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Why Is Stephen King So Afraid Of Vehicles Main

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WHY IS STEPHEN KING SO AFRAID OF VEHICLES?

Written by R.J. MacReady

Stephen King is a juggernaut of a writer. He's earned the title "King of Horror" by delivering hundreds of stories that in turn spawned countless adaptations into movies and television, and even a video game or two. Pretty much every horror writer currently working has been influenced by him, so if you're a fan of horror then you owe him a debt of gratitude because he not only affected every aspect of the genre today, but he helped its popularity grow as many in the mainstream crowd suddenly discovered horror through him.

I've been revisiting some of his earlier short-story collections and came to the sudden realization that King has a thing for vehicles. I guess I'd never really noticed, even though we all know about Christine and Maximum Overdrive, but once you start blazing through his entire oeuvre, it's very hard to not notice how often people meet their ends by way of vehicle, or in how many stories the vehicle creates the catalyst for the tale.

What makes it sort of eerie in a Stephen King kind of way is that years after he wrote most of the stories involving vehicular terrors, he was almost killed by one in 1999. A man in a Dodge Caravan hit him while he was out walking, causing a collapsed lung, broken leg, and shattered hip. King was hospitalized for a full month, and doctors even considered amputating his leg. As an amusing aside, he later bought the mini-van that hit him with the intention of "beating it with a sledgehammer" (it was eventually demolished in a junkyard).

As an even stranger footnote, the driver who hit King died years later of a painkiller overdose on Stephen King's birthday.

Regardless, it's a macabre coincidence that this man who created so many stories involving sinister vehicles – mostly cars, but there are others – would eventually almost die at the hands of...er, I mean, tires of one.

Here's what I believe is a complete list of King's stories centering around vehicles. 

Short Stories:

Night ShiftBuy from Amazon US Published in Night Shift (1978)

Battleground (1972) - A hitman arrives back home to his penthouse after assassinating a toymaker to find a package waiting for him. It turns out to be a GI Joe footlocker full of tiny plastic soldiers, jeeps and helicopters that come to life and attack him. The vehicles in this story may be tiny, but they are deadly, as the ending to this story demonstrates in an amusing reveal.

Trucks (1973) - This is the tale of a group of travelers trapped at a truck stop as vehicles become self aware. A short story far more entertaining and frightening than its movie adaptation, Maximum Overdrive. Ironic given that King himself wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, but he's admitted he was addicted to drugs at the time. Also adapted into a TV movie that I've heard is more faithful than the original theatrical version, but I've never seen it.

Children of the Corn (1977) - Another story that starts with an incident involving a car accident as two city slickers hit a kid while traveling through a countryside full of cornfields, only to find that he'd been stabbed and slashed with a knife before they hit him.

 

Different SeasonsBuy from Amazon US Published in Different Seasons (1982)

The Breathing Method - A car accident again takes center stage in this story of a pregnant woman who is decapitated while taking a taxi to the hospital to deliver her child. A strange story in how gruesome it gets, yet it ends on a positive beat.

Skeleton CrewBuy from Amazon US Published in Skeleton Crew (1985)

The Jaunt (1981) - You have to do some creative stretching to get this into the mold, but the entire story is predicated on traveling from Earth to Mars via the Jaunt device – the vehicle in question – and ends with one of the most chilling endings of any King story.

Mrs. Todd's Shortcut (1984) - A tale where the car is more tangential to the scare than the catalyst of it, this relates the story of a woman who keeps trying to find the shortest route between two places, and ultimately finds one that goes through another dimension – one full of terrifying creatures and vegetation.

Uncle Otto's Truck (1983) - A haunting little ditty about a truck that breaks down in a field, yet terrorizes the narrator's uncle as he thinks it's getting closer and closer to the house. What happens to the titular Uncle Otto ranks high in the memorable category of King endings.

Four Past MidnightBuy from Amazon US Published in Four Past Midnight (1990)

The Langoliers - This novella of King's sports a very Twilight Zone-esque feel as ten people wake up aboard an airplane to find that everyone else who wasn't asleep has disappeared, the pilot included. One of them is an off-duty pilot who lands the plane, only to discover that the entire airport below them is also deserted. A two-part TV movie was also made, but it isn't very good.

