Strawberry Spring is a short story I found in King’s collection of horror stories titled Night Shift. It’s a gruesome tale where murder, mystery, and supernatural forces coalesce at New Sharon Teachers’ College in New England during the winter of 1968. Springheel Jack, they called him, the killer who comes and goes with the fog leaving mutilated bodies in his wake. Like most of King’s work, this story is not for the faint of heart. If you’re feeling bold, however, by all means carry on: this is Stephen King doing what he does best.
The most remarkable thing about Strawberry Spring isn’t the shock value. It’s not the visceral description or the characterization either. It’s the fact that many readers could likely predict the ending a page or two into the story, but still be horrified when their fears are confirmed. There’s a lesson in this story, and it’s this: you don’t need to shock your reader to scare the fuck out of them.
So if it isn’t shock value that gets the job done, how does King do it? How does he instill fear in a reader who can sense where the story is going? Well, I have a theory, but I can’t really give you my thoughts without revealing more than I’d like about the ending. In consideration of all who plan on reading this story, I’ll be writing out these next thoughts in white, so you can either highlight the next few lines or come back to this later. It seems to me that we often place more value in the what of a story than in the why, when really, they’re equally significant. I believe that the horror of Strawberry Spring doesn’t arise from the events that transpire, but in the explanation for them. Or rather, the lack of one. I think — and I’m certainly guilty of this myself — that writers sometimes get caught up in the events that drive our story and assume that these events need to make sense for the reader to buy them, when in truth, the story can have more impact when there is nothing for the reader to buy.
Before I get to whether or not this story is worth your time, I want to note a passage as I usually do.
Twilight came and the fog with it, drifting up the tree-lined avenues slowly, almost thoughtfully, blotting out the buildings one by one. It was soft, insubstantial stuff, but somehow implacable and frightening. Springheel Jack was a man, no one seemed to doubt that, but the fog was his accomplice and it was female…or so it seemed to me. It was as if our little school was caught between them, squeezed in some crazy lovers’ embrace, part of a marriage that had been consummated in blood (King 277).
I have no reason for picking this paragraph apart from the fact that I think it’s pretty, simple as that.
Anyways, would I recommend Strawberry Spring? I wouldn’t consider it a new favorite of mine, but I do think it’ll be worth the ten to fifteen minutes of your time that it’ll take. It won’t leave you with any startling revelations about life, no deep questions to ponder, but it’s a thrilling piece and there’s a lot here to unpack if you’re hoping to learn horror storytelling from a master.