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.
Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom
With the exception of a Channel 57 news van and three other cars, Brenham Community College’s parking lot was as empty as it usually was on any particular Friday night. A row of security floodlights illuminated the entrance to the science building, where a reporter named Gerald Waller and his cameraman stood impatiently. A golf cart with “security” stenciled on the door puttered toward them.
They had been waiting over ten minutes before the golf cart slid to a halt next to a row of Juniper bushes that marked the edge of the parking lot. A paunchy security guard with blonde hair and an equally blonde mustache threw open his vehicle’s wire door and strode arrogantly over to the waiting visitors.
“It’s about time,” Waller hissed to himself, unconcerned if anyone overheard him. He marched up to the security guard and thrust his index finger in the air. “I’m here to interview professor Hanft,” he said. “But these doors were locked when I got here.”
The security guard, with a nametag that read “Roy” stitched onto his tan uniform, casually detached a set of keys from a clip on his belt. “Yall just be patient,” he said with a strong Appalachian accent. “I’ll take you to the professor.” He strode over to the glass doors and unlocked them with the speed of a government employee.
Waller motioned for his cameraman to come with as he followed the guard into the well-lit hallway and towards the student laboratories. He had been sent to the community college to cover Professor Robt Hanft’s latest research into using local cave fungus to cure Maripose syndrome, a rare but serious illness of the renal vein. It wasn’t as exciting as covering the miner’s strike a few miles away, but it wasn’t mopping the floor of the men’s bathroom at the TV station either.
The phosphorescent lights pulsed above the trio as they marched towards the end of the hallway.
On the other side of the building, in the small research library, Darla Zabel slammed her book closed and frantically gathered her notes into her backpack. She had been so engrossed in an annotated copy of The Catcher in the Rye that she forgot to look at the clock, and she was supposed to assist professor Hanft’s presentation six minutes ago. Her glasses repeatedly slid down her oblique nose, and she shoved them into the pocket of her checkered sweater vest in frustration before racing out of the library doors and into the empty corridor.
She hadn’t gotten far when Dr. Marvin Winkleblack, an eccentric professor of chemistry, stepped out of the shadows and blocked her path. One of his skeletal hands toyed with something in the pocket of his white lab coat, while the other reached for her arm. “Darla, darling,” he began. “Will you come and help me for a moment?”
“Sorry,” Darla said while the doctor’s hand closed around her wrist. “I have to go help Professor Hanft, and I’m already late.”
“Robt Hanft is a quack, you know,” Dr. Winkleblack purred in an unsteady tone. “And he’s missing vowels in his name. You can’t trust someone without vowels in their name, you know.”
“Let go,” the young student protested. “You’re hurting me!”
“I’m afraid we’ll have to do this the hard way then.” Dr. Winkleblack grinned as he produced a rag from his lab coat, which he quickly pressed over Darla’s nose and mouth. A brief moment of surprise flashed in her eyes before she lost consciousness and plummeted to the floor.
Gerald Waller’s cameraman set up his tripod while the reporter exchanged a few words with Professor Hanft in the pharmacy lab. Hanft paced back and forth in front of his desk and shook his head from side to side.
“She should have been here by now,” he lamented. “It’s not like Darla to be late. She’s my best student.” He nervously adjusted his tie, which featured a pattern of small microscopes.
The reporter glanced at his wristwatch with his gray eyes, then back to his cameraman. “It’s getting late, professor, we should get started,” he insisted. “I have to get home in forty minutes.”
Professor Hanft shook his head again. “Roy!” he yelled, and then waited for the arrival of the campus security guard, who wasted no time in responding.
He burst through the door belly first. “What do you need, professor?” he asked, annoyed that he had to double back to the room he had just came from only moments earlier. One of the buttons on his uniform seemed to have popped open around his midsection, and a clean white undershirt peeked out.
“Darla Zabel is twelve minutes late,” Hanft said with concern. “She’s a student of mine and is always on time. Please see if she’s all right. I think she was in the library.”
The security guard nodded and headed out the door once again. He stormed down the hallway, annoyed that he hadn’t gotten to read his favorite magazine since that reporter arrived. It didn’t take him long to get to the research library, but he found it empty. On a hunch, he decided to check with Professor Winkleblack, who was known to stay in his office until all hours of the night. Dr. Winkleblack made him nervous. It was rumored that the strange professor had been fired from his previous job at the Pentagon for ethical reasons. Roy shuttered.
Dr. Winkleblack’s office was down another hallway, but it wasn’t far, so it only took Roy a few minutes to get there. He hesitantly knocked on the door and immediately heard some commotion from the other side.
Suddenly, the door cracked open and Dr. Winkleblack thrust out his head. “What do you want?” he yelled. “I’m busy!”
