A Good House to Raise Daughters

In Final Girl, Season 3 by Aseja Dava

The stench of burning meat still filled the halls of Foxgate House. You found yourself between its jaws, staring up at the high-vaulted ceilings and the pale tile that gleamed like moonlight. The House made the rest of the world seem drained of color. Every window on the first floor had been flung open to let out the smoke pouring from the scorched oven. The wind displaced the old, haunted air, shaking the crystals in their chandeliers, their abiotic rattles echoing through the House.      

You would not be deterred. Not by the apparent menace of Foxgate House, nor by the way that the oven caught fire a mere moment after you stepped inside. You were unshaken by the tones of human wailing in the smoke alarm. As Valerie Foxgate stormed to the kitchen to salvage what she could of dinner, you might have walked the hell out of there, ignoring her invitation to go ahead and find a seat in the dining room. You were either naive enough to think that the House and its inhabitants could not kill you in a million painful ways, or too determined and stubborn for answers to leave. 

By the looks of you, I was betting more on the latter. 

Everything about you was a disruption. From the crappily patched up bruises at the base of your throat, to your indifferent posture, to the stubborn set of your mouth. In this cavernous house, you stuck out like a sore thumb. The wrong kind of toy in a wealthy girl’s dollhouse. 

You walked through the foyer and into the dining room, where you found yourself seated at one end of a long mahogany table, as far as possible from the withering figures of Jean and Robert Foxgate. The room was cavernous, lit by a black chandelier and a fireplace that crackled deep orange behind the empty seat at the opposite end of the table. Moonlight flooded dully in, the antique window bars casting their floral designs across the floor. The table waited excitedly for a feast. Jean Foxgate looked less excited. 

“You,” she gasped, lip curling in protest. 

“My name is Isobel,” you said to the head of the house. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Foxgate and…uh, Mrs. Foxgate, it’s good to see you again.” 

The left side of Jean’s face was still tender. I realized then that her injury was connected to the bruises around your throat. But knowledge never came easy in this place. What secrets I knew, I stole from Valerie’s tantrums, Robert’s mutterings, and the things Jean said in her fitful slumbers. 

What I knew: A perfect family dinner, ruined. Hospital. Filipino nurse. Consequences.    

You felt Robert Foxgate’s eyes slinking up your neck and to your face, studying you like a lab animal in a cage. In his youth, he’d been an outgoing land developer like all the Foxgate men who came before him. But the years and the House had drained him dry of charisma, leaving in its stead a finely-dressed gentleman with wandering hands and an unsatisfactory amount of power.  

“So you’re the fetus that Maria smuggled into the country with her,” Robert said. 

“I am,” you said coldly. “And you must be the guy who sponsored both of us. I guess I should say thank you.” 

“Your mother was never this impertinent,” Robert said. 

“I bounced around foster homes for years,” you shrugged. “Didn’t really have any good role models. Anyway, you were Maria’s employer. She didn’t have the luxury of impertinence.”  

Robert flushed red. “You shouldn’t have come here.”  

Incredulously, you stared. “You invited me.”

Valerie invited you,” Robert corrected.  

“And what Valerie wants, Valerie gets,” Jean whispered, more to Robert than to you. 

“Quiet,” he snarled at his wife. 

Jean was the fifth of her name, a strange and willowy woman nearing seventy-six. She was skittery, stealing dark-eyed glances at you from across the table while tearing a dinner roll into pieces. Your phone buzzed in your pocket, and when you pulled it out, several text messages from SAFIYA lit up your phone screen. You almost regretted sending her your location. 




Dude they could be completely lying about your mother being their nanny 


You responded: saf im fine. i’m sitting with jean and robert foxgate at the dinner table  

Safiya’s response was almost immediate: OMG 

i think i’ll find my answers here, you said. 

Safiya: Are you sure they’re worth it?

Before you could respond to Safiya, Valerie waltzed into the room with two steaming trays of food. Robert and Jean shifted imperceptibly straighter. 

