SHORT STORY: Yesterday’s Joy by Andrew Freudenberg

Yesterday’s Joy

Lukas finally stopped. He had run into darkness, oblivious to the onset of evening, and he shivered under the cloudy night sky. Cold sweat coated his aching body. Breathing heavily he surveyed his surroundings. In the intermittent moonlight he struggled to find the familiarity that he had hoped for. Nature’s insatiable hunger had been hard at work, evidenced by the invading vegetation that choked the site. Still, he wouldn’t allow it to crush his hope that this was where he would regain his innocence, where he would find a spark of childhood joy to reignite his humanity. He wasn’t beaten yet.

Steeling himself he pushed on between the trees. Branches stroked and prodded him as he went, mocking him and testing his reserve.

“I’m not afraid”, he mumbled to himself.

At last he spotted a building. Its windows were smashed, and faded graffiti scarred the walls. He peered inside. The corrugated plastic roof had collapsed in places, admitting just sufficient light to cast a shadow on the floor’s carpet of detritus. Judging by the up ended chairs and ragged serving counters it had been some kind of food outlet once. A scraping noise came from deep within the structure, fleeting, too brief for him to locate the source, but discomforting enough to persuade him to move on.

Edging along a barely recognizable path took him past a series of rusting playground rides, now strangled by bushes and grass. He stopped at a small roundabout and, on a whim, took a seat. Looking down he saw that the patina of rust snaking across the ride matched the dry blood on his hands. He imagined himself abandoned here like everything else, rotting as he waited for time to deal its final blow. He pushed the ground with his foot and span. The shadows blurred as he turned, false images flashing across his mind.

For a moment he thought he saw his father’s face, framed by the same anger he had seen the last time that he had been here. In the evening, after that fateful visit, the beating had been worse than usual. Blow had followed blow, accompanied by his Father’s customary copious tears and cursing.

“Why? Why did she have to die?”

Lucas didn’t know the answer, had never known the answer. As he grew older and understood the moist mechanics of childbirth he still didn’t know why his mother had left him to face this life alone. That hadn’t stopped his father from endlessly asking him the same question.

Movement amongst the upper branches of the trees, perhaps just a startled bird, caught his attention and he looked up. He twitched, uncomfortable in the open air, rendered unsure by the vastness pressing down on him.

“Your mother’s in heaven now.”

How often had he heard these words? Intended to comfort, they had the opposite effect. This dead woman that he had never known haunted him from above, watching him and, to his mind, judging him. As he had no idea what it was that she wanted, this left him eternally frustrated at his own inability to satisfy her needs. At least he had the clouds to obscure him this evening. The roundabout came to a halt and he stepped off.

Walking through the trees he caught glimpses of battered faces staring out at him. Cracked frogs and broken rabbits, once blessed by the attention of excited young humans, could now only dream cold plastic dreams of anyone taking joy from their existence. Whatever soul their makers had invested in their creation was now cast into oblivion. Lukas thought it seemed like a waste.

Skirting a rank pool with the festering remains of a Viking longboat at its centre, he emerged from the tree line into open space. The clouds were clearing a little now and moonlight fought its way through the gaps to give everything an ethereal shine. A giant figure’s fiberglass corpse lay with its arms outstretched, flaking eyes staring straight up. Lukas paused. Something about the thing’s open hands suggested that it was pleading for help. He shrugged apologetically and walked on.

He passed more abandoned buildings and destroyed rides. A layer of ugly entropy covered them all. Nature had done its part with rain, creeping vines and fallen trees, but it was man’s need to add to the decimation that disturbed him most. The park had clearly been a focus for mindless vandalism over the years.

A breeze blew through the site, carrying the faintest traces of distant voices with it. Lukas stopped to focus on them but couldn’t distinguish any meaning. He picked up his pace.

