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.

Nervous

© 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

 

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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.”

“How?”

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.

“How?”

“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!”

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.

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

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It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar, Chapter 2: A Deal Gone Weird

Check out Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 here.

“Lord Rinsen will appreciate your efforts moving arms to his front lines.”

“I just would love to see Duke Wells’ face when he sees artillery pummel his murderous infantry ranks. Wish I could be there.”

“No, you don’t.”

“You’re right. I am a little squeamish when he comes to open warfare. A little cut and a few dead bodies sure, but battle, I could die.”

The two conspirators laughed quietly together in the dark alley. They had planned this meeting for months. They were out to make a fortune and alter the wars of the continent, possibly for years. However, neither were interested in fame, just gold.

Darren had heard enough. He leaped out from a collection of broken crates. He threw a knife that struck one of the conspirators in the popliteal. He fell and smashed his knee caps onto the cobblestone street. He howled in agony and sprawled onto the street.

“Darren!” The other shouted drawing a weapon and a shield.

Darren was too slow on his recovery and the second conspirator blocked his knife attack.

“You could have gotten in on this deal,” the conspirator growled.

Darren shrugged with a smile. “Nah, I mean it was convincing, but I’m not really into trading one tyrant for another.”

“You could have just let it go. It was none of your business.”

“Jacob,” Darren said, pointing another knife at the conspirator. “I enjoy ruining your life. Remember, when you ruined mine? When I sleep, I still hear my kid sister’s screams.”

Jacob licked his lips and smiled ear to ear. “Her screams added to my enjoyment. Are her breasts still perky or did I scar them too much?”

Darren shook his head. “You mother—”

A gut-wrenching scream poured out of the wooden building next to them. It was muffled by the thick walls, but it sounded like a woman.

Darren sighed. “Your handiwork again?”

“I had nothing to do with that.”

Heavy footsteps, irregular footsteps, fell, vibrating the building’s lower floor windows.

“What the hell?” Jacob said.

The window blew out. The wreckage of a wooden rocking chair flew into the alley. A calico cat, bloodied and frantic, followed right after.

“Nicode-muth!” A garbled, female voice shouted from within the building.

A tentacle of flesh and toothy maws caught the cat in mid-air. The tentacle swung to the ground, crushing the cat on the street.

Darren stared wide-eyed. “What fresh hell is this?”

The wooden wall groaned outward as a wave of flesh flowed from the window. Eyes and mouths were visible all over the fleshy mass. The wall’s thick planks splintered outward under the stress of the flesh’s weight. It flowed along the ground, a hungry river of water, with chittering teeth and frightened, white eyes. Then, it retracted, like a building wave and morphed into the form of an attractive, dark-haired woman. She was wearing a thin brown robe tied with a simple gold cord on her hips. The dead cat was clenched in her heads with a death grip.

Darren squinted. No, the cat’s head and upper legs stuck out her open palm while the tail and black legs broke through her elbow. She paid no mind, but it must have hurt.

Darren nodded. “Yep, definitely a new hell.”

Jacob started to walk back toward Darren. “We need to run.”

The wounded conspirator, squirmed on the ground. Kicking his legs frantically, he tried to crawl away.

The women’s face contorted. She bared her teeth, her eyes squinted. She let out an ear-shattering screech. Her arms clutched her chest.

“Pain, Hungry!” She said. Her voice was less garbled.

The wounded conspirator shouted at the top of his lungs, “There’s a tavern down the street!”

The woman made a step forward and extended an open palm toward the wounded man. Flesh and teeth hit the man like a geyser of hot water. He was engulfed. His muffled scream was quickly silenced. The woman threw her head back, opened her mouth, and let out a moan of pleasure and relief.

Her attention turned to Darren and Jacob. “More!” She smirked, but her upturned lip drooped below her chin, like an oil painting sprinkled with turpentine.

“Nope!” shouted Jacob. He turned to run.

