It’s The Perfect Disguise. We’re The Perfect Disguise.

(“Red Screen”)

This post is going to be pretty short, I think, so I’m going to take a moment up front to talk about where we are in time. Today’s post is not a book, but a short story that’s fairly new, so I don’t believe it’s been collected anywhere yet. (It was available by making a donation to Humble Bundle to benefit the ACLU, and it says “exclusive for Humble Bundle.” But if I’m not mistaken, exclusive short stories tend to wind up in a collection sooner or later.) I’m doing short stories that I’m aware of released in 2021 (this one) and 2022 because I don’t have any reason to expect they’re going to be collected before I finish King’s current bibliography, so if I’m doing “everything from Carrie to Fairy Tale” (the latest release as of this writing) and I’m including short story collections and standalones that I’m aware of along the way, it seems to me that these should be included as well.

Anyway, the story for today’s post is the last release I have for 2021. I have two books (both of which I’ve read already) and two short stories (both of which will be new to me) listed for 2022. You’ll be reading this in the future because I’m just scheduling one post a week, and right now I’m scheduled out to sometime in January 2023, but as I write this, it’s actually November 8th 2022. (Election day! If you have a time machine and you didn’t vote, go back and do that.) Since I’m already familiar with the two longer works released in 2022, I don’t expect them to take forever to read… there’s a chance I could finish up with this project before December. It’s a busy time of year, which might delay me, but I will almost certainly finish up before New Year’s Eve… this will be done in 2022. I started this blog in August of 2021, and the actual reading was probably started a month or so before it occurred to me to start blogging, so one way or another, this will have taken me less than a year and a half to complete. I’m very excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel (and as much as I like King, I have a reading list a mile long of other authors’ books I want to get to at some point.)

I’ll be doing something once I finish with the list of current King books. But what? Go through all the movies? Read all of Joe Hill’s books? Write my own book analyzing all the Stephen King books I’ve read? All three? Something else? I’m not totally sure. But I’ll definitely let you know when I know. I’ll probably be doing something — I’ve gotten into the habit of writing this blog, and I like it, so I feel like I want to keep doing it. It gives me a goal, and writing about what I read helps me think about it, and I enjoy that. So I’ll do something.

Anyway, today’s post is about “Red Screen.” This is a very short short story, especially by Stephen King standards. The general premise is a cop is interviewing a plumber who killed his wife. But the plumber claims it wasn’t his wife he killed, but a thing that took over her body. Maybe an alien thing — some shades of Tommyknockers and/or Dreamcatcher here, but much subtler. The alien thing is basically replacing people’s consciousness, not causing any weird body horror. Apparently, this theory about alien invasion is on the Dark Web, and some computer hacker has figured out a clue or a key — a red screen. The plumber tells the cop about how the aliens become short-tempered and irritable when they take over. The cop dismisses this but flashes on how his own wife has been short-tempered and irritable of late. So there’s a little hint of unease in his mind. Later at home, his wife confesses to being short-tempered and irritable because she began menopause recently, and she apologizes. The cop forgives her, is able to dismiss that small hint of unease, and all is right with the world. Except for the red screen that flashes briefly on his cell phone and his wife’s smile at that, both of which appear to be unseen by the cop.
Honestly, I wouldn’t think this one through too deeply. It’s short and creepy. I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes a bit at both the fact that so far, the only irritable and short-tempered aliens we know of have been women (the murderer does say it could be either, though) and at the menopause thing. But I don’t think King is trying to say anything with those bits other than “nagging women and menopause causing bad temper are tropes you will recognize and are therefore convenient in this very short story” and maybe also “I, the author, am a man in his 70s.” That’s… probably unintentional. But I don’t think he’s trying to make any kind of point about women… and both men and women have fears about menopause, so that sort of works if it’s supposed to be a metaphor of some sort, though I don’t really think it is. I think this story is mostly what it says on the tin: creepy short story.


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