Literature: Skeleton Crew

Skeleton Crew is Stephen King's second collection of short fiction, published in 1985. It contains 22 works, which include 19 short stories, a novella (The Mist) and two poems (For Owen and Paranoid: A Chant). In addition, it features an introduction by the author, in which King describes the benefits that writing short fiction has given him, and a section of notes at the end, in which King describes how some of the stories came to be.

Most of the works in Skeleton Crew were previously published in horror anthologies and magazines, and represent a body of work spanning seventeen years.

A few of the stories have been made into film and television adaptations, and some have been made into "Dollar Babys" by aspiring filmmakers.

Stories in Skeleton Crew:

  • The Mist: After a violent thunderstorm, a supermarket in the town of Bridgton, Maine, is enveloped in a thick, acrid-smelling mist that hides hideous, otherworldly creatures. Adapted into a 2007 film directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile).
  • Here There Be Tygers: A boy's trip to the school bathroom becomes terrifying when he meets an unexpected (and inexplicable) feline visitor.
  • The Monkey: A cymbal-banging monkey toy causes the deaths of a boy's loved ones; the boy finds it again as a man, long after he thought he had gotten rid of it forever.
  • Cain Rose Up: A college student goes on a Charles Whitman-esque shooting spree.
  • Mrs. Todd's Shortcut: An aged handyman relates the story of a vanished, lead-footed housewife who was obsessed with saving distance and time, and finding shortcuts "through the middle of things."
  • The Jaunt: While Mark Oates and his family are waiting to be teleported ("Jaunted") to Mars, he tells them the story of how the Jaunting process was discovered, eschewing the Jaunt's existential horrors and the fate of anyone who's ever tried Jaunting while awake and aware. His son Ricky, however, is especially curious....
  • The Wedding Gig: A Prohibition-era jazz combo is hired to play at the wedding of a small-time gangster's sister; events at the wedding take a shocking turn.
  • Paranoid: A Chant: A first-person narrative poem details the narrator's darkest obsessions and deepest fears.
  • The Raft: Four college students decide to take an end-of-summer swim at a remote lake, and meet the lake's hungriest denizen. Adapted into a segment of Creepshow 2.
  • Word Processor of the Gods: A middle-aged writer receives a gift from his recently deceased young nephew: a word processor built from scratch; it turns out to be good for much more than writing. Adapted as an episode of Tales from the Darkside.
  • The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands: Another tale of the uncanny told at that peculiar men's club in New York (see "The Breathing Method" in Different Seasons), about a young man with an aversion to touching anyone with his hands.
  • Beachworld: A starship crash-lands onto a desert world; the two survivors of the crash discover the shifting sand seems to have a mind and will of its own.
  • The Reaper's Image: An antiques collector inspects an old mirror locked in a museum's attic because of the eerie specter sometimes seen in it by people who subsequently vanish.
  • Nona: A drifter meets a coldly desirable woman who feeds his bloodlust and rage.
  • For Owen: A poem concerning the author walking his son Owen to school, as the boy describes a fantastical school attended by anthropomorphized fruit.
  • Survivor Type: A surgeon is washed up on a barren lick of rock in the middle of the ocean as the result of a shipwreck and must resort to drastic means to survive.
  • Uncle Otto's Truck: An eccentric old businessman is obsessed with an abandoned truck, convinced that it is coming to kill him.
  • Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1): Milkman Spike Milligan goes on his early-morning route, leaving dairy at some doors and death at others. This story was culled from King's unfinished novel Milkman.
  • Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman #2): The late-night journey of two drunk laundry workers, Rocky and Leo, and their efforts to get an inspection sticker on Rocky's 1957 Chrysler. They meet up with Rocky's old friend Bob Driscoll, a service station/garage owner, get even drunker....and the story dives into the surreal. It was also culled from the aforementioned Milkman.
  • Gramma: A young boy is left alone in the house with his ancient, blind, bedridden grandmother, who is said to have used unholy means to produce her children. Adapted as a segment of the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone, and as a 2014 feature film called Mercy.
  • The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet: At a barbecue, a magazine editor relates the story of his correspondence with a delusional, doomed writer who believed a tiny imp lived in his typewriter and influenced his fiction.
  • The Reach: 95-year-old Stella Flanders has never crossed the Reach (the body of water separating Goat Island from the mainland), since she has never seen a reason to. Surrounded by spirits as her own death approaches, she finally decides to make the journey in a tempestuous snowstorm. Originally published in Yankee magazine as "Do the Dead Sing?"


