My Year of King, #9: Night Shift

Saturday, June 09, 2018

I have a confession to make-I don't like reading short stories. At least, not entire books of short
stories. If you're going to write an entire book, why not just write a novel? I tend to get bored before I'm even half-way through a book of short stories, no matter how skillful the writing or interesting the subject matter, and over the years I've stopped buying them altogether. (Don't worry, English teacher friends, I actually do like short stories, just not in bulk.)

I have two exceptions to the no-books-of-short-stories rule-Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. I'm not sure whether it's the genre, subject matter, or just my general hero-worship of both of them, but I have no problem getting through their books of stories. And the first book of short stories I ever read was back in the mid 1980s, Stephen King's Night Shift. I remember when it showed up in the house; I must have been 11 or 12. My mother brought home the paperback edition, probably from Crown Books (remember Crown Books?), and I asked her to keep it hidden because the cover I hadn't yet read any of King's books-I was not quite old enough yet-but I knew they must be terrifying, because how creepy is that cover. Of course, a couple of years later I read Carrie for the first time, and I've been hooked on King ever since, but my little brother was able to use that cover to creep me out for years afterward.

As a Constant Reader, I've always known that King puts Easter eggs in his novels to reward his fans. What I didn't realize, having read his books mostly in order since the mid- to late-80s, is that sometimes he also foreshadows his later books in short story form. In Night Shift, one of the characters in "Gray Matter" describes a huge spider-like monster in the sewers, which anyone who's read IT will recognize as one of Pennywise's forms. While not specific to any one novel, there are plenty of King staples in these stories-lots of humans behaving monstrously, and monsters behaving like humans. He also provides a prequel of sorts to his novel 'Salem's Lot in the story "Jersalem's Lot", in which some 19th century gentlemen exchange letters about a strange town and a house with something in the walls. This first story collection includes King classics such as "Children of the Corn", which became a not-very-good-movie that ruined the name Malachi forever (and in my experience as a public school teacher, naming your child Malachi guarantees they will act like the devil), and "Trucks", which later became the movie "Maximum Overdrive".

The story that goes along with the creepy picture on the cover, "I Am the Doorway", is actually one of the least scary in the collection, about a man who is infested with alien parasites that are slowly taking over his body and mind, forcing him to do unspeakable things. But that image has NEVER left me. To this day when someone mentions this book, I get a shiver thinking about that darn illustration. King follows up Night Shift with several other short story collections, and I am curious to see whether any of those stories also gave hints to novels that came later.

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