Recap #35: Horrorscope by Nicholas Adams
Title: Horrorscope by Nicholas Adams
Summary: Aries: Avoid confrontations. A bad day for relationships.
Soon she would come.
It was written in the stars.
Finally Jenny Warren left the protective light of the streetlamp behind. She walked fast, her shoes tapping on the sidewalk.
In the shadow of the night, the watcher smiled. His hands tightened their grip on the scarf. “You should have paid attention, Jenny,” he whispered to himself. “Didn’t you read your horoscope today?”
This is a novel by John Peel writing as Nicholas Adams.
Tagline: This will be your day to die…
Note: As Dove requested, I’ve updated my template, because we now apparently call the Bad Guy the Muffin Man. Hey, it makes as much sense as most Point Horrors.
Never read it, but love horror stories based on horoscopes, and I really enjoyed the depth and detail of the last Nightmares book I read, even if the subject matter was terrible, so I have high hopes for this one. We’ll see how quickly Adams can ruin that for me.
(And on the other hand, under his John Peel name, he wrote DANCES WITH WEREWOLVES, which was entertaining enough but not great. And we should really recap that at some point, too.)
As is only fitting for a book based around horoscopes, there are various menacing horoscopes included throughout the books. I’m not going to count them as whimsical notes (…probably, if they get truly terrible, I may change my mind), but I will quote them here for your … entertainment.
Taurus: Some highs, but a very bad day overall. Watch out for arguments and avoid following bad advice.
Of course we open with Muffin Man POV, because that’s just my favorite thing ever. Muffin Man sacrificed Jenny Warren a week ago, and has been watching and waiting for the right moment ever since. Now the stars have spoken, and he is their messenger. Their message is death.
[Note from the future: I think this is actually not an intro, just a different blurb in the copy of the book I was using, but that was not clear at all.] [Dove: Yeah, I couldn’t figure it out at all. It had a page that was blank, save for the title and author, then a page as you described, then it moves on.]
Aries: Loved ones will be argumentative. Avoid confrontations. A bad day for relationships.
WTF?! The first chapter opens with more Muffin Man POV? Damn it, Adams, you are already ruining this book for me. Oh, good, it’s also a flashback (or the first part was a flash forward, which I also hate), because there is Jenny parking with her boyfriend Derek Vine. Muffin Man holds a cheap red and white wool scarf in his hands, ends wrapped around each palm, and the only movement he makes is to twist the scarf, over and over again, subconsciously.
Then we switch over to Derek’s point of view, which sucks, too. We already know that Jenny is going to be killed, so of course we can’t actually get her point of view, oh no, we have to see her death through Derek’s eyes. I’m going to hold off on my rant about fridging Jenny until I see how this carries out, but I am watching you, Adams, and I am displeased so far.
Anyway, Jenny and Derek are arguing, but even though Derek is irritated with her, he takes a long time to think about how gorgeous she is, with her wavy auburn hair and long, shapely legs. He adores her, and is amazed that she ever agreed to go out with him. The only problem is: his mother. Mrs Vine is a staunch member of the First Apostolic Church in Fremont, where they live, and Mrs Vine hates that he’s dating someone who is not a Christian.
Jenny and Derek are fighting because he keeps pushing for her to attend church with them, just once, and he’s pissed that she’s being obstinate about it when she knows how much it means to him. I don’t blame Jenny one bit for not wanting to go to church with him. The fact that he won’t take no for an answer about it is the prime reason not to go; there are plenty of Christians who respect other people’s choices when it comes to church, but there are many who don’t, who keep pushing, who won’t leave you alone about it, and Derek is looking like the latter. (Not to mention the rape culture aspect of not respecting the first time she said no about the situation. Back the fuck off, Derek.) [Dove: I have attended church services to appease other people, and was often berated for not singing the hymns or saying the prayer words aloud. I don’t believe in what the church believes in, so I have a right not to say the words because I believe them untrue for me. Honestly, I don’t blame Jenny for not even wanting to try, it’s not worth the bother.]
Jenny says no yet again, and grumbles that her horoscope warned her it would be a bad day. Derek doesn’t like that, either, because his mother things horoscopes are “positively occult.” Derek, maybe it’s time to break the apron strings a little and stop worrying about what your mom thinks about everything. He tells Jenny he wishes she’d give up horoscopes, and she gets pissed with him, AS SHE SHOULD! She flat out tells him that she likes herself the way she is, and if he doesn’t, it’s time to get himself a new girlfriend. HELL YEAH, JENNY. SPEAK TRUTH!
I am even angrier now that we know she’ll be a sacrifice. She is being amazing here.
Derek tries to calm her down, but she is angry. She tells him that she’s going to walk home, and he can just run back to Mommy. She then flat out tells him that when he cuts his mother’s apron strings (HA, JENNY, WE ARE THE SAME IN OUR RAGE), he can call her, but she’s had enough. [Dove: Some people get on the same page, you two get on the same RAGE. I’m so funny.]
[Wing: Ha. Ha. Ha.]
Once Jenny storms off, Derek spends a few minutes sitting in the car, wishing he could go after Jenny, but he doesn’t. He also wishes there was some middle ground between his mother’s fanaticism and Jenny’s complete disregard for organized religion, because he wants to accept his mother’s faith without the burdens it brings. His thoughts are jumbled, but still kind of assholeish, and eventually he heads home.
Back to the Muffin Man’s POV, because sure, that’s exactly what’s needed here. Jenny is walking home fast, her low heels clicking on the sidewalk. He waits, obsesses, jumps out and strangles her. Fuck you, Muffin Man. Fuck you. Jenny was awesome. Then he takes a couple pictures of her (the second one “just in case the first one didn’t come out” which really brings back all those memories of taking pictures before digital cameras were really a thing), and then he leaves her behind. Fuck you, Muffin Man. FUCK. YOU.
Leo: The morning will bring unpleasant news. A decision will be made for you that you might object to.
Next we meet Robyn Chantry who is getting ready for school. She’s struggling to tame her wild red hair, and finally pulls on a yellow and green sweatband to manage it. This is so late 80s/early 90s I am wincing. She’s also wearing a long, green g*psy-style skirt and a lemon-colored blouse, with old, beat up sandals.
(Side note: G*psy is a racial slur. It is hate speech. Don’t use it, authors.)
Apparently the kids at school make fun of her style a lot, as if baggy jeans and faded t-shirts are a compulsory uniform. They are pretty much my uniform, but wear whatever you want, girl. We get a brief overview of her room and a bit of her personality (unicorn posters, crystals in her window, she prefers music from the late 60s to anything else, and she is very neat).
As she runs downstairs to catch a ride to school, she thinks about how glad she is that her parents are both unconventional, unlike her bff Debi Smolinske’s dad, who is a banker. Robyn’s dad makes candles in the shapes of people, mythological creatures, castles, and animals, and he sells them at craft shows, medieval fairs, and SCA events. I am having a super nostalgic moment, both for my time doing SCA and because a dear friend of mine sells pottery at all those places. (SCA stands for the Society for Creative Anachronism, as the book does explain, and it involves people recreating parts of the Middle Ages.) Her dad is working on a couple of special orders, including a weird one for Vlad the Impaler, which is not is normal style, but it is for an old friend.
Her mom is waiting for in the car, an older version of Robyn with the same red hair (“flame-colored”) though she wears hers cut short in a pageboy. Her mother runs a health food store. They are picking up Debi on the way to school. Debi lives in a large Victorian-style house, expensive and immaculately landscaped, with two stone lions flanking the path to the front door. She’s wearing a cream-colored top and form-fitting black pants because her parents won’t let her wear t-shirts, jeans, or sneakers. Debi thinks her parents are snobs, but doesn’t fight with them over the clothes because they are very conscious of their image in town. She wears her jet-black hair long.
Robyn gives Debi a quick rundown of their horoscopes (Debi will have a good day, Robyn has trouble coming), and Robyn’s mother tells her she takes the horoscopes too seriously. Tarot cards are much more reliable. This makes me grin. (I love tarot cards, and I will give readings for people sometimes, but I mostly look at them as a way to focus your own thoughts and desires.) Robyn says she doesn’t have the same affinity with them that her mother does, but she really feels the stars; Debi calls it all a load of kitty litter, but in a friendly way. It’s all kind of adorable.
Robyn writes the horoscope column for the weekly school newspaper under the name Jean Stephenson, because she thought it was more romantic than her own name, but Debi disagrees. [Dove: As do I. Jean Stephenson sounds like someone you would buy insurance from, not your horoscope.] Robyn asks Debi to drop off her latest column because she has to meet with Mr Traynor, her science teacher (she calls him Old Twinkletoes), and when her mom calls her on letting her grades slip, she argues that she’s artistic and not scientific — it’s the Leo in her. Her mother calls her on that crap, saying “the stars don’t make our destiny … they just influence it.”
At school, we learn that Robyn and Debi, plus two other friends (Dana Mullalley and Natalie Byrnes) have had a group friendship, the Gang of Four, since first grade, and even when they fight, they make up eventually. They are all worried about what will happen after graduation.
Tons of students are crowded around the lockers, but the halls are subdued. Robyn immediately zeros in on Dana and Natalie (both adopted Korean girls, tall, with long, shiny black hair and clear complexions; Dana is serious and attentive while Natalie is frivolous and an addicted shopper), but today both are serious and Natalie looks like she’s been crying. Natalie tells them that Jenny was killed last night, and the police think Derek did it.
