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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.


    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.
  • "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 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:

  • Adult Fear:
    • "The Mist": After what appears to be a normal storm, you and your son get trapped in a grocery store with an angry mob.
    • "Cain Rose Up": A college shooting. From the shooter's perspective, as he takes down innocent students.
    • "The Jaunt": A father loses his son because he didn't tell his son enough to keep him from being curious.
    • "The Raft": Four teens swim out to the middle of nowhere to say goodbye to a raft on the lake before it gets pulled in, and subsequently fall victim to tragedy.
    • "Morning Deliveries": Your milkman may be delivering cyanide and spiders in your milk containers for your children.
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    • "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet": Madness can be catching, at least from writer to editor, especially when the editor is The Alcoholic. As wife Jane Thorpe finds out, getting used to her husband's paranoia is like playing a tango of stress and relax, stress and relax. Gertrude Rulin nearly loses her son and her life when Jimmy kills Rackne, and Jane Thorpe gets shot in the head.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eye Scream: At the end of "The Jaunt" the hideously-aged and completely insane Ricky claws out his own eyes.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
    • 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?
  • 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, " Ýou 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.
    • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Just how in the hell did a freaking tiger get into an elementary school's bathroom, anyway?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Villain Protagonist: Curt Garrish from "Cain Rose Up", who ends up going on a shooting spree at his college.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Mark uneasily notes to himself that the scientist who created the Jaunt process, a slovenly, abrasive old man, 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 century 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.


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