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Literature: Night Shift
aka: Nightshift
Original cover

Let's talk, you and I. Let's talk about fear.
Stephen King, in the foreword

Night Shift is Stephen King's first collection of short stories, published in 1978. It contains several "excursions into horror" that had first appeared in magazines, along with some previously unpublished ones.

Not to be confused with the 1982 comedy film directed by Ron Howard and starring Michael Keaton, or with the 1990 LucasArts videogame.

Stories in Night Shift:

  • "Jerusalem's Lot": Scrapbook Story set in 1850. Homage to HP Lovecraft.
  • "Graveyard Shift": Workers cleaning up the basement of an old textile mill meet giant rats.
  • "Night Surf": Post-apocalyptic story, where nearly all humans have died in an influenza pandemic. Precursor to The Stand.
  • "I Am the Doorway": Former astronaut discovers that an alien lifeform inhabits his body.
  • "The Mangler": A folding/pressing machine in an industrial laundromat is possessed by a demon.
  • "The Boogeyman": A man tells how his children were killed one by one by the eponymous monster.
  • "Gray Matter": A man turns into a Blob Monster after drinking a can of contaminated beer.
  • "Battleground": A professional hitman is attacked by living toy soldiers. Later adapted into a segment of the TNT miniseries Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes.
  • "Trucks": Trucks and other big machines revolt against humanity. Basis of the film Maximum Overdrive, later filmed again under the original title.
  • "Sometimes They Come Back": A teacher's brother was killed by teenage greasers when they were kids. Many years later, they appear in his class, still as teenagers. Made into an instantly-forgotten movie followed by two sequels.
  • "Strawberry Spring": A story about a serial killer with a Twist Ending.
  • "The Ledge": A crime boss blackmails a man into circumnavigating a 5-inch ledge surrounding a multistory building. Filmed as a segment of Stephen King's Cat's Eye.
  • "The Lawnmower Man": Pan operates a lawn moving business. The movie with the same name has nothing to do with the story, despite using King's name.
  • "Quitters, Inc.": A group of ruthless criminals operate a firm that helps people to quit smoking. Or else. Filmed as a segment of Stephen King's Cat's Eye.
  • "I Know What You Need": A social outcast uses black magic to get the girl of his dreams.
  • "Children of the Corn": In a small Nebraska town, a demonic entity convinces the children to kill all the adults. Adapted into a movie, followed by several badly-received sequels.
  • "The Last Rung on the Ladder": A man tells a childhood story about him and his sister who later committed suicide. Very different from King's usual style.
  • "The Man Who Loved Flowers": Another story about a Serial Killer with a Twist Ending.
  • "One for the Road": A man's car is stranded near the abandoned town of Jerusalem's Lot during a blizzard. Sort of a sequel to 'Salem's Lot.
  • "The Woman in the Room": A man euthanizes his terminally ill mother with painkillers.

Tropes in the short stories:

  • The Adjectival Man: "The Boogeyman", "The Lawnmower Man".
  • After the End: "Night Surf" shows the survivors of a global flu pandemic.
  • Alien Geometries: Inverted in "I Am the Doorway", where the alien eyes see a sieve as "a device constructed of geometrically impossible right angles".
  • Apocalyptic Log: "Jerusalem's Lot" is told through the diary entries of aristocrat Charles Boone, returning to his neglected family mansion in Preacher's Corners, Maine, and the horrors he uncovers in the nearby abandoned colonial village of Jerusalem's Lot. It also has another Apocalyptic Log in-story, when Charles finds the diary of his grandfather, Robert.
  • Artifact of Doom: In "Jerusalem's Lot", "De Vermis Mysteriis" is a Tome of Eldritch Lore created in the short stories of Robert Bloch, and mentioned in a few by HP Lovecraft. Reading from it temporarily possesses Charles with the spirit of his ancestor and summons an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Bad Boss: Warwick in "Graveyard Shift" forces two of his employees to clean up a decrepit basement, even though it's not their job at all.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: "Children of the Corn" ends with He Who Walks Behind The Rows continuing his control of the children and the heroes dying.
