Skeleton Crew

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published February 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Raft all about?:

The Raft is about four college students who decide to celebrate the end of summer by swimming out to a raft on a remote lake. Unfortunately they come across a monstrous entity that puts an end to summer in a way they never could have expected.

What did I think?:

So, it’s Stephen King. If you haven’t been here before, I’m a bit of a fan. However, I like to think that I am perfectly honest when I think he hasn’t written a brilliant story – case in point, The Wedding Gig, also from this collection which I gave a shocking two stars. Luckily, Stephen King was back on top form with this latest story from Skeleton Crew, The Raft, which has to be one of my all time favourites of short fiction that he has written. It has everything you could ever want from a horror story and this is definitely where he gets his (often not accurate) reputation as a horror writer as this story is truly horrific. Not for the weak of stomach, I wouldn’t recommend this story for anyone who gets queasy at the thought of elaborate death scenes.

We have four college students – Randy, Deke, Rachel and LaVerne who are all drinking and having a good time at the end of summer. After a bit too much booze, they decide it would be a great idea to drive to a remote lake nearby and swim out to a raft placed in the middle of the lake. The boys are both having a relationship with the girls and a lot of it is posturing and ego but in the end, all four decide it would be a good idea even if Randy (whose perspective we hear from the most) is starting to regret the decision. Well, wise old Randy was right to be tentative because as the teenagers strip down to their underwear and one by one swim out to the raft, he notices a strange dark puddle in the water. It’s almost like an oil slick with a rainbow of colours amidst the darkness.

This is no ordinary oil slick however. It appears to malevolently come after the girls as they are swimming towards the raft. Of course, Randy’s fears are laughed at by the rest of the group but not for long as Rachel, transfixed by the colours in the darkness is compelled to topple into the water and is immediately gobbled up, albeit very slowly, limb by limb by the “oil slick.” This is now very dangerous territory for the group. They cannot swim to the shore as the oil slick is too fast and would engulf them. They cannot call for help as they are in a very remote area with little likelihood of someone coming by. They cannot even look at the oil slick for too long as the colours seem to have a hypnotic effect, inducing them to fall into the water and face certain death. This story is not likely to end well!

The Raft is Stephen King at his absolute greatest. As always with his writing, it’s not just a horrific event occurring. He really delves into the relationships between the members of the group – the bro-mance between Randy and Deke and the suggestion that ladies man Deke is also making a play for Randy’s own girlfriend which puts their friendship on very shaky grounds. As if they didn’t have enough to deal with coping with a carnivorous oil slick!! I did mention before though that the death scenes are incredibly graphic and I must emphasise that again. Anybody who doesn’t like too much blood and gore is definitely not going to get on well with this story. Strong stomach required! The only part that didn’t sit well with me is near the end of the story where Randy and LaVerne, overwhelmed with emotion, have sex with each other on the raft while the oil slick lurks nearby, awaiting its opportunity to strike. It didn’t strike me as realistic or necessary at all and made me roll my eyes slightly – for shame, Stephen King! It is my only gripe with the story mind you, but because of that, I sadly can’t give it the full five star treatment (otherwise it certainly would be) 🙂

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part One

Published January 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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Its a new year and time for some more short stories. I usually do short stories in three month blocks however I’ve been struggling to keep up with this so instead of calling this post January to March I shall call it Part One and see how I get on! This is what I’ll be reading in the first half of 2017:

The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Faithful Lovers by Margaret Drabble from the collection The Story: Love Loss & The Lives Of Women

Double Room by Ramsey Campbell from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page

The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Short Stories Challenge – Paranoid: A Chant by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published April 28, 2016 by bibliobeth

8144104What’s Paranoid: A Chant all about?:

In Paranoid: A Chant we get a frightening look into the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic as they tell us all the reasons why they don’t go outside the house any more.

What did I think?:

When I first had a quick look at this, the next story in Skeleton Crew and in my Short Stories Challenge I have to admit to feeling a bit of trepidation. I could see that it was a bit of a departure from Stephen King’s usual style, being a poem rather than a short story/novel and I have to be honest, when I first read it, I didn’t really find much to shout from the rooftops about. As a result it took a few readings before I began to appreciate the point that King was trying to get across.

The poem itself is one hundred lines long and one of the most interesting things about it is that it ends in a very similar vein to the way it begins:

“I can’t go out no more, There’s a man by the door, in a raincoat, smoking a cigarette.”

