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Literature / Strange Highways

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Maybe it makes sense to be an eternal optimist.

Strange Highways is the first (and so far only) collection written by Dean Koontz, containing one novel, one novella, and twelve short stories. Although published in 1995, only one story was specifically written for the collection. The others were published sporadically in literary magazines and anthologies between 1966 and 1989.

The stories include:

1: "Strange Highways" (1995): A depressed, regretful man is offered a chance to relive the night that defined the rest of his life.

2: "The Black Pumpkin" (1986): After buying a frightening jack-o-lantern at a pumpkin patch, a family is terrorized by a strange creature.

3: "Miss Attila the Hun" (1987): The only thing standing in the way of an alien life form taking over the world is a determined teacher.

4: "Down in the Darkness" (1986): A Vietnam vet discovers a room in his new home that only he can see.


5: "Ollie's Hands" (1972): A lonely young man with telepathic powers tries to start a relationship with a woman he rescued from muggers.

6: "Snatcher" (1986): A purse snatcher gets more than he bargains for when he steals a strange old woman's handbag.

7: "Trapped" (1989): A mother and her son are terrorized by genetically engineered rats.

8: "Bruno" (1971): A private eye receives a visitor from another dimension.

9: "We Three" (1974): A set of triplets with telepathic powers wipe out the rest of humanity.

10: "Hardshell" (1974): A determined cop pursues a serial killer into an abandoned warehouse.

11: "Kittens" (1966): A young girl is horrified to learn what her father does every time her cat gives birth to kittens.

12: "The Night of the Storm" (1974): In the far future, a group of robots go hunting deep in the woods.


13: "Twilight of the Dawn" (1987): An atheist questions his faith as his young son dies of cancer.

14: "Chase" (1972): A solider is stalked by a deranged killer after he saves an intended victim from his clutches.

