Word count – 3,700
Strawberry Spring is told as a flashback tale about the murder spree at a college in the late sixties, as experienced through the eyes of one of the students.
This short story surprised me – not with the twist, because I saw that coming a mile away – but with the accomplished manner in which it has been written, given that this was originally published when King was only twenty-one.
It’s one of those stories where it doesn’t matter if you can see you ending before it happens, because predictability is not necessarily a bad thing. If it is written well – and this is – then you just have to stand up and applaud the work, and this is one of the best entries I have read so far in Night Shift.
Word count – 9,700
There is an interesting idea buried in here about reincarnation, but it takes so very long to get to anything interesting in Sometimes They Come Back that it’s already an uphill battle to win my attention over, and it never manages to do it.
The second act is fine and the most involving part of the story, but it is flanked by a beginning that takes forever to get where it is going, and an end that doesn’t really pay off what has happened before.
This is the halfway point of Night Shift, and although the entries have been mostly positive so far, Sometimes They Come Back is a let down – not least of all because they managed to make a trilogy of movies out of it. It is one of the longest entries so far in this collection and certainly one of the weaker ones.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 6,200
Trucks is about a bunch of autonomous – yes, you guessed it… trucks. The story is set entirely in a rest stop after the trucks have taken control of the surroundings and are keeping the patrons as their playthings.
There’s not much going on in Trucks, and we never find out why the vehicles have suddenly become sentient – not that it matters, I guess. Sometimes keeping the mystery is fine, and let’s face it: any explanation would probably sound like bullshit anyway, so why bother trying, right?
The story picks up in the second half, as the survivors decide on the best course of action, but this never really clicks the way I would like it to, or indeed the way that it should. I think if King wrote this ten years later it would be a much better piece, but as it stands it’s only just passable.
Word count – 3,600
Battleground is a simple idea, as the best short stories often are. A hitman finds a mysterious package has been delivered to his apartment, and when he opens it he discovers it is filled with a platoon of toy soldiers who are out to kill him for the job he has just done.
It’s all action, all the way, and there is little room to catch your breath. There is next to no character development, and not much in the way of a backstory, but it really doesn’t matter, because it’s just so damn cool.
Battleground is the best story I have read from Night Shift so far. There would perhaps be an argument that at its brief length it reaches its conclusion far too quickly, but that is a minor quibble in an otherwise very strong entry for this anthology.
Word count – 4,700
Gray Matter is an early effort from Stephen King, and it feels like it. It’s about a fungus (of sorts) that seemingly develops from a can of beer and proceeds to become one with the guy drinking it. There is really not much more to it than that.
Gray Matter is one of those horror tales that has no explanation – something weird happens… but we never find out why. Now, whether that is because King was simply too lazy to come up with an answer, or he didn’t think it needed one, I don’t know. For the most part I have tried to steer away from writing that way, because it can be infuriating, and that is certainly the case here.
This is one of the poorer entries in Night Shift so far. It’s not clever by any stretch, and it’s fairy basic old-school horror. It is also very talky and reflective and doesn’t have all that much going on either, so… on to the next one.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 4,900
As I am discovering with a lot of the stories in Night Shift, The Boogeyman is very straightforward, which I am sure has a lot to do with how young and inexperienced King was when he wrote these. No matter, such literary limitations often makes for a more focused tale, and the narrative here is pretty solid as a result.
The Boogeyman is set entirely in a therapy session with the central character taking the blame for the death of his three children, because he believes that he has allowed the titular boogeyman into their home. What follows is the conversation between doctor and patient as they both try to work through what has actualy happened.
This is a simple story that is possibly a little longer than it needs to be – because there isn’t much meat on the bone – but it’s a fun read, and worth your time if you want to dig in to the collection.
Word count – 7,000
An industrial laundry press is possessed and kills anyone who gets too close to it. Yes, the premise of The Mangler is very silly, which is not to say that silly ideas can’t work, but it does mean the story is already fighting an uphill battle even before we turn the first page.
This would not have been so bad had it been well written, but unfortunately I can see the immaturity and inexperience of the author in the words. Actually, King does name-drop the titular model of laundry press as a Hadley-Watson Model-6 Speed Ironer and Folder, so there is something approaching research in here, and an attempt to ground the story in the real world – as much as such a ridiculous idea can be – but the dialogue is painful in places and some of the narration is equally awkward.
Such is the absurdity of the story, The Mangler would have been much more acceptable as a spoof. If I thought that King was trying to make us laugh, this would at least have some merit, but I don’t think he is in on the joke.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 4,900
I Am the Doorway is the first science fiction tale in Night Shift, which is usually not a genre that does much for me, and for the first third of this story I wasn’t really into this one. But once I found out the central character has a collection of alien eyes staring at him from his fingers… I started to pay more attention. I mean, it’s a grabber, right?
Although I Am the Doorway is set in an undisclosed year in the future and it uses deep-space exploration as a background, it is all very high level stuff and never feels too distracting to the movement of the story. There are only two characters in play here and their interactions could just as easily be taking place across a dining room table.
The climax of the story is a winner too, so despite a slow beginning I am happy to recommend this as (so far) the most interesting and dynamic piece in Night Shift.
Word count – 3,200
Night Surf is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and centres around a few young characters who have made a life for themselves on a beach. I know, the post-apocalyptic landscape is one of those genre tropes that every horror writer has to go through at some point. Yes, even me.
We find out that most of the global population has been wiped out by a particularly aggressive strain of flu, and we meet a handful of the teenagers who are left behind as a result of their immunity to the virus. And we don’t really get much else, but that’s all right.
This is an easy read, at least partly because it doesn’t try to do anything outside its wheelhouse. As with many of King’s earlier stories, it is very thin on plot and depth, but in a strange way it is refreshing to read something from him that is this… sparse. It’s short, so there is simply no space to get crazy with any extraneous details.
This is another one I can say yes to, and the best story in Night Shift so far.
Word count – 6,100
Although Graveyard Shift certainly feels like an early King story it does have several touchstones that would go on to become hallmarks of his longer and more lauded works – the quick, back and forth dialogue, the grisly descriptions, and the creatures hiding in the darkness.
Not only that, but the style and production of the writing here instantly makes this a more successful excursion than Jerusalem’s Lot, the story that began Night Shift. It’s much shorter as well. Here, King tells the story and gets out… something he does not do as often as he probably should.
Yes, Graveyard Shift is little more than a basic tale of mutated killer rats surviving in the depths of a textile mill – there really isn’t any more to it than that – but when this was originally published King was barely twenty-three years old, so I’ll cut him some slack for the crudity of the writing and the under-developed characters, because I know that he will go on to improve greatly on both of these things.
A much better entry to the collection, and one that I am happy to give the thumbs up to.