has to exist. Because that’s the kind of pure she is. That’s the only answer here. She probably, Jade knows— no, she surely already has a job volunteering somewhere in town. Not a church, but that’s just because churches, in spite of their own good intentions, have their own bad history. And that’s not for one such as Letha Mondragon. She would never sully herself that way, even by association. No, she’s probably volunteering… not at the high school library, Mrs. Jennings is a famous drunk and smokes menthols besides, and no candy-striping at Doc Wilson’s either, as handsy as he gets late in the afternoon, and there’s no thrift store where Letha could fold third-hand clothes after school, no animal shelter she can bottle-feed kittens at. Wherever it is she’s doing her good and necessary work, she walks there with purpose, Jade can tell, her books pressed tight to her chest, but Jade can see under that as well: Letha Mondragon is volunteering to help, yes, that’s most important, of course of course, but she’s also volunteering because, if she weren’t busy, then she wouldn’t have any acceptable excuse for not showing up when Randi Randall’s parents are gone for the weekend. If she wasn’t already busy, she’d have zero reason not to step down into Bethany Manx’s famously-smoky basement whenever Principal Manx is at a conference.

And, stacked like she most definitely is, she probably can’t press too many books to her chest, Jade guesses. Nobody’s arms could be that long. But even covering up like that, there’s still her legs, which, even in jeans, are obviously the human version of “gazelle,” probably from volleyball or water polo or the four-hundred, and the rest of her is

perfectly proportioned just the same, almost sculpted, all… five feet eleven of her?

Shit, man. Is she even real? Jade tries to focus on the business end of the eyeliner, halfway wondering if somebody dosed it. Because—can there actually be specimens like Letha Mondragon in the actual world, not just in the airbrushed jack-off fantasies of every wishful-thinking penis-haver out there?

But, as if designed by those dreams, she’s not too tall

either, is she? That would be intimidating to the insecure male set. And, though pigtails and poodle skirts aren’t the order of the day even in high-valley Idaho, “pigtails and poodle skirt” is still the impression Jade’s getting from Letha Mondragon. Maybe that’s just because there’s no visible piercings, Jade tells herself. Maybe it’s just because there are no tattoos peeking up from a collar or flicking a sharp forked tongue down from a shirtsleeve.

No, Letha Mondragon would never even consider such self-mutilation, such external expression of “inner turmoil,” such obvious pleas for help. She doesn’t even wear her jeans too tight, or have big rhinestone crosses on the rear pockets like every second ass out in the hall, because placing shiny crosshairs on yourself, well, that’s for other girls.

Jade wants to hate her for that, for all of it at once, she wants to lash out from instant jealousy or the basic unfairness of random biology, but she can’t seem to muster it, is anesthetized just from being this close, is still saying that name over and over in her head: Mondragon, Mondragon, Mondragon.

If “Greyson Brust” is as killer as Harry Warden, then “Letha Mondragon” is easily as inviolable as Laurie Strode, as Sidney Prescott, both of whom dress conservatively, neither of whom would ever bleach her hair with stolen peroxide in a hospital sink, then dye it electric blue.

No, Jade will never be any kind of final girl, she knows, and has known for years.

Final girls don’t wear combat boots to school, untied in honor of John Bender. Final girls’ wrists aren’t open to the world. Final girls are all, of course—this goes without saying

—virgins. Final girls don’t wear “Metal Up Your Ass” shirts to school, with the indelible image of a knife thrusting up from the toilet. Final girls never select the SKANK STATION mirror, or wear this much eyeliner—they don’t need to. Their eyes are already piercing and perfect.

Instead of getting lost in Letha’s, Jade sneaks a quick look down to the shoes this impossible girl-woman has to have all the way down there, and, yep: no pumps, nothing stiletto or even near-stiletto. Because she’s too young for that, is still Cheerleader Sandy, not Leather Sandy.

