A free preview of my upcoming novel based in Estes Park
Last week I promised readers I would start a free preview of my Colorado-based Supernatural mystery thriller story I am just now finishing up with.
For at least the next three weeks, I will give away in my Colorado Switchblade Newsletter a preview of the first three chapters of a novel project that I began writing during the pandemic lockdowns and wildfires of last year that affected so many of us here in northern Colorado.
I want to say a few words before we get into the story.
During the start of last year's many trials, I felt very lost, as if the world had spiraled out of control. I had just sold my share of the tattoo shop I started here in Estes and just was unsure where to go in life with the world has been so upended.
I figured my best option was to begin to create a new fiction story. I had done this previously when I lived in northern Montana, with a sci-fi storyline I released on my website based on the local community I lived in at the time. So I began writing again, plugging back into a local writers group which has been a godsend for me. I decided to work on the things I could, start to manifest some of my larger life goals (like writing fiction), and get back into journalism.
I have already had an interest in the new novel from a literary agency and a publishing house. But I am considering just releasing it as a serial series on this platform for a monthly subscription. I already have 31 chapters completed and am just finishing up the story now. So please let me know what you think and if you would like to see this story released in its entirety as a serial project that releases a chapter a week.
The story follows an aging punk-rock journalist who lives in Estes Park, Colorado, and follows his more than natural experiences that take him across Colorado during the wildfires and COVID lockdowns of last year.
I hope you enjoy the story! If you do, please help get the word out by sharing this.
~ Jason Van Tatenhove
by Jason Van Tatenhove
Toki Aliev's eyes were red, and his cheeks stung as he wiped a tear with the sleeve of his old jean jacket and assessed the few sentimental items he had yet to pack into his car. They had cut the heat off to the dormitory employee housing of the Summit Hotel earlier that morning. Just after that, they told the entire staff of the tour department that, due to COVID-19, safer at home initiatives, employees were all being let go. It was also suggested, by management, that the group of mostly J-1 VISA employees that came into work summers from all over the world may want to secure legal representation. Toki knew that this was just a scare tactic to keep the mostly young now ex-employees quiet. It was a tactic Toki had seen Xavier Stanton, heir of the Summit Hotel, use before with others that were fired suddenly. Toki always thought that, because of the special relationship that he and Xavier had, he would never find himself on the receiving end of that particular tactic. Sadly, he now realized that he believed so many things about Xavier and himself were very wrong.
It hadn't taken long for the cold of the high mountains of Colorado to creep into the building. Toki could see his breath as he packed the last of his belongings into his green, army surplus duffle bag. The last two of his possessions sat on the old office desk shared by the others in his bunk room. A framed picture of Xavier and himself in a black convertible, taken last summer when he first met and fell in love with the man he thought destiny had brought to him after leaving his previous life and family behind in Chechnya. He had been a victim of the "prophylactic sweep" of the LGBT community. Toki still had no idea if the secret police had rounded up his family after he was helped to flee the country. The second item was a pink scarf wrapped around the framed picture. It had been a gift from Xavier. Toki wrapped the scarf around his neck, figuring he would need its warmth tonight, having nowhere else to sleep but in his car. With a heavy exhale of visible breath, he grabbed the picture frame and slammed the door as he walked into the orange glow of the winter night. His beat-up, old Subaru station wagon already had a dusting of the snow that was beginning to fall. Before opening the door to his car, he flung the picture with a heartbroken sob. It flew like a frisbee, crashed into a pine tree on the edge of the parking lot, with the sound of broken glass falling down the hill into the trees.
Toki drove over to Devil's Gulch Road, behind the Summit Hotel, and turned off onto an old dirt access road just before the Lumpy Ridge trailhead. He knew this road wound up and away from any houses because it was a place that Xavier had taken him to last summer. The place where Xav (as he affectionately called his secret lover) had first kissed him, where Xav had taken a picture of them. The photo captured the moment when Toki had felt the most hope he ever had in life. It was there at that exact spot that Toki pulled over and laid out a sleeping bag on the folded-down back seats of his car and tried his best to put aside all his fears. The fear of once again being completely alone and on his own. The fear of being in a strange new land, with no one that truly knew him. The fear of having no one left who truly loved him. He took two pink allergy pills to help him sleep and eventually drifted off to sleep in the cold and dark of his car.
Toki awoke to a loud crash and blinding light. Glass rained onto his face as he felt a crush of pressure on his nose and mouth, with a sharp acrid inhale that pulled him into a black tunnel of unconsciousness.
