Guest Author - Siobhain M Cullen
Short scary stories sometimes 'start off very ordinary' as does this one from the 'Just After Sunset' collection. The girl in this example from Stephen King's new book of short stories sets off for a jog, just like she often does on any other day. Here are some personal observations on what happens next...
In a way, the reader can't wait for Stephen King to 'find his voice' and get on with it! But, we feel, the slow, slow build up is necessary, even vital to the shock effect at the end of the short story.
As the girl approaches the end of the lock she uses to cross over to the island she likes to jog through, she finds the lock-attendant more chatty than usual. Both Stephen King's vivid description of the 'rangy' old man with his weatherbeaten brown face and battered straw hat, and the ominous stillness of the grey humid air before a storm, give the piece an aura of time standing still. The motionless stance of a heron adds to the atmosphere of menace as the girl has to 'jog on the spot' while the oldtimer keeps her chatting.
But, it seems that her old acquaintance means her no harm, and seeks only to warn her off. He describes the creepy 'goings-on' of a rich island visitor who has been bringing a string of 'nieces' to stay with him and to accompany him on excursions on his luxury boat.
Our girl seems undeterred, and says she hasn't noticed anything out of the ordinary - not even the red Mercedes car her advisor speaks of. The story continues in a deceptively innocuous way - the conversation flows back and forth, the thunder rumbles on - more threatening with each burst.
At last our jogger sets off to jog past the suspicious venue in question - and this time she does notice something! There is a red Mercedes car parked outside the ugly holiday-home that belongs to 'Not A Very Nice Man.'
We share her thoughts as she pauses to take in the scene, and to think. Stephen King's writer's voice is still low-key, observational - almost chatty, as he has her notice the bad taste in the design of the house, the model number of the car - all of the details we would quickly scan when summing up a situation in our minds.
Suddenly, however, the short story is over! In the last few sentences a lot goes on, but the details are at a sparse minimum. The car's trunk is open! There is blonde hair coming out of it! Blood is in the hair!
Still our cool, calm and contented modern woman tries to be rational. Perhaps this can't be happening - isn't real? Perhaps it's a dummy? Still feeling in control and unthreatened, she ventures closer - more keen to establish the facts than to admit the possibility of danger to herself.
She touches the 'dummy' and feels real skin. What does she think then? We don't know. Stephen King doesn't tell us as the story is over. The girl cannot tell us what she thinks, except that she feels a terrible blow to her head.....
(The only question is, there are two characters in this Just After Sunset short scary story - which one of them was it?) We will have to re-read the story and study it, discuss it with our friends perhaps at a murder mystery dinner or on Burns Night or Halloween - in order to establish a theory....)