The Final Men
By Ryan Bradford
The old gas station attendant tells us not to go up to the campground.
There’s a killer on the loose.
“Been killing kids up at that campground for forty years,” the old man says. “At least.” He coughs up a wad of something and swallows it. “Kids on spring break. Kids just like you. Groups of fellas and their little ladies.” The word “ladies” pushed through the gap in his teeth like soft cheese.
“Just ring up the beer, dude,” we say.
He shakes his head. “You’re all doomed.”
“Why does it always have to be the final girl?” asks someone. “In the movies, the slashers—it’s always a chick who gets to stay alive. Why can’t it be a final man?”
“Why can’t it be final people?” says someone else.
“And what about scream kings, bro? Guys can get scared too.”
We nudge the girls. “Just kidding,” we say. We hoot and bark into the frosty sky. We crack open another round of beers and chug. Foam dribbles down our chins and we crush the cans into bowtie shapes before throwing them into the woods. We fist-bump. We tap each other’s balls. If there is a killer is out there, he’s going to have to bring it. Come at us, bro.
* * * *
Our hot dogs burst in the heat of the fire, releasing the spirits of processed animals.
The grease from the meat turns our hands shiny and the girls ask if we’ll wash up before the fondling commences. Given that we all may die tonight: slim chance, ladies.
* * * *
We wake to the sound of heavy boots trodding up the wooden steps. The cabin door creaks open. A monstrous shape stands in the doorway—a giant stain blotting out the moonlight. His breath, filtered through a latex mask. We close our eyes and brace for the stabbing knife, the piano wire around the neck, the chainsaw, the sledgehammer.
We can’t help but feel a little disappointed when it’s one of the girls who screams. So predictable.
Her name was Sandy. Sandy was super hot. Like, a ten. For reals.
“Damn,” we say. “Killer scored a grade-A piece of meat.”
The girls look at us, horrified.
“Just kidding,” we say. “Jeez. Lighten up.”
The car’s been ravaged. Slashed tires. Broken windows. Wires sticking out of the engine like hair.
The phones don’t work.
We hear a laugh from somewhere far away. It’s a bloodcurdling sound that sends the girls into our arms.
“Don’t worry, ladies,” we say. “We’ll keep watch tonight. You’ll be safe with us. We’re the good guys.”
Outside, we hide in shadows, behind trees. Moonlight streaks across our faces, obscuring everything but our eyes. We watch the cabin, ready for the killer to make his move. Nothing is going to hurt these girls, not on our watch.
The hours drag on. No sign of the killer. “Hey, what if he knows that we’re out here?” one of us asks. “What if he’s watching us?”
The woods suddenly fill with eyes. The temperature drops. Fingers shake as we try to crack open another cold one.
“It’s just not fair,” someone says. “Why do the girls get to stay inside? Why can’t we feel safe too? Whatever happened to equal rights?”
A wolf howls and we huddle together. We whimper. Some of us cry, but it’s probably just the booze.
We wake up in each other’s arms. Our breath steams in the cold morning and dry vomit fans out from the corners of our mouths. “Whoops,” we say, using a length of sleeve to wipe ourselves clean. We all feel a little ridiculous. Some of us even laugh, but then stop when we hear one of the girls screaming. Come to think of it, she’s been screaming for a long time.
It’s Allison. She’s standing outside and pointing up at the other girls hanging from the branches. Just bodies now. Each has the same word carved into their torso: doomed.
* * * *
It makes sense that the killer wouldn’t go for Allison. She’s not really the killing type. Nothing against her because she’s really funny. Smart. Great personality. Kind of shy. Also a little quiet, but that could just be from the trauma.
“We’re going to die up here,” she says, distant. She’s been sitting in front of the cabin’s cold fireplace all day. Tears streak her face.
“Dude,” we say. We belch and it tastes like blood. We can’t remember the last time we had anything besides meat. “Nobody’s going to die. We’re here to protect you.”
Her mouth twitches into a smile. Her lips crack open. She laughs.
“You’re going to protect me?” She can barely make out her words through her laughter. “You’re going to protect me? Just like you protected the others?”
“Hey,” we say. “Nobody’s perfect.”
Allison doesn’t stop laughing. It builds. She coughs it at us. Blood-tinged saliva spatters the floor of the cabin. Heat fills our cheeks. Hatred wells in our hearts.
“Stop laughing,” we say.
“We’re doomed,” she says, and it’s so funny to her. So, so funny.
“Shut your fucking mouth.”
“Doomed!” she screams.
We lunge forward, but Allison is quicker than our beer-rendered bodies. She runs toward the door. We reach out to stop her, but only manage to rip her shirt.
“Don’t go out there!” we cry. “There’s a killer out there!”
Trees blur in our peripheries. Branches cut lines across our faces. Our breathing becomes labored and hot, like running in a latex mask. We follow the sound of Allison’s laughter. If only she could just stop laughing at us, maybe she’d be safe. Maybe we’d all be safe.
We catch sight of Allison. Her torn shirt reveals skin, and it’s funny because who would’ve imagined the kind of body that she was hiding underneath those clothes. And it dawns on us: Underneath our clothes, we’re all just bodies. Blood, tissue, and bone.
When we finally catch her, when our hands finally touch her skin, it’s us who are laughing.
* * * *
“Honestly, I thought I’d never see you again,” says the old man at the gas station.
“Weren’t there some girls with you?”
We begin to stack thirty-packs of beer on the counter. “How much for all these, boss?” The man stares at the red in our fingernails when we unfurl the cash.
“That’s a lot of beer,” he finally manages.
“We like it up there,” we say. “Think we’re going to stay for a while.”
A jeep pulls into the gravel parking lot and a group of kids spill out. A couple dudes and their lovely ladies. We watch them from inside the gas station and we can already tell who’ll be saved for last.
Ryan Bradford is the author of the novel Horror Business, as well as the founder and editor of Black Candies, a journal of literary darkness. His writing has appeared in Quarterly West, Vice, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, New Dead Families, and [PANK].
Illustration by Meghan Murphy.