Brian Freeman is one of my favorite writers. Though he actually began publishing fiction in the 1990's, I discovered his talent in the first SHIVERS anthology from Cemetery Dance. I became an immediate fan from that story, called WALKING WITH THE GHOSTS OF PIER 13, and since then I have never passed up a chance to read anything by him. Brian has stories in each of the subsequent SHIVERS anthologies, as well as CORPSE BLOSSOMS, THE BEST OF HORRORFIND 2, HORROR WORLD and BORDERLANDS 5. Brian was also one of the featured authors in the Borderlands Press publication, 4 FEAR OF. In addition to his short stories, Brian Freeman has written a novel called BLACK FIRE (pseudonymously published as James Kidman) and a novella, BLUE NOVEMBER STORMS. He also served as co-writer of THE ILLUSTRATED STEPHEN KING BOOK. (with Bev Vincent). Brian's poetry will be featured in HALLOWEEN: NEW POEMS and he will be in the Richard Laymon tribute anthology, IN LAYMON'S TERMS.
Brian Freeman is an employee of Cemetery Dance Publications.
We're proud to present a brand new story by Brian. It's called WHERE SUNLIGHT SLEEPS and like most of his fiction, it packs a hell of an emotional punch.
Oh, stick around after the feature and we'll have a few words with the author.
Every Saturday, his little boy awakens with the rising sun.
The middle-aged widower is already awake in the bedroom down the hall. He lies in the bed he has shared with no one since his wife died.
The man hears his son's bedroom door creak open, and he closes his eyes so that when his door opens, his son doesn't know he's been awake most of the night again.
"Daddy, it's time to get up," his little boy whispers.
The father blinks his eyes and smiles at his son, who stands there in the doorway in his pajamas. The August sunlight sneaks in around the curtains, washing across his son's face, making his skin glow. The father smiles even though he's cold inside. He smiles and he prays today won't be like every other Saturday for the last six months.
"Good morning, Timothy," he says.
"Morning, 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 runs back to his bedroom to get ready.
The father's smile fades into a grimace. He dresses in silence.
The father pulls over to the side of the road and puts the car in park.
"I would drop her off there and she would go into the office through those doors," the father says, pointing across the street toward the black and silver office building.
His son nods and smiles.
"Then I would drive across town to the warehouse where I work. At five o'clock, I would be here to pick her up and then we'd drive home together."
The man continues with the story, but his mind is elsewhere. Sometimes he imagines someone has placed a camera to photograph this section of road every Saturday. What would that person think of this same car with the same occupants making the same motions, having the same conversation, every week? The seasons have changed, from late winter to spring to summer, but the car is as regular as the rising or setting of the sun. Is the car an echo of some past event? Are the passengers simply shadowy ghosts?
"Do you want me to show you where I met your mother?" the father asks, as he does every week.
The mall has changed considerably in the ten years since the man and his future wife came here on a blind date. The food court where they shared the first of many frozen yogurts has since been torn down, replaced by teenager specialty boutiques with strange names like Wet Seal and Hollister. The man isn't even sure what those stores sell.
The man walks his son to the new and improved food court where the old movie theater used to stand on the other side of the mall. The theater was where he and his future wife went on their second date, but it was never rebuilt after the mall's remodeling, so that event can't be part of the Tour.
"Here is the table where we met when Uncle Henry arranged for us to go on our first date."
This orange and blue table under the wide skylight is not the same table, but it serves the purpose. The table is near the Starbucks kiosk that replaced the frozen yogurt stand from the old food court.
"Why did Uncle Henry do that?" his son asks for the twenty-fourth time.
"Because your mother was a friend of Aunt Alicia, and Aunt Alicia thought your mother and I could be great friends if we met. She was right about that, wasn't she?"
"You and Mommy were best friends, Daddy?"
"After you, she was my best friend in the whole wide world, kiddo."
As if on cue, his son says: "Okay, I want to see where you asked Mommy to marry you."
Dr. Linda said the so-called Mommy Tour would help Timothy heal by connecting with a side of his mother he never knew. The doctor never hinted it could become a weekly obsession for the grieving boy.
When the father questioned her about this unexpected development, she replied: "Sometimes kids dig these holes inside themselves and try to hide their feelings there. Often bad feelings they're scared of. A colleague of mine calls this the place where sunlight sleeps. Your son will need your assistance to find that sunlight."
"What does that mean?" the man asked, confused and tired.
"Well, if your son wants to take the Mommy Tour every week, it's because he's digging at something inside himself by asking you these same questions in these same places. He's hidden something deep down and he needs your help to find it. So take your son to these places and let him talk. Eventually you'll learn something new about him and he might learn something new about himself. It might take a few months, but eventually he'll open up and reveal what he's been hiding."
The man didn't understand what the doctor was saying, but he would do anything to help his son recover from the death of his mother, so the Tour continued like clockwork, every week.
The man slows the car to a stop near the curve in the dirt road. This state park has 40,000 acres of forest, but there was one trail in particular the man and his future wife liked the best when they hiked together the summer they first met. Being young and in love, they did certain things on this trail that are not, for obvious reasons, mentioned on the Tour.
