October 11, 2019 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
While I did not enjoy “Jerusalem’s Lot” there were many other stories in Night Shift that I found much more engaging. I figure I should pick one more story from the collection to stand in for one of those tales. I was tempted to discuss “Graveyard Shift” (aka blue-collar “The Rats in the Walls”), “Children of the Corn” (more frightening having driven through several Midwestern states on the way to college), or even “The Mist” (until I realized that was in Skeleton Crew). Today I thought I might talk about one of the lesser-known stories (at least as far as I know, as a non-King scholar) “Strawberry Spring“.
The link above has a nice summary of the story – in a nutshell: a man reminisces about a spate of murders on his college campus eight years ago during a false spring (the titular “Strawberry Spring”) that blanketed the campus is a heavy fog. The killer, dubbed “Springheel Jack”, was never caught. In the present day the narrator, now a professor at the same college (I think?) is unnerved by the return of the same foggy false-spring, as another student has been killed, he can’t remember where’s he’s been, and he feels a compulsion not to look in the trunk of his car.
There isn’t much too the story, plot wise. The focus is on mood and setting – the foggy campus, the fear that the killings inspired and somehow were made worse by. It is memorable to me for two reasons. The first is I recall when I started the story thinking to myself “I bet the narrator is the killer” and, despite that being my base assumption, still feeling a deep sense of unease when I finished the story. Well done, Steve.
The second element that sticks with me is the fact that, when I left work that evening, I discovered that the whole of my campus was covered in a heavy fog. That, combined with the creepiness of the story, really gave me a chill. Well done, nature.
Finally, I always think of this story when I read about Spring-heeled Jack (thought not the electronica duo or ska band of that name). I’d come across “Jack” before, I think it was in a book on UFOs which suggested he was an alien. I don’t know if this story got me to read up more on Jack and similar figures (like the Mad Gasser of Mattoon or the Black Flash of Provincetown). I have never found a way to work a similar figure into a Call of Cthulhu scenario, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. Likewise, having an investigator realize that they’ve done something nightmarishly terrible sounds like a fun notion for a scenario, so long as you can get player buy-in.