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My Heart is a Chainsaw Slashes and Rebuilds the Final Girl Trope

Stephen Graham Jones's newest is a love letter to slasher films and a chiller in its own right.

my heart is a chainsaw excerpt
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The Final Girl. She’s impossible to escape in the horror world. For Jade Daniels, the arrival of a final girl would mean that her sinking suspicion about the development across from her small Idaho town—that’s the perfect setting for the types of slasher movies that she cannot stop thinking about—is true.

Jade's used to a tough life. She's certain that she'll be able to navigate any horrors that come with a real-life slasher experience, and she's not worried about making it out alive. But what does show up for Jade will force her to grapple with a question she hasn't before—is real life or fiction scarier?

Related: 7 Violent Books Just Like Your Favorite Slasher Films

In Stephen Graham Jones's latest novel, Jade will confront her favorite horror tropes brought to life while discovering what terror really means—both to her and to those reading her tale. My Heart is a Chainsaw is one of two books in the October/November Creepy Crate. Subscribe now for your chance to receive a copy!

Read on for an excerpt of My Heart is a Chainsaw, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy!




My Heart is a Chainsaw

By Stephen Graham Jones

All Jade has to do is tough it out. Go past shivering to something more blue-lipped and dry-eyed. Her loose plan had been to walk down the town pier to get that done—it’s public, it’s dramatic, somebody’ll find her before she’s all the way dead—but then she’d seen the flickering glow from the staging area, had no choice but to moth over. 

The flickering glow is a fire, it turns out. Not a bonfire, but . . . she has to smile when she gets what she’s seeing: the grunts on the night shift have used the front-end loader to scoop up all the wood and trash from around the site, probably their last task be- fore clocking out, and then they left all that trash in the big steel bucket, kept it lifted a foot or so off the ground, and dropped a flame in, probably on a shop towel they held on to until the last finger-burning instant.

Burning’s one way to get rid of a load of trash, Jade supposes. With Proofrock trying to dip down into single digits, maybe it’s the best way.

Related: 10 Disturbing Small Press Horror Books to Read this Fall and Winter

What gives Jade license to come right up to the fire with the rest of the grunts, by her reasoning at least, are her work coveralls, grimy from afternoons and weekends mopping floors and emptying trash and scrubbing toilets. Her name—“JD” for “Jennifer Daniels”—sewn onto her chest in cursive thread proves she’s like them: not important enough to bother remembering, but the front office has to have something to call you when there’s a spill needs taken care of.

“Howdy,” she says all around, trying for no lingering eye-contact, no extra attention drawn to her. She immediately regrets howdy, is certain they’re going to take that as insult, but it’s too late to reel it back in now, isn’t it?

The one with the yellow aviators—shooting glasses, right?— nods once, leans over to spit into the fire.

The guy beside him with the mismatched gloves backhands Shooting Glasses in rebuke, nodding to Jade like can’t Shooting Glasses see there’s a lady among them?

To show it’s no big deal, Jade leans over into the heat, her frozen face crackling, and spits all she can muster down into the swirling flames, her eyelashes curling back from the heat, it feels like.

The grunt with his faded green Carhartts tucked into his cowboy boots chuckles once in appreciation. 

Jade wipes her lips with the back of her bare hand, can feel neither her lips nor the skin of her hand, is just using the brief action to case the place.

It looks the same from inside as it does through the ten-foot chain link: pallets and pallets of building material, ditch witches and scissor lifts, tired forklifts and crusty cement chutes, trucks parked wherever they were when dusk sifted in, brought the real chill with it. The heavy equipment like the front-end loaders and the bulldozers are all herded onto this side of the fenced-in area, the silhouette of the backhoe rising behind like a long-necked sauropod, the crane the undeniable king of them all, its feet planted halfway between this fire and the barge that ferries all this equipment back and forth across Indian Lake.

The day that barge was delivered by a convoy of semis and then assembled on-site, just before Thanksgiving break, it had been enough of an event that a lot of the elementary school classes took a field trip to watch. And ever since that day, Proofrock hasn’t been able to look away. It never seems like that long, flat non-boat can carry one of these ten-ton tractors, but each time it just squats down in the water like it thinks it can, it thinks it can, and then, somehow, it does. Watching through the window during seventh period, Jade hates the way her heart swells, seeing the monstrous backhoe balanced on the nearly-submerged back of the barge again.

