Graveyard Shift by Richard Matheson (1960)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror July 22, 2014
What portal do we enter when we confront the dark mother?
This short story by the esteemed Richard Matheson (1926-2013, author of I am Legend, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes) is a story that has all the elements of true horror, empathy, and shock. Matheson’s gift in this story is a perspective into the “dark mother.” Do you have one of these or know a dark mother who rules harshly, extolling her powers of fear and control? Have you witnessed the dark mother at her darkest, the woman who has the capacity to harm or neglect her child? She is the “shadow archetype” named by Carl Jung—who suggests that our negative emotions are part of the whole of the power we possess and part of our human experience (in order to appreciate the light, we must know the dark). The dark mother is taboo, of course; we don’t like to talk about mothers harming their children. I certainly don’t.
However, I do like when horror stories get into the grit of a soul in order to enhance our understanding of our dark sides. And we all have a dark side somewhere, buried or not, and isn’t that why many of us love to explore horror fiction? Because we can dig up this dark side within the safety of fiction, recognize it, feel it, and do no real harm. I guess what I’m suggesting here is that if we didn’t read horror stories and enter this imaginary world, we might feel the need to act out our dark sides in the real world. Reading the news is an example of how many people actually do act out their shadow sides.
In Graveyard Shift, we have three letters (epistolary fiction) from Luke to his father Sam, from Sam to George and a letter from George to Sam. The widow Blackwell is found dead. Her little boy Jim is the only one alive in the cabin. To say more about this story would diminish its effects and Matheson deserves your clean eye and mind on the page … as you experience the shadowy portal of the dark mother.
The PDF link below may or may not be working. I think copyrights are still legal, preventing free reads. You can read it in the anthology “Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural,” selected by Marvin Kaye on Amazon (a fine selection of offbeat and rare stories), or likely borrow this book at your local library (try WorldCAT to locate in a library near you).
Try this PDF link to read Graveyard Shift (Scroll to Story #12):
In literature/mythology, other dark mother themed stories are Lamia who was a child-eating demon (also the poem Lamia by John Keats in 1820), Medea, Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel, Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, Bloch’s Norma Bates in Psycho, and contemporary Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline. There are others, of course, and if you have a short story or novel in mind, please post it in the comments below.
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