Skeleton Crew contains examples of:

  • Alternate Universe: Homer discovers that this is what Mrs. Todd's short cuts really are: roads that exist in some parallel universe that allow her to reach destinations in their own universe much more quickly than she could if she used normal roads. The only catch is that the wildlife can get pretty hostile, and you start to age in reverse.
  • And I Must Scream: In The Jaunt, the teleportation process is instantaneous, but if you go through it awake, you experience it as being trapped in a horrific void seemingly without end. The first human test subject said of the experience, "It's eternity in there." before dying, appearing to have aged hundreds of years after emerging. Mark's son experiences the same thing.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Norton and Mrs. Carmody in "The Mist."
    • The protagonist's domineering wife, ne'er-do-well son and Jerkass brother are portrayed this way in "Word Processor of the Gods", as he erases them from existence with the eponymous device so he can be a father to his loving nephew and a husband to his brother's unappreciated wife, who die in a car accident before the story begins..
    • The narrator of "Survivor Type," Richard Pine, as well as well.
  • Auto Cannibalism: In Survivor Type, Richard Pine is forced to amputate his foot after he snaps his ankle, in order to avoid gangrene. Then, "I washed it thoroughly before I ate it". After he crosses that line, it becomes easier and easier for him to think of his extremities as a source of food.
  • Covers Always Lie: Minor example. The Monkey is described as having an evil grin, yet every cover image of it is depicted as leering.
  • Cymbal-Banging Monkey: In The Monkey, obviously. The one in this story is creepier than most, being able to cause fatal accidents to happen whenever its cymbals clash.
  • Downer Ending: Several examples. The Jaunt in particular is one of the most gruesome in King's writings, which is saying something.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The creatures in The Mist, though they are ultimately biological entities that can bleed and die.
    • Some of the things Homer Buckland half-glimpses on the road to Bangor in Mrs. Todd's Shortcut, not to mention the 'woodchuck' stuck to the grille of her Mercedes.
  • Enfant Terrible:
    • Jimmy Rulin in "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" given he's been kicked out of first grade due to his behavior and has to repeat kindergarten. Subverted when Reg Thorpe tosses him across the room, and when he and his mother both get shot through the leg. He just becomes a screaming child, and the prose implies that the experience mellowed him
    • Roger, Richard's brother in "Word Processor of the Gods". He doesn't grow out of it.
  • Evil Old Folks: The eponymous Gramma, a massively fat, demanding and mean-spirited woman who pulls off a Grand Theft Me on her own grandson.
  • Eye Scream: At the end of The Jaunt the hideously-aged and completely insane Ricky claws out his own eyes.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Both Mark's children Ricky and Pat anticipate that their father is holding back from telling them the truth about the Jaunt, including What Happened to the Mouse?, the literal mice used in the experiment. Pat is insistent about this, while Ricky is more interested in the mechanics.
  • Genius Loci: The eponymous planet of Beachworld is evidently an example of this.
  • Grand Theft Me: In "Gramma" the title character does this to her grandson George.
  • House Fey: The fornits in "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet."
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: The Jaunt. Going through a jaunt gateway while conscious is invariably a mind-breaking experience. The physical trip is instantaneous, but to the mind, it's longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!
  • I Shall Taunt You: In The Wedding Gig, the gangster "The Greek" sends a frail little man to insult Mike Scollay and Scollay's sister Maureen at her wedding. Even though he's likely aware he's being baited into a trap, Scollay responds with rage and storms outside, where he's gunned down.
  • Irony: In Survivor Type, Richard Pine notes that, as a surgeon, even from a young age he has always fastidiously protected and cared for his hands. The story ends with him about to cut off one of his own hands in order to eat it.
  • Jerkass: Richard Pine in Survivor Type is not a very nice man — a corrupt, self-centered, hypocritical and egotistical disgraced surgeon who eventually resorted to smuggling heroin.
  • Mad Libs Catch Phrase: In "The Monkey", Hal imagines the eponymous toy speaking to him, and every time it says some variation on "Who's dead next, Hal? Is it you?"
  • Madwoman in the Attic : The titular Gramma, a senile and dying witch.
