Zodiac Chillers #2: “The Scorpio Society” by Carol Ellis

So this post took a while longer than I would have liked, but never fear. Just give it a couple of paragraphs, and you’ll be wishing I’d waited another decade or two.

Well, the lantern and robe do make an appearance; and the girl holding them does match the book’s description of Rachel. But the other girl looks more like Sally (a supporting character) than Elizabeth, the protagonist. Or maybe she’s just a reader uncertain about the tagline: “She’s becoming one of them …” Who’s becoming one of what? Do we really want to know?

Amy is running through a forest, afraid that “they” are after her. She thinks about how she shouldn’t have come here etc. etc. She finds a van, establishes that there are no serial killers inside it, then locks herself in and drives off (well, whoever left the keys in the ignition should have expected that someone would steal it!) She drives down a narrow country road at high speed, and tries to hit the brakes, but realises too late that they’re not working. So she crashes into the guard rail and over a ravine. Bye bye, Amy. I’m not sure why we’ve just wasted a chapter on you.

And now for someone completely different! Elizabeth is starting at a posh boarding school called Harrington Hall. Elizabeth is from Ohio and the school is in rural Massachusetts and she’s so lonely and isolated, oh woe! I’ve never been to the US in my life, so all of this means nothing to me. On the bus to school, she gets talking to a student called Heather, who instantly brings up the topic of horoscopes. They’re both Scorpio, omg u gaiz!!!11111

Heather tells Elizabeth all about the school. The headmistress, Mrs Lennox, is a 8luh 8luh huge 8itch, but the publishers won’t let us use that word so her nickname is “The Witch” instead. Also, there’s a boys’ school nearby. Elizabeth arrives at Harrington Hall, which is basically Hogwarts without the magic. She meets Heather’s friend Ashley, and they’re all going to live together on the same floor of the tower. This is all very jolly hockey sticks and whatnot. Now where’s my horror?

Elizabeth goes up to her room and finds a creepy-looking scorpion carved into the headboard of her bed. There are also initials: AW (Amy Whatever.) Elizabeth knows it’s a sign from the heavens! The scorpion is there for her, because she’s a Scorpio, and the last person to use the bed was obviously a Scorpio too! Elizabeth’s roommate Marla arrives, and she’s super cool; she has shaved bright-red hair and a ton of sparkly ear studs. The first thing Elizabeth says to her is the stuff about the headboard and Scorpio. Instead of “Stay the hell away from me”, Marla instead says “Wow! You’re right! It is destiny!” OK, coolness points instantly revoked.

Marla introduces Elizabeth to Rachel Vanek, who lives in a huge room all to herself. It’s full of candles and incense burning everywhere, and she’s sitting on a chair that looks like a throne. Instead of finding this even a little bit creepy, Elizabeth is in awe of her. Heather and Ashley are also there, as is another new student called Sally Marino. The girls eat potato chips and talk about school. Elizabeth says that Harrington Hall isn’t quite what she expected, and Sally jumps down Elizabeth’s throat: “OMG, how can you say that, this place is PERFECT!” Elizabeth instantly hates Sally. Rachel agrees that the building is a little intimidating, but promises Elizabeth will have an absolutely amazeballs time.

Elizabeth has a nightmare about a group of shadowy figures in hooded robes, and a knight who rides past her, ignoring her cries for help. She wakes up and sees Marla enter the room, wearing – gasp! a hooded robe! In the morning, Marla denies it, but Elizabeth knows what she saw. Later, the girls have sports with the boys’ school, and Elizabeth meets a guy called Simon Rose. Say hello to the only male character in this book! She and Simon obviously like each other, and he promises to call her. But Elizabeth’s good mood is ruined when she sees someone in a hood watching her from the bleachers.

