Tag Archives: Dark Fantasy

NaNoWriMo – Chapter 12 – Black Magic Bullets

Between family obligations and the slower nature of this next chapter, It’s been a couple days since I’ve checked in. Glacial is probably a good word for how the writing has been proceeding.  Most of this is because world-building and crafting a mystery out of whole cloth are labor-intensive.

I’ve now reached a point where each layer is crucial to building a cogent and engaging narrative. There’s no doubt that I’ll have to go back and flesh out some early scenes as I move forward. Still, I’d like to keep the narrative readable and understandable, even in rough 1st draft form. Don’t forget, I’m writing this book organically (by the seat of my pants) and, as such, I’m not using an outline or figuring out anything beforehand. I’m trusting my subconscious mind to fill in details between writing sessions.  For now, I’ll consider this chapter finished and present it to you.

As it stands, I think this is shaping up to be a Dresden Files meets Monster Hunter International type of book.

 

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

 

Chapter 12

Kenzi touched an access card to an electric eye. The locking mechanism clicked open, and then we were through a pair of blast doors and inside what looked to be a two-floor loft that housed a control center of sorts. Workers buzzed to and fro, some wearing shoulder holster rigs over button-down shirts or blouses, looking more like Government Agents than employees of Dreadstone.  

Lit by natural lighting, coming from the frosted glass windows above the fray, as much as by electric lamps suspended from the vaulted ceiling, and with the addition of people moving about, created a shifting chiaroscuro, the light highlighting suspended dust particles, making the place appear fog-enshrouded.  

“Welcome to The Body,” Kenzi said. 

“What is this place?” I asked, genuinely curious. 

“It’s an acronym. B-O-D-I-E. BODIE. The Bureau of Defense Investigations and Espionage,” Kenzi said. We’re like a private FBI for the Dreadstone Company. 

“Like the name implies, we take care of the physical needs of the corporation—including but not limited to providing protection for our psychics, dedicated wizards, and recruiters like yourself.”

“I never would have guessed Dreadstone had its own private army,” I said.

“Oh, no. We’re not the army,” Kenzi said as she brought me over to a bank of beige cubicles. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

“This is Cybil,” Kenzi said.

“I go by Cyber,” the woman with the buzzcut and the black fingernail polish said.  

“She’s what we call a BRAIN transplant,” Kenzi said undeterred, explaining that BRAIN was another acronym for Dreadstone’s Computer science and hacking division: Biologic Computing, Random Access, AI, Information Systems, and Nanotech. “She works here in the BODIE helping us expel viruses and track down baddies using the information superhighway both in Surface Web and all levels of the Deep Net. 

“If not, the BRAIN wouldn’t know what the BODIE is doing,” Cyber said raising an eyebrow. “That’s just a little Dreadstone humor for ya.” 

“We have some intel and clues from SPIRT,” and then for me added, Sorcery, Psychics, Incantations & Remote Viewing.”

“Who are we talking about?” Cyber asked, raising an eyebrow. 

“Chavvi,” Kenzi said deadpan. I had no idea by her intonation if that was good, bad, or indifferent.” 

“Oh, she’s really good,” Cyber said as if she was telepathic herself. Her response also seemed to imply that Dreadstone had employed one or more psychics of dubious reputation. “Lay it on me.” 

“We’re looking for an abandoned building on the waterfront. A killer who is skilled with a garrot or at least has been accused of strangulation in the past, and a wide tie a man would wear that might be a homophone or an exact match for a lemure’s last name.”

“The property records search is the easiest. Do you know how long ago the lemure went missing?”

“I can’t give you an exact date,” Kenzi said. “Her clothing while reduced to rags looked modern enough. I gave a sample to Chavvi to get her impressions.”

“If Chavvi’s done, I’d suggest sending the sample to the lab,” Cyber said. “Even though most of the physical effects are just ectoplasmic facsimiles, for a period of time Dreadstone can determine what type of fiber was in the original garment.” 

“Can do,” Kenzi said.

 “Once we have an approximate time period, I can perform a record search for the perps MO through a backdoor in the local and federal databases. Then I’ll run a missing persons search for the same time period.”

“How much time will that take,”  Kenzi asked. 

“Too much,” Cyber said. Kenzi nodded. “Let’s work with what we have. You mentioned a wide men’s tie. Let’s see if I can get some terms we can search.” 

Cyber made her mechanical keyboard sing, cherry blue switches rat-tat-tatting an echoey staccato rhythm throughout the loft. 

“The first possibility that comes up is the cravat tie,” Cyber said. “What’s the first name?”

“Dedra,” I said before Kenzi had the chance to respond. If it bothered her, she didn’t show it. I was beginning to feel ineffectual just standing there.  

“Nothing comes up under that name combination,” Cyber said, continuing to click and clack on the keyboard. “Let’s try Ascot.” 

We waited as Cyber completed her search.

“Bingo!” Cyber said, jabbing a finger down on the enter key for emphasis and then swiveling on her chair to face us. “You’re in luck, Ascot is an unusual name and I only a few hits in the Boston Area.” 

“Any Dedra Ascots reported missing?”

“We have one,” Cyber said, her fingers still dancing over the keys. “Reported missing back in 2004. Cold case.” 

“Send me all the information on the case, along with a list of the abandoned buildings,” Kenzi said. “ Keep searching. I’ll still have Chavvi send the sample over to the lab. No time like the present to being our search.” 

To be continued… 

 

NaNoWriMo – Chap 10 & 11 – Black Magic Bullets

Day four of NaNoWriMo and got in about 1,500 words. I came up a little short but had to really think about the central mystery and its relationship to the plot. One character’s name became very important, and I had to craft it carefully.

The title also found it’s way into the manuscript. I was wondering if that would happen. You’ll see what I’m talking about if you give it a read.

This is a very rough 1st draft written by the seat of my pants,  but I’m trying to give you as tight a manuscript as possible. Feel free to give me feedback. I have a very thick skin.

In other news: I had an editor contact me today inquiring about I story I had submitted. She asked if the story had ever been sold before. I’m thinking she wanted to make sure it wasn’t a reprint. I let her know the story was an original with all rights available. I haven’t heard back yet, but I am hopeful. I’ll let you know what happens.

 

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS.

Chapter 10

I followed Kenzi to a new destination. When we entered the vestibule, I realized she had been serious. What else did this place have in store? 

Inside the small room, she grabbed a pair of eye and ear protection, handing them to me before grabbing her own. 

I put the glasses on first and then the muffs. The ear cups created a suction, clamping over my ears, isolating my sense of hearing from the outside environment. My breathing sounded loud in my head. I had always found the experience disconcerting, and today was no exception. 

In an attempt to be a gentleman, I opened the heavy door for Kenzi. She didn’t protest. Following close behind, we entered the range proper. 

Like most indoor ranges, the air was damp, much like a basement. It told me the place had good ventilation, important for filtering out all the atomized lead, gunpowder, and other combustible contaminants released with each shot fired. 

We were met with more battleship gray and surrounded by impenetrable concrete. The shooting muffs not only isolated my breathing, but also every footfall thudded in my head. 

Kenzi had transferred the pistol to a hard carrier and now placed it on a bench at the middle booth. She then plunked down a 50 round box of .45 ASP hollow-points. 

Manstoppers. 

