stephen king - night shiftStephen King
Doubleday / Signet
1978

Night Shift was Stephen King’s first collection of short stories that was released in 1978, right after a little novel of his called The Shining was published in 1977. Compared to his later short fiction collections, Night Shift seems downright anemic in size, but still it stands as a good look at some early work from the author who would eventually become the icon in the horror/dark fantasy genre. At this point in his career, he maybe was getting there, but he was still getting warmed up a bit, maybe. And if it sounds like I’m gushing a bit much, keep in mind that I’ve been reading his stuff since I was but a tender 13 years-of-age, when I utilized Cujo as my 8th Grade Lit book report. I got an A-, because I went about 10 minutes over time talking about it. Anyway…

My history with this collection goes back to when I stumbled upon my mom’s stash of three books by King in the basement of my grandparents’ farm home, which consisted of the afore-mentioned Cujo, the Different Seasons collection, and this one here, all in their musty mass market paperback glory. Of the three, it was the cover of this one that really popped out for me: the image of multiple eyes staring at me from a hand that was either being bandaged up, or having the bandages taken off. Mind you, this was a reference to the story “I Am The Doorway” that was collected within these pages, but even if it had nothing whatsoever to do with any of the stories themselves, the atheistic awesomeness of that cover art alone was just the coolest I’ve seen, appealing to my budding appreciation of weird, surreal dark things. But, alas, at that young of an age, I didn’t develop the focus to read any of the stories straight through before getting distracted by something shiny (which translates in this instance to “females in my school”); thus, it wasn’t until years and years later, long after I lost that paperback copy with its unnervingly cool cover image, that I stumbled upon an original hardcover first print edition of Night Shift at a garage sale in Fremont, Nebraska of all places, being offered for a buck. A buck. The dust cover was a bit worn and slightly torn on the back bottom area, but…yeah, couldn’t pass that one up. And so, with my focus on reading a bit more tempered than it was as a teenager, I got around to reading these short stories that date back between 1968 and 1978:

“Jerusalem’s Lot”

A series of letters and journal entries tell the tale of an aristocrat and his manservant inheriting an old house outside of the town of Preacher’s Corners, and nearby the abandoned town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where some black arts-based weirdness doth ensue…

“Graveyard Shift”

A bunch of grunt laborers cleaning up the basements of an old textile mill, where they discover a nest of mutated rats in a sub-cellar…it doesn’t end well…

“Night Surf”

A bunch of teenage survivors of a manufactured virus plague that wipes out most of Earth’s human populous do what most teenagers do: Hang out on the beach and contemplate death…

“I Am The Doorway”

A retired astronaut realizes that he may have brought back a stowaway of sorts from his mission to Venus…

“The Mangler”

An industrial laundry press becomes possessed by a demon and has a serious blood lust. That’s really all you need to know, there…

“The Boogeyman”

A man explains to a psychiatrist how the deaths of his children was not from natural causes, but from the Boogeyman…

“Gray Matter”

An out-of-work single father drinks some rather cheep beer, and…well, let’s just say the moral of this story is “you are what you eat”…er, drink…

“Battleground”

A paid assassin is attacked by a bunch of G. I. Joe figures…this is how the movie Small Soldiers should have gone…

“Trucks”

The short story Stephen King based his movie Maximum Overdrive on, motorized vehicles have gained sentience somehow, and is enslaving humanity through terror and fossil fuel supplies…

“Sometimes They Come Back”

A grown English teacher finds himself tormented by the ghosts of a group of greaser thugs from his childhood, as they have some kind of beyond-the-grave vendetta against him, or something. This was made into a mediocre television movie back in 1991. And yes, I did watch it when it first aired…

“Strawberry Spring”

A man reminisces about a serial murderer coined “Springheel Jack” by the local media and a sereis of murders committed for a few days in March of 1968 on a college campus during a “false” spring known as a Strawberry Spring (get it?), as a new victim is found at the college eight years later tonight…

“The Ledge”

A tennis instructor is given an offer he cannot refuse by the mob boss husband of the woman he’s having an affair with…

“The Lawnmower Man”

Forget about the movie, as that has only the title of this short story in common; no, this one is a bit about a guy who gets a rather eccentric lawn mowing company to cut his yard…

“Quitters, Inc.”

A chronic smoker joins a self-help group that’s very, very serious about their success rate…

“I Know What You Need”

There’s “creepy stalker” level of infatuation, and then there’s this guy in this story…

“Children Of The Corn”

A couple on a road trip as a last-resort to fix their fracturing marriage finds themselves in a small Nebraska town filled with filled with uber-creepy small Nebraska town children with a creepy fanatical bent. Yep, this is the story all of those Children Of The Corn movies are based on…

“The Last Rung on the Ladder”

A man remembers back to his childhood, when he saved his sister from a bad fate, in the aftermath of something else…

“The Man Who Loved Flowers”

Love is in the air! And so is murderous insanity…

“One for the Road”

A couple of old locals try and help an out-of-towner try and save his family that was stuck in a car during a bad blizzard near the town of ‘Salem’s Lot before the inevitable happens…and it’s not frostbite…

“The Woman in the Room”

The mental struggles of a young man who watches his mother waste away in a hospital room day by day…

Overall, I found this collection rather interesting, little bite-sized bits of Stephen King that showcased a talent for short story writing early on in his storied career (pun unintentional). Anyone can write a long, detailed novel (which King has demonstrated almost ad nausium over the decades), but to be able to pack the same kind of literary punch within the confines of a limited amount of words is a different kind of talent for the genre. Love him or hate him, hail him as a genius or blow him off as a hack, you have to admit that Stephen King has a gift for storytelling. And Night Shift would be a good place to start checking out his shorter works of fiction, from the perspective of his salad days as a writer.

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