The Camera Loves You, Baby

When I’m taking photos, I focus on landscape vistas to capture the places that I have wandered through. Sometimes a single event, plant, or animal, sparks my interest. Then all my attention is centered.

This happened on a beach hike at Mustang Island State Park in Texas. It was a windy, cloudy day. The Gulf of Mexico was a rolling mess, washing over the beach and my feet. Energetic waves pounded the rocky jetties. Not long into my hike, sea spray coated my glasses.

Due to the high winds, the birds along the beach would waddle or frantically flap their wings to hop away from me as I strolled pass. The gulls, who could get airborne, would flap wildly in place. If I was taller, I may have been able to pluck them from the sky. Among these birds, there was a gorgeous great blue heron that decided I should have to walk around it. This was my first time seeing a blue heron on a beach. In VA, I saw them constantly around wetlands and lakes, but not on the beach. The high winds had grounded it, so it strolled along the surf zone.

I was able to take a few pictures of the heron as it watched me walk around it. Eventually, it grew tired of my probing photographs and left the beach. It had the strength to lift off from the beach, flying close to the berm, and catching the updraft to gain altitude. It eventually perched on the dunes, surveying the restless sea.

With my model gone, I kept walking on. I didn’t realize how good the pictures were until I returned home and uploaded the photos. By this time, I had cleaned my glasses and the great blue heron’s vibrant plumage finally came into focus for me as well.



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Another Update

Hey Everyone,

So this is a quick update about future plans. I will continue two of the stories inspired from WordPress’s daily word prompts (The Artifact and It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar). I like the serial format and I will continue the inspiration from the daily prompts. I haven’t decided whether I will alternate each week between the two serials or write a quick story for each serial each week. For the moment, my schedule may only allow for weekly updates on Wednesdays. I will still be adding other poems and short stories as they are completed. I want to do Monday weekly updates as well with stories and poems that have nothing to do with the above serials.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of improvising a story with a single daily prompt. It’s been a great experiment. Also, I think I made some fun characters and a bit of universe building. I’m polishing up the older pieces from the serials to be released again. Who knows, perhaps a book or novella will be born from these stories. I don’t really know, but we are going to find out. I enjoy the experimentation these stories have given me. It’s been a fun ride.

I have other ideas for a couple more serials as well. There are a few thematic horror stories I always wanted to test out as well as another fantasy story. These other serials will not be using the daily prompts (I don’t think so anyway), but I’ve been inspired to pursue them.

Anyway be on the lookout for a continuation of the Daily Prompt Serials (hey, it’s catchy) as well as some polishing of the older segments.

There is so much more to come on this journey.


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A look back in time,
I was a tall, slender figure
Leaning against
a thicker planted post.
my limbs stretched over
A crossed skeleton
supported by the post:
a gardener’s vision.

In the Spring,
when I was lush and green,
I provided shade,
to those sitting
the wooden bones:
the weary,
the passionate,
the miserable,
the victorious.

Time Passes

Now I am thicker, taller.
My trunk has grown
around the post,
old bones with new growth.
My limbs are heavy.
They spread over
And through
the broken, skeletal mess.

A young gardener
meticulously removes
the thin bones
from my branches.
I am enough shelter,
a more pleasing site,
for next flock
solace seekers.

All that remains
of the time before
is a wooden post
held firmly
in my breast.

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

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It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar Chapter Seven: Poor Acclimation

This is the conclusion of this story. For the earlier chapters see Chapters 12345


“I suppose the green, spooky glow bodes ill for us,” Darren said. He was tired. The adrenaline was wearing off from his heroic stunt to save his friend. He had had enough of this beastie.

“Not certain, Darren,” Esmeralda said. She scanned the flickering green light along the walls. Her eyes then fell to the floor in the hallway, the source of that nightmarish glow.

“Well, there is only one way to know for sure.” Marcus grunted and stood to his feet. He picked up his bent shield with a smile. He brandished it toward Darren. “My sweetheart has served me well this time around.”

Darren rolled his eyes. “We really need to have a conversation that shields are not the same as barmaids.”

Marcus tapped Darren twice on his head as the warrior walked passed him. The floorboards creaked from the stress of his weight and the collapse of the floor ahead. Marcus cracked his neck. Darren cringed, he heard that sound over the tortured murmuring and chanting from below.

Esmeralda moved forward as well. She reached a hand to Marcus’ shoulder. Her voice was low, but full or urgency. “I have a hypothesis about what is happening down there. If I’m right, I’ll need you and Darren’s help more than ever.”

“You got it,” Marcus said with a smile. He pushed out his chest as if he had been given a challenge.