Does she want the backhoe to slide off, plummet down to Drown Town under the lake, or does she want the water to just rise and rise around its tall tires, nobody noticing until it’s too late?

Either will do.

my heart is a chainsaw excerpt
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At the other end of that ferry trip is Terra Nova, which Jade despises just on principle. Terra Nova is the rich development going up across the lake, in what used to be national forest before some fancy legal maneuvers carved a lip of it out for what the news- papers are calling the most gated community in all of Idaho—“So exclusive there aren’t even roads around to it!” If you want to get there, you either go by boat, balloon, or you swim, and balloons fare poorly with mountain winds, and the water’s just shy of freez- ing most of the year, so.

What “Terra Nova” means, all the articles are proud to reveal, is “New World.” What one of the incoming residents said, kind of famously, was that when there are no more frontiers, you have to make them yourself, don’t you?

Right now there’s ten mansions going up over there at a pace so breakneck it looks almost like the houses are rising in time lapse.

What those entrepreneurs and moguls and magnates probably don’t know, though, is that if you walk the shore around to the east from Proofrock to Terra Nova, having to tippy-toe along the dam’s spine at a certain point, the one clearing you’ll stumble into will be the old summer camp, long gone to seed: nine falling-down cab- ins against a chalky white bluff, one chapel with open sides so it’s pretty much just a low roof on pillars, like a church that’s sinking, and a central meeting house nobody’s met at since forever. Unless you count the ghosts of all the kids murdered on those grounds fifty years ago.

To everyone in Proofrock it’s “Camp Blood.” Give Terra Nova a summer or two, Jade figures, and Camp Blood will be the Camp Blood Golf Course, each fairway named after one of the cabins.

It’s sacrilege, she tells anyone who’ll listen, which is mostly just Mr. Holmes, her state history teacher. You don’t remake The Exorcist, you don’t sequel Rosemary’s Baby, and you don’t be disrespectful about soil an actual slasher has walked across. Some things you just don’t touch. Not that anybody in town cares. Or: everybody likes the fifteen dollars an hour Terra Nova’s smooth- talking liaisons are paying anybody who wants to hire on for the day. Anybody like, say, Tab Daniels. Thus the surge of beer he’s been riding the last couple of months.

Related: Grady Hendrix and His Final Girl Support Group

The transaction’s not what they think, though, that’s the thing. They’re not selling their time, their labor, their sweat, they’re selling Proofrock. Once Camelot starts sparkling right across Indian Lake, nothing’s ever going to be the same—this rant courtesy of Mr. Holmes. Before, all the swayed-in fences and cars with mismatched fenders on this side of the lake were just the way it was, the way it had always been. Now, with Terra Nova’s Porsches and Aston Martins and Maseratis and Range Rovers rolling through to park at the pier, Proofrock’s cars are going to start seeming like a rolling salvage yard. When people in Proofrock can direct their binoculars across the water to see how the rich and famous live, that’s only going to make them suddenly aware of how they’re not living, with their swayed-in fences, their roofs that should have been re-shingled two winters ago, their packed-dirt driveways, their last decade’s hemlines and shoulder pads, because fashion takes a while to make the climb to eight thousand feet.

As Mr. Holmes put it on one of his sad digressions—it’s his last semester before retirement—Terra Nova wants to make the other side of the lake pretty and serene, nice and pristine. It’s not quite so concerned about Proofrock, which before long is going to be just what gets left behind on the way to something better: cigarettes ground out under boot heels, quick pisses behind tires as tall as a house, little jigs and jags of angle iron pushed into the dirt along with layer after sedimentary layer of lonely washers and snapped-off bolts, which is why no way will Jade be staying here even one more minute than she has to after graduation. That’s a promise. There’s Idaho City, there’s Boise, there’s the whole rest of the world waiting for her. Anywhere but here.

But that, like the hypothermia, is all later. 

Right now it’s just rubbing her hands together over the fire, never mind the sparks swirling up. If she flinches from them, she’s a girl, she won’t deserve to be here at this hour.

