all the good girls go to hell

In Final Girl, Season 3 by Amanda Jeysing

 Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. 

Asha finds herself deep within a forest, white knuckles clenched and sweat dripping down her brow. She winces at her stinging bare feet as they carry her over sharp thorns and tree roots overlapping the damp ground beneath her like an undercurrent. The light in the sky is void with a palpable darkness that threatens to swallow her whole. The wind whispers haunting voices in her ears, confusing her sense of direction and causing her to stumble over a branch from a fallen tree nearby. The voices grow louder and louder, consuming her with overwhelming vibrations. To her relief, the sound of her fall is drowned out by these voices. Asha manages to quickly find cover behind a bush nearby. She looks between the trees surrounding her and sees a hilltop. She couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but it all felt too familiar to her. 

As she crouches between the shrubs, she sees a shadowed silhouette cast by a large flickering flame. Following the glowing embers with her eyes and the whispered chanting with her ears, she peeks between two trees on her right and feels a presence. The silhouette appears to exist as no more than a shadow, penetrating blackness surrounding what appears to be a woman adorned with beautiful long black hair: a deep and dark ebony that could inspire beauty and terror in the same breath. Standing in the middle of the circle is a woman dressed only in a blood red and royal gold saree without a blouse. The material takes the shape of her body, gently draping over her collarbone and wrapping around the curves of her large hips. Asha couldn’t look away as her claw-like fingers wrapped around a vessel she was drinking out of. She senses Asha’s presence nearby the way a shark picks up the scent of blood in the ocean. She looks up and turns around to look at Asha, wiping blood off her chin. Asha’s heart starts pounding rapidly at the thought of— at best— being exposed and— at worst— devoured whole. 

All of a sudden, the black silhouette disappears into the night. A terrified scream attempts to leave Asha’s mouth but her throat swallows her tongue and collapses into itself, leaving her hopelessly muted. 

The ripples of a ghastly wail are heard reverberating through the House of Hope’s hallways late that evening. Asha’s voice finally came through in another dimension of reality. When she awoke shaking and horror-stricken in bed, she was all too familiar with the kind of exasperation, exhaustion and shame that demanded all the oxygen in the room. 

Outside, the rain poured down as uncontrollably and violently as her tears did. Choking on the salty stream running down her neck, she felt like she was screaming into an empty void. She felt this way for most of her life, always seeking an ever-elusive sense of relief. 

The sound of footsteps rushing towards her room triggered her sweaty palms and her toes curled up beneath her. She panicked slightly and hurriedly covered a large Hindu mythology book under a throw blanket. She forgot that she had fallen asleep reading it last night and her sudden jolt from bed had tossed it from her chest onto her lap. Her grandmother had given it to her in private before she died. Asha was only ten at the time. The black and white photo fell out from between the pages of the book— it was her grandmother, who she called ammama, and another woman holding hands. It was their little secret. It was signed “S.G.” on the back in red ink. Asha never felt alone when she looked at it. A sharp panic ran up her spine just thinking about the consequences of it being found. Hearing the footsteps getting closer, Asha braced herself for the reprimanding that was coming her way. 

A small silhouette peeked behind the door to their shared bathroom. “Another one of your cursed nightmares again?” they asked. 

“What else is new? I just miss my ammama so much. You had me worried for a second there. I thought you were Sister Lynn,” Asha replied with a hint of shame in her voice. 

“Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night…” she imitated. 

“Nor the pestilence that walketh in darkness,” Asha finished sarcastically. She was relieved that it was only Gaya and not a camp counsellor. She did not believe in the Bible one bit but she had no choice and one Saviour. So the existentially helpless part of her chose compliance for the sake of survival. 

“Please be careful, Asha.” You know what they would do if they knew. Especially after what happened last time at Clear Lake,” she said in a lower voice. 

Tears fill Asha’s eyes as she lightly traces the large tender welts along her back, each one bringing up haunting flashes of Sister Lynn splitting her flesh with a metal rod. She was so frustrated that her memory betrayed her, but she was sleepwalking when she was apparently found screaming “Red lake! Red lake!” repeatedly.       