“Whoa,” Darren said, walking forward, “no speaking in riddles, Ez. What exactly is it that you think is happening?”

“My classmate summoned something from an outside reality and it consumed her and many others,” Esmeralda began. “This world is so alien to it that I think the laws here are causing it great pain. If Clarice used a portal to summon it and the portal is not closed, the thing may be near the portal to lessen the pain, or heal it, or increase its power. I mean to close that portal.”

Darren shrugged. “Well, why didn’t you say so? Seems easy enough.”

“Then, enough talk, let’s go.” Marcus took the lead again, sword in hand and bent shield at the ready.

There was a throbbing vibration as Marcus approached the hole in the hallway. The sound rattled Darren’s his ear drums. The green light mimicked the vibrations, releasing circular auras of greenish light with every vibration. The vibrations were quickening.

“Can it operate the portal?” Darren asked.

Esmeralda rolled her eyes in contemplation. “Depending on how much of Clarice’s intellect remains, possibly.”


With a wave of her hand, a flash of sparkling feathers appeared in the hole before them. Darren gulped, he remembered the first time she cast this spell. Marcus went first, stepping over the hole and slowly drifting down into the cellar. Darren followed with Esmeralda close behind.

The cellar was a wreck. If this had been a wizard’s laboratory, nothing would hint that. Well, except maybe the glowing vertical ellipse of magical energy casting a blinking green light into the room. The portal. But that wasn’t all Darren saw the liquid flesh of the creature gliding across the circumference of the portal. Numerous teeth gnawed on the metal brace around the glowing portal.

Esmeralda gasped. “It wants to consume the portal!”

“That means?”

“No idea. Perhaps to carry a portion of its reality with it. Lessen its pain. Or even keep its roots in this reality and its own.”

Marcus was steadfast, staring at his foes new change. “What’s the plan?”

“I have to close the portal. That should give us an edge. I’ll need your protection, this could take a bit.”

Marcus spit at the portal. “Got it.”

A face, a women’s face, peered out of the flesh, mouths, and eyes. It protruded from the creature on a neck of dripping otherworldly flesh.

“Go away!” It rasped. “This is my time now.” The face raised her fleshy eyebrows. “Time? Me? Possession? Such strange thoughts, such order.”

Tendrils of flesh erupted from the borders of the portal.

Marcus was ready. He leaped with the zeal of gladiatorial combatant. His sword sliced through the first tendril while he held his shield to glance the blow of two more. Darren was surprised by his agility. The creature’s blows had a lessened effect, but the tendrils were smaller than the pillars of flesh it had used in earlier confrontations.

“It must be too focused,” Darren mused.

He moved to confront the creature. Four more tendrils of flesh poured from the thing. It was difficult to focus with the green light flashing throughout the room. He pierced one tendril into the floor with a dagger and pin another into a splinter table. The tendril lifted the table and Darren into the air to shake him lose.

Marcus followed behind his friend and ripped through tentacle pinned to the floor and ripped through the second holding Darren aloft.

Darren dropped deftly to the ground. He rolled from another tentacle swinging into his vision. He grabbed his dagger still embedded in the amputated tentacle. As he stood to his feet, he felt something slimy wrap around his leg. It was the amputated tentacle! It pulled him to the ground.

“Shit!” he exclaimed. “They still function if not attached down here.”

Marcus carved through another tendril as he heard the warning. He turned with a start to see his first causality inching toward Esmeralda. She was on her knees covered in pulsating blue light. Her eyes were shut tightly as she chanted. She was defenseless.


Marcus rushed the tentacle as he felt a second wrap around his right ankle. A third grabbed his left ankle. They pulled at him. He spread his stance and refused to budge. Slowly they pulled him from his foe. From Esmeralda.

The fleshy face appeared next to him. “Would you like to see where we come from?”

Darren rushed to action and ripped through one of the tentacles holding Marcus. In response Marcus pierced the fleshy face beside him with his sword. The electrical sparks from the blow exploded its eyes into milky liquid that pooled on the floor. It screamed and pulled away. Marcus yanked his sword out in response. The hold on him weakened. He surged toward Esmeralda.

Another tentacle shot at Marcus, smashing into his back with thunderous force. He fell to the ground, but pierced his sword through the crawling tentacle just before it lunged at Esmeralda.

Darren was screaming. Three severed tentacles slithered and constricted him as he writhed along the floor. He stabbed furiously at the tentacles, but his fear made his attacks useless.

Flesh from the portal reached at Darren and the tentacles that covered him. Some the flesh fused with one severed tentacle around Darren and lifted him into the air.

Darren saw a face, Jacob, beside him. He was grinning in the liquid flesh of this creature.

“Now, we get to share the same fate. And some day, I’ll find your sister again.”

