Horrorscope by Nicholas Adams
From the shadow of a large elm tree the would-be killer watches a couple in a parked car. Subconsciously they twist the cheap red and white scarf over and over in their hands. High schoolers Derek and Jenny are arguing. He wants Jenny to attend a church service because his mother is pressuring him to find a nice church girl. Jenny doesn’t agree with organized religion and stands by her principles, refusing to go and refusing to speak to Derek until he cuts the apron strings. Gah! Her horoscope said today was going to be bad. Jenny climbs out of the car intending to walk home, but her day gets worse when the killer steps out and strangles her with the scarf. They don’t get the sense of euphoria they were expecting, maybe next time. Before they leave Jenny’s lifeless body, they pose her and take pictures.
Robyn Chantry is getting ready for school. She defies high school convention with her flowing lemon skirt, preferring personal style than conformity. As she heads out to her mother waiting in the car, she passes her father who is busy at work making ornate artistic candles. He’s got a couple of special orders including a Vlad the Impaler but he’s currently working on samples for the Society of Creative Anachronism event this weekend. Robyn loves those events, dressing in costume and pretending to live in the Middle Ages.
On the way to school Robyn and her mom pick up Robyn's friend Debi, whose parents are very conservative and place a lot of importance on appearance. They talk about their horoscopes for the day. Debi's is looking good, but Robyn is going to have a difficult afternoon. Robyn’s mom says she places more faith in tarot than in the stars. At school, Robyn has a meeting with their science teacher so she passes Debi her column to hand in. Robyn writes the horoscopes for the school newspaper under the pseudonym Jean Stephenson (that is such a boring name!). Once inside the big uniform red-brick box of boredom, Robyn and Debi head to meet the rest of their friend group: Dana and Natalie. They’re both looking somber, in fact everyone is, and Natalie looks like she’s been crying. Natalie tells them Jenny is dead and the police think Derek did it!
Sheriff Adkins questions Derek about the previous night with Jenny. He’s obviously suspicious of Derek since he’s the boyfriend and they argued, and frankly Derek doesn’t do himself any favors being all defensive and saying it was the school newspaper horoscope writer that should be blamed. Jenny believed that garbage and was looking for a fight with his mom about religion based on her horoscope for the day. He honestly believes the column is evil.
Meanwhile Robyn is being lectured by her science teacher about her poor grades and shoddy flaky essays which he can’t take anymore. The only way she can pass is to team up with super nerd Jeff Goldstein in their science fair project. Uggggh noooooo! Outside, Debi, Dana and Natalie offer condolences and of course Jeff hears their less than complimentary comments. This isn’t great news for Jeff either, but he’s willing to work with Robyn and they arrange to meet later in the computer lab. Once Jeff walks off, Derek comes storming over. He knows one of the four girls is behind the newspaper horoscope and when he finds out who it is, he’ll make them pay for Jenny’s murder.
Jeff is annoyed with himself for letting Robyn and her friends fluster him. His annoyance is made worse by his best friend Alan teasing him about how gorgeous Robyn is and how he should ask her out. Their friendly ribbing is interrupted by Derek knocking into Alan, spouting some racist crap and Alan putting him in his place. Alan can’t let bullies like Derek get to him, he’s got a trial for the basketball team later to concentrate on. After school Jeff and Robyn meet in the computer room. Jeff has a list of potential projects on his floppy disk, but Robyn calls them all boring and uncreative. She’s into the stars and fortune telling, which Jeff points out isn’t real science. They get into a debate for a while but ultimately don’t come up with any project plans. Robyn keeps shooting down Jeff’s ideas and not coming up with any of her own.
A week later, the killer is waiting in the shadows for his next victim. They’ve got a new knife, and it’s a thing of beauty that fits their hand to perfection. They can’t wait to use it. Alan is walking to his girlfriend’s house, he’s in a great mood, not only did he get on the basketball team but he bumped Derek off. His girlfriend being murdered aside, Derek's performance of late has been terrible so the coach booted him from his first-string place. A person steps out from the shadows and Alan greets them as the killer plunges the blade into his chest. Alan falls to the ground into the perfect position for a couple of photographs.