Dolan's Cadillac (1985) – This features the car as an important plot device twice. The narrator, known only as Robinson, is a man whose wife was killed via car-bomb by a crime boss named Dolan, who didn't want her to testify against him. So Robinson concocts a plan where he will trap Dolan in his Cadillac in a pit he's excavated, and bury him alive. Not really one of King's best, but I was surprised to learn that there was a movie adaptation of this in 2008 starring Christian Slater and Wes Bentley. The story was republished in Nightmare and Dreamscapes in 1993.

Riding the Bullet (2000) - A college student named Alan gets word that his mother has been taken to the hospital, so he hitches a ride home. The first person to stop is a creepy old guy who keeps grabbing his crotch, so Alan gets out of that car. He wanders past a graveyard and sees a headstone for George Staub, and not coincidentally the next car that picks him up is driven by none other than a clearly-deceased Staub. Staub wears a button that says he "Rode the Bullet" at a thrill ride, and the dead man asks Alan to choose who wants to "take the ride" next, him or his mother. This story contains two frightening car rides plus an allegorical "vehicle" – The Bullet Ride as death. This story was republished in Everything’s Eventual in 2002.

Just After SunsetBuy from Amazon US Collected in Just After Sunset (2008)

Willa (2006) - The inciting incident to this ghost story is a train crash.

Harvey's Dream (2003) - This story begins when a man wakes up from a nightmare that his daughter was killed by a truck.

Stationary Bike (2003) - A strange story, even by King standards. A man attempts to get in shape using a stationary bike, but begins to imagine that he's actually traveling to places and running into "workmen" before he's finally driven off the road by a truck containing three of them.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates (2008) - This begins with a woman who receives a phone call from her husband who died in an airplane crash.

Mile 81 (2011) - This one is about an alien that takes the shape of a station wagon in order to eat people. Yeah, seriously.

The Bazaar Of Bad DreamsBuy from Amazon US Collected in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015)

Batman and Robin Have an Altercation (2012) - A man whose father suffers from Alzheimer's gets in an accident with a man in a truck, and his father intervenes. If you're playing the "Drink When the King Story Has a Car Accident In It" game, you're pretty drunk by now.

That Bus Is Another World (2014) - A traveler who's had some bad luck decides to take a taxi to a meeting three hours away. While in the taxi, a bus pulls up next to them and the traveler sees through the bus window a man cut a beautiful woman's throat, and the man smiles at him.

Full ThrottleBuy from Amazon US Collected in Full Throttle (2019)

Throttle (Co-written by Joe Hill) - A truck driver faces off against a motorcycle gang over a lot of money in the desert. Supposedly inspired by Richard Matheson's Duel.

Novels:

CarrieBuy from Amazon US Carrie (1974)
The first King book to be published, it features one key scene where classmates of Carrie's attempt to run her over, so she takes telekinetic hold of the car and rams it into a building, killing her attackers. A small scene, but a harbinger of things to come in future books.
The StandBuy from Amazon US The Stand (1978)

This isn't really how we think of King when we think of him and "killer cars", but if you take a look at how the virus first arrives, it's in a car driven by a security guard at the laboratory where it was being developed as a biological weapon. Also, let's not forget that the nuclear warhead that ends the story was brought in by the Trashcan Man on an electric cart...

The Long WalkBuy from Amazon US The Long Walk (1979)
This was actually the first book King ever wrote (written when he was a freshman in college), and the premise is about a contest in a dystopian society called the "Walk" where everyone is forced to maintain a certain speed or they are shot by soldiers riding along in military vehicles along the road. While the vehicles aren't exactly the center of the danger, they definitely add to the power of the antagonists. Note, this was published under King's pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
The Dead ZoneBuy from Amazon US The Dead Zone (1979)

Perhaps King's subconscious was still brewing about the malevolence of cars, as he continued to make them a central part of his horror. The Dead Zone is about a man named Johnny Smith who gets in a horrific car accident at the beginning of the book that puts him in a coma and amplifies his psychic powers. The car crash is the catalyst for everything that comes later in the story.

