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10 Stephen King Short Stories That Tricked Readers
Stephen King is considered one of the most successful and influential writers in history, with more than thirty of his books becoming number one bestsellers. Since the publication of his first book in 1974, King has dominated the fiction market, with many of his stories turned into popular movies and TV shows.
Although his novels might have gained him his first accolades, the author has also published novella and short story collections containing some of his best-known works. Both Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption were based on King novellas, and the Children of the Corn franchise has spawned nine films!
Perhaps due to the shorter format, King’s short stories and novellas have contained some of his most surprising twists. Shocked readers expect one thing only to be caught off guard by something completely unexpected. Here are ten examples of shocking twists in Stephen King’s novellas and short stories.
10 “Under the Weather”
The Stephen King collection Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a number one New York Times bestseller, contains twenty-one short stories and poems. One of them, “Under the Weather,” starts out simply with a middle-aged man preparing for another day at the office. His wife is still in bed, not feeling well, so the protagonist, Brad Franklin, writes her a note and leaves for work. While at the office, Brad thinks about his wife and her heart condition. His memory of the time she said if she died, he would use his imagination to pretend she was still alive foreshadows what is really going on.
Receiving a call from the building superintendent about a bad smell coming from his apartment, Brad returns home and finds his dog licking her chops and his wife’s hand partially eaten. Although the story starts with the reader believing the wife was merely sick, she was, in fact, dead the entire time. After considering the quiet, normal pace of the opening, the ending comes as a tragic shock.
9 “Blockade Billy”
Also from Bazaar of Bad Dreams, “Blockade Billy” reads like an entertaining baseball tale until it takes a dark turn. It was also released as a stand-alone novella.
An elderly man is reminiscing about baseball player Billy Blakely, who he coached many years before. At first, King presents the story like a folksy reminiscence, but then hints of darkness start popping up. Eventually, the narrator reveals that Billy is an imposter named Eugene Katsanis. Katsanis, a former worker on the Blakely farm, had murdered the entire family and posed as Billy so he could play baseball. 
8 “Strawberry Spring”
Night Shift, the first short story collection King published, came out in 1978. The book contains several well-known tales, including one that shows his ability to create excellent unreliable narrators. Unreliable narrators are stories told from the point of view character who is, for varying reasons, not telling the truth. Whether due to intentional deception, mental illness, or something else, the narrator cannot be trusted to reveal the facts.
The unnamed protagonist of “Strawberry Spring” is definitely unreliable. In the story, the narrator talks about a strange time in his life, eight years earlier, when he was a student. In a rare weather phenomenon known as a Strawberry Spring, a serial killer nicknamed Springheel Jack stalked his college campus. As the character relates the crimes, attributing them to someone else, he reminisces about how strange and magical that mysterious, foggy season was. But it is not until he reveals that both the Strawberry Spring and Springheel Jack have returned that the reader realizes the serial killer is the unreliable narrator himself!
7 “The Boogeyman”
Night Shift also contains a story called “The Boogeyman,” which was made into a film for Hulu in 2022. In the original work, Lester Billings is talking with a psychiatrist about the tragic deaths of his three children. Doctor Harper, the point-of-view character, listens to Billings describe how his children were killed by a boogeyman. Although the reader suspects Billings murdered his own kids, the conclusion of the story offers another possibility.
At the end of the appointment, Billings leaves but quickly comes back and sees a rotting creature holding a Doctor Harper mask. The reader is left to decide what really happened. Was the doctor, indeed, a boogeyman, or are we being deceived by Billings, who has become the narrator at the end of the tale—possibly an unreliable one?
6 Nightmares and Dreamscapes Duo
Nightmares and Dreamscapes was released in 1993 and contained twenty-four works. The book had such a wealth of stories that the TNT network made a miniseries based on several of them. King has written more than one story featuring people who come to a strange new town and fall into a nightmare, and there are two of them in Nightmares and Dreamscapes. “You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band” features a young couple who end up in what is literally a rock-and-roll heaven populated by dead rock stars.
In “Rainy Season,” a young couple moves to a small village in Maine, where they look forward to their new start. On their arrival, some of the townspeople warn them that the rainy season is coming that night and the couple should leave and come back the next day. They scoff at the warnings, believing they are being pranked, and decide to stay. The skies do open up that night, but raindrops are not what fall down. Instead, fat, sharp-toothed, violent frogs drop from the sky. They invade the house and eventually kill the couple. An amphibian invasion from the sky is definitely not what the reader would expect from any author other than Stephen King.
