I love a good short story, as evidenced by the Stories section of this little corner of the world wide web. Hopefully, if no one judges too harshly, I’ve written some good ones (or acceptable ones). They aren’t all winners, but one does strive for the occasional homer.
I’m no great wordsmith and only time will tell if any of my work, or that of the millions and billions of others who put pen to paper and words on blank screens, will survive the test of time. I’m quite sure, though, that in a hundred years the works of Stephen King will still be read by avid readers across the globe. He is a great writer, and not just of horror.
But the spooky stuff is what he’s known for, it’s what he’s been anointed a master of. For proof to back up the title of Master of Horror, or a great writer (whichever you prefer), we need to look no further than his 1985 collection, Skeleton Crew (my personal favorite). On the twenty-first of June, this assortment of short stories, a novella, and two poems will turn thirty-five years old. I am able to safely say that three decades on, it has lost none of its (sinister) magic.
If you read most any collection of stories, there’s going to be some misses. Listen to any album by any band and there’s going to be some weak songs, even on the greatest hits. Skeleton Crew somehow avoids that, it’s just full of classics. I won’t name them all here, but I do want to point out the highlights.
The first story to kick off Skeleton Crew is “The Mist.” Talk about opening with a homer. For the initiated, I don’t have to say anymore, but for those in the back row staring at me with blank faces this story (and the movie is darn good, too) concerns a town that is overrun with a mist of mysterious origin. Wouldn’t you know it, though, there’s something in the mist. Lots of somethings, actually. Hideous creatures from your worst nightmares, and possibly another dimension. They descend on a town and a group of people trapped in a grocery store fend off the monsters and decide to fight back.
Aside from that outta the park opener, my other top shelf favorites are “The Monkey” (which gives the original book it’s terrifying cover image), “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” and “Uncle Otto’s Truck.” “The Monkey” is about, you guessed it, a freaky little mechanized monkey that brings death and refuses to die itself. “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” is about a lady obsessed with finding shortcuts to the point that she discovers endless roads through alternate realities. “Uncle Otto’s Truck” is about a man who is convinced his old friend’s truck is determined to kill him.
Those are my favorites, but everything in this book is good: “For Owen,” a poem King wrote about his son; “The Reach,” about an elderly woman nearing her death; “The Raft,” which was adapted, to great effect, in Creepshow 2. Like they say in the infomercials, “But wait! There’s more!”
And there are so many more wonders, and chills, to be had in this book. I can’t praise it enough. If, for some reason, you’ve never read Stephen King, or have only seen the movie adaptations, this is the best place to start.