Finished: May 18, 2008
First Published: 1978
Genre: horror, short stories
Reason for Reading: next in my chronological Stephen King Project. Short story challenge.
Let's talk you and I. Let's talk about fear.
Comments: Stephen King's first collection of short stories (mostly) previously published in various magazines. There were only a couple that didn't do it for me and those were ones that strayed from King's regular fare. The rest of the stories are creepy, or scary, or silly but they were all very good. This is an excellent collection and will be enjoyed by any horror fan. A brief synopsis of the stories and my thoughts follows:
First we start off with a rather boring Introduction by John D. MacDonald then we have a Foreword by Stephen King and this is the very first book in which he wrote a foreword. It was a very interesting essay on why he writes scary stories and why people read them.
#1. Jerusalem's Lot - This is somewhat of a prequel to 'salem's Lot. It is the 1850s and a man and his man-servant come to live in a relative's old home after he dies from an accident. The home has been in the family since the days of the Puritans. The residents of the nearby village are wary of the newcomers and eventually start to shun them, then stone them if they come near. This, of course, is very strange but not as strange as the noises they hear in walls. Nor as strange as what they see in the basement. Or especially as strange as what they find in the nearby deserted town of Jerusalem's Lot. What they find there is pure evil.
#2. Graveyard Shift - A drifter is working in a rundown, rat-infested textile factory. The foreman is overbearing and a regular tyrant. On the week of the 4th of July, the factory closes down for vacation but a crew of men sign-up to work on cleaning out the ancient basement with powerful water hoses on the night shift when it will be cooler. Each night the men work and have various run-ins with rats until the final night when they find that there is actually another sub-basement underneath them. It must be from here that the rats are originating. Down they go ... This was made into a movie, which I saw but barely remember.
#3. Night Surf - This story is related to Stephen King's novel The Stand. Here we have a group of teenagers who are among the lone survivors after a virus has wiped out most of the world's population. Each of them has previously had a different virus, making them think they are immune to this one. Not much happens but it has an eerie atmosphere and makes me even more eager to re-read The Stand.
#4. I Am the Doorway - An ex-astronaut tells his buddy his strange tale. Several years after coming back from an exploration mission to Venus and now retired the astronaut has horrible pains in his hands and wakes to find them covered with eyes. Eyes that not only see, but see this world as a strange alien world and the people seem like horrible creatures. He finds that the eyes can take over his body and make him do things, like kill people. He takes drastic action to silence them but ... well, you'll just have to read the story yourself.
#5. The Mangler - An ironing machine in an industrial laundry plant is possessed by a demon and is killing employees. Two cops are aware of the problem and set out to exorcise the demon. This was rather silly and made me chuckle more than anything. This was made into a movie by Tobe Hooper. (which I haven't seen)
#6. The Boogeyman - A man shows up at a psychiatrist's office with the need to unload his story. He had three children and all three of them were killed by the boogeyman as toddlers. Now the boogeyman is after him. Another one that I found more silly than scary.
#7. Grey Matter - A boy runs into the all-night store in a near panic. He has a very strange story to tell old men gathered there. His father, whom no one remembers actually seeing for several months, has been slowly turning into something not human. Leaving the boy behind with the wife of the owner, three of the men go to check things out. This reminded me a lot of The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill from King's "Creepshow".
#8. Battleground - A hitman returns from his last job, taking out a toy manufacturing mogul. On his way up to his penthouse apartment the desk clerk hands him a large package that has arrived for him. Sure it is a bomb or something equally unpleasant he takes his time before opening it. Eventually he unwraps the paper and finds stenciled on a wooden box the words "G.I. Joe Vietnam Footlocker" with a list of contents. I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of the army men from Toy Story only much more vicious.
#9. Trucks - Here is the one I've been waiting to re-read! A small group of people are under siege at a gas station. They can't get out, the electricity has been cut and they are surrounded by heavy trucks. They try to deal with the situation, try to figure a way of escape and not all of them make it to the end alive. It is rather a cheesy idea, trucks taking over the world, but I loved this story the first time I read and I loved it this time. I'm also very fond of the movie version "Maximun Overdrive".