Finally he reached the slide where it had happened all those years ago. He could still hear the boy’s screams as if it were only yesterday. It was a sound that stayed with him day and night. Sometimes it woke him from his dreams, leaving him breathless and unable to get back to sleep. Even now, wide-awake, it was startlingly vivid. Lukas had just finished his descent of the big blue and yellow slope and was begging for another go. The storm clouds were gathering over his father’s face when a greater event overtook them.

The crowd dashed towards the lake, drawn by this inhuman guttural shrieking, and Lukas instinctively turned to follow them. Before he could move his father put his hand on his shoulder.

“No. Don’t go…”

It hadn’t been necessary to get closer. The horror was clearly visible from where he stood. A young boy covered in blood, the screamer, sat bobbing up and down in a small plastic boat. Where his arm had been there was only a fleshy eruption of torn flesh and jagged bone. The limb itself, torn from its rightful place by some kind of mechanical malfunction, floated silently in the shallows. Time had seemed to slow down, coming in stops and starts. Adults with expressions of disbelief, other children weeping and vomiting, the flickering images blinding him. He felt caught in the harsh disconnect between the pleasure of the ride moments before and this new obscenity.

Now, almost twenty years to the day, he stood here again. The slide down which the small boats had rushed, before bouncing across the water, was covered in moss and filth and the lake itself dark and brackish. There was no joy left here. This was a graveyard and nothing more, yet he felt something stirring deep within. This was where it had changed, where he had changed.

He walked up to the water’s edge.

“I’m not a bad person”, his Father had said.

Lukas had laughed at that.

“You’re not a person at all.”

His Father had stared at him then, unable to come up with anything to contradict the assertion. He had aged in the five years since Lukas had seen him last. The bags under his eyes had grown leathery and his skin had gained a ghostly pallor. There had been less to him than he remembered. Although always a thin man, now he was verging on skeletal. His smell was still the same though. That had struck Lukas as soon as he pushed his way in through the door. Cheap rolling tobacco and sweat, the dry reek of doubt.

Lukas had been surprised by how easily the blade slid into his Father’s chest. He had been expecting some kind of resistance but there had been none. Blood had oozed from the wound rather than gushing, and silence had fallen over the small apartment. The old man had looked at him with eyes that continued to express a lifetime of disappointment, of disgust with his only child. They had widened slightly and then closed forever.

He stepped into the cold water. It only reached to his knees. Several steps took him to the looming framework of the launching tower. The steps at the rear were gone, presumably taken away to prevent what he now had in mind.

The voices on the wind were getting louder now, closer. They were gaining on him. He didn’t have the energy or inclination to run. Let them come.

Metal creaked in protest as he hauled himself up the flaking paintwork. The aging steel cut into his hands as he ascended but he paid it no mind, his attention focused on reaching the top. The ride had haunted his dreams for so long now he half wondered whether he was awake or asleep, despite the cold breeze that scratched at his face.

Getting into the small yellow boat was a tight squeeze. He worried that it might launch itself before he was ready, but soon sat looking down over the shadowy waters below.

“There he is. Up there.”

The beams from his pursuers torches flickered over him erratically as they struggled to restrain the sniffer dogs that had led them here.

“Come down. We need to talk.”

Lukas closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He thought of how his Father’s corpse had looked when he left; quiet at last. His had been the final and most prominent of the voices that needed silencing. Over the years he had found nothing calmed his mind like helping his abusers find eternal tranquility. He didn’t understand people well enough to understand why he seemed to attract their contempt but he knew how to make it stop. They had craved his attention and he had given it to them.

“Get down from the tower or we’ll shoot. We know what you’ve done so come quietly.”

He opened his eyes and smiled before slowly shaking his head. Putting both hands down on the rail he pushed. Wheels that had been frozen in place for an age protested at the unexpected disturbance. He pushed again and they came free. Lukas laughed as the tiny vehicle edged over the drop and started to move. He threw his hands up and reveled in the pure joy that flooded over him as he accelerated downwards. Free at last.

Bullets whistled through the air, finding their homes in his neck and chest but he was still smiling as he fell sideways into the shallows. His pursuers released their hounds and they splashed enthusiastically towards their target, growling and waving their tails, but he was already gone, never to return.

