A spine-tingling contemporary horror-comedy novel that follows a scary-movie buff as she hosts an elaborate Halloween bash but soon finds the festivities upended when she and her guests are forced to test their survival skills in a deadly game, from debut author Lisa Springer.
Seventeen-year-old Noelle Layne knows horror. Every trope, every warning sign, every survival tactic. She even leads a successful movie club dedicated to the genre. Who better to throw the ultimate, most exclusive Halloween party on all of Long Island?
With some of the top influencers in her school on the guest list, including gorgeous singer-songwriter Archer Mitchell, her popularity is bound to spike. She could really use the social boost for an upcoming brand expansion. Nothing is going to ruin this party.
Except…maybe the low budget It clown she hired for a stirring round of tag. He axes one of her classmates. From the looks of his devilish grin and bag full of killer tricks, he's just getting started.
A murderous clown is out for blood, but Noelle has been waiting her entire life to prove that she’s a Final Girl.
An Excerpt fromThere's No Way I'd Die First
“It’s Halloween, I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”
I’m not one to seek attention, but I don’t mind having all eyes on me today. It’s the first anniversary of my horror movie club and the day of what will be the most epic party Salford Prep’s senior class has ever seen. Hopefully.
I hop out of my car, my best friends Elise and Demario following a moment later. They popped out at lunchtime with me to help grab last-minute goody bag items.
A year ago, I never would have expected my mini rant on Insta about Black people being offed first in horror movies to go viral. Or that hundreds would log on when I threw out a random invitation to watch a horror movie with me online, one where the Black person actually makes it to the closing credits. That’s one of many reasons why I think Get Out is the greatest movie ever made. And my obsession with the film is why each of the twelve invitations to my anniversary party was accompanied by a vintage Tiffany silver spoon, a nod to the movie’s legendary hypnosis moment. With all the spooky activities I’ve got planned, everyone’s going to the Sunken Place.
A gust of wind swirls through the parking lot of the strip mall, scattering a raked pile of burgundy leaves, and I tighten the belt of my coat. For a beach town a few miles away from New York City, Glen Cove gets pretty cold this time of year.
“We’re gonna be late getting back to school,” Demario grumbles. “You’re really doing this?” He rubs his hand over his head, tousling his short locs. He’s got rich dark-brown skin, and broad shoulders from competitive swimming.
“Yes, we are,” I say, making a beeline to the antiques shop. The window display is overdone with a mix of skulls, hanging bats, and spiders.
I glance at Demario, unable to contain my excitement or laughter. Going to see a tarot reader on Halloween is the perfect content for building buzz.
I’ve got about forty thousand followers across both my TikTok and Instagram accounts. After tonight, I’m hoping to hit fifty. The magic number where I follow through with my plan of expanding my Jump Scares brand into a podcast.
“Need help with your makeup for the party?” Elise asks. She tucks a handful of unruly hair behind her ear. It’s a combination of loose coils and tight springy curls, from her Black and Filipino ancestry. Elise plans to follow in her mom’s footsteps as a Broadway makeup artist, and she’s my go-to when it comes to glam.
“Yes, prom makeup but make it dark,” I say. My costume is top-secret. Not even these two know what I’m wearing.
Witchy bells chime overhead as the door swings open.
“Did you see Archer liked your last post?” Elise says, showing me her phone. “Then again, he likes all your posts.”
The cheesiest grin spreads across my face. “Stop.” Yesterday, I posted a teaser about going to a tarot reader and asked followers to drop questions I should ask in the comments.
Archer Mitchell might be a big deal musician now, but when I first started crushing on him, back in middle school, he was just a scrawny kid with spiky blond hair and a nose ring, making music and posting videos online. Then, last summer, one of his songs blew up on TikTok and he landed a record deal, and now Billboard calls him a “hitmaker.” But to me, he’s still just Archer, the nice guy who sits next to me in AP English.
Smoke swirls from a stick of incense burning in a wooden boat holder that produces an overwhelming smell of lavender. The midday sun glints off a set of silver trinkets displayed on the countertop along with a clutter of collectible plates and shiny polished candlesticks and other knickknacks. There’s a sign near the doorway: PSYCHIC READINGS BY ADELINA.
Demario gets his phone ready. He films most of my reels and other social media stuff and gets a real kick out of me being awkward on camera. Since I launched Jump Scares a year ago, people are taking notice, and the response to my poll on whether I should start a podcast was an overwhelming yes. My escape room event last spring with a Haunting of Hill House theme was a success, and the summer outdoor horror movie in the park was huge. But Halloween is my favorite time of the year. Aside from the entertainment, it’s cozy, the temperature is cooling everything down, and pumpkin spice season has begun.
