Stephen King is a name in horror literature that pretty much everyone has heard of. Some would say he’s the most important horror writer of the 20th-century. Others would say that his work has been a mixed bag with his earlier novels being his strongest run as an author and the second-half of his career being just ok.
One thing he cannot be accused of is taking his time between books early in his career. This man was as prolific a writer as George R.R. Martin is glacial with his own literary turn-out. Even before he was finally able to publish his first novel with Carrie, Stephen King had written hundreds of short stories with some of them being published under a pseudonym in men’s magazines of the time or later on in his career as the public clamored for more Stephen King tales.
One such short story would be included in Night Shift. This collection would be the first of many. It would be in this collection that he pens a very quick, but very frightening tale of events that occurred after the end of his second published novel, ‘Salem’s Lot (recently reviewed by our very own Lisa).
“One for the Road” occurs many years after a huge fire tore through the town of ‘Salem’s Lot, Maine. The short story is told by one of the elder fixtures of Falmouth, Maine. A town that straddles the town of Jerusalem’s Lot. While the surrounding and neighboring towns and it’s residents never outright say what continues to haunt and stalk the burnt and abandoned town of ‘Salem’s Lot, they silently acknowledge to themselves just what happened to it’s people.
The story’s told first-person through elder Falmouth native Booth as he sits in the local bar owned by his friend Herb Tookey. Set in the depths of a hard, New England winter, we see the third character in this narrative arrive near-to-death freezing in family man Gerald Lumley whose family car broke down some miles from the bar in the driving snow.
Soon enough Booth and Herb hear this family man’s sad tale of leaving his wife and daughter in the broke down car while he went for help. It’s only when Gerald Lumley mentions having his car break down near the outskirts of a town called Jerusalem’s Lot that the two elderly patron and proprietor reluctantly help the distraught father in trying to get back to his family.
The rest of the story is a master-class in Stephen King building up the tension and dread at what the two Falmouth natives think they might find once they get back to the Lumley car. King allows the mood and unspoken horrors that these locals know to drive the mounting danger both physical and spiritual that these men have awaiting them at the outskirts of what the locals call The Lot.
For his later predilection to being too focused on world building the settings of his later novels, King shows that he’s still a master at maximizing the limited time a short story format allows a writer to create an experience for the reader as rich and satisfying as his massive epic novels.
“One for the Road” is a terrifying quick tale that gives readers of his ‘Salem’s Lot novel to find out what happened to the area once that novel ended. While the protagonists of both the novel and this short story do end up doing the right thing when presented with evil it also shows that both stories buy into King pointing out that evil never goes away. One could only contain it and once in awhile it creeps out to stalk and frighten.