Andrew Freudenberg is a writer of dark fiction. He dwells in the South West of England with his Ninja-Wife, numerous offspring and several ridiculous dogs.His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, and his solo horror collection, My Dead and Blackened Heart, was published by The Sinister Horror Company

My Dead & Blackened Heart
14 stories of terror, dread and fatherhood.

From the isolation of space, to the ever-watchful eyes in a darkening wood, Andrew Freudenberg takes us on a journey exploring the themes of friendship, fatherhood and loss, as we pick through the remains of his dead and blackened heart.

“Overhead the lighting operator switched everything to green, just as two enormous mortars fired shredded silver paper in a plume over the crowd. Sarge blinked, attempting to clear the salt lacing his eyes.

For a moment he thought he saw paratroopers descending from above, but shook off the hallucination and turned his attention to the stalls. A group of youngsters were caught by Doc’s spotlight for a split second, their eyes wide with wonderment and a touch of fear.

It was enough to send Sarge back to the jungle, back to the children in the village. Their eyes had been the same, gazing up at him intently, even after he had slaughtered them with his bayonet and laid them all out in a row. At the time it had seemed the kind thing to do, a mercy killing of sorts. After all they had executed everyone else, so who would have looked after them?

There was something complete about leaving them lying peacefully amongst the burning buildings.

It had been a Zen moment.”

Featuring the stories: Something Akin To Despair, A Bitter Parliament, Charlie’s Turn, Pater in Tenebris, Milkshake, Nose to the Window, The Cardiac Ordeal, Meat Sweets, Scorch, The Teppenyaki of Truth, Before The Meat Time, Hope Eternal, The Last Patrol & Beyond The Book.

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‘My Dead and Blackened Heart’ is available from Amazon in paperback and hardback, the latter featuring both bonus stories and a commentary on the book’s creation.If you’d like a signed copy, contact the author. If not, feel free to say hello on Facebook anyway.


Meghan: Hi, Mark! Welcome back and thank you for stopping by today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Mark: Seeing how imaginative people are with costumes. I’m not talking about the shop bought ones. It’s those that’ve been homemade always catch my eye. You know, those that have been stitched together with love and attention.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Mark: It will always be carving pumpkins. It’s fun getting messy!

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Mark: For me, it’s a good excuse to watch crappy horror movies. Sure, no matter the time of year we can do that, but Halloween comes along and all the streaming channels show many I’ve never seen before. So that’s always great.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Mark: Haha! Superstitions are an absolute waste of brainpower. I am in no way superstitious. Even as a kid, while my friend avoided stepping on cracks or walking under ladders, or even shriek when spotting a black cat, I’d happily run under the ladder and stroke the cat while standing on all the cracks.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Mark: Pinhead from Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart was always a favourite of mine, especially once the Hellraiser movies reinforced the mythos. Such a great premise too, and don’t get me started on Lemarchand’s puzzle box and the wonderful lament configuration.

Having said that, there is a close second and he’s from the movie, Sinister. The soundtrack composer, Christopher Young, did a fine job in hammering home how sinister the antagonist was. Bughuul is so damned menacing.

Those two villains, a hell priest and a pagan deity, would make an awesome duo. I’d pay to see, or read, that.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Mark: Well, you have me here. I have no idea. The horror that I write leans towards the supernatural rather than humankind’s real-life horrors.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Mark: Nothing scares me. Only heights, but that has nothing to do with Halloween. How about cats, though? Can I talk about cats?

I live in Hastings, East Sussex, England, that’s famous for its roots in history: the 1066 Battle of Hastings is the big one. Research for my novella, Hell Cat of the Holt, led me to learn that in the 19th century, two mummified cats were discovered in the chimney of the Stag Inn while under restoration.

These cats were apparently the familiars of a local 17th century witch. Friendlier than most witches of that time, Hannah Clarke was seen to help prevent the Spanish Armada reaching Hastings, often using her powers for the town’s protection. For whatever reasons, she moved on yet her familiars remained. Until the Great Plague hit.