Numerous mouths along the length of the tentacle began to laugh, mimicking Jacob’s grating laughter.

Darren reached at the tentacles with his daggers, but Jacob was out of his reach. “I’ll kill you!”

“Someday, right?” Jacob laughed harder with every futile swing.

A sharpened tentacle protruded from Jacob’s mouth. It leaned in. “I’ve been waiting for a little payback,” another mouth said.

Darren squirmed, but the tentacle stabbed his side. Stabbing pain ripped through Darren’s side. He felt the dagger, like an appendage, move inside of him as if little fingers were playing the piano with his innards.

However, Jacob’s head was within reach now. Jacob’s chortling laughter turned to drowning screams of pain as Darren put both of his daggers into Jacob’s fleshy eyes. Darren repeated the attack, again and again. Flesh ripped from the face tentacle and was flung across the room.

“Not me! And not my sister!” Darren screamed.

He felt the tentacles around him constrict. There was a pop from his rib cage followed by radiating pain up his chest and down his back.

This was it, this is how I go, Darren thought.

So, he kept swinging and cutting, dismembering whatever this creature was that had shaken his tiny worldview. This impossible monstrosity. He saw Marcus stand with fleshy bits all around him. They looked like giant leeches and they still inched toward Esmeralda.

Darren was nearly on the verge of unconsciousness when Esmeralda’s eyes opened. She stood with immediate purpose and blue light exploded from her. The giant fleshy leeches were blown toward him. One hit Darren right in the face. He shook it off. Esmeralda launched a blue glow from her outstretched fingers that hit the portal center mass. The greenish light turned blue and spun like the clouds of a maelstrom. The creature was being pulled into the portal and Darren with it. The flesh along the sides of the portal were sucked into the collapsing portal.

Jacob’s eyeless mutilated face still laughed. “You’re coming with us!”


Marcus’ voice carried a finality. He reached his hands toward Darren and pulled him from the constricting mass of tentacles. The tentacles couldn’t hold him as they plummeted into the portal.

The creature was gone, the portal collapsed into a pinpoint of light and winked out in a puff of smoke. Darren and Marcus fell to the floor.

Esmeralda stood over them, triumphantly holding her staff. She smiled. “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

Darren slowly caught his breath. He held is rib cage and the wound. The puncture had been too small to cause a serious bleeding injury, but damn if it didn’t hurt. He gave a weak, informal salute to his friends. “Now I’m completely knackered. Can I sleep right here?”

“I think I saw a cat,” Marcus grunted.

Darren craned his neck to look around. He had not the strength to leave the floor. His body ached with the pain in his ribs.

All Darren heard Marcus laughing victoriously. It was the best laugh Darren had heard all night.

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


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It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar Chapter Six: 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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Writing Update

Hey Everyone,

I’m still working on finishing that story I started, but I have been occupied with some other projects as well. I’m continuing work on my second novel that really started to gear up last November for NaNoWriMo. At the moment, I keep trying to write a page  a day (which turns into a page every three days . . . sigh). Also, there are three writing contests next month that I will enter, so there are three short stories I’m putting together that won’t be posted here for some time. I’m putting together another travel story for the site too. Another project that I’m excited for is an attempt at collaboration with a podcast group. I’m putting together ideas for a submission to them in the hopes that it will get accepted.

Apart from all this, I still have a day job, so I’ve been pretty busy. It had been awhile since I posted anything, so I just wanted to give an update.

Just Laugh,


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It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar, Chapter 5: Into the Fire

Check out former installments of this story: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4.

The rain stopped. Water drained from the roofs, percolating through the muddy streets and the silence. Thunder rumbled far away. The storm responded as if Esmeralda scared it away with her deliberate manipulations.

Darren pulled himself off the wet, muddy road. His clothes were drenched and caked with mud. Marcus strolled over to him. The warrior’s gait had a pronounced limp. His shield was bent inward at the center, where the pillar of flesh had concentrated its strength.

“That was definitely a something,” Marcus said with a swift smack on Darren’s back.

Darren nearly fell over from the friendly pat. His right foot slid in the mud to balance himself.

“I wish to never see such a Thing again,” Darren replied dryly. He stared at the muddy road, it had a similar texture and appearance to the Thing. He shivered with the thought of walking across it. His eyes played tricks on him, making him think that he could see eyes in the road blinking and staring at him. Then, they would sink back into the mud.

Darren shot his glance up at his friend. “It’s not dead, is it?”

A howl filled the street, followed by the murmuration of incomprehensible, but pained, voices.

“It is not.” Esmeralda’s tone was flat, yet menacing. She stared straight down the road ahead, she wouldn’t blink. Her lips curled with the same anger that whitened her knuckles as she gripped her staff.

