Archive | January 2012

Chance Encounter

Long before there was EQ, Horizons, WoW or many of the other online multiplayer games, there was Ultima Online. I played UO quite avidly for several years. During that time, I developed a wide variety of new characters and eventually, they wanted me to tell their stories. The following is one such story.

(The names of some of the characters, those not played by my husband and me, have been changed.)

A chance meeting, that’s what it was. A glance in passing, a look—that’s all it had taken. One penetrating flicker of her astonishingly green eyes in his direction—and he’d fallen into her. The auburn hair frolicked around her shoulders like flames, cascading down the back of her sapphire dress. It was fire burning in his head. Elliandra, his best friend’s younger sister.

He’d known her for years and watched her grow from a child to a young woman. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and he was irrevocably smitten. He was a fool, he chided himself. She was nearly ten years younger. Why he had shoes older than she! But he was hopelessly, helplessly hooked.

“You’re done for, Shadow, old man.” He muttered to himself. “If Augustus doesn’t kill you, Elliandra will do it herself. She absolutely loathes you!”

Distracted by his thoughts, he nearly ran headlong into the moat around the lord’s castle. Stopping abruptly, he regrouped his thoughts and made his way inside to speak to the tailors about some fabric he wanted. A short conference later, he headed back through the moongate to Sanctuary, his new fabrics in his backpack.

He stepped onto the ferry and crossed the channel between Sanctuary island and the mainland. He could have recalled home, but he’d left his reagents behind and his runebook was out of charges. It was only a short run to the forge, his sister’s home, where he had a tailor shop set up to work. In his distraction, he barely noticed when the ferry touched the bank.

He disembarked and shifted his pack to the other shoulder. It was heavy and slowed his steps. He should have been more alert to his surroundings, but his mind fluctuated between thoughts of Elliandra and the new cloth in his pack.

The first brigand attacked Shadowdancer with a dagger. The blade itself would hardly scathe him, but the poison on it glittered with an evil, green ichor. He’d have to be wary of that, for he’d no cure potions with him. He dodged the next attack easily, shifting his pack of fabrics so they shielded his exposed side. Drawing his own blade, he parried the clumsy thrusts of his opponent.

Annoyed with himself for forgetting his spell reagents, he relied on his fencing skill to protect him. Fortunately, he was dexterous and practiced often with his blade, making him a tougher target than his attacker had anticipated. Still, the pack was heavy on his back and he began to tire.

An energy bolt crackled past his left ear, singeing his goatee and setting his long hair tingling to the roots. It took a moment to realize the spell had not been directed at him—right about the time it slammed into his opponent, throwing him to the ground. A second bolt followed the first. The man’s tunic caught fire, but he was already dead.

Shadow spun in a low crouch, searching for other attackers. He saw no one except a lithe figure dressed in light blue leather armor. Her hair was pulled back in a tight braid beneath a scarf, but he caught a hint of fiery red where it spilled out the back. Wispy curls framed her heart shaped face like tongues of crimson flame. Her emerald eyes danced with amusement as she dusted her gloved hands against one another.

It was then that Shadowdancer noticed three other men lying around her, tunics smoldering gently in the late afternoon breeze. He was good, but four on one were odds he wasn’t sure he’d have beaten without his spells. He certainly had been distracted or he’d have noticed them himself. A flush rose in his swarthy cheeks as the subject of his distracted state strutted over to the nearest body, picked it clean, and moved to the next.

“Elliandra,” he said huskily. “I owe you thanks.” He bowed deeply, his pack of cloth tilting dangerously over his shoulder.

“You owe me more than that, Shadowdancer,” she laughed, her voice like chimes in the wind. “You owe me your life, more like. What had you in such a state? Why you walked right past the lot of them the moment you got off the boat. I was a score of yards away and could see the look on your face. You must have seemed an easy mark to such as them.”

Shadow’s blush deepened. He couldn’t tell her it was her fault. She’d laugh at him. He dug his toe into the dirt, ears and cheeks burning with embarrassment.

