Good Girls Die First by Kathryn Foxfield
It’s eight o’clock and Ava is standing outside Portgrave Pier. She received an invitation earlier that week to come to the abandoned carnival on the pier typed on the back of a copy of one of her photos along with the message can you keep a secret?. Forty years ago, a fire tore through the funfair and it was never restored. Now it’s a mile long ghost town reaching into the sea that no one talks about, peeking out of the fog.
Ava takes a selfie with her DSLR camera when Jolie, her best friend, though they’re struggling right now, turns up wearing a panda onesie. It’s wash day, okay! Jolie got an invitation similar to Ava’s, however hers is typed on an old freak show poster, but the message can you keep a secret? is there too. Could that have something to do with her brother being caught in a house fire? He survived but will need years of plastic surgery and therapy, and people are not kind to him about it. A third person turns up, Clem, a pretentious musician and popular boy at school. Jolie can’t stand him and doesn’t know Ava kissed him… until now because it’s clearly written on Ava’s face. His invitation is on a gig flyer with a naked woman in ecstasy. As they are standing on the pier, the lights come on. Huh, they still work?
Walking in slowly and carefully, Ava thinks she sees something, not a person, a thing from nightmares, but it disappears quickly. Jolie is going to punch it in the dick regardless and heads toward it. Further in, they hear other voices: Olly, Portgrave’s answer to Captain America, Livia, a nice girl who is also a druggie, and fake-tanned, self-proclaimed hottie dancer Scarlett. A bit of a rag-tag group. Scarlett and Jolie start laying into each other then words turn to kicks, slaps and scratches. As Jolie is walking away, fed up with the whole thing, Scarlett pushes her through a decaying building. Inside is a gallery of pictures of stern-faced men, some oil paintings, some photographs, some on pieces of wood looking hundreds of years old. The last picture is of The Magnificent Baldo, the last head of the carnival. The only constant on each picture is a gold-framed mirror with a creepy face half hidden in shadow but not hiding his grin. Ava spots the mirror hanging amongst the portraits. Olly spots a jar with Can you keep a secret? on it that’s filled with a strong smelling liquid and … is that worms or tongues? Livia reveals that her grandad used to work at the carnival and he always told her the one thing that scared him was Whispers (that creepy face in the mirror) and that that jar is his.
Jolie has had enough and storms out, Ava following. They have a fight and Jolie calls Ava fake before walking away. They’re best friends, but have started to grow apart this last year. Alone, something catches Ava’s attention: a sign for Whispers. Raising her camera, she snaps a photo and hears actual whispers. Walking around near the melted carousel, she spots something or someone. Unfortunately it’s Noah who hasn't been seen in a year and who hates Ava for getting him in trouble with the police, leading to a criminal record. She snapped some pictures of the beach homeless people fighting and Noah joining in and posted them online. The police saw and the next night were waiting for the fight club. Both Noah and Ava believe the other is responsible for their note. As a storm hits, Noah runs off and Ava tries to follow, but unfortunately, the pier gives way and Noah falls through to the rocks below. Livia happens by at this point, blames Ava for trying to kill Noah because they have history and take ages to get help as Ava scrambles down. Eventually Olly and Clem come, jump down and get Noah to safety. As they assess their situation, they realize that they are now trapped on Allhallows Rock since the only connecting pier just collapsed behind them. During the rescue, Ava saw something impossible, the ghost of Rachel, a girl they all know, who killed herself.
Everyone staggers into a nightclub on the island and as they enter, they hear voices further in the club. Ava goes to check it out and finds Teddy, the posh rich kid, sneery and judgey Imogen, and Esme the ice queen, who may or may not have a secret relationship with Livia if school gossip is to be believed. Teddy plays bartender pouring drinks as they discuss what’s going on. Essentially, they have no idea, but it's likely blackmail. With nothing better to do and no phone reception to call for help, most of them start knocking back shots.
Eventually they move onto the dance floor, making a fire with things lying around. Scarlett is dancing to tinny music on her phone, Teddy is drunk, Ava is taking pictures and the rest are talking about ghosts, including Jolie who has reappeared without explanation to the others. Scarlett stops dancing and tells Ava to stop using the flash, but she isn’t, so what was that? Suddenly the doors burst open and Ava thinks Rachel has come, but it’s actually Livia. Ava tries to find out if Livia saw the ghost of Rachel when Noah fell, but instead of answering she pops a pill. Bored, they start to play Kiss or Truth. Jolie starts with Ava and doesn’t go easy despite being best friends. The game isn’t fun and just causes more friction. Suddenly, they feel a strong vibration and hum of electricity.