"Okay, Timothy, watch your step," the father says as he leads his son by the hand into the brush.
To get to Lover's Lookout (as the kids referred to the area when the man was a teenager) or to Scenic View Point (as the boring park guides still call it today), you technically had to hike a three-mile trail from the park's Visitor's Center. The trail is rated for beginners of all ages--but there is also an off-limits Park Ranger access road that can bring you within a hundred yards of the scenic view, saving the long hike. Most people have no idea the dirt road exists, but it's been a lifesaver for the man these last six months.
"Is this how you and Mommy got here?"
"Yes, all the time," the man lies. If he told his son about the real Scenic View Trail, they'd have to hike it every Saturday, and he no longer has the heart to do that.
The undergrowth isn't hard to push through and soon the man and his son are traveling along a narrow deer path. The sunlight cuts through the thick tree canopy here and there, sending bright beams of light across the ground.
As far as the man knows, no one else uses this shortcut, which means there's never anyone to bother him and his son. They're surrounded by the sounds of the forest. The world is a peaceful, calm place. This might be the only time the man truly relaxes each week--and when he and his son reach the actual trail, they're only a few paces from the area on the map labeled Scenic View Point.
His son smiles widely and yells, "Hooray! We made it!"
The man smiles, too. His son's enthusiasm and laughter are the only things that keep him going these days, and they're easily the best part of this heart-wrenching Saturday ritual.
The sight from the clearing at the top of the trail is stunning. Hikers have an unobstructed view of the treetops in the valley below and the curve of the river off in the distance. A fine mist often fills the valley in the morning and the sunsets are spectacular.
It's no wonder the man and his future wife spent so much time here, drinking and talking and doing the other things they did back in the woods where the man eventually discovered the private shortcut he now shares with his son.
"Did Mommy like coming here?"
"Yes, she did. It was her favorite place in the world."
"Did Mommy come here the day she left us?"
"Timothy, your mother didn't leave us," the man says, trying to stay calm, trying not to be irritated. "She didn't leave us. You need to stop saying that. She passed away."
The man takes his son's hand and leads the boy back into the woods. He hates this part of the conversation.
"But she might come home?"
"No, your mother isn't coming home. The sooner we accept that, the better. You know what Dr. Linda says."
The man expects his son to start crying, right on schedule, but even though the little boy's jubilant smile is gone, his eyes are dry. This is different. This isn't how this part of the day usually goes. This is a huge breakthrough and the man feels a sense of pride swell inside him.
"Do you have anything else you want to talk about?" the father says, thinking of his conversations with Dr. Linda. Maybe those feelings his son buried deep inside are working their way out now. Maybe his son has finally found the place where sunlight sleeps. Maybe, finally, those bad feelings can be released and discussed and fixed.
His son nods as they walk, hand in hand, finding the deer path and making their way back to the car.
The father says softly, "Go ahead, it's okay."
The boy is still hesitant, but finally he replies: "Daddy, why were you screaming at Mommy on the day she went away?"
The father's smile fades as they continue to walk, just a few feet from a narrow pile of dirt covered in thick weeds, which have grown quickly this summer and disguised any indication of what might be hidden beneath the surface. No one will ever know what happened there six months ago.
The man, like his son, had dug a hole deep into where the sunlight sleeps... and he had buried his bad feelings even deeper.
Horror Drive-In: Brian, you strike me as a very careful writer who doesn't like to waste words. I picture you agonizing over every single sentence. Is this accurate?
Brian Freeman: It's actually kind of scary how accurate that statement is. I revise and revise and then revise some more. I'll work on a story until I'm absolutely tired of looking at it, which is when it'll go out to my terrific first readers. They give excellent feedback, catch all of the mistakes I made along the way, and they aren't afraid to tell me when I'm not doing a good enough job.
That said, I've received some negative feedback from editors over the years, basically saying that my work is "too polished" because of the constant rewriting. But it just doesn't feel right to send something out unless I've done my very best to make it the story it was meant to be. I'm a slow writer, and I don't have a lot of free time for my writing these days, so I feel like I should try to make each story as good as I possibly can.
HD-I: I never thought your writing felt too polished. Precise is perhaps more the word I was thinking.
BF: Thanks, Mark. It is what it is, right? I only know how to write the way I do, although I try to improve every year.
HD-I: Black Fire was received favorably by a lot of readers, myself included. Why was a pen named used? Because of the 'other' Brian Freeman, who writes mysteries?
BF: There were several reasons at the time, including other authors with similar names. Brian Freeman is a very common name, it turns out! The Brian Freeman who writes mysteries sold his first novel in a very big deal to a very large publishing house, so it seemed wise to steer clear of any confusion in the bookstores.
The funny thing is, after his sale was announced, we emailed about our shared name and it turns out we've both had run-ins with other Brian Freemans over the years. Where I grew up, there was a famous radio traffic reporter by the name, and I still get asked if I'm related to him even though he's been off the air for years.
HD-I: You mentioned that you don't have a lot of time to write these days. Does this mean you haven't attempted another novel?
