Reading the King: Night Shift

Ah, Night Shift. I am pumped to find myself still onboard the #readingtheking train! Right now, I’m only five books in, and it warms my heart that there’s still so much more to read – King released Sleeping Beauties which he wrote with his son Owen King, and Gwendy’s Button Box, a novella he wrote with Richard Chizmar.

I’m not going to say that I’m behind on my timeline; thinking about where I currently am in my life and looking at graduating from my masters in a few months, I should not be imposing more deadlines on myself. I will admit though that I have not been reading as much as I like because of two things: (1) my capstone project is coming together and I just submitted the first draft on Friday, and (2) I recently took a deep dive into Prime Video (free with Amazon Prime Student!) and discovered Elementary! Friends, I am obsessed with this show. Lucy Liu, Jonny Lee Miller, Aidan Quinn, and Jon Michael Hill are delightful. I have been spending much of my hour-and-a-half long commutes catching up – bless the download option on the Prime Video app for enabling my binge-watching! I am now waiting on Mikaius to finish season 2 so we can embark on 3 together.

One major update on the challenge, before we proceed —

  • I can’t watch all of the associated films and/or miniseries. I tried, I really did, but it began to eat into my enjoyment of reading the source material – the media part of the challenge became overwhelming and took over far more of my time than it should. From the task of having to locate said films and/or miniseries, to finding time to watch them, it was too much. Some films were easier to come by via Google Play Store or my own personal collection, but others were simply inaccessible, and sometimes, there were too many. From here on out, the question of whether or not I will be watching the adaptations shall be a case-by-case basis.

And now, let’s talk about Stephen King’s Night Shift!

Published by Doubleday in 1975, this book is his fifth, and the first of his short story collections. It contains twenty short stories, running the gamut from depressing (The Woman in the Room), to spine-tingle-inducing (Strawberry Spring), to downright terrifying (The Lawnmower Man). Because I spent my holidays catching up on sleep and writing and other sundries, I did not have time to watch any of the movies associated with the stories in this collection, although I do own copies of some of them and will likely watch when I’m at a better place timewise.

Not watching any of them, however, gave me time to focus on the reading experience, which I have sorely missed: I spent several hours snuggled into the couch with my Kindle, iced coffee and a warm blanket, sinking into the tales and enjoying the shivers. I was also in for a very pleasant surprise when one of my friends gifted me a copy of the book for our annual Friendsmas, which featured my favourite tale in this collection: I Am The Doorway!

I have such a soft spot for Stephen King sci-fi. One of my absolute favourite of everything that he’s ever written is The Jaunt, which left such an impression on me that whenever somebody says that they haven’t read any Stephen King, I instantly recommend this short story. It’s perfect because it doesn’t require that much of a time commitment (you don’t recommend the damn Tommyknockers as a first King book!), but it gives the reader a taste of how bizarre the King universe can be.

I’ve had the opportunity to read Night Shift when I was much younger, but there were only a few of the twenty stories that left enough of a mark on me that I remember details ten years later. Strawberry Spring is one of them, as was Quitters Inc., but my favourite by far is I Am The Doorway.

Our main character is an astronaut who has been exposed to an alien life force during his mission in space. Alien beings now inhabit his body, and have recently emerged as eyes on the his hands.

It is very heavily implied that the aliens can control his body. One of the little details that I find interesting is that our man indicates that he can tell when the aliens are “awake” in his mind, but he shows us, the readers, no sign that the aliens can understand his thoughts. This makes sense as they don’t seem to understand Earth or humans, and are actually horrified by us – I mean, they see it from the vantage point of palms – and at one point our narrator tells us:

I raised my hands slowly to my face, catching an eerie vision of my living room turned into a horror house.  

I screamed.

 There were eyes peering up at me through splits in the flesh of my fingers. And even as I watched the flesh was dilated, retreating, as they pushed their mindless way up to the surface.

But that was not what made me scream. I had looked into my own face and seen a monster.

Our man is a very unwilling host to these intruders. It is interesting too that they manifested in the form of eyes – indicating that their first instinct upon landing is not yet interference, but initial observation. He attempts to end their stay as he strongly suspects that they may have been using his body as a tool for murder. He does this by waiting until the eyes are sleepy, plunges his hands into gasoline, and sets them on fire instantly. That implications of the scene makes for gnarly imaginaries, and I adore it so much.

When it was burning well I went out back to the kerosene drum and soaked both hands. They came awake immediately, screaming with agony. I almost didn’t make it back to the living room, and to the fire.

But I did make it.

Ah, but it wouldn’t be Stephen King without a twist ending, now, wouldn’t it? And there is! We last see our main character preparing to die, as the aliens have manifested as eyes again, after seven years – this time, in “a perfect circle of twelve golden eyes on my chest.”


As it stands, Night Shift makes for an interesting few hours of reading. There isn’t really a theme, per se, and some of it is more poignantly sad than hair-raisingly terrifying, but I think that this collection shows us, the readers, the scope of writing that King is capable of. And that is a thing of beauty.

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