“A student of professor Hanft was supposed to meet him over ten minutes ago, but she never showed up. Have you seen her?”
“No!” Dr. Winkleblack screeched and slammed the door in the guard’s face.
Roy smoothed his mustache and walked away, but when he was halfway down the corridor, his foot fell on something and he heard a crack. He jumped back and looked down. There, now in several pieces, was a pair of eyeglasses. Crouching down, the security guard scooped up the remnants and examined them while he headed back to the pharmacy lab.
Deep in the bowels of Dr. Winkleblack’s office, the mad professor mixed a scoop of charcoal-colored dust into a beaker of yellow liquid. “Hopefully that will be the last interruption, my dear,” he whispered as the girl, who was duct taped to a chair with her arms planted firmly at her sides, began to regain consciousness. Her vision didn’t clear, and the blurry forms around her pulsed like colors in a kaleidoscope. She found that she couldn’t raise her arm to put on her glasses, had she been able to find them, and a rag bound her mouth.
“Oh, you’re quite immobile,” Winkleblack cackled. “But don’t worry. Soon you will be a participant in the greatest scientific discovery of the century!” He picked up the loathsome mix in the yellow beaker, and showed it to the terrified student, who struggled against the silver duct tape that bound her. “What I hold in my hands is the answer to a problem that has plagued mankind for centuries: the problem of mortality. All I needed was a human to test it on, and you will have that honor.”
Darla shook her head back and forth as sweat poured down her forehead. She watched Dr. Winkleblack return to his desk and insert a syringe into the beaker. The plunger slid backwards, and the concoction filled the syringe.
The door to the pharmacy lab slammed open, and the security guard strolled into the room. Gerald Waller threw his hands in the air as the Channel 57 camera captured the noise, interrupting his interview.
Professor Hanft jumped off of his stool. “Well?” he insisted. “Did you find her?”
“No,” Roy replied. “But someone left their glasses in the hallway.”
“Let me see them!” Hanft yelled frantically. He rushed over to the guard and snatched the pieces out of the man’s portly hands. “Oh, great Kepler! Those are Darla’s!”
“I found them outside Professor Winkleblack’s office,” the guard said slowly, as the implication gradually sunk in.
“We must go, quickly!” Hanft cried out in alarm.
Gerald Waller, picking up his microphone again, yanked the cord to get his cameraman’s attention. “Get off your ass!” he shouted. “We gotta get this!” The overworked cameraman struggled to lift the Channel 57 television camera off of its tripod, and balanced it on his shoulder while the reporter berated him for his sluggishness. By the time the two made it out of the room, the professor and the security guard were at the other end of the hallway.
Marvin Winkleblack held the syringe close to Darla’s face while tears rolled down her cheeks. “Don’t worry,” the mad scientist said. “This won’t hurt a bit, and when it’s over, you will be the first human in history to experience eternal life.” He reflected for a moment before continuing. “You see, some eighteenth century visionaries thought that powder made from Egyptian mummies had remedial properties, but they were laughed at when their cures didn’t work. What I intend to prove is that those visionaries had the right idea, they were simply using an expired product. Those mummies were thousands of years old. I have found fresh material, less than a century old. Of course, there were some obstacles to procuring the flesh of the dead, but being a professor of chemistry has its perks.”
When she heard what was about to be injected into her, Darla writhed in panic and tried to scream underneath the cloth gag. Her shoulder-length ebony hair stuck to the sides of her face where the sweat had dried.
Professor Winkleblack chuckled as he wiped a small spot on her bicep with an alcohol swab. “We don’t want you to get an infection,” he said.
Without warning, the door smashed inwards. Professor Hanft fell into the room and the security guard, can of Mace in hand, almost stumbled over his body on the way in. “Stop this madness!” Hanft tried to yell, but the breath rushed out of him as he grabbed for something to stop from falling.
The security guard was quick on his feet and sent a stream of pepper spray rocketing towards Dr. Winkleblack’s face. It hit the mad professor in the eyes, and he cried out. The syringe in his hand plunged to the linoleum and shattered—its cadaverous fluid spread slowly across the tile.
Gerald Waller and his cameraman arrived just as Professor Hanft regained his footing and untied the rag from around Darla’s mouth. The reporter thrust his microphone towards Dr. Winkleblack, who rubbed his eyes furiously. “Professor,” he shouted. “Professor, do you have anything to say? Why did you kidnap this girl?”
“My experiment is ruined!” Dr. Winkleblack yelled.
“So is your career,” Professor Hanft spat. “Guys like you give the rest of us a bad name.” He stopped and turned towards the security guard. “Roy,” he said, gesturing towards Dr. Winkleblack. “Call the real cops. They’re going to want to have a talk with him.”