James Burt is currently based in Halifax, England, where he lives in a valley by a river. He works as a computer programmer and enjoys writing in his spare time. He keeps a weblog at www.orbific.com.


by James Burt


It was a warm night, so we sat on the jetty. We’d lugged down a cooler full of beer and ice.  It was a lot for two young women; far more than we needed, but it felt good to know we had so much. The sky was spectacular—millions of stars above us—and we kept watch for satellites and meteors. It was the sort of view that makes you feel humble and gets you talking philosophically.

In the distance, on the far side of the lake, we could hear screaming. Abruptly the screaming stopped.

“A toast!” said Fi. “To the final girls across the water!”

“I think they’d prefer a prayer,” I replied as I tapped my bottle against hers.

I should have felt relieved that the two of us were still alive. Instead, it felt awkward—we couldn’t both be the next final girl.

I knew Harry the Axe was not on the other side of the shore. Each campsite had its own serial killer. I still despised Harry for what he’d done to Kurt and Wayne—what he would have done to me—but I was grateful for the truce.

Fi finished her bottle and hurled it out into the lake as far as she could manage. We barely saw the splash, it was that dark. I know it’s wrong to throw litter into the lake, but we felt crazy and free, having survived to the end. Who would punish us?

Harry the Axe might have been behind us on the shore now, but we weren’t sure.

Fi took another bottle but didn’t open it. “Penny?”

“Yes? What is it?”

She put the bottle back in the cooler. “What do we do now?”

Fi was right, we couldn’t just stay here. Our visit was supposed to end in an orgy of blood and violence, but things were petering out instead. Rather than the sun rising on a single survivor, two girls and a killer were drinking together days later.

It was my fault that things had ended up like this. I was supposed to have died on the previous night. It had been obvious that the end was coming. The radio DJs had been talking about an incoming storm, and the phone lines were down. The car wouldn’t start, and someone had stolen the rowing boat. We stayed in the cabin, awaiting our certain fates.

I’d pretty much given up on everything, since I was sure that Fi would be final girl. My heart broke when I first met her because it was so obvious that she would survive. No one wants to know that, all along, she’s only been a penultimate girl.


As the end approached, I wanted it over with. I had turned down all Fi’s suggestions—watching the storm from the porch, or her endless offers of scrabble. She’d even suggested that she could read aloud to me. She sat width-ways across an armchair with her book while I tried to stop pacing and calm down.

When the lights went out, I gave the saddest sigh without meaning to. “Wait here,” I told her, “I’ll get the flashlight from the kitchen.”

“Penny, let me come with you.”

But I was already on my way, arms out, guiding myself through the dark cabin. Maybe I’d move forward and touch, not the wall, but the hard slab of Harry’s chest. Or perhaps he’d come roaring from the darkness and sweep me away with his axe.

I felt like one of the cows in the slaughterhouse videos that my vegetarian friends forced me to watch in 9th grade. If those cows had got together, they could have wrecked the slaughterhouse and got free. But they watched the others die before taking their own turn under the stun gun. I made my own meek way to slaughter.

In my head, memories of Wayne, screaming in a high-pitched voice while he tried to hold his guts in. Or the way that Harry the Axe toyed with Kurt, chopping and slicing but holding back the killing blow. When it came to me, would it be fast or slow? Would I get a simple coup de grace, or would I be left screaming and puking blood like Kurt?

I made it to the kitchen. I couldn’t see or hear a thing, but I knew he was there. The flashlight had been on the table so I moved slowly forward knowing the end could come at any moment.

I picked up the light. Still alive.

I took a deep breath and turned it on.

If this was a movie, there’d be a burst of music to make the audience jump. In real life, everything was slow and sad. Harry the Axe stood on the other side of the table, weapon hefted and ready. He was so tall he didn’t look real, his bulk incredible. He wore an old flour sack over his head, and I couldn’t work out how he kept it straight and avoided having the eyeholes slip from his eyes. The blood-spattered blade shone in the torchlight, and I knew that the boys had never stood a chance.

I wondered if I should pray, then I wondered which prayer I should say, and then I felt ridiculous for spending my last moment trying to recall prayers. Harry the Axe stepped forward and I panicked. I don’t know what made me say it, but it was the first thing that came to mind, a ridiculous attempt to bargain with death: “Do you want a beer?”

He lifted his axe, not to kill me, but to place it on the table so that his hands were free. I picked up a beer and leaned across to hand it over. The killer took the bottle and flipped the cap off. He didn’t remove the sack from his head but drank through it, spilling a little. He looked a little less threatening with his mask damp with beer.

“We’ve got loads,” I said, trembling now. “You can share it with us.”

And that was what happened. Harry the Axe didn’t kill me, and our camp never got its final girl. Harry the Axe drank a couple of beers in the kitchen that night, then left.