He slammed into Darren.

Darren smiled. “I only have to run faster than you.”

“But—”

“What about my sister?”

Jacob stumbled back, Darren stabbed under Jacob’s ribcage with a curved dagger. He then twisted and yanked it out. Jacob, barely felt any pain until he watched the blood pour through his hands and flow through the rivets of the cobblestone street.

Darren broke into a sprint and ducked out of the alley.

“Hungry!” was the last word Jacob ever heard.

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

Heard

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It Came From the Wizard’s Cellar, Chapter 1: With a Gentle Hand

Check out Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 here.

With a gentle hand she caressed the Weird. White eyes, lacking pupils, peered at her. The eyes were transient. The flesh of the Weird would absorb the eyes randomly and create others in different places along its oily, wooden skin. Clair looked at it with awe. The pulsating, blue light from the portal beside her reflected off the walls of her hidden lab. The creature’s skin undulated in rhythm to the portal’s light.

Clair sobbed tears of joy at the Weird and her success. She had finally done it. She had proven her theory. The university would be so jealous of her accomplishment, but they would have to accept her. Being a self-taught wizard was no small feat. Piercing beyond the bounds of reality, even greater. She was the first; it would be her legacy.

The creature was still formless, primitively mimicking her eyes. The portal light was the brightest in the room, so it used that as a skin color. Clair frowned. The weird was still little more than flesh and eyes.

She placed her hand lovingly along its leathery skin as one would do with a child. “You are my great victory,” she whispered.

A toothless maw coalesced from the flesh around it. It gurgled and made wet, smacking noises. A tendril of flesh appeared in the maw’s center. “Bic-tar-ee.”

It made a primitive pronunciation! Claire smiled from ear-to-ear with intellectual ecstasy. It learned to simulate a tongue in less than a minute of creation. Somewhere within its fleshy mess were growing vocal cords. But how did it know to do that?

Another maw opened in the flesh beside the other one. It gurgled, coughed, and spewed blue flesh onto the floor. The flesh morphed from blue to brown. It quickly desiccated.

Excrement? Had it eaten already?

The creature shuddered. The undulated blue color on its body faded. The maws moaned with low gurgling sounds, like a submerged drowning animal.

No, it was dying!

Clair knew this was a possibility. An entity from another reality may not be able to survive the trip here. Natural laws didn’t function the same from the Other Place.

It needed a shell. A body to meld with its own to survive the harsh conditions of Claire’s world.

Claire looked around her lab. Where was Nicodemus? Where was her cat?

Claire stood, cradling the dying mound of flesh in her arms. She was slightly disturbed at the toothless maws that sucking on her body through her thin robes.

“That’s not the type of mother I want to be,” she grumbled.

The Weird made gurgling sounds in response.

With her free hand, Claire moved aside boxes to find her cat. She checked under her alchemy tables but couldn’t find her faithful calico. The Weird squirmed and gurgled in her arms. It was hemorrhaging, desiccated pieces fell to the ground like a trail of breadcrumbs.

Clair groaned and shouted, “Dammit, Nicodemus where are you?” She peaked under a table. Finding no cat, she continued, “Here, buddy. I just need to sacrifice you for progress.”

The Weird wailed from one of many toothless maws it now possessed. “Neek-oh-de-muth.”

Clair was getting flustered her greatest achievement, the greatest achievement of any wizard, was going to die in her hands if she couldn’t find the damn cat.

“I should have put him in a cage.”

A sting of pain shot through the back of her arm. The muscles in her upper arm were torn as something ripped up her arm. A dagger? An Intruder?

She spun around, the room was empty. The dagger sliced further up her arm. She dropped to her knees from the pain. She let go of the Weird, but it only hung from her arm. She felt her flesh rip as the Weird slithered along her arm. She watched as a toothless maw morphed into a stinger the size of a knife. It punctured her flesh just below her armpit.

Clair screamed.