Toki slowly lifted out of the dark, warm embrace of nothingness to the dim yellowish dancing light of candles. He tried his best to look around but was restrained. He could see his arms. He was tied to large pieces of wood like a make-shift crucifix. His head swooned, his stomach retched and heaved. Once the retching stopped, and he could catch a breath, he began to hear chanting in a language he didn't understand.
His gaze fell across the stone floor, which seemed to have a circular, geometric sigil that looked carved into the rough-hewn stone floor in the dim candlelight. Across from him, he could see a figure standing, arms upraised, chanting, and wearing a black hooded robe. The chanting grew louder, and he shook his head, trying to wake himself from what must be a nightmare. If it was a nightmare, it was markedly different than any he had after the trauma of his flight from his home country.
Toki came to the terrifying realization that he could not wake himself up because this was not a dream. He began screaming in terror. The figure's words came to a crescendo at a volume that matched Toki's screaming and then suddenly stopped. Toki, shocked out his terror, also fell silent and took a breath. In the moment of silence, the figure put his hand into the folds of his robe that then emerged with a long, black dagger. Suddenly the figure came forward with startling speed. The knife was thrust onto Toki's chest, releasing the feel of hot liquid as it moved in patterns, slicing into his flesh. Toki struggled with all the adrenaline-soaked strength his survival instinct could muster, but the bindings held tight. The cutting continued for what seemed like hours. Eventually, the whole of his body was covered with marks. The assailants worked with determined purpose and were impervious to Toki's begging and pleading. After the symbols were complete, the knife moved to Toki's throat. With what felt like, the slightest of pressures, a torrent of spurting warm was released that washed down the entire front of his body. In pulses, his world fell back into the warm painless black of nothing.
° ° °
Chance Van Horne was riding his skateboard down one of Lake Estes' hills at completely inappropriate speeds for early May. While it was cold with grey skies, the snow from the previous week had melted off the bike path trail. Chance was wearing his well-worn leather jacket, and his black, silver and purple mohawk rippled in the wind. The cold on the sides of his head was sharp, but Chance didn't want to let the hair grow out and cover his intricate mandala tattoos that snaked down the side of his head and his neck. The newest addition to his wardrobe was a red bandanna that he wore like one of the cowboy outlaws in his childhood memories. The sounds of The Ramones "I want to be sedated" in his wireless earbuds had just come to an end as his phone rang with a call from John Roman. His boss at Estes Park's local newspaper, The Sidewinder Gazette. Chance jumped off his skateboard and immediately regretted it as his 48-year-old knees screamed at him that he was entirely too old to be still skateboarding as he had as a teenager, he jogged to a stop to answer the call.
Out of breath, "Heya John, what's shaking?"
"Aspen! Chase, fucking Aspen."
"Chance, I've got an investigative piece for you, it may be a big one, but I need you to get your ass over to Aspen now."
"OOOOK, that's not quite local for us...but what do you have?"
"The body of a young man was found off the side of a road coming down from Independence Pass, going the back way into Aspen, right near a place called the Devil's Punchbowl. It turns out this was the same kid that went missing the day after the Summit fired their entire staff a few weeks ago when the state locked down for Covid. He was one of the J-1 foreign visa employees that worked there. Most of those kids had nowhere to go and became homeless overnight. They found his car a few days later with a back window smashed out and the door left open, abandoned on a side road just off Devil's Gulch."
"Oh, shit...how the hell did he wind up on the back road into Aspen," Chance asked out loud to himself.
"Yeah, and that's not all of it...I received a tip he was found naked and mutilated with a pink scarf gagging him. But that's why I need you to get your ass over there and see what you can find out. I would head the back way into town where they found the body and see if you can get on scene and see anything. Maybe talk a cop into giving up a few details, you know, work that magic of yours and confirm my source's story. Hey, I also need you to go and interview the source. But I have to warn you. The word is that the guy is a raging drunk and drug fiend. He is the kid of some big-time writer from back in the day that lived up there. You got two nights at a bed and breakfast. Save your receipts, and by the way, drinking at the bar is not a fucking reimbursable expense, so don't even try it this time!"
"Awww, Johnny, you never let me have any fun...Yeah, I can head out today. Just shoot me a text with the info and contacts you have in the area."
"You got it. We need to run silently on this one Chance until we have all the facts, got it?"
"Yeah, I'll go get packed up now."