“I know, Gaya. I know. I’m sorry but I can’t control it sometimes, it just takes over my body like I’m in a waking dream or something. Especially when I see that entity,” she said, shaking.

Gaya took her by the shoulders, “You can’t keep living like this. We can’t keep living like this. There’s a woman I’ve heard of but her name can never be said aloud within these walls. I think we should ask her for help. Let’s escape camp one evening to see her,” Gaya pleaded. 

Asha’s body seized up. “You mean to tell me you believe she exists? That’s just Laila’s favourite ghost story to scare newbies with during campfire nights. How do you even know if she’s real?” she whispered harshly. 

Gaya tilted her head towards the door to gesture for a private conversation. Asha moved as lightly as possible towards the wooden door, making sure no one else saw them leaving together. 

They headed to the abandoned cabin near the edge of the hills. Sister Lynn had warned them about it many times and the other campers knew better than to be killed over their curiosity. Asha assumed they were keeping a close eye on it but she had found a backdoor on the back side of the building covered in moss. It was barely visible to the naked eye but she always relied on tactile sensations in the dark. 

Once inside, they opened a trap door on the floor and climbed down the ladder attached to it. Gaya reached her hand under the bottom stair and fumbled around until she found a candle and some matches. Asha had hidden them there when they first found this underground haven. She lit the candle and held the small piece of tree bark that was holding it as they continued their forbidden conversation.

This was the closest thing they had to privacy in House of Hope. It would be easier if they were surrounded by digital surveillance– they would learn its blind spots and avoid it; find ways to physically shrink and hide. They were instead talking about 24/7 surveillance by the other campers, the believers. 

Illuminated by the small but persistent flame, the concrete walls surrounding them were almost glowing despite the lack of life it supported. 

“Where queers go to die,” Asha scoffed.

Gaya looked at her with understanding in her eyes and held her hand. “Or to find hope,” she said, rubbing her thumb over her fingers. 

“Wait, what’s that behind you?” Asha asked as she pointed to an area of the wall covered in what looked like soot.

Gaya brought the candle closer towards it and touched it. The ebony pigments set into her fingerprints and mostly disappeared as she rubbed her fingers together. She wiped away the rest of it to find shallow carvings on the wall. They looked like initials, all feminine and in pairs. Lovers. 

“We’ve always been here,” Gaya whispered, tracing the initials with her hands across the wall. 

Gaya leaned in closely, “I heard one of the girls talking in their sleep the other night. They were chanting something I could barely hear but it sounded exactly like the words from Laila’s story.”

“Well, that’s not good enough a reason to risk punishment for venturing off campgrounds,” Asha was now pacing as quietly as she could to shake off the anxiety that was creeping up her spine. 

“We need more information. Who was it you heard in their sleep, Gaya? Let’s talk to them before we decide anything.” 

“It was Sarah Joy. I’ll ask her.”

“No, we’ll ask her,” Asha said, holding her hand. Her thumb caressed the back of Gaya’s hand before she gently pressed her lips against it. They held each other for a while, taking in the nightmare they couldn’t wake up from. 

“I’m scared. I’ve been scared my whole life. But this is a risk worth taking, Gaya. I want to know a life outside of this one. I want to know a life where I can love you out loud. After all, what fear is there to be had of Hell when we’re already living there?” 

That night, they carved their initials into the wall in hopeful solidarity. 

As a child, Asha was often caught sleepwalking in the bathroom, sometimes near the kitchen sink or outside by the river near the house she grew up in. But she only recently started seeing the beautiful woman in her dreams. 

“Asha, please eat your food,” said Chaya. “You cannot simply daydream through life. Your hands will be pruned by the time you finish!”

“Sorry ma, I will,” Asha said flatly. She looked at her plate of rice, eggplant curry, and roasted chicken basted with masala butter. 

One thing about Chaya, her family was going to have a delicious meal to sit down to every evening. Even if they spend the entire meal in awkward silence. 

Raj sat at the head of the table in his usual subdued disposition. He kept his eyes on his plate and placed absolute focus on eating, as he always did. Chaya and Asha preferred him this way because his passivity was their only consistent illusion of safety. 

“I’ve been missing ammama lately,” Asha said, scanning both their faces for anger.