“Dinner’s finally here!” Valerie announced. “Isobel, we’re sorry for the chaos. I’m so glad you’re here.” 

The Foxgate daughter looked nothing like her parents. Blonde with snowmelt eyes, and wearing a long summer dress in mid-November. She was barefoot, which only emphasized the way that her dress stopped awkwardly just above the ankles. Her beauty made it whimsical. It was a beauty you were trying to ignore, diverting your gaze to where Valerie arranged a glistening rotisserie chicken, dark gravy, and a casserole of something steamy. She uncorked a bottle of wine, pouring with a surprising lack of restraint, and nearly overflowing all of your glasses. Valerie dragged a place setting to the opposite head of the table and sat down. You realized, belatedly, that you had stolen her seat. 

“As I told you at the hospital, Maria had been my nanny since birth. We thought of her as family,” Valerie said. She presented you with a cardboard box that she picked up from one of the chairs.“It’s been twenty years since she left us, but I could never throw away her things. I think you should have them.” 

The cardboard box hissed as Valerie slid it across the table to you. The House, eternally loud with hauntings, dropped into silence. The maddening drip of the faucets went dry. The curtains ceased their lung-like shifting against the windows. Everyone watched with hungry anticipation, but you didn’t notice them at all. 

I wanted so badly to sit next to you at that moment. You lifted the cover, dust firing into the air, and below, there was a trove of objects. Piles of papers, photo and CD sleeves, and tucked among them were doll-sized, wooden statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. There was a rosary at the bottom of the box. Bypassing the idols, you grasped at the empty disc sleeve on top of the paper pile. In messy blue scrawl, it read: MARIA’S MIX #19. 

A stack of glossy photographs was next. The first photo showed a Filipina posing outside Foxgate House, carrying a blonde girl on her hip. Valerie, four at the time, grinned broadly to show off her missing front tooth. Your gaze shifted back to Maria, tracing the similar eyes and mouth, the same warm brown skin. Your thumb has been pressing over the child’s face, and you drew your hand back sharply, like you were guilty about it. The other photographs were quite alike: Maria and Valerie at various points in the latter’s childhood. You placed the photos into the shoebox and closed it back up. 

“This is more information about her than I’ve found in years,” you said. You cleared your throat, glancing up to find the Foxgates watching. Valerie drew her knife with a competent hand, holding your gaze while she pierced chicken meat with her fork and lifted it to her mouth. “Thank you.”  

“Thank you for coming,” Valerie said. “You know nothing about us, and after my mother’s outburst in the emergency room, I wouldn’t blame you for disregarding the invitation. Speaking of which, I think my mother wanted to apologize for her behavior. Right, Mummy?” 

“I thought you were a ghost,” Jean said. 

“And she was so overwhelmed with emotion,” Valerie added quickly. “My mother’s nerves are so frail these days.” 

“It’s an occupational hazard of being a nurse.” You said to Valerie, and then to Jean, who returned your gaze with rapt attention. “Seeing the resemblance to my mother must’ve triggered you. You went into crisis-mode. I don’t think you knew what was going on. It happens.”   

As Jean opened her mouth to speak, Valerie cleared her throat. 

“Isn’t that kind, Mummy?” She lifted her wine glass high in the air. “I’d like to make a toast.”

 Robert followed with lazy indifference. Jean’s hands trembled as she raised her glass. Hesitantly you raised yours. 

“To Maria,” Valerie announced. “The kindest and most hard-working woman in the world.” She turned to you. “And to Isobel. I know that we’ve just met, but I already consider you my sister.” 

You were disarmed by the last part. Your mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. 

“Cheers.” It was Robert who broke the silence, smacking his glass against his daughter’s so roughly that wine splashed over the rim. Valerie lifted her glass towards you. 

“To Maria and Isobel,” Valerie said. 

“To me and Maria,” you echoed. 