After the meeting with the lemur, humans scared him less than they ever had. He wondered if Dreadstone was in the possession of any rounds that could stop something like that. 

It had been a long time since I’d been to a range. Shooting was an expensive hobby and I didn’t have the money to invest. If this job worked out, my luck just might be changing. 

She stepped aside to let me do my thing. 

Great. 

This felt like a test of sorts. 

Forcing myself to take it slow and steady, I removed the Colt from the case and locked it into battery before placing it on the bench. 

Next, I loaded the two seven-round magazines and arranged them beside the firearm. So far, so good. 

Kenzi brought over a silhouette target, tacket it up, and ran the motorized conveyer until it reached 21 feet away. 

She stepped away as if to say, it was all me. 

Retrieving the Colt, it felt solid and well balanced in my hand. I seated the first magazine and then racked the slide to chamber a round. 

Focused on the target, I lifted the weapon and settled into an isosceles stance. Both arms outstretched creating a triangle parallel to my chest. My upper body ached from the fight with the lemur. I focused on the pain then allowed it to fade away. Dropping my weight and bending my knees, I leaned forward ever so slightly. 

Flicked the safety off with my thumb. 

Breath in.

Line up front sights to rear. 

Breath out.

Squeeze trigger, don’t pull. 

Blam!

The colt bucked. 

Again.

The acrid scent of gunpowder rose in the air but quickly dissipated into the duct system. 

I continued the process until all rounds were spent, and the gun automatically returned to battery. 

Turning my palm up, I released the magazine and returned both to the bench. 

Kenzi had been watching from behind the whole time. Now she came back, flicking the switch in the opposite direction to retrieve the target.

“You’re listing to the left,” she said, examining the holes in the target. 

No shit. She didn’t need to overstate the obvious. 

Following her lead I removed my ear protection, let the muffs rest on my neck. The cool air felt good on my ears. 

“Nothing that can’t be fixed. You just need to adjust your grip,” she said. “That’s good enough for me. I wanted to make sure you could properly handle a firearm before we go into the field.”

“I’m carrying a gun?” I asked, incredulous. 

“You have a CCW?” Kenzi asked. Those were the initials for a Concealed Carry Weapons permit, or in Mass known as a Class A License to Carry Firearms Unrestricted. Seemed the powers that be in the Commonwealth thought the CCW term too appealing to the general populace.

I nodded. 

“Then it’s your choice,” she said. “I’ll be armed. I suggest you do the same until can do your wizardry in the Collective.”

Kenzi replaced the target with a fresh one and sent it back the same distance.

“Watch and learn,” she said, putting on her eyes and ears. I rushed to keep up. 

Drawing her carry gun she mimicked my earlier stance and lobbed maybe 15 rounds of lead down the lane. I lost count. 

Once the gun returned to battery, Kenzi smoothly turned her hand without taking her eyes off the target. She depressed the magazine release, letting it fall to the ground. With her eyes still on the target she retrieved and seated a new magazine and then racked the slide. Another fifteen rounds flew. She reloaded and then holstered her weapon.  

The target rocketed back with a flick of a switch. 

A nice tight grouping. 

“Nice,” I said and I meant it. I was very impressed. 

“That’s how you practice level one combat shooting,” Kanzi said. “I have one other thing to show you.” 

She took out a .45 round that if not for the coating of black fingernail polish would have looked ordinary. 

“I’m not getting it,” I said. 

“This is a black magic bullet,” Kenzi said. “They can be used on the possessed, shifters, zombies, anything in meatspace infused with power from the Collective. 

“Why don’t you just carry silver bullets?” 

“Now you’re just being silly.” 

“What makes that different for an ordinary round?” I asked, half expecting her to say black magic.

“We have a wizard augment them in the Collective,” Kenzi said “It’s a specialty. Not something just anyone can do.” 

“What’s next?” I asked. Did I really want to know?

“You’re full of questions today, aren’t ya,” Kenzi said with a wink. “Chavvi must have something for us by now.”

Chapter 11

“Tell me you have some good news,” Kenzi said as walked through the entry, beads clacking against each other behind us. 

“I might have something,” Chavvi said, rising from her cushion.

The impression I get is of a violent death. Deep, dark emotions. Terrible, really.” 

Poor Dedra. Not only had the end of her life been horrible, but even in death, she was affected by the circumstances of her demise. 

“Anyway to find her body?” I asked. It was unclear as to whether I’d be able to help her. Kenzi had indicated something would be held back until Dedra fulfilled her half of the bargain.  

“The impression I get is that her body was disposed of in an abandoned building. I get a distinct impression it’s near the waterfront. I feel a constriction on the throat like she had been strangled. But I also see a man’s tie, wider than normal. I hope that was helpful. 

“Yes, thank you,” Kenzi said. “It’s at least something to go on. Let me know if anything else comes to mind.” 

Then Kenzi looked at me. 

“It time I introduced you to the Body.” 

To be continued…

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Chap 5, 6 & 7 Black Magic Bullets

Day three of NaNoWriMo and I’ve made word-count. Anyway, this is a very rough draft. Although I was trying to create a character arc, I came to the realization that my protagonist might not be a strong enough character for the genre. I attempted a slight course correction. Also, I write by the seat of my pants without an outline. I have no idea what’s going to happen from writing session to writing session. And as always, this is only a first draft with very light corrections. Feel free to let me know what you think. Don’t worry. I have a think skin.

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS.

Chapter 5

“You’ll know what to do,” Stone assured me before we began. “I can tell you’re suffering a crisis of confidence. That’s not who you really are. I want you to think back to all the training you’ve had, not just in wizardry but also as a fighter”

Stone was right. I wasn’t feeling myself. I had let my life circumstances rob me of my mojo, let them make me feel less than. I knew who I was. I had fought full contact not just in the dojang martial arts school but on the streets, against bullies. Had I won all my fights? No, who could? But I had never backed down from a fight. Thinking back, I had logged plenty of ritual sessions, even if most of them took place in my parent’s unfinished basement. 

Feeling better, I nodded my head. 

Peal began the process, walking around the circle, lighting each colored candle with a matte-black Zippo, calling upon the creatures of each direction, invoking a pentagram by cutting each line in the air with an athame. 

Voice booming, Peal uttered words of power, infusing his thoughts, and his words, with his actions. 

When he had finished, We entered the center of the pentagram. 

“Computer,” Stone uttered the wake word. “Protection.” 

Tiny tubes in the circle of the pentacle released the creature of salt until the grove had completely filled. 

She spoke the wake word again followed by the word undine, and I watched a tile on the floor slide open to reveal a hole in the floor filled with water. I knew why but thought it odd. Never in all the rites, I had observed, had anything like this been utilized. 

“Ritual,” Stone said right after the wake word and the lights shut off leaving them with only the illumination and moving shadows cast by candlelight. 

“It’s time to enter the Collective,” Stone said. “Are you ready?”

I took a deep breath to slow my heart. 

“I’m ready.”

Placing the mask over my nose and mouth, my other hand worked the valve releasing the gas. The seal was tight, the gas did not leak, and I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply. 

When I opened my eyes, everything had changed. 

The mundane world had been replaced by what Stone called the Collective. 

I realized I was in the collective now. One foot in waking reality, the other in an interdimensional dream. 

