stephen king - skeleton crewStephen King
Signet
1985

Welcome to the world of terror! Let the one and only Stephen King take you into a world where a macabre mist traps humanity in its swirling horror…where a beautiful young girl offers satanic seduction…where a child’s toy becomes the ultimate instrument of evil…where a man is given a devilish machine that grants him godlike powers…where nothing is what it seems and nowhere is safe…Stephen King takes you into this world–and the skill that makes him the most spellbinding storyteller of our time will not let you escape before the final fearful turn of the page.

The second collection of short stories penned by Stephen King was a bit more ambitious than its predecessor, Night Shift. By the time Skeleton Crew was released, Stephen King had a number of literary hits out of the park, with a few of them already adapted into movies.

My own personal history with reading this book starts in the summer of 1988. I bought the mass paperback copy at a supermarket, with some of the money that was gifted me at my confirmation a week prior. I remember how excited I was on the car ride back home, anxious to tear into this book; having gotten hooked on Stephen King earlier in the school year, this was just another fix for this burgeoning pop literary junkie…and budding frustrated writer. Of course, as I pointed out in my review of Night Sift, I hadn’t developed the focus needed to stick with finishing a story I started reading, and soon I found myself getting distracted by shiny things, managing to only finish two stories before losing track of the copy.

Here we are now, a couple of decades later, and I finally managed to track down a good used copy of the mass paperback edition with the original cover style–old school, baby–at Half Price Books, and read the entire thing, cover to cover, now that my attention skills are marginally better than in my adolescence.

After a bit of an introduction by Stephen King, the first story is “The Mist”, which is technically a novella, and was adapted into a movie in 2007. It’s a rather tense sci-fi horror piece of Lovecraftian proportions. This is followed by “Here There Be Tygers”, which was inspired by King’s first grade teacher, and was written when he was in high school. “The Monkey” is about one of those creepy wind-up monkey toys that has a habit of making something die when it clangs those cymbals. Elsewhere, you discover stories involving a psychotic college kid (“Cain Rose Up”), roads you shouldn’t try traveling (“Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”), a means of space travel that has a rather quirky side-effect (“The Jaunt”), the story of a jazz band playing the wedding reception of a feared mob boss…and her husband (“The Wedding Gift”), a poem by a paranoid schizophrenic (“Paranoid: A Chant”), an oil slick on a lake that craves human flesh (“The Raft”), a homemade word processor that makes whatever you write come true (“Word Processor Of The Gods”), a guy who really, really doesn’t like to touch people (“The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands”), a prisoner recounting this one time he met the love of his life after dropping out of college (“Nona”), another poem, this one about King’s young son talking about anthropomorphic fruit (“For Owen), a former surgeon trying to survive after being shipwreked on a tiny island (“Survivor Type”), an old broken-down wrecker of a truck that may or may not be homicidal (“Uncle Otto’s Truck”), a milkman who like to leave little surprises for his customers to find (“Morning Deliveries (Milkman No. 1)”), a couple of drunken blue collar types decide to get the car inspected late at night (“Big Wheels: A Tale Of The Laundry Game (Milkman No. 2)”), a young boy who has to stay alone watching over his dying grandmother (“Gramma”), a brilliant yet clearly insane writer who credits little “helpers” with crafting his stories (“The Ballad Of The Flexible Bullet”), an old dying lady who has spent all of her life on an island community, starts seeing the dead inviting her to cross over to the mainland on a rather bad winter day (“The Reach”), a couple of future astronauts crash-landing on a planet made entirely of sand (“Beachworld”), and an antique collector’s visit to a museum to see an old and rare mirror with a nefarious back story (“The Reaper’s Image”).

Besides “The Mist”, the other two better-known adaptations from this collection are “The Raft” as part of the Creepshow 2 anthology movie, and “Word Processor Of The Gods”, which was made into an episode for the Tales From The Darkside television show. Outside of that, as an anthology collection of short stories, Skeleton Crew showcases the growth of Stephen King as an accessible writer of pop horror fiction. There’s a good variety of genre styles and blending that show King’s ability to go beyond the boundaries of horror fiction, and even the horror offerings are rather imaginative. As a short story collection, it’s a good one. I would recommend checking it out some time.

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