Free Reads & Excerpts

Thanks for stopping by! Just for you, here’s an excerpt of the first book of the Higher Elevation Series. Buy links are on my “Books” page.

Unexplained (Higher Elevation Series, Book 1)

By Renee Regent

Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

(From Chapter One, set in Fort Winston, Colorado, late 1977)

 

By late morning, they had reached the summit. The group set down their packs in a patchwork meadow, littered with multi-colored wildflowers and ringed by eerie-looking spires of rock that reached up as if in worship to the blazing sun. As Sarah gazed up at the rocks, an odd vibration seemed to emanate from them, barely audible. 

A universal orchestra, perhaps? Or am I having another hallucination?

“This is so cool,” she whispered, taking it all in. As she glanced back at the group, she saw Zac talking to Wes, his finger jabbing into the taller blond man’s chest. Bits of their conversation floated on the breeze.

“…I thought she knew, man. I swear!”

It was Wes, and she knew there was no way he could logically assume she knew his brownies were laced. Everyone made fun of her at school, because she didn’t drink or party. She would never knowingly take drugs, even in a tasty baked good. She’d seen firsthand the destruction it could cause; it was one of the reasons she and Zac were so close. When they first met a few years earlier, he was going through a tough time. She was proud to have been there for him, to help him to kick his dangerous habits before he destroyed himself.

But she was in no shape to deal with them right now. She had to pee, urgently. Looking around, she decided the best place to go would be down the hill, out of sight of everyone. Shoving a tissue into her pocket, she laid her pack on the grass and followed the trail back out of the meadow. Over her shoulder, she saw the others opening bottles of booze, and passing around a joint. Zac was still taking to Wes, shaking his head.

“He’s such a good guy,” she said aloud. He was the one person she knew she could trust in Fort Winston. Platonic was too sterile a word for their friendship, though they had never dated. They just had a connection. Though they were different in personality and background, they understood each other. She was grateful, for she had few other friends. And he didn’t seem to mind her tendency to put work first, though he often teased her about it.

She continued down the path, checking over her shoulder that no one followed. After crouching behind a boulder to relieve herself, she returned to the trail. As she turned uphill, a sudden, piercing cry from above made her stop. Shielding her eyes with a hand, she watched a lone hawk flying overhead.

Tawny wings spread wide, it circled above, elegantly gliding to a stop when it landed on a tree limb not far from where she stood. It seemed to be observing her, and she stood very still, watching the creature in return. She had a crazy thought the bird was trying to tell her something, but in her present condition she didn’t trust her own mind. When the bird again took flight, she watched as it sailed down into the canyon.

She walked down the trail toward the ledge where the hawk had flown to see where it had gone, and another movement far below caught her eye. She squinted as her eyes registered the shape of a man, stark naked, on the rocks where she and Zac had sat only an hour ago, watching the birth of clouds.

What the hell? 

She blinked and rubbed her eyes, thinking it might be another stoned illusion. But there he was, alone in all his naked glory among the rocks and pines. Her eyes scanned the terrain, searching for any other nude hikers, or perhaps his lover. But there was no one else.

He looked to be about mid-twenties, with long brown hair, muscular yet slim. She was struck not only with desire, but also with awe. In this magnificent setting, he fit like a wild animal. She saw no evidence of his clothes lying nearby. Did he hike all the way up here in the buff?

She smiled at that thought of hiking around naked, feeling the sun, the wind, and the grass, with all of your skin exposed. No barrier at all between you and nature. There was something primal about it. She stared, transfixed, as he moved toward the edge of the rocks, and lifted his arms to the sky. He seemed to be reveling in his nakedness.  His joy was obvious. Was he a nudist, or just stoned out of his mind? From her vantage point, she could not make out many details about him, except that he was in excellent shape─and there was some kind of circular marking on his right shoulder. 

Maybe a tattoo?

A shimmering, bluish light began to radiate around him, and she blinked her eyes hard.   

Now I know I’m high.

The blue glow intensified, and he moved slowly forward to the edge of the rock shelf he stood on, though she never saw his legs move. He seemed to float, but without any discernible movement of his body. Then, with arms extended, he dove off the cliff, disappearing into the shadows below.

Sarah’s mouth opened to let out a scream, but she made no sound. It was impossible to breathe for a second, and nausea rose up. She bent over to squelch it down, and spots in her vision threatened a blackout. Falling to her knees in the dirt caused her breath to return and she gulped a lungful of air. 

“No!”

She rose up and stood at the ledge, staring down where the young man had been. The scene below was as calm as it had been moments ago, with no sign that anyone had ever been there. This is insane. I really did see him, didn’t I?

By instinct, she cupped her mouth and yelled, “Hello!” But all she heard in return was the echo of her voice bouncing off the canyon walls. If he had really jumped off the cliff, he was probably dead by now, or gravely injured. But she had to do something.

The nausea had subsided but her body was leaden, every movement felt in slow motion as she ran uphill toward the meadow. Her voice was already hoarse from yelling, but she called out, “Zac!  Help!”

The thumping of her heart was almost as loud as her voice, and she had to concentrate to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Regret and guilt ran alongside her, mocking her. 

This is why you don’t do drugs. She couldn’t help chiding herself, though it was not her fault.  The fact that she had enjoyed it even momentarily ate at her as she scrambled up the trail. She called for help again, her throat hurting with the effort.