    • In "The Bogeyman", the protagonist tries for years to escape the bogeyman who killed his offspring and stalked him endlessly. At the end of the story it turns out that the therapist he's been telling the tale to was the bogeyman in disguise, who evidently gets him.
  • Bat out of Hell: "Graveyard Shift" has giant bats that actually are mutant rats.
  • Blob Monster: In "Gray Matter", a man slowly changes into a Blob Monster (hence the title) after drinking a can of contaminated beer.
  • Body Horror: The eyes on the protagonist's fingers in "I Am the Doorway". Which eventually start appearing on his chest.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: "The Mangler" and "Gray Matter" both end with the heroes about to fight the stories' respective creatures. It doesn't look good for them.
  • Bonus Material: There are two stories in the same continuity as 'Salem's Lot, one ("Jerusalem's Lot") set a century before the events of the novel, and one ("One for the Road") a couple of years after.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "The Man Who Loved Flowers": man buys flowers for his girlfriend, talks and is nice with several people, bashes a woman's brains out.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: In "Jerusalem's Lot", Boone manages to destroy the book, "De Vermis Mysteriis". But the evil is not destroyed (Boone notes, "The burning of the book, but there are other copies"), and to cut his family's ties to the evil, he dives into the ocean. Unfortunately, that doesn't work either, as a descendant of the Boone line takes up residence in the ancestral home, and events begin again.
  • Cain and Abel: Philip and Robert Boone in "Jerusalem's Lot".
  • Corrupt Church: In "Jerusalem's Lot", the dominant cult of the colonial town practiced witchcraft and sacrifice and worshipped an Eldritch Abomination known as 'the Worm'. It is said to have begun as a offshoot of the Puritans.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: "Night Surf" features a group of teens in a small New England town in a world that has been almost depopulated by 'A6' superflu. They are traumatized by the deaths of almost everyone they have ever known, but at least they know they are immune. Then one of them catches A6.
  • Covers Always Spoil: Older paperback covers of the book feature an illustration of the hand with the eyes in it from "I Am the Doorway".
  • Creepy Cathedral: The church in Jerusalem's Lot. It has a picture that is an obscene parody of a Madonna and child and a large inverted cross.
    • The church of The Children of the Corn has a mural with a Jesus with vulpine features.
  • Creepy Child: The children of "Children of the Corn", who pray to an unusual interpretation of God when they're not actively trying to murder adults and those who try to leave the town.
    • The vampire girl in "One for the Road".
  • Cruel Twist Ending: In "Jerusalem's Lot", our heroes have successfully fought back the undead and prevented the summoning of an Eldritch Abomination, at great personal loss. Charles Boone is left with no choice but to commit suicide to prevent his accursed family line, of whom he is the last, from ever reviving the cult and trying to resummon the Worm. He does so ... but his estate winds up in the hands of an unknown bastard relative who receives Charles's diary but dismisses it as superstitious nonsense.
    • "The Boogeyman" deals with a man whose three children were all killed by the eponymous boogeyman, as he explains his traumas to a psychologist. He leaves the psychiatrist's office and returns to ask when to schedule the next meeting... and discovers that the psychologist was actually the boogeyman in disguise.
      • After you've spent most of the story rooting for Burt in "Children of the Corn," he comes upon a clearing...
  • Cthulhu Mythos: "Jerusalem's Lot" is not just a pastiche of the style, but deliberately set within the Shared Universe, and using several of its trappings. Including the Eldritch Abomination and Cosmic Horror Story elements of the trope.
  • Cult: The aforementioned Corrupt Church in "Jerusalem's Lot", whose leader charmed the protagonist's ancestor into joining.
  • Downer Ending: Almost all of the stories.
    • "Jerusalem's Lot" ends with our protagonist, Charles Boone, dashing himself to death on the rocks at the foot of Chapelwaite; he believes himself to be the last link in a chain of familial evil. This turns out not to be true, however, because the presenter and editor of this epistolary story is a man named James Robert Boone, a distant relative of Charles. In the last line of the story, James says he can hear huge rats in the walls as well.
    • "Graveyard Shift" ends with the death of the protagonist, Hall, and the descent into the sub-sub-basement of the men who work in the mill; presumably some of them will not make it out alive.