The next morning Robyn makes a mad dash for her mom’s car, only briefly saying good morning to her dad who is struggling with the Vlad the Impaler piece. It’s too violent for his sensibilities. Again, Robyn and her mom pick up Debi on the way to school before meeting with Dana and Natalie. Natalie’s locker won’t open, so the custodian Joe Butler is there trying to fix it. Natalie is horrible to Joe who rightly points out a little politeness isn’t too much to ask when he’s trying to fix her problem. Robyn and her friends notice Sheriff Adkins is back in the school, and as Joe successfully opens Natalie’s locker, he tells them that Alan was brutally murdered the previous night.
Sheriff Adkins talks to Derek again. He’s not saying that Derek isn’t his number one suspect, but he isn’t not saying that either. Derek argued with Jenny the night of her murder and was known to have a contentious relationship with Alan, especially as Alan replaced him on the basketball team. Derek protests and again suggests that it’s the school newspaper horoscopes and their author, Jean Stephenson, must have something to do with it. Sheriff Adkins takes more notes of Derek’s wild accusations and says he will look into it. Derek, on the other hand, knows horoscopes are evil and will make someone pay for it.
When Robyn and Jeff meet up in the computer room later, Jeff is rightly distracted and upset by his best friend's murder. To take his mind off Alan, Robyn makes him concentrate on the science fair project and again they talk about astrology not being a real science. To prove that it is, Robyn puts together a personal reading for Jeff based on the date, time and place of his birth. There is a lot of math and conversions involved which Robyn hates doing but the reading seems pretty spot on. This gives Jeff an idea for their science fair project! They can build a computer program to do the calculations involved in the readings leaving more time and energy for the interpretation. Perfect!
As Robyn and Jeff are starting work on their project, Sheriff Adkins comes in and asks to talk to Robyn. He found out as part of his investigation that she is Jean Stephenson. He asks about the school newspaper horoscope, and how it seems strange that she predicted the murders. (Did she though? A “bad day” does not automatically equal murder.) The Sheriff then shows Robyn a picture of the scarf, which she doesn’t recognize, then a picture of the knife, which she does. It's her father’s bespoke blacksmith costume knife. GASP!
The Sheriff takes Robyn home with Jeff following along. Robyn’s dad is there and their entrance wakes him from a nap. He checks that his knife is still in the costume cupboard in his workroom but it isn't! GASP! Mr. Chantry has had loads of clients and other people coming in and out and as the cupboard is unlocked, anyone could have taken it. While Mr. Chantry heads to the police station to formally identify the knife, Jeff volunteers to stay with Robyn. Once they’re alone, Robyn tells Jeff something that occurred to her as the Sheriff was talking. Jenny was an Aries, the ram, killed with a woolen scarf. Alan was a Taurus, the bull, whose murder looked like he'd been gored. There are going to be at least ten more murders and the next sign in the zodiac is Gemini.
Robyn gets into a fight with Natalie over past lives, Teen Terror theories and not like-liking Jeff which ends with Robyn walking away. Debi goes with her but continues the pestering about not like-liking Jeff; however, Debi gives her a reason for her worrying about Robyn like-liking Jeff: his mother went crazy and went at his dad with a knife when he was seven, his father left town and has never been seen since.
That night, Natalie is in her bedroom. Below she can hear her father’s slurred voice and stumbling around, and she knows that soon it will get worse. Since her dad lost his job three weeks earlier, his drinking has increased to extreme levels and he has started abusing her mom. Natalie starts crying as she can't help but hear the abuse start.
Outside, the killer watches and waits for the diversion to start. He’s carefully watched Natalie since he decided she would be next. Breaking into the house through a side door, he confronts Natalie in her room. He uses a coil of wire to strangle her before draping her corpse over the full-length mirror. Natalie’s parents hear a thump from her room and dash upstairs. They’re too late to save their daughter but as her father falls in a drunken stupor, he sees the fuzzy shape of a figure with something in their hands. Before he blacks out, he sees a flash.