Robyn is aghast. Jenny is dead! And worse, someone in their class is the suspect.
… that is worse than Jenny being dead, Robyn? Really? REALLY? Are you sure you don’t want to rethink that statement?
Scorpio: Unjust accusation will cut you to the quick. Watch your temper, and avoid retaliating.
Unsurprisingly, we switch back to Derek’s POV. He’s staring at Sheriff Adkins and a deputy who stand just inside the homeroom door. The deputy stares blankly into space while he makes sure no one enters the classroom, and the sheriff is watching Derek closely, face impassive. (He’s slightly balding, his gray hair slicked back, and his stomach hangs over his belt, which is already on the last notch. Now in Point Horror, that would be enough to mark him as incompetent, if not the Muffin Man, because fat people AMIRITE?, but we’ll see if Adams goes a different route here.)
Derek is being questioned, and all he wants to do is go cry somewhere, go mourn. Valid. Also, is he eighteen yet? If not, they’re not supposed to question him without his parents or guardians present. Derek answers some questions, then asks if he’s supposed to have a lawyer present. While that is a valid question, maybe it should have come up before you started telling them things about your fight, kid. The sheriff says he doesn’t need one unless he’s arrested, and they aren’t arresting anyone yet. This is untrue. You can request a lawyer be present at any time. You don’t have to talk to the police without someone there on your side. (This can put a negative edge to an informal conversation, true, but you don’t have to talk to the police alone.)
Derek tells Sheriff Adkins that Jenny was looking for trouble that night, really tense, because she truly believes in the horoscope junk, and whoever writes those things for the paper is the one who made her pick a fight with him. That’s kind of crap, Derek. You were being a shit. But Derek gets angrier and angrier about the horoscope column, and he keeps thinking about how it is clearly evil.
Back to Robyn. I am not generally a fan of multiple POVs in one chapter, but these are clearly separated, and I’m not going to be super picky unless things really stop working. Anyway, she’s meeting with Mr Traynor. He’s one of the youngest teachers on staff, dresses casually, and has baby-faced good looks. Many of the girls have crushes on him, but Robyn doesn’t because he’s a Scorpio and not compatible with her sign. Umm, Robyn, that is not the best reason for not having a crush on him.
Oh, yeah, then Robyn adds that “besides, he was a teacher, and teacher-student relationships were a big no-no.” Next time, maybe lead with that. (He’s also dry and boring, apparently.) He’s droning on about her poor grades and how he’ll have to fail her if she doesn’t pick them up, and how he doesn’t believe she can do it.
They’re not alone. Jeff Goldstein is in the room with them. That’s not very professional, Mr Traynor! Robyn describes Jeff as almost her complete opposite: he is tall, wears glasses, and has dark hair that falls over his eyes; he would be attractive, except he’s a science genius and he’s a loner. Umm, both of those can be super hot traits. Slow your roll there, Robyn. Hot loner science nerds are a delight. (Marvel Cinematic Universe: Jane fucking Foster. Bruce fucking Banner. Two examples of many.)
Jeff’s only friend is Alan MacKenzie, one of the biggest jocks in the school, which Robyn finds weird because Jeff is so bad at sports. Robyn is, overall, really fucking judgmental throughout this section.
Surprise! Mr Traynor is pairing them together for the science fair, because Jeff is “the only person in class who might still pass the course even with [her] — ah — help.” What the ever loving fuck, Traynor?! That is completely unprofessional and shitty in so many ways I’m not even going to bother counting them. Muffin Man needs to come for you next.
Robyn goes to vent to her friends, who are not very sympathetic, and then tease her about her not seeing any other guy anyway, so why does it matter, because they still think she is stupid for breaking up with Bryan Stockwell. Robyn has no intention of telling them the real details behind the breakup, but if she did, she knows they would stop teasing her. She also thinks about how Bryan won’t tell anyone the details of how he’d really broken his wrist, either.
So my takeaway here is supposed to be attempted rape, right? Because of course it is. Because of course every story needs to have it as a casual throwaway line. Fuuuuuuuuuck. [Dove: Happiest outcome? The broken wrist came from some heavy duty solo action and Robyn feels she can’t compete with the fantasy? That’s what I’m believing until I’m told different, because I’m sick of attempted rape being just something girls have to live with. Even though it’s true depressingly often in real life.]
Derek comes walking down the hall. Robyn doesn’t believe half of the rumors flying around about him, and doesn’t think he’d have the courage or drive to kill anyone, much less Jenny, whom he loved. He’s been crying, but now he’s angry. He stops and glares at them for awhile, then says he knows one of them wrote the “dumb horoscope column”. Apparently only Robyn’s three friends and Ms Tepper, the newspaper teacher/adviser, knows that Robyn is Jean Stephenson.
When none of them admit to it, Derek snaps — well, here are his words: “Well,” Derek continued, “whichever one of you it is can just think about this: if that dumb column hadn’t said that Jenny would have a fight with a loved one last night, she’d have stayed with me and be alive right now. So it’s the astrologer’s fault she’s dead.” He looked at them and there was a depth of grief in his eyes Robyn had never seen in anyone before. “And when I find out which of you is writing that column,” he added, “I’m going to make you wish you were dead.”
Robyn is nervous after, and unsure whether it is her fault that Jenny is dead — then she pushes it aside. Natalie tells her not to take Derek’s threat lightly, but Robyn isn’t sure she has any reason to be scared.
Aquarius: School and family life could be better. A new relationship will change your point of view. Stay open-minded.
(Random Wing fact: this is my sign, the water-bearing air sign.)
And now for a Jeff POV. Because why not.
Jeff is angry at himself for getting so flustered while talking to Robyn. He’s never been good at talking to girls, especially pretty ones, and Robyn is one of the best-looking girls in school. So was Jenny. Why’s it always gotta be stories about the best looking girls in school? Jeff is also angry at Robyn’s shallow, stupid friends, and then thinks about how it’s so typical that Robyn would have friends like that, because she’s a useless ditz who probably has the IQ of a hard-boiled egg. Well fuck off right into the sea why don’t you, Jeff? Why is everyone such a dick in this book?
Jeff meets up with Alan. We get a bit of background on him (he’s Black, they’re friends because he’s also good with computers, his one big aim in school is to make the basketball team and tryouts are that afternoon [how convenient], and he’s dating Tashira Kent, who takes up most of his time. I love the name Tashira). Alan keeps trying to set Jeff up, and Jeff is having none of it. Not because he’s racist, Jeff is quick to reassure us, which tends to be a sure sign you are being racist somewhere deep inside, but because Alan keeps setting him up with weird people, and Jeff is not that desperate. Not yet. (Jeff can’t be racist, he claims, he’s had a very serious crush on Carolyn Hill for several months, until she started dating someone else. I guess we’re meant to assume that Carolyn is also Black, but we get no real description of her. Still doesn’t make you not racist, Jeff.)
Jeff actually thinks Tashira is a weird choice for Alan, because he is laid-back and on good terms with the whole world, while Tashira is quiet, almost a wallflower, and intensely focused only on playing her cello — and dating Alan. Jeff finds her endlessly dull. Well, the world does not cater to your interests, does it, Jeff.
No, seriously, why is everyone terrible in this book?
Alan thinks this being paired with Robyn is a great opportunity for him, and tells him to get to know her, show her what a genius he is, then ask her out. That’s not terrible advice at all. And when Jeff asks what happens if she says no, Alan points out that’s not the end of the world. Worst she can say is no, and then he can move on. Also sound advice. Alan, you’re one of the few characters I like so far. I hope that doesn’t mean you end up dead, too, because Jenny was awesome and look what happened.
Jeff switches the talk to basketball, Alan pretends to shoot a basket and accidentally hits Derek with his arm, because Derek is, again, conveniently passing them at just that time. He snaps at Alan about being a clumsy idiot, Alan apologizes, and Derek snaps that he needs to keep out of his way because “the less I see of your black face, the better I’ll like it.”
Awesome. Derek, I seriously hope Muffin Man tags you at some point, because you are fucking terrible. I just found you obnoxious, at first, but now you are actively terrible.
Alan is actually even more amazing here. He calls Derek on his shit, Derek backs off, and then when Jeff reminds Alan that Jenny was killed, Alan lets Derek go, even says Derek is hurting and probably didn’t mean it. Not in a way that excuses it, though, which is good, because there is no damn excuse for racism.
We stick with Jeff for the next scene, where he and Robyn meet up after school. He shows her his list of ideas, she blows them off as boring, and says she wants to do something halfway fun. He’s embarrassed about her finding them boring, but tells her he’s open to suggestions. He sort of awkwardly asks her what she finds interesting, and she says the topics are so dry, so impersonal, and then says her horoscope told her it was going to be a bad day.
Jeff is, shock, an ass about this, and pops off that he’s stuck with Shirley MacLaine for the science fair. (Allegedly an American actress well known for her New Age beliefs, but I had to look up the reference, and since I know Adams is a Brit author, I think this is a reference that probably should have been something else.)