    • At the end of "Night Surf", there is no resolution; the narrator states his belief earlier in the story that every member of the group will die, since they're all infected with Captain Trips.
    • "I Am the Doorway" ends with the narrator taking his own life, since new alien eyes have started growing on his chest.
    • "The Mangler" ends with the demon-infested machine pulling itself out of its concrete moorings and escaping the laundry in a killing frenzy.
    • At the end of "The Boogeyman", Lester Billings falls prey to the monster who killed his children.
    • They're still waiting at the end of "Gray Matter", but it sure doesn't look good for Henry Parmalee.
    • At the end of "Trucks", the rigs are backed up for miles on the interstate and our narrator knows that he, the counterman and the girl will end up pumping gas until they simply drop dead. He sees two jet contrails in the sky and says, "I wish I could believe there are people in them".
    • "Strawberry Spring" ends with our protagonist believing that he is in fact Springheel Jack, the killer.
    • "The Lawnmower Man" ends with Harold Parkette falling victim to the fat lawn-cutter, his machine and Pan's cult.
    • At the end of "Children of the Corn", Burt and Vicky end up sacrificed to He Who Walks Behind the Rows, and that god demands the age of propitiation be lowered to 18.
    • "The Last Rung on the Ladder" ends on a terrible note, with Kitty committing suicide by swan-diving off a building, and Larry's knowledge that if only he had gotten her final letter sooner (it was plastered with several change-of-address stickers), he might have been able to prevent it.
    • "The Man Who Loved Flowers" ends with the murder of the woman in the alley; we learn that the young man is not in love, but is the deranged hammer murderer we heard mention of earlier in the story.
    • In "One for the Road", the two protagonists are unable to save the Lumley family who foolishly drove into 'Salem's Lot; the wife and daughter become vampires, and the husband quite probably becomes dinner. Tookey and Booth are barely able to escape themselves.
      • Even more so in conjunction with 'Salem's Lot, since it's apparent that Ben and Mark's attempt to burn the vampires out at the end of that novel didn't work, and the vampire population is still growing.
  • Driven to Suicide: The protagonist in "I Am the Doorway", after the eyes appear on his chest.
  • Epistolary Story: "Jerusalem's Lot" is a series of letters from the narrator to a colleague of his.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Most of the characters in "Trucks" (trucker, counterman, girl).
  • Evil Hand: "I Am the Doorway" was based around this trope. Although, technically, they weren't so much evil as the protagonist in a Cosmic Horror Story. We're much less likely to look upon killing mind-numbing alien terrors sympathetically when those terrors are humans, not tentacled, chitinous monstrosities.
  • Evil Smells Bad: In "Jerusalem's Lot" all the buildings in the eponymous village smell terrible inside. This is probably due to the giant worm living beneath the church.
    • Also invoked in "Grey Matter". As the rescue mission gets closer to Richie's apartment, the narrator describes the smell as sharp and "mean."
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: In "I Am the Doorway".
  • Feathered Fiend: While navigating the ledge in "The Ledge", Norris has to contend with an angry pigeon defending its nest by pecking at his ankle.
  • The Film of the Book: Pretty much all of the stories have seen film adaptations, whether in feature films, television films, or shorts. Of note are Children of the Corn (1984) and its many sequels; Cats Eye, which incorporated "Quitters, Inc." and "The Ledge"; and Maximum Overdrive, adaptation of "Trucks" directed by Stephen King himself. Several ("Children of the Corn" and "Sometimes They Come Back") loose sequels were also filmed.
  • Fingore: In "Sometimes They Come Back", Jim offers his left and right index fingers to the demon as partial payment for getting rid of the punks. He hacks them off with a pocketknife, and it's described in gory detail.
  • Forced to Watch: In "Quitters, Inc." the titular firm's method to make smokers quit is this: they keep them under constant surveillance, and if they smoke, they torture their family members and force them to watch it.
  • From Bad to Worse: In "Sometimes They Come Back", in order to get rid of the undead teenagers who are threatening him, Jim summons a demon who defeat them. Before the demon leaves, he tells Jim that he'll be back, and Jim realizes that he's gonna be even harder to get rid of.