This anthology provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending:
    • After dispatching the man who tortured and murdered his friends in Vietnam, the narrator of "Down in the Darkness" tries to convince himself that it's wrong to kill people (in his basement room full of demons) even if they deserve it. However, when he sits down to write a list of deservers, he can't seem to stop writing...
  • Asshole Victim: Billy's family in "The Black Pumpkin", the Vietnamese torturer in "Down in the Darkness", the purse snatcher in "Snatcher", and the serial killer in "Hardshell".
  • The Assimilator: The anatagoinst of "Miss Attila the Hun" is an alien being that takes over humans and uses them as puppets to spread itself, hoping to take over the world. It doesn't succeed.
  • At the Crossroads: "Strange Highways" has Joey change his life when he returns to a crossroads where one of the roads, destroyed 20 years before, is there again. Naturally this is the one he takes.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: "The Black Pumpkin". The antagonist murders the Billy's entire family (not that they didn't deserve it) and says that he will find and kill him too if he ever starts becoming a bad person.
  • Bloody Horror: In "Kittens" we are given a very graphic description of Marine's father drowning the kittens. One of them even shreds its tongue with its fangs while trying to breathe.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: "We Three". The psychic triplets (two boys and a girl) are the only people left on Earth and figure they need to repopulate. Unfortunately, the child will have twice the powers as its parents and kill them once it is birthed.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: "Ollie's Hands". Despite his best efforts his relationship with the story's only female character ends and he remains a depressed and lonely individual.
  • Downer Ending:
    • "We Three": Whatever Eldritch Abomination Jessica is pregnant with will kill the triplets when it is born and take over the entire universe.
    • "Ollie's Hands": Ollie fails to start a relationship with the young woman and goes back to being the lonely, social awkward individual he was at the beginning of the story.
    • "Twilight of the Dawn": Benny dies of cancer and Pete still can't be completely convinced that God exists.
  • Drowning Unwanted Pets: The trigger of Marnie's murderous rage in "Kittens" is learning that this is what has happened to all the kittens her cat has birthed.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The antagonist of "Hardshell" is one of these of the shapeshifter variety. He goes through many nightmarish, unnatural forms while trying to kill the cop that's pursuing him. Unfortunately for him, the cop is one also. And he's much more experienced.
  • Enfant Terrible: Marnie in "Kittens". She drowns her infant siblings as some form of poetic justice for her father drowning her cat's kittens.
    • The triplets in "We Three" are only ten years old but they kill every human being on earth with a thought, including their parents (whom they callously drag out of the house and burn in the yard), engage in incestuous sex and overall show no real remorse for anything they have done.
  • Evil All Along: Joey's older brother in "Strange Highways". He turns out to be the Serial Killer behind the murders that occurred twenty years previously.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Young Jessica in "We Three." She thinks the extermination of the human race is a good thing, views herself and her brothers as members of a new, superior race and takes a disturbingly active role in repopulating the planet with her offspring. It ends up working horribly right, as her hermaphroditic child jumps a step up on the evolution ladder, becomes self aware in her womb and, much like its mother, sees its parents as inferior and unnecessary. The story ends with the implication that the fetus will exterminate the triplets once it is born.
  • Eye Scream: Joey's older brother's first victim in "Strange Highways" has her eyes gouged out and put in a jar.
  • Ghost City: "Strange Highways" has Coal Valley, Pennsylvania, which is being abandoned due to underground fires. It was inspired by the Real Life example of Centralia, Pennsylvania.
    • As a result of the triplets in "We Three" killing everybody else on the planet, every city on earth has become this.
  • Hollywood Atheist: The narrator of "Twilight of the Dawn" hates God so much that he refuses to let his son near anything that could remotely be considered religious, even disallowing him from reading books or watching movies that mention religion in passing.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Taken quite literally in "The Night of the Storm". Robots have overrun the world and humans have degenerated to savages living in the woods that attack and mutilate any robot they come across.
  • Human Disguise: The antagonist of "Hardshell" is a shapeshifting Eldritch Abomination serial killer that masquerades as a human so he can kill his victims without trouble. Unfortunately, the cop pursuing him is one, also.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Jonathan and Jerry usually end up doing whatever Jessica tells them to do in "We Three," because she is beautiful and bossy and they are quite taken with her. It crosses over into major Squick territory because they are only ten years old and she is their sister. The casual way in which they both have sex with her during a beach trip suggests that they had been doing that for a while.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In "Kittens", whenever Marnie's cat gives birth, her father drowns them. When Marnie finds out, she drowns her infant siblings.
  • After Jonathan, Jerry and Jessica kill literally everybody else on earth in "We Three," they begin to have sex numerous times at Jessica's urging in order to get a head start on repopulating the planet with their "superior" offspring. However, once Jessica gets pregnant, the triplets realize that whatever she is carrying in her womb is much more self aware and powerful than all of them put together, cannot be killed or controlled and somehow carries both genders, so it does not need any of them for reproduction. The fetus begins to torment them by jolting them awake at night with psychic bursts, and the siblings slowly come to realize that their days are numbered. The story ends with the siblings in bed at night, Jessica wincing at the fetus kicking her intentionally and vainly trying to assure her brothers that the child will not kill them.
  • Madness Mantra: What Jessica's litany of "We are a new race with new rules and new emotions" ends up sounding like. Initially declared triumphantly, it ends up being something she repeats to her siblings (and mostly to herself) in a weak attempt to convince and soothe them that the fetus she is carrying won't kill them the second it is born.
  • Make-Out Point: The protagonist of "Chase" is pursued by the antagonist after he foils his attempted double murder at one of these.
  • Not So Above It All: One of the male triplets in "We Three" muses on how much his sister and brother resemble their parents when they argue.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Seen in "Trapped" and "Chase", as the love interests really serve no purpose in the stories other than giving the protagonists a happy ending.
  • Self-Made Orphan: The triplets in "We Three" kill their mother and father, together with every single human being on earth. Their malicious unborn child is implied to intend to become one once it is born, as it is hermaphroditic or can breed asexually, and therefore does not need its inferior parents.
  • Mundane Ghost Story: The only stories not featuring supernatural elements are "Trapped", "Kittens", 'Twilight of the Dawn" and "Chase".
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Joey in "Strange Highways" is sent back twenty years to try and 1) Prevent a serial killer from going on a rampage and 2) Grow a backbone and take responsibility for his life.
  • Shapeshifter Swan Song: When the shapeshifting cop in "Hardshell" liquefies and wraps himself around the antagonist to suffocate him, the antagonist goes through many forms trying to break out. It doesn't work.
  • Sibling Murder: The punchline for "Kittens" is that Marnie, enraged to discover her father has been drowning her cat's kittens, sneaks upstairs whilst nobody is watching and drowns her baby twin siblings in the bathtub.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Jerry, Jonathan and Jessica, the incredibly creepy ten year old triplets in "We Three" qualify through their lack of empathy and incestuous relationship.
  • The Vietnam Vet: The protagonists of "Chase" and "Down in the Darkness".
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The antagonist of "The Black Pumpkin". He's a pumpkin demon that kills Billy's entire family because they were all terrible people, but he can't kill Billy himself because he is generally a good person. However, he says he'll come back if Billy ever starts becoming evil, and it's shown the demon has a very lose definition of what "evil" is.