“Can you see it?” Stone asked when she opened her eyes. She hadn’t relied on the gas to enter and neither had Peal. A meditative state allowed them passage. I longed for the ability to transgress from one waking world to another naturally. 

I nodded. 

By the green candle stood a diminutive being, a gnome. His eyes black, staring, perhaps dreaming, lending power to our rite. 

A sylph fluttered her wings as she circled the yellow candle in ecstatic flight. 

A floating orb of light, an elemental of fire, referred to in medieval times as a salamander buzzed the red candle. 

Finally, I looked to the small water pool which had been revealed by the blue candle. Up came the head and shoulders of a beautiful undine water elemental. I averted my eyes to keep from being transfixed by her radiance. 

Never in all the rites, I had witnessed had I observed the manifestation of even one elemental. They had been called upon and believed to be there to protect and empower. Yet, they remained invisible. Only their presence could sometimes be felt. Seeing them in their natural or unnatural form, I couldn’t decide which, was somewhat disconcerting. 

At each quarter a pentagram hung in the air. Peal had created each one expertly, the cuts as precise as any human could accomplish. 

Peal used the athame to activate the sodium in the grooves of the circle, augmenting the natural protective qualities of the ordinary substance. 

A blinding white energy beam shot down through Peals head and out the athame, alighting the salt as it burned like a white-hot fire. 

“Welcome to the collective, Mr. Thorne,” Peal said as he placed the dagger on the floor. “The test is about to begin.”

 

Chapter 6

“I don’t think I need to tell you,” Stone began. “Whatever you do, don’t break the circle.”

What did she think he was… new? That was the first rule of ritual magic. Breaking the circle could be dangerous, seeing into the collective sent the message home in a big way. All of this had been invisible to him for so long. 

“Are you sure you’re ready?” Peal asked, concern wrinkling his brow and the skin under his eyes. 

“You don’t need to worry about me,”  I said. I had once again found my place of strength Let it rip. Get this thing over with. 

Peal said the invocation. Nothing happened. 

For some reason, I turned. I can’t remember if I had some objective or reason, but I immediately regretted it. 

Just beyond the circle stood a being not quite dead, not quite alive. A state of being sometimes described as undead. 

The thing stared at me with dead malevolent eyes. I gasped, stumbled back. I heard Peal’s sharp call too late. I had stumbled outside the circle taking the ethereal fire and the elementals with it. 

The thing was upon me then constricting my throat with powerful hands, lifting me into the air as it screamed banshee-like, a primal fit of rage. 

Tunnel vision set in. The constriction deprived me of both blood and oxygen. Below, Stone and Peal screamed for me to do something, anything. The life was draining out of me along with my strength as the creature screamed, tossing me around. 

With only seconds left before I blacked out, I hissed words of power between clenched teeth allowing the white light glow into the crown of my head and into my hands filling them with what the Chinese sages call chi. 

I hit the blasted thing with a double hand palm strike, releasing stored energy, blasting the creature into the opposite wall.

Free from constriction, I plummeted back to the floor. Peal dragged me back inside the circle. 

Picking up the athame, Stone summoned energy, and then closed the circle–walling us off from the evil being. 

“What the hell was that?” I managed to ask. My whole body hurt and I rubbed at my throat. 

“Lemur,” Stone said. “And she hasn’t left yet. Can’t leave until we release her.”

I looked across the circle and saw the lemur crouched, ready to pounce if given the chance.

“I’ve never heard that name,” I said, and I hoped never to have to deal with one again. 

“The lemur is an angry spirit,” Peal said. “One who wanders without reason.”

“We give them purpose,” Stone said, crawling to the edge of the circle to confront the lemur. 

Tentatively, I followed, careful to stay well away from the edge of the circle. If there was a next time with this thing, I might wind up dead.

“Observe me while I negotiate,” Stone said. 

The lemur looked like some form a wraith to me, like she had clawed her way out of an early grave. Her clothing, what was left of it, hung off her body, reduced to rags, and her long hair appeared matted and as dirty as her clothing. 

A once handsome face had succumbed to sharp angels and distorted features. Bulging eyes accented milky white sclera as if the iris and pupils had sunk below the surface.  

“What was your name in life,” Stone asked, uncharacteristic compassion warming her voice. 

“Dedra,” the lemur said her voice raspy, her eyes vacant as if she could see back to another time before the endless cold and perpetual darkness. 

“Dedra,” Stone said. “A very pretty name. Would you like to be called that name again? 

“Yes…”

“We would like you to do something for us, Dedra,” Stone said, licking her lips before speaking.

“What…?”

“A client of the Dreadstone Corporation needs someone like you to guard their property. They would address you as Dedra. You must leave the client and their guests alone, but you can kill anyone not authorized to be on the property. Would you like that?” 

“Yes…” A cock of Dedra’s head let me know she wanted something in return. Stone picked up on this as well.

“Name your price?” Stone asked.

“My body…’ Dedra hissed. 

“If you’re willing to start now,” Stone said looking up at me. “You have a corpse to find.”

Chapter 7

Full death-cycle recruiting, from the grave to all eternity. That was the responsibility of an Inhuman Resources Recruiter. I wondered if I was up to all this. My whole perspective changed when the brunette who had given me a once-over walked into the conference room. 

I was immediately struck by her beauty, her sophistication. Her graceful confidence made me believe there was something more to her, something hidden under the surface. 

I had known men who exuded this type of confidence but rarely a woman. The look in her eyes was both alluring as it was dangerous. 

“Meet Kenzi Harper,” Stone said as we all stood in greeting. “During your probationary period you’ll be working together.”

“You’ll follow my lead,” Kenzi said by way of greeting. “This is a dangerous business and I don’t  need a wet behind the ears newbie getting me killed.” 

I didn’t like the idea of taking orders in the field. It had nothing to do with her gender. Perhaps I had a deep-seated distrust and dislike for authority. My poor grades in high school certainly spoke to that. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, I just chose not to listen to those who considered themselves above me. 

I nodded, held my tongue. There would be plenty of time later to test my boundaries. Discretion, after all, has been called the better part of valor. 

“We’ll see about that,” I said under my breath. How about that? My mojo had returned. 

“What was that?” Harper asked. 

Well, at least somewhat.

I said nothing.

“Good,” Harper said. “Let’s get you to the storeroom. You’re going to need a shovel. 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Chap 3 & 4 – Black Magic Bullets

This is only my second day working on my NaNoWriMo novel. I wasn’t sure about joining in on the festivities, but after writing a short 800 words yesterday, I felt like I might be on to something. Also, had an encouraging Twitter comment from a very kind reader comparing my scant pages to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Wow! Those are big shoes to fill! Although very flattering, and it certainly made my day, I won’t let it go to my head.

200px-Skin_game_cover

I got up early and after helping my wife get off to work, and feeding our cat, I wrote the 1st draft of the 3rd and 4th chapters. I made word-count easier and quicker than expected. Sometimes it works out that way. I’ll take it. While I might write more later, I still have the 3rd draft edits of an 80,000-word horror thriller on my plate and some short story work I need to revisit.

award-honorable-mention-wotf

While I have you here, I  wanted to mention I’m now officially listed as receiving an Honorable Mention in the 3rd quarter of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. My story ended up in the top 2% of all submissions. This is one of the most prestigious contests in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre with thousands of entrants every quarter.  A contest like this can make your career. If you write SF&F, you will be well served to enter this contest. Bring your A-game and strive to be better every submission. And like Han Solo famously said, “Never tell me the odds!” If you want to see all the contest winners along with the Finalists and Honorable Mentions, click the link here.