A toothless maw and a single eye stared back at her. The maw screamed, a high-pitched gurgle. Claire screamed again and reached for the Weird. The maw screamed again, sounding less garbled and imitating Claire’s voice.

Claire was stabbed in her left shoulder blade. Her grip on the Weird was weak. She couldn’t remove it from her. Blood poured freely from the wounds. She watched as many toothless maws licked up the blood.

She screamed.

A chorus of slimly maws replied, echoing her scream.

Her screaming sounded muffled, as if Claire was pulled underwater. She felt pressure on her ears. It was moving into her ear! The Weird was squirming its way into her brain. It was looking for a place to nest, to be protected from the harsh environment of her world. The Weird was doing to her, what she wanted it to do to her cat!

Claire collapsed to the ground and the flesh of the Weird covered her face and poured up into her mouth and nostrils.

Claire saw Nicodemus. The cat had just come from behind a bench. It hissed at her.

Claire reached a bloody hand out to her cat. If she could catch, she was going to strangle it. The cat jumped back and hissed. She couldn’t yell curses at her cat, the Weird’s flesh gagged her throat. She was choking.

Undulating blue flesh covered Claire’s eyes and pressed inward. The pain was excruciating. Claire screamed in silence.

But she heard her voice. It said, “Neek-oh-dee-muth.”

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

Lovingly

Posted in One Word Prompts | Tagged , , , , , ,

Lord of The Swamp

I am the lord of this swamp.
Not enough trees?
Okay, so it’s a lake.
Not deep enough?

Fine, it’s a pond.
But, it’s my pond!

I brandish my yellow
War paint proudly.
My tower shield,
Slung over my back,
Is my defense
Against invaders, like you.
My jaw is a solid trap of bone.
I will grip your arm with the fury
Of a dog with its favorite toy!

You’re still laughing!
You do not believe!
Fine! I’ll just bite off your fingers.

Quit Laughing!

Fine! I’ll bite and tug your finger,
Probably leave a cut
That you’ll soothe
By sucking on your finger.
Then you’ll get salmonella!
Ha!

Stop walking closer!

Let me just turn
My ponderous bulk
And dare you to approach.

Touché, you show no fear.

Ah, nevermind, I’ll just slide
Off this rock and
Into the water to hide.

I’m not running,
You no longer amuse me
And I’m still
Lord of this pond.

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

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Little More Organization

So, I took some time today to organize the daily-prompt-inspired short stories into their own pages under the One-word Writing Prompts menu. If you hover of the that menu, you will see “The Artifact” and “Just A Little Family Curse”. The chapters are labelled sequentially for the ease of your enjoyment.

Just Laugh,

CJ

Posted in Uncategorized

Chapter Six: This Is How It Will Go

Jacob watched, not his mother, but several soldiers dressed in WWII uniform enter the room. Their faces were sullen and expressionless and accentuated by empty eye sockets. That emptiness stared at Jacob.

His grandfather was among them. He was the leader. He was shorter than most and held Jacob’s attention.

“Don’t fight this, boy.” His grandfather’s voice was hollow, but menacing.

“Fight what?” Jacob stammered. He was tired and confused. This was a side effect of some drug in his body after the car accident. He tore his eyes from his grandfather’s specter and searched for the emergency button to call the nurse.

Jacob’s grandfather was by Jacob’s side and in his face instantly. “Do not fight this, boy.”

Jacob could see into the specter’s mouth. It was black, toothless, and tongueless. It was a vague hole of nothing. Jacob began to tremble.

“What am I fighting? What have I done to harm you so?”

“Nothing. But you will, your father did. He wanted too long to pass on the jacket to you.” The specter let out a sigh, carrying a rotting stench.

“He still did it,” Jacob replied. “He still made me your puppet.”

The specter rested his hand on the wall above Jacob. “As he should. He needed to pass on the jacket to you. He needed to pass on the truth. He needed you to understand your doom.”