Call Me Lill – Part 8

The officer went down first, a gurgling sigh filling the air as he sank to his knees, face hitting the pavement with a wet, sick squelch. The man holding her legs stumbled, dropping her. As he righted himself, Lill got her balance on her left foot, kicking hard with her right. She caught him in the ribs with a satisfying crack.

The man holding her upper body had a moment to prepare. Letting go of her, he grabbed his weapon, aiming around her at Tab Stevens. Lill reacted instinctively, slamming her small body into his raised arm. The weapon fired and a focused beam of energy bounced around so much she lost track of it. He squeezed off two more shots before she got the gun away from him.

Whirling, she kicked him in the midsection. Her hands slammed into the back of his head, driving him face first into the ground. A heel to the back of his head assured he wouldn’t get up again. The man she’d kicked in the ribs groaned, moving to his knees. She kicked him in the head. His neck snapped back at an unnatural angle. He didn’t make a sound as he fell.

“Lill,”Tab’s voice was faint, weak.

“Tab!” She found him in the shadow of the building. “What happened?”

“Random blast. I caught one.” There was blood on his face, a wound in his chest. “I’ll be okay. Get me up.”

She put her shoulder under his, raising him with her legs. He weighed nearly twice as much as she, but was partially able to hold himself up. They were nearly to his quarters when his body lurched away from her. He fell in slow motion, right hand grasping her clothing as he died. It was then she saw the wound in his back. He’d been shot at fairly close range. She shook him, but knew without checking his pulse that he was dead.

A man stepped out of the shadows, holstering a weapon. “Time to go, little girl,” he said calmly.

His face was wickedly handsome, his body lethal. Dark, fathomless eyes riveted hers, halting movement. As if hypnotized, she was unable to react. Lifting her like a sack of potatoes, he carried her to the unmarked building. A medical team met them at the door.

“Is she injured?”

“No.”

“You’re sure?”

“Check for yourself,” her abductor replied. “Next time, do your own dirty work. She killed two of my team and incapacitated the rest.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. We’ll see to her now.”

“Make sure she doesn’t remember,” he said softly. “I don’t want her to recognize me when she wakes up.”

“Certainly, sir.”

Lill woke the next morning with a terrible headache, feeling that something important had happened during the night. She didn’t recognize her surroundings, but a doctor explained she’d suffered a head trauma the night before.

“You must expect some memory loss,” she explained. “It’s natural under the circumstances. Let me introduce you to the rest of the squad.”

One of the men stepped forward. He was tall, dark haired with piercing black eyes. She had a flash of deja vu before convincing herself she’d never seen him before.

“Hello, Lillian.” His smile was somewhat chilling. I’m Wil VanLipsig.”

“Pleased to meet you. Call me Lill.”

THE END

Call Me Lill – Part 7

“Did you know? Is that why you kept me here?”

His eyes fluttered away from hers, unwilling to meet her stare.

“I see.”

“They were coming for you too. I couldn’t let them take you from me. Not before….”

“Not before we were together. Is that it?”

“I risked my life, my career for you!”

“I didn’t ask you to! I should have been with my friends! Will they experiment on them too?”

He nodded, closing his eyes.

“And me? They’ll take me too?”

“Yes, but it isn’t always like this. There’s something big they’re working on. I’ve never seen them this excited. There was a doctor here looking you all over. He was particularly interested in you and your friends for some secret project.”

“What project?”

He closed his eyes, not wanting to answer. Forcing himself, he spoke. “Some sort of super soldiers. They want special, exceptional people.”

“Why the dummies then? They hardly fit that category.”

“Werchan’s have a specific chromosome they can harvest. It’s necessary to the enhancement program. That’s all I know.”

That night, Lill went to bed early, skipping chow. She had no desire to be with the other recruits. She lay on her bunk, back to the room. As the others came in, they spoke in hushed tones as if she were one of the condemned. After lights out, they continued whispering between their bunks.