Anticipating heightened emotions, Chaya immediately placed her hand on her husband’s. “Oh, that’s sweet, Asha.” Under the table, Raj’s left leg was bouncing. 

“I’ve been reading that book she left me,” Asha said with a slightly shaken voice. 

“You will not read that blasphemy!” Raj shouted, bringing his fist down on the dining table. 

“But it makes me feel closer to her and I—,” Asha could barely get a word in before being spoken over.

“That old witch left nothing good behind so stop wasting your time looking through her relics. I don’t see you with half as much concern for the Word of God. If you continue to speak of her, you cannot remain under my roof.” Raj could never bring himself to say her name, as if it tasted like poison on his tongue.

Chaya and Raj, being conservative evangelical christians from South India, considered their faith a non-negotiable part of their lives even now as Canadians. Asha resented that they couldn’t imagine a god who was more powerful than a man. 

Chaya sighed. “Well then, now that we’ve had yet another lovely family dinner, why don’t we all retreat to our separate rooms for the rest of the night.”

That night, all Asha could think about was her ammama— it was Chaya’s mother who she barely spoke of. Saraswathi was her pre-colonial name. They changed it to Theresa when she was baptised.

Before Asha, ammama was the known troublemaker in the family. As an elder in the family, some respect ought to have been shown to her, but her audacious spirit nullified her worthiness. She stayed married to a man she despised, Chaya’s father, until he became physically abusive and she left him regardless of the expectations that dictated her endurance. She was a walking contradiction with the word ‘taboo’ written across her forehead. For this, she was socially exiled from their extended family and she kept her distance, only regretting leaving Asha behind. 

That very last day she saw her ammama, Asha was given the Hindu mythology book. Her parents told her it was a pilgrimage of sorts and she would see her grandmother soon. 

“This book is very special to me. Remember: there is always another perspective and you can create your own path in this life,” she said stroking Asha’s silky black hair. 

Asha’s rebellious acts seemed innocent at first: dancing to Bollywood music with her cousins. Tearing pages out of the bible her mother gifted her for her birthday. But that Sunday in May she took it too far beyond her parents’ redemption.

Every last Sunday of the month was a communion service at her parents’ home church. Asha dreaded it. It made her feel uncomfortable and her parents were always eyeing her from a few seats down the pew. She planned to excuse herself from the service to avoid any trouble so she decided to leave in the middle of the scripture reading.

“Matthew 26:26-28 says, ‘While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven,’” their senior pastor boomed into the microphone from the pulpit. 

Asha’s mother looked down the pew and immediately noticed that she was missing but knew better than to disrupt communion. She waited until everyone had been invited to partake of the stale wafer and apple juice before leaving her seat in a hurry. 

Chaya briskly walked towards the bathroom but could’t find Asha. Disappointed, she sighed and walked toward the stairwell where she heard whispers. As she came around the wall leading down the first step, she looked down to the second floor only to find no one there. But one of the nosy aunties was coming back up the stairs and she saw Asha kissing a girl. She couldn’t make out who it was until she turned around— it was their senior pastor’s daughter, Gaya. 

Utterly shocked and appalled, she could not imagine keeping such a scandal to herself. Meanwhile, Chaya went back into the service hoping her husband wouldn’t ask her about Asha. However, word had spread so quickly that he already knew by the time she got back in her seat next to him. Holding his fist in a ball, he was seething in his seat just thinking about it. He knew he had to do something to put Asha back on God’s path. 

House of Hope was the only camp whose values matched all their non-negotiables: Christian counselling, heterosexual affirming, round the clock surveillance, and mental illness healing rooted in the word of god. 

Asha was under the impression that she was being sent to an all-girls youth camp run by their church. It was supposed to be by a beautiful landscape near Manitoba’s Mountain National Park. She was even excited at the chance to be away from home for a while, to maybe find a chosen family. She looked out the window of her bedroom one last time before leaving, taking in the beauty of the lake surrounded by greenery she grew up swimming in. Alas, she had absolutely no idea just how dark the waters were beneath the surface. 

