Yesterday was my second of two twelve hour days this week at work. I am so tired this morning. Yesterday, after working twelve hours on Tuesday, I got up at seven to meet Wacky Russian at eight, came home and answered emails and did the dishes and started laundry before heading to the office, where I had non-stop clients all day until it was time to walk to the Pub for bar-testing before walking back to the office and driving home.
Oy. Despite a good night’s sleep I am still tired, and my brain is a little fried. I don’t have to go to the office until 4:30, so I have a nice relaxing day of writing and editing and cleaning before I venture down there, but right now all I need is caffeine.
Lots and lots of caffeine.
Today’s short story is one of Stephen King’s that I read again recently. Stephen King is a great short story writer; I didn’t really read short stories when I was a kid other than the ones we were forced to read in classes until Night Shift came out. I also thought, at the time, “ugh, short stories” but I was a big King fan after the first three novels and so I thought, ah, what the hell, why not read his stories? I didn’t much care for the first story in the collection, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which, because of the title, I thought was going to have something to do with the novel (which I loved, and still do love), but it didn’t. I put the book down after that, and it wasn’t until later that for some reason I idly picked it up and read the next story, “Graveyard Shift,” which creeped me the hell out…and I kept reading.
Burt turned the radio on too loud and didn’t turn it down because they were on the verge of another argument and he didn’t want it to happen. He was desperate for it not to happen.
Vicky said something.
“What?” he shouted.
“Turn it down! Do you want to break my eardrums?”
He bit down hard on what might have come through his mouth and turned it down.
Vicky was fanning herself with her scarf even though the T-Bird was air-conditioned. “Where are we, anyway?”
She gave him a cold, neutral look. “Yes, Burt. I know we’re in Nebraska, Burt. But where the hell are we?”
“You’re got the road atlas. Look it up. Or can’t you read?”
And with that, the story “Children of the Corn” is off and running. The story, which is, indeed, a short story–in the collection it accounts for a whopping 29 pages–was originally published in Penthouse, back in the glory days when magazines not only published short stories, they also paid very well for them (sobs softly to self). It seems odd that a short story spawned a movie franchise (ten at last count; I am sure it’s due for a reboot soon), but there’s another story in this collection that was filmed as well–“Trucks” became Maximum Overdrive, directed by Stephen King himself and it had an awesome AC/DC soundtrack. I didn’t think the movie was that terrible, but it’s apparently considered one of the worst movies of all time. I haven’t, of course, watched it in years, and when I did see it I was stoned out of my gourd (which may have been why I liked it). But I digress.
“Children of the Corn” isn’t my favorite Stephen King story; it’s not even my favorite story in this particular collection (that would be “The Last Rung on the Ladder”), but it’s a damned good story, and what King manages to accomplish in those 29 or so pages is quite remarkable. Burt and Vicky are a couple whose marriage is falling apart, and in one last attempt to save their marriage, decide to drive across the country together to a family wedding on the west coast. (Which, of course, is a truly terrible idea; at least to me. Paul and I rarely argue, even more rarely get angry with each other–but going on a long drive together in a car definitely puts us both on edge and we end up bickering a bit. Nothing serious, nothing bad–but it still happens. If Paul and I were on the verge of breaking up, the worst thing I could think of to do was going on a long cross country drive together. I don’t know, maybe it would work for some couples; anything is possible. But…BAD IDEA.) They got lost somewhere in Nebraska, and as they try to figure out where they are in Nebraska, Burt turns his attention away from the road and hits something–something Vicky insists is a little boy. They stop the car…and the fun starts. They are near a small town called Gatlin–and as they examine the boy’s body they realize he was dead before they hit him.
It’s a great set-up; a classic trope in horror stories–traveling strangers come across something unexpected and horrible, and then have to stop whatever it is/escape whatever it is/do something; the theme of course being survival. Usually in these types of stories, the author will have the disparate group–or couple–get past their differences in order to work together; what makes this story so genius is Burt and Vicky’s conflict, no matter what happens to them in Gatlin, Nebraska, never really goes very far away. They still annoy each other, are still annoyed with each other. For me, that makes the story resonate more and makes it more realistic; it was also the first time that a young Greg read such a story where the conflict between the characters wasn’t overcome by the need to survive.
One of the reasons I always loved Stephen King, and thought he was a great writer (long before the literati came around, if they ever did) was because he made his stories–and his characters–so real; the characters always seemed like people you actually knew, and he peeled back the layers and the facades so you could see their reality. It was a lot of fun to reread the story for Short Story Month; and I promise, Constant Reader, that as soon as I finish the two projects I am working on I will read some new stories to discuss with you.
In honor of “Children of the Corn”, here are some hunky farmers.