Thanks to one book, there are three things that I absolutely cannot and will not do: 1) Walk into a field full of high corn 2) Get inside a dark closet 3) Be near industrial laundry equipment.
Okay, so that last one’s not exactly an everyday occurrence, but look around – there are cornfields and dark closets everywhere. And you will never find me in either one. Why? When I was about twelve or thirteen years old, I found a copy of Stephen King’s short story collection, Night Shift, on the paperback-filled bookshelves of my older sister’s room.
My love for horror fiction and films had been slowly growing for a while, nursed by a steady diet of authors like V.C. Andrews and Caroline Cooney and movies from the summer my parents got HBO – C.H.U.D. and Happy Birthday To Me. It’s probably no shock that they yanked HBO as soon as school started. Before I picked up my sister’s tattered copy of Night Shift, I was still flirting with other genres – a little fantasy, a fair number of mysteries, a few romances here and there. After I discovered King’s macabre short story collection, there was a marked shift in my reading and I embarked on a horror reading binge that lasted for years.
In this course of this binge, I read many, many Stephen King novels and collections, but the one that has stuck with me the most is Night Shift. Three stories in particular continue to resonate – and by “resonate,” I mean “scare the bejeezus out of me” – and still dictate my actions around cornfields, closets, and industrial machinery:
- Children of the Corn – A couple trying to rekindle their marriage during a road trip take a wrong turn in Nebraska. They end up in a deserted town, inhabited by youthful members of a church that worships a hulking entity in the cornfield. I saw the movie adaptation of this story – every few years, my parents would give in and subscribe to HBO again while school was out. But after school started and they cancelled it once again, I would return to this story for a real scare with Isaac, Malachi, and He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
- The Boogeyman – Hands down, *the* scariest story in this collection for me. It centers on a patient who has suffered terrible trauma and his visit to a psychiatrist. It is the sort of story that builds slowly to one hell of an ending and along the way touches on our most deep-seated fears, including a slithering nightmare that lives in the closet.
- The Mangler – Sometimes you never realize that something can be terrifying until a writer or filmmaker makes it so. Think Mexican kudzu in Scott Smith’s The Ruins. Or crows in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Or industrial laundry equipment Stephen King’s The Mangler.
It’s almost Halloween and if you are looking for great storytelling that will provide lifelong scars and scares, check out Night Shift. However, if you enjoy solo strolls through cornfields, hanging out in darkened closets, or getting up close and personal with industrial folding machines, maybe you should skip the three stories I mentioned. Instead, maybe you should start with Graveyard Shift, Gray Matter, or Lawnmower Man. But trust me, you’ll never think about rats, beer, or lawnmowers in the same way again.