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Literature / Skeleton Crew

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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. Half-Life and Silent Hill both took their inspiration from The Mist.

Not to be confused with the 90s video game or the upcoming Star Wars television series for Disney+ with the same name.

    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 which 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. Adapted into a segment of Creepshow.
  • "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 (not that one) 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 Twilight Zone (1985), 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:

  • The Alcoholic: Henry has a very bad drinking problem throughout "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet", but has gotten a much better handle on it in the present day.
  • 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. Even worse, someone was pushed into a open Jaunt with no exit as is the case of one woman who was pushed into one by her husband for her infidelity. This becomes terrifying when you remember that less than a second through the jaunt feels like millions of years to the conscious mind. Since she is stuck in there forever, every second of that eternity is its own eternity.
  • Apocalyptic Log: "Survivor Type", which is told in journal form, is about one man's descent into madness after being wrecked on a deserted island. The spelling, grammar, and general coherence deteriorate as the man goes insane.
  • Artifact of Death: The cymbal-clanging wind-up toy from "The Monkey", whose playing precedes someone's violent death.
  • Artistic License: The main character of "Nona" procures a police shotgun that he identifies as a pump-action, but when he later uses it to murder an innocent man and attempt to kill a second, its functions are explicitly described as being those of a double-barreled boxlock.
    • In "The Jaunt", Victor Carune tests the process on a pair of goldfish after the test mice all died or went catatonic. One fish dies, but the other somehow manages to shake off the effects after a few moments, which is implied to be because of it's limited memory making simply forget about the time-dillation effect of The Jaunt. The idea that goldfish only retains a few seconds of memory at a time is a popular myth, but it doesn't have any actual truth to it.
    • Although it's sure to cause a great deal of chaos, the tarantula Spike leaves for the McCarthys is in all likelihood not going to kill anyone, even if someone in the household gets bitten. Unless you're allergic to their venom, the bite of a tarantula isn't deadly, just very painful. Of course, there is the possibility Spike (and King) knows this, and really doesn't care. He just wants to introduce a little anarchy to the McCarthys.
  • 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.
  • Autocannibalism: In "Survivor Type", the shipwrecked surgeon 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.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: In a strange way. When Richard retroactively deletes his son Seth from existence, his wife turns into an even worse version of her already overweight, nagging, crass self, because twisted as her enabling love for her son was, it was still love, and without it she turns to belittling her husband full-time.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Played with at the end of "The Reaper's Image." It's implied that the DeIver Glass was responsible for the disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater.
  • Bitter Almonds: Mentioned by the protagonist of "Paranoid: A Chant", who incorrectly believes that it's arsenic that smells like bitter almonds.
  • Blob Monster: The carnivorous "oil slick" from "The Raft".
  • Boxed Crook: In "The Jaunt", rumor has it the first guy to do a Jaunt-teleportation while conscious was a death-row prisoner who was offered a commutation of his sentence in exchange for making said trip. He should have just gone to the chair.
  • Brown Note Being: The man cursed to kill anyone whom he touched in "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands".
  • Continuity Nod:
    • "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut," set in Castle Rock, briefly mentions the events of Cujo.
    • "Uncle Otto's Truck" is also set there, and has an appearance by Frank Dodd's father.
    • The narrator of "Nona" comes from Castle Rock as well...and both Vern Tessio and Ace Merrill from "The Body" play a significant role in his backstory. (Ace, of course, would go on to play a major role in Needful Things as well.)
  • Covers Always Lie: Minor example. The Monkey is described as having an evil grin, yet every cover image of it is depicted as leering.
  • Cyborg: The captain of the Salvage Pirates in "Beachworld" has had everything below his torso replaced by a tread-mounted chassis with a built-in computer, though it's implied he did this after an accident cost him most of his lower body.
  • 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.
  • Descent into Addiction: In "Survivor Type", Richard Pine's woes are not helped by his gradual descent into heroin addiction owing to using the heroin he was planning on smuggling into America as an anesthetic for his... operations.
