I already knew I was pretty much destined to love the works of this author, but what I originally thought would be a scare-your-pants-off kind of horror actually turned out to be a creeping-goose-bumps-and-general-unease kind of horror. It may not have been one of my favorites, but let's just say, I've still been getting less sleep than usual.
It's the end of October, and as the leaves turn brown and mushy on the streets, making sure footing even harder to find in Red Square, and as pumpkins over-eagerly carved have already started to gather mold or find themselves split into a million pieces by belligerent drunkies walking home from the Ave, I keep pining to read something genuinely scary. This collection of short stories, from one of America's preeminent authors of speculative fiction, seemed like it would fit the bill just fine.
I'm talking about, of course, Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes! It was published in 1993, the year I was born, so it was really only fitting that we celebrated our 21st birthdays together.
Her'es the thing about these short stories, though: the collection was not so much scary or startling than genuinely unnerving... sure, there were monsters, but others found the true chills and thrills in the hearts of humans.
Take, for instance, the first selection of the book: "Dolan's Cadillac," a 50-page excruciatingly detailed description of a brutal revenge plot. The minutae of its focus and the building desperation and tension of its narrator cast into doubt where the true ruthlessness lies, in the protagonist or in his quarry? Believe me when I say that it pairs well with a very specific cask of Amontillado. (Yes, that was a Poe reference... a couple of which you might find in this short story!)
Others, like "The Moving Finger," "The Rainy Season," and "Suffer the Little Children" terrify even with their brevity, by means of their brutality... the strangeness of the positions these characters find themselves thrust into makes their violent reactions seem almost justified, though never wholly absolvable.
Then you had some stories that made you think, rather than just cringe."The End of the Whole Mess" I originally watched a couple of years ago, via it's television adaptation, so I already knew how it ended... but it still made me cry when I read it for the first time. Stephen King just communicates so effectively through the written word; I'd hope that any who takes a chance of viewing adaptations of his work read the originals as well.
Though they weren't all just terror-lurking-in-human-form kind of things... a couple of them actually utilized monster types to make their point. "Sneakers" and "The Night Flier" involve the inclusion of a ghost, and a vampire (respectively), which makes them genuine horror stories from that specific angle of a "creature feature" in the written form.
So, we've got a brutal revenge opus, brutality inflicted in an unsuspecting way, a sci-fi thinkpiece, and ghoulish monsters, but you know what else? Some of these stories are just freakin' strange. "You Know They've Got One Hell of a Band" and "The House on Maple Street" are essentially Twilight Zone episodes within themselves... from a town exclusively populated by rock 'n' roll legends, to children discovering aliens, these tales are written so unnervingly close to normal that when the uneasiness starts to set in, you're already sold on the outcome.
(Also, quick note when reading "The House on Maple Street": I'm betting that the family wasn't named the Bradbury children just on some fluke. Beside you know that in his own way, Stephen King is really a child of Bradbury's himself...)
Final Verdict: it's a well-curated collection of curiosities, though I do think I enjoyed Night Shift a little bit more. Now all I've got to read is Skeleton Crew!