When she arrived at the campgrounds at dusk, the wind was sharp and frigid. All she could see was greenery for miles surrounding multiple desolate cottages in which their accommodations were housed. Her eyes scanned the solemn forest hills to the highest point where there was a cemetery. As her gaze fixated on the forest, she noticed the tree branches moving in wave-like motions, almost calling to her. It was the perfect escape for a free being— and the perfect prison for the ones locked within. 

Standing right there between the trees, she saw the woman who had been haunting her dreams with her long ebony hair flying in the winds and her eyes glowing red. Asha turned around to get Gaya’s attention as she pointed at her but she evaporated again as quickly as she appeared. 

Asha and Gaya quickly learned that total obedience was expected from the campers, whether they wanted to be there or not. Modest white clothing was mandatory. Every hour of their days were meticulously planned. Each day they had to attend morning prayers, daily group and individual therapy. They also had a congregated meeting once a week to listen to different leaders share their philosophies and stories. 

It was only during breakfast the next morning when they first had a good look at the other campers in the shared mess hall. They all looked somewhat dead behind the eyes. Asha scanned the room and noticed a few girls with missing fingers. Another had a huge scar on her back that caught Gaya’s eye when she was changing in their room before breakfast. 

A bubbly brunette with an uneven bob and a pep in her step slid in a seat across from them holding two glasses of orange juice. 

“Newbies don’t usually get a drop of juice until they’ve been here for at least a week. They can be pretty merciless around here,” she said, sliding the glasses towards them. The two of them looked at her, not fully trusting her but grateful for the simple pleasure. They slowly sipped their juice, intrigued to hear what she had to say.   

“I’m Sarah Joy. I’m so grateful to be healing one day at a time in such a loving community. I hope you are both joining us for the congregation this evening. I’ll be sharing my testimony,” she boasted, her smiling face beaming.

Asha and Gaya were still in shock and fairly hesitant. They glanced at each other and barely nodded at Sarah Joy. Out of pure perplexity at her decided happiness in a deathly place like this, they decided to make their way towards the chapel to hear what she had to say. 

Later that evening, Sarah Joy stood on the small stage in the basement chapel to share her testimony. 

“I’d like to welcome some of the new faces to camp. When I first arrived, I felt angry and betrayed by my family for sending me away. I can’t believe how far I’ve come since then, thanks to my therapy with Brother Aaron.”

“I’m here to share my healing journey with you. I used to struggle with same sex attraction. Until I came here, that is. I never felt accepted or supported by my family or church community. I see now that it was all God’s love through them and I am grateful. I am now fully healed and restored in the Lord Jesus’ name.”

I didn’t think there was hope for me but God is merciful to keep us from Hellfire if we choose to change our evil ways. I wish the same for all of you here,” Sarah Joy said with teary eyes. 

The room erupted with applause at her testimony. Some women had teary eyes, their bodies swaying from side to side while they muttered in incomprehensible tongues. It almost seemed like they were in a trance-like state. Asha and Gaya shot glances at each other from the corners of their eyes. Feeling drowsy and calm, they felt their guard drop ever so slowly. 

Later that week, Asha waited outside Gaya’s group therapy room in hopes of finding Sarah Joy before the campfire gathering. They were never on the same programming schedule which they initially thought was an oversight. But after pleading with Sister Lynn, who showed not an ounce of remorse or empathy, they realised their disassociation was created by design. 

Gaya knew that Sarah would be bringing her guitar to lead some campfire singing so they made sure they were at the site as early as possible before the others arrived. 

“Sarah!” she shouted. “Can we have a moment? I wanted to say that your testimony really touched us the other day. I can only hope that my healing journey is anything like yours, it’s truly an inspiration,” she gushed. 

Sarah’s cheeks warmed at the sound of compliance. “I’m impressed, newbies. Tell me, are you both fully committed to your growth as children of god?”

“Of course, we would do anything to turn away from our sins and adhere to the Lord,” Asha said, chiming in. 

“That is a beautiful and blessed thing to hear from you. You might be ready for your baptism, especially since you are a legacy baby. I have a proposition for you. There is a new program I’m part of, it’s only for the more senior girls, the ones who are truly committed to this work.”

