Tag Archives: Horror

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2
Two months later, I got word that awaiting publisher approval, Malfeasance had made the cut. I was cautiously ecstatic. The editor didn’t think the publisher would kick anyone out, but she couldn’t officially accept any story without the publishers go-ahead.   
Here’s what she wrote about the story:

I really liked it. It was a great premise, good writing. I love Law and Order SVU and it reminded me of that but with an evil twist. I liked too that the villain really wasn’t in the story till the end yet he was a huge presence. I have to think that’s not easy to do, but you pulled it off.
About 21 days later, she gave me permission to announce the acceptance on social media. Then in August, I signed the contract. Realizing I could take part in my first reading and signing, I committed to attending the inaugural, but now defunct, Anthology Convention (AnthoCon) in New Hampshire. 
I had a fantastic time at the convention. 

After the reading, I took part in my first signing. Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers did well, selling out the 100 copies we had on hand. Then it continued to sell at other conventions and at online retailers. 

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was my first opportunity to share pages with the late great Rick Hautala (sometimes billed as the other writer from Maine, as he was Stephen King’s roommate in college), one of the authors who inspired me as a teenager during the 1980’s horror boom. 

Here’s some information on the anthology:

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The anthology features 26 stories and poems from the delightfully scary to the deeply macabre. 

Epitaphs, edited by author Tracy L. Carbone, includes an introduction by award-winning author and publisher Peter Crowther, as well as a cover by Danny Evarts. The table of contents in this chilling anthology is as follows: 

Perfect Witness – Rick Hautala 

To Sleep, Perchance to Die – Jeffrey C. Pettengill 

The Christopher Chair – Paul McMahon 

A Case of the Quiets – Kurt Newton 

Build-a-Zombie – Scott T. Goudsward 

Not an Ulcer – John Goodrich 

The Possessor Worm – B. Adrian White 

Make a Choice – John McIlveen 

The Death Room – Michael Allen Todd 

Stoney’s Boneyard – Holly Newstein & Glenn Chadbourne 

Kali’s Promise – Trisha J. Wooldridge 

The Sequel – David Bernard 

Malfeasance – David North-Martino 

Private Beach – Stacey Longo 

All Aboard – Christopher Golden 

Holiday House – LL Soares 

Lines at a Wake – Steven Withrow 

A Deeper Kind of Cold – K. Allen Wood 

Alone – P. Gardner Goldsmith 

Pandora’s Box – Roxanne Dent 

Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can – Michael Arruda 

Burial Board – TT Zuma (Tony Tremblay)

Windblown Shutter – John Grover 

Cheryl Takes a Trip – Stephen Dorato 

The Legend of Wormley Farm – Philip Roberts 

Church of Thunder and Lightening – Peter N. Dudar

Wow! What a talented group! Looking back, I find it humbling to have been part of this project. 

Epitaphs is now out of print, but an ebook version is still available. Since you can still purchase the anthology for the low sum of $2.99, I won’t be publishing Malfeasance on this blog.  Although, I am planning on recreating my reading, a reading that at one point in the narrative initiated a gasp from the crowd. Once I make a video and upload it to Youtube, I’ll link to it on this blog. 

Here’s a mixed review of my story by a reader on Amazon. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to make it feel like the reader was on a train, looking out a window, and seeing that the bridge is out ahead, knows nothing can be done about it, except take the plunge.

Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then… it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.

 Still, it’s good feedback, and I’m always trying to improve. Many times, a mixed or bad review can teach you much more than a fawning one. Check your ego at the door. 

If you’re interested, you can read a sample and get your e-copy here. 

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The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 1

 

I wanted badly to be in the inaugural New England Horror Writers (NEHW) anthology. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a failure. Then I turned it around. 

In 2011 my senior year at University was ending, and I was immersed in finals. I had sold The Language of Ice and was spending a good amount of time promoting the anthology. Then I found out about the debut anthology from the NEHW, a group I had been a member of for a few years. They had floated the idea for an anthology around for a long time, and finally, the project had received a green light. They’d decided on an editor and were opening up for submissions. Wow! I really wanted to be in that anthology. To represent NEHW in their inaugural publication would be an honor. The problem: I didn’t have the time to write something new. At least, that’s what I thought… 

Fortunately, I had already written a ghost story, Phantom Chasers, that I was beginning to shop around. Prepping the story for submission, I sent it out and hoped for the best. There was nothing left to do but return to my studies. 