Lill had no stim pack to help her stay awake, but fear and adrenaline had the same effect. She wasn’t asleep when they came for her. Six of them surrounded her bunk and one moved forward to inject her with the sedative. As he leaned over, she wrested the medication away from him, injecting him instead. He fell heavily, a slow sigh escaping him.

The other five rushed her, but she took out three before the last two brought her down. Rather than succumbing quietly, she screamed and kicked, biting unprotected skin. Her mouth was covered in blood that wasn’t her own and both men were limping. They carried her out between them as she continued to writhe and fight.

“Took you long enough.” A man met them outside the barracks. He was dressed like an officer. “How hard is it to take down one little girl?”

The man holding Lill’s feet grunted as she kicked him again, connecting with something soft.

“Swear to God, girlie, I’ll rip you in half you kick me there again!” There was malice in his eyes.

Fighting like a hellcat, she bit the arm of the other man. Spitting blood and flesh at the officer, she delighted in seeing him wince.

“Gag the bitch,” he said calmly, wiping her spit and the man’s blood from his uniform with a handkerchief.

“Try, you scabrous, poxed excuse for a man. Can’t get a woman any other way? You’ve got to kidnap them? Or do you prefer boys? You’ve taken them too.”

The officer’s face became a death mask as he leaned over her. “Listen, you annoying little bitch.
If you weren’t so damn important to this project, I’d let them bleed you. Since that’s not an option, you will settle down and cooperate or I’ll personally see to it that any work that’s done on you is done without anesthetic. Considering some of that is drilling into your bones, you might want to consider cooperating.”

Lill quit fighting. This was a man not to be trifled with. As they passed Stevens’ quarters, a darker shadow joined them just out of the line of sight. Lill knew it was Tab Stevens, hunting the hunters.

Call Me Lill – Part 6

It might have been intended as a joke, but he wasn’t laughing. Determination firmed his jaw, making him even more handsome. Uncaring of anything, Lill stood on tiptoe, planting a soft, lingering kiss on his lips.

“I’ll help you with this. Not to further my career, but because you’ve asked me.”

“I’d move seven kinds of hell to be with you.”

The next kiss was fierce, primal. He left her tingling with the imprint of his body on hers, blazing through her clothing. Leaving suddenly, he walked away from her, motioning for her to go the opposite direction. They arrived at the target range separately, within moments of one another. Tab was completely professional, not showing any sign of how he felt about her. Lill followed suit, treating him with distant respect.

That night, two couples disappeared. A team of six came in and carried them out with their possessions. Lill felt cold fingers of doubt crawl up her spine when one of the team members walked in her direction. She was careful to keep her breathing normal, though she wanted to scream. She appeared relaxed, feeling anything but, especially when the person walked closer to where Ché and Shauntay slept.

The leader of the team hissed, motioning for him to come. That was the first sound she had heard them make. None of them spoke as they walked out the door. Lill listened a moment longer, then rose to follow them. With her weapon in hand, she crept silently out of the barracks. They had, for some reason, left the door unlocked.

They carried their burden to a waiting vehicle. Still not looking around, they didn’t see her as the piled in the front of the transport. The back was covered by a canvas, so Lill climbed in. It didn’t occur to her until they took off that this was probably a seriously bad idea. Stevens had said to follow them. He hadn’t told her to be stupid, though. And this, she decidedly was being.

The truck stopped not far away from her barracks. Lill slipped out, hiding under the truck before the men got out. They carried their human cargo into the long, low, unmarked building just as silently as they’d carried them out. Once they were inside, she crept out from under the trunk, scampering back to Stevens’ quarters. She could only imagine the kind of trouble she’d be in if she were caught out after curfew on the military base.

The light was on under Stevens’ door. She scratched lightly against the surface. The light went out and the door opened silently. He pulled her into his quarters, holding her close, both of them trembling. He kissed her hungrily before he let her speak. Lill told him everything she’d seen. When she described the building, he paused.

“You’re certain?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Forget you know those people.”

