An epistolary story, the title of which must surely remind every King fan of 'Salem's Lot, this is in fact an almost Lovecraftian tale (although containing no Cthulu Mythos - in fact it does contain De Vermis Mysteriis (The Mysteries of the Worm)), in the haunted house vein.
Under a mill, thousands of rats squirm. One employee goes down into the heart of their lair... but takes his cruel boss with him.
A bizarre little story, I never particularly got into this one. A kind of prelude, epilogue, or just companion to The Stand, we have a few young people surviving against Captain Trips. Interesting as a link to The Stand, this doesn't have much entertainment value in its own right - IMHO, of course.
I Am the Doorway
An astronaut is "infected" by an alien life form after orbitting Venus. When he returns to Earth, he crashes down, and is confined to a wheel chair. After a few years, he notices strange things happening to his fingers. It turns out an alien life form is using him as a doorway to Earth, using his fingers as eyes. He has times when the life form takes him over, and decides to burn his hands to try to stop the alien. All is fine for seven years, before he discovers they're coming through again... This story is quite amusing, and a good fast read.
An industrial strength Ironer and Folder machine in the Blue Ribbon Laundry (spot the link, anyone?) proves a lethal force in a bizarre accident... and once it's tasted blood, it wants more. Very strange, but quite fun.
A man goes to his psychiatrist about the deaths of children, for which he feels partially responsible. Boy, is he in for a surprise. An extremely neat little story, this one really appeals to me. Apparently a 30 minute film was made of this one, though I've never seen any reference to it outside King paraphernalia.
Another "strange life forms try to take over the world starting with one man" story, this one is even weirder than I Am the Doorway. The equation is quite simple: man+grey jelly-type-stuff = trouble for characters. Interesting, but not one of the best.
One of my faves, this is basically Toy Story with weapons. An assassin is killed by a troop of toy soldiers. Excellent fun.
The short story that was turned into Maximum Overdrive (directed by King himself), this is the story of a group of people who find themselves at the same petrol station on the day when mechanical objects decide to take over the world. Reminiscent of The Mist (in Skeleton Crew), this is faster paced - a nice tight story.
Sometimes They Come Back
Another of the many Night Shift stories to be filmed, this concerns a teacher whose brother's killers won't stay dead. When things get out of hand, he takes extreme measures to guard his life. This story is gripping to the core - I just started rereading bits to get stuff right, and ended up reading the lot. Damned good stuff.
I won't spoil this story by revealing the ending, which leaves only the fact that it's about serial murders in a college. I guessed the ending. Will you? (Don't worry if you do, it's still put so well that it's worth the effort!)
Along with Quitters, Inc. and a non-Night Shift segment called The General, this was part of the film Cat's Eye. A rich gambler's wife has an affair with a tennis pro (Andy Dufresne anyone?) and things turn nasty for the pro. Given a choice between a set-up drugs bust or a daunting walk round the ledge of the gambler's penthouse suite, he picks the ledge. (Good job, otherwise the story would probably have been pretty tedious.) This is an extremely tense story, which worked pretty well on screen.
The Lawnmower Man
For once, a story in Night Shift that a film hasn't been based on. Yeah, there was that film with the strangely familiar title, but I believe King got rid of his name from the credits due to it having nothing to do with the story. (Good film anyway, IMHO!) I never particularly got into this story, but it's basically a kind of Pan-gets-a-dayjob scenario.
A gruesome story about one man's desire to stop smoking and another man's method of making him achieve it, this would not seem out of place in a Roald Dahl book (as in Tales of the Unexpected, not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Somewhat disturbing, it's a tight read, just right for that coffee break... or cigarette break?
I Know What You Need
I never got into this. It's very odd. Next time I read it, I'll put in a brief description.
Children of the Corn
Yet another story used for a film adaptation, this got a couple of screen encores, although I've heard they were neither deserved nor worthy. The story itself, however, is interesting - a couple get lost in a town populated only by children who practise euthanasia at an alarmingly young age. If you've read You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band (Nightmares and Dreamscapes) you'll be on familiar territory, though I'd recommend COTC over YKTGAHOAB any day.
The Last Rung on the Ladder
Once again, King is at his most touching when talking about children. This is one of the shorter stories in the book, but to my mind one of the best. To describe the plot without the emotion would be vandalism; just read it.
The Man Who Loved Flowers
I think I missed something here. This is short and very strange. It's impossible to describe the whole plot without ruining the ending (although it only takes one sentence to describe), but suffice it to say there's a guy who buys flowers involved somewhere.
One for the Road
Any story involving a character called Herb Tooklander has to be pretty good, but this is even better - it's a 'Salem's Lot tie in. Full of the atmosphere of SL, the feeling of claustrophobia due to a blizzard is almost tangible (yes, I know they're still outside, but...) and the fright factor is still there, in some sense at least.
The Woman in the Room
A son helps his ill mother to commit suicide with as much dignity as possible. Elegant and refined as this story certainly is, it doesn't do for me what most King does. When King is being touching, he often reduces me to tears. This story comes nowhere near, possibly because it's too... unemotional? Not quite, but close enough for government work, as Flagg might say.
Postscript (24/04/98) - Last time I read this, I was nearly in tears, and thought it was brilliant. Just goes to show...