The Foxgates were a nuclear daydream. Wealthy, white, heterosexual. At least the parents were. Valerie was a shameless flirt and your gender didn’t pose an issue. Yet as you dined with the Foxgates late into the evening, there was something uncanny about their arrangement. Valerie reigned at the table like a small god. The elderly Foxgates spasmed near imperceptibly beneath her pointed stares—flinching, straightening—as if there were puppet strings between her gaze and their limbs. Or maybe it was the way that the Foxgates watched you when they thought you weren’t paying attention. Valerie’s gaze in particular had claws, and you felt them now as they trailed up your spine. You sent Safiya updates under the table. 

she keeps staring 

Maybe there’s something on your face.

i’m serious

So am I. There’s usually something on your face. 

“Is that your boyfriend?” Valerie asked. “You keep smiling at your phone.” 

You dropped your phone into your lap. Although she looked amused, there was a sharpness in her voice that put you on edge.  

“It’s my friend Safiya. You met her, actually. She’s also a nurse at the hospital. She’s the one who…uh, pulled Jean off of me.” 

Valerie took a sip of her wine. “Perhaps I should have extended my invitation.” 

You swallowed thickly, gripping your phone harder. 

“I’m going to use the bathroom,” you said. “Can you point me in the right direction?” 

“Down there, at the very end.” Valerie pointed to the hall leading out of the dining room and deeper into the first floor of the house.  

The darkness in Foxgate House was alive. The only source of light that came through was from the small window at the end of the hall. As you entered the dark, you thought you heard humming. You turned towards the way you came, but the music was coming from deeper inside the house. You took several steps down the hall, and traced the sound to the last door on the left, opposite the bathroom. Music emanated from the other side of the wood. So soft that you might have brushed it off as your imagination. 

Wonder this time where she’s gone… wonder if she’s gone to stay… 

Nobody was in this hall. The music had come out of nowhere. You stepped closer, but before you could press your ear to the door, your cell phone came to life, the vibration so startling that you jumped. 

“Hang on a second,” you greeted Safiya. “Do you hear this?” 

You pulled the phone away from your ear and tilted it towards the door. After a moment of silence, you heard Safiya say, “I don’t hear anything.” 

She was right. You rubbed a hand down your face. You brought the phone close to your ear, turning to the bathroom. “Sorry. I must’ve been imagining it.” 

As you passed the window at the end of the hall, your peripheral vision just missed the figure in the reflection. You very nearly saw me.  

“You sound like a disaster,” Safiya said. Her voice was sweet and tart all at once. You welcomed the familiar cadence as you locked the bathroom door, slumping against the sink. You expected her to berate you, but she only let out a quiet sigh: “How are you doing?” 

Your eyes slipped closed. “I think I’m going crazy. I can feel traces of her at the House,” you murmured. “I don’t know how to explain it.” 

“Did the Foxgates say where she might’ve gone?” 

“Valerie said that they woke up one morning in the winter of 2007 and she had disappeared. She didn’t leave a note. She barely took any of her things.” 

Safiya was quiet for a moment, before asking, “Do you believe them?”  

The breath shuddered out from your lungs. “No.” 

 “Okay,” said Safiya. You heard a woman’s voice on the other end of the line. “Give me a second. Kathleen’s got Jean’s file pulled up.” I owe you, Safiya muttered to someone nearby. 

“You’re looking at Jean’s file?” 

“I was curious,” Safiya said defensively. “I wanted to make sure you’d be okay. Hang on, Bell.” 

The sound of conversation garbled on the other side. It sounded like the phone had been stuffed into a pocket. You heard Safiya muttering expletives beneath her breath. Another voice, Kathleen’s, rose over the din: Tell her to go.  


“Isobel.” Her voice came into focus. “You need to leave right now.” 


“Jean and Valerie confirmed that she was a new patient at the hospital when Kathleen took down her info. Apparently, Linda mentioned that Jean reminded her of a patient from a long time ago named Amelia Cardenas. I have Amelia’s health records too, and it matches the description of the woman who we met that night.” 

“So you think Jean…is Amelia?”   

“Amelia Cardenas was a domestic worker declared missing one full year ago,” said Safiya. “Despite pressure from her family, the police never pursued a search.” 

