Hand still on the plastic truck she'd been vrooming around on the family room rug just moments before, seven-year-old Quincy Carpenter watched as a 'BREAKING NEWS' banner scrolled across the television screen announcing a massacre in a sorority house in Indiana. She didn't understand half the words, but the footage the network began to show soon got the message across.
Light from the screen danced across Quincy's young face as she watched scenes of bodies being rolled out of a house under sheets, police tape flapping over bloody snow, and crying relatives. But there, rising above it all like the sun over a chaotic sea, was a photo of the only survivor of the massacre. Lisa Milner, they said her name was. Lisa was the only one to leave that house of horrors with her life. Lisa was strong, Lisa was resourceful.
Lisa was a Final Girl.
Oh, the newscaster didn't use that phrase exactly -- had it even been invented yet? -- but the point had come across. Even at Quincy's young age she'd known that Lisa had been molded into something special by her terrible crucible, something that fascinated and attracted all the talking heads on TV. Stephen Leibner was the name of the man being tentatively released as the suspect, but that wasn't important to Quincy. The only thing that held her attention was Lisa Milner's smiling face.
Watching coverage of the sorority slayings was the first time Quincy had understood that there was evil in this world, yes; but it was also the first time that Quincy had felt another, deeper emotion, one that would be with her throughout her life: ambition.
When she was older, Quincy knew a little more of the world, so she'd waited until the hour was late and her family asleep to take out the magazine. Under the covers with a flashlight, Quincy learned all the awful details of what happened at the Nightlight Inn. The pages of the magazine stuck to her sweaty hand as she feverishly read about the Sack Man's atrocities.
And then the part Quincy had been waiting for: Samantha Boyd. The article breathlessly recounted how innocent and unsuspecting Samantha had been at the start of her shift, the brutal injuries she'd sustained, the strength of her will as she'd played a deadly game with the Sack Man for her very life.
"Ms. Boyd did what she must to survive. Her actions that night showed a monumental strength of will that should be commended," the article's pop psychologist was quoted saying about the killings at the Nightlight Inn. Quincy read these sentences over and over -- it resonated with her more deeply than any poem she'd ever read or any song she'd ever heard.
The article ended by noting that crime blogs (nascent, at the time) were already calling Samantha a Final Girl, and the writer wasted no time applying the moniker to Samantha as well.
Quincy muscles relaxed, and she'd practically sighed in contentment. Another Final Girl! Nothing could be more wonderful.
Quincy kept the magazine article hidden at the back of her closet for years. Even now, when Quincy closed her eyes she could still remember every detail of those glossy photos.
Quincy's hospital stay after the terrors of Pine Cottage had been long and painful, but at least hospital security had kept the reporters at bay.
The same could not be said about their neighborhood. "Oh, Lord," Quincy's mother half-groaned when they first turned onto their street and saw their house. A whole host of reporters, cameramen, and lookie-loos were camped out on their lawn.
The press descended on Quincy as soon as she was out of the car. Voices shouted from every direction. Quincy had no idea who to look at first as the crush of people surrounded her.
"Quincy Carpenter! Quincy! Would you like to comment on how you alone survived the massacre?"
"Quincy! Did you or any of the other victims know the alleged attacker Joe Hannen?"
"Ms. Carpenter! Did you do anything to provoke the attack?"
Quincy's dad was at the door, rushing to turn the key in the lock. Her mom hustled the three of them through the moment it was open and shut it hard behind them.
But even that wasn't quite enough. Reporters and photographers shouted and waved to them through the front windows. Quincy's dad cursed and started pulling blinds and curtains shut on every window in the house. Her mother turned to Quincy and took her hands, "We're with you, honey. We're just glad you're home."
The words were meant to be comforting, but only the sensation of suffocation welled up inside of Quincy at her mother's touch. "I'm going to the bathroom," Quincy announced to no one in particular.
"Quincy-," her dad started, but Quincy was already out of the room. She felt a twinge of guilt; her dad was too sick to have to deal with this additional petty drama. But still Quincy sighed in relief when she closed the bathroom door behind her. Finally alone.
But even now there were muffled voices outside the door, the sound of her parents talking to each other in low, concerned voices. Beyond even that was the noise from the reporters still gathered outside.
Quincy sat down hard on the closed toilet lid, feeling so indescribably tired. Her wounds ached -- it was all she could do to just breathe in and out with her head cradled in her hands and chill of the porcelain seeping through her jeans.
Her friends were dead. Janelle was gone, just a corpse in the ground and a series of photographs now. Quincy could hardly imagine going back to school.
Her life would never be the same again.
The murmur of conversation between her parents continued. For want of anything better to do, she checked a few true crime blogs on her phone. Already there were pictures of Quincy being hurried into her house after the car ride from the hospital. Her mom was trying to block Quincy's face from cameras with her hands.
Quincy flushed the toilet to complete the charade and prepared to leave, but paused when she heard a sob, quickly muffled. Her mom, trying to be strong for Quincy but still so terribly upset. Quincy knew her mother would try to hide that she had ever been crying when Quincy emerged. Her mother was always like that, pretending that she never felt a negative emotion in her life. It had made her mother feel so alien to Quincy when she'd been young.
Desperate to stave off rejoining her parents for just a little longer, Quincy checked another blog. When the page loaded, she let out a long sigh of satisfaction.
"A NEW FINAL GIRL!" blared from the blog's landing page in big, bold font. Beneath was a smiling photo of Quincy that must have been taken off her Facebook.
It was morphine to an addict. It was The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. It was a rat pulling a lever to stimulate the reward center of its brain over and over again.
It was finally happening. The thought came to Quincy from far away, through the haze of pleasure clouding her mind. She was one of them now. She had joined the ranks of Lisa Milner and Samantha Boyd, just like she'd always wanted.
Everything she'd had to do had been worth it.
It hadn't been Quincy that had suggested Pine Cottage, but as soon as the trip had been decided on, she'd known. This was how it should happen, this was how her story should unfold.
It was hard to stab yourself, but not impossible. Not when you wanted something so badly that it rushed through your blood with every beat of your heart.
It was hard to kill your friends, but easier when they didn't expect a thing. Not even Janelle, her best friend, had seen it coming.
It was hard to commit murder and get off scot-free, but a bit simpler when fate dumped a strange, docile boy from a mental institution into your lap, practically asking to be assigned all the blame.
There was a gentle knock on the bathroom door. "Honey?" It was Quincy's mom, with that soft, hesitant voice she'd been using with Quincy since Pine Cottage. "There's a woman called Lisa Milner on the phone for you. I don't want to bother you but... well, she says she knows exactly what you're going through and wants to talk." A pause. "I don't think she's a reporter."
Alone in the bathroom, Quincy allowed herself to smile.
Yes, Pine Cottage been so hard. But you do what you must--
--when you're a Final Girl.