The Final Girl as a Middle-Aged Woman by Amber Sparks
“This final girl is fleeing like all the others, flinging open the front door of a small suburban house.” This flash fiction opens with a scene that will be familiar to anyone who has experienced mainstream horror movies, but here the reader is in the capable hands of Amber Sparks, a writer known for bringing her sharp, funny, feminist lens to her stories. In this piece, Sparks uses both humor and satire to subvert the well-worn trope of “the final girl” while shining a light on the travails—and the inimitable strength and fortitude—of the nameless middle-aged everywoman. The piece is deceptively simple and deserving of multiple readings to peel off the onion skin of the trope, as Sparks turns the killer’s horror, an apt mirror for the horror that is the typical patriarchal reaction to the idea of aging female wisdom and power, against himself. The killer dies along with the idea of the woman’s weakness and invisibility. This middle-aged woman does not have time to be a victim. She’s got better things to do. The slasher genre will never be the same. —CRAFT
This final girl is fleeing like all the others, flinging open the front door of a small suburban house. This final girl is screaming, long hair streaming, all torn T-shirt and superficial injuries and sudden athletic desperation. But something is different about this final girl; the killer can sense it. He walks through the door she has left wide as a wound, receives the baseball bat to the head with rubber indifference, peers at her shadowed face through the blur of concussion. He squints. She shouts. And then he understands.
This final girl is not a girl at all. She is a middle-aged woman! That long streaming hair is streaked with gray, those angry eyes sprout short fine lines. The killer pauses. This has not happened to him before. Is she not, perhaps, the final girl at all? But it’s been nearly two hours, and no other protagonist has emerged and survived. And yet! As he stumbles after her up the stairs and stabs her in the thigh, he sees there is a lot more thigh than usual to stab. “Fucking asshole,” she says, in almost an afterthought. Such contempt! As if she has met so many men like him before. As if she has met them at the grocery store, at the bar, at the restaurant, at her job. As if she is merely annoyed, merely swatting a fly.
He is enraged. Middle-aged women enrage him! He will kill her! Except that he is already trying to kill her, so it’s difficult to see how he can escalate at this point. She probably doesn’t even find him attractive. Does he find her attractive? He does, to his horror. How dare she be attractive! And now as he lingers here, fogged by his head wound and unfamiliar thoughts, she has taken his knife and has stabbed him right in the chest with it. The way she has just missed his heart! It’s embarrassing how attractive he finds this. Did she do it on purpose? He cannot say. She may not have much experience in stabbing people. And yet! Middle-aged women have experience in basically everything. They are impossible to defeat. Middle-aged women will take your knife right out of your hand and then ask you if your mother knows what you’re doing. Middle-aged women, he thinks, will always invoke your mother, who very definitely does not know what you are doing, and would be very disappointed in you if she did.
He is lying on the floor, eyes closed now. He is waiting for the scrape of her limp to fade, for the wail of the sirens, for his opportunity to pop back up like an automaton, just before the credits. He is lying there when the knife plunges in again, this time cleaving his heart. He is shocked, and he realizes, as the world tilts and blackens, that he should not be shocked. The middle-aged woman has things to do. As his life leaks out onto her upper landing, the middle-aged woman has already begun to worry about what to make for dinner. The middle-aged woman has already begun to plan to pick the kids up from soccer and choir practice. As he dies, the wound in her thigh is already closing, and the middle-aged woman is searching for carpet cleaners on her phone. The middle-aged woman does not have time for sequels.
AMBER SPARKS is the author of three short story collections, the most recent of which is And I Do Not Forgive You: Revenges and Other Stories. Her fiction, essays, and criticism have been published widely and she’s currently working on a novel, a book of essays, and yet another short story collection. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, daughter, and two cats. Find Amber on Twitter @ambernoelle.
Featured image by Derek Torsani courtesy of Unsplash