Never Solo

 

I know I owe you another The Scribes Arcanum blog, where I talk about short fiction sales, and I hope to post more shortly.

Now without further ado, the next first draft chapters of Black Magic Bullets. Click here to read chapter 1 and 2.  Let me know what you think in the comments or on social media. I wish you all the best with your writing.

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS. 

Chapter 3

As I approached the elevator bank I caught sight of a young brunette, very well put together, very corporate, stepping out of the cab. She stopped for only three-tenths of a second. Gave me a once-over and then headed out to, I could only imagine, a trendy restaurant for her lunch break. Almost a full foot taller than me, I mussed that dancing might be out of the question. 

Feeling like a geek all my life, I was taken aback. Did that girl just check me out? I wasn’t used to it, but I couldn’t say I didn’t like it. Must be my new suit. 

They were waiting for me when I stepped off the elevator. It wasn’t the 666th floor but the ascent felt like it. My ears popped more than once on the way up. 

“Jasmin Stone, Executive Vice President of Human Resources,” the woman with the black silk skirt suit and the morticians smile greeted me with a cold handshake and spidery fingers. 

“Harrison Thorne,” I said

“Do you go by——?”

“Just Harrison,” I interrupted. Hate is not the word for what I think of nicknames. 

“I’m not a fan of names with three syllables,” she said with a wink. 

“Harris,” I said, trying not to sound exasperated. Seemed like a fair compromise. 

“Well then, Harris,” She said splaying her fingers palm up, directing them toward a man in an equally shiny silk suit. “This is James Peal III our Director of HR. We’ll be conducting the interview. Come this way please.” 

Instead of a cold clinical corporate headquarters, the expanse of hallways and offices exuded warmth and reflected the refined taste of the CEO and executive management. Yet, instead of classic prints or success platitudes, oil paintings that can only be described as ghoulish adorned the walls. I wondered if they had been purchased from a serial killer’s estate sale. 

The conference room held nothing out of the ordinary, a long mahogany table, set with a water pitcher and glasses on a tray in the center, with plush crimson chairs surrounding, and a 75-inch flatscreen obelisk hanging on the wall, as reflective as any mirror. 

They sat across from me, my puny resume placed in front of them. I had no experience to speak of and very little education. What did I have to offer? 

“We don’t care about your resume,” Jasmin said as if reading my mind. If the rumors were true about Dreadstone, maybe she could. She tore the paper in half leting it float back to the tabletop. 

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. My heart raced and my palms felt clammy. I placed my hands below the table to wipe them on my pants. 

“What Ms. Stone means,” Peal said interjecting to break up the silence. “Is we’re not interested in your previous work or schooling. We want to see if you can recruit for us. It’s a very special type of recruiting that only those who have spent time in the environments you have could accomplish successfully.” 

“How will you know?” I asked. It was no idle curiosity. I had a very bad feeling about what was going to happen next.

“We’ll test you,” Stone said, with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. 

“How?” My mouth went dry and I found it hard to wrap my lips around the word. I pointed toward the water pitcher. Stone nodded. I waited a beat but when it didn’t look like Stone nor Peal were planning on playing gracious host, I reached for a glass and helped myself. 

She sat patiently until I’d hydrated before continuing. 

“There is a… place we call the Collective. The old joke is that you can’t get there from here. That is more than true. You can’t walk there or call an Uber. No bus, train, or plane can reach that destination.

“It says here that you have martial arts training,” Stone said, pointing to the ripped resume before her. 

Not having much work experience I had listed my black belt and assistant instructor status, but I was really pushing it with that. The assistant instructorship wasn’t anything formal.

 “Have you pursued mediation?” 

“Yes,” I said, then qualified, not wanting to oversell myself. “A little.” 

“Good,” Stone said, a smile coloring her voice. “The best and safest way into the Collective is through transcendental meditation, but it will take time for you to develop the skill.” 

“What do I do until I gain the ability?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” Peal chimed in. “You might not be, though.” 

With that, they led me out into a hall and to another room.

A placard read: RITUAL 667. 

What was I getting myself into?

 

Chapter 4 

The ritual room was more refined than any I had visited. In my teenage years, I hung out at The Chasm in North Hampton. Even in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, the owners went to great pains to hide the place from the inquisitive and the hostile. 

Normals fear what they don’t understand and during The Chasm’s early years someone threw a brick through the decorative plateglass window. After that, the owners had cast a masking spell around the store.

A friend I had met at another occult shop had given me the procedure to get in. 

I would pull up on the opposite side of the street, and shut off my mother’s Hyundai. Looking across the way, I’d see a cluster of businesses accordioning in on themselves. 

My retinas didn’t register The Chasm. It stood all but invisible until I closed my eyes and relaxed, pushed away my desire to visit, and remained still. 

As my mind quieted my body calmed, my heart rate slowed, and once I opened my eyes again, I’d see The Chasm as if it had materialized out of nowhere. 

Maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. 

The ritual room in the basement had been outfitted similarly but was more utilitarian. I had only walked through the ritual space at the Chasm, never having the confidence nor the courage to do more than observe some basic wizardry or a local coven celebrating the change of the seasons during Samhain or Beltane. The sexually charged Beltane rituals were always my favorite. Can you blame me? 

Here the ritual room had been tiled, the same as the hall, in a rich black stone. A ubiquitous pentacle had been etched into the floor, porcelain white over ebony granite. 

Dim red recess lighting kept the place dark and reminded me of a photography darkroom. 

Yet, the glow remained bright enough to reveal all the tools of the trade: a small portable altar, stick incense–I could see that it had been hand-dipped, the kind of quality and attention to detail that relieved the inhaler of headaches caused by caustic additives–very expensive–a bakers dozen of double-sided antheme blades, a bowl for the creature of water, and another for the creature of salt. A solitary black candle waited on the alter for the creature of fire, and a red, blue, green, and yellow candle stood on pedestals at each cardinal compass point. 

A dozen-plus suit valet lined the far side of the room. 

Why are those here?

I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. 

“Undress,” Stone said simply as she and Peal to-the-third-power led me over to the valets. 

“What?” Had I heard her right? I didn’t see a changing room.

“What, are you that modest?” Stone asked before her crimson lips upturned into a devious smile. “I was under the impression that anyone who made time at The Chasm or Phantasmagoria would have no problem disrobing around others.”

My mouth went dry again and all I could manage was a nod. 

Sure, I had observed Beltane rituals, one of the few nights where outsiders to the covens were allowed to watch the Alexandrian or Gardnerian witches do their thing skyclad, but I had never been the one disrobing. 

When in Rome, I suppose.

Averting my gaze as much as my curiosity would allow, I tried not to stare at Stone’s porcelain skin or her chiseled curves. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. 

Now with all of us metaphorically clad only by the sky, Peal removed a portable breathing mask connected to a canister from a draw in the valet. 

“You’ll need this if you hope to enter the Collective,” he said, handing it to me.

“What’s in it?” I managed, not relishing the idea of inhaling some unknown substance.