“That I’m born to suffer?”

The specter nodded slowly. “Yes, you and those who follow. There is no escape.”

“There is one. I could end it in suicide, like Dad, and stop this curse dead in its tracks!”

“Really?” The specter moved closer. “Do you think that will stop this curse?” The specter leaned in, Jacob wanted to vomit from the stench. “You are a small piece of the puzzle, but you are my piece. I will have my vengeance sated.”

The specter pulled away and stood at the front of the troops again. It spread its arms wide to those behind him. “These are the many others, many others, who will see our vengeance answered.”

“Vengeance for what? We’ve done nothing to you.”

The specter pointed an accusing finger at Jacob. It shook with vehemence. “Wrong! You are guilty of our crimes. Those crimes have been passed down from generation to generation.”

“What crimes?” Jacob was bewildered, pained, and tired. He just wanted all of this to end.

“Survival.” The specter let its hand fall to its side. It stood and glared.

Jacob dropped back to the bed. “Survival?”

The specter nodded. “All of these soldiers witnessed the devastation we wrought through the war. Another war, another generation. All of them survived. They survived the bullets, bombs, and bayonets of their enemy. They ended lives with their own bullets, bombs, and bayonets.” The specter’s eyebrows lifted, its cheeks softened. “Those killed had loved ones, children, dreams. We ended all of that, but survived to embrace our dreams and our loved ones. We did not deserve such gifts.” The specter’s face hardened. “And neither do those who follow in our stead. You never deserve to be safe or happy. Suffering must be your curse. You must be the continuation of the symbol of how sick we are.”

The curse of survivor’s guilt? Jacob was shocked by this revelation. This seemed so ridiculous.

“You will live knowing this terrible hypocrisy. To be cursed with the will to live and dream, but to know that suffering is all you will bring in the end.” The volume in the specter’s voice lowered. “It’s all any of us ever bring to the world.”

Jacob’s injuries made it impossible for him to move beyond the bed. All he could do was shout. “This cannot be the grandfather who raised me!”

“I raised you to be strong, because you will need it. To walk through this accursed world and to eventually tell your son or daughter about this pain. To know that until Judgement Day we will carry this curse: the curse that we survived and dared to move on.”

The military specters began to leave one at a time. Jacob’s grandfather only stared at him through empty eye sockets. The gaze carried a deafening silence.

“Remember that you must pass on the jacket to your son and remember that we will always be watching. The curse must remain unbroken. I will make certain of it.”

Jacob’s grandfather vanished, leaving an empty hospital room.

The lights flickered and Jacob’s mother came rushing in. She reached out to hug him tightly. “Oh Darling, are you all right? You look absolutely terrified. I heard you screaming and came in here as quickly as I could.”

Jacob only nodded slowly and held his mother. He was uncertain how long she would be with him. He wanted, needed, to hold on to this moment.

 

It was raining and Jacob walked close to his son, Jim. There was a distant rumble of thunder. A storm front was definitely moving in. But the funeral was over. Jacob had laid his father to rest. To think that he made it through ten more years after the events when he tried to take his own life. He survived, but Jacob and his father were never close after that. In some ways his father was bitter that Jacob rescued him from the suicide attempt. His father was even less pleased that Jacob had burned the flight jacket, the symbol of their family’s curse. Jacob’s mother never understood the situation and Jacob never talked about the curse again.

Sarah had dropped the entire issue and moved back to California. Three miscarriages later she finally gave birth to a little girl, but had not married. Jacob did marry and lived in his home town ever since. He had pursued the career of an emergency medical technician. He had learned to save lives, similar to his sister. They talked often, but never about the night of the accident or the curse. And Jacob certainly never talked about his hospital hallucination. But he remembered that traumatic vision, he remembered it every time he ended up holding the hand of a dying person. A person he failed. Some, even his sister, would say he worked too hard and for too long. But he was hoping to find a way to redeem his grandfather, his family. Every life saved was another dream saved, another child that could be born. Jacob found some comfort in that.