They argue over astrology, again, shock. He says horoscopes are for weak-minded people too scared to make decisions on their own, she says astrology is the oldest science known to man and the stars merely guide them, not rule their lives, he sneers that astrology can’t be a science, why not go back to reading chicken entrails. This is all very typical, but I still hear these arguments today, so good job at being relevant still, I guess.
Robyn grabs her stuff, ready to storm out, but Jeff grabs her hand. Not super down with that part, but he makes a good point that she does need it, they both do or they’ll flunk, and then he actually apologizes for making fun of something she cares about. Of course, this all leads to him telling her to prove that astrology is a science, and they talk about how math is a kind of science he understands, because two numbers together will give the same answer every time, but numbers aren’t people and they don’t have any choice in what they do. Then they talk about how the stars influence us because we’re starstuff ourselves, all the atoms in our bodies was once inside a star, we’re made up from the stars, and of course they influence us.
He tells her that is poetry, not proof, and he is not wrong.
We share ninety-eight percent of our genetic code
with rats. Over half with grain. The stars, then,
must contain us somehow in their burning.
“The Astronomer and the Poet” by Jessica Piazza
Robyn tells him that she bets he is an Aquarius, and she’s right, he is. He wants to know how she knows that, and she says he has all the earmarks of one, demanding logic and proof but open to being convinced. “Aquarians are good at both poetry and electronics.”
This is true for him, and it is true for me. But this also flags one of the things I find super annoying about people who believe in astronomy, and that is how they constantly look at people as their signs first, searching for the ways they fit the mold. Even Robyn, who keeps talking about how the stars don’t rule us, they simply guide us, does it all the time, and it annoys the shit out of me.
I am SHOCKED, SHOCKED I TELL YOU to learn that Jeff wants to try to prove that horoscopes work by matching predictions to accuracy by computer. Robyn shoots this down, too, because it isn’t mechanical, it has as much to do with intuition and feeling as facts, and he can’t program those into a computer. She calls it a stupid idea and tells him to find something else. Robyn is kind of being a dick here.
Taurus: Some highs, but a very bad day overall. Watch out for arguments and avoid following bad advice.
This is where I realized I probably hadn’t read an actual prologue, just a weird formatting issue in the book I was reading, because here is the Muffin Man’s POV with the same horoscope. Life is a vast wheel, wheel of the zodiac was really the wheel of life and death, stars laid down unbreakable laws most people ignore, he hears the song of the spheres, he’s the embodiment of truth, the messenger of the stars, and the message is death, blah blah blah.
Alan is riding high, because he did end up making the basketball team. GODDAMN IT, ADAMS, ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GOING TO KILL OFF ALAN NOW?! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!
Ok. Deep breath. Alan is feeling good about basketball, even though his horoscope told him it would be a bad day. Not even a run-in with Derek had brought him down. Apparently, Alan took Derek’s place on the team, pushing Derek back to second string (which … isn’t really taking Derek’s spot on the team, just his position as a starter, but okay, whatever), and Derek keeps trying to make him look bad in practice. Alan is actually still super sympathetic toward Derek, and doesn’t believe he killed Jenny. Alan, you are a gem, and I am furious that you are going to be killed.
Sure enough, Muffin Man POV again, and he’s watching Alan walk down the road. This time, the weapon is a knife with twin blades “like the two horns of a bull.” As he steps toward Alan, he steps on a stick, and the sound is like a rifle. Alan hears it, is suspicious but not apprehensive. Muffin Man steps out of the shadows, knife hiding behind his back, and says hello. Alan relaxes and actually says, “Oh, it’s you. Boy, you sure gave me a fright.” Because that’s not the most trite, cheesiest, ridiculous way to write this scene or anything. A billion stories have done that. Fuck.
Muffin Man stabs Alan in the chest. I want to burn everything. He takes pictures again, tells Alan to rest in peace, my friend, and walks off.
This is — ok. Ok, ok, ok. The timing on my reading this for the first time is terrible, because there have been so many Black deaths in the USA as of late (as if that’s changed from, oh, ever, really), so many Black people killed, and specifically by cops. Which is (… probably…) not what is going on here, but I am already enraged and heartbroken because just yesterday (as I write this) a Black man was gunned down by two white cops while they arrested him. Rest in power, Alton Sterling. (He is the 558th person murdered extrajudicially by cops in the USA in 2016 alone. It is the very beginning of the seventh month of 2016. That is nearly 100 people extrajudicially murdered by cops per month, because really on six months have happened. THAT IS SERIOUSLY FUCKED UP.)
(Literally as I was writing this, Black people are killed. Alton Sterling killed by police on July 6. Philando Castile killed by police on July 6. A Black teen was found hanging in Piedmont Park on July 7, and the police turned away all investigation of it, even though the KKK was passing out flyers there the night before. This is not a war. It is a genocide.)
I know this is not a story about white cops killing Black people. HOWEVER. Every time a Black person is killed in the USA, a ton of white people immediately start dehumanizing it. Oh, he must have been a threat. Oh, he was armed. Oh, she resisted arrest. Oh, she was high. Oh, the cops were scared they would fight back. Oh, #whitelivesmatter or #alllivesmatter or fucking #bluelivesmatter.
Part of why people can look at Black death and not see a human loss is that our media kills off Black characters all the time. The joke is that Black people have to stay out of horror movies because Black characters always die early. It’s a joke because it’s a trope because it’s true. When you have one Black man in your fucking book, and you kill him off, that Black man is existing merely to cause white people angst. When you do that, you are writing a racist book and feeding a racist world. When you do that, you are doing real damage.
No, I am not saying that Black characters can never die. But if your only Black character with lines exists to prop up a white character, if he only gets a POV scene so he can be killed, that is racist bullshit. That helps prop up white supremacy and institutionalized racism that is killing people in the USA. Killing people worldwide. (Don’t think the USA has all the racism. Don’t you dare.)
So yes, this is one character dead in a book where characters are dying. But this is also the only Black person with speaking lines so far dead, and he only existed long enough in the story to benefit his white friend and then be killed.
Also, so far we have a white woman and a Black man as the victims. Marginalized people. People who simply by existing challenge the existing straight white male bastion of power. At least Jenny is not the only white girl in the story. She does not have to stand for her entire race. Alan, at least so far, does, and look, Adams wrote him out with a violent, bloody stabbing.
Be better, authors. Be better.
I want to throw this book across the room and quit here, but I will continue.
Leo: Bad news early on is compounded by the attitudes of others. Try to be flexible, and work on relationships.
Robyn rushes through breakfast because she wants to check on her father’s special projects. He gives her a quick look at some of the chess pieces he’s making; he starts with the black queen, “cast entirely in black wax … tall, imperious, and [she] had a long, regal face. In her right hand she carried a scepter, and in the top of the wand was a small zirconium.” He calls her the “queen of the night” and, no lie, I would love the hell out of chess set like that, even though I would be super tempted to burn the wax, and also, I hate chess.
Robyn really wants to see the Vlad the Impaler sculpture, but he’s still doing research on it. She knows him too well for that, and says he’s putting it off; he admits he is, because he doesn’t like glorifying violence. Fair enough, dude.
Robyn and her mother talk about the science fair and how annoying Robyn finds Jeff, then her mom says that she finds Mrs Vine (Derek’s mother, remember) super annoying because she keeps showing up at the shop with religious tracts. Robyn’s mom doesn’t begrudge Mrs Vine her beliefs, but wishes that she would give the same consideration to other people. Word to that, Mrs Chantry. Word to that.
Lots of boring talk I’m skipping, they pick up Debi, and, as usual, meet Natalie and Dana at their lockers. The custodian, Joe Butler, is working on Natalie’s. Apparently, she’s stuffed too much in there, and it fell against the lock. He is friendly and says he’ll have it fixed in a minute. She’s super rude to him, and then we get this description:
Joe stopped working and looked at her. He was in his early forties, with a touch of gray at his temples. Still, he was pretty muscular, and aside from the limp in his right leg, in very good shape. The only thing marring his looks was a slight scar down the right side of his face. He’d gotten his injuries from a terrorist bomb while he was in the Army, serving in Germany. Invalided out, he’d returned to his hometown and taken the custodian job in the school. He was quite popular, and Robyn liked him.
He’s the killer, isn’t he? Because he is scarred and he works in a low-paying job and he is bitter about the students belittling him all the time. (Well, that or he is an elaborate red herring, but I don’t believe that.)
He handles this situation pretty well, actually, and tells Natalie that he may be the janitor, but he still deserves a little politeness. She apologises, he accepts it, everyone moves on, and, of course, Derek turns up. Oy, Derek. He keeps needling them about the horoscopes, trying to get them to tell him who writes them, but they’ve held firm. OY, DEREK.
They have yet another exchange about it, and then Sheriff Adkins comes in and heads for the principal’s office. Joe finishes with the lock, and a pile of magazines falls out. He also tells them that there was another murder last night and that’s why Adkins is there.
When Robyn meets up with Jeff after school, she finds him staring blankly out the window, and he’s been crying. Poor guy. Losing a friend like that is hard. We learn they are still trying to settle on a topic more than a week after they got the assignment. Damn, kids, get your shit together.