“Tell me,” she insisted, her volume rising slightly.

“Will you shut it? That’s owned by the Council,” he whispered desperately.

The Council was a secret, governing body that operated outside galaxy rules. They subverted, assassinated and bribed their way to power. They were the nameless men no one spoke about. If they were behind the abductions, no one was safe.

“I need to get back to my bunk.”

“Not yet. I don’t give a damn if they kill me.”

His embrace was almost painful, his lovemaking torrid, fierce. Lill was completely swept away by the experience, knowing that no other man would ever compare to him. They made love twice before he escorted her quietly back to the barracks, locking the door behind her.

“No matter what,” assured her softly before parting. “They can’t take that away from us.”

That morning, not only were the four people gone whom Lill had followed, but three others as well. During her absence, Lill’s friends had disappeared without a trace. Furious with grief, she went to Stevens’ quarters before chow.

Call Me Lill – Part 5

Fortunately, the commodes had stalls with doors and she was able to put in the contacts. The stim patch would have to be applied later, after she and Dray shared their recreational time. He’d notice if she wore it and it might affect him too if any of the chemical rubbed off. She put it where she could find it easily and waited until the others were asleep before applying it to her inner thigh.

It was nearly three in the morning when she heard the door to the barracks snick open. They were locked in at night. Sargent Stevens was supposed to have the only key, but he wasn’t in the group who moved with unnatural silence around their barracks. The four men set a canister of what looked like sleep gas among the huddled forms on the other end of the room. They didn’t even glance at Lill as they surrounded two of the Wercha natives, injecting them with a sedative. Saying nothing, they communicated with hand signals. They lifted their two victims carefully, carrying them out of the barracks. Two others came in, got their possessions and left just as silently, taking the spent sleep bomb with them.

Lill felt very vulnerable and defenseless. What if they decided to come after her, or the others? Could she lie there and let them be spirited away in the night? Like hell she could! They were a team now, friends. Not having had many of those over the years, the ones she did have meant a lot to her. Removing the stim patch from her thigh, she rolled over and fell into a light sleep.

The next morning, Lill was tired, but determined. She reported to Stevens directly after chow. He took her for a long walk, ostensibly to discuss the day’s activities. Instead, their stroll took them far from the normal walkways of the camp. When they were far enough away to suit, concealed by a tall, thick stand of trees, Stevens faced her. Before he said a word, he kissed her slowly, deeply, making her toes tingle. Startled, Lill looked up at him, her knees weak.

“Tell me what you saw last night.”

Lill described in vivid detail everything she had seen.

“They never even came down to your end?”

“They were nowhere near us.”

He nodded, frowning.

“What are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know yet. There’s not much to do, unfortunately. Once criminals are convicted, they become property of the State until they are released. These were all lifers.”

“Does that mean they could take Ché?”

“Conceivably, yes.”

“And what about me?”

He said nothing, refusing to look her in the eyes.

“Can you do something? They’re my friends. I care about them.”

“Do you think you can do another night of this?”

“Maybe, why?”

“I want them followed.”

“What? Are you crazy?”

“I can’t do it, Lill. I need this from you.”

“Fine. But I need more than filters and a stim patch. I need a weapon.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

“You’ll get that weapon, or you can forget about me following anyone.”

Stevens stared into the distance, a faraway look in his eyes. Decision flickered across his stony face. “Okay.” He paused, staring unashamedly at her. “Dammit, Lillian. They could kill me for the thoughts I’m having.”

“Can’t kill a man on his thoughts, Tab.”

“This is Wercha. They can kill me for farting in public.”

It might have been intended as a joke, but he wasn’t laughing.

Mickey Hoffman, Woman of Mystery!

I first met Mickey through a video game. That’s right, an online game. We started talking about writing and she asked if I had a publisher. I sent her to mine and that’s how Second Wind Publishing and Mickey Hoffman got together. Her first book, School of Lies, is reviewed below. I’m excited to announce that the sequel, Deadly Traffic, is now available from Second Wind Publishing. I haven’t read it yet, but I fully expect it to be as great as School of Lies!