Outside the power is on at the carnival with rides and attractions lit up and music playing. Scarlett starts laughing crazily and calling them all idiots before confessing to being a gold digger, using men to tell her everything before she uses it against them. Teddy realizes she’s done that to him to get to his dad. At the end of her rant, Scarlett screams “You hear me? I confess. Now let me go! Choose one of them, not me.” When she calms down, Scarlett doesn’t remember any of it and she storms off. No one is bothered about going after her. They start bickering about who is doing this then split up and Ava ends up at a photo booth. When she looks inside, a flash goes off leaving an image bleached on her retinas of a face with black-painted lips and smudgy eye makeup. Then she hears a whispered, “Can you keep a secret? . . . Will you be the One?”
Ava wakes up suddenly the next morning after having fallen asleep in the booth. The power is out at the carnival again but as she leaves the booth, Ava notices a card in the photograph slot. On it are four pictures of her and Scarlett messing around and in the last picture, they are almost kissing. She doesn’t remember this happening last night. Pocketing the pictures, Ava looks for the others and finds Teddy, who seems both drunk and hungover. He says this whole thing is a test but doesn’t explain why. Leaving him, Ava walks on and runs into Jolie. They have another argument about her being fake, keeping secrets, and hiding behind the camera. Ava takes her camera out and looks through the pictures trying to figure out what happened the night before when they find everyone else but Scarlett. Together they decide to go looking for her which is when the creepy Row, Row, Row Your Boat starts playing from behind a food stall. As Ava looks at a blurry picture, they find the subject of it. Upside down, long hair trailing, mouth gaping, eyes staring. Scarlett is dead on a children’s boat ride.
Everyone, with the exception of Imogen, thinks they were the one who killed Scarlett. They all had motives because Scarlett was really unlikable. Since no one wants to take the fall for the murder of the hateful bitch, they dump her body into the sea and agree to stick to the story that they came to party and Scarlett fell. Imogen struggles with this plan, but seriously, just stick to the story. Scarlett really wasn’t anyone's friend. Ava sees the ghost of Rachel again after the body is dumped.
Everyone looks terrible and feels awful, like their thoughts are not their own. They need to get back to the mainland and decide to go looking for a lifeboat hut. Clearly someone has been in there going by the fresh splinters and broken padlock. There is a boat inside, but the means to lower it don't work and there is a pile of broken oars. Clearly someone doesn't want them to leave. Teddy picks a suspicious-looking wood chip from Ava’s hair and softly whispers that he can keep a secret. Looking around for a radio or anything useful, they disturb a rat that disappears down a hole into another room under the boat house. Noah makes a rag torch and lights it with Livia’s lighter, Jolie refusing to give up hers, and climbs down. Ava, in an effort not to be seen as the biggest coward, goes down with him.
The tunnel is super dark, super smelly and super creepy. Livia and Esme have also come down to investigate and the foursome walk deeper into the tunnel. They pass nests of roots that lead to pitch-dark holes while Livia talks about her grandad who was the handyman at the funfair. He was the only one of the employees to remain in Portgrave after the fire and would talk about guilt a lot.
He was kicked out of their house when he stole some money from Livia's mom and six months later he was dead. As they walk they find a skeleton wrapped in chains and a screwdriver in its chest. This must be Magnificent Baldo. Ava pulls the screwdriver free and notices the initials AQH on the handle. Deciding that finding a way off the island is more important than a forty-year-old murder mystery, they carry on.
Eventually they find a large cavern full of artifacts from different periods in history: Roman helmets, pinball machines, gallows and weaving between them are the creepy roots. This is weird. Suddenly there is a scream! Esme has fallen into one of the root holes! She's holding on but it’s a struggle. Livia and Noah go to search the cavern for something to help, while Ava stays with Esme and they have their first real conversation. They talk about how Esme is strongly independent and sees herself as a lone wolf, then the roots give out. Luckily she’s able to grab another tangle when Livia and Noah return with some chains and are able to pull Esme out. She seems fairly unphased by the fact she almost fell to her death.
Continuing their exploration, they come out at the far end of the carnival near a jetty with spectator seating for Baldo’s cage escape show. The cage swings from high above like a medieval gibbet. They make their way back through the carnival and stumble upon Imogen wearing Scarlett’s coat, completely unphased that she’s taken a dead girl's coat, and encourages them not to be late for the party. The others have set up a show, Clem is acting as the MC, Olly performs as a strong man with Jolie and Ava volunteering to be lifted, Imogen sings a song, and Noah is a fire breather which triggers Jolie because of her brother. As Jolie lays into Noah, Ava sees Scarlett’s ghost which interrupts Jolie’s tirade. Spinning on Ava, Jolie storms off, Ava following but losing track of her.