For two days, Simon doesn’t call. Then she gets a note from him, asking her to meet him at the stables. But the school doesn’t give hall passes for conjugal visits, so Elizabeth has to sneak out. Simon doesn’t show up, but Heather does, and drags Elizabeth off to a dungeon for fifty shades of fun. In the dungeon, Rachel is hosting a party with Simon and his friends, and all the girls Elizabeth knows. Elizabeth soon realises that Simon  did not send her the note; someone wrote it so they could lure her to the party. She tries to confront the girls, but their response is “Who cares? It’s a party! Now go and make out with Simon.” So she slow-dances with him until Rachel kicks the boys out. Elizabeth goes to say goodbye to Simon, and when she goes back to the girls, they’re all dressed in robes. Elizabeth and Sally get blindfolded and dragged into the woods.

Rachel announces she is the leader of the “Scorpio Society”, run by Scorpios, for Scorpios. Heather, Ashley and Marla are in the club too, and now Elizabeth and Sally are “the chosen ones” BECAUSE THEY’RE SCORPIOS! Rachel raves about the attributes of a Scorpio, and says some stuff about the planets aligning. All the other girls chant after her. Although it’s blatantly obvious that this is a cult, Elizabeth thinks it’s just a cute Sweet Valley-esque girlie gang. Yeah, remember how the Unicorns loved their midnight rituals and animal sacrifices?

“Hey Liz, I’m just going over to Lila’s to worship at the altar of Baphomet. Don’t wait up.”

Rachel says that Elizabeth and Sally have already proven themselves true Scorpios by breaking the school rules to sneak out. She’s going to put them through a series of trials to see which of them gets to join the Scorpio Society, because it’s like Highlander. Rachel warns: “Betray us, and you will feel our sting.” Then she makes Elizabeth and Sally swear never, ever to tell anyone about the Scorpio Society. Elizabeth agrees, even though she’s starting to have doubts.

Elizabeth is summoned to Rachel’s room for her next “trial”. The Scorpios have stolen an urn from Mrs Lennox, and Elizabeth’s task is to put it back without anyone seeing her. Elizabeth makes it safely into Mrs Lennox’s room, but then she drops the urn, and a ton of jewellery spills out. She recognises Marla’s watch, and thinks the Scorpio Society is giving a bribe. She puts the urn back just as Mrs Lennox walks in. Elizabeth comes out with some bullshit excuse about wanting to ask when the girls are allowed to visit town. Mrs Lennox says it’s in two weeks, but Elizabeth is banned from the trip, for being a huge liar and also breaking into the headmistress’s room.

Well, Elizabeth got caught, so she thinks she’s failed the test. But Rachel’s pleased: Elizabeth did put the urn back without anyone seeing her. She’s through to the next round! Which is to escape from an underground tunnel, because Scorpios can all see in the dark or something, I dunno. Elizabeth has a terrifying encounter with a rat oh noes, and she’s almost made it out, but then Sally attacks her. They have a pathetic wimp-fight with lots of slapping and hair-pulling, until Rachel intervenes. She decides that Sally cheated, so Elizabeth wins! Sally’s pissed off, but Rachel reminds them there are more trials ahead.

Rachel hosts another “party” at the top of the school tower. Afterwards, she announces it’s time for Elizabeth and Sally’s last trial. She predicts that one of the girls will “soar” higher than the other – so their task is to climb up to the top of the tower, go out onto the ledge, and put a medallion around a gargoyle’s neck. tl;dr Sally gets there first, but it’s raining, so she slips and plummets off the ledge. Elizabeth panics, and the Scorpios order her to go back to her room, they’ll deal with it. She is just changing out of her wet clothes when Rachel barges in. Elizabeth says “haven’t you heard of knocking?” and Rachel’s all: LOL no, we don’t knock, this is the Scorpio Society. Feel free to use the comments box to describe, in detail, your favourite porno that looks just like this.

The Scorpios have lied to cover up Sally’s accident, and she’s going to be fine; she just has a broken leg and concussion. No, I’m pretty sure she’s dead. The book tells us that she fell twenty feet. But who cares? The winner of a lifetime membership to the Scorpio Society is Elizabeth! However, she is sick of all the lies and backstabbing, and she doesn’t want to join after all. Too late for that, sez Rachel: Elizabeth took their oath of secrecy, so she belongs to the Scorpios whether she likes it or not. The girls warn that she’ll “feel their sting” (again) if she doesn’t play ball.

