Every once in a while I like a good psychological thriller; something really spooky that will get my hackles up. Sometimes I will read a horror novel full of blood and guts, but other times I will enjoy a story that contains more chill and less gore. A new collection of short stories by Brian James Freeman called Seven Stories struck me as more of the latter and I decided to check it out.
Seven Stories contains just what the title suggests, seven thrilling short stories designed to send chills up your spine. It all starts with Walking With the Ghosts of Pier 13 in which the main character finds himself wandering through an amusement park in a small east coast summer town called Penny Bay. While walking through the park, Jeremy thinks about the events of the last few days, events that have inspired him to come here and ride his brother’s favorite roller coaster…the roller coaster ride on whose line he was waiting when he was killed. The reader gets the distinct impression that something horrible has happened in this town and the reader is left wondering what exactly happened until the last moments of the story. Wondering whether there was some kind of horrible virus, alien attack, zombie overrun or just an outbreak of the crazies has the reader on the edge of their seat throughout the entire story. When they finally learn what took place at Pier 13, one might think of it as a letdown in its simplicity, but then again, what took place is something that could easily happen in today’s disgruntled society.
This tale is followed by Running Rain, a story in which a man and his wife cope with their son’s death and the deaths of several other local youths. As we read on, we learned what happened on the day that their son went missing and the significance of his last words to his mother. It would be those words and a chance discovery by his father while running near the river to clear his mind that would haunt the couple for the rest of their days. The open ending of the story has an awesome effect on the reader, who by this point has already guessed as to what happened to Benjamin. It allows the reader to come to their own conclusion as to what Benjamin’s father found and the decision he had to make that haunts him throughout the story.
Answering the Call is more of the ghost/demon style of story in which the lead character is one of a number of individuals that rid the world of harmful spirits. Though interesting in its presentation, I found this story to be less enjoyable than the rest. The Punishment Room is a rather sick psychological thriller that points out what our correctional system may become in the future.
What They Left Behind is another ghost story in which a young man named Scott discovers that the warehouse his father just purchased for his business is rife with the souls of the workers who died in a fire there years ago. He also discovers something even worse…something that may have caused the deaths of those poor souls years ago…and that something is stalking him and his brother-in-law in the generator room in the middle of a horrific storm. Enough to send chills up your spine just reading the synopsis, but Brian James Freeman’s descriptiveness makes the story even scarier. This is followed by A Dreamlike State centers around a young man named Daniel whose sister supposedly killed herself when he was very young. Since then, he has been haunted by the memory of that last night and his own inner demons. Daniel thought leaving home would solve things, but he’s still afraid to sleep. Returning home to help his dying father, the nightmares take on a different spin with a visitation from his dead sister’s boyfriend who disappeared shortly after her death. What he has to say makes one wonder what really happened to Daniel’s sister all those years ago.
In the final story in the book, Where Sunlight Sleeps, a widower struggles to helps his son deal with the loss of his mother. Taking the advice of his son’s therapist, he begins taking his son on a routine tour of his former life with his wife, taking him places where they met, where they used to work, where they used to hang out and more. On most occasions, this trek is nothing more than a painful experience for the man, but for the sake of his son’s mental health, he continues the daily ritual. But on this day, a breakthrough is achieved…and the results are nothing less than chilling.
Brian James Freeman is a gifted writer. His stories are captivating and the horror takes on more of a psychological spook rather than relying on gore to scare the reader. To me, that is the sign of an excellent horror writer – one that knows how to scare his readers without resorting to blood and guts. Instead, Freeman uses descriptiveness of settings to creep out the reader. You can picture everything going on in the story thanks to Freeman’s details. He also provides insight into the minds of the main characters of each story, offering their perspective of events. Things that scare these characters are most times things that would scare the readers themselves and so we can relate to them.
I truly enjoyed reading each and every one of the tales in Seven Stories and can’t believe that I have never read anything by Brian James Freeman before. I know one thing for certain – I’ll be checking out more of Freeman’s writing in the future.