Reading is one of the most pleasurable activities your imagination can muster. Sailing the open seas with a one-legged white whale-obsessed sea captain is fun. Walking into Mordor to drop a ring in a volcano while avoiding the flaming eye in the sky is fantastic. Voyaging to the restaurant at the end of the universe with a chronically depressed robot is mesmerizing. Even following around a gargantuan star turtle with four giant elephants back, upholding the Disk world is hilarious fun; it’s just one thing they are all these adventures are incredibly long.
Honestly, finishing one of these epics takes a toll. Finding a moment for a pallet cleanser can be just the thing before taking on the next Gilgamesh-level epic that’s in your library. Here is a list of Stephen King books that are just that: short books that can be read in two or three sittings. Run with werewolves, solve crimes, burn things down, and have fun in these short journeys into the mind of the master of horror.
1. The shortest Stephen King book: ‘The Cycle of the Werewolf’ (page count 127)
The small town of Tarker’s Mills, Maine, is prayed upon by a werewolf that strikes at every full moon, killing locals and leaving a trail of blood and violence. The protagonist, Marty Coslaw, is a 10-year-old disabled boy who moves around in a wheelchair. The story revolves around his everyday life and how the violent and horrifying events affect him.
Months roll by, and the bodies stack up. The monster feels unstoppable as even the local sheriff is taken out. The violence saddens Marty, and, already in a bad mood, he is further depressed when he finds out the Fourth of July celebration has been canceled. His uncle decides to cheer him up, giving him a bag of fireworks to light himself.
The werewolf attacks Marty, and he wounds the creature with extraordinary luck. He later confronts the police, but they do not believe him since they look for a man, not a monster. The horror adventure is a fast-paced read well worth the time, with a great ending.
In a world full of lousy lycanthrope literature, this story stands out not only for not being a terrible werewolf story. It can be argued that it is one of the best in the genre. It is a short novella with chapters following calendar months, even detailed accounts of the town’s events, as it is put through as victim after the victim is found. Enjoy.
2. ‘Elevation’ (page count 144)
This stand-out short novella takes place in the fictional town of Castle Rock. King fans immediately recognize this place of horrors as many Kingsverse events occur here. Cujo, The Body, Rita Hayworth, The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Half, Needful Things, and The Dead Zone, to name a few stories that take place in this accursed place. The town itself has become a character.
This story features the protagonist, Scott Carey, a man who is suffering a mysterious illness that sees him losing weight yet apparently not losing mass and staying fit and healthy; besides facing the dreadful affliction, he also confronts the issue of having a couple of lesbians who are trying to open up a restaurant and being met with resistance from the more confrontational population at Castle Rock.
Elevation is an enjoyable read; it goes by quickly, features interesting characters, and opens up Castle Rock, featuring it as the prominent setting. It feels like Castle Rock molds the people to its will and not vice versa.
3. ‘The Colorado Kid’ (page count 184)
This novel starts with the crew of the Islanders’ newspapers paying for their launch. The old veterans paying the bill decide to test the new girl’s deduction abilities, having her figure out whether the wait staff tip pull is individual or pooled together. Stephanie quickly deduces that the waiters collect it all together and then split it.
Knowing that their waitress has fallen on hard times, Dave earmarks the tip to make sure she gets it. Then, the story flashbacks of sorts. In 1980, we are now presented with a couple of teens who have found a slumped over the corpse.
It takes the police a while to establish the cause of death until the body gives the tale-tail signs of asphyxiation, and a chunk of meat is found in his throat. There are no clear ways to identify him till one particular rookie finds a cigarette Colorado tax note in his pocket.
The moniker of The Colorado Sticks with the dead body, and an investigation proceeds based on their lead information, which eventually leads to the body’s identification. We are then brought back to the start of the book as the Islanders’ newspapers’ staff discuss how to proceed with the collected information.
This book is one of the harder crime-focused books in King’s library. It does work exactly as promised in a detective novel. The short story is entertaining, especially for those who enjoy a good investigative story. Its short length and easy-to-follow storyline make it particularly easy.
4. ‘Carrie’ (page count 199)
The most famous novella on the list is also surprisingly short. Carrie White is a 16-year-old girl who is bullied and harassed because of her appearance and the unusual religious beliefs instilled in her by her abusive mother. One day after the gym, while showering, Carrie has her first period, and since no one bothered to educate her about it, she has a severe meltdown.
Her classmates, led by the particularly cruel girl Chris Hargensen, throw tampons and sanitary pads at Carrie. The chaos only stops when the gym teacher interrupts and tries to explain to Carry what has happened. On her way home, Carrie manifests abilities like telekinesis and moves small objects around with her mind.
Once her mother gets wind of what happened in school and her powers, she locks Carrie in a closet and tells her to pray the sin away. The next day at school, the girls who participated in Carrie’s pelting are given detention and warned if any of them miss it, they will be expelled from prom. Chris definitely skips it.
Tommy Russ, who his girlfriend Sue Snell asked to invite Carrie to dance, does so. Carrie, who is doubtful of Tommy’s intentions but excited nonetheless, says yes. She goes home to buy herself a dress. What proceeds next can only be described as an Akira-like situation at a high school.
This short horror novel is fantastic; some of Kings’ best work and the short format are easy for anyone. It is a tough coming-of-age story built on the pains of growing up differently. The imagery is now iconic in pop culture; even the original movie has aged well. This book deserves more than one read, and clocking in at under 200 pages, it’s worth it.
5. ‘Rage’ (page count 211)
The first book, published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, is now a controversial tale that seemed to predict the unfortunate events that plagued schools in the 80s, ’90s, and still today.
Our protagonist is Charlie Decker, a rage-filled high school senior who is called into a meeting with the school principal. The principal asks Charlie why he hit the chemistry teacher with a pipe wrench.
The attack sent the man to the hospital; the principal wants answers as to what could have driven Charlie to do it. Charlie never gives a coherent response and proceeds to insult the Principal. Our protagonist is expelled from school; Charlie storms off to his locker, pulls a pistol from his belongings, and goes on a shooting spree, killing multiple teachers.
Now holding his fellow students hostage, the situation escalates with police and news arriving on the scene. Many try to negotiate with Charlie; Charlie mocks all of them for trying. We are given insight into what motivates Charlie’s feelings through flashbacks to his abusive father and several other students’ altercations.
When asked by fellow students why he’s doing it, his answers, he doesn’t know. His fellow students eventually have Stockholm syndrome and turn the kidnapping into a secret reveal session.
They are all cleansed now and even help Charlie when Ted Jones, one of the more popular kids, decides he’s had enough and tries to escape, only to be stopped and beaten to a pulp by the other kids.
Eventually, the situation subsides. Charlie is corned and shot. He survives and is sent to an institution as he has been found insane by the court system.
This story is controversial but feels like a warning shot too many. Many have tried to link the book to actual, real school shootings. That aside, the read is quick and gut-wrenching, with many emotions on display. It is worth the read, but the reader should know it deals with sensitive subjects.