Asha and Gaya’s eyes lit up, making sure Sarah Joy caught every drop of their desperation to know more under the guise of their salvation. They were so enamoured by the possibility of leaving that they didn’t catch Sarah’s legacy baby comment. 

The other campers started walking towards the evening campfire, so Sarah Joy moved closer towards them. “Find me later tonight and we’ll talk more.” 

Today was finally the day. The only thing that kept Asha going that week was this chance to escape from this holy hell. Sarah Joy had asked them to meet her near the cemetery on the top of the hillside. She requested to meet them individually. Asha decided they would go at staggered times to avoid being seen together, so she went first and Gaya planned to follow behind her in about 15 minutes. 

Asha was in awe of her view as she hiked up the mountains dressed in all black from head to toe, as requested by Sarah Joy. She was eager to finally learn about the new program, which she assumed was code for the proverbial woman healer who would help them escape. She made sure to carry her ammama’s book with her for protection. 

As they approached the cemetery, the air was noticeably cooler. It was the first time Asha noticed that the names carved onto the handmade tombstones were only initials and a morbid realisation struck her— this was not a legal cemetery and these names were protected for a reason. Suddenly, the beautiful woman appeared right in front of a tombstone with the initials S.G. Her mouth began to open wide and dark red blood spilled out of it. 

Meanwhile, Sarah handed her a flask filled with warm tea and asked, “do you receive Mother’s blessings?” 

Asha hesitated for a moment and took a whiff of the earthy herbal tea. “What exactly does this do?”

“It opens you up to receiving Her blessings.” 

Asha nodded, fuelled by her desperate need to leave by any means. “I receive Mother’s blessings,” and sipped the bitter tasting tea.

Sarah repeated the same process with Gaya before blindfolding them both and leading them by hand. Sarah held onto Asha’s hand and behind her was Gaya clinging tightly to her wrist. 

They began to hear waters surrounding them and it became quickly apparent that they were not alone. 

Two women came up behind them and removed their blindfolds. As their sight adjusted, they noticed familiar faces, all dressed in white. Sarah Joy, Laila, Sister Lynn, and multiple campers they had come to know through group sessions. 

They were all standing in a circle facing Clear Lake in broad daylight. Asha and Gaya felt the adrenaline rushing through every cell in their weakened bodies. Starting to feel the effects of the tea, they noticed how the particles of each blade of grass beneath them were waving. 

A woman dressed in red stood in the centre of the circle. “Welcome to your baptism, young ones,” she said blissfully. “It is our honour to have you in our denomination. Before we begin, you will witness our communion.”

Multiple campers were brought to the centre of the circle. Sarah Joy, with a tincture in hand, walked up and offered it to them orally. The others began closing in on them and one by one, they took turns biting into their flesh, collecting their blood in concrete bowls before passing it around the circle for each one to drink out of it. Some only lost a finger or two, and others were sliced into parts as they screamed in agony. 

“The torso and above is the most delicate on the taste buds,” Sarah Joy whispered to them as they stood gawking in disbelief at the bloody feast before them. “If we’re really feasting, we go for the thighs.”

Struck with shock, Gaya suddenly recognized the campers being drained alive. They had all threatened to leave House of Hope that very week. What kind of sick joke is this? she thought to herself. She exchanged glances with Gaya.

The discarded pieces of their bodies were tied to large rocks and thrown into the deep lake. Blood began to spread throughout the waters, creating ripples in the crimson tide. Mother brought them both towards the water for their baptism. 

Just as they were about to lower them into the water, Asha saw a flash of the beautiful woman haunting her again. In a split second, she shape-shifted into a familiar face– it was her grandmother all along. All of a sudden, the wind began howling aggressively and the tree branches moved from side to side. The red liquid they were steeped in started tunnelling, worrying the others. 

Asha took Gaya’s hand, looked her in the eye and said “I’m not losing you. We need to run as fast as we can but I need to do something before we go!”

As they sprinted, the clouds above them turned crimson with fury and the wind blew towards their exit. Asha pulled the book out from her garments and placed it by her grandmother’s tombstone to honour her lineage. 

They may have escaped House of Hope and its terrors, but ammama never will.