  • The Determinator: In "Survivor Type" Richard Pine is stranded all alone on a tiny rock of an island. He eventually resorts to cutting off parts of his own body and eating them to survive. Yet, through it all he remains convinced that he will be rescued and live a nice long life afterwards. A foreword to the story puts the trope this way; How much trauma can a human body endure? Answer: how badly do they want to survive?
  • Downer Ending: Several examples. "The Jaunt" in particular is one of the most gruesome in King's writings, which is saying something.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The editor in "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" reassures his audience that Jane Thorpe survived the events of the story, moved to New Haven, and is recovering steadily. She's not happy necessarily, but she is okay.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch Location: The gentleman's club in "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands", the same one we visited previously in "The Breathing Method".
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In "Survivor Type" Richard admits to performing unnecessary surgeries, then makes a point of saying he never performed one against a patient's will.
  • 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.
  • Extradimensional Shortcut;
    • How "The Jaunt"'s titular teleportation works.
    • In "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" 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.
  • Eye Scream: At the end of "The Jaunt" the hideously-aged and completely insane Ricky claws out his own eyes.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The poor woman who got shoved into an open jaunt with no exit by her husband, who discovered she'd been cheating on him. When his lawyer tried to use Exact Words in his trial for murder by pointing out that the wife was not technically dead, it did not end well for his client.
  • First Time Feeling: While they are trapped on "The Raft", Randy speculates that Deke might be experiencing fear for the very first time in his life.
  • Fold the Page, Fold the Space: Not physically demonstrated but the analogy is made in "Mrs Todd's Shortcut". Homer discovers evidence that Mrs Todd's shortcuts are taking fewer miles than are in a straight line between the trip origin and its destination, something that would be impossible in reality. Mrs. Todd compares the shortcuts to folding a map to bring two points closer together, suggesting she has discovered a warped version of reality, akin to a wormhole.
  • Fridge Horror: An In-Universe example happens in "The Raft" when Randy realizes he almost certainly could have swum to safety while the monster was busy pulling Deke through the boards.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: In "The Wedding Gig", Maureen Scollay appears as the pathetic, morbidly obese sister of a small-time gangster. At the end, it's revealed that after her brother's murder, she took over his operation, and created a criminal empire rivaling Al Capone's. She also enacted brutal vengeance on the Greek, the gangster who ordered her brother's assassination.
  • 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.
  • Gaia's Lament: In "The Jaunt", Mark refers to the Nasty Eighties, where the lack of oil resulted in things like coal clouds and a large stretch of the California coastline rendered uninhabitable for 60 years thanks to a nuclear accident. Even after the invention of the titular device, most of the Earth's water supplies were poisoned by 2030 and remain so even 300 years later, requiring water to be mostly collected from Mars.
  • Genius Loci: The eponymous planet of "Beachworld" is evidently an example of this.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation:
    • Traveling through a teleporter while conscious in "The Jaunt" inevitably leads to insanity or death (and more often, insanity followed by death) because the victim is left alone with only their own mind as company for a period of time that literally feels eternal.
    • "Survivor Type": With each diary entry we see Richard, who is stranded on a tiny island by himself with no food, is slowly but surely losing his mind.
  • Grand Theft Me: In "Gramma" the title character does this to her grandson George.
  • Heroic Suicide: Walking Wasteland Henry Brower, cursed to kill anything he touches, ends the curse and his life by shaking his own hand.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In "The Jaunt", the story of a man who shoved his adulterous wife into an open teleport with no exit is brought up. It's mentioned that, at the man's trial for murder, his lawyer attempted to make the case that his client wasn't guilty of murder because his wife was technically still alive. Unfortunately for him and his client, the jury only have to briefly consider the absolutely horrific implications of that defense before finding the man guilty and sentencing him to death.
  • 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.
