Well, all good things must come to an end. Such is the fate of Spring Breaks everywhere. While I still have the glorious weekend before me, today marks the formal last day of break.
With that, it’s time to finish out our Spring Break Short Story Recommendations (read Part I, Part II, Part III, and the TBT installment) with 1952’s “The Shed,” a bit of small-town terror by E. Eerett Evans. This story is a tad obscure, as is its author, and I couldn’t find a free version online, but like “The Judge’s House” and “Thus I Refute Beelzy,” it’s from 11 Great Horror Stories.
“The Shed” takes place in a small town in Michigan in the first decade of the twentieth century, and focused primarily on the rough-and-tumble adventures of the town’s boys, all under fourteen. The boys are scrappy, plucky, and fun, and spend their days exploring town, splashing in the local waterhole, and generally doing the kinds of things boys did before they were shut up in classes for eight hours everyday.
The boys’ favorite play place is a dilapidated shed that belongs to the local railroad company. They use the shed as their base of operations, and as a makeshift jungle gym. However, they strenuously avoid one dark corner of the shed, in which resides The Shadown, an iridescent, subtly shifting, amorphous mass of malevolence. The boys know, instinctively, to stay away from it, but otherwise tolerate its malignant presence.
That is, until the town’s communal dog, Sam, goes missing. Sam, a believed pup, fails to show up for a local fire—an unprecedented occurrence that moves the town to investigate. Sam’s dog tag is found in the shed, and one of the boys retrieves it by means of a long pole. Parents, who cannot see The Shadow, nevertheless sense something dangerous, and forbid their dutiful children from ever playing in the shed again.
The Shadow slowly begins to consume more victims, from a little girl’s kitten to—it is insinuated—a young man named Heck. The boys, upon visiting the local abattoir, learn of a sickly cow that is to be slaughtered and burned, because its diseased meat is poisonous. With that knowledge, the intrepid youngsters hatch a plan to defeat The Shadow once and for all.
This story is suspenseful, if not entirely scary, and also charming, primarily for the way of life its author depicts. As I read it, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the works of Stephen King, especially It, in which the young characters face off against a local malevolence that only children can really see, and which grownups have forgotten or ignore. It’s a proto-Kingean story, and I wonder if King himself might have drawn some influence from it.
These kinds of horror stories that take place in broad daylight are always fun and intriguing, too. It’s a reminder that terror doesn’t just come creeping up in the dead of the night, or during a blustering storm. Some of the most horrifying events occur in broad daylight.
It’s an also an interesting contrast to the high-toned Britishness of “The Judge’s House.” Both are richly spooky stories, and both build suspense and mood beautifully, but in very different contexts. “The Judge’s House” is all about the solitary pursuit of Malcolm Malcolmson slaving over his mathematical textbooks, full of the excessively proper and rigorously courteous exchanges of the British Isles.
“The Shed,” which takes place around the same time, as best as I can tell, as “The Judge’s House,” explores the group dynamics of a group of boys in small town, rural America. The dialogue is informal and slangy, full of vernacular colloquialisms. But the boys are every bit as obedient and dutiful to their parents as Malcolmson is to the people of Benchurch.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these short story reviews. I highly recommend reading any of these stories; let me know if you enjoyed them as much as I did!