BF: I have actually written a new novel and my agent is shopping it around at the moment, but because of a few developments I can't discuss just yet, I'd better not say anything else. No counting our chickens before they're hatched and all that, right?
I've also written a new novella called The Painted Darkness, which isn't officially announced yet, but should be out before the end of the year. I think it's going to be well received by readers who liked my stories in the Shivers anthologies. It has a lot of atmosphere and some pretty good chills and scares.
The basic premise is this: twenty years ago, a young boy witnessed something horrible in the woods behind his house, but he blocked out the memories as he grew up. Now he's an adult, and he makes his living by painting terrific works of horror inspired by that event (although he doesn't realize the source of his inspiration), but there's something wrong with the old farmhouse he now calls home. He lives there with his wife and their young son, and before too long he's convinced there's a monster living in the old stone cellar and his family is in danger. All of the events that follow this revelation are linked to the 'something horrible' he witnessed as a child.
HD-I: HD-I: That sounds fascinating. I know this hasn't been officially announced, but Cemetery Dance is doing The Painted Darkness, right? It's a part of Cemetery Dance Preview Volume 3.
BF: Yep, you are correct. The other books represented in the preview are by Brian Keene, Ronald Kelly, Norman Prentiss, and Al Sarrantonio, so that's nice company to keep.
The feedback on The Painted Darkness from early readers has been really positive so far. I'm making a few last tweaks to the manuscript right now, but then it's into the hands of the designer. Oh, and Jill Bauman has already painted some terrific interiors for the book. I can't wait for everyone to see what she came up with.
HD-I: Speaking of Cemetery Dance, how did you end up working there and is it the dream job it might appear to be?
BF: During the summer after my junior year of college, I lived in Baltimore while my girlfriend worked in the chemistry lab at Johns Hopkins University. She was there for a summer gig to learn more about the university's graduate program, basically.
While she worked, I spent my days running in a neighborhood called Guilford and my nights writing in the very tiny dining room/kitchen of our two room apartment. That's actually where I wrote most of the final draft of Black Fire.
Somewhere along the way, a mutual friend introduced me to Rich Chizmar. Probably to keep me out of trouble since I had so much free time on my hands. Rich was looking for someone to handle some marketing work for Cemetery Dance that summer, and I happened to have a good deal of experience promoting books.
Long story short, Rich was happy with my work, so the next spring when I was about to graduate college and I was looking for a real job in the Baltimore area, I decided to send him a 17 page proposal explaining why Cemetery Dance needed me there full-time. It was a long shot -- at that point, the company only had two full-time employees, including Rich -- but I figured it couldn't hurt to try.
Rich and I had a couple of great talks about the ideas I had proposed, and I started work at Cemetery Dance in the summer of 2002. Kelly Laymon and I were actually the first full-time employees who weren't friends or family of Rich or his wife.
Working at Cemetery Dance is definitely my dream job. There are a lot of very long days (I leave for the office at 7:30 AM and don't usually arrive home until around 7:30 at night, sometimes later), but I have a great boss and incredible co-workers, and I've been able to work with countless amazing authors over the last seven years. Our customers are some of the biggest collectors and readers in the genre, and I never get tired of talking books with them.
So all in all, I couldn't be happier.
Select Brian Freeman Bibliography
Black Fire (as James Kidman), Cemetery Dance Publications (Signed, Limited Hardcover) and Leisure Books (Mass Market Paperback) 2004
Blue November Storms, Cemetery Dance Publications (Signed, Limited Hardcover) 2005
Buzz Your MP3: A Guide To Promoting Your Online Music, Pigeonhole Press (PDF) 2001
The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book (with Bev Vincent), Cemetery Dance Publications (Signed, Limited and Trade Hardcovers and Trade Paperback) 2005
Bus Trip, Paths of Imagination 1994
Objects in the Rear View Mirror, Bright Beginnings 1995
White Wine, local Silver Key Winner 1996
Beginning & End, local Gold Key Winner 1996
I Don't, Eyes 1996
The Glow, In Darkness Eternal II 1996
Sold My Soul to King, NuTH0uSE Magazine 1996
The Return, Nocturnal Lyric 1996
Art Work, Nocturnal Lyric 1997
The Rain, Cedar Cliff Annual Magazine 1997
The Circle, Cedar Cliff Annual Magazine 1997
White Wine, Lost Worlds 1997
Red Rose, The Story Shop VI 1998
Red #5, genrEZONE Magazine 1999
Partners for Life, Dark Abstractions 2000
Bigger and Better, Horrorfind.com 2001
Walking With the Ghosts of Pier 13, Shivers 2002
Marking the Passage of Time, Shivers 2 2003
Answering the Call, Borderlands 5, 2003
What They Left Behind, Shivers 3 2004
Pulled Into Darkness, Cemetery Dance Chapbook 2005
Something to be Said for the Waiting, Shivers 4 2005
Running Rain, Corpse Blossoms 2005
The Gorman Gig, Horror World 2006
Passenger 36-B, 4 Fear of 2006
One Last Lesson, 4 Fear of 2006
One More Day, Shivers 5 2009