He talks about how the computer is a tool and maybe she can use it to help calculate her horoscopes. She’s startled to realize he’s been watching her so closely. They decide to sit down and work out his horoscope, so he can see if the computer can help. She gets his birthday, February 1, 1975, around 3 p.m. (OY THIS BOOK IS SO OLD.) Robyn goes on to explain that she uses that information to figure out what they sky looked like when he was born, and then she can work out the influences on him. (She’s making star charts, basically.) And they talk about the math she has to do (correct for the fact the times in her book about star locations are in Greenwich Mean Time, and the fact that Fremont, Wisconsin is 90 degrees west of Greenwich, so the sky is slightly different there than in the charts in her book, etc.). Jeff starts laughing at this, and she’s insulted at first, but then he explains that she calls math dull and useless, but is perfectly comfortable working out complicated equations like this. He thinks she’ll find computer programming a snap after making a star chart. She realizes he’s complimenting her, and it feels good, even though his opinion doesn’t really matter.
Of course, he then goes on to say that it’s all pointless — not her beliefs this time, but her method, because the computer could save her a lot of time and energy. He suggests they use that for their science fair project, using the computer to do the tedious calculations, they could create a program that would do it for her. That’s not a terrible idea, for the time. (Now it would be, because I bet a billion such things exist.)
Scorpio: News is not good for you. People in authority will be aggressive. Don’t blame others for your own failures.
Derek is once again talking to Sheriff Adkins. The sheriff asks him where he was last night around nine; Derek says he was home listening to music. His mother was at bible study, and didn’t get home until after ten. Then Derek has to talk about what he and Alan argued about, and he lets it slip that they argued multiple times. This is not looking so good for you, Derek. Derek is mouthy, and the sheriff lets it go somewhat, but does tell him that his story about being innocent of both murders, the story of him being guilty, both fit some of the facts. He needs to figure out which fits all of the facts.
Derek tries to calm down. The sheriff then points out that he checked the school paper and saw that Alan had a bad horoscope before he died, just like Jenny did. Derek is reaching for straws, and suggests that maybe there really is a link, that whoever writes the column is doing the killings and that’s her warning. The sheriff doesn’t think a warning would be likely, but really, it wouldn’t be the first serial killer to leave warnings before actual killings. Derek explains that Jean Stephenson is an alias, and tells him that it has to be one of the four girls.
The sheriff lets Derek go, and on his way out of the school, he slams his fist against the wall so hard he leaves blood behind, because someone is going to pay for it. Of course they are. I am rolling my eyes so hard.
Jeff POV. He and Robyn are still working on his horoscope while he writes down ideas about how to make the program work. Because I find it interesting, here is his horoscope:
“So,” she finished, “at three P.M. on February first, nineteen seventy-five, we have the following situation. The sun and Mercury were in Aquarius – hardly surprising. Venus and Jupiter were in Pisces. Saturn was in Cancer, the moon in Libra, and Mars in Capricorn.”
“And what about Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto?” Jeff asked. “Don’t they count?”
“Some astrologers think so, others don’t. They’re so far away from us that they don’t change positions much, and so don’t vary greatly in their effects.”
“Okay.” Jeff studied the circular chart Robyn had drawn up, with the symbols for the planets and constellations. “Now you know all of that, what does it mean?”
Robyn smiled. “Starting to believe me a little?”
“Not yet – but I’m always open to proof.”
“I know,” she replied. “That’s from Mercury being in Aquarius. You’re an observer who will take note of everything and then use it – even if it means changing your perceptions of reality.”
He shrugged. “You’re just guessing that because you know me.”
“It’s not guesswork,” Robyn said. “It’s all verifiable. Now – Venus is in Pisces. That’s your emotional side. It means you have some kind of an artistic streak – maybe not art as such. Could be poetry, or something else creative, It also means that you tend to hide your feelings, keeping them to yourself. This can be a problem. It could make you miss out on things. Unless you learn to let your feelings show, you could not experience romance, for example.” She looked at him thoughtfully. He went red and looked quickly away.
Did she know what he was thinking? he wondered, unable to stop his dumb reaction. Was she dropping some kind of hint? Or was this just a business thing for her? If only he knew!
“Jupiter in Pisces,” Robyn continued after a moment “means you’re sensitive and compassionate. But it also means that you can be taken advantage of by people you trust or believe in. There’s a tendency for you to look for security or illumination in religion, or some other system of belief. If you’re convinced of the truth of something, you could become fanatical in pursuit of your goals.
“Saturn in Cancer – that signals repression, isolation. Often an unhappy childhood, too. Couple that with Venus, and you’re really inclined to keep to yourself and hide what you feel, even from yourself if you can. The moon in Libra – you’re willing to listen to advice, and you can be polite and charming when you set your mind to it. You hate show-offs and prefer to be low-key about things. You might even appear to be cold and aloof, but that’s not your true nature. Finally, Mars in Capricorn. You’ve got a head for material success. You’re thorough, efficient, and you really like to see a job through to its conclusion, neatly wrapped up. You could do very well in business.”
Jeff looked at her uncertainly. A lot of what she’d said might have been from watching him – if she’d even bother doing that. But some of it was very close to the facts. Surprisingly close in places… Maybe there was something to this, after all?
They’re interrupted by Sheriff Adkins, who has some questions for Robyn. He’s spoken with Ms Tepper, and he knows that Robyn writes the horoscope column. (And now Jeff does, too.) He explains why he’s there, and Robyn is stunned. She points out that there are lots of bad days in the horoscopes, but people aren’t usually killed.
He shows her a photo of a wool scarf, and asks if it is hers. She says no, but says it does look vaguely familiar, then asks if it is what killed Jenny. The sheriff confirms, then shows them a picture of a double-bladed knife stained with blood. ONCE AGAIN, THESE ARE POTENTIALLY UNDERAGED KIDS OVER HERE. THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU, SHERIFF?
Robyn goes white as snow and starts shaking. The sheriff asks if it is familiar, and it is. It’s her father’s knife.
RED HERRING RED HERRING RED HERRING.
Red Herrings: 100 (+100) (Fairly obvious, but in Point Horror, there’s basically a neon sign above them stating “sinister as fuck”.)
(I’m giving it a bunch of points here because every time Derek is super angry, it seems like a red herring, but I’ve been too busy dealing with other parts of the story to do an individual count.)
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (+1) (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss me and Wing the hell off.)
Leo: A changeable day. Good news and bad news intermix, and it’s hard for you to know when you’re ahead.
The sheriff has more questions, and Robyn says that the knife was made especially for him, and he wanted it for one of his SCA functions. She then has to explain the SCA to the sheriff. Her father’s persona is a blacksmith, and he wanted to the knife to go with his garb. (The story uses “costume” but that’s not what actual Scadians call it.)
The sheriff suggests they take a drive and talk to her father, but then says he’ll meet them outside in five minutes. That … that is stupid. Just absolute sheer stupidity. She could leave. She could call to warn her father. She could call a goddamn lawyer. (Do that last part.)
Robyn starts to doubt her conviction that her father wouldn’t kill anyone, then she starts to doubt why Jeff is sticking by her side. She keeps pushing those thoughts away. This would be some tough shit to deal with.
At home, her father tells the sheriff the knife does look like this, but it’s in the cupboard with his costumes, which he keeps in his candle room. Except the knife is gone. He last had it on Saturday, when he wore it to a meeting and then put it away once he got home. When the sheriff asks if anyone could have taken it without his knowing, Mr Chantry says that the cupboard is never locked, anyone in the house could have taken it — any customer, he adds quickly, because he has people in and out several times a day.
Mr Chantry takes off with the sheriff, and asks Jeff to stay and protect Robyn. UMM. You have literally never met this kid before, and yet you think Robyn is safer with him than taking care of herself? Sexist.
Jeff asks if he can call his mother, but waits until Robyn leaves the room to do so. Robyn finds it weird that he wants privacy just to tell his mom he’ll be home late. It is kind of weird. It also feels like a red herring.
Red Herrings: 101 (+1)
As they’re talking, Robyn realizes how weird it is that the sheriff described Alan’s death as being like gored by a bull. Alan was a Taurus. The bull. Meanwhile, Jenny was strangled by a wool scarf, and Jenny was an Aries. The ram. Plus Aries and Taurus in that order are the first two signs of the Zodiac.
And that means there will be at least ten more murders, and next up will be Gemini.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)
Gemini: A day to be very careful. A cloud hangs over you, and you may be of two minds. The evening is especially bad for you.
Robyn is talking to her friends about her theory. Natalie says it is even dumber than “the time you recalled your past life as a call girl in ancient Babylon.” Robyn snaps that she was a priestess, not a hooker, because of course she does, and of course she believes she was a priestess, and then says that Jeff thinks her theory about the murders is unlikely, but possible. The girls then tease her about quoting Jeff. Debi leaps to her defense, though, and says Natalie and Dana have been in a bad mood for weeks and are taking it out on other people.
Robyn has had enough, tells them to leave her alone, and she and Debi take off. They see Joe leaning against the lockers, reading the school paper, and Debi teases him about working being so slow. Joe laughs and tells them that he likes to keep up with the paper, school spirit and all, and he always had a hankering to write, but never made it. That sucks, dude. Debi teases him that where else could he work and see so many gorgeous girls in one day, which, since those are mostly underage high school girls and he is in is forties — no, Debi, no. NO.
Mr Traynor interrupts them to ask Robyn about her science fair project. He is pleasantly surprised to hear that she is learning a lot and appreciates that he paired them.