  • Genre Adultery: "The Last Rung on the Ladder", a melancholic story with no supernatural or horror elements.
    • "The Ledge" is a straightforward crime-and-revenge story that also lacks any supernatural content.
    • "The Woman in the Room" is much like "The Last Rung on the Ladder" in that it's more a tragedy than a horror story. It's painfully realistic, being about a man agonizing over the decision to euthanize his elderly, terminally ill mother.
    • "The Lawnmower Man" has an unusually comedic style for a Stephen King story (though the protagonist still gets slaughtered by an autonomous lawnmower).
  • Ghost Town: Jerusalem's Lot is this at the time the eponymous story takes place (1850). It seems to happen a lot to the place.
  • Greaser Delinquents: The gang of teenagers from "Sometimes They Come Back". When Jim Norman was a kid, they harassed him and his brother and murdered the latter. They died a few years later, but it didn't stop them from coming back as undead to harass the now-adult protagonist. He eventually decides to fight back by setting a demon on them.
  • Haunted Technology: The titular machine in "The Mangler" gets possessed after an unlikely chain of events.
  • The Heretic: James Boon in "Jerusalem's Lot", whose wacky witchcraft hijinks were apparently frowned on by mainstream Puritan churches in New England.
  • Here We Go Again: At the end of "Jerusalem's Lot", a descendant of Charles Boone moves to the mansion in the seventies, and ends his letter mentioning hearing "rats in the walls".
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: In "Jerusalem's Lot", Charles Boone and his ever-faithful manservant, Calvin McCann — who is also The Watson.
  • Homage: "Jerusalem's Lot" is a Lovecraft pastiche, written in epistolary style with sprinklings of Purple Prose, and contains a Shout-Out to that other Tome of Eldritch Lore from the Cthulu Mythos, "De Vermis Mysteriis".
  • Homicide Machines: The titular machines in "Trucks" and "The Mangler" become alive on their own and their first instinct is, of course, to kill humans.
    • The lawnmower in "The Lawnmower Man" ends up killing the protagonist.
    • "The Mangler" also features a murderous fridge.
      • The fridge sequence draws parallels with Patrick Hockstetter's fridge from It.
  • Hostile Weather: The nor'easter/blizzard in "One for the Road".
  • Human Sacrifice: In "Night Surf", the narrator describes how he and his friends burned up one of the flu victims in the hopes that "if we made a sacrifice to the dark gods, maybe the spirits would keep protecting us" against the disease.
  • Humans Are Ugly and Humans Are Cthulhu: The alien eyes in "I Am the Doorway" see everything in the world but especially humans as monstrous and abominable.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: In "I Am the Doorway", the alien eyes see humans as madness-inducing horrible.
  • I Am A Humanitarian: Richie Grenadine in "Grey Matter", after turning into a Blob Monster, starts eating humans. (Though it could be argued that this is not cannibalism, because he isn't really a human being anymore).
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Stan Norris, the protagonist in "The Ledge" falls in love with the wife of Cressner, a crime boss. Cressner offers him a deal; if he can walk the ledge all the way around his apartment building, he's free to go with Cressner's wife. If he refuses, he'll be framed for heroin possession.
  • In Name Only: The film The Lawnmower Man is so different from the short story that King successfully sued the producers for using his name.
    • "Jerusalem's Lot" has little continuity with 'Salem's Lot. That novel takes place over a century later, the town itself is unrecognizable, and it is a Gothic horror/vampire pastiche in the style of Dracula while the short story in this collection is a Cosmic Horror Story and pastiche of HP Lovecraft. Vampires do appear, but have little in common with the depictions in the novel.
  • In the Blood: The dark history of the Boone family and its connection to the evils of Jerusalem's Lot. Charles Boone is convinced that the only way to prevent the nightmare from happening again is to kill himself, the last member of the dynasty.
  • The Killer In Me: The twist at the end of "Strawberry Spring"; Springheel Jack is the narrator himself.
  • The Last Title: "The Last Rung on the Ladder".
  • Laughing Mad: Hall, the protagonist in "Graveyard Shift" begins to laugh, making "a high, screaming sound" as he's being eaten alive by a Swarm of Rats.