Marcus hobbled over to her, inured to her foreboding anger. Darren stayed behind, peeking out from behind Marcus, in case the warrior became a target of the blind rage that was boiling in Esmeralda.

“There is something else going on here, isn’t there, Ez?” Marcus asked.

Darren never understood how Marcus couldn’t even be the least intimidated by the woman who just literally brought down the sky.

Esmeralda nodded. “Clair, what did you do?”

Darren raised a finger above Marcus’s shoulder. “Um, who’s Clair?”

Esmeralda would not take her gaze off the road ahead. “She was my roommate at the university in Parburg. She was obsessed with magic that could conjure creatures, maybe even create new creatures. Her thesis covered subjects such as morphing animals into different species and forging living chimeras.”

Darren raised an eyebrow and his hand fell limp on Marcus’s shoulders. “Huh?”

Marcus craned his neck to answer. “Mixing traits of various animals to create wholly new aberrant hybrids.”

“How do you—”

“She was never able to make any such chimera live longer than a month,” Esmeralda continued. “She was determined to correct her failure, even after graduation.” Esmeralda released the grip on her staff and the road ahead with a deep sign. Her eyes looked down on the muddy road. For the first time, she blinked. “It looks like she succeeded, but made herself part of the experiment.”

“Or it made it part of her,” Darren quipped.

Esmeralda spun around quickly. Darren jumped back. This was the moment he was going to be turned into a newt. He always knew it was coming, just not so soon.

“Or that.” Esmeralda turned back to the road and started walking. “What building did you say she came out of?”

Darren maneuvered around Marcus. He pointed a shaking finger toward a two-story building to the left of the street. “That one.”

As he pointed, the wind blew another chorus of wretched pain down the street. Darren dropped his finger quickly. “What good am I going to be for you? That Thing just kept coming.”

“Yeah, but it ain’t invincible,” Marcus said with a spit. “Esmeralda blew chunks of it all over the street.”

Darren turned and saw Marcus fiddling with pieces of the hardened claws the Thing had used to brace itself from Esmeralda’s storm attack with his boots. Esmeralda walked over to her warrior-friend with a glint of curiosity in her eyes.

“I wonder if the lightning hardened it,” she mused. “That might make it easier to wound and certainly less mobile.”

She bent down and picked up a piece of the claw. It crumbled in her hands as if it were made of sand. “Interesting.”

“Well, we have to stop it.” Marcus said with a shrug.

Esmeralda tilted her head toward the house. “If it’s there, it will be in a smaller arena. Perhaps less mobile.” She stood up and brush off the sandy remnants of the Thing from her palm. “Give me your weapons. Darren, you too.”

Darren reluctantly walked over.

Murmuring to herself, Esmeralda brushed her hand along the blades belonging to Marcus and Darren. Faint electricity flashed from her hands to the metal. The metal blades pulsed with electrical energy. She pulled them away from her hands and returned them. Darren gingerly took the hilt of his shortsword and dagger, shutting his eyes. When he wasn’t electrocuted, he opened them, staring at his weapon with awe.

“It won’t last long. The charge in the air from the storm is passing. We have to move now,” Esmeralda said.

“Well then, let’s not waste any time,” Marcus said. He moved forward, cautiously, toward the house.

Esmeralda followed behind, her eyes focused on the building.

That’s when Darren noticed that the front door was busted inward. The front wall buckled near the door and a window hung precariously in the open space. The steps to the door were crushed in a pattern that looked like a great lead boulder rolled out the front door and down the stairs of the porch.

Darren heard whispers behind him. He turned to see a small lantern held out of a door across the street. A woman and two kids peered fearfully at the trio.

He knew their fear. He felt their fear. The only difference between them and Darren was that he now had a nifty sword. That and he was actually going after the ravenous Thing.

We got this handled. He mouthed to them. He was looking to convince himself too.

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


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It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar, Chapter 4: A Dark and Stormy Night

Looking for more? Read the previous installments: Chapter OneChapter 2, and Chapter 3

Thunderless lightning branched across the sky. The dark clouds held their rain like Darren was holding his breath. His footsteps scraped across the dirt road. He was loud, too loud, for a man skilled in stealth and thievery. Ez and Marcus’s footsteps were also too heavy, relative to the vacant streets of the city.

Lightning flashed down the street, empty streets and shuttered windows were all Darren could see. Empty or dead, Darren wasn’t sure, but he took solace it not seeing scores of corpses littering the road. He gulped, the Thing probably didn’t leave corpses. He hoped the townsfolk were secured in their homes, holding their children beneath their beds.

