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Don't Fear the Reaper
Table of Contents
About The Book
December 12th, 2019, Jade returns to the rural lake town of Proofrock the same day as convicted Indigenous serial killer Dark Mill South escapes into town to complete his revenge killings, in this riveting sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author, Stephen Graham Jones.
Four years after her tumultuous senior year, Jade Daniels is released from prison right before Christmas when her conviction is overturned. But life beyond bars takes a dangerous turn as soon as she returns to Proofrock. Convicted Serial Killer, Dark Mill South, seeking revenge for thirty-eight Dakota men hanged in 1862, escapes from his prison transfer due to a blizzard, just outside of Proofrock, Idaho.
Dark Mill South’s Reunion Tour began on December 12th, 2019, a Thursday.
Thirty-six hours and twenty bodies later, on Friday the 13th, it would be over.
Don’t Fear the Reaper is the page-turning sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.
It’s not really cool to play Lake Witch anymore, but that doesn’t mean Toby doesn’t remember how to play.
It started the year after the killings, when he was a sophomore, and it wasn’t a lifer who came up with it, he’s pretty sure, but one of the transplants—in the halls of Henderson High, those are the two main divisions, the question you always start with: “So… you from here, or you’d just get here?” Did you grow up here, or did you move here just to graduate from Henderson High and cash in on that sweet sweet free college?
If it turns out you’re from Proofrock, then either you were almost killed in the water watching Jaws, or you knew somebody who was. Your dad, say, in Toby’s case. And if you’re the one asking that question? Then you’re a transplant, obviously.
The reason Toby’s pretty sure it was a transplant who came up with the game is that, if you’d lived through that night, then the whole Lake Witch thing isn’t just a fun costume.
But it is, too, which is what the transplants, who had no parents dead in those waters, figured out.
The game’s simple. Little Galatea Pangborne—the freshman who writes like she’s in college—even won an award for her paper on the Lake Witch game, which the new history teacher submitted to some national competition. Good for her. Except part of the celebration was her reading it at assembly. Not just some of it, but all of it.
Her thesis was that this Lake Witch game that had sprung up “more or less on its own” was inevitable, really: teenagers are going to engage in courting rituals, that’s hardwired in, is “biology expressing itself through social interaction”—this is how she talks. What makes Proofrock unique, though, is that those same teenagers are also dealing with the grief and trauma of the Independence Day Massacre. So, Galatea said into the mic in her flat academic voice, it’s completely natural that these teens’ courting rituals and their trauma recovery process became “intertwined.” Probably because if life’s the Wheel of Fortune, then she can afford all the letters she wants.
What she said did make sense, though, Toby has to admit.
The game is all about getting some, if you’re willing to put in the legwork. And, as Galatea said to assembly, the elegance is the game’s simplicity: if you’re into someone, then you do a two-handed knock on their front door or the side window of their car or wherever you’ve decided this starts. You have to really machine-gun knock, so you can be sure they get the message, and will definitely be the one to open that door. Also, knocking like that means you’re standing there longer than you really want, so you might be about to get caught already.
But, no, you’re already running.
Under your black robe, you’re either naked or down to next to nothing, as the big important part of the game is you leave your clothes piled in front of the door. Galatea called this the “lure and the promise.” Toby just calls it “pretty damn interesting.”
Which is to say, just moments ago he got up from the ratty, sweated-up queen bed at the Trail’s End Motel at the top end of Main Street, his index finger across his lips to Gwen, and pulled the dull red door in to find a pair of neatly folded yoga pants and, beside them, one of those pricey-thin t-shirts that probably go for ninety bucks down the mountain.
He looked out into the parking lot but it was all just swirling snow and the dull shapes of his Camry and Gwen’s mom’s truck. Idaho in December, surprise. One in the afternoon and it’s already a blizzard.
“Who is it?” Gwen creaked from the bed, holding the sheets up to her throat just like women on television shows do. Toby’s always wondered about that.
Another part of the game is that, if you don’t give immediate chase, then this particular Lake Witch never knocks on your door again. “Message received,” as Galatea put it, because “menacing the object of your affection while disguising your identity is… kind of creepy?”
It was the first laugh she got at assembly that day.
“Message received…” Toby mutters to this Lake Witch, kneeling in his boxer briefs to touch these yoga pants, this expensive shirt, as if his fingertips can feel the body heat from whoever was just wearing them. Who was just standing right here where he is, slithering out of her clothes under cover of a robe—and in minus whatever the temperature is.
The question, of course, is does he leave Gwen in the room to chase another girl through the snow?
