As William Peter Blatty writes in his introduction to Brian James Freeman’s WALKING WITH GHOSTS . . .
“Freeman’s prose is clean and lovely, painting the canvas of the printed page so unobtrusively yet with such pronounced effect. His writing will leave you both chilled and deeply moved.”
And he’s right. Brian’s first full-length collection features twenty-nine unforgettable tales including several that are seeing print for the very first time. Intense, eerie, and compelling, the pages within contain characters and creations that will leave a haunting impression on the reader long after the final page is turned.
Here are a few tasters:
No one was supposed to be in the abandoned town. The escorted group of reporters, photographers, and cameramen wore paper masks provided by the U.N.’s media liaison team and they wouldn’t be here for more than half an hour. There had been no sign of any civilians when the four CH-47 Chinook helicopters circled the region on the way in and they didn’t expect to see anyone on the way out. Only the insane and the sick would still be living here.
Stephen carried his camera close and he walked alongside Rick McDuff, a reporter whose career dated clear back to Vietnam. Nothing fazed him anymore. Stephen wished he could say the same, but he was merely a self-taught photographer on his first tour of duty outside his hometown and, even after several months of traveling to places like this with Rick, he didn’t have the courage or the stomach to process the horrific scenes with a cold, clinical eye the way his much older colleague did.
They were passing a crumbling house when a hesitant movement in the shadows caught Stephen’s attention. There was a young girl in there, wearing a dirty and tattered dress draped over her skeletal frame. Her skin was pale and her eyes were very blue.
“Rick, look,” Stephen whispered, pointing as the girl ducked deeper into the shadows of the interior.
“No, the little girl.”
“I don’t see anyone,” Rick said. He glanced at Stephen for a moment, as if to confirm he wasn’t joking, and then back at the ruins. “They searched to make sure the area was clear, you know.”
—From ‘An Instant Eternity’
Every Saturday, his little boy awakens with the rising sun.
The middle-aged widower is already awake in his own bedroom down the hall. He has barely slept in the six months since his wife’s tragic accident ripped her from their lives, breaking his heart and devastating his little boy, but he remains in bed and waits for the day to begin. What else can he do?
He hears his son’s bedroom door creak open. He closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep. He hopes his son will not speak the words he always speaks on Saturday mornings, but the man’s heart knows better.
“Daddy?” his little boy whispers.
The man blinks his eyes open, as if he’s just waking up, and he forces a big smile for his son who stands in the doorway in his pajamas. The August sunlight sneaks around the curtains, washing across his little boy’s angelic face. The father smiles even though he’s frozen inside. He smiles and he hopes today won’t be like every other Saturday for the last six months.
“Good morning, Timothy,” he says.
“Mornin’, Daddy. Can we go on the Mommy Tour?”
The father wants to sigh, but he holds his smile. This is what their therapist, Dr. Linda Madison, has advised him to do.
“Yes, of course. Give me ten minutes to get ready.”
His son’s smile widens as the little boy bounds back to his bedroom.
The father’s smile fades into a grimace. He dresses in silence.
—From ‘Where Sunlight Sleeps.’
The young man must be lonely.
There is something terrible about the look in his eyes, about the way his body slumps over the heavy, black answering machine perched on his lap. He sits on the chair in the middle of the barren room, and he is naked except for his white underwear and his cheap watch. He’s drenched in sweat. A single tear hovers on the edge of his pale, trembling lips. He has dark hair and narrow fingers with fingernails chewed to the quick.
The wood floor groans when he shifts his weight. There are no windows, only the door to the hallway and a door to the walk-in closet. A single lamp glows with a yellowed light, but the light does not reach the corners of the room. An extension cord snakes across the floor, powering the lamp and the old, boxy answering machine.
He pushes the button that was once marked ANNOUNCEMENT before years of contact rubbed the word away. The tape crackles, there is a beep, and a woman’s voice speaks: “You’ve reached the Smith Family, we can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave a message, we’ll get right back to you.”
This is the voice of the dead. The sound has deteriorated a bit with age, but when the young man plays this tape, the dead woman lives on, just for a moment. There is a second beep and the woman is dead once again.
The young man plays the tape one last time, then checks his watch and sighs. He returns the machine to the closet. He wouldn’t want to be late for work, and the dead woman isn’t going anywhere.
—From ‘Answering the Call’
And from his foreword:
In these days of almost gleeful excess there’s a surprising gentleness to Brian Freeman’s work though, of course, you should also be prepared for the occasional slam-dunk when you least expect it. Otherwise, it’s a veritable oasis of calm in a frenetic world.
“When I’m between projects,” he says in his Foreword, “I’ll often find myself drifting toward my ‘finished stories’ folder — a poorly selected moniker if there ever was one — where I’ll open manuscripts and tinker here and there until it’s time to give up on them again.
“That’s where the title of this volume comes from. It’s how I would describe my life with these short stories. In my head, I walked among these events, transcribing them to the best of my ability and then rewriting in an attempt to convey the realness of what I first experienced, but even after I typed The End, they never left me alone. Not really. These characters are still waiting for me to walk with them again. And I do. Often.
“But it is better to have gotten the stories down on paper as best I can, that much is true. The ghosts aren’t nearly as boisterous once the story is written and published. But still, they wait. They often have more to say.
“Collected here are twenty-nine ghosts that have haunted me at one point or another since I was thirteen years old. I’m ready to visit with them again.”