Please enjoy the following short story, excerpted from my book Six Tales of Terror. Originally published in 2005 as a chapbook, it’s now available only on Kindle. When I sat down to write these stories, little did I know one, “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom,” would in 2011 become the basis for the indie horror film Headline News. I intended them to be short, campy tales in the spirit of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and used the card game Grave Robbers from Outer Space to randomly generate the titles, characters, settings, and creatures.
Lair in the Mouth of Evil
Wayne Blagg worked diligently in the bowels of the Lawrence B. Hamlin Medical Research Center, which was located across from the New Dawn Christian Bookstore on the third floor of the Cheapside Mall. He had been hired for an internship there to assist in a cutting edge of biotechnology: reanimating deceased pets, which attracted millions of dollars in grants every year.
He was currently fixing a Golden Retriever some state senator’s daughter lost to a pool-related accident. The process was long and complicated. The dog had been frozen, shipped to the research center, and Wayne was in the midst of replacing its old blood with new, super-oxygenated blood. If he was interrupted for any reason, the consequences could be disastrous not only for the project, but also for his career prospects.
It was then that a whine pierced the air and interrupted his thoughts. “What do ya mean I can’t go in there?” the high-pitched voice yelled. “I can go anywhere I want!”
Wayne growled and tried to focus on the work at hand. The temperature had to remain constant or the animal would start to decay, and it couldn’t be resuscitated if there was any cellular degeneration.
“Ma’am, I can’t let you in,” a man’s voice shouted in the other room. His statement was followed by a series of alternating light and heavy footsteps that came closer and closer.
“I want to watch!” the girl yelled as the door to the lab burst open.
Wayne lost his concentration and bumped the temperature gauge. “Damn it!” he cursed before quickly correcting the mistake.
A wiry security guard followed the girl into the lab. “Sorry, Wayne,” he said. “She wormed past me.”
The girl was lean and about five feet, two inches tall with long salmon-colored hair. She wore a black t-shirt with “Princess” written across it in glittering pink letters.
“This is Cindy Newell,” the guard mumbled. “The senator’s daughter.”
“What are you doing with Rufus?” Cindy whined as she scurried across the lab.
“I’m replacing your dog’s blood,” Wayne replied without much interest.
“Why?” the girl asked.
“Because the new blood will promote cellular regeneration.”
“It just does.”
Cindy ducked around the trays and tables to get closer to her frozen pet. Several tubes filled with red liquid were sticking out of the dog’s side while four copper wires were attached to its head and chest.
“Carl, get her out of here!” Wayne ordered, but before the security guard could react, Cindy grabbed for a lever.
“What’s this do?” she asked naively as she pulled it down.
“No!” Wayne yelled as the canine on the table convulsed violently. Small streams of smoke emanated from where the wires connected to its fur, and a crackling noise filled the air. The distinct scent of sulfur followed.
Cindy screamed as the dog’s eyelids snapped open.
“Jesus!” the medical student exclaimed. “That’s not supposed to happen!”
Foam bubbled from the Golden Retriever’s jaws as it sprang to its feet. The wires and tubes tore free from its body, and moisture collected on its fur from the rapid temperature change caused by the sudden jolt of electricity.
“Get that kid out of here!” Wayne hollered at the guard a second time. “And call for help!”
Gene Keiter, an unassuming man with glasses and long, light brown hair tied back into a ponytail, stood at the top of a ladder with his hands thrust into the ceiling. Down below, a bulky robot rolled back and forth in front of the dollar store with free samples from the food court. Gene plucked a screwdriver out of the pocket of his blue Dickies and adjusted the socket of an emergency sprinkler.
Suddenly, screams from down the wide corridor in the direction of the card shop, distracted him. “What is it now, a shoe sale?” he mumbled to himself. Something jostled his ladder. “Watch it!” he yelled just in time to see the mob of people that stampeded around his ladder, along with some kind of four-legged animal that raced down the hall toward them.
The robot holding the free sample tray continued along its path until the foaming beast, attracted by the smell of the food, knocked it to the ground. “Would you like a wiener?” it asked politely before its circuitry was ripped to shreds.
Gene watched from the top of the ladder, not knowing what to do. It was a long way to the ground. He looked around. A few feet away was the rabid dog, licking up the robot’s free samples, the dollar store was on his right, and the railing just before the atrium in the center of the mall was to his left. It was two stories to the bottom.
The zombie dog finished eating and sniffed the sparking remains of the robot, but its attention was soon focused on Gene, who stood atop the ladder like a giant treat on a stick. The dog snarled and motor oil dripped from its white teeth.
The handyman panicked, and vertigo descended on him just as a medical student and a security guard appeared at the opposite end of the hallway. They shouted at him, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.
Tipping abruptly, the ladder began to buckle as the blood-crazed dog snapped and snarled at Gene and began to climb the rungs. Gene swore, closed his eyes, and launched himself from the top of the ladder. He sailed over the railing and plummeted towards the shallow pond below. The ladder toppled over as a tremendous splash echoed throughout the cavernous space of the mall.
Wayne Blagg’s hand shook violently as he closed in on the out-of-control canine. He hoped that the tranquilizer gun he held in his hand would be enough to subdue it; otherwise the security guard and he would be dog food. The two watched the handyman jump off of the ladder to his almost certain demise, and were even more determined not to let any more people die in the name of science.
“Hey!” he yelled at the creature. “I’ve got something for you!”
The dog, which had become temporarily entangled in the ladder, growled and twisted around. Its eyes pulsed with red and its limbs quivered, but it threw off the aluminum junk without much trouble.
The medical student aimed the tranquilizer and fired, scoring a direct hit between the canine’s eyes. The dart made a sound like it had struck heavy Styrofoam, and the creature whined and thrashed. In a few moments, it was down. Its limbs spasmed, then stopped.
“That’s what we get for messing with Mother Nature,” Wayne said grimly as he slammed the tranquilizer gun down on the ground. “From now on I’m going back to working at the pretzel stand.”
“All right, cut! That’s a wrap!” the director yelled.
The zombie dog stirred, and three grips rushed in to help take the mechanical head off the costume. The medical student smoothed his hair back and lit a cigarette, while the security guard walked off mumbling to himself.
“I’m going to the food trailer. Any of you blokes want anything?” he asked with a heavy English accent.
“Yeah, get me a doughnut,” the man in the zombie dog costume yelled after him. “And someone get me my agent on the phone!”
“We might have to do another take on that last scene,” the assistant director whispered. “I think the boom got in the shot.”
“Whatever,” the director replied. “This is going direct to video anyway. I’ll be in my trailer.”