8 Stephen-King-Inspired Short Stories I Intend to Write (Or Die Trying)

Like many people, I grew up reading Stephen King. Then I went to college where my literature professors pooh-poohed the Master of the Macabre. Still, I hold King in high regard because he was a part of my adolescence as much as Journey and Jordache Jeans were. Now, I’m older. I rarely listen to Journey, and I no longer wear Jordache Jeans. I am a writer which explains my aversion to fashion as well as bands that should have retired long ago. One difficulty in being a writer, at least for me, is that there just isn’t enough time to get down on paper all the stories that create a tempest in my head 24-7-365. So, I’m starting lists. The following is one such list: eight short stories inspired by Stephen King that I intend to write one day.

1. The Thing In the Basement: A tale concerning a man named Dale Cobb who returns to his elderly parents’ home to find an old bicycle behind the furnace. Dale’s parents are hoarders. They have kept all of his belongings, including the old bicycle upon which a much younger Dale nearly killed himself several times. After reliving four such near-death episodes in flashback, the adult Dale takes the bicycle out for a ride. Since it’s a King-inspired story, it will, inevitably, be Dale’s last bike ride.

 2. Floor 666: High-powered art dealer Roland Joyce finally leases the office space he’s always wanted, but he’s not the only tenant on his floor. Across the hall from Joyce’s practice is an export firm: INRI, LTD. Joyce thinks he knows who runs the mysterious export firm, and he’s not about to be upstaged by the Jewish carpenter across the hall.

 3. Bareback Tough Guys: The afterlife is hard, even for literary greats Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer. This is a tale about what happens when bitter men let love lead the way. This one will be a tough sell, what with all the ensuing depravity borne from pent-up frustrations.  

 4. Clean-Up in Aisle 9: Did I mention the man-love tryst between Hemingway and Mailer in the afterlife takes place inside a supermarket at night? Well, it does. Linoleum, as it turns out, is a natural stimulant for the dead. This tale would be Part II of Bareback Tough Guys. Each morning Randy Wentzer, the supermarket manager, gets to work early to find a mysterious substance in aisle 9. Naturally, he blames his lethargic overnight shift employees for the ectoplasmic bio-hazard.  

 5. Luck Be A Lizard Tonight: Joe Flagstaff, a degenerate gambler, meets a mysterious woman who gives him an invite to a high-stakes card game. When Flagstaff arrives at the address the woman gave him, he soon discovers that the players are all out of this world. No one plays for money. What’s at stake is Flagstaff worthless life, and one of the aliens at the table has taken a particular shine to the human player.

 6. Balls to the Wall: German heavy metal stars Eisen Hog visit an old castle in Bavaria for a photo shoot only to find a ghostly festival in-progress. Before the night is over, Eisen Hog members must dance the Schuhplattler or face an eternity among the castle’s ghostly inhabitants. Sharing in a rich tradition of folk dance would seem an honor, but not for these metal heads. They couldn’t slap their own shoes if their lives depended on it.

 7. Southie-pocalypse: An army facility is compromised by home-grown terrorists. In the wake of the attack, a manufactured virus seeps from its damaged container and spreads across country. Before long, even the most well-articulated, intelligent people turn into wicked igits.

 8. A Prickly Pear: A fruit vendor unwittingly sells an exotic fruit rumored to contain natural aphrodisiacs that is grown on land that was once a potter’s field where the criminally insane were buried. Before long, customers discover that the pears shoot poisonous darts into their mouths. Hilarity ensues.

Throwing Stars and Dreams: Or, How I Almost Joined a Kung Fu Temple Instead of Going to College

It was the best of times, it was an era when kung fu movies were outrageously bad, a period in which soundtrack for these movies meant one guy banging a gong, or, if budget permitted, perhaps two gongs. Sound effects for breaking bones in a fight scene consisted of one guy (maybe the gong guy) breaking a bamboo shoot over his knee…

I was fifteen years old, so I began the story over dinner tonight. I had a few close friends and we were enamored with all things martial arts related. Eight years had passed since the death of Bruce Lee. We read everything we could about the master, from the Tao of Jeet Kune Do to his four-volume Fighting Methods. We wanted to look like Bruce Lee. We wanted to be Bruce Lee.

bruce lee

And then we practiced. Oh, how we practiced. And by practiced I mean getting our asses kicked by a guy who was two years older than us in our neighborhood who was far more skilled than we were. For the sake of anonymity, we will call him “Matt.” He played drums, wrestled in high school, played football, concocted various poisons by placing meat in little jars and waited for them to rot, then dipped his blow gun darts into the poison and often hunted squirrels and other small targets armed with only his cunning and his blow gun. It was a learning experience; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which getting kicked in the balls by “Matt” so hard your nut sack turned black and blue meant you could take it. He may have even administered a concussion or two; but it took some time to learn the importance of bobbing and weaving when you stood toe to toe with Matt; so, in essence, that was our fault. I liked to think that Bruce Lee would have agreed.