“Ethylene gas,” Stone answered. “You’re holding a concentrator. Turn the valve one turn widdershins when you’re ready and breath deeply. No more than that at a time. This is the same inhalant, with a couple extra additives, used by Pythia the Oracle of Delphy. If you over concentrate you’ll end up babbling gibberish and will be no use to us. Not only will you fail the test, but you could end up dead. No pressure.” 

Yeah, no pressure. Sure. 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Black Magic Bullets

While I’m finishing the 3rd draft of a horror thriller, I figured I’d add more to my plate and join the NaNoWriMo fun. The working title for this novel is BLACK MAGIC BULLETS and is an Urban Fantasy. I only have a little over 800 words drafted, but it’s a start. If you want to buddy up, I’m listed as dnorthmartino on the website. #NaNoWriMo

Meanwhile, here’s a first draft of the opening pages. It’s very rough but will give you a good idea of how my first drafts look.

 

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

by

David North-Martino

 

CHAPTER 1

Everything was going wrong in my life. Magic is a more subtle thing than movies have led people to believe, and so are curses.

 First small things begin to break down, then large. Your car breaks down, you crack a tooth requiring a root canal. 

All of these things add strain not only on your finances but your relationships. Believing people you once loved would do something like this to you is hard so you push it all away unbelieving, chalking it up to bad luck. I believed it was all bad luck until I saw the demon standing in my magic room (come up with a name). Then I began to put it all together. 

To explain what happened I have to go back to the beginning. My stories always have to start at the beginning. That’s a family curse all its own, one that my father passed on to me. So settle in, grab a mug of coffee or a cup of tea and we shall begin. 

My childhood was spent reading grimoires both widely circulated, available at book stores and those that had been privately published. Sometimes, understanding my interests, my parents would bring one home to me. Mostly they found them at curio shops and the occasional flea market. The occult in all its forms fascinated me and this led me to delve deeper in my teenage years. At that time it was all academic, I never dared attempt a spell and I certainly never acquire the ingredients necessary to make one successful. 

School held no interest for me and I spent my days daydreaming. Being the geeky type, I suffered bullies relegating my nights to martial arts classes. I found a school teaching a combination of original Tae Kwon Do and western boxing mixed with more than a splash of Taoist philosophy and Yin & Yan (light and dark) magic.  

My weekends were spent at the occult shops in North Hampton and Amherst. The college towns were the perfect venue for the avant-garde and anything alternative to mainstream society. 

I still accompanied my father from time to time during a hunting expedition or a trip to the range, helping me keep at least one foot in the natural world. 

Once high school ended I found myself free and eager to begin my real life. The bullies had been beaten back, the classes survived, and the ink on my diploma had dried. Now what? I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. 

Returning to the mundane world, I only had thoughts of how I might eke out a living and get a place of my own. 

I began reaching out to my network at the occult stores and some friends who practiced shamanism and witchcraft put me in contact with the Dreadstone Compay. Dreadstone was looking for an Inhuman Resources Recruiter and they were willing to train. I was eager to learn. 

This is as good as anyplace for the story proper to really begin.

CHAPTER 2

The Dreadstone tower rose impossibly tall, dominating the Boston skyline. No one could remember when the building had been erected and although many considered it an eyesore it had become the type of anomaly that ordinary people forced themselves to forget. They knew the structure was there but they never talked about it, and if you happened to ask them about they would feign a type of absentmindedness where it was easy to believe they had never seen the building before, had no knowledge of its existence. 

Inside, the floors and walls had been decorated with a dark tile, immaculately cleaned and polished, that created a mirrored reflection that was easy to believe could transport you to another world. 

Security here was different than I had ever noticed before. I looked at the guards behind the reception desk with an unconscious understanding that something wasn’t quite normal about them. They dressed the part smiled and frowned at just the right moments but it was like the flesh that stretched over their frames hid something other than blood, tendon, and bone. 

Nevertheless, I sat in the lobby, balancing a clipboard on my lap while filling out an application as best I could. When I had finished scribbling on the form, wondering why they didn’t just let you use a computer, I returned the horrid thing to the first guard who smiled as he took it. 

“You can go right up,” he said handing me an access badge. “They’re waiting for you.”

To be continued…

 

Wolves of Vengeance Sample: Chapter 5 (Captain Amanda Rann)

