The Halloween, horror, and Stephen King kick continues with The Langoliers, a novella in the book Four Past Midnight. This book also contained the story that stupid Johnny Depp movie Secret Garden came from, as well as the fantastic story The Library Policeman. I personally think Langos is one of the better long pieces of short fiction King has done, and it’s a whole hell of a lot better than the made-for-TV movie, that’s for sure. My favorite horror stories King has written are usually light on exposition. Meaning, I think he’s at his best when things happen just because they happen.
Most of The Langoliers fits into that model. The majority of the story is about people trying to figure out what happened to them, and where in the world they are.
A group of people on an airplane awake to find that most of the passengers have vanished. Their possessions are left behind, including pacemakers, watches, fillings from their teeth, and more. Stephen King’s stories are often full of convenient coincidences. In this case it is quite fortunate that one of the passengers still on the plane is an off-duty pilot. He lands the plane in Maine–or somewhere that seems a lot like Maine.
This was my favorite part of the book. As the passengers disembark, they find that everything about this new place is just a little…off. I’m not talking about the fact that the place is deserted. That’s certainly odd, but it’s the little touches that grabbed me: food doesn’t taste right. Carbonated drinks are flat. Everything is muted and still…except for the noise coming from the horizon, which is described both as sounding like Rice Crispies in Milk and radio static.
But it’s getting louder. They decide that whatever is coming can’t be good, so they work on refueling the plane so they can take off again.
This is complicated by the fact that every Stephen King horror story with more than five people in it must contain one person waiting for the right moment to go insane. In this case it is Craig Toomy, who winds up creating a hostage situation and causing quite a bit of ruckus. He is also the one who gives the Langoliers their name–it is a word his mother used to scare him with when he was bad.
And of course, there is also a child present with psychic or other magic powers, another mainstay in King’s fiction. See also, Desperation, Cell, The Shining, Carrie, Dreamcatcher, and more.
I’ll stop there because if I go farther I’ll have to start getting into the explanations for what has happened and where they are at. Most of the story riveted me and I certainly couldn’t come up with anything better for an ending–but this is one of the times where I wish King, who I love!, would have just let things end without wrapping them up or explaining too much. I mean, what sort of explanation could completely work for a situation this absurd?
If you’re a fan of Stephen King, you will get a kick out of The Langoliers and Four Past Midnight in its entirety. And if you like horror, you really should read The Library Policeman. I’m biased, yes, but it’s good.