Shortly thereafter, the editor let everyone know that the first round of rejections had gone out along with notifications for those placed on the shortlist. They would accept no story until they had read all the manuscripts, giving everyone a fair shot. The only problem? I didn’t hear either way. 

 Sending a polite email, I awaited a response. 

The editor contacted me. My story was indeed shortlisted, certainly publishable, but probably not strong enough to make the final cut. Bestselling writers were slated to send in tales, and everyone had to bring their A-game. Although, the editor encouraged me to send another story.  

Clarifying what she wanted, she told me to send in something that was timeless, like Ray Bradbury’s The Dwarf, or something that had more of a gut punch at the end, like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. 

Thinking about all the stories I had available, I realized why some of them hadn’t sold. They were missing key ingredients.
Later, based on what I learned writing Malfeasance,  I would revamp Phantom Chasers and sell it, but that’s a story for another time. 

I felt encouraged, but it seemed like a daunting challenge to write something that would make the cut. Could I write a story that was both timeless and visceral? Despite the time crunch, I was up for the challenge. 

I had an idea to use the “ticking time bomb scenario” thought experiment as the basis for the story. Basically, an ethics debate on torture, I worried that my story might be too controversial for the current climate. Never one to back down on sensitive subjects, I went ahead with the story anyway. 

A mother and daughter would be the main characters in the story, culminating in a parent’s worst nightmare.  If I could affect the editor, I might have a chance of getting into the anthology. 
Spending the full month crafting Malfeasance, I sent in the story at the 11th hour. I opted to change the ending,  in hopes to give more twists and turns to the story, but my wife suggested I go with the first version as she felt it was more powerful.

Sending it off, I hoped for the best. 

Next time, I’ll tell you what happened. 

GRAVEN IMAGE by David North-Martino

Graven Image by David North-Martino ©2004, 2007, 2019 

Graven Image originally appeared in The Swamp, and Afterburn SF 

“Our clients all have a peculiar fear. They’re not convinced their loved ones will stay dead,” the Director of Sanguine Mortuary said.  

Hatch fought for control, he thought he might go from smirk, to grin, to all-out laughter.  

The Director, his face as dead as any of the clients entombed in Sanguine’s walls, stared at Hatch from behind an expensive looking oak desk. The dire need for the job forced Hatch’s expression to the same state as the director’s name.

“Mr. Stone, I——”

“Jonathan, I know what I’m telling you might be hard to accept, but we provide a valuable service to our clientele.” Stone wrinkled his face into his best mortician’s smile. 

“Mr. Stone,” Hatch said. “I really need this job. Whether I believe or not, I can watch your building and everything in it.”

“You seem like a good fellow. Pity, companies will throw away employees after a decade of service.” Mr. Stone gently placed Hatch’s resume on the desk. “I’ll give you a chance, just keep your wanderlust to a minimum. The last guard couldn’t contain his curiosity. If he hadn’t up and disappeared, I would have had to fire him.”

Elation! At this point, any job was a good job. He made a mental note to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. He and his wife would, at last, have something to celebrate. But behind the euphoria and relief, something nagged at him. Later, when he gave it some thought, after half a bottle of wine and with his wife in a satisfied sleep beside him, questions arose, questions he couldn’t answer. They chattered through his mind, lulling him into a troubled sleep.  

#

“Uh——what’s on the monitors?” Hatch asked. The surreal images were better than caffeine, no way he would drift off with those things staring at him. 

“Those? Oh go on, take a good look.” Michael Evans, the Second-Shift Sergeant, said. “What do they look like to you?” 

“Looks like dead people.”

“Those are our charges, three-hundred, and thirty-eight of ‘em.”  Evans seemed proud with the knowledge. “Oh, don’t worry, they ain’t gonna bother you much or entertain you for that matter.”

“Then why are we monitoring them?”  

“Just in case they wake up,” Evans said. Hatch felt a chill shoot into his groin. Soon he would be here alone——alone with them. 

Then Evans broke into a fit of heaving laughter. “Naw, they ain’t gonna wake up. I’ve been working here for five years, since I retired from the military, and I ain’t never seen a-one so much as wrinkle a nose.”

Hatch stared at the monitors again.   

