Word count – 2,600
The Reaper’s Image is an old King story about a man who visits a museum, with the intention of purchasing an antique mirror… only to be told when he arrives that an image of the Grim Reaper is seen by anyone who stares into it for any length of time.
This is a straightforward horror tale and it doesn’t do anything unexpected, although the writing is a little dry and unmemorable. Again, I will give him some rope as this was an early effort, so this is likely a confidence thing.
With the exception of the couple of poems, The Reaper’s Image is one of the shortest things in Skeleton Crew. It isn’t around for long enough to make a lasting impression, although even then, it mostly outstays its welcome.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 6,300
Beachworld is a science fiction story about two men in the far future who land on another planet, only to find it is completely covered in sand. One of them is hypnotised by the allure of the landscape, while the other spends his time trying to get them out of there.
The best thing about this story is the references to The Beach Boys, scattered throughout, but beyond that I have no connection to the tale.
Of course, it’s no secret that sci-fi and I don’t get along very well. As such, I’m probably guilty of losing focus and concentration while reading this. There’s an element of horror to this story, but regardless, Beachworld doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not something I’ll be going back to.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word Count – 7,500
The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands is a mysterious story about, well… exactly what the title suggests.
This tale intrigues from the start, but unfortunately it never lives up to the promise of the title. It does what it says on the tin – no doubt about that – but when you find out why he doesn’t shake hands, it’s not really all that interesting.
There’s a poker game at the heart of the story, which at least kept me plodding along until the final reveal, but there’s nothing else here of any note. As such, The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands is perhaps – and unfortunately – the poorest entry in the collection so far.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 7,000
Word Processor of the Gods is about a writer who happens upon a word processor, left to him after the death of his brother. He quickly discovers the machine has the ability to add and delete things from his world.
This story spends a long time setting everything up, and – although the background is relevant to the protagonist’s justification – it really doesn’t make the words more enjoyable. In that way it feels unbalanced.
Word Processor of the Gods is a great concept, and the writing itself is competent, but it’s not as good as I wanted it to be. After the initial set-up, it seems to reach a crescendo very quickly and then it just fizzles until the end, but thankfully, there is enough good stuff here to see it across the line.
Word count – 10,900
The Raft is about four teenagers who decide to take advantage of the dying summer and swim out to a wooden raft in the middle of a lake. Unfortunately, there’s an undisclosed creature living underneath the water, and it’s not happy to see them there.
The Raft is extremely graphic – almost comically so in places – and it is the kind of no-nonsense monster tale that Stephen King used to write a lot more back in his younger days (and the kind of stuff those who don’t follow his work think he always writes).
Sometimes I wish King would return to this kind of fun, pulp horror more often, because The Raft is up there with the best that King has offered so far in this collection.
Word count – 600
All right, I know – Paranoid is not a short story, but let’s not get too hung up on that. It’s a part of this collection, so I am going to mention it, however briefly. Besides, strictly speaking, The Mist isn’t a short story either, and I talked about that one.
Poetry has always been difficult for me to understand. I generally don’t get it, especially free verse (which this is), where the only rules the author needs to follow are the ones the author makes up along the way. The style can feel a little disingenuous, but such is the nature of the art.
I can give Paranoid: A Chant a pass, primarily because it’s short and has a dark flavour to it. But thankfully, Stephen King does not exercise his poetry muscle very often.
Word count – 5,900
The Wedding Gig is set in the years after the First World War, and is told from the point of view of a local ragtime band leader. He is hired by a small-time gangster to play at his sister’s wedding, at which he, (the gangster), is killed by some goons he has rubbed up the wrong way.
Sometimes, The Wedding Gig seems to just be an opportunity for King to poke fun at fat women – which is fine, I guess – but there needs to be more of a story than that, and ultimately, there really isn’t.
As such, this short story is the first one in the collection that I have to stop short of giving the green light to. There’s just not enough here to make it worth your time, and penty of other stuff that is better in the pages before you get to it.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 9, 900
The Jaunt is Stephen King with his sci-fi hat on, a genre which he dabbled in a lot more back in the first half of his career than he has done since, which is fine by me as even the hint of that stuff sometimes makes me groan.
The Jaunt is set hundreds of years in the future, in a world where teleporatation – or jaunting – is a thing. The story has echoes of The Fly in a mad-scientist-in-a-lab kind of way, but ultimately it swerves in a different (but still memorable) direction.
We are six stories in to this anthology and King is yet to deliver something below par. The sci-fi here is limited, and with a family at its core it feels more grounded as well… which helps me get over the potential hurdle that the genre often throws in front of me.
Word count – 11,400
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut hangs on the familiar King format of using a minor character to narrate the tale. King is particularly good at this, and he often manages to add a little spice into the story that otherwise would not be possible. This attempt is no different.
Mrs. Todd likes to drive, but more than that she likes to find the quickest route to wherever she is going. It’s fun listening to how she manages to shave miles off each of her journeys by taking different roads, and the fact that it doesn’t really go the way I had expected doesn’t matter.
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut is a good tale, but unfortunately it’s not as well done as I had hoped. The premise is fun and interesting, but the execution is a little long-winded for my liking, and it nearly outstays its welcome. If some of the detail here was trimmed I think King may have had a story that stays with you more.
Word count – 1,900
Cain Rose Up is a very brief story about a school shooting, written in the late sixties – before school shootings, unfortunately, became far too commonplace in the real world. This would likely be a controversial story in these sensitive times, and King (who has mellowed somewhat in recent years) probably wouldn’t write this in 2020.
Curt is a troubled college student who decides to snipe his way out of his funk from his dorm room… and that’s all there is to it. As short as this piece is, I certainly can’t say that that it outstays its welcome.
Cain Rose Up is very brutal in its stripped-down nature. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it wouldn’t be any better if it did. You don’t get a happy ending here, and that is why it works.