#10. Sometimes They Come Back - A high school English teacher has a 'slow learners' course for last period each day. The students of this class are mostly unruly, leather jacket students or not so bright jocks. Three of his students mysteriously die or disappear and the day after each disappearance a new student is transferred into his class. These 'new' students look exactly like the thugs who killed his older brother. Except they were teenagers almost 20 years ago, how could they still be the same age now? And if that isn't bad enough, they know he knows who they are and they've come to settle unfinished business with him. This was the best story I read this weekend. It really creeped me out.
#11. Strawberry Spring - A 'Strawberry Spring' is a lot like an "Indian Summer', a few extra weeks of the nice weather, but with a strawberry spring comes a lot of fog and they usually only happen about every eight years. An unknown narrator tells about a strawberry spring eight years ago when he was a college student. They had a rash of girls murdered on campus that year and the killer was never found. Now eight years later, another girl has been killed. Another good one with a surprise at the end.
#12. The Ledge - As the story opens a man is sitting in a high rise apartment with another man whose wife he has been having an affair with. He and the wife are running off together. The husband, who just happens to be involved with the mafia, makes him a bet that if he can walk around the 5-inch wide ledge of the building he will let him go with his life, his wife, and an envelope of money. This is a superb story full of tension and a fabulous ending. One of the best in the collection. This was filmed as one of the stories in the movie "Cat's Eye"
#13. The Lawnmower Man - A man lets his lawn get overgrown and hires a company to come mow it. The man who arrives is extremely strange, he takes off his clothes and eats the mown grass right behind a self-powered lawn mower. When our man tries to call for help, the lawnmower man becomes upset. This is just weird. This was made into a movie (with Pierce Brosnan) but it had nothing to do with King's story other than the title and King sued (and won) to have his name removed from it. I do actually like the movie, though.
#14. Quitters, Inc. - An old acquaintance gives a man the name of a place that can help him quit smoking. It worked for him and they guarantee it will work for anyone. So our man visits and becomes trapped in a contract with no way out. He is under surveillance 24 hrs a day and if he takes a puff his wife will be taken and given a little shock therapy. And that is just the punishment for the first offense. This is another great story and you are just rooting for the guy to succeed but then you know he's going to cave or it wouldn't be much of a story, would it? This story was also included in the movie "Cat's Eye"
#15. I Know What You Need - A female college student meets a male student who gives her the questions to a test she is worried about. He keeps turning up with just the thing that she needs at the time until things go horribly wrong. This had a stalker-type vibe and was pretty creepy.
#16. Children of the Corn - A couple run over a boy who has had his throat slit. They drive to the nearest town to deliver the body to the police but instead find a creepy little town with no adults. The children appear to be part of some cult that worships the corn and they attack the couple. This is a very creepy story. There is just something so scary when children turn evil. This, of course, was made into a movie which had a couple of sequels, I believe.
#17. The Last Rung on the Ladder - This is different than the other stories so far. It is not a horror story or even a scary story. It tells the tale of a man who was not there for his sister when she needed him most. Well done.
#18. The Man Who Loved Flowers - A man walks down the street and everyone notices that he must be a man in love. He stops to purchase flowers and everyone assumes they are for his sweetheart. But things are not what they seem and King pulls out a shocker ending.
#19. One for the Road - This is a direct sequel to the book 'Salem's Lot. A man and his wife and daughter get stuck in the snow on the way to a relative's house. The man goes for help and arrives frozen and frostbit and a little bar. Two old men are there and listen to his tale of how his family needs help and that they are stuck in a little town called Jerusalem's Lot. The name of the town puts fear into the old men but the agree to go out and help. It had been a number of years since the previous events unfolded in 'salem's lot but everyone local knows why they should stay clear. Loved this one.
#20. The Woman in the Room - Not the usual King type of story. A young man goes to visit his mother who is dying from cancer in the hospital and as he goes he contemplates whether or not he should give her an overdose of pills. Not my type of story.