Honey is a final girl, but she doesn’t know it yet. This is not remarkable. No final girl knows she is a final girl until it is the end of the night and she is surrounded by the bloody bodies of her friends, police lights blinking against her face as the killer leaves the back door swinging on its hinges, vanishing into the night. A final girl does not know she is a final girl until she is riding in the back of an ambulance trying to detail the events that transpired and asking herself, “Why me?” This question is not about why she was attacked. A final girl asks why she has survived and wonders if the things she has done were worth it. A final girl cannot turn back for one of her friends. A final girl has to stay quiet in the closet. A final girl has to make sacrifices.
Honey hasn’t made any sacrifices yet. It’s not just surviving the night that will make her a final girl, although it is essential. Final girls are predestined and Honey has been gearing up for her entire life. A final girl is hot, but not as hot as her hottest friend whose name is something like Jessica. A final girl is not jealous of her hot friend because she’s too busy drawing or babysitting a younger sibling or working for a local business. A final girl has already had a traumatic experience, probably when she was very young, and though she doesn’t discuss it, she sometimes glances longingly out windows and pretends to be busy when someone asks her what she was thinking about. A final girl’s name ends with a ‘Y’ but, if not, ends with a vowel. A final girl is, more likely than not, upper middle class and white. Honey is perfect.
Honey’s hot friend is named Winter which is pretty fitting because she has a reputation around the school for being a frigid bitch. The two became friends before either of them were popular, back when Winter’s hair had never been bleached and they were able to bond over having alcoholic fathers. Honey knows what Winter has been through and gets to peek past the brick wall she has put up to defend herself. This makes it easy for Honey to forget about all the long glares Winter gives the resident lesbian of the town. Winter is brave and tough and, in Honey’s eyes, redeemable.
Not as redeemable, however, is Honey’s boyfriend, Todd. Todd is handsome and good at sports which usually helps distract from his utter lack of personality. Recently, Honey learned that Todd has been flirting with Rebecca, another girl in their friend group. He says he was drunk and Rebecca initiated it. He says he loves Honey and that is true, but Honey doesn’t know how far it went. He’s in the doghouse, as a final girl’s boyfriend often is. He will likely sacrifice his life for hers, proving himself if only slightly too late. He walks by where she is sitting at lunch and leaves a rose on the table without saying anything. He won’t give up. Honey glances at the rose and her eyes go glassy. Winter pushes it off the table and squishes it under her shiny, red pump, making sure Todd catches a glimpse of its wrinkled corpse. The girls are planning a party.
The night that makes a final girl often contains a party, a prom, a sleepover in the woods. There’s usually alcohol. There’s usually a game of truth or dare. There’s always sex. The hot friend wanders off with a jock and removes her shirt, revealing her perfectly toned tummy and the pillow-like curve of her cleavage, when she hears a noise. “I think someone is here,” she says to her drunk suitor, who continues trying to unclasp her bra and is already working up a sweat. She stands by the window a second too long and her partner promptly falls asleep. Outside, someone is doing a keg stand. She sighs, relieved, as a masked killer plunges a knife into her back. The party has started.
Honey’s party is meant to mark the beginning of summer, the final summer before she and all her friends gather in their respective parents’ midsize sedans and set off for college. Honey’s father died last year in an automobile accident (This is what she thinks of when she glances longingly out the window) so it will only be her mother who wishes her a tearful goodbye. The party is meant to help the group forget about the goodbyes and focus on what it feels like to swim naked in the lake by moonlight. The party is meant to send them sailing into a smooth summer filled with sweet tea and naps on a sun-soaked patch of grass and a steady drum of nothing worrying their heads or hearts. Winter is afraid Todd will fuck it up for everyone.