CujoBuy from Amazon US Cujo (1981)

I know, you're like, this isn't about a killer car. It's about a killer dog. You, sir or madam, are correct. However, this story featured the car not as the antagonist but as the setting for much of the terror. The mother and her son are trapped inside of a suffocating Ford Pinto in the heat for much of the book.

ChristineBuy from Amazon US Christine (1983)

Finally, King decides to play all of his cards and make the definitive killer-car story. Nothing subtle here, simply the story of a high school loser who gets his girlfriend – a Plymouth Fury – to take vengeance on everyone who's wronged him. Made into a great movie by the legendary John Carpenter.

Pet SemataryBuy from Amazon US Pet Semetary (1983)

I'm sure I don't have to tell you how the vehicle fits into this story, right? You read it or saw the movie, and it's imprinted in your brain. A vehicle is once again the catalyst for this entire story as a truck runs down young Gage Creed, thus forcing his father to bury him in the woods beyond the Pet Semetary, and terror commences.

ThinnerBuy from Amazon US Thinner (1984)

The not-so-sympathetic main character of this piece is cursed because he runs over a gypsy while getting a hand job, so once again the car accident is the match that sets the whole thing on fire.

MiseryBuy from Amazon US Misery (1987)

This book starts out with a car accident that leads protagonist Paul Sheldon to his #1 fan...

The TommyknockersBuy from Amazon US The Tommyknockers (1987)

The entire story centers on a woman who finds an alien vehicle (a spacecraft) and it begins to change the townspeople into something else via alien gas.

The RegulatorsBuy from Amazon US The Regulators (1996)

The book opens with a paperboy being shot by someone from a red van, and then later more red vans show up to menace the town. This is one of those borderline ones where the "cars" don't play that major a role after the first hundred pages, but they are definitely a force of fear when they're on the page.

From A Buick 8Buy from Amazon US From a Buick 8 (2002)

A Buick 8 has been left mysteriously at a gas station where it was towed away to a local police barracks. Cue weird things happening, as it appears the Buick isn't so much a car as it is a sentient portal to some other world.

Under The DomeBuy from Amazon US Under the Dome (2009)

Relatively minor car footnotes, but there are a few of them. When the titular dome drops, a number of deaths occur in vehicles as they collide into the invisible barrier. Also of note, the main bad guy is a used-car salesman.

Mr MercedesBuy from Amazon US Mr. Mercedes (2014)

The book opens with a horrific scene as a psychopath plows his Mercedes into dozens of people waiting in line for a job fair. Adapted into an excellent television show.

RevivalBuy from Amazon US Revival (2014)

Drink up! Another book featuring an inciting incident where a pastor's son is killed in a car accident.

Ones that are borderline but ultimately the vehicle isn't the main point or catalyst:

Prime EvilBuy from Amazon US The Night Flier (1988, Prime Evil)

A reporter believes he's on the trail of a serial killer who travels in a private plane from airport to airport, but the reporter's in for a big surprise.

Hearts In AtlantisBuy from Amazon US Low Men in Yellow Coats (2000, Hearts in Atlantis)

The villains of this story are "low men" who drive cars, but the cars aren't the villain or the catalyst of this story.

Everythings EventualBuy from Amazon US The Road Virus Heads North (1999)

This story focuses on a haunted painting, but cars are featured throughout. The man who originally buys the painting is driving cross country when he sees it at a yard sale. The painting first shows a man in a car driving across a bridge. The final scene features blood on a car seat as an indication of the protagonist's fate. This story was republished in Everything’s Eventual in 2002.

Full Dark No StarsBuy from Amazon US Big Driver (2010, Full Dark, No Stars)

A mystery writer named Tess is on her way to a speaking appearance when her car breaks down. A big man offers to give her a lift, but he ends up beating and raping her. Nice fella.

Different SeasonsBuy from Amazon US The Body (1982, Different Seasons)

Even if you didn't read the book, you probably remember the scene in Stand by Me with the boys crossing the trestle as a train approaches.

There you have it! If I’ve missed any, let me know.

About The Author
R.J. MacReady
Staff Writer
RJ MacReady digs horror movies, even though his first memory of horror films is watching the first Friday the 13th movie while a bear mauled his family in the other room. He admits that most of his bio is as fake as his moniker, but witness protection won't let him use his real name.
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