Elizabeth has a couple of nasty encounters with Heather and Ashley, but gets out of the school and goes to see Simon. She explains everything about the Scorpios. Simon tells her about rumours that Amy’s death last year had something to do with a secret society. Elizabeth realises Amy is the “AW” who was in her bed before. She knows Amy wasn’t trying to get into the Scorpio Society, but trying to get out.

When Elizabeth goes back to her room, someone has left a decapitated rat on the headboard of her bed, and let its blood drip down over the scorpion carving. That’s pretty gross, but hey, it’s the closest we’re going to get to a genuine scare. She heads to the phone to call Simon again, but all the phones are in use. When she sees a notice about a girl’s missing ring, she remembers it was inside Mrs Lennox’s urn. Elizabeth works out that the Scorpios weren’t trying to bribe Mrs Lennox; they were framing her as a thief, so that she’d lose her job and Rachel could take over the school. Well done, Sherlock. I have just one question: Who the hell is going to let an unqualified 16-year-old girl run a school, cult leader or no cult leader?

Elizabeth barges into Mrs Lennox’s room and tells her about the Scorpios’ plan, but the urn is now empty. Naturally, Mrs Lennox does not believe Elizabeth, and kicks her out of the room. Elizabeth leaves but realises that she forgot to mention Sally. Let’s face it, who’d remember a little thing like your classmate falling off a tower? Elizabeth thinks that Mrs Lennox will have to believe her about Sally. She tries to go back, but then the Scorpios show up. Rachel says that they’ve been following Elizabeth. They knew she was going to snitch, so they took the jewellery back. They’ll “take care” of Mrs Lennox later … after they’ve taken care of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is all “Oh yeah, like you killed Amy?” Rachel says that Amy betrayed the Scorpios, just like Elizabeth, so she had to be punished. Elizabeth accuses Rachel of murder but no one’s listening. They drag Elizabeth off to the woods and throw her in a pond, where everyone ducks and shoves her under the water. For some reason, the boys are there, including Simon. Elizabeth thinks that he’s been told this is a game, and doesn’t realise the Scorpios are actually trying to drown her. She struggles to the bank, and Rachel lunges for her. But Elizabeth is too quick, and throws Rachel into the water. Elizabeth knows that she’ll definitely be killed now if the Scorpios catch up with her. She high-tails it into the woods.

Elizabeth tries to run, but she keeps going around in circles. She realises she’s pretty damn screwed; the Scorpios do know the woods well, and she can hear them calling her name. She’s determined not to become the next Amy, so she decides that she’ll stay put and fight. She picks up a branch and hides behind a tree. Someone approaches, calling out her name. Elizabeth lunges, but it’s – Simon! He says he tried to save her back at the pond, but the other boys beat him up. Sure enough, he has a black eye, so Elizabeth believes him. She fills him in about Mrs Lennox not listening to her. Simon says he knows where the entrance to the dungeon is, and he’ll back up her story about what really happened to Sally. If they both speak to Mrs Lennox, she’ll have to believe them!

Simon and Elizabeth go back to Harrington Hall together, but just as they reach the gates, Rachel drives toward them in a van. The other Scorpios come along and block Elizabeth’s path so she can’t run away. Simon yells at her to jump, and they leap out of the way. They make it safely back up the embankment, but Rachel’s going too fast to stop. She crashes through a rail and into the ravine, just like Amy did! So ironic! So poetic! Then, just to make it clear to even the dimmest reader that Rachel is dead, the car blows up. Sirens are heard in the distance, even though there’s no way anyone could have called the emergency services THAT fast.

Elizabeth makes out with Simon. What is it in these books with people finding horrible deaths a huge turn-on? She calls him her knight, just like in her dream. You know, the knight that ran away from her and didn’t help her! Simon says that now they can see each other whenever they want without having to wait for Rachel’s parties; because that’s what’s really important here. But the Scorpios tell Simon to hand Elizabeth over to them – it’s the “rule.” Elizabeth says there are no rules; Rachel’s dead, so the Scorpio Society is no more. Simon says he knew she would make it. She killed Rachel, which makes Elizabeth the Scorpio supreme! She’s the new leader of the Scorpio Society! All hail Elizabeth!