He came back the following evening, but didn’t break in, just waited politely on the porch. It was like being adopted by a wild animal. He’d prowl around the camp and sometimes we’d leave beers for him. We had enough for now, but they would run out eventually.


I missed having the others around. It felt so quiet with no boys about (Harry didn’t really count). Kurt and Wayne were idiots, but they’d been fun.

We were each dropped off by the local bus service on our first day, our things sent ahead and waiting for us. I was relieved to hear there was only one other girl, which meant that the odds of me surviving should have been good. That ended as soon as I met Fi. She was on the swing, kicking her bare feet in the dust, her nail varnish shocking pink. She looked every inch the final girl and I knew I was a victim.

“You must be Penny,” she said, her voice so sweet that I couldn’t hate her.

(I sometimes thought about killing her, and what might happen if I did, flipping my script from victim to murderer. I’d never have dared to do it, not really, and it almost took effort to resent her).

Kurt and Wayne were already best buddies when they arrived, having bonded with beers at the back of the bus. Fi and I soon caught up.

That first week we mostly forgot why we were there. We drank beer. We had fun. We played volleyball, truth or dare, hide and seek. We listened to the CDs left behind in the cabin, playing that second Amy Winehouse album to death. We even went skinny dipping a couple of times. I’d expected Fi to refuse like a good final girl, but she was the first to cast her clothes off and run into the water.

One afternoon, Kurt and Wayne hunted for weapons. They found Harry’s axe in a shed. Fi said it actually belonged to someone called Chekov and that we should get rid of it. Fi was always making jokes which only she understood. The boys kept the axe in their room until Fi sneaked in, stole it, and threw it in the lake. They were furious, but she pointed out that if she could sneak in and grab it, so could a killer. They had to agree with her.

I’m not sure why boys bother coming to the lake when they so rarely make it through. But I guess they come for the same reasons we girls do. Even if the odds are against you, the fact you’ve made it through the auditions convinces you that you’ll go all the way.

In a hundred years’ time this whole thing will make no sense. People won’t understand that I wanted to come and that I was excited about it. The thing you must understand is that there are hundreds of thousands of teenagers wanting to be final girls. The odds were so huge that the one-in-four-or-five chance at the lake seems easy.

And all my life I’d been told I had what it took to make it. Growing up, people—men, usually —would tell me I’d make a great final girl. It’s sort of a sick thing to say to a teenager when you think about it. You should be valued for things other than your potential for dying last.

More than anything, I longed for the life of a final girl. It’s not just the money or the tours or the merchandise. I’d seen some of the winter tours where the girls talked about survival. They looked strong, powerful, even glamorous. And they lived in luxury too, in that country estate in New England. It works out for everyone—the world gets a new crop of stars, we get our chance at fame, and the killers get a chance to hunt. It seemed like a fair exchange, four or five teenagers for a new final girl.

Rarely a boy will survive. The guys try to make something of their lives afterwards, but rarely do. Nobody is interested in the boys who live. The world wants girls, sanctified and purified by survival. I’m not sure why the boys come here, but they’re as eager to get here as we are.

My parents cried when the limo arrived to take me to the airport, but they were also proud. Yes, there was a risk, but teenagers also died from silly things like car crashes, allergies, or broken hearts.

And we all thought that I would survive. I believed it with all my heart. I wanted it so much that I thought that it had to be true—even after meeting Fi there was a little hope left.

That tiny possibility lasted until the power went out. At that moment I felt as silly as much as I felt sad or scared. Being at the camp didn’t feel like empowerment or a chance to show my strength. All the romance was gone, and the death awaiting me was wanton slaughter.


I think it was Wednesday. Harry the Axe lurked at the treeline during the day but vanished around sundown. I searched the house, just in case, but couldn’t find him. Fi and I played scrabble and had a beer each, but I was exhausted and decided to go to bed early.

It was dark when Fi woke me up a few hours later. “Penny, put your clothes on.”

“What is it?”

“Get dressed and follow me.”

I’d woken in terror, but Penny seemed excited rather than scared. I dressed in the dark, put my shoes on, and followed her out. She led me into the woods. “Where are we going?”

“Be quiet. You have to be quiet, okay?”

We heard them from some distance off. Shouted grunts, rather than words, but there were people ahead of us. Fi leaned in and whispered directly into my ear: “Follow me exactly and be careful.”

We walked along a sandy path around to a narrower path between some trees. In the distance, I could see firelight. Then a gap in the undergrowth gave me a proper view of all the killers around a campfire. They were in small groups, as if at a party. I counted all ten of them.
One man stood at the centre of things. He had painted symbols on his chest and his mask was topped by a massive pair of stag horns.

“I bet those horns get snagged on the trees,” Fi said.

I covered my mouth to silence a giggle, then thought it wasn’t that funny, the idea of people running from him and knowing deep down that it would do no good.