The next morning before school, Jeff is watching the news. There's a broadcast announcing Natalie’s murder by the Teen Terror. He calls Robyn and gives her mom the news. A crying Robyn calls back and arranges to meet him at school outside her locker. Jeff gets to school early and Joe catches him beside Robyn’s locker. He's suspicious of Jeff and protective of Robyn, even when she arrives with Debi in tow and tells the custodian she arranged to meet him. They talk about the murders and the potential zodiac link. Their suspicions are a stretch but they have something with their theories. Jeff asks Robyn and Debi to come to his house after school to look into it further.
At the end of the school day, Robyn and Debi head to the lockers to meet Jeff. They run into Joe who warns them against Jeff. He says he knew Jeff's father who was a bad sort and you know what they say, like father like son. On the walk to Jeff’s house, Jeff explains his home life. When he was young, his father hit Jeff and his mom a lot, and on the last occasion, he was hit so hard that he got a concussion and his mom thought he was dead. In retaliation and self defense, she used a knife against his dad and then he threw her across the room. The impact with the wall caused severe brain damage; however, she had stabbed his father who bled out before the police and ambulance came. Jeff's mom is wonderful, but she is wary of strangers and is a little disconnected with reality. The story shocks Robyn and Debi and paints a completely different story to the rumors.
At Jeff’s house, his mom is lovely and makes them a snack. In Jeff’s room they find out how big a computer nerd he is with the gigantic set up. Using his 90s hacker skills, Jeff gets into the school students' records and does computer magic to find out all the Cancer males as they figure the killer is alternating girl-boy. With a list of names in hand, Jeff volunteers to take the information to the Sheriff while Robyn and Debi head home. On their walk, Debi again warns Robyn against like-liking Jeff because she thinks his childhood concussion may have had lasting effects on his mind.
Meanwhile in the Sheriff’s office, Derek’s mom and Pastor are hounding the Sheriff for his single-minded pursuit of Derek as the murderer. Derek’s mom is biblically INTENSE and the Sheriff boots them out. Jeff walks in as this is happening and tells them they may all want to hear what he’s found out. Jeff relays the zodiac killer theory and gives the Sheriff the list of potential next victims. The Sheriff is deeply unimpressed and Derek feels even more strongly that the zodiac is evil.
On Saturday morning, Robyn is helping her mom in her new age health food store. Robyn asks her mom about her dad, she’s noticed he isn’t as energetic and has been taking lots of naps. Mrs. Chantry explains it’s nothing to worry about, just some bad migraines and he’s seeing a doctor about it. Changing the subject, Mrs. Chantry teases her daughter about possibly like-liking Jeff, she pulls a tarot card, The Lovers. At this moment, Jeff walks into the store. As Robyn is massively embarrassed by her mom trying to interfere in her love life, she stomps off into the stockroom and overhears her mom inviting Jeff to the Society of Creative Anachronism event on Saturday. Nooooo!
The killer is waiting in the shadows of the Burger Barn where his next victim, Ryan, works. He has his claw-like tool, a small forklift, ready and waiting. Ryan eventually takes the trash out and has to navigate the dark alley by smell since the light is out, probably his annoying manager trying to save a few cents. He doesn’t see the forklift until it’s too late and it’s already starting to crush him. As the killer is taking his photos, Ryan’s annoying manager comes out the back door calling for her employee. Grumbling and moaning about Ryan, she thinks she knocks into some garbage he’s left out, but it’s not, it’s Ryan's body. The manager screams and passes out.
Robyn checks on her dad before school, he’s looking better, she thinks, and has been having fewer headaches. As her mom is blasting the car horn, she takes the opportunity to check the news and sees the report on Ryan’s murder by the Teen Terror and the new development that the killer seems to be taking pictures of their victims. The phone rings and Robyn knows it’s Jeff calling to check she’s seen the news and they arrange to meet at school. On the drive, Robyn explains her zodiac theory to her mom. Mrs. Chantry isn’t pleased that the sheriff dismissed Jeff and the list of potential victims which seems to have proven to be accurate. She asks Robyn to get a new list of female Leos and she will make sure the Sheriff takes it seriously, especially as Robyn will be on that list.
