Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, January 21, 2013

1978: Night Shift (King, Stephen)

The horror of suspicion and personal choice (4/5) 

My relationship with the genre of horror is sporadic and often short-lived. Most of the horror out there deals with supernatural elements, a theme which doesn’t elicit any measure of fear or foreboding from my readership. I much prefer the human element of horror; where the manifestation of human evil is corporeal, where deadly deeds are dealt by the hand of a stranger. Regardless of my preference, I still managed to enjoy the supernatural elements found in Night Shift. Some stories just don’t have the right twist or right angle for maximum enjoyment, while others are creepy and direct to the point of utter success. I suppose I enjoyed the variety more than anything: supernatural, science fiction, dramatic, apocalyptic, etc.

I’ve read King’s The Running Man (1982) and The Shining (1977), but these two novels pale in comparison to this collection. Now that I’ve enjoyed this collection so much, I eye my copy of Skeleton Crew (1985) with eagerness. His other two novels on my shelves are The Stand (1978) and The Tommyknockers (1987), both of which I hope are as creepy as they are voluminous.


Jerusalem’s Lot (1978, novelette) – 4/5 – The ancestral home of Charles Boon in the year 1850 appears to be vacant, haunted, and shunned by the nearby villagers, who also shun the ghost town the house is situation in—Jerusalem’s Lot. A series of correspondence is presented from Charles and his life-long friend Calvin McCann which outlines their struggles and haunting with the little village, the cellar of his house, and the abandoned church, host to The Mysteries of the Worm. 31 pages

Graveyard Shift (1970, shortstory) – 5/5 – The third floor of the century-old nylon factory is infested with rats, which transient worker Hall picks off with aluminum soda cans. His meddling foreman offers him a dirty, week-long job over the holiday to clean the basement out—a job for a crew of men with hoses and a penchant for getting dirty. Here, the rat infestation reaches epic proportions and men are bit and sent home… then Hall discovers a wooden sub-cellar door. 15 pages

Night Surf (1974, shortstory) – 3/5 – College kids on the beach listen to the radio as the waves crash and the tide ebbs, except his day is one of the last for all humanity. Ghastly symptoms of the most recent flu outbreak, A6, have steeled the youth against such acts as immolating a diseased man, but when the silent killer rears its head among the motley crew, will they favor death’s prospect with fortitude or fatalism? 8 pages

I Am the Doorway (1971, shortstory) – 3/5 – Resting on a wooden deck next to the beach with bandages around his itchy hands, an ex-astronaut recounts his story of the Venus expedition he manned and the later paralyzing re-entry attempt on Earth. Passing his physical exams, Arthur begins to develop beastly eyes on his hands, whose visions haunt his life with their alien perception of his familiar world. His actions, too, soon seem alien to himself. 11 pages

The Mangler (1972, novelette) – 4/5 – Officer Hunton is called to investigate the grisly death of a worker who was caught inside a drying and ironing machine. An inspector deems the machine fit for use and up to standard, but the recurring injuries is too much of a coincidence when it’s discovered that the blood of a virgin had been spilled on the steaming, gnawing hulk of machinery. Their suspicion of possession points in many directions, both tame and deadly. 17 pages

The Boogeyman (1973, shortstory) – 2/5 – Visiting a psychotherapist after the death of his third and final child, a man recounts the sequential deaths of his three children by the closet-domained, sleek, black boogeyman. His initial belligerent attitude toward its existence distances him from his wife, but the creeping suspicion and closet doors left ajar soon make him realize its corporeal existence. 11 pages

Grey Matter (1973, shortstory) – 3/5 – Workman’s compensation has turned one man into a sybaritic beer guzzler/couch potato. His drowned miseries silently punish his son who he tasks with the beer purchasing. The local men at the shop are coolly called to arms when the boy arrives at the shop teary-eyed but with a weird tale involving a suspiciously skunky beer and the resulting metamorphosis of the man, his gelatinous father, in front of the TV. 11 pages

Battleground (1972, shortstory) – 4/5 – A professional hitman returns to his penthouse suit with a package under his arm from the front desk. Upon his opening of the package and seeing an innocuous set of war figurines, the miniature army suddenly comes to life, complete with jeeps, helicopters, and medics. Retreating to the bathroom, a barrage of rockets assaults the door, a dubious inclusion which the labeling failed to mention. 9 pages

Trucks (1973, shortstory) – 5/5 – Long-haul rigs circle a truck stop under their own volition. Trapped inside are the lucky humans who haven’t been run down or ran off the highway while the machines began to take over. Without power, the humans need water for their life while the trucks and machines state their demand for fuel by way of Morse code. The autonomous machines prowl the roads and stalk the sky, making escape impossible and slavery a realization. 15 pages