Cats, rather than rats, were commonly assumed to be plague carriers and having been owned by a witch, this pair of animals were the first to succumb to accusations. For fear of any bad omen to befall the people by killing the cats, a decision was made to wall them in at the pub which led to their mummification.

This all was supposed to have happened. I swear the owners of the Stag Inn have always played on that story, and it’s just good marketing so they can sell more beer.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Mark: Again, because my horror doesn’t fall under the human hand category, I don’t believe I can name any serial killer and their kill numbers. Real life horror doesn’t fascinate me. I’m in it for the demons, devils, and spirits… The stuff that Halloween is truly made off!

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Mark: I remember watching Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist at an early age and was absolutely mesmerised. The children, the parents, the haunting itself. Everything from that movie held me in awe.

As for a book? Just into my teens, I nabbed a novel from my dad’s horror shelf. It was undoubtedly the book that kicked my love for horror into overdrive: James Herbert’s fantastic The Magic Cottage.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Mark: I once read a book by Mark Morris. I think it was Toady, though I may be wrong. There was a scene of child abuse. That kind of shit unsettles me. It disgusts me. This is the horror I detest, in the knowledge that it actually happens in this world. Humans and their actions are the real horror, and it’s because of that I side-step it to delve into the darkness beyond our four walls of reality. Give me ghouls and ghosts any day.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Mark: I’m still waiting…

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume? (This could be from when you were a child or after you became an adult. Or maybe something you never dressed as but wish you had.)

Mark: I once made a Hellboy costume. I trawled charity shops for the perfect trench coat, and made the massive hand from foam out of our old sofa. I fashioned stubby horns and glued them onto a bald cap, and laboriously attached sections of a long black wig to it. All this took many, many hours on my days off work on approach to the big day. I even grew the appropriate facial hair and dyed it. Lots of spray paint and face paint later, I did it. I received a lot of attention that night.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Mark: Oh, it will always be Danny Elfman’s “This is Halloween” from the movie Nightmare Before Christmas.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Mark: Wow. That’s a question. I haven’t touched candy in years… Decades in fact! I used to love Drumsticks though, and absolutely hated anything liquorish.

Meghan: This has been great, Mark. As always. Before you go, what is your one go-to Halloween movie?

Mark: I will always rank Halloween 3: Season of the Witch as my favourite. I mean, seriously, that haunting theme tune and those masks! Love it.

Mark Cassell lives on the south-east coast of the United Kingdom with his wife and plenty of animals. His jobs have included baker, lab technician, driving instructor, actor, and was once a spotlight operator for an Elvis impersonator. As the author of the best-selling Shadow Fabric mythos, he not only writes dark fantasy horror but also explores steampunk and sci-fi.

He has seen over fifty stories published in anthologies and zines, and remains humbled in the knowledge that his work shares pages with many of his literary heroes. The 2021 release of the short story collection SIX! from Red Cape Publishing shines a light on just how weird Mark can get. More can be found at his website.

From Mark Cassell, author of the Shadow Fabric mythos, comes SIX! Featuring a variety of dark tales, from the sinister to the outright terrifying, this unique collection is a must for horror readers everywhere. Includes the stories Skin, All in the Eyes, In Loving Memory, The Space Between Spaces, On Set With North, and Don’t Swear in Mum’s House.

Monster Double Feature: River of Nine Tails & Reanimation Channel
From the author of the Shadow Fabric mythos comes Monster Double Feature, a 78-page chapbook featuring two stories – a duo of abominations.

A British traveller desperate to escape his past finds himself at the heart of a Vietnamese legend, and learns why the Mekong Delta is known as ‘River of Nine Tails’ (originally published in In Darkness, Delight: Creatures of the Night anthology by Corpus Press, 2019).

And a regular parcel collection from a neighbour becomes a descent into terror through the online game, ‘Reanimation Channel’, (originally published in The Black Room Manuscripts, Vol. 4 anthology by The Sinister Horror Company, 2018).