Chapter 6: The Ground Floor

Like this? Read Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4, and Chapter 5

Darren stared at the gaping hole that used a porch and a front door. The stairs were crushed from the great weight of the Thing when it retreated. The inside was dark; water dripped into the building from crumbled parts of the ceiling. The stress from the weight of the Thing had torn a crack up the wall from the door frame into the ceiling. Darren stood in awe. The electricity coursing along his blades gave him little comfort. He did not want to confront something that could do such damage to solid oak.

Marcus was ahead of him. “You coming, Darren?”

Darren shook his head slowly.

Marcus shrugged. “Fortune favors the bold?”

“There’s no money in this,” Darren replied. He narrowed his eyes. “For some reason, I’m just doing a good deed.”

Marcus let out a short, hearty laugh. “I’m rubbing off on you.”

Sarcasm dripped from Darren’s tongue. “Wonderful.”

A choir of painful moaning and laughter echoed from somewhere in the dark recesses of the building.

Esmeralda’s staff lit up. She shielded her head from possible debris and stepped into the building. Her voice was barely a whisper. “I’d prefer that you two pipe down a bit. We have a bit of a situation.”

Darren spit. “I didn’t notice.”

Marcus smiled. “I did.”

Marcus stepped in behind Esmeralda.

The voice in his head, the voice that had been a street urchin, pickpocket, and competent thief, told Darren to run. Live to rob another day. Yet, he strolled right in.

The crack in the wood above the door frame ran along the roof of the building. The ceiling had a gaping wound of splintered wound. Wooden planks in the floor were bent and broken on a path straight into the back of the building.

“Should be an easy track,” Marcus quipped with a whisper.

Esmeralda rolled her eyes and kept moving. “Claire, what did you do?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“Do you think she did this to herself?” Darren asked in a hushed whisper.

“On purpose or by accident?” Marcus asked.

“Either one, I’m not picky,” Darren replied.

“Whatever she did, she’s out of her league,” Esmeralda said.

“Ha! Like us!” Darren didn’t mean to be so loud.

Laughter poured out of the dark hallway ahead. Multiple yellow points of light reflected from Esmeralda’s glowing staff.

“Oh, shit!” Darren squealed like a child.

Marcus slowly lifted his shield as a mass of flesh and eyes came into the light. The flesh looked hardened, even wooden. The eyes were numerous and randomly spread over the flesh, but they were affixed to their position and did not sink back into the body. A second tendril of flesh entered the light, attached to it was a single lamprey-like mouth.

A gurgling, female voice echoed from the mouth. “What have you done to me?”

“Claire, is that you?” Esmeralda asked.

A male voice echoed next. “Darren, you bastard! I will get you back for this!”

Darren felt ready to bolt.

Then they heard a house cat’s puny hiss. That was followed by more voices crying for help and screaming in pain.

Mimicry? Darren thought.

Marcus wasn’t waiting to find out. He moved in and sliced at the mass of eyes and flesh.  His sword cut deep. Sparks flew from the wound. Eyes close to the wound popped, expelling foul fluid across the floor. Screams of dead townsfolk increased in volume from the hit. The maw shot at Marcus, knocking him to the ground. Its mouth attached to and pressed down on Marcus’s breastplate. It would not relent.

“Marcus!” Darren yelled.

Before his better sense took hold, Darren charged the tendril and leaped. He landed, straddling the tendril of flesh. His daggers pierced into the tentacle’s woody hide. The skin was rough and leathery, not woody in texture. Liquid poured from the woods. In his hysterical bravery, Darren plunged his daggers into the tentacle repeatedly until it was severed.

Esmeralda fired a bolt of lightning from her still charged finger tips. She hit the mass of eyes and flesh. Flesh erupted from the blast creating a U-shaped valley through the fleshy mass. The roaring continued and the mass collapsed to the floor. It trembled like the throes of a body dying from grievous injury. The flesh then slowly dragged away into the dark.

“Save us!” cried the voices.

Darren got to his feet. With a groan Marcus got up. His breastplate was dented inward from the maw’s attack.

Esmeralda shot a blast of light down the hall. It lit up a dark hallway where the walls and ceiling were bent outward creating a tunnel of splintered wood. The mass of flesh dropped from the view of the light, into the cellar.

“Of course, there’s a cellar,” groaned Darren.

“It’s more susceptible to attack,” noted Marcus. “We have little time to waste.”

A thrumming sound filled the building. The sound was strong enough to make the weak foundations shudder. Green light poured up from the hole to the cellar and vomited out into the hallway.

Darren stared in awe and terror.

“Now what?” asked Esmeralda between grinding teeth.

© 2017 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.


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