Jacob opened the door to his home and stepped in. He closed his umbrella and hung on a bucket’s rim near the door. His son rushed into the front foyer and charged into the living room and jumped on the couch, laughing. His laugh always brought a smile to Jacob, even on a night such as this. His wife reached an arm around him and gently kissed him on the cheek. There was peace in that moment.

“It’s your turn to make dinner,” she whispered.

“Really?” Jacob smiled. “I cooked dinner last night.”

“You burned dinner last night, paying for takeout doesn’t count.”

She gently tapped the back of his shoulder and walked into the living room. “Get to it, manservant.”

Jacob nodded with a smile and headed toward the kitchen.

A hallucination waited for him alone in the kitchen. The specter of his grandfather. And it was holding a pristine flight jacket: the jacket Jacob burned years ago. The brown-haired pinup girl on the back of the jacket sat mockingly on a rock surrounded by flames. Jacob’s vicious angel.

The specter nodded. “It is time.”

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

Devastation

Further Reading of this Story:

Enthusiasm Soured (Part One)

What Happened To the Calm? (Part Two)

Worthless Blessings (Part Three)

Just Another Day Under a Curse (Part Four)

Bedridden

 

Posted in One Word Prompts | Tagged , , , , , ,

Chapter Five: Bedridden

“Hey, Son.”

“Dad?”

It was a muffled voice, as if heard through a thin wooden wall, but it definitely sounded like Dad.

“Yes, what are you doing? Why are you running?”

‘What do you mean?”

“You can’t stop it. Just let yourself go, stop hurting everyone around you.”

“You mean die? Like you?”

“Yes, it’s the only way.”

Jacob opened his eyes, but he only saw a void around him. Where was the voice coming from? He heard the screams of his frightened sister rip through the void. The screams sailed around him, an invisible banshee wailing for vengeance.

“You did this, son.”

Jacob shook his head. “No.” His voice was a stammer and weak in volume. He bent his head and covered his face with his hands. He kneeled in the empty void around. “No!” He shouted through the whimpering.

“Yes!”

Jacob shot a glance above him. He felt his face flush with fear and hate. Tears streamed down his face. “This is ridiculous! It was another car, not some damn family curse!”

“Poppycock.”

Jacob heard the voice to his left. It was softer, but authoritative. His granddad.

The old man melded out of the void like walking out of a wall of black water. He was wearing his old WWII flight jacket.

“The curse is real, boy. It was passed down from father to son in every generation, since me. The things I saw, the things I did; this is the punishment for surviving.”

“Why do I have to pay for what you’ve done?”

His granddad shrugged, shadows hung over his face. He looked sinister. Jacob thought his granddad could have been a vampire or some other supernatural creature from a bad movie. He stared at Jacob, his arms straight by his side. He was rigid as if he was still crammed in a coffin. “Stop clinging to what is not deserved of us.”

A bright light flashed from above, the darkness melted, Jacob’s Granddad melted away.

Pain shot through Jacob’s abdomen and up his chest. His neck muscles stretched and tore. His head reeled with dizziness and nausea. He was going to vomit from the pain.

“Whoa, whoa, Jacob, relax, come down.” Jacob heard an unrecognizable female voice.

“Shit, get him a bucket.” An unknown male voice.

Jacob screamed in pain. He felt a gentle, firm hand on the back of his neck. It held his head down as he vomited into a bucket. He could see the bucket and his bile now. His vision was returning. He heaved and gagged for several minutes before he had a chance to look around.

He was in a bed, a hospital bed. The fluorescent light above him is what melted the shadows away. A doctor about ten years younger than his father was nearby, but keeping a professional distance, while a nurse, younger than Jacob, held his neck.

He nodded to her and breathed slowly, she gently released her grip.

Jacob was still in pain. He body movements were restricted, especially his upper body and head.

The doctor walked to the other side of the bed and gently pressed his shoulder, the nurse did the same on the other side.

“I need you to lie down, Jacob. You’ve taken some serious injuries from the crash. Certainly survivable, but serious.”

Jacob didn’t resist as they pushed him back down. He shot fevered glances between the two of them. He could barely move his head.

“What about my sister?”

“She’s stable, but the SUV that hit your car pushed the door against her. The airbags deployed, but she was trapped in the car. She has a few broken bones from when the car tumbled off the road. You were the lucky one.”

The nurse narrowed her eyes at the doctor.

The doctor looked at his watch and sighed. “You are both lucky to be alive.”

You deserve this. It was Jacob’s Granddad whispering in his head.

“You took a severe thrashing from the tumble of the car. Your neck and upper back were wedged between the crumbled roof of the car and the steering column.” The doctor placed his gloved hand on Jacob’s forehead. It was then, Jacob felt the weight of bandages wrapped around his head and the pull of a medical sling against his neck and chest. “Your head suffered several lacerations, but the ambulance got to you before any serious blood loss.”

Lucky again, I guess, thought Jacob.

The nurse glanced at him and smiled. “Do you feel up to seeing your mother?”

Jacob nodded weakly.

The doctor stepped back and clutched his clipboard with both hands, his barrier between himself and his patient. “Well, then we will send her right in.”

The doctor left first while the nurse held the door and murmured outside. Jacob watched his mother, pale and disheveled, step into the room. The nurse whispered in his mother’s ear before she also left, closing the door softly behind her.

Jacob’s mother took cautious steps toward him and slid into a chair next to him. She let three long exasperated sighs, before Jacob had enough of the silence.

“Hey, Mom,” he said with a groan. His chest made it tough to talk.

His mom shook her head and stared at the hospital floor, not Jacob. I can’t handle all of this in less than a month. Jim’s father, your father, your sister, and you. What’s a mother to do?”

Jacob reached for her hand with his, but he was confined in movement. His mother saw the gesture and took his hand. It forced her to look at Jacob. Tears fell from her eyes.

“How’s Dad? How’s Sarah?” Jacob asked.
His mother smiled. She tapped their embraced hands with her free hand. “That’s my son. Always thinking about someone else. They are okay. The surgeons think Dad will heal, they are just undecided on what type of reconstructive surgery they will do to fix his cheek and jaw. Sarah will be okay, several broken bones, but no internal bleeding.” His mother’s eyes narrowed. “Are you trying to prove this family is cursed?”

“Mom, please, not now.” Jacob stared at the ceiling panels around the lights in the ceiling. Why did everything have to be so damn white? “Are we?”

“What?”

“Cursed.”

“You’re right. I shouldn’t have said anything. It was wrong of me. I’m sorry.” Jacob’s mother released her hold and stood up. She strolled to the window and gently pushed the curtains open with a hand. Jacob could see some light from the street and the passage of headlights across her face. “Curses. I’m just so stressed out. I don’t think I can handle all of this.”

“Mom, you’re avoiding the question.”

“Please, son. This day in age to believe in such things. We stopped going to church when you were ten. Superstition is no longer for us.”

“Mom?”

Jacob’s mother flung the curtain closed and stepped away. She turned from Jacob. Looking at the far wall, she said, “Your granddad, always carried a deep guilt from his time in the war. Some people called it survivor’s guilt. When he came back from the war, he never really adjusted to life without war. He raised a family, he raised your father, but he never understood why.”

“Why he raised a family?”

Jacob’s mother nodded. “Everything was terrible. The Cuban Missile Crisis, Korea, Vietnam, the whole damn Cold War. Your dad caught his father more than once yelling at the sky for the missiles to come.”

“This, this is not the granddad I knew.”

