A Killer Clown Strikes In This Excerpt From There’s No Way I’d Die First

Books Features Lisa Springer
A Killer Clown Strikes In This Excerpt From There’s No Way I’d Die First

Social media has changed the world in incalculable ways. It’s raised up diverse voices, and exposed us to ideas and cultural influences we’d probably never have come into such personal contact with in our day-to-day lives. But it’s also made the world a bit scarier than it used to be too—-from scammers and a general lack of privacy to the threat of online harassment and stalking, putting yourself out there on the internet nowadays comes with a lot of risks. This is probably why it’s playing such a key role in so much horror fiction lately, a genre that delights in poking uncomfortably at the real-life things we’re most afraid of. From high-stakes social media competitions to influencers in peril, there’s basically a whole new (and wildly unfiltered) way to let unexpected monsters and danger into your life. Such is the case in debut author Lisa Springer’s contemporary YA horror tale There’s No Way I’d Die First.

The book follows the story of Noelle Layne, a teen horror buff who’s trying to pump up her follower account—like everyone these days, she’s planning to launch a podcast as part of a personal “brand expansion”—when she invites the 12 most popular and influential people at her private prep school to a massive Halloween bash on her family’s estate while her parents are away. But the festivities take a dark turn when Noelle and her guests are forced to test their horror movie survival skills for real, when one of the hired entertainers turns out to have sinister intentions of his own.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story.

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.

There’s No Way I’d Die First won’t be released until September 5, 2023, but we’ve got an exclusive look at the story right now. (And, yes, there’s a killer clown involved.)


Archer and I bolt to the living room.

“Kelsi?” I whisper into the darkness. She couldn’t have gotten far in those ridiculous shoes.

No answer.

My fingers tremble around the flashlight and panic grips me by the throat as the light cuts through the murky shadows and I see Kelsi sprawled on the floor, dark blood pooling beneath her. I realize with sudden, horrifying clarity that Kelsi won’t ever scream again.

What the actual fuck?

“Kelsi?” I say again, my voice quaking. I inch closer. Part of me expects her to jump up and yell, “Gotcha!” But she doesn’t because she’s dead, like dead, dead. Her eyes are wide open, her face frozen in surprise.

“Oh my God.” I slap a trembling hand to my mouth. In fact, my entire body is shaking, and then I’m screaming until it feels like my vocal cords are about to rupture. Immediately, footsteps sound from the hallway, and a moment later, Demario, Elise, and Taylor come running in from wherever they’ve been hiding. Someone turns on the lights. Archer checks Kelsi’s pulse and shakes his head, an incredulous look on his face.

“What the hell is this?” he asks. He stands and turns in a slow circle. “Where’s that clown?”

Cold sweat breaks out over my face and neck. My chest contracts and my lungs collapse. I think I might be going into shock.

Demario paces back and forth, fingers laced behind his head. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”

Elise and Taylor are both in tears. Maybe I am too, but my face is too numb to feel anything. Bile rushes up into my throat, and I swallow hard. I think I’m gonna puke. There’s a dead body in my living room. Kelsi’s body. The daughter of a federal judge. Dead at the hands of a deranged clown that I hired. How am I going to explain this to the cops?

Archer hugs me to him, but I untangle myself and start yelling for everyone to come out. My brain clicks off and restarts. I’ve spent my entire life obsessed with horror films, formulating scenarios about what I would do in a situation like this. First order of business: get the fuck out of here. With no phone, I opt for the next best thing.

“Alexa!” I shout. On the coffee table nearby, the virtual assistant device lights up in teal blue. “Call 911!”

The red ring of doom flashes. “I’m having trouble understanding right now. Please try again later,” answers the robotic voice. A server problem? Really? I hit the reboot button, but nothing happens.

It’s official. The universe hates me. Hope spontaneously combusts and escapes like atoms into the atmosphere.

Gage appears from the kitchen. He’s holding a bloodstained hunting knife in one hand and his rainbow-colored umbrella in the other. He storms at us, and I scream. I grab Archer’s arm and tug him backward, toward the door and away from Gage. Demario, Elise, and Taylor back up with us. My heart is a frozen lump in my throat. Kelsi’s blood seeps into the joints of the hardwood floor. I can’t believe this is happening.