At school, Robyn and Debi watch Derek get arrested for the Teen Terror murders. It happens two minutes after Derek finds out that Robyn is Jean Stephenson and accuses her of predicting the murders with her horoscopes. The Sheriff produces a court order and makes Joe open Derek’s locker. Inside a history textbook are pictures of the victims. Debi doesn’t believe Derek is the Teen Terror and says that the pictures could have been planted, there were no negatives, the history textbook was for a class Derek doesn’t take, and then she asks why would Derek keep the photos in his school locker - that’s just dumb. Debi thinks that the person with the expensive camera in their bedroom and computer skills to find student information is the killer: Jeff.
Robyn doesn’t believe it’s Jeff and suggests that there are plenty of other suspects who have access to the computerized student records. Robyn, Debi and Dana realize the records were only digitized a couple of years ago so Robyn checks what happened with the paper copies with Joe, but he says they were thrown into the furnace a long time ago. Without any solid leads there, Robyn suggests that Derek may be onto something with the horoscope predictions for the victims. After checking the old school newspapers, the girls see that on each day there was a murder the star sign was predicted to have a bad day, and Leo is going to have one on Tuesday. Robyn changes the prediction so that it’s a much brighter and breezier day which will hopefully help save a life. Persistent to the point of annoying now, Debi reiterates that she doesn’t trust Jeff and tells Robyn to avoid him. That will be difficult since he’s coming to the Society meeting on Saturday.
Friday morning arrives and Robyn is eager to get to school to check the newspaper but she has to suffer through her mom singing Jeff’s praises on the way. At school, Dana comes running up to Robyn and Debi, the Leo prediction has been altered, “Your worst nightmare comes true. Positive thinking won’t help here.” Well, that’s not great. Checking with Ms. Tepper as to where the original column is, the bitter teacher says she threw it away and Joe has already burned the papers. Dejected that all their leads are dead ends, the only thing they can do is make wild speculations as to who the Teen Terror is, call each of them a stretch, which they are, and once again insist Robyn like-likes Jeff despite her protestations. On their way home, Robyn and Debi stop by the Sheriff’s office and question him about the investigation. They give him their theory on the Teen Terror using the school newspaper horoscope column and are summarily dismissed.
Saturday is the meeting of the Society of Creative Anachronism, and it’s Robyn’s turn to be a serving wench so she’s sporting a low cut top. Mrs. Chantry is her usual fortune teller, Mr. Chantry is in his blacksmith costume, and has loaned a merchant costume to Jeff. The night is fun, Jeff seems to enjoy himself though he clearly pines for Robyn as she is performing her wench duties. As they go to leave after the entertainment, one of the belly dancers comes over to Jeff and asks him to choose a card from her tarot deck. He pulls the Death card.
Monday morning, Robyn and Debi are talking about the Teen Terror and how tomorrow is the Bad Day for a Leo. Jeff looked at the student records and found only four female Leos, including Robyn. Debi suggests Robyn sleep over at her house so they can follow Jeff. It will either exonerate him or spotlight his guilt, but either way, they will know and Debi will be with Robyn the whole time.
School on Tuesday drags. When Robyn and Debi reach their lockers at the end of the day, Jeff is waiting for them. He wanted to apologize to Robyn, he won’t be able to call that night as he’ll be busy. Debi instantly sees red flags so tells Jeff that’s okay because Robyn is sleeping over at her house so there’ll be too much girl talk for science fair projects. On the way out of school, they bump into Joe. He asks Robyn to pass a message on to her dad about his commission. Oh, he’s the Vlad the Impaler client! Unfortunately, Robyn is sleeping at Debi’s so she can’t.
At eight that night, dressed in black, Robyn and Debi head out for “tacos.” They don’t have to wait long at Jeff’s house to see him leave… and head straight for Debi’s house… but then he goes past it to the school. Debi thinks the school is where he keeps his murder weapons. Sneaking inside, they hear Jeff in Joe’s basement, so while Debi goes to the payphone to call the police, Robyn stands guard so he can’t leave. Robyn, however, gets curious and sneaks down the stairs to see what Jeff is doing. It’s dastardly, he’s looking through boxes!