My better half listened as I told the tale of how my friends and I discovered a martial arts supply store in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia. Inspired by some half-ass movie we had watched, my friends rode a bus into Philadelphia. We bought some throwing stars which, rumor had it, were illegal in New Jersey. The guy at the martial arts supply store had to be sure we were not buying them and taking them over the bridge.

“You live in Philadelphia?” he asked in an abrupt sort of way.

“Uh…sure,” one of us said.

“You no throw at people?” the guy asked.

“Um…no…” I may have mumbled.

It never occurred to us that we might actually throw a “Chinese star” at someone else.

That afternoon, we returned to our neighborhood in southern New Jersey. We started practice, throwing the stars at a shed where my father kept our lawn mower stored in the backyard. It was tough getting the hang of throwing metal objects with eight pointed sides. When they didn’t hit right they rang like tiny cymbals and fell into the grass. When they struck true, they left small holes in the shed wall.

My father, who was tolerant if not mesmerized by my fascination with martial arts, watched us from a kitchen window. He was not happy about us tearing down his shed “one little nick at a time,” as he put it. “Why don’t you throw them at trees?” he asked. And then, alone, there was a lecture concerning the physics of mowing a lawn, a rotating blade, and a throwing star lost in the grass as it related to an innocent bystander like my little sister or her friends. I remember thinking that Bruce Lee would not have approved of our hasty decision making. Also, Bruce Lee was a dad, too; so, he would have sided with my father.

I was devastated. Then, a few days later, a remedy. My father gave me a chunk of plywood to nail to the exterior of the shed. My mother shook her head in dismay. She was convinced that we would miss the shed completely and perhaps strike our neighbor’s kid, or their dog, even the cat that often sat in the grass at the fence that divided our two yards, trying to make sense of young white kids in funny kung fu pants that predated the MC Hammer craze by a few years, tossing shiny metal objects at an already deteriorating shed.

“Wait,” my other half Jess said tonight. “How did you know where to buy these throwing stars? How did you learn about the supply store in Chinatown?”

“Maybe Black Belt Magazine,” I told her. “Or Inside Kung Fu Magazine which was one of my favorites. Or maybe even in the back of Soldier of Fortune Magazine.”

Jess developed that bemused expression the way she always did when I introduced some part of my past she did not know.

“This was the literature of our trade, my love,” I told her.

Anyway, several months later, I learned that the martial arts supply store in Philadelphia carried screwdriver-tip throwing stars. As nuisance weaponry technology goes, the addition of the screwdriver-tip was to the throwing star what WWII German rocket science was to flight.

The old shed at home would not do. For that, I am sure my father was grateful. At night I had visions as I bordered somewhere between sleep and dreaming of chucking the screwdriver-tipped star so hard it would cut through the plywood I had nailed to the shed’s exterior. I needed something better.

In a weird, synchronous way, I discovered that one of my other friends, we will call him “Bob,” had purchased the same screwdriver-tip throwing star. Bob’s dad was a karate instructor in some western Pennsylvania town whose humble claim to fame was beating Billy Blanks of Tae Bo fame in a tournament fight. In our eyes, Bob’s dad was a god; though we never got the chance to meet him since Bob’s parents were divorced.

Bob and I met up one night near a school that had just installed a new trailer outside that would be used as additional office space or a classroom. The trailer had aluminum siding on the outside. You know what cuts throw aluminum siding? Screwdriver-tipped throwing stars. Bob and I had a good time that night. But after perforating the siding on the trailer for about an hour we grew bored and went our separate ways. Days later, rumors circulated among teens in my town that the police were after the vandal who was stabbing school trailers with a screwdriver.

That was a long time ago. None of us ever came close to looking like Bruce Lee. I spent that summer doing handstand push-ups which used to make my little sister laugh. When my father heard me accidentally kick a wall in our house (I never dared attempt to handstand push-up without support) he caught me in mid handstand push-up and mumbled something about joining the circus instead of going to college.

Not long after that, I read an article from Inside Kung Fu magazine that provided an in-depth look at the Wah Lum Kung Fu Temple in Florida. Students willing to pay tuition plus room and board could stay there full-time and study under a master. The cost of the school was no more than the going rate for tuition at Rutgers University at the time. I was sixteen years old when I read that article. I shared it with my friend Joe. We were going to forgo college and live the life of kung fu monks in Florida; never mind that neither of us had ever been to the sunshine state.

“Hey, dad,” I said one night after dinner. “There’s this kung fu school in Florida that is kind of like a college and–“

“No,” he replied.

That was, as they say, the end of it. We never talked about the Wah Lum Kung Fu Temple again.