Jade could puke, except she also wants to cry, and isn’t sure which is maybe going to happen, is just watching Letha’s hands under that solid sluice of water now, the suds sliding away, the hands tending each other, the nails unpainted, of course, and neither long nor French.

“Jade,” Jade manages to cough out, her throat clenching shut again immediately after.

Letha turns the water off, reaches the other way for a paper towel.

“Jade,” she says, her eyes practically glittering. “That’s my birthstone, wow.”


“From Terra Nova,” Letha says, shrugging as if embarrassed by all this unasked-for notoriety. “Or, once our house gets finished, I will be. So I guess we’re neighbors then, aren’t we? Just across the lake? Maybe we can hang out some afternoon?”

“Terra Nova,” Jade says, stabbing the soft dull point of the eyeliner into the white of her eye and not letting herself flinch from the burn. Relishing it, actually. Using it to ground herself in this moment, not float away.

“I better—” Letha says, leaning sideways towards the door, and like that she’s gone, the bell probably holding its breath for her to find her classroom, then ringing in celebration.

Letha Mondragon, the new girl, the final girl.

“Unauthorized Use of the Town Canoe,” Jade whispers to her moments after she’s gone, and it takes her a halting breath or two to understand what the black drips are in the sink she’s holding on to by both sides.


She’s crying and smiling, everything all at once.



Don’t feel bad, Mr. Holmes. Not everybody knows about the Final Girl in the slasher. But let me give you this blood pass. It’s like a hall pass, just all the lights are off.

First and this goes without saying, final girls have the coolest names. Ripley, Sidney. Strode, Stretch. Connor, Crane, Cotton. Even Julie James from I Know What You Did Last Summer has that double initials thing going on, that kind of gets your mouth addicted to saying her name. They’re more than cool names

though. As you can tell by what they’re called, they’re also the last girl alive. But that only means she’s last, maybe by luck, and not “best,” when the actual

REASON she’s last is that she IS the best of us all.

The REASON she’s final is her resolve, sir. Her will and her insistence not to

die. She runs and falls of course, and probably screams and cries too, but this is because she’s started her horror journey out bookish and timid, with good

values, the home by nine-thirty good big sister type. But of everybody in the movie she’s the one with “more” inside her, by which I mean at a certain point in all the running away, during all the stalking and slashing, when the

bloodletting’s reached a sort of crazed frenzy where the bodies are just falling left and right and between, this Final Girl stands up through the heart of it all, through the fragile shell of her old self, and she goes toe to toe with this bad evil.

The Final Girl is a hero for our times, sir, kind of like a certain student Principal Manx can’t really prove was me leaving that bucket of pig’s blood in the rafters of the Sadie Hawkins dance, that wasn’t even really pig’s blood.

But the best ever example of a real and actual final girl is from Just Before Dawn where Constance finally turns to face her mountainous hillbilly slasher, who’s already carved through the rest of her friends. She’s had enough. Being

attacked over and over, it hasn’t weakened her, it’s cut away her restraints. The slasher thought he was tormenting her. He thought he was the one in charge.

Wrong. He was fashioning his own death. He was building the perfect killing machine.

What this Final Girl does is turn around, scream into his face that she’s so sick of this, that this is ENOUGH, that this is over. And then, in a move not matched

in all the years since, not even by Sidney Prescott, not even by slow motion Alice when Pamela Voorhees won’t stop coming at her, not even by Jamie Lee Curtis in that long dark night of Haddonfield, Constance climbs up her slasher’s frontside and because she has no weapon, because she IS the weapon, she forces her hand into her slasher’s mouth, down his throat, and then she reaches in deeper, and comes out with his life pulsing in her fist.

To put it in conclusion, sir, final girls are the vessel we keep all our hope in.

Bad guys don’t just die by themselves, I mean. Sometimes they need help in the form of a furie running at them, her mouth open in scream, her eyes white hot, her heart forever pure.

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