A girl appears from down a narrow aisle and introduces herself as Adelina. I first notice the contrast between her pale skin and ombre blue hair. She’s dressed in baby blue and pink from head to toe. And with the black lipstick, her outfit’s giving serious pastel goth.
Adelina leads me to a geometric patterned table behind a tangerine-colored Moroccan-inspired curtain. I smile at Demario’s phone camera, masking the anxiety that threatens to rise to the surface.
Listen, I’m pumped about this party. Hella stressed too, though, because what if it flops? My nerves are buzzing--not only is this a huge milestone for the club, but it’s also the launch of something much bigger. Instead of me just uploading cult classics to a streaming platform for my monthly watch party, people are actually coming over to my house. Everyone thinks I’m renting a place by Crescent Beach like I did for the escape room, so when I drop the location pin, they’re going to freak. No one passes up an invitation to Castle Hill, thanks to Mom being a legend for the epic parties she throws.
Everything’s ready--the house is decorated with nightmare-inducing black and orange decorations. I’ve got a mouthwatering catering menu to die for. Plus, my parents have taken off for an anniversary weekend in the Adirondacks.
So, if not now, when?
I get comfy in the chair as an electronic dance version of “I Put a Spell on You” plays at a low volume from a speaker.
“Do you want to ask the deck a question?” Adelina asks, handing it to me. “Handling the cards will help you tap into your intuition.”
“Right,” I say, fanning out the cards like in a poker game. I bite back laughter. Tarot cards are fun and the perfect vibe for Halloween, but it’s not like I take them seriously. I clear my throat and ask the question that got the most likes on my poll. “Is starting a podcast the best move for me right now?”
Weirdly, posing the question out loud brings out all my insecurities. There are tons of horror-related podcasts out there. I’m trying to build credibility as a film critic, but on a podcast I’ll be just another voice echoing in the wind. Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say? has been a persistent thought.
Adelina shuffles the cards and cuts the deck by dividing it and then combining them into one again. She pulls three cards and sets them facedown on the table.
She flips the first card. Her glossy lips part in the tiniest O. There’s an image of a hand coming out of the clouds holding a coin.
“Oh shit, is that a pentagram?” Demario asks from behind the camera.
I lean over for a better look. Um, yep, that’s a pentagram. Ominous.
“Ace of Pentacles,” Adelina says, nodding. “It’s about growth and prosperity. A new beginning or venture will bring great opportunities.”
“Ha!” I pop my fingers into a V sign for the camera. “Okay, next card.”
Adelina turns it over and her lips flatten into a thin line. The lady on the card is sitting up in bed with her head in her hand as if jolted awake from a nightmare.
“The Nine of Swords,” Adelina says. She lets out a wispy sigh. “Pain. You’re carrying worry or guilt. Something’s weighing on you.”
“I do have an AP Chemistry test on Monday that I haven’t started studying for,” I say. It’s my senior year, I’m beyond worried. Besides the fact that college application and internship deadlines are coming up, Salford Prep’s biggest influencers are coming to my house because I promised a standout party and my parents think I’m just having a few friends over for movie night. Luckily, Dad’s personal assistant, who never asks any questions, pays the credit card bill, and she’ll assume Mom had an event. Mom stopped checking my socials after I uploaded a gory video clip from The Human Centipede 2, so she has no clue that it’s about to be party central at our place in Long Island in a few hours. I also blocked her from viewing my stories, just in case.
“Could be time for introspection. Examining how you really feel,” Adelina continues.
I lean forward, curious. Maybe that’s about my love life and relationships. Is Archer noticing me, or am I imagining it? I’ve loved that boy my entire high school life. Archer’s always been cool and friendly with everyone, even after becoming famous. Elise says I should tell him how I feel, but that’s . . . not happening. What’s worse than being shut down and friend-zoned? Being labeled a groupie.
“Okay, last one.”
Adelina’s manicured nails hover above the card for a few seconds before she flips it. And when she does, her entire body jerks. Mine does too.
There’s a guy lying facedown with ten swords sticking out of his back. Based on every cheesy, witchy teen movie, it’s a card no one wants to see at a tarot reading. Ever.
“What in the--” I start to say.