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Wolves of Vengeance

CHAPTER 5

Amanda had mixed feelings standing in front of Crone again, but she had a job to do and she would be damned if she wasn’t going to carry it out to completion.
“I told them I’d bring in a team of hunters to track down whatever did this,” Amanda said.
“Very good, Captain Rann,” Crone said pushing a small jewelry box across the table toward her. Silver captain’s bars gleamed on top of black velvet.
“I don’t understand, sir,” Amanda said, but she did and she wasn’t sure she liked it.
“I’m promoting you, which as you know comes with the obligatory raise in pay grade,” Crone said and then smiled. “Congratulations Captain.”
“You’re putting me in charge of a team?”
“Yes, you’re going to be commanding a small infiltration team of five men…”
“Men, sir?” Amanda asked. “I’m going to be commanding a team of male soldiers?”
“That is correct and they won’t like it either. But you are the only one I have at my disposal that I feel is capable to pull off this mission. Besides, I don’t think we have time to pull in an experienced team from California.”
“These men have never done special ops?”
“Oh, they’ve done special ops. They just haven’t done paranormal ops. I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
Amanda didn’t like the sound of that. Tackling unknown Papas (code from the NATO phonetic alphabet for paranormal creatures, just like Tangos were used to signify terrorists) was tough enough, doing it with an inexperienced team was just next of suicide.
“I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right,” Crone added. “You’re bound to take casualties. But these men know they’re expendable and they’re willing to do what it takes to protect us and this great nation.”
“Hoo-Rah,” Amanda called out automatically. It had been drilled into her and it gave her strength just saying it. And she needed all the strength she could muster.
***
Crone didn’t waste any time. He drove her personally by Humvee to a once abandoned aircraft hanger, now a hulk of weather-darkened steel. The airstrip hadn’t held up as well. Dead weeds waited for resurrection in the cracks of the tarmac. A test awaited her in the cool confines of the hanger. She knew the men also waited. And she was ready.
She entered the hanger ahead of Crone, her stride and her breathing matching her determination. She felt completely in the moment, in her element. All thoughts of family, of strife, disappeared and she felt prepared to do her job for God and for country.
“Colonel on the deck!” Spittle sprayed as Amanda barked the command.
The team snapped to attention.
“At ease gentlemen,” Crone said as he walked in and stood next to Amanda. “Meet Captain Amanda Rann. She will be your commanding officer on this mission.”
One soldier, with lieutenant’s bars, smirked.
“I think the Captain has a few words for you before we begin,” Crone barked.
Amanda took a breath and stepped forward.
“I see you all like wearing pussy-puke grins on your faces. I know you think you’re above being commanded by a woman,” Amanda said. “I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. And as a gesture of my goodwill you may all speak freely before it’s time to shut the fuck up and get the job done. Who’s first?”
No one spoke. Her verbal violence of action had created an awkward silence. Then the Lieutenant took a step forward.
“Where are you from, ma’am?” the soldier asked.
“That’s Lieutenant Skakes just so you know, Captain,” Crone interjected.
“I’m originally from Indiana, Lieutenant,” Amanda replied.
“And I can speak freely without fear of reprisal?”
“Have at it, Lieutenant,” Amanda said.
“I think I speak for the rest of the team when I say we don’t like being led by no popcorn Captain,” Lt. Skakes said.
Laughter burst from the team. Crone’s steely stare brought them back to composure.
“Popcorn Captain? Why don’t you explain what you mean by that,” Amanda said, keeping her face expressionless. The Lieutenant hesitated but quickly regained his confidence.
“Ma’am, I hate to offend your delicate ears, but I know I popped a lot of corn when I was stationed in Indiana. If you know what I mean,” Skakes said, his grin growing wide. The smirks returned to the faces of the team.
“You look like a pretty big man, Lieutenant. I have a proposition for you.”
“You’re propositioning me?” He looked back at his team incredulously, and that elicited more laughter.
“That’s right,” Amanda said, slipping out of her bomber jacket. “You’re in line for a promotion. I’ll give you a chance on getting it quicker than you expected. Come take the command from me.”
“I don’t think that would be right, Ma’am, seeing you’re much smaller than me. And female.”
“Take the command from me or be led by me. It’s your choice.”
Skakes looked to his team and then to Crone as if pleading with someone to tell him what to do. He had allowed her to drag him into a no-win situation. If he won, how much respect would he gain by beating up a woman? But if he lost…
“Okay, but I’ll go easy on you,” Skakes said.
Amanda knew she would have to put the fight into him before she finished him. If she didn’t, she would never earn the respect of the team. Still, he was a big guy, if he connected…
Skakes tentatively stepped forward, while the other four men fanned out creating a semi-circle. Amanda took a step forward with confidence.
Skakes put his hands up like a boxer and walked clockwise following her movement. Amanda kept her hands down and her mind in a relaxed state of awareness. She could tell Skakes was eager to get this over with.
Skakes’s nervous energy finally got the better of him and he stepped toward her with a right hook, his hand open as if to slap her down.
Amanda lifted her left arm exposing the ulna bone by turning her wrist outward. Her arm intercepted his strike. He winced when the soft portion of his lower arm slammed into the unyielding bone. She knew he wouldn’t want to do that again.
Amanda immediately twisted her hips and thrust her arm out hitting the bridge of his nose with the heel of her palm.
Blood exploded from the Lieutenant’s nose, and he grabbed it as he took a step back.
Fury burned his cheeks. Skakes rocketed at her, blood flying from his nostrils, teeth gritting. Adrenaline dumped into her system as his fist made a straight line for her face.
Waiting until the last second before impact, Amanda stepped in diagonally past his punch, allowing his fist to fly over her right shoulder as she used her body momentum to hit his lower sternum. He sucked wind. Then she raised her knee and stamped down diagonally through his knee joint. A sickening crunch echoed in the hangar. The force of the impact drove his knee along with his body to the floor. Skakes screamed.
She could have easily stopped, let the medics take him away. That, of course, wouldn’t have been enough of a demonstration.
She stomped him with her boots breaking ribs, spraying more blood, dislodging teeth.
Crone took out a cell phone and called for the medics. Everyone stood in silence as they came and carted away Skakes’s twitching body.
“Who’s the next in command?” Amanda asked when the medics were out of earshot.
They pushed a hardened soldier out of the group who had suddenly lost his nerve.
“What’s your name soldier?”
“Master Sgt. Doggel, Captain.”
“Well Master Sgt., congratulations. You’ve just been promoted to Lieutenant,” Amanda said never taking her eyes off him.
***
“Lieutenant Doggel, why don’t you introduce the team,” Amanda said after Crone had left her to her business.
“Yes ma’am. The man to my left is Private First Class Duncan Clarke. When he played football in high school, they called him Icebox. We call him the same.”
Icebox nodded and gave her a wide grin.
“Ma’am,” he said, his deep voice filling the hanger.
“The man on the other side of Icebox is Sgt. Robert Garcia, as you can tell the ladies find him easy on the eyes so we call him Diamond, you know, after the girls’ best friend.”
Diamond winked at Doggel and shrugged his shoulders. This brought on light laughter from the team.
To my left you’ll find Shooter Jackson. He’s got a cool name so we just call him Shooter. I almost named him Toothpick because he’s always sucking on one of those things and it’s driving me up the wall. Man has an oral fixation or something.”
Shooter gave a two-fingered Cub Scout salute.
“And what do they call you?” Amanda asked.
Doggel smiled.
“They call me Lieutenant,” he said.
“Good answer,” Amanda said, her lips upturning into a smile. “I think I’ll call you Dog, Lieutenant. Any problem with that?”
“Not a one, Ma’am.”
“Good. Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, we need to get into the thick of it. The things I’m about to tell you are above Top Secret. They’re so far above Top Secret the President has to have a need to know.
“You are now part of a paranormal elimination team.”
“Like Ghostbusters?” Shooter asked. More laughter from the team.
“No. Not quite. I’m talking about parasitic entities, entities that are made up of non-corporeal energy, that have attached themselves to a host. In this instance, they’ve possessed dead dogs. They’ve already killed one victim. There will be more unless we stop them.”
“That’s like some serious Exorcist shit there,” Icebox said.
“You can’t be serious,” Shooter said, his toothpick bobbing over his lip as he spoke.
“I know many of you will have trouble believing this right now,” Amanda said. “You’ll believe soon enough. If you don’t wrap your head around it, you’ll die out in the field.”
She had seen it happen before. A paranormal event could create panic or instill shock, destroying unit integrity. That’s all it took for someone to get killed.
“All we need to know is how do we kill them,” Icebox said.
“You can’t kill them with ordinary ammunition. We have ammunition that’s been able to put down creatures like this.”
“You’ve done this before?” Dog asked.
“That is correct,” Amanda said. And she had, but in truth, this wasn’t like facing a common enemy. Paranormal creatures were all unique and what destroyed one wouldn’t necessarily annihilate another.
“Hoo-Ra, then, Captain,” Icebox said.
Amanda gave the rest of the situation report providing them with detailed maps of Wellington along with a thick packet of information on what had worked on other missions.
“If there are no other questions,” Amanda said. “It’s time for us to get our asses in gear and train.”
***
“My name is Ralph Edinhart III, PhD. I am well aware that trilobites of your ilk call me the Geek.” The Geek wore a rumpled suit a size too big, a couple days worth of scruff stood out in unsightly patches on his face. “I’m fine with that. It’s my job to provide you with the state of the art weaponry and systems that you need to complete your mission.”
Amanda and her team stood inside the hangar; soon it would be converted to a training area designed to let them practice real world scenarios while also creating unit integrity, a bonding that the team would need to perform as a single unit, a spear to lance the enemy.
They wore the best armor system the United States military had to offer.
The process began by donning sweat-whisking undergarments. On top of that they wore standard issue black Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs), similar in construction to that of SWAT teams. They slipped comfortably into a computerized armor system that protected the outer potion of their limbs, along with their chest, abdomen, and groin, while also enhancing their strength and agility. A computerized helmet and visor allowed for real-time heads-up monitoring of vitals, GPS mapping, and infrared and thermal displays of the surrounding areas. A backpack provided a CPU and batteries that monitored and powered the cooling system and electronic armor features. A small ration of water, contained in the backpack, supplemented a sweat and urine recovery system that provided continuous hydration through a straw underneath the lip-mike. The gun system also connected to the CPU.
“I don’t like this,” Amanda said.
“What’s not to like,” the Geek asked befuddled.
“I’m a KISS girl,” Amanda said.
The Geek furrowed his eyebrows.
“Keep It Simple Stupid,” Icebox said.
“How do we know this thing won’t break down in the field? If the system short circuits, the exoskeleton will freeze up and render us immobile. And the weapon system will be useless.”
The team looked at one another, nodding their heads in agreement.
“There’s nothing to worry about. Even in the unlikely event of a malfunction, you’ll be able to hit the fail-safe. That’s the plunger right there. Hit that and you’ll be able to leave the armor. With this equipment, statistically speaking, we’re talking about a 90% less casualty rate. The suit will even carry a wounded soldier 50 meters through use of the exoskeleton alone. We’re talking twelve hundred pounds of tensile strength so you should be well protected. You’ll also be carrying a computerized assault rifle with auto targeting that shoots 9mm silver tipped bullets.”
“I hear ya, Doc. But I still don’t like it.” Still, she had to acquiesce, she couldn’t argue with the possibility of lower casualties. She’d have to carry her Glock just in case.
“Wait a minute,” Icebox said. “Silver bullets? Like the Lone Ranger?”
“Just like in legend, we’ve found that paranormal creatures can’t be hurt by much, but they can be hurt by silver,” the Geek said. “We believe it has something to do with the subatomic structure of the silver interacting with the subatomic structure of the creature. Only a small amount of silver is practical in the manufacturing of the ammunition. The core of the bullet is lead.”
“That means we may have to hit these things multiple times to take them down,” Amanda said.
They spent the rest of the day learning to work as a team, clearing rooms, and engaging virtual paranormal wolf creatures that the Geek seamlessly integrated into the surrounding environment through their visors. The technology wouldn’t see civilian use for another twenty years. He monitored the missions from an observatory room jutting from the side of the hanger.
After executing the program over, and over again,, they had effectively won every situation without a scratch.
That bothered her. They had gone up and down this application looking at a host of scenarios and every single time the mission went right by the numbers. No one was injured, everything went according to plan. That just didn’t speak to reality. Shit always happened in the field and she couldn’t believe these things would be so easy to kill, even with special ammo.
She wanted to run it again, run the damn thing into the ground. But the team needed rest. In the morning, they would head to Wellington and begin their hunt.
“Hey Doc,” she called to the Geek through her lip mike. “The good news is we’re done for the night. The bad news is you’re coming with us.”
“I didn’t sign on for that,” the Geek said, voice cracking. “Why do you want me? I’ll only be in the way.”
“There’s only five of us. We’ll do all the heavy lifting. All I need you to do is babysit in the command van.”

