Skeleton Crew - By Stephen King


Wait—just a few minutes. I want to talk to you ... and then I am going to kiss you. Wait ...


Here’s some more short stories, if you want them. They span a long period of my life. The oldest, “The Reaper’s Image,” was written when I was eighteen, in the summer before I started college. I thought of the idea, as a matter of fact, when I was out in the back yard of our house in West Durham, Maine, shooting baskets with my brother, and reading it over again made me feel a little sad for those old times. The most recent, “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet,” was finished in November of 1983. That is a span of seventeen years, and does not count as much, I suppose, if put in comparison with such long and rich careers as those enjoyed by writers as diverse as Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, and Eudora Welty, but it is a longer time than Stephen Crane had, and about the same length as the span of H. P. Lovecraft’s career.

A friend of mine asked me a year or two ago why I still bother. My novels, he pointed out, were making very good money, while the short stories were actually losers.

“How do you figure that?” I asked.

He tapped the then-current issue of Playboy, which had occasioned this discussion. I had a story in it (“Word Processor of the Gods,” which you’ll find in here someplace), and had pointed it out to him with what I thought was justifiable pride.

“Well, I’ll show you,” he said, “if you don’t mind telling me how much you got for the piece.”

“I don’t mind,” I said. “I got two thousand dollars. Not exactly chicken-dirt, Wyatt.”

(His name isn’t really Wyatt, but I don’t want to embarrass him, if you can dig that.) “No, you didn’t get two thousand,” Wyatt said.

“I didn’t? Have you been looking at my bankbook?”

“Nope. But I know you got eighteen hundred dollars for it, because your agent gets ten percent.”

“Damn right,” I said. “He deserves it. He got me in Playboy. I’ve always wanted to have a story in Playboy. So it was eighteen hundred bucks instead of two thousand, big deal.”

“No, you got $1,710.”


“Well, didn’t you tell me your business manager gets five percent of the net?”

“Well, okay—eighteen hundred less ninety bucks. I still think $1,710 is not bad for—”

“Except it wasn’t,” this sadist pushed on. “It was really a measly $855.”


“You want to tell me you’re not in a fifty-percent tax bracket, Steve-O?”

I was silent. He knew I was.

“And,” he said gently, “it was really just about $769.50, wasn’t it?”

I nodded reluctantly. Maine has an income tax which requires residents in my bracket to pay ten percent of their federal taxes to the state. Ten percent of $855 is $85.50.

“How long did it take you to write this story?” Wyatt persisted.

“About a week,” I said ungraciously. It was really more like two, with a couple of rewrites added in, but I wasn’t going to tell Wyatt that.

“So you made $769.50 that week,” he said. “You know how much a plumber makes per week in New York, Steve-O?”

“No,” I said. I hate people who call me Steve-O. “And neither do you.”

“Sure I do,” he said. “About $769.50, after taxes. And so, far as I can see, what you got there is a dead loss.” He laughed like hell and then asked if I had any more beer in the fridge. I said no.

I’m going to send goodbuddy Wyatt a copy of this book with a little note. The note will say: I am not going to tell you how much I was paid for this book, but I’ll tell you this, Wyatt: my total take on “Word Processor of the Gods”—net—is now just over twenty-three hundred dollars, not even counting the $769.50 you hee-hawed so over at my house at the lake. I will sign the note Steve-O and add a PS: There really was more beer in the fridge, and I drank it myself after you were gone that day.

That ought to fix him.


Except it’s not the money. I’ll admit I was bowled over to be paid $2,000 for “Word Processor of the Gods,” but I was equally as bowled over to be paid $40 for “The Reaper’s Image” when it was published in Startling Mystery Stories or to be sent twelve contributor’s copies when “Here There Be Tygers” was published in Ubris, the University of Maine college literary magazine (I