  • Life or Limb Decision: In a way. In "I Am the Doorway", the protagonist eventually soaks his hands in kerosene, and puts them into fire to kill the alien lifeform inhabiting his body. It turns out that this was only a temporary solution.
  • Living Toys: The toy soldiers in "Battleground" can move and, more importantly, have real weapons. Despite being murderous, they're actually the heroes of the story, exacting vengeance against the Villain Protagonist a hitman who just killed a toymaker.
  • Locked into Strangeness: The protagonist's hair at the end of "The Mangler" goes white after all he's witnessed. In "Grey Matter", the protagonist mentions that a sewer worker that he knew once saw something horrible in the sewers, which caused his hair to turn white in fifteen minutes.
  • Lost in the Maize: "Children of the Corn" served as loose inspiration for an endless string of movies which are probably the example that a lot of people remember, and contributes a great deal to cornfields being associated with creepiness.
    "He began to walk in that direction, not having to bull through the corn any more. The row was taking him in the direction he wanted to go, naturally. The row ended up ahead. Ended? No, emptied out into some sort of clearing..."
  • The Mafia: Quitters, Inc. was founded by a gangster named Mort 'Three-Fingers' Minelli, after he got lung cancer from smoking. They put their expertise to good use in a 'radical' quit smoking method.
  • Mercy Kill: In "The Woman in the Room", the protagonist gives painkillers to his mother who is dying of cancer. He knows that they will kill her, and so does she, but neither of them say it openly.
  • Mordor: Venus is portrayed like that in "I Am the Doorway". The protagonist says that his expedition around it was like "circling a haunted house in deep space."
  • Nameless Narrative: "Trucks", "The Man Who Loved Flowers" and "The Woman in the Room". In the last, we know that the protagonist's name is John, because other characters call him on his name, but the narrative never does.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: In "Strawberry Spring", written in 1968, the narrator recalls events happened in 1968 from the then-future year of 1976.
  • No Ending: "Grey Matter".
  • No Name Given: The narrators in "Trucks" and "Strawberry Spring", the protagonist (and everybody else) in The Man who Loved Flowers. In several other stories, only the first or last names of the main characters are given:
    • Hall and Warwick in "Graveyard Shift".
    • All the characters in "Night Surf".
    • Arthur and Richard in "I Am the Doorway".
    • Cressner in "The Ledge".
    • Kitty and Larry in "The Last Rung on the Ladder".
    • Johnny in "The Woman in the Room".
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The vampires (or nosferatu) in "Jerusalem's Lot" are never seen drinking blood, and serve primarily as zombie-like cultists.
    • Averted in "One for the Road", whose vampires (like those of 'Salem's Lot) are essentially modern versions of the classic vampire.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: In "The Bogeyman", Lester Billings' three children were all killed by the titular monster.
  • The Plague: A6 / Captain Trips, the "superflu" that has killed most of Earth's population in "Night Surf".
  • The Precarious Ledge: "The Ledge" is about a mob boss who forces his wife's lover to circumnavigate a 5-inch ledge surrounding a pair of penthouses atop a multistory building. When the man succeeds, the mob boss tries to have him killed anyway, but he is overpowered and forced to do the same thing. The lover then waits for him with a loaded gun, because he never said he'd let the criminal live in case he succeeded.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size / Swarm of Rats: In "Graveyard Shift", the workers encounter swarms of rats that get bigger and bigger, until they meet the giant, maneating mutant rat queen.
    • Even Squickier when you consider the Reality Subtext : The story was inspired partly by King's own experience working the night shift at a textile mill, and the stories a co-worker had once told him about RATS AS BIG AS DOGS!
  • Sequel Hook: The Cruel Twist Ending to "Jerusalem's Lot" certainly qualifies, but despite the fact that there actually are two sequels to this story, it's never really utilized. Both 'Salem's Lot and "One for the Road" go in very different directions with the concept.
  • Serial Killer: The protagonists in "Strawberry Spring" and "The Man Who Loved Flowers".
  • Shout-Out: Necronomicon, HP Lovecraft's famous Tome of Eldritch Lore appears in "I Know What You Need".