It’s not really a question, though. This is the game, isn’t it? It’s not about convenience. It’s about opportunity.
“Gonna get a coke,” he mumbles back into the room, and steps out, just managing to reach back in for his letterman jacket. It’s against the rules—you have to give chase exactly as you are, no tying your laces, no brushing your teeth, no pulling your good pants on—but he’s already freezing.
Gwen calls something to him but the door’s already shutting, catching, latched.
Now he’s alone under the second-floor balcony or walkway or whatever it’s called. Galatea would know. “Parapet?” Toby chuckles, zero idea what that word’s doing swimming around in his head. English class, maybe? Some movie?
What does are the footsteps in the snow, already rounding off in the icy wind.
“This better be worth it!” he calls out into the parking lot.
It feels like he’s the only person in the world, here. Like he’s standing on top of the world.
Everybody smart, which is everybody but him and this Lake Witch, they’re inside where it’s warm. Anybody outside, they probably have their winter gear on, and, for this kind of storm, goggles, and maybe a defibrillator.
Toby thrusts his hands up into his armpits, hunches his head as deep into the no-collar of his jacket as he can, and steps out into the cold.
When he doesn’t come back with a coke fresh from the machine, Gwen’ll know something’s up, sure. But Toby’s already got his lie ready: he thought he had change in the jacket. Just… Gwen’s not exactly stupid. Granted, she just moved here this year, for the scholarship, and the Lake Witch game had pretty much run its course by then, meaning she didn’t recognize its signature knock, but still.
If he’s got a line of shiny-wet hickeys coming down from his neck? If his mouth is smeared with some other girl’s lipstick?
Gwen’s big city, but she’s not that big city.
If you’re a shark, though, you keep moving, don’t you? Keep moving or die. That’s been Toby’s mental bumpersticker ever since the massacre—a strict policy of constant movement means that bad night in the water gets farther away with every day, with every swish of the tail. Or—this is the motel—with every piece of tail. Galatea should write something about that, really. The principal’s basketball-star son landing on “shark” as his spirit animal? “Really? Is this, pray-tell, maybe the same shark that was on-screen when your principal-dad was dying in the water?”
Probably, Toby knows.
You do what you have to do.
And you keep moving, from Penny last week to Gwen this week. And now… now whoever this Lake Witch is going to be.
Wynona F, emphasis on that last initial?
Oh yeah. Yeah yeah yeah.
He’s glad this game is back. Who cares if it’s already old. It’s also forever new. And no, Henderson High, having a Terra Nova princess read it to assembly didn’t quite kill it, thanks. It did pull it into the spotlight, but it didn’t wither.
Neither is Toby—though he does reach down, check to be sure.
Good to go.
The cold doesn’t matter to a lifer, does it? To someone born to this elevation, to these winters?
He does have to turn his back to the wind, though, to keep it out of his jacket, and whoever the Lake Witch is tonight wasn’t expecting that, evidently—a ragged black form slips out of his peripheral vision, into the white.
Too fast to tell for sure if it’s Wynona.
“Here I come!” Toby calls out all the same, and like that the chase is on.
Galatea’s explanation to assembly was that all the running after each other is foreplay, is hunter-prey seduction: the blood’s flowing, the breathing’s already deep, and, if this Lake Witch knocked at the right time, then the one who finally catches them is probably in some state of undress. Just like they are under that slinky robe.
“Convenient, yes?” Galatea said to assembly—her second laugh.
As always, there were bowls of no-questions-asked condoms at the two doors out of the auditorium that day.
As always, someone had already dropped an open safety pin into each bowl.
And, speaking of: Toby pats his pockets, comes out with… Visine, of course. A blue pen, okay. His wallet, damnit. Unless he stashes it out here, Gwen’ll know he had money for the machine.
In the other pocket, though—yes. Three rubbers.
He counts in his head, and… yeah. That’s how many he should have left.
He puts everything back into his pockets, just catches a hooded face watching him from the vending machine hall.
He’s there in a flash, his feet ten degrees past numb, but this Lake Witch, who did keep her boots on, it looks like from her tracks, has run all the way through to the other side of the motel.
Instead of falling for that like a noob, Toby backs up, jogs to the front, because that’s the only way you can come back, if, say, you think your pursuer is coming up the vending machine hall.
“This better be worth it, it better be worth it!” Toby calls out into the storm, but he’s grinning wide, too.
Until Gwen opens the door of their room.
“My money blew away!” Toby says back to her, bending like trying to catch a dollar scraping across the snow.
“I’ll give you another!” Gwen calls back, hugging herself against the cold.
