While Stephen King will always be considered a horror writer, some of these stories had more of a science-fiction bent or had a coming-of-age angle. These stories were written in the 1970s to the early 90s, so it is a time capsule of life then- certainly “modern-day”, yet very dated several decades later. I’ve also noticed in many of his works, that he has bad things happen to good people. That actually scares more people, because these people are not deserving of their fate, and readers worry that tragedy could befall them around the next corner, and that is frightening indeed.
Suffer the Little Children
An old-school third-grade teacher thinks one of her students is possessed. When she also begins to suspect it is spreading among her students, she takes drastic measures.
Two detectives investigate a neighborhood in north London that seems to have an otherwordly portal that opens without notice which has caused people to go missing over the years.
Inspired by Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery, a married couple is unlucky enough to visit a town that demands a sacrifice every seven years. Venomous toads rain down on the town one night, and the townspeople move on quickly afterward, explaining away the tragedy and are not willing to break its ugly cycle. The audio edition was voiced by Yeardley Smith, so it was incredibly distracting to have the story read by someone who sounds like Lisa Simpson, from the cartoon series The Simpsons.
When a schoolteacher’s wife is killed by a mobster for testifying against him, the husband vows revenge. He then plans the most ridiculous, convoluted and difficult Rube Goldberg type of trap to capture this man on a deserted stretch of road.
The House on Maple Street
Based on the story prompt and picture from Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book The Mysteries of Harry Burdick, four siblings discover their house is transforming into a rocket ship and they conspire to get rid of their ogre stepfather.
Umney’s Last Case
Told in a noir-type manner, a detective’s life starts to go to shit with people leaving him and disrespecting him. Holed up in his office licking his wounds, a client comes thru and reveals he is an author and that Umney is a character of his in a book and he intends to change lives with him.
Head Down & Brooklyn August
Head Down is an essay that is an ode to baseball and Brooklyn August is a short poem also celebrating baseball. Neither is horror related at all.
A traveling salesman buys a set of novelty teeth for his son, and when his trip across a desert goes sideways because of a psychotic hitchhiker, this little gift helps him out in an unexpected manner.
My Pretty Pony
“Time is a pretty pony, with a wicked heart” is the theme of the story as a grandfather ruminates on the nature of time to his grandson. Kinda boring, and not horror related.
A recording engineer notices dirty sneakers in a bathroom stall near him for weeks, before finding out that a drug deal gone wrong years ago resulted in a haunting of the building by the victim. This ghost tells him who killed him.
A working-class mother is thrilled that her son has written a novel that is bound to be a best seller and she tells a friend how she was able to use some black magic years ago to give her son his writing gifts. Overly long story.
The Doctor’s Case
King decided to write a non-canon Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson story in a pastiche manner- honoring the original style and building upon it. In this story, a horrible father is found murdered and the duo needs to figure out if it was his put-upon wife or abused sons that did it. Dr. Watson figures it out before Holmes, and it is unrealistic, but true to the style of British mysteries written during that time frame.
The Moving Finger
What’s worse than finding a rat in your NYC apartment? How about a moving finger?!
The End of the Whole Mess
A man recounts in a journal how his prodigy younger brother discovered a cure for aggression in a water source, without noting it also brought on dementia. While trying for world peace, he instead doomed the whole planet to death. The last part of the journal reminded me of Flowers for Algernon.
A timid young widow who is pregnant needs to learn how to cope by herself when there is a zombie apocalypse and those in the local graveyard come back to life. This was a surprisingly strong story with realistic details on how a small island community would survive.
It Grows on You
Set in Castle Rock, King’s favorite fictional Maine town, a house seems to mysteriously have new wings added on that correlate when bad things befall the townsfolk. This story didn’t seem complete.
The Fifth Quarter
A heist gone wrong…a double cross…a shootout. Meh.
You Know They Got a Hell of a Band
A couple takes a scenic backroad and gets lost, leading them to the picturesque town of Rock and Roll Heaven, Oregon. The town inhabitants look very familiar, and soon they realize there is no escape from this strange vortex. Reminded me of Pines by Black Crouch and In the Tall Grass written by King years later with his son Joe Hill. Grace Slick was the inspired choice for the audio narration of this story.
The Night Flier
A sleazy tabloid journalist reports that a vampire is on the loose. What happens when his headline is actually true?!
The vampire is back! A gambler makes a grave mistake when he grabs a child to sell and finds out he shouldn’t have messed with Popsy and his creepy grandson! An effective story that was also one of the shortest.
Sorry, Right Number
Written like a screenplay, a wife receives a frantic call phone call from someone in distress but doesn’t realize until five years after her husband’s death who was actually making the call. The audio version was terrible.
The Ten O’Clock People
A bizarre story about how people who are trying to quit smoking and thus are in nicotine withdrawal are the only people to see how evil bat people are taking over society.
The Beggar and the Diamond
A short retelling of a Hindu parable. I thought it was an odd addition to this collection.
Chattery Teeth, Home Delivery and Popsy were my favorites from this long 816-page book. While I didn’t enjoy every story, I admire how King likes to vary his writing style and tries new approaches. His short stories have always appealed to me, and I will continue to seek out his work.