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Sunday, 14 November 2010

Autopsy Room 4 by Stephen King

This short story was first published in Robert Bloch's anthology, Psychos and is currently available as the opening story in King's 2002 short story collection, Everything's Eventual. At just over thirty pages the story is just the right length to be consumed in one sitting.

Told in the first person, which is the only way to tell a narrative such as this, the story genuinely does provoke a feeling of dread in the reader as we step into the mind of Howard Cottrell, a successful stockbroker who is, when the story opens, inside a body bag and being transported to the autopsy table. At first the character thinks he is dead and that all people go through this after dying but eventually he and we realise that he is very much alive - totally paralysed and unable to let anyone know he is not dead. It turns out he was bitten by a snake, an African Boomslang no less, while playing golf and was pronounced dead at the scene by an elderly doctor.

King cranks up the tension and the autopsy tools are described in nauseating detail as Howard tries to warn them he is alive before they rip him apart. The final few pages of the story are a masterclass in keeping the reader on the edge of the seat until the pay off when....well, I'm not going to give it away am I!

King says that the story was influenced by an old episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the narrator even name-checks the episode in his narrative but it has a lineage that goes back to Poe's, Premature Burial and even beyond. An excellent story that will haunt the reader for some time after reading.

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