Debi asks if Robyn is interested in Jeff, and when she says no, Debi adds that it’s good, and everything is fine as long as she just stays friends with him. Why, Debi, are you about to spew some terrible shit out of your mouth? I think you are.
SURE ENOUGH. Debi says that Jeff lives near her, but they hardly ever see him anywhere because he stays at home with his mom all the time. Not as a mama’s boy like Derek, but because his mother is “crazy” and has been in and out of mental hospitals for years.
ADAMS, ARE YOU SERIOUSLY ABOUT TO DO WHAT I THINK YOU’RE ABOUT TO DO?!
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (+1) (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)
Robyn says that’s awful, and calls his mom a poor thing, which is kind of shitty in and of itself. (We don’t need your fucking pity, Robyn.) But then. BUT THEN.
Apparently she tried to kill her husband about ten years ago, the same time she went into the hospital for the first time, because crazy people, they’re so fucking dangerous, right?
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1,000,000 (+999,999)
FUCK YOU DEBI. FUCK YOU ADAMS. FUCK YOU WORLD.
Debi warns Robyn away from Jeff, because he’s probably just as cracked as his mother.
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity
WING GO BOOM NOW
FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU. HOW THE EVER LOVING FUCK CAN YOU WRITE BULLSHIT LIKE THIS, ADAMS? HOW? DO YOU NOT THINK THAT MAYBE THERE ARE TEENS WITH MENTAL ILLNESSES READING THIS? TEENS WITH PARENTS WHO HAVE MENTAL ILLNESSES? BUT NO WHO FUCKING CARES BECAUSE CRAZY PEOPLE, THEY’RE JUST SO GODDAMN DANGEROUS AREN’T THEY AND THEIR KIDS ARE DANGEROUS. FUCK YOU ADAMS. FUCK. YOU.
Then Robyn can’t shake the thoughts about his mother attacking her husband with a knife, someone attacked Alan with a knife, Jeff is crazy and dangerous.
FUCK YOU TOO ROBYN. FUCK. YOU. TOO.
Next, we get a Natalie POV. She’s trying to do her homework, but she’s tense from waiting — and then it begins. Her father is drunk, her mother is shouting, there is broken glass. Apparently her dad lost his job three weeks ago and started drinking because he’s convinced he’s too old to start again. Her mother nags at him. And the fighting begins. Natalie is terrified it means they’ll break up, and doesn’t know what will happen to her then.
And then we get a Muffin Man POV. Because of course we do. Natalie is a teen girl, and a character of color, and we’ve randomly gotten a POV scene for her. She’s clearly dying tonight. Why, Adams? WHY? This is not how to include diverse characters. Not at all.
Muffin Man breaks into the house by shattering the wood around the lock on the side door. He allegedly does this hardly making a sound and any noise would be masked by the fight. I’m not sure I believe he’s that quiet while breaking a door, but I guess the fight could be loud enough to cover some of it, at least.
Oh, wait, the side door leads into the garage, not straight into the house. Never mind, I can absolutely see how that would be too quiet to be heard inside the house.
We switch back to Natalie’s POV for a few paragraphs. This is such sloppy writing, fuck. That just adds insult to injury. She’s in front of her mirror, there’s a noise behind her, we’ve seen this in a billion horror movies, and Muffin Man strangles her with a wire.
Then, randomly, we get a POV from Ed Byrnes, who is Natalie’s father. He’s thinking about how much he loves that the scotch brings numbness. Based on how both Natalie and the Muffin Man described the fight, this is not what I expected to see from his POV.
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1 (+1) (Because why stick to what was said last chapter? Or even last sentence. Make it up as you. If your lead character says it, it MAKES IT SO!)
He hears a crash from upstairs, and though he’s too drunk to really be useful, he goes upstairs to check on her, followed by his wife. We then get a far too detailed description of the scene, Natalie in front of her mirror, strangled, and the Muffin Man taking a picture. No description on the Muffin Man, though.
There is something terrible and voyeuristic about describing this murder scene in more detail than the last two, especially because Natalie is Korean. Once again, we have characters of color killed off to further the white characters’ stories.
Aquarius: A shared secret will bring you closer to a loved one, but your friendship could be endangered if you can’t control your ego.
Jeff POV. He’s standing in front of the television, watching a news report about Natalie’s death. After a brief summary, the report includes a taped conversation with Sheriff Adkins, who is asked whether he has any leads on the brutal deaths of three teens in four weeks. He points out that if he has leads, he won’t air them and give the murderer warning, and if he doesn’t have leads, he’s not going to let the killer know that either. He then threatens to kill the reporter if she doesn’t leave him alone, which is not acceptable behavior from a sheriff even in the middle of a serial killer investigation, fuck.
She finishes by saying that the sheriff seems to have no clue about the three cases and that the news (aren’t you the news, woman?) is dubbing it The Teen Terror. How alliterative.
Jeff calls Robyn’s house, but passes the information about Natalie’s death on to her mother, thinking the news will be slightly easier coming from someone she loves. That is true, and actually a pretty decent thing to do, even though he then kicks himself for chickening out. DUDE. Calling to tell her about her dead best friend is not the time to be fucking hitting on her, JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.
After he hangs up, Jeff starts thinking about how all the victims are not only from the same school, but in the same year, and they all knew each other. No matter what the sheriff says, the odds are high that the deaths are connected. He’s trying to figure out how and why when Robyn calls him back. All she says is to meet her by the lockers at school, and then she hangs up.
His mother comes in, nervously wringing her hands together, and asks if that was his father calling. He reassures her it wasn’t, and then gets her settled in the den, where she will apparently wait for him to come home from school.
So what’s the truth about his mother? Because he describes her as having a mental age of about fourteen, which doesn’t really fit with the earlier talk about her being ~crazy. And also, she’s apparently terrified that his father will come home. Clearly town gossip has gotten some details very, very wrong.
Jeff gets to school early and tries to wait for Robyn by her locker, but Joe finds him and is suspicious, because they’ve had some trouble with the lockers, like someone is messing with them when no one else is around. Before this can turn into an actual argument, Robyn and Debi turn up. They have both, of course, been crying.
I am actually surprised they came to school. Maybe Robyn wants to try to solve the murders and that’s the driving force behind it, but one of her best friends was just brutally murdered. I would expect her parents in particular to be worried about her emotions and keep her home.
Robyn says that Natalie was born June 2nd, which makes her a Gemini — exactly the sign Robyn predicted would be next. When Jeff points out that Natalie was strangled, which doesn’t really fit the sign, Robyn argues that she was killed in front of her mirror, so it looked like there were two bodies. Gemini — the twins.
Jeff tells him his theory that the deaths have to be connected, because the victims all knew each other, all came from the same year in school — and he goes further to say that the killer must be one of them, too, and someone who knows the Zodiac signs of everyone who has been killed so far. He doesn’t think that is common knowledge, but really, as long as you can figure out someone’s birth month and day, you can figure out their basic sign. And that information is not difficult to get at all in high school.
The three of them make plans to meet up at Jeff’s place after school so they can try to figure out who is killing people, and why. Aww, look, they have their own Scooby Gang.
Leo: Surprises are in store for you. Some are good, some bad. But changes will occur in your life.
After the girls leave Jeff, Debi says that he must really like Robyn because he invited them over. Umm, Debi, did you miss the part where you guys are trying to solve a serial killer who is taking out your friends? Because … that’s not exactly a hot first date, you know.
The school day passes slowly for Robyn, but not for us, the readers, because she basically just recaps things for us. Not going to complain. Everyone is either morning Natalie or terrified they’ll be the next victim of the Teen Terror (or both), and everyone avoids going near Derek, who is in a bad mood pretty much constantly these days. I can’t really blame him for that, though.
(Also, even though Dana is at school and is supposed to be one of Robyn and Debi’s best friends, they do not go to her even once, so at this point, it looks as if the two Korean girls have been killed and written off. FUCK. YOU. ADAMS.)
While the girls are waiting for Jeff after school, Joe tells them he heard about what happened to Natalie, and that he’s sorry for their loss. Joe then warns them away from Jeff, because his father was a bad sort, and like father, like son. Good lord, does no one like either of Jeff’s parents? But also, notice how his mother is all ~crazy and ~dangerous, but his father is just a “bad sort.” Because women are so hysterical and scary and emotional and crazy, you know.
They head off toward Jeff’s house, and he tells them they need to talk about his mother on the way. He knows what the neighbors say, but he tells them she’s not crazy, at least not the way most people mean, she’s just childlike. She can have conversations, she can take care of herself, she’s just still like a kid. He’s really struggling and uncomfortable, and this is a pretty difficult conversation to have. I’m sympathetic, if still enraged in how the book has otherwise treated mental illness.
He says that he’s used to it, but other people get uncomfortable around her, like they’re afraid she’ll go berserk and attack them. Debi takes up the new mantle of GIANT BAG OF DICKS and says that well, of course people are afraid, she attacked his father, that’s what got her put in the hospital to begin with.