But yes: she’s seeing the yoga pants and shirt she’s nearly stand-ing on.
“What?” Toby thinks she says. It’s what her body language is saying anyway. What her eyes are beaming across.
You don’t understand, he wants to explain to her. I have to see who this is. She won’t come knocking again.
All of which translates down to I’ll never be this eighteen again, he knows.
He takes a step toward her, which is when he becomes aware of… of some massive shape in the parking lot. Like a great black wall fell out of the sky, planted itself across the lines.
“What the hell?” he says to himself, and looks over his right shoulder for the chance of this Lake Witch slashing up beside him, touching his side before slipping away again.
And there’s Gwen, holding those clothes up now, inspecting them.
Recognizing them? Girls can do that, can’t they?
And—and… and now this whatever-this-is in the parking lot?
It’s too much.
Toby doesn’t want to get too far from the motel, but this is a mystery he can solve in four or five steps, he’s pretty sure.
He shuffles out, his teeth starting to chatter, and it’s… a trash truck?
A big gust swirls hard little crystals of snow up into his face, his eyes, his lungs, and he spins away from it all, shakes his head no, that he’s just going to go back to the room, back to Gwen. That if Wynona’s into him, great, fine, wonderful. But another time, girl, please. Can’t she see he’s otherwise occupied?
Doesn’t she know how freaking cold it is?
He balls himself as small as he can to take less punishment from the wind, which is when… something hot happens. Hot and fast.
At first it doesn’t even make sense to his primitive shark brain.
Part of the game, the “advanced version” as Galatea had called it, making it all super boring and academic, was the Lake Witch dashing past, “counting coup” on her or his intended’s shoulder—“part of the dance,” Galatea called it, getting zero laughs, this time.
“Coup” is a Native American thing, she then slowed down to tell them all, being kind of judgy about it, like she was insulted that this even needed to be said out loud.
In the parking lot two months after that day at assembly, Toby looks up to the blinking neon sign, the giant dying Indian on his giant tired horse, and then, to be sure he felt what he thought he felt, he looks down to his hands, opening at his waist.
They’re not just red with the light leaking down from the Indian, they’re red with his blood, and they’re holding his, his—
He shakes his head, falls back.
He’s holding his intestines, his insides, his liver and pancreas and gall bladder and whatever else there is, and his hands are so numb they don’t even know what it is they’ve caught.
He pushes them away as if getting them out of his vision will mean they’re not really happening, but that just pulls more out, and they’re glisteny and lumpy and slick and getting away fast, and he feels a warm hollowness inside that he’s never felt before—it’s the wind, blowing into him for the first time, because his gut is now an empty cavity.
He falls to his knees, trying to gather himself to himself, and when he looks up again, the giant neon Indian is looking right down at him.
It flickers once, comes back stronger, redder, and then it dies all the way out.
Toby Manx goes with it.
Reading Group Guide
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December 12, 2019, Jade returns to the rural lake town of Proofrock the same day as convicted Indigenous serial killer Dark Mill South escapes into town to complete his revenge killings, in this riveting sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.
Four years after her tumultuous senior year, Jade Daniels is released from prison right before Christmas when her conviction is overturned. But life beyond bars takes a dangerous turn as soon as she returns to Proofrock. Convicted serial killer Dark Mill South, seeking revenge for thirty-eight Dakota men hanged in 1862, escapes from his prison transfer due to a blizzard, just outside of Proofrock, Idaho.
Dark Mill South’s Reunion Tour began on December 12, 2019, a Thursday.
Thirty-six hours and twenty bodies later, on Friday the 13th, it would be over.
Don’t Fear the Reaper is the page-turning sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Don’t Fear the Reaper is organized into multiple points of view, punctuated with essays from Galatea Pangborn. How does this structure compare and contrast with the trilogy’s first book, My Heart Is a Chainsaw?
2. On page 125, Jennifer and Ginger discuss Dark Mill South, with Ginger remarking that he has a “good name.” Jennifer replies that “names don’t matter . . . it’s what they do that matters.” In a trilogy with some great names, from Stacey Graves to twins dubbed Cinnamon and Ginger, how do names affect your understanding of the characters themselves?
3. In the suspense-laden chapter titled “Black Christmas,” Letha uses Rex Allen’s goose gun against a threat that isn’t what it seems. How did the author create the heightened paranoia of this scene? Did you come to the sudden realization at the same time Letha did?
4. Jennifer “Jade” Daniels grapples with her identity throughout the book. When do you think she first considers how her former self may be her saving grace? Consider her conversation with Cinn on page 195.