Another story from Nightmares and Dreamscapes, “Popsy,” takes a child kidnapping case and turns it completely upside down to a gruesomely satisfying ending. The narrator, Sheridan, is not unreliable. In fact, he is remarkably frank about the fact that he is looking for a child he can snatch. In severe debt, he pays his bills by kidnapping kids and delivering them into the hands of deviants. After grabbing a young boy, he ignores the child’s warnings that his Popsy will come and rescue him. But when he hears something land on the roof of his vehicle, he realizes he has underestimated Popsy. This grandfather is not the elderly man he had envisioned but is, instead, a creature of the night. Even vampires can love their grandchildren, and Popsy does. After flying to the rescue, he and his grandson enjoy feasting on Sheridan.
Interestingly, the film rights to “Popsy” were purchased by Pale Moon Cinema for $1.00 as part of the Stephen King Dollar Baby Program.
4 “L.T.’s Theory of Pets”
“Popsy” was not the only Stephen King story whose movie rights were sold for $1.00. “L.T.’s Theory of Pets” was licensed in the same way through the Stephen King Dollar Baby Program. The short story first appeared as an audio recording of King reading it before a live audience in London. Later, it appeared in print in the collection Everything’s Eventual.
Like many King stories, this one contains both humor and horror. The narrator talks about his good friend, L.T., and his battles with his wife over their pets, Lucy the cat and Frank the dog. Unlike some that start out light only to lead to a dark twist, this tale reverses that trend. The reader is told right up front that the wife, Lulubelle, is gone, likely murdered by a serial killer. Then the story transitions into a near comedy about the battles the couple had over the dog and cat before Lulu left.
So much time is spent on the humor of their pet battles, colored by L.T.’s laid-back storytelling style, that the reader nearly forgets what actually happened to Lulu and Frank. In the end, the reader gets the hard reminder. Lulu’s abandoned car was found in the desert, her dead dog nearby. Her fate is uncertain, but she is believed to have been the last victim of the serial killer known as the Axe Man.
3 “Autopsy Room Four”
Although the story “Autopsy Room Four” was filmed as part of the Nightmares and Dreamscapes miniseries for TNT, the story was actually printed in the collection Everything’s Eventual.
In this tale, the twist is not that the supposedly dead protagonist Howard Cottrell is actually alive; it is the way in which the medical examiner determines it. From the moment the story starts, we are aware that Howard is completely paralyzed and that he is in a very sticky situation. His inert body was found on a golf course, and an elderly doctor declared him deceased. In truth, he was bitten by a rare snake and is utterly paralyzed. A distracted doctor, a careless intern, some flirtation, and boredom lead to an autopsy that ends with a jolt. Because while Howard is desperately trying to think of a way to prove he is alive, he obtains an unlikely erection that the coroner simply cannot miss.
Unlike the protective vampire grandfather Popsy, the grandmother in “Gramma,” from Skeleton Crew, published in 1985, is anything but loving. After his father dies, eleven-year-old George and his family are forced to live with his grandmother. Huge, sickly, and bedridden, Gramma is a figure of fear and revulsion to the child, and he does his best to avoid her. But one evening, he is left alone with the old woman and must take care of her.
The tension mounts as the stormy evening goes on. As the reader wonders if the elderly woman will get up and attack her grandson, the boy realizes Gramma has died. Or has she? She suddenly starts moving and grabs the child. Gramma was a student of dark, occult magic, and she used her powers to steal her grandson’s body and use it for herself. The story ends with a very different George waiting for his family to get home so he can torment them.
1 “Morning Deliveries”
Another story from Skeleton Crew takes the reader on a wild ride-along with a disturbed, maniacal milkman. “Morning Deliveries” opens with a false sense of security as a typical street begins its day. All seems normal, with animals awakening, the breeze rustling, and dawn on the horizon. Down the road drives a Cramer’s Dairy truck; deliveryman Spike Mulligan is making his morning rounds.
Things start out normally, almost sweetly, until Spike reaches around the deadly nightshade to get to the orange juice. It is a throwaway word, a strange interjection, almost easy to miss. But things become quite clear when Spike leaves a tarantula instead of cream at the next house. He continues on his way, delivering acid, poison, and cyanide gas. Spike is last seen driving away in the bright sunshine as a little boy brings in the milk.