“You all right there?” Shooting Glasses asks.

“Excellent,” Jade says back, giving him a sliver of a grin. “You?” Instead of answering, Shooting Glasses tries to make subtle eye contact with the other grunts, except quarters are too close for “subtle.”

“I interrupting something?” Jade says all around.

Mismatched Gloves shrugs, which means yes.

“Feel like I just barged into a wake, I mean,” Jade says, going from face to face.

“Good call,” Cowboy Boots says while wiping at his nose.

“I’m not Catholic,” Jade says, pulling back with all of them from a long swirling exhalation of sparks, “but isn’t there usually more drinking at a wake?”

“You’re thinking Irish,” Mismatched Gloves says with a sort-of grin.

“Let me guess,” Jade says. “Your name . . . McAllen? Mc- Whorter? Mc-something?”

“That’s Scottish,” Shooting Glasses says, staring into the fire. “Irish is O’Shaunessy, O’Brien—think luck O’ the Irish, that’s how I remember it.”

“Which of them has leprechauns?” Cowboy Boots asks.

“Shh, shh, you’re Indian, man,” Shooting Glasses tells him. “We’re talking Europe stuff here, yeah?”

“Me too,” Jade says.

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“You’re a leprechaun?” Mismatched Gloves asks, smiling now as well.

“Indian,” Jade says, and, by way of formal introduction to Cowboy Boots, “Blackfoot, my dad tells me.”

“Isn’t that Blackfeet?” Shooting Glasses asks.

“Montana or Canada?” Mismatched Gloves adds in.

Jade doesn’t tell them that, in elementary, until she caught the Montana return address on what turned out to be a Christmas check, she’d always thought she was Shoshone, because those were the Indians her social studies class said were in Idaho. So, being in Idaho, that’s what she must be. But then that return ad- dress, and that tribal seal by the address—she’d saved it, kept it hidden alongside her Candyman tape. Too, back in those days she’d had the idea that, since she was starting out half Indian, that as she got bigger and taller—got more and more physical actual blood—someday she’d be full-blood like her dad.

“Blackfeet,” she says back with faked authority. “What the fuck do you think I said?”

“Yeah,” Mismatched Gloves says, holding his different-colored hands high and away, not touching this anymore, “she sounds Blackfeet all right.”

“Adopted,” Cowboy Boots says about himself, by way of introduction. “Could be anything.”

“What he’s saying is he’s a mutt,” Mismatched Gloves says.

“Mutt your ass,” Cowboy Boots says back, and Jade files that away: on this jobsite, “your ass” is the add-on way of turning anything around. Her kind of place.

“So who died?” she says to whoever’s answering.

“He didn’t die,” Cowboy Boots says, blinking something away. “Depends on what you consider dead,” Mismatched Gloves adds.

“Greyson Brust,” Shooting Glasses says, being respectful with the name.

“Hired on with us,” Mismatched Gloves tells Jade, then shrugs an exaggerated shrug, like trying not to think of something. “Zero days since the last accident?” Jade asks, aware of the eggshells she’s walked onto here. 

Shooting Glasses chuckles kind of humorlessly.

“Place is cursed,” Jade says, which gets all of their attention, a few more unsubtle glances among them. “Probably, I mean,” she adds.

“So where you headed?” Cowboy Boots asks, trying to get Jade’s eventual exit started.

Jade, not a poker player, accidentally sneaks a glance in the direction of the great void in the night Indian Lake is, shrugs.

“She’s not going to,” Mismatched Gloves says, watching Jade hard. “She’s going from, right?

my heart is a chainsaw excerpt
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“Killer name,” she says back to him, the answer to a question he hadn’t even been asking a little.

“Say what?” Cowboy Boots says.

“Greyson Brust,” Jade says, obviously. “That’s—he sounds like horror royalty, I mean. You can hear it, can’t you? ‘Greyson Brust’ is right up there with Harry Warden, with Billy Loomis, with John Wakefield, with Victor Crowley and Sammi Curr. With . . . I’m gonna say it . . . Jason Voorhees. Some names just have that killer ring, don’t they?”