After all, a monster was prowling the street. With each sky flare, Darren feared to see that Thing, its many eyes and mouths, or the woman it mimicked, somewhere down the road. So far, there was only the road. Darren didn’t know which thought made him more nervous, knowing there was a monster somewhere or realizing exactly when it would be upon them.

The trio turned down the major street near the alley where Darren last left Jacob to die. A smile crept across Darren’s face. Jacob’s death was a welcome bonus to this whole mess.

The rain rushed upon the team from behind. They were soaked in seconds. Darren grumbled. The rain added a rotten touch to a terrible night. At least, Darren’s footfalls were muffled by the deluge. Lightning flashed through the sky again, the flash bounced off numerous droplets of rain.

Darren stopped, he saw a form up ahead. “Marcus,” he whispered, “I think I see something.”

Marcus gripped his sword and grunted. Darren felt there was some sarcasm in that grunt. By now, Marcus knew Darren’s excellent vision, surely he wasn’t doubting now. Marcus nodded silently and raised his shield. He saw it too.

A horizontal pillar of wet flesh pushed through the falling rain. Darren rolled left while Marcus stood his ground. His shield took the blow, the flesh hit the shield like a waterfall of slimy mud. He legs bent at the knees and he leaned forward into blow. Tiny tendrils of mud reached around Marcus’s shield. Darren gulped, the flesh pillar was pulling at Marcus’s shield, trying to pull it away!

Marcus grunted under the weight of the attack. “Ez, it’s your turn.”

Esmeralda stepped to the side of Marcus. She lifted her left hand, open palm and fired orange yellow orbs of light through the downpour. Three orbs hit something in the darkness. Esmeralda closed her left hand in a fist and brilliant blast of light and fire ignited.

A haunted flash of teeth and large eyes pierced through the rain with each flash of fire from Esmeralda’s attack. Orbs of flame burned on the Thing. The rain couldn’t douse Ez’s flame. Darren knew that burn was probably a terrible way to go.

The orbs were consumed by the fleshy Thing. The orbs grew darker as they burned inside the Thing, covered by flesh. The creature’s flesh pulsated in the light of the burning orbs, blazing a lattice network of nerves or blood vessels. An eye floated, its pupil burned with the absorbed burning orange light.

It made no sound. Was it even in pain? The flesh pillar released Marcus’s shield and reeled back into the creature’s mass. The orange lights went out.

Marcus grunted. “What now?”

Don’t ask that, you fool? thought Darren.

The deluge was heavy, it sounded like falling sand or large beads. Through the rain, Darren heard something else, a gurgling laugh, like a madman happily being drowned. It was followed by another laugh, but different in pitch, then another. Soon, the sound of rain was replaced with a cacophony of gurgling, drowning laughter.

Marcus held his shield close to his body, protecting his face with only his eyes exposed over the metal rim. “This can’t be good.”

A brilliant red glow erupted from the rain before them. Lit flesh filled Darren’s vision. A large circular maw filled with jagged, inward-pointing teeth opened.

Esmeralda eyes widened. “Run!”

The blast came quickly. The orb, three times as large as Esmeralda’s attacks, sailed through the rain, forming a tunnel of evaporation. Esmeralda crossed her arms, a purple shield encompassed her body. The blast hit the shield. It erupted and engulfed Esmeralda. Marcus was flung across the street and Darren tumbled out of the street, the concussive blast tossed him into the porch of an abandoned building. Flame nipped at Darren’s face that he blocked with his leather bracers. They got fire and he rolled into the nascent puddles in the street. The smell of burning leather evaporated as the fire sizzled in the puddle.

Little smoke formed in the rain. Darren squinted through the rain, looking for Esmeralda. A white light illuminated the falling rain. Esmeralda’s staff lit up the street. Its light drowned out the lightning that arched through the sky. Thunder rumbled as Darren stared at the great maw that towered over Esmeralda. Eyes circled along the rim of the creature’s lips. A gurgling, choking laugh echoed from the maw.

Then it spoke with a feminine voice, wailing from a torment that Darren’s body quivered from in fearful revulsion. “I know you.”

Esmeralda tilted her head. She gazed up at sky as the lightning flashed again. She reached up her right hand and snapped her fingers.

Darren was stunned. The branching lightning in the sky froze in place in the sky. A low rumble of thunder rolled across the dark expanse, like a stampede. Esmeralda dropped to her knees, slamming her right hand on the ground. The lightning arced from the sky and into the beast’s mouth.

A female scream ripped through the streets of the town. The lightning pushed back the creature, but it fought the assault. Fleshy appendages flailed out from the creature and arcs of electricity traced along its amorphous body. These appendages hardened into long spindly legs ending in a single sharp claw. They dug into the muddy road.

How was it still even up?

Esmeralda looked up from her kneeling position and screamed at the creature. Her voice was muffled by the angry roar of the sky. A wave of thunder poured through the street. Darren laid close to the ground as shop signs swung and splintered and windows shattered behind cracking wooden shutters. The waves of thunder hit the Thing. It pulsed and rippled as if it were a pond assailed by an avalanche of boulders. Its more solid appendages shattered from the blast. Flesh, teeth, and eyes flowed from the severed wounds. The Thing licked up those oozing tendrils of flesh and pulled away from Esmerelda. It howled into the darkness.

Darren could still hear it laughing in the dark. A muffled chorus of agonizing, drowning laughter.


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

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It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar, Chapter 3: Time to Find that Damn Hero

Read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 here.

Darren sprinted through the dark city streets. Another agonizing scream reached his ears. He willed his legs to move faster. Jacob was supposed to be a distraction, a delay tactic. No one would miss that piece-of-shit arms dealer. Especially, not Darren’s sister. Darren felt confident he did the right thing. He just couldn’t fathom how quickly that Thing could eat. Maybe it wasn’t eating, maybe people were running away while screaming.

He heard a scream cut off by an agonizing gurgling sound. No, that one did not get away.

The Traveler’s Dream was a tavern far enough from the center of this chaos and the place where Darren knew friends would be. Friends who could help with this mess. He heard another wet scream silenced as he hopped up the tavern’s steps.

He burst through the door and crashed into a bar wench carrying drinks. She lost her balance and nearly fell to the floor. Darren, running entirely on instinct, grabbed her arm, preventing her fall. Without breaking a stride, he pulled her to her feet. He let go and then slid through the fallen mugs and spilled alcohol. He wanted to cry a little, such a waste of drinks he was going to need later.

If there was a later.

The patrons cursed as he ran between them, pushing aside those who got in his way. He was aiming for a table in the back. There sat a tall man with his feet stretched across the table, nursing a large glass of some alcoholic sludge. Darren had tried it once, it was terrible, but it certainly got him drunk and thrown in jail for a night. A petite, dark-haired woman sat next to him. She was nursing an ale and browsing through a book. She brushed her hand over a page and it turned on its own.

Darren nearly collided with the table. As soon as he stopped he realized the sound of the tavern was muffled near them.

The man looked up from his glass. “Darren, are you about ready to bring a ruckus into our pleasant little bubble here?”

That alcoholic sludge smelled awful too. How could Marcus drink that? Darren shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.” He was out of breath. Between quick breaths, he said, “There is a, uh, Thing, attacking the town!”

The woman raised an eyebrow as she turned another page.

Marcus grinned. “And you haven’t even been drinking today.”

“Nope.” Darren was still out breath. He was hyperventilating. “There is a Thing, made of flesh, ate a dog, became a woman, ate Jacob.”

Marcus narrowed his eyes. “Jacob’s in town.”

Darren nodded quickly and shrugged. “Was, probably little more than excrement now.” And why was that the only thing Marcus thought to comment on?

“Make some sense, dear.” The woman’s antagonizing tone was infuriating, but not unwarranted, nor new.

“Ez, there is a monster, some sort of shifter, killing people in the street right now!”

“Like a werewolf?” Marcus asked, grinning.

“Nope, worse. I can’t explain it.” Darren moved from the table. “You just have to come with me.”

“This better not be another get-rich scheme of yours.” Marcus swung his feet to the floor and placed the glass on the table. “I’m leaving good alcohol on the table for this.”

Good alcohol? Darren gagged. “Plenty of time to drink afterward. You’ll need it.”

Marcus reached a hand to the woman. “Esmeralda, if you please.”

Esmeralda smiled and gently placed her hand in his open palm. She then stood.

Marcus released her hand and grabbed a massive sword and spiked shield leaning on the wall behind him.

Darren only stood there, trembling and motioning the two of them to follow. He must have looked like an excited child. Or a complete idiot. His compatriots were always calm in deadly situations. They had seen and done so much more than him. Darren was always looking for a way to get rich, but his friends had slowly been instilling a sense of urgent fairness for all people in the once troublesome street urchin. To see them take their time, not knowing the threat, irked Darren. He was not a patient man.

They started heading toward the exit.

“So, how is it that you found Jacob here anyway?” Esmeralda asked. “We had planned for a relaxing few days after that troublesome medusa in the Varak Peaks. You recommended this town as the perfect spot.”

Darren swallowed. “I lied. An informant told me he was in town. I wanted payback. For my sister.”

Marcus threw open the doors and walked into the street. “Why lie to those who would have helped you?”