Accidentally snagging her foot, Robyn makes a noise which startles Jeff. He dashes forward, grabs her, and when he realizes it’s Robyn he lets her go. He’s hurt that she thinks he’s the Teen Terror, but Robyn apologizes and says she doesn't, but Debi does, and she wanted to prove her wrong. This makes Jeff very happy and he kisses her. During her pre-kiss explanation, Robyn mentioned “tonight of all nights” which confuses Jeff, so she explains the link to the horoscope predictions. Jeff explains he thinks Joe could be the Teen Terror as he had access to the paper records, has a master key to the lockers and only had access to old records when hiding the pictures in the history textbook. Together they start the search in earnest but find nothing. Jeff notices an old carpet and unrolls it. On it is painted the zodiac and there are pictures of the victims pinned under their signs. On Leo, there is an envelope, and looking inside, they find a picture of Robyn. Stunned by their discovery, they don’t hear Joe or see him knock Jeff out.
Terrified, Robyn tries to persuade Joe not to kill her. It’s a stalling tactic until the police get there. Joe confesses that he’s had terrible luck in his life and resents all the kids who come through the school and live the life he should have had. Then one day, he realized he hadn’t been neglected, the gods of the Zodiac were waiting for him to do their bidding. He was reading the school newspaper and heard the voice of the prophetess, Jean Stephenson. From that moment, he knew he had to kill one person from each zodiac using a weapon the gods would reveal to him in order to transfer their luck to him. Now, if Robyn could be a pal and lie down in the zodiac carpet so he can gore her to death with his lion claw glove. No? Darn.
Robyn reveals that she is the prophetess and killing her would make the gods of the Zodiac angry. It starts to work until Joe cries that she is trying to cheat. Again, Robyn tries to turn his thoughts against him and says he is actually trying to cheat the Zodiac by killing her and not accepting her correction, that he’s the Leo. As Joe is distracted, Robyn makes a dash for the stairs but Joe slashes down her back with the claw. Robyn starts flinging cleaning supplies at Joe making the smell of ammonia fill the air. She uses the distraction to try and escape the basement but Joe has locked the door. From behind her, Robyn can hear him shout that she’s going to pay for what she’s done.
The smell of the ammonia brings Jeff to and Joe takes in the new threat and howls with rage. He dashes up the stairs, claws at Robyn who loses her balance and stumbles down the steps. Joe escapes the basement and locks the door behind him shouting that he has Debi who will make a perfect sacrifice. Jeff uses a hammer to break open the basement door and they dash to the phones. Unfortunately Debi isn’t there and so they check the boys' restroom as the closest feasible place Joe could have quickly locked Debi up. Inside they find Debi’s purse on the floor, contents scattered, but no Debi. As Debi’s star sign is Aquarius, they figure Joe will take her to the frog lake to make his sacrifice.
While Debi was locked away in the boys restroom, she broke the tiny window and used her flashlight to signal SOS. It’s a long shot, but is better than nothing. When Joe comes to collect her, he is wearing a claw covered in blood and Debi instantly thinks Robyn is dead. Joe snarls that she should accept her fate as he throws the claw off and knocks her out before carrying her to the frog lake.
As Robyn and Jeff reach the frog lake they see Joe throw Debi to the ground and drag her into the water. Jeff speeds up and tackles the murderous custodian giving Robyn the chance to drag Debi out of the water. Jeff and Joe are fighting in the water, and Joe tries to run for it after landing a particularly heavy blow to Jeff’s stomach. Robyn, however, is standing in his way and all her pent up rage, hurt, and fear is let rip in a mighty punch to the side of Joe’s head. Joe topples backward into the water and vanishes. As Jeff and Robyn help each other to shore, they hear sirens approaching.
The police had received reports of vandals at the school, they were not expecting to drag the lake for the Teen Terror. Finally Robyn admits she like-likes Jeff and they start kissing again. Debi apologizes to him for thinking he was a psycho Zodiac killer and trying to persuade Robyn not to trust him. It’s all cool. Debi also points out that they should have known who the killer was, “after all, in all the mystery clichés, it’s always the Butler that did it.”