Gray Matter (1973) by Stephen King

“Gray Matter” first appeared in the magazine Cavalier in October 1973. It’s taken from Stephen King’s first collection, Night Shift (1978), which contains twenty of his earliest short stories. These stories were originally published between 1970 and 1977. This collection includes Children of the Corn, Quitters Inc., The Lawnmower Man, Trucks, The Ledge, Jerusalem’s Lot, and more.

Cavalier Magazine

My Summary & Thoughts on “Gray Matter”

A young boy runs into a 24-hour convenience store during a heavy snowstorm. He looks terrified and asks the owner, Henry, to sell him a case of beer for his father. Henry and the two locals in the store know the boy well. He is Richie Grenadine’s son Timmy, and his father often sends him to buy his beer, making sure it’s the cheapest beer in the store. Richie used to come and buy it himself until fairly recently.

Henry calms the boy down and listens to what he’s got to say in private. After hearing his story, Henry and a couple of the locals decide to deliver the beer to Richie personally. On their way to Richie’s home, Henry tells the others what the poor boy had told him. A few weeks ago, his father had drunk a “bad” can of beer and since then had been acting strange. He stopped going out and refused to let young Timmy turn on the lights in the apartment. He even blocked the windows with blankets to stop the daylight coming in.

The men arrive at Richie’s home and demand he comes out to receive the case of beer. There is a horrible smell leaking out of the apartment and the three men start to fear the worst when Richie suddenly opens the door. What confronts them sends two of the men running for their lives, leaving Henry reaching for his gun.

This short story was a gruesome and creepy blast! It had a Lovecraftian feel to it in that one of the main characters is going through a physically repulsive transformation. Added to that is the fact that you can almost hear the dice hit the floor as the men who confront Richie make desperate metaphorical sanity rolls as they come face-to-face with the thing on the doorstep. My God, that ending!

“Gray Matter” reminded me why I used to enjoy reading Stephen King; especially in the shorter format. My recent reading of the incredibly bloated It made me wonder if I’d ever read his books again. I’m glad I picked up Night Shift and found this body horror-filled little gem–only fourteen pages long! Of course, it’s completely bonkers and requires you suspend your disbelief and just go with the flow of the narrative. But I don’t care because I had some flesh-creeping fun with this story. Perfect for a dark, rainy autumn night. (*Not for the squeamish!)

Thanks for reading!

20 thoughts on “Gray Matter (1973) by Stephen King

  1. I’m really interested in studying Mr. Kings early works. I find that he is a very diverse author and sort of ebbs and flows with different techniques, etc. I have read stuff I really didn’t like and then he always surprises me when I try again. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not read this one yet. I pulled Night Shift out a couple weeks ago thinking I might attack it this month. Not sure if I will, but I’d like to at some point. I really enjoyed most of his books I’ve read but I haven’t finished anything by him in a couple decades. I tried reading Duma Key a couple years back but couldn’t get into it. Maybe the better place to start is his earlier short work, like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t read any of his recent books, either. The length, and King’s seemingly stubborn refusal to edit himself, always put me off. Short stories are a great way of revisiting an author you used to read. And I would recommend at least 5 or 6 from Night Shift. If you are familiar with the movie Cat’s Eye, three of the stories adapted in that movie are in this book. Quitters Inc. and The Ledge are really worth reading. Plus, they are not out and out horror stories. Whereas Gray Matter is horror at its most stomach-turning!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve not read any of his recent shorter work but do have a number of his older anthologies (Night Shift, Different Seasons, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes). And I recently picked up the novellas Apt Pupil and The Sun Dog, though I was a little disappointed to realize Apt Pupil was also in Different Seasons… oh well. And it looks like several other stories in Night Shift became movies (Children of the Corn, Lawnmower Man, Sometimes They Come Back, The Mangler, Graveyard Shift). Seems Night Shift ended up being very successful for him. Most of the King I read was when younger, not sure how that might affect me enjoying it now versus then. It might have been my favorite. I also enjoyed The Stand, Misery, Pet Sematary, Christine, and I think I read most or all of Skeleton Crew. Misery was pretty good. Not sure if any of those will work as well for you as they did for me back then.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks so much for the recommendations, Todd. I remember reading Nightmares & Dreamscapes and I think I’ve also read Skeleton Crew. My King reading phase began with Misery and The Tommyknockers in 1987. I read The Dark Half when that came out in 1989, and followed that with Four Past Midnight (1990). After Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993) I didn’t read anything by him for a while. I’ve often heard people rate Pet Semetary highly as one of his scariest stories, so it’s on the list.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. His short stories sure do sound like a lot of fun. I barely know what his best short stories are but it’s good to know that Gray Matter is one of those. The only King book I’ve read so far is the first book in his Dark Tower series (Gunslinger) and I still need to continue on with that series hahaha Do you have a favourite King story/series? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve only read a small part of his prolific output so it’s hard to say which stories are his best. I really enjoyed his first two short story collections, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. They seem to get a lot of praise from readers and reviewers, too. I will have to let you know about a “favourite” King story as none are springing to mind right now.๐Ÿค” I do think it’s worth reading his first book, Carrie, to see how it all started. As I remember, it’s a good story well told that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

    • One of his stories that has most stuck with me was The Mist, the first story in Skeleton Crew. The movie was based on it, but I preferred the story. And I’ve always wanted to read The Body (from Different Seasons), the story that the movie Stand By Me was based on. He’s so great at telling stories of kids. For books my favorite was probably It, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that first, it’s so long and the ending was a little disappointing. If you like human-based horror then Misery was great. If you prefer more supernatural horror then Pet Sematary was great (another with kids).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Funny that you mentioned Stand by Me! I saw the movie recently and loved that story. Still stunned that Stephen King was behind the story of it, considering what he prefers doing to kids in general! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ve only read the first book in his Dark Towers series and it shows that he can handle kids quite well. I look forward to the day that I can make time for his larger classics though! Your reccs are noted! Thanks for sharing, Todd! ๐Ÿ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Mist is a great story. I also enjoyed the film version; quite rare for its rejection of a “happy ending”. I read The Body some years ago so my memory of it is not 100%. I love the film adaptation of that one, too! Misery is also an excellent adaptation.

        Like

  4. Pingback: Top Reads of 2020 | Who's Dreaming Who

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s