  • Just Toying with Them: One possible interpretation of the monster's actions in "The Raft", though both we and the characters don't know the real limits of its abilities. (It's pretty definitely the case in the Creepshow adaptation, with its Diabolus ex Machina ending.) In the end, its attacks are relentless enough to force Laverne and Randy to stay awake all night. Randy to his credit holds out, only to give into sleep deprivation and despair, deciding to feed himself to the monster.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: A tragic one in "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet." Jane Thorpe loves her husband Reg, but fears that he is paranoid to a fault. Even so, she tries to enable his belief about Fornits in the typewriter and asks the editor in the story to make sure his story is published. It turns out that leaving him would have been the safer decision in the long run; enabling his paranoia ends up making him snap when he thinks she has violated his ground rules, and he shoots her in the head. She's lucky to have survived. You can't treat mental illness with love and patience alone.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Mike Scolley in "The Wedding Gig", who is very defensive over anyone insulting his sister Maureen's weight. Deconstructed, as his rival the Greek uses this to his advantage, having someone insult her on her wedding day, knowing Mike would be angry enough to run out and confront him without his bodyguards, leading to him being gunned down in the street.
  • Landline Eavesdropping: In "Gramma", George does this a few times and hears Henrietta Dodd gossiping with Cora Simard.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Besides "Here There Be Tygers" being a Shout-Out to Ray Bradbury (see below), the phrase references an ancient map notation, HIC SVNT LEONES ("here are lions"), used by Roman and Medieval cartographers to warn explorers of the dangers of venturing into unknown and unexplored areas of the globe.
  • 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. Unfortunately, not senile enough...
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Just if the tiger in the bathroom in "Here There Be Tygers" is real is left ambiguous, although it can't be denied that the mean teacher and student dissappeared without a trace after walking around the corner where it was.
    • Were Rackne and Bellis real in "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet"? Maybe. Was Reg Thorpe completely delusional, and was his particular strain of madness contagious? Who knows? We only know that Jimmy was shooting something in the typewriter, and he didn't give testimony on exactly what that was or if he thought he was playing a game.
    • In "Uncle Otto's Truck," did the truck kill Otto Schenck by inching its way up to him, filling him up with oil and stuffing a spark plug into his mouth? Or did Otto really commit suicide by swallowing that oil and gobbling the spark plug himself as he lay dying?
    • It's never made clear whether the titular character from "Nona" is a figment of the protagonist's imagination, a supernatural entity influencing him to commit violent acts, or a normal (albeit murderous) person. Though according to the protagonist witnesses at his trial claimed he was alone, seemingly removing the possibility she was a normal person.
    • The ending of "Big Wheels" makes it unclear if Bob genuinely kills his wife due to being sick of her, or if Spike somehow influenced him into doing it. There's also the matter of Rocky claiming to see a giant bug when he gets drunk, which Spike somehow seemingly knows about despite not having been there.
  • Meaningful Name: Richard Pine spends most of "Survivor Type" desperately pining for something to eat.
  • Mind Control: The living sand of "Beachworld" has this power.
  • Mirthless Laughter: Richard Pine tends to write out "ha! ha!" in his journal entries in "Survivor Type"; it starts as a contemptuous mockery of others without any real humor to it, but over time it becomes more sincere and a indicator that he's starting to lose his grip on his sanity.
  • 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. Since it creates a visible "cross-section" of anything/anyone fed through it, he also notes it would make a useful medical diagnostic device.
  • Mythology Gag: Both Ace Merrill and Vern Tessio (from Different Seasons' "The Body") make appearances in "Nona" (our narrator grew up in Castle Rock).
  • Naturalized Name: Richard Pine was born "Pinzetti", and a small part of "Survivor Type" discusses why he changed it — not only to get ahead in a medical field full of WASPs, but out of what seems to be genuine hatred for the Italian-American parents that held him back, especially his drunken, belittling father. While his mother despaired when he Anglicized the family name, Richard darkly notes that she went on to marry a Jewish grocer and take the name "Steinbrunner" not long after.
  • No Ending: The Mist. As Stephen King puts it in the Afterword, "You make up the second feature."
  • 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.
    • The narrator of "Nona" kicks the ever-lovin' crap out of the trucker who invites him out to the bar's parking lot for a fight.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: This is what dooms Randy in "The Raft". He could, on two different occasions, have made a swim for it while the oil slick was eating his friends. The first time, he's trying to keep an unconscious Laverne from falling in the water and the second time he's in too much shock to even try. Ultimately, Randy can't leave his friends and doesn't have the guts to try and swim.
