I was craving some Stephen King, but couldn’t decide which of his novels to tackle next, so instead, I figured I fill that need with some short stories, and fug into his first published collection, which gathered a variety of different tales under the title of Night Shift. I remember seeing the paperback cover as a kid, my mom was reading it, and it freaked me out, the eyes all over the fingers and hands, gah!
It took me a while, as previously mentioned, to come around to horror, but when I did, King was my entry point in 1984, just before my thirteenth birthday. I recognized some of the stories that I delved into, but some were fresh as if I hadn’t delved down their paths before (I had).
Man can that cat tell a short story. Night Shift contains twenty of them, some really good, some alright, and some that in the end aren’t as entertaining as I would have wanted.
Jerusalem’s Lot is not to be confused with King’s own ‘Salem’s Lot. Feeling heavily influenced by Lovecraft the short story follows Charles Boone who takes over his family’s ancestral home but is plunged into a horrifying mystery that ties in with cosmic horror, a terror beneath the surface, ancient tomes, brushes with insanity and family secrets. Creepy and fun!
Graveyard Shift is a short and unnerving story about a team of workers clearing out a factory’s basement, and the encounters with the rats that ensue. It unfolds enjoyable, and very creepily, and definitely makes one worry about exploring basements and what they may come across.
Dead Surf is a very short story that sits in the King-verse where The Stand takes place as the tale follows some teens/twentysomethings who’ve just committed a terrible thing, and are dealing with the changes in the world, and that one of their own is infected with Captain Trips.
I Am The Doorway is a piece of science fiction horror that inspired that cover that so many of us remember so well looking at us from bookshelves and racks. An astronaut has returned from a cursory exploration of Venus, and though he never set foot on its surface something seems to have come back with him, and is manifesting eyes on his hands, and seeing the world around him in new and horrific ways which lead to murder, and some self-mutilation. Creepy.
The Mangler is an unnerving tale about a folding and pressing machine that is old, ancient, and after a bit of virgin blood, may be possessed. The ending gets a little goofy, but honestly, how are you going to end a tale about a sentient folding machine that is taken over by a demon? Up until the end, it’s bloody and scary.
The Boogeyman has an ending that I absolutely love, as we join a man who’s gone to see a therapist to talk about the death of his three children. He’s absolutely convinced that something has come out of the closet to kill them, a Boogeyman. He tells his story, and the therapist listens, asks questions, and gives us a heck of an ending.
Grey Matter has a dose of body horror happening in it, A young boy shows up at the local shop to pick up his dad’s case of beer, but insists the locals hanging out there taking it to him. He relates a horrific story to the shopkeeper, which he shares on the way over with the beer, but they still aren’t ready for what they find.
Battleground has a bit of a Twilight Zone episode feel to it. A hitman has got his hands full when a box arrives, filled with figures of army men, helicopters, rocket launchers and more. They come to life with the intent of wiping him out. Can one man survive the attack of an army even if they only stand an inch tall? This story has always been one that I enjoy, and it’s just fun to imagine.
Trucks, which King would later use as the launching point for his lone directorial effort, Maximum Overdrive. It isn’t quite as out there as the film ends up being, and it definitely ends in a darker way, and honestly, the idea of trucks coming to life and turning humanity into slaves is kind of scary (and absurd) but wow, that short story works.
Sometimes They Come Back gave me the impression that it didn’t quite know what it wanted to do, much like the story that followed it. A teacher, who is haunted by the murder of his brother some years earlier when they were children is terrified to realize that three students in his remedial reading course are the same teenagers that killed him. They’re dead, but they still have some unfinished business with him. But will he make a worse deal to get rid of them?
Strawberry Spring is a bit of a spooky tale set on a university campus that sees the onset of a series of horrific murders during an unusually misty and balmy early spring. It’s not as balanced as it could be, and the ending comes along as not a real surprise.
The Ledge is a well-penned short that sees a con-turned tennis pro going up against a crime boss for the love of a woman. They have a wager if the pro can circumnavigate the slender ledge around the edge of the high-rise building, the crime lord will let them both go. It’s a nail-biter.
The Lawnmower Man is bizarre. It has nothing to do with the film of the same name and sees a man, who has let his lawn go to seed hire a new landscaping outfit to come and take care of it. It gets really weird from there.
Quitters, Inc. is a tale a quite liked. A man bumps into an old friend in an airport who looks to be in great shape and no longer smokes, he gets in touch with the group that helped his friend quickly, and their unique method of prevention is horrific.
I Know What You Need is an interesting tale, about an average-looking fella who comes into the life of a university coed, and despite his unexceptional appearance, maybe the best thing to ever come along. He can be everything she needs, but is there a catch?
Children of the Corn is a dark, and ultimately violent story that follows an arguing couple on their way across the county (in an attempt to maybe save their marriage). When an accident causes them to arrive in a barren town, they discover a strange church, an odd religion, and murderous children driven by their faith.
The Last Rung on the Ladder is a poignant and beautifully written tale, about a connection between brother and sister, how it faded over the years, and reminds us that it shouldn’t have.
The Man Who Loved Flowers is a fun tale. I love how it plays out, everything seems like this young man is on his way for a date with his young lady. Everyone can see how in love he is, the flowers are perfect, and in his way, it is a very important date… for him.
One For the Road is set on a cold winter’s night in Maine, and trouble is afoot amidst a brutal storm. It seems a family from New Jersey is passing through the area, made a wrong turn, and the patriarch has left the car in search of help, and when he’s informed that he’s near ‘Salem’s Lot we know the trouble that will follow even if he doesn’t.
The Woman in the Room is the final story, and it’s rather simple and poignant as a son comes to a decision, and helps his dying mother to leave the hospital in her own way.
Considering how long ago some of these stories were written, it’s impressive how many stand the test of time, and no matter how many bad movies may have come from them, the source material remains well-crafted, creepy and scary. Check em out!