Zac popped up over the rocks ahead, reminding her of a prairie dog she had seen in a commercial.  She almost laughed, the drugs still affecting her sense of reason. Adrenalin was coursing through her in waves, and various emotions were grappling for control. She stopped moving, and seconds later he was in front of her, looking her over to see where she was hurt.

“I’ve been looking for you. Why’d you leave?”

“Never mind, I’m okay. I saw a guy jump off the cliff, he may be hurt. C’mon!”

He followed as she ran down the trail. Sliding in the gravel, swiping against bushes, and leaping over logs, what took a leisurely hour to climb that morning took only minutes of frantic scrambling to cover. When they climbed out on to the ledge, they were alone as they had been earlier. No sign of a disturbance. 

Sarah walked to the edge, where the man had disappeared. “He was right here. He just…went off.”

Zac craned his neck, peering out into the canyon. “You mean he jumped? Was he alone?”

“I guess so. I didn’t see anyone else. And he didn’t exactly jump, he turned blue and sort of, well, glided off─like he thought he could fly or something.”

His arched brow confirmed her words sounded as crazy as she knew they did. The whole thing didn’t make any sense, but that wasn’t as important as finding out what had happened to the young man.   Zac looked down again into the canyon, cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled, “Hello!”

There was no answering sound, only the repeated echo of his voice across Powder Keg Canyon.  He paced the edge of the rocks, watching the terrain below while he shot questions at her.

“What did he look like? And what do you mean, he ‘turned blue’?

“He was about our age, with long brown hair, and he was just standing there on the ledge,” she pointed at Zac’s feet. “Then he lifted up his arms, like they were wings, and I swear he was all blue and glowing. Then he swan-dived off the cliff and disappeared.”

He was looking at her like she had three heads. 

“Maybe you had another hallucination, a vision. Like with the clouds.”

“No, this was so real. I couldn’t possibly have imagined it. I saw him.”

There was sympathy in his expression, along with some doubt. “Sarah, Wes told me what was in those brownies─hashish, pot, and a bit of magic mushroom. Between that and the altitude, it’s no wonder you’ve been seeing things.”

Her stomach started to turn again, at the thought of what she had eaten. But this seemed so real, it wasn’t just the brownies. She knew it. 

But how could she ever explain it?

He continued to stare at her, waiting. Finally he moved to leave. “Well, we better get going, and find the Ranger’s Station. They can search for him better than we can.”

Sarah took one last look over the ledge. It had to be real. Or was she really that messed up?    “Well, they’ll know him when they see him. He’s naked.”

“Naked? Okay, McKenn…that’s enough excitement for one day. Let’s go.”

Tears welled up, and she blinked to hold them back. The euphoria she had felt earlier had been replaced with a crushing sense of guilt, accompanied by anger at Zac for not believing her. 

“I know what I saw. I was watching a hawk fly down toward this ledge, and there he was. The hawk flew off, and then he did pretty much the same.”

“Come here.”

He held out his arms and she fell into them. A few tears slipped out, and she sniffed them back.  She heard his voice next to her ear.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ll go get help, that’s all we can do.”

They walked back to the trail, turning their faces upward as a piercing cry shattered the silent afternoon. Above, a hawk hovered in lazy circles, riding the wind, at one with the universe in a way that Sarah knew she would never be.

 

~*~

Christian Levine lay on the floor of his apartment, breathing hard. At least, that’s where he thought he was. 

The rug beneath his back prickled his skin. Heat shimmered over him, turning into a clammy feeling, followed by a chill that raised the hairs on his arms. Breathing deep, he slowly opened his eyes, squinting in the dim candlelight. His bedroom window came into focus, drapes drawn against the afternoon sun.

Yep. I’m still alive.      

Flashes of where he had been, or where had seemed to be, pervaded his brain. It was all too unbelievable. Unreal. Yet he had done it, and though this wasn’t the first time he had left his body to go exploring in some other…well, some other state of mind? Another dimension? It was certainly the most vivid, extensive exploration he had ever done. 

Something had been different this time. It was so clear, so real, he had felt the grass under his feet, the breeze on his skin. At first it frightened him, but he had the odd sensation that he wasn’t alone, and it comforted him, though he saw no one else up on that mountain.

He sat up, head still swimming from exertion and trying to fathom what had just happened. It was the first time he’d actually been to a target location, rather than randomly floating about in his room. It had felt as though he really was there, physically. He was able to see, feel, smell, and even hear, as much as he could now, sitting in his darkened room. As his pulse slowed, the eerie, fading echo of a cry returned; it was the last thing he had heard before everything went black and he found himself home again. Whether it was a bird, a child, or a woman, he couldn’t tell. But it was further evidence, he felt, that this was no fantasy. He had really been there.

This was no psychologically-induced vision, he knew it in his bones. But how would he ever prove it?

He stood slowly, his body returning to normal. Reaching out, he ran a finger along the jagged edge of the large, opaque quartz crystal on his nightstand. A faint tingle ran up his arm, surprising him.

No way. It can’t be.

Could a crystal really amplify his mind? He’d tested the theory, more to amuse himself than for any expectation of success. But there was no doubt of what had just happened to him. How or why was it happened the way it did was something he couldn’t explain. Yet.

He knew he had to talk to the one person who might believe him, as soon as possible. If there was a way to verify and document this developing talent of his, Dr. Engle would know. He picked up a notepad to record his experience while it was still fresh in his mind, hands still shaking from excitement. 

Who knew where something like this could lead?