“You good, there?” Mismatched Gloves asks, and Jade looks down to where he means: the red blooming slow in the left pocket of her coveralls, from when she was flicking the utility knife’s razor blade open and shut against her leg on the walk here.

“Got some red on me, yeah,” she kind-of-quotes, shrugging his inspection off, all the tiny scars up and down her thighs and hips crawling over themselves to be seen. And then, because now no- body’s saying anything and everything’s awkward and starting to suck, Jade backs up a smidge from the fire, says, “But you’re right, yeah. I have to be careful here. Shouldn’t be standing so close to open flames like these, I mean.”

“You were—” Cowboy Boots starts, then tries again: “I thought you were talking about—” 

Slashers,” Jade says with her best evil grin. “I was talking about slashers. They’re why I can’t catch fire here. I’m a janitor, I mean, a custodian, and what’s that but a caretaker, right? I’m practically Proofrock’s caretaker when I’m wearing this. And if I stand too close, catch a sleeve on fire, and the rest of me goes up, then . . .”

Jade has to gulp her smile down.

“I’m talking about Cropsy,” she says, looking from face to face for even a hint of recognition. “Slashers from 1981, Alex.”

“Um,” Shooting Glasses says.

“Okay, okay,” she says, backing up in her head to figure out where to start for them. “Say you’re the main and only caretaker for Camp Blackfoot. The one from The Burning, I mean. Not the one from Camp Blood, which is a movie to them, a place to us around here, but forget that for now. It’s just—it’s the same way Higgins Haven is in both Friday the 13th Part III and Twisted Nightmare, right?”

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“You’re the janitor for this camp,” Cowboy Boots fills in, playing along.

“If I’m Cropsy I am, yeah,” Jade says, ignoring everything else. “And I’ve got my own cabin and everything. But these kids, these punks, they don’t really appreciate the way I’ve been ‘taking care’ of things, so much. Remember, this is sleepaway camp. It’s its own little closed system of punishment and reward.”

“Think I know that camp,” Shooting Glasses says.

You went to camp?” Mismatched Gloves says.

“I know the punishment part, I mean,” Shooting Glasses says back to him.

“So I’m Cropsy, I’m the janitor, the caretaker,” Jade goes on, before they forget they’re listening to her. “It’s my job to clean up all the blood in the showers. It’s my job to tump the cut-off fingers out of the bottom of the canoe. Any deaths by wasp-nest or arrow or axe, I clean them up just the same. But then all these kids get it in their head that I need to be taught a lesson, so they elect to play a harmless little prank. Kind of a time-honored tradition of camp, right?”

“Got a jacket in the truck, you want one,” Cowboy Boots says to Jade. Probably because of the way her jaw’s chattering and the muscles around her eyes are jerking. But that’s not cold, that’s excitement. Usually Mr. Holmes will have cut her off by now, his big hand up between them, telling her he’s not letting her write any more papers on horror movies, sorry.

But she can do them out loud, too.

“The prank these kids dream up,” she explains, her voice gear- ing down, really getting into this, “it’s that they sneak a probably- fake human skull into Cropsy’s—into my bedroom while I’m sleeping, leave it there with two little candles burning in the eye sockets, and then bang on the window to wake me up. You can guess what happens next. The prank works—I’m scared, terrified, I’ve woken up to a nightmare—my cabin’s on fire! Lesson learned, right? Wrong. In my half-asleep panic, I knock this skull over, the sheets catch fire, and then for some reason I’ve got a full can of gas in there with me. Probably to keep it away from the kids. To keep them from hurting themselves with it in some stupid way.”

“Shit,” Shooting Glasses says.

“Now fast-forward five years after that explosion,” Jade says, like it’s a campfire they’re gathered round. “I, Cropsy, I lived through that burning . . . somehow. Kind of. Because I’m all melty and cratered, I wear trench coats, and my hat’s always pulled down low because any sunlight practically hisses against my tender skin, my pizza knots of scar tissue—this is three years before Freddy, cool?”

“Got some gloves too,” Cowboy Boots offers, starting to pull his off.

“I don’t need a glove,” Jade says, set up so perfect. “First person I kill, it’s with scissors.” 

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