From the very start, the reader is propelled into the paranoid thoughts and delusions of someone who appears to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. We play the role of confidant as our narrator explains all the reasons (perfectly logical to them, of course) why they believe that someone is after them and wants them dead. The voice is in fact so convincing that you wouldn’t be a complete fool for thinking that this person might actually be speaking the truth! They have kept a very extensive log of events that have happened which convinces them that they are being targeted and it is only because some instances appear so ridiculous that we then understand we are in the mind of someone who is clearly mentally unwell.

For example, the woman upstairs who shoots rays down through her lights by means of an electric suction cup attached to her floor, the dog that is sent to the house with a radio cobweb in its nose, the waitress in the local diner who is planting arsenic and cyanide in the food and finally the man who climbs up through the toilet to spy – the giveaway being his big muddy hand prints all over the porcelain of course! All of these things and much more besides means that our narrator must now write down her findings in the cover of darkness and become a virtual recluse in her own home.

This is a really intriguing look at mental illness and a rather unexpected change in direction for Stephen King that once I got my head around, I did thoroughly enjoy. The author uses staccato sentences which are packed full of descriptive language to get the message of a very disturbed person across in a very effective way. As the poem reaches its finale, the madness of our narrator’s delusions only increase in intensity whilst becoming quite incoherent. For me, the reading experience was almost like watching a scary film as the music gets louder (and you just know something’s going to jump out!) or anticipating a car crash just before it happens and it was a roller-coaster ride that I whole-heartedly appreciated. For another experience of this quirky and unique little poem, I also recommend the short film that I happened to come across HERE where the poem is told in its entirety. I’d love to know your thoughts!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Still Life by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – January to March

Published January 9, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Image from http://quotes.lifehack.org/quote/ali-smith/short-stories-consume-you-faster-theyre-connected/

Hooray for a new year and more short stories! This is what I’ll be reading for the first three months of 2016.

Week beginning 4th January 2016

Duet by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 11th January 2016

The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer by John Ajvide Lindqvist from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Week beginning 18th January 2016

Dreams In The Witch-House by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 25th January 2016

Enough Of This Shit Already by Tony Black from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Week beginning 1st February 2016

Stars Of Motown Shining Bright by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 8th February 2016

Charm For A Friend With A Lump by Helen Simpson from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 15th February 2016

Paranoid: A Chant by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 22nd February 2016

Still Life by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Week beginning 29th February 2016

Notes From The House Spirits by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Week beginning 7th March 2016

How I Finally Lost My Heart by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives Of Women

Week beginning 14th March 2016

The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove

Week beginning 21st March 2016

The Adventure Of The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 28th March 2016

Choke Collar: Positron, Episode Two by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge – The Wedding Gig by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published November 2, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Wedding Gig all about?:

This story is told from the point of view of a cornet player in the Roaring Twenties in prohibition America. His band are asked to play what will become one of the strangest gigs of their lives.

What did I think?:

I’ve been discovering a lot since I started my Short Stories Challenge a couple of years ago, mainly that writers I love (like Mr Stephen King) are not perfect. Not every story is going to captivate, amuse or move me and sometimes I have to swallow that bitter pill of disappointment and hope that the next story in the collection will be better. The Wedding Gig was one of those stories for me unfortunately. It is set in the Jazz Age in 1920’s America and our narrator is a cornet player in a band who is telling us about the strangest gig the band ever played.

Our narrator is approached by a small time criminal called Mike Scollay in a speakeasy where his band are playing a set. He is well aware of Mike’s reputation but is surprised when he asks him if his band would play an event very dear to his heart – his sister’s wedding. He is prepared to give them two hundred dollars for the gig, a lot of money in those days and our narrator is curious as to why he is offering that much. There are two reasons, the first is that a man Mike refers to as “the Greek,” has been trying to get rid of him and there may be trouble at the event and the second reason is that his sister is a rather large lady and he wants our narrators band to play so loud that it may muffle any giggles that could arise in the crowd.

So the band play, trouble does arise and chaos ensues. It’s a decent enough read but I couldn’t help but think where on earth was he going with all of this? It makes quite uncomfortable reading at times as he touches fairly lightly on racism and there’s a bit of gang violence. Even though these are quite obviously abhorrent behaviours, the thing that made me most uncomfortable was the depiction of Mike’s sister, Maureen (which was perhaps the point of the story?).