Jacob’s mother turned and moved beside him again. She sat down. “No, he was a good man, just lost. He believed we were all cursed, surviving on the corpses of brothers, sons, and families of all those who fell before. That note you found was probably an old note your granddad wrote to himself in one of his spells.”

But it was in my handwriting and dad had one as well, thought Jacob. He remained quiet. Nothing more needed to be said about this madness.

Jacob yawned he needed to sleep. “I should get some sleep, Mom.”

His mother patted his shoulder. “Of course, honey. I’ll leave you to it.”

She headed toward the door and opened it. “Remember, Jacob, your granddad was a sad man, a good man, but very haunted. I think it affected your father.”

She turned and gave her son a weak smile. “I’ll need you up and about to deal with all of Dad’s whining when he comes home.”

Jacob smiled in return. “You got it.”

His mother rushed out of the room. Probably to find a place to cry, thought Jacob. He sighed and looked back up at the ceiling.

“I should turn off the light.”

He heard the door creak open. There were sounds of many feet moving through hospital. An emergency of some sort.

And . . .

Marching? Did he hear marching?

“Mom?”

What he saw was not his mother.

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

Cling

For further reading of this story:

Enthusiasm Soured (Part One)

What Happened to the Calm (Part Two)

Worthless Blessings (Part Three)

Just Another Day Under a Curse (Part Four)

Posted in One Word Prompts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chapter Four: Just Another Day Under a Curse

Jacob shielded his eyes from the headlights of passing vehicles. Their passing glare just added to his already mounting frustrations. Sarah started to giggle again. She was still having a good laugh at his expense. She would barely talk to him and the sounds of her laughter would transition from a high pitch giggle of amusement to the somber, lower chuckle of grating sarcasm. She wouldn’t say anything else on the whole trip back to her hotel.

Jacob blurted, “Why did you have to tell mom about what I said?”

Sarah stopped giggling. Through the occasional glances between her and the road, Jacob watched her smile turn to a frown and her eyebrows bend toward her nose.

“Why the hell not?” She said. “She needs to know that you may start acting a little crazy.”

“I’m not certain I’m all that crazy.”

Sarah lifted her eyebrows, forming creases in her forehead. “Really? This, what you are doing, is connected to some sort of guilt because you couldn’t help Dad. You didn’t see this coming, no one did.” Her forehead smoothed, her eyes widened, softened. “You can’t blame yourself, because of some strange smiley face Dad wrote on a piece of paper.”

At least, she finally believed that Jacob hadn’t been pulling a prank. He couldn’t convince her that his own note had writing on it meant for his eyes only, and she saw was a smiley face.

Sarah turned to look out the passenger window. “Besides, maybe it was his way of finally saying that he was happy. Maybe, he thought he was making the right choice.”

Jacob raised his voice. It was his turn. “The right choice! Suicide!”

Sarah spun her head back to him. “Don’t you dare! I’m not saying he made the right choice. I’m his daughter! I’d like to have him around! I’m saying that he felt his choice was right; he was at peace with it.”

“But he had a family that loved him,” Jacob said. His voice was shaky, he couldn’t imagine his father ever finding unhappiness in his life.

“Our lives have never been a utopia, Jacob,” Sarah said.

“What family is?”

“You know better than me, you saw Dad move from job to job over the last two years. Laid off during the recession from a lucrative chemical engineering job. Laid off just a couple years before his retirement.”

“There was money put away.”

“Sure, but Dad still needed to work, so did Mom. The work was below his station too.”

“Work is work.” It was fine thing for his sister, the doctor, to judge about work being below his father’s station. Her degrees just made her more insufferable, Jacob found some comfort that he avoided college and never became like her at this moment.

“Work is work, Jacob, but Dad had a career, a workplace he enjoyed, and it all came crashing down. Apart from that, our parents managed to put themselves into debt that will take another five years to pay off, probably longer now that Dad will rack up so much in medical bills.”

