It seems every year that Fort Collins—“Fort Fun,” “Choice City”—ranks high on national periodicals’ lists of the best places to live in the United States. In the past 10 years, the city has received top honors in such magazines as Business Week, Forbes, Kiplinger, Life, Money, U.S. News and World Report, and USA Today. The city is renowned for its acres of parks, miles of bike trails, dozens of fascinating micro-breweries, burgeoning arts scene, and proximity to all the adventures and beauty the Rocky Mountains have to offer—not to mention the fact that the city’s celebrated Old Town area was an inspiration for Main Street USA at Disneyland)!
It was only natural that local author Jason Bovberg felt the need to lay waste to Fort Collins in his trilogy of apocalyptic horror novels, Blood Red, Draw Blood, and Blood Dawn—collectively known as the Blood trilogy.
“I love Fort Collins,” Bovberg says, “but let’s face it: It’s ripe for Armageddon! It’s way too beautiful and perfect. I mean, it’s agonizingly wonderful. So when I pondered my end-of-the-world horror story, I knew it would have to take place here. My goal was to decimate Old Town and all the rest of it—all in good fun, of course!”
The books’ settings involve a number of local landmarks:
- Blood Red (Book 1) begins in a quiet neighborhood near City Park, when 19-year-old Rachel wakes to find that 96 percent of the city’s population has fallen unconscious, apparently dead, and she has been left alive thanks to a genetic quirk. She travels the streets of Fort Collins looking for answers—at one point discovering that a fallen airliner has destroyed most of Old Town, and at another point making a terrifying stop at a darkened Target for supplies—and she finally ends up at Poudre Valley Hospital, where most of that book’s action takes place.
- Draw Blood (Book 2) continues the story from a new character’s perspective, Rachel’s father Michael, and the saga shifts from the hospital to the Old Town Library for the bulk of the action. The characters defend themselves against a zombie/alien onslaught in the bunker-like library, and later make a supply run to the Fort Collins Food Co-Op in Old Town.
- Blood Dawn (Book 3) finishes the saga from a third character’s perspective—Felicia, an infected person who has been turned back. This book takes the survivors on the road, down the Taft Hill corridor and west to Horsetooth Rock, where the otherworldly mystery is resolved.
“I’ve had a blast setting these books in Fort Collins, and even driving the routes that my characters have taken,” Bovberg says. “And readers love it, too—many have told me that the hometown setting makes the horror of the story all the more tangible.”
Bovberg has lived in Fort Collins for nearly 30 years. In the late ‘90s, he founded a small publishing outfit called Dark Highway Press to print local author Robert Devereaux’s Santa Steps Out, as well as an anthology of weird western stories called Skull Full of Spurs. Both were limited-edition hardcovers that gained notoriety in the small-publishing world in 1998 and 2000. After that, Bovberg took time away from publishing to raise a family, and he’s recently returned to fiction, this time focusing on his own work.
Blood Red, published by Permuted Press in 2014, has the trappings of a zombie novel—The Walking Dead in Fort Collins!—but it is also very different from that, particularly as the story progresses. Bovberg notes influences such as John Carpenter’s The Thing, Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project, Matt Reaves’ Cloverfield, and John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. It’s a smorgasbord of genre surprises told in real time, as Fort Collins falls victim to some kind of otherworldly attack.
A few years ago, zombies were all the rage. But today, the hype surrounding the subgenre has significantly faded. Even when he was writing Blood Red, Bovberg could see the writing on the wall. Visiting Barnes & Noble on College, he saw tables full of zombie parodies and zombie kids’ books. A once proud and serious horror subgenre was heading toward its maximum saturation point.
“Zombies were still hot, so I wanted to take advantage of that, but I also wanted to transcend that specific kind of horror into something new,” says Bovberg. “I wanted readers to think they were on a particular kind of journey—a zombie story—and then find themselves blindsided by sci-fi weirdness. Blood Red feels like a zombie tale, and that’s exactly what I was going for—to a point.”
Once readers get to the sequel Draw Blood and the especially the concluding volume Blood Dawn, they will find that the trilogy has more in common with The Thing than The Walking Dead. The creatures that inhabit the pages of the Blood saga—and scramble crookedly down the streets of Fort Collins—are horrifying, gasping things that were once the fine people of our town but who are now inflicted with a strange (and glowing) alien infestation.
You might call this horror/sci-fi subgenre “body horror,” popularized by Clive Barker in his books The Books of Blood, and it’s a subgenre that resonates powerfully with Bovberg, who endured his own “body horror” 30 years ago when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease.
“When you’re 19, you feel invulnerable,” Bovberg says. “Your whole life is sprawled out in front of you. Going through chemotherapy and radiation while starting your college years—that’s a game-changer. Those were painful times, and the effects on my life and body are still with me.”
Bovberg says that only recently has he realized that he wrote his Blood trilogy as a way to cope with that lifelong pain.
“It was all subconscious,” Bovberg says. “I came to the realization not long ago, while giving an interview, and then the evidence started adding up in my mind—from the use of blood as a carrier for infection or disease, to the employment of a horribly painful ‘blood cure’ to fight that disease, to the enduring and youthful optimism of the central character, Rachel. I even unconsciously made her the same age!”
Bovberg’s story has a happy ending. Does Rachel’s? You can find the Blood trilogy at Barnes & Noble, Old Firehouse Books, and Wolverine Farms. You can also find it in both paperback and ebook on Amazon.com.