The blood drained from your face. Your eyes went distant as the knowledge submerged you. As your mother’s life and Amelia Cardenas’s pooled into a single fate on the floor. You knew what could happen to disposable people in this country. 

Safiya was still talking, either to you or to someone in the hospital.

“We shouldn’t have let Amelia leave. Valerie said that her mom had wandered off after a family dinner—she was probably trying to get—” Her voice became muffled.  “—you think the cops will give a shit?—I’m going—” Safiya’s voice got clearer. “Isobel. Don’t make a scene. Just tell them something came up and you have to leave.”  

“I think they did something to my mother,” you murmured in a daze. 

“I know,” Safiya said. She sounded breathless. “Fuck. I’m coming right now, just get the hell out—” 

There was a knock on the bathroom door. 

“Isobel?” Valerie spoke on the other side. “Are you okay in there?”    

You hung up the phone and took a breath before calling out, “Just a second.” 

You swayed on your feet. You had a strange look on your face, grief and hope all at once.  

Could you feel me? Houses could not hold their daughters, but I was right next to you. The hair on your arms stood completely straight. You lifted your head to the ceiling, and spoke, barely above an exhale. 



I reached for you. I felt my body groan in protest. I had become the walls of Foxgate House. I felt their heaviness, their mountainous immobility, the places where termites chewed and the other Jean Foxgates clawed paint off with their fingernails. I was all the faucets and floorboards, and when I gathered my strength, I could play with the electrical currents in dreams and light switches.

I flicked the light switch on and off in answer. 

You exhaled, your eyelashes fluttering as the meaning of my haunting dropped like a stone into your chest. Had a part of you always suspected my death? I felt a sharp burst of pain as you buried your face briefly in your hands. 

“Isobel?” Valerie was knocking again. You needed to be quick.  

You collected some strength inside of you, swallowing the lump in your throat and getting to your feet. You pressed your hand to the wall, and I imagined your fingers warm against my cheek. 

You opened the door. Valerie stood in the hallway, one eyebrow raised as you stepped outside of the bathroom.  

“Safiya called me,” you said. “I need to get going.” 

You started walking back down the hall, too aware of Valerie keeping a close pace next to you. 

“But it’s early,” she said. “Tell Safiya she’s welcome to join us.” 

You pushed past her, spilling into the light of the dining room and coming to a stop. Robert stood with his arms crossed against his chest, blocking the exit into the foyer. 

He uncrossed his arms and revealed a long kitchen knife in his grasp. 

“I told you that you shouldn’t have come,” he said to you. 

Valerie’s hand ran possessively across your shoulders as she passed you. You flinched, and watched her prowl to where Jean—Amelia—was still seated at the table. Valerie took a sip from her not-mother’s wine glass, reaching out to toy with a strand of her white hair. Amelia trembled slightly beneath her touch.  

“Amelia Cardenas?” you asked. “There are people looking for you.” 

She stared at you in shock, and Valerie clucked her tongue. 

“Did Mummy #5 have a little slip up?” Valerie said. She glared down at her. “You almost got us all in trouble at the hospital.” 

“Is your real mother even alive?” you asked. 

“My mother?” Valerie laughed. “She’s as dead as yours.” 

“You know, Isobel,” said Valerie. “The problem with people these days is that they’re not willing to sacrifice for family. Jean Foxgate was too selfish to ever be able to raise children, and Maria disagreed with my methods.”  

“The problem is that you kidnap people!” You yelled. “My mother raised you and you killed her! You know nothing about family!” 

The glass in Valerie’s hand snapped. Red wine and shards poured onto the table. Blood bloomed from cuts in her palm, and she looked down at them cold fascination.  

“Your mother told me about you when I was really little,” she said. “That you had been adopted. She told me that you were my age, and that your name was Isobel. I was fascinated. Maria was my favourite person in the world when I was little. I figured her daughter would be like a sister to me.” 

“You could never force me to be your sister,” you said. 