Olly, Livia, and Clem follow Ava. They mention how the island feels wrong, that they lose time and have memories of events they don’t remember living. They also realize Teddy wasn’t at the show. Looking up, they see him at Baldo’s gibbet. Climbing up the rocks, they find an extremely drunk Teddy who tells them he can hear Whispers. Teddy starts talking like Scarlett did before she died, unhinged and hysterical. Then he confesses his secret, the one Scarlett knows and was going to use against him. He drank and drove and he killed Olly’s brother. Olly growls “murderer” at the same time Ava hears Whispers. Suddenly the nightly storm starts. Lightning flashes exploding rock near them, electrifying Baldo’s cage and hitting Teddy who goes rigid, starts smoking and falls into Baldo’s cage. The lever to drop the cage is so close.
As lightning strikes again, Ava closes her eyes, and when she opens them, Teddy’s cage is gone. Just as suddenly time lurches again and she’s back on the show stage. Esme and Livia are there and question Ava about what happened on the rocks. Her memories are jumbled but certain that Teddy is dead and either she, Olly or Clem are responsible for pulling the lever, though she's pretty sure it wasn’t her. Esme says she saw Olly and Clem earlier and that Olly looked spooked and Clem was arguing with Jolie. When Ava goes to find Jolie, she runs into Clem who is super defensive about his conversation with her and aggressive about Ava flirting with Noah, which is just not right. Noah, coincidentally, comes across them and tells Clem to back off.
Ava and Noah find Olly on the rocks next to Teddy’s cage, Teddy no longer inside. He confesses that he let the voices in, that he killed Teddy, then confesses that he took steroids and cheated for his bodybuilding competition. Olly tells them the lies stop now and they will have no more secrets when they get home. Speaking of which, he has an idea to get them over the gap in the pier and will need some equipment from the lifeboat hut. Meanwhile, Jolie turns up and there are more arguments, including one about Clem. Jolie grabs Ava’s camera, looks through the pictures, deletes some and calls her a pervert.
Olly puts together a grappling hook and safety line and manages to secure them over the gap in the pier. He’s able to safely make it across before freeing one of the ropes preventing the others from following. His intention was never to get everyone across, but to get to town, send help for them and confess to the police despite the pact they made after Scarlett’s death. Jolie turns frantic and tries to cross by launching herself at the line. She manages to snag it but unfortunately can’t hold on and now the rope is failing, so Olly is forced to come back and get her. He manages to get her back to the funfair side while Clem screams for Olly to drop Jolie and save himself. As the others haul Jolie up by her panda onesie, Olly falls down into the rocks and water. Jolie right hooks Clem as she screams at him, Clem swings at her and knocks her unconscious. As he walks away, Clem tells everyone he's going to be the One.
After a lot of arguing and accusations, Ava tells them it’s time to take some control. As they talk they realize that Clem tampered with the rope which broke and ultimately killed Olly so they need to find and secure him because he’s the greatest threat if he believes he is the One. Following Clem’s bloody handprints leads them to the mirror maze. Going inside, there are three doors so, in classic horror movie style, they decide to split up. Esme and Livia, Noah and Jolie, and Ava and Imogen (uggggh).
As they move through the maze, Imogen proves again what a nasty person she is by moaning about her friend Rachel, the one whose ghost Ava keeps seeing, and how her mental health and anorexia affected and inconvenienced her. Especially when Rachel finally got her date with Clem, but really he was too good for her, same with Jolie. Err, excuse me, Jolie hates Clem. According to Imogen she didn’t hate him the other night. Meanwhile, they have found a small room and their reflections in the mirrors have changed. While Ava sees a twisted version of herself, Imogen sees herself with full Hollywood glamor. Ava pulls Imogen away who screams at her for ruining it and runs off. Spinning around, Ava comes face to face with Whispers.
Whispers taunts Ava in his sing-song voice. He tells her he has been there for thousands of years and will continue for thousands more, only he needs to inhabit a human as his natural form is incompatible with this world. Even then, he can’t venture too far from the island, his power base, without getting weaker. Clem has promised Whispers his devotion if he will save his life, which is a tempting offer, however Whispers also tries to recruit Ava. Ending the conversation, Ava leaves the mirror maze and runs through the nightly storm to the arcade where the others are. She tells them Clem has volunteered to be Whispers' One and is out to kill them.
