Last Monday (September 9th), I had to meet someone three blocks away from my house. There was blue sky overhead and it was stifling hot. As I don’t like to drive, I decided to walk. This was both a good and bad decision*. About a block and a half into my walk (maybe five minutes) the sky darkened and the temperature dropped, it started raining. The air ahead started to look funny – like it was snowing. And then I heard it. Hail is incredibly loud and, if caught out in it, it can be very painful. I was one and a half blocks from my destination when it hit. I ran as fast as I could (which, as I was essentially on an ice rink, was not very fast) to get inside. I was covered in small cuts and large welts (and later bruises), my shirt was torn and my shoes were ruined. I was absolutely drenched and a little bit scared. It was, by far, the craziest storm I’ve ever been caught in. This is coming from a person who once stupidly went surfing in a hurricane (Hurricane Bob, for the curious). Hail accumulated in three foot drifts, ranging in size from pebble to golf ball. After the storm passed and the air warmed, the area was covered in a dense, impenetrable fog. It was gorgeous and unnerving. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Later that same evening it started to rain and it hasn’t stopped yet**.
Inspired by the storms, the subsequent mist, and the pseudo-holiday (Friday the 13th), I picked up Skeleton Crew*** by Stephen King. The novella The Mist opens the collection of short stories and is one of my favorites by the author. It represents everything he does well – smalls towns, the everyman, the pervasive sense of dread. The story begins during an excruciating heat wave. Finally David Drayton, a lifetime Bridgton, Maine resident, sees storm clouds start to build across the lake. The clouds hint at a respite from the heat. Before long, David, his wife Steff, and their son Billy are huddled inside, weathering the storm in the safety of their basement. While Steff and Billy sleep, David is edgy and restless – drifting in and out of vivid nightmares. But, to his relief, the next morning is idyllic, save the storm debris. Soon 5 year old Billy notices a strange fog bank – ruler straight and moving against the wind – it’s oddly reminiscent of David’s nightmare. Coincidence, of course. David and Billy head to the grocery store to pick up supplies. The mist keeps coming – thick, impenetrable, and brilliantly white. As David, Billy, and neighbor Brent shop, the mist and its famished inhabitants overtake the grocery store. David, Billy, and the townspeople are left to fight the impossible – and each other.
The Mist is everything a horror novella should be – captivating, intense, and full of foreboding. Starting with David’s precognitive dreams and continuing with Mrs. Carmody’s madness, King creates an all consuming sense of dread. The concatenation of events is only unusual in its absolute ordinariness; a heat wave, a summer storm, a morning fog bank, a modern family, a trip to the grocery store. These things happen every day and it is this, perhaps, that make the events that follow so horrifying. Because even though the plot line is a mix of Lovecraft and Hitchcock (with a healthy dose of government conspiracy), the actions of the townsfolk are not beyond the realm of possibility. They’re plausible and it’s all the more disturbing for it. No one wants to imagine that they would be the one to crack. Yet most of the trapped residents do begin to lose their mind, the mist has a way of clouding their judgment. The novella is not perfect, there are an absurd amount of brand names referenced and an painfully ambiguous ending, but for once neither of those two things bothered me in the slightest. Although the ending is left wide open to interpretation, The Mist, in an almost unusual move for King, is hopeful – it is, in fact, rather monsterful (a more perfect word would be hard to come by). 5/5.
Frank Darabont, whom I generally enjoy, turned The Mist into a movie. The movie itself isn’t awful, but I hated, sincerely and thoroughly hated, the changed ending. The new ending was designed to be shocking and concrete, but I was more shocked by the cheapness of it than anything else. I found it hard to believe and unjustifiable. No matter the situation, more than 5 seconds of thought would be given to a decision such as that. That being said, most of the story translated well to film and the scenes in the fog were quite well done. However…Thomas Jane. He played David Drayton and I just wasn’t fond of the casting. 3.5/5
There is nothing but junk consumed in the novel, from powdered donuts and gatorade for breakfast to copious amounts of Pepsi and Beer. So of all those options, I’m going with the powdered donuts.
*My destination was downhill from my house, the cars parked there were almost completely buried in ice.
**The flooding in Colorado has been intense and extensive. I’ve been lucky and incurred only fixable damage.
***I like this collection of short stories as a whole. I particularly enjoyed The Raft and The Reach. The absolute worst of the bunch is Survivor Type.