“Todd is going to fuck it up for everyone,” she says. Todd is not invited to the party, but he is the very sort of guy who thinks it would be romantic to show up anyway once he’s had a couple drinks and is feeling brave, loud, and entitled. He’s the sort of guy to set fire to the woods because he read once that fire is representative of passion. If it weren’t for the fact that he will be one of the first to die, he might accidentally kill them all. Winter thinks Todd will make a scene large enough to convince everyone else to go home. Honey is not concerned. She knows how much everyone needs the party, and, truth be told, I don’t think she minds a scene in her name.
People at the party will drink rum. Or tequila. Honey and Winter can’t decide. It’s a matter of what will be missed the most. Honey holds a half-empty bottle to the light and decides they might have to invite Rebecca. Her family’s liquor cabinet is fully stocked and they don’t care about her enough to lock it up. Hardly anyone cares about Rebecca, which makes her bad with her friends’ boyfriends, but really fun at parties. She’ll do anything. Winter doesn’t care for this plan initially, but she decides it might be fun to pretend to be drunk and slap Rebecca across her “slutty face.” They draft a text to Rebecca that says something like, “Second chances are gonna cost you booze.” Honey knows Rebecca is sorry. Honey knows Rebecca will say yes. And, less than two minutes later, she does just that.
When a final girl hosts a party, certain players are expected to show. Of course, there is the final girl, the hot friend, the final girl’s boyfriend, the frenemy. This is Honey, Winter, Todd, and Rebecca, respectively. But there’s also the nerd, the jock, the comic relief, the mysterious newcomer, the lesbian (who may or may not be goth), the one person of color (who may or may not double as any of the other characters), and, obviously, the killer come to seek vengeance. And there is a pecking order. The mysterious newcomer always makes it long enough to become either a love interest or a suspect. The hot friend and the person of color don’t stand a chance. I don’t make the rules.
Honey lets Winter be in charge of the guestlist. Word makes its way from her plump lips to the ears of the football team: starters only. One starter tells his tutor she can come if she writes his final essay. She heads to the library and pulls an old one from the computer. By the time someone will notice, she will be long gone. She tells her friend about this and the time Mr. Football placed his hand on her thigh and told her people already assumed they were sleeping together so there was no reason not to. Her friend has disproportionately long arms and buck teeth and learned to be funny to make up for it. Slender Man is clearly in love with tutor girl. Right now, he has neither the guts nor the charisma, but I suspect he’s packing downstairs and is willing to eat ass. The Lord will provide.
News then travels to the town lesbian, who dresses in all black and is Korean, although this is only correctly guessed about three percent of the time. Winter’s work is done. She leans back against the side of Honey’s car while she pumps gas, hands dipping into the pockets of her leather miniskirt. “You better use the bathroom now. We’ll be on the backroads for a bit. Get batteries for the flashlight, too. Just in case,” Honey says, loud enough for anyone to hear. She is made for cinema. Winter, in general, is opposed to truck stop restrooms, especially those that don’t belong to larger chains. After a brief protest, she makes her way inside.
The truck stop is filled with brightly colored packages of food Winter pretends she doesn’t like. She uses the restroom in less than a minute—no time to have washed her hands. She walks the aisles and snatches the odd combination of two hot sausages and circus peanuts. Maybe she’s taking a day off pretending. The man who rings her up has a scar going across his cheek and a chunk of greasy hair hanging in his face. He looks like he might lean forward and say something like, “I saw this in a dream last night. You died.” But he doesn’t. He says, “$6.98.” Winter reaches for her back pocket and finds it flat and empty. “Oh, fuck me,” she says. The frame of her face goes pink, though she doesn’t seem like she’s ever blushed.
A stranger steps up from his spot in line behind her. He’s wearing ripped jeans and a white tee-shirt under a well-worn army jacket. He’s conventionally attractive and looks to be about the same age as Winter. He’s a dream. “Add it to mine,” he says to the cashier. Waterfalls. The two make small talk. “That’s an odd combination,” he says, nodding to her food. The pink fades away. This she knows well.
“Are you free tonight?” she asks. The cast is complete.