“I see that now.” Valerie looked at you, and you saw the faintest trace of hurt in her face. She sighed, and gestured towards her father. “Tie her down.” 

The fire in the hearth leapt in protest, snarling with orange flames. The hum of electricity grew. Foxgate House screamed, the noise rising to a peak as every light in the house went berserk, as the radios in each room blared static at full volume. The house of my body rioted at maximum decibels. All the wine glasses shattered. 

I exhaled, and Foxgate House fell into a dark silence broken only by firelight. 

“Oh, oh, oh, hello Maria!” said Valerie. She was in awe, as blood trickled from her ears. Amelia had crawled under the table. Robert slumped against the wall, groaning. You were on your hands and knees, trying to drag yourself invisibly into the foyer. “Is this what it takes to get your attention?” Valerie laughed. “You walk into the dreams of every new mother and sister that I bring here. I know that you whisper to them. You try to ruin my life. and you don’t even have the decency to haunt me!” 

I saw the horror spreading across your face as you watched her laughter deteriorate into a child’s wailing. Her face turned red with effort, tears falling now as she convulsed with rage. Valerie moved to destroy anything in her field of reach. She tugged at her hair, hard enough that fingerfuls of golden strands actually came out. She tore at the table cloth, sending all the food and the shoebox of my things sprawling across the floor. The wooden statue of Mary rolled in front of you. Beneath the table, you locked eyes with Amelia. She mouthed one word. 


“You’ll come alive for Isobel, but not me!” Valerie shrieked. She threw a chair across the room and caught sight of you. “You think you’re a better daughter than me!” 

Before Valerie could come after you, Amelia rose up with a loud shriek, lifting a fallen knife from the floor and plunging it deep into Valerie’s side. Valerie screamed. She bowed over, clutching the place where Amelia’s knife had stuck. Her scream of pain turned to full-bodied, animal growls, clawing up from deep from her throat. 

You bolted to your feet. You heard Amelia’s fatal gasp, but before you could turn to help her, something had grabbed you by the ankle. Robert. He was half-sprawled on the ground, lungs heaving as he dragged you back. Your hands scrambled for purchase, fingers falling around the base of the saint. It was good, solid wood. As Robert gave one more tug, you twisted your body, bringing the statue up with all your might and slamming it against the front of his skull. The hand on your ankle went limp. 

Your feet slid against the tile floor of the foyer, but you used the momentum to propel you, hurling yourself against the front door. You turned the lock, nearly dislocating your arms from their sockets as you tried to pull it open, before you noticed the padlocks. Three of them.

“Oh, Isobel,” Valerie called from the dining room. “Don’t make this difficult.” 

You heard her coming before you saw her. First the footsteps, and beneath that, you made out the low, ravenous hum of flies. 

A body appeared at the entrance to the foyer.   

Valerie had transformed. Was transforming in volatile motion like a black hole collapsing in on itself. She was now the size of a young girl. A child self. Her hair was matted in a thick layer of flies. Her dress was the perfect length and her face was partially decomposed. Blood stained her thin arms, and the wound on her side gaped open, the internal flesh shining wet in the moonlight. She snarled at you, eyes sunken, irises turned grey. 

“What do you want from me?” you demanded. 

Valerie tilted her head to the side, considering. When she finally spoke, her voice entered the marrow of your bones. Threatened to burst the water in your veins. It was from Hell or deeper. 

“Everything,” she said. 

She brought her hands around your throat, and the world fell out from underneath you. 


My mother was a healer, and so was my grandmother before that. One of the most formative memories from my childhood was when my mother brought a bird back from death. I hadn’t yet put together my knowledge of the balance scales. I didn’t realize that the resurrection was only possible because my father had put down our family pet that same day. Chico was a good dog, but he had a habit of killing the chickens and any small bird unfortunate enough. 


When Valerie was six, she fell down the marble staircase of Foxgate House and opened her skull against the foyer tile. Jean was a mother who never really wanted to be one, but Robert desired a son so badly that she gave in. She was a cruel woman with an even crueler husband. In truth, even though she knew about our power, Jean never begged me to try to bring her daughter back. 