Ava sounds frantic as she’s trying to persuade the others about Whispers and Clem. Imogen, being the nice girl she is, wants to kick Ava out of the arcade. Calming down, Ava heads away from the others and deeper into the arcade for some quiet. Noah follows and they talk for a while, but Ava sees Whispers watching and laughing in the arcade machine screens. Returning to the others, Livia is carving a ouija board in the floor with Baldo’s murder screwdriver, when Livia calls forth the spirits it spells out Alfred Quentin Holt, AQH from the screwdriver inscription and Livia’s grandad. Suddenly Clem turns up and he has a gun.
It’s a fake gun from an arcade shooter, and Clem claims he only wants to talk to Ava. Dragging her away from the others, Clem wants to know what she was doing with Noah. What?! Clem is acting ridiculously jealous and accusing Ava of flirting with Noah. He’s also being really aggressive and claiming to be a nice guy while accusing Ava and Jolie of gossiping about him. Clem rants about Scarlett and Rachel too, accusing Rachel of leading him on and blaming him the next morning. Ava knows what Clem’s secret is.
Realizing his mistake, Clem makes a run for it but slams straight into Noah and Jolie, landing on his ass. Esme ties Clem up and leads him away. Ava turns on Imogen. She doesn’t deny knowing about Clem and Rachel and how he forced himself on her, however Imogen thinks Rachel lied about it because all she wanted was attention. Imogen also doesn’t believe Clem confessed because he can have anyone he wants, so why would he do that?! Ava checks on Jolie who can’t remember anything about the other night because the pictures Ava took were the only record. Ava decides it’s time to talk without Whispers listening in.
Taking curtains down from around the arcade, Ava makes a nest on the roof with all the reflective surfaces covered. Everyone shuffles up and realizes it’s the first time they can think clearly for days. They decide not to let anyone out of their sight and not to give into Whispers. They also decide to try the cavern again as a means of escape since it’s basically their only option at this point. Livia thinks the whole situation is her fault because her grandad killed Baldo and set fire to the funfair, then he hosted Whispers for forty years to keep him at bay. If she hadn’t stolen the money from her mom and let her grandad be accused of theft and kicked out to the streets eventually leading to his death, they wouldn’t be here. Thank goodness Whispers doesn’t hear her confession. Clem congratulates Ava on her sneakiness, she covered every reflection but one, the screen on her camera.
Esme leads the group to the cavern entrance by the jetty. All the time Jolie and Imogen are bickering. The cavern stinks of death as they search for anything useful and Imogen continues to witter on about being nice and perfect and not hiding anything. Eventually Ava snaps at her, and Imogen takes offense and leaves. A few moments later, Jolie finds something useful, an ancient wooden canoe. It needs some work, but they should have the supplies in the lifeboat hut. In the hut, Esme and Livia have a spat about their on/off relationship and Livia runs off, Ava following. She ends up at the photo booth again and sees Olly’s ghost who says there are six survivors. No, that’s not right, there are seven… “You’ll be too late.”
Ava runs and finds Livia face down next to an empty vodka bottle in the club with Noah, Esme and Jolie around her. Imogen, sitting at the bar, is snarky and insensitive over Livia’s death. Everyone turns on Imogen, they know she spiked Livia’s vodka causing an overdose because she’s too blasé and defensive, but they want her to say it. Telling her to drink from the bottle, Imogen slaps it away and makes a run for the roof. Noah, Esme, Jolie and Ava follow. On the roof, Imogen goes hysterical saying she’s done nothing wrong, saying they were only words, she was just playing the game. They insist Imogen confess and eventually she does. Rachel called her the night of her death, asking for help. Imogen refused her saying her phone calls were annoying and pathetic cries for attention and to just do it. Imogen had the chance to save Rachel but she pushed her away, making Rachel’s mental health and suicide out to be a massive inconvenience to her. The storm hits again while Imogen is standing at the edge of the building and the bricks give way. Ava takes a photo just as Imogen falls.
Esme wraps Livia’s body and insists they bring her back to Portsgrave, but the boat still needs fixing so no one argues with her at the moment. Clem tries to stir up negativity and insists Noah wouldn’t act any differently than he did if he were alone with a girl and could get away with it. Nah, Noah has a conscience. They turn back to the canoe, but as they do so, Ava sees something in the water near Clem. It is debris and garbage, but it looks like a shark? Suddenly the water swirls and a huge garbage shark emerges and hits them. When the water recedes, Clem has been impaled by a two-meter shard of wood through the heart (Whomp, whomp).