Sometimes They Come Back (1974, novelette) – 4/5 – Jim’s brother was killed by some hoodlums back in 1956, when Jim himself barely got away after wetting himself. How years later and teaching literature at a new high school, Jim is haunted by the memory of his brother’s death during his dreams, which soon begin to manifest in his very own classroom. Slowly coming to believe the thugs are the same from his childhood, Jim prepares to meet them on their own terms. 25 pages

Strawberry Spring (1975, shortstory) – 3/5 – The spring thaw welcomes more than flowers and birds to the campus of New Sharon—within the banks of fog rolling through the town stalks a killer. The early onset of spring lulls some into false comfort as the killer strikes again, dismembers again and yet still eludes police. A devastating winter squall eclipses the false spring and with it go the suspicions of the killer and his crimes. 9 pages

The Ledge (1976, shortstory) – 4/5 – Forty floors above the city streets, a tennis professional is remaining calm and collected even though confronting the rich husband of his extramarital love interest. Parrying with words, wages, and lies, the men come to a decision: the adulterer can tiptoe around the building’s ledge and, if successful, win the bag of money, the wife, and his freedom; the alternative is a forty-floor plummet or forty years in prison. 15 pages

The Lawnmower Man (1975, shortstory) – 2/5 – A man proud of his lawn but succumbing to the idle pleasures of summer weather watches his yard’s growth reach unparalleled heights. He phones a yard service company and a large man appears on their behalf. The unconventional mowing style—crawling behind the automatic mower while butt-naked and eating the trimmings—brings on a fainting spell to the yard owner, who soon decides that this type of behavior is miscreant. 9 pages

Quitters, Inc. (1978, shortstory) – 5/5 – Coming across an old college buddy at an airport bar, Morrison is impressed with his successful friend’s demeanor, physique, and determination to never have another cigarette in his life… so comes the business card for Quitters, Inc. into the hands to Morrison. Playfully considering the secret success of the company’s secretive methods, Morrison drops by, signs the agreement, and learns, the hard way, why their method has proven itself effective. 18 pages

I Know What You Need (1976, novelette) – 4/5 – He says all the right things, buys all the right gifts, knows your every mood, and known your every enjoyment—he also happens to innately know a little bit too much about your personal life, but everything else sounds so perfect. Liz meets such a boy at university and falls in love with him after her boyfriend’s unexpected death. Her roommate is more streetwise and investigates his strangeness more thoroughly. 20 pages

Children of the Corn (1977, novelette) – 5/5 – Crossing America on the way to California, Burt and Vicky exit the turnpikes and enter the countryside for a better view. Met by the endless Nebraskan fields of corn, the couple bicker and argue before running over the body of a boy. Taking the corpse to the nearest town of Galtin, they discover it abandoned for twelve years—all but the church with its ominous Christ and cryptic epistle. 25 pages

The Last Rung on the Ladder (1978, shortstory) – 4/5 – Katrina and Larry are carefree siblings on a Midwest farm, sharing chores and sharing the thrills of falling seventy feet onto an earthy pile of hay. The rickety ladder fails them one day and Katrina falls into a hastily prepared bed of hay by her brother. Content with the reassurance of an elder sibling, the life challenges which follow through adulthood fail to reflect the safety of the fateful day’s fall. 11 pages

The Man Who Loved Flowers (1977, shortstory) – 3/5 – Even the numerous souls which populate a city can easily see the look of love on a young man’s face; the eagerness to please with flowers, the daydreaming gleam on the film of his eye, and the casual approach to conversation with strangers. His destiny with Norma lay within the city of tittering teenagers, well-wishing grandmothers, avuncular florists, playful pedestrians, and a murder wielding a hammer. 6 pages

One for the Road (1977, shortstory) – 4/5 – The warmest place during a fierce Maine blizzard is at the bottom of a capful of brandy. This capful of fortification revives the frostbitten man whose family is stuck in Jerusalem’s Lot six miles south. The look between the two barmen upon hearing this news infers a deep sense of fear and foreboding. Reluctantly, the trio fight through the snow to the burnt remains of a town rumored to be home to vampires. 14 pages

The Woman in the Room (1978, shortstory) – 4/5 – Stricken with abdominal cancer and bed-ridden in a hospital, a man’s mother loses her motor control along with her sense of pain. Her pathetic state drives the man to contemplate euthanasia, but also presses him to escape in his own personal way—by imbibing in the drink prior to his visitations. Loving his mother for better or worse, the man makes his ultimate choice personal. 12 pages

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