One killer sat drinking alone, a pair of man-traps beside him. At least an axe could be used for good—those wicked things could only hurt. Another killer wore a gore-covered butcher’s apron, a pig’s head askew on his face. Someone in animal furs wrestled with another man wrapped in a suit made of patchwork fabric. Someone else was dressed in a British judge’s uniform with the white wig, beer in one hand and a gore-covered nail hammer in the other. These were the killers. Most of them would be torturers too—few victims have a quick ending. I hated them with all my heart.

Harry the Axe was with them, deep in conversation with a man carrying a machete. Their body language was that of men chatting about nothing. Harry the Axe seemed a little different to the others, as if he had less energy, as if we’d changed him a little. As if he’d lost some of his rage.

We watched there for an hour. It was only when I stood again that I realized how uncomfortable my position had been. Watching these brutes dance and drink and duel was terrifying and sad and fascinating all at the same time; even though I knew what would happen if they saw us, what awful things they had done. If they saw us watching them, maybe even Fi would not be safe.


Lying in my bunk bed that evening, I couldn’t sleep. “Fi?” I whispered. “Are you there?”

“I can’t sleep,” she said. “I’m so angry.”

She didn’t speak for a while, and I thought that she had fallen back asleep, but after a while she spoke again. “I want to do something,” she said.

“Like what?”

“I don’t want to just be a final girl. That’s not enough.”

I thought of the Hunger Games. I’d loved that book as a kid, how Katniss looked like being a final girl, but ended up cheating the game with Peeta. “Yes. We need a way to both get out.”

“I’ve got a plan.”

I waited to hear more, but after Fi had started breathing differently, puttering a little, and I knew that she was asleep.


It was dusk on Thursday. We’d been sitting on the porch, waiting for Harry. Fi didn’t tell me her plan, just said for me to play along. Beside her sat the camera that we’d found in the basement. I had told her that we had no film and she said it didn’t matter as he didn’t know that.

For a final girl, Fi breaks a lot of rules. It’s not fair. She’d told me a couple of nights ago that she had kissed both Kurt and Wayne. There was the drinking and the skinny-dipping. And now she was going to try to break everything, yet she was still Final Girl. I loved Fi and wanted Harry to get what he deserved. But I also longed to be the final girl instead.

“Do you want a beer?” I asked.

“Nope. We need to stay sharp.”

So, we sat and waited, not really talking. It was early afternoon when Harry emerged from the trees. He dragged his axe on the ground as if it was too heavy, a little like the pictures of Christopher Robin with Winnie the Pooh—the ones from the original book, not the cartoon version.

“Harry, how’s it going?” asked Fi.

He didn’t speak but inclined his head a little as if to say, So-so. Fi jumped off the porch and skipped across to him, showed him the camera. “I had the best idea,” she said. “We should dress me up as you and take a photo. Just think how funny that would look!”

Harry took a step back, as if scared. When Fi spoke next, her voice was soft and coaxing. “Come on, it will look so funny.”

She just waited then, and finally Harry let go of the axe handle. His hands gripped the edge of the sack, and he didn’t move for a time.

Then, finally, he pulled the mask off.

I had imagined scarred or burned skin underneath, but instead I saw a sad-looking man, who reminded me of my 7th grade biology teacher, the one whose wife kept cheating on him. Seeing Harry as a particular man rather than a faceless killer somehow diminished him. He was both disappointing and disappointed.

He passed the mask to Fi, then his shirt too, revealing a saggy torso. She put his blood-spattered top on over her clothes and took a minute to adjust the mask for her own head. “Are you wearing something under those trousers?” she asked, “Can I put them on too?”

Underneath, Harry wore shapeless y-fronts that seemed baggy in all the wrong places. Fi put on the trousers, which seemed massive on her, struggling to force a new hole in the belt. She looked ridiculous and Harry looked awkward. Fi had turned the world upside-down.

She offered Harry the camera, telling him that he could take the photos. Harry stepped back, so that he was no longer between Fi and the axe. She walked forward, picked it up and weighed it in her hands. Then, almost impossibly quick, she roared once—it made me jump backwards in shock—and swung the axe into Harry’s stomach. He dropped the camera but didn’t run and a second later she’d buried the axe in his shoulder.

He didn’t scream or saying anything as she kept chopping, just looked confused, then fell on his face. With one final blow, Harry the Axe was decapitated.

We looked at Harry the Axe’s body. I kicked it. He’d seemed fearsome and bulky when we first encountered him. Without his mask and axe he was just a man. I’d seem Kurt and Wayne’s bodies, had to bury them by the lakeside, and the shock of death had worn off a little. I kicked him a few more times, then turned to look at Fi.

It was creepy seeing her wearing a killer’s oversized clothes. “What now?” I asked.

“We need to be Final Girls,” she said. “There are two girls coming to the camp tonight, so the slaughter hasn’t finished.”

She held the axe in one hand and reached out her other to me. I took it and started walking back to the world with Fi the Axe.