Stephen King, The Master of Horror, is arguably the greatest short story writer still plying his trade today.
With around 200 short stories published within fifteen separate anthologies, he’s certainly been prolific over the decades. But it’s his first collection, Night Shift, which still captures the imagination of readers to this day. First published in 1978, Night Shift spawned nine movies out of the 19 short stories in the collection.
But which stories from Night Shift are the best? Which make the skin crawl the most and keep you awake at night?
Here’s my top five stories from King’s first and best anthology. Honourable mentions go to Jerusalem’s Lot and One for the Road for their connections with Salem’s Lot, The Woman in the Room for its poignancy, the fantastic post-apocalyptic tale Night Surf for its loose association with The Stand and its world-changing Captain Trips virus and finally, The Lawnmower Man for being so weird even H.P. Lovecraft would have found it strange (and bizarrely, nothing to do with the film of the same name…).
5. Children of the Corn
Even people who have never read Night Shift will be familiar with this one. A couple run over a child who sprints onto the road through corn fields. But the couple soon realise that all is not what it seems as they explore the bizarre town of Gatlin. A disturbing, atmospheric story, King’s use of frightening children and a disturbing ghost town sticks with you long after you finish reading.
4. I Am the Doorway
Another one that stays with you after you put it down. The story has a more sci-fi setting than most King tales, so much so that I didn’t think I’d enjoy it after the first few paragraphs. But this tale of a man afflicted with an evil alien presence takes body horror to the next level. The last few lines send a chill right through your heart.
3. Strawberry Spring
A short story about murders occurring around a university campus during periods of thick fog. There’s a twist in this one that frightened me to my very core. The academic setting is described with sublime imagery and the narrator’s voice is hauntingly melancholic.
2. Quitters Inc
A clever story about quitting smoking. How far would you go to stop yourself from lighting another cigarette? This story has horror and humour in equal doses and has you turning the page to see how it’s going to unfold. Good fun, and a great read.
Yes, it was a flop movie, Maximum Overdrive, directed by King himself. But don’t let that detract from how brilliant this story is. The basic premise is that there are several HGVs, driverless, who are hell bent on murdering any human in sight. The narrator and a group of other characters find themselves in a truck stop and the dilemma of how to survive this apocalyptic scenario. Even writing this mini-synopsis makes it sound pretty cheesy and not credible enough to be readable, but King just makes it work, and brilliantly so. As with many of his best short stories, the last line is masterful and leaves you with a cold feeling that lasts.
So, there you have it. My top five Stephen King Night Shift stories. Just my opinion as a fan of him, and a huge fan of the collection, but I could equally be persuaded if anyone has other opinions. Every single one of the stories is worth reading and at least three quarters of them are excellent.
Do you agree? Disagree? Any I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.
Image from rpavich used under Creative Commons License