Gage takes two steps forward and dips the pointed end of the umbrella into the jack-o’-lantern candle on the side table. The umbrella’s tip ignites. A flaming arrow explodes out of it with stunning speed and embeds itself into the wooden router storage box tucked in the corner of the room, shattering the modem and half the credenza. The wood splinters into a million weaponized fragments, and we scatter. I dive to the ground, but not before I feel a slash of pain above my elbow. I belly-crawl behind the sofa, hysterical, especially when I notice the trail of smudged blood I leave on the floor from the small gash in my arm. The air stinks with acrid smoke, a mix of kerosene fumes, burned electrical wires, and melted plastic.

“Oh my God, Noelle!” Taylor shrieks from across the room, pointing right at me.

I glance down and my hands fly to my chest. A large bloodstain is spilling down my stomach and streaking toward the hem of my dress.

“Shit!” Demario yells, his gaze darting between Gage, who’s still standing in the entryway, umbrella raised, and me.

“You hit?” Archer asks at the same time. He’s hovering over me, but his words sound far away and garbled.

“It’s the dress,” I manage to say, relieved. I try to explain about the blood squib incorporated into the dress, but my throat feels like it’s closing up. “It’s f-fake blood. I think the clown found a way to trigger it.”

I need to get it together. Focus. The key to surviving a scary movie is to recognize that you’re living in one. And if escaping a psycho slasher clown with uncanny marksmanship isn’t a horror show, I don’t know what is.

Gage rounds the kitchen island and charges at Elise. For a moment, she’s frozen in place until Gage raises the knife. She screams as she sprints away, the knife ripping through the black fabric of her witch’s robe. Chaos has truly descended upon Castle Hill.

“Nobody moves!” Gage shouts. He has the umbrella trained on Elise and Demario, who are standing in the living room, close to the front door but yet so far away. I don’t want anyone else to get hurt. Demario moves closer to Elise and nudges her behind him. He eyes Gage warily. 

“Noelle, where’d you find this clown?” “Just some local website,” I say, hiccuping. “Tessa recommended it to me.”

Tessa who wasn’t invited to the party. Tessa who also happens to be friends with Wolfie Marlow.

Archer rubs my back in slow circles, but the gesture does nothing to stop the fear gnawing its way through my insides like a subway rat. He checks out my elbow again, even though I tell him it’s fine. I force myself to take deep breaths. How do I get us out of here? I’m supposed to be a Final Girl, right? I mean, all that talk earlier was just for shits and giggles. But the fact is, I’ve got to get away from this house. My own damn house. There’s a solid orange light on the home security system that isn’t supposed to be there.

Doors slam and hurried footsteps echo on the stairs as the remaining hiders come out. They’ve barely made it into my field of vision before the sight of Kelsi on the floor and Gage holding a bloody knife in one hand and a smoking umbrella in the other stops them in their tracks. Maddie and Charlie fall back into the unlit hallway. Vivek runs down the stairs with Josh not far behind.

“What’s happening?” Josh shouts. Gage swings around and points the umbrella at him. Josh freezes midstep. The clown positions himself in the middle of the room. Vivek leans over Kelsi, his face contorting into a look of disbelief. Mariana and Hailey hang back while Elise huddles on the floor, next to Demario, her hair clinging to her wet cheeks.

“We need to do something,” I whisper to Archer. “We can’t just stand here doing nothing.”

Archer shakes his head. “Not yet.”

“All of you, get over there with the others,” Gage orders. He motions with the umbrella at Josh, Vivek, Mariana, and Hailey, who are all freaking out. Hailey and Mariana come into the living room, hands raised. Archer and I slowly shuffle over to join them.

“You’re fucking crazy!” I scream at the clown.

“Actually, I prefer passionate, but yeah, I guess you could say I’m a little wild,” he says.

“I want you out of my house, right now,” I say. Demario and Archer are on either side of me, ready for whatever happens. “Is this about money? Just take what you want and leave us alone.”

Gage doesn’t answer. He frowns at a blade-wide smear of blood on his outfit. He pulls a stain remover pen from his pocket and twists the cap off, then applies it with long, even strokes.

Get out. The voice in my head is louder this time, desperate and pleading. I need a plan. Stay ready. In all my escape-a-slasher scenarios, I’m appropriately dressed for the weather, my car keys are within reach, and I’m never a breath away from throwing up. Getting my go bag is out of the question because Horror Survival Skills 101: don’t go upstairs, and keep away from basements and attics.