“See, we have some very superstitious rich people around the world, and Sanguine helps alleviate their fear——and a good amount of their cash.” Evans shook his head back and forth in mock disbelief. “Got to show the client something right? Show the client that us security types are watching their loved ones twenty-four-by-seven. Kinda makes me chuckle. But it’s a good gig, especially on off shifts.  

“We don’t get no visitors, grieving family members or anything like that. We let the dead lay, play a little poker——you’ll have to play solitaire——and walk around a couple times. Make sure things are safe and secure——for the world outside I guess.” 

He laughed again as if the whole thing were ludicrous.

Evans showed Hatch around for the rest of the hour. He saved one piece of trivia for last.

“This is what I call the Bat-Phone,” Evans said, and Hatch understood why. The phone looked like an old model from the 1960s, rotary dial and all, and it was colored red like on the TV show. “In the unlikely chance that——something unusual happens——you pick up this phone and——well, after that I don’t know, but I’m sure you won’t find out. Damn thing probably don’t even have service.”

Evans had a pitying look on his face, like he was about to leave his favorite cat at the Vet to be euthanized. Hatch wondered if he could handle staying at Sanguine Mortuary alone for fifteen minutes, never mind eight hours.

“What happened to the last officer who worked the third shift?”

“Harold Drendle? Shoot——he’d worked here long as I did.  We used to talk a little at shift change, and he confessed to me he was having marital problems, problems caused by money, which by the way is how they always start, and then one day, I guess he was sick of it. He up and abandoned post sometime before shift change and he hasn’t been seen since. 

“He told me in confidence he was planning to go to Hawaii, had been socking away a little here and there. So, don’t you be letting your mind wander and go thinking nonsense. You’ll get used to this place soon enough.”  

#

Soon enough just wasn’t soon enough. Evans hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and Hatch was ready to abandon post. The ghoulish images only provided unwelcome company.  

Hatch turned his attention to the phone. He reached over, touched the receiver’s smooth plastic. Who was on the other end?

What was on the other end? 

The thought made him shudder. He withdrew his hand.  

He couldn’t just sit there with the monitors tuned to Dead-TV. He grabbed the Mag light, the weight comforting in his hand, and headed out for the first round of the evening.

Hatch’s footfalls echoed through the empty mausoleum. Every fifteen feet the wall receded to reveal a cluster of grave nooks. Accent lights reflected dimly off metal plates, revealing the names of the departed. They surrounded him. Outnumbered him. 

He rounded a bend and found the first key-point next to the chapel door. 

How long had it been since he had last attended church? He couldn’t remember. He touched the tour recorder to the plastic key, listened for the chirp, and then looked at the LCD screen. 

ChapHell, next key point inside.

Hatch shook his head, maybe when he got back to the command center he would fix the typo.  

Hatch flicked on the lights. The antiseptic nondenominational room radiated comfort, as if something from beyond could reach out and protect all those who entered.  

A feral cat’s mew? A crying child? A vocalized rush of wind raging through the hall toward him? 

Hatch crossed the threshold, pulled at the cherry-wood door and held it shut. The chapel shook and the doors threatened to pull from his grasp. Then the pounding shrill scream stopped, and Hatch stood in silence. 

“Damn trains,” Hatch said under his breath.  Then he remembered he was standing in a chapel. He looked up. “Sorry.”

Hatch continued with the tour. He came to a short stairwell that led down to the basement level. Cautiously, he descended. 

Hatch switched on the flashlight and adjusted the beam to full width. The key-point waited at the end of the hall surrounded by darkness. Hatch felt around for a light switch but found nothing. His pulse pounded in his temples.  

Making quick time, he passed closed doors on either side of the hall. He touched the tour reader to the key and waited impatiently for the chirp. 

A red door to his right caught his attention. He tried the handle. 

Locked. 

He glanced back toward the stairs, then back to the door. His curiosity got the better of him, and he tried his keys until one fit the lock. 

Match stepped inside a room filled with black metal file cabinets. The beam of light illuminated a unique cabinet——a red cabinet. 

He found a jagged hole where the lock should have been, as if someone had cut the mechanism out of the frame. Hatch opened the top drawer and then rifled through musty folders and yellowed papers. Most seemed to be nothing more than death records. Every soul buried at Sanguine must have been stored in that room. But then he found something else. 