Jeff very calmly explains that his father was abusive and used to beat both of them. His mother was terrified of leaving him, though, because he warned her that he would kill them if she ever tried it. One night, he backhanded Jeff across the room, ended up giving him a concussion. His mother thought his dad had killed him, and started screaming. He hit her too, she fell over and hit her head. When he went to check on her, she stabbed him with a kitchen knife. The neighbors called the cops, they were all rushed to the hospital, and his mother ended up suffering from brain damage from her fall. Look, somewhat realistic fallout from people hitting their heads. [Dove: You mean I don’t have to rant about head injuries being serious business?] [Wing: Hey, I left room for you in my last recap, and you turned it down.] Now his mom is still terrified his dad will come back to finish killing them. He won’t, though, because he was already dead by the time the ambulance arrived. The police didn’t press charges because it was clear she had been deeply provoked and was protecting herself and her child, and she wasn’t mentally competent to stand trial. For a long time, his grandmother lived with them to help take care of her, but she died not too long ago.
Robyn then asks if that’s why he’s never had a girlfriend, because he’s afraid of his mother’s reaction. (She freaks out sometimes when he brings people home, has anxiety attacks, is generally terrified.) That is a weird time to ask that question, ROBYN. He says no, it’s more that he’s afraid he’ll end up just like his father, and he never wants to put anyone through that. Oh, Jeff. That’s really heartbreakingly sad.
Robyn tells him that he’s much too smart and kind to ever end up like that. Well, smart people can be plenty abusive, too, but okay, the rest stands, and he probably needs to hear it.
And then just a few paragraphs later, she’s wondering how stable Jeff can possibly be himself, because he had a father who abused him and a mother who killed her husband. FUCK YOU, ROBYN. FUCK. YOU. [Dove: Can’t believe how flip-floppy she is in this chapter. Fuck you in the ear, Robyn.]
They enter his room, and both girls gasp in astonishment. OY.
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)
Aquarius: Time to rethink some of your priorities. Your friendship will prove very valuable to others today.
Apparently, they are impressed by all the computer equipment that fills the room. Uh huh. Jeff says that his grandmother left him a small fortune when she died, and he invested it all in his computers. He used his “powerful” modem to link up with the school computer, found the password in Traynor’s files, and accessed all the student files.
He warned them what he did wasn’t exactly legal. Umm, kid, I’m pretty sure that is all deeeeeeply illegal, but whatever you have to tell yourself.
Anyway, they’re going to use this information to try to narrow down who will be the next victim. It will be someone whose Zodiac sign is Cancer, and Robyn says she noticed a pattern, in that the victims were female, male, female, so they’ll assume the next one will be male. With those parameters, there are eight potential victims: Will Best, Tim Finnegan, Ed Gundlach, Peter Harrison, Sean O’Farrell, Ryan Sonderberg, Hal Taylor, and James Walsh. And gee, none of them we’ve met before. Whoever will it be.
Jeff says the only thing they can do with the information is hand it over to the police. I am not sure the sheriff is going to take this as well as you seem to think he’ll take it. I hope it works out for you.
Debi and Robyn walk home together. Jeff is off to talk to the sheriff. Debi again asks Robyn to promise her that she and Jeff are just science partners, not anything else, not even close friends. When Robyn wants to know why, Debi says that Jeff is carrying grudges and has access to all sorts of private information, just like the killer must have. She then goes on to say maybe he’s living out his father’s violence against other kids because the concussion affected his mind. Oh, I see, again, he must be dangerous because you think he’s crazy. FUCK EVERYONE.
Robyn actually calls her on this shit, despite having had similar thoughts earlier. HYPOCRITE.
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 1 (+1) (Because it’s ok when I do it.)
Scorpio: A day of questions — you ask and are asked more than you can answer. A time to search your soul for goals and intentions.
Derek POV. Sheriff’s office waiting room. His mother and Pastor Williams are talking with Sheriff Adkins. Derek has been turning to music and prayer to try to find answers and a way to calm down. Pastor Williams comes out and says that while the Sheriff admits he only has circumstantial evidence to link Derek to the first two murders and no link to the third, Derek remains his number-one suspect. Derek asks how God could let this happen. The pastor says God should not be blamed, and that everyone doubts God sometimes. How can a God of love allow innocent deaths to happen? But there are no simple answers. He also says that it is only human for Derek to be angry, but they are called to be holy, and when Jesus was killed for crimes he did not commit, he only said to forgive them because they didn’t understand what they are doing. This isn’t a terrible bit of preaching, to be fair, but a God of love — for a God of love, so many terrible, terrible things are done in his name. Christian terrorists. Fuck.
Conveniently, Jeff walks in, and stops to tell Derek that he doesn’t believe he’s the murderer. That means a lot to Derek, which, yeah, it would. When Mrs Vine says she and Derek should leave, Jeff says they should stick around and listen to what he has to say. He gives the Sheriff the list of names and says that the murder seems to be using a Zodiac motif, which eliminates Derek, because he has no idea about the Zodiac. Jeff goes into a brief explanation, ending with his hope that the students on the list will be warned and protected.
The sheriff blows up at them all for wasting his time (he and Mrs Vine had a pretty frustrating conversation, it seems), and he tells them to stay out of his way, he doesn’t need hocus-pocus voodoo or Bible-waving fanatics to help him. He also warns them to not stir up any more fear and panic in the town.
Leo: Family members seem intent on causing problems. Try talking things out with friends and relatives.
Robyn POV. She’s helping her mom out Saturday morning, working in the store because the assistant took the morning off. Hey, whatever happened with that whole thing where your father was being questioned because his knife was the murder weapon? Just left that thread dangling awhile, did you, Adams? And Robyn hasn’t seemed too worried about it either.
Mrs Chantry makes them chamomile tea and gets out her favorite Tarot card deck (which are in an Art Nouveau style, and sound both typical and kind of delightful — my personal favorite deck is a Romani deck that was gifted to me by a Rom friend of mine a long time ago).
Robyn does ask her mother if everything is okay with her dad, but, you know, not because of the knife or anything. Instead, she says that when she came home from school the other day, he was upstairs asleep. (YOU KNOW. THE DAY THEY LEARNED HIS SPECIAL KNIFE WAS THE MURDER WEAPON. JUST A CASUAL DAY, THAT ONE.) And he’s been tired and preoccupied all the time.
Apparently, he’s been having bad migraines lately. He used to have them years ago, but then they stopped. Only six weeks ago, they came back. The tests aren’t finding anything, but they are all still worried.
The talk once again turns to whether Robyn will date Jeff. Fuck, people, just because she’s hanging out with him doesn’t mean she has to date him. Would you all shut up about it? Mrs Chantry pulls a card for Robyn, and it is The Lovers. I’m rolling my eyes so hard right now. SO HARD. You are really trying to shoehorn a romance in, aren’t you, Adams?
Conveniently, Jeff turns up at the shop then. Mrs Chantry then invites him to an SCA event, one with a medieval banquet. You guys, SCA banquets are usually AMAZING and wonderful and full of delicious food and lots of laughter, and I suddenly want to attend one immediately. I wonder if I still have any garb packed away somewhere.
Also, did Jeff ever tell them about what the Sheriff said? Another dangling thread, Adams.
Cancer: A crisis today in your work. A bad day for decisions and meetings. Avoid conflicts.
Muffin Man POV. God, I hate them. He’s standing around outside the Burger Barn waiting for Ryan Sonderberg, who works at the restaurant and always has to take out the trash. The murder weapon this time is a small forklift the restaurant uses to move pallets of supplies from the delivery trucks to the freezer in the store. I … am unsure that a fast food burger joint would have one of those, or that he would be able to sneak it out of the store without being seen.
Oh, shock, a Ryan POV, because we know anything about him at all. We get absolutely nothing useful, because we know nothing about him and don’t care to learn more.
Muffin Man POV. Bit of a description about Ryan’s body hanging from the forklift, chest crushed by the prongs. I am also not sure that the forklift prongs would actually come together like that without some sort of safety stop for just this reason, but whatever. [Dove: She even asked Mr Wing, who knows everything, if this would be possible. Mr Wing says no.]
Suzie Keller, Ryan’s manager, comes out looking for him, and suddenly we are in her POV. Goddamn, Adams, have you just given up at this point?
Leo: Suspicions and fears haunt you today. Go with your heart, but don’t neglect your mind. Avoid arguments with friends.
Robyn POV. She and her father are packing up the candle chess set. I still really want one. He says he’ll get it done in time, because he’s put off the Vlad the Impaler figure for now. You’d pretty much already done that, but okay.
Robyn checks the news, her new morning ritual since Natalie’s death almost two weeks ago, and sure enough, there’s been a fourth victim of the Teen Terror. This time, the reporter has the information about the killer stopping to take photographs of the bodies, and so now everyone in town knows that, too.
Jeff calls while she’s watching, because he’s just seen the news too. Robyn is kind of short with him, says she’ll see him at school.
In the car, she tells her mother about the list they made and how the sheriff ignored it. Her mom tells her to make up another list and give it to her this time, and she’ll put a few people together to take it to the sheriff in such a way that he’ll have to listen. Robyn points out that they do know that it will be a teen girl born in the sign of Leo. Which is Robyn. And Robyn is pretty terrified.
At school, Dana joins them. Oh, so you decided to remember their friendship, huh? As they’re walking, Derek calls out that Jean Stephenson has done it again. Robyn is tired of it and confronts him. Apparently, he knows that Ryan was a cancer. He told Derek just the other morning.