I thought I had performed a miracle. With my candles and santos sprawled across the floor, I bled my hand as offering and dragged the spirits of the dead back down to earth. 

After a long while, life climbed back into her. Slow at first, then too quickly. 

I knew I’d made a mistake when she woke up and smiled, blinking the rot from her eyes. 

She consumed Jean within the year. And then me, two years later. I woke up as the House, and watched Robert strike a deal with the demon inside his dead, thirteen-year-old daughter. If he continued to hire women for her life-sized dollhouse, then one day, when she grew older, the demon would give him a grandson to inherit the family name. 

The truth was this: Valerie died. I tried to bring her back, but something else claimed her body. 


The truth was also this: my body was a wound. My grief threatened to outgrow me. After I gave birth to you, and then gave you away, I was twenty-four and partially bedridden for months. I had nowhere to put my grief. Even as years passed, the ache stayed. It swelled into a slithering beast, and developed a consciousness and an endless hunger. I didn’t realize I was searching for a place to put it down. Or for another person’s body to swallow it up. 


In her truest form, the demon took the face of your child self. Not Valerie’s. 

She was your alternate. Your absence made flesh. A mother’s grief in the shape of her daughter’s body. We could hear her approaching now, her emptiness and hunger as loud as a thousand charging stallions. As she drained the life from you, you found yourself between worlds. You’d listened to my story. 

“Am I dead?” you asked. 

“Not yet, but she’s almost here,” I replied, and then: “Do you know what you need to do?” 

“Yes,” you said. 

The ground shook rhythmically as we waited. It was strange to be able to talk to you. To have you perceive me. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be self-conscious. I would’ve forgotten my own appearance, were you not my daughter standing in front of me. 

“Is there somewhere else for you?” you said. “Beyond here?” 

“I’d like to imagine so. Why?” 

“If I make it out of this alive, I’m burning Foxgate House to the ground.” 

That sounded like a beautiful plan. I took your hand and squeezed it. 

“Will you stay until the end?” you asked.

“Of course I will,” I said. “I’m your mother.”  

When the demon descended upon you, you were ready to meet yourself. You felt your own hunger behind its lips. You let it sip from you. You searched for the edges of your mother’s grief, and when you couldn’t find them, you opened your arms and embraced its mass. The demon roared in defiance. You could feel the fangs she had hooked into your body disintegrating. She wanted everything, and so that was what you’d give her. You poured your own grief down her throat. Your rage went next, then hurt, love, envy, until she was flooded. 

And slowly, she began to morph. Until you were embracing a young girl with short black hair and big eyes. Your child self trembled with the weight of what she carried. 

“It’s too much,” she said.

“It’s okay,” you replied. “I’ve got this.” 

You folded into yourself like a dying star. The wreckage of your body broke and exploded outward, rocketing from your center, swallowing you, me, the room, the world, until I could see was light. 


Hovering above the flames, I rode a parcel of smoke up into the winter night. My first taste of the outside world in twenty years. I had a full view of the Foxgate House, in all of its majesty, as the fire rose up to the second floor, punching through the windows, and filling the air with smoke. 

I watched you and Safiya huddled together in her car. She was the one who found you unconscious in the foyer, the front door blown open. She’d gotten matches while you spread around the gasoline. And when she drew you close on the front porch as the fire raged inside, you kissed her, pressing together until there was no space between you.

“You ready to go home?” Safiya asked you now.

You pulled a smudged CD from your coat pocket. You’d gone back for Mixtape #19.  

“Yeah,” you said, and inserted into the compartment. You pressed PLAY. “Let’s go.” 

I kept my promise. 

I stayed until the very end. Long after you’d disappeared from sight, when the fire trucks and cop cars finally spilled onto the scene. I watched as the fire climbed the night sky toward the stars, engulfing the Foxgate House in flames. I was a ghost no longer. I was free. Like every good and rotten thing turned to ash, I let myself be carried away by the wind.