Darren quickened his pace down the stairs and into the street. “Old habits and all.” Darren stood in the street and pointed west. “This way.”

Marcus stood at the base of the stairs and looked around. “I don’t hear anything.”

Darren stopped, slowed his breathing, and listened. The cacophony of panic and death was absent. All he heard was the muffled, drunken debauchery from the tavern. “I’m not lying, there is a Thing—”

Marcus raised a hand. Darren went silent.

“I trust you, Darren. I’m saying that I don’t hear a damn thing.”

Esmeralda’s brow creased, her eyebrows dipped toward her eyes. She folded her arms as she scanned the street. Darren couldn’t tell if she was thinking or angry.

Darren’s ears were alert for any sound. Not even the squeak of rat. The town was silent. Marcus walked steady with his sword brandished in his hands. He looked at every window, door, and dark alley. The silence worried Marcus, which worried Darren.

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

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Happy Something-Or-Other



Bob was delighted. The yellow ribbons and painted fireworks on his blue, elastic skin were the decoration the parents needed to add to their bouquet of rubber and helium. Weave was there as well. He proudly wore a cake with six blazing candles. Flo was the centerpiece to the show. Multi-colored streamers were tattooed across her chest along with bright blue words screaming “Happy Birthday!”

The three of them bounced through the air as the birthday boy skipped down the city streets. The wind tunneled through the city streets, knocking the balloons together and apart in a chaotic dance. The boy skipped along.

“Well, this is good,” Weave said. “We get to be special to a single little boy. So much better than Bill, Babs, or Phil.”

“What happen to them?” Flo asked.

“Oh, they were painted in solid colors and used in some big ritual a few days ago.” Bob replied. “No one has heard from them since, no doubt they were discarded and trashed like so many others.”

Weave sighed. “One night and gone. Off to the landfill.”

“We are the lucky ones, then. We get to brighten up the special day of one kid,” Flo said.

“We won’t be discarded and trashed for a single momentous celebration,” Bob said.

A strong gust blew the kids hat off of his head. He reached to grab for it, releasing the balloons into the breeze. The kid screamed and his father nearly collided with a light post to reach the helpless balloons. He failed. Bob and his friends climbed into the sky, far away from the kid’s outstretched hand.

“Oh, no,” said Bob. “We are in trouble.”

“You think?” Weave yelled.

They rose above the skyscrapers, their ribbons were tied together at the base, so they wouldn’t lose sight of each other. Bob found some comfort that he would at least be lost with friends.

“Perhaps they will find us when we land,” Weave mused.

“You must be kidding,” retorted Bob. “We are lost. The humans won’t be looking for us.”

Flo’s voice was low, sad. “We have been discarded, we are trash.”

Flo’s vibrant “Happy Birthday!” felt mocking as the trio of balloons floated through the air. They were drifting further from the city and higher. The clouds were their new companions, but the clouds floated with a purpose. They had a cause, a reason. Bob, Flo, and Weave were now only discarded plastic. They were lost in the currents of the air around them, and those currents forced them over the ocean’s great expanse.

The ocean. Bob felt their doom creep up on them. They would be far from any land or civilization. Soon the helium that filled their innards would slowly leak out, then they would begin to sink and come to rest on the surface of the ocean. They would be vulnerable to all of the terrors below its tranquil surface.

They drifted in silence.

Bob never really noticed their slow descent until the first crest dampened their linked ribbons. The sea didn’t look so tranquil now. The swells rolled and the balloons fell deep within the trough. Waves rose around them. They were in a valley of water.

“We’re doomed,” said Weave.

The valley of water rose below them, the canyon walls dropped. The ocean lifted them up. They bounced in the air again. Bob dreamed for hands that could help him climb into the sky. The water dropped again, pulling Bob, Weave, and Flo by their ribbons. Bob couldn’t see through the surface of the deep blue water, its horrible mysteries hidden from view. The three balloons came to rest on the water’s surface. Nothing pulled them below.

“Is it over?” cried Weave.

“Keep it together, Weave,” said Flo. “We can still get through this.”


Flo fell silent.

Bob stayed silent, he had nothing to add. It was over, but his words would bring little comfort to Flo or Weave. They were done.

The water calmed in a few days and the three balloons discovered they had drifted so far out into the ocean that not even their city was visible on the horizon.

“I miss the city,” Weave mused.

His compatriots were silent.

Weave called out to other discarded human creations that floated by, a cushion, a bent plastic toolbox, and several empty oil containers. They were all drifters, broken, and silent. The balloons looked on them with wary eyes. They knew this was their fate.

“Well, this is pretty much the end of us,” Weave said. Like Bob and Flo, he floated on his back watching the clouds pass above them.