The perfect cabin has a wall of windows and is at least a twenty minute walk from the nearest neighbor. Its walls are thick and insulated. Its breaker box is outside and unlocked. There are family photos on the hearth and a freezer in the basement. Honey’s family’s cabin fits the bill. It’s an outdoor getaway for people who hate the outdoors. The porch circles the whole thing and has a jacuzzi that faces a break in the tree line and a million stars. They leave a key under a mat that reads, “Welcome all.” By the time Honey and Winter arrive, Rebecca is already sitting on the front steps, surrounded by bottles. She speaks the language of excess.
The girls make two trips each before all the bottles are sitting on the counter. They set up in the room with the wall of windows, Winter’s legs drape across Honey, and Rebecca perches on the edge of an ottoman. Rebecca focuses on her hands. She says something and passes Honey her phone. Honey scrolls. Honey pulls Rebecca to the couch and puts her arm around her. Rebecca looks like she’s crying. Winter nods at Honey and gets them all shots. It’s hard to tell who is acting.
Killing cannot be rushed. The party has to be in full swing. When two people sneak away to another room, the rest of the group cannot notice. Typically, by the time a priceless heirloom shatters in the hallway or a jock tries to jump the second floor bannister, the killer is crouching behind a shower curtain or reporting to the final girl that he is, in fact, calling from inside the house. But, honestly, there’s no concrete rule. At some point, the power goes out. They didn’t have service to begin with. They are stranded. If it’s a big enough party, most of the guests will see the first body and go running through the woods, thinking they are relevant enough to be next. The rest band together, picking up stray bats, knives, hairspray and a lighter, before splitting up into smaller groups. Some unlucky sucker is the odd man out and tiptoes to the basement. He tells himself real life isn’t like the movies and hopes with his whole heart that he’s right. He’s the first to see the killer’s face because he will never tell.
Thirty minutes into Honey’s party, all the guests have arrived. They gather on the lawn, using the open trunks of their cars as benches and leaping over the firepit. She is popular, but doesn’t belong to any one group. She dances between circles of conversation and laughs and laughs. Soon, she is tired of laughing. She tells Winter, who is tucked into a quiet corner, playing hot hands with the goth lesbian, that she’s heading inside for more bottles. Inside, she finds the man from the gas station. She doesn’t seem to be surprised by his presence. “Should I be insulted by your lack of interest in the party?” she asks.
The man laughs. “Never really my scene,” he says.
“Mine either.” A final girl never has fun at her own parties. This is part of her charm. The man offers to fill her cup. “Can you keep a secret?” she asks. He’s the kind of man that loves a secret, but he plays it cool. He nods without smiling. “It’s only Gingerale.” My God, she’s perfect.
She offers him her hand and, right on cue, Todd appears in the window, fist slamming against the glass. Honey runs out to play her part after apologizing to the man. She screams about some texts and he screams back. A crowd has gathered. “Not here,” she says and leads him past the lip of the woods. Honey can wrap up the conversation in a minute, but she’ll give him fifteen. A final girl, at this stage, has all these pesky attachments and hasn’t quite learned how to let go.
In a dark room upstairs, Winter is removing her shirt. Beneath her, the goth lesbian is smiling, looking directly at her face. She pulls her back down and holds her for a moment. Neither girl seems drunk. They seem, astoundingly, happy. In the closet, behind the slatted door, there is an intentional breath. The girls sit up. Outside, Honey is shouting for Todd to hold her feet for a keg stand. Winter rises slowly, eyes wide, but unafraid. The goth has something shining in her hand. A switchblade. She nods Winter forward. They walk, fists drawn, toward the door. This isn’t how it is supposed to go. “I think someone is here,” Winter says. And she’s right.
Lou Terlikowski is an Appalachian poet, avid horror fan, and middle child, which explains a lot. She misses the mountains in West Virginia and will not stop talking about it. Her work can be found at Blue Earth Review and Screen Door Review. You can follow her @louterlikowski for a monthly reminder that Mothman is real.