Jacob had to admit that things had been tough. Dad also lost several close friends to accidents or health complications in the past two years. The deaths had wounded his spirit and his mother could see it. Her attempts at comfort failed and their closeness as a married couple thinned. Dad had been distant, but he was just grieving. At least that was what Jacob thought. He certainly never Dad wanted to commit suicide.

“Dad had suffered a couple of friends’ deaths and then Granddad,” Jacob admitted.

“Really? Who?” Sarah asked. Any anger and frustration from her voice had faded.

“Michael, his old college buddy, died after a car accident on the interstate. Although he had to lay Dad off, Mark and Dad stayed close, but Mark died in surgery, due to health complications. And then, Granddad.”

Sarah mused. “All in the past two years.”

Two years, thought Jacob.

“Yeah, it was a lot to go through.”

“I had no idea.”

“Of course, not, you were in California living your life. I sometimes thought you didn’t want to be around us anymore.”

“What? The nerve! I have been working!” Sarah shouted. She slapped Jacob on the side of his face.

The car swerved into the opposite lane as Jacob tried to regain control and shield his head from his sister. She was a doctor, she knew about head injuries.

Sarah dropped back to her seat and gripped the door handle. “Jacob!”

He heard the blaring horn of an oncoming car and swerved back into his lane. “I got it! That was your fault, you know!”

Sarah face flushed with anger and then drooped with resignation. “I know.”

“Do we need to add to the family tragedy this week?” Jacob continued to yell.

“I said, I know!”

“Fine!” Jacob breathed. He relaxed his position in the car seat, which calmed him. “Let’s just get you to the hotel without any more yelling. We are pretty high strung with current events.”

“Agreed,” Sarah said.

Jacob stopped at a stop sign at a three-way intersection and clicked on the left blinker. It’s monotonous, rhythmic clicking seeped into his frustrated mind.

“I guess,” Jacob admitted, “the past two years really hit Dad hard. And Mom and I never saw it.”

“Don’t blame yourself,” Sarah said. “Dad was a pretty stubborn guy. If he wanted to hide it, he would found every way to do so. Hiding is just not coping.”

“Don’t use ‘was’.”

“Pardon?”

“You said ‘Dad was’. He’s not dead.”

Sarah smiled weakly. “Right, you’re right.” She turned to look out the windshield into the night sky. It was cloudy. “He’s not dead.”

“And he’s not going to die.”

Jacob looked down the empty crossroad. No, traffic.

Two years of suffering, Dad had been in pain, but he always managed to smile, he always managed to rebound. At least that was what it looked like to Jacob. Was he just a terrible son? Wait. Two years. Dad got the jacket from Granddad two years ago. Sarah had said so earlier today.

His foot tapped the gas. The car moved forward.

“Sis, two years ago Granddad gave Dad that flight jacket and then bad shit went down. I get the jacket and Dad shoots himself to do what? End the curse?”

Sarah looked at him. She shook her head. “No, Jacob, don’t you dare do this?”

Headlights flooded Sarah’s passenger window. She became little more than a dark silhouette surrounded by bright lights. Jacob slammed the gas, but the SUV slammed into his little car, a near-perfect broadside. The SUV forced Jacob’s car off the road. Jacob’s car flipped and tumbled. Glass shattered as the car tumbled. The ceiling crumbled, he felt the pressure of the metal and fiberglass room on his head and neck. He heard his sister scream, he probably did as well.

As the car tumbled down the hill from the road, he thought of his screaming sister, his mother, his wounded father, and a family curse that was now etched into his mind as a possibility. His father had suffered incredibly, and now it was Jacob’s turn, it was the family’s turn. The suffering could be boundless, it could be infinite.

Jacob blacked out to the sound of his blaring horn.

Infinite

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

Further Reading in this serial:

Enthusiasm Soured (Part One)

What Happened To the Calm? (Part Two)

Worthless Blessings (Part Three)

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