  • 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...
    • In "Morning Deliveries," Spike stops at one of the usual houses on his route to find that it has been recently (and hurriedly) abandoned, and that one of the walls has a large crater in it. Said crater is covered in blood and hair, but Spike simply leaves without investigating the matter further.
    • "The Monkey" never explains the origin of the cymbal-playing monkey, there's nothing about it that sets it apart from the countless other toys of the same model, it's just a cheap souvenir once cranked out from a factory in Hong Kong. The main character even thinks to himself that whatever turned the monkey into the Artifact of Death it now is might have happened during the decades it was locked up in the family crawl space.
    • Similarly, "The Raft" never reveals what the strange, carnivorous "oil slick is", or where it came from. It's either a new arrival, or only active during the fall months, as otherwise, there'd have been dozens of fatalities already since the beach is very popular during the summer.
  • Ominous Obsidian Ooze: In the short story "The Raft", four college students decide to take an end-of-summer swim at a remote lake, and find a carnivorous "oil slick" that eats them one by one
  • Only Sane Man: Deke and Randy both become this in "The Raft" after the thing in the water eats Rachel slowly and painfully. Randy tries to jump into the water after Rachel to save her, but Deke grabs him because he knows that Rachel is already dead and he doesn't want his friend to die. Meanwhile, Laverne is screaming and is no help at all. Deke then starts reasoning, when the slick goes under the raft, that it gives him the best chance to swim and get help. Unfortunately, the oil slick pulls him through the cracks. Randy then helps Laverne set up shifts, and they are awake and watching it together. Unfortunately, a bit of touchy-feely means her hair gets in the water, and Randy breaks down as he's the Final Guy and the oil slick wants to eat him.
  • Outlaw Couple: The protagonist becomes this with Nona of the short story of the same name, possibly because of supernatural influences.
  • Panthera Awesome: The big cat in "Here There Be Tygers".
  • Paranoid Thriller: "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" is about the paranoid writer Reg Thorpe who believed in the existence of Fornits (a kind of luck-elves who lived in typewriters and brought inspiration to writers), and that some sort of sinister conspiracy was about to kill the Fornit that lived in his own typewriter. The protagonist, who is Thorpe's editor, gradually loses his grip on reality and starts to believe in Reg's fantasies, largely due to his own alcoholism. The story leaves it unclear whether or not the fornits and the conspiracy really existed, but there are some implications that they did.
  • Post-Peak Oil: The world hit this in the 1980s in "The Jaunt", where the price of gas rose to $15 per gallon and Americans could only drive two days per week. In the winter of 1986, around ten thousand people froze to death simply because there wasn't enough energy to heat their homes. All of this, combined with fears of mass starvation and anarchy in the 1990s, the government began sponsoring private researchers for a solution, leading to Victor Carune's invention of his teleporter.
  • 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 more than a few min at most. 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.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Just how in the hell did a freaking tiger get into an elementary school's bathroom, anyway?
    • How did Jimmy Rulin come to see the Fornit in the typewriter? Jane couldn't see them until the very end, and Gertrude surely couldn't. By the time he is old enough to give testimony, he doesn't answer one way or the other. Jane briefly muses that perhaps the nebulous they that Reg is so scared of actually do exist, and were somehow able to possess or influence Jimmy into killing the Fornit. However, it's never confirmed if this is true or not.
    • Some of the weirdness of both the "Milkman" stories defy explanation. Why was Spike delivering deadly substances to these particular homes in "Morning Deliveries"? What is up with the hallucinatory imagery experienced by Rocky and Leo in "Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game"? (Were they even hallucinations at all? Were the two of them experiencing the supernatural? Or were the pair just completely blotto?) Sadly, since Milkman was abandoned by King, we'll probably never know the answers to these questions.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Only Richard Hagstrom can sense the changes caused by the "Word Processor of the Gods".