Buy Wolves of Vengeance here.

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Wolves of Vengeance Sample: Chapter 3 (Amanda Rann)

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Wolves of Vengeance

CHAPTER 3

Lieutenant Amanda Rann sat on a wooden park bench. She wore a World-War II-style leather bomber jacket that covered a concealed carry, subcompact .40 caliber Glock 27 holstered in the rear waistband of her jeans. Nine rounds of special ammunition waited in the magazine ready to protect her and the country from the unique enemies she and her team hunted.
Out here, in the park, she looked the part of a typical mom—but in a secret unit of the United States Special Forces, she was a highly trained soldier. And Rann didn’t run, that’s what they said. She didn’t run from anything—except maybe her family.
Rebecca, her seven year old, and Holly, who had just turned ten, took turns on the slide. They loved the playground and Amanda couldn’t think of a better place to bring them, for their last visit together before she deployed.
Her smile, as she watched them, belied the melancholy of her emotions. Her marriage to Rod had turned sour, something she swore would never happen. Unfortunately, and perhaps understandably, the long-term deployments, along with all the secrets, had taken their toll.
Rod didn’t know where she went, how long she would be gone, or what she did in service to the country. Many times, she would have to tell him it was only a training exercise. He had always been able to see through the lies, and he resented them. That led to him resenting her.
“Mom, do you have to go?” Rebecca asked, waking Amanda from her thoughts. Rebecca had traversed the distance between the slide and the bench without her knowing. On a mission, a lapse in awareness could get her killed. Once in the field she would have to put aside all thoughts of her family if she hoped to survive.
“Yes, honey, I do. I’ll be back though. Mommy’s got to go to work.”
The gravel crunched behind her, just beyond the short metal fence that separated the playground from the parking lot. Amanda looked over her shoulder, not surprised to see Rod’s Chevy Tahoe pulling next to her Jeep Wrangler two door Sport.
Holly ran over to where Rebecca stood. Amanda got off the bench, squatted down, and gave them both a big hug. Tears didn’t flow. Amanda knew they should, but the emotion she once felt didn’t come as easily as before. Her work had made her numb.
“I love you both. Be good for Daddy.”
Rod walked through the opening in the fence and over to them. He brought with him a palpable tension.
“Hey, sweethearts,” Rod said. “Why don’t you girls start walking over to the car? I’ll catch up.”
The girls did as he said, Rebecca looking back a couple times as they walked away.
Rod had let his beard go scraggly. His hair was a little shaggy, and his loose fitting clothes made him appear lazy, aloof. Rod had always had a carefree way about him, very different from the men she encountered in her work and maybe that’s why she had been interested in him. Maybe she just didn’t want to bring her work home. He looked the part of an English professor, the part he played every day at the local community college. They had been a strange match, a PhD and an instrument of the DOD. Somehow, though, their differences had complemented, now they just grated on both of them.
“How are you doing, Amanda?” Rod asked, putting his hands in his pockets. When had they gone back to first names? She remembered when they only answered to honey and sweetheart.
“I’d be better if I wasn’t leaving for God knows where.”
“Then don’t go,” Rod said. They had had this argument dozens of times. Now it seemed they would have it again even if it were just by rote.
“It’s not that simple, and you know it.” Amanda’s face tightened and she felt a knot forming in her stomach. “I have a responsibility to my country.”
“What about your responsibility to Rebecca and Holly?” He looked down as he spoke, as if he understood the cruelness of his words.
“That’s really low, you know that, Rod?” Now she wanted to push him down and kick him in the balls. “What am I going to do, just not show up, go AWOL? I can either serve out these last two years deployed as the government sees fit or I can serve it out in the stockade.”
“I asked you not to reenlist…”
“Yeah, yeah. You asked me a lot of things.” That’s it. He could take his guilt and cram it. At the time of her reenlistment, the military felt like a big part of her life. She couldn’t have imagined life as a civilian. Reluctantly she acknowledged to herself that in those days she still identified with being a soldier more than being a mom. She had no regrets about reenlistment. Those years had gone by quickly. Now, the challenge would be serving the additional four years in the reserve.
Rod shook his head and walked away.
She watched him get back into his SUV, and then it was hard to see him or her girls behind the light tint of the windows. Rod pulled away taking two parts of her with him.
Amanda took a deep breath as she watched the Tahoe turn the corner and disappear out of sight. She had a job to do, just like she had told Rebecca, and Rann didn’t run, not from her duties—just from her family.
***
Amanda spent the drive to the compound in numbing silence, she didn’t turn on the radio to block out her thoughts, and she didn’t try to suppress her rising anger.
The GPS sent her south from her adopted hometown of Nashua, New Hampshire to the uneven asphalt roads of Massachusetts. About forty minutes later, she had reached her destination.
The old military base in Ayer stood abandoned—at least that’s what the government wanted people to think.
Driving her Jeep onto the access road, she followed it to where a guard station stood, a sentinel to a forgotten time.
Amanda flashed her ID and the guard opened the gate. She sped past him without a second glance.
Before budgetary cuts, Evans Air Force Base had housed a thriving military community. Amanda had had the chance to visit in its heyday, back when the movie theater bustled with soldiers and families looking for an escape from their everyday lives. Now the brick and concrete building stood void of all life. The marquee boards stood empty, waiting for a time when they would be needed again. Sadly, she knew that time would never arrive.
Amanda drove through the ghost town of military housing until she reached a nondescript concrete building that showed a semblance of life only by the few cars parked in the lot. The resources leveraged to the building and personnel had remained so sparse even Old Glory stood absent from the flagpole.
Inside the building, a civilian receptionist looked up from a romance novel and greeted her.
“Colonel Crone is expecting you.”
Amanda walked the lonely corridors following the receptionist’s directions. She knew Crone would have appropriated the best office space possible for his pay grade, and she wasn’t disappointed when she arrived at the spacious room. Someone had made a placard from duct tape, his name written on it with a Sharpie.
Fully furnished, the corner office would have been well sought after real estate back in the day. As of now, only an old desk and a couple of chairs stood out among the empty space. At least the two big windows let in a good deal of sunlight.
Amanda sat down in the plastic chair in front of Crone’s empty desk.
She didn’t have to wait long before Colonel Crone arrived; he wore a jovial expression, but she knew he was frowning on the inside. He walked in all spit and polish, even his bald head gleamed.
She stood to salute but he just waved her off, waiting until he was seated before speaking.
“I have an intel mission for you, Lieutenant,” Crone said. “We’ve been getting some very strange reports out of Wellington, Massachusetts, and some energy fluctuations.”
She didn’t like the sound of that.
“Energy fluctuations? Does that mean what I think it means?”
“That’s what I need you to find out. I need eyes on the ground. I can’t trust the tech-geeks on this one. You’ll be given a cover and whatever equipment you need. You leave ASAP.”
When you had to do something you didn’t want to do, only one response remained available in the military.
“Can do,” she said, hoping that she would go to Wellington, find nothing, and get back to her normal life, but all the while knowing that nothing ever happened that easily.

