I think it would be fair to say that Uncle Stevie and I have an understanding. He writes, I’m a constant reader, and that’s that.
And I’ve been known to reread some of the things that he’s written many times. Even when the stories are upsetting or dark or scary, there’s something comforting about them for me. Maybe because I started reading them at a really early age (seriously, way too early….what exactly was going on in the 1980s?), his writing is sort of a nostalgic part of my childhood. I can picture myself wandering around the adult horror section of the Newton Highlands Public Library, and then finding a cozy corner in front of a window where I could sit down and read. Because I didn’t want to read these stories in the dark, that was for sure.
Night Shift and Skeleton Crew are two of his earliest short story collections — and sometimes (especially in Night Shift) you can tell. The stories have a few more rough edges than what you might read in later books like Everything’s Eventual, or Just After Sunset. But some of them can still scare the crap out of me.
Night Shift, which includes stories from the 1960s and 70s, has a few of his all-time creepiest tales. Jerusalem’s Lot, The Boogeyman, and One for the Road are some of his best.
And so many — The Lawnmower Man, Quitters Inc, The Ledge, Children of the Corn, Sometimes They Come Back, Trucks, Battleground, The Mangler, Graveyard Shift — have inspired movies (whether they deserved to or not…I’m looking at you, Graveyard Shift). Its really amazing how influential some of these stories from so early in his career have become. Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road inspired him to write Salem’s Lot. Night Surf told the earliest version of The Stand. Its pretty amazing to be able to look back and see where some of his greatest ideas came from.
Night Shift is pretty damn good.
But Skeleton Crew is great.
Skeleton Crew includes some of my favorite short stories. The Mist. The Raft. Gramma. These stories ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED ME when I was in middle school. And they still scare me today. Gramma is a slow-paced, dread-filled bit of horror perfection, with an ending that never fails to surprise me.
My two all-time, absolutely favorite short stories are in here: Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut and The Jaunt.
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut tells about a wealthy woman who summers in Maine, and loves finding ways to cut a few minutes off of whatever trip she’s about to take. She obsesses over maps and farm roads, and eventually she discovers new ways to get there from here, some of which may not be of this world. I loved reading about her little Mercedes convertible zipping along the country roads of Maine and the roads that just might be on other levels of the Tower.
The Jaunt is about a family about to travel to Mars to resettle on a new colony there. As they prepare to be put to sleep in order to teleport, the father of the family tells his children the history of the procedure known as The Jaunt — and one of his kids decides to test the rules of teleportation, with shocking results. Right now I’m listening to the last Dark Tower book, and its easy to see some of The Jaunt in there — the Doors, the Todash Darkness, teleportation at the Algul Siento — all of those plot lines have their seeds here.
I just pulled Everything’s Eventual and Nightmares & Dreamscapes off of the bookshelf, which I haven’t reread since they first came out. I look forward to seeing how his stories have evolved over the decades. And I hope I can find a sunny corner to read them in.