  • Robinsonade: "Survivor Type" is a particularly harsh example, as the desert island Richard Pine is stranded on is really just a tiny, rocky knob in the middle of the ocean with nothing growing on it, so food is rather scarce, to say the least. To survive, Pine eats seagulls, a dead fish, and ultimately, himself.
  • 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.
  • Schizo Tech: Partially unintentional due to it being written over a decade before email, but because Jaunt technology was invented in 1987 and functions as an instantaneous courier service, "The Jaunt" depicts a future of space colonies where written mail is still the primary long-distance communication.
  • 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.
    • Also the crew of the rescue-ship in "Beachworld" finally realizes they really need to get the hell out of there now.
  • Sentient Sands: "Beachworld" takes place on a planet entirely covered by malevolent sand with the power of Mind Control. It can also assemble into various shapes like a hand to try grabbing the protagonists' spacecraft in order to prevent them from leaving the Beachworld.
  • Shout-Out: "Here There Be Tygers" shares its title with a 1951 short story by Ray Bradbury (although the two stories have nothing to do with one another plotwise).
    • In-universe, Victor Carune nicknamed his teleportation process "the Jaunt" as a shout-out to Alfred Bester's novel The Stars My Destination.
    • Also in "The Jaunt", scientist Victor Carune is a reference to the ill-fated astronaut of the same name from the first installment of the Quatermass television serials.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • In "The Raft," Deke points out that he should try to swim for it when the oil slick goes under the raft since he has the best chance, and he can get help for Randy and Laverne. Randy even realizes later that it's the perfect distraction for the oil slick, and smacks himself for not realizing that he and Laverne could have made a swim for it while the thing was eating Deke slowly.
    • The editor in "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" points out that he could have simply used his contacts in the business to get Reg Thorpe's story published with a cover letter and explaining why Logan's wasn't publishing it. In fact, that would have led to a more successful publication than what he actually did: meet with them in-person and start rambling about radiation and electricity. In a more realistic sense, Jane Thorpe could have left Reg at any time. In fact, she was considering it before he met the editor.
  • Stealth Pun: "Nona"'s only name is Anon in reverse.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: One thing that makes the infamous ending of "The Jaunt" even more horrifying than it already is is how it contrasts the rest of the story's laidback, almost Slice of Life tone in which all of the Foreshadowing only exists within the flashbacks to the Jaunt's early trials.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: When Victor Carune decides to begin animal testing in the backstory of The Jaunt, he puts a white mouse in front of the entrance portal and waits for it to walk through. The skittish animal instead makes a break for it, since there's nothing keeping it in place or forcing it to walk in one direction. The mouse actually manages to escape through a crack in the wall before Carune can catch it. It ends up being the only survivor of the test mice, since all the others died from the effects of the Jaunt.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Gertrude and Jane have this reaction in "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" when they realize that Gertrude's son Jimmy got into Reg's study and is playing there, just as Reg comes home with a gun.
  • 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.
  • Time Abyss: In "The Jaunt, teleportation works perfectly, as long as you are unconscious. Anyone who goes through it awake describes it as an eternity of disembodied nothingness, which either kills them or drives them insane upon emerging.
    "It's longer than you think..."
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Maureen Scolley and her fiance Rico from "The Wedding Gig". Maureen is 300 something pounds and tall, while Rico is only 90 pounds and half her height.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Jimmy Rulin has no sense of self-preservation. In fact, that's probably why he was asked to repeat first grade. He steals the key to Reg's study, sneaks in, and starts shooting at the typewriter. Gertrude and Jane try to get him out of there, especially when Reg comes home with a gun and murderous intent. He ignores them, up to the point that Reg tackles him and prepares to shoot. It's only because Jane grapples with Reg, getting shot for her troubles, and Gertrude carries Jimmy out of there that they survive.