A letter, age stained and watermarked, written on parchment with what appeared to be a quill pen, ignited Hatch’s curiosity. His eyes widened as he scanned strange sections:

Thank you again for taking this burden from me.  I am getting much too old to act as custodian any longer… 

The families absolutely insist on having guards. I know it sounds ridiculous, as if flesh and blood could really protect anyone from what is now in your possession… 

Feeding time is distasteful, but it lasts a relatively short time. I was lucky to only witness it for two full cycles in the twenty years since I acquired the collection. The dead must feed before they sleep… 

The dead must feed? 

What the hell did that mean?

A booming metallic reverberation made him jump. The sound had come from the hall. His mouth went dry and his throat tightened, but he had to check it out. That’s what he was being paid to do. 

Hatch cautiously stepped out into the hall. 

The reflection of his flashlight beam caught movement through a window in one of the doors. 

Anybody Home?

Hatch inched closer, shined the light inside——recoiled.   

A man stood, if that’s what you could call the thing that stood before him, dressed in a moth-eaten suit, bending over what looked like a metal cadaver table. 

The terrible thing that looked like a man chomped and smacked his lips as he devoured what remained of a body on the table. The head and chest were all that remained of the corpse ——everything else had been consumed. 

Hatch hacked and heaved, but nothing came up, as if his insides had turned to dust. He looked back at the window. 

The ghoul turned its head and looked at him, still stuffing flesh in-between the stitches that held his lips together. 

The ghoul grinned at him. 

Then came the screams.

Hatch raced through the halls double-time, the shrieks of the dead nipping at his ears. 

Which way out? 

He couldn’t remember. 

He passed the chapel. Sanctuary wouldn’t do, he needed the command center. 

He needed the phone!

Hatch slammed shut the command center door. 

No lock. 

The irony sent him into hysterics. 

Hatch turned around. The monitors were still trained on the coffins——some were empty. 

The cadavers that remained opened their eyes. 

Shit! 

Hatch reached for the phone——hesitated——picked it up. 

The phone automatically dialed. 

The ringing scratched in his left ear, the dead wailed in his right. 

“Pick up——damn it! pick up!”

The ringing stopped. 

A moment of hesitation on the other end of the line.

“I told you to curb your curiosity, Jonathan.”

The door buckled. Glass shattered. All went black.

***

Even with his eyes closed, Hatch could sense that Sergeant Evans stared at him, stared at the monitors. Curiosity could be a terrible thing, recognition worse.  

 The high-pitched chatter from the others Hatch only heard in a sanguine whisper, but he could understand what they wanted, what he also wanted. One last time before the sleep.  

The hunger rose in him—-in them——and in unison——and to the terror of Michael Evans——they all opened their eyes. 

-FIN-

The Witch (2015): Alternate Ending

Last night we streamed The Witch (2015) on Amazon Prime. This was the first time I had watched this film. I had heard good things, and I wasn’t disappointed. I usually spend time discussing the movie with my wife, and, if the movie has subtext, we spend time analyzing it. This analysis led me to think about an alternative way to end the film.  I like the original ending, I think it works, but I wanted to present a “quieter” version that I think works with the themes and still completes the character arc. Having some author friends who write novelizations, I was inspired to novelize a reimagined ending as fan fiction. Since the film takes place during the 17th century, I had a little trouble with the piece of dialog I needed to write. I still don’t like it, but I think it’s close enough to get the idea. And just so we’re clear, if you haven’t seen the movie yet–here be Spoilers!

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The Witch (2015): An Ending Reimagined

Thomasin looked down at her mother, the woman who had given birth to her, the woman she had just killed. Panic receded and was replaced with a wave of numbness. A sense of calm overcame her. She would not, could not, think of her family, or the preceding moments that had left her alone in this world. Instead, Thomasin picked up the bloodied billhook and strode off to her brother’s grave. Once there, she scooped up earth with her hands until there was enough of a depression that she could deposit the agriculture implement and bury it with loose dirt.

Retracing her steps, she began her preparation. She removed two eggs from the chicken coop and placed them in a satchel. Then she removed one chicken, the beast squawking as she did. She brought the bird over to her father’s tree stump where he had spent so much time splitting wood. Something that she had derided him for, but she wouldn’t think of that now. Couldn’t think of it. She had splitting to do of her own.