“And had Scollay said she was fat? Brother, that was like saying you could buy a few things in Macy’s. She was a human dinosaur – three hundred and fifty pounds if she was one. It had all gone to her bosom and hips and butt and thighs, like it usually does on fat girls, making what should be sexy grotesque and frightening instead. Some fat girls have pathetically pretty faces, but Scollay’s sis didn’t even have that. Her eyes were too close together, her mouth was too big, and she had jug-ears. Then there were the freckles. Even thin she would have been ugly enough to stop a clock – hell, a whole show-window of them.”

It probably doesn’t help matters that her husband to be is as skinny as a rake so next to him she does appear larger in comparison. If King’s vision was to get the reader to feel horribly sorry for Maureen, he certainly did his job in that respect! It takes a bit of a turn towards the end which was slightly unexpected but felt entirely implausible so I had a bit of trouble connecting with it in the way in which I perhaps should have. Don’t get me wrong, some people will probably really “get” this story and I did appreciate what King was trying to do but this story just didn’t do anything for me personally.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Corrugated Dreaming by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

 

Short Stories Challenge 2015 – July to September

Published July 1, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another three months of short stories! This little lot should see me through into the autumn.

Week beginning 6th July

Small Degrees by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Week beginning 13th July

Airshow by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Week beginning 20th July

The Menace by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Breaking Point

Week beginning 27th July

Candia by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Week beginning 3rd August

Medicine by Michel Faber from the collection The

Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Week beginning 10th August

Necessary Women by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Week beginning 17th August

The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales

Week beginning 24th August

Tell Me I’ll See You Again by Dennis Etchison from the collection A Book of Horrors

Week beginning 31st August

The Whisperer in Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Week beginning 7th September

The Rat In The Attic by Brian McGilloway from the collection The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7

Week beginning 14th September

Care by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Week beginning 21st September

The Cat That Walked By Himself by Rudyard Kipling from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Week beginning 28th September

The Wedding Gig by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Short Stories Challenge – The Jaunt by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published June 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Jaunt all about?:

The Jaunt follows a family about three hundred years in the future on their re-location to Mars as the father tells the story of when teleportation was first discovered.

What did I think?:

I started this story with a bit of trepidation to be perfectly honest, even as a huge King fan as the last story I read from this collection – Mrs Todd’s Shortcut I wasn’t that crazy about and to my surprise I realised he has the power to disappoint me, a sentence I never thought I would be writing. The Jaunt is set around three hundred years in the future where the Oates family are waiting in a terminal, much like an airport but they are about to travel further then you could ever expect, to Mars. Mark Oates has just secured a new job there for a two year period and after long discussions with his wife, Marilys has decided to move the whole family with him. The whole family are nervous about the trip as this would be the children’s first “jaunt,” or teleportation, compulsory for visiting the planet.

To calm them down, Mark tells them the story of the man who first discovered teleportation was possible, a man called Victor Carune in 1987. At first, he carries out experiments on white mice but finds that each mouse that goes through the portal comes out the other side incredibly sick, weak and dies within minutes:

“Sensory input, he thought almost randomly. When they go through they see something – hear something – touch something – God, maybe even smell something – that literally kills them. What?”

After further investigations with his first human volunteers (who are actually criminals, usually arraigned for life) he learns that if humans go through the portals in an unconscious state, there is a better likelihood of survival on the other side. Survival is not one hundred percent assured however. There are rumours about one criminal who is offered a pardon if he comes out the other side intact with full mental faculties…. and well, he doesn’t.

The last thing Mark wants to do is frighten his family, after all he has made it through his Jaunt Jumps twenty-four times now, although we get a sense that he has not escaped the process without a few mental scars of his own. The Jaunt crew are walking through the terminal giving “the gas,” to all the passengers, making them slip into unconsciousness and even now he notes that some people are resisting or are completely terrified:

“Mark glanced to his right and saw the attendants talking to a timid-looking man, persuading him. At last he took the mask and seemed to fall dead on his couch seconds later. First-timer, Mark thought. You can always tell.”

I don’t want to say too much more about the story for those of you that haven’t read it but the ending was absolutely terrifying and will play on my mind for a while to come. I think Stephen King has written a brilliant piece of science fiction that sounds implausible in every way and your logical mind will instantly reject but makes you gibber and quake at the thought of it. Like H.P. Lovecraft, there’s a lot that is only hinted and and not really said but I think your imagination takes you beyond the boundaries of what he is suggesting – if that makes any sense! Mr King, you have renewed my faith in your writing, hurrah!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY : Camp Sundown by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank