It is a plot device that has been used by many authors in many different mediums. From multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone, to tons and tons of horror stories, to the movies and more, there is something attractive–to authors and readers–about people arriving (usually involuntarily) in a little town and feeling like something…just…isn’t…right.
Here are some of my favorites from the realm of the short story:
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
You knew this was going to be on here. And while the short story is not about someone arriving in the town, the terrible made-for-tv movie was. It starred that guy from MTV who was also a rock climber in that Seinfeld episode. The movie was horrible, if you can believe it.
The Lottery refers to an old-time tradition in, yes, a weird little town. You don’t want to win. Let’s leave it at that. Also by Shirley Jackson in this vein is The Summer People.
You Know They’ve Got A Hell of a Band by Stephen King
A wrong turn leads a couple–who are increasingly getting on each other’s nerves–into a town where everyone looks familiar. They should. Inhabitants include Elvis, Jim Morrison, and lots of other dead rock stars. The story culminates in a concert that will apparently last…FOREVER!!! I like this one a lot.
This story comes from King’s collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes. Also from the book is Rainy Season. Another weird town, a couple is told to get out, and are eventually eaten by something which I won’t tell you about.
The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft
The narrator informs us that he spent a terrible couple of days in the fishing villages of Innsmouth. Apparently, the inhabitants of the town–who almost look like they have gills–have been getting it on with some weird fish god, and now they want him for nefarious purposes. Classic HP. Absurd and awesome.
Children of The Corn by Stephen King
Another couple. Another weird little town. Killer kids. CORN EVERYWHERE! A weird little prophet. He Who Walks Behind The Rows. And so on. From the collection Night Shift.
The Pit by Joe R. Lansdale
From the collection High Cotton. A man winds up in a strange town where they citizens are in the habit of grabbing people off the road, making them do hard physical labor to toughen them up, and then making them fight to the death. Thunderdome, redneck Gothic style.
Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon
I’m going to throw in a novel here, just because it’s great. And I’m still going to call it a short story, but only because I just reviewed The Stand and It by Stephen King and it’s pretty short compared to them, even at 400ish pages.
It’s like Children of The Corn and The Summer People ramped up by one order of magnitude. A fantastic book that many later writers owe an obvious debt to.
How about it? What have I missed? Novels, short stories, movies and TV are all fair game.
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