Thanks to writers such as Grady Hendrix, Adam Cesare, Hailey Piper, and Stephen Graham Jones, slasher fiction has assumed a prominent position within the horror genre over the past few years. Ray Cluley’s short story “The Final Girl’s Daughter” (collected in All That’s Lost, and also published in the current issue of The Dark) makes for another stellar addition to the fictional trend.
Despite its title, the story does not unfold as a typical slasher sequel, a next-generation redux of grisly mayhem. Instead, Cluley focuses on the continuing fallout of a past cycle of violence. The main characters, Richard and Sally, are a pair of ex-lovers physically scarred and mentally traumatized by their bloody run-in years earlier with a scythe-wielding psycho called Scarecrow Joe. Both of the survivors continue to struggle with guilt and grief, with the ghosts of memory that linger on long after that fateful night of carnage. While Golden Age slasher flicks treated their young cast as so much killer-fodder, Cluley’s deftly skewed narrative is steeped in what its cinematic predecessors glaringly lacked: convincing characterization.
With its Bible-Belt setting and rural slasher (who makes wicked use of corn cobs and crow feathers), the story conveys a strong American gothic vibe. The dark legacy of the past (yet unending) nightmare at the killer’s Chainsaw-esque farmhouse is depicted in appropriate terms: “That reaping man had broken more than [Richard’s] bones and teeth, and what he’d done to Richard’s friends had scraped him hollow. Bled him of all that was good and left him empty as a shucked husk.” “The Final Girl’s Daughter” eschews the stalk-and-slash action of subgenre convention, but Cluley’s quietly burning story nonetheless provides a quite moving and haunting reading experience.