Review

Review

Unearthing Buried Stephen King Stories: 'Weeds' and 'The Glass Floor'

up
40

King- Startling MysteriesBefore 1967, Stephen King was not a professional author.  Certainly he was a writer; according to his memoir On Writing, King had been writing since 1953, when he was six.  He’d also been published, sort of.  After a series of self-published works like People, Places, & Things (with friend Chris Chesley) and The Star Invaders, and stories in his brother’s newsletter, Dave’s Rag (Rush Call, Jumper), King placed stories (The 43rd Dream, Code Name: Mousetrap) in his high school newspaper, The Drum.  He achieved his greatest success in 1966 with I Was a Teenage Grave-Robber (later published as In a Half-World of Terror) in the fan publication, Comics Review.

In 1967, however, King made his first professional sale.  King’s short story, The Glass Floor, appeared in the sixth issue of Robert A.W. Lowndes’ pulp magazine, Startling Mystery Stories. Lowndes had made a name for himself in the realm of speculative fiction, previously editing famous magazines such as Future Science Fiction, Science Fiction Quarterly, and Magazine of Horror.  The authors that Lowndes compiled put King in good company: Startling Mystery Stories had published H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, and August Derleth, among other giants in the field.  King was paid $35 for his work.  Later, he said, “I’ve cashed bigger [checks] since then, but none gave me more satisfaction; someone had finally paid me some real money for something I had found in my head!”

More short stories followed, published largely by “men’s” magazines like Cavalier.  Then in 1974, King published Carrie, followed by Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and The Stand.  When it came time to put together his first short-story collection, Night Shift, King opted not to include The Glass Floor … a somewhat curious omission, given the fact that work published in his university’s literary publication, Ubris, had made the cut.  Years passed, and in 1985, King published a new collection of stories, Skeleton Crew.  This time, a story called The Reaper’s Image – King’s second (and final) sale to Startling Mystery Stories – joined the ranks of officially collected Stephen King stories.  Yet still no Glass Floor.

King's ShiversIn the fall of 1990, King relented – somewhat – and allowed the revived fantasy and horror magazine, Weird Tales, to republish The Glass Floor.  King’s newest short-works collection, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, appeared three years later … and The Glass Floor was nowhere to be found.  Even more alarmingly, King stated in his foreword, “All the good stories have now been collected; all the bad ones have been swept as far away under the rug as I could get them, and there they will stay.  If there is to be another publication, it will consist entirely of stories which have not as yet been written…

It was a blow to King readers who knew that there were other tales in King’s past, and not all of them were “bad.”  What about Night of the Tiger, which had been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1978?  Or The Cat From Hell?  Or the unpublished Squad D?

And what about The Crate and Weeds?  Unbeknownst to most King readers, even to fans of the anthology film Creepshow and its simultaneous graphic-novel adaptation illustrated by Berni Wrightson, King had previously published prose versions of both those stories. The Crate had appeared in 1979 in the men’s magazine, Gallery, and was subsequently included in the Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural (edited by Bill Pronzini), somewhat legitimizing the story.  Though King had never collected the story in one of his own books, at least it was in an actual horror collection, among greats like Poe, Stoker, Faulkner, Oates, and Capote.

Not so with Weeds, first published in 1976 in Cavalier under – maybe – the name “Will Be Necessary to Stop the Weeds” (it is frustratingly difficult to determine the legitimacy of this title; whether King intended the long, awkward name, whether it was a mistake of copyediting, or something else).  The story was later republished – simply as Weeds – in April of 1979 in Nugget magazine, another adult publication.  Three years later, King would adapt the story as The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill in both the screenplay and graphic novel version of Creepshow, and make his acting debut as Jordy Verrill himself.  Still, the prose version remained elusive.

Until now.

King's Cemetary DanceIn recent years, Stephen King has taken an interest in his early, “lost” work.  2007’s Richard Bachman novel, Blaze, was a slightly polished version of a novel King wrote around the same time as Salem’s Lot.  In 2009, King published Under the Dome, his third try at a novel concept he’d been working on since 1978 (and, as a bonus, he published portions of the 1982 version of the book, The Cannibals, on his website).  More concretely, 2008’s Just After Sunset included the long-neglected The Cat From Hell, a piece first published as part of a contest by Cavalier in 1977.  King had believed erroneously that the story had already been collected; realizing his error, he allowed the lost work entry into his best collection since Skeleton Crew.

These journeys into his past may have primed King for a closer, more forgiving look at his early uncollected work, allowing contemporary readers more access than ever before.  This winter, publisher Cemetery Dance will unleash both The Glass Floor and Weeds on the world. The Glass Floor will be published in issue #68 of Cemetery Dance magazine (a special Glenn Chadbourne issue); Weeds is the final story in the upcoming anthology Shivers VII, edited by Richard Chizmar.  They’re both good stories, too.  The Glass Floor is obviously an early tale, owing much to Poe and featuring a somewhat vague ending, but it shows promise.  Even by this time, King already has a good grasp of theme, description (a house “grow[s] out of the hill like an outsized, perverted toadstool,” and features “jutting, blank-windowed cupolas”; it’s the type of description King would favor in his more gothic early endeavors, especially ’Salem’s Lot and The Shining), even dialect.  King would adopt the tone and the mirror imagery for his later story, The Reaper’s Image, to much better effect, proving what he’d stated in the Weird Tales introduction to The Glass Floor: “The message is simple: you can learn, you can get better, and you can get published.”

Weeds is an altogether more satisfying work, its tone in line with stories King produced around the same time.  Grey Matter, another story of personal infestation, was published three years prior (also by Cavalier), while The Lawnmower Man, a tale whose central images of lawns and greenery Weeds borrows (while marching toward a far less maniacal conclusion), arrived just a year before.  Interestingly, King’s much later novel Dreamcatcher would echo some of the story’s final ideas, including parasitic telepathy and the concept of alien vegetation attaching itself to a human host with the purpose of taking over the world.  Where Weeds’ graphic and celluloid counterpart, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, plays the central character as a bit of a buffoon, Verrill here is a more tragic figure, owing much more to The Stand’s childlike Tom Cullen than Stephen King’s onscreen interpretation (though not to fear: the word “meteorshit” does, indeed, appear).  The story is scarier, too, starting with the sympathetic portrait of Jordy King draws; as the implications of what’s happening beyond Jordy’s own transformation start occurring, King breaks out some terrifically visceral sentences:

Very faintly the earth was groaning, as if in a sleep filled with pain.  He could hear it being pulled apart and riddled by the strong thrust of this thing’s root system … A grinding, squealing sound … This sound was like an earthquake whispering deep down in the earth…

Whatever King’s reasons are for allowing these two lost works to be republished, the fact that they’re both available is cause for celebration.  While The Glass Floor is one of King’s most important stories, putting his work in historical context, Weeds is simply excellent.  Hopefully these publications will convince King to anthologize these tales in a later collection, where they belong.

Cemetery Dance #68, featuring The Glass Floor, is available now.  Shivers VII, featuring Weeds, is currently available for pre-order.  Order them here.

Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information.  His forthcoming short story, I Am Become Poe, will be featured alongside Stephen King’s Weeds in Shivers VII.  Quigley has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the upcoming Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book.  His first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming.

<none>