Clem’s death makes Noah panic. He confesses that he knew Livia’s grandad, Alfred. He met him at the fights. Alfred had organized a big fight for him, but Noah refused and Alfred was forced to take his place. He wasn't the same after and a month later Alfred was dead. When Noah finishes, he runs to the main square and Ava follows, but is too late to save him. She only finds his boots at the pier edge near where Olly died. Whispers' laughter reverberates. Ava, pissed off, goes into the portrait hall and smashes the place up. She realizes killing Clem took a lot of Whispers’ strength.
While Jolie consoles Ava, Esme takes the canoe and Livia’s body and leaves the island. Ava and Jolie are exhausted and have their first non-shouty conversation, in which Jolie even apologizes for being a jerk. As they watch the water churn, they see Esme and the canoe back at the lifeboat launch, the waves were too strong for her to escape. Suddenly, Jolie has an idea. She suggests to Ava and Esme that they each confess then Whispers will want none of them. Esme agrees, saying there will be no judgments.
Jolie was responsible for the fire which badly burned her brother. She had horrible curtains in her room she would burn holes into when she was upset. One day, she held her lighter until the whole curtain went up. Her brother was burned while saving her life and he knew Jolie was responsible for the fire and never told anyone. Her guilt is over never apologizing. Esme tells them she shoplifted a packet of hair dye. She’s worked really hard to get out of Portsgrave and doesn’t want anything to hold her back, which a police record would. Ava confesses that she was there taking pictures of Rachel on top of the building before she jumped. But that wasn’t everything…
Disappointingly, there is no big, dramatic explosion or anything after they confess, just an uneasy pause. Esme realizes she can’t take Livia’s body so she goes to say her goodbyes, however, as she comes out of the lifeboat hut, she’s pouring gasoline everywhere. Esme flicks on Livia’s lighter and sends the hut up in flames. Jolie runs toward her and drags Esme away from the inferno. At a short distance away, Esme seems to come to her senses. Unfortunately they aren’t far enough away from the explosions. The first is loud, the second is louder and the flaming debris catches on Jolie’s highly flammable onesie.
Esme runs off towards Teddy’s cage while Ava slaps the flames away, but Jolie is badly injured. The rain starts then so Ava takes the canoe and covers Jolie. Ava realizes that Esme lied about her secret because she lied as well. As she goes to find Esme, the ghosts appear urging Ava to confess, trying to increase her guilt over their deaths, but Ava won’t let them in. She reaches the mirror maze and Whispers watches, smirking as Ava approaches Esme.
Ava and Esme confront each other, each accusing the other, each wanting to live, each needing the other to confess. Ava swings a plank of wood at the mirrors until she connects with Esme, breaking her nose, while the ghosts urge her to kill. Ava refuses as Whispers howls and screams but Ava knows the ghosts aren’t her friends, they’re his puppets. Whispers turns to Esme, telling her Livia died because of Ava who had her camera uncovered on the rooftop. She could have warned Livia but she didn’t. Esme knows Livia is gone and nothing is going to bring her back, so she remembers their time together and how they met.
Esme confesses that it wasn’t shoplifting that brought her to the pier, it was Livia. She found her invite and made her own so she could come, too, because Livia was her secret. Esme is not the lone wolf she has always claimed to be. Ava confesses that she wanted Rachel to die, then she didn’t. She just wanted something to happen. She took dozens of pictures of Rachel standing on top of the building waiting for her to jump. After she did, she wished she could go back and help her.
Esme declares that they will save themselves and that they have no more guilt for Whispers to hold them as he goes crazy, screaming and thrashing in the broken mirrors. Running from the mirror maze, Ava and Esme head to the tunnels and the cavern but smoke from the lifeboat hut has filled the tunnel. Whispers' anger is making the ground shake and crack, his screams booming causing rock to rain down on them. In the cavern, the monster that calls himself Whispers splits the cavern and the cliff above. Whispers declares that he will not be bested by children and cracks the earth revealing a network of roots. As Ava looks around for an escape, Esme climbs to the top of the rubble mountain, tells Whispers her last secret, that she just wants to save herself and jumps, wrapping her arms around Whispers and pulling him down into the darkness.
Ava pushes the canoe away from the island and lets the riptide take her to shore. The ghosts of Rachel, Scarlett, Teddy, Olly, Imogen, Clem, Noah, Livia, Jolie and Esme watch her leave.