Happy Friday everyone! After a long session of writing with the door closed, I’ve edited a few more chapters of Man of the Mountain and will be sharing them with you all. I’ll have one or two more to share in the next week or so. Also, apologies for the still very WIP logo. I’ll fix it soon.
For those who don’t know, Man of the Mountain is a prequel to my first novel, Whiteout which just released. So far, the reception has been more positive than I could have ever hoped for (4.75/5 on GoodReads, a very positive Kirkus review, and 4.8/5 on Amazon). Order links are below, and if you can share this post or links to the book around. Every like, retweet, share, or rant in a crowded elevator helps!
Jonas could not contain himself. He sat on the edge of his chair as the camera panned up to reveal Rick Mansen standing in front of Clearwater Mountain. Chills ran up and down his spine as he imagined just how close Rick was. They’ve come, and they’re going to investigate. He looked up to the walls, running through the list of his grisly exploits and said to them, “It was all worth it.”
Mansen referred to ‘The Beast of the Mountain’ and Jonas could no longer contain himself. He jumped up from his chair and pumped his fist so high that he nearly hit the cabin’s ceiling. “Yes!” He walked to the kitchen and poured himself a celebratory drink. There was still a twinge in his temples from the last celebration, but the good news continued to come. The usually dim cabin felt warm and alive with excitement.
Jonas took a sip from the well-worn cup and continued to watch the promo. As it ended, he realized that while all good news, there was still work to be done. If the History Channel was to have a compelling story, he was going to need to leave them a trail. It also presented complications in the sense that more people would be drawn to the mountain by the television crew. He would have to be extra careful and wait until the dead of night. Further, there was the possibility of live feeds on the mountain which presented a unique challenge. He would need to keep his distance and destroy any that might expose him.
As the broadcast ended, Jonas was still in a pleasant daze. He had dreamt of such an outcome, but a part of him never believed it would happen. Looking up once more at the headlines plastered across the walls, he noticed not for the first time, a commonality among them. “Shirley Codwell.” He spoke the name with the reverence usually reserved for a silent deity. Without her, none of this would have happened.
Jonas had always appreciated Shirley’s honest writing, but a new feeling dawned on him in that moment. For the first time in his tenure on the mountain, he wanted to go back to the city, he wanted to see her. Not even talk to her, just a chance to see her and thank her silently. He couldn’t put his finger on why, but the drive was immense. She had done him the greatest kindness of anyone in his life. It’s impossible, you promised to stay here, and you must. Jonas decided the only way to rid himself of the feeling was physical toil and went outside to shovel snow.
That night, he set out around midnight to leave a trail for the History Channel. The day had passed in a blur, his thoughts consumed by the idea of meeting Shirley, even if it was only for a second. As he left his house, he found himself turning around, having forgotten his pack inside. Focus up, he chided. The snowpack was still thick with more of it on the way, and the night could easily turn deadly if he lost his guard. The mountain doesn’t care about you, remember that.
The snow along the trail was no longer dry, but wet and thick. Each step was like moving through concrete, even with his specially-made snowshoes. Despite the cold midnight air, Jonas began to sweat, and his body ached. Every time he stopped to rest, the article headlines would flash before him, and he would hear Mansen’s narration booming in his head. It was all coming together.
Cover your pack, he thought as he reached the edge of the main hiking trails. The thought had been clear, but in a few seconds was gone, replaced by the all-encompassing toxicity of potential fame. The desire to leave the mountain and see Shirley penetrated his mind like a needle. The thought of her shone out, a bright light in the midst of a sea of darkness. Stop it, this is idiotic.
Briefly returning to himself, Jonas covered his pack and put on his suit. A voice in the back of his mind jeered that his feelings for Shirley were no better than an adolescent crush, but he knew better. It wasn’t a crush, or even anything to do with love for that matter. What he felt for Shirley was gratitude in its purest form. She was the only one to see the legend for what it was.
As he roamed through the woods, he began to spot more signs of the History Channel’s prep work. There were notches in trees where large camera stands would be hung. Initially, they caused him to flinch and hunker into the deep snow, but he noticed no cameras had been planted yet. The crew had only arrived the previous morning, but he suspected he would need to restrict his movements going forward or risk exposure.
Sluggishly, he moved toward one of the camera bases and tried to rip it out. He did his best not to damage the mount but wanted to make it look real. The world around him was in a fog as he struggled with the tight metal bands around the thick trunk. Eventually it came free, and Jonas fell backward from the exhaustion, tripping on a root as he did so. At first, the fall was almost gentle, but then he felt the sickening, turning sensation that came with a much greater than expected distance.
Jonas opened his eyes, not even realizing they had been closed, and stared down a steep snowy slope. There was a muted thud as he hit the ground and began to slide. It took him a second to realize his speed, and in a moment of pure reflex, he flipped quickly on his stomach and dug a metal claw into the ground. There was a horrible scraping sound as it hit ice beneath, but gradually, he slowed.
When he finally stopped, he could do nothing but lay there, face down on the ice, gasping for breath, claw still clinging to the hill. Even on his first hikes he had never fallen. Careful calculation was the name of the game and he was slipping. I need to go down the mountain, I have to see her. Even in near death, the thought was pervasive. It became clear that if not exorcised, the impulse would consume him.
Half-frosted trees dropped heavy piles of snow onto the ground with weighted thumps as the mountain slowly thawed. The thought of breaking his word to his employers was terrifying and exhilarating. He felt a small sense of regret at even thinking of leaving, brief as the visit might be. Biting the hand was never the right course of action, but if he continued in the same way, the next fall was bound to be worse.
I can see her. I don’t have to speak to her, but I can see her. Over time, Jonas had begun to suspect that beyond the package delivery and the texting, his employers did not keep a very close eye on him. The extent of his interaction with them was through short notes, and the occasional resupply that continued with the monotonous consistency of a machine.
No one has seen me in over ten years. Who’s going to notice the stranger in town? The wind whipped through the trees, caused them to rustle and shake. Jonas felt the beginnings of dull pain in his back, and it reminded him how close he had just come. The cold seeped in through his suit, and he forced himself to move. Slowly, he got to his feet, dusted himself off, and began the long walk back towards the cabin.
The best course of action would be to sleep on it. If he still wanted to go in the morning, he could, but he suspected that the rays of the morning sun would burn the childish impulse out of his mind.
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