5. On page 205, Galatea’s essay reasons through Dark Mill South’s origins and the peculiarities around his victims’ final resting places. At this point in the story, what do you think is the truth of Proofrock’s latest serial killer?
6. In a conversation with Letha, Jennifer reveals why she gravitated to horror as a child: “I was a scared little girl . . . I thought if I knew all the rules . . . that would mean nothing would happen to me!” When you were little, how did you make sense of the world?
7. On page 244, Letha and Jennifer discuss horror’s signature actresses, with Jade remarking that “you don’t get to pick your genre.” If you could pick, what would be your genre of choice?
8. Imagine you are in the police precinct with Banner, Letha, Jade, Hardy, and Cinn on page 347. Based on your knowledge of slashers, what would you suggest the group do to stop Dark Mill South?
9. Jade admonishes herself for “hiding in stupid movie sh*t” when head-to-head with Dark Mill South. We all hide in something when we’re scared. How do you face down fear?
10. Mr. Armitage shows his true nature as Proofrock’s body count rises. How do his horror fantasies compare and contrast with Jade’s?
11. The book contains a twist ending—when did you first begin to suspect the true nature of Proofrock’s latest massacre?
12. Did you correctly guess who would be the Final Girl at the end of the book?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. As you read, create a Final Girl Tracker and note who appears to be the Final Girl at various points in the book. Were your guesses ever correct, and what does this cast of characters reveal about horror?
2. With your book club, watch a movie that is mentioned in the book (such as Night School on page 241 or Scream 2 on page 249). How does your analysis compare with the parallels to Proofrock that Jade and Letha pick up on?
3. Jade still feels an affinity for her favorite teacher, Mr. Holmes, all these years after stepping into his classroom. Do you feel similarly fond of teachers from your past? Write a letter to your favorite teacher highlighting the most important lesson you learned. Whether you send it or recycle it, how does it feel to step into Jade’s shoes?
- Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press (February 7, 2023)
- Length: 464 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982186593
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Raves and Reviews
* “Horror fans [will] be blown away by this audacious extravaganza.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
* “This extraordinary novel is an essential purchase.”—Kirkus, Starred Review
"Stephen's writing is a chainsaw and every sentence in this book drips with blood, every paragraph is clotted with skin, and every period is a bullethole. He makes me feel like an amateur."—Grady Hendrix, New York Times bestselling author of The Final Girl Support Group
"A homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre. You don't have to be a slasher fan to read My Heart is a Chainsaw, but I guarantee that you will be after you read it."—Alma Katsu, author of The Deep and The Hunger
"Brutal, beautiful, and unforgettable, My Heart Is a Chainsaw is a visceral ride from start to finish. A bloody love letter to slasher fans, it's everything I never knew I needed in a horror novel."—Gwendolyn Kiste, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens
"Stephen Graham Jones can't miss. My Heart Is A Chainsaw is a painful drama about trauma, mental health, and the heartache of yearning to belong...twisted into a DNA helix with encyclopedic Slasher movie obsession and a frantic, gory whodunnit mystery, with an ending both savage and shocking. Don't say I didn't warn you!” —Christopher Golden, New York Times bestselling author of Ararat and Red Hands
“An easy contender for Best of the Year. A love letter to (and an examination of) both the horror genre and the American West, it left me stunned and applauding.”—Brian Keene, World Horror Grandmaster Award and two Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rising and The Damned Highway
“Stephen Graham Jones masterfully navigates the shadowy paths between mystery and horror. An epic entry in the slasher canon."—Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase
"An intense homage to the classic horror films of yore."—Polygon
"At once an homage to the horror genre and a searing indictment of the brutal legacy of Indigenous genocide in America, Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart Is a Chainsaw delivers both dazzling thrills and visceral commentary... Jones takes grief, gentrification and abuse to task in a tale that will terrify you and break your heart all at the same time."—Time
"Sneaking in right at the end of the summer is the best horror novel of the year... A loving homage to meta-horror classics like Scream and Cabin in the Woods. Hilarious at one turn and outrageously gruesome at the next, it’ll be the perfect book to read after dark over Labor Day weekend."—GQ
"Stephen Graham Jones continues his reign as a horror maestro with My Heart Is a Chainsaw. This brutal homage to slasher films focuses on Jade, a young half-Indian woman who finds comfort in horror movies after feeling abandoned by her family and her town."—PopSugar
"Stephen Graham Jones is a star when it comes to melding horror with literary fiction, exploring themes of colonialism and racisms alongside Indigenous experiences. He hasn’t been described as the Jordan Peele of horror fiction for nothing... A masterpiece."—Book Riot
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