***
Amanda didn’t waste any time grabbing her gear and heading to Wellington. Crone’s staff had made all the arrangements earlier.
As soon as the killing hit the local morning paper, an operative—who worked double duty as an assistant district manager for the Red Arrow Animal Control Services Inc.—called the police to offer their services and remind them of their state government contract, just in case anyone forgot and tried to award the business to a friend. (They had real staffed offices, not P.O. Boxes and actually had critter wranglers who did what the company claimed, all the while most of the staff remained unaware of the clandestine operations going on in the background.)
Amanda procured one of the Red Arrow vans stored in a hanger and allowed the GPS to show her the way. No reason to make the trip any more difficult than it had to be. An hour and a half later she found herself on Castle Road parked behind a black Dodge Charger.
Amanda got out of the van and approached a handsome, well-dressed detective. She found herself immediately attracted to him even though suave dress had never been her style.
“Detective Callahan?” she asked.
“I know you were probably expecting a redheaded Irishman.”
Amanda laughed despite herself. She wasn’t one to let her guard down, but with him, it seemed natural.
“Don’t worry, Detective. I’ll try not to make an ass of you or me.”
Callahan chuckled. “I like you already. Military?”
“You can tell?”
“You talk like military, you have military bearing.”
“Arrow hires a lot of ex-military. Takes one to know one?” Amanda said raising her eyebrows.
“You’re not making an ass out of either of us by assuming that. Desert Storm. And you?”
“I’ve been around.”
“I’m sure you have. Mysterious. I like that.”
Amanda gave him a wry smile. “So what am I looking for here?”
“Seems a wild animal decided to use one of our residents as a chew toy. Now the victim was a real shit bag so I really don’t care ‘cept, of course, to keep our citizenry safe. I was hoping you could tell me what did this. I have a witness saying she heard what she thought sounded like a wolf.”
“Wolves aren’t native to this area. Anything’s possible, I guess. They’re finding Great White Sharks right here on the east coast now, just like in the movies. Can you show me the tracks?”
“You see, that’s the funny thing: didn’t leave any tracks.”
“That is a funny thing,” Amanda said trying to act surprised, but she wasn’t and that didn’t portend anything good for the people of Wellington. “Maybe your people missed them. It happens all the time. They can be really faint. I’ll do a sweep of the area and look for all the signs. If you want, I can meet you back at the station with my findings.”
“Sounds good to me. I’m up to my eyebrows in paperwork. But I better at least show you the crime scene and get you situated so you know where to look.”
“Lead the way,” Amanda said, but she really wished he would just leave. She couldn’t get her gear and begin her real job until he left. He would ask too many questions she couldn’t answer.
They walked through a thicket of woods until they came to a clearing.
“This is where we found the body,” Callahan said, his hands automatically clasping behind his back, as if the memory of the crime scene took control over his limbs. Amanda had seen the behavior many times before with detectives.
“Seems like a real peaceful place,” Amanda said.
“It was,” Callahan said. “Well, I’ll leave you to do what you do.”
“Detective? When I’m done here I’ll need to view the body.” Amanda knew she was pushing believability, but she needed all the information she could get to make an accurate conclusion.
“Aw, you don’t want to do that.” Callahan puckered his lips and shook his head.
“I’ve seen my share of dead and mangled. I assure you I’m no shrinking violet.”
Callahan laughed. “I bet you ain’t. Okay, meet me at the coroners at say 4:30 pm. That give you enough time?”
“I’ll see you at 16:30 hours, Detective.”
“Call me Adrian,” Callahan said and then smiled.
“Amanda,” she replied.
He nodded and then walked back to his car.
As soon as the detective had left the scene, she returned to her van and grabbed a rucksack full of equipment.
Back in the clearing, she pulled out an EMF detector and checked the residual electromagnetic field. The needle spiked as she passed the detector over the ground. Shit! Her heart sank and her stomach felt like she had swallowed a stone. She looked around, no high-tension wires or anything stood out that would explain such a high level.
In an open outdoor area like this, the magnetic field would dissipate within a few days. She could just go back to Crone and tell him she didn’t find anything, go back to her kids, hope this spike was just a one-time thing.
Amanda climbed into the driver’s side and shut the door. She noticed that, on the other side of the street, a little girl sat on the sidewalk holding a red bouncy-ball. The little girl stared at the woods intently.
Amanda got out of the van walked across the street and then squatted beside her so she could look the little girl in the eyes.
“What’s you’re name?” Amanda asked.
“Sheila,” the little girl said looking down at the ball she held.
“That’s a very nice ball you have, Sheila. And a very pretty dress. Can I ask you a question?”
Sheila nodded.
“Did you see anything last light?”
Sheila nodded again.
“What?”
Sheila turned to her and enunciated very clearly and harshly.
“Wolf.”

Buy Wolves of Vengeance here.

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