    • In "Jerusalem's Lot", repeated complaints by the main characters about The Rats In The Walls of the mansion and the whip-poor-wills that have taken to nesting on the building. The latter may be a Continuity Nod, alongside the presence of "De Vermis Mysteriis", but the former probably isn't since it isn't actually rats, but the undead.
    • The super flu in "Night Surf" is known as 'Captain Trips'.
  • Slashed Throat: When Burt and Vicky in "Children of the Corn" take a closer look at the boy who they think they ran over, they find out that his throat has been cut.
  • Spell My Name With An E: The Boone family in "Jerusalem's Lot" appears to have picked up the trailing vowel sometime between the birth of distant ancestor James Boon and his descendants Philip and Robert Boone.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: To get rid of the undead who are harassing him and who murdered his wife, Jim from "Sometimes They Come Back" summons a demon to defeat them.
  • Swarm of Rats: In "Graveyard Shift".
  • Teens Are Monsters: The children of Gatlin in "Children of the Corn", who murdered every adults in the town for their evil deity.
    • The teenage killers in "Sometimes They Come Back" are a more traditional version — a gang of Greaser Delinquents who mugged Jim Norman and his brother and killed the latter when he didn't have enough money. They die un a car electrocution accident and come back from the dead even worse.
  • Therapy Is For The Weak: In "The Boogeyman", the principal character is indeed seeing a therapist. And yet, he insists that he doesn't actually need therapy and sneers disdainfully at what he imagines the doctor's other patients are like (gays, crossdressers, and people who "strut around thinking they're Napoleon").
  • Things That Go Bump in the Night: In "The Boogeyman", a grown-up tells his psychologist about the closet-dwelling entity which killed his children, one by one. (Or rather what he thinks is his psychologist...)
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: "De Vermis Mysteriis" has an important role in "Jerusalem's Lot", a homage to Lovecraft. It's used by the local cult to summon an Eldritch Abomination appropriately named 'the Worm'.
    • Necronomicon briefly appears in "I Know What You Need".
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Gatlin in "Children of the Corn", though the secret (the children kill anyone aged 21 or above in the name of a demonic being called 'He Who Walks Behind The Rows') doesn't stay secret for very long to the two people who enter the town.
  • Twist Ending: Several.
    • In "Strawberry Spring", the narrator describes the murders committed at his college community by a Serial Killer nicknamed 'Springheel Jack'. At the end he realizes that the killer is his Split Personality.
    • "The Man Who Loved Flowers" describes a young man bringing flowers for his girlfriend. When he gives them to her it turns out that they never met before, and the man is actually the insane hammer murderer, who kills women.
    • In "The Boogeyman", the protagonist tells to a therapist how his three kids were murdered by the titular monster. At the end it turns out that the therapist is actually the boogeyman in disguise.
  • Undead Child: The vampire girl in "One for the Road".
  • Unnamed Parent: The mother in "The Woman in the Room".
  • Villainous Incest: The blood-sacrifice-performing witchcraft cult of "Jerusalem's Lot" topped it all off by encouraging this of its adherents.
  • Villain Protagonist: Renshaw in "Battleground". He's a hitman who killed a toymaker, Hans Morris; the murderous toy soldiers are sent to him by Morris's mother as a revenge.
  • Vomiting Cop: Officer Hunton in "The Mangler" pukes (for the first time in his fourteen years as a policeman) after seeing the remains of a woman caught in the machine.
  • Weakened by the Light: The Blob Monster in "Grey Matter".
  • Wham Line: The end of "Strawberry Spring":
    I can hear my wife as I write this, in the next room, crying. She thinks I was with another woman last night.
    And oh dear God, I think so too.
  • White Sheep: In "Jerusalem's Lot", Charles and Philip Boone stand out as the only members of their clan not in league with the evil cult. At least not willingly, in the case of Charles.

Needful ThingsWorks By Stephen KingChildren of the Corn
Night of the Living TrekkiesHorror LiteratureNight Watcher
The NeverEnding StoryLiterature of the 1970sNot A Penny More, Not A Penny Less

alternative title(s): Night Shift
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