- Dark Days at Torloch Towers – Spellbound: #35 (21 May 1977) – #41 (02 July 1977)
- Artist: Juan Sarompas (thanks to David Roach for confirming)
At the secluded boarding school, Torloch Tower, a new science teacher, Miss Ray is preparing a special experiment with her class. They leave the solution for over night but friends Gail Thomson and Pat Moore return to the lab late to collect something Gail forgot. They can’t get in to the locked room but see in the window a strange black cloud forming from the solution and escaping through the key hole. Suddenly the girls start bickering, they return to dorm room still angry but the next morning they feel bad about the fight. They go back to the lab to investigate and find the room trashed. Their friend Faye is watching them, when a strange black bird appears in front of her, she becomes spiteful and tells the headmistress about the girls being outside when they shouldn’t be. Gail and Pat get called to the head’s office and already Faye is regretting her actions and is there too asking the headmistress to forget what she said, they all get punishment for their actions. Faye thinks the other girls won’t be friends with her anymore but because of their experience they believe her that something evil and strange came over her.
Gail and Pat are showing Faye the lab when Miss Ray appears. The normally understanding teacher, accuses them of wrecking the lab, then girls notice the dark shape nearby that then dives into lake. The evil influence doesn’t last too long at least and Miss Ray apologies to girls. The cloud now in the form of a fish causes two other students attack another swimmer. It leaves the water turning into a lizard. Gail, Pat and Faye wonder what they can do to stop the creature especially as it can change shapes, but they know they must try to stop its nasty influence. Later Gail and Pat see the cloud in its original form again, it is moving slower and they observe it feeding off ink and becoming stronger and faster again.
Revitalized the shape makes Joan the captain at the hockey match want to win game at all costs. She gets sent off for foul play on other team. Then the cloud takes shape of a cat and causes the real school cat to attack Pat. Later, surprisingly the Cloud stops at prize day notice and looks like it is reading it. It then turns into a question mark, and the girls can’t make sense of what it is planning. The parents arrive for prize giving and the Headmistress is influenced to say insulting things at the ceremony, Pat pulls fire alarm to stop the speech. Gail and Pat discuss if the parents take action on what the Head said their could be real trouble and they need to destroy the thing before it destroys the school (incidentally the parents don’t complain it seems because it is never mentioned again). The girls consider talking to Miss Ray for help, but she has taken some leave to visit her mother. Pat gets idea to kill the “pest” with fly killer but it only makes it angrier. While cleaning up spilled ink they then think they should use ink remover on the thing, they lure it in with some ink to feed on and the pour the ink remover over it. The thing is completely destroyed, the nightmare is over and the girls are happy to forget about it and enjoy the rest of the school term.
This story has great art, from the impressive school and its location to the menacing cloud, also the layouts and composition are really good. This elevates the story a lot, the mysterious shape that can change into animals (and a question mark) makes for a very creepy opponent, and the art captures that and the girl’s terror perfectly. The three main characters all are given their own personalities, Pat being the most proactive, Faye being nervy and Gail being the more calm supportive one. We don’t know what motivates the shape but it is interesting rather than many other evil influence stories, it doesn’t latch onto one person, and neither is its effects long lasting. This give the girls a better chance of defeating it. They are smart enough observe the creature, then come up with a solution from what they have seen.
The story does leave a lot of unanswered questions, from the beginning it was so vague what experiment the class were doing, I thought that Miss Ray was behind it, (it wouldn’t be the first time a nice new teacher wasn’t what they seemed). So how the cloud/shape was created was unclear and also what it’s ultimate goal was. The girls are surprised when it seems to read the noticeboard, showing it has some intelligence, perhaps it particularly wanted to stir up jealousy as the swimmer, hockey and prize giving instances were all related to people being better at something than others. Whatever the reason, it is quickly defeated in the last episode and the girls are happy to just forget about it, which is a bit of an anti climatic ending.