  • Mind Control: The living sand of Beachworld has this power.
  • Mythology Gag: Both Ace Merrill and Vern Tessio (from Different Seasons' "The Body") make appearances in "Nona" (our narrator grew up in Castle Rock).
  • No Ending: "The Mist." As Stephen King puts it in the Afterword, " Żou make up the second feature. "
  • Mundane Utility: Until he had figured out how to send through living organisms safely, the inventor of the Jaunt had intended to use the technology for long-distance material shipping.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: David delivers one to Myron after Myron doesn't listen to David about the Mist. He only stops when Ollie holds him back.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Reaper's Image focuses on something seemingly innocuous; a mirror with a black smudge that sometimes appears in the corner. The smudge doesn't appear for most people. But the few people who do see it, for some reason, become terrified and flee the room...
  • Panthera Awesome: The big cat in Here There Be Tygers.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless:
    • Averted in "the Jaunt"; they found a way to make teleportation a Mundane Utility and solve the energy crisis. The problem is when it goes wrong . . .
    • Because the computer in "Word Processor of the Gods" was made from cannibalized parts and it overheats when used for too long, it doesn't work for long. Richard uses it to summon a bag of gold doubloons, delete his wife and son, and resurrect his nephew and high school sweetheart. He considers writing "ALL THE BUGS IN THE COMPUTER WERE FULLY WORKED OUT BEFORE MR. NORDOFF BROUGHT IT OVER HERE" when the computer starts suffering a Heroic RROD , but he can only watch it die, and wait for it to resurrect Jon and Belinda. Justified in the TV adaptation, where Richard tries to do so, but his (later deleted) son blows a fuse with his guitar.
  • Rewriting Reality: The eponymous machine in Word Processor of the Gods can make things come into existence or disappear when a sentence is typed into it and the "INSERT," "EXECUTE" or "DELETE" buttons are pressed.
  • Salvage Pirates: These guys show up in "Beachworld" to investigate the crashed ship, but fortunately they aren't hostile and are actually disappointed that it's a Fedship, and they can't sell any salvage from it without risking reprisal from the government. They rescue Shapiro, but Rand has gone bonkers and refuses to leave, and the pirates only barely escape the apparently sentient sand.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: A rather retreating Mama Bear moment, but Gertrude Rulin picks up her son and runs like hell when Reg Thorpe tries to kill her son.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: The central focus of The Jaunt.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness:
    • The narrator of "Paranoid: A Chant."
      Last night a dark man with no face crawled through nine miles
      of sewer to surface in my toilet, listening
      for phone calls through the cheap wood with
      chrome ears.
      I tell you, man, I hear.
    • The narrator in The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet describes how the writer's delusion begins to affect his own sanity, making him have the same hallucinations.
    • Jane, the writer's wife, also thinks that she sees blood in the typewriter when Jimmy Rulin shoots the fornit.
  • Wham Line: These two:
    • From "The Jaunt":
    Longer than you think, Dad!
    • From "Survivor Type":
    Richard Pine: Ladyfingers ... they taste just like ladyfingers...
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Asked word for word by Mark's daughter in The Jaunt, but not in the usual situation. The mice who went through the first jaunt gateway while awake all died, but as Mark is trying to calm his children's nerves before their first jaunt, he doesn't tell them the truth.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Reg Thorpe in "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet." After little Jimmy Rulin kills Rackne with his toy space blaster, Reg throws him across the room and tries to shoot him.
    • The Milkman as well, given he delivers a chocolate milk carton with cyandie in it.
    • Gramma. Given she tries and succeeds to grab her grandson after she dies, and plans to torment his older brother.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefullness: Mark silently theorizes to himself that the scientist who created the Jaunt process, a slovenly, abrasive old man, was quietly killed and replaced with a more grandfatherly and personable "face" for the technology by the goverment for PR purposes. Its not revealed wether or not its true, as the story is set a good century after the Jaunt was created and most of the stories about the early days of the technology has passed into myth.