  • Uncertain Doom: If he ever actually existed in the first place, it's unclear if Bellis the Fornit died from the strain of writing the final message to Henry, or merely passed out from exhaustion. Either way, he isn't mentioned again after Henry leaves to try to get to Reg's house.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Played with in "Survivor Type". There's no real reason to suspect that Richard Pine is actually lying about his life and backstory in "Survivor Type", though his account is clearly skewed by his own narcissism, disdain for others, refusal to admit to his own flaws, and eventually his gradually deteriorating sanity. He outright states that he intends to destroy the diary if he gets rescued and is keeping it purely to occupy his mind, so even if his perspective is somewhat skewed it's suggested we can more or less trust what he's saying. However, his record of how long he spends on the island becomes increasingly unreliable over the course of the story; if we went just by the dates he provides it would appear to take place over a little under a month, and yet even in his earlier, more lucid entries there are some hints that he's gradually losing track of time the longer he spends on the island; dates repeat or are amended as if he's uncertain or second-guessing himself. And of course, by the end when madness has fully set in he's clearly just abandoned any attempt at accurately keeping track of time anyway.
  • Unusual Euphemism: A very strange example from "Here There Be Tygers". Charles refers to going to the bathroom as "going to the basement", a now old fashioned New England euphemism for a toilet in a school, and in fact seems embarrassed and angry that his teacher refuses to let him use this euphemism and instead demands he say "bathroom". It's never explained why he prefers this euphemism, even to the point of considering it the proper way to say it, nor do we know if others also use it; he's the only person to use the phrase, though another kid in his class doesn't seem to see anything wrong with it.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: There are four in "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet": the editor, Jane Thorpe, Gertrude Rulin, and the latter's son Jimmy. The editor revealed that during an alcohol blackout he sent a telegram that revealed someone named Jimmy was hurting Reg's Fornit, and the editor said he didn't even know that Reg's cleaning lady had a son. Jane is told that Gertrude needs to bring Jimmy to the house while she works, and gives permission provided Jimmy never enters Reg's study, until Gertrude can find other arrangements. Of course, Jimmy must find the spare key, sneak into the study, and shoot at Reg's typewriter with his toy gun. By the time Jane and Gertrude found him, it's too late to dissuade him from killing whatever was in there, and Reg goes on a rampage against the three of them.
  • Villain Protagonist:
    • Curt Garrish from "Cain Rose Up", who ends up going on a shooting spree at his college.
    • And in "Survivor Type," Richard Pine is not at all a nice person.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Randy thinks that Deke is more of a bully to him than a friend sometimes, but Deke stops him from futilely trying to save Rachel and reasons with him that if no one is going to find them, then one of the trio has to make a swim for it. He only nominates himself by virtue of being the best swimmer, and Randy has to admit it's a legitimate point even if they'd rely on Deke to get help. Likewise, when the oil slick starts eating Deke through the cracks in the raft, Randy tries his best to save him.
  • Wham Line:
    • From "The Jaunt":
      Longer than you think, Dad!
    • From "Survivor Type":
      Richard Pine: ladyfingers they taste just like ladyfingers
      • Also, earlier: "I was very careful. I washed it thoroughly before I ate it."
  • 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.
  • The Woobie: An in-universe example in "Word Processor Of The Gods." Every time Richard Hagstrom looked at his doomed nephew Jon, he wanted to hug him.
  • 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 cyanide in it.
    • Gramma. Given she tries and succeeds to grab her grandson after she dies, and plans to torment his older brother.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Deke asks Randy, whom he considers a science expert, what the thing in the water is. Randy says he's only seen that in horror movies, which doesn't bode well for them.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Mark uneasily notes to himself that Victor Carune, the scientist who created the Jaunt process, was a slovenly, abrasive old man but suddenly turned into a grandfatherly and personable "face" for the technology when the government got involved. Whether he was somehow altered or completely replaced is unknown, as the story is set a good three centuries after the Jaunt was created and most of the stories about the early days of the technology have passed into myth.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb:
    • Ricky Didn't Think This Through on going through the Jaunt awake and holding his breath.
    • Lampshaded in "The Raft" when Deke and Randy realize that they and Laverne are trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake with an Eldritch Abomination trying to eat them, and which has already eaten Rachel. As Randy puts it, they just took off and left without telling anyone, on an impulse trip. The summer cottages nearby are empty in late fall, hunters don't come till next season, and it's unlikely a caretaker will come.