Using her father’s hatchet, she cleanly removed the head from the chicken. The force of the blade connected with the wood, making a hard thunk. Once the bird had stopped it’s spasms she placed the still warm carcass in her satchel, returned to the coop to snatch a second chicken, and then repeated the process.

Returning to her home for the last time, Thomasin thought about removing her bloodied garments but despite the disgust she felt wearing them, thought better of it. Instead, she grabbed more items she would need and placed a burlap shawl over her shoulders. All she wanted to do was sleep, but she could not. She had to be on the move before nightfall.

As her last act, she leashed Black Phillip with a rough braided rope. The goat gave no resistance. With her satchel strapped across her body, and Black Phillip in tow, she made her way back to the road she and her family had used to find their place in the world over a year ago.

Thomasin walked, thinking little, still numb, a numbness she wasn’t sure would ever recede. The forest around her had lost its color, and what there was of the sun had lost its warmth.

As night fell all around her, she had no choice but to stop and make camp. She tied Black Philip securely to a tree, far enough away from her camp that the rope would not allow him to reach her. She poured out some oats that would have been used to feed the horse, careful to give only enough to sustain him over night so that the food would last until she reached her destination.

Stoking a fire, (how many times had she watched her father or her mother do it? She couldn’t remember) the warmth of the blaze elusive to her skin, she plucked and then roasted the chicken over a spit, using branches whittled with her father’s hunting knife.

Her stomach filled, but her soul empty, she propped up against a tree and waited for daylight.

The next morning she broke camp. Black Philip had not escaped his confinement. Together they made their way down what felt like an endless road. How long this went on she could not remember, and her condition never changed. She could not shake the numbness or the emptiness within, and the world around her only reflected her depression.

Finally, the high walls that protected the plantation could be seen in the distance. The sight did not give her joy. She was sure nothing ever would. Once at the gates, she made a fist and pounded. Waited. Then pounded again. Finally the wooden doors groaned opened. The men who answered, who dressed in the same way as her father had, whose children she had grown up with, looked at her with pity. She did not want to be pitied.

They sent for the Governor and his two magistrates, and in short order, the three men who had sentenced her family to exile stormed through a growing crowd to look quizzically at the young woman, her clothing covered in dried blood, and the black goat that stood behind her on a leash.

“Mine family. Suffered I did to watch them die. Killed they be, by a hostile tribe,” Thomasin said, staring at the ground. Then she looked up. “Survived, I did. Alone.”

The governor nodded his head, a look of supreme sorrow darkening his expression. He waved her in, and the crowd parted to let her and Black Phillip through.

Crossing the threshold, they entered the throng, and the gates shut behind them.

End.

Review of Hank Schwaeble’s Angel of the Abyss

angel-of-the-abyss

Hank Schwaeble’s Jake Hatcher is back in his third novel, The Angel of the Abyss. As always, and just like his short fiction, Schwaeble crafts a rollicking good tale that will keep you turning the pages.

The beginning of this tale has Hatcher facing a demon, although it’s more complicated than that, giving Hatcher time to exercise his sarcastic wit. Fans of Supernatural and Ash vs. the Evil Dead will definitely appreciate the humor.

The mood becomes more serious and dire in the second act. The middle of the book, unlike many writers who get bogged down at this point, is where Schwaeble really shines. He does a great job writing from the perspective of Amy, Jake’s true love, who is also a former cop. I actually enjoyed Amy’s scenes even more than Hatcher’s. The two of them fight like the proverbial married couple, of which, I’m sure, many readers will be able to relate.

Schweable also does a fine job of taking on the perspective of a young boy. We meet the boy while he’s in a precarious situation, and we know from the beginning that the boy will converge with Hatcher and Amy at some point in the story. I won’t spoil it for you, but I think you’ll be racing to the end to find out what happens.

Hatcher’s past is constantly catching up with him, complicating things, and fans of the series will get some closure on events that were set up in the previous volumes. New readers can start here; Hank does a great job of bringing you into Hatcher’s world. You won’t feel left out or confused.

The last third of the book builds up to a hellish crescendo leaving this reader wanting more. There are questions left unanswered, promising a fourth book in this popular series. The Angel of the Abyss has it all: likable characters, demons, black magic, possession, secret military installations, cults, and lots of action. If you want a story to get you in the mood for Halloween and beyond, pick up The Angel of the Abyss. You won’t be disappointed. Highly recommended.

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.”

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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.”

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