“Ten of Swords. Don’t be alarmed,” Adelina interrupts.
“At least it’s not the death card,” Elise pipes in.
“This shouldn’t be taken literally,” Adelina says. Her nostrils flare as she sucks in a breath. I relax into my seat, watching her. The way she alternates between running her fingers through her hair and tugging on her shirt buttons is textbook ventilating behavior. I read an article about this in one of my psychology journals. After watching so many horror movies and true crime shows, I started reading up on human behavior. It said that there are over two hundred behaviors linked to psychological discomfort and most of them aren’t facial expressions. It’s also one of the main behaviors that investigators use to sniff out a liar.
“This guy looks pretty dead,” I say, staring at the card.
Adelina fidgets. “It’s about picking yourself up and moving forward after a major change or betrayal.” She taps the card, on the sun rising in the background. “Think renewed hope and opportunity.”
“Will do. Well,” I say, slapping my hands against my thighs before standing, “thanks for the reading, Adelina.” Checking this off my seasonal to-do list.
“Happy Halloween,” she says.
Demario cuts the video.
“Noelle, I still can’t believe your ass is throwing a party,” Demario says as we walk through the school’s main doors minutes before lunch ends. The hallway is already packed with students jostling to get to their next class.
“Hey, I’ve had parties before,” I say, weaving through the crowd. Okay, so maybe my murder mystery parties with the film club never really became a thing at school, but I’m ushering in a new era with Fright Night.
Some people are on their phones, checking out the video I just posted to my socials. Engagement is good. A few kids come up to tell me how much they enjoyed the reading.
I tuck my chemistry textbook under my arm just as Salford’s power couple round the corner. Kelsi, the socialite turned Insta model, and Dylan Hansen, the star lacrosse player, were among the first to join Jump Scares. At first I thought Kelsi joined to mess with me because she’s always so snarky. But, as it turns out, she’s a huge horror fan.
“S’up, Scribbler?” Dylan says, grinning at me.
Elise rolls her eyes and rushes off to her locker. I actually don’t mind the nickname. I have been known to jot down notes in the back row of a dark movie theater once or twice.
“Who else is coming to this Fright Night again?” Kelsi asks, coyly. “You know, Wolfie Marlow is having a big bash, too.”
A bubble in my stomach bursts. Wolfie throws the wildest parties. It’s why I had to step up my game with basically everything, but especially the promise of exclusivity, and it worked. Rich people love feeling special--I’d know. The entire senior year’s been buzzing ever since I had the invites delivered by courier. The guest list isn’t that much of a mystery because Salford’s influencers aren’t that much of a mystery, and most of them are in my movie club, but no one knows which celebrity is making a virtual cameo appearance. And if Fright Night goes according to plan, Wolfie’s party will be a blip in people’s memory.
“Guess you’ll find out when you get there,” I say, hugging the textbook to my chest. “And don’t forget the dress code. Or your phones.” Who needs a marketing budget when these twelve invitees have millions of followers combined?
Kelsi says, “I’m sure we can throw a Halloween costume together, right, Dylan?”
“Sure,” he says, shrugging.
Throw something together? I almost laugh out loud. Kelsi and Dylan really love matching. They’re known for it. I’m talking perfect Megan Fox–and–MGK outfit synchronization. There’s no way they don’t already have their looks planned out.
“And what’s with this not-sharing-the-address-until-one-hour-before thing?” Kelsi asks, exasperated.
“Party crashers. I don’t want people from Wolfie’s party getting any ideas. It’s an exclusive event, after all.” I had to slip in the buzzword, had to. I can’t have anyone backing out last minute.
“Guess I’ll see you there,” Kelsi says. She smiles, then flips her dark hair, links arms with Dylan, and continues up the hall.
To hit fifty thousand followers so I can leverage my audience to find a popular podcast sponsor, I’ve got to throw the ultimate Halloween party. My friend Josh Sullivan runs a culture podcast called A Lot to Unpack with Josh Sullivan. His guests are a mix of students from Salford, teens making strides in all kinds of activities, and well-known industry experts. Rumor is, he recently landed a megadeal with Spotify, but he’s not allowed to talk about it until the contract is finalized. Josh’s podcast is basically an extension of himself. He says whatever he thinks and feels with his whole chest, even if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. For one-percenters like Josh, it’s easy to conflate overconfidence with intelligence and much easier to get everyone to think he’s the real deal. I’m not trying to copy Josh, but a podcast would really help me carve out my own niche as a horror film critic.