Taylor glances over at Kelsi and backs away, hugging themself. My car keys are hanging on a wall in the mudroom, but Gage is in the way. Even if I channeled all my Wakanda warrior badassery, he’s got a knife and real arrows in that umbrella. Taking a deep breath, I repeat all that I told myself after every trial run with Demario:

I am Noelle Layne, Final Girl, the rightful Queen of Castle Hill, Escapologist, and the great serial killer Survivor of Nassau County.

My eyes zip to the table in the hallway. A crystal ashtray that my family dumps their key fobs into is gone. Taylor’s eyes lock with mine, and I know we’re thinking the same thing. The front door is closer. Am I willing to make a run for it and risk a knife to the back? Hell yeah. If we all run at the same time, Gage can’t take all of us out. But then I’ll have even more dead bodies on my hands, as in multiple dead people inside my house. I don’t even know how I’m going to explain the one I’ve got to the police. Or to my parents.

But even if I make it outside, then what? It’s forty-three degrees Fahrenheit and rainy. 

Hypothermia can set in in as few as five minutes with exposed skin, and I’m practically naked in this pink minidress. The boots are a pain to get on and off, and the driveway is long and flooded. I could hide in the stables and try not to die or saddle up my black Thoroughbred, Old Girl, and ride out of here like Idris Elba in Concrete Cowboy. That is, if my frozen fingers can hold on to the reins. I’ll figure it out once I’m outside.

We’re all paralyzed, unmoving, as Gage helps himself to a bite of the spinach wraps decorated to look like Frankenstein’s monster from one of the snack trays and stares up at the ceiling, chewing thoughtfully. He doesn’t even take out his stone dentures. Beads of sweat pop up along my hairline. Kelsi’s scream plays on a loop in my head and I can’t stop seeing her death stare, her lips parted in silent anguish. Every breath I take is filled with her perfume, and the taint of coppery blood hits me hard in the back of my throat. I lurch forward, dry-heaving onto a nearby potted plant.

Gage aims the umbrella in our direction as he crosses into the kitchen and fills a glass with water from the fridge dispenser.

He’s ready to murder us all like mosquitoes buzzing around his ears, but by all means, hydrate!

“Slight change to the game rules,” Gage says, with a chuckle. “It’s simple, really. I catch, I kill.”

My stomach sinks down to my toes and a mewl escapes my lips. Archer stiffens next to me as a range of tormented cries and gasps reverberate throughout the room.

I make a subtle movement with my head toward the front door, hoping that Archer picks up on what I’m thinking. It works because he slowly releases his hold on my hand.

Taylor and I bolt at the same time. They are closer to the door, so I’m hauling ass to catch up. Adrenaline surges and the noises around me fade into a buzz: the click-clacking of Gage’s shoes as he runs after us, Archer and Demario yelling, and the grunt and groans of bodies colliding and slamming onto the floor. For a breathless second I let myself believe they took Gage down, but the heavy footsteps don’t stop. Taylor is almost at the door, but they stumble, losing momentum. I brace for the rough clamp of a hand, when a dagger with a rainbow handle with pom-poms attached sails right by me and plunges deep into the solid oak door, inches from Taylor’s head. The colorful pom-poms bounce against each other and swing from the hilt of the dagger.

I almost slam into Taylor, but then I realize that they didn’t stumble at all. There’s a contraption attached to the door- knob. A biometric padlock. Are you joking? If the front door is locked, did Gage lock the other doors too? Vivek rushes to a window, but it doesn’t open. Archer and Demario are picking themselves up off the floor. Demario grips his forearm, a trickle of blood leaking between his fingers. His face is twisted with pain.

Hide-and-seek tag has turned into Castle Hill Homicide. A real-life killing buffet, Jason Voorhees–style. Gage the Clown wants all of us dead. In slasher movies, the killers always have an agenda. Freddy Krueger knew exactly who he wanted to kill: the kids of the parents who set him on fire. Jason slaughtered practically everyone he met. Ghostface had abandonment issues. So who is Gage channeling? If I can’t waltz my way out the front door, then time to activate Final Girl mode. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m busting my ass out of Castle Hill. One way or the other.

There’s No Way I’d Die First will hit shelves on September 5, 2023, but you can pre-order it right now.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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