“Balloons never come back from this,” agreed Bob. “We are trash.”

“I guess it could be worse,” Weave mused with a wry chuckle.


“We could be wasting in a landfill. What a scene that would be? Being buried, unceremoniously, among other trash, other discards. At least, here I get to look at the clouds and float on the waves until we learn how we will go.”

“I’ll tell you exactly how we are going to go. Haven’t you heard the tales? There are creatures out here that will devour us for no purpose other than that they can!”

Flo’s voice was quiet. “They have nothing to gain from eating us.”

“They will do it nonetheless!” Bob shouted

Weave continued to muse, looking at the moving clouds across the sky. “Maybe they don’t know any better. Maybe it’s just another tragedy, like how we were lost.”

The conversation quieted down and the three balloons only drifted in the sea as the sun set and the cold night set in. Bob felt alone when night set in. He couldn’t see his compatriots, but when they floated into each other, he was briefly reminded that they were all together.

The sun rose on the horizon. The horizon was basked in purple as the sunlight filtered through the clouds blanketing the horizon. Soon, the sun would rise above the clouds and warm the air and water they had drifted in all night.

Bob felt a tug on their entwined ribbons. “Hey guys,” he said, “nice to know you are still there.”

There was a second tug. It pulled him below. Something was dragging them!

“What the hell?” Weave exclaimed.

“Something has us!” shouted Bob

They were released and a creature, born form Bob’s nightmares, rose from the sea. It had an oval or elliptical armored shell. Its head was armored and its powerful jaws were pointed like a parrot beak. Its eyes were large and dull. A mindless eating machine. It had powerful, scaled flippers. It spun in circles between them.

“What the hell is it?” screamed Flo.

It dropped its head below the waves again. It tugged at their ribbons and pulled them through the waves. It shook them violently and then released the ribbons from its jaws of terror. However, the creature had not retreated. Its terrible head surfaced again. It lurched slowly, but purposefully, and bit down on Weave.


Weave, still partially filled with helium, squeezed out of the creature’s grip. But the dumb animal was relentless. It bit down again and Weave squeezed out.

That’s when Bob realized Weave was drifting too far away. His ribbon had been cut!

“We are going to lose him!” Flo cried.

But there was nothing Bob or Flo could do. It’s not like they were created to resemble animals or people with limbs. They were simple, but colorful, oval balloons. Useless.

The creature attacked again. There was a Pop! The creature had ripped a hole in Weave. He deflated quickly, screaming while the creature solidly gripped him in its jaws. It began to devour him with every bite

“Not like this. Not like this.” Weave repeated the desperate mantra.

As Weave was swallowed, Bob heard Weave’s last act of defiance.

“I’ll clog your intestines you sonofabitch! How are you gonna like that, huh?”

Then, silence.

The creature disappeared beneath the waves. Flo and Bob drifted alone in the punishing quiet of the open sea for another two days. They said little, they waited for the end.

The sun was high on the third day when they heard the rumble of some new terror. A white, metal beast floated across the sea. The front of the machine crashed through the waves. A symbol was along its side: a white, nondescript bird in flight with dark blue above it and light blue below. It passed them, but Bob noticed that people walked along the rear of the contraption. It was a human machine!

“Are they looking for us?” Flo asked.

“No, they will just drift right by. We are trash now, unimportant.”

But the machine did slow and turn. It passed them and a man with long, dark hair, speckled with gray, reached for them with a hooked pole. The pole was too short and the machine passed them. It made another pass, but again the man failed to catch the balloons.

“He’s not very good at this,” Bob mused

“Shush, he’s trying. Do you think the boy sent them?” Flo asked.

“Doubt it.”

“Screw this!” The man said.

That was it, thought Bob. They were going to continue on their way, leaving Bob and Flo to be devoured by the beasts of the sea. One by one.

The man disappeared inside the great machine, but the machine was making another pass. The man returned with a new pole. The pole had string threaded through small hoops along the pole’s length. More of the string was spooled near the man’s hands. He threw the pole behind him and then cast it Bob’s direction. There was a whirring sound and the string was let loose. A metal hook at the end gleaned in the sunlight. The hook and string splashed into the water near them. The man began to turn a crank attached to the spool.

Bob felt a tug from their ribbons. The hook had snagged? They were being pulled toward the boat. They were saved!

Moments felt like hours and the balloons were soon pulled on to the machine. Other people cheered at the success.

Bob and Flo were given a second chance to be part of a celebration. They were the stars. They were tied to a chair in front of a computer that was used often by several members of the machine’s crew. They were there for weeks as these humans went about their duties on the sea. Bob still couldn’t understand why they would come out into the sea willingly, but he was thrilled they stopped to save them.


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

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