What is your book about?

School of Lies is a funny mystery novel about a bunch of teachers who work in a dysfunctional, urban high school. The stressful environment is a perfect catalyst for the murder that takes place. My new book, Deadly Traffic takes a teacher out of her comfort zone into the word of human trafficking when female students disappear from campus.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

My MC is a Special Ed. teacher named Kendra Desola. She’s compulsive and overly inquisitive; every problem has to be examined and solved. She is devoted to her students but has learned the hard way that the best way to help them often involves breaking the rules. There’s a tension between her wanting to be a good role model and her willingness to lie when she thinks it’s useful. In Deadly Traffic, Kendra meets a young man, Win Ni (who my brother decided to call Win Ni the Pooh). Win has a good heart but he wants to be rich and is willing to do almost anything to achieve his goal. I wanted to make him a lot darker than he ended up because I became fond of him.

Who is your most unusual character?

I’d have to say most of them are unusual, but they’re true to form. The good characters I create are never all good and that bothers some people. Readers who aren’t familiar with what really goes on in public schools may think the teachers I portray are over the top. I’ve had people react in shock. They say, “A Vice Principal wouldn’t talk like that.” Oh, but they do, they do.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)

For School of Lies I relied on my own experience moving through different schools. I mentally filed away what other teachers told me of their experiences as well. The book, in fact, started because some of my fellow teachers knew I liked to write and said, “You should really make a book about some of this stuff because no one would believe it.” For my second book, Deadly Traffic, I read several nonfiction books about modern slavery—in this country as well as overseas—and human trafficking, and visited many websites.

What was the first story you remember writing?

My family used to make up poems and stories in the car during road trips when I was very young and I’d try to contribute when my older brother would stop torturing me. Just kidding. I do recall writing a play in 9th grade with some friends about a super pigeon named Supersplatt.

What do you like to read?

I like mystery novels, fantasy and science fiction. I try to find mysteries with puzzles and with as little gore as possible. Some of my favorite writers are Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin and Tad Williams.

What writer influenced you the most?

Mark Twain. Absolutely.

What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you’d written yourself?

Hitchhiker’ Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

I want the main characters to have a “quest.” The quest can be a real journey or one in their heads and if there’s mystery involved all the better.

What is the best advice another writer gave you?

I asked how you tell when your manuscript is finished. The reply: “You don’t leave a book when it’s done, it leaves you.”

See also:

Mickey Mickey Hoffman’s author page at Second Wind Publishing, LLC
Interview of Kendra DeSola the Hero of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman
The first chapter of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman
Review of School of Lies by Mickey Hoffman

SCHOOL OF LIES – Mickey Hoffman

 Kendra DeSola teaches special education at an inner city school, Standard High School. Short of money for her program, Kendra does the best she can for her students. If there’s one thing the kids know, Miss DeSola is there for them. So it’s a shock when an apparent blackmail picture shows up, implicating Kendra in a scandal.

Terrified her boss, Vice-Principal Zant, will find out and use it against her, Kendra begins to investigate. Her search for the truth turns deadly when one of her colleagues is killed. Was it an accident or murder? Kendra is determined to find out, because she is a suspect.

Vice-Principal Zant is an ambitious, connected and not very bright administrator. Confident he will be chosen to replace the current principal, Mr. Favor, he wields his power mercilessly.

As Kendra investigates, she discovers that her colleagues aren’t the people she thought they were. Everyone has secrets that can end their careers and it’s possible that she’s not the only one who had a really good motive for murder.

School of Lies is a riveting mystery centered around the shy, mousy teacher, Kendra DeSola. She overcomes her timidity as she pursues a puzzling mystery. I highly recommend this book for all mystery/ suspense lovers.

Five Golden Acorns!

Watch this space for a review of Deadly Traffic! I’m honored that Mickey shared several chapters with me while she was writing. It’s a hard hitting sequel to School of Lies.