“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.
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!