Stephen King’s first short story collection is one I’ve revisited after about 25 years. Night Shift contains the seeds of Salem’s Lot and The Stand, along with a few classic shorts I’ve forgotten about.
It opens with “Jerusalem’s Lot,” the story about an abolitionist in 1840’s Maine who inherits a cousin’s estate. What he discovers is that his great uncle led a demonic cult in the nearby abandoned town of Jerusalem’s Lot. His visit there brings something horrific up from the depths of Hell. Hey, this is Stephen King. You were expecting Jimmy Hoffa?
Another story, “Night Surf,” could be a companion story to The Stand with the infamous Captain Tripps wiping everyone out in the course of a summer. A group of people in New England struggle with what to do with themselves in post-Apocalyptic New England, believing themselves immune to the superflu. Turns out, they may not be.
There are a lot of stories I remember well but hadn’t read in a long time. “The Boogeyman,” “Gray Matter,” “The Lawnmower Man” (which has absolutely nothing to do with the Pierce Brosnan movie of the same name), and “Sometimes They Come Back” are classics. Salem’s Lot is directly referenced in “One for the Road,” showing how Stephen King’s Maine adapted to the disappearance of an entire village and the reality of its vampire infestation.
Memorable is “The Mangler” (which spawned an awful Robert Englund movie), about the accidental summoning of a demon into a steam folder at an industrial laundry. “The Mangler” is probably one of the scariest monsters King has ever dreamt up. Then there’s “The Ledge,” not a horror story but crime, where a tennis pro must outwit an abusive mobster. Who needs vampires and demonically possessed machinery when you have a murderous bastard making you walk a ledge in a Chicago high rise?
The story that sticks with me the most is “Graveyard Shift,” a tale of a rat infested factory. How infested? The rats in the sub-cellar have evolved. And the queen is as big as a cow.
I remember reading this book in the late 80’s, and I think between this and It, they were my gateway to Stephen King. Which, when I look back, is surprising. My mother loved Salem’s Lot, The Stand, and the movie version of It. Yet I didn’t get into King until I read It and Night Shift.
But rereading this book was like visiting old friends. The old friends are a possessed laundry press, a town full of vampires, a man turned amoeba, and giant rats, but old friends just the same.