Story Review: The Crate by Stephen King

Review by B. Nguyen-Calkins

In the depths of horror literature, Stephen King rises near the level of a modern legend. His works such as Carrie (1974), The Shining (1977), and It (1986) are some of his many works of intense horror and suspense. Yet King shines even in the shortest of stories that may fail to popularize beyond his novels. 

Ever been out in the woods and find something that’s obviously old? Maybe a doll or a magazine, or maybe a box with a locked lid. Immediately, curiosity drove you to open it… surely, whatever inside is worth a look. 

   The curious horror fanatics might be immediately overcome with a sense of dread. The Crate (1982) displays macabre scenes of straight unknown brutality which may justify that sense of dread. What starts with dramatic irony, readers are told of a professor’s experience with an old, unknown crate tucked beneath a staircase. The professor is afraid. He can hardly think, and only a couple glasses of whiskey can help cool his nerves. He explains to his friend of his run-in with the crate, tucked away beneath the basement staircase of the zoology department’s laboratory. “It’s a real crate,” said the janitor who found it. One built with traditional carpentry technique, far dating any living person.  

After reading this story, you may think twice about opening any cob-web-covered boxes. 

The Crate displays merciless scenes of straight unknown brutality. It creates terror for innocent students just trying to grind through their master’s programs, their “long sounds of terror and pain” cut off by something awful. Unsuspecting students and staff (and perhaps more) encounter the crate, only for their fates to be tucked away neatly in a box covered by foreshadowed death. The story is filled with scenes of blood and pain, with descriptions of body horror so vivid you may even hear a broken jaw snap closed behind you. 

And it all comes from one old, nailed-up crate, just waiting to be opened. 

Don’t be discouraged if you think this story has little substance. While describing his experience with the crate, the professor is motivated through chess-like strategies. Read the story again and try to decipher just who his pieces are.  

Who’s to say you won’t be the next person to stumble upon the crate, nailed shut and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. Maybe when you’ve purchased a new home and searched its attic, you’ll find a crate just like it. Will you open it? 

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