All told, it’s pretty bad. The basic concept (a cult inside a school) is a really interesting one, but the execution is severely underwhelming. Let’s face it, this story is absurd. Girls dress up in ritual regalia and go around like crappy Heathers because they’re obsessed with horoscopes? Here’s just a brief list of things in the plot that are never explained and don’t make sense.

  • What is the Scorpio Society actually supposed to do? Do they just threaten people and have illicit parties? Given the way Rachel talks about membership being for life and so on, we could maybe guess that the school has alumni who belonged to the cult and may now be in positions of power. However, there’s no suggestion of that.
  • In what universe would an unqualified 16-year-old girl be allowed to run a school, no matter how sneaky or clever she is? Again (see previous point) it’s possible that there are adult members of the Society, and Rachel could have been planning to replace Mrs Lennox with one of them. But no, the book implies that Rachel would be running the school after Mrs Lennox was deposed.
  • The Scorpio Society wants to get rid of Mrs Lennox because she enforces rules and won’t make allowances for them. Yet, they already have special privileges like Rachel getting her own room, or Marla being allowed to have piercings and punk hair. Why is that? Are their parents governors, or donors to the school? It’s unlikely any teachers are involved with the Society, or we should have been told about it.
  • Why / how did Amy “betray” the Scorpio Society? If all they do is have parties and break curfew, she wouldn’t have a reason to object. Did they do something evil that she found about? Maybe it was for the same reason as Elizabeth: because she was made to fight someone for the right to join the Society, and the competition got hurt or killed. But …
  • In the USA, high school lasts four years. The Scorpio Society has five current members including Elizabeth; and Amy joined last year – so, in some years they’ve accepted more than one new member. What’s that about how only one person at a time can join?

The whole Mrs Lennox thing doesn’t add up either. It’s initially hinted that she has something to do with the Scorpio Society, then it turns out she doesn’t (she’s an Aries, apparently) and thereafter all she really does is be nasty to Elizabeth. She fulfils no useful purpose in the story; she’s not much of an obstacle (since Elizabeth can easily sneak around under Lennox’s nose) nor an effective red herring. What’s the point of her, then? I will concede that the ending of the book  was unexpected and leaves a few intriguing questions, but the effect is somewhat ruined by the crushing dullness of the characters involved, especially Simon.

Body Count: Amy – Drove into a ravine

Rachel – Drove into a ravine and then the car blew up with her in it.

Just two in this one. They couldn’t even manage to get rid of Sally. I’m disappointed.

Most Disturbing Death: Rachel’s is worse, because they couldn’t just have her crash into a ravine, the car had to blow up too. It’s like those Australian road safety ads where they can’t just show you a simple crash, there has to be a raging inferno as well:

Every Car is a Pinto.

Signs of the Times: Elizabeth running around like a headless chicken because all the pay phones are in use and no one has a mobile yet. Also, the scene where she claims to be “depressed” about the school’s lack of malls and pizza places.

Best Use of Imagery: Warm brown eyes the color of root beer.

Female of the Species: I’ve already said this once, but Simon is the only male character in the book (apart from a few nameless boys who are never important and don’t say anything.) I guess that’s not unusual, as this series is aimed at teenage girls who like horoscopes, but on the whole a lot of ’80s – ’90s YA horror books are very female-oriented. How many male protagonists were there in Fear Street, for instance? I’m sure someone smarter than me could get an academic paper out of this.

Blatant Dishonesty: The book opens with a blurb extracted from the scene where Heather takes Elizabeth to Rachel’s party in the dungeon, including Heather saying “the witch might be out there!” This is used out of context to make it look like they’re being chased by an actual witch, instead of what’s really happening (evading Mrs Lennox so they can go to a party.)

Worst Dialogue: “Saturn, the dark planet, is descending. Jupiter is rising. Fire and air – they’re on a collision course.” Is it just me or does this sound like a trailer for a game show?

Up next: Zodiac Chillers #3, “In Leo’s Lair”


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