Red Herrings: 102 (+1)
It could not look more like a red herring if the words were literally painted red.
Their argument is interrupted when the sheriff comes to arrest Derek, because they have eyewitnesses that place him near the Burger Barn at the time of the murder.
Sheriff Adkins then gets Joe to open Derek’s locker, though Joe first says it is private property and asks if he needs a search warrant. He actually has one, but also, it is highly possible he could have done the search without one, because a student’s right to avoid unreasonable search and seizure is limited in a school environment. (And in fact that right has been further whittled down over the years, though I think this book probably came out prior to Columbine, which was the mass school shooting in Colorado that really started people talking about increased security in schools.)
The sheriff finds pictures of the victims (or at least of Jenny) in a textbook, and he is absolutely satisfied they caught the killer. Joe shuts the locker and says he can’t believe Derek is guilty. Debi doesn’t believe it, she thinks the photos were planted because there were no negatives to be found. Now, he could have the negatives safe somewhere in case something damaged one of his prints, but also, negatives, oh god this book is so old.
Dana points out that he doesn’t even take that history class, so it can’t be his textbook. Perhaps that is something you should be telling the sheriff, Dana.
Debi still thinks that Jeff is the killer, and he could easily have been the one to frame Derek. Robyn vehemently defends him even as she asks herself why she feels so sure he’s not the killer. Oh god, this romance between them again, barf.
Taurus: Friends can cause trouble today, but it’s possible to work things out. Avoid conflicts of interest.
Debi POV. Oh dear. News of Derek’s arrest spreads fast, everyone is feeling relieved and safe except for Debi, Robyn, and Dana, who all think the wrong person has been arrested, even though Robyn still refuses to believe that Jeff is an alternative. The three girls are in the newspaper office supposedly working on the next issue, but in reality talking about who might be the killer.
They discuss and dismiss a couple different adults (whatever happened to thinking the killer was someone your age?), before Robyn suggests Mr Traynor, who must have enough computer skills to break into the files because he’s the science teacher. Adams, you do understand that “science” and “computer science” are two different things, right? (And both are terribly broad; Traynor is probably a scientist in a narrower field even than that.) Dana says that Traynor hates Derek because Traynor is a rabid atheist (woooooooow, rabid, huh [Dove: Any time I hear the word “rabid” I picture an angry, slavering St Bernard terrorising a woman and small child. And on that note: I’d rather read Cujo than this book. It has taken me all weekend to read it.]) and he hates everyone from Derek’s church, and he makes fun of her for being Baptist all the time. That’s pretty shitty from a teacher, no matter what else is going on. [Dove: But perfectly likely. I had a teacher encourage the whole class to mock me for not knowing, age 11, what Le Morte d’Arthur translated as — I took German, not French, I took a wild stab, knowing nothing of the book or the language and guessed “Life of Arthur”, instead of “Death of Arthur”. Cue 45 minutes of ridicule from a grown ass woman encouraging 27 other 11 year olds to call me stupid. The same teacher also accused me of cheating when I got answers correct. Actually, I have a lot of horror stories about her. I hope she has crabs. Really itchy ones.]
[Wing: That is really, really shitty.]
Debi says they should go to the sheriff with their suspicions, but c’mon, Debi, that worked for shit last time you tried it. Though when Robyn points that out, Debi says she doesn’t necessarily believe that Jeff actually went to him, because she does think he’s the killer. Okay then, why didn’t you go to the sheriff then?
Dana then figures out that they’re assuming the killer uses the school computer, but there are written records he could use instead. Debi goes down to Joe’s basement office, an old storage room he’d taken over to ask him what happened to them. He said he threw them in the furnace, because Principal Berger wanted them burned. I’m not sure that’s actually what would have been done to them back then; digital files were still not well trusted as a backup for personally identifiable information like that.
They keep analyzing the murders. They all happened between eight and ten p.m., which is a good time to avoid being seen that time of year, because it is so dark. There was exactly one week between the first two killings, then thirteen days until Natalie’s murder, and eleven to Ryan’s. It takes them a minute, but then Robyn realizes that Derek is right, the killer must also read her horoscopes, and uses that to decide when to kill, so he waits until a bad day has been predicted.
Their solution is for her to just not write a bad day for a Leo, which will stop the killer from completing the cycle, but doesn’t do much for Derek, I must say. Of course, she’s already turned in a column because the paper is going to press the next day. She quickly changes the one day that had a bad prediction (next Tuesday).
I don’t think this is going to go the way you think it will go, girls, but good for you, being proactive. (Also, they didn’t check the last week of predictions to see if there is a bad day between then and Monday, which is the first horoscope the paper covers.)
Leo: Avoid bad advice from well-meaning friends. Follow your instincts, but be careful when making decisions.
By Friday, Robyn is a mess of nerves and she is questioning whether Derek is actually guilty or maybe Jeff is or or or. Poor Robyn. She’s starting to think romantic thoughts about Jeff, though. Ugh, this romance. So bored.
Robyn and her mother have yet another conversation about Jeff. Someone come put me out of my misery. Robyn is also really closed minded for someone who believes so deeply in astrology and gets so pissed when anyone questions it; she keeps insulting her mother’s tarot card readings, and I kind of want to punch her in the face for being so damn hypocritical.
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 100 (+99)
When she and Debi get to school, Dana rushes up to them with a copy of the paper, because the horoscope has been changed. Tuesday’s prediction now reads “Your worst nightmares come true. Positive thinking won’t help here.” That’s not the nice horoscope they wrote the day before, and it’s not the original bad horoscope either. Dana says that the killer must have changed it because he knew Robyn had changed it. They fight over who might have known about it, and Dana says they can check the original columns that went to the printer because they always return it with the copies. Oh, man, back in the days went school papers were sent by physical copy to the printer. Adorable.
They can’t find the original columns, and go ask Ms Tepper about it. Robyn thinks some really shitty thoughts about her just because Ms Tepper wants to be called Ms instead of Mrs or Miss. Adams, I zero percent believe that is a thought Robyn would have an 100 percent believe you are being shitty about feminism, so fuck you. Ms Tepper and the girls are shitty to each other, but they learn she throws them out as soon as the print shop is done. They run down to ask Joe if he’s burned them yet; he lets them search through the trash can, but they are already gone. Shocking. I am shocked.
Then Robyn suggests that Ms Tepper could be the killer, because she can pass for a man in bad light. *headdesk* Plus she had all the victims in her classes, and she pretty much hates all of her students. No one knows if she has any computer skills, though. Hint: she is actually more likely than the scientist to have computer skills at this point.
Robyn and Debi stop by the sheriff’s office that afternoon to tell Sheriff Adkins that they think he has the wrong guy locked up. They share some of their theories, he shoots them down, I am so freaking bored right now.
Leo: Enjoy yourself. Be sociable. Good things may come of the weekend.
(Come of the weekend must be a British phrase, because it would not otherwise show up in a story set in the USA.) [Dove: That’s a phrase I would use. So, yep.]
Robyn gets ready for the SCA event, and thinks about why everyone is so willing to believe Derek is guilty even before he’s had a trial. She thinks it is a combination of the fact he isn’t popular and the fact that people desperately want to believe the nightmare is over. Solid reasoning, there.
Robyn is going to be one of the serving girls at the feast, and they are expected to be rather saucy. (Sort of true, but generally the people doing it are people who love to flirt and act saucy anyway, girls or guys.) She’s wearing a light green low-cut top and long skirt. Adams, do you have even the slightest idea of what people actually wear to SCA events? That is the most generic description of garb I have ever seen.
Jeff has borrowed garb from her father (NOT A FUCKING COSTUME, ADAMS, IT IS CALLED GARB), and is dressed as a traveling merchant in a long cloak, tunic, and red tights. Robyn thinks he looks good in the clothes, but he’s so embarrassed she can’t help but laugh a little. Mrs Chantry is wearing a “g*psy fortune teller garb” and Adams, you seriously need to stop with that fucking word. Anyway, she wears a long skirt with an intricate woven pattern, a low-cut blouse, golden bracelet with dangling charms on both wrists, and a golden band around her forehead. Mr Chantry is dressed as the blacksmith again.
(Pastor Williams turns up dressed as a wandering friar, which I find absolutely charming.)
As a serving wench – for the evening only, medieval sexist attitudes were allowed!
ADAMS. That is not actually how it works. I — I don’t have the energy to even begin to break down the bullshit in that statement, from how sexism still exists in that way to how women are generally treated at SCA events.
As they’re leaving, a girl approaches and offers to read Jeff’s fortune. She has him pick a card, and of course it ends up being the black-cloaked skeleton carrying a scythe — the Death card.
Did you do any research at all, Adams? [Dove: Even non-tarot people like me know it’s (very basically) metaphorical death, not actual death, but damnit if fiction doesn’t just love to ignore the shit out of that.]
Aquarius: Don’t get distracted by others today. Trouble comes calling, but avoid it and mind your own business.
Debi POV. Greaaaaaaaaaaaaat. She hasn’t been sleeping well, because she keeps dreaming about Robyn’s mutilated body. She tries to tell her parents about her fears, but they think it is just wild speculation. Then she’s trying to work with Dana, but Dana sprains her ankle skating, and will be out of school all week. So once again you are writing out your only remaining Korean character, Adams? Fail. [Dove: Jeez, I missed that one sentence explaining her absence, I just assumed Adams had dropped her without a word.]
Monday, Debi tells Robyn that she feels helpless because no one will listen to them. Robyn has an update from Jeff: there are just four Leo girls in their grade, and she called all of them to tell them to stay home. Not that it’s guaranteed protection if they stay home, because Natalie was murdered in her own room, and Debi points that out.
They talk yet again about whether Jeff is the killer (this is an understandable repeat conversation, but I am getting bored), and decide to watch Jeff’s house together Tuesday night to see if he leaves, because if he is the killer he’ll need to leave sometime after eight p.m.
Well, no, because the murders happened after eight, he could leave anytime, but don’t let my logic burst your bubble.
Tuesday, Jeff tells Robyn that he can’t call her to discuss their science project because he has a lot of work to do. Robyn tells him not to worry about it, because she’s staying at Debi’s house. Then Joe asks her to tell her dad he’ll be stopping by to discuss a special candle he ordered, and she tells him that she’s staying at Debi’s house, too. Why don’t you just take an ad out in the paper, Robyn? You’d think you weren’t a potential victim on that list or something.
Red Herrings: 103 (+1)
Joe’s piece is unsurprisingly the Vlad piece. He’s been fascinated with vampires since he was a kid, Bela Lugosi and all, and he wanted something unique to add to his collection.
That night, Debi’s mother moves a camp bed into Debi’s room so Robyn can sleep there. I call bullshit on that. Debi’s parents are obsessed with money and how they look to people. They would either have a full second guest room for Robyn to use, or Debi’s bed would be big enough for both of the girls. A camp bed. Psh.
They go stake out Jeff’s house, and just after eight, Jeff comes out. They decide to follow him, because he knows Robyn is staying with Debi, so if he heads there, they’ll know. Sure enough, Jeff heads straight for Debi’s house.
Red Herrings: 104 (+1)
Leo: Your worst nightmares come true. Positive thinking won’t help here.
Jeff then walks right past Debi’s house, stopping only to look at it for a second. Instead, he heads for the school, and they think that is weird, so they keep following him, all the way inside. Oh, goodie, creepy standoff inside an empty school, I love that.
They see a light on in the basement, and Robyn sends Debi back to call the police. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU EVEN DOING RIGHT NOW?! YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE STICKING TOGETHER! YOU ARE ON THE MURDERER’S LIST, ROBYN, YOU FUCKING IDIOT.
And then sure enough, Robyn makes her way down the stairs. I have thrown my hands up in disgust. WHY ARE YOU MAKING SUCH BAD CHOICES, ROBYN? WHY?
He’s digging through boxes, Robyn makes a noise, he sees her, and she tells him that Debi is calling the cops. He is shocked and hurt that she thought he was the killer, she says she does like him, but Debi was sure he was the killer and she wanted to be sure he wasn’t, and then they make out a bit, because yeah, that’s fitting.
He’s the killer! He’s the killer! He’s … my LOVAH!: 1000 (+1000) (The protagonist has spent 200 pages convinced he’s the bad guy, but now we’ve found the real killer, they’re going to start a relationship. Uh-huh.)
Then she realizes he doesn’t know about the full link to her column, so she explains that, and he says that she needs to help him search Joe’s room for the paper copies of the school files, because Jeff came to the same conclusion the girls did. He then calls her dumb for just believing Joe when he said he burned them.
They find a big carpet rolled up in the corner. Unrolled, it has a large circle painted in cold, cut into twelve segments, each painted with the sign of the zodiac. The first four signs have no envelopes, but instead pictures of the victims. The others have manila envelops, and under Leo is Robyn’s file, sure enough.
Joe bursts in and knocks Jeff out. Man, Jeff, you’re really in it for the concussions, aren’t you?
Joe is wearing a huge, furry glove with claw-like blades set into the fingertips. That’s a banned item in some states. Now you know a random fact. He monologues about his plan to steal everyone’s luck by killing them based on the whims of the Zodiac gods, and calls Jean Stephenson his prophetess. He also tells her that he’s already taken out Debi (not killed her, though, just locked her up), and the cops aren’t actually on the way.
Finally, Robyn has no choice but to tell him that she is his prophetess, and if he kills her, the one who speaks for the gods of the Zodiac, the gods will be furious with him. She then thinks that he seems to be hearing voices she couldn’t, and remembers reading that schizophrenics hearing voices that tell them what to do.
FUCK. YOU. FOREVER. ADAMS. FUCK YOU FOREVER.
I am so goddamn tired of schizophrenia being the go to scary disease for writers who need to add drama and terror to a story. Fuck. You. There are real people with schizophrenia who really read your books and are really treated like shit because the media really says they are just dangerous crazy people who should be locked away. So fuck you for feeding into that dangerous stereotype.
I am so angry I don’t even have the energy to shout anymore. It has been burned up in my rage.
Robyn is inspired to ask Joe what his sign his, who is god is, and of course he is a Leo too. They argue over which of them has betrayed the gods, but in the end, he decides she is the one and tries to kill her. She mostly dodges the blow, though he does slash the claws down her back. She throws cleaning bottles at him and tries to escape. She makes it up the stares, but the door is locked.
Then Jeff wakes, and tries to stop Joe with a large hammer from the tool box. Joe attacks Robyn again, slashing open her arm, and then throws her down the stairs. He’s gone off to kill Debi, even though that doesn’t fit his Zodiac pattern, and Robyn and Jeff are locked in the basement. They break their way out and chase Joe and Debi out to the lake, because Debi is an Aquarian, too.
Aquarius: A time to stick with friends. Avoid exercise, and feeling sorry for yourself.
Debi POV back to when she was locked in the boys’ restroom. She uses the flashlight in her purse to try to send an SOS morse code signal out the window. She’s been doing it awhile when Joe storms in to grab her.
Robyn POV. They run the half mile to the pond even though they are both badly injured, Jeff attacks Joe, Robyn pulls Debi out of the water. Once it’s clear that Debi is still alive, Robyn wades into the water to help Jeff, and ends up abandoning all her non-violence beliefs to clock Joe upside the head. That’s actually pretty shitty. If she truly holds those beliefs, there are other solutions. She knocks him into the water, he goes down hard, and he never comes back up. They are really not all that disturbed that they just killed a man, no matter that he was a serial killer.
Leo and Aquarius: Enough hard work — it’s time for a rest, and a reevaluation of your life.
Really? REALLY? A damn joint horoscope. FUCK OFF, ADAMS.
The deputy shows up, calls it in, Robyn and Jeff make out some more, gross, and then Robyn says that it is weird that Joe set out to kill a Leo that night, and he did. Jeff agrees it is weird, but says the Zodiac killer stops there, and it’s all over. Debi apologizes to Jeff, and then makes a bad joke about the Butler always being the killer. Robyn gets all cheesy about the stars watching over everyone who lived, died, and loved, and I’m out. Well, the book is done anyway, so.
Oh, this book. It was not nearly as good as Home Before Dark, and frustrating in many different ways. (Look, I 100% support diverse characters, but including them just to be killed off or written out for the white people’s story is SHITTY RACIST WRITING, ADAMS.) The romance was terrible. The book was also cliched and cheesy as hell. And the ableism was complete and total bullshit. I need a drink.
[Dove: Nothing new to add. Hated it. Read it once, immediately purged it from my memory, then Wing recapped it, so I had to re-read it. I kind of hate Wing right now for making that choice. Kind of hate myself more for not remembering how crap it was because then I could’ve talked Wing into choosing something else. In other news, Wing drinks sexy drinks. Every so often a picture will show up on Wing’s facebook showing the gorgeous drinks she has. They make me very thirsty. I bet she’s going to drink a sexy drink now. Damn her.]
[Wing: *preens* I am, in fact, drinking a sexy drink right now.]
Continuity? Fuck that shit: 1
He’s the killer! He’s the killer! He’s … my LOVAH!: 1000
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 100
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: infinity
Red Herrings: 104
Okay, don’t hate me, but I had NO idea that the “g” word was a hate word. I read your link though and I am now educated and aware. So, thank you for that.
I mostly just hated Robyn in this book. She was a judgmental know-it-all and she bothered the hell out of me. I mostly liked Jeff though. He takes care of his mom and that makes me forgive a lot.
I’m not going to hate someone for not knowing. Everyone has to learn things before they know them.
Robyn was super judgmental throughout the book, while at the same time being pissy when other people are judgmental. HYPOCRITE.
Ooh. I haven’t read this one but this was a good snarky recap; thank you. I’m watching the Scream TV series at the moment and this made me think of that a bit… although they don’t have a creepy janitor.
Ack. I must be in the minority because I like this book. I totally agree about the racism, though. Even at the tender age of 13 I was wondering why the racially diverse characters were being killed off. However, just the simple face there were non-white characters at all was a pretty big thing for this genre at the time. Plus – actual deaths!
I found the opening chapter between Derek and Jenny to be an amusing play on the typical stereotype in a horror movie of the guy pressuring the girl for sex (as that’s how it initially reads). There were actually a few bits here and there in this book that I found to be amusing and self-aware. It was more interesting (and violent) than a lot of the YA horror being released during